A Good House.

What makes a good house?

Would you prefer to build your own or buy a complete unit?

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There are many properties in Kenya for sale at the moment, and options to suit different clients. From luxury apartments to beachside villas, sprawling bungalows to basic housing; there is almost something for everyone.

However that does not mean it is a straightforward process. There are other factors to take into consideration. From the cost of the unit, financing options, proximity to social amenities, types of finishing, and many more.

There are a myriad of YouTube videos showing these properties and let me tell you guys, I am calling out lies on some of them.

First of all, the words “luxury” and “executive” are so overused folks, it’s appalling.

Basic amenities, such as a good parking spot, a paved driveway are the ones being touted as luxury. Nope, noppity nope. The lies have to stop.

A good property; a basic habitable unit, in my opinion should have some things done as a basic, not as an incentive. Is it too much to ask for non- skid flooring in wet areas such as the bathroom, laundry area and kitchen? Large windows to bring in natural lighting and great air flow. A garden with trees and some nice grass, a paved driveway? A covered parking area?

Recent housing developments do not value free unstructured spaces our children can play in, building on them instead. They have small gravelled areas with hard plastic slides and a couple of swings and call it the kids play area.

While I do understand that it is not possible for many to build their own homes, but when buying a property, let us be a bit more keen in how habitable it is. There are things that come up once you move in, but there are also a few things one should take note of when considering to buy a property. In addition to the due diligence on the legal paperwork, also check and ask around how the security is around that location.

There are many beautifully constructed housing developments popping up all over the place. That bungalow or villa you’re about to pay for, may not be as damp proof as they claim. Look at the corners, sniff the air in that house in all the rooms and cupboards.

Check for loose fittings and signs of mould inside and outside. Are the tiles, inside flooring or outside paving blocks warping or loose? Visit with a qualified person not connected to the project and let them give their opinion. We are paying too much money for real estate, it will not hurt to take your time checking them out thoroughly.

I saw a recent YouTube video of someone house hunting and there was one unit that had obvious water damage and no proper drainage in some areas, (can you imagine a flooded balcony?). When buying land or a house in certain areas, it is good to check out the geographical history of the place. If you can, visit during both the rainy and dry seasons to see the difference. Some properties being sold are located on dried up waterways. With recent climatic changes, flooding is on the increase worldwide; that river that dried up fifty years ago will find its way back and carry whatever is built in its path with it. Some unscrupulous people are filling up old stone quarries, and selling off the land as quick as they can. Due diligence is important and quite wide.

Beach or waterfront properties are beautiful with breathtaking views, and an amazing breeze.

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How well shielded is that property from strong gusts of wind, underground dampness and are there screen doors to avoid bugs? I remember reading of a certain luxury property in the region that was bought up fast but the owners are now in tears. The fitted appliances do not work, the smart home system is ever glitchy and to top it off, some of the houses have had their balconies develop cracks. Scary!

Not all developers are unscrupulous, but well done houses with good quality fixtures and thoughtful finishing are not that common. It has become a preferred option by some to buy off plan or semi finished units, instead of a complete house that one will spend a lot of money repairing and refurbishing to one’s personal taste.

Location is another headache. Imagine buying a lovely apartment with a winding balcony only for a taller, sprawling high-rise to come up right next door! You now have a view of stone walls and the natural lighting in your apartment is dimmed. Or you buy a stand alone house in a quiet neighbourhood only for a religious institution or school to come up next door. There are some developments that have rules guiding what and how one can construct in that locality, which is good in such instances.

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Getting a good property that one can enjoy is not impossible, but will require a lot of commitment and resources. Time, patience, finances and an eye to detail helps. And don’t forget your gut instinct too; How you feel about the place.

What is a good house to you?

Blackstrap Molasses.

Blackstrap Molasses is a viscous, thick, dark sticky liquid that is left after boiling sugarcane.

It is not sickly sweet, or too bitter, but has a deep flavour that may take some getting used to. It is nutrient rich; still having all the nutrients absorbed by the plant. Manganese, Iron, copper, magnesium, potassium are just some of the minerals it contains.

It is a must have in my kitchen. I get mine from Eastnat Foods.

They are having a sale at the moment on blackstrap molasses as well as their other products. Visit their site https://eastnatfoods.com to check what else is on offer. The store is located in Nairobi, and one can shop online from their website as well as inquire if they can deliver to your location.

I use blackstrap molasses for so many things:-

  • Marinade : For meats such as chicken and pork.
  • Sauce: To add to fried meats.
  • Hair mask: I use it as a pre poo treatment for my natural hair, with a bit of cocoa butter, or coconut oil. It reduces frizz, makes hair soft and easier to detangle.
  • Tonic; I like putting some into a glass of warm water and drink first thing in the morning a few times a week. Sometimes I add some apple cider vinegar or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • Smoothies. Just a little bit goes a long way, but it does add an interesting depth of flavour to naturally sweet smoothies.
  • Baking; Cookies and savoury dishes.

When using it, one has to be careful as the flavour is really strong for some, and a little goes a long way. It also doesn’t spoil fast, just store it in a cool, dry place, it will last ages.

I use it in making my Sweet and Sticky Wings, and my Pineapple, ginger and honey chicken recipes, which are already up here on the blog.

Sweet and sticky wings made with blackstrap molasses.

I also mix it with some ketchup, honey to make a kind of barbecue sauce that’s perfect for sautéed sausage.

As a tonic, I usually take a tbsp with same amount of Apple cider vinegar in a large glass of warm water first thing in the morning. It is an iron boosting tonic, and cleansing too, it will push all that stuck food in your gut out. (bye bye constipation).

As a face mask, I just use a bit when washing my face then cleanse with warm water. For hair, I mix it with some melted cocoa butter (which I also get from Eastnat limited). Apply on my hair for 15-20 minutes, then give it a good wash.

It makes my hair softer to manage, less frizz and less shedding.

How do you use your blackstrap molasses?

No Green Thumb here.

I come from a culture that prides itself in farming; no matter the scale. (Hello there, Andū a Nyūmba).

Such a disappointment given the amount of space I have here at the moment.

It wasn’t always like this though. Some years ago, I had a thriving kitchen garden back home. I grew my own spring onion, dhania, rosemary, mint, celery, beetroot, spinach, carrots, even strawberries, and they all thrived. I have no idea what happened when we got here.

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Growing up, we had a garden and livestock. We grew maize, potatoes, avocados, kale, spinach, amaranth, passion fruits, avocado, luquats, tree tomato, pumpkins, beans etc. My Dad who has a green thumb alright, had planted some beautiful flowers all around the house too. It was a pretty place. You would think I’d get some of that green pixie dust… Well, maybe I did, it just didn’t last long.

H and I lived in Naivasha for a while and we tried to garden, it was successful, except for the monkeys that would come and have a field day uprooting the carrots and messing up the maize. We did enjoy the onions and anything else the monkeys could not consume.

When we moved back to Nairobi, I did the kitchen garden thing again and it was pretty neat except for the strawberries that would go missing just before harvest. I did figure out who the culprit was but that is a story for another day. Anyway, somewhere along the line, I got too busy with work and neglected the small space, we ended up planting grass there. Funny enough though, the celery, beetroot and lemongrass keep popping up.

Fast forward to Kampala. We found a couple of banana trees, some lemongrass, struggling mint and chives in a small corner of the compound. Hurray! I thought, I can do this. So we had the small patch fenced off the rest of the garden because of the dogs, and got planting. Guys, nothing grew! Absolutely nothing! Even the existing chives and mint just decided to exit stage left. The bananas did grow without our help and we have enjoyed them twice but that is all. Even the maize I got to plant next to the bananas just decided to leave this world.

This is Uganda, fertile land and all with rain almost every month of the year. We watered, got manure, even dug everything up and tried again, we did all we could but nope, nothing happened.

I have given up on gardening. And I have no shame in admitting it. H and the kids haven’t though. My son has a bean plant he planted in class and it is thriving, so far so good. They also planted pumpkin and mint that is also coming on well. Even they pineapples they planted have taken root. I have decided to watch it all from a distance though, I do not want to jinx their plants, seeing as I now have a black thumb.

My Mum has been sending me pictures of their amazing organically grown vegetables. Courgettes almost as big as my arm, plump beans, large leafy greens, maize and peas and I have nothing to show for all my talk of having a big space for a wonderful kitchen garden. NOTHING.

As much as I have never been an ardent gardener, I still feel like I have failed bigly. What sort of Kikuyu woman is this who cannot even grow simple dhania guys? Dhania, the easiest thing to grow. I have failed my people. Do you know how lousy of a gardener I have become that I could not even sustain an existing rosemary bush people, Rosemary!

Black thumb it is for me.

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House Matters.

Shelter is a basic need. We all need somewhere to go home to, a place to call our own, a haven from daily work struggles and a place to be safe from the elements.

Where I come from, a lot of people believe that one of the things a person should aspire to have is his or her own piece of land, where they can go ahead and construct their own home. For those who do not own property near the city, it is assumed that by the time your working life ends, you will have finished constructing a place in the village to retire to, complete with a cow and chicken coop and space to grow your own vegetables to boot.

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I grew up about 15 km from Nairobi, in a rural village juxtaposed with a college campus on one side, a farming area on another and a busy highway on another end that connects the capital to the Rift Valley. Folks made fun of it a lot, but it is home. We lived on our own land, so no rent, had our cows, chicken and eggs, and a land to farm on, which meant food was easily accessible. Back then a lot of people believed living in town (within the city and suburbs) was the best life. Well, not anymore. I keep reading and seeing more people opting to move to our area and beyond and farm life and waking up to the sound of birds singing has more appeal now.

Times have changed. We are no longer living within our tribal communities’ geographical boundaries. People are choosing to settle anywhere they feel comfortable. This could be in different towns, countries or even continents.

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With the pandemic, a lot of people have had to cut down on living costs. Housing is one of the things that takes up a large chunk of one’s income if you live in the city where rent is high. A lot of people are opting to move farther away to the country side or different counties altogether where life is more affordable, which is a good decision. Adapting to Covid 19 has taught us that it is possible for many to work from home, as long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can work from anywhere.

Land is very expensive too, not all of us may afford to get that land to build our dream house on. One can opt to get a mortgage and settle on an already built housing unit or just decide to rent for life. Which is fine.

Culture is dynamic, there is nothing cast in stone, we need to adapt to these changes and respect each others’ decisions on what is best for them. That does not mean however that these decisions are easy to arrive at.

Is there a need of having to build a house in the village that you will head to once or twice a year for a week tops, that will then stay empty till the day you retire to the village? On the other hand, it will be great to have a roof over your head with no pressure to pay rent in case your income lines dry up.

What about buying an already built property; if you do not have the ability to pay cash upfront, are you willing to be burdened with a mortgage for almost 3/4 or even all of your working life?

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Or you buy land somewhere, then extreme changes in weather, like what we have been experiencing worldwide, force you to move. Lake levels are rising here and old dried up waterways are filled with water now as well as wetlands we thought are dried up. These are places people settled in and lived for years until recently, now their homes are gone!

Some properties are also controversial in terms of location and land ownership. Imagine taking out a loan to buy a house that turns out to built on land later claimed by the government or somebody else, or buying a house that ends up not being structurally sound?

Once you hear all the horror stories some people go through, renting suddenly looks more appealing than ever.

No matter the decision, shelter is a basic right for all. We all need somewhere to live, rest and sleep in. Choosing where to live depends on our economic situation, affordability, access to infrastructure, quality of life and also access to quality education if you have kids. Security too. And not just burglary and the likes, there are certain areas that are prone to tribal clashes every few years.

There is a lot to consider when making the decision where to live, and there is no perfect place that one will pick and say “This is it.” It is all about weighing all that you consider important, the pros and cons, do your due diligence, and make the final place you decide on a home fit for you and your family.

My Pantry Essentials.

This post is a continuation of my “House Matters” series. My previous post in this category was on my kitchen essentials which you can find here.

A pantry could be a room or a cupboard where one stores all their essential food and household items. Not all homes have a room in the kitchen that qualifies as a pantry, also called the kitchen store in some places. In smaller houses or apartments, you have to be creative, so you could either have a pullout pantry or use your cupboards, counter tops, shelves or bins to store your food items.

A simple but elegant pantry space.
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Growing up, my parents used to prefer doing monthly shopping. They would have their list and buy supplies to last us a month or two. Having space to garden also helped save a lot on groceries. We had cows and chickens, so no buying milk and eggs. We grew our own onions, tomatoes, potatoes, maize, beans, leafy greens, some herbs and had banana, avocado, mango, passion fruit and loquat trees. There was minimal food waste as leftovers could be used to feed the pigs, vegetable scraps would make compost and food scraps for the chickens. I miss those days!

We may not garden as much and keep livestock at the moment, but we have kept up with some of the habits I learnt when younger. We have retained the monthly shopping habit over the years for one; I find things last longer that way, we get to save on discounts such as if you buy more than one set of an item, and take advantage of what’s on sale. I also don’t like frequent supermarket runs, so shopping at a go is great for me. Weekly grocery runs are to stock up on perishables such as milk, fruits and vegetables.

This is not a conclusive list, it is just how I do it. Being well stocked makes it easier to plan meals in advance, including kids snacks, lunches and main meals. And there is nothing wrong with being organised, right?

In no particular order, here we go:-

  1. Oils– I mainly cook with sunflower oil and coconut oil. I also keep a bottle of extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings and a small bottle of sesame oil for marinades or simple sautés.
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2. Butters– I use unsalted butter as it is easier to use in a variety of dishes.

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3. Ghee– I sometimes use ghee to make my chapatis, for making a rich curry, for rice or dessert.

4. Cheese – I’ve already done posts on the cheese we prefer here. Goat cheese has an intense flavour that works well in pizzas and salads. Cheddar is handy for scrambled eggs, in a savoury loaf, and mozzarella for pizza. But my personal favourites are the goat cheese varieties from Kyaninga dairy and gouda cheese. I however prefer stocking one type at a time.

5. Vinegars– I love balsamic vinegar and add it to roasted vegetables or make a tasty drizzle with it that goes well with many dishes. Apple cider vinegar is handy to have for a tonic and other uses around the home, not just the kitchen. White vinegar is used for baking, cleaning fruits, vegetables and other non food uses, and red wine vinegar is great on salads.

Various types of vinegar.

6. Flours– This includes all purpose flour and self raising flour for baking and pancakes or mandazi. I like using atta (whole wheat flour) in chapatis mixed with besan flour.

One of my favorite flours.

Chick pea (besan) flour is also great in savoury pancakes like I made here, and as batter for packed potatoes here, or crispy matoke wedges or a gluten free apple cake. Rice flour is also present in my pantry. It is great in porridge, pancakes and for battered vegetables too. Kenyan maize meal flour is a must for making ugali, and can make pancakes too, like in this recipe.

For porridge flours, I stock pumpkin flour and millet flour as they are readily available here. I am yet to get sweet potato flour here which I liked mixing in my chapati back home but when I do, I will add it to my list. I also have cassava flour which I have only used so far used to make ugali and roti. Cornstarch also features in this category, although I do not use it much, it is handy to have for thickening sauces or in other dishes.

7. Canned goods- Tomato paste, baked beans in tomato sauce, coconut cream and milk, canned tuna are must haves in my pantry.

8. Condiments– Ketchup, mustard, Mayonnaise. With kids ketchup runs out pretty fast. Akabanga is a hot chilli (really hot) sauce from Rwanda that is in this category too.

9. Flavourings– Vanilla and almond extracts are my usual “go tos” when baking. Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce are in this category too.

10. Rice and Pasta– As I have mentioned here before, I am a fan of long grained basmati rice as a little goes a very long way. Do not compromise on good quality rice if you make it a lot. For pasta I mix long and short varieties. The short cut pasta is great for salads and pasta bakes. Spaghetti is a kids’ favourite here so I always have a couple of packs on hand. In this category a box of couscous and pearl barley also come in handy.

Different kinds of pasta.
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11. Spices – To avoid having too many spices losing flavour, these days I prefer buying whole spices then grind them up depending on the blend I want, whether for pilau, spicy tea, biriani or a curry.

My must have whole spices are cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, fennel seeds, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, nutmeg, ginger and turmeric. I like doing this as I am able to experiment with the flavours and learn how the spices work well together. For store bought blends and ground spices, I buy paprika, Kenyan curry powder, garam masala, cayenne pepper and chilli flakes.

An array of various spices.
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Dried herbs– These come in handy when one cannot access fresh herbs, but be careful so the flavour doesn’t get too overpowering in your meal. In this category I stock dried fenugreek leaves, bay leaves, oregano, basil, sage, parsley and mint.

Beverages– Tea leaves, Kenyan of course, have to feature here. Drinking chocolate for the kids, cocoa for baking, coffee and chamomile tea are constants. Ugandan coffee is really good, I am not a heavy coffee drinker but really like it.

Spreads– Our main spreads are peanut butter, honey and jam which could be of any flavours. Nutella too as a treat.

Snacks– Potato crisps and plantain crisps feature here as well as popcorn. I like buying it raw and popping it the old fashioned way with the kids.

Sweeteners- Honey, sugar and icing sugar. I also keep blackstrap molasses for a tonic.

Salts- Just the usual table salt will do. I also like having some sea salt, Himalayan rock salt and black salt when available. The black salt lasts ages. I like it in roasted meats and vegetables.

Breakfast cereals- We love oats so they are always present in the cupboards. Stovetop or overnight, they are a weekday breakfast fixture here. I also keep Weetabix and Weetos for the kids.

Cereals/ legumes- I like having a variety of dried legumes, and keep changing them up. Chickpeas, brown lentils, kidney beans, pigeon peas, chana dal and butter beans are my mains in this category.

Different kinds of beans.
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Dried fruits, seeds and nuts– Chia seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, sultanas, desiccated coconut, groundnuts and cashew nuts feature here.

Powdered Foods : I use these as toppings for our breakfast cereals, smoothies or snacks. This include black seed powder, baobab powder and hibiscus powder. I recently bought some groundnut powder for matoke groundnut sauce. I am yet to try it on anything else though.

Miscellaneous– Baking soda, baking powder and yeast are in this category, as well as breadcrumbs, glucose, and custard powder. I also include coffee filters, vitamin and collagen supplements here as well as food colour and rose water which I use for biriani, baking and beauty purposes.

Packaging– This category features rubber bands, wax paper, greaseproof paper, Foil, cling film and ziplock bags, kitchen paper towels and serviettes.

Most of these items last us well over three months. The all purpose flours and cooking oil, snacks and breakfast cereals are what we usually stock up on monthly. For food items such as ginger, mint and turmeric, I stock up on both fresh and dried depending on use.

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Food pantry essentials depend on how often one cooks, how many people you cook for on average and also the kind of food you make. I make all our meals, including the children’s school lunches which determines how much of each item we need in a given period of time.

I also like cooking with different spices hence the long list of what I stock. It all depends on what you like, but my hope is to help somebody get organised on the basics.

What are your pantry essentials?