Kenyan Chef Boyardee

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Editor's note: Clark resident Mary Walker works at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 with funding from the United Nations, and it provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have run away from their families to escape or who have been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage.

The girls at the center have been asking me to make spaghetti. At some point in the past, a visitor to the safehouse made spaghetti for the girls, and the idea has stuck with them.

Yesterday was the big day. For the equivalent of about $6, I went to the food market and purchased about five grocery store bags of fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, green peppers and a local spice called dania. At a new supermarket that recently opened in Narok, I found everything else - well, not exactly.

Naivas is Narok's answer to Wal-Mart. There's luggage, school supplies, clothes, food and electronics. It's about the size of the 7-Eleven in Steamboat.

The challenge was to make spaghetti for 50 girls over a charcoal fire. It was only later, when I was concocting my sauce, that I learned that Kenyan "tomato sauce" is actually ketchup a bit watered down to our tastes. Kenyan "tomato paste" is more similar to what I thought of as tomato sauce. And therein lies the secret to Chef Boyardee - I think they use Kenyan "tomato sauce" in their recipe because the sauce I made tasted exactly like my favorite Saturday lunch meal of Chef Boyardee spaghetti. I mean exactly, right down to the overcooked pasta.

It's not easy cooking enough pasta for 50 girls over a charcoal fire in a pot the size of a small refrigerator. The total cost of the meal was about $35 - an exorbitant amount in Kenya, caused mostly by the price of the pasta (about a dollar for a 1-pound bag).

Most of the girls loved it. Some were a bit curious, and everyone took my lesson in twirling their pasta on their forks with limited success. One poor girl, a teenager who just came to the center last week and doesn't speak a word of English or even Swahili (only her mother tongue, meaning that she has never been to school), just sat there looking really hungry. Many girls stashed away the extra and ate it for supper last night and even breakfast this morning.

So, the next time you feel like revisiting your childhood love of Chef Boyardee spaghetti, just use watered-down ketchup instead of sauce.

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