Life

Continuing the ritual of cooking and eating at home

Home cook Genie Maybanks made Ghanaian Nkatenkwan or peanut butter soup on Thursday, April 23, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The
Home cook Genie Maybanks made Ghanaian Nkatenkwan or peanut butter soup on Thursday, April 23, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Some of Genie Maybanks’ fondest memories revolve around food. As a child growing up in Des Moines, she made homemade pasta with her dad.

“I grew up in a house where cooking was kind of a sport,” she said. “My dad would check out cookbooks from the library and would experiment, so I grew up trying a lot of different things.”

Maybanks recalls stopping by during high school to share meals with her grandmother, who she says was a phenomenal cook.

“She told me not to eat so much pasta because it was going to make me round,” she said with a laugh. “She also said any fool could cook as long as they had enough butter.”

She’s grateful for her grandmother’s culinary influence in her life.

“She was a very, very good cook, and she set beautiful tables,” she said. “Mealtime was a ritual, and we would have big family dinners.”

That tradition is one Maybanks has continued with her husband and two daughters, 8 and 10, in their Cedar Rapids home.

“We regularly light candles and set the table,” she said. “I mean we are a normal American family who has Crock-Pot dinners when life is busy. But I’m a pretty fast cook and there are recipes where I know what I’m doing well enough to whip things up pretty quickly. I really do enjoy cooking. It’s an artistic expression, and I don’t measure anything.”

One of her signature dishes is homemade pasta, which she makes with her daughters.

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“My dad was always rolling out homemade noodles, and I absolutely make pasta from scratch with my girls,” she said. “It takes 10 times longer to cook with my girls, but I love it.”

Maybanks said most days she doesn’t know what her family is having for dinner until mid-afternoon.

“I go to the grocery store almost every day,” she said, although she’s not doing that during the coronavirus restrictions. “I get inspired by whatever is fresh and beautiful, and things coming in right from the fields.”

Maybanks also believes in the “food, not lawns” movement, lining her front walks with herbs and edible flowers.

“You truly are what you eat, so taking the time to make sure those ingredients are good and helpful is important to me,” she said. “I like to eat good food, and I like the experience and the ritual of sitting down at the table with the family.”

Her love of cooking ties into her love of travel, when she seeks out new dishes she can re-create at home.

“The whole point of eating out for me is to find something that I really love that I can’t make, and then I eat enough of it until I figure out how to make it,” she said. “I’m always willing to try new things, and I also never met a vegetable I didn’t like, even as a child.”

While not trained as a chef, Maybanks has worked in the food industry her whole life, first working at a grocery store when she was 15.

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“When I went to college, I was the only person on my dorm floor that had pans,” she said.

Maybanks worked as a bartender, waitress, wine rep and then at New Pioneer Food Co-op in Cedar Rapids.

“At the co-op, I got to work around some of the best local ingredients,” she said. “It was always exciting when something new came in that I’d never seen before.”

Today, she works for an organization that works to preserve farmland near cities to grow local food.

“People think it’s a choice: You can eat to live, or you can live to eat,” Maybanks said. “If you cook for yourself, you can do both. You get to control the quality of ingredients, the portion and the flavor. You can eat what you like best and control how healthful it is for you and your family.”

Asparagus Salad

INGREDIENTS:

fresh asparagus spears

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)

Parmesan (optional)

Kosher salt

DIRECTIONS:

Use a carrot peeler to shave asparagus into long ribbons. Break off the woody base and put ribbons in bowl or salad plate. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on the ribbons and sprinkle with olive oil and kosher salt. Gently toss.

Optional: Shave aged Parmesan cheese on top, or use grated Parmesan. Add toasted pine nuts or toasted almond slices. Shaved lemon rind makes a nice garnish, too.

Nkatenkwan

(Cozy Ghanaian Peanut Stew)

This recipe is Genie Maybanks’ interpretation of a classic African stew she learned from her friend, Peter Eko-Acqua, from Ghana, who sometimes makes it with goat meat instead of chicken.

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, grated

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1 lb. chicken breast, chopped (or protein of your choice)

1 pint cherry tomatoes (or about 2 tablespoons tomato paste)

Hot peppers

2 cans (14.5-oz.) chicken broth

1/3 cup creamy, salted peanut butter

Salt to taste

Peas (optional)

Cilantro

Rice

DIRECTIONS:

In a saucepan, brown ginger, onion and garlic in oil. Transfer to blender.

Add chicken to the hot pan, stirring and browning. Add half the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Add to blender the rest of the chicken broth, tomatoes (or tomato paste) and hot peppers. Blend.

Pour blended mixture into the pan with chicken and bring to a boil.

Scoop peanut butter into the pan and stir until smooth. It will bubble and start to thicken. Add peas, if you want, and salt to taste.

Remove from heat, garnish with cilantro and serve over rice.

Note: Maybanks uses 2 habaneros peppers for a lot of heat, or 1 or 2 serrano peppers for less heat.

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