Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

Celebrating Nia: Past, Present, Future

Pumpkin and Ricotta Hand Pies by The Duo DishesNia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Nia. Purpose. I have, for a very long time, struggled to find meaning in that word. Purpose. Even as I write it, I find it funny that I decided to choose the topic as my contribution to this year’s Kwanzaa Culinarians. Funny, ironic that is. Purpose has been on my mind for months now. What it means to work as a community has grown over throughout the country, and specifically in my county of Los Angeles. It is nearly impossible to make change on your own. Despite the best ideas and intentions, the power of one man or woman will not affect change. It is the gathering of the minds, the sharing of ideas and the accumulation of assets that push change along and finally provide results.

This year proved to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually challenging for me. That, in turn, presented me with physical challenges. Each one of those obstacles remains with me like those friends you really do not want to hang out with, but you cannot lose them in the crowd. Somehow, someway, they find you and cling on like dryer sheets. I felt defeated for much of the year, and my unwanted friends were at the root of it all. Now we are at the tail end of 2012. It gets old hearing everyone say “Man, time flies!” or “Wow, wasn’t it just January…?” Yes, we all say those things, and it’s true. The old adage says time waits for no man, and what I learned in the last few months is that time would not wait for me. During the days that I did not want to work, write blog posts, research articles or construct new recipes, my colleagues continued to grow, foster, create and move themselves in their own desired direction. I felt happiness and pride for them, and I issued heartfelt congratulations. My internal fulfillment had yet to be met.

It seems as though the need to be fulfilled and find one’s purpose is not just my dilemma. It is one felt by young and old. To give back is to give of yourself to those around you. There is a transference of information or knowledge to someone else who will hopefully pass it on to others. Helping hands are extended for those less fortunate. Sometimes it is just a listening ear that can count as giving back. That moment when you have given someone a new sense of power based on what they have learned, received or heard is the most rewarding. I loved that lasting feeling when I taught cooking classes in town for hundreds of food-lovers. The same good feeling fills m following each monthly workshop under the Farm2Plate Culinary Club with the Social Justice Learning Institute. In 2010, I truly felt this surging energy of pride in members of my food community and beyond as we raised money through a multi-city event, Stir it 28, following the tragic Haiti earthquake. In 2009, there was the Eat My Blog charity bake sale sending proceeds to the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. Each of those moments showcased an effort to rebuild the community for its better.

Now, how do we take those community activities and turn them into opportunities for everyone to elevate themselves to a higher level. Well, as a woman who has practiced yoga for over a year now, I have heard a few of my instructors say that intentions are no good without attention. Choosing a purpose, follow that purpose and translate that purpose into action. Without attention to the intention, the job will never come to pass. My own personal development includes a stronger awareness of the holes in my life, and one of the easiest gaps to fill will center on changing the world with food. It may be all that I know how to do fairly well, and there must be a reason for it. What I want to do is small and may only change the lives of 20 people at most, but I will be satisfied with that. Working with other like-minded individuals, I will be able to give back to the community for the purpose of social growth.

Everyone wants to know how. I am no expert, but here is an idea. It is everyone’s duty to think about their own personal strength or offering. Some are big, others are small. There will be people with several talents, and there will be many others with just one. None are any more important than the other. The next step is to focus on how those assets can be helpful to even just one person, then think about how the two of you could help five people, and so on. If you can think of a way that a team of 100 could provide assistance, then you must be onto something influential. We are an interdependent society, and no matter how much we evolve, the need to help one another will never die. Without those helping hands, the growth that we need to see in education, social rights, small business development and more will remain slow or stall completely. The key is to recognize your offering and continue moving in that direction.

What is your shining light? With the help of others, how can it help with the betterment of your local community?
Pumpkin and Ricotta Hand Pies by The Duo Dishes
These hand pies, or mini pies, are perfect for the holidays. Instead of our traditional sweet potato pie, I wanted to switch to a fruit that does not receive as much glory as it should within our culture–the pumpkin. Combined with light, creamy ricotta cheese and sweetened condensed milk, the filling is smooth with a small texture on the tongue from the cheese. Once baked, a molasses-flavored glaze covers the top, resulting in a sweet dessert that is perfectly sized for one. If you feel so inclined, you could easily make a slightly larger batch of this filling and use it for a standard pie.

Pumpkin Ricotta Hand Pies with Molasses Glaze
Makes 24
Ingredients for the Pies
8 ounces canned pumpkin
4 ounces ricotta cheese, at room temperature
3 eggs
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 pre-made pie doughs, thawed
Flour, for rolling out the dough
1 tablespoon half-and-half, milk or cream
Pumpkin and Ricotta Hand Pies by The Duo Dishes
Ingredients for the Glaze
2 tablespoons molasses
3/4 cup powdered sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
1-2 tablespoons half-and-half, milk or cream

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, ricotta cheese and two eggs, one at a time, until combined. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice and salt until brush the outer edge of the dough with the egg wash. Fold one round edge over to match the next. Use a fork to tightly press the edges closed or decoratively crimp. Make a small incision on top to vent the dough.

4. Repeat with all of the dough and lay them onto baking sheets. Brush the top of each hand pie lightly with the last bit of egg wash. Chill the hand pies in the fridge, approximately 20 minutes, or freezer, 10 minutes.

5. Once the dough is hard, slide into an oven preheated to 400 degrees. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden browned on all sides. Remove from the oven to cool for at least 15 minutes.

6. While the hand pies cool, whisk together the molasses, powdered sugar and salt. Start with 1 tablespoon of half-and-half, milk or cream and add more, up to 1 additional tablespoon, until a smooth consistency is reached. Lightly drizzle over each hand pie.

You can find Chrystal Baker’s previous Kwanzaa Culinarians post on the principle of Ujima here. In addition to the food blog The Duo Dishes, connect with Chrystal, and her blogging partner Amir, on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest and Youtube. As a freelance writer, Chrystal contributes to CBS LA, Frugivore Magazine and Basil Magazine. She also maintains a personal lifestyle, travel and events blog, Any and Everywhere, and the Farm2Plate Culinary Club blog.

About The Duo Dishes

Chrystal Baker is a private cook, recipe developer, culinary production artist and freelance contributor to, as well as a culinary production team member for various TV shows, commercials, photo shoots and online content. She maintains, a Los Angeles-based food blog that features dishes influenced by family tradition, regional fare and worldly flavors. She also shares travel stories and links to published work via a personal blog, You can follow her trail on Instagram and Twitter-- @AnynEverywhere and @TheDuoDishes.

2 comments on “Celebrating Nia: Past, Present, Future

  1. KarmaFree Cooking
    December 21, 2012

    i do not understand Kwanzaa… but these hand pies look divine. I am sure I can replicate without the eggs or using egg-replacer. Thanks… Great Thanksgiving recipe for next year!!!!


  2. Pingback: Finding Purpose In Your Work | Any and Everywhere

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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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