Saturday, January 19, 2008


A post actually written at post rather than in the cyber, you all should be proud. Back at Copargo after the cough infested Christmas festivities, and I think that there is something to be said for familiar surroundings, the cough has abated somewhat back to the mild irritation it usually is rather than the ragging furor it was in Nati. Also here, every time I cough people nod sagely and commiserate with about their own coughs and the poussiere (dust) although really it's dirt, grit, and sand that’s blowing around, no wonder I’m coughing. After a study of the health book, I’ve ruled out pneumonia and bronchitis (no fever, and no yellow OR green mucus) as well as a cold, (none of the other symptoms) it says sometimes a cough can be caused by simple dehydration, drinking more hasn’t helped much, so I don’t think that’s it, the other explanation is of course air borne irritants to which all the remedy there is is a suppressant, which I’ve tried and doesn’t help, so poussiere it is. Thus I will most likely be cursed with some variety of cough until February or March when Harmatan ends. Joy.
On an up note I can say that cashew season has arrived! I had no idea that there were cashew trees in Benin buit I had been assured that the nuts these trees gave were even sweeter than peanuts. So patiently I waited until the nuts came, and low and behold… cashews! So now I get to watch the truly amusing sight of the petites in my concession retrieve the nuts, the rather boring sight of the sun drying of the nuts, the almost as amusing sight of the nuts having the beejesus roasted out of them, and then the truly welcome sight of the nuts being smashed open with rocks to reveal cashews. If you are going to be really hard working after all this you would fry them in butter and salt them, my mama does that for the ones she is going to sell. Not quite the same as an American cashew but tasty none-the-less and a very welcome change from peanuts.
In other news I finally baked cornbread for the first time here. I ended up begging a cup of corn flour from my neighbors (who considering the quanity they have to buy to make pate and all the other African specialties didn’t begrudge me a small amount). This little project was made infinitely easier by the fantastic surprise brought to me by the post man, a box from Mom with a mini bread loaf pan, and a bubble envelope with a single serving pizza dish, both ideal for my dutch oven, now allowing me to make breads biscuits and cookies, before I had no idea what I would bake in or on, now that problem is solved and the baking has begun. So my first attempt at cornbread was a resounding success with the concession and with my Mama, all of whom surprisingly enough had not had cornbread made for them before. Considering I’m the third volunteer here I was pretty sure either of the two previous volunteers would have baked at least once but everyone was stunned when I said I wanted to the corn flour to make bread.
“Is it possible to borrow some corn flour?” (C’est possible je prend un peu de mais?)
“Sure, are you going to make pate?” (Oui, tu vas faire pate?)
“No I’m going to make bread.” (Non, je vais faire pain.)
“Bread?!” (Pain?!)
“Yes corn bread, its sweet, like cake.”
(Oui, pain de mais, c’est douce, comme gateau.)
“You’re going to make…bread? Are you sure you don’t want to make pate?” (tu vas faire… pain? Pas pate? Which is not actually what she said but I can’t remember the question in French so you just get “not pate” because that’s easier)
“Yes, when its finished you can have some, if you like it I’ll make more.” (oui, quand c’est finis je vais donne un peu, si tu aime ca je vais faire ca encore.)
Then the disbelieving looks while the get me the flour. (I included the French so you would see that one, my French is still not so great but I get by anyway, and two that I do actually speak French with people sometimes :])In the end remembering being told that the Beninese don’t like sweet cornbread I added less sugar which made the bread less tasty to me, but everyone else thought it was fantastic and I have two Mamas who are already planning to come over and see how its made. My next plan is to spend all of new years eve baking cookies and bread. Why you might wonder? Well I was sitting with my mama the other afternoon, while she was making akassa. [Side note: My mama making Akassa is a great sight and I’m hoping she’ll let me photograph her someday doing it. She makes it over a fire in this massive cauldron stirring it with a giant wooden spoon. So essentially what the scene amounts to is mama bent over this huge cauldron of bubbling white stuff stirring away with a giant wooden spoon. I always think the scene despite its being set in Africa is a little taste of bubble bubble toil and trouble. ^.^]
“Are you busy cooking for new years?”
“I said are you busy cooking for New Years?”
“No, I mean, what?”
“For new years, your’re going to make something aren’t you?”
“I’m going to what?”
“Make something, like yam pilé, or pate, or rice.”
“You want me to make yam pilé?”
“Well, maybe not yam pilé, but we’re going to make lots of food and get sodas, and have a big party, you are going to make something.” (notice how its not a question.)
So now I’m tasked with making something, and in the absence of a crap load of rice, pate or yam pile, I’ve decided to bake for everyone, which means I have to make about 30 or 40 cookies at least. I think I can bake 5 or 6 at a time on my new pizza dish (thanks Mom! :]) so that means I have to bake at least 7 batches, so about 3 hours of work for the cookies, and probably more. I also want to do a couple more loaves of either corn bread or banana bread so that amounts to probably something like 5 hours of baking. Which would be really not stressful at all if I wasn’t doing it for a fete that is infact only 2 days away.


loehrke said...

The cashews sound dee-lish!!!!
And look at you, making cornbread and cookies!!!
You are becoming the Martha Stewart of Benin!!!
Love your posts!!!
Hope the coughing stops soon.
All the best, Mark Loehrke (Carly's dad)

MarjW said...

I am sooooo happy that the mini pizza pan and the mini loaf worked out so well.... I thought they might but you never know for sure... another success! Happy to hear you are baking as I know you are happy when baking.... but perhaps not having to do so...and on a time schedule...glad it worked out for you....and agree with Mark...that I hope the cough stops soon...your mom....

Judith A. Johnson said...

I have to admire your cooking skills and all the baking you have been doing in a dutch oven. I guess conceptually I realized a dutch oven could be an oven, but I have never had to use it for that and I am glad to know that it works. It seems funny that a thing as basic as corn bread or peanut butter is not a staple there when the basic ingredients are all at hand. They may wonder why we don't have yam pile everyday, too. Why don't we?