Sunday, February 26, 2006

How to eat like a Peace Corps Volunteer (e-mail from Amy)

(sent at 11:00 AM Saturday morning)

How to eat like a Peace Corps Volunteer ( and enjoy yourself doing it.)

OK, so I know I talk a lot about porridge and goat head and all of those really spectacular Namibian foods, but the truth is that I only eat traditional Namibian foods at tea time (which is like a meal between breakfast and lunch.
Really it's elevensies.) and when I'm visiting friends (maybe two or three times a week.) Most of the meals I make for myself are American, partially because I like American food and partially because I don't really know how to cook Namibian food. About the only Namibian food to have made it into my regular diet, sans tea time, is this amazing ginger carrot dish and I'm not even sure I make it the way the Namibians do (I know for sure that I cook the carrots a lot less, because my version doesn't end up almost the consistency of baby food.) Basically I peel and cut the carrots into coins and put them in a metal cup with some water. Then I grate some whole dried ginger root into the water and I boil it for maybe half an hour to 45 minutes (I don't really know for sure, my alarm clock is the only clock in the house.) Then I cover the whole thing in lots of butter and brown sugar. Who says that vegetables can't be tasty?

Mostly I eat food like grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, pizza, soups, oatmeal, peanut butter sandwiches, rice, pancakes, baked chicken, French toast and French fries. The main difference between cooking here and in America is that I have access to basically no convenience foods. The extent of my convenience foods is custard powder (which is like cook and serve pudding mix.) and some dried soup mixes. If I want to eat pizza, first I make a dough out of flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and oil. Then, I mix some canned, pureed tomatoes with "Mixed Spice" (an Italian blend of spices), sugar, salt and oil. Then, I grate some cheese on the top, bake the whole thing and voila… Pizza. French fries mean I will be julienne-ing potatoes and heating sunflower oil over the stove. Even spaghetti means mixing my own sauce mixture.

I've had to be a little bit creative coming up with replacements for ingredients you can't find here. I make grilled cheese sandwiches with chunks of gouda (expensive, but actually much tastier than Velveeta sandwiches and I am willing to spend large chunks of my salary on cheese since it's almost absent from the Namibian diet and I miss it.) I have been particularly creative with replacements for maple syrup (you can get something they call maple syrup in bigger towns like Otjiwarongo, but it tastes like corn syrup.) Among my favourite replacements- honey, sweetened condensed milk, peanut butter, and just dousing the whole thing in a lot of butter.

In addition, I'm discovering how to work without a microwave. It makes leftovers a bit tricky and it means that I have to spend 30 min- 1 hour on each cooked meal I make. I'm figuring out which dishes you can just put on a burner and leave for a while (pasta, split pea soup, rice) and which dishes you have to watch like a hawk (French fries, pancakes, and oatmeal if you put the burner on high and don't want to clean up the oatmeal goo that spills over the top of the metal cup.)

By the way, I learned a few days ago that you can't get TB from unpasteurized milk if it has been soured, which makes me happy because I've been really nervous about whether the sour milk they put on the porridge at tea time is pasteurized.

Anyway, I eat pretty well all things considered. And, if I seem a little obsessed with food at times, it's just because it takes so much of my time to make and eat it and there isn't that much else to be interested in in Anker.

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