Note: Due to computer troubles pictures are unavailable to be uploaded at the moment. Please check back in a few weeks for a look at my mouthwatering morsels.
So for those of you who know me for about 30 seconds, you know that I LOVE food. And also that I generally like to make good food for myself, regardless of the situation. Adjusting to a life where all of my cooking is done for me has been a bit strange, despite the fact that I really do enjoy the food here a lot. Typical meals for me include a staple, either rice, yams, or TZ (maize flour solidified porridge), some kind of sauce or soup (tomato or groundnut based), mixed in with maybe some boiled veggies or meat. It’s a bit repetitive, but because I’m liking it I generally can’t complain.
Sometimes, however, the cravings for nachos with cheese and sour cream and green onions, or freshly made cream sauce with cheese and onions spread over pasta is overwhelming, and my mouth is even watering as I write this. So I’ve devised a few ways to escape.
With Mr. Abanga as an accomplice, I began to craft my exploits in “Ghanadian” cooking.
Episode 1: Risotto, a.k.a. Lipton soup rice mush.
Unfortunately, as excited as I was and as enthusiastic my cooking partner in Mr. Abanga, the risotto did not materialise as hoped. The onions were beautiful. The gas burner was perfect. We had the rice, and what I expected to be chicken stock similar to Canadian chicken stock. Mistaken assumption! By adding too much of this final ingredient, we had a set of rice that was very much akin to Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup, which I am not particularly a fan of. The taste was just far too strong, but luckily even though Mr. Abanga and I did not eat it, I brought it back to Nangong-Ayeli and it was a hit with my family! Final note: it was set up for disappointment, due to a conspicuous lack of parmesan cheese in Ghana. This one was just not meant to be.
Episode 2: (Real) French Toast
Now I’m not trying to knock my fellow JF Marc-Andre’s cooking, but when he made french toast with Mr. Abanga he neglected to be meticulous in the creation of the egg mixture. Without the cinnamon and nutmeg, french toast really isn’t french toast. It’s just egg-bread. Which, I admit, is still quite good. But the aroma of freshly fried french bread hearkens me back to wonderful days at my friends’ cabin, and truly is my favourite breakfast food. So I had to do it justice, and after a search in Tamale by Mr. Abanga the spices were found, and we were able to go through almost two loaves of bread in one morning gobbling and sharing this simply delicious treat.
Episode 3: Garlic and Onion Pasta
Who could have expected something so simple would be so satisfying? With 4 cloves of garlic, 3 tiny onions (by Canadian standards, but regular for Ghana), and some vegetable oil, my nose was bathed in a refreshingly familiar aroma of the staples of my Canadian cooking. This time the cooking implements of choice were a big metal pot and what looks like a shallow bin on top of a grate, filled with charcoal. The charcoal has to be fanned in order to maintain the heat, and I was careful not to burn either my garlic or onions because of uneven heat. Success! 25 minutes and half a package of spaghetti noodles later, I was digging into truly wholesome home-cooked Ghanadian food, and sharing with my friend Emelia that is also living with me and my family in Nangong-Ayeli.
Episode 4: Milo Birthday Cake
So I was wandering around Tamale and into some of the shops that cater to expats, and found none other than Fair Trade Icing Sugar. Perfect for my mission of creating a Ghanadian birthday cake for my partner in crime Fall JF Maxim, whose birthday fell on the Gangksgiving weekend at the West Africa Retreat. Armed with flour, eggs, baking powder, butter, and a half-bag of milo chocolate drink-mix, I set out to make the cake on an early morning in Bolgatanga. After trying to find a functional oven, I mixed all the ingredients together in the pan and popped it in. 45 mins later, a steaming and slightly undercooked cake emerged into the world, and it was lovingly iced with real butter icing and chocolate spread. Each morsel packed a mighty punch, and it was a spectacular treat for the day, and a reminder that celebrating can be accomplished with some time and effort in every country. Happy Birthday Max!
Episode 5: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.
EPIC. With real butter and real cheddar cheese all the way from Tamale, I was no less than ecstatic to be embarking on the creation of arguably one of my favourite Canadian meals. But Ghana always adds a twist. Ghana bread does not cut well, and the local loaf I procured earlier in the day was fresh and prone to tearing. This led to several escape attempts by the cheese, which was also in deteriorating shape due to the heat. Good thing it’s all fat anyways. That evening I desperately tried to source a frying pan somewhere in my village, alas, no one that I knew actually cooks much besides something that can fit in a big metal pot. Good thing I had also purchased in Tamale a stainless-steel cup with a lid, and by unscrewing the plastic handle of the lid I was able to have a make-shift frying pan, with only a small hole in the center. Enter the charcoal bin, which once lit was uber hot and scorched the crap out of the first piece of buttered bread which graced the frypan-lid. At this point the whole family, and actually many of the people that were visiting that evening, were gathered around to watch what my student friend Yusif called “my experiment”. After reducing the amount of charcoal in the bin to almost nil, Sandwich #2 entered the arena, and the gooey cheese melting into the crispy bread really rocketed me to cloud 9. After this first taste, a good assembly line was created between my leatherman, the butter bag (melted butter is a bit of a slippery character to work with), the cheese and frypan-lid, and all the onlookers got their chance to partake in my grilled cheese experiments. With very mixed reactions! Some eagerly applied for more pieces after their first taste, while others asked for just the bread and butter instead. I was not worried either way, as spreading the joy through this food was easy considering I was overflowing with it, and there was more than enough grilled cheese for me. Definitely the most blissful meal so far in Ghana.
Episode 6: Roasted maize with butter.
As simple as it sounds, this combination was a huge improvement to an already delicious snack similar to corn on the cob but with more of a popcorn taste. Mmmmm, solid, buttery, popcorn.
Stay tuned for more episodes of Ghanadian cooking with Janine! Eat well!