Veggie Lady Saves Mondays

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Setting up a home in rural Africa is not for the faint of heart. And I am by no means roughing it. Unlike my closest friend here, a schoolteacher living in the heart of the village, I have fresh, clean running water and modern conveniences like a washing machine and an oven. You won’t hear loud complaints from me, though I do occasionally mention how lovely it would be to have a Whole Foods around the corner and some Friday evenings I all but reach for the phone to order a delivery pizza, only to remember that won’t work here.

I get our produce weekly. I have the choice of going to the Monday market or buying from a lady who peddles her veggies and eggs on the compound grounds. Monday Market is a sprawling, somewhat raucous bazar where one can find food, housewares, fabrics, and clothes. I once saw a collection of what looked to be bonafide Hunter wellies at the Market, not far from the vegetable sellers and the rat traps. There’s an entire section of used clothing referred to by the locals as “the dead yovow (white person) market”. (They name it that because it’s unfathomable that a living white person would get rid of their clothes).

Market isn’t for the feeble yovow. It’s hot, crowded, stinky, and exhausting. It can be fun, but only if you’re very prepared and you don’t mind hot, crowded, stinky, exhausting fun. When we take the boys, each of us straps one on and walks as confidently as possible. We typically emerge after an hour without much to show for it…

….Which is why I typically buy my food from the vegetable lady. She arrives mid-day via moto from Kpalime, carrying a large baskets of produce and eggs behind her. A second moto transports another stack of produce for her. The selection varies some by season, but I typically have the choice of zucchini, beets, tomatoes, green beans, pineapple, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, green apples, and eggs. I usually spend around 7,000CFA, or $13-$14 for a week’s worth of vegetables and eggs.

Upon returning home, I throw the purchases into sinks full of bleach water. The produce is cleaned, rinsed in fresh water, and stored away in the fridge. This process takes time and it is a little unsettling to bathe my food in bleach, but it’s a necessity here.

The whole week is a game of figuring out delicious, or just plain edible, foods I can make with the options we have. Last night, for instance, we had company over for zuchinni fritters served with homemade labneh, haricots verts with butter and toasted almonds, homemade tortillas, and herb roasted potatoes. It was pas mal.

I’d say two important themes drawn from my life in Africa so far are: 1) You can live with fewer options than you think you need, and 2) Necessity is the mother of invention!




Essi’s First Day


They say the dry harmattan winds seem to give some relief to the sticky heat that visits Togo during the rainy season. Yesterday was the first day the air felt fresh and somewhat cool to me, as if the wind was foretelling the newness of the day’s mood. I was ready for the relief. These early weeks have been difficult ones for me. I’ve spent many moments leaning over a sink full of dishes, remembering times that I displayed grit in my life. A marathon, years of schooling, carrying a baby, anything that I could draw on to give me the confidence to stand tall, joyfully while I push myself out of this stage when my legs feel wobbly. It’s far too easy to give up when things are hard.

Essie came yesterday. She’s a young woman, probably a few years younger than me, with mama hips and a quiet, warm disposition. She knows more about motherhood than me, and definitely more about how to keep a house in Africa. Without much instruction she set out to wash the floors, make tortillas, manage the laundry. I was so grateful for the hand. For the first time I felt I could see my way over the mountain of housework that I could never se time to get ahead of. For the first time, I could imagine successfully living here for two years. We had black beans and fresh tortillas for dinner and it was perfect.


It’s Fall, Pumpkin

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Fall is here and so I baked something with pumpkin: pumpkin chocolate chip scones. I thought they’d be nice with an afternoon cup of coffee. They do pair well with this crisp rainy weather we’re having here in the mountains. I followed King Arthur’s recipe (see below) and whipped up a little bit of maple glaze to top them.

Once again, I find myself to clinging to all sorts of seasonal traditions, like baking with pumpkin and drinking pumpkin spiced drinks…Because once again, we find ourselves on the brink of a move. I’ve told myself that maximizing the seasons back home is part of my preparation for Africa. As if decorating for fall or planning a Thanksgiving tablescape (something I’ve never done to this date) will better prepare me for life in Togo….

Anyway, this journey to Africa has lasted nearly two years. I know that because the day we made the decision to sell our house and move to Africa was just before the day our first boy was born two Octobers ago. It’s been a sufficient amount of time for me to experience a wide range of emotion about the move, not limited to fear, doubt, and excitement. I’ve settled at a good place, a healthy place I think. I’m realistic about how heavy it will feel to miss my family and friends, but I am starting to imagine Togo as “home”. I’m mostly ready to get there, hang some art on the walls, throw some quilts on the bed (for decoration, not warmth), and use all that French we’ve learned to make friends.

But this afternoon, I’m taking in my view of autumn leaves, the sound of my dad slurping his (pumpkiny) Chai in the adjacent room, and the comfort of knowing my little ones are snuggled up for their afternoon naps at their grandparents’ mountain home.

King Arthur Harvest Pumpkin Scones

I added Ghiradelli chocolate chips (the best!) and made a little maple glaze 

  • 2 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup to 2 cups minced crystallized ginger, cinnamon chips, or chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. maple extract
  • 1 tsp. milk or half and half

1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices.

2) Work in the butter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly; it’s OK for some larger chunks of butter to remain unincorporated.

3) Stir in the ginger and/or chips, if you’re using them.

4) In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and eggs till smooth.

5) Add the pumpkin/egg to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.

6) Line a baking sheet with parchment; if you don’t have parchment, just use it without greasing it. Sprinkle a bit of flour atop the parchment or pan.

7) Scrape the dough onto the floured parchment or pan, and divide it in half. Round each half into a 5″ circle (if you haven’t incorporated any add-ins); or a 6″ circle (if you’ve added 2 cups of fruit, nuts, etc.). The circles should be about 3/4″ thick.

8) Brush each circle with milk, and sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar or cinnamon sugar, if desired.

9) Using a knife or bench knife that you’ve run under cold water, slice each circle into 6 wedges.

10) Carefully pull the wedges away from the center to separate them just a bit; there should be about 1/2″ space between them, at their outer edges.

11) For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.

12) Bake the scones for 22 to 25 minutes, or until they’re golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean, with no wet crumbs. If you pull one of the scones away from the others, the edges should look baked through, not wet or doughy.

13) Remove the scones from the oven, and serve warm. 

14) Whisk sifted powdered sugar, milk and 1/2 tsp of maple extract. Drizzle over hot scones.

Yield: 12 scones.