Friday, March 06, 2015

Happy Ghana Independence Day

Today is March 6, Ghana's 58th year Independence Day. Air force planes have been flying overhead in  formation all week getting ready for the parades and festive activities. We are hoping the rain stays away this afternoon.

We have been here 4 weeks tomorrow.

Recent highlights include:
  • lunching and catching up with Barbara Baeta at her house (and learning that in 2011 she was honored with the Order of the Volta, one of Ghana's highest honors for service to the nation)  
  • a guest lecture in husband's professional development class for materials science students (mostly tips on better writing) to final year undergraduate students at the University of Ghana, Legon
  • initial inroads on turning the house near Community 18 (Baatsona) into a home (e.g., moving some of the seedlings there for the kitchen garden, buying water tanks, commissioning  local terracotta tiles for the kitchen floor . . .)
  • beginning  revisions to the cookbook (tick, tock--the end of March is getting closer)
The next big event is this weekend's activities celebrating my husband's high school alma mater, Achimota School, reunion and "Founders Day." It kicks off tonight (Friday) with a bonfire, followed by cultural activities tomorrow morning (and husband's speech on behalf of the class of 1965), with a church service Sunday. 


    Sunday, February 22, 2015

    seeds and dietary trends

    Today marks 2 weeks in Ghana. Still at the guest house in Legon, but plan to go by the house in Baatsona (near Tema) this afternoon. It’s taken this long to get oriented and over jet lag. 

    Last week I spoke to my cookbook collaborator Barbara Baëta and we plan to meet this coming week. Also, started reading an interesting article in The Lancet, a respected online journal, on evaluating trends in global dietary patterns. Ghanaians are thrilled to claim that in it Ghana’s foods are listed as the 6th best in the world. Will study the article for answers to the many questions in my head and share my reactions.

    I'm to give a guest lecture at the University of Ghana on Wednesday, and have started some seeds to plant at the house. Looking forward to an herb garden mixing seeds from both my worlds (Ghana and the U.S.), along with fruits and vegetables. The rainy season is just beginning.

    Met up briefly with a young woman, Dziffa Ametam, visiting here from New York for a number of months. She's advising and interviewing young Ghanaian entrepreneurs. This includes those setting up an organic produce delivery service (sounds similar to Freshly's Farms) called "Just Fresh" in Osu, one of the projects supported by the AKO Foundation. It’s very refreshing to see the energy and enthusiasm among the youth and their dreams and plans, especially in the area of sustainable and local agriculture and entrepreneurship.

    Well, the power is off again, and I need to conserve my computer power. Will check in again soon. Still not missing the snow and cold in Pennsylvania.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Ah, Ghana--Shito and "Dumsor"

    We're beginning to fill our Ghanaian pantry, slowly. It's
    great to be away from the snow and ice of Pennsylvania, but the downside is that of the first 6 days we were here, the power was off 2 of tthem. It's known locally as "dumsor" "on/off," perhaps a Ga word [Correction: I was just informed "dum" is an Akan word meaning "off," and "sor" means "on"], and is slated to become one of the big political issues for the next campaign. It's unpredictable and very frustrating to folks.

    I'm temporarily  staying at the University of Ghana, Legon campus, before heading out to the house near Tema. 

    Yesterday my favorite fashion designer, Abammaku, took measurements for a new outfit, and also sold me some of her famous canned shito (or "shittor"). My husband and I also enjoyed her pineapple ginger drink, and carried home some of her locally bottled sobolo (aka bissap, or hibiscus drink).

    It's good to be back.

    Tuesday, February 03, 2015

    Heading to Ghana for 3 months

    It has been strangely quiet at BetumiBlog this fall and winter. Partly because of travel,  partly due to weather and travel preparations. All that changes in a few days as I head to Ghana on February 7, 2015, staying through the end of April.  I'll be bouncing around various places, working on edits and photographs for The Ghana Cookbook, and working with son DK on our house near Tema. Plus, I'm considering offering some custom cooking classes and exploring a line of  "made in Ghana" items,  (following up on my initial Ghana wear idea in 2013) perhaps expanding to stirring sticks, asankas, etc., for those outside of Ghana.

    I understand there are serious power, water, and sanitation issues in Ghana these days,  and I'll be sharing my experiences. I hope to meet up with folks from the Ghana Chef's Association, founders of the exciting entrepreneurial venture Freshly's Farms
    and a host of others. 

    Check back soon for updates.

    Tuesday, December 09, 2014

    Coming soon: The Ghana Cookbook

    News flash--our forthcoming book is now listed on Amazon! The cover features some of my Ghana photography. Still lots of editing and finalizing, but please stay tuned. It should be out in time for your holiday giving next October. Kudos to Hippocrene for their lovely design.

    Monday, December 08, 2014

    Investigating Traditional Basotho Breads


    Wheat is expensive and often imported into sub-Saharan African countries, where it is
    generally the preferred ingredient in baked or steamed breads. It is often in competition with other more traditional ingredients, such as sorghum and maize.

    In 2014 I had the privilege of participating in the thesis defense of another young African woman scholar, Pulane Nkhabutlane, who set out to investigate and document  the culinary practices and consumer preferences regarding traditional Basotho bread. She  sampled villages in 5 rural districts in Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa completely embedded within S. Africa.

    (photo from

    A consumer science doctoral student at the University of Pretoria, Dr. Nkhabutlane's pioneering doctoral research was, like Rose Omari's, by necessity largely exploratory and descriptive.  There were 3 main phases of her research: 
    • First, to identify and describe the different traditional breads in Lesotho, to investigate the past and present culinary practices related to them, to understand the factors influencing consumers' perceptions and consumption patterns, and to identify how Basotho culture impacts traditional bread acceptance. She considered ingredients, cooking methods, and social and economic variables (e.g., age, gender, and rural-urban differences)
    •  The second phase included a more technical analysis to standardize the recipes, considering regional variation, and to identify the nutritional value (macronutrients, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals) and yields.
    • Finally, to characterize selected traditional Basotho breads. This section included identifying sensory characteristics like texture, volume, and color, and the contributions of wheat, maize and sorghum flour to these. Also, to investigate and determine the contribution of sourdough in the bread doughs (pH and total titratable acidity).
    The thesis was another fascinating contribution to filling in the hole in contemporary sub-Saharan African culinary research. It also suggests a number of policy recommendations, such as campaigns to improve nutrition and food security and a greater appreciation of the strengths of the culinary heritage of sub-Saharan Africa. 

    It is exciting to observe a new generation of African scholars taking hold of their own research agendas. It also gladdens my heart that there is a generation of African fathers and husbands who are willing to support their wives to enable them to make contributions to the development of their continent, even at a personal cost to themselves. 

    The full title of Dr. Nkhabutlane's thesis is: "An Investigation of Basotho Culinary Practices and Consumer Acceptance of Basotho Traditional Bread."

    Some of her work has already been published: P. Nkhabutlane, G. E. du Rand, and H. L, de Kock, "Quality characterization of wheat, maize and sorghum steamed breads from Lesotho" Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Volume 94, Issue 10, pages 2104–2117, August 2014.

    Wednesday, December 03, 2014

    Urban Food Provisioning in Ghana: Fast Food Restaurants

    As 2014 draws to a close, I have returned to my desk in Pennsylvania, USA, after several
    months away. A recent trip was to the Netherlands, specifically to Wageningen University, where I was pleased to be on the examining committee during Rose Omari's doctoral defense. I first met Dr. Omari when she was a student and working at the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute in Accra during a research trip to Ghana in 2010, and it is encouraging to see another young African scholar tackling some of the gaps in African culinary research. Originally trained as a food scientist, Dr. Omari transitioned into the social sciences with her doctoral research.

    Intrigued by the rapid emergence of an urban social phenomenon in Ghana, the "fast-food restaurant," she wanted to use the Accra Metropolitan Area to answer basic what, why, where and when questions, and to try to make sense of it. She wanted to use a Ghanaian perspective rather than simply adopt Western models. Prof. Dr. E. O. Sakyi-Dawson, from the University of Ghana, was another of her examiners. The research is fascinating and likely to inspire further efforts. Besides doing a fine job of description, she sought to cast a wide interdisciplinary net to analyze the phenomenon considering the interacting and contradictory dimensions of social identity,  convenience, and sense of consumer responsibility.

    The thesis title is: Fast Food in Ghana's Restaurants: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Relevance--An Interdisciplinary Perspective. One paper rising from the research has already been published, and several more are already submitted/accepted:

    Omari, R., Jongerden, J. P., Essegbey, G. Frempong, G., and Ruivenkamp, G. T. P. (2014) Fast food in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana: Characteristics, availability and the cuisine concept. Food Studies 1 (4):29-44.

    Omari R., Essegbey G. and Ruivenkamp G. (2014) Barriers to the use of locally produced food products in Ghanaian restaurants: Opportunities for investments [Accepted for publication in Journal of Scientific Research and Reports]

    Dr. Omari is married and has children. From personal experience I know that a woman's academic road in that case can be a long and challenging one, requiring intense commitment and persistence, and the sustained love and support of one's spouse, family, and friends. Clearly, Dr. Omari received that. Well done!