Tuesday, June 23, 2015

So Much Fun. . .Akpabli's Tickling the Ghanaian

Earlier this year I discovered Accra-based writer Kofi Akpabli's slim but delightful book of humorous essays: Tickling the Ghanaian: Encounters with Contemporary Culture. A fun book featuring an insider's accurate and hilarious musings targeting the food and culture of my favorite African country. 

I especially like "The Truth About Fufu," "Between Tinapa and Boflot," and, of course, "The Serious Business of Soup in Ghana." However, he also covers cloth and clothes, rings, akpeteshi and schnapps, bartering, the Black Stars, kokonte, funerals, Nigerian-Ghanaian relations, and other topics with wit and veracity.

It's a kindle bargain at Amazon.com. Apparently, Kofi Akpabli, was selected as a CNN/Multichoice African Journalist for Arts and Culture in 2010 and 2011, and is  well known for his "useful humour, rooted in truth." A great gift for anyone who knows Ghanaians, plans to visit, or just in need of a refreshing read.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Stewed bambara beans and tatale anyone?

Have you ever had Ghana-style stewed bambara beans or groundnuts (aka aboboe)? The photo shows the dried uncooked beans/peas on the left and the cooked ones on the right. They're wonderful with ripe plantain pancakes (tatale) or fried plantain balls (kakro). And a cinch to make in a slow cooker/crockpot.

Incidentally, there is also an extensive description of bambara beans in Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006, p. 52-73 (this can be downloaded free as a pdf if you sign up at their website.) Native to West Africa, these legumes are similar to "peanuts" in that they ripen in pods underground, and are valuable for their hardiness in tropical Africa and their high protein content. They have a mild flavor that pairs very well with sweet, ripe, spicy plantain pancakes or plantain balls, and, incidentally, are one of the few savory dishes to which I have seen some Ghanaians add sugar when eating.

Apologies for the long silence at this end. Working to complete the final edits on The Ghana Cookbook (where you'll find all three recipes). Stay tuned. (By the way, if you preorder the book from Amazon,now (it's due out in October)  there's a sizable discount ($16.57 rather than $19.95).

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Making Palm Butter or Cream of Palm Fruit

A few days ago another cluster of palm nuts ripened on the tree in our yard in Tema. When they are bright orange-red, they are ready to be harvested. While extracting the palm butter/cream of palm fruit from them I realized that many North Americans have probably never seen the process:      After using a cutlass to cut the palm nuts off the tree, one whacks the cluster to loosen the actual fruits before collecting them in a bowl or basket. If the fruit is not quite ripe it may be necessary to carefully pick some of the fruits off individually. Next, the nuts are placed in a large pot, covered with water that is brought to a boil, and boiled to loosen the skins and fiber. The fruits turn a little darker as they cook. I boiled mine for about 20 to 30 minutes.
 After removing them from the water they are placed in a specially shaped wooden mortar and pounded with a wooden pestle to loosen the skin and fiber from the nuts. I pounded mine in 2 batches for about 10 to 15 minutes each. Then, everything is poured into a large pot or bowl, and enough warm water is added to allow one to loosen the fibers by hand from the kernel (by the way, it's the palm kernel oil that has the really bad rep, not the red carotene-rich palm oil, aka dendê in Brazil). 

Eventually everything is strained once or twice to remove the kernels, skin and fibers, leaving only the pulp and oil. The texture is kind of like pureed pumpkin. This is a somewhat messy job, and one needs to be careful to avoid getting the bright orange-red oil on one's clothes. Below is an awkward picture of me holding the camera with my right hand as I pound with my left, and a very brief video clip.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reflections on the time in Ghana

It's hard to believe that our almost 3 months in Ghana are drawing to a close. 
The time here has been a collage of memories: from the soothing beach at Accra to the massive recycling/scrap/toxic site at Agbgbloshie (and a painful memory of tear gas and brute force and inhumane treatment of the immigrant workers there). From the lovely tree-studded campus at the University of Ghana, Legon, to our emerging home at Tema. From days without electricity to the installation of solar panels and an inverter.

Here are just an eclectic few of my "Lessons learned": 
  1.  I prefer mosquitoes and sweating to snow and ice.
  2.  Things move much more slowly and with a lot more "hiccups" than American me wants them to (though this does cause me to reflect a bit on the frenzied pace of life in the U.S. and my inordinate dependence on electronic media).
  3.  Schools in Ghana still reward memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity. 
  4. Ghanaians still seem to suffer from an identity crisis: their models in most areas of life, from food to hairstyles to architecture, seem based on the Americas or Asia rather than emerging from their indigenous societies.
  5. There are many signs of hope springing up (e.g., the African "maker movement," sustainable agriculture and improved hygiene efforts, and a number of  true Ghanaian entrepreneurs)
  6. There's still a long way to go to overcome the lack of a maintenance culture, and to improve customer service.
  7. An especially painful lesson: don't forget to back up your photos on your new phone or you'll kick yourself when you lose it in a taxi and all those photos are gone, gone, gone. . .

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.