Monday, November 18, 2013

The Cooking and Growing Food Experiment

Corn, red beans, lettuce, and carrots
One thing that I appreciate about serving in Rwanda is all of the first-time experiences, especially in the garden.  For the first time in my life, I have planted red beans, carrots, onions, lettuce, and cabbage and I learn so much from the locals about how to care for the crops.  I've learned that onions can be transplanted and that it's best to pull out the shoots and replant them after a rainstorm so the ground is pliable and wet.  I've learned that cabbage can be transplanted too and the rules above apply.  Cabbage grows a long taproot so the shoots that are transplanted early survive better than ones transplanted later.  Today I thinned the last of the cabbage plants, but they were too big to replant.  Instead they became rabbit and cattle food, in addition to the carrot tops you'll read about next. 
Mystery gourd or melon
I've learned that carrots can't be transplanted so even though I sowed the seeds close together, today I had to pull out a lot of the carrot tops so the remaining shoots can develop fat carrots.  (By the way, sowing the seeds close together wasn't a mistake on my part.  That is what the online resources say to do.)   I've learned that once the carrots are thinned, the soil should be pushed up around the base of the shoots so the carrots have more soil to grow in or something like that.  I've learned that the seed for red beans is a red bean.  Rita and I bought beans for eating and I took a few and put them in the ground. Now that they are growing tall and climbing up the sticks I placed
Red bean pods
near them, I've learned that the beans grow in pod which look just like green beans.  The first time I saw the pods, I asked myself, "Did I accidentally plant green beans?"  Given how often we eat green beans, that would have been a good idea.  I've learned that red beans are susceptible to a parasite that attacks the flowers and keeps the plant from growing pods and when I see the telltale black spots on the stems or leaves, I have to cut off the infected part or tear out the plant to keep the bugs from spreading.  I had to tear out three plants today once I was informed of the problem.  I've learned that the mystery gourd pictured above, which we inherited with our garden plot, grows very well and is probably a local variety of pumpkin that will turn orange on the inside but not the outside.  I've learned that lettuce grows very fast once it gets going and that it can be cut off near the stem and will continue to grow through at least five cuttings.

I have had a lot of first-time experiences in the kitchen too, but given that the food doesn't always turn out as well as it would in the States, I wouldn't mind having to be less creative/adaptable in the kitchen.  One example from my early days in Rwanda was when I tried to make a Mexican meal of tortillas, Spanish rice, beans, and guacamole.  Since there was no wax paper or plastic wrap in my kitchen (still isn't), I tried to pat down the corn tortillas by hand, but they were too fat and weren't very flexible when it was time to eat them.  The beans were average, but the Spanish rice was close to authentic.  Another example was my attempt at foccacia bread.  Since our oven only has a working coil on top, we have to make thin breads, cakes, and quiches.  Otherwise, the underside will be undercooked or raw.  Hence, the foccacia bread.  I used instant yeast that was at the house from the previous volunteers and
Homemade pizza without cheese
it didn't have quite the life it should have.  The dough managed to rise the first time but didn't rise once I laid it out in the pan.  So instead of fluffy foccacia, we got dense foccacia that reminded me of an olive-oil-saturated pie crust.  What to do with it?  I know, let's make pizza with the ingredients at hand.  Tomato paste and water became pizza sauce.  Sliced tomatoes and onions, shredded zucchini, and chopped garlic became the toppings.  A short time in the oven and we had a delicious pizza.  I was disappointed when the foccacia bread didn't turn out like it was supposed to, but with a little bit of creativity, we managed to make it work. 

If you know my personality well, you can imagine that I don't like it when a project, such as a cooking project, doesn't turn out as it was supposed to, with the end result I expected to have, but my Rwandan kitchen is teaching me to be flexible and make due with whatever is the end result of a project, even if it wasn't what I expected.

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