December 2010

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Post-Christmas brunch menu NOM NOM NOM

Dollar wreath

My husband deliberately steered the family Christmas celebration in a direction that would not require me to spend hours slaving in the kitchen on Christmas. Bless him.

My husband also invited some dear friends over to brunch the day after Christmas, requiring me to spend hours slaving in the kitchen on Christmas. Bless him.

Lucky for everyone involved, I love brunch and I love cooking, and prepping for a brunch seems like an ideal way to spend Christmas Eve. The menu:

Cold brewed coffee
Mimosas (or plain old orange juice, for those who don’t partake)
Apple french toast casserole
Jalepeno Cheddar scones

Latkes (with a homemade applesauce topping)Crustless mini quiche lorraines
Mini banana muffins
Carrot cake steel cut oats
(which will require some adapting for overnight oats and ingredients that are hard to find here)
Bacon
Possibly Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze, but it depends on whether I can find lemons. And cream cheese.

I am also making homemade Oreos and Egg Nog. I need one more cookie recipe. I’m thinking pumpkin oatmeal.

Time to head to the market!

Black bean madness

Delicious black beans

Oh man, I love food! That’s my problem, really. The beautiful Christmas-y take out container filled with delicious cookies that one of my coworkers brought for me in this morning? ALREADY ALL GONE.

I have, however, been experimenting with the Ranch dressing and bacon bits that I brought back from the States. I can’t figure out why serving size for salad dressings are 2T. Who the fuck uses 2 whole tablespoons of dressing on their salads? In anything? I’ve been using 2/3T and it’s more than enough flavor for me. Not that I’m one to chide America for being fat. Don’t forget the reason I started this blog. ;)

Ranch, bacon bits, and eggs

Black beans have also made it into the rotation. So much that I’ve already used all the beans I brought back with me, and am waiting for those I left at home to arrive in the mail. I also made a double batch of tortillas last week, and have been finishing those up. Yes, I’m a messy cook.

Tortilla rolling

Black bean burritos? Pumpkin black bean quesadillas? And of course, black bean tortilla soup.

Black bean tortilla soup

Yum.

Salads, coffee, and oh! it was nice to be home

Salad

While in the States, I had a great time cooking and drinking coffee, and eating, and even grocery shopping with friends. My first trip to Whole Foods felt like the proverbial country mouse’s first day in the big city. All I could do is gawk at the delicious food stuffs around me.

I made salad.

Veggies with a side of eggs

After salad.

Mise en place

After salad.

Taco night

While in DC, I made tacos, and invited a bunch of friends over to a house that wasn’t mine.

Tortillas

I was continually amazed at how easy and quick it was to throw meals together in the States. Dinner for 7, including handmade tortillas? It only took me 90 minutes. I’ll post the recipes one day or another.

Cheese and veggies

When I arrived in Seattle, Liz greeted me with vegetables and cheese. I repaid her with homemade pumpkin lattes.

Homemade pumpkin lattes

Followed by some appropriately famous Seattle coffee.

Seattle latte

I went grocery shopping, of course, and brought back a ton of goodies, mostly processed foods that aren’t available in Benin. Or unprocessed foods that aren’t available in Benin. Yum!

I really enjoyed my time at home, but I am so glad to be back in Benin. And of course, I’m back to cooking up a storm!

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds!

It seems like a silly thing to write up a recipe on how to cook pumpkin seeds. Everyone knows how to do that, right? Turns out, my neighborhood kids didn’t even know you could eat them! Pumpkin is not a regular part of a well balanced Beninese diet. Also, I had to enter the nutrtion information into the Daily Plate anyway. They’re super calorific and super delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1c pumpkin seeds
  • 2t olive oil
  • 1T honey
  • 1t salt

Directions

Mix. Roast for 15-20 minutes. Eat. NOM NOM NOM.

Nutrition Information

This recipe makes about 1 cup.

Serving size: 1/8c | Calories: 111 | Fat: 9.8g | Carbs: 5.2g | Fiber: 0.7g | Protein: 4.2g

3.1 Mb downloads in Benin? For 15 000 FCFA/mo? Are you out of your mind?

Kanakoo Liberty + Netbook

Somebody must have put Benin Telecom’s feet to the fire because they’ve launched a series of impressive initiatives to lower the price of bandwidth for Beninese consumers. They have:

  1. doubled the bandwidth for all DSL consumers. That means users who were paying 25 000 FCFA ($50) for 256 kbs are now getting 512. Users who were paying 80 000 FCFA ($160) for 512 now get 1Mbs. Pretty impressive.
  2. repaired the WiMax network, and we are now getting the 256 kbs that we pay 25 000 FCFA ($50) for, even during peak periods.
  3. launched a new CDMA service (Kanakoo Liberté), promising users download speeds of up to 3.1 mbs for 15 000 FCFA ($30) a month. The USB key to access the CDMA service is 45 000 FCFA ($90).

Suspicious of the good news, I borrowed a new Liberté modem from a friend and spent the weekend putting the service through its paces.

Benin Telecom’s customer service is horrifically bad. As in, I called and asked what the password to connect is, and they told me that not only is there not a password, but that I must be doing something wrong if the software’s asking me for one. A few emails to the Beninese tech community later, and I had a solution. Yes, there is a password, and yes, it’s the same password for every modem: 11111111. Don’t lose it, y’all.

This modem, unlike the previous Kanakoo version, works with Ubuntu out of the box. No more mucking around with wvdial. This is huge, as none of the GSM modems play well with Linux.

The modem consistently downloads at 600kbs. I got speeds of up to 1.2 mbs off-peak. Not as good as 3.1m, but definitely better than 256k.

I’m hesitant to call the new service an unmitigated success because I was in love with WiMax until Benin Telecoms overloaded the network, and oh! hey! weekly (sometimes daily) downtime is awesome. So let’s call this a reserved recommendation. It’s cheap enough to make it worth a try.

Delicious foodstuffs brought back from America

Goodies from America

What’s an intrepid West-African food blogger bring back from the States? Besides a fancy new suit, a couple of bras, and a shiny new netbook…

FOOD

And lots of it.

  • Steel cut oats (x2)
  • Rice Vinegar
  • Flax Seeds (oh, trendy food blogging, I heart you)
  • Canned pumpkin (why yes, I am tired of roasting a squash every week)
  • Salad dressing (x2 … and yes, it’s full fat)
  • Delicious tea
  • Fat-free pudding (x23948290384 … don’t judge)
  • Apple Jelly
  • Kidney beans
  • Black beans (x1231231313)
  • Mr. Bento (thanks Mom), $1.50 definitely-not-BPA-free Bento box (thanks Daiso), and tons of cute containers

Not pictured: Apple butter, pepper jelly, hot pepper jelly, lots of hot sauce, all of the cake mixes and icing that are in the mail because they were too heavy for my luggage, almond butter (OH THE TRAVAILS), delicoius Trader Joe’s spicy sweet mustard, cornmeal, and more stuff that will be mailed DAMN YOU LUGGAGE LIMITS.

Also not pictured: 7 lbs gained in 3 weeks. Yikes!

It is damn good to be home.

Damn, it’s good to be home. As wonderful as it was to visit friends and family, this last trip hammered home how out of place I feel back in the States. Normal for me is Cotonou. Even with all of it’s travails, challenges, and frustrations, it’s more home to me than where I grew up.

Here’s what’s going on: I passed the Foreign Service orals and recieved a conditional offer of employment. I now need to pass Medical, repass Security, and make it through the Final Review Panel. Then, I’ll be put on a list of other hopefuls to pray that one day I’ll get the call inviting me to join the Foreign Service and move to DC for diplomat training. This process could take 3 months, like it could take 12, like it could just not work out for any number of reasons.

All I know is that it’s nice to be home. It’s nice to be in my own kitchen. And I’ll post pictures and recipes over the next few days.

On what the future may or may not hold

Damn, it’s good to be home. As wonderful as it was to visit friends and family, this last trip hammered home how out of place I feel back in the States. Normal for me is Cotonou. Even with all of it’s travails, challenges, and frustrations, it’s more home to me than where I grew up.

Here’s what’s going on: I passed the Foreign Service orals and recieved a conditional offer of employment. I now need to pass Medical, repass Security, and make it through the Final Review Panel. Then, I’ll be put on a list of other hopefuls to pray that one day I’ll get the call inviting me to join the Foreign Service and move to DC for training. This process could take 3 months, like it could take 12, like it could just not work out for any number of reasons.

People Online is moving full speed ahead in 2011. We’re going to spend a lot of time outsourcing things we’re not good at, automating things we are good at, and getting our processes clean and streamlined. This way, if I get the call, we’re set, and if I don’t, well, we’re still set, aren’t we?

I’m not sure what the future holds, but lemme tell you, it’s an exciting time to be alive.