Peace Corps

What does Theresa eat?

Yogurt has proven itself delightfully easy to make. And making it myself is hella cheaper than buying it. And it won’t make me sick either (often a problem, when refrigerators are only turned on during the day . . . and the yogurt can be months old). Chewy granola was also easy, but I think next time I’ll break out the Dutch oven and bake it to crunchy goodness.

I “eat out” about as much as I eat in, but when I say “eat out,” don’t get any ideas about fancy resteraunts or fine cuisine. It’s good food, but beans and rice, or pate, seasame and sauce legume run me a couple hundred francs (usually between 20 and 50 cents, although I’ve been known to pay as much as a dollar when wagasi is involved, wagasi being the local cheese, but it’s mostly like tofu, only better!). You eat sitting on a wooden bench, outside, where you can watch the bean lady, or whomever, cooking up their next batch.

Cooking for myself is a relatively expensive and time consuming proposition. Yes, rice and pasta are cheap (well, rice isreally cheap, and pasta isn’t bad), but cooking a nutritious meal means that I have gone to the market that day or the day before for vegetables. I have to have all of the ingredients (generally this lack necessitates another trip to the market right before I’m ready to stat cooking). Dishes have to be clean. And my kitchen is AIRLESS, which means that prepping can be uncomfortable too.

Nevertheless, I do it often. And the things I make are relatively simple.

Lots of egg salad. I love egg salad. I throw a cucumber or two in there to fill it out, and that’s what my cat and I eat for lunch.

Guacamole. I love avocadoes, and lucky me, it’s avocado season right now! I also make flour tortillas to go with my guac. Occasionally I make fresh salsa, although less often. When I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll make wagasi tacos.

I also make French fries. Gotta love that deep-fat fried in peanut oil love. I can feel my arteries clogging. Fried wagasi is good, but if I’m gonna do that, I usually put it on top of a Salad From God. Salads From God are all of the veggies we can find that day (lettuce and any combination of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, carrots, beets, etc.) piled high on a plate. To that are added a couple of chopped hard-boiled eggs, and either fried wagasi or fries, and the whole thing is finished off with a simple vinaigrette. Or not so simple, depending on how ambitious I’m feeling. I don’t make Salads From God very often.

Stir-fry and fried rice are two of the easiest things to make here, even when I’m running low on ingredients. Soy + rice + onions + garlic + eggs = dinner. And other veggies and wagasi when I feel like it (or they’re cheap at the market!). I’ve made spring rolls a couple of times, but it’s a real hassle. Yep. I’ve got a ton of unused rice paper just sitting in my kitchen right now.

Breakfast foods like hash browns, pancakes, and eggs-over-easy are also really quick and really simple. I’ve made grits a few times, but it’s a hassle, and they’re better with cheese.

Spaghetti is always a good choice. I have two sauces: my super simple fast sauce (5 minutes) and my amazingly good special sauce (at least an hour on the stove, plus prep-time). I do a lot of pasta + olive oil (thanks, Ben!) + spices, or pasta with veggies stir-fried in olive oil. I’m doing less with rice lately, but that’s more a function of the fact that washing it, then soaking it, then rinsing it again, then cooking it is sometimes more hassle than it’s worth.

Oh yeah! I forgot about split-pea soup and lentil burgers. Lentil burgers are an excellent vegetarian burger, and the ingredients are relatively easy to find (okay, you have to buy the lentils in the grocery store, but they’re cheap, and that’s what matters). They are so freaking good! Split-peas are also inexpensive, but I need to learn how to do more than soup with them.

I made lasagna once, and it was way more hassle than it was worth. I’ve also made home-made pasta, cream sauces, cookies and a dozen other things, but things like that are a hassle, so I don’t do them often. Anything cooked in a Dutch oven is a hassle, actually. Haha.

Snacks are bread with honey, fruit (I buy pineapple off of women’s heads all the time), or hard-boiled eggs.

When volunteers get together,, the cooking gets more exotic. We make pizza, of course (crusts can be baked in a Dutch oven). I’ve made ravioli from scratch (imitation ricotta is surprisingly easy to make). We do Mexican nights and cook turkey on Thanksgiving.

You’d be surprised how much can be done with the limited ingredients and tools we’ve got here. My next “goal,” as it were, is to start using my Dutch oven more often and more effectively. A lot of volunteers make banana bread and other breads on a regular basis, and I don’t. I should.

Anyway, that should allay any fears about my diet. I eat lots of fruits, and I’ve got a great vegetable selection here in Cotonou. I don’t cook as often as I should, but I don’t sweat it too terribly much. As busy I as I feel like I am, I still find time to prepare good food, especially these last few weeks.

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