Monthly Archives: June 2018

From rice weevils to Miffy in Utrecht, in 24 hours

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Yesterday I was tidying the flat in Accra, taking out rubbish, packing bags for a work trip, while wondering what in earth the ants had gotten into this time. They show up now and then in the kitchen: after five weeks of truce, they were very excited about something invisible under the dish rack. I checked some storage boxes, just in case, and there were black specks crawling also there, in the rice. Arrrghhhh….  Rice weevils. Not great, but not a health hazard, so I sorted through 3 litres of rice by hand, and the rice is now in the freezer to kill the rest (and remaining eggs), reminding myself that insect protein is an upcoming protein source. Then I headed to Kotoka International Airport for the overnight KLM flight to Amsterdam. The new terminal there is not open yet, but it looks quite fancy, we are curious about that.

After a sleepless night of flying (Black Panther, Lady Bird and more due to seatmate whose elbows were on the invasive side – great films though) I caught the train to Utrecht (9.80 euro, 30 minutes) and was fortunate enough to get a hotel room even at 830AM. It was 11C this morning, and I was so cold. No problem, I thought: “I’ll go look at central Utrecht, get breakfast, and buy trousers! This is Europe, it will be easy! Then I’ll get some sleep.”  But no, most Utrecht shops open at noon on Sundays, so I ambled around until noon looking at Oudegracht  (central canal), the DomTor (tower), the very empty streets, and the plethora of bicycles parked everywhere. It is a pretty place.

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I had a nice cappuccino, was shocked over how many Pokestops Utrecht has (many parts of Accra are Pokedeserts),  then finally found some trousers AND a Birkenstock shop with summer sales. My goodness, after having various sandals go moldy from Accra humidity and after taping my last Birkenstocks with duct tape to get a few more months use out of them: it was like Christmas. Now I have a backup, if the sadly fraying sandals I packed for the meeting tomorrow break beyond repair.

Yes, it was a bit surreal  to see all the shops in Utrecht.  By lunchtime the streets were buzzing with people, lots of outdoor restaurants.  You might also bump into this:

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Miffy! You might not be familiar with the Dutch rabbit Miffy, but the author and artist Dick Bruno was from Utrecht. I was a child in Holland in the last 1970s, so Miffy is very familiar. Here Miffy is again: img_20180624_1108381

Now it is time to sort meeting files and check email before dinner with meeting organizers. Normally there is very little time to see local sights on work trips, so a Sunday morning peek at Utrecht was a treat.

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Banana bread with yogurt and chocolate chips

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Right before Eid I made two banana breads for the office: one with butter, lemon and yogurt, and this one with yogurt and chocolate chips. Both were assembled based on the bananas and yogurt I had to use up, and both were very nice! The chocolate chips were courtesy of my American flatmate, and much appreciated: otherwise coconut chips or nuts would have been nice too.  Though I am not a banana fan, they come my way (canteen desserts, office coffees) and are good and plentiful here, and they do freeze well unpeeled. As our next chest freezer is already full (mainly due to ant invasions), I thought banana breads were a better destination for these.

Banana bread with yogurt and chocolate chips

2-3 small very ripe bananas, mashed (I used about 145 gr peeled)
150 grammes plain yogurt (here there is only full-fat local yogurt, but very good)
2 medium eggs
50 ml vegetable oil
250 grammes all-purpose flour  (until I thought the batter had right consistency)
125 grammes sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
a restrained handful of chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a medium loaf pan with parchment paper (mine is maybe 20x5cm). Whisk together eggs, bananas and oil. Whisk in the rest, and stir in a handful of dark chocolate chips or chopped baking chocolate. Bake at 180C for 50-55 minutes or so. I test with a wooden chopstick, this one took a bit longer than the lemon cake. This would probably be faster if not baking two cakes at same time. Cool on a rack for a bit before serving (easier to slice next day).

Here are the two banana breads, lemon and chocolate chip, freshly baked. Watched with an episode of Alias season 1, which is still enjoyable!  We have not paid for DSTV here, but not having actual TV is fine as long as you have hard drives and DVDs. I am really really forward to seeing Jennifer Garner in Peppermint. Most movies I watch on planes these days, though we did go see Deadpool 2 recently at Accra Mall, which has a very good cinema. DP2 was gory but very funny.

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Oatmeal, rye and wheat bread on a lazy weekend

Accra food

A street sign I passed the other day, heading to the tailor.  Fufu is a popular Ghanaian staple food prepared with plantain and cassava or yam, eaten with soup or sauce. Not dissimilar to sadza or ugali, though those are usually made with maize. Banku is another starchy Ghanaian dish, a mix of fermented corn and cassava dough.  Ghanaian food is tasty, though I find fufu rather on the gloopy side.

A three-day weekend, and no plans…. Friends invited me to the Volta region, but road safety is bad enough here that several hours in holiday traffic was not tempting. No, I do have plans: be home alone, do laundry, read, browse Ravelry, start packing for upcoming work trip, plan holiday knitting, and take stock of my fridge shelf. One thrill after the next, I know. Work is really busy and it is lovely to switch off, to not worry about the clock, and to do some leisurely bread baking.  I had oatmeal for breakfast, and 12 grammes of fresh yeast lurking in a small box, so this bread is being thrown together in an ad hoc way. Time to empty out anything that might spoil or that the the ants might get into while I am away. The next trip is a chance to get exotic things like affordable cheese and celery, sundried tomatoes, biscotti and yes: fresh yeast. There is generally a wishlist from friends as well, so suitcase space for the return trip will be well used.

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This makes a nice sandwich bread, in the Kneippbrød style. Matpakkebrød, as Norwegians would say: “packed lunch bread”, sturdy bread for open-faced sandwiches wrapped in paper. Often one slice with salted butter, Norvegia cheese and a slice of red bell pepper, and one slice with brunost (brown goast cheese) – mmmmmm.

Oatmeal, rye and wheat bread  (3 loaves)

12 grammes fresh yeast (or 6gr dry yeast)
1 litre water
1000 gram plain wheat flour
150 grammes wholewheat flour
150 grammes  coarse rye flour
100 grammes quick cooking oatmeal
1.5 tsp sugar
Last: 25 grammes salt

Crumble the yeast into lukewarm water and stir. Add the rest except salt and stir well: thus will be a shaggy moist dough. If you do not have rye flour, no worries: just use same weight in wholewheat flour. I just figured it was time to break into my precious bag of Norwegian rye flour. After ten minutes, sprinkle salt over dough, then fold dough over itself with a sturdy wooden spoon. Cover and leave to rest in the bowl for an hour (I use a  plastic shower cap to cover the bowl). In a cool kitchen you might need more time.

After an hour, fold the dough again: Using a wooden spoon or a strong spatula, lift and stretch, folding dough over itself, going around the bowl. You’ll see the gluten developing, and the dough becoming more elastic. Leave to rest another hour or so. I am not a great kneader, so seeing how time and higher hydration make up for some of that always makes me happy.

Divide dough into two or three parts, depending on the size of your loaf tins. Line loaf tins with baking parchment. It’s quite a high hydration dough, I did not shape it or tighten edges. Tip dough into loaf tins, and let them rise for the last time, covered with a damp tea towel. The dough should double: at 30C  in Accra, about 40 minutes. Heat the oven to 230C. Bake them on lower shelf for 40 minutes or so, depending on your oven. I baked all three loaves at once.

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This was dinner, with the last episodes of “Alias Grace”, which was excellent.  Next time I I must remember to slash the dough right before it goes into the oven, to avoid cracks on side. Baked loaves freeze well (I cut the loaves in two, so I can pull out a half loaf at a time from the freezer bags.)