Category Archives: travel

Two days in Cairo, no sightseeing: but kaviar!

downtown Dokki

What a week…… After a bout of presumptive malaria and feeling like death warmed over, rapid treatment with Coartem did the trick. I recovered, and was cleared to travel a few days later – which was good, as I had a work trip to Cairo coming up. Still exhausted, though, so no sightseeing whatsoever. Just work, and back to the hotel to rest. Such a pity! Cairo is huge, and there is so much to see. Population of 9.5 million, massive concrete flyovers and neon billboards, many political as elections happen soon. Dense traffic, towering buildings with satellite dishes and A/C units with extensive external wiring. Friends in Accra recommended sunrise trips to see the pyramids, dinner Cruises on the Nile, museums…. Next time.


The exciting hotel room view. The pyramids were only 30 minutes drive away, but they close at 4 PM (so I was told). Maybe I’ll need to plan a holiday later this year? We have friends in Alexandria, which is supposed to be lovely. Oh well, another time.

The second day, I got back to the hotel before dark, so I wandered off to look at the neighbourhood (Dokki) and to see if I could find fresh hummus. They had wonderful hummus in Cairo. I did find a excellent supermarket (Seoudi), but the deli counter was absolutely mobbed, it did look delicious. Asking for hummus in the shop got me dried chickpeas; despite trying to explain dried chickpeas + tahini and miming spreading and eating, no luck. The staff were super nice though, and I really need to learn a bit more Arabic. Shukran!


But look what I found! Norwegian kaviar! I was SO excited!!! I hoard this when traveling from Norway, and try to streeeeeetch each tube out so until the next trip home.  It is smoked cod roe paste for sandwiches, not the fancy Russian kind, but delicious.


Who does not love a foreign supermarket? I had emptied out workshop papers, so my suitcase was stuffed instead with rather random groceries going back to Accra —  blocks of feta, cream cheese, oatmeal, excellent crackers, mystery cake mixes, cereal, Fairy liquid, honey, and the precious kaviar  — all this for about 23 USD.  Cheese for everyone! My flatmates were happy.

Next trip to Cairo will be more cultural, I swear. People were really nice, and I definitely want to go back.


That which shall not be named

This was a recent success/disaster of sorts: a UK food magazine recipe for “Chicken, greens and coconut quinoa salad”. I made it with chickpeas, quinoa, cucumber and the coconut-lemon dressing, and it was absolutely delicious. However, I used local raw spinach, and suffered the consequences for days…… I’d had spinach a few days before, and was really pleased to get some fresh greens. But no, wrong choice. Even after washing the spinach in iodine solution, rinsing it in clean water, and patting the leaves dry,  something lingered that had me ill and sprinting to the toilet for days. Not great, when your office sometimes has an unreliable water supply and you cannot just go home.

“Everyone loses weight in Africa!” said a doctor to me, cheerfully, before I moved to Accra. I am not a thin person, and she wanted me to lose some kilos, which I promptly did on arrival. “You look great!” said colleagues on my first trip back,  as I was slightly tanned and eight kilos thinner. Well, I said drily, “…..that is what six weeks of diarrhea will do to you…..” Life improved considerably once we got an apartment and started cooking for ourselves again, and many of those kilos crept comfortably back on again. Still, random bouts of mystery stomach bugs still strike: hand sanitizers only get you so far.

On holidays in Crete once three of us got food poisoning right before our flight back. Dodgy lamb kebab, we think. None of us had loperamide or anything useful, so I crawled to the closest pharmacy in the small village, and as I spoke no Greek, I had to mime something along the lines of “vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, going on plane, HELP”.  She gave me charcoal tablets and something that eventually worked (enough) and since then, I never travel without some digestive emergency medications. Generally you do want things to (ahem) run their course, not concrete your innards, but sometimes Immodium can get you functional enough to get on that next flight.

Back home I would generally not say much about suffering from toilet-related issues, maybe just admit to feeling a bit under the weather. Here, though, it is amazing how you get used to discussing digestive issues with friends.  “Is it normal, to, err……..?” newcomers will ask, timidly. “YES. Perfectly normal. What did you eat? Do you need some rehydration salts?” “Try plain rice, nothing fried. Otherwise I have some Cipro upstairs, and I know a pharmacy that will deliver to your house.” (See also Things Expat Workers Like #57: Talking about poop.)  We discuss where to eat out with the least chance of getting ill, restaurants with very nice or really terrible toilets, de-worming tablets, street food vendor hygiene and the open defecation problem in Accra. At least I have access to a clean toilet.

There are some vegetable growers here using cleaner water, and it is perfectly possible to eat vegetables here safely, if cleaned well, peeled and/or cooked. No more raw spinach for  me, though!

Chilly Rome, and helkornbrød III


A cat basking in December sunshine. We had ambled up the hill to meet friends from Accra at the farmers’ market on Via Passino, and a lovely sunny morning it was. Laden with biscuits (brutti ma buoni, neretti, cantucci)  we brought them back for a lunch of cacio e pepe ravioli from the pasta shop downstairs, with a market-bought lemon and fruit crumble for dessert. It’s been a very nice Roman day.


Walking back through the narrow streets of old Garbatella, on our way home. It is really odd, knowing that in twelve days I’ll be headed back to Accra again. Am I packing for three weeks there, or a year ? There is still no news on what 2018 brings, which is rather nerve-wracking. As usual, baking is calming and feels soothingly productive when most else is uncertain. Tonight we see friends, so this bread is coming along as our contribution. My husband is baking jollof-flavoured focaccia, so the kitchen is warm and toasty and smells divine.

Since I am only here for a few weeks, the pantry is low on seeds and flour types, so it’s variation III of helkornbrød, wholewheat bread with cracked wheat. Here are variations I and II. This time I also used overnight-soaked cracked wheat, but I added a pre-ferment overnight sponge for flavour.

Saturday potluck bread: helkornbrød III

The night before:
150 grammes of whole cracked wheat
250 grammes of water
Leave to soak over night in covered container, on counter in cool kitchen (17C) or in fridge.

Also the night before:
50 grammes plain white wheat flour (I used 00)
100 grammes coarse rye flour
100 grammes wholewheat flour
10 grammes fresh yeast, crumbled (or 5g dry yeast)
200 grammes water
Stir together. Leave over night in covered container, on counter in cool kitchen (17C) or in fridge.

Next day, in large bowl:
500 grammes plain white wheat flour (I used 00)
100 grammes wholewheat flour
15 grammes fresh yeast, crumbled (or 7.5g dry yeast)
250 grammes water
3 tbs vegetable oil
2 tsp salt
+ the soaked cracked wheat with any leftover liquid
+ the overnight sponge

Stir it all together, mixing well and folding with spatula, you will see the structure develop. Moist, sticky dough but not wet: I was thinking of round loaves this time, hoping the dough would not collapse if baked free-form without tins, but still wanting a decent hydration. Very guess-timated here. Leave to rise until nicely doubled. Here it was left for four hours in the kitchen, while we went off for our market walk and had impromptu lunch guests, which was great.


When our friends had left and the wine glasses were washed, I folded the dough vigorously in the bowl with a spatula for a few minutes, then split it in two and shaped two rounds, sitting on parchment paper. I covered these with a tea towel and let then rise again for an hour or so. I slashed them before baking and sprinkled both with some water right before they went into the hot oven. Bake at 225C for 45 minutes or so, depending on your oven, on lower rack.


Off to dinner they go! These could maybe have had five more minutes in, but the jollof focaccia also needs baking. It sounds odd, but is really good for apertivi! Same Gabriele Bonci dough as usual. A very good weekend to all.