Ants, and After Eight brownies

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Trendy Accra: we have had the wax print festival, the Chale Wote street art festival, there are so many art events and concerts. Now I see fashion week is approaching. There are some very cool designers here, though I tend to wear more fair trade batik on sale. We spotted this at Accra Mall last weekend: rather fabulous.

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Back at home there is less glamour: an ant invasion, with flatmate discussions ensuing about using ant spray in the kitchen vs using practicing basic kitchen hygiene with ant powder as backup (my preferred option). If you feed the ants, they will come: there are always some ants around, but leaving food scraps out or not rinsing the rubbish bin after emptying when needed are just invitations for a teeming trail of happy ants making a beeline for the food source. You spray, they simply reroute.  So now we still had hundred of ants enjoying themselves, plus pesticide resides on the clean dishes………  I am certainly not an easygoing person to share a kitchen with at the best of times, but we did have a prior general discussion about not using ant spray near food or dishes. There are interesting cultural differences sometimes when you share a living space.  Oh well. We talked, the bin was rinsed out, an ant powder intervention followed, the dishes rewashed, and the ants retreated. Nothing today. There are always ants around in Accra, but the odd ant scouting is very different from a street party, it is perfectly manageable if they are not encouraged (and fed).

Enough complaining. Another joy in Accra is protecting your food not just from ants, but from heat and humidity. Salt clumps, spices go solid, while nuts and seeds go rancid. We’d been given a box of After Eight, which proceeded to melt through the tin and leak through, as it was not in the fridge (THAT was a fun sugary ant party, I tell you.)  Time for a rescue operation: After Eight brownies, just in time for a pizza and Netflix night (“The Set Up”). I do have one precious packet of Toro brownie mix just brought from Norway, but I am saving that so this time it was baking from scratch.

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Peeling them out, one by one………  This was like a Swedish kladdkaka, amalgamated from several recipes based on what I had. Good chance to use up some old dark chocolate as well, mainly Ghanaian (Ghana is a major cocoa producer).

After Eight brownies

275 grammes dark chocolate, broken into pieces
275 grammes salted butter
200 grammes soft brown sugar  (I had golden brown sugar)
pinch of salt
4 medium eggs
150 grammes plain white wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
25g cocoa powder
1 box of 200 rather decrepit After Eight mints
some pinches of salt to sprinkle on batter

Melt butter and chocolate on gentle heat. Cool slightly. Whisk in sugar, salt, flour, baking powder, eggs and cocoa powder: it will look like a delightfully buttery dark sludge. Heat oven to 180C. Line a baking dish of 20×30 cm with baking parchment. Pour half the batter into baking dish, then add a layer of tiles of After Eight, right across the tin. Then add rest of batter. Sprinkle some pinches of salt on top of batter. Bake at 180C for about 25 minutes, depending on your oven and how fudgy you like your brownies. It’s very buttery, and with the middle layer it can be hard to know the right time.  I use a chopstick at present,  took it out at 25 min when it did not jiggle when moved, and the top looked crinkly and done. Very dense, and lots of leftovers in fridge, mmmmm……

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PS this is actually rather funny: I looked up Toro brownie mix (it is a classic), and their website says “……TORO Brownies serveres ofte i kakestykker med et melisdryss over.”  Which means: These are often served in pieces [of cake] with a dusting of powdered sugar over. However, this Norwegian food webshop for expats says  “TORO Brownies are often served in pieces of cake with a melancholy over.”  Not quite sure what to make of that, it seems terrible even for machine translation (and a little poetic, if you were a homesick Norwegian).

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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Life in limbo: chocolate pudding

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Well, we thought were leaving Accra mid-November….. but travel clearances are taking their time, so life is in limbo right now. As we were assured all was on track, we gave notice on our flat, and the lease runs out in two weeks. I am taking deep breaths and reminding myself that I do have a job next month, somewhere, that we have our health and this will be resolved. Still, this is stressing me out to no end. Short term accommodation is hard to find here, and expensive, and right now we do not know if the delay will be days, weeks or months.

The Guardian had a great article today, which resonated with me also in times of uncertainty: “Cooking is perfect to empty your brain of bad men and the things they do

…. Crisp but floury potatoes, and slow-cooked lamb, tender and almost melting off the bone, are like the safety of a friend’s hug. Cooking is sorcery. Some days we desperately need its magic.

Exactly.  World news is depressing, stories of sexual harassment keep coming, and are only too believable. My challenges are small, but some days I just want to curl up in the sofa and watch Gilmore Girls. Well, when all else fails, there is still cooking. I am still emptying fridge, freezer and food stocks, in case by some miracle we move in the next 20 days, and/or if we move to a rented room somewhere. Que sera, sera. Let there be chocolate pudding……….

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I started with Smitten Kitchen’s Best chocolate pudding, because her recipes are the best. The plan was to use evaporated milk and Italian Hulala UHT whipping cream, as in photo above, but  Iwas too distracted to remember that, as I was watching the YouTube Yacht Rock series on my laptop at the same time, which is very funny….. So the pudding was all done with milk powder. The chocolate was Guatemalan, as we are lucky enough to have a friend who works in cocoa. Not enough chocolate left, so I used up the last of our Ghanaian cocoa as well. Ghana is the second largest cocoa exporter in the world, after Côte d’Ivoire, and we get excellent cocoa here.

Use-it-up chocolate pudding

30 grammes cornstarch
120 grams icing sugar  (we are low on regular sugar)
1/4 teaspoon salt
700 ml whole milk (I used powdered milk & water)
1 tbs vanilla sugar (Norwegian – just use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract if easier to find)
95 gr bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
65 gr unsweetened Ghana cocoa (last of package, you could use a bit less)
Optional: sugar sprinkles on top

Combine the cornstarch, powdered milk, icing sugar and salt in a medium saucepan, Whisk in the water/milk, and bring to low boil. Add chocolate and cocoa powder, stir well so all is melted and mixed in. After ten minutes or so it will thicken: taste to see how you like flavour and texture. I added an extra pinch of vanilla salt at this stage. Also added: sugar sprinkles on top, as we in are the “everything must go” stage of pre-moving. Cool and eat: this makes at least six servings, even for stressed people, as it was very dark and chocolate-y.

Piling up items to ship or give away: there is a classifieds section here in Accra where people sell all kinds of things due to house moves: furniture, used shoes, kitchenware, toys… I never thought I might be one of them, but if we have to store stuff with friends while we are in temporary lodgings, much more will be shedded. Most just given away, I think, it might also help for good karma for the move.

And to remind myself to keep this in perspective: another neighbour died, as we could see from the red and black funeral drapings on their gate. We have a lot to be grateful for, so I will keep breathing, waiting and maybe have some more chocolate pudding….