15 August 2014

"Banish the onion!"

If you "google" family menu planning, you end up with over 87 million results in just a fraction of a secondI guess a lot of people really like to plan menus.
I know... because I did it. I was curious! And our internet isn't really all that fast.
I know that because I've also gone to those sites where you can check the current data transmission speed and ours here in the States is so much slower than I imagined (and was naively convinced) it would be when I was still sitting on the backside of the desert and waiting (sometimes three days) for another Dora episode from iTunes to download.
I'm digressing. Oops!
Back to menu planning. It used to be a pretty big deal for me. I used to be one of those women who grocery shopped once every two weeks, with a very specific list developed from a monthly menu plan. I loved it all the plotting, planning and researching. Sometimes several hours in a week were devoted to those activities. It forced me to be intentional about the food my family ate. I'd search for recipes and find new ones to try. One of the best pieces of advice I'd been given as a soon-to-be missionary living on the back side of the desert and responsible to prepare something more or less edible for my family to eat was to learn to cook from scratch... The veteran missionary who gave me that valuable piece of advice meant like totally from scratch, as in learn how to make your own tomato paste... and yogurt... and buttermilk... and marshmallows... all sorts of other things that I didn't even know you could make.
I spent a couple of years perfecting my strategy. I had a great reservoir of menu plans with things that I'd been told I'd be able to find in W. Africa and I knew how to make them all... from scratch. They were even edible, most of the time.
We landed in Niger the first time at the beginning of the lean season... the time of year when all the expats who could left town so stores and shops that imported food were only doing so sparingly... also the time of year when all crops were planted but not much was being or had been harvested.
Except for onions.
"Banish the onion!" became the cry of my children. They cried buckets of tears while chopping onions, until they figured out that swim goggles served a great second purpose. I considered writing a cook book entitled "201 to Eat Onions."
Okay... so that is a bit of hyperbole, but it certainly felt true. At least once the cooking started and those onions were sauteing, it always smelled like something delicious would be on the table in the immediate future.
Then, there was the week I went looking for butter... the store owner thought the trucks had been held up at the border.
Or the several weeks surrounding the bird flu scare? Niger stopped importing chickens and eggs, and the price (a staple in our diet) skyrocketed to no-longer-affordable for us.
How do you bake a birthday cake for a birthday party where 20 five to seven year-olds were coming... without eggs...???
To read the rest of my learning-to-cook-overseas adventure 
the important lesson I learned in the process, 
where I'm posting today!

first photo credit: D-Stanley via photopin cc

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