Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In service of the public announcement

Most traditionally long-lived peoples consume some kind of lacto-fermented food, whether it be sauerkraut, yoghurt, miso, or any of the whole world of them out there.

I've been making my own kimchi here, and so can you! It's really simple, just mix salt, sliced cabbage, onions, garlic and chiles in a bowl,

compact the mixture and put a constant pressure on it so it stays submerged in its own brine.

The submergence is important because the salt inhibits the growth of other organisms while allowing the desired lactobacteria to flourish. I like using identical bowls that have sloped flat sides (bell shaped sides make fitting more tricky): because of the way they fit in each other, you can stack two...or five on top of each other, each filled with kimchi.

A word of warning: a diet high in salt might be linked to an increased incidence of stomach cancer, so enjoy in moderation! By my reckoning the health benefits are from these foods replenishing gut flora, so just a little is enough.


Against all odds, my beets are surviving and thriving. I'm super excited and just built two more beds for more future beets. They're a little small (they are about 2/3 time to harvest now) this round but it's probably just the heat and dryness.

I think the rainy season will be glorious for beet growing. Right now I need to hand-water them all the time so they don't die, but when the rains come I think they'll practically grow themselves.


In other news, I'm going to Bangladesh on for a week this Saturday. More excitement and adventure!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

hot hot heat

I'd forgot what it feels like to have a hangover, thanks to years of uncharacteristically responsible drinking...

...that is, until I got here. Everytime I go out, I come home feeling like a beef jerky with a splitting headache. Even thought I drink (like) ten litres of water a day. I guess I'm pretty good at sweating it all out. Today's high: 45 (113) degrees

Oh yeah. And yesterday we had a surprise hail storm.

A courtesy picture of the countryside. I think this place is described as a "mid desert" or something like that. Much drier than the tropical south, but more vegetation (and water, when there is water) than a true desert.

Quite a pleasant place, really. Some of the biggest trees here are mango trees. I never associated mango trees with big-ness, but there they are, huge lush thick green trees surrounded by sand and dust and dead grass.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A musing

A few things I'm thinking about:

1. The forecasts for tomorrow get as high as 49 (120 for the uncivilised) depending on the station. That's really hot. I think my beets are dying.

2. Having no water is much worse than having no electricity. It's the classic water-and-diamonds economics lesson, except that electricity is a much more water-like good than diamonds. Thank god the electricity is back and we've still got a few drops of water in the tank (the supply has stopped).

3. I seem to find myself in very news-isolated places. I found out about the Jogjakarta volcano eruption via an email and the Sendai earthquake via a gchat.

4. That said, I think we're missing the point about the recent disaster. Read (also in my reader feed). In contrast, the 2010 Haiti quake was 2 magnitudes (1000x) smaller, but killed 300,000++

5. I've been making (and enjoying) my own kimchi / sauerkraut. It's quick and easy: about the same amount of time to make fried cabbage. Also, every statistically long-living people eats some kind of lacto-fermented food.

Stand by for a blog (soon, with pictures) about life, work and happenings.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Now we're cooking with sauce

...or is it fire? I can't figure it out. A couple of friends of mine introduced me to the saying when I was cooking dinner with them once, but they didn't know the full thing either.

As promised (a long while back), this is me cooking in my super amazing kitchen.

It's hot, messy, and more cramped than a submarine, but I'm endlessly thankful for it. It saves me a lot of money from eating out, and I get to manage my own nutrition, which is amazing. I feel even better about my situation right now than my last long term eating arrangement, which was co-op dinners and food shared between thirty people (which I really enjoyed).

These days I eat lots more vegetables than otherwise possible, and the said vegetables aren't cooked by boiling them in oil for three hours, which is the only way people seem to cook them around here.

I buy lots of stuff at local shops and market, so everybody wins. It's actually quite amazing what is locally available here. I don't think any of my food travels more than ten miles to reach me. Except sugar, which is from Burkina (which is remarkably close if you think about it)

A typical scene on market day in Navrongo. Just look at those heaps of beautiful cabbages!


I was talking to a very smart person the other day, who told me he didn't believe in the local food movement. At first, I was a little bit surprised, but realised that the real problem lay with the words "local food movement".

He was simply telling me that it didn't make sense to always buy everything as locally as possible-- and what does "local food movement" mean anyway? To illustrate the point, there is local production that doesn't make sense (if you tried to grow olives in Boston) and national-or-further production can be much more efficient (growing olives in California).

Now, I hope you're ready for an economics lesson in disguise.

As much as it's a good thing to buy as locally as possible, it's also good to eat what's in season and what makes sense, and also to accept that local might not always be the best option. In competitive industries, price is a pretty good indicator of the inputs to, and thus the efficiency of production of a good. Usually, price also includes all the carbon cost of transporting the food as well, and in a perfect "market scenario", should be taken at face value, and people "should" always buy the cheapest food.

For example, rice from Thailand is price-competitive with rice from Ghana. Depending on seasonal changes, it can even be cheaper. This is true because not only is Thailand a high volume exporter and established, experienced and efficient producer of rice, but the rice industry in Ghana hasn't yet reached a scale where it is very efficient or competitive. Therefore, grain for grain on your plate, Thai rice is probably on par with Ghanaian rice for inputs and environmental impact, etc.

(Unless Thailand has some kind of crazy subsidy for rice production)

Somewhere this rule doesn't work (for reason just mentioned) is in the US, where huge and irrational subsidies skew the price of corn and everything that it is an input to: pretty much everything except for vegetables, and staples that are not corn. The effect is particularly strong for meat.


Getting back to my locale, it's not a bad thing to buy non-local rice when in Ghana. It could help you keep your teeth longer (most Ghana rice comes with rocks in it).

People still buy and eat local rice here (myself included, I like it because it's unpolished = more nutritious) but as people get richer and generally develop a taste for whiter rice, it might not last against the competition. Then again, the industry might evolve too.

I don't think it'll be a terrible thing either if the rice business in Ghana goes. The market for food here is so huge that farmers could easily grow maize instead (where they have a much greater advantage over other producers than with rice) or vegetables, both of which there is a huge demand for.


The other thing I've been thinking about lately is how TV gives everyone the wrong idea about cooking. I had a strange mental block and could only think of how a popular show like Iron Chef convinces people to aspire to make, eat, and enjoy impractical, unsustainable, extravagant and unnecessary food. I think this is probably true for the average cookbook too.

It's not that I don't appreciate the artistry on a show like that, it's definitely entertained me before.

What I'm saying is that we need a super supa fly bachelor-cooking TV show, where the competitors are scored on how well they cook but also on how little effort they put in. Also, they're not allowed to use anything that you couldn't find in the average home.

I think it's totally possible to cook awesomely within these bounds, and the common person really needs a show that resonates with them, a show they can dig. To this end, my super supa fly bachelor cooking TV show is designed to reward efficiency and convenience (and accessibility) as well as innovation, striving to produce cutting edge recipes with minimal time, effort, and resources.

I also have a theory on how it will save the world.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

can I get an amen!

Not only is this hilarious, it's everywhere, always written this way. Nobody ever gets it write.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

garden growing!

my beets sprouted! What a pleasant surprise, to see something come of my labour.

And to know I have created life! Well, sort of. It made me feel for a moment like this

they're tiny. I can't wait to eat them.