(The Humanitarian Social Network)
The foodies working group is proud to present one of our own: Andrea Dekrout.
Andrea lives in Botswana with her husband Gavin, and works as a Research Coordinator (Cheetah Conservation).
We were on a small atoll to do some education work on conservation and natural resource management. On the first day someone brought us an endangered green sea turtle to eat. Awkward. But, in the end no feelings were hurt and we got to let the turtle go free. It was pretty neat to see it swim away in the waves.
With an intro like that, and with no further ado, we present: Andrea!
How would you define a foodie?
I think a foodie is someone who really appreciates well-made food, and is willing to be creative to make something nice from less than inspiring ingredients. That is also my definition of a good cook – someone who can make something from nothing!
When did you discover how much you love food?
While I was in the Congo Basin, there basically wasn’t any food! I was only in CAR for 4 months but peanut butter and rice gets old fairly quickly. I actually got pretty good at making little loaves of bread using a heavy pot on an open fire as a pseudo-oven. When my husband and I left CAR our first stop was Paris, it took us about five seconds to spend all the euros we had on cheese and ripe tomatoes.
What crazy story about yourself do you have that has to do with food?
I have two:
One from Papua New Guinea (PNG): We lived in one of the islands regions and often had to visit pretty isolated communities. At one community we found that they were really suffering from a lack of protein in their diet. They had no pigs and few chickens and they were too far from the coast to trade for fish. However, as we were guests, they wanted to share with us one of the local protein sources. It turned out to be some kind of tree frog. Generally, I only eat fish. I don’t eat red meat or chicken, but, I had to admit that I don’t have a hard and fast rule on amphibians. So I gave it a go while 20 people watched me chew. Frogs require a lot of chewing. But actually they were not too bad.
One from Botswana: We are a really long way from the sea here, so fish is not on the menu that often. But, the last time I was up near the delta one of the local eateries had some Okavango bream on offer. It was really dark so when they brought the food out I couldn’t see it that well. Unfortunately, the first mouthful alerted me to the fact that someone had neglected to gut my fish before they fried it. Disappointing to say the least.
What’s the best thing you ever ate?
Cherries straight from the tree – South Island of New Zealand and Yellow mangoes from the markets in PNG.
What’s the best thing you cooked in the field?
In PNG I got a bit of a reputation for doing odd things with sweet potatoes (Kaukau). My favorite recipe is sweet potatoes-banana cake (recipe on Aidsource here--scroll down a bit to find it). It is almost like a kind of fruity cheese cake, at least in consistency.
My husband and I also once made chocolate from scratch in PNG. We bought 2KG of wet beans from a local grower. We sun-dried them, shelled them, roasted them, ground them and squeezed the coco-butter out. All by hand. Then we had to add milk powder and return part of the coco-butter to the coco solids, we mixed and mixed and mixed. In all it took about 4 days and in the end we had created pretty average chocolate, but, we had fun doing it.
Fridays were Pizza nights for us and our friends in PNG and I got quite good at them. So much so that on returning from an R and R, I brought a pizza stone back in my luggage. Weighty, yes, but totally worth it! The pizza stone came to Botswana too. Home is where the Pizza stone is.
Where do you like to shop for ingredients where you live right now?
Unfortunately at the moment I am really limited. We live in the Kalahari and there are no local markets or street vendors. The only local produce is beef which my husband loves (T-bones bigger than your head and cheap as chips) but, that isn’t so cool for me. We live 20km from a town with two smallish super markets and that is where we get most of our food. They only get fresh fruit and veg once per week so we have to time our shopping runs accordingly. In other places we have lived almost exclusively on fresh food from the markets. Everywhere is different.
Advice for newbie cooks in the field?
See what the locals eat and try to copy it, better yet ask someone to give you a cooking lesson. Exchanging some cooking skills is a great way to make friends with your neighbours. As far as staples go the local favourite is usually the cheapest option and it is always fun to learn a new kind of cooking. Once you have the hang of the standard maize meal or baked cassava option, you can experiment with it. Also bring a decent cookbook with you! (editor note: or you can download foodie apps from the list we are compiling on Aid Source) It helps with meal ideas when you have to cook but aren’t inspired.
Things we would never find your kitchen without?
Definitely the pizza stone, but, also a sharp set of knives and a steel to keep them sharp. You don’t really need too much more than that.
Thank you, Andrea for letting us in on your recipes and awesome stories about cooking in the field. Home is indeed, where the pizza stone is!