Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dinner from Scratch

Changing your diet is one of the biggest adjustments to moving to a new place, in my opinion.  When Jonathan and I got married, I thought I was going to die in Illinois without Chick-fil-a and Atlanta Bread Company.  Boy did I have a lot left to learn.  Then in Mexico we still had access to many of our familiar restaurants from back home like McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Papa Johns, Chili’s, Applebees and even Outback.  However, I still found myself craving foods we couldn’t find the ingredients for in our large grocery stores.  Now apply that to life in rural Africa and you’ve got a picture of what we’re dealing with over here. There are approximately two reliable local restaurants but they are about forty minutes away.  That means I’m making every meal in house.  The local grocery looks about like a large gas-station quickie with few options and very little variety from the basic staples.  In Mexico the shopping was difficult because of the language difference.  A vast majority of the foods we are familiar with were readily available, you just had to know the new name for them.  Here in Lesotho the groceries are marked in English but it doesn’t help since what we want isn’t anywhere in the store to be found.  Take spaghetti sauce for example: back home, an entire half aisle in Wal-mart is dedicated to a wide variety of spaghetti sauce flavors.  Here, however, there is no such thing as spaghetti sauce.  There are such things as tomato sauce and paste, herbs, garlic, salt, pepper….. you get the idea.  So, it isn’t that I can’t make most of what I want to make.  It is just that I have to make nearly everything from scratch.

Fortunately it is possible to make a lot of convenience foods from scratch if given a decent recipe or if you have a reasonable idea of what is supposed to go in them.  It just takes significantly more time.  The cheese only comes in blocks so you have to grate it yourself.  There is no such thing as bread crumbs so I’m left chopping bread ends into tiny bits…. No blender either, so don’t mention it.  Sore subject, I can’t make smoothies.

Anyways, last night I made homemade pizza by making my own dough and pizza sauce and using some beef sausage I bought in South Africa.  My very first attempt at pizza dough and pizza sauce turned out great!  Tonight I am making a St.Clair favorite known as crescent roll chicken.  Instead of going to the store and buying two cans of crescent rolls, however, I’ve got to start an hour and a half early to make my own crescent roll dough.  And since Africa doesn’t seem to sell poultry seasoning, I’m having to improvise on the spices.  What exactly is in poultry seasoning anyway?  I don’t know.  So I hope a little thyme, oregano, garlic powder and paprika make a decent substitution.  And I added poultry seasoning to the list of things for my mom to bring.  It is a good thing I enjoy being in the kitchen so much because I’m going to be there a lot more often and for a lot longer each meal. 

We have already had a few mishaps with the groceries we bought locally and I suspect they won’t be the last.  For one, I somehow bought the off casts of ground lamb (meaning it included literally a handful of bone chips and a lot of other things I didn’t recognize) instead of what I thought was ground beef.  It wasn’t labeled and although I thought it was extremely cheap, I didn’t know what it was supposed to cost here.  Because we had found bone pieces in the ground beef we were served in our home stay, I wasn’t terribly surprised by the experience.  However after further investigation and discussion with our Unit Leader’s wife, we determined that the meat I had purchased was completely inedible and we pitched the rest of what we hadn’t yet used.  We are thankful no one got sick off of it.  Then I found worms in my flour so I have now learned I’ll need to freeze my flour upon purchasing it.  And I have cracked into two extremely rotten eggs since being here, my first experience with rotten eggs during my entire cooking carrier.  I never imagined the smell was as bad as people let on.  It is. 

Possibly the worst experience thus far was a pork roast I bought in South Africa last week.  It was from a very nice grocery so I really don’t know what went wrong there.  I suppose the same experience could have happened back home since obviously there was just something wrong with this certain piece of meat.  Our Unit Leader’s wife was shocked when I told her what happened.  I should have known when I opened the meat package and the smell punched me in the face that there was something wrong with it.  But, since I am still suffering from an extremely sensitive pregnant nose, I thought maybe there was something wrong with me instead.  So, I put it in the oven and tried to ignore the smell that was making me want to vomit.  The windows were open and it didn’t take ten minutes for the kitchen to be swarming with flies.  I’m not joking when I say that before I could do anything about it, there were at least thirty flies making themselves at home on my counters.  I nearly had a nervous breakdown.  Jonathan was gone at the time and I didn’t know what else to do besides close all the windows in the house and try to kill each one individually using a flip flop.  I need to buy a fly swatter pronto.  First I had to put away everything in the kitchen I had out trying to make the rest of dinner.  Then, one by one, I murdered flies for about half an hour.  I am a fly killing machine, by the way.  Just as I was killing the last couple of flies, Jonathan walked in and his first exclamation was, “What happened?  Is he dirty?  It smells terrible in here!”  I could’ve cried.  Not because of what he said, because I thought it smelled terrible, too.  It wasn’t like I was very proud of how dinner was coming along.  But, I didn’t know what else to do!  So, Jonathan proceeded to help me clean the kitchen of three dozen dead flies and then we inspected the meat.  He is crazy and still ate some of it but we threw the rest away.  I just don’t know what happened but the flies caught a whiff of it and decided they were going to join us for dinner.  Turns out Kyle and I went vegetarian for a night and had large portions of baked macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob.  Unbelievably, Jonathan didn’t get sick off the bit he ate; he has a stomach of steel.

Little by little we are learning and I am so thankful we have already had the chance to go to South Africa to find some things we just can’t get out here in the mountains.  I’m getting a good feel for what you can’t even find in South Africa and I’ve got a growing a list of spices for my mom to bring when she comes.  Until then, I’ll make what I can make with available ingredients and improvise where I can.  I love cooking and baking and it makes me feel so satisfied to know my family is enjoying good, homemade food.

Oh, want to know how to make crescent roll chicken in the States?  Here is the recipe my mother in law gave me in my St.Clair Family Cookbook:

1 can crescent rolls
1 can cooked chicken (or you can cook your own like I’m doing right now)
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ cup milk
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
poultry seasoning
salt and pepper (if I use canned chicken, I omit the extra salt since the chicken is already very salty that way)

Roll crescent rolls out.  Fill with chicken and re-roll.  Place in baking dish with seam side down.  Mix soup with milk and add poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.  Pour over rolls.  Sprinkle cheese over top.  Bake 30 minutes at 350*.  

You can easily double or even triple this recipe for a larger crowd.  It is so simple and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want more.


  1. Oh, Abby! How disgusting about the pork! We can so relate. I remember the first time I assembled all the ingredients to make a familiar meal when we got here- chicken broccoli casserole. (We didn't have an oven but wanted to cook it stovetop anyway!) I looked at my ingredients and realized I had no can opener. Ack! Used a hammer and a straight edge screwdriver!

    So much satisfaction comes from properly feeding others that it truly is a culture shock. You are doing a great job improvising. Thank God your mom taught you to cook so well so that you CAN make things from scratch.

    I still find the admonition not to worry about what you will eat to be a good one for me. At present we have a family of five staying in our home and I'm trying to remember that only a few things are necessary- really only one! Praying for you.


  2. By the way, poultry seasoning's main spice is sage. Can you get that? And I agree that the right spices are so important. Your mom sent me a lot, too!