By: Phoebe Chastain
It wasn’t until I looked up the nursery rhyme this morning that I realized that the Muffin Man really lives somewhere called Drury Lane, and not Dreary Lane. I had always found it poetic that the creator of delicious goodies would live somewhere described as bleak and dull. As if the man in the puffy white hat restored the balance of a drab, gloomy, or otherwise unpleasant day by offering some sweet pizazz to all who passed by. How much better would our service be if every time we had a day that didn’t live up to our expectations, a little chubby dough boy appeared with a tray of cookies or cinnamon rolls? Some days, beignets and Mambo bars just don’t cut it. Alas, we must rely on care packages, forethought during market town runs, and patience to find the silver lining and reap sweet rewards from disappointing days in service.
When I first got to post, I expected myself to be a super busy, successful and well integrated volunteer. I set lofty goals for outreach on most of the health indicators and saw potential work projects at every turn. A year in, my projects have become more focused and realistic, and I like to think of myself as fairly successful when it comes to my efforts and the results at the end of the day. Yet, the days that fill me with the most pride and accomplishment have absolutely nothing to do with malaria prevention, prenatal consultations, or community behavior change, and everything to do with butter, sugar, and flour.
I love baking. I love using a Dutch oven. Loving these things helps me love Cameroon and my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. Initially, it took a while to warm up to baking in the bush. It just didn’t seem possible here. Why would I use margarine when real butter is so much better? How am I supposed to make bread without whole-wheat flour? How am I supposed to know if the Dutch oven is at the right temperature? It took a while to adjust my expectations and open up to alternative solutions. The first time I baked at post, I had spent the whole afternoon waiting for a women’s group meeting that never happened. I came home super frustrated. Reveling in the fact that I was so grumpy, I did what I would have done after a bad day at home: I made a pan of brownies (for dinner). Digging out my measuring cups and using too much Matinal to ensure extra chocolatey-ness, I felt like I conquered a dragon when I pulled the final product out of the massive marmite. The rich, fudgy taste of home gave me the patience to stick it out another day and keep at it.
Even when I have had a good day, I still feel more elation after creating a new recipe and sharing the results with my friends and visitors. Last week another PCV visited me to do a collaborative training with my health center’s volunteers and we had a great turnout. The training had great attendance, active participation, and was a lot of fun. We were both exhilarated by how well our hard work paid off and celebrated with a movie. The next day, though, I was maybe the proudest I’ve ever been at post…. all because we made pancakes and a banana fosters sauce. Similarly, about a month ago, a clustermate came to visit after a rough week, and I made a quiche (a favorite of both of ours), and we couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the night.
Sharing my favorite recipes with my friends has been a surprising, fun way to share my culture and boost my self-esteem. Whether or not my projects are going how I expected them to, I know that I can find balance and pride in sharing my sweet tooth with counterparts and friends. During the monotony of living in a small agricultural town where most days are the same, I roll up to my work site with a fresh pan of spice cake and make Danfili a little less dreary.
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES (adapted from Peace Corps cookbook Chop Fayner)
¾ c sugar
½ c Matinal, or other cocoa powder
½ sachet of Sucre Vanille
½ t salt
1/3 c Peanut butter
½ c oil
3/4 c flour
½ t baking powder
Preheat oven. Mix peanut butter with oil until runny. Beat in eggs. Mix in sugar, salt, vanilla, and cocoa powder. Sift flour and baking powder together before adding to wet ingredients and combine. Spread in greased baking pan and cook until edges seem done (20 minutes). Adding caramels (sweetened peanuts) make an interesting topping to these delicious bars!
BANANAS FOSTER PANCAKES (adapted from Peace Corps cookbook Chop Fayner)
Pancakes (makes about 12):
1 c flour
½ c milk (Nido, or just water)
2 t baking powder
3 T sugar
Combine above ingredients until well blended. Mix in mashed banana last. Pour ½ cup quantities onto a hot, greased skillet and cook until bubbles appear throughout the pancake. Flip to cook the second side.
1/2 c butter
1/8 t cinnamon
½ orange, chopped
½ c sugar
1 sachet Vanille Sucre
Slice bananas and orange. Melt butter and sugar over low flame. Add bananas, sauté until bananas are hot and become golden. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and oranges. Remove from heat and let cool (just a little!). Serve over pancakes. Also good with French toast or beignets! For something different, include sweetened condensed milk or crushed peanuts as an additional topping.