This entry originally appeared in an issue of the Peace Corps Cameroon newsletter on silver linings. If you are interested in hearing other perspectives of volunteers in Cameroon, check out our newsletter blog here.
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 cheerless. 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 just don’t cut it. Alas, we must rely on care packages, forethought during visits to market town, and patience to find the silver lining and reap sweet rewards from disappointing days in service.
When I first got to Danfili, 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. I 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 new 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 Nesquick to ensure extra chocolatey-ness, I felt like I conquered a dragon when I pulled the final product out of the massive dutch oven. The rich, fudgy taste of home gave me the patience to stick it out another day and keep at it.
Even on good days, I still feel more elation after creating a new recipe and sharing the results with my friends and visitors. Once, another PCV visited me to do a collaborative training with my health center volunteers and we were elated. The training had great attendance, active participation, and was a lot of fun. Exhilarated by how well our hard work paid off, we celebrated with a movie. The next day though, I was maybe the proudest I’ve ever been at post…. All because I mastered a new recipe (we made fluffy pancakes and a cinnamon banana fosters sauce). Another time, a neighboring PCV came to visit after a rough week, and I decided to make a quiche (a favorite comfort food of both of ours). The flaky crust was delicious, and the eggy filling was fluffy, perfectly seasoned, and not lacking in onions, tomatoes, and basil. 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.
Below are a few favorite recipes. Feel free to try them and leave a comment!
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES (adapted from Peace Corps Cameroon cookbook Chop Fayner)
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Nesquick, or other cocoa powder
1 t vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)
½ t salt
1/3 cup Peanut butter
½ cup oil
3/4 cup 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 sugared peanuts make an interesting topping to these delicious bars!
BANANAS FOSTER PANCAKES (adapted from Peace Corps Cameroon cookbook Chop Fayner)
Pancakes (makes about 12):
1 cup flour
½ cup milk
2 t baking powder
3 T sugar
2 T oil
1-2 ripe bananas, mashed
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. Substituting half of the milk with vinegar helps make pancakes fluffier.
4-5 ripe bananas
1/2 cup butter
1/8 t cinnamon
½ orange, chopped
½ cup sugar
2 t vanilla extract
Slice bananas and orange. Melt butter and sugar over low flame. Add bananas, sauté until hot and become golden. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and oranges, and stir until well combined. 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.
QUICHE (adapted from my mom’s recipes)
3/4 cup butter
1 ½ cup flour
3-4 T water
1 hefty pinch of salt
1 t Lemon juice
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in lemon juice and then water, one tablespoon at a time. Once the mixture forms a uniform ball, roll it out on a floured surface until about a ½ inch thick. When ready, place in a pie tin. Poke fork holes around the surface of the pie crust, and bake in oven for 10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped vegetables (onion, mushroom, tomato, broccoli, leek, potato, whatever you want)
½ cup cheese (I like to add a soft cheese, like cream cheese, but shredded cheese is great too)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Any other seasonings (rosemary, oregano, dill, red pepper flakes, etc. experimentation encouraged)
Sautée onions, and other vegetables in a little butter or olive oil until soft. Crack and scramble eggs well in a large bowl. Combine milk, sauteed vegetables, seasonings, and salt and pepper, and beat. Next, take the cooked pie crust and sprinkle cheese of choice evenly, then pour egg mixture over. Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees.