I would say that the most frequently asked questions by my circle of friends when we were preparing to live in Africa pertained to food purchasing and preparation. (I guess because my circle of friends included a bunch of moms.) I had very little anxiety about this topic (though I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to buy meat or prepare dinner in Kenya) because I was moving into a well established community, where surely someone would teach me these things.
Sure enough, one of our first Sundays here, some of the veteran women held a cooking class for us newbies. They shared with us some tried and true recipes, ones that work at an oxygen-lite 2,256 meters above sea level or 7,400 feet. We are quite high here on the mountain and that makes for some adjustments to our baking & cooking.
Pasta: Pasta takes FOREVER to cook! I usually forget to allow for this and end up waiting on the spaghetti, when everything else is ready to go! At 7,400 feet above sea level, water boils at about 198o Fahrenheit. I know what you’re thinking – the water should reach its boiling point faster, therefore the pasta should cook faster, right? WRONG. Because water will not heat past it’s own boiling point, the pasta cooks at 198o instead of at 212o. So it takes about 10-15 minutes longer to boil pasta in Kijabe than it did in Pennsylvania.
Speaking of temperature, everything here is metric. I buy my meat and cheese according to kilogram, milk and juice are measured in liters. My oven has only Celsius measurements on the knob so I keep a cheat sheet on my counter of approximate temperatures in oF and oC.
Casseroles, etc.: Water evaporates more quickly at this elevation. I have to cover, cover, cover my casserole dishes in the oven, as they dry out much faster here!
Baking: Add an egg, add more liquid (because of the evaporating issue), use less baking soda, add more baking powder. I can’t begin to explain the science of baking. I confess, I much prefer to cook than to bake. In this department, I just do as they tell me to do. I’ve had a lot of success in changing the soda/powder content according to directions here, but keeping the rest of the recipe the same. No major failures yet
It’s a learning process. Most things need to be cooked from scratch, including simple things we take for granted in the states like sour cream or cream of _____ soups. Even adding beans to a dish is a process. Beans are purchased dry, soaked overnight & then cooked for hours before being ready to add to a meal. Fortunately preserving foods like cooked beans and even homemade cream of soups is much easier to do with our chest freezer and I am thankful for that.
We are also abundantly blessed to live in this close-knit community - so when I find myself out of something in the middle of preparing dinner, I may not be able to just run to the store, but I can easily call a neighbor to come to my rescue, and they have.