Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cooking Thanksgiving - Turkana style

Happy Thanksgiving!  As you wake up this morning, I will be putting the finishing touches on my part of our Thanksgiving feast.  We are celebrating in the evening as it is just a normal workday here in Turkana.

Here is a small wordy glimpse into how I have to cook.  Turkey does not do well here in the heat.  Every time we have tried to cook it, someone or many someones have gotten sick.  It is also very expensive.  So, the main meat of choice is now chicken or ham.  Today we will have roasted Chicken.  My teammate, Melba Morden, will be fixing that.  My job is to fix the green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, my grandma's apple salad and to bring the cranberry sauce.

The canned cranberry sauce can be found in Nairobi in Feb-July.  You have to hunt for it and then save it up for the holidays.  It costs about $4 a can.  I was recently in Nairobi (2 days drive from Turkana) and found some canned condensed mushroom soup.  I almost jumped up and down in the aisle of the grocery store!  We hardly ever find this, so I bought 3 cans.  It was $1.60 a can, but worth the price even if it was the reduced salt variety (better for me anyway - right? :/ ).  Normally, I have to make it from a knorr packet.  That has to be cooked and doesn't taste quite the same.  Plus it adds about 30 minutes to the cooking time because the packet has to be mixed with water and cooked until it is the right consistency.  So, I was very happy to find the can!

I confess I brought back some things to help make the holiday meals a little easier when I was in the States last Christmas.  I brought back a can of french fried onions for the green bean casserole.  I tried to make them last year from scratch and got a soggy but tasty substitute.  It worked, but I am happy to have the can.  I had to keep it in my freezer so that the oil in the onions didn't go rancid in the heat.  I also brought a can of pumpkin for making a pumpkin pie.  I happily turned that over to Melba because I don't do very well with pie crusts from scratch.

The sweet potato casserole brings its own challenges.  We do sometimes find sweet potatoes here in the small shops in Lodwar.  I found some yesterday.  The thing is, they are white on the inside not orange.  One Thanksgiving two of my teammates decided that they wanted orange sweet potatoes so they used food coloring.  At one point we had bright pink mashed sweet potatoes and we were all rolling on the floor in stitches!  They did eventually get them to be orangish.  This year I found a recipe that uses both carrots and sweet potatoes.  So, I am hoping the orange carrots will help get the color right.  This recipe calls for 1 cup of sour cream.  You can't just run out to the store and get sour cream here.  So, I use a canned cream and mix it with 2 Tbs of vinegar to make it sour.
This cream is sometimes hard to find and runs about $2 a can.  The recipe also called for 1 tsp of the zest of a lemon.  Lemons are green here.  I can find them sometimes, but I didn't think green bits would be very appealing in my sweet potatoes.  So, I looked up a substitute.  It took 2 Tbls of juice to equal 1 tsp of zest.  Marshmallows can sometimes be found in Nairobi.  I buy them and keep them in my freezer until I need them.  Today I will need them for this casserole and for the apple salad.  Pecans are also needed to top this casserole.  They are available here for about $8 for 1/8 of a pound.  So, I bring these from the States.

My apple salad is an old Hoosier recipe from my grandma Matillo.  It calls for a cooked dressing.  Thankfully, I can get almost all the ingredients here.  The dressing is made with eggs, sugar, flour, vinegar, mustard and water.  I make the sauce early in the day or the day before so it can get cold in the fridge.  I have to buy imported granny smith apples when I am in Nairobi and save them.  They are washed in bleach water to make sure they are clean and rinsed in filtered water.  Then I chop them into bite sized pieces.  I have to cut up the big marshmallows we can get here into smaller pieces - using scissors.  I keep some boiled water handy to dip the scissors in so they cut easier and don't stick to the scissors.  Then I add in peanuts and pour the sauce over it all.  If I have some celery seed I add a pinch or two of that too the whole thing.  It is hard to find whole celery seed here, so I have to keep my eyes open each time I am in Nairobi (about 5 times a year) and buy it when I see it.

So, there you have a glimpse of what cooking is like here.  I am glad I don't have to cook the whole Thanksgiving meal!  We get together as a team and with any other foreigners who might want to celebrate with us.  My teammate, Chad Harris, is making two types of dressing from scratch today.  We will also have some mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, apple pie and pumpkin pie.  I think we will be quite full at the end of the meal!

I hope you have a blessed day full of thanks and good food!


  1. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving Lynn!


  2. Thanks Tim! It was very nice!