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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

(Mis)Adventures in Christmas in Ghana

Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself or you'd go crazy. My husband and I have really been trying to get into the holiday spirit. Normally this is not something I struggle with. On the contrary, I am something of a Christmas fanatic. I love the decorations, I love baking, I love Christmas carols. Most of all I love family and family traditions. Many of which have to do with food.

Lately we have both been a little homesick. For my husband T., this is his first Christmas away from his family entirely (we usually split time between our families). For me it will be my second Christmas celebrated here in Ghana. But it puts the holidays into sharp perspective. We have a tree, which I am thrilled about. Each night we put it on in the living room and I sort of bask in the glow of the little white lights. It is sort of embarrassing, but it really is basking. There is no other word for it. I'm a cliche. There really isn't a lot here that we want, so it makes presents seem a bit silly. We will exchange little gifts, but mostly we have decided to try to give gifts to others here. We will probably get involved with several charities that deal with orphans and street children. I suppose this is particularly appropriate since right now the food blogging community is involved with "Menu for Hope" which is donating to school feeding programs. It is humbling how far a little money can go here, and it is thrilling to be able to see it firsthand. To roll up our sleeves and be involved. You can provide a full Christmas dinner of Chicken and fried rice for 150 children for less than $200.

But it is hard not to want some of the little reminders of holidays at home. For me that means my Grandma Dottie's mostacholi for Christmas dinner, and cinnamon rolls with orange glaze for Christmas morning. Terry wants to do a beef roast with root vegetables and wine braise. If we do attempt the cinnamon rolls, we will have to decide whether to 'bake' them in a rice cooker or on the stove-top, because our kitchen here has no oven. It is really cramping my style.

The other day we went to the mall. That's right. Ghana, and most capitals of African countries, is a study in opposites. Yes, there is poverty. There are children for whom meat is still a rare and precious treat. But there is also a huge, two-story elegant air-conditioned mall with boutiques and department stores and holiday decorations. I should feel embarrassed about it, but going to the mall together made it feel more like the holidays. As a child my mother always took me out of school one day (if my grades were good enough, which they always were) and we went Christmas shopping together in Milwaukee. It was really just an excuse to spend a whole day having my mom all to myself. It is one of my most cherished childhood memories, not for the buying so much as for the shopping and being. And we would always eat at the food court where I would order from the Chinese buffet, and when we were leaving sometimes we could get a Cinnabon.

So at this Mall we went into the big supermarket. No Christmas cookies really, although there was a mysterious cake-like thing with scary red and green gooey inserts. And then I saw a package of red, white, and green meringues.

I love meringues. They are my secret to having sweets at the holidays without busting the diet. I have developed a recipe for Chocolate Orange meringues that are particularly delightful this time of year. And I'll admit I was a sucker for the holiday coloring on those store meringues. I bought them and brought them home. Last night I prepared my standard Ghanaian cocoa, brought out the meringues, and prepared to bask in tree light.

The meringues were utterly terrible. Terrible in a way that gives you fits of laughter that you can't quite control. They were somehow tasteless, but so full of sugar that they were actually gritty. The anticipation far exceeded the payoff. But the adventure was all worth it.

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