Food. One can not do otherwise than loving Indian street food, in particular the dishes available at truck dhaba’s. The inventiveness of African mom’s is not to dismiss either. They cook up delicious meals with leavy vegetables and home-made palm oil. A delight for a cyclist on sandy roads through the few patches of virgin forest. I vividly remember my breakfast at restaurants lining the streets in Sana’a, though busy with clientele I would eat in quietness. Fresh fish perfectly fried, while goat heads would simmer next to where I sat. In the far away past I would wander the streets of Bangladesh and Pakistan in search of a restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet, sometimes it took me hours to find such place, not seldom wandering off forgetting to eat. Though my own prepared sugary tomato paste pasta in the desert was tasty and bread fried in olive oil whether at a soppy wet Patagonian patch, the hostile windy pampa or a sweltering Argentinian yerba mate grove was always good enough. Food mixed up with sand in Mauritania, quick decaying beef in warm sunny Bolivia and constipation enhancing dishes in Paraguay, it all had its charm.
Mauritania was low on quality of healthy food. Perhaps it is just that there is no restaurant culture (outside big towns) really.
Beef pretty much a staple food in Paraguay has made the creative urge remarkable low, especially in the dry Chaco.
Cycling in the start of Patagonian winter was everything but pleasant! To cook a meal at the end of another cold, rainy day in such a bunker is not mood enhancing, neither was cooking in a tent.
At this particular spot I smelled that the meat I bought had started to go slightly off. I decided to fry it all in one batch to keep it longer. Since this was my first huge climb into the Andes I wanted to have a lot of energy.
Being only slightly self-sufficient, in terms of eating from your own garden is so much work that I dare state that when food is not bought at a bio shop or straight from the farm, it is exploitative. I rarely haggled about prices in Africa nor India when it came to food, and I am glad I did not. I had no clue how much work was involved in honest produce, but now I know.
Crossing the Sahara into Mauritania was promising for food, apparantly. But it turned out the smallest shacks run by African moms were the best.
India is king in food and drinks. Need I say more? Yes, even when old rusty barrels are used or when preparations take part outside, the food is ALWAYS good. ALWAYS. End of story.
Besides growing, there is a lot of kitchen work involved… in other words, I am more inside at certain days than outside. In summer this is not what I opt for. Geo and I feel at times slaves of our own work.
Fully own produce, well… not counted the cheese and grains.
Realization: in order not to throw out produce you need to eat it all at once. I bottle and I preserve but I am not sure whether I do it correctly and so, the urge to eat before spoilage has entered into the life of an unlearned Little Dutch Farmer and the German Construction Director.
Old garden tools assist me in growing and when I am stubborn and break nearly ancient tools, Geo repairs them happily.
End of July
If I had to choose between a drought or some rainfall, I’d choose the first. The drought earlier in the year has the potato crop of the whole of Hungary made into a failure (miraculously not mine though). But a drought means also very little weeding and a lot less harvest. I kind of like that in the learning stage that I am.
By the end of August I feel being stretched into a split. One that I have to keep from before the lunch meal is on made until darkness falls. I am not born in the war nor soon after and I never had a lack of food, except when I, more or less, took part in Ramadan in Bangladesh and when I lived in Pakistan, but that was a rather self chosen adaption with the locals. Yet, I still can not throw out any food.
The grapes were already present and the blackberries were discovered a few hundred meters distance of my breakfast plate. The flaky brown stuff on top is carob, it looks like sawdust and indeed has a lot of fibres.
According to the precious handling of this oil, it probably is ghee. A very precious product indeed, when many children lack nutricion and are too bony. Including myself (with a loss of 8 kilograms).
My own cast iron stove, a luxury. Yet not so much was possible on this stove and I would not want to go a step back in simplicity when it comes to a kitchen stove.
Beginning of August
The work load has become so much that it is hard to enjoy. I start skipping certain preservation techniques, mainly because I can do without oddities such as cucumber chips. When it comes to preserving, I learned that it is easier to have a lot of only a few species and focus on them instead of as much as possible veggies and trying to preserve the whole lot. I learned too that I am a preserver. Almost each day I preserve tomatoes, peppers and gherkins, but since the ripening goes gradually, I end up each day with 2 or 3 jars. The process of preserving in a huge pot of water is a slow process with a lot of work involved. So, one need to ask: do I want that or do I get my gherkins at the supermarket? (NO!)
The golden jackal is abundant in the region we are. I’d like to think they are to be blamed. Blamed for the cats, whom I loved for ‘the fact that one closes the gate and off you are. No hassle like with a child or dog. Cats are independent. That’s what I love about them’. First the little white one walked off and when Judah and I are searching for his sister in the woods, he decided to follow in her track and disappears too. That was our short lived happiness with the cats. We are a bit sad and a bit upset but also see the beauty of having no ‘substitute children’.
Realization: to cook straight from own garden means cleaning before you can start cooking it. This is often a long, meticulously project. Food as it lays in the supermarkets has been modified like lip augmentation and so thoroughly cleaned that it looks as plucked from a high gloss picture book. My food may still have worms when eating. But usually they emerge to the surface when boiled…
Half of August
I’d seen a beautiful bug. Climbing the big sturdy leaf of the tomato plant. I didn’t know it is the Colorado potato bug. I also didn’t know that this bug will multiply in enormous numbers on all the so-called ‘nightshades’, which are tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and eggplants. And I didn’t know this bug will destroy the produce quickly with the larvae spread all over the place. Instead I grab my camera and make a photo of the bug, after which I leave him in peace. I’d red somewhere that vegetable garden may be a happy flourishing place for all insects, birds and mice. I’d thought: ‘one will benefit the other’, a very easy approach, I agree.
I love to imagine I am an Ethiopian farmer, being successful at working the earth. I like to think we can sustain ourselves from this garden alone. So therefore, bugs who destroy my crop will be removed and I will take my job seriously.
While in my atelier a beehive is being built somewhere in the slits of the roof but lacking the time to figure out where, I have to stretch the nerves and accept the constancy of buzzing. Ah well, being in the Western Sahara I remember a stay in a gas station where the room was infested with hundreds of flies: I can handle a few bees.
To compensate for the endless weeding I release some of the natural inheritance. Goldenrod is abundant and in the early morning the dew dropped yellow flowers, tiny as a tapioca pearl, are treasured and made into a syrup. Some fresh flowers are used to infuse honey with, along with dried flowers to infuse oil. The effects as a dye on cotton are wildly surprising. These are the things I so missed out on while cycling the world.
High summer means starting days with tasks not intended to do. Summer means also a constancy of backlog, hardly a day exist that all is cared for, placed, stored, packed, done. Work builds up. When you have a tendency to be hyperactive, gardening is the thing for you. Old fashioned use of the scythe and chopping wood will do too. Or, single-handed attaching 16 solar panels on your roof.
The days are too short. Very often the evenings, having us both tired and finished, having done a plethora of jobs, give me a feeling that I am not near finished with work. It seems tasks are without an end. When one spot is done weeding, the next patch needs to be removed from unwanted green. Harvesting herbs, drying herbs, collecting herbs. Harvesting kale, drying kale, grinding kale, packing kale. Preparing starter for sourdough, mixing flours, mixing to a sourdough, transferring sourdough to cast iron pot, baking. Cooking. Weeding. Planting. Weeding. Weeding. Mulching. Bug control. Mourning for the lost cats. Proud with every produce hold in, and by, my own two hands. Sometimes even an exiting little yell when hitting upon an unexpected big cucumber.
Pakistani food usually suited me well. Less colorful than its neighbor perhaps. Mutton was especially tasty, not strange with plenty of shephards around back then.
I found this the cutest restaurant possible: Herat in Afghanistan. As a single woman traveling there I did not join in at this particular spot.
Sure, being a farmer is not as exciting as being a cyclist, but I would not want to go back for just a few months. Except when I could erase time and happenings. Except when I could step into a time machine and be transported back, mind erased. Because there are few things better than having time last trice as long, a head full of impressions, filled by surroundings natural and never seen before.
End of August
The tomato story: every serious gardener would know that when starting out with tiny tomato plants tucked with wire to an elegant bamboo branch, is bound to have extra work coming its way. Once the heat is constant, the tomatoes grow. Once the tomatoes grow and form promising bundles, the branch becomes so heavy that the plant wants to fall down. A bamboo branch, however elegant and straight, will not support this tropical plant.
Learned: tomatoes grow long roots with which they tap water deep from the soil. A tomato plant needs a very sturdy stick to grow along. Geo advised to get spiraling ugly iron rods, but in my modest stubbornness I wanted elegant bamboo sticks. In the end the bamboo sticks are replaced by very sturdy poles or branches from the woods. Tomato plants needs to have the little branch forming between two other branches snipped off. It is best to keep a clear stalk which will be the main trunk, leaves below removed. That rare moment I did some research I red to tie the branch with strips of cotton to the support pole, so the plant will not be damaged.
Although this plant was not sown on purpose and had to endure a lot, it gave the best produce of all tomato plants.
Realization: tomatoes need absolute care. If you do not baby the plant the tomato will mainly grow leaves and very little fruit.
Finally, besides all the work, I will meet with another former worldly cyclist. We decide on a pinpoint on the map somewhere near Balaton.
For endless sitting it is too cold, chit chat talking we have no time nor desire for and listening to opinions not to fathom is something I don’t do with Dorothee. We meet short and quick, my sort of preferred meetings. Although I have met this lady who cycled through 100 countries only once before, the alignment of our tents says a lot. Someone who says: ‘I am not going to restaurants, what can I do there?’ quite fits my standard too. Though I do love restaurants. Especially road side ones along touristy cycle paths, such as this one at the Balaton: fitted my standard.
African style was good enough, comfortable and often very tasty food to be had. Most tasty meals were to be found at road side shacks, operated by women.
Tea was available, usually with condensed milk from a tin (imported from the Netherlands). Sierra Leone was however not remembered for it’s outstanding cuisine.
More posts from living a self sustainable lifestyle in Hungary are post 4: Swimming against the current. Post 2: The juggling housewife (summer 2021). Post 1: It’s all about food (early spring 2021). The little Dutch farmer shows winter and early spring when we had nothing going yet. A short update from the here and now shows our coming to Hungary.