Top 11 Haiti Food Photos and A Millet-Pounding Video

Back from our trip to Haiti for almost a week and I’m of course still processing the whole thing – the smattering of emotion and experience was deep and wide. I’ll let you know when I figure all that out... Right. If you'd like to see more photos from Haiti, check out The Shoofly's facebook page

Though most of my time was spent in the clinic, helping out in various ways, I (not surprisingly) found myself in the kitchen quite often, among the women in charge of the place's sustenance. And since this here is a food(ish) blog, here are, among the hundreds of photos taken, my top 10 11food(ish) photos. With a couple non-food ones just for good measure.

Oh and a video on how to pound millet with a huge mortar and pestle... 
just in case you were wondering. 

Rustic does not begin to describe the school and clinic compound's main kitchen. This handful of women, having 900 mouths to feed each day, blackened kettles, not a drop of running water, and a bottle of bleach amazing me. Their seriousness made sense. So did their smiles.

She spooned grain after grain after grain onto metal bowls. Topped off with a tomato based sauce with a small sardine finding the ladle if the child were lucky. At one point, she handed me the spoon to serve a few bowls, maybe because I stayed on after the photos or maybe because I returned time and again, looking pitifully enthusiastic for a spoon or knife. 

She cheered at my first ladle which dug non-accidentally for a sardine. No luck involved in that particular provision of protein. Her excitement for my spoonful sticks vivid in my memory. 

Along with no running water, there is no chopping board. Breeding ground for bacteria I suppose. The palm of your hand was as close to a board as you got. Knife skills being a craft. Elvie handed me the blade with hesitance, for fear of my clumsy fingers, but eased up a bit when she saw my mother had done me justice with a knife and palm.

I didn’t know what to feel in the space… 
Empathy. Gratitude. Humility. Curiosity. Pity. 
An Odd Joy. 

We came to the kitchen in the night for the goat kill. It was the following day’s lunch. Butchered on a large piece of cardboard in the same kitchen of the rice and beans, but much darker, save one harsh lightbulb above the anticipating animal. 

The adolescent boys grasped their role proudly – kill the goat, bleed it, blow it up, shave.  Blow it up? ... Once dead, he tied a string tight around the neck, below the throat’s cut. Then he moved to the foot and slid a knife between the meat and skin creating a small hole. He placed his sweet lips to the skin and exhaled into the space with all the strength his small, sinewy body could muster.  

It pushed the belly out, made it swell with his breath till it look like a bloated, sick thing, and a stick's tap sounded hollow and stiff. We were so puzzled at this - fascinated, curious. The matriarch, Elvie, explained - this will save the delicate rib meat from the boiling water they must pour over it before shaving. It will make the skin taut for ease of shaving. It will save the boys' delicate fingers from the slippery, straight edge razor blade.

Each person had their role, this dance clearly having been executed a million times. The man with large teeth and skin like twilight swooped in with an expert hand in evisceration. Elvie took the machete and knife at quick, practiced intervals and cut. 

Her helpers rotated the blade at some silent queue I never saw. The smell of the freshest meat permeated the pass of their knife to and fro. No words needed as each person knew the dance.

Outside the clinic compound, the women set up a makeshift market selling fried things and rice and beans. They were not wanting for color. Even the buckets within their reach had a vivid tone. Her dress was like the sun, and hers of the sky. Or blueberries, which don’t grow here. But bananas and plantains, smashed and fried – those are aplenty. Or mangoes - they say each family has a mango tree of their own. 

She has hues I love, painting a stunning backdrop for bright eyes, banana buckets, and a blueberry dress.

The hillsides came with their own dramas and novellas. Animals came tied up, and the children ran with a rare freedom. Shoes left at home, if there were any to speak of at all.
Each child gives you something with their toothy grin and grasping of our hands with such hope. For what I’m not sure. Maybe that we will simply hold their small, hungry hands back and give some mutual, happy gift. Whisper it sweetly with a photograph. Or pair of shoes.
I see you. I remember you. I love you.
Her own love requires so little. 

And now... How To Pound Millet with a Mortar and Pestle by Levi Cole


Keturah's Cake and My 5th Grade Science Fair

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be packing for Haiti, taking a bath in deet or something like that. Instead I’m baking cake. What? I was hungry, and a bit stressed, and nothing cheers me up like a little nerdy recipe testing cake. 

It was like my 5th grade science fair. You know the kind - with those 3-fold cardboard things and the colorful construction paper haphazardly glued all over. The kind where where you secretly want to win real bad, even though you know winning will pretty much make you the ultimate science geek of your entire 5th grade. (It didn’t help that you made the unfortunate choice of permed hair.) Doh.

I chose baking bread for my project that year.
The experiment: Bake a loaf with yeast. And one without. (My mother helped on this one.)
My hypothesis: The one without yeast wouldn’t rise. My results: Success!
Guess what? I won the science fair! And heck yes that was me with the perm. What? It was circa 1991. 

So today when I should have been packing for Haiti I channeled my permed self and went to Keturah’s collection… This fuscia card grabbed me. The purple pen and stick of butter sealed the deal.

The 1 cup of ice water had me puzzled though. I would have thought milk… I mean they did live on a dairy farm after all. That just seems too cheap economical.  
So clearly I needed to take what I know of cake and make not one, but two cakes. Clearly.
One with ice water.  One with room temperature milk. What's nice is that either way - I win! And don't have to suffer permed hair photo memories for it. 

The results:  Milk. All the way - Milk. Maybe it's just preference, but I found it had better consistency, color, and flavor. To be fair, milk baked second round and thus had the advantage of taste adjustments – up the vanilla, up the lemon zest, decrease the oven temp. I opted for a rhubarb jam topping and found the citrus and sweet rhubarb married wonderfully. 

I’ll do the ice water again soon and tweak a couple things… and of course I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime... 

Keturah’s White Cake

½ cup butter (softened)
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk (at room temp)
4 eggs
2 ½ cups cake flour, sifted
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
lemon zest from 2 lemons

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a round cake pan and set aside.

2. In medium bowl whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

3. With either a hand mixer or kitchenaid type mixer (using the paddle attachment), cream together butter and sugar till homogenous, about 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Slowly add the milk and mix at medium speed till combined. Then add the dry ingredients in thirds, allowing each addition to mix in. Scrape the bowl between each addition.

5. When all the flour is just combine, add the vanilla and lemon zest and mix for about 30 more seconds. You don’t want to overmix. Note: You can also fold the flour in by hand. Or alternatively fold the wet ingredients into the flour. Just make sure to do it gradually to prevent lumps of flour. 

6. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan and place on a baking sheet. Put this in the preheated oven on middle oven rack. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until it is golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out dry when inserted in the middle. Rotate the cake halfway through the baking to ensure even browning.

7. When done, place on baking rack and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edge of the pan, and unmold onto serving platter.

I opted for rhubarb jam as a topping. The citrus and sweet were a perfect union. 

Variations on the topping theme... 
- While the cake is baking, make a simple syrup with 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. After you've removed the cake from the oven, poke 3/4 inch holes all over cake and gradually pour the syrup all over, allowing it to absorb. This will make for an amazingly moist cake!
- I'm not a huge fan of icing myself (hence the jam), but if you're into that sort of thing you could do this from Keturah's collection... 

Ok, now I'm packing. 


Haiti, Service, and a Supper of Rice & Beans

Next week, on October 11th to be exact, I board a plane, mosquito repellent in hand, bound for Haiti. The reason for this trip is not tourism, rather is it to volunteer as part of a medical team for 12 days in Terre Blanche, a small village in the northern, rural part of the country. The medical clinic we'll be working in (and avoiding mosquitoes in) is run by Haiti Foundation of Hope, the steadfast, leading organism behind the bustle of the clinic that has been there for 15 years. They affectionately call it The Clinic of Hope To me the name rings of an optimism that I imagine is required to survive in this impoverished community. I am not totally sure what to anticipate, but anticipating I am. 

The Clinic of Hope 

 In case you were worried... the answer is NO. I will not be wielding any stethoscopes or scalpels; this writer/nanny/cooking type will likely be assisting the nurses and docs, counting medicine in the pharmacy, helping with children, and hopefully, if I'm lucky, with the cooking of some rice and beans.