Pizza! (Part 2.1)

Months ago, I posted about pizza crust. I promised I would follow up with how to make our homemade sauce. Afterward, it occurred to me that, in order to properly post about the sauce, I would need to be back in Africa so you, dear reader, could get the full effect of our process for getting sauce.

Pizza sauce for us is more than just a delicious recipe, though that is an important part of it. It’s also about the acquisition of the ingredients, the proper processing thereof, and then cooking it all until it tastes just right.

Years ago, when my kids were small and I’d make homemade pizza, I’d just buy sauce at the grocery store. I wasn’t convinced that homemade sauce could taste as good as store-bought.

Then we moved to Uganda. An 8-oz. jar of pasta sauce cost almost $10 and I knew we’d need at least two of them to make pizza for our family if I skimped on sauce. At first I “cheated” and used tomato paste and herbs to make a sort of sauce that we used for pizza sauce. It was cheaper than using the ready made pasta sauce but it was easier than making sauce from scratch. The canned tomato paste here has a strong metallic flavor. The more I used that method for sauce, the less I liked the flavor of the sauce and the more I could taste the metal.

So I pulled out my trusty family cookbook — a treasure that was given to me as a wedding present, with recipes from family and friends all over the world (It’s my go-to recipe book for almost everything). Inside, I found a pasta sauce recipe given to me by Sandy Panagos, a dear friend who’d been almost like a second mother when I was growing up. Years ago, I insisted that her sauce had come out of a bottle and she insisted it didn’t. One day, when we were doing school at her house (that tells you how long ago it was!), she made her signature sauce. I still could hardly believe that something that tasted that good didn’t come out of a bottle. (Oh! how naive I was!) She included the recipe for me in the family cookbook.

Yes, her recipe includes cans of processed tomatoes. I can get canned tomatoes here in Uganda, but one can costs as much as enough fresh tomatoes to make quadruple her recipe. So I use fresh tomatoes instead of canned.

It starts like this:

I go to the Wednesday market to buy produce and buy a large basin of tomatoes. They cost anywhere from $3-5 depending on the season. (The large basin holds around 20 pounds of tomatoes.)

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(You can see a large basin of tomatoes to the right in the above picture.)

I then bring them home and wash them. We sterilize all our produce in our drinking water and disinfectant. It’s a long, drawn-out process. Honestly, I don’t miss this step when we visit the US — where you can wash your produce in tap water and don’t have to worry about getting intestinal parasites or e-coli from it. The wash water from our produce here turns brown and has a layer of dirt in the bottom of the pan, so I’m happy to do this step in the process.

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Once that step is finished, I can refrigerate the produce until I’m ready to make the sauce.

I know most books about preserving vegetables say you must peel and seed your tomatoes. The skin and seeds change the flavor, especially if you are canning them. I’m not canning them, so I skip this step. I’d make some flippant comment about being too lazy, but the whole process is already so time consuming that the peeling/seeding step would take it from being doable to being a tedious, miserable chore. There are a couple adjustments I make when I cook it, but more about that later.

When my sauce comes out and looks like this:

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thick, red, flavorful, I could just eat it out of the pan with a spoon. It’s so good. Sandy Panagos was right. A good homemade sauce is far better than anything you can get from the store!

(I promise to share the recipe when Part 2 continues!)

How’s Africa?

“How’s Africa?”

“What’s it like in Africa?”

We’ve been asked these questions over and over again when we visit the US. While I don’t mind these questions and I understand where they are coming from (a desire to get to know and understand the place where we live) they are difficult to answer for several reasons.

First of all, most Americans view the continent of Africa like they do the United States — as a conglomeration of country/states. It is nothing like that. Africa contains 55-57 countries (depending on where you get your information 😉 ). Travel is difficult and restrictive at times as you navigate the various processes for obtaining visas in each country. We’ve traveled to several of these and each one has a different procedure. The procedures change on a regular basis as well.

Second, Africa is a huge continent. The continental United States would fit in Africa just over 3 times. The Sahara desert alone is the size of the continental US.

Third, the continent has many different biomes, spans two different hemispheres, and four time zones. Both the northernmost and southernmost extremes of the continent will get snow. If we ever got snow where we live, 80 miles south of the equator, the world as we know it would be coming to an end 😀 . That said, a couple hundred miles from here, in the Ruwenzori Mountains, you can climb on glaciers.

For these reasons, among other things, I can’t really speak to the entire continent of Africa.

I can, however, share about my little corner of it, the part that I call home.

So, over the next few weeks and months, I’d like to tell you about my little part of Africa. Whenever you see a “How’s Africa?” title, expect to learn a little more about where I live and the people that live here. It won’t be a travelogue. You can find that kind of information in the CIA fact book.

I’m hoping to make this more personal, the things I like, maybe a few things I don’t like, how things work here and why we do things the way we do. I hope you enjoy it!

“Welcome home!” said Mr. Spider

Upon our arrival back in Uganda, our home was a perfect example of Newton’s second law of thermodynamics: the entropy of an isolated system always increases.

Our house = isolated system

Our house = increased entropy

We discovered a forest growing in a part of our yard that no one could reach with trimmers. Trees and weeds had grown up through the cement, proving that it would not take long for plants to reclaim the earth if all the people were taken away.

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Upon entering the house, we discovered a thick coat of dust all over everything. Honestly, it was not as bad as I’d anticipated. The worst part was the veil of spider webs draped across the halls and openings. You know how in the movies when people go into the crypt or the haunted house and they have to brush webs out of the way? Yeah, some places were like that.

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Another disturbing detail was the pile of bird droppings just outside our back door. Pile is not an exaggeration. (Where is the barfy face emoji when you need it?)

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We found our dust masks and started working — sweeping, dusting, mopping, wiping down walls and counters and shelves, removing all the cobwebs, pulling weeds and trees, sweeping the cement to remove the dirt. In a few hours we pushed back the entropy, slowly restoring order to our living areas. We needed to sleep in our house by that evening so we had to get it livable as soon as possible.

I’m so thankful for my hardworking kids! They jumped into the work, like it was a competition to see who could get the most accomplished. I think they did more work than I did!

Toward evening, we noticed that the water pressure was dropping in certain sinks in the house. We checked to see if water was still on in town. It was, so we kept working. We cleared grit from pipes that hadn’t been used in a while. The pressure seemed to improve.

The pressure for the hot water heater to the kids bathrooms remained weak. They ended up taking cold showers. 🙁 It was late and we couldn’t get a plumber to check it until morning and they needed showers after all the cleaning!

Once the kids were in bed, James and I started to clean up so we could go to bed. James had no sooner gotten in the shower and started soaping up than the water stopped. Nothing would come out of the shower. He dried as best he could and checked our water tank. (This required climbing a rickety ladder in the dark, onto a platform held up by two metal poles where the water tanks sit.) It was empty. That meant there was no water available to our bathroom. Turns out, while town water was still on, the pressure was so weak it wouldn’t fill our tanks. We’d used up our water because we didn’t realize there was a problem.

We were filthy. There was no way we could put our nastiness into our freshly made bed. The kid’s bathrooms still had water, so we snuck in there while they slept and took cold showers, too.

What a welcome home! Nothing like this to get us reacclimated to life in Uganda!

(Oh, and it only took part of two days to unpack. I could have had it done in one day if I’d have applied myself. It’s almost depressing how easy that was after all the work to get it packed in the first place!)

The Packing Challenge – Part 3

Again, I thought I was done after Part 2. However, I know people were praying for us in our travels, and I need to brag on God and what He did on our behalf.

We’d repacked everything, readjusted, moved things, gotten everything to weight. In some cases, I knew I was pushing the weight limit allowed by the airline. (50 pounds or 23kg — BUT 23kg goes all the way up to almost 52 pounds because a kilo is 2.2 pounds.)

We’d used an industrial scale, the finding of which was a God thing. It just so happened that the son of the people who picked us up from the train had a scale he used to fill propane tanks and it just so happened that he was on vacation and wouldn’t be needing it until after we left and it just so happened he didn’t mind if we used it for our luggage.

We got everything repacked on Saturday afternoon so we didn’t even have to think about it on Sunday. But think about it I did, almost to the point of obsession. I knew I was worrying. There was little I could do to stop myself. All I could do was use the worry as a motivation to pray. So many people told me they were praying too, whether through text message, Facebook, or at church.

Sunday afternoon I called Debbie Guimon. I don’t know how many times she’s made this same trip, many times with large amounts of luggage for the orphanage in Soroti. She couldn’t offer any definite answers, but she did give suggestions for how to handle things if the airline turned out to be as particular as Amtrak had been.

We left for the airport at 7AM on Monday and arrived almost 4 hours before our first flight was scheduled to leave. There was no one in line before us and the good people at Delta/KLM focused on our luggage, as did the TSA people.

They only questioned the weight on one bag — a piece that was already overweight (70lb) but needed a couple pounds removed. Then, they allowed the overweight bags to count toward our luggage allotment and didn’t charge us extra — a savings of $300!

TSA was just as great! They didn’t let James handle any of the bags they searched, but they willingly zip tied the containers and put everything back the way they’d found it. Going through the luggage since then, I’ve not found anything out of place from where I put it!

Everything was still in good shape when we got to Uganda. All the luggage made it intact. Everything got through customs.

Today we head to our house and begin the unpacking process. I love unpacking. It takes so much less time than packing. 😛 Just take the items out and put them in their place. Ah! The relief of it! Order from chaos! It also means this challenge, for this trip, is finally at an end.

A Downside

It’s one of the most painful things we have to do.

It makes our life feel transitive, impermanent, without real physical or emotional ties. It hurts.

It’s a struggle for my kids in particular. This hurts a mother’s heart.

We do it here, then we have to do it again in Uganda.

We have to say goodbye.

We say goodbye to family. This grows harder each time we see them. People grow and age and life circumstances change. Will this be the last time we see my grandma? Our parents? I hope not, but there is no way to know. Will my kids still have fun with their cousins next time they see them or will they have changed so much that there isn’t a connection anymore?

We say goodbye to good friends, people who are like family to us. Unlike family, they have no obligation to us. It’s more of an effort to see them and sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever have another chance.

We say goodbye to people in our church, both our home church in the US and our churches in Uganda. Some of our Ugandan church members emigrate to other countries and we might never see them again this side of heaven.

We say goodbye in each and every church we visit where connections are made. People are busy. I’m busy. We go on with our lives and don’t keep up with those connections like we should.

We’ve said goodbye to missionary friends on the field as they move their family back to the states. Their children are friends with my children. It adds to the isolation we sometimes feel.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It means my kids can keep in touch with people in the US, even talking with them face to face from time to time. They can know their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They can see their friends.

But technology is a double edged sword. It also means we keep busier than we ever have before. Social media makes us feel connected, but the connection is on our own terms, at our own convenience. It can increase feelings of loneliness for people living overseas, because we see all the activity of those in the states and we feel left out. Even worse, sometimes we struggle with feeling ignored, insignificant, and forgotten.

So, as you pray for missionaries, pray that God will give grace through the goodbyes.

(Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a downer, but merely to express one thing we face and deal with as missionaries. We say goodbye and go on in the joy of the Lord. Some days, however, it is a struggle.)