Monday, May 20, 2013

Ndawara Tea Plantation

Until recently, I had no idea that within a couple hour's drive from our house there is an amazing tea plantation enterprise. We live in the "interior" of Cameroon (as some have been known to refer to it).  Booming businesses are not generally what you think of when traveling through the tiny villages and towns in the area where we live.  In fact, beyond Ndop (which is about an hour from our home), the main road is not even paved. I would have never thought it possible to travel beyond the tar road and find a massive and successful tea plantation.  Our friend and fellow missionary, Rosemary, offered to take us up there this past February to tour the Ndawara Plantation. I thought it would be the perfect educational field trip!  

After traveling to the end of the paved road I previously mentioned, we continued on for about 10 more minutes until we came to a faded and dilapidated sign board announcing the entrance to the plantation. If you weren't actually looking for the sign it could easily be missed. In fact, we thought we'd passed it and almost turned around at one point. We took a left at the sign and traveled a very rough and rocky road up the mountain for about 20 minutes or so.  The view was gorgeous as we seemed to climb to the top of the world. I can only imagine what it would have looked like in the rainy season. 

We arrived and set up a tour of the entire operation.  Our guide came out and began to lead us through the factory.  Beyond the buildings full of machines are lush hills, green with the growth of tea leaves. They hire locals to hand pick each tea leaf. They toss the leaves into the handwoven baskets strapped to their backs. The work is incredibly tedious, but I can't help but think of all the jobs it creates for people. I doubt they mind the monotony so long as it puts food on the tables to feed their families.

They collect bags upon bags of tea leaves. The strong tea fragrance fills the factory. By the end of the tour we all smelled of the aroma of tea and had tea dust somewhere on our body!

After they spend their day collecting,  a new set of workers then put the leaves on conveyor belts. The leaves travel slowly around the factory as they are chopped, processed, and dried. Following the belts you can see the leaves change color right before your eyes from a bright green to dark brown.

Once the tea has been thoroughly processed, they package it. They fill large sacks full of loose tea to ship to customers worldwide who will then package it with their own company labels. They also package the tea with the Ndawara company name to be sold right here in Cameroon and possibly other parts of Africa.  I was amazed at the high quality machinery they had here to package and seal their tea. They can fill small bags with loose tea, and we also watched a machine fill individual tea bags for just a cup of tea.
There were a handful of ladies there boxing and packaging the individual tea bags as well as boxing up packages of loose tea. The entire process was really fascinating and we all walked away with a box of Ndawara Tea!

The next part of our tea plantation tour was the kid's absolute favorite. It seems that the owner has been trying to build a small menagerie of animals for his guests to see. This isn't like any ordinary zoo. We are in Africa, and there aren't any strict safety regulations like you would find at a zoo in the states!  We were led to the animals and this is what we saw!
Oh my he not cute!?  These little guys were just roaming around. We were all a little timid actually. At the back of my mind was the story of the lady that had her face ripped off by a chimp.  I wanted to go home with all of my body parts on this day. We were told to walk on by them for now as we were led to the back of a large field where all the birds were held.  Gorgeous peacocks and huge Ostriches were wandering around behind a fence.  We were careful of the ostriches too!  They were looking for something to eat and I didn't want it to be our fingers!
This picture just needs a caption!

After the birds, there were a couple of caged monkeys. They were both chained and sitting in the darkness. I felt bad for the little things. I don't think they see the light of day very often.
Then the Boa Constrictors were the last thing in this section of the "zoo". They were very large and very ugly, and I don't think it is even necessary to post a photo. :)  We were all pretty anxious at this point to get back to the adorable Chimps!  

By this point we were kinda warming up to the chimps (all but Faith Ann and Daddy). Kate, Emma and I really wanted to hold one. Daddy said no, however and I can understand his decision. Wild animals are wild and unpredictable. I'd rather go home with my face in tact than say that I was able to hold a chimp for the first time.  We were able to shake Billy's hand at least, and he was trained to make kissing noises when greeting people. It was really cute. The smaller ones were wild and crazy. They kept fighting with each other like a couple of toddlers. It was so funny to watch. 
We stood around and watched these little guys for probably an hour. This was the end of our visit to the Tea Plantation and it was such a full day! We definitely made some wonderful memories and plan to go back again. We now have two incredible places to take our guests when they come to visit us here in Cameroon. I plan on bringing my Mom here when she comes out in October. We also love taking our visitors to the PresPot, which is a pottery place where you can watch them form pieces from scratch out of clay. They explain the entire process of forming and firing the pottery. One day I'll do a post on that - it is pretty amazing!  

So, if you want to see how pottery or tea is made...we are your one stop shop! Come and visit us here in Cameroon! 
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

From the Missionary Kitchen | Ricotta Cheese

Over the years I have learned some tips and tricks in the missionary kitchen that have been "Aha" moments for me. When we first moved here nearly 9 years ago, my menu was very small. I got so tired of cooking the same things over and over and over again.

People would come and visit and share a trick now and then and my menu grew longer and longer.  One thing was still lacking for me though - and that was cheese. I started out on my cheese making venture by browsing the web. The New England Cheese Company stood out to me, and I ordered a ricotta/mozzarella cheese making kit.  It came with everything I needed to make those two types of cheeses. I decided to attempt ricotta first, since mozzarella seemed a bit trickier of the two.  The first batch looked gorgeous and I longed to make a pan of lasagna with it!  I had no lasagna noodles what's a girl to do? Improvise of course!

When I was newly married I'd once tried my hand at making crepes (I know there is supposed to be a french accent in there somewhere...).  I figured that making crepes was the easiest way to get a noodle type texture for a pan of lasagna rather than attempting to roll out a pasta dough to a paper thin consistency.  The result was actually very tasty! With the addition of my new-found ricotta, the recipe was a hit!  Shortly after that attempt at lasagna, I actually found boxed lasagna noodles in Douala after one of our trips there, so I've never had to make crepes again.  However, if there is ever a shortage of lasagna noodles here in Cameroon, I wouldn't hesitate to try my crepes version again!

The ricotta method was a tiny bit tedious having to keep track of the temperature and adding the certain ingredients at the right time. It was a few years later, that a fellow missionary was visiting and I was talking to her about making ricotta. She told me her method, which is infinitely easier than mine!  I will never look back!

So, I thought I'd quickly share how to make some ricotta cheese in a pinch! Here is what you need:
1 gallon of prepared powdered milk
3 TB white vinegar

I have never tried a gallon of processed milk like we would normally buy in the states. We only buy powdered milk here. You could give it a try and at worse you'd be out few bucks, or you could just buy some powdered milk to keep on hand.

Put the gallon of milk (I make it full cream, or whole milk version) in a large pot and turn on the stove.  I let it heat until it is just boiling. Once it is boiling pour in your 3 tablespoons of vinegar and you will see the curd instantly separate from the whey.

I immediately turn off the heat, and then let it sit there for a minute or two. Next, I line a colander with my cheese cloth. Let me quickly stop and talk about the cheesecloth. Make sure you get the finest weave there is otherwise you will lose the majority of your curd down the drain! My cheesecloth is actually called butter muslin and the weave is very fine. I still double it over when draining my cheese just to make sure I don't lose any of my wonderful cheese! I once was out of cheesecloth, and used one of my husbands t-shirts instead!  No worries - it was clean, and it worked like a charm. :)  

Ok, back to cheese making. Once you line your colander with the proper cloth,  pour the curds/whey mixture inside.  Now, I've read about the wonderful things that whey can be used for. Google it and you can learn too. If you want to reserve this miracle liquid, then be sure to drain your cheese into a bowl.  

Once I've drained the majority of liquid from the cheese, I take the corners of my cheese cloth and hang it up. I have a very handy place to do this as it can just drip right down into my drain.

You can let it drain as long as you like. I actually don't drain mine very long, especially when making lasagna. Once it drains a bit, I add my egg, and some parmesan cheese and salt, since it hasn't been salted at all yet.  

I have no idea how much ricotta cheese costs these days, but this is an amazing substitute if you have these ingredients on hand. The price of powdered milk would determine whether you are saving money or not. It is the only option I have since we can't purchase ricotta cheese here.

We are definitely a cheese loving family and the options for purchasing cheese have increased since our first move here. We used to be limited to Edam. Edam is good and I like it, but eating pizza with Edam just isn't the same as mozzarella. We can get Edam as well as Gouda, Swiss, and Mozzarella fairly regularly now. We can also get Cheddar and Feta in the big cities like Douala or Yaounde.  Edam and Gouda are both great substitutes for Cheddar though, so I never buy it.  And even though I can get it in the big city, my next cheese making venture will be one of my favorites...Feta!  I have all of the ingredients I need (purchased from the New England Cheese Making Supply company), I just need to motivate myself to do it.  I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out!

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