“Dirty Dozen” shopping list

After making it through our 30-day Local Food challenge, and deciding to make it a bit more permanent (but also a little more flexible), I’ve decided that I really like the simplicity of buying only a short list of food items each week and eating simple, somewhat repetitive meals. Granted, when  the subject of furlough came up in a recent conversation, we suddenly began discussing all the favorite eateries we might like to visit if we ever went back to America. Yeah…moments of weakness, but I digress.

I’m still pretty surprised that we seem to be doing so well on plus-or-minus 12 grocery items per week. What I think of as our “dirty dozen” includes staples from our grain storage: maize, beans, and rice, as well as items we can easily buy at the local shops: baking powder, salt, eggs, and milk.  We go to the market once a week for the remainder: tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, and cabbage.  We’ve ended up making somewhat permanent exceptions for the following items, which we pick up in Kitale: a few seasonings (Italian seasoning, chili powder and cinnamon); Ghee or margarine; quality vegetable shortening (the locals call it “cooking fat,” and though we can buy it at the our neighborhood shops, it’s a bright yellow, sub-standard variety and I just can’t bring myself to use it unless I absolutely have to); and cocoa (for our morning hot chocolate, which is one of the few ways we get  milk into our diet on a daily basis…we have to boil it but then can’t refrigerate). We’ve gotten a little more flexible after the 30-day challenge and also occasionally have spaghetti…and pizza was a must-have for Hannah’s recent birthday celebration. I’m also trying to get fruit  once per week at the market, since the avocadoes and bananas that had been coming to our door somewhat regularly have now been out-of-season for a while.

Along with wanting to eat more locally/more inexpensively/more simply, we’ve also (within the past couple of months) eliminated beef and store-bought chicken from our diet. This was a decision made in light of Biblical teachings because of the culture we find ourselves in. We either slaughter a chicken or buy pork from the local butchery once a week, and recently we found a good source for mutton that we’ll probably have now and then.

Our “dirty dozen” shopping list and the resulting simplified food menus  have been good for our food budget but more than that, beneficial in reminding us that what we were once used to in terms of meals are certainly not “normal” to the vast majority of the rest of the world. It has also been a very helpful spiritual discipline in terms of conquering the flesh. We want to continue to challenge ourselves to be increasingly less indulgent in terms of food so that we will not find ourselves slaves to our stomachs. Throughout this process of streamlining, I have found myself thinking often of Finny Kuruvilla’s words in King Jesus Claims His Church (p. 205):

     The world and the media exert considerable force on our minds. Unless we are consciously resisting its pull, we will be prey. The world promotes stimulation and thrill-seeking through the palate. The world chases after a new delicacy and flavor with nearly every meal, fostering the lust of the flesh. Thus while all foods are clean and to be received with thanksgiving (Mark 7:19; 1 Tim. 4:4), believers should be content to eat simple and repetitive meals. This battle is more easily won if addressed early; one’s tastes are developed in childhood. Insofar as possible, parents should provide simple, nutritious meals that emphasize vegetables, legumes, and while grains, rather than fats, meats, and sweets. Restaurant patronage should be minimized to teach children contentment with simple home cooking. Few people think of these disciplines as connected to spiritual victory, but they surely are.

     …The connections between food, self-discipline, and spiritual power are profound.

They are profound, indeed…

Aaaand….we had pizza

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, we have a confession to make. Two weeks into our 30-day challenge to eat from our local markets…we had pizza. In discussing what we could and couldn’t get locally, Marc laughed and said something about how this could be a really great business opportunity for folks in our community–sort of like bringing the store to our door. We already have people selling us eggs, bananas, and avocadoes. Next step…cheese and tomato paste? So in the midst of lunch with Reagan (one of the brothers here), it came up that he was going to be making a trip to Kitale, and we jokingly mentioned the “store to your door” idea. Reagan jumped on it, as making some profit on a trip he was already making (enough to pay his transport) was very appealing to him. And the deal was done…we had pizza for supper.

So we briefly re-visited our goals for the Challenge to debate if the pizza decision was OK or not. Of course, there was the spiritual side of things, wherein we felt like local eating would help us to conform our appetites in a better direction. Though stoicism wasn’t our goal, in this regard, pizza was a bit of a disappointment. On the other hand, we do want to support the local economy, particularly the believers in our community. And so the pizza would be good on that score. And then there’s simply how good local eating is for our budget. On that front, pizza is a definite bust. All in all, we didn’t feel “guilty” for eating pizza once in the month, but I’m not sure it will happen again any time soon.

How about the rest of the 30 days? As was to be expected, our menus were not very varied. At about the third week, my enthusiasm waned as I was trying to prepare a “quick lunch” after a busy morning of homeschooling, and was lacking in most of the dozen or so ingredients that now formed the basis of our meals. Potatoes? Nope. Eggs? None on the shelf. Rice? Just had that for supper last night and likely would again that night. I don’t remember what we ate, but the good news is, I talked myself out of getting frustrated/discouraged about it.

For the most part, breakfasts were a plain coffee cake or mandazi (non-sweet donuts) with hot cocoa or herbal tea. Lunch was usually leftovers from supper the night before, rice, or kitheri (corn and beans). I tried to make our suppers somewhat more interesting and nutritionally balanced: eggs with tomatoes and peppers and a side of home fried potatoes, creamy cabbage and potato soup, homemade egg noodles with “faux cheese” (essentially a garlic-flavored white sauce) and spinach, or, once a week, stewed chicken with mashed potatoes. If none of these were available, we defaulted to rice and beans (usually eaten a few times a week, often with avocado). We even had dessert once or twice a week: pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, or what have you. The bananas that came to our door were always a good afternoon snack or a supplement to lunch.

And speaking of bananas, we hadn’t developed a taste for the “cooking bananas,” or plantains, that are readily available and cheap here. They are cooked while still green and are a pretty good substitute for potatoes. However, I never really put the effort into learning to cook them, until around week 3 of the Challenge when we harvested some from our backyard, and I figured it was as good a time as any. When I did a little research and found out how good they are for you, we started eating them more often!

I was pretty surprised that we could eat locally without resorting to ugali. Our supply of dry maize from last year ran out month or two ago, and we’re still a week or so from shelling what’s in the garden now, so if we were to have ugali we’d have to buy maize at one of the local shops. In this in-between season, maize is actually more expensive than rice. Though the Littles really like ugali, the rest of us just kind of tolerate it, so it was fine with all of us to eat more rice and skip the ugali  entirely.

The Littles were generally accommodating of the dietary changes. Those with more entrenched preferences in regard to appetite were a little more resistant and apt to complain, though that was minimal overall. We celebrated two birthdays during the month and I expected moans and groans over missing out on birthday pizza, but somewhat surprisingly, that didn’t happen. When Micah turned seven, I made a “breakfast pizza”–pizza crust with hashbrowns, scrambled eggs and “faux cheese” on top. On Deborah’s 10th birthday, we had her favorite meal: cabbage, cornbread, and potatoes. However, Marc allowed an exception to the “local food only” rule and we bought a bag of carrots at the village market to add to the meal, since that was a request of the birthday girl and seemed reasonable. As we neared the end of the 30 days, I heard no complaining at all. Everyone knew why the decision had been made, and maybe realized it wasn’t so bad after all. And so, it seems that we have consensus on moving this from a 30-day “experiment” to a more permanent way of life for the Carrier family. God is good!


Family Challenge: Eat Locally

When we first moved to Kenya, one of our greatest challenges was adapting our appetites to the food that was available locally. (There’s a whole chapter dedicated to this in my first-year memoir, The Kingdom of God is not About Eating and Drinking.) Though contentment with our diet was difficult during year one, it was somehow achieved during year two, although we still did make some concessions. Items you might not find on our neighbors’ tables would include spaghetti; Ramen noodles; chicken, beef, or pork a couple of times per week; and (occasionally) oatmeal for breakfast or pizza for supper. Eventually, we conceded to purchasing Ghee (clarified butter) during our trips to Kitale, as a healthier replacement for the yellow “cooking fat” and margarine available locally. We felt OK about “extras” like vanilla and vinegar, also only available in town. All in all, we were pretty pleased with our menus, the resulting budget, and achieving that sometimes-elusive “balance” that being a mzungu in Africa (and particularly, a Kingdom Christian in Africa) seems to require.

Somehow, during the past six months or so, we’ve begun to feel like some of what we’ve allowed/excused in our eating habits has crossed the fine line into over-indulgence. I’m not sure why or how that happened. It may have to do with the fact that there are now two new “Super Stores” in Kitale that cater to wazungu like us. And if it’s available somewhat locally, then it must be OK, right? At least, that’s how we ended up reasoning. Also, in hosting a steady stream of visitors earlier in the year (and wanting to accommodate their American appetites and show them hospitality that they would appreciate), perhaps our appetites learned to re-appreciate a more expanded palate? But, we were left with the nagging feeling that we’ve made concessions that perhaps were not best for us, practically or spiritually. I can never read Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6 (verses 24-25) without some serious self-examination:

But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry…

We have the option to eat what and how we want because we are rich. Perhaps not any longer by American standards, but certainly in comparison to our neighbors here. And we have tried very hard to live in light of that reality and walk in obedience to Jesus. It is, however, a continual challenge and we feel that the balance has swung too far in a direction we don’t care to go. So we’re making some changes once again…

As a family, we have decided to take a 30-day challenge: eat locally. And by “locally,” I mean what is available in the half-dozen shops in our area–not in the large village market, and definitely NOT the “big city” of Kitale.  We talked about what that would mean, the sacrifices we would need to make…and wondered, could we really do it? I’ll admit, I struggled with making the decision, feeling like we’re sacrificing good health. Because frankly, some of our neighbors’ health struggles that we commonly see in the clinic are caused by nutritional deficiencies, and certainly their immune response to illness is often compromised by the same. So, I asked myself, if we eat more like the locals do, will it be harmful to our health, and (if that is the case) is it really good stewardship to move in that direction? However, I do believe that if we are striving to be good stewards and live Christ’s Kingdom teachings to the best of our abilities, He will certainly provide us with “daily bread” that will meet all our needs.

We’ll be eating more cabbage soup…

So here’s what “eating locally” means: No beef. If we’re having meat, it’s going to be a chicken we slaughter ourselves. Menu staples are rice, potatoes, cabbage, milk (1-2 L per day), eggs, maize, and beans. Fruits in-season are bananas and avocadoes, though they will be “out of season” for at least a couple of months here-and-there. We also score yellow cherries once in a while. Local shops sell flour, baking powder, salt, margarine, and cooking fat. One of our neighbors just started a little business of roasting peanuts–that’s good protein we would not otherwise have, and it supports a brother in our fellowship (win-win!). Currently we are eating fresh corn from the garden (though it will soon be dry enough to shell), and we also grow our own sukuma (kale), spinach, onions, and pumpkins (that’s Micah’s crop and we pay him 10-20 shillings per pumpkin, which to  a seven year-old is very exciting!). 

While we’ve agreed that we want to only eat what is available in our local shops, we are making a once-weekly trip to the village market to buy the bulk of those items, since economically and practically it makes more sense. For example, we can buy margarine at the shops here, but only in the smallest of quantities, so we’ll be getting a larger size at the market. We can get potatoes and cabbages locally, but not always in quantities necessary for the size of our family, and certainly the potatoes and cabbages are larger and “nicer” at the market. So that’s one concession we’re making, but I think it’s reasonable. We’re also adding three items from the market that are not generally available locally: garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers–in the interest of health.

Based on what we have locally available, our menu options are fewer and not-so-varied, but certainly this is good for our appetites. My only real “complaint” (and I’m certainly not complaining) is that our menu is pretty high on the carbohydrates. But maybe that’s OK and it’s just my American sensibilities that are offended by the perceived lack of “balance” in our diet. There’s probably more balance than I think, and perhaps God is giving us just what we need. All in the name of learning contentment with what He provides. All in all, I definitely think this is do-able, and very good for our family.

Since we have eight children (some with rather entrenched preferences in regard to food), we’re trying to move forward with everyone on board, and we want there to be agreement that this a good thing for all of us, both practically and spiritually. While some are more enthusiastic than others, we’ve all agreed to local-food-only on the basis of a “thirty day challenge.” We’ve just finished the first week, and we’ll evaluate in a few more weeks to see what everyone thinks about continuing. Personally, Marc and I hope that everyone will see that it’s a good thing and will be happy to make more permanent adjustments. On the other hand, perhaps some changes will need to be made. We’ll see…and we’ll keep you posted!


My Dog Eats Better Than Some of my Neighbors

It’s bad enough that we eat better than almost everyone we know. I feel a nagging sense of guilt about that often enough, but the other day, I had a thought that caused me even more consternation: my dog eats better than most of my neighbors.

We now eat meat two or three times per week (up from once a week, since Marc needs the complete proteins in his diet for healing his knee injury). The other day I decided to splurge and get 2 kg of beef and 1 kg of pork to make a meatloaf–a rare treat, but one everybody loves. Unusually, after I eliminated all the fat and bones from the beef, there seemed to be a lot more than usual. I decided that there were a few less bones than usual, which left me with more meat than I needed. I was sure we would eat the meat loaf, anyway, since we rarely leave much left over. I surveyed the bowl full of scraps and said to my little helper, Hannah, “Simba’s going to eat good tonight!” (Dog food is more expensive here than feeding animals people food, so Simba just eats what we eat.)

I looked out the window at the family next door, working hard weeding their shamba and harvesting their sweet potatoes. I wondered what they would eat tonight. And I could guess: ugali, probably with greens, and maybe some beans. We were having meatloaf. And my dog was eating  beef and pork “scrap” that would have been an amazing blessing to these people.

Shame. That’s what I felt.

Not to alleviate the feeling or to pay penance for it, but because I genuinely wanted to bless these hardworking and worthy folks, I sent some beef over to my immediate neighbors and a family a few houses down from us. I was happy to do it…and wished that I thought of doing it more often.

The very next day, the young mother from several doors down stopped by in the midst of her morning’s work. Her hair was disheveled, her clothes worn, and she nearly everywhere had dried mud clinging to her from digging her jembe into the dirt. She nonetheless beamed (and I always love to see her smile, anyway–it’s lovely!) and greeted me eagerly, saying, “Thank you so much for your gift yesterday. I was very excited when Jonah brought it, because we haven’t had meat in a month and I praised God for sending it!”

I want to remember this, so I will continue to send on little blessings more often than I do. I always “give to those who ask,” (see this post, for example), but I admit that I think less often about giving when the need is not obvious. It’s easy to get caught up in our routines, absorbed in what we’re doing, and forget about what it might be like behind other people’s closed doors. But let’s not.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ”
(Matthew 5:16)

Random Thoughts on Time and Money

While we live in this world, time and money are necessary commodities. And, as Marc taught in his Project Management courses and in homeschool seminars, we often have to make value-based decisions and exchange one for the other. For example, if we don’t have enough time to do a necessary task such as mowing the lawn, then we may need to spend the money to have someone do it for us. If our grocery budget is tight, we may need to invest extra time in cooking from scratch instead of buying pre-prepared foods.

The same is true here. When we first arrived in Africa, we got “American-style” bagged rice from the supermarket. No fuss, it was ready to prepare. Buying from the local market, you get rice cheaper but it has to be cleaned to remove rocks, sticks and whatever other debris might find its way into the bag. A little more time consuming and I didn’t really want to deal with it. When I actually compared prices, though, I realized that “clean” rice was almost twice as much in price! So now, it’s become of the children’s almost-daily jobs to clean rice for the afternoon meal.

For our first few months, I did my own wash. However, one of our neighbors has had a hard time providing for her five children (her husband is away on-the-job but doesn’t always have a lot of money to send home). So, sometimes I give her some food for the day and other times I pay her to do my laundry. I feel somewhat guilty about it, as it’s something I can well do myself, but I also know it is a blessing to her and I want to help her out without making her feel like a charity case. On the up-side, her working for us has been a great ministry opportunity and she has come a long way in understanding the Kingdom of God. We’re actually going to go through the Spiritual Inventory tomorrow in preparation for her baptism! God is good.

And truthfully, though I wasn’t sure about consistently having our neighbor do wash, it has turned out to be a blessing in my time/money paradigm. I’ve been going out to speak to church groups and women’s groups, as well as to meet with two of my disciples weekly…a little more social activity than I anticipated, and sometimes more than I would like. But it is comforting to know that the work at home is getting done even if I’m otherwise occupied. I guess God knows what we need even before we ask!

One thing we’ve been struggling with lately is Jesus’ teaching to “give to those who ask.” Marc recently posted this on Facebook, which is a fairly good summation of where we’re at:

Give to those who ask. What a clear command. Poses a challenge when folks ask all the time and the more you say yes, the more they ask. Trying to strike a balance between needs and wants, and filtering out manipulation and abuse. Pls pray for Cindy and I to be discerning and exercise wisdom. There is an assumption we are rich cuz we r white Americans, but in actuality have very limited resources.

Now that you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll be surprised to find that I don’t really intend to draw any conclusions…just, indeed, sharing some random thoughts. Care to share yours?

To Market, to Market…

One thing we’re getting used to is going to market every few days instead of doing big, infrequent shopping trips (we’ve been pretty used to shopping in bulk!). Marc has been running errands to get things set up at the house, taking care of miscellaneous business in town, and meeting with folks here and there, so whenever he goes out, I give him a small list. We’ve quickly realized that it is highly impractical for me to go to market with all eight of the children, given the long distance on little legs. As well, market is pretty busy and I think it would be a challenge to keep track of everyone and do the business at hand. So, if Marc is not available to get what is needed, “Auntie Jane” has stepped up to help out. She is  one of our neighbors and she has been more than helpful in showing us around, helping to fetch water, and…going to market for me.

Here’s today’s list:

caroti–carrots (1/2 kg)


pilipili–peppers (6)

siagi–butter (1/2 kg)

mayai–eggs (18)


nanasi–pineapple (2)

chungwa–oranges (6)

nyama na ng’ombe–beef (1 kg)

maziwa–milk (1 l)


I’m not sure about the availability of vinegar and molasses (molasses wasn’t listed in the Swahili/English dictionary–not a good sign); I will ask Jane when I see her. With everything that I have on-hand, I’m hoping this will be enough for at least 5 days (more if we’re lucky).

Measuring everything in metric units is something new for me, as is dollar-to-shilling conversions. It seems EXTRAVAGANT to spend upwards of $1,000 shillings with each trip to the market–but that’s only about $12. With transportation costs and a small amount to compensate Jane, we spend less than $20. I’m hoping that two market trips per week will be sufficient for our needs, and I’m sure we’ll do an occasional “town trip” for bulk items like flour, cornmeal, rice, and so on–so I’m hopeful that $200 or less will make up our monthly grocery budget here. At this point (having been here just over two weeks), it’s hard to tell if that is realistic–but I’m hopeful.

We should be planting soon, which will bring in our own fresh produce and reduce our costs even further!




Snack Ideas?

My repertoire of recipes is dwindling as we work our way through our food stores. One of the challenges is always “snack time”–that time of the afternoon when we’re three hours from lunch and about three hours until supper.

Before our $20 per month grocery budget was instituted, we would often just grab some saltines and peanut butter for snack. Now, I don’t buy crackers…and if I do splurge on peanut butter, we usually have PB&J for lunch or use it in a dessert (one of our favorites is peanut butter pudding). A while back, we got a bunch of dried figs, so those made a good snack, but now they’re almost gone. Occasionally I make potato chips or corn chips, but frankly by mid-afternoon I want a rest from food preparation and the accompanying kitchen mess.

So…when looking frantically for a fast, healthy snack idea the other day, I unexpectedly stumbled upon the idea of Puffed Wheat Berries in my More-with-Less cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. All you do is heat a little oil in a pan (I use coconut oil if I have it), add wheat berries, and shake the pan over the heat until you don’t hear any more popping  sounds. After the wheat was pleasantly warm and puffed, I added a little soy sauce and some seasoned salt. Yum! Everyone has a new favorite (easy!) snack.

I would LOVE some more easy snack suggestions that use simple (staple) ingredients. Leave a comment if you have any ideas.


$20 per Month Grocery Challenge

Early last month, my husband dropped a bombshell on me:

“I want you to stop grocery shopping until we leave in February.”

Ummm…no. Can’t do that. Are you crazy?!

Well, that’s what I thought…not what I said. I heard him out.

His concern is that once we move to Africa, it’s going to be very shocking for all of us (especially the children) to go from our rather “abundant” diet to a much simpler menu. (Think ugali, which my twelve year-old still grimaces about because “they don’t even put a little bit of salt in it! It’s just corn that has the texture of clay!”) Not only that, we do have a ton of food in storage, plus the garden, and…what are we going to do with it if we don’t use it up before we move? Finally, wouldn’t it be great to save up the extra money from the food budget and use it to pay for our airfare, or to fund additional missions work?

All good points, I had to concede. Still, I couldn’t envision spending only $20 a month on groceries. What about milk? Butter? Cheese? (I love cheese!) We can’t even buy diapers (though I use cloth sometimes), household cleaners, and hygiene products for $20 a month, never mind some of those things we would need to supplement our food storage items.

So, after discussing it calmly and rationally, I realized that Marc meant $20 on food only. So the other things would be additional expenses. Whew! Maybe we can do it…

It’s been about a month now of eating out of storage and the garden. I spent about $5, on a pound of butter and a gallon of milk. Granted, I still had some butter in the freezer, and now I don’t. So we’ll see how our budget looks in the coming months as I use up a lot of what I have. But you must understand how much we have! We don’t actually keep our food stores in our 1400 SF home; there’s no room. We keep it in a back bedroom at my father-in-law’s house next door. Here’s just one photo:

And that doesn’t show the utility shelf of home-canned and commercially canned goods–also quite an ample supply. We have a large family and wanted to have an “emergency” store of food–and even at the recommended 30-day supply, that’s a lot of food! So we had purchased a bunch of buckets from Emergency Essentials quite a while back when they were running a sale. We were using them a bit for regular food preparation, but not much. Well, now is the time to use it up as much as possible! Pictured is rice, wheat, pinto beans, black beans, and oats. Our canned and other dry goods include tuna fish, spam (yuck, but the kids like it, and we wanted some non-perishable protein on the shelf!), canned chicken breast, salmon, some fruits, beans, yams, pickles, tomato juice, yeast, powdered milk, and some pasta. And I’m sure that’s not a complete list. From the garden we have the usual crop, which we’re eating fresh and canning or freezing as well.
Given the size of our food storage, the $20 per month grocery challenge probably isn’t “do-able” for the average family. But we’re going to see how we do until February. I’d like to post some of the recipes I’ve made but that’ll have to wait for another day. So far, everyone has been happy with the meals (except for one soup, which had too much spice for the children’s liking). And I haven’t even resorted to ugali!