Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Carving Garlic Powder

Some people, when they want to start cooking, go to the pantry.

Me? I go to the freezer.

One stop shopping--flour, salt, sugar, oats, milk powder, cinnamon, garlic powder...

Right now, I’m in Wewak, a town on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG), helping on staff at an Oral Bible Storytelling workshop (I’ve blogged about it here). PNG is In contrast to our linguistic centre of Ukarumpa, which sits up in the mountains over 5,000 feet above sea level, here I can see the sun glinting off the Pacific Ocean from my veranda. This region of PNG is known as the Sepik, and like the Amazon, it is home to a lush rainforest fed by a gigantic winding river—quite spectacular, really. But, of course, since it’s a rainforest, it’s hot (the other day I decided I ought to turn up the fan when it was 95 degrees F in my bedroom…at 10 pm) and it rains a lot. Put those together and you have humidity levels that are drinkable.

And it’s the humidity that makes your seasonings turn into rock salt. Literally.

That, my friends, is a chunk of garlic powder. You think diamond is hard? Try this!

Some places use a hot box or a dry box (a cupboard with a lightbulb or other heat source) to try to avoid needing to chip off pieces of garlic powder when trying to flavour your lentil-and-corn-soup, but unfortunately my flat doesn’t have one. The freezer is the next best option (it has the added benefits of being rat-proof, weevil-proof, ant-proof, and cockroach-proof!), but alas, before I could get them to the dry cold of the freezer, my spices had already sucked up the tropical air. Poof! Instant granite!

In Ukarumpa, the humidity doesn’t wreak quite so much havoc as it does here on the coast, but even in the mountains, our house has long since given up trying to make any salt or pepper shaker work (some people mix rice with salt to soak up the moisture, but we haven’t seen success).

So, the other day, I endeavoured to resurrect the novelty of powder.

I smashed and chipped and hacked and carved the ingredients into chunks.

Then I spread them on pans and threw them in my oven on low. After a few minutes, I’d pull them out, crush some more, put them back in…back and forth until finally measuring out teaspoons no longer required sawing at the lump of flavour like a lumberjack.

Back into the freezer they go—too bad there isn’t room for me as well!