Kellers in Africa

our life in Zambia

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Grow Carrots They Said…

It’s easy they said!

Before I tell you my sad tale, there’s something you should know about Africa.  Everything is bigger here.  The trees are bigger.  The animals are bigger.  The insects are bigger.  Everything that can be bigger IS.

Then there’s something you should know about me. I can’t grow anything. At all. Horticulture hates me. Bring me the vegetables and I’ll give you an entree that Jamie Oliver wouldn’t turn down. Bring me the plant and it will shrivel on the way in the door, begging for mercy all the way.

In case you thought I was exaggerating.

In case you thought I was exaggerating.

However, I firmly believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and this last year I determined to conquer my nemesis: the vegetable garden. After talking to a variety of home gardeners I found a general consensus: Carrots. Anyone can grow carrots. After considering the fact that preschoolers even grow carrots from carrot tops, I decided even I could not screw this up. I sallied forth with seeds: carrot, onion, and cauliflower (because I am a masochist at heart). I cleared, mulched, and tenderly planted those tiny seeds in the soil. I’ll confess that I was skeptical. After decades of failure (my preschool carrot didn’t survive the week) could I hope to see those seeds germinate? Survive??  Produce some FOOD?!

While I waited to see if Tim’s fond epithet “the Minus Touch” might be overcome with a little care and patience, Monica planted some flowers. Apparently the plant kingdom does not hold one’s unfortunate genes against them.

white fluffy flowers and pink puffy flowers. I am such a horticulturist. Ok, Monica grew these.  I had nothing to do with it.

white fluffy flowers and pink puffy flowers.
I am such a horticulturist.
Ok, Monica grew these. I had nothing to do with it.

With time, water, and sunshine my carrots did grow.  And much to my surprise they actually looked… great.  Lacey green fans promising a juicy, crisp harvest before long.  As the carrot tops began to expand I decided to take a little sneak peek at my gardening victory.

Frankenstein's salad.

Frankenstein’s salad.

Apparently the nematodes are bigger in Africa is well.

Freakiest carrot I have ever seen and apparently NOT edible (unless you like ingesting nematode egg sacks).

Freakiest carrot I have ever seen and apparently NOT edible (unless you like ingesting nematode egg sacks).


Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At least we have flowers!!

Olivia takes time to smell the... whatever those flowers are :)

Olivia takes time to smell the… whatever those flowers are 🙂

Please share your gardening failures so I don’t feel like such a loser.  You know… unless you don’t have any of those stories… in which case you can just go away and enjoy your garden.


Lions and other dangerous African creatures often lurk in the grass near villages.

Lions and other dangerous African creatures often lurk in the grass near villages.

After several weeks in Kabwe preparing everything for his girls, Timothy is now heading  toward Cape Town to pick us up.  Traveling the African roads is never without “adventure”, and this trip has been no exception.  Friday night he slept by the side of the road in his bakkie (pick up).  In the wee hours of the morning he heard gunshots, but no following noise.  Assuming the situation was a street brawl, he went back to sleep.  A little while later he and the friends traveling with him, Hannes & Christel, got ready to hit the road again.  While looking for an outhouse, they noticed that the villagers were all hiding in their huts… not a good sign.  Finally one of them whispered hurriedly, “Lions! There are lions in the trees!!  Get back in your truck!!”  Thank heavens they were sleeping in the truck, not under it (a common practice in the warmer seasons), as their bakkie was only a few yards from the trees where the lions were seen!  Lions rarely come near villages, as they are naturally afraid of people.  Any lion venturing into a village, is likely a “man eater”, a fearful prospect for the African people living in flimsy grass huts, often without doors.  Praise God no one was hurt and the lions moved on to find something else for breakfast.


No road trip is complete without some kind of near disaster; this trip was no exception.  Saturday morning the guys needed to pull the utility trailer out of the bakkie.  As they eased it down, the ropes broke with a POP and the trailer came hurtling out of the truck.  It nearly hit several people, and careened to a stop just short of the gate.  God’s hand was obviously on the trailer, as it could easily have seriously injured someone.  Fortunately, everyone (including the trailer) is fine and they continued after enjoying a nervous laugh.


Daniela and Monica play a duet

Daniela and Monica play a duet

After a surprisingly uneventful day and a half of flights, Monica and I arrived safely in Cape Town late on Wednesday, 8/26.  Monica really was SUCH a good baby.  She slept through most of the flights and played nicely in the terminals.  I was grateful to be traveling with Lenora Hammond.  It’s so nice to fly with friends; good company makes all the difference.  The weather in Cape Town has been stunning– no rain, lots of sun (did I get off at the right place??).  Monica has finally adjusted to the time difference, which she found much more challenging than the flights themselves.  However, she is having a great time with the Hammonds and their kitties, bunny, and duck.  I am really happy to be back on my home continent and in one of the loveliest cities in the world.  Although, I will be much happier when I can enjoy all of this with Tim! : )


Monica enjoying the duck pond

Monica enjoying the duck pond

All Mixed Up

Dear Brother-in-Law’s birthday is this Saturday and he has requested a German Chocolate Cake.  No problem right?  I know a ton of people who make them (who, might I add, are not on Rachael Ray’s Most Wanted list).  They obviously have something figured out!  However, this is not a feat that I have yet attempted.  In fact, successful cake making has eluded me for several years (okay, twenty-five).  I have made the odd decent dark chocolate cake.  You know, where you can eat the edges but the center is still gooey?  I also made a half way decent pound cake one time (“half way” meaning a little on the powdery-dry side, “decent” meaning the home whipped cream that I put on top).


Tackling the project with enthusiasm, I started the baking process where I always do:  If it wasn’t for you, my friend, I don’t know where my marriage would be.  I did a quick search for German Chocolate Cakes and found a nice, modest list of recipes.  I was a little surprised at how involved they were, but considering the caloric infamy of German Chocolate Cake, I was not entirely surprised. 


I decided to check with Dear Sister-in-Law to see what the family tradition was in this case.  Does mom have a top secret recipe?  Weee-eeee-eeellll……….. not per se…….. but Duncan Hines does!!!!!!  Apparently, common lay folk like myself can simply purchase a little box of magic for $1 at the shop and turn out a lovely confection creation, courtesy of culinary prowess beyond my comprehension (plus the added factory-processed gift of high fructose corn syrup and “mono-triglycerides” whatever those are).  In fact, “family tradition” stipulates that Duncan Hines provide the icing as well!  Hmmmm… I must have grown up in the wrong family.


It took DSiL a minute to sell me on the idea of “cheating”.  I have never actually used a cake mix before (perhaps this explains my cake debacles of the past, as I do not wear the fair badge “Rachael Ray’s Most Wanted”).  My mom and “Nanny” always made the most amazing cakes from the barest of essentials.  Why shouldn’t I be able to do the same?  After pointing out that the cake-in-the-box and the frosting-in-the-can were the traditional providers of Keller Family birthday happiness (not to mention the fact that these little cheats would save me hours in the kitchen on a Saturday), DSiL had me convinced- Duncan Hines it is!


I headed back to my computer and prepared to kill all the tabs containing my carefully sorted German Chocolate Cake recipes.  As I flicked through the pages, I paused to read some of the baker comments along the side and found myself laughing at the friendly baker whose boyfriend “loved the frosting so much he couldn’t stop eating it, even though he’s really allergic to pecans and literally passed out in the end.  He said it was worth it.”  Or the determined baker who said she “tried over seven recipes on her husband before discovering this amazing, delicious cake.”


In that moment, I realized why I have continued to make cakes, birthday after birthday, determined to learn the tricks and master the art.  Baking cakes is not just about tickling the tongue.  It is an experience in culinary artistry, an opportunity to combine the basic elements of chemistry and physics with the delicate nature of the palate.  Baking gives amateur kitchenistas everywhere a chance to brave the journey and raise ourselves up with the greats.  Most importantly, it’s a blast.  


Always remember….. 

Even if the cake flops, you can still lick out the batter bowl!!

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