{Horn of Africa} Occupy your World…with a recipe!

A reader of this blog that I happen to be acquainted with shared some responses to Dianna’s post from Monday.

I didn’t know From Scratch Club was a political blog.”

I don’t think it is, really, but we are a community of writers who share in a sort of hodge-podge way that represents a bit of each of our personal experiences, perspectives and culinary preferences. As such, sometimes you may visit FSC and think “Huh? I thought this was a FOOD blog?” The way I see it, food touches every part of our lives (mine anyway), since it is required to sustain us as living beings. What we make of that sustenance is up to us, though. For some, food has deep cultural and family roots. For others, food is a constant source of stress – eating enough/too much, being able to afford food, etc. For me, researching, creating and sharing food is an enormous source of entertainment, fun and relaxation. Procuring that food is also a valued experience for me. I take pride in not just buying local, but really knowing what and from who I am buying, from their farming practices to labor practices, etc. As a rule, local, organic and crafted/small batch food is not “budget-friendly” because it a)costs a lot and b)takes a lot of time to produce. Almost everything on my grocery list (farmers market, co-op or grocery store) is intentionally selected, sourced and budgeted for.

In my life outside my kitchen I work hard. I “stay home” full time, while “consulting part-time” about 120 hours a month, and call myself “farmer” in the wee hours of the morning and the glorious afternoons several days a week. Oh yeah, and I teach aerobics once or twice a week too, and write for a pretty rad-tastic food blog. I’m not complaining – not one little speck. I love every part of my life. What I am getting at is that preparing food for my family and friends is one of the most predictable and enjoyable parts of my day. The dinner hour coincides with the transition between day and night, as the sun sets the crazy of my days fades away, the tension rolls out of my shoulders and time for resting is just around the corner. I take a lot of joy in preparing a meal that is healthy (for our bodies as well as our environment) and delicious, and sometimes fancy. While I wouldn’t consider my family “affluent”, we work hard for what we have and adhere to a rough food budget that affords us the ability to enjoy what we are fortunate enough to have access to; what we need as well as the occasional want. Some may call it frivolous, but I feel no guilt or economic irresponsibility over the small wedge of $24/lb cheese I absolutely love and savor one tiny morsel at a time late at night when life has slowed enough for me to enjoy a few moments with my husband.

All the while, I attempt to be aware of the world I live in. I don’t watch television (no cable) or read the news frequently. Call me naive, stupid, whatever. Really, I just don’t have time because I am too busy living. Much of my awareness comes from my husband (avid reader of Google news), social media and my friends. I checked in with Google tonight; top stories included professional baseball, Lindsay Lohan and iPhone/Pad/Everything… none very compelling.  I know our country is a mess. I’ve known for quite some time that our economy is skewed. I happen to have worked for a few corporations with grossly overcompensated executives. I’m not sure what sort of -ist or -ian I am, I prefer not to subscribe to any major political or philosophical creed.

Recently, though, I became aware of something that really caught my attention: the famine/drought situation in East Africa, commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa:

There are a many reasons this news struck me. It is simply staggering: 13 million humans starving and dying because they don’t have clean (or any) water to drink, or food to eat. 13 million is one million more people than the populations of NYC and LA combined.

There is no way to relate or even imagine what it must be like. I worry when my children haven’t had “enough” servings of fruit, vegetables, dairy, etc. each day. I cannot fathom not being able to simply quench their thirst.

While Americans are inwardly occupied fretting and displaying their disgust over the unequal distribution of wealth in our country, or worrying about sports, celebrities and technology, 13 million people in 4+ countries can’t get a drink of water or eat.


In an attempt at awareness and as a springboard to discuss this situation with my family, I decided to prepare a meal inspired by what the people from this region of the world might eat if they could.

I made a Kenyan bean dish, “Maharagwe” (spiced red beans in coconut milk), adapted from this recipe , alongside a simple flatbread made with wheat flour and coconut milk. Someday I’d love to try making injera, an Ethipian flatbread made with a fermented teff flour starter kind of like sourdough.


Mix to form a soft dough:

3 1/2 cups flour (I used a preblended 50/50 white/whole wheat)

1/2 tsp salt

1 can regular coconut milk

While the dough rests, prepare the ingredients for the bean dish:

1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup regular coconut milk

1 cup stewed/diced tomatoes (fresh would be preferable but I used all of mine to make ketchup this week!)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp salt

2 tsp turmeric

1/4 to 1 tsp cayenne, depending on your heat preferences

Begin by sauteing the onion in a splash of oil. Once translucent, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the beans are simmering, back to the dough. Cut into 8-10 pieces. One ball at a time, roll the dough to approximately 8-10 inches, dusting your surface with a bit of flour as necessary.

Preheat a griddle or other flat pan and add two tablespoons of oil or coconut butter. Cook the rolled dough, one piece at a time for about 2 minutes per side or until nicely browned on each side. Stack, as you would with pancakes, while you roll and cook the remainder of the dough.

Enjoy the spicy beans on a spoon, or use the flatbread for a utensil as I imagine one might do in Africa.

This dish was a big hit with my family, and while our conversation over the meal wasn’t world-changing it did spark some valuable thoughts that have resonated for several days in our household.

I encourage you to consider this crisis as we are flooded with information on the current state of the world, both domestic and international. I believe issues both near and far are important and deserve attention and support.

If you’d like to try your hand at more African cooking, this site has some tasty and manageable looking Somalian recipes.

And, if you are moved or disturbed by the impact of this drought and famine affecting the Horn of Africa and want to do something about it, there is an event planned in the Capital Region next weekend that looks like it is going to be a pretty rocking time:


The United Nations has called the crisis in East Africa the single worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. In what is now officially deemed a famine, the UN estimates that over 12.5 million lives are at immediate risk. In the last 90 days, over 30,000 children have died of starvation and associated diseases. Official aid from Western governments and the traditional channels has lagged critically and been woefully inadequate. Thus the need for local, grass-roots efforts is essential in preventing this calamity from reaching the next order of magnitude.

Our event, titled “Lift Up the Horn” has been organized in response to the dire urgency of the crisis as a means of raising awareness as well as emergency funds as quickly as possible. Our goal is that every dollar that we raise from the event will go directly to relief organizations currently on the ground in and around the refugee centers and villages where people are being most severely affected. The event will feature a combination of dance and music performance from local artists including the Tango Fusion Dance Company, Heard – featuring Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius, The Lazy Suns, the band Free Water and others as well as a multi-media awareness-raising presentation about the crisis. East African cuisine will be served in addition to other food and beverages.

Additionally, we will be holding a silent auction. You can support this event and this cause by donating goods or services for the auction, food or beverages or simply by donating funds. Any assistance you can offer will be greatly appreciated and will provide life-saving relief for the citizens of our world in most desperate need.

Or, there are other ways to help here and here.


This is Liz Russell aka Brown Betty Farm, signing out from the world news awareness desk and hopping off my little political soapbox for today. Thanks for reading. I leave you with this:

“Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.” – Sarah Ahmed

11 Comments Add yours

  1. thelocalcook says:

    So glad to see another blogger talking about this. I’m trying to incorporate more of a global perspective into my local food blog too. Another great resource for learning about the issues, as well as recipes, is the cookbook Extending the Table.

    1. Liz says:

      Thank you – and I will check out Extending the Table!

  2. Rob Wright says:

    Friends, check out this blog piece by Liz Russell of Brown Betty Farm. It’s a very succinct, stirring take on the famine in the Horn along with East African recipes for food we’ll be serving at our event “Lift Up the Horn”, food that we want to help people in the Horn be able to start eating regularly again. Please join us or help in any way you can.

    1. Liz says:

      Thanks, Rob. I hope that the turn out for the event is staggering 🙂

  3. This is an awesome post and I enjoyed every line of it! Thank you, Liz!

  4. Courtney Curtis says:

    Great post Liz. I loved all you had to say and especially your closing quote. I am eager to try the recipe and hope to attend the event. Thank you!

    1. Liz says:

      Courtney, thanks and wonderful! It should be a great time.

  5. Leigh says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have never commented before (whoops, sorry to be a stalker) but we just came home with our son from Ethiopia in June. We have been consumed with what we can do to help and yet no one else seems to care. My heart just breaks for all the families there and when I look at my sweet boy I just can’t imagine it all. So thank you for bringing awareness to this crisis.

    1. Liz says:

      We love comments!! I agree with you wholeheartedly and am glad to help raise awareness. My daughter attends daycare one day a week with a child also adopted from Ethiopia and I too share your sentiments. It’s hard to come to terms with the impact that this crisis is having on children, it really is devastating.

  6. Patty Lemley says:

    I can’t believe how little media this crisis is receiving. It’s a horrible ongoing problem related also to global warming. The world is in denial.

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