Category Archives: cooking

Malawian Banana Bread

We have been enjoying plenty of bananas as they do grow year-round here in Malawi. Today I decided to make some banana bread and instead of looking at a recipe, I just made one up. I have used chocolate chips in the past, but as they are difficult to find here, I have just been breaking apart chocolate bars into smaller pieces. Thought it would be fun to share…

Preheat oven to 350° F or 180° C.

Grease a loaf pan with a little butter or a vegetable oil.

First, mix the wet ingredients together:

4 good size bananas, the softer the better, smash them up in a bowl

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

about 2 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil (or you could use softened butter instead, if you have it)

¼ Cup sugar

Then, add the dry ingredients and mix until combined:

1 ¼ Cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Next, pour half of the mixture into a pre-greased loaf pan.

After that, break apart 1 dark chocolate bar, into squares and place on top.

Then pour the remaining mixture into the loaf pan covering the chocolate pieces.

Finally, bake for 50 minutes.

Let it cool a bit on a cooling rack for about 10-15 minutes.

Serve yourself a slice accompanied by a big glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

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Malawians are the Toughest People I Know.

Reason #1: Capsicum. This is the stuff in peppers that can burn your hands when you cut peppers without gloves. The aroma of the stuff fills the air when a hot pepper is cut. It makes me cough and sneeze a bit. However, it is also what adds the spice to a dish. Most of the capsicum is in the seeds and white membrane inside, which is why it is good to remove those parts when using Habanero or other peppers with high levels of it.

On our way back from a day trip to Salima, we stopped on the side of the road for some vegetables. I found what looked like small bell peppers. I tried to ask the vender if they were spicy or not, but he didn’t seem to understand what I was asking. At least, David likes spice, so if they were hot then he would enjoy them.

That night, we made curry. HOT curry. These little red beauties that we had the joy of finding ended up being Scotch Bonnet peppers, which are really really hot. The whole time we were cooking, Amayi was chopping the vegetables, and I asked her if the pepper was burning her hand. She of course said, “no problem”. Since, she has cut two more of those peppers, and each time it’s no gloves, and no problem.

Reason #2: Cement walls. The houses here are made of bricks and cement. This makes it quite a challenge to put a nail in the wall. After being in the house for about a month, Amayi Kechipapa gave us a clock. I found a hammer and some steel nails and I was ready. Using the methods that I knew from the past, I attempted to position the nail into the wall. Abambo heard the pounding and came in to help. I was getting nowhere with this nail, as I was trying to nail into a brick wall. A few pounds from Abambo, and there you go! The nail was in. From that point on, I have always just gone for help when we want a nail in the wall.

Reason #3: N’sima. It is dang difficult to stir and it sits in your stomach like a rock. Think about stirring rubber cement as it hardens: and they eat this each and every day. I have only cooked it once, and I needed Amayi to hold the pot as I mixed the stuff with a wooden spoon.

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A Prize at the Market

There is a market in every community here. It might be small or large, but there is always a place where the community convenes to buy and sell. Anything from vegetables to sewing thread can be found. When the market is small and out in a village, the goods are fewer and less varied. Of course, here in Lilongwe you can find almost anything you might need or want there.

Venders display their goods underneath small rectangular shacks and on top of tables or hanging from the ceiling within. The path in between the venders is wide in some places and narrow in others. There are two main markets that I usually frequent: the gigantic free market and the central market. The free market tends to have good produce. I can always tell which time in the plant’s season it is by it’s size and shape in the market. Now, the asparagus has not matured quite yet, as it is small and thin. Unfortunately, the free market tends to charge azungu prices, which are slightly higher. The central market has set prices and also has a zitenge section, with a beautiful array of fabric.

Depending on the day, and whom I happen to accompany to the market usually determines my experience to a certain degree.

In my first few visits, I was overwhelmed by the selling. But since, I have learned what exactly to expect, as well as be strong when I say no. Here it’s not “no thank you” but a simple and firm “no” and show no interest whatsoever. I have also learned how to say don’t touch me in Chechewa, which can be useful and takes people by surprise when they hear this mzungu say it. Once, while being swarmed by salesmen surrounding my basket and me, one of the guys had his hand with a pineapple almost placed into my basket. I was a bit distraught at the experience and decided if anyone ever just put food into my basket without any agreement to buy it, I would smile and say “zikoma kwambiri, mphatso!” thank you very much, a gift! It hasn’t ever happened since then, which is good.

Learning how to barter is a skill I am also learning. Of course, in the Little Italy Farmer’s Market that I would frequent at home, there were set prices. Not here. If someone is trying to charge 500 Malawian Kwacha for a bunch of bananas, I know they are trying to rip me off. Then I go just below the more reasonable price (which I now know), and they usually meet me close to the right price. Furthermore, it has been good to get to know some of the venders, who now give a “prize” when I return time and again. Sometimes, the market comes to area 12. I have come to know the guys who sell bananas and pineapples in front of the small convenience store down the street. Recently, one of them arrived at Manse #2 with Abambo carrying a large basket of avocados. This was quite exciting. He did give me a prize of one more avocado, which made my day.

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Josophat Mwale Theological Institute: What we learn is valuable when we use it.

Really, what good is knowledge if we don’t apply it to our lives?

I am teaching a subject that can be taken home and used each day after class: Home Management. This is an extensive subject including everything from organization to sewing to cooking. While mentioning to someone here in town what I was teaching, she asked if I had any training in this area. Living in a home my entire life, I told her, I figured was training enough.

Much of Malawi is not near a city, which means no running water, and no electricity. It means fetching water from a borehole each day and cooking over an open fire. It also means going to sleep when the sun sets and awakening when the sun rises. Most of the women who will become pastor’s wives will be stepping into a higher class, with more prestige, and more responsibility. Pastors here live in a manse, and each home comes with at least one staff member (this could be a house-keeper, cook, gardener, or guard). It might or might not have electricity and running water, but it most likely will be an improvement from what they were accustomed to in the past.

On the first day of class, we did introductions and discussed our backgrounds. Two of the seven women feel comfortable writing in English, while the other five, write only in Chichewa. In my experience as a teacher, as the children grow older the learning gap grows –only because there is more and more to learn. Here, while working with adults, I have the largest range that I have ever had. However, they are thrilled that I am there to teach them; this makes it a joy for me. I have had to get used to lecturing, which is also new and because of the language barrier, there is another teacher to translate. The translation makes the classes slower, which means I can only plan for half of the time, knowing that a good portion of time will be used for translation.

In the first few classes, I taught proper waste management and sanitation. Their assignment was to implement what they learned. Simple, right? So in order to see if they had implemented everything, we spent class #3 walking around to each of their houses, touring all of the rooms and the exterior. When I mentioned this assignment, I received a round of applause! I have to say, it was the first time in my life I have ever been applauded when assigning homework. The women went to their houses and as we went from home-to-home, we collected the women and their children along the way. In the last house, we all sat around and enjoyed some tea and bananas. This last house was the cleanest and most organized. She had her cups placed together by color and design! The house visits were encouraging; all but two had made sure to cover any food that was being kept. In addition, two of the women had already built a compost pit and had started disposing of their organic waste this way. These two collected and divided the banana skins to add to their compost!

Thus far, it has been fun to see these ladies begin to use what I am teaching them. My hope and prayer is that God would use me to help the women and their families live healthier.

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Fire in the Cooker!

Actually, just smoke appearing from the wall behind the cooker switch.

This house, Manse #2 was built in the 70’s. In addition, it has many quirks like outdoor light fixtures inside and a sink in the bathroom that looks like it might fall off the wall at any moment. Because it has been occupied intermittently, alterations and repairs get completed seemingly without the insight of an occupant of the building. Why there are outdoor light fixtures inside, that are causing electrical shortages…maybe because those happened to be less expensive than the indoor ones? I have no idea. In any case, I am offering the church committee a few items at a time to tackle as to avoid overwhelming them. And, we must remember, we are in Africa. We are also surviving just fine. I have confidence that God is watching over us and each electrical wire inside the walls, in order to keep us safe, healthy, and serving God.

Of course, staying in a quirky house comes with funny happenings.

In the first week of 2011, the oven stopped working. I did smell some metal burning just before the thing went off. Therefore, as the procedures are expected to commence, I called the maintenance committee. There was an electrician who arrived the next day to assess the situation. He said we needed a new switch in the wall. Therefore, he left in order to find the necessary parts and did not return… until Monday of this past week, still empty-handed. I started noticing some sparks flying out of the switch on Sunday, so even though I was glad they showed up on Monday, I was slightly concerned and suspected that the switch wouldn’t last much longer. I was right, by Friday partway through cooking dinner, smoke started to rise up from behind the switch on the wall. I promptly shut the thing off, called maintenance once again to see exactly how we should finish cooking dinner that night. I was encouraged by them to “send the cook” (aka, Mrs. Masina, Chepa, David, and me) over to Manse #1 to finish cooking dinner. Luckily, the oven had enough heat to finish off baking the breadsticks. However, we did have some near-boiled water, and veggies prepped for sautéing. David’s recommendation: don’t burn yourself on the pots. The game plan: Mrs. Masina, Chepa, and I would venture to Manse #1 to finish cooking and David would stay and watch the breadsticks.

By then, it was dark. There are no streetlights on the side streets; so, it was dark. I carried one of the pots, Chepa another, and Amayi, well she carried the rest of the prepped food on a tray on her head. It was fun to chat about being careful and hoping there were no holes on the road that we couldn’t see. We greeted people when they came into view, which occurred as they were just a few feet in front of us. While in the kitchen of Manse #1, I had a small chat with the cook there about keeping food in containers or at least covering the food so that bugs don’t get inside. Also, we discussed the pasta and sauce we were making and got funny looks when I said we only use a small amount of oil when sautéing the veggies and don’t add any salt. All in all in ended up just fine, we were all well fed when dinner found it’s way through the street, back to Manse #2 and onto the dinner table. Even though we were eating about an hour later than expected, it was comforting to know that here in Malawi, we don’t just borrow an egg or a cup of sugar from the neighbor, we can just walk down the street to use an entire kitchen when the oven goes out of commission.

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The Search for the Christmas Chitenge

It began at the end of November when my friend Madalitso introduced Eileen and me to the wholesale shop where venders purchase the beautiful fabric that is the main style here. Searching for one chitenge quickly became a hunt for many zitenge…

This cloth is used for clothing mostly, whether it is worn as a wrap, sewn into a shirt, blouse or skirt. In my case, it even gets sewn into curtains that keep out sunlight and dress up a room to make it feel a bit more comfortable. Going shopping for a chitenge here is the equivalent to taking a trip to the mall back home. In the zitenge section at the market you will only find women, unless a man is searching for a gift for his lady or is a tailor looking to sew a masterpiece. The patterns go in and out of the market pretty quick and once one’s gone, it’s gone. Knowing this, I was motivated to find Christmas patterns.

When in the shop, I saw a Christmas pattern and bought one of each color right away—deep down I wanted a bit of Christmas in Malawi. With the hot weather, virtually no Christmas shopping frenzy that usually accompanies the aftermath of Thanksgiving, and just a few decorations, I was not really in the Christmas spirit. After this chance when the nativity scene caught my eye, I kept looking. Maybe I’ll use one to make a quilt, or just as a tablecloth during the season each year. It was fun to constantly be on a search for the zitenge, and therefore also, in search of Christmas.

In my search, I found that I just needed to create a little bit of cheer here in Malawi. This commenced through a day of cookie baking, Christmas carols and another day of cooking up a Christmas dinner and sharing it with the people here. Breaking bread in community and sharing life together brought the joy I was seeking.

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Cookery

Since being in Malawi just about six weeks now, I have learned how to make the staple food: n’sima. It takes muscles because it starts as porridge and then as it thickens, it becomes like dense paste. The whole while, one must stir and fold it in order that it doesn’t burn. Then, when it’s ready, you scoop it into serving size mounds. To eat, people usually roll a piece of it into a ball with their hand and then dip it into the meat, cooked vegetables, or sauce. I have only done the hand-rolling business a few times; I usually just eat it like rice, scooping some along with the other food on my fork or spoon. I must say that I prefer rice to n’sima; David likes both! Whenever I have been at a meal here, Malawians ask if I’ve tried n’sima yet. They are quite proud of the staple food. When we were at a program for Zambia’s independence earlier in October, the High Commissioner mentioned something to the effect that because they have extra maize, people have food, and this is a success. I must agree that if people are not going hungry in any country, this is huge achievement. I just hope the maize is getting to all who need it.

Cooking n'sima with Mrs. Masina.

It seems that people (from home) are curious as to what our diet looks like here in Malawi. Through my quest for bread flour early on, I have been pleasantly surprised to find a number of ingredients. Between the outside market, various grocery stores, church members giving us food, and people selling along the roads I have had access to a number of foodstuffs. Our meals mainly consist of any combination of the following: rice, n’sima, potatoes, pasta, bread, flour tortillas (called chiapitas here, sp?), cooked vegetables, curry, chicken, beef, salad (sparingly), pancakes, eggs, banana bread, cookies (biscuits), carrots, green bell peppers, onions, bananas, papayas, oranges, peanuts (called groundnuts here) and apples. We have plenty of food and sometimes find ourselves up to our ears in potatoes. This is the capital city; and from what I have seen with my eyes, food is available and plentiful. It is in the villages where the need for food remains. This is especially true during the dry season—if it has lasted too long. Without rain, crops cannot grow, without crops, there is no food. Here, climate change means people are going hungry.

This is an interactive post, if you so choose. I will be teaching the pastor’s wives English and Cookery at the Theological Institute. This is both exciting and challenging for me. I know there are both a stove and an oven (called a cooker here). I plan to teach the women how to make pancakes, banana bread and basic yeast bread for sure but am open to other ideas as well. The problem I foresee is that I’m not sure which ingredients they will have access to on a regular basis, so I’ll just be learning that as I go. The principal of the school said that they would be excited to learn to cook new things, so I’m taking his word for it!

Your challenge: here is a list of the ingredients at my disposal; you come up with some recipes I can use while I’m here and teach to the women at JMTI!

Maize flour

Cake flour (I think this is similar to all-purpose flour in the US?)

Bread flour

Water

Oil

Yeast

Baking Soda

Baking Powder

Sugar

Salt

Eggs

Bananas

Papayas

Mangos

Potatoes

Onions

Collards

 

Cooking Tools:

Oven

Bread Pan

Bowl

Wooden Spoon

Knife

Pot

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