Category Archives: food

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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Cape Town.. Rest and Relaxation

After six months of staying in Malawi, we had our first break.

There are beautiful aspects of Malawi, but all is unfamiliar. The cars drive on the opposite side of the road (and most of the time recklessly)…the avocados taste different (but are still wonderful)…the water feels funny (when it is working)…the electricity has power surges and sometimes just turns off for five minutes (or five hours)…the bugs are bigger…the education system is broken (not that it isn’t at home too, but it’s much worse here)…in Malawi people keep chickens in the city, at home chickens are mostly kept in the country and slaughtered before purchase…women are treated as second class people in Malawi, at home women have equal rights…in Malawi there are live-in servant staff, at home there are maids and gardeners…in Malawi butter goes out of stock from all the stores for weeks…no one says “please” or “may I”…in Malawi there is no sense of urgency…and the concept of promptness is foreign…

So, after living amid all that is unfamiliar, it was refreshing to be in such a beautiful place. For the first time in six months, I felt clean after taking a shower. For the first time in six months, I had privacy. For the first time in six months, when I walked around outside, sweat did not drip down the back of my legs. There were trash cans on the street corners and inside every building. Everything seemed so clean. I could wear contact lenses again without worrying that bacteria would somehow get into my eyes. I even felt comfortable enough to enter a public restroom. Even more, inside the bathrooms there was ample soap and water to wash my hands. The ocean air was fresh and the breezes cool. The food was delicious. I got to eat sushi and quiches and drink lattes. But most of all it was refreshing to be with people who understand me. I didn’t have to worry about offending someone because I wanted to wear pants or drink a glass of wine. I could hold my husband’s hand and not worry that it was culturally unacceptable. For the most part, the people we met spoke English that I could understand.

This little excursion to Cape Town was also a good way to prepare me to return to the developed world…where media, money and materialism rule. While at Cape Town’s Waterfront, we walked into the mall and at first I noticed the smells of new clothes, perfumes and sweet foods. But after a few minutes, the bustle of people, images, and music gave me a little light-headedness and I had to go back outside.  No place in this world is perfect. There will be challenges and struggles wherever we live.

This vacation was not only some much needed rest and relaxation, but it was also a taste of returning home.

Seven months down, three to go.

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Garden Update: Harvest

Looking out at the garden I tried to determine if the carrots were tall enough and if there might just be one that was ready to eat. I chatted with Abambo about it and he said that when he planted them before, it was halfway through March when they were ready. He pushed away the dirt from the top of one to show that there was still some room to grow. Amayi noticed that I was looking for something to harvest, so she picked a bean pod to show me that I would be able to harvest the beans in the next few days.

I thought that pictures would more clearly illustrate the beauty of harvest time.

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Malawians are the Toughest People I Know. Continued. Again.

Reason #7: Zimachitika! It happens! Not long after arriving here in October, the water stopped. I was freaking out. But Love said, “it happens”. Not much is a problem, because things just happen in ways that we don’t predict. Things that are a problem to our Western minds, to Malawians, are just part of daily life. Occurrences come and then pass and as long as we have breath and life, all is well.

Reason #8: Amayi picks up bugs (spiders, cockroaches, etc.) with her bare hands. When we first arrived to the manse in October the place was infested with all kinds of bugs. Whatever the thing was, Amayi would just pick it up with her hands. More recently, one day, Abambo wanted to tell David something: the past night something had fallen on top of him when he was sleeping and he threw it off not knowing what it was. It turned out to be a centipede, and Amayi took care of it for him. She is fearless.

Reason #9: Fresh um, maize. I’ll try to explain, but well, the corn here is hard and chewy, unless you eat the green maize, which hasn’t yet matured. After about a week of eating the fresh maize, we were sitting at dinner while I was doing my best to chew the pieces of maize, my jaw started to hurt. Everyone laughed about it. Then when I was talking to Chepa about my jaw hurting the next day, I was explaining that I thought I could only eat the really fresh maize that was still soft. She said, “Oh, so like the maize that Agogo eat! Because it’s softer on their teeth. Ahha.” Agogo means a person old enough to be a grandparent.

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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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Pepper season?

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 Short and sweet (or spicy)! We have been finding peppers everywhere. Some have been hotter than others, and I have been learning all about capsicum (thanks to a few friends, and with some help from google and wikipedia).

Please,  just for fun, if you can, identify the peppers pictured.

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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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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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Small Things…


The small things seem to have either sustained me or without them, pushed me over the edge into culture shock. Those last minute decisions that I made when packing to come to Malawi have shown to be rather important. Some stuff I brought ended up being here (in which case, I could have left it at home), and other items that I left behind I haven’t been able to find. The details are showing to become more and more important. Challenges that I knew would be here are now staring me in the face. Of course, this is a different culture; it is also a third-world country, so life is different here.

My list of small things: food, the language, hot water from the faucet, communication, and electricity.

The food is different. N’sima, rice, potatoes. Chicken, steak, lamb chop, pork chop. Cooked vegetables. Those are the dinner choices that I have experienced so far. Plus, the whole hygiene aspect is different too. I haven’t really seen what goes on inside the restaurant kitchens here but so far eating cooked things has worked out just fine. I do like the fruit here: papaya and bananas. There are also apples but those are probably from South Africa. I find it strange that there are apples. Mango trees are all around. The planting season is coming in November, just before the rainy season starts (pray for rain for the crops!) so perhaps there will be other foods later in the year. I think I miss cheese the most so far. They do have it here at certain stores, so I’m just waiting on a ride to get some.

The language is different. We’ve learned a little bit of Chichewa. But the learning is slow and I have to repeat myself a million times before I remember the new phrases. The most difficult thing about the language barrier is when I’m with other people who are just chatting away and I feel excluded from the conversation. That has been hard. Or when I’m saying hello to someone, and then after I’ve said everything I know how to say, we’re just standing there uncomfortably. English is spoken here: among the educated. Even so, many have a heavy accent –so even though it is English, it’s difficult to understand. For example, the caretakers are not educated, so their English is limited. We have been around them the most.

The water is different. It’s unsafe to drink from the tap. It must be purified. Boiled. A basic need is now work. Also, there is a switch that makes the water heater turn on. We can only have it on during the evenings because from Monday through Friday there is a water shortage so we don’t want the water heater burn up if it happens to empty during the day.

Communication is different. It breaks down. We found out that somehow the manse committee didn’t know that we were coming until two weeks ago, which was like three days before we arrived. That’s not enough time to make sure a house is in order. At least, I don’t think so. The whole planning ahead thing seems to end up without some details.

It is also a challenge to communicate. I know a little Chichewa and they know some English, and then I think I communicated something but am left questioning whether or not they understand after I have walked away. Even though English is the official language here, it’s still a second language. Chichewa is the first language. The culture is also different, so that adds another layer when communicating.

Electricity is different. Only a little bit. Rather than having planned blackouts in the evenings when people are usually asleep… or having the weather cause power to go off during storms and such, here in Malawi, having power is a gift. Here, the power goes out when you’re cooking breakfast before your induction (installation) service at this new church. When the power went out, I was thinking that I had done something, like have too many appliances on at the same time.

These are the “small things” that fade into the background in the day-to-day. However, they come into focus more when one is removed from familiar surroundings. I am sure that our time here will continue to challenge and shape me each small day.

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