Saturday, May 30, 2009

Matilda's Last Day

About a month ago Matilda started working as a nanny for a friend of ours. It took me nine months to be able to call her our "nanny"-- I winced at what felt like declarations of implications that word held about our economic status and my view, role, and purpose as a stay-at-home mom. But by the time she left, Nanny felt like a title of honor. I didn't realise until she was no longer around just how much I leaned on her for help with our household, my children, and for her cheerful company. We miss her. The kids, especially Finn, really love her, and she really loves them--especially Finn--too.

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Matilda's Second Song  
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Matilda's second song.mp3 (2268 KB)

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Let this be a Lesson for All of Us

Read the package insert before you give your child malaria prophylaxis for a year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Words of wisdom from Matilda:

Children need only two toys: soil and water.

(Meet Kelvin, Matilda and Mohammad's baby and Finn's idol.)

Tech Question:

Martin or Chris, can you splain me this? How do I post .wav files? Do I have to make them mp3s first? Do you know an easy way to do this?

I want to post Gabriel’s song he was inpsired to write when I handed him the recorder last Saturday as he day-guarded.

Big Mama, little Grace, old shoe, new shoes

The entrance to the clothing market down in Area 2, "across the bridge."

A picture to show a bit of the shoe market.

A picture to show the cleaning touch-up I requested for Scout's almost-steampunk new(ish) mary janes.

Big Mama (occasionally little mama) and little Grace are frequent personalities at our breakfast and lunch tables. Scout sits in my chair beside Finn, uses a big spoon and tall glass cup, decides who says the blessing on the food, speaks in a kind ordering sort of way, serves up the food, puts small pieces of food on Finn's tray.

Grace began as a little blond friend at Kindermusic, but her personality has grown enormously when a little role-reversal is required. She shows up whenever Scout needs to be authorized to be in charge, and it's not a bad trick. (Bailey, Bodean, and Francisca who also began as Kindermusic friends are triplets, sometimes in utero, sometimes as needy tiny babies, sometimes they're learning how to walk, sometimes they're astonishingly matched in accomplishments to Finn.)

Anyway, when the mama-switching began, it was revealing how Scout described her mama self. "No, I'm a big mama. I use a big spoon." or "See? I have big feet!"

In fact, her feet have grown. Outgrown, in fact, all the cute shoes Auntie Brooke has provided us with for the past three years. A friend from Germany was going to pick up some leather shoes for her own kids while she was there for a few days and was ready to choose some for Scout too--traced foot in luggage!--but her 30 Euro price guess nearly (politely) choked me. I decided to give the big secondhand clothing market a try.

I'd only been once or twice--honestly, it's a big deal to get there, and sticking out like a money tree and being offered terrible deals isn't great fun. But I went with a Malawian friend, who lead me down an avenue of detailed used shoes to old shoe heaven. The place where all good shoes (and some really beat up ones) go when you think they've died. Probably two acres of stalls, with shoes of every size, shape, colour. (Not a lot of snow boots, but some!) The best shoes are cleaned, polished, buffed, stuffed hard with plastic bags, and displayed. See those in the picture? Those are all used shoes. Those are literally the shoes we get rid of, because all these are from bales sent out from the rich west.

The shoe market is built up a hill, and in the top-most corner are three guys and a bucket of water and rags and brushes. Each shoe seller has their own cans of black shoe polish (everything close to black gets it). Those not deemed good enough for refurbishment get left in piles you may pick through. There's general calling and excitement when a new bale gets opened--kind of like when they bring out the new rack of unsorted stuff at the DI.

All it takes is to say what size and kind you're looking for, and enterprising young men scamper off to scour the place for you. After two trips and four pairs of shoes, Scout--I mean Big Mama--is now reshod. In little blue leather Puma sneakers, sparkly black leather Mary Janes for fancy, and a pair of flashing LED StrideRite sneakers to grown into. Hot dog! That's what I call a haul!

ps: bonus picture. Just had to show how artfully everything is displayed to sell. Toothbrushes and toothpaste and washclothes for crying out loud! I'm impressed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


We have four, count'em f-o-u-r, lemon trees on our compound, and last month was harvest time. They became our Malawi equivalent of August zucchini. You come to visit, you leave with a jumbo of lemons. We visit you, we bring you a jumbo of lemons. No, we insist. Of course you can think of something to do with 35 pounds of ripe lemons!

I thought of lots of ways to use up lemons, but sadly, only about three are worth repeating. I had grand visions of preserving them in all kinds of ways, but the slices I tried to candy were way too bitter. The peel I saved for candying molded before I got around to it. I actually forgot about the simple lemon syrup I was so excited to try; it boiled over, leaked into the stove's electrical shorting the earth wire, and tripped the main breaker every time I turned on the burner.

However, lemon curd was a success, as was lemon cake, and some surprisingly amazing doughnuts I tried on a whim with a recipe from an old Martha Stewart someone gave me. I include recipes and instructions for all three, below.

Baby Lemon Curd
(ie, even a baby could make it.)

In a cold pot, thoroughly mix together roughly these amounts:

1 c sugar
3 eggs
2/3 c lemon juice

Put the pot on a low-med setting, and stir mixture until it thickens. You'll know it's ready when it changes colour, to a bright yellow, and it gets thick enough to coat the spoon when you dip it in. Of course, the longer and slower you cook it, the thicker it will be. The two biggest things to avoid are not mixing the eggs enough, so you get flecks of cooked egg-white, and letting it boil and/or burn on the bottom of the pan.

Once you've taken it off the burner, mix in:

6 tbs butter, cut into little cubes

I made a lot of double batches and froze the stuff; it freezes well, and makes impressive last-minute pastries when spread on puff pastry.

Hagson's Lemon Cake

Hagson, the cook at a friend's house, made this wonderful cake today. It's moist, but not spongy--makes nice cakey crumbs. The thin layer of tart/sweet lemon "creme" really nicely balances the lemon-zesty cake part. You should know before you start this, that Hagson admitted he doesn't like to use books while cooking so much as common sense. I encourage you to also use yours while following this recipe, which he stood and pulled from the air while I followed him around Kirsten's kitchen.

2 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking pwd
1/4 tsp soda

Mix these together.

Add, making a crumby mixture:

1/2 c butter or Stork margarine, cold.

Beat together and add to floury crumbs:

2 eggs
1/2 c milk
zest from 2 small lemons, or 1 big one, or basically "1/2 c lemon skins"

When all mixed together, the batter should be quite thick. This is so that your cake doesn't grow grow grow and then flatten in the oven. Bake at 350º F (or perhaps something like 210º C) for 25 to 30 minutes, depending on when your cake is done.

To make creme, mix nicely until smooth:

1 c icing sugar
1 tbs butter
1 drop lemon juice (this is where he advises common sense. You don't want your creme runny; just add the right amount.)

Lemon-Ricotta Fritters with Lemon Curd
(thanks MSL, May 2008)

Liz, this one's fried; this one's for you. For old time's sake.

4 cups vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pound ricotta cheese, drained
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Heat oil in a medium saucepan to 350 degrees. Sift flours, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl.

Mix together eggs and granulated sugar in a large bowl until just combined. Add ricotta, lemon zest, and vanilla, and stir until well combined. Add flour mixture, and stir until smooth.

Using an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, carefully drop a few balls of dough into oil. Cook, turning 2 to 3 times, until golden brown on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes total. Adjust heat as necessary to maintain temperature of oil. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on a plate, and dust with confectioners' sugar. Transfer curd to a serving bowl, and serve with fritters.

Helpful Hint

Do not crowd the pan; cook only a few fritters at a time. They taste best when served immediately after frying.

Also, don't be worried if they look flat at first; they puff into little round balls while they fry. And I think I didn't drain the ricotta, so I ended up adding a little extra flour so the batter was less runny.

Honestly, it would be best to make these when there's a crowd. Otherwise you'll end up eating them all yourself. In one sitting. Yep, that yummy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Wonder of Birds*

Not sure of a better way to celebrate mum in spirit, than by getting up as the reclined silver cup of a moon is just slipping out of the trees to climb the brightening sky, to give thanks to God for beauty and domestics, and do something personal and creative before my family wakes up.

The first bird this morning was Finn, who crowed, “Errh. Errrrh!” for his 4:45 warm milk snack. Then, as I lay in bed debating sleep over personal time at the break of day (my body said sleep, my mind said “mornings this beautiful with no sandpaper eyelids are a gift. Don’t refuse.”)… the next bird to wake up was the muezzin a couple areas over. The mosque is just the right distance away: if I listen in the morning, I can hear call to prayer; if I’m sleeping, it doesn’t wake me up.

And then roosters--stewbird or make-new-bird birds.

And then songbirds. I never ever get tired of them. Chirps, twitters, calls, whistles, chatters, slide-whistle sloops, trills, pops and croaks, purrs and hoots. The insects have quieted down now that we’re through the rainy season, but the birds, gratefully, have not.

You know, all you Northern Hemisphere types, that this half of us down here is not rejoicing over returning signs of spring and lengthening days. Night is coming noticeably earlier where we are, the sun is coming in the windows at new, oblique angles. Those trees that do are dropping faded leaves. As our guard John says, “Now is the time of year when we are rushing to the coldest months.”

It’s so fun to have a reason to wear socks in the morning and make rice milk Rooibos chai (from a powder mix I bought in South Africa—they don’t make that sort of thing here).

A List to Keep Things Organised:

1.Happy birthday, Mum. I wrote this back on Your Day a couple weeks ago when you turned SIXTY FIVE. oxox.

2.The ingredients on the (now-empty) instant rice-milk chai bottle from Cape Town: organic rice milk powder, Rooibos tea, black pepper, cardamon, ginger, cloves, curry leaves. In that order. And Laura, I add sugar fyi.

3.If you’re at all into birds, you should check out these the collections of these two photographers: Layzeboy and Dave Appleton.

4.Mental note: remember how great this was on the big screen? Joh: watch this again when you get back to the US.

5.The dazzling loveliness of even the most common yard birds is almost as wonderful as their names: firefinch, blue waxbill, whitefaced whistling duck, blue-eared starling, sacred ibis, masked weaver, black-bellied bustard, freckled nightjar, ruddy turnstone, little bee-eater, honeyguide, tinkerbird, and of course the lizard buzzard .

6.Andy’s twittering. If you look on the right side of our blog, you’ll notice his updates as he twitters throughout the day. It's his solution for trying to find a way to write about his patients and experiences as a physician here in a way that doesn't overwhelm the reader or the writer (120 characters max!). I suspect you’ll be as interested as I am to find out what he actually does in clinic for eight hours every day. Feel free to chatter back about his twitter. And if there’s something you’re wondering, ask away. I’m probably wondering the same thing.

7. If I had to give Andy's Twitter a bird name from my Zambian safari list, it might be something like dark-capped bulbul. Or African stonechat. I suppose after a few days in Zanzibar he might be a sunbird--scarlet chested or violet-backed, though not if I know Andy and his sunscreen habit. No, much more likely to remain a white-rumped swift or simply a red-necked spurfowl. It'll be several years before he's anything close to wattled starling, unless this unexpectedly becomes a tropical boubou.

Folks, it's 11:30pm my time, and as much fun as I'm having cracking myself up, as you can see if I don't stop acting like a white-faced scops owl and and put my bird list away for the night, I'll be a red-faced mousebird by morning rather than my usual laughing dove personality.

Good night(jar)!

*Ms. Melin, I have you to thank for introducing me to the band I've ripped this title from.