23 August, 2010

Custard Powder Biscuits

These are a childhood favoutite of mine - I love their buttery flavour and the way they crumble in your mouth as you bite into them!

Since custard powder is not readily available in the States, and I was desperate to make these, I decided to try a substitute. I used cornstarch (cornflour) in place of the custard powder and added an extra 1/2 tsp of vanilla. It worked wonderfully!
I've heard you can find custard powder in some Asian food stores but haven't looked myself...

7 oz butter
1/3 cup icing/confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup custard powder (or cornstarch + 1/2 tsp vanilla)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp milk

Cream together the butter and the icing sugar. Add the flour, cornstarch and vanilla and beat well.
Add the milk and mix firmly until dough forms a large ball.
Roll into small balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Press each one down with a fork and bake on 300 for 15 minutes or until lightly browned (Be Careful! It is very easy to burn the bottoms of these - be sure to check them continually) Remove from cookie sheets and allow to cool on wire racks.

Makes 35-40 cookies.

17 August, 2010

Tomato-Mango Chutney

So this is my first try at my mom's old recipe - she makes it at home all the time. I have memories of it bubbling away on the stove, the whole house filled with deep, rich smell of spices! We always have several jars stashed away in the pantry.
The chutney goes with anything - on sandwiches/rolls with cheese, in fried rice or with pasta, in stir-fries, as a dipping sauce for sausages or chips...anything!

There are several changes from the original recipe; I've added a few things and left some out. It has a bit of a bite which I love! And the aroma as it bubbled away on the stove reminds me of home...

(Makes 1 med. sized bottle of chutney)

2 Cups (heaped) tomatoes, chopped
1 small mango/apple chopped (approx. 3/4 Cup) This is optional, you could just add more tomato
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped small
1/3 Cup white vinegar

Place all the above ingredients in a medium sized pot and simmer on med-high until soft. Slowly add 1/4 cup more vinegar. Allow to simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

Add and stir in 1/4 Cup white sugar and 2 Tbsp brown sugar.

Add 1/4 tsp of each the following spices:
                    curry powder
                    cayenne pepper
                    dry mustard
                    ground cloves
                    ground ginger
Add 1 bay leaf, & 3-5 peppercorns

Turn down to Low, cover and leave to simmer for about 1 hour. Add 1-2 Cups water (depending on how vinegary you want it to be...). Cover and keep simmering for another 1/2 hour. Then uncover and let simmer for a final 1/2 hour.

When done remove the bay leaf and peppercorns. Leave chutney to cool. In the meantime warm the jars/bottles in hot water. Pour chutney into bottle(s) - there should be a layer of liquid sitting on top - and seal with melted wax.

Or pour into containers and refrigerate/serve immediately. My dad says the chutney is best if you leave it to age a little... :)

11 August, 2010

Fridgecake - Search for the BEST recipe!

Having at last moved into a new apartment and unpacked most of my kitchen things, I decided to try a new fridgecake recipe. I have been searching for the best recipe/combination of ingredients and the one below is my latest experiment/attempt - if anyone knows of a top notch recipe please let me know!

Fridgecake is a chocolatey treat that I loved when I was a child, though my mother herself did not make it very often - I mainly had it at the houses of friends. I recently discovered that it has Scottish origins/connections and is called Tiffin. It is a fairly versatile recipe; you can play around with the ingredients you wish to include, so long as you keep the basic quantities the same. The recipe below is for a fridgecake that I made last night.

1 C (2 sticks) butter/margarine
2 T honey (golden/corn syrup works too)
2 T cocoa powder (or several slabs melted chocolate)
1 package (200g) *Marie biscuits/cookies (several options for this - see below!)
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/2 C coconut flakes
1/2 C raisins
1/4 C nuts

Melt the butter and honey together. Add the cocoa powder and mix well.
Place the Marie Biscuits in a plastic bag and beat/crush until it is a mixture of crumbs and chunks. Add this to the butter mixture and combine. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Press firmly into a 7x11" brownie pan (or any dish of a similar size) and refrigerate overnight.
Cut into squares and enjoy! It is best to keep them stored in the fridge...unless of course you finish them all at once ;)

*There are several different options for the crushed cookie/biscuit ingredient. I have only ever used Marie Biscuits, which can be found in Zimbabwe. I was delighted to find them in American grocery stores too! - they are usually in the International or Spanish Foods section with the GOYA products. Other possibilities vary depending on where you live:

UK - Digestives
South Africa - Tennis Biscuits
USA - Graham Crackers

10 August, 2010

A Woman's Arsenal

One of my high school teachers once told me, "there are two things that a woman must have in this world; education and a driver's license." I was bemused, and mulled over her words, particularly the necessity of a driver's license. Despite my confusion, I dutifully labelled her statement IMPORTANT and filed it away in the cabinet of my mind.
This teacher - a woman I admired and respected - intended or realized the lasting impression those words would have on me. They soon became etched into my subconscious, released to the roiling caverns of my mind where, for years they have been buffeted about as by a restless wind; appearing suddenly in my memory and then vanishing again.

The statement deserves careful scrutiny for it makes a bold claim, stating that a woman must posses two particular things in order to be a success. Many would argue against equating a license with something as valuable as eduction; possessing an education in this day and age is invaluable for obvious (and much talked of) reasons. It provides job security and advancement, the chance for self-sufficiency, to be released from reliance on a husband as sole or primary provider. Besides the economic and social opportunities, education furnishes the woman with a mind (See Martha Nussbaum's Woman and Human Development for more more on this) - with the intellectual capacity to make her own decisions, to question the status-quo, to strive for change. Much has been said on the subject of education and women and I will not add to the volumes of information and opinion.
The driver's license however, is much more of an oddity and requires further puzzling. What would make it a necessity? What does it offer to a woman that other assets (such as education, wealth/land, political independence etc) do not?

I have had a hard time getting my license. My brother and I got our provisionals (i.e. permits) at the same time and he was far more confident, competent and eager in driving. I had a general fear of driving and was quite happy to let him commandeer the practice time. Furthermore, what with my father's sabbatical and my  own move to college, the past half decade has not been the most 'settled' time. Add to this the fact that Zimbabwe changed its license-obtaining laws (adding several more steps and making it even more difficult and terrifying) and you have a world of giant fiends all bent on keeping me unlicensed.
Last December however, after five years of battle, I finally triumphed, conquering the opposing forces and claimed the prize! I cannot tell you the thrill, the wonderful happiness, the feeling of immense accomplishment and pride. I felt like the imprisoned captive who, having been beaten down and humiliated, assailed by doubts, fears and failure, at last climbs the wall, faces the monster and wins her freedom! The glow of pride still sits in my heart.

On the day I got my license my teacher's words - naming my prized license as one of the two essential assets of a woman's arsenal - came back to me with new meaning and power. What began as simple acceptance of and agreement with a respected teacher had gradually became belief. I had come to adopt her words as absolute fact, as Truth and thus felt it imperative that I achieve them. Anything less would be failure.

And what have I gained? How has obtaining the license empowered me, and why did I strive so hard to get it?
The bronze disk (Zimbabwean licenses are cast in bronze metal) has bestowed on me a new status, making me equal with my brother and increasing my value in the eyes of employers, friends and family, for now I can be called on to perform a valuable service.
The license has given me wings; the freedom and independence to fly away when the need arises, the mobility to escape or even pursue, to provide for myself without having to continually rely on others. I have a new limb - I was crippled with immobility and had to be carried around by others, but now I am the one doing the carrying, I am armed with a new power and strength.
More personally however, my driver's license has given me identity. At long last I have a legal, recognized document to counter the bias which denies that a white girl can be African. My claims to home have been recognized, my sense of belonging has been validated and proved.

So my teacher was right, though she did not realise the effect her words would have on my life. As a white African woman, my recently obtained drivers license is just as important an asset as my education. In fact, in one instance it is even more important, for it offers power, freedom and identity that my education could never give.

02 August, 2010

Aware of my Alienness

I have been living in America for two years now and people often ask me, "So, how has it been adjusting to America?"
My routine answer is usually something like, "Well, I don't think I'll ever fully adjust."
Most will then nod and smile sympathetically, knowingly.
But they don't know. They don't know what it is to be a stranger, in a strange land.

There are moments when I feel an uneasiness tingling through my body, like a cool chill that raises goosebumps on my flesh. In these moments I seem to awaken from as if from sleep, look out at the strangeness around me and wonder, 'Where am I? What on earth am I doing here, in this unreal world?'
It is at these times that I feel my alienness most acutely, and my foreignness seems to rise to the surface, seeping past the mask of normalcy in which I have shrouded myself.
This feeling is triggered by the most mundane, simple and every-day things of American life - men in baseball uniforms, the overflowing isles of Wal-Mart, the smell of a cold, air-conditioned room, the sight of snow - things that, to an African girl from Zimbabwe are wild, extraordinary and other-worldly. They make me feel that I am living in a dream or experiencing the unreality of a Hollywood movie.

Travelling on the train into Boston this weekend I felt such a feeling creeping into my consciousness. The city of Boston, with its graffiti words spray-painted on the back walls of apartment buildings, its black fire-escapes, reminiscent of movie stars like Tom Cruise or Matt Damon, its slim, well-dressed, high-heeled females carrying Styrofoam mugs of Dunkin Donuts Coffee - this city often sparks off an awareness of my own alienness. It churns up buried emotions - a disquieting mixture of excitement and fear. Excitement at the plethora of possibilities and opportunities this rich, wide world has to offer, with its accessibility to wealth, possessions and travel. In such a place I sometimes feel that I could truly do, have or be anything! The future is open to me and its unknown potentials are exhilarating!

But there is fear too - fear of losing myself, of forgetting where I have come from, or worse, of being forgotten. This world is changing me; I am no longer the girl I was when I left Africa two years ago. Even now, when I speak to my family on the phone and hear their voices filled with duty in taking my calls, when the e-mails become less and less as they become busier... when I am not missed - then I know that I am being subconsciously forgotten. 
My ultimate fear is that the alienness that I feel here in America will return with me when I go back, manifesting itself in new, terrifying ways in that place I call home. To be an alien in my own land, my own family - that is my fear.

Korean Iced-Tomatoes

My roommate is Korean and yesterday she showed me how to make a cool, tomatoey snack - something that she enjoyed as a child. It is simple but surprisingly delicious!

(For 1 serving) :
1 med tomato, cut in thick wedges
approx. 1/2C ice cubes or crushed ice
approx 1-2T sugar

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, stirring to cool the tomatoes and spread the sugar.  Then enjoy; eat the tomatoes, sip the water at the bottom of the bowl and crunch the ice!