14 December, 2011

Home for Christmas

I recently wrote this Opinion piece for the Salem News, a brilliant local paper here on the Northshore, and since I've been feeling the guilt of a less-than-faithful blogger - especially compared to my sister (thanks Beks) - I thought I would reprieve myself a little by publishing something I've already written. 

I learnt who Bing Crosby was in 2005, during my first Christmas in America. Crosby’s Colgate-commercial smile and rich, deep voice floated out from my grandparents’ television as he sang, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” My family had come from Zimbabwe to live in New Jersey for 10 months and I’d seen my first snow 30 days earlier on Thanksgiving morning. It was quite a change from the sunny, 70-degree December-weather I was used to. In Zimbabwe we don’t get snow and Christmas isn’t white, it’s wet. As children we always hoped for a rain-free day so we could go swimming with our cousins. Even now, grown up, living in Massachusetts and having experienced my share of New-England winters, it still feels surreal to be wrapped in sweaters and blankets, sipping tea and watching the white-coated world outside.

My feelings about Christmas are not the same as they were five years ago. For most of my life this holiday evolved around family, home and Jesus. December was a time of warm weather, stockings at the end of my bed, mince pies with cream, special church services and, of course, a huge family gathering of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. But our last few Christmases have seen dwindling numbers back home; Grampa is no longer with us and the cousins have been dispersed through several countries and colleges.

Christmas has changed. I’ve changed.

I’m starting to see an ironic twist in the carol “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” The song was first released by Crosby in 1943 during World War II and it touched the hearts of soldiers and their families who were separated by the war. At that time everyone was hopeful that the end was in sight and all could go home. Today, with over 200,000 American military personnel currently deployed in foreign countries as of last June (according to the Department of Defense), many American families feel the same way.

However, it is not only soldiers that are separated from their families this December. About three percent of the world’s population – over 200 million people – currently lives outside their birth country, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Some of that three percent are international students (like me) studying far from home, staying on the campuses of colleges like Gordon, Salem State and Endicott. Others are fathers, brothers, daughters and mothers working in foreign countries worldwide to send money back to their families. We all won’t be home for Christmas.

I have discovered, however, that some of the things I miss most about Zimbabwe at Christmas can be found on the other side of the world too, right here at Gordon College. Family, home and Jesus are everywhere. I have been invited, welcomed and temporarily adopted by several faculty and staff members of the college. I have also discovered an eclectic family of internationals, students from Korea, the United Kingdom, Kenya and other places who, like me, are strangers in America and living at Gordon we have been able to find a home here, together. Most importantly, I have found people who have a similar heart for Jesus, who understand why December is so special to me.

So even without the hot weather I’m accustomed to and though I cannot go swimming with my cousins, Christmases away from Zimbabwe are not necessarily Christmases away from home because I seem to have found families all over the place.

05 November, 2011

Lemon poppy seed muffins

Ever since I watched Jamie Oliver make an amazing pie - and then tried it myself the next day and had the crust come out light, crumbly and delicious (quite a feat for me, pies are not my best friends...unless I'm eating them), since then, I have been calling myself a fan of Jamie Oliver. I find him kind of endearing, especially since he reminds me of my cousin.
That being said, here is an adaption from one of his recipes - Almond cake with lemon poppy seeds
I decided to change them into muffins - and they turned out really well! It's a very sweet, slightly crunchy muffin - moist and perfect with a cup of tea.

Heat Oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups or a 20cm round cake tin.

Beat together until light and fluffy:
120g (1/2 Cup) soft butter
1/2 Cup sugar

Add 4 egg yolks one at a time
Add the zest and juice of 2 lemons and beat until smooth.

Pulse in 1 & 1/4 Cups self-raising flour and 1/2Cup finely chopped walnuts (The original recipe called for almond flour which I don't have but this seemed to work just fine)
Add 2T milk and stir until just combined. Stir in 2-3T poppy seeds and set aside.

In another bowl whisk the egg whites from your four eggs til they form soft peaks (ahem - a little bragging; I did this by hand...I'd suggest walking a round the room while doing it, and making grunting noises every now and then to take your mind off the pain in your arm).
Beat in 1 T sugar until smooth.

Stir a few spoonfuls of the egg into the flour mixture and mix together. Fold the rest of the egg carefully into it.
Spoon into muffin or cake tin and pop it into the oven for 25-30 minutes (muffins) and 45 minutes (cake), until it has risen and is a golden brown.

04 November, 2011

Apparently there's a "correct" way to eat pizza

"You eat your pizza backwards."
I've been told this fairly often. Apparently there is a correct way to eat pizza and I've been doing it wrong all my life. Ever since I was small, and our family would get our favourite kinds of pizza as a special treat, I've been eating it backwards. We'd get pizza from Pizza Inn, the Zimbabwean version of Pizza Hut...kind of... (see the picture below). They once had ostrich-meat pizza. But we got Margarita (cheese and tomato), Hawaiian (pineapple and ham) and Four Seasons for mom who likes olives. I never really understood what Four Seasons was... I've always eaten my pizza by taking one bite off the end, crunching through the crust, and then chomping slowly through the remainder, savouring the gooey, cheese-soaked middle for my final bites.

I remember when I was getting ready to come to America for the first time and an American missionary in our church warned my mom that we would have to learn the correct way to open a milk carton or we would be laughed at. Apparently there is a correct way to open milk cartons.
I didn't know all these rules; why tomato sauce (ketchup) is so popular or why everyone craves Mac n' Cheese and I'm still amazed by the slices of flavourless (sorry), pre-cut, neat orange and yellow squares of cheese that come packaged and separated individually by films of plastic.

I knew how to eat sadza though, rolling the steaming white paste into a ball with my fingertips, dipping it in the meat stew or vege relish and popping it into my mouth, keeping one hand clean. I knew to wash the rich, dark mud off the carrot before I crunched my way through it and throw the green, leafy hair on the compost pile or giving it to the chickens. I knew my mouth, hands and feet would be stained pink, red and purple for days if I went to the mulberry tree.
But none of this helped in America; you can't pick fruit off the trees unless you pay an entrance fee and there is no mealie-meal for the sadza. Pizza's one of the few things you can eat with your hands and there's no "double-dipping" allowed. It's a new world with its own rules.

I don't have a picture of Pizza Inn, but here's the ice-cream version; "Creamy Inn". Zim has Pizza Inn, Creamy Inn, Chicken Inn and Bakers Inn.

27 October, 2011

By The Way...I Have a Blog

Thus far my blog has been fairly self-serving, quiet  and infrequently updated; I have been close-mouthed about its existence and used it primarily for recipe posts, with the occasional "thoughts" or reflection-style writing.
I'd like that to change however, first by admitting to and revealing this blog to my general acquaintances (surprise!) and second, by introducing two other sides of my writing passion; creative writing (such as poems and perhaps the occasional play or short story) and journalism.

For the past 3 months I have been doing an internship with a News Service at my college, writing articles for a couple local news agencies here on the North Shore of Massachusettes; The Salem News and The Boston Globe. The Salem News has printed most of my articles in its paper as well as put them online and the Globe has published some of them on their Your Town sites - all of my (and the two other interns' articles) can be found here.

So that's it...this is my general announcement (since most people missed it when I first started) that I have a blog! And also, that I am a reporter. 

23 September, 2011

Muesli Rusks

I don't know where rusks originally came from - I think the Dutch brought them - or something similar -  to South Africa years ago. My memories of eating rusks involve crunching them on holiday in South Africa, eating them early in the morning in Nyanga, even trying Aunty Heather's rusks in Bindura when I was a kid. 

Here is my mom's recipe (with a few healthier substitutions) - the ones that taste like home, and it uses our homemade muesli recipe. . But you can use anything - oats, seeds, coconut, nuts, bran....be creative :)

Mix together:

1C melted marg/butter
1C applesauce
3/4C sugar
1 egg
1C lacto/buttermilk

In a separate bowl mix:
3 & 3/4C self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
2 1/2tsp baking powder
2 1/2 C muesli

Add the wet and dry mixture together - mixture will be sloppy.
Grease a 13x9" pan and plop the mixture into large balls in the pan (fit's about 12 balls).

Bake on 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, until golden and a knife comes out clean.

Remove from oven and break or cut each ball into thin strips. Lay the strips on baking trays and place in the oven on low to become dry and crisp. (I usually leave them in the oven like this for a few hours and then turn the oven off, go to bed and let them dry in the oven)

14 September, 2011

Curried Black-Bean Soup

Here is an experiment that went amazingly well! The one I used as the base for it called for all sorts of things I didn't have; like chickpeas and coconut milk and so on. I just made a few adjustments...

1 C milk
1/4 C shredded coconut
1 onion large, chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp chili flakes
2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium tomato, chopped
1-2tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 can black beans, drained
1 C chicken broth (or boiling water with a chicken cube)

Put the milk and shredded coconut together and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Fry the onion, garlic and chili flakes in oil on medium heat until the onion is soft, approx 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, spices and beans and heat through for another 5 mins.
Add the broth and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, uncovered.
Add the milk/coconut mixture and heat through.

Delicious as a soup, with crunchy bread or with rice.
Try adding cheese on top or fresh cilantro.

04 September, 2011

Lentil Loaf

An easy Lentil Loaf with amazing flavour! I got the original ideas for this recipe from somewhere online but when I went back to look for the recipe I couldn't find the website! I am sorry I can't give credit where credit is due, but the oats and bread idea came from someone-else...I don't want to take credit for something that isn't mine :)

2C red lentils (it would probably work with green/brown ones too)
1C chicken stock (I used 1C water and added a chicken cube)
1/2C oats
2 Tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped small
1 carrot, chopped small
1/2 tomato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2/3 slices bread, chopped small
1 or 2 tsp curry powder
sprinkle of chilli flakes
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp applesauce

Simmer the lentils and stock together for 15 minutes and then leave to cool for 15 minutes. I ended up adding about a cup of water...just keep an eye on it as it cooks...
While that is sitting, toast the oats in the over for about 10 minutes.
Fry the garlic in the oil, then add the vegetables and saute til soft. Add the herbs and fry for a short while.
Throw all ingredients into the lentils and stir together - don't forget the applesauce.

Grease a loaf pan (or a round cake pan if you don't have one...it works!) and put your mixture into the pan. Bake at 350 for an hour or an hour and a half. The sides will brown and the top will be golden - and the kitchen will fill with a wonderful aroma!

Goes great with rice, in pita bread with plain yogurt, on toast, even tastes good cold...

30 May, 2011

Ode to my Feet

I am currently very happy with my feet. I realize that almost everyone has them, and usually they are associated with dirt, smells and sweat. We often try to adorn them with bright, painted toe-nails or perhaps a toe ring, I've even seen some very creative tattoos. 
However, though they carry us about in our day-to-day activities they seldom receive the praise which they deserve. Since coming to Thailand I have begun to pay more attention to my feet. 
In this country, feet are considered the dirtiest and most offensive part of the body; shoes are removed before entering any house or temple, feet are to be kept clean out of courtesy to others, and it is rude to point ones feet at another person, and even more offensive if done to a Buddha statue.

Because of the need for constant vigilance concerning the state and direction of my feet, I have began to pay closer attention to them and I feel as though I have been ignoring them all my life. The other day I was reminded not to take them for granted.

It was a day when I put my poor and uncomplaining feet through a great deal of walking - first from my apartment to Kad Suun Keew mall and back - about an hour walk each way - and then all around the Sunday night Walking Street for a few hours. If this was not enough, I then took the long trek home from Tapae Gate (another hour's walk)! It was only after showering and laying myself down in exhaustion, that I turned my attention to the appendages at the end of my legs. I stared at them in wonder; sore and swollen they had carried my towering body across the city as I trudged back and forth. What strength and perseverance! With a new appreciation I lay on my bed and massaged those tired and faithful friends. 

Thank God for my feet!

08 May, 2011

Airports and Coffee Shops

Have you ever felt happy with the present? Not 'The Present', that large, general and ambiguous category of time that we stick somewhere in the middle of Past and Future, but the present moment. As if you are suspended in time, not even thinking about time at all really, but content just to be? Its a wonderful feeling; to be thrilled at this amazing thing called existence, grinning for no apparent reason at the world - so full of normal, every-day, average life! I suppose that is what it really feels like to "live in the moment". It's not simply taking life as it comes by being spontaneous and crazy, living with a live-for-anything attitude, but rather it means standing still. Stopping. While everyone else rushes by you just look at the world around you. We seldom have time to remember the present. We're always rushing to and fro, from one task to the next, always planning the future or regretting the past. We forget the present and how wonderful it is to simply be, now.

There are certain places I have found, where this "living in the present" feeling comes on quite strong, places that contain a lot of fodder for this craving for life. One such place is airports. Having done a fair bit of travelling in the past five years or so (the latest of which has brought me to Asia, to a 5 month semester abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand), I have come to appreciate these fascinating places. Airports are like giant spice shops or spice cookies; the flavours of the world come to mesh momentarily in delicious, often surprising combinations. (Incidentally, spice cookies and spice shops are not for everyone...)
Airports are portholes, existing unattached and not really part of anywhere. There is a certain universal quality to them for though each one carries the particular flavours of the home country, they are essentially the same from country to country. Airports hold combinations of languages, fashions, smells, generations, styles and every state of human emotion and interaction you could think of - humanity in all its glory and misery! You have prim and proper air hostesses, travel-worn families, tanned tourists, suited business men, flurried officials - travelers and workers all suspended in time, waiting for the destination, for the journey to be over, for 'real life' to continue. Or begin. 

The second place in which you can suspend yourself above time and watch the rest of humanity - those poor souls still caught up in its grip - is at coffee shops, or cafes. Here you can see the anxious businessman, late for a meeting but not willing to give up his caffeine, the  students - a gaggle of girls on their phones and ipods, giggling and texting. The silent young male sent by friends to get all the orders - he leaves with 5 drinks in a bag or a box to take back to work or to the party or the video-game marathon. There's the old man, a teacher with his laptop and books, the shy couple, the mother with her espresso and daughter with her fruit juice. 

I am currently enjoying a large iced mocha (or  มอคค่าเย็น if you want the actual Thai name), courtesy of Groon Cafe. I'd like to boast about this little cafe, of which I have become extremely fond. Over the past three weeks it has become my favourite coffee shop in Chiang Mai. It is a small, one-roomed cafe off of Suthep Road, soi 4, with delicious drinks, free wi-fi and friendly female baristas. The  inside of the cafe is decorated with old pictures - scattered photographs of the King and his wife when they were young, and also shelf after shelf of random collections - magazines, empty drink cans, old toys...there's even a couple ancient-looking television sets. The place is frequented primarily by young people; students of the University and a few resident Farang/foreigners like myself and is a perfect place to sit and observe (and judge, let's be honest) the life around me. In fact, I would suggest that everyone follow my example, give it a try: perch yourself in the corner of your favourite coffee shop, preferably with a view of the door and one of the road/sidewalk outside, order a nice iced latte or hot chocolate or a fruit shake, arm yourself with an ipod, a book, a laptop, a notebook and pen, even a text book - its not important, its merely the facade you'll be hiding behind. Once you have assumed this position you can sit and enjoy. And just watch life and people.