Monday, January 31, 2011

No More Beans?

The government of Malawi is proposing a new law that would make farting in public illegal. How am I supposed to enjoy a big bowl of chili and beans if I can't fart? 'Cause you know the old kids rhyme "Beans beans the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you toot..." has a lot of truth to it. Add in some beer and deviled eggs and we could have a serious problem going on. Sadly I am not kidding you can read the story here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sweet Treat

I have started about a dozen blog posts this last week but abandoned all of them because they seemed too whiney, even for me. I still need to post the follow up to the soup dumplings, which did come out pretty well. I never did finish posting about safari or do a Christmas post. Maybe next week I will get to it. Today though I did something it never occurred to me to do, I made syrup.

I don't know why I never thought of making syrup before. When I was a kid and still lived at home, Mom and I would make jelly. Every once in a while a batch wouldn't gel but we didn't get upset, we would just label the jars syrup instead of jelly. Those fruit syrups were really good on pancakes, waffles, french toast, ice cream, a spoon. I have a bit of a sweet tooth, can you tell?

Most weeks a guy that sells strawberries shows up at the gate with a basket full of strawberries. I fork over 500 kwacha and he fills my bowl up and we have fresh fruit. Fruit here is very seasonal. For two weeks there were mulberries in the market then they were just gone. The selection of fruit is much more limited than I expected so I never turn away the strawberry man unless I simply don't have enough money in my purse to pay. That means that I usually end up putting a ziplock full of the uneaten strawberries in the freezer each week. The kids can only eat so many strawberries before they go bad. The strawberries, not the kids. I've made strawberry popsicles, strawberry sorbet, strawberry stuffed crepes, strawberry sherbet and when I suggested making strawberry ice cream this week the kids said "How about chocolate? Or vanilla?" So what to do with the left over strawberries that are starting to get a bit squishy? Make syrup!

My all time favorite syrup is boysenberry syrup, or as the boys prefer to call it poison-berry syrup. For some inexplicable reason I failed to include any in our consumables shipment and since it is a liquid in glass I can't exactly have any shipped to me at post. Arrrgh! The only thing I have to put on my pancakes is Aunt Jemima's or honey. I choose honey, but I'm not too happy about it.

Today I combined a cup of sugar, a cup of water, about 2 cups of strawberries, and a dash of lemon juice then boiled the heck out of it until the berries fell apart and the whole thing got thick. I decided that straining the mess was too much work so I just ran an immersion blender through the syrup to make sure there were no lumps left. It turned out fabulous. It's not boysenberry, but it is darn good, and I can hardly wait until this weekend for pancakes. What is a boysenberry anyway? Does anyone know? Next I am going to try making mango syrup. Yumm.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Experimantal Cooking

Many of my friends think I am fantastic cook. I'm really not. I'm simply good at following instructions. When I try to throw stuff together without a recipe the results are usually pretty bad, so I stick with following recipes. I think what gives me a reputation for being a good cook is two fold. 1. I am pretty good about selecting recipes that I am sure will work, or at least I try out recipes on my family before cooking anything for people not related to me. 2. I will try almost anything, even really complicated looking recipes. Creme brule, no problem! Homemade marshmallows? Sounds like fun. Making my own pasta? It's just eggs and flour! How hard can that be?

There is one type of recipe that I always hesitate to try. I am completely intimidated by Asian cooking. Any kind of Asian cooking scares the pants off of me. Don't know why, maybe because it is just so different from the kind of cooking I grew up with. I have decided to in the last year or so to start experimenting. So am I content with simple relatively easy recipes for fried rice, stir fries, and spring rolls? No of course not. I have decided to try out the mother of all complicated recipe, xiao long bao! I might have mentioned a time or 20 how much I love these little bundles of joy. Too bad there are no Din Tai Fung restaurants on the continent of Africa. So I am going to make some of my own. I hope my kitchen survives. The recipe says it takes two days to make. Yikes! Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Harvest

When we first got here I planted sweet corn in the garden. The gardeners said "Too soon, too soon." I planted it anyway and watered it. We harvested it shortly before rainy season started and got a very nice harvest. Lovely plump sweet yellow ears of corn. Remarkably little bug damage. The few ears that were chewed on still had plenty of good parts left so I cut away the bad and used the good to make homemade creamed corn (gag!) for Dave. He loved it, said it wasn't the same as his grandmother's but then nothing ever is. Even I had to admit that homemade is much better than that sickly sweet slimy stuff out of a can. So all was good.

One day the gardeners showed up at the door and said NOW we plant the corn. I handed over a seed packet for Silver Queen sweet corn and all was good once again. Today I harvested the corn. I picked the ears and hauled it into the kitchen to shuck, blanch and freeze. HOLY MOLY MOTHER OF GOD! I have NEVER seen such diversity of bug life! And I have blogged about my critter loving kids so you know I get to see a lot of buggies. Spiders, huge ants, beetles, slimy worm things, little black moving dots. Alonzo particularly loved when I peeled back the husk on one ear to have a large cockroach drop out onto my hand. I am sure I put on quite the show dancing around screaming. Such a girl! It escaped down the drain. I poured boiling water right behind it! Ha take that Mr. Roach! Next time the husking will take place outside right next to the compost heap, and I think I will let the boys do it. I'll supervise, from a distance.

Why the heck did they tell me to plant right when the bug population exploded? I thought that for a few minutes. And finally the light bulb went on. OK Blond moment, Duh! If you haven't figured it out they planted the corn a few weeks before the rainy season started. In the villages there is no running water. If they are lucky they have a bore hole with a hand pump put in by some NGO. Irrigation isn't a big part of farming practices here. Crops are planted in coordination with the arrival of the rains. The rains also means an absolute explosion in bugs as they multiply to take advantage of the sudden availability of food. This year the gardeners tell me the rains aren't as heavy as usual. I really hope it is good enough for a decent harvest. It is mind boggling to think so many people still live with their very lives tied to the arrival of the rains even in this day and age. Then they have to fight the bugs, birds and such for the harvest. If you are sitting in your comfortable house, reading this on laptop, or even your old desktop computer count yourself as blessed.

I need to get back to my corn. Even after all the bugs chewed on it for a there is plenty of corn left for us. I just need to cut away the bad parts and keep the good. It may be a few weeks before I want to eat corn after this though, so it is all going right into the freezer after it is blanched until I am over the bugs.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cyberkid Blogging

My son Alonzo has finally launched his very own blog. I thought about forcing him to password protected it and allow access to only to family and a few trusted friends, but since I have plastered his face all over cyberbones for years it seemed a little pointless. Also these are the same people I started cyberbones for and they are some of my least faithful readers.

I will leave it open to the public for as long as people play nice. Be warned trolls I can and will delete any inappropriate comments without mercy. As with everything else relating to my children's computer experience I am watching and monitoring every keystroke. So is Dad. That's what parents do.

To the rest of you feel free to stop by and leave nice comments cheering him on. You all know how good it feels to get comments. Since his parents blog is cyberbones, he is Dave's mini-me, and he really likes creepy crawly critters it, is only natural that his blog has been christened cybersnakes. Slither on over and show him some bloggy love.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Does it Say About Me?

We are 6 months into a 3 year assignment and I am already compiling a list of where I would like to go next, and by default where I don't want to go. Exactly what does that say about me? It's no secret that I wasn't thrilled about Frankfurt and now we are in Malawi and I am counting the days until R&R this summer. It's not that Malawi is awful, aside from the giant hairy spiders, mostly it is just boring. And expensive. Very expensive. Which means that we have very little money left to get out of here and go do something.

How expensive can it be you ask? Well milk is currently running about around 9 dollars a gallon, butter is around 10 dollars a pound, don't even bother to ask about cheese or meat. A bottle of Johnson's tear free baby shampoo is around 8 dollars, and that's the little bottle. Diesel is around 4.30 a gallon and gasoline (petrol) is just over 5 dollars a gallon. But wait, don't you embassy types get a COLA (cost of living allowance) to help deal with this kind of stuff. Why yes we do, thank you for asking, but sadly the COLA here is considerable less than it was in Frankfurt and yet we spend a whole lot more on daily living expenses than we ever did in Frankfurt. It makes no sense what so ever. I don't get it.

On top of the expense there is really nothing to do here. Nothing at all. This is truly a post that the can be nice if you get along well with the other people at post (we do thank goodness!) and are into socializing with your co-workers at each other's houses. If you are looking to go out to eat once in a while, or have a drink at a club, Malawi isn't the place for you. If you are into hosting frequent dinner parties maybe you can make it work.

The only houses with a pool or tennis court are assigned to the DCM and the Ambassador. Thankfully the DCM allows regular hours for the embassy community to use the pool, and there is a sign up for the tennis courts at the ambassadors. The British High Commission has a club and Americans diplomats are allowed to join for a fee. We spend at least one day every weekend when it isn't raining sitting by the club pool hanging out while the kids play. It is too cold to swim during dry season so I am not sure what we will do then. Other than the British club there are no places to go hang out with the family. No kids sports teams other than the ones associated with the school, no swimming pools, no playgrounds, no gyms, no music lessons, no stables (there used to be one but she closed up shop and left town), no movie theater, no bowling alley, not much of anything really. There are only about 10 restaurants in town and they are pretty pricey. Seriously we ate out at a Thai place in Frankfurt on a regular basis for far less than a basic meal out here. There is a really good Indian place just down the road from us but dinner for just me and Dave will run about $60. We don't eat out much.

Most people try to get out of town on a regular basis for sanity reasons. There are lots of lodges along the lake of varying quality. Some are reasonably nice, some are real dumps, none are really up to to American or European standards no matter what they advertise. Almost all of them charge per person. That very quickly puts them out of our price range with a family of five. Lake Malawi is close enough for a day trip and has some nice snorkeling and diving. But you do risk contracting bilharzia and we are not allowed to drive outside of Lilongwe after dark so that really limits day trips. You have to always be aware of the time and make sure to allow enough time for traffic accidents blocking the road, changing weather conditions and detours so that you arrive back in Lilongwe before dark. The one saving grace is many of the lodges have campgrounds but you need to make sure that you bring all important camping gear with you in your HHE. We didn't, but you can be sure that we will be loading up this summer when we are home in the states.

Do I regret coming here? No, I really don't. This is the perfect time to be in Africa for my family. The kids are still young high school isn't an issue yet, all the embassy high schoolers I know of go to boarding school, and the boys don't mind hanging out with their parents. Malawi doesn't have many of the security issues that plague other African posts. We are still managing to fit in some great trips, just not as often as I would like. We have already gone to Zambia on safari and will most certainly go again. We are going to Victoria Falls and Botswana during spring break, and next year sometime we will head to Cape Town, South Africa. All of these trips set us back a great deal of money and take a good deal of planning so that we don't blow the budget, and are able to continue building our savings. I simply wish there had been a bit more honesty in advertising regarding Malawi.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I have the morning off. No I do not have every day off. I have a house to clean, meals to cook, laundry to wash/fold/iron, a kid to homeschool. Most days I can hardly find a moment to sit down. Today Alonzo and Colin are off at Wildlife Camp until 2:30, and Grayson is off playing with a friend until sometime midday. Is there anyone out there who speaks British and can translate midday to a specific time? Does that mean noon? Thanks to some hard work earlier this week the house has been cleared of the Christmas clutter and is actually clean(ish) and I can simply relax.

I have treated myself to a lovely peaceful omelet breakfast, and am now preparing for a do-it-yourself pedicure. No kids running around arguing and fighting, no Scooby Doo cartoons, no tortoise in the living room. The tortoise has been located and relegated the screened porch, the TV is tuned to the South African version of HGTV, the A/C is running, a scented candle is lit, and I have a cup of coffee and a pitcher of water with sliced lemon close at hand. Ahhh....Life is good.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Years Resolutions 2011

OK I have been putting off New Year's Resolutions. Last year I didn't get them up until the 12th. I probably would have waited at least that long again this year but Linsey at Rambles and Ruminations in hosting the FS blog round up this week and the theme is resolutions, goals, dreams and plans for 2011. Be sure to sure to click over there in Friday to see what everyone is up to.

Looking back at last years resolutions I didn't do too badly. Just to review I made 4 resolutions:
1. Get organized
2. De-clutter the house before packout
3. Get in shape
4. Give children chores and make them do them.
I did OK. I managed to be organized for packout (mostly), I got rid of pounds and pounds of junk before packout (still a lot left - baby steps my friend baby steps), and the kids have chores which they absolutely hate doing. I did not even come close to getting in shape. I guess I am still a slightly chubby couch potato. The only good thing I can say there is I didn't gain any weight, so that is something I guess.

Let's look at this year's resolutions.
1. Get in shape. I think this one has been there every year since I was a teenager, which may have been the last time I actually was in shape. I am going to try the 30 day shred and if I survive perhaps I will move onto C25K. No that has nothing to do with Y2K (remember that from 11 years ago??) it is Couch to 5K, a training program which incrementally steps you through training for a 5K. Monica are you ready to go running with me this summer?
2. Be kinder to myself. I am my own worst critic, I need to learn to be nicer to myself.
3. Make time to write every day, but don't get too frustrated or give up when I miss a day. See number 2 above.
4. Learn to drive on the wrong side of the road. Every time I drive I end up on the American side of the road which is bad since they drive like Brits here. I also turn on the wipers every time I try to turn on the blinkers. Stupid right hand drive car!
5. Have fun! Life it too short to not have fun so I want to try and have fun everyday.

Well I guess that about does it for resolutions, as for dreams and plans we are looking forward to making a few dreams come true. We are heading down to Victoria Falls and Botswana for spring break. That should be great adventure, I can hardly wait. Sometime this year we will be returning to Zambia for camping and safari. We will be heading to Texas this summer where I plan on eating my weight in Mexican food and BBQ. This should be an exciting year. Look out 2011 here we come!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Great Furniture Tradeout

When you work for the foreign service and you live overseas not only is your housing usually assigned to you but so is the furniture. In fact many times I have looked at pictures on a fs blog and thought "Hey that's my couch." I guess it does help with continuity when we move so often to have the same or similar furniture each time, but I do wish it weren't all so ugly. Sometimes you can trade out furniture for different furniture. It all depends on the local management policies and the furniture pool. Today we were able to trade out several pieces that have been bothering us for a while.

This was our sofa. It is a newer sofa but it is orange. Orange should be reserved for jack-o-lanterns and convicts. To make it even worse the fabric is itchy and leaves the back of your thighs looking like waffles if you should sit on it while wearing shorts. Attractive! We were able to trade it on a a sofa with smooth non-itchy fabric, it's still sort of orange but at least it isn't quite as bright.

Two of our dressers were problematic, mine was missing a handle which made it really hard to open the bottom drawer. Colin's dresser had several drawers which would stick and refuse to open plus all the rest of his furniture was dark cherry but his dresser was yellow pine.

Now we have new dressers. All the drawers have handles and none of them are sticking, it even matches the rest of the furniture in the room. Yay!

Then there is this chair. Enough said.

It turned into this chair which honestly I am not sure is any more attractive, but it is much more comfortable and the fabric isn't stained or ripping at the seams so I guess it is an improvement. Maybe.

Grayson's room had bunk beds. While Dakota was here Colin and Gray shared a room so the bunk beds were practical but now that Colin has moved to Dakota's old room Gray has been using the top bunk for sky diving. Onto a hard wooden floor. I don't need to do a medivac for a sky diving accident so the bunk bed is out and the big boy bed is in. The new bed has the same headboard as his bed in Frankfurt. He took one look and yelled, "It's my old bed! I missed you bed!" Along with the bed he also got a nightstand and lamp so he can have some quiet reading time before bedtime.

There was one more thing we traded out. Our mattresses. Hopefully the new mattresses won't have a hollow worn in the center so that when you lay down you sort of roll into the depression. I have been waking up every morning with a back ache since we got here. I am hoping the new mattress will help. We will find out tonight.