Monday, 24 October 2011

Autumn clean

It is half-term and the bookshelves are full to over-flowing, so indeed it is time for a tidy up.

We started in my daughter's room, principally because all her books and belongings were spread on the floor rather than in any shelves/baskets/drawers that may be available. It took several hours, in two sessions, but finally we have bottomed the room.

"What's this?" I would say, picking up another piece of tat.

"It's J's" she said, referring to a friend that stayed a few months ago.

"Where did you get this from?" I asked.

"J left it," she replied.

"How come you have a water bottle up here?"
"Whose is this hairbrush?"
"Is that headband...?"

"J's," she replied...repeatedly.

It would appear that her friend left more stuff behind than she took with her. And that her mum hasn't been missing it enough to ask for it back...!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Malaria marvels

I never wanted to move to Africa. As I sat in my terraced house in London, all I could think about, cradling my 7 month old baby or chasing after my two-year-old toddler, was the risk of malaria. Malaria kills. One bite from the wrong mosquito and it could be all over. The prospect of that happening to one of my children, and not noticing it in time, was terrifying.

In practice, Lusaka was largely malaria free, with the greatest risk during the rainy season (November to March) and our awareness of the symptoms meant at the first sign of fever there was a rush to be tested. We had a few dashes to the clinic for what turned out to be nothing more than a cold. By the time a test came through positive I had been there four years, my son was now six and it all was a lot more manageable. (Don't misunderstand me: I was terrified for my boy, had sleepless nights and cried a lot, but it didn't make me rush for the first plane home.)

Malaria is a killer disease and millions die of it every year. It has been said that the mosquito is man's greatest enemy because of this threat (and that of other diseases). Across the world efforts are being made to eradicate the disease. There has been talk of breeding sterile mosquitoes and work persists in trying to find a vaccine. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been supplying millions of mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide. These are a first line of defence: if no-one is bitten by mosquitoes then the malaria cannot be sucked in by the insect and pushed out into the fresh blood of the next victim. Admittedly, there are many tales of the nets being used by locals as fishing nets rather than over their beds, but a saturated market must provide some level of resistance.

The fight goes on because we know the disease to be both treatable and preventable. No-one need die of it and simple measures can prevent its spread. A few months ago I shared this video with you - a marvellous piece of public education for the people of the Congo.

But the best news of all came this week: in the last decade worldwide incidences of malaria have decreased by 20%. A reduction of one fifth. Many, many millions of lives saved, quite probably most of them being children. Malaria is the largest cause of death in the under 5s, killing one child every 30 seconds. It is still prevalant in sub-saharan Africa (85% of cases) yet progress is being made. Although endemic in 108 countries, since 2007 it has been eradicated from Morocco, Turkmenistan and Armenia.

I hope that one day a vaccine will be found and this killer disease can be eradicated. In the meantime, let's celebrate the steps forward that we are making. Every life is valuable and every life saved is invaluable.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Apples everywhere!

The only problem with modern Harvest Festival services is that we don't bring our own fresh produce any more. Instead, we bring tins and long-term food that a local soup kitchen/homelessness project/charity can use. Don't get me wrong: this is clearly a good thing, and I gladly give what I can.

But - it doesn't help me get rid of my glut of Bramley apples.

We are a little fed up of stewed apples. Our freezer is full. There's only so much apple crumble a family can stomach. And apple pie involves the major problem that (according to my husband) I don't make it like his mother does.

So yesterday afternoon was spent making chutney.

Firstly I made beetroot, ginger and apple chutney (as we'd had beetroot in the veg box this week).

It is a glorious deep pink colour and the ginger was a wonderful smell.

Then I made three times the recipe quantity of Spiced Apple Chutney.

Principally apples, onions and raisins, together with the (nearly) out-of-date dates and a huge pile of spices - coriander, paprika, mixed spice, more ginger and chilli flakes (as I didn't have enough of the other spices per the recipe). I'm glad I didn't put in the full spice quotient as it is quite hot enough as it is!

After bubbling away for hours on the Aga, then being bottled, this morning I am greeted with this:

Not only do have a delicious lunch to look forward to, but there's plenty of Spiced Apple Chutney presents coming this Christmas!

Now, to enter The Pink Whisk October Challenge I need to give you the recipes.
All I have learnt about making chutney is that you can be very fluid with your adherence to the recipe. Keep the basic proportions of 'dry' ingredients (why apples are referred to as dry I don't know!) to vinegar the same and any combination of fruit and spices can be made. For completeness:

Beetroot & Ginger Chutney 
A Nigella Lawson special!

500g/1lb 2oz fresh beetroot, peeled and finely chopped
1kg/2lb 2oz cooking apples, peeled, quartered, cored, roughly chopped
275g/10oz red onion, finely chopped
2.5cm/1in piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
75g/2.5oz crystallised stem ginger, finely chopped
350g/12oz soft light brown suger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground allspice
750ml/1pint 7fl oz red wine vinegar

The only change I made to this recipe was put some of the stem ginger syrup in as well as the vinegar.

Put all the ingredients into a large pan, in the order shown above. Stir to mix well.
Bring to the boil, then simmer for approximately an hour until beetroot pieces are tender, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking.
Spoon into sterilised jars, seal and cool.

Keep refrigerated and use within four weeks (if it will last that long!).

Spiced Apple Chutney (remember: I made 3x this recipe from the BBC website!)

225g/8oz onions, chopped
900g/2lb apples, cored and chopped
110g/4oz sultanas, raisins or chopped dates
340g/12oz granulated sugar

Spices were - to my mind - excessive in the website recipe. I probably added a total of 60g of coriander, paprika and mixed spice (mainly coriander), a generous tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of dried chilli flakes and an inch of freshly grated ginger. Divide that by three to be in proportion to the dry ingredients above!

425ml/3/4 pint malt vinegar.

Put all the ingredients in a big pan. Bring to the boil until the sugar has dissolved. Then let it simmer for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking to the pan.
When very thick, bottle into sterilised jars. Seal and cool.

It is recommended to leave it for 2-3 months before eating, ideally in a dark place.

Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Writing Wednesday
It took me a week, but eventually I opened the package that I knew to be my book In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree to review the edits. Letting a completely independent person read my writing is quite scary, particularly as she was to criticise and correct it.

Thankfully, it is not too bad. She has found spelling errors and typos. And she has made suggestions for re-phrasing, most of which make total sense. And she has pointed out inconsistencies, which require a lot more thinking about but need to be resolved. As it is a memoir of our time in Zambia I know exactly where I was and when, but I don't always write it down as clearly as it is in my mind!

So I bravely set to. One thing she noted was that I sometimes wrote 'ok', sometimes 'okay', and sometimes 'OK'. Apparently I should always do the latter.

'No problem!' I thought. 'Find and Replace!' Word has its merits.

Do you know how many words there are in my book with 'ok' in? Here they are:

  • look, looks, looking (I do an awful lot of this)
  • book (I read them)
  • cook, cooker (half a chapter on the need for a cooker)
  • guidebook, handbook (we travelled around)
  • joke, jokes, joking (we laugh)
  • woken, woke (I had two children under the age of 3...)
  • broke, broken (I had two children under the age of 3...)
  • brook (only one)
  • took (travel with things)
  • coke (diet or otherwise)
  • smoke, smoky (unrelated to the coke above)
  • shook (fear: have you got close to a crocodile?)
  • hook, hooks, Hook (Bridge)
  • bespoke (we needed furniture)

I might have been quicker reading the whole book again, particularly as I still have to go through it for all the other edits.

Still, I have gone through five chapters in detail ... only 34 to go. (Hasten to add: They are short chapters - this is not some epic tome that will exhaust you by looking at it!)

It loOKs as if my boOk will be OK - oh, darn that Find and Replace tool!
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