Strawberry Rum Cheesecake

Well, it certainly has been a long time since posting though not for the lack of cooking, eating and making memories but more for the uncontrollable business of life!

Since last writing, I am so excited to announce that the fresh start on life I’ve been aiming for these last two years has finally arrived! I have now left the home of my lovely parents and moved into a little place of my own- and, if I may say so, it’s lovely!

I’ve already gone cooking crazy since living here! I’ve indulged in old favourites such as Thai Red Curry and Chicken Pathia, naturally had Josh and Stephen to visit for Wholegrain Maple Gammon, and on my first weekend here I had my parents to dinner to show my gratitude for everything they have done to support me, where we had a starter of Mojo Chicken, a main course of Beef Bourgignon and a dessert of Retox Pie.

But all those recipes are to follow soon! Last, I had my cousins Sarah and Samantha to stay and we indulged in a simple favourite- Chicken Fajitas! Sarah’s birthday passed recently on 31st May so I thought it would be nice to treat her to a favourite for dessert. Having exposed her more than once as a psychotic cheesecake thief, a strawberry cheesecake seemed the only option! And then there was this bottle of rum just lying around…

AND SO STRAWBERRY RUM CHEESE CAKE WAS BORN!!

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Zambia

Having been in the unusual but fortunate position to spend my first few weeks in Zambia completely alone, it gave me the advantage to appreciate where I’ve been staying on a more close-up level.

The village of Mwandi, I can’t emphasise enough, is absolutely wonderful. Though struck with poverty, HIV, Malaria complications and lacking in opportunity, I have never known anywhere to be so friendly, at peace and equal minded. Whether you were male or female, black or white, you were always addressed as an equal, which is still something we don’t see in many parts of the West. No one is condescended to- if elderly can work, they will work. If children can cook, they will cook. It’s a different world because of a degree of desperation there- the elderly need to work, the children have to cook. But, it’s one that has given way to so much positivity, that it’s impossible not to be in admiration.

The Homes for AIDs Orphans charity, for whom I’ve been working the last few weeks, is a fascinating project. It’s a totally grass-roots-started-out-with-nothing charity, and has grown and become more successful through small donations and gaining the trust of the locals- particularly the Village Chief who has granted them land from which to work, and publically commended their work. It does not end at building houses, but also now expands into childcare, support in the hospitals, and helping at the Elderly Care Home. They reach so many lives here in spite of being such a small team with so few resources. Even at camp, the living is basic but still very enjoyable. If you would be interested in working with them, and I very much recommend you do if only for a short while, then please visit their website on www.homes4aidsorphans.com

Homosexuality is a crime in Zambia, and after careful thought I made the decision long before I’d even arrived to stay in the closet for this experience. In spite of being an advocate for gay rights and equality, I needed to accept that this is a culture far from my own and my mission here is to help and learn about them, so that’s exactly what I did. However, I must say, there are times when it was difficult. I first came out when I was 17 and since then have treated my sexuality exactly as though it were any other- with comfort and acceptance. By this I mean, in simple chit-chat when someone might talk about their ex-girlfriend or ideal husband or what have you, I will join the conversation with the same contribution. This obviously was not something I could do in Mwandi, and I quickly started to feel antisocial. Conversations with me would effectively consist of me asking question after question after question about them, without contributing anything of my own. Eventually, the conversation would fall flat and I would strive to change the subject to something else. It felt somewhat frustrating! My agenda is not to push my political views, but simply to have conversations without feeling a need to be secretive and even something as simple as this was out of my grasp! Returning to a world of secrecy I haven’t known since I was a teenager reminded me of how lucky I am to live in a country that supports my right not only to marry, have children, work, but also the basic right to live a free and simple life where talking alone doesn’t feel like a risk! I loved Zambia, and I would go back but… This is the only thing that I would change about it, and it’s a very big thing.

This amount of time alone and this jarring appreciation of my rights back in the UK also gave me some time to consider important changes I would still like to see happen. On paper, our equality is golden, but socially there are still some changes I’d like to see, namely this tiring use of the word “gay” to describe something you consider in some way to be inferior. This isn’t, as people so frequently mistake, a ‘Straight People Vs. Gay People’ thing, as plenty of either seem to say it through either innocence or ignorance, or maybe an attempt to fit in or not rock the boat… Whatever the reason, it’s sending the message that it’s ok. Some come forward with the idea that language is ever evolving “you know, the word ‘gay’ actually used to mean ‘happy’”, but everyone recognises that this isn’t an evolution, this is using a word knowing it’s meaning in an effort to be comical or lighten the mood when you’re showing dislike. It’s not ok, and it is damaging. Someday, I hope to have children and when I do I don’t want their friends or themselves to have confused the meaning of this word. I remember, many years ago, I was helping at an after school club and a six-year-old girl pointed at a picture in a book and said “that’s gay!”
“What does gay mean?” another child asked her. “It means bad”, she explained. It’s not her fault for thinking that, she’s at an age where she’s learning the meaning of a word from the context in which she hears it being used. I’m proud and excited by the steps in equality this country and many others have taken in the last decade, but I’m concerned by the idea that children might learn the meaning of the word ‘gay’ to be ‘bad’. It might just send us backwards if my child’s friends confuse his or her Mum’s to be ‘bad’. I hope other adults, parents and future parents start to be more considerate to this soon, but just in case here’s a little chart that can help:

That’s a bit gay = That’s a bit lame

Ah, gay! = Ah, gross!

I don’t mean to sound gay, but… = I don’t mean to sound soft, but…

And so on…

It was also addressed to me by another UK volunteer at one point (and, again, let’s remember I was not out at this time) that it’s cruel for Gays to have children. Not because they believe there should be a male or a female, they explained, they believe children grow up healthily in a conventional or unconventional family so long as there is love. But because of bullies. “My kids would for sure bully the kids of gays, because that’s exactly what I would do”, he explained matter-of-factly. So, socially, it’s not just the “that’s so gay” lark that still needs to be fixed, but a general feeling and teaching of superiority that still comes from some communities here. Once you recognise another as your equal, then neither of you need to fear judgement. And isn’t that a nice idea?

As for the nearby town of Livingstone, this is an interesting place. Another you recognise as a place of poverty, but so much more developed than Mwandi it’s hard to believe they’re only two hours drive apart! Plenty of restaurants, shops, bakeries, and even a few ATMs! It’s worth a visit, though I must admit I think I’d be bored of it after a weekend. But the Victoria Falls are a must see! They took my breath away! They’re just… EXTRAORDINARY! And for everyone, locals and otherwise, to tell me the awe is more so from the Zimbabwe side… Well, needless to say, Zimbabwe has shot straight to the top of my list.

But, to conclude with the point I opened with, I truly loved Mwandi. I made some very special friends there, and felt so safe and welcomed into that community. I hope to have the pleasure of visiting and working alongside Paula, Dan and Matt again one day. And you should too!

What’s In a Name?

17 May 2015

Last week, a couple of new volunteers came along to Kwantu all the way from Ontario, Canada; Erin and Amanda Maitland. Once we discovered each other’s full names, we were both stunned and excited. Neither of the three of us had met another unrelated Maitland before! We reached the only obvious conclusion: We must, in some way or another, most definitely be related. After all, I do have some relatives in Ontario, and they do have some kind of distant Irish heritage, and how else do you explain such an usual name as Maitland cropping up in the middle of Africa!

There was only one way to celebrate, of course; Dinner at Cubata!

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Spicy Rhododendron Chutney

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After learning of an edible flower indigenous to the Himachal region of India that blooms only from January to March, I couldn’t resist taking a bag-load back to my Palampur hostel, and trying my luck at being shown a local spicy chutney recipe made from this flower. This suggestion was welcomed with great enthusiasm, all the team were very excited that their dinner would have the special chutney alongside it, and were keen to show me the ropes!

This is not something that can be bought in shops anywhere, not even hear. It is made in Himachal homes and no where else, so I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity, not only to try it, but also to make it! Here’s how it’s done…

Ingredients

  • A good bunch of Rhododendron flowers
  • 4 cloves of raw garlic, peeled
  • 4 raw green chilllis
  • A pinch and a bit of fresh corriander
  • A teaspoon of chilli powder
  • Half a teaspoon of salt
  • One  lemon
  • A tablespoon of water

Go eat flowers.

1. Remove the petals from the flowers and place them to one side

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2. Place the coriander and chillis into a blender and blitz into a paste

3.. Add the garlic and chilli powder. Blitz.

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4.. Add the flowers, salt and water. Blitz.

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5.. Finally the juice of one lemon. Blitz.

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Mmmmm

 This was really delicious. I’ve never tasted anything even remotely like it, which is exciting as I can’t remember the last time a flavour felt this new to me, but also gutting as it was so tasty but replicating it will never be possible! I’ve thought and thought, and the closest thing I can put the flavour of these petals to is a combination of grapefruit and plumb, but richer and not as sharp. Combine that with a chilli kick and a garlicky cuddle, and you have a taste sensation! IF you are ever in the Himacha region of India over January/March, you must force the opportunity to try this spicy chutney! It’s zinglicious!

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With due thanks to Sunil in Palampur, for showing me how it’s done and making my taste buds so very very happy!

The Taj Mahal

11 March 2015

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Yesterday, we visited the extraordinary Taj Mahal in Agra, which overlooks the River Ganjes is quite honestly even more beautiful in person than I could have imagined! Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a loving gesture for his wife who sadly died when giving birth before construction was completed, it now houses their tomb.

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To consider this was all done by hand is really hard to get your head around! It’s absolutely flawless, with perfect symmetry everywhere you look!

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Had to be done.

 We’re now heading back up to Delhi where we’ll be catching the overnight train 9 hours all the way up to Palampur, and have stopped for lunch on the way where I found this

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Uttapam!

Just like my sister and I had together in the Thali Dahl in Bristol just before I left!

It was delicious! I just wish she had been here to enjoy it with me.

I also managed to find somewhere to stop and get some post out!

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Keep an eye on your doormat!

SUCCESS!!

VISA

Finally, after much patience and confusion, my India Tourist Visa has arrived!

Following on from my last post about this, let’s re-cap with a quick how-to (and some corrections!) on how to apply for an India Tourist Visa for UK Based Applicants.

How I Obtained an India Tourist Visa

1. I completed my application on the India Visa Online website.
2. Upon submitting my application, I also paid for my visa online (£93.60) and made an appointment to go to the London based embassy to complete my application. Upon making my appointment, the webpage changed to an appointment confirmation page, which I printed and kept and good thing I did because it was required later on! An alternative option is to post a copy of your application along with two 2×2 photos and your passport to the embassy and pay for Special Delivery for it to be returned to you. I have a couple of friends who have gone through this process at the Birmingham based embassy and told me that by going in person you can collect your visa the very next day. This turn out not to be the case for me, but it’s what I opted for anyway! So I made my appointment for 11:00 Thursday 29th January.
3. I also paid a couple of quid extra to receive text message updates on the process of my application, but this turned out to be a completely pointless thing to do, as I’ll explain shortly.
4. Next, I sorted out my photo. The passport photo machine had a specific option for “India Visa” which cost £7.
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Gorgeous.

5. To my horror, I received no confirmation of any kind from the embassy that my application had been received, or an itinerary list for my appointment. So I used good old common sense and packed
Confirmation of my appointment
Itinerary of flights
Proof of where I’ll be staying
Proof of address
Several copies of my application
My passport
Two 2×2 photos
Confirmation that I had paid for my visa

I was told by one of the aforementioned friends who had done this that this what a good list, but more might be needed! I was also advised to take copies of my birth certificate, my parent’s birth certificates, my parent’s passports and my parent’s marriage certification!! Basically, legal confirmation of anything that is mentioned on the application!
I was also advised, in spite of having an appointment, to arrive at the embassy early as possible as queues are normally out the door…

6. So, come Thursday 29th January, I arrived at the London based India Visa Application Centre bright and early at 9:00 only to see no queues and no panic what-so-ever. So, I enjoyed a nice relaxed breakfast at Costa Coffee nearby, and returned at 10:30
7. I was greeted by a very friendly individual, who seemed to welcome the excitement that was suddenly bubbling over from me (you’d think it was the day of my flight for all the giddiness). I was asked if I had an appointment, and when I confirmed I do, was asked to produced the confirmation. Pow. I did.
8. I was given a waiting number (shown in the picture above) and directed to the glue stick and scissor area, where I completed my application by sticking my grumpy face down securely.
9. After about 10 minutes of waiting, my ticket number was called. I was asked for my application and passport. When I asked if I will be returning the following day to collect my visa, I was told with a polite smile that this would not be the case and that it will be ready for me to collect the following week. So, I opted for it to be posted to me instead, which cost my about £10 for Special Delivery. So to review, the only documents I needed in the end were my passport, and my application. But I still think it’s better to be extra prepared!
10. Less than a week later my visa arrived, and was followed a couple of day later by a series of text message telling my the process of my application… So I wouldn’t bother with this feature in hindsight.

And that’s how it’s done! So that sees me more or less ready to go, with just 11 days left on the count down!

Following all that visa fun in London, I then drove west to Bristol for a Sister Weekend!

As I’m yet to visit India, I’ve never experienced authentic Indian cooking. But it’s said that if you want to find this in the UK, there’s only one place to go…

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And that’s exactly where my darling sister took me.

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General Tso’s Chicken

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Last month was my Mum’s birthday, and I had planned to do a special meal for her of General Tso’s chicken, but the plan changed after she was lovingly whisked off to London for the weekend by my Dad. I kept quiet on it, vowing to do it for her as a late birthday treat before leaving in February.

The other night she text to tell me she had left a couple of chicken breast quarters out to defrost, which I was to cook for the two of us however I saw fit. Finally, the opportunity to serve up General Tso’s Chicken has arrived!

This was a dish I had never attempted to make before, but after checking out a number of different recipes on the internet I was determined to get it right! My sister and I were quite privileged in our youth to be treated to a number of family holidays to Florida. At some point during the holiday, with out fail, our mum would enjoy a big tasty portion of General Tso’s, be it ordered in or at the food court in the mall! It’s an unheard of dish in England, which means it’s been quite a few years since she had it!

Until now…

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Happy Birthday, Me!

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I have just finished a week of celebrating my 25th birthday, and am justifiably exhausted!

It all began last weekend with my family. I made a rather cheeky request this year that my father cook a 3 course meal for all the family! This wasn’t just so my mum could have a break so soon after Christmas, but also to give my Dad a chance to do what the rest of us indulge in so frequently… Showing off!

First, there was a simply spectacular starter! The stuffed pepper re-awakened!!!

Pepper Trio

Cod fillet, chorizo, lemon zest, tomato pesto and toasted pine nuts, all baked to perfection inside a sweet red pepper! My mum actually helped him out in the invention of this beauty… I’d say it’s the third best thing they’ve created as husband and wife!

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Successfully (and rapidly) polished off.

This was followed some time later by a devilishly delicious dessert…

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A classic of my mother’s- Pear poached in port and spiced with vanilla and cinnamon, served with clotted cream

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Ooooohh…

But what I really want to talk about is the main course. The truly irresistable

Daddy Duck

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