Duck in Orange

I have just woken up on day 5 of 9 (if you count weekends) of a week off work that I’m sharing with Charlotte. Sometimes, between her being a rugby-playing-therapist and me being a two-jobs-Joe, we’re a bit like ships in the night and don’t really get much time together. So this week is all about doing nothing, together!… Or, almost nothing!..

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Marinated Grilled Aubergines

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I’m not normally one to be publically mushy, but here it is.

 Almost one short year ago, I had quite honestly the best date of my life. All I did that evening with Charlotte was laugh and laugh until my face hurt! I have continued to laugh with her since, and have no plans to stop.

That fateful night we also spontaneously enjoyed a selection of tapas and a friendly serving of wine. What better way to celebrate a happy year, this Thursday, than with the same such delights!

 At Charlotte’s suggestion, we will be preparing a number of tapas to share, but one had to be prepared a little early. Grilled Marinated Aubergines! A delicious snack and something I’ve always wanted to try my hand to. What a great excuse!

 I’ve left it just a little later than I had intended- but then time really has shot by me this year. But, with two days to go I’d say I’m right in the nick of time! Here’s what I used…

Ingredients

  • 1 Aubergine
  • 6 teaspoons of dried oregano
  • A big pinch of salt
  • A few sprankles of crushed black pepper, plus about a teaspoon more
  • A sprinkle of chilli flakes
  • A sprinkle of Garlic Powder
  • A sprinkle of Onion Salt
  • 1 Fresh Red Chilli
  • Half a bulb of Garlic
  • Sprig of Thyme
  • About 500ml of Olive Oil

 

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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!

Leaving Mwandi

12 June 2015

Two weeks have shot by, and the time has come to leave the wonderful village of Mwandi.

Since Will and Becca arrived, we’ve been at a new stage on the house building- throwing!

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So we can get the walls of the house from this:

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To this:

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So, that’s what I did up until yesterday, but  I used the today to get my bags backed ready to head off to Botswana tomorrow!

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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!

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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If you think an inability to use the internet is a good enough excuse not to read my blog, you can think again.

 Yesterday I visited my Grandma at her home to give her a book I had made for her.

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It’s a collection of all the posts on the blog over 2014!

Now, obviously I didn’t give it to her for the recipes, she requires no help there! But I’m going to miss her dearly while I’m away, and I simply wanted to share my own memories with her, and give her the opportunity to reminisce on the memories we made together, as I like to do from time to time.

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She just loved it! She said she’s going to ration it while I’m gone and then reading it will make it feel as though I’m still there 🙂

We agreed it’s to become an annual gift 😉

She must have been pleased, because after that she treated my Grandad and I to a steak dinner!

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corrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Another great evening with two people I love very much.

The Cookie Decoration Station

Friday/Saturday just gone, I shared an early Christmas with Diana before she jetted off back to Spain on Sunday to celebrate Christmas and The Three Kings with her family. We indulged in Asti, Festive Sausage Rolls and exchanged presents by the tree.

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Among a number of kind and thoughtful gifts, I received a new set of Christmas themed cookie cutters! As you can imagine, as soon as I returned home, I couldn’t resist getting another few batches on! So, I did my traditional vanilla for some candy cane shapes, then swapped the vanilla for 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and a teaspoon of nutmeg for bells and stars! Soon the whole house smelt of Christmas as, from what I’ve been taught, so it should; my Grandma tells me “nutmeg just IS Christmas”, while my mother tells me with identical enthusiasm and intonation “cinnamon just IS Christmas”! To my amusement, these conversations took place on completely separate occasions, and so now cinnamon and nutmeg, to me, just are Christmas!

These batches were ready just a few hours before my sister was due to arrive at the family home for the holidays. And what better way to welcome her home for Christmas than the Cookie Decoration Station!

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We let our festive artistic sides EXPLODE through the delights of buttercream icing, edible glitter and decorative candies! And you know? I think we did a pretty good job!

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They’re joyful and triumphant!