Mud huts and traditional dances.

 

The dance was authentic but cooking in the Malawi village https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOu3AYr5eZA&feature=youtu.be was rather a cheat: instead of basic pots over a fire on the ground, we used a sort of field kitchen.  But I did manage to pound cassava leaves in the long-handled pestle and mortar.

Our hosts from the Latitude 13 hotel in Lilongwe www.latitudehotels.com.

had contacts in this simple rural village.  Hotel Manager, Mehul, Head Chef, Cephus,  and his sous chef, Mphatso,  made all the arrangements from the kitchen equipment and transport to the ingredients and treats for the children.  As we left, the hotel team were planning future support to make those village lives a little easier.

The houses were simple round structures: built with hand-made mud bricks and roughly rendered.  They have to be careful to avoid the carcinogens when firing the bricks over open fires.  The basic thatched rooves were perhaps cooler in the hot climate and easy to create from the local vegetation but had waterproof  liners for rainy days.  Even the communal latrine hut was immaculate.   If you spend most of the time outside, just basic airy and cool indoor sleeping spaces are probably enough.

It was the structured village culture that was so impressive.  In a place without electricity or running water, everything and everyone was neat, tidy, clean and orderly.  Everyone had turned out to watch this strange blind woman attempt their recipes.

The women and youngest children sat chatting and laughing on their own large straw mat while, alongside, the older children sat on theirs – politely patient with the proceedings.  The few chairs were set out in the shade for the elder men  as befitting their age and status.  Only the adolescent young men ranged around the edges: understandably bemused,  rather bored and dismissive of the whole spectacle.

The subsequent village dance was more to their taste.  We trundled over the rough terrain for a mile or so to a large clear space where many of the local people had gathered to celebrate their chieftain.  There were wildly exotic costumes and masks, much foot-stomping to the sound of cheers and singing.  They were all having a wonderful time   and I was the one sitting on a throne-like bench  taking in every bit of the fun.

It was all rather humbling to have been given such a very warm welcome and been admitted in to the lives of all these people.  I came away with considerable respect for and better insight in to a way of life that was so different in many ways but also so familiar in others.

 

 

Head Chef’s top dish at Lilongwe’s best hotel

Cephus showed me his best-selling dish of prawn risotto   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_-_m3xDeqU&feature=youtu.be

at the magnificent Latitude 13 hotel in the capital of Malawi www.latitudehotels.com.

We were cooking under a huge tree alongside a swimming pool of excited children.

Fish from Lake Malawi is very popular everywhere in the country but, being otherwise land-locked, seafood such as prawns have to be imported from the African coast.

It was a great dish but, even better, was Cephus’s insight into the progress that is underway in Malawi, rightly called the “Warm heart of Africa”.

Communications are improving with the internet and mobile phones.  Construction of new roads and buildings are playing their part in increasing business and the economy of the country.  Life for everyone is easier and getting better – people are happier.

Blind people are benefiting too with Government support: learning to read and write; knitting clothes and moving towards work.

With sous chef Emily producing the de-veined prawns, our delicious dish reached its sumptuous conclusion with the final drizzle of garlic and butter.  Perfection in the warm sun alongside the fun in the pool.

 

Laboratory or Kitchen?

Potassium permanganate reminds me more of chemistry than domestic science lessons.  But Head Chef, Cephus, taught me how to make salad safe in a very hot climate. https://youtu.be/ySvfk61wL4E

I was at the wonderfully eclectic and renowned Latitude 13 Hotel www.latitudehotels.com in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, in Africa: cooking under the shade of a huge tree beside children joyously romping in the swimming pool.  It was part of my prize-winning tour: cooking across six continents.

We were making a haloumi salad but first needed to ensure that the lettuce was bacteria-free.  Even when food is locally grown, if there isn’t enough refrigeration between the farm and hotel kitchen, the heat can create a breeding ground for bugs.  Consequently, our first step was to dissolve the potassium permanganate in water to create a purplish bath in which to soak the lettuce to kill off any bacteria.  Once rinsed, there’s no difference in taste but a much safer salad.

Cephus is a great advocate for local farmers and food producers.  He had devised his own version of polenta using “sema”: the traditional maize flour porridge-style dish that features at nearly every Malawian meal.  For this cooking session, he was using local haloumi which he fried to give a crispy coat to the cheese.   He added more texture with homemade vegetable crisps: beetroot, carrot and butternut squash.  The whole dish was topped with a magnificent cooked dressing using the pulp of passion fruit (or granadillas as they are known locally).

Salad sounds simple but this was far more sophisticated.

 

Baking Blind in Africa.

Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, is my last stop on this year’s Baking Blind trip (Hello Lilongwe).  I’ll be flying from Melbourne in Australia via a one day stop-over in Perth to cook with another former WRNS colleague, Lynda.  Then back in the air to Johannesburg in South Africa before reaching Malawi.

Again, I was in South Africa years ago for yet another World Blind Union conference in Cape Town.  I have some wonderful ceramics and glassware from that trip so I am looking forward to exploring the arts and crafts of Malawi.

Visiting another African country is going to be a fantastic new opportunity and experience.  I’m being hosted by the Latitude 13 hotel  where their head chef is already planning a menu of dishes to teach me.  And there will be several chances to cook with local people including those with visual impairments.  Perhaps most important of the whole trip will be the group of people with albinism (which can also affect their sight) who face many other challenges too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My impression is that many people in rural Malawi largely grow their own food.  After the last few weeks of more complicated cooking, it will be really good to get back to the basics of fresh home-grown produce.    Here, in the UK, we seem to have lost our connection with the soil and are struggling to re-capture the ethos of farm-to-table rather than flying in industrially-produced food.  There is much to learn from the approach in Malawi and the recipes will be on www.bakingblind.com

Meanwhile, Peter, who helps with my garden, has been telling me about Lake Malawi: apparently originally sea water and the home to the Malawi cichlids.  He’s been keeping tropical fish for years and these are amongst the most collectable.  They are “mouth-brooders” so the females, and sometimes the males, gather up the fertilised eggs in their mouths where they develop in a pouch near their “chin”.  When the baby fish are ready to hatch, they are blown back in to the water – but they can swim back in to the pouch if a predator is detected.  The adult fish can protect perhaps 200 babies in this way.

After Lilongwe, I’ll be back in the UK for Christmas, editing masses of videos with videographer Toby so that we can show you more of our trip.  But my time as one of the Holman prize-winners doesn’t end there: there will be more cooking in Hampshire and Europe in the new year which concludes in the autumn with a presentation to the prize organisers, San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  You’ll be able to see all of this on my YouTube channel.

 

Penny