January 21, 2011 § 4 Comments
We have watched Mena Hill from our house ever since we arrived here. Wondered how big it was, always confused, sometimes looking huge and looming and other times small and meek. A trick of perceptions leaving us curious. We watched it through clear blue sky at dawn and dusty dusky hues in the evening. We watched it burn red and hot strips of flame, the crackling clearly audible through the still air.
We waited for a cool moment to climb.
One hazy afternoon we go with our friend AKK, leaving our front door and traipsing down the road with clouds of dust rising around our feet. We pick our way along a path leading us through Cassava plantations and past a slow stream with women beating their washing against the rocks. We start our ascent on crumbling slopes dotted with more Cassava and eventually through thick tall and heavy grass.
As we climb, AKK tells us of the name ‘Mena’, and how all landforms in Sierra Leone are named after spirits. “African mythology is filled with spirits, invisible beings with powers for good or evil… Many spirits are associated with physical features such as mountains, rivers, wells, trees, and springs.”(I find this information here later).
The definitions I have built around myself begin to crumble and I become beautifully aware of how the exact end of my body has no start or finish it just washes into the rest of the world. All the creatures and the whole universe and me, we are all the same.
I remember sadly the riches of Australia where everyone hoards their wealth behind their private locked doors.
My experience in Sierra Leone, if you have something you share it with someone who doesn’t. And when you have nothing, someone will give you what you need.
There lies the memory that we are one and the same.
It is the same lesson I learn in all developing countries I visit.
The conversation leaves my heart gentle. It is so simple to be kind.
We descend with the red round sun behind us, wild fires charging a distant ridge.
January 16, 2011 § 5 Comments
January 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
The markets in Makeni, shoulder to shoulder with hot crawling crowds carrying their buys and sales and indeed, their handbags, on their heads for convenient hands free shopping. The way is particularly slow, pedestrians congested in the narrow spaces between the stalls, every productive piece of bare earth used for displaying neatly balanced towers of onions and stacks of maggi cubes, portions of salt, plates of roasted peanuts, handfuls of chillies and piles of dried fish. However this is not really a market, it’s meant to be a road lined with stalls, but they inevitably spread to encompass the whole space. When a car wants to pass through, it noses itself into the crowds as women hurriedly gather their trade and punters squeeze against the sides of the street.
It is here one sunny day that I spy amongst the dry and smelly fish, a big beautiful deep green pumpkin. ‘Yes mam, yes mam’ says the soft and rounded lady sitting behind her display holding the pumpkin out to me on a seemingly particularly stretched out arm. Her body reaches heavily out over the fish towards me. She is guessing I will be stupid and white enough to pay her almost a dollar for this one so she won’t take any chances with me missing the cue. And she is right of course, I can’t resist. Soon it is heavy in my bag on my shoulder as I balance my new weight on the back of the Okada home, weaving through the cars and pedestrians. I am happy with my buys today, also tucked away in my bag, tiny bundles of individually wrapped dried thyme that I find with excitement amongst the maggi cubes and salt in the markets but just never recognised before.
What then? Well not traditional but predictable, pumpkin soup with spices brought gallantly all the way from Morocco, pumpkin fritters that leave me wanting to cry and finally, Pumpkin in a Skillet with Thyme, Lime and Chilli.
Recipe for Pumpkin in a Skillet with Thyme Lime and Chilli
This recipe makes for a lovely snack and is so simple. But lets not mistake lack of complexity for lack of tasty because it is the latter indeed. I can be grateful for that here where you are far from overwhelmed by an abundance of variety and reminded of how effective just a few ingredients can be.
You will need
About a quarter to half a pumpkin sliced roughly 5mm thick
Oil for frying
Thyme to taste
Chilli powder to taste
1 or 2 limes
1-2 fresh chillies, seeds removed and finely sliced
In a skillet or heavy based fry pan gently fry pumpkin over a medium heat until golden brown and crisp on the outside but soft in the middle.
Sprinkle immediately with thyme, salt and chilli powder and serve with a squeeze of lime and sprinkle of fresh chilli.
Eat straight away; it is best hot and still crisp.
January 5, 2011 § 2 Comments
Carried away by travelling stories as I am, I seem to have ignored the fact that this blog is meant to be mostly recipes and stories about food. So here I have put together a post on Salone cuisine as I have experienced it so far. I wouldn’t be able to say that it is completely traditional but it’s been an interesting exploration in itself.
The Krio word for food is simply ‘chop’. Most locals will agree that unless you have had rice with your chop you have not eaten. The second most common ingredient after rice would have to be cassava, of which both the white root and green leaf are used.
Theresa has been cooking for us 3 times a week. Usually spiced cassava leaf with dried fish and rice, or beans and cassava root all made with lashings of palm oil. As long as there’s not too much dried fish, I think I have started to like this standard local fare especially since my attempts to cook here on our small coal pot have left me often disheartened. My first three dishes – black-eyed peas that tasted like mothballs, watery pumpkin soup and soggy pumpkin fritters – well, I don’t really want to talk about it. Thankfully we have overcome the dilemma of melting plastic bags on the coal to get it lighted, like the locals do, by buying some kero to assist our attempts. Even though not as resourceful, at least it is not as toxic. But since then I have had some small successes, including fried spicy pumpkin, black-eyed bean stew and some rather nice cardamom pancakes with fried bananas wrapped inside. I tried to stop my mind from wandering to thoughts of buckwheat pancakes with home-made honey labna and stewed seasonal fruit with a hint of star anise, to no avail. It dawned on me that my taste buds have been too long spoilt with the luxuries of a well-stocked wholesome organic pantry and I’m reaching the point of no return. Even my shame for cringing at a perfectly nutritious meal in a country where the very basics of food cost a person almost their entire wage, are doing little to satisfy these damned taste buds.
However, I also have a confession to make, a favourite local chop of mine is far from wholesome and I have no idea about whether it is organic. It is a Shawama, which is BBQ beef cooked with chilli maggi powder on fulla bread with mayonnaise and I usually have it with a can of soft drink. Now for those of you who know me, wheat and beef are two things that rarely end up on my plate and prior to coming here I don’t think I had had a soft drink since I was in my teens and wouldn’t have enjoyed it if I had. I don’t know what is happening to me but perhaps my taste buds are getting a little less fussy after all. Although I think it is more a case of finding comfort in things that are familiar, I am an Australian after all.
I didn’t want to leave you with an unsavory taste, so here is a very photogenic coconut eaten fresh from the tree.
I promise recipes very soon.