Malawian garlic is small. Very small. When a recipe calls for one clove of garlic, I use four. Chop off the small end, and carefully peel back shell to reveal tender, pungent flesh. Until two months ago, I was helpless in the kitchen. Kitchen wisdom from my resourceful mother, and tips from my creative-in-the-kitchen sister-in-law, and I took toddler steps towards finding my feet.
When Ryan and I first married, we feasted on stir-fried cabbage and rice, alternating with tacos (tortillas and beans made by the incredible Anthony.) Previously avoiding the high cost of meat, I eventually succumbed to it’s tantalizing world of flavor when I realized that one – we were hungry, and two – my husband loves meat.
Moving to Malawi was like moving to Africa all over again. Instead of the convenience of Nairobi’s Nakumatt, I had to relearn to cook even the few things that I had mastered. Beans from scratch, tortillas rolled by hand, yogurt incubated with milk fresh from the cow and chicken plucked to find the flesh – well, I skipped this step, and bought frozen birds, dressed for the boiling pot. Still – I had never boiled a chicken before.
After finishing off freezer meals my mom had prepared for us to eat postpartum, my tastebuds learned to appreciate more than salt, pepper and taco seasoning… and has has continued learning since. As my days are filled with sweet infant laughter intermixed with sounds to alert me to my little’s every need, time for creative writing and reflection has all but disappeared. Sure, I could make time in those thirty minute naps that have become normal three times a day, but they are brief, and lack the space to create.
And then, peeling back the dried skin of garlic clove, I realize that this is creation. This time, the two hours before our evening meal, has become my time to create. To mix herbs from our garden, with vegetables not yet explored. Mustard or rape greens anyone?
My staples have been recently cut out of our diet as we explore leaving the foundation of our starches and exploring complex carbohydrates with complete proteins, all within the realm of a limited budget.
And the creativity forges onward, I read recipes and modify to what I have available.
Dinner will always take over an hour to prepare these days, even with the help of my new friend, Luti. But rather than drudgery, this work has become my outlet. My space to create. To worship, in using the gift of creativity to create something new, as my Creator does.
“God as Creator delights to look on the creation with deep understanding, knowledge and love. To the degree that we cook from scratch and understand the ingredients we’re working with and the dynamics of their interaction with each other and with heat, we celebrate the riches of God’s creation and exercise our divinely crafted faculties for beauty and creativity.”
It is easy to be connected to where our food comes from, when we buy it from the woman that spent hours tilling land, watering and harvesting for us to consume this nutrient rich food.
A Malawian friend recently told me that the garlic is so small because of the heat – it needs cooler weather to grow large, which is why garlic imported from South Africa provides a giant clove in comparison to what we use. Each vegetable here must be used in season – because once the season is gone, they disappear from palate’s nation wide.
And so I begin to learn the rhythm of nature’s forces, and for the first time, learn to look at the weather as more than a topic for small-talk. Rather than confine me to the kitchen in the stereo-typed female role, this experience connects me to the women I interact with. This space to create something that will nourish my growing family, as we continue to learn and grow in our new nation home.
And, it took this experience of creating to find space to venture back into my first creative love: writing