Tag Archives | cooking

the things they carried (with thanks to Tim O’Brien)

Tim O’Brien has a fantastic book called The Things They Carried, about the talismanic objects that Viet Nam soldiers carried in their rucksacks.  We all carry things with us – things to remind us of the people we love, things to ward off danger, things to bring luck (and things to keep the baby quiet in Tar-jay, to amuse the restless fourth grader in the backseat, to bribe the recalcitrant pre-teen).

Expats carry things with them too, as they migrate from this “home” to whatever other country they call “home.” The journey isn’t as perilous as the journey confronting combat soldiers (although the customs line at JFK would terrify even the most hardened combat veteran), but still, we travel, cross-pollinating the flavors and comforts of our various homes as we go.

In no particular order, here’s what we carried back from the States this summer (not counting: new sneakers, Kiehl’s shampoos, several sets of ridiculously high thread-count sheets ridiculously on sale at Bed Bath & Beyond, and several vibrating souvenirs from BlogHer12).

Ortega Taco Spice Packets, because really, nothing gives that genuine Mexican taste like mixing orange-MSG-laced powder with ground beef (or as they call it here, Australian beef mince). Ole!

Maple syrup.  Maple trees aren’t precisely indigenous to the region, so syrup costs a fortune. Luckily, that ol’Canuck Trader Joe has big plastic jugs of the stuff, which here would cost 20, 30, 40 dollars.

Trader Joe’s Multi-Grain Pancake Mix. Actually, if I could, I would have packed most of TJ’s into my suitcase. But this pancake mix? Fantastic. Plus if you sprinkle an extra spoonful (or 2) of ground flaxseed into the batter and then put chocolate chips into the pancakes, your kids will never know.

Pepperoni. Greasy, salty, porky pepperoni. Well-laced with stabilizers, preservatives, and poly-syllabic words. We live in a country that has a vexed relation to pork, so finding real pepperoni is a tricky proposition.  “Turkey pepperoni,” which I see in some of the stores here just ain’t gonna cut it.  God never wanted turkeys to be pepperoni.

Real vanilla extract. Yes, it’s entirely possible I could make my own. No, I probably won’t ever do that. And no, you can’t buy it here easily because real vanilla extract is made with alcohol.  So c’mon over – we’re serving vanilla shots chez moi tonight!

Gross sugary toothpaste with Spongebob on the package, which is all that Caleb uses to brush his teeth. I don’t even know what the hell flavor this goo is supposed to be, but as of yet, Caleb has not graduated into minty-toothpaste age.  When he discovers in himself the need for winterfresh breath, I’ll know that he’s really moving out of childhood.

Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa packets. Why my children prefer this stuff, with the hard flecks of marshmallow to the Cadbury hot cocoa that’s sold here, I have no idea. But the Swiss Missy is nowhere to be found, so into the suitcase she went.

Gluten for my friend Shannon because she’s just like that: others want gluten free but she goes the other direction: adds gluten to her bread dough and swears the bread tastes better. She said something about making me some bread in payment for toting these bags along …

I wanted to buy a waffle iron and bring it back, but Husband said something about voltage and short-circuits and plugs and over-the-weight-limit (the suitcases, not me), so I didn’t. But here’s a thing to contemplate: nowhere in this city, with all its electronics stores, hypermarkets, and upscale boutiques, can I find something as ordinary as a waffle iron. Is there some kind of waffle-fatwa that I don’t know about?

Our suitcases bulged, it’s true, but when we sat down to breakfast one morning with our pancakes and real maple syrup, while we looked out the window at the sun on the Arabian Gulf, it all seemed worth it: we had brought a bit of one home to the other.

Now I just have to figure out this waffle-fatwa. After all, I’ve got syrup.

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on September 20, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, food, NYC, Travel, UAE

Abu Dhabi Tex-Mex: the secret of Maria’s kitchen

When we first moved to Abu Dhabi, I binged on Middle Eastern food: humus, moutabel, babaghanoush, tabouleh, chicken shwarma.  Yum.  And when I could no longer look a chickpea in the face, there were other foods to choose from…but I couldn’t find good Mexican food in a restaurant, and in the grocery stores, all I could find were the Old El Paso taco “kits,” replete with stale corn tortillas and “taco mix” made with an ocean’s worth of salt.

Then someone who lives in Abu Dhabi read my blog (imagine! an actual reader who isn’t my mother or my sister!) mentioned Maria to me, and then a friend in my building mentioned Maria, and then someone else mentioned “Maria…” They sounded like maybe they’d found the Grail—a Grail made of masa, chipotle, and black beans.

Maria doesn’t have a website or a restaurant or even one of those New York-style high-end food trucks.  She’s more like having a friend who also happens to be a fabulous chef. To order from Mari, someone has to give you her email address, then she sends you a menu, you  put in your order, and then once a week, you go collect your delicious, home-made Tex-Mex meals.

Maria’s salsa makes even rice cakes taste good

When I went to pick up my order, I had a moment of cultural confusion: sitting at a low table was a dimpled woman wearing bright-red lipstick and wearing full hijab: black abaya, black sheyla. She was checking orders and handling the money while three teen-age boys in dishdashes gathered each customer’s cartons and containers.  The food smelled delicious—but how on earth had an Arab woman learned to cook really authentic Mexican food? Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on January 27, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, expat, food, NYC, Travel

Piece of Cake…

I like to cook but I’m a crappy baker. Baking is science: I got a D in first-year bio in college.  Precision (which baking requires) is just not my thing.

But today is Caleb’s birthday; I don’t know how or where to find a store-bought cake in Abu Dhabi and his instructions (chocolate in the middle, vanilla on the outside, marshmallows on the top) would’ve defied my procuring abilities even in more familiar territory.

So. I baked. In an electric oven with spanking new cake pans from Marks & Spencer. Cake pans, I’ll have you know, that promised to be NON STICK.

This morning there was much mixing and stirring and breaking of eggs and then the apartment filled with the lovely scent of…cake. Easy-peasy, who knew, maybe I am a baker at heart.

Um…no. Cake pan number one, after waiting the requisite 10 minutes before inverting cake onto a plate:

Dammit! Chunks of cake stuck to the bottom of the non-stick pan.  Okay, though, because we still have cake pan number 2:

goddamnmotherfuckingshit.

(This is why I should never bake with children in the room).

Here is the bottom of my non-stick baking pan:

Non-stick my fat ass.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, although really the saying should be mothers are the inventors of necessity.

I wadded those pan-stuck pieces of cake into the cake bits that had made it onto the plate and hoped that in a few hours the whole thing would congeal into some more vaguely cake-shaped form.  Then I whipped up a rather marvelous frosting, if I do say so myself (amazing what 1 full cup of butter and 3 cups of confectioners’ sugar will do), and big brother executed the marshmallow/chocolate design on top, as per the birthday boy’s instructions.

Et voila!

And that’s when I realized it:

Slide enough frosting on something and you can hide any multitude of sins: Frosting, basically, is the Spanx of baking.

Continue Reading · on August 24, 2011 in Children, Feminism, food

Gabrielle Hamilton’s Memoir of Food and Family

Click on this link to go over to Blogcritics and read my review of Hamilton’s brilliant memoir. Then click over to Amazon and get yourself her book…it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. Then probably you should go to her restaurant and order yourself a drink and her version of egg-on-a-roll.  Sit at the bar, soak in the atmosphere.  I’ll meet you there.

 

Continue Reading · on May 13, 2011 in Books

In a word: hats

Today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday. It’s also Lou Reed’s birthday. And, for that matter, Tom Wolfe’s birthday. (Thanks, Grace, for that last).  Somehow these guys all go together, don’t they? Word play, refusing to play by the rules, the dapper ensembles and occasional cross-dressing (at least in Lou’s youth).

I was thinking about Dr Seuss yesterday, actually, when I confronted my “to do” list for the day: bathroom cleaning, grocery shopping, dinner pondering.  Writing a blog post, working on my novel. Student papers read, lecture notes prepared. Emails about various volunteer projects at both boys’ schools. Yoga class.

When I type it out now, it doesn’t seem like that bad a list, right? But of course any of these things could conceivably take up the entire day, more or less–when “entire day” ends at 2:40, when boy #1 has to get picked up from school.

A long time ago, in the early childhood of this blog, I wrote a post about twinned patron saints of parenthood: Sisyphus and Wile E. Coyote.  When I look at my list from yesterday, what comes to mind is Bartholomew Cubbins and his five hundred hats.  Remember that story? How he was supposed to take his hat off in front of the king but every time he took off a hat, there was another one underneath?  That’s how I felt yesterday: wear the chef hat doing the shopping; then slap on the writer hat for a while and try to regain the momentum from last Tuesday; then toss the writer’s hat aside to put on the volunteer hat and figure out the auction project, the field trip chaperones, the yearbook; flip that hat across the room and put on the scullery maid hat to swab down the bathtub, the toilets, and the sinks, which are sort of en croute with toothpaste. (Is it wrong that I aspire to having someone else clean my bathrooms?)

All hats off, I consider the clock: is there time to dash across Union Square for a type-A yoga class, an hour of BE CALM RIGHT NOW? I figure I can make it, zoom into the class, GET CALM, zoom to pick up child #1, and then home.

I guess I should be grateful that I was channeling Bartholomew and his hats rather than the oobleck (although perhaps that is what’s crusted over on the bathroom sink).

How many hats do you wear?

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Continue Reading · on March 2, 2011 in Books, family, NaBloPoMo, Parenting

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