Tag Archives | Trader Joes

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

expat, exefficient

In New York, I moved fast.

I knew how to work the lines at Trader Joe’s on 14th street so that I could be in and out in under 45 minutes; I knocked off my farmer’s market shopping early in the morning, before the shuffling herds came through taking pictures of picturesque radishes. (I took my arty roughage shots in my early morning rounds. I love a pretty beet as much as the next gal.)  Dry cleaning, school trips, doctors’ appointments, work meetings? Done, done, done, and done. I was one efficient Mannahatta Mamma: Things. Got. Done.

Now? Everything has slowed down. Time has blurred into one long hot swirl: our apartment only has one working clock, in the kitchen on the microwave; my phone’s battery is dying and so the clock keeps slipping back to New York time (unless can phones be homesick?) I never know exactly what time it is and even if I did, we don’t have anywhere to be.  The boys haven’t started school, I haven’t started work; it’s Ramadan and a sticky 115 degrees at midday, so the streets are quiet and lots of shops are closed until after sundown.

My sister, who lived for a few years in Paris, told me that the thing about being an expat is that everything takes a lot longer than you’re used to, and she’s absolutely right.  Being new anywhere, of course, means it takes twice as long to do the things you did at home, but the triple whammy of new city + new country + new culture has slowed me practically to a crawl.

So for instance the other day I went to a mall to scope out a store that sells skateboards (yes, Avril, there are sk8rboys in the UAE.)  Caleb has his heart set on a skateboard for his 7th birthday, thanks to the influence of his much-adored fifteen year old cousin Charlie. In a burst of inspiration, I found a skateboard store on a mall website and reminded myself to make sure that the mall was open in the afternoon, despite Ramadan. The mall was open, in fact, so I girded myself for the heat, found a cab, found the mall, found the store.

Which was closed. Mall open, store closed. Closed with no indication about when (or if) it would ever open.  Undaunted, I went to another store, looking for sheets. Closed.

Refusing to admit defeat, I went downstairs to Lulu’s, which is the huge “hypermarket” that is less expensive than Spinney’s (probably because Lulu’s doesn’t have the overhead of maintaining a pork room) and not as overwhelming as Carrefour, which as near as I can tell is a combination of K-Mart and Food Emporium.  Yes, it’s true, there have been any number of grocery store trips in the last week: big grocers are reliably open during Ramadan and I can stay inside playing Hearts with my kids for only so many hours before losing my mind.

So I tell myself that I can do some grocery shopping – get some staples, a few household items, and then I’d head home. I have a list, I like grocery stores, I can do this.

HAH. Continue Reading →

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Continue Reading · on August 21, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, food, NYC, Travel, UAE

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