Friday, January 11, 2013

Iron Chef

This is probably the first place that we've lived where we can buy most everything that we need in the local grocery stores - assuming, of course that we're willing to pay the sometimes exorbitant prices. Which I, of course, am not.

My mom and dad taught me to cook, back in the day, so I came into this marriage pretty proficient, but what really forced me to learn was Armenia. It was our second post, and I loved it, but when we lived there, there were almost no imported or convenience products available in the local shops. Our time there coincided with 9/11 and the anthrax scare, which meant that we were without mail for half of our tour, so we couldn't order the things we wanted from the States. There weren't a lot of restaurants: if you wanted to eat something, you had to make it yourself.

There were no canned beans: you soaked the dried ones overnight and boiled them. There was no pizza restaurant, and the first time I tried to make my own pizza dough, it turned out flat and dry and toothbreakingly crunchy.

I figured it all out eventually - even the pizza dough! - and my part time housekeeper taught me to make both Russian and Georgian food - everything from borsch to hachapuri to chicken tabaka. I still love making that stuff, all these years later.

I love to eat. I love to cook, too, and one the best things about this foreign service life of mine is that I've learned to make so many unusual things, like dumplings and ricotta cheese and fried rice. I cook weird stuff sometimes - like mustard greens, or Swiss chard, or lentils. Sometimes my kitchen experiments are gigantic flops, like that first awful pizza dough. But no matter - time spent in the kitchen is my own personal zen.

Little wonder, then, that I've spent these last few snow-bound days in my kitchen. You could say I kind of went a little crazy on the cooking this weekend. I trudged through the slush yesterday in order to buy butter and cream and sugar and flour from the little shop around the corner and ohmygawd, you guys, what haven't I made? I started with brownies and caramels - tragically, they are already gone. I made a couple of loaves of whole wheat bread. I made 2 kinds of soup for the freezer. I made bran muffins and crepes. I still have plans for another batch of bread if tomorrow cooperates.

Ironically, then, we went to someone else's house for dinner last night and had takeout pizza. Tonight the boys have sleepover pals and we promised them Mexican takeout from the new restaurant down the road. I've cooked and cooked and cooked, yet the only things we've eaten have been the caramels and the muffins and the bread.

No matter. It got me through the snow days. Today is warmer and the steady drip-drip outside the window tells me it'll be time to get outside again soon.


Meaghan said... [Reply]

Sounds fun! I wonder if you could expand a little on the "exorbitant prices" bit - I have a vested interest in that I'm headed to Amman this summer! Is it mostly convenience foods or imported goods that are pricey? What about staples, like butter and cream and flour? I'd read that food was fairly reasonable there (and am very much looking forward to cheap shawarma!).


Kate said... [Reply]

Donna- I was wondering if you were planning on participating in the girl scout cookie order? If so, would you mind a hanger's on? I'm in Amman but not with the US Embassy, but I'm sure I could come pick them up from you or meet somewhere if you'd be more comfortable with that.


Donna said... [Reply]

Hey Kate, if you give me your email address, I can write to you and we can work something out.

Donna said... [Reply]

Argh. I keep trying to reply, but blogger is not cooperating. The short answer is: it depends. Local foods are inexpensive - white flour, fruits and veggies in season. Cereal will kill your wallet,as will healthier foods like whole wheat flour or quinoa. Pasta cheeses, ouch. Canned soups, yikes. We get by because we try to eat locally as much as possible. Email me (see the contact me tab) if you have more questions. And I'll look forward to meeting you in person soon!

Please. Write your own stuff.