Yes, I’m going to talk about food. I love food. LOVE it. Too much so, but that isn’t the issue of today’s post. Today it’s all about enjoying cooking. Despite LOVING food, I never loved to cook it. I was overwhelmed by ingredients and instructions like broil, reduce, or knead. More than 3 ingredients and/or steps and I was out. Just ask my brother Douglas who used to live with me – and cook for me from time to time so my dinner didn’t involve the use of a microwave or a pot of boiling water. Or ask Claire, my roommate of 1.5 years who would also spare me the humiliation of trying to cook dinner and would allow me to “help” (aka run to the local Piggly Wiggly for ingredients) her cook something we could eat together.
Fast forward to Fiji – no microwave, no Douglas or Claire, no Piggly Wiggly. My ingredients are limited these days. My options in the local supermarket (called MH) are REALLY scarce – I have an aisle of tinned foods, an aisle of cookies/chips/cake mix, an aisle of cereals (2 varieties only – luckily I have fallen head over heels for Wheet-Bix)/teas/powdered milks/jams, an aisle of juices, and an aisle of household items. There are also a couple of freezers of frozen goods, but my lack of a refrigerator eliminates those options. Oh and there are potatoes, onions, garlic, eggs and a variety of Indian spices.
Somehow, however, I have come to enjoy cooking!! I have to because I have no microwave to heat up Lean Cuisines (if I could even find a Lean Cuisine here) and I can’t just live off pasta. Soooo … I’m cooking now! There isn’t a lot of variety by any means – pretty much “stuff type A” on top of other “stuff type B” in which I can set up a mix and match situation. Stuff A: tinned tuna, black beans, kidney beans, veggies from garden. Stuff B: rice (white only), couscous (if available, must get from Suva), or Harvest Grains (if available, sent via caring and concerned mother). A variety of spices I have stashed away can be added on top of said stuffs: ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning, mustard, soy sauce, soup mixes, etc.
But not only am I a master of “stuff on stuff.” I have also gotten pretty good at “Peace Corps Oven” cooking. I can’t take credit for the invention of the “oven” because I got the design from Peace Corps. Use a large pot, put 2 stones at the bottom, place baking dish inside large pot on top of stones, cover pot with lid, turn on gas stovetop. Bake! In my makeshift oven I have successfully baked scones (after a couple of attempts), roasted pumkin seeds, and roasted eggplant. Next up to try is to roasted potatoes with Lipton Soup Mix, tuna casserole of some kind, and of course a cake.
In addition to stuffs and ovens, I also make other things. For example I cooked up some zucchini patties recently!! Some may know them as potato latkes with zucchini instead of potatoes. I was so excited at how tasty they were I went around the village passing them out for everyone to try. Au sa kauta mai kakana vinaka! Tavolea mada! (I am bringing good food! Try please!) Props to Carolina magazine for the recipe (and thanks to Natalie for sending me the magazine!). I also managed some lettuce wraps – stir fry some veggies, mix with couscous and mustard, wrap in lettuce leaf (from Preacher’s garden – lettuce be holy … come on! I’m funny!). I can even make some homemade tortillas – they are called roti here, and I used them to make a tuna wrap (soooo good!), a bean burrito of sorts (black beans and rice with tomato, lettuce, and highly processed chedder cheese), and homemade gnocchi (potato dumplings). And yes, I am totally bragging.
To wrap up this supersized food blog, a final thought. You don’t really think about your food that much at home. I had so many options and I took advantage of that while there. I did not appreciate supermarkets in which I could choose between many different types of veggies, fruits, and dairy products. Not to mention the ease that goes along with cooking at home – most of the things you need, you have – both ingredient and utensil wise. I have less but have still manage to produce some decent food. So I look forward to sharing my newfound skills with my future visitors. My mother has decided that when she visits with my stepfather, brothers, and Emma there will be an iron chef style competition between my talented-in-the-kitchen brother Douglas and me the formerly-incompetent-in-the-kitchen sister. Normally I would have thrown in the towel, taken my defeat with grace, walked away with head held high, and with luck left the competition with all my fingers intact. Now I look forward to the challenge! Douglas … I am your Bobby Flay. Bring it.