Can food be an adventure?

It certainly was an adventure for my mother. Any of you who know me well, know I am not much of a cook. I buy most of my meals out and am super excited when I am invited to a friend’s house for a home-cooked dinner. Since I am no chef, I find I am in awe of parents or individuals/couples who prepare the majority of their meals at home. You might find though, if you look and think about it, that much of what you construct contains elements that have been prepared (in some big or small ways). Perhaps that is why I am totally amazed at what my mom was able to accomplish cooking overseas in Iraq.

There were almost no accessible restaurants. One could only go to the company club to dine every so often (too expensive and repetitive). Nor were there grocery stores like we have today -- fully stocked with a wide variety of choices. There were many things that were simply not available at all. One either made those things, or one did without.

Imagine arranging a kids back-yard picnic party when you have no mayonnaise, pickle relish, hot dog or hamburger buns. You had to make all those. Plus, slice and cook the potato chips from scratch. Use an old-fashioned meat grinder to grind the chunks of beef by hand for hamburgers (one heck of a job, mom noted), and then open a can of something imported from Denmark that could pass for hot dogs. She made the potato salad by hand using the above mentioned made-from scratch mayonnaise and was delighted that she could buy baked beans in a can. The British love their baked beans.

She improvised a sort of pizza from a local flat bread called chapatis (sort of like pita bread only much larger), split open with tomato sauce, and cheese on top. The sugar was so course, it had to be rolled and pounded for your cakes and cookies to turn out right. The flour had to be sifted through a nylon to remove weevils. Fixing food for a family of seven was a full-time job even with the help of a houseboy.

This is one of the few recipes that Mom detailed in her stories…

“We were all trying to cook a roast, which was impossible. I have a recipe here from one of my friends, Verna, an older American woman who had been in the Middle East much longer than me. Verna’s recipe reads, ‘Put hunk of beef in large bowl to soak in this combination: ½ cup of vinegar, ½ cup of water, 1 large onion sliced, two bay leaves, three whole cloves, 2 teaspoons salt, pepper to taste. Cover and set aside from 24 hours to three days, turning at intervals.’ (And you’d better believe it better be three days or more to tenderize that hunk of beef.) ‘Brown beef and add vinegar mixture. Cook slowly for three hours or more.’ It was definitely more.”

Mom said the gravy from this was awful, the meat was not that tender and didn’t taste anything like a roast you could make in the States. “Hardly worth the effort,” she’d sigh.

Our favorite treat was ice cream. Our parents made it from scratch using canned cream (when it was available) and local fruit. The mixture had to be hand cranked for several hours surrounded by salt and ice. At least, it felt like hours to my young arms. We all took turns cranking the handle. When it was done, it was just about the best thing we ever tasted. We only had ice cream a couple of times a year which made it extra special. To this day, it remains a favorite treat amongst all us girls.

Even with all these difficulties, Mom wrote… “I didn’t think about the hardships, I just thought, this was all a great adventure.” I have a different take… to me the adventure is which restaurant I am going to try, what prepared food am I going to buy. I must say I feel so grateful for our modern conveniences and the easy availability of food. I spend little time thinking about it and experience great joy in consuming it.

I’d love to hear your food challenges, food favorites, memories growing up or things that are happening today. Please share your stories below.

Bon appétit, my dear friends and fun students! Pam.