Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

The joy of cooking in Arabia

I was going to save this for tomorrow's Outsourced post, but it's too good to wait: The Joy of Not Cooking, by Megan McCardle. She talks about how we are cooking less and less even as we spend more on our (bigger) kitchens and kitchen gadgets. The most interesting part of the article is the accompanying video, where McCardle demonstrates what it was like to bake a cake the old-fashioned way.

The labor intensiveness of cooking has been on my mind lately. Last week, I made, from scratch, flour tortillas, pie crust, and pizza crust. I also made pizza sauce from scratch, including mixing up the Italian seasoning. I also made my own cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups, as well as combining my own poultry seasoning.

I've been making these items on my own since we moved to the UAE, but making them all in one week was when it hit me that this has become a regular thing. In other words, I have fewer kitchen gadgets than ever before, and I am spending more time in the kitchen.

Now, maybe this is no big deal for some of you. Maybe you can whip up two entirely homemade pizzas in fifteen minutes. But for me, this is the first time I've stopped accepting the excuse that we live in a foreign country, so I don't have to go all out in the kitchen (this excuse actually has a lot of merit). This was true even from the beginning of our marriage - I once packed a lunch for Jeremy to take to work in Moscow that consisted of one (1) small tupperware filled with plain white rice. It was just about all I could manage at that point in a strange land.

As a result of disqualifying my favorite excuse, I spend more time in the kitchen now than I ever have. Not having access to lots of pre-made ingredients has made me a better cook.

So when I watched the video of Megan McCardle making a cake the old-fashioned way, I was fascinated. Not only because some of the methods were so ridiculous (measuring butter by dropping it into a cup to displace the water, for example), but because they were so familiar. It turns out that cooking in a foreign country today is, in some ways, like cooking in the US fifty years ago. Mixing cake batter in a bowl, with a spoon, by hand? How novel! It's what I do all the time. Making your own powdered sugar by refining regular sugar via a mallet or rolling pin? Sounds about right. The list goes on - I've had to resort to these in some place or another: whipping cream with a fork (check), self-regulating the temperature of an oven (check), buttering and flouring a pan (check), smashing up cloves because you can't get ground cloves here (not included in that video, but yep, CHECK).

Preparing food for my family here in the UAE is definitely more labor intensive than it's ever been in the US. But you know what? It's how I've finally learned to cook with an appreciable degree of proficiency. It had to happen sooner or later. And it turns out I did it without ever having owned a stand mixer.

April 15th, outsourced

Adventures in the Empty Quarter