Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Culinary Improvisation is Important...

…especially when every fresh ingredient is subject to radically changing availability.  The easiest way to avoid recipe catastrophe is to not follow a recipe at all.  What is a recipe, after all, other than a list of rules?  And aren’t we all at least slightly rebellious?  Throw off the chains of regulated meals, I say!  Reject the ambiguity of nonsense measurements like a dash or a pinch!  Make your own menu and be proud of it!

We had two chicken breasts thawed in the fridge and half a bag of penne pasta.  So I decided to make a pasta salad.  I would cook the chicken and dice it, toss it with the cooked penne, add some diced tomatoes and wilted callaloo*, throw in the last of our sharp cheddar, and stir it all together with a miracle whip/garlic/vinegar mix.  Serve chilled.

I thought it sounded good.  All I needed were the callaloo and tomatoes.  I had yet to visit Ali’s and not find both of these ingredients in stock.  Until today, naturally.  They had neither tomatoes nor callaloo.  Thinking on my toes, I grabbed an assortment of fresh produce as a replacement: local carrots, seasoning peppers (which resemble habaneros, but are nowhere near as spicy), and okra.  I figured, If I’m not following a recipe, then I can’t be disappointed, right?

My replacements turned out to be a big hit.  Ivan and I loved it.  Since it never was an official recipe, I can’t claim my substitutions made it better than the original, though.  In fact, maybe I’ll just claim that this version is the original.

Yesterday was Ivan’s first real day of classes (Monday being more of a syllabus review).  Today he was in the thick of it also.  The professors dove right in, leaving Ivan to spend his last couple evenings hunchbacked over a pile of notes, flashcards and textbooks.  Now I find myself living with Simulation Ivan: sure, you can see him and, corporeally he exists, but he is not existing like I am existing.  He has handed himself over to a world of unfeasible expectations, paralyzing stress and sleepless nights.  He’s devoting his time to memorizing six-syllable terms for obscure muscle groups and how to coerce a terminal patient into donating their corpse to science.  Caught in a whirlwind of hypochondriacs, malpractice anxiety and cadavers, Ivan has no time to notice the little things, like what he’s eating, what time it is, where he’s walking, who he’s talking to, what day it is, et cetera. 

Of course I am exaggerating.  His studies will be very difficult, but we anticipated the time and effort he would have to devote to them.  Sim-Hubby is doing fine.  He just has a little less free time now.

Now on to the subject of animals.  Her majesty, Crazy Cow, is still stationed at the end of our road, as far as I know.  I am not sure if her owner knows she is there and doesn’t care, or figures she was stolen.  Either way, she gives me a little tilted crazy-eye action every time I walk past.  Since she hasn’t charged me again, though, I’m considering forgiving her.  After all, I was able to befriend John Cougar MellenBat after he scared the Bejebus out of me.  Plus, every woman is entitled to a crazy moment or two.  (Come on, ladies, haven’t you all at one point gone on a seething, frothy-mouthed, rolling-eyed stampede?)  We have been able to confirm that Crazy Cow is a woman, also.  Maybe at some point in the future, we’ll become friends.  Then, maybe Crazy Cow will introduce me to Ben & Jerry’s cow.

Yesterday—also fondly referred to as egg day—we were walking back to the apartment from campus, me carrying a tray of 30 eggs and Ivan doing his best to stoically hold up the umbrella without jabbing me with one of the metal tips (it was raining, fyi).  We came across a gaggle of goats.  (Can I refer to goats as a gaggle when they gather to graze?  It’s seems like an alliterative law, but I could just be a freak.)  We counted six in all, and none taller than my hip.  As we passed, I realized my only fear was that the hungry looking white one might take a bite of my capris.  So I said, NO, like I do to Sheba when she gnaws on my feet.  White Goat Gruff did not eat my pants.  Now I have a renewed appreciation for goats and all the fear they do not instill in me.

As a side note: I noticed today that Sheba is in heat.  It’s kind of a bummer that she isn’t spayed because she spends a lot of time wandering around the neighborhood.  I can only assume this is her first heat since she is so young and has not had a litter yet.  Hopefully she gets spayed soon, but unfortunately a litter of puppies might come first.

What you might not know, and might not care: we keep the discards of freshly minced garlic in our bedroom garbage to ward off mosquitoes; we keep our AC at 26°C which is about 78.8°F and we run it about 12 hours a day during the evening, when the bugs come out; our stove is fueled by a propane tank and we have to use matches or a lighter to light the burners and oven; we rarely have warm water for our showers and, no matter what climate you live in, a cold shower isn’t that great; the soda here contains sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup; I’m not sure if I can buy contact solution on the island.

*Callaloo is actually the name of a dish (according to online references).  It is commonly used to refer to the leafy plants used in the dish, which are actually taro or dasheen leaves.  Since the grocery stores refer to the leaves as callaloo, however, I will too.

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