What’s Cooking

Remember when we got a grocery store here in Picard last April?  It was AMAZING!  I have to remind myself of this when I go to buy some groceries for dinner and well… I leave with a bag of crackers instead, because I can’t find what I have a hankering for or what I need for something I was hoping to make.

Case in point:

I went to the grocery store today and the produce section looked like this:

  • strange root vegetables covered in bark that look way too difficult to deal with (I know the names of them, but I’m just being dramatic)
  • brown-spotted bananas
  • basket of onions with fruit flies flying around in it
  • soft potatoes
  • tons of cucumbers (I bought 3)
  • 3 bags of local lettuce past its prime
  • 3 Vidalia onions (weird)
  • 1 package of broccoli that was yellow/brown
  • 15EC ($5) bags of month-old carrots

When IGA has just gotten a shipment in, it can be like Christmas it’s so wonderful in there, but when it’s bare in there, oh man, is it bare!  Anyways – you get the drift – the grocery store situation is unpredictable!

This results in Caribbean Hoarding Syndrome.  When the grocery store was fully stocked over Christmas, I bought 3 cans of enchilada sauce because, well, who knows when they’ll have it again?

Last week, like the Caribbean Hoarder that I am, I bought 2 packages of this bacon.  It made me laugh:

“Hotel Brand… Sliced in the Tradition of Fine Hotels.”

What. are. you. talking. about?  So funny.

{via}

If you’re a good baker, ignore this next sentence, you’ll be absolutely horrified, but if you’re lazy, can’t bake, and like sweets, read on: yesterday morning, I made this deliciousness for Charlie and I for breakfast and it was the bomb.  Coffee cake, in a mug, that takes less than 5 minutes to throw together, coffee cake that you microwave in a mug.  Oh yes.  My kind of baking!

{via} 

Today I scavenged and found some chicken and a leek, so I’m planning on making this Chicken and Dumplings recipe from Bon Appetit (minus the homemade gnocchi ricotta – I’m just using some packaged gnocchi)… I’ll let you know the verdict!

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What we do all day…

Contrary to popular belief, I do not sit around and pick my nose or eat bon bons all day long (only for a small part of the day).  I am actually really busy most days, as is Charlie, who rarely has a chance to enjoy the beach, or much of anything, for that matter.  After tests and exams, however, we both look forward to a fun afternoon and evening together.  Until then, however, here is what a normal day here is like…

I get up between 8 and 10, put away the dishes that dried overnight, and do whatever dishes were left in the sink from the day before.  Then make coffee or tea and have breakfast (usually fruit, oatmeal, or eggs) outside, if the porch isn’t swarmed with the remains of dead bugs (in which case I avoid going outside for as long as possible so I can put off sweeping them up.  It’s pretty sick.  Currently the porch is covered with the inch-long wings of these crazy rain-fly termite things.  ICK!).  If Charlie is media-siting (watching class lectures online) that day then we’ll have breakfast together, if I’m up early.  If he’s going to class, he’s gone by 8.  After breakfast I do the breakfast dishes.  Then I make the bed, clean up our apartment, put away clothes or laundry.

bug covered porch... good stuff.

If it’s a busy day, I’m up early for an RSO meeting, an assembly at CALLS, a day trip with friends.  If it’s a low-key day,  I will check emails, write a blog post, catch up on news and blogs, read about re-finishing furniture and other how-tos which I will bookmark for use in several years when we have a real home.  I’ll peruse the food blogs and book mark recipes with minimal and/or tropical ingredients for current use, and ones with fancy shmancy ingredients or luxuries not available here like berries, buttermilk, and arugula for later use (again, in several years, when I can also break out those DIY home projects, like making an upholstered headboard!).  If I’m feeling energized (which usually I’m not), I’ll walk to the gym and get in a nice air-conditioned work out, or I’ll visit my friend Brandi and play with her 4 week old kittens.  At noon, Charlie will come home for lunch or I’ll make him lunch and bring it to him at school.  We’ll sit outside under a tree by the library if the weather is nice.  I’ll head home after lunch and do some more dishes.  Then I’ll relax and watch some TV shows on my computer… The Wire, Big Love, Mad Men, Weeds.

lunch with Charlie at Pagua Bay after exams

If I’m feeling brave, I’ll do some laundry.  Here’s how this goes down without a washer or dryer: I’ll turn on our hot water heater (which we rarely do these days, as cold showers are the only way to go when it’s just as hot or often hotter inside our apartment than it is outside), put a bucket in the shower, add a scoop of detergent to the bucket, fill it up with hot water, throw in some clothes, and swish them around for a little while with a clean plunger.  Then I’ll rinse the clothes and wring them out in the shower.  Then I’ll go on the porch and rig up a clothes line and hang up the clothes to dry.  I’ll do this for about an hour and if I’m lucky, the clothes will smell nice when they’re dry.  Sometimes, they still smell sweaty once they’re dry, and I lose my gumption and send my stiff, sweaty, horribly hand washed and line dried clothes out and pay someone and deal with them effectively.

After the laundry nightmare I’ll read for a little while and figure out and google some recipes to help figure out what to make for dinner.  I give myself extra gold stars if the meal requires little to-no oven time.  Here’s why: 1. Our oven sucks.  When you bake anything, the oven handle gets so hot that when you touch it your burn your hand.  2.  Our oven really sucks.  In our last apartment, the baking temperatures were in degrees Celsius.  That I could handle, I just made a conversion chart on a post-it and stuck it to the fridge.  Boom.  In our new apartment, however, our oven is the worst.  Seriously, THE ABSOLUTE WORST.  There are no temperatures.  Yes, you read that correctly.  No temperatures.  Just a knob that says “1 2 3 4 5.”  (I really wish I were making that up.)  So, I just guess on baking temperatures.  You can imagine how that turns out… burnt everything, all the time.

every baker's dream

Good stuff.  Anyways, I figure out what to make for dinner.  Usually it’s something vegetarian because sometimes the meat here is scary and/or hard to find, or just really expensive.  I wish I could say that I bought and cooked fish all the time, but I don’t.  I’ve bought it once.  Buying fish requires walking for 20 minutes down to the waterfront when you hear someone blow a conch shell.  The problem is that where I live, you can’t hear anyone blow a conch shell, so then you trek down to the water and loiter and act sketchy and wait for several hours until you actually see someone blow a conch shell, and well, that is really not my idea of fun.  Then you trek 20 minutes home with a plastic grocery bag full of fresh fish.  I need to figure out a better system for this, because the fish is amazing.  It’s literally fresh out of the ocean, and is usually tuna or mahi mahi, for $7 a pound.  I made the best fish tacos with the tuna I bought last semester.  Note to self: figure out the fish situation, ASAP.

If it’s a Tuesday, I help my friend Emily teach a sewing class at a local Women’s Center.  (Actually, I provide moral support and do a kid-friendly fabric project with the women’s children, while Emily teaches the sewing class, since I literally cannot sew a stitch).

me with my little friends at the women's club... aren't they precious?

If it’s a Thursday, I tutor at CALLS, the local alternative high school that gives at-risk students a second chance.

me with some of the amazing girls I've gotten to know at CALLS

If it’s a Friday, I spend the afternoon at the park in Portsmouth with friends and local children at In.Light.In, an after school program and ministry, where we play with the kids, do a craft project, and then feed them a meal.

some of my favorite sassy ladies at in.light.in

Some days I’ll spend a few hours at the pool with friends, read a book on our porch or in the hammock if it’s not excruciatingly hot out, go to yoga in the early evenings, walk to the grocery story (not an option until a few months ago!), go on a hike or take a trip with friends, or meet friends for coffee at Rituals, the fabulously air-conditioned coffee shop.

after a hike and swim at Bense Pool

Charlie and I have dinner together almost every night around 7.  Usually I cook and he either comes home for dinner on the porch or I bring him a meal at school.  Then, he hits the book again until midnight.  After dinner, I do some more dishes, tidy up the apartment, and either enjoy a cold shower and some TV or a movie in our air-conditioned bed room (we have AC in our bedroom only and only turn it on for a little while before we go to bed since electricity is pricey here.  We have don’t have AC in living room/kitchen (they are the same room) which is brutal this time of year!), or a meet friends for game night, drinks, a night swim at the pool, a cookout, or a Friday night movie on campus.

By the time the day is over, I’m usually exhausted.  Between the heat, the walking/carrying everything everywhere all the time, and all the cooking and dish washing (I am the dishwasher), I am out like a light by bed time.  Charlie conks out, too, exhausted from the heat, the walking, and mostly the studying.  That, my friends, is how we spend out days!

Charlie, victoriously posing with 7 weeks of material, after Mini 2

Trying to…

I am pretty good at keeping calm — this is often a challenge on this crazy island — but sometimes (like right now) I just want to scream!  Why? I’ll tell you why.

I decide I want to make a recipe a friend told me about: Shrimp Lasagna Rolls.  So, I spend a few days looking for ricotta cheese, but can only find it for 3o EC at Dee’s, the most expensive store in town.  I hold off for a few days to see if it will appear in any of the other grocery stores at half the price, I know it will if I can just wait it out.  Mean while, I check around town for the lasagna noodles I also need to make the recipe — can’t find in any stores in the area, so I’m thinking I’ll have to wait and buy them the next time I take the bus to Roseau.  Then, a spouse who is leaving the island soon sells me a box of lasagna noodles (score!), and a friend spots ricotta cheese at Picard grocery (double score!).  I also find the frozen shrimp I need and head home, feeling like a champion after several days of scavenging for all my ingredients.

I take the shrimp out of the freezer and place them in a colander in the sink under running water to thaw them and am stirring them around with my hands when… the water cuts off.  Leaving me with shrimpy hands, no water, no paper towels, no thawed shrimp, and no cooked lasagna noodles. (This is the part where I want to scream.)

So, I guess my dinner will have to wait another day…  And my hands?  Luckily, I managed to get those cleaned up, courtesy of the clorox wipes and hand sanitizer sent by Lesley and Charles & Elizabeth.  Now, off to study the takeout menus…

Culinary Creations

OMG, I just made creme brulee.  I’m not gonna lie — I’m pretty proud of myself right now.  I’ve been on a cooking streak and have tried out dozens of new recipes in the past few weeks, most of which have been pretty darn delicious.  Take dinner tonight, for instance: Chicken en Papillote (actually, in foil because where or where is parchment?  You’ve got me…) with garlic, onions, basil, and tomatoes over lentil pilaf.  With rosemary scones.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I made rosemary scones and they are delicious.  So good I am having a hard time saving one for Charlie!

And for dessert, creme brulee.  Which I am going to try momentarily.  After I finish bragging.  For the chicken I used my quarter of a chicken from Bernard, the local chicken man I met at the market on Saturday.  The chicken was delicious, although I did have quite a time hacking it apart with a knife; it was fun to play butcher for a few minutes.   I hacked through some chicken bones and everything. Quite an experience.  I’ll have to ask Bernard for some tips next weekend.

Earlier this week I made braised and roasted chicken thighs with leeks… another WOW recipe.  I suggest trying all of these, because not only were they as good as meals from your favorite gourmet restaurant, but they were actually really easy, which I always appreciate.  Then there were the oatmeal cranberry muffins I made — my new favorite breakfast.  You should make those too.

Okay, now I am eating the creme brulee and it is insane.  I caramelized the brown sugar on the top of it by sticking the whole darn thing in the toaster oven and broiling it for a few minutes until it looked dark and bubbly… and it turned out perfectly!  I just cracked it with my spoon (I agree with Amelie, it’s so fun) and boy was it exciting.

It is fun to have time to make anything I want… And with a free bus to Roseau (the capital city, an hour away) on the weekends, I can go to the good grocery store there (Save a Lot) and stock up on basics that are more expensive here in Picard and get treats that are not available anywhere else — like asparagus, portobello mushrooms, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, cream, yogurt, real milk, and meat.  I usually pick up a few random treats from the list above and then spend the next few weeks figuring out what tasty treats and meals I can make with them, using my pantry items and fresh market produce.  It is a good challenge, and I know Charlie appreciates the good food.

Last night I made enchiladas and they were yummy.  You should try them.

Spinach, Green Chile, Black Bean and Cream Cheese Enchiladas

These are my own adaption of AKPB’s turkey enchiladas she used to cook up on the Boulie and on Hanover… minus the turkey and enchilada sauce + green chiles for fun.

Ingredients:

  • tortillas, flour or corn, whichever you fancy or have handy (or make your own if you’re an overachiever — I’m not.)
  • black beans
  • 1 package of cream cheese
  • 1 package of chopped frozen spinach
  • 1 can of diced green chiles (not a big deal if you don’t have them or like them, just a fun addition)
  • green onions, sliced
  • salsa
  • enchilada sauce (optional)

Cook a package chopped frozen spinach.  I did it in the microwave because it involved not lighting burners with flames, but the stove top works too.  It’s frozen spinach, there’s no trick.  Once the spinach is cooked add a block of cream cheese and stir, so that the spinach melts in the hot pan, and you get a good cream cheesey spinachy mixture.  Add a can of chopped, dice green chiles with their juice and stir in.  Stir in some cooked, drained black beans or a can of black beans, drained.  Mix it all together, careful not to smash the beans.

Spoon mixture into some tortillas, flour or corn.  I used corn tortillas last night because I had them, but flour tortillas work too.  Fold tortillas in half and place in a baking dish.  (Here is the part where you can pour some enchilada sauce on top of them.  I searched the island for enchilada sauce and none could be found.  I prepared myself to make some from scratch, but the only chili powder I could find in town had bugs crawling on it.  So we passed on the enchilada sauce.  I supposed you could also add some cheddar cheese, but with all the cream cheese inside, I think it sounds a little excessive.  But hey, tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day, so just follow your heart).

Stick the casserole dish in your heated oven.  My oven is crazy and confusing and in degrees Celcius, so I just make stuff up — last night I turned it to 200 (whatever that means) and cooked them for about 10 minutes, until the torillas got slightly brown and crispy on the outside.  When they look good, remove from the oven.  I am always too ravenous to let anything cool, so if you’re like me, grab your spatula and plop a few of those suckers on your plate.  Top with salsa and sliced green onions.  YUM!

If you are in a cooking rut and need some new recipes or just feel like making something delicious, I also highly recommend the recipes below.

Chicken en Papillote with onions, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Serve over rice or lentils.

Chicken en Papillote with Basil and Tomatoes — I didn’t have cherry tomatoes so I just used regular heirloom tomatoes.

Rosemary Scones — make. these. now!

Creme Brulee — make the day before, they must chill overnight.  Ceramic ramekins probably work best, but you can also use a shallow pan, or I found some little metal, heart baking dishes which worked great.

Pan Roasted Chicken and Leeks — YOWZERS, this was good!

Beets with Toasted Walnuts and Grapefruit over Watercress — I used pink grapefruit because the regular ones make me gag.  I also just used some store-bought balsamic vinaigrette and added a little honey to it instead of making my own because 1) I was lazy and 2) I didn’t have any straight up balsamic vinegar.  Do what you like!

Portobello Mushroom and Red Pepper Pizza on Homemade Thin Pizza Crust*  I am obsessed with basil and like to add so much of it to everything that you could probably overdose on it.  SOMEHOW I forgot to add the basil to this (what!?!).  It was delicious without it.  But probably would have been extra delicious with it.  So don’t stress if you don’t have basil…

*If you have never tried the pizza dough from Trader Joe’s, you must ASAP.  In their refrigerated section, by the hummus and deli meat, they have bags of fresh pizza dough (wheat, white, and herb) for 99 cents (I think) that you take home and roll out and cook yourself… it makes ridiculously good pizza.  If we had a Trader Joe’s here in Dominica, first I would die, and then I would just buy that dough.

Oatmeal Muffins — I think these are fairly healthy, as far as muffins go!  I loved them and Charlie did, too.  I added chopped walnuts and some dried fruit mixture from Trader Joe’s (shipped in our barrel).

P.S. — I have become totally hooked on some of the fabulous food blogs that are out there, and find that I am finding most of my recipes these days from them.  I am also a huge fan of some of the easier recipes from Food & Wine Magazine, which are always insanely delicious, provided they aren’t too complicated and the ingredient lists don’t get too wacky.

Food blogs I love:

Bon appetit!