Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Searching for my Inner Chef

First off, let me state that I am not a fan of cooking of any sort.  My mom (sorry to throw you under the bus mom) didn't cook much when I was a kid and I'm perfectly content carrying on that tradition.  Add in that I'm a picky eater and well, not much creativity is happening in our kitchen.

Yet somehow I've got kids that will eat pretty much anything (maybe it's because they are starving and will eat anything just to survive).  However, at the same time they have been pretty happy with my repertoire of chicken nuggets (both frozen and homemade), grilled cheese, hot dogs, chicken wings (frozen of course), pasta and baked chicken.  Yup, that's about it.  Yet they have the most amazing (and expensive) palates... they must get that from Josh.

And for the most part this lack of cooking ability has gone fine.  I don't eat a huge variety of food and the primary foods that I eat are plentiful here in Barcelona.  Fruits and vegetables are as fresh as can be and aren't filled with the preservatives like our foods at home that have them lasting for, if you don't eat the fruits and vegetables in a matter of days, they will spoil.  And while I'm still not great about making sure we eat said fruits and veggies before they spoil, I'm getting better about it.

While I'm at it, let me also note that I don't know how working parents in the past, or the present for that matter, are able to prepare full scale meals after a long work day.  By the end of my day, not only am I too tired to really put together a full meal, but the time it takes, in my opinion, to put together anything ornate (as in beyond baked chicken or spaghetti), is beyond me, especially with children who get home at 5, and some days 6PM, and are in bed by 8.

However, not everything is easily accessible here as far as ingredients.  And certainly there are very few ready made meals to choose from.  I've never been a fan of frozen meals and they really don't have them here anyways (except those chicken wings), but I've never turned my nose up at a pre-made meal at Stop n Shop or Hannafords that I can just warm up in the oven.  And here they are a rarity.  Everyone does this "from scratch" thing... I've vaguely heard about it.

As time goes on, I find myself not hating cooking quite as much as I used to.  If it means that I can have something of superior quality to items in the store or an item from home that's not accessible here, I'm willing to attempt it.  For instance, pizza dough.  The pizza dough here in the stores is crap.  After a year, I found an Italian kiosk in my mercado that sells pizza dough on Monday and Thursday afternoons for $2.50 per container and it's totally fresh.  However, as fresh as it is, they don't make the dough in August (when no one is working) and it doesn't come out as crispy as the dough I've made myself.  And since my kids still wanted pizza in August, I had no choice but to start regularly making it on my own.  Of course, the reason the dough is crispy is thanks to my friend Kelly who supplied me with Fleishmann's Pizza Dough Yeast.  I didn't think it made a difference at first but then I tried regular yeast and yup it does.  The kicker, they don't make it any more.  So anyone who has gone home to the States has had a mission of getting me yeast and Kelly, god love her, sent me some in a care package.  Even something as simple as pizza dough still requires me to go above and beyond what is available to me here in Barcelona.

There is, admittedly, a little satisfaction of making something myself from scratch.  It makes me feel like a better parent knowing my kids are getting something that I took the time to make from the best ingredients.  Ok, let's not take this too far... and let's be realistic, I'm not making all that much from scratch but I'm trying.  And at least it's no longer a love-hate relationship.  However, that's with cooking.  Let's get to baking.

Now baking, baking I enjoy... well to a point.  Again though, I'm not really a huge fan of baking from scratch.  It's a pain in the butt and quite honestly I think that the box mix comes out just as well as from scratch if not better.  But like I said, there aren't many mixes or premade types of food here.  There are a few just ok mixes but nothing to write home about.  My American store carries cake mixes - Duncan Hines and such which I'm constantly stocking up on.  But their cookie mix is eh....nothing great.  I prefer my mix from home and so I've been hoarding it... yes, hoarding it.  I'm down to about 20 packages of it but at one point this cabinet was completely full.  Don't worry, I have a friend sending me girl scout cookies and in the process, we're going to restock this cabinet as I won't be going home til August and there is no way these will last until then.

For the most part I've been able to survive with my American smuggled mixes and the stuff I can buy (at an extremely expensive price) at the American store.  But there are moments when something comes up and I think, hmmmm, maybe, just maybe I can make that.  I had one of those moments today which was the inspiration for writing this blog entry.

I bought the kids this thing called Zoku - it's a quick popsicle maker, kind of like an ice cream maker where you have the outer sides that freeze in the freezer, you add ingredients into the popsicle mold and it freezes in minutes.  No longer needing to wait hours for something to freeze in the freezer.  The kids love it. Aidan had a yogurt, raspberry, granola pop this morning for breakfast and thinks it's just the coolest thing to have a "popsicle" for breakfast.  Liam's favorite lately has been either coffee or a cranberry/orange juice mixture.  Healthy and easy.

In our search for recipes, we came across one for creamsicles.  They look delicious.  But they require me to use vanilla pudding.  And in all my hoarding, believe it or not, I have NONE!  On a mission to make this creamsicle for Aidan, I googled "vanilla pudding recipe".  I found one on a website that looked reasonable and went to search for the ingredients.  Um, cornstarch...hmmmm... I'm hoping that the "harina de maiz" is the same thing - it did say it could be used for puddings.  So my fingers were crossed.

We made the pudding and it actually came out pretty good (though Josh tasted it after it had set and said the sugar crystals didn't melt enough and that it was a tiny bit crunchy, but hey, I like crunchy pudding) - actually Aidan told me it was the BEST PUDDING I'VE EVER HAD.  God, I love that boy!!  We added it in with our orange juice and voila, creamsicles!!!

Vanilla pudding from scratch!!!  

These are the challenges I'm presented with living here.  While the majority of the ingredients that are easily accessible are wholesome and healthy, there is not a lot of variety.  This recipe for creamsicles also calls for agave nectar.  Ha!!!  That's a joke right there.  Thankfully the 1 1/2 teaspoons didn't make that much difference in taste because I didn't notice it was missing.  Or to make a graham cracker crust...well, you'd have to have graham crackers and well, we don't.  I may try to chop up what look like could be graham cracker type cookies in my blender by my guess is they won't be the same.

In the end, not only has life abroad been a learning experience as far as culture and the language, but also in teaching me that if I want something bad enough, well, I'll just have to make it myself!  Now what to make for dinner....


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