Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Foreign Service Kitchen

I like Estonia. I do. There isn't much to complain about, other than 6 hours a day of dingy not-darkness in the winter (I would not call it sunlight)  and ice and snow falling from the tops of buildings onto unsuspecting pedestrians below. The people are polite, emergency services are diligent, the democracy is healthy and transparent.

So this isn't a complaint, but merely an observation: if you asked any Foreign Service family anywhere in the world what they miss most about the U.S., some liars might say "family," "friends," or "The Jersey Shore." All the honest folk would say: Mexican food, specifically Tex Mex. (To be fair, the many people stationed in Mexico would probably not say that.) Depending where you are, that answer could be expanded to: Tex Mex and Chinese takeout or Tex Mex, Chinese takeout, and brunch. Or, if you are me: Tex Mex, Chinese takeout, brunch, and sandwiches.

Estonia has many positives, but so far the restaurant scene is not one of them. There are some very good ones, to be sure, but they aren't cheap. There are a handful of reliably delicious mid-range places and you can get some mean pancakes (read: crepes), but there is not a ton of variety. Tel Aviv had some amazing restaurants of all types of food--a perk of being an immigrant culture--although the fantastic Mexican restaurant burned down. Seoul had some quality offerings, but tentacles always seemed to appear on my plate, no matter what type of food I was eating. Mumbai had killer street food (I actually don't mean that literally....street food is so piping hot that it killed most things. Restaurants were more dangerous.) and some fantastic upscale restaurants. Kuala Lumpur is worth a tour for the food alone. But Tallinn is Baltic, which means there is no love for spices and somehow herring is always on the menu.

Girl has just weaned herself from a bottle and about a month ago started rejecting all purees. A year ago yesterday, we had Boy's tonsils out, and the surgery combined with a two-and-a-half year old's palette ("No like it!") resulted in significant weight loss and much fretting. Now he has a voracious appetite and is an adventurous foodie. I have growing kids and I'm not too keen on putting a bunch of preservatives in their little bodies.

Also, I work and come home about 45 minutes before Girl taps out for the night.

So if you combine those three things, I have a bit of a Parenting Challenge on my hands: the lack of local options, the need to actually nourish growing children, little time.

Foreign Service families get creative. People make their own beer, yogurt, mozzarella. They grow their own vegetables and occasionally pluck their own chickens. I've recently acquired canning supplies and a bunch of gardening equipment, and I'm eagerly awaiting the spring (ha! summer) thaw.

There will be salsa. Lots of it. My pressure cooker already helps me make refried beans and anyone can shred chicken, but local salsa is suspiciously reminiscent of tomato sauce. I cannot live that way.

Last weekend I made pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Every weekend usually sees pancakes and some sort of fruity bread. Last night I cooked up some killer potatoes au gratin and some very sad turkey burgers.

My late grandmothers would laugh if they heard me suggest any of that is roughing it. One was a farmer's wife and the other the daughter of a baker from The Old Country. One waited for my uncle and Pop Pop to finish skinning squirrels so she could cook them up (I'll never forget that meal). But as a child of the 80s, I saw potatoes au gratin come from a box and cinnamon rolls come from a tube. Doing things from scratch is a new idea for me.

I've started dabbling in freezer cooking, but I can never find a full day to prep and cook without a small child hugging my leg. I'm playing with ideas and since I know you are waiting eagerly to find out how I feed a family of hungry kids with early bedtimes during the week, I'll let you know what I come up with. I am open to suggestions.

(And no, Husband is no help on this: he literally has spent weeks at a time subsisting on beer, beef jerky, and chips, and as a result is a bit apathetic about what happens in the kitchen. Damn his metabolism.)


1 comment:

jack said...

bespoke kitchens
Estonia has many advantages, but so far the eating place world is not one of them. There are some very excellent ones, to be sure, but they aren't inexpensive.