Food on the island can get a bit much sometimes. The constant obsessing over what one can get from which store and the way everyday conversations somehow seem to flow back to cooking – cooking styles, cooking methods, cooking preferences. I must admit that when I first arrived here I found the constant food obsession tiresome at times. In addition, it was intimidating socialising here where every woman’s main hobby seemed to be culinary in nature. I found myself (the once, quietly proud and confident homecook) stressing about what dish to bring to social gatherings – something which was possible to create with the limited supply of ingredients I had access to, and something “safe” enough to be successful – no experimenting with made-up recipes for fear of creating a disaster which would then not be presentable enough to serve. Such experimentations would have to be reserved only for the husband now, and maybe at times, the Australian family.
Practise brings confidence, however, and I have begun to feel more and more comfortable providing food to others despite the perceived pressure. It’s a nice feeling – being someone who enjoys baking and kitchen experimentation, to be able to share some of the end-products with fellow-islanders. Back in Oz, the most sharing I did was to bake cakes on a Sunday afternoon and send them to work with the husband, where I wouldn’t have to witness the Masterchef-tinged critiquing of the icing or the baking technique.
Being on the island, one does have to learn to be creative with what one’s got in the fridge or cupboard. Although the supermarkets in town are accessible enough, a trip involves more planning than just a dash round the corner. Are the shops open? Do we have enough CFA? (No ATMs, so one has to wait until each expense claim is filled). Does the truck have enough fuel? (The fuel station on site is only open at certain times on the weekdays). Does the truck have up to date paperwork? (Travelling without papers for your vehicle is not dissimilar to contemplating going into town without your residency card).
All of this probably makes it sound worse than it it. There is of course, the Minimart on compound which opens every weekday at 5pm and Saturdays at 6pm where one can easily stock up on essentials like booze, chocolate and tinned olives.
The point is that I am proud of many of dishes I have made here, particularly those which I probably wouldn’t have bothered making had we still be living in Oz. Today for example, I am making hummus – meaning I need to first make my own tahini. And so I did, toasting up the sesame seeds and grinding it all up with some olive oil. After the hummus I am going to attempt a beetroot dip. There is always an abundance of beetroot here – brought in on the fortnightly food delivery with other such apparently unpopular vegetables like parsnips. The beetroot is therefore a constant go-to of mine – the most familiar being a salad where the rooted beets are roasted in a hot oven until soft then mixed with a balsamic and red wine vinegar dressing, sometimes topped with fetta or rocket. On other days, the beetroot has found itself roasted, made into soup and for the first time today, squashed into a dip. We will see whether it works out.
It is interesting to compare the different cultural food styles here – particularly coming from Oz where we seem to rely mainly on pure, unpackaged, unprocessed foods. Except for the odd dip or jar of curry paste! And it is important to challenge yourself a little – in such a place where if you want good bread, delicious curry paste or even a basic salad dressing – you better try making your own.