My grandmother passed away at 104 and three quarters. She was a doer of crossword puzzles, a voracious reader, and a great cook. I remember her garden – there were early peach trees, and a giant grape vine, and a hydrangea bush so big and fragrant that it dwarfed everything. The back of the house was cool and smelled of sunlight soap. She cooked macaroni casseroles for the day we arrived, served with chutney. We ate fried fish and chips hot from the oven in the garden before she served dinner, and she made biriyani – an indian mix of rice, lentils, chicken and fragrant spices.
I’m sad that she is gone, sad that she never got to meet my little boys, sad that I have not seen her in 15 years.
As expats, it seems that there are two things we miss most: family, and food. We miss births, and deaths, and weddings. We miss Sunday lunch after church. We miss the comfort food we were raised on. We talk incessantly about the place to find peanut butter your kids will actually eat, the difference between vegemite and marmite, and the acceptable substitutes. (Fray Bentos for me, none for the Australians.) We talk about who got chocolate chips from the U.S. I know the (three) places in Lima where I can find whole-wheat flour.
But our food genealogy changes. My favorite biriyani is that of my grandmother despite my travels in India. My favorite foods of all time might be my other grandmother’s chicken casserole, my mother’s chocolate mousse, the t-bone steaks with salt my grandfather grilled over a half-drum. Of course, there is my husband’s award winning chili.
But now it includes more: the lamb curry we ate after a dusty day on the road in Rajasthan. The koshary we ate at Cairo Kitchen, the cilantro hummus so good that I would eat the leftovers with a spoon while cleaning up after dinner. Dates from the street corners. It includes my finds at the fruit market here in Lima – cherimoya, lucuma, maracuya, and the small sweet bananas. Of course ceviche is great, but my new comfort food may be Lomo Saltado – a saucy stir fry with asia and new world blended like the rice and French fries that accompany it.
My family has also grown. Our small circle is tightly knit, and I count the days until my mom comes to visit obsessively. But now, my family includes the family we make for ourselves when we are far away… the women I can call to pick my kids up from school when I’m stuck in traffic. The women who showed me Cairo, and the way to live with grace in this crazy life of ours. The families with whom we share Thanksgiving – to me, the most sacred of American traditions.
We miss food and family. We miss so much. We gain so much more.
It’s no secret that I adore food. I love growing it, picking it, cooking it, and especially eating it. There has not been much opportunity to grow our own in recent years, but I have a few pots of herbs, a couple of tomato plants just starting to flower, and plenty of cilantro right now. I feel salsa coming…
Right now, we are loving our fresh cilantro with fruit market mangoes in this great fish taco recipe.
I’m so grateful that there is food on our table every day. I am even more grateful that I get to grow it, and introduce these boys of mine to the process.
What are you grateful for today?
And yes, I do feel like that should be a March title. However, Lima was kind to me today. The first day of spring turned out to be one of those rare and beautiful sunny Lima days when I remember just how much I like it here.
I opened all the sliding doors, let the sunshine in, and started planning for some flowers. This garden needs more flowers. And since seeds take a while, and I needed some bright sunny instant gratification, I made one of my favorite peruvian foods – a potato salad.
Nothing mayonnaise-y and prosaic about papas a la Hauncaina. The dressing is sunny yellow with a fresh green tasting bite of aji amarillo. My love of all things aji amarillo can be a whole other post. I’ll write my own recipe soon, but in the meantime, try this one. If you can’t find queso fresco, I have had great success with homemade ricotta.
Happy spring to all of you in the Southern Hemisphere!
Today’s haul from the local farmers’ market: Sol 13 for local honey, 4 for the green fruit, 4 for the tomatoes. I don’t remember specifics as I was trying to corral two rowdy boys and remember my Spanish numbers. I think it was about Sol 40 all together. Approximate US$ 14. Not too bad.
I found a supermarket today! It is called Vivanda, and what little I saw looked nice. The aisles are super narrow – too narrow for my double umbrella stroller. As a result, Jack jr. Is responsible for most of what you see. I vetoed once or twice, and selected the milk and bleach. As we are still in a hotel room, we really can’t shop much.
As in Egypt, we will wash our produce in a gallon of water with a teaspoon of bleach. This is my small concession to food hygiene as I’m generally not the most careful with the whole cook, peel or forget business. I have eaten salad in restaurants twice now with no ill effects, knock on wood.
Anyways, two avocados, two pears, and a grenadilla will set you back about Sol 5.20. A fresh liter of milk was Sol 4.70. Yikes! The whole haul was Sol 30.90. Fruits and veg seem reasonable, but I find meat and restaurants here to be very expensive.
We are so lucky to be in northern Virginia for my favorite season this year. Here are a few things we are enjoying. (bonus? I could never have blogged from my phone in Cairo!)