I was introduced one time in Cairo as “This is Marilyn. She DOES things with the food here.” The person I was introduced to looked at me in holy awe. “You can DO things with the food here? How?”
To me, Cairo was a thriving metropolis that had cheese. Doing things with the food in Cairo was easy. It’s all perspective. When you’re straight out of Katy, Texas and you enter the developing world, cooking can be a shock. In my case, I’d grown up with all manner of substitutions and learned early in life that cooking and baking were about experimenting.
In a group of expatriates or missionaries it doesn’t take long before you begin sharing “cooking” stories. From marinating meat for a week in CocaCola so you can chew it, to figuring out how to make chocolate chips (more likely chunks) out of local chocolate, the stories abound. We spend hours figuring out, and passing around, substitutions for ingredients common in our passport countries. Some people have food shipments and commissary privileges, and I have been the recipient of their generosity many times. But the rest of the time, it’s us and the local market.
One time my friend Betsy invited someone who worked for the US Embassy to her home for Thanksgiving. He called up to see if he could bring anything. She replied that if there was a favorite dish that he would want, then he could feel free to make it. Yes, indeed he did and he would. His favorite dish was a cranberry-orange salad. Betsy was over the moon. Cranberries! Real cranberries. She too had a recipe, but while in Egypt it was the joke that you made cranberry orange salad without the cranberries. Oranges were ubiquitous and delicious, while cranberries hadn’t made their way from the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts to the dusty streets of Cairo.
On Thanksgiving Day, the man showed up empty handed. Trying to hide her disappointment, Betsy welcomed him in her characteristically gracious manner. “About that salad….,” he said, apologetically. “I would have made it, but there were no oranges in the commissary.” Betsy took a deep breath. What she wanted to say was “You idiot! Every street corner has people selling oranges! The oranges in Egypt are the best! Why don’t you look around you!” But instead she just said “No problem! Welcome!”
Cookbooks make the problem worse. Too often they are so western specific that you’re left with a useless book adding insult to something that can already be difficult.
Because humor aside, we want to create home and belonging for our families. Cooking is a time-honored way of doing this. When we are stripped of all our abilities, from language to creating a home to cooking for our families, it takes its toll on us.
It’s into this conversation that I bring Rachel Pieh Jones. Two years ago, my daughter handed me a present. It was a cookbook called Djiboutilicious. In the expat world of connections, Rachel had gone to New York and stayed with a college student. It turned out that she was one of my daughter’s college friends. The cookbook traveled from Djibouti to Boston via New York and sits with pride in my kitchen. As someone who grew up in Pakistan, this book is a practical taste of ‘home.’ And for you at A Life Overseas – it may just be a game changer.
Because for many, making a cake without a box mix is a first time experience. Creating sauces, desserts, sweet breads, and pickles just doesn’t happen…. because we don’t know how.
But Djiboutilicious does! And now, it’s in electronic format as an E-Book. Here is what others have said about Djiboutilicious:
How do you cook in a country with no jars of Ragu or packaged cake mixes? The first time someone handed me a tomato in Somaliland and asked me to make spaghetti sauce, I was at a total loss. Popcorn without a microwave? Were such wonders even possible?
They certainly are and hundreds of chefs have proven it, using Djiboutilicious.
And now, even if you live in a country without reliable postal service, you can get a copy of Djiboutilicious.
“Djiboutilicious has become my go to cookbook in Dji – and I know that I can find most of the ingredients here,” Paula P.
“Djiboutilicious is my go to book when I want to cook something I know is truly homemade. No, “add a can of this” or a “package of that.” All ingredients can usually be found in my kitchen or just around the corner at the dukaan (store),” Jess D.
The first three people who comment on this blog, will get this cookbook FREE! Yes, you heard that right! I will connect with you and have it delivered to your Kindle or other E-book thingy today.
Part of being called to another place is creating a home within that place. It’s not only important to us, it’s important to God. Yes, souls are more important, but more souls have been saved through offering hospitality through tea and cake then we will ever know.
And please, will you share your cooking misadventures and substitutions with us in the comments? We would love to hear!