Posted by Jeri on May 5, 2010
Besides being stared at and sticking out like a sore thumb, I’ve decided that cooking and grocery shopping are my biggest challenges on the mission field.
When I first moved to Alotau, PNG, it’s like I suddenly forgot how to cook. I had no idea even where to begin. When I went to the shops here, everything was packaged completely different and it was hard for me to identify something as simple as sugar.
Thankfully, I have wonderful teammates. Diane Reese took me shopping and showed me the basic things I could buy at each store. She was so sweet and went as far as writing out a few recipes that I could find all the ingredients for here. That made things much easier.
But, even after 4 years here, I still get frustrated with the entire process. Each week, I make a menu. Now, when I make my menu, I know good and well that I won’t find some of the things I’ve planned in my menu when I go shopping. With that knowledge, it is so hard to start my shopping adventure with a good attitude. But I’m working on it.
It’s amazing what you CAN’T get sometimes – like the time I couldn’t find baking soda for a couple of months or when the shops wouldn’t have chicken until the next week.
Sometimes I decide that I need to spice things up a bit and add a few new things to our meal repertoire. So I get out my cookbooks and start reading. It’s so fun until I realize that nearly every recipe calls for a box of this or a can of that. We can get a box of this or a can of that sometimes, but I’m not usually willing to pay the price. After my cookbook experience, I’m generally back to square one again. Yes, it’s very frustrating to me.
I recognize in myself that sometimes I think the grass is greener on the other side, but I’m pretty sure that I’m right about this one. It is much easier to cook in North America.
That said, I won’t ever be able to replace the amazing fruits we get at the fresh market here – papaya, pineapple, mango, pomelo, bananas galore, and much more. If you’re really into organic produce, you should consider moving here. Our greens even have holes from insects. Our produce definitely doesn’t look fake like it does in North America.
11 Lessons I’ve Learned:
1. Impulse shop. Yes, that’s what I said. Impulse and Jeri don’t even belong in the same sentence, but that’s what I’ve learned to do here. If I don’t buy it when I see it, it just may not be there the next time. And, that’s a recipe for heartbreak when I go back to the store to get that yummy ice cream I saw and it’s not there the next time.
2. Improvise. There are very few times I can find things like lettuce in the shops. So, if I’m planning tacos, I know that I have to be prepared to improvise. That might mean tacos with just meat and cheese or tacos with potatoes. It’s also difficult to find many spices here. But I’ve learned that even poppy seed chicken tastes just fine without the poppy seeds.
3. Bake your own bread. There are two bakeries in town. I have issues with both of them. One has terrible bread. It’s so thin that it tears when you try putting soft butter on it. The other isn’t much better and never even has bread at the bakery when I go to buy it. (I think I’ve written about that before!) Anyway, I’ve learned to make some delicious dinner rolls. And I’ve been able to memorize lots of Bible verses during the kneading process!
4. Serve it over rice. When all else fails, mix something up and put it over rice.
5. Eat out once in a while. I hate spending money on food, but when I’m feeling especially frustrated about cooking, I have learned to take up Craig’s offer of eating out periodically.
6. Fish is good. I grew up fishing and eating trout. I liked to catch it, but I hated eating it. Living on the bay here has afforded us lots of opportunity to eat fish. Mackerel has become our family favorite. The kids love it. They always say, “More chicken, please.”
7. There’s more to breakfast than cereal. We don’t buy cereal here, mostly because of its cost. I sometimes make my own granola (thanks to Craig’s mom for helping me develop a recipe that actually works here!). The first time I served granola, Hannah said (with a disgusting look on her face), “Why are you putting milk on that?!?” I guess it’s all what you’re used to! So, we generally have something like pancakes, toast, eggs, muffins, fruit, or French toast.
8. Limit the use of dishes when cooking. When you know you have to wash all the dishes by hand, using as few dishes as possible is to your benefit. I’m a pro at serving meals right from the pan, so don’t expect anything fancy if you happen to drop by for a meal!
9. You can make pizza anywhere. For the past (almost) 10 years, we’ve been making homemade pizza once a week. In the States, we always put pepperoni and cheese on our pizza. Here, we found some pepperoni salami, but I have never liked the taste. Instead, we often put ground beef or pork seasoned with Italian seasoning. And, fresh pineapple is always delicious, too. Basically, whatever we can get is what gets put on our pizza.
10. If it’s discounted, it’s expired, but it might still be okay. The only time they discount stuff in the grocery stores here is when it’s about to expire. I’ve learned to NEVER buy expired frozen vegetables – YUCK! However, things like cheese or juice are generally okay. In fact, that’s the only time we have juice is when it’s discounted.
11. We won’t starve. Even though I don’t always enjoy planning meals, I usually enjoy cooking them. And, we always have plenty to eat.
I thank God for his bountiful blessings, no matter where in the world we live.