The first few weeks here I didn't have much to do in the kitchen. I didn't know where anything was, I didn't know what where staples and what were treats, and I didn't know how to light the stove (even now that I do know, it still makes me nervous and I still go through a few matches before I get a flame!). But lately both Hannah and Miss Emi have become increasingly busy with the affairs of the school. Supper is supposed to be at 4:00 p.m., but there are days when these dedicated teachers can't get up to the house until a half-an-hour before, leaving little time for complicated meal prep. Since I don't have as many school-related responsibilities, it was natural that I should step into the breach and make supper on the 'girl's nights'--the guys have their own allotted nights to prepare a meal, usually consisting of fried rice and vegetables.
The tricky part about making meals here is the lack of ingredients and the lack of appliances with which to prepare those ingredients. There is no automatic can-opener, no toaster, no electric knife/slicer/shredder, no grill, no blender, no dishwasher, no measuring cups and spoons, and (mostly) no oven. I mean, there is an oven, but you have to physically light it with a piece of burning cardboard, and then make sure to open the oven door every few moments to fan the flames! So I've pretty much ruled that appliance out of my planning. As for ingredients, there just isn't much available in the stores. There's plenty of food from the plantations, and if any of you have any recipes in your boxes and books for food involving papaya, cocoa bean, and taro, do send them this way! But, as for more Western-style food, the choices are a little more restricted. On the meat side, I normally have three choices to use--chicken (frozen), hot dogs, and canned tuna. Every once and a while we'll get some roasted pork when someone kills a pua'a (pig), but that's a treat, not something to be used in a recipe. Once a week, Miss Gau fries up some fish for Miss Emi, but, again, it's not something I can count on every day. My standard carbs are rice, potatoes, and noodles. My veggies are pole beans, partially-ripe cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and canned mushrooms. So my creativity is being stretched to the limit, especially when I try to recreate dishes from home.
The first successful dish I made here was crab cakes. Miss Emi had an old (very expired) box of Good Season's Italian Dressing that someone had given her, and it had a recipe for crab cakes on the side. Miss Emi just happened to have a package of frozen imitation crab that she had asked me to use up, since she's not a fan of the dish. Naturally, I had to substitute a few ingredients; we didn't have Ritz crackers to pound up to mix with the crab, so I used the flat, hard mossi, which is something like I always imagined hardtack to be. I didn't have celery, I didn't have sour cream--it was looking like there were more 'have-nots' than 'haves'! But the cakes were a success, and Hannah doesn't even like crab! Since then we've fine-tuned the recipe a bit, and converted all the Civales (except Miss Emi) into crab-cake fiends.
I've also made chicken noodle soup (from scratch), scalloped potatoes (we usually add cubed ham to the recipe, but I substituted cubed hot dogs instead), and 'fettucini alfredo'. I've also helped the guys on their nights--Pastor Jim and I made a very original chicken/corn chowder one night last week, after the dish we were originally aiming for ended up not working. Whatever we make, we always set aside a dish for Miss Emi's mom and Lopaki's family, who live next door.
But the best part has definitely been dessert (as it is with most things!). After listening to me grouse about the lack of anything sweet here, a friend of mine graciously sent me her recipe for 'brownie in a cup'. It only uses staples, you mix up the batter in a coffee cup, and then you put the whole thing in the microwave for a minute, and--presto!--you have a brownie. I had to smash up fresh cocoa to use in the mix, so it was a little more of a 'dark chocolate' taste, but the brownie-lovers were ecstatic! They wanted to know how I'd managed to use the oven to bake, and, when I explained that it could be made in the microwave, I had an instant cooking class. It was especially funny teaching Joe, the older of the two Civale boys; he was so excited that he had cooked a brownie himself! A few nights ago, I caught him and two of his buddies in the kitchen, as Chef Joe was teaching his new brownie-disciples the art of baking in the microwave! Apparently, his friends are now saving up for their own microwaves so that they too, someday, can make brownies in coffee cups. :) A shout-out to Victoria Rooney for the recipe--thanks, Victoria! You have introduced the brownie to Savai'i!
I'd like to go make myself a brownie now, but, alas, all these cooking ventures have used up the flour! :( I'll have to enjoy one vicariously, so go ahead, make brownies tonight! Enjoy a piece for me.
Oh, and I guess it's not quite nil-listrated, because I do have one picture...