One of the things that surprised me the most about moving to the UAE was the fact that I have access to any type of food, most brands, and can eat just as I did in the USA. What’s even better is that because Muslims eat Halal food there are no preservatives or chemicals in the produce and the meat has all been humanely killed and does not have any added hormones! And the first time Scott and I went into a grocery store we couldn’t believe our eyes. We were prepared, when we came to this country, to not be able to find anything familiar and to have to learn how to cook in the Middle East. But we discovered quickly that the opposite was true. No only does the UAE have just about every restaurant (McDonald’s, TGI Friday, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Outback, P.F. Changes, Tim Hortons, Fuddruckers, Burger King, and many more, including ones we don’t even have in the north east!) but they also have just about every food item (From seedless grapes, to ricotta cheese, to Oreos, to frozen waffles – everything!).
So far the only thing that I cannot find and that I find myself missing is soft pretzels (warning: rant about soft pretzels about to ensue). Maybe it’s from the bit of German floating around my DNA or maybe I just love Auntie Anne’s but I sure doe miss a good soft pretzel (especially one coated in cinnamon sugar)! When we went to Bangkok we actually found an Auntie Anne’s in the airport and I got my fill knowing full well that I was returning to a land void of soft pretzels. I hope that I am wrong and one day stumble upon a soft pretzel shop. If anyone out there does know of one feel free comment below and make my day! But anyways – that was a long rant about soft pretzels, back to food in the UAE . . .
What has been a huge relief is that fact that I can cook just like I did back home – Indian, tacos, Italian, soups, sandwiches, salads, and now I even have some Middle Eastern recipes to add to the mix. One of my biggest packing regrets was that we did not bring over our cookbooks. So many days I find myself wanting to cook a certain meal and settling for a mediocre version of the recipe I’ve found online. When we return for the summer I am totally going to bring back my cookbooks so I can once again cook my version of manicotti, my perfect coffee cake recipe and chocolate chip muffin recipe, my brown sugar with caramelized onion over chicken recipe, my buttery pancake recipe and so many others! Yesterday, however, I did stumble across and amazing India recipe – spicy daal with a carrot salad (you can see parts of this meal scattered throughout the pictures in this post). Cooking this new recipe and making new kitchen memories reminds me of ways I have adjusted here and one of the ways in which I have coped while being here. Preparing a meal with some music softly floating in the background enables me to clear my mind and escape to my memories and day dreams.
Cooking is one way that I feel closer to home when I’m here. I can have a totally frustrating day where no one seems to understand me, or a day where I have to travel from one office to the next in order to get some stupid stamp on a piece of paper (the UAE loves their stamps – anyone who has lived here for any amount of time can tell you that!), or a day where I just don’t connect with my students because of the language and cultural barriers, but I can go home and cook my dad’s chicken noodle soup and be reminded of all the family that loves me. I truly think that cooking has a therapeutic quality to it. Being in the kitchen – hearing the onions sizzle in bits of butter, chopping up vegetables, hearing water bubble before dropping in pasta – makes me feel comfortable in who I am. I often think of my father marinating a juicy tenderloin and stepping outside by the garage to grill, or my grandmother pulling her gloriously delicious cookies out of the oven, or my mother roasting peanuts early int he morning for her famous ramen noodle salad. I find my family in the kitchen and I find my connection to them there.