Food is always a topic of conversation with guests here in Haiti and family and friends back home. They want to know what we eat, how we get it, what we pay for it etc. I thought it might be fun to have a food week here on the blog. Over the next week, starting on Monday, I’ll be sharing some of our favorite recipes.
I believe that food connects people and come from a family of cooks on both sides, and married a man who very much loves his mother’s cooking. Many of the fond family memories that I have are of BIG family dinners with lots of noise. Still today one of the things I most look forward to when I go home is sitting around the table with my family.
I think recipes were meant to be shared, just like the food they produce. My Baba Shewchuk was a good cook and she had all of her recipes memorized. Sadly, when she passed away most of her family recipes went with her. That makes me sad and it’s not something that I want to see happen with the recipes that connect our families. One of the best gifts my mom has ever given me was a recipe book specifically meant for family recipes and our favorite dishes. She just bought a silly photo album and wrote things out on recipe cards and slid them into the photo slots. Since then I’ve laminated all the cards (so easy to wipe up) and have kept adding things to the book – new favorites and the family recipes that Chris’ mom has passed on to me. I can honestly say that I pull that book out at least once a week. Parents, if you’re looking for a special gift to pass on to your kids, even if they don’t really cook at this point in their lives, I would really recommend something like this. It’s special, personal and something they will treasure. It’s so fun for me to be able to open it up and find something that’s been a part of our family. I guess it makes me feel more connected to my roots.
While I’m talking about recipe books I want to mention the other recipe book that I ALWAYS go to. I think every person that loves to cook has that one book that they absolutely love. This is mine:
Click the photo for more info.
This is one of those good old basics of basics cook books. My Granny Lockhart has a copy, and when my parents got married she gave my mom a copy. That cook book is now being held together with rubber bands it’s been used so much. My mom always told me that if there was ever any cook book that she wanted to give me, that was it, but it was printed back in the 40’s or 50’s. One day we were walking through Chapters and we passed a sale table of cookbooks and lo and behold, there it was in a new edition. My mom scooped that thing up so fast and almost ran to the check out. It’s a great book, seriously. It has everything from cuts of meat, cook times for different basics like turkeys and different types of meat, basic recipes, techniques with pictures for doing things like making bread and just good, simple recipes that use every day ingredients (the book was written before all the prepared stuff hit the market). One of my favorite things is a substitution chart for basic things like baking powder. I can’t tell you how many times that’s come in handy living here where I can’t always get the things that I want when I want them. I’ve learned a lot about the basics of cooking from this book and I would highly recommend it, especially as a wedding gift of a gift for a child just starting out on their own.
Now, on to the food!
One question we often get from visitors is “Where do you buy your food?”
Back home I had the convenience of grocery stores that were open until all hours of the day or night at my fingertips. Here, it takes a bit more planning. We do get a lot of stuff in Port au Prince at the grocery stores, but I have to write my list based on what store I know Chris will be going to that day. See, one store might have everything I know I’ll need, so I would put it all on the list, while another may have none of it and I just put on the things I know they’ll have. When you have to drive at least an hour to any one of them it’s a bit of a hassle, but we work around it. When we get groceries in Port we have to take a cooler or two and ice packs, or buy ice, so we can get our cold stuff back without it spoiling. We can get most things there that we can back home, but it can be expensive. That though, is just part of living here. We tend to stick to the basics and don’t buy many ‘extras’. Cheese is something we splurge on at about $7.50 lb. The only thing I buy from the frozen coolers, you know the ones that have all the things like burritos and chicken wings and stuff like that, is a few bags of frozen veggies, like broccoli. I like that we’re not eating a lot of stuff with preservatives, or junk food and that kind of thing.
We buy all of our beef and pork in the store. Would you believe we can get filet mignon for less than hotdogs per pound? It’s true, so we don’t eat hotdogs all that often :) We get our chicken in a 30-40lb box, frozen, from St. Marc. There’s a little place that ships it in and keeps it frozen. It’s all American chicken and gives us a good laugh sometimes because it’s all the stuff that doesn’t meet “standards” back in the US. Next time you go buy chicken look at the package. You’ll probably notice that all the thighs are the same size or all the chicken legs are the same size and none are broken. Then remember that the chicken we’re eating tastes the same as yours, but our thighs might be super thighs that are twice the size of yours, or our chicken legs might be broken. The best part is that we get it for about $1/lb. Not bad huh?
One thing I love about living in a place like Haiti is the produce. Everything is fresh and everything is organic because farmers can’t afford things like pesticides. Each week, on Thursdays, we send Yonese to the market for us. She can get a better price (a fair market price since she’s paying what everyone else is paying) than we can, and she just knows where the best stuff is. I send her with a list of what we want and she brings it home, and always with a few extras because she knows what’s in season and can get a good price on it.
Yesterday was market day.
Usually Yonese buys all our eggs. They’re all imported from the DR. Right now we’re paying about $2.75 US/dozen. They come in big flats of 30. For a while there was a problem with the importing and we had a hard time getting eggs, so we would have to buy them at the store.
One of the best things about living in the tropics is that you can make fresh juice! We have a big juicer and one of our favorites is grenadia, or passion fruit in English. You cut the fruit open and pass the seeds through the juicer. There’s a bit of a juice sac around the seeds, like a pomegranate. The juice is quite tart and needs to be watered down with sugar added. We drink between 8-12 litres of this a week when the fruit is in season.
Melon, abricot and avocados! The melon is part of the honeydew family and tastes exactly the same. Abricot is a funny fruit. You peel the brown skin off and inside is this firm, orange fruit. When you get a good one it’s sweet and unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Chris always compares it to strawberries, but I don’t know. Avocados! The ones in the picture are about the size of a softball. I never liked avocados living in Canada and really only fell in love with them last fall. Yonese had bought some and I think Matt started putting them in tortillas when I made them and that’s it, I was in love. We ate SO MANY avocados last year and I was just waiting for them to come into season again. We all love them. I love that they get so big here too.
Eggplant, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. I also get potatoes, garlic, green peppers, carrots, cabbage, beets and other stuff when or as we need it.
The only problem with having someone else go to the market for us is that I don’t have much control over how much comes back other than saying “pa achte anpil…” – don’t buy too much. Yonese is pretty good about quantities and she knows our family and what we can use in a week, but sometimes I just can’t use it all. I’ve been working at trying to use up what we have. I made a great eggplant and tomato soup earlier this week and a yummy onion soup last night (from the cook book!).
So, that’s a bit of an introduction to Food Week With the Rollings! I hope you’ll check back in over the week. I would love to hear about your favorites or answer any food related questions you have so send in those comments. I will honestly do my best to respond as they come in.