Friday, June 22, 2007

A Taste of Home (or an Approximation Thereof)

My diet here is generally dependent on what others are eating. I’m fortunate to have someone cooking for me six days a week. But that also means that I don’t get what I want when I want it. Which, having been an American with a well paying job, is what I’m used to.

So, although I am grateful I have enough to eat on a daily basis (and that it generally tastes good), I decided to take matters into my own hands for a moment and attempt chocolate chip cookies.

In the kitchen, we already had butter (well, margarine), white sugar, salt, vanilla (sort of, it actually has a little almond extract/cherry taste to it as well) and eggs (lots of eggs, always eggs, completely fresh and (strange to me) never refrigerated eggs).

Then we went to Pali, the local grocery store for the rest of the ingredients. Here, I picked up wheat flour, found that no one in this part of the world knows of brown sugar and looked for chocolate. Apparently solid chocolate does not exist in Rivas either (I since saw a Hershey’s bar an hour away at a gas station in Granada). So under plan B, I found some hard candies, similar to butterscotch, that I could
break into little pieces. Unable to let go of the idea of chocolate, I bought a Snickers bar to add somehow. I toyed with the idea of more, but at almost $1 per bar and three people who had grown up in the orphanage with me, it felt a little extravagant.

The most rare and exotic of ingredients we had yet to find – baking soda. This was one item I didn’t know how to substitute. Fortunately I did have a translation bicarbonata de sodio. After much searching, I bought a little baggie of it for 27 cents from a lady selling vegetables on the street.

That evening a thunderstorm was getting ready to rain on us which meant it was unusually hot and humid. Not prime baking weather, but I was determined. So I mixed the ingredients as my teenaged helpers wandered in and out of the kitchen mostly playing music on my computer (I had the recipe I was more or less (or less) following on my laptop on the counter).

I set the oven in Maricela’s house (about a 2 minute walk away, but the only oven on the property not powered by wood) to about 175 degrees Celsius. When it was hot, the flat sheet of metal used to make tortillas with the golf ball sized drops of batter on it went into the oven.

When they came out, they were no longer they. Beautifully golden, they had all puddled together in one big cookie, it smelled delicious. I think due to the heat of the thunderstorm and my use of margarine, there was no hope. I had chilled the dough for an hour trying to avert this, but it was not to be. My favorite recipe (which would have survived this heat) is from a friend’s mom from college, but if you thought finding chocolate was hard, try Crisco!

Fortunately, that, of course didn’t affect the final taste and texture much and the reviews were all favorable (Rico!). Jayden, the lone American employee, informed everyone that they were, in fact, very genuinely American cookies.

American Cookies San Jorge Style

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (1/2 pound) butter, softened
1 ¼ cup granulated white sugar
1 Tablespoon fake maple syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
½ package crushed Dulce de Leche candies
1 frozen chopped Snickers® bar

Beat butter, granulated sugar, syrup and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs; gradually beat in flour, baking soda and salt. Crush candy with your favorite finish hammer (I only brought my favorite framing hammer and it tends to rips the bag to shreds with the waffle face); chop Snickers®. Stir both into batter. Spread onto tortilla griddle and put in oven at 175 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

One other note, I’m leaving for Bolivia on Sunday for work. I’m not sure of the internet access I’ll have, or what my schedule is like. I’ll be back in touch at the latest at the beginning of July!

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