Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies – Almost…

So when we decided to undertake this grand adventure, I prepared myself to live without stuff. But I expected that I would be choosing the things that I was going to give up, because of economics. Live without a glass studio for 8 months … Okay, not fun, but I was prepared for the sacrifice. What I was not prepared for, was that many things, that I consider “essential to life” are simply not available. You cannot just go down to the store and buy what you need, because in many cases it is just not available for any price. The 60 cent stores may have may have more selection, but everything that they carry is so cheap that it may not work, or hold up very long. Selection is also a real problem. You may need a towel, and the store may have them. But they only have one (or if you are very lucky two) varieties. Then, you will pay 20% to 30% more for it, even before the monetary conversion is taken into account. The alternative to the 60 cent stores is the local version of Macy’s called El Corte Ingles. At El Corte Ingles, you will find a little more variety, but you will pay for it. The mid range quality towel you spend $30 for in America, start at 60€. (That’s in Euros… so approximately $82.00 each! Ouch!)

Outfitting 21st century kitchen continues to be a challenge. Some of it is diet related, and expected. However, as I do a lot of cooking from scratch, I thought that most of the raw ingredients (especially for baking) would be available. Other things I was just unprepared for. I had hoped to bring my measuring cups – a staple in any American kitchen, but given our space and weight constraints, I left them behind. Every cook uses measuring cups… Right? Well, I guess not in Spain. We looked for 2 days before we found a measuring cup. I found the same problem regarding other basic kitchen gadgets, spatulas, spoons, baking sheets, even a potato masher (which I have yet to find).

The adjustment to life here has been frustrating for me largely because I did not learn to speak Spanish before we left. So I needed some comfort food… Chocolate chip cookies. So Scott and I went to the store. Flour, eggs, butter, white sugar all easy enough to find. But then things get more complicated. Brown sugar… They have a product called brown sugar, but when I opened the package, I found that it was closer to the raw sugar in the natural food stores in the US. Baking soda… simple bicarbonate of soda, right? Well almost, the form that I have found so far is granulated. Salt… What can be so difficult about salt? Except, I have not been able to find salt in anything other than a coarse grind. So, I did my best to turn the coarse baking soda and salt granules into a powder. But as I have not managed to find many kitchen items, a mortar and pestle among them, my efforts were pretty ineffectual. Still, I broke a dark chocolate bar up into small pieces by beating on it with a rolling pin. (I can be very resourceful, especially when chocolate is involved.) So I threw it altogether in a bowl and mixed it all up… (Yes, I forgot the vanilla… but such is life.) And put it in the oven to bake… Which leads to another discussion.

I never realized that what a Spaniard considers a 21st century stove is not even remotely equivalent to what an American expects from the appliance. I really need to readjust my thinking. First off, a stove does not necessarily mean that an oven is included. Next, although gas appliances do exist, electric is more prevalent. But, as the electric current is different in Europe, the appliance does not seem to work as efficiently. I am finding that the stove is rather like using a camping stove, and that I can expect it to take 2 to 3 time longer to cook different dishes. So I will need to readjust my meal planning. Secondly, because of the electric current issue (and this is only my supposition) the oven temperatures do not equate to their Fahrenheit equivalents. So it takes much, much longer to bake anything. For instance, the cookies took about 25 minutes to bake.

So how did they turn out? Well, they are actually quite interesting… and they taste okay, but they are not Tonya’s chocolate chip cookies. The texture is all wrong, obviously a result from the soda. Some bites are unexpectedly salty, resulting from both the course grind of the salt and soda, but what can you do? Laugh, cry or both… and perhaps continue to look for substitute ingredients. The obvious answer is to make simpler meals, and learn to cook Spanish style, and I intend to do both. But for now language is the real barrier. Basic grocery shopping looks like it will be a lot of fun once I am conversant in Spanish. To really get the good deals, one does not just go to the supermarket. One goes to the Fruteria for fruits and veges, the Panaderia for bread and pastries, the Carniceria for meats, the Pescaderia for fish, and if you need anything else, then to the Supermercado. Prepackaged products are not as prevalent as they are in the US. Thank goodness my mother taught me to cook.

Scott and I are looking into Spanish classes for me. And, we hope to trade English for Spanish lessons with a group associated with his school. Hopefully, I will be speaking like a native soon. And so the adventure continues…

(NOTE FROM SCOTT: Tonya's cookies tasted great. She is rising above all of the cooking challenges and producing her normal wonderful food.)

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