Remember those cooking skills you had in the US? Don’t count on them surviving a trip across the ocean.
A couple weeks ago, I served my family hockey pucks for dinner. Not that I used that description when I touted the meal I planned to make. What I said was words to the effect of “I’m gonna cook up some pork loins tonight, with maybe some lemon green beans.”
But what they got was hockey pucks. Actually, I guess they were more like rubber drink coasters. With a side of rattan sticks.
There was a time not too long ago when I was sufficiently competent to prepare a dish of juicy, appealingly-spiced boneless pork loins, and accompany it with crunchy green beans lightly pan fried in olive oil with lemon and sea salt. But now, not so much.
Once you’ve been cooking a while, you come to depend unconsciously on your local milieu. In the US, when I bought pork loins, they were always a certain thickness. The Germans apparently like theirs cut thinner. So they cook a lot faster. And turn to leather a lot sooner.
Also, it’s surprising how disorienting it can be to use a different system of measures. Your favorite recipe requires a cup of flour and a half pint of buttermilk? Buwahahahaha! Say hello to Mr. Millilitre! And that carton of butter that used to come helpfully packaged in 8-tbsp sticks is now a featureless hexahedron. Which helps explain why my Alfredo sauce from Wednesday night resembles a yellow slag pond.
Of course, that’s all assuming the store even has the ingredients your recipe calls for. We are currently staying a couple blocks away from a massive supermarket that sells maybe a dozen different types of muesli. Want some oatmeal instead? Then you better be prepared to pick it out of the muesli by hand, ’cause otherwise you’re not finding any.
And pancake mix. (Yeah, I make pancakes from a mix. Sue me.) After combing the store seemingly for hours one day, I finally came across the one miserable little plastic bottle of pancake mix in the store. It’s the kind you add milk to, shake, and pour out to make sad, vinyl pancakes. It paired perfectly with the ampule of industrial maple syrup I winkled out from its hiding place in the pickle aisle.
When you cook, do you have a set of favorite “go-to” spices you depend on? Of course you do! When you come over here, you’ll be unusually lucky if you find them under the same names in German (or French or Polish). Ever try to tell the difference between Oregano, Basil, and Marjoram just by eyeballing piles of dun-colored leaves in different glass bottles? I didn’t think so.
Finally, there’s the equipment. For some reason, I can’t seem to master a stove (or “hob”) on this side of the Atlantic. The burner knobs are demarcated with ascending numbers — from 1 to 6, or 1 to 10, or 4.73 to the square root of 59, or whatever. The higher you go the hotter it gets, right? Except it never seems to work quite right. On the hob I was using tonight, pretty much every setting from 3 to 9 had the same heat, which was roughly the equivalent of the fusion-powered inferno at the heart of the sun.
Anyway. I’m hopeful that before too long I’ll get comfortable with my new culinary environment and begin once again to produce edible meals.
Meantime, want to join me for some Chewing Gum Casserole with Patent Leather Pie?