The Real Reason, by Deb Eve

spp0451tThere are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.
That’s what it says on the Brian Andreas’ Story People print on the left. The one I had copied onto a tile and permanently set into the backsplash behind my stove. Because that’s how I feel about cooking and about life.

I will admit here that I enjoy cooking. Not every day. Not when I have a million other things to get done. But cooking for me, is another creative outlet and the truth is, I really enjoy sharing food. I volunteer every week at a food pantry; I’m the one always bringing meals to the sick, the injured and the bereaved. I firmly believe that I make the world’s best ruggelach and it’s my (not-so-secret anymore) ministry to share them with people in need of cheering up.

One of my sweetest and most fulfilling memories of living abroad – and specifically in northern Uganda – was finally mastering the art of cooking – fine meals – up in the bush. Living 500 kilometers on unpaved road from any major city, we certainly didn’t have supermarkets, bakeries, gourmet specialty grocery stores to supply us. Most shops in our area didn’t even have refrigeration. Like it or not, we were forced to eat locally and fresh.

After a cranky and hungry beginning, this turned out to be great fun. When I had a hankering for beef and scallion rolls in Teriyaki sauce, I figured out how to make them (including the Teriyaki sauce). When I saw something that resembled jalapenos in the market, I taught myself how to make fried stuffed jalapenos. Just when I thought I would kill for some good chocolate, my Dutch friend taught me to make my own chocolate truffles (mind you, we had to make our own butter first). We made wonderful bread, pizzas, ice cream, pasta, yogurt. I experimented until I’d figured out how to make fried green tomatoes and I learned how to make the world’s richest chocolate cake. (Later, when I was pregnant and whining for bagels and lox, we never did quite manage the lox – but I know how to make a bagel!) It sounds kind of odd, but there we were living in this rural Ugandan outpost, sometimes under difficult and even dangerous circumstances, having these amazing dinner parties!

brownwaite_smallI still enjoy cooking – when I have the time. But I have to admit, cooking in America – with my easy access to whatever I might need – has never been as much fun as cooking in the bush. At first it was wonderful, having everything I could need – or want – at my fingertips. But now, there’s just no challenge in it. I mean, anyone can make a fine meal with reliable water, gas and electricity in their kitchen and a mega supermarket down the street. But where’s the fun in that?

I did get a little charge while I was working at the food pantry last week. A client came in, looked wistfully at the cornmeal and said he’d wished he could bake some cornbread but didn’t have an oven. Ah, I told him, all excited, and proceeded to teach him how to build what we called in the Peace Corps, a “campo oven” so he could bake on top of a hot plate! Who knows, maybe soon I’ll be giving courses on how to decorate cakes with edible flowers while avoiding landmines and the latest ebola outbreak!

~Deb Eve

13 Replies to “The Real Reason, by Deb Eve”

  1. I can personally attest to the quality and taste of your ruggelach! YUM. I’m tempted to fake an emotional episode just to get some more. 😉

    I loved the bit in the book about the yogurt and the sleeping bag. And I also think you perfectly captured the vastness of our selection here in the developed world.

  2. I *am* amazed by your cooking skills in the bush, having just finished FIRST COMES LOVE…

    I smiled when I read this:”I mean, anyone can make a fine meal with reliable water, gas and electricity in their kitchen and a mega supermarket down the street” and thought, “She hasn’t eaten at my house.”

    I know what you mean, though. We don’t know how lucky we are!

  3. Shhhh …. Katie! Most people don’t know that the secret to making yogurt is a sleeping bag! (That is, until they read my book!

    You know what, Kris – I bet if you were bored out of your mind (i.e. had nothing else to do – sort of like I found myself when I first arrived in Uganda) you’d become a pretty nifty chef yourself. But as it is, you’ve got plenty of other ways to occupy your time.

  4. Cooking is definitely an art form–and your ruggelach is amazing. We got pretty creative when I was kid (not living too close to a supermarket), and we made our own bagels, fortune cookies, spanakopita, matar paneer, and crackers… It is a lot of fun, but it sure is a lot of work!

  5. Eve, what a fun post. Your bush cooking reminds me of camp cooking. The same food always tastes better around a campfire, or by the side of a river, or in a meadow, right? That being said, though, the daily challenges of bush cooking, over the course of years, is on a whole, other level. You’ve got my respect!

  6. Meredith – I’m betting you did a lot of creative things as a kid! And yes, Tiffany, food does somehow taste better, I don’t know, if you’ve had to work for it, I guess. You know what was always the most fun for me – figuring out how to make a really spiffy meal using ONLY what I had on hand. I still make a game of it. Y’know – let’s see, I’ve got carrots, potatoes, eggs and goat cheese. What can I do with that (and you can’t go out and buy anything to add to it). I always thought someone ought to make some sort of cookbook program where you type in what you’ve got and it spits out all the recipes that use all those items.

  7. The best thing in the world is eating your children’s cooking…and watching them clean it all up afterwards WHILE you sit in a big comfy chair. AND NOT HAVING TO DO A THING!!! (UNLESS YOU WANT TO)

  8. Food preparation as a creative outlet makes me think of the time we made pesto with heaping bunches of kale that you had overflowing in your garden. That was fun… and high in fiber.

    I have officially commented

  9. This is a charming and brilliant post, Eve, and — without question — there will be a place for it in my FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA presentation. How will readers not want to read more?!

  10. Mom – you used to be a pretty awesome cook yourself!

    Joey!!!! You commented! No more slinking around behind the scenes for you! I am honored that you are reading my posts. Ladies, this is a young man to watch out for – he is going places!

    Larramie – I cannot wait for your presentation! Honestly! And thanks.

  11. Eve, that was “then”…this is “now”. NOW, I’d rather eat your cooking. I wonder what the other moms of wonderful daughters think???

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