Heat in the Kitchen

I thought that there wouldn’t be too many people at the grocery store on a Thursday morning, at the end of the month. Boy, was I wrong. Fortunately, I got to talking with a nice lady in the line and it helped pass the time.

She noticed a box of couscous in my cart and wanted to know all about how I prepared it, telling me about the one and only time she attempted to make it and miserably failed. After explaining how to cook it, she asked, “What do you eat it with?” and I replied “All sorts of saucy dishes, even rougail saucisses! When she heard that, you would’ve thought, by the look on her face, that she had swallowed a fly, no wait, maybe more like a hedgehog.  I was ready to catch her had she fainted, but she managed to squeak out “You eat rougail saucisse with couscous?” I sheepishly said yes, and even that it was a delicious option to change things up a bit. She nodded and smiled but I could tell she thought I was crazy.

I feel like this example of utter bafflement pretty much sums up my relationship with Creole cuisine. I love to cook, take pride in constantly trying new things and pushing my culinary limits. I love the food here, so naturally I have tried to recreate it at home. Even though I am well aware that I do not have one Creole bone in my body, the numerous cookbooks I have invested in don’t make it easy either.

One of the books has the recipe, a picture with all the ingredients, and step-by-step pictures of how to make it. But what do you do when the recipe says 3 eggs and there are only 2 in the picture? Or what about when a recipe calls for shallot but then talks about an onion instead? I mean, I’m used to, and now enjoy improvising after years trying to find certain American ingredients for some of my beloved recipes. But when you’re using a local cookbook, written by a local person, using local ingredients, why can’t the final outcome taste like the melt-in-your-mouth vanilla duck at the hole-in-the-wall down the street?

Maybe that’s just it. I have often been disappointed with the Creole food I make, but rarely when I buy it from a shack or eat at a restaurant. After only a year of living here, is it already time to throw in the towel, retire my mortar and pestle and get out of the kitchen? I think I’ll invite my supermarket friend to come over for lunch; she’ll make the rougail saucisses and I’ll make the couscous.

Vocabulary

grocery store = supermarché
line = fil d’attente
cart = caddie
to swallow = avaler
fly = mouche

hedgehog = hérisson
to faint = s’évanouir
sheepishly = timidement
to nod = hocher la tête
utter = total 

bafflement = confusion
recipe = recette
beloved = cher
outcome = résultat
hole-in-the-wall = boui-boui 

disappointed = déçu
rarely = rarement
to throw in the towel = jeter l’éponge
mortar = mortier
pestle = pilon

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All Islands Are NOT Created Equally

My first visit to Reunion was a vacation my husband and I took quite a few years before deciding to move here. After the two-week visit, my husband and I definitely felt like it was a place we would want to settle down. And before the move, we were also able to spend some time in Guam and Hawaii.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Guam, it is a quaint island south of Japan in the North Pacific that few French know about. To be fair, it is much smaller than Reunion with a population of about 160,000 people. Guam has some beautiful beaches and aquatic flora and fauna, as well as friendly locals. It is a popular vacation hotspot for the Japanese who flock there for shotgun weddings and luxury shopping and also has a large American military presence. However, Hawaii still remains a top island vacation spot for Americans, much like Reunion is to the French.

It is safe to say that Hawaii is very similar to Reunion. Administratively speaking, it is one of the 50 states; it is extremely culturally rich and has very similar topographical features to Reunion. Hawaii is great for snorkeling, beautiful beaches, tide pool exploring, hiking, and getting a bird’s eye view of it all in a helicopter. Hawaiians are very warm, welcoming and proud of their heritage. This is all part of the “Aloha” spirit along with the “shaka” hand sign which can mean anything from “hello” to “life is good”.

By the end of all of these trips, we were, of course, experts on island living. However, nothing could’ve really prepared me for life here. I have had more “there’s a first time for everything” moments than ever in my 30+ years of existence.

I will never forget one of the first times I walked my kids to school, there was a chicken foot on the sidewalk and an enormous centipede about 10 feet farther. When we bit in to the candy canes we had used to decorate our Christmas tree, they had turned into chewing gum because of the heat. I have never been at a check out stand where the person in front of me was buying chicken livers, the fry of fish, and wasp larvae all at once. I have never been able to run up in the mountains and go to the beach in the same day. Something quirky happens every day and there is so much more to experience. As they say variety is the spice of life, and here it just happens to be very spicy.

Vocabulary

to settle down = s’installer
quaint = pittoresque
fair = juste
hotspot = endroit populaire
to flock = affluer

shotgun = de façon rapide
features = caractéristiques
snorkelling = palmes, masque, tuba
tide pool = flaque de marée
Aloha: “Bonjour” en Hawaiien

could’ve = aurait pu
centipede = scolopendre
farther = plus loin
to bite = mordre
candy canes = sucre d’orges

heat = chaleur
check out stand = la caisse
wasp = guêpe
quirky =  original
variety is the spice of life = La diversité, c’est ce qui met du piment dans la vie 

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Celebrate Good Times

We celebrated every holiday in my family in true American “go big or go home” fashion. Despite our family being of Greek, Welsh and German heritage, everything was dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day, right down to the butter. My son even had a t-shirt one year that said “I’m not Irish but kiss me anyway.” We had heart-shaped pancakes for Valentine’s Day, dozens of dyed eggs at Easter, and red, white and blue fruit kebabs for the 4th of July. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween were the highlights of the year and brightened up the otherwise overcast and very rainy fall season of the northwestern United States. Any holiday was a good reason to have a fun, themed meal and to decorate every nook and cranny of the house.

Now that I have my own family, I have tried to perpetuate these festive traditions. It wasn’t always easy in mainland France to find decorations for every holiday, much less the festive spirit, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is alive and well in Reunion.

There are party supplies here! And we’re not just talking about candles and a few packs of birthday napkins, but real color coordinated, aisles and aisles of napkins, paper plates, and other decor. Even weddings are color coordinated and boy, do they dress up! In the states we have fireworks for the 4th of July, but here they seem to go off all the time! They really do seem to take parties and celebrations here to the next level; even I don’t feel up to snuff.

I don’t remember the last time I looked at a calendar to see what day of the week it was. When I open the window and hear music blasting, you can bet it’s Friday…sometimes even Thursday. Tents start popping up, lots are being taped off at parks and beaches, and the smell of barbecue chicken fills the air. I thought Americans were the kings of barbecue and too much food, but then I moved here. My puny little picnic consisting of a baguette sandwich and chips is nothing compared to the enormous pots and rice cookers being unloaded from the trunks of cars.

Reunion is a melting pot of cultures, races, religions and customs. The United States is for this mixture as well, and there is always something to celebrate because of it. But more importantly, everyone is welcome to join in. Regardless of your nationality or religious convictions, there’s always enough food, one more noisemaker and another chair someone pulls up when you arrive.

Vocabulary

to go big or go home = faire quelque chose à fond ou pas du tout
Welsh = gallois
heritage = origine
dyed = teint
heart-shaped: forme de cœur

kebabs = brochettes
highlights = temps forts
brightened = ensoleillé
overcast = couvert (météo)
nook and cranny = recoin

pleasantly = agréablement
supplies = fournitures
coordinated = assorti
aisles = rayons
to not feel up to snuff: se sentir inadéquate

blasting = à fond
popping up = poussent comme des champignons
lots = terrains
puny = petit, chétif
unloaded = déchargé

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