Thursday, September 26, 2013

Anticipating India

My name.
Pretty soon, this blog will have photos and recipes of succulent lamb curries, burnt red raw silk saris, intricate marble etchings on the walls of ancient palaces, yellow ochre spices, inquisitive eyes the color of which I have yet to discover, Himalayan sunsets and sunrises I have yet to imagine, tiger homes, people homes, homeless people, people watchers, people I have yet to India. Stay tuned for my next foodie anthropologist adventure.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When cooks can't cook

My husband and I met in Honolulu at an international education development conference. The day we met, I was certain he was the man I wanted to marry and live a global nomad's life with. We got married exactly one year after the day we met. Very romantic, I know. The not so romantic aspect of our life in international development, is that we sometimes have to brave the not so romantic aspects of living in developing countries. I've had to rough it in Equatorial Guinea, Africa, where I was hospitalized in a "clinic" in the middle of nowhere from food poisoning caused by eating bush rat. I've also been known to be looking maniacally for a restroom in Mexico, Colombia, China, and Washington DC (damn that hot dog from a stand in the National Mall)!

I wouldn't exactly say we're roughing it in Panama, since we live in a beautiful high rise in an impressive new concrete jungle of shiny, tall, modern, futuristic-looking buildings. When you're about to land at the Panama City airport, the view of the skyline resembles Miami or even Dubai instead of what you would imagine a Central American skyline to look like. 

Despite the marble, views of the Pacific, pools, saunas, and all the luxury, however, construction is not of the highest quality. It's common for floors to rise all of a sudden, creating giant pyramids of marble tiles in the middle of your living room. Water pipes are known to burst constantly, causing entire buildings to lose water for days at a time. Lack of maintenance is the norm, despite high administration and rental fees.

Three weeks ago, they shut off the gas in our building. No hot water. No stove. No oven. No dryer. The reason = multiple gas leaks in almost every floor of our 40-story building. The gas guy told me there was a gas pipe on the 40th floor that was in such bad shape, it "would have been a bomb." 

We've had to be resourceful. I'm using wedding gifts that usually remain untouched in the back of my cabinets. Cuisinart griddlers and toaster ovens have baked, broiled, panninied, and toasted like they've never done before. I heat water with an electric kettle for my young sons to shower (under a watering can we hold above their heads), but my husband and I bathe in freezing H2O. Yes, it's hot here in Panama, but damn, that water is still cold. 

I'm using this opportunity to teach my four-year-old the concept of luxuries like running water, hot water, and electricity. I'm also using this opportunity to think of recipes I can cook without the use of a stove or a normal oven. Here is the recipe for a roasted vegetable lasagna I made in my toaster oven. 

When cooks can't cook....they still find a way. 

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna (*Adapted from Rombauer's Joy of Cooking)

zucchini (3 lbs)
eggplants (3 lbs)
tomatoes (3 lbs)
coarse Kosher salt (I like Mortons)
fresh ground pepper
olive oil (1 tsp)
Ricotta cheese (1 lb)
Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup)
Eggs (2)
nutmeg (1/2 tsp)
breadcrumbs (1/4 cup)

In roasting pans, roast three pounds each of sliced zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes in plenty of coarse Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and olive oil. Roast at 350 degrees until nice and caramelized. 

Cook dried lasagna (1 lb) in salted boiling water and a splash of vegetable oil for a couple of minutes less than normal cooking time because pasta will continue cooking in the oven.

In a bowl, mix ricotta cheese (1 lb), parmesan cheese (1/2 cup), two eggs, salt, nutmeg, and pepper and set in fridge until ready to use.

To assemble lasagna, place one layer of pasta on a glass pyrex lined with olive oil, then add a layer of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with crushed pepper and roasted vegetables, and repeat for as many layers as you can. Finish off with a layer of lasagna topped with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.

Cover lasagna with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees (ideally  in a normal oven, but when you have to, a toaster oven works as well) for half an hour. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.