Sunday, June 01, 2008

Food, glorious food

We knew when we moved to Germany that we wouldn’t be able to buy a lot of the foods we were used to eating in Texas, like Tex-Mex cuisine. But we were surprised at how few pre-packaged/processed foods were available. We hadn’t really thought of ourselves as especially big consumers of pre-packaged/processed foods before we moved here, but having to go without mac-and-cheese in a box or cornbread mix showed us how much we were relying on them before. (I can’t imagine any self-respecting German eating mac-and-cheese at all, and cornbread is more of a regional Southern thing, kind of like Tex-Mex, so maybe these aren’t the best examples.)

Since we can’t get any of the mixes we were accustomed to using, we have combed over recipes in all our cookbooks and on the internet to find approximations of the stuff we like. Fannie Farmer has taken care of our cornbread and pancake recipe needs, Hershey is keeping our arteries well if infrequently oiled with its cake recipe off the back of the cocoa box and a brownie recipe, and everything else we are figuring out by trial and error using random internet recipes. Recently, John wanted to make beef enchiladas, having imported many, many corn tortillas from Texas on our last trip, but alas, we had not remembered to buy any sauce mix. I got online and found a recipe, and it turned out pretty good, even though it didn’t call for tomato paste. As you can tell, my enchilada sauce-making experience is basically limited to opening a package of seasoning, adding water and tomato paste and stirring.

One side effect of having to make every imaginable type of dish from scratch has been to make me more aware of what exactly goes into our favorite foods. You might die on the spot if you knew how many eggs go into yellow cake—the recipe I tried with good results calls for *8* yolks, and I think I was trying to get away with as few as possible when I picked the recipe. I’ve found that some dishes are a ton of work—I let John cook those *g*--and others are much simpler than I would have thought.

Don’t get me wrong, we still eat processed foods, like frozen fries, breaded and frozen fish, and spaghetti sauce in a jar, but even those seem simpler than their American counterparts. For one thing, I don’t think they contain corn syrup the way they would in America. My German friend wasn’t even familiar with corn syrup when I mentioned it to her.

Over at La en vie, Sedulia was talking recently about the prevalence of corn syrup as an additive in American processed foods, and how this wasn’t the case in France (she just moved back to the States within the last year). I know that here in Germany, people are pretty picky about what goes into their food, and I can imagine that the sentiment is the same, if not stronger, in France. As John has often noticed, this might explain why a lot of German snack foods don’t taste as good as, say, Doritos—Germans just haven’t figured out how to load their snacks with additives yet.

Hannah is probably the biggest consumer of processed foods in our house, because we stupidly let her pick (mostly) what she wants in her snack at school and her lunches at home, so there is probably a can of ravioli and couple of packages of ramen in the pantry right now. I can get her to eat fresh fruit if I chop up apples and offer them to her with peanut butter or Nutella, or if I eat a banana and beg her not to take any bites, in which case she will hurry over to eat half in one gulp. Yes, I am a paragon of parenting. She is not fond of cheese (I think she must have been switched at birth), and is *meh* about meat. As I constantly tell her, I am surprised she doesn’t have rickets yet. I guess her love of milk is about all that is keeping her healthy, and the dairy farmers are threatening to gone on strike. *sigh*

Fortunately, she does like strawberries and has managed to eat most of a pint by herself in the not-too-distant past. And even more fortunately, it is now strawberry season. You can’t walk more than 10 feet in town without seeing displays for fresh strawberries. My friend gave me a recipe for a refreshing cold drink—necessary since the temps have been creeping up near 90F, with no AC: blend strawberries, add mint leaves (I’m going to add lemon balm), and freeze in ice trays. Add a couple of cubes to some mineral water, and presto! Summer drink.

Hannah does *not* like asparagus, the other in-season produce, so I will have to come up with a way to serve them that makes them an optional part of the dish. I’m thinking crepes with ham, asparagus, and hollandaise sauce. Yum! I’ll just leave the asparagus out of hers. Since we are a family of non-smellers, there’s nothing to mar our enjoyment except Hannah’s likely commentary during dinner.

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