You know that moment where you are abroad and you just want (insert American food here)? I’ve found that in going abroad you get sudden cravings for family favorites (that surely go beyond simply a food craving, but I digress). The only way to satisfy that craving (and cure the touch of homesickness) is to find that food and eat it. A few weeks ago, that was chocolate cookies for me.
I pulled out my mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, wrote down the ingredients and skipped off to the supermarket.
Oh, but did we really think it was going to be that easy? Silly me.
Baking aisle. Check.
Flour? Well, there are like 15 different kinds of flour. Do I pick the ones with the pizza on the package or the bread? Oh, who am I kidding, what’s the cheapest? Okay, got the flour.
Sugar? Again, there are at least 10 different kinds of sugar. I think “sucre en poudre” is what I need even though that would technically translate into powdered sugar and I need granulated sugar, but the picture on package looks like granulated sugar…well, it’s the cheapest anyway.
Brown sugar? … Brown sugar? … There’s brown, natural cane sugar, but that’s not brown sugar. Google translate: brown sugar… “sucre brun”…not helpful. Okay…
Molasses? (I’ll make my own brown sugar.) … Molasses? Not here either…
Google: substitutes for brown sugar…Ah, no service. Do these cookies really need brown sugar? What does it do anyway?
Baking soda?…Baking soda?…I just see flour, sugar and salt…How important is baking soda really?
Baking powder? Maybe I can substitute baking soda for baking powder. Hmm…it is not here either.
Butter? I mean I want Crisco, but there’s no way that I would find it even it was here. Okay, here we are in the dairy aisle. Interesting. They neither have cups or sticks. Naturally, the measurements are in the metric system. Oh, right, I’m going to have to cook in celsius! Do I think that I will need more than this brick of butter? Well, if I do, too bad. And should it be sweet, salted? Never mind, I’m just going to be happy that I found the butter.
Vanilla extract? Whatever this is, close enough. Check.
Chocolate chips? Interesting. Mini, dark chocolate ones. This bag is maybe a quarter of the size of the one at home…and I think we use most of the bag. Well, just going to buy one bag anyway.
So without baking soda and brown sugar, I leave the grocery store.
I went home and did some research. After consulting some blogs from other expats with similar baking woes (particular thanks to David Lebovitz and his website!), I made a new list with possible brown sugar substitutes and the correct translation for baking soda (bicarbonate de soude).
Going back to the store, I found my brown sugar substitutes pretty easily. I walked up and down the aisle multiple times…no baking soda (I did find what I think is baking powder). Finally, after trying to look lost and confused so someone would ask me if I needed help, I went in search of a store employee. I mustered up my confidence and asked, “Où est le bicarbonate de soudre?”. He looked at me funny and then said, “Le bicarbonate de soude?” Detecting the subtle difference and my mistake, I said, “oui”. He then took me to the aisle for cleaning products and I found the baking soda.
At that point, I was concerned. What was the baking soda doing in the cleaning products aisle? I remembered that the baking soda my mother had in her cabinet could be used for cleaning purposes, but I couldn’t tell if this was a special cleaning baking soda or multipurpose baking soda (especially since the word in French isn’t a direct translation of “baking soda”). I looked on the label and there was great mention of its wonderful cleaning properties, but absolutely no mention of cooking. I sat in the aisle for at least five minutes debating if this would be poisonous or not and if I wanted to waste my money finding out. Finally, I decided that 1) if I did this with every product I didn’t understand, that I would never make it out of the store and 2) I would do some research at home before I opened it and try to return it if it wasn’t correct (and not be upset with myself if they didn’t allow me to return it).
I left the store and went home to do more research. After 30 minutes or more of searching the company website, comparing active ingredients, searching other blogs for mention of this brand, etc. I opened the container to see if it resembled what I remembered. It didn’t smell ominous and it looked like what I remembered…so I just decided to see what would happen.
Luckily, it turned into a lovely batch of cookies and banana bread.
This event just reminded me how much of an adventure seemingly simple things can be when you are in a foreign country. When this happens, all you can do is laugh and just appreciate where you are.