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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: When facing repatriation after 18 years of the expat life, bring on the comfort food!

Serial expat (and soon to be repat!) Joanna Masters-Maggs is back with some juicy global food gossip to share.
Global Food Gossip 062315
“Oh, I see, it’s that time again, is it?” My husband entered the kitchen and sniffed the air. “It’s smells like Christmas, but it’s 30 degrees outside. “You’ll be wanting tea with that gingerbread?” Sighing he reached for the kettle.

Now, I’m not saying that expat life calls for comfort food more than any other lifestyle, but it does have it’s own rhythm of needs. For me, the main calls for comfort come during the entry and exit period of a new location.

I am now facing moving on from France—and frankly, even my beloved madeleine is not up to the job.

I need the kind of comfort food that warms up the winter, as neither the glorious weather nor the proximity of pools and beaches here in Provence can distract me this time.

Bikini be damned, my next move will be a return to England.

It is hard to imagine that repatriation can be more alarming than a move from one foreign country to another. Yet, after 18 years abroad and seven intercontinental moves, I am discovering that it is.

Our house in England is our holiday home, and we have few of the friends and none of the social networks we would have built had we stayed put. All the friends we have made at various offices, playgroups, schools, dog training groups and sundry activities are scattered across several continents. We will be in the interesting position of not belonging, while giving every outward appearance of doing so and no possibility of joining a repat support group (do such things even exist?).

You understand why I am reaching for the gingerbread now?

gingerbread-repatriation

Gingerbread by roxymjones via Pixabay.

The act of making gingerbread is a comfort in itself. Just watching the butter, syrup and sugar melt together and swirl in the pan, gives one time to relax and think.

Mm…as I watch the ingredients swirl, I’m thinking about cultural comfort foods of locations past.

Morning sickness in New Orleans calls for Morning Call

For anyone into comfort eating, my former home of New Orleans is a dangerous place. There are just too many temptations along the path of righteous eating, beginning with crawfish stew, jambalaya, seafood gumbo…

But it was beignets with coffee from Café du Monde or Morning Call (the less touristy choice, favored by locals) that became my preferred source of solace.

"City Park 12-12-12 Morning Call Coffee Beignets Dunk," by Infrogmation of New Orleans (CC BY 2.0).

“City Park 12-12-12 Morning Call Coffee Beignets Dunk,” by Infrogmation of New Orleans via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Of course life in New Orleans is pretty fabulous, especially when you are lucky enough to live in the French Quarter and see the life that exists behind the touristy façade. But comfort requirements are still there. Coffee and beignets are a fabulous hangover buster for one thing and for another they sure beat morning sickness into retreat while providing a good dose of the additional calcium an expectant mum needs. For me, the beignet and café au lait was the multi-tasking workhorse of comfort foods.

When it came time to leave the Big Easy, the beignet soothed my sadness, and I was careful to ensure I had a good recipe (see end of post) should it be needed to help with my adjustment to the next location: Den Haag.

The only problem, of course, with making your own beignets is the terror one feels when cooking with large quantities of hot fat—so it was with relief that I quickly discovered a more convenient way to ease my emotional entry into The Hague.

A cold arrival in Holland calls for oliebollen

We arrived in the middle of a particularly cold Christmas season. You can only imagine my delight at catching my first whiff of oliebollen and appelflappen, which fills the air that time of year.

Oliebollen is a Dutch style of doughnut that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve, and appelflappen are a kind of apple beignet—YES!—served with sugar and cinnamon and sold from little stands throughout the Christmas season.

What a happy Christmas that turned out to be. What joy to have a little bag of those to warm both your chilly fingers and the depths of your heart.

How can you not love living in such a place?

Dumpy in Brazil calls for Disk Cook

And then there was Brazil. Now Brazil provided a different sort of comfort food to get me through the hard times. Being pregnant and feeling dumpy in a land full of girls from Ipanema in tiny bikinis isn’t exactly fun—but then, suffering from the heat, I cut off all my hair. Short.

You don’t do that in Brazil. It’s akin to cutting off your femininity. It’s ugly.

Happily unaware of this and feeling as though I was channeling mid 1990s Meg Ryan, I returned home from the hairdresser. My housekeeper took one look of me and clapped her hands loudly to her cheeks with a look of pure horror. After a slight pause and in an unnaturally high voice, she said “Madame looks beautiful”—before making her excuses and disappearing for half an hour.

The next few days were a bit unsettling as Maria avoided eye contact. It wasn’t that I minded her thinking my hair was ugly, more that I was now aware of how little I understood the culture. How many other things was I getting wrong?

As insecure as it makes me sound, I decided not to compound one aesthetic error with that of gaining weight, too. I avoided thoughts of my beignet recipe and my go-to home remedy of buttered toast. I also steered clear of the local padarias (bakeries). Instead I filled up on fruit.

But the thing is, comfort food is the kind of thing that finds you and it doesn’t have to come in carbohydrate form. You just need to be open to it: it being a well-rounded flavor that puts your taste buds at ease.

The comfort food of Brazil found me rather quickly. Disc Cook is a service which will collect food from a huge list of restaurants and deliver to your house. A new restaurant opened in our area and we decided to try it out. Imagine my surprise when the healthy sounding chicken liver and spinach dish turned out to be my next comfort food.

Disk Cook screenshot.

Disk Cook screenshot, taken 24 June 2015.

No, hear me out. Full-flavoured meat that melted in the mouth, cooked with balsamic vinegar and pine nuts. Yes, I know it sounds odd, but it was so richly satisfying, I couldn’t get enough of it. I even took comfort in the cold leftovers of that dish, straight from the fridge.

In honesty, however, comforting as it was, it can never qualify as true comfort food. Firstly, it comes from a good restaurant and true comfort food should not be exclusive. Secondly, I was never able to find or make up that recipe for myself. If it is too hard to lay your hands on, it isn’t comfort food. Comfort food cannot be a cause of any stress—other than the weekly weigh-in, of course.

Enough of my unabashed wallowing, and now for my beignet recipe

As I write, I am beginning to feel a little nostalgic and rather sad again. The problem with being in a constant state of serial expatness is that each time you leave one place, you remember the pain of leaving the last. It is a sort of travellers’ emotional add-on game. Sometimes I have to walk away from it. That is true now.

Perhaps next time I can tell you how I found solace from homesickness and last-location-sickness in the foods of Malaysia, Venezuela and Saudi.

(If you have had enough of this unabashed wallowing, I apologise—but would politely point out that at least I haven’t descended to mentioning visits to certain popular fast food chains, which I have no doubt we perpetual expats have all indulged in at least once or twice. For that we must be grateful.)

New Orleans-style Beignets, adapted from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook
NOTE: I made the conversions to grams years ago. Metric rocks!

Ingredients:
1 package dried yeast
3 tablespoons warm water (hand hot)
180 ml milk
150g sugar
28g shortening (or lard—which I prefer)
1 tsp salt
375g all-purpose flour
1 large egg
Vegetable oil
Powdered sugar

Method
Combine the yeast and water and leave to stand for five minutes.

Combine the milk with the sugar, shortening and salt in a saucepan over a low heat until the fat melts. Remove from the heat and leave to cool until again hand hot. Very hot liquid will kill the yeast and so it will not rise. If your hand can tolerate the heat, so too can the yeast.

Combine yeast mixture, liquid mixture, two cups of the flour and the egg in a large mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer for two minutes. Gradually stir in as much of the remaining flour as you need to make a soft dough.

Put dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a buttered bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for one hour until doubled in size.

Punch dough back, turn onto a floured surface and roll out into a 30 x 25cms rectangle. Cut into two-inch squares and place them onto a lightly floured surface where they can be covered and left to rise until double in size (about 45 minutes).

Pour oil into a pan to a depth of about 3 or 4” and heat to 375° F (190 °C). Fry the beignets four at a time until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm. YUM.

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! What new comfort foods have you added to your list on your moves around the globe? And do you have any words of comfort for Joanna on her imminent repatriation? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “global food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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RANDOM NOMAD: Jennifer Greco, Writer & French Cheese Specialist

Born in: Spokane, Washington, USA
Passports: USA and France
Cities/States/Countries lived in: Washington (Seattle): 1987-99; Louisiana (New Orleans): 1999-2003; France (Cesseras*): 2003-present
Cyberspace coordinates: Chez Loulou | A taste of life in the south of France (blog)
* A tiny village in the Languedoc-Roussillon region

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I’ve been a devoted Francophile ever since I was a teenager and knew that one day I would live in France. My husband and I bought a small holiday house in the south of France in 2001 and decided to move here permanently in 2003.

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
I have no immediate family members who are “displaced”; however, my grandfather moved to America from Italy with his family at the age of 10.

How about your husband?
My husband was born and raised in New York City. He wasn’t a Francophile when we met, but as soon as I introduced him to Paris, he was hooked.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced.
It wasn’t just a moment, but every single frustrating minute I had to spend in the the sous-préfecture, arguing with the woman behind the desk who didn’t want to do her job by helping me with my carte de séjour paperwork [visa for staying in France longer than a year].

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
The summer night that my husband and I sat at a long table in the center of the village with our neighbors, sharing wine, food, stories and laughter.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of your adopted countries into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Seattle, Washington: If it wouldn’t spill, a caffè macchiato from Caffe Ladro.
From New Orleans: Mardi Gras throws and Crystal Hot Sauce.
From France: An olive wood Laguiole corkscrew.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
We’ll start out with a specialty of the Pacific Northwest: cracked Dungeness crab and clarified butter. Then we’ll each have half a Charentais melon filled with Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois — a wonderful dessert wine from Narbonne, close to where I live in the south of France. For the main course, I’ll serve a jambalaya from New Orleans. Then we’ll have (mais oui) a Languedoc cheese course — including Roquefort, Pélardon and Tomette des Corbières. Dessert will be a New Orleans classic: bread pudding with Bourbon sauce.

You may add one word or expression from the country you’re living in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
From New Orleans: Makin’ groceries — meaning going grocery shopping. It’s one of the many colorful expressions that’s part of the local vernacular. I simply love it!
From France: Oh la vache! (Oh my gosh!) This one cracks me up — the literal translation is “Oh the cow!” I can’t say it without smiling.

It’s French Cuisine month at The Displaced Nation. Who is your favorite French chef of all time?
I love Jacques Pépin. He is an honest, down to earth chef, writer and instructor, and his recipes are always delicious. One of my favorites of his is the Skillet Apple Charlotte, a melange of Tarte Tatin and French toast. C’est délicieux!

Like you, Julia Child was an American who moved to France and fell in love with the food. (We have just now inducted her into our Displaced Hall of Fame.) Of the following three Julia Child quotes, which do you most identify with?

1) The only time to eat diet food is when you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

2) The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

3) Until I discovered cooking, I was never really interested in anything.

I most identify with: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” I believe in living life to its fullest and sometimes that means taking risks and ignoring the fear, whether it be in the kitchen or in life. Our decision to move to France meant leaving our comfort zone and embracing the challenge of learning a new culture. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely been worth it! As for the kitchen — readers of my blog will know that I’m now on a mission to taste every single French cheese. I’ve now tasted 205 (there are 600-1,000, depending on who’s counting).

Readers — yay or nay for letting Jennifer Greco into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Jennifer — find amusing.)

img: Jennifer Greco in Paris, in front of the Louvre (April 2010).

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who is taking last week’s advice from Maggie to heart and discovering that Woodhaven is her oyster. (A good thing she’s not allergic to shellfish like her husband, Oliver!) What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation. Includes seasonal recipes and book giveaways. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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