*Title of this post comes from John Prine’s song “Angel From Montgomery”
Some Peace Corps countries give you an allowance for finding your own place to live. For example, had we gone to Mongolia, that would have been the case. In Indonesia, though, you are placed with a host family. This is for a number of reasons, including the fact that Peace Corps is relatively new here, so it is helpful in community integration when everyone in the village wonders what the hell a bule is doing here for two years. Also, family is very important in Indonesian culture, so being linked closely with a family furthers the integration on that front, too.
There are plenty of positives and negatives to living with a host family, and it is pretty much a wash. However, one of the biggest negatives for Amy and I, especially Amy, is that it limits the amount of cooking we can do on our own. Most meals we eat are prepared by our family or their housekeeper and we don’t get much say in the matter. So, when it is wonderful “Kentucky Style” fried chicken day, awesome. When it is rooster head soup night (seriously), we might just eat rice and soy sauce instead.
The longer we live here (almost to our 7th month mark in Indonesia, 4.5 months at site), the more comfortable we are in our house, so we’ve tried our hand at cooking a bit in the last month or so. The kitchen is pretty nice compared to other Volunteers’ houses and we’ve got access to plenty of kitchen utilities (including a toaster oven in the bathroom). That said, it’s not quite home. At any moment, we might be assaulted by a stray cat or resident rat. The counter is usually covered in some of the biggest ants you’ve ever seen, too.
Amy and I have made some great meals over the last month, including grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, burritos and chili with fresh 4 hour old meat from last week’s Idul Adha holiday (which requires goat/cow slaughter followed by the meat being given to the poor or to people associated with the slaughter).
Our biggest cooking endeavor was a few weeks back when we joined our friends, Zach and Clay, in their blog’s cooking project. Zach and Clay are friends of our’s from DC and they run a fantastic food blog named The Bitten Word (thebittenword.com), which has received accolades from the Washington Post and Saveur, and was named one of the top 50 food blogs in the world. We still follow their blog; however, it usually just leaves my mouth watering with dreams of food that I won’t be able to eat for the two years we are here.
Their project asked readers to sign up to be assigned a recipe from one of the six food magazines that the project would complete cover-to-cover. We requested something “Asian” and Zach and Clay gave us the recipe for Kung Pao Chicken from the Food Network Magazine. Pictures from this culinary adventure are below, along with our write-up on the experience for their blog. Make sure to check out Zach and Clay’s blog, too!
From The Bitten Word:
“Amy and I are in the Peace Corps in a village in Indonesia, so we had to make a few adjustments based on what wasn’t available at the local market. For example, rice wine was out of the question since we live in the most conservative area of Muslim Java, so we substituted a mixture of apple juice and apple vinegar. We also substituted flour for cornstarch and used canola oil instead of peanut and chili oil. We had to butcher the chicken breast ourselves, removing the heart and innards…that was a first. Total cost of ingredients here was under $3. The outcome was great and the only thing we would change would be to add a little more spice. We loved it, our host family loved it and the village stray cats all showed up, too. Although in full disclosure, we consider McDonald’s a luxury at this point, so take our recommendation with a grain of salt.”