I just spent an hour drooling over the Peace Corps website. Reading, I skimmed over details like, “life-defining leadership experience,” and jumped to words like, “The Pacific Islands,” “Africa,” and “The Caribbean.” No worries Mom and Dad, I’m not going to join the Peace Corps….I am well aware that my motivations are not pure… The bottom line is that I am itching to travel again.
When I first set off for Singapore, I never anticipated the natural high involved with traveling. There is a distinct high and as such, a distinct letdown. After the planning, excitement, and perpetual over-stimulation came to an end, I dragged my significantly heavier bags through the airport, boarded a plane and reluctantly re-entered the world I’d left one month earlier.
Now, while life continues as if nothing ever happened, I ride an emotional rollercoaster ranging from lethargy to restlessness. One moment, I write month-long activity lists and the next, I retreat to vegetating on the couch with my cat and a beer.
During a moment of nostalgia on my walk home from work I entered the city’s giant Asian supermarket to see what I might recognize with my new familiarity to Southeast Asian cuisine.
Sure enough, this place that once bewildered me with aisles of bok choy and Pocky Sticks, now looked like a playground of ingredient possibility. I felt a sense of empowerment no longer being terrified of all the little dried shrimps and fermented fish parts, and I felt wise knowing to stay clear from the small crowd (yes, a crowd) surrounding the durian. Truth be told, I wouldn’t even go get the taro root I wanted because it was too close to the satanical fruit….Fresh, local durian is terrifying enough. I don’t imagine sending it halfway around the world improves it any.
Being myself, I grabbed a basket and went a little overboard. Self-control is not my strong suit. I gathered two packs of frozen roti (I’d grown accustomed to eating morning egg sandwiches on this greasy flatbread), a couple frozen pork buns (I might need an afternoon snack), rice flour, sweetened red beans, palm seeds in syrup, palm sugar….I could hardly carry all of my new toys home.
Along the road in Singapore I’d picked up a couple cookbooks and now, I planned to curb my wanderlust by attempting to recreate some of my favorite flavors.
For my first attempt, I made simple steamed pandan cakes. It is basic formula with whipped whole eggs, sugar, coconut milk, flour and pandan extract. In the U.S., we don’t associate the steaming method of cookery with cakes, yet is a dominant technique in many parts of Asia. It gives products unbeatable moisture and allows the baker to avoid browning or crust formation, if that is the desired outcome.
The cakes were not my most attractive creation (seeing that the only container small enough to fit in my baby-sized steamer were clumsy-looking muffin cups), but the overall result was tasty.
Despite this temporary fix of culinary exploration and my new supply of canned longan, I still I find myself lusting to travel. I only got a taste of what the world has to offer and my curiosity can no longer be appeased with an episode of Anthony Bourdain and Indian take-out. Yet, until the next opportunity to travel comes along, I will continue working with my new ingredients, learning what I can, and plotting my next move…..