My American Dinner (What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger)
Turkey, stuffing and beer.
BBQ ribs, corn on the cob and beer.
Beer with a side of beer, with beer on top.
When trying to think of what authentic American dinner I could cook for my host family to show my appreciation of their hospitality, I thought of some of my favorite wholesome, nutritious, typical American dinners, which I listed above. But then I thought better of it, as my family here has three kids 18 and under, and what role model would I be if I served ribs to kids? They could poke an eye out with those things. And turkey? Too much tryptophan and you may never wake up. And I can’t have that on my conscience.
So I went back to the drawing board with these slight limitations in mind:
1. I can’t cook. Not even a little bit. Although, I’m a wizard with the microwave.
2. There are no microwaves in this part of Bali.
3. There’s very little food that one would consider to be truly American in origin.
4. When I invite people over to sample my cooking, I typically eat alone.
I went by taxi to find inspiration and ingredients at the Carrefour, which is a large Euro styled supermarket close to the airport in Denpasar. After spending a solid hour roaming the aisles, I had a cart full of mismatched ingredients and a large inflatable donkey. Oddly enough, the donkey was for display only and not for sale (What kind of country is this???).
When I went to the kitchen to prepare the food, the family crowded around to see what wild concoction this crazy American would cook up. As all three people who have seen me cook might have guessed, I went with pasta, green beans, corn and spiced things up with some meatballs and marinara, topped with parmesan cheese and a little pepper and salt. As I didn’t want to scare this family more than the sight of me pummeling 3 pounds of raw ground hamburger meat into submission already did, I was forced to forsake my usual habit of cooking all pasta and veggies in one pot*, albeit with much sadness and spiritual discomfort. I understand that spaghetti and meat balls is Italian in origin, but like many things of European descent (bad hair, colonial imperialism, Jackie Chan, etc.) I feel like we’ve had it long enough to call it American.
After everyone was served, provided with a bottle of ice cold Coca-Cola and prepared for the worst, we had our usual pre-meal prayer, albeit with a more somber tone than usual. And at last… we dug in. Forty five minutes later, no one had fainted, gagged or faked a seizure. Some even dared to say they liked it. Great success!!! For dessert we had neopolitan ice cream served on ice cream cones, which, oddly being the only thing I didn’t make, was a huge fan-favorite.
In the photo below, notice how I wisely took the photo before a single bite was taken. Poor souls, if only they knew the fate that awaited them. In the picture, DINARI’s Executive Director, Nyoman Irianto Wibawa (nicknamed Pak Alit), is sitting on the far left and is joined from left to right by his daughter Monica (18), the family nanny Sari, his wife Ibu Neni, DINARI field officer Daniel, Pak Alit’s daughter Ayu (age 15), and his son Komang (14).
So with the success of the first night, I’m looking to do another rendition, and I’m looking for suggestions. Please note the four limitations stated above and understand that the family has a stove with two burners (no oven) and a medium sized fridge, if that helps. Any thoughts?
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* Editor’s note: Cooking veggies and pasta in the same pot is a glorious, glorious thing that creates cleaning efficiencies (saving one to two pots) and spiritual bliss. All you do is cook your pasta, and then when it is almost ready, just add in your frozen veggies. It makes a nice addition to the pasta, and goes well with the red sauce and parmesan. Please know that you will likely be met with resistance by doing so. My roommates have even threatened to organize an intervention. But please be heartened in knowing that many truly revolutionary, life changing innovations have first been met with staunch resistance, as we’ve seen with male designer jeans, the forward pass and George Michael’s solo career.