Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'm Not Meant for Pioneering Life

After my return to Tripoli on 1 October, things were looking up, at least as far as our cafeteria goes. The food was improving, the chefs seemed to learn how to use spices, and the menu was expanding. (We actually had chicken tikka masala one night - oh my God!)  However, the chow hall is sliding back to its older standards of potatoes, dry chicken, and overcooked, unidentifiable cuts of beef every night, with some form of sauce.  It's getting pretty grim around here at meal times, so I finally decided to break out the cookware I have smuggled in and make lentil chili.  I'm not able to get out and buy fresh vegetables and meat, so I have to use what veggies I can steal from the chow hall (tomatoes, onions, carrots on occasion) and use up the dry goods I was able to buy on my one trip to a supermarket in early August (pasta, lentils, canned tomatoes).  My spices arrived via pouch from Istanbul last week, so surely I was set!

Perseverance builds character, so they say.  I couldn't find the one kitchen knife we have, so I diced carrots with a regular dinner knife.  I now have a blister on my right hand from the effort.  I have neither stove nor hot plate (nor even a skillet), so I had to brown the onions and carrots in the only rice cooker I could find in Libya, which works a little slowly and is rather small.  I also had to make the chicken broth in the rice cooker, so I let the bouillon cube melt slowly while I sliced the carrots. Finally, once I had everything in the crock pot and ready to go, I realized that though it's on a European voltage cycle, the plug is unlike any I've ever seen before - three round prongs in a triangle.  It's like British and European plugs had a child that neither wants to claim.  So I took a picture of the plug and started wandering around compound hoping to find someone with a really good converter set or a house that's better equipped than mine.  Finally, something went my way - in the second floor hallway of a friend's villa, I found a multi-function power strip (currently powering a wireless router) that appeared to have forgiving enough sockets to take my special crock pot.  I lugged the base over, tested it to be sure, then schlepped the actual pot of ingredients over, getting strange looks from my neighbors all the while.

So my chili is currently simmering in the floor of someone else's villa, while we all wait patiently for it to finish.  It better be good, because I'm going to be supremely embarrassed to have brought in people outside my villa for the process.  (Also, the dinner menu is appalling tonight - we're depending on this chili.)  Updates once it's cooked and we test it!

Update:  Dinner SUCCESS!  We served the stew (not really chili, more stew) over basmati rice and ate ourselves silly.  I and my housemates have at least another day of leftovers to keep us going through whatever the cafeteria throws at us tomorrow.  Onwards and upwards!


  1. I think I'm good, thanks! The main thing is that I can't readily access fresh vegetables and meats... I have a good stock of canned and dry goods, plus spices.

  2. Can I just say how much I admire you. I don't even know you but I'm a fan. Love your blog and always look forward to new posts.

  3. Hi hannah - I'm a former MESPer, just wanted you to know I just discovered your blog and will be following! Thanks for writing!
    Ben P

  4. Jamie, thanks for the kind words! I'll try to write more frequently in the coming months - I'm adjusting to a new normal after the September crisis, so the blank page looks more inviting than forbidding now.

    Ben - it's GREAT to hear from you! Which semester MESP were you in, and where are you now? Keep in touch - I'm hoping to see David and Suzanne later this month!

  5. Hang in there! I know it is not easy but you'll get through it and based upon my own experience you will invent all sorts of new recipes born of desparation and some great memories no matter how they turn out.

  6. Chow halls on the whole somehow manage to make everything unpalatable. I think it's something in the trays.