Saturday, May 17, 2008

Substitution - A Way of Life

When you live on an island substitution is a way of life. If you don’t have what you need and cannot get it, then you must use your ingenuity!

When I first came to the island I was anxious to get my house built and my kitchen going. I love to cook (especially deserts). However, I soon learned that some of the wonderful things I enjoyed making were not going to come out the same as it did in the States.

Spices are not as varied and many things are not available or, if they are, they may be here one month and then not again for years! Take Chili Powder. For years I could not find it then, suddenly, on a trip to the coast there it was on the shelf. Dried mint, poultry seasoning, cream of tartar, dried mustard, dill weed, etc. were things I had to bring back from my yearly trips to the States.

Many things like, chopped green chilies, diced pimientos (which are sometimes found on the coast), water chestnuts, canned French fried onions, unflavored gelatin, cornmeal (occasionally found on the island), canned mandarin oranges, Dijon mustard (which has suddenly appeared in our stores but who knows for how long), Ricotta cheese (found here but rarely), yellow/red/orange sweet peppers, frozen peas, yogurt, artichokes, fresh spinach, ham, radishes (which have been sold here about 6 times in 11 years), angel hair pasta, Blu Cheese, wild rice, and chipped beef! The list can go on, but I think you get my drift.

There are things that we can work around like small green onions - substitute chives.
Bisquick, which does not keep very well here - I found a recipe to make my own.
Pearl onions - just cut white onions into small pieces.
Zucchini - well, there is a type here but unlike the zucchini I’m use to in Florida.
Pepperoni for pizza - just use hamburger or chorizos (which are a little hotter)
Canned tomatoes - use tomatoes and ketchup
Need Chili Sauce - it took a while but I found a recipe and make my own.
Dark break - make your own and with strange combinations (see my description of my Reuben below)
No canned biscuits here - took me a while but I found a great recipe.

Things you cannot substitute: Whipping cream (a luxury if found on the coast), Maple syrup (not the Aunt Jemima kind, but the real stuff), real Parmesan cheese. .. I’m sorry, the stuff they sell on the island in powdered form has no resemblance to the real stuff. Lemon juice - we have it rarely and the stuff they bring to the island is some cheap off brand and it is terrible. Good Seasons dry dressing mixes - these are great and like Lipton’s dried onion soup, are worth their weight in gold. The down side is that dry goods don't keep well in the humidity and heat.

I bring unflavored gelatin to make my Lime Chiffon pie. I bring in Grand Marnier and sometimes even Triple Sec for Margaritas. I have been forced to go to the coast for Turkey and canned pumpkin during the holidays because we did not have them here. Once I thought we would not have cranberry sauce! Horrors! What is Thanksgiving without these three things? There is a type of mozzarella cheese sold here but not as tasty as the real thing made in Europe or the U.S. and forget Monterey Jack Cheese, Swiss or Gruyere here. We have a Honduran cheddar cheese but it, too, is tasteless.

I once made a Reuben sandwich using canned corned beef, made my own sauerkraut and managed to find Thousand Island dressing on the Cay, and boy was I surprised at that discovery. I even had to make my own dark bread using a recipe that called for dark molasses, wheat flour (which is hard to come by here) and instant coffee granules (another impossible thing to find). I had brought Swiss Cheese from the coast and the final result: the bread was pretty good and the sandwich was, well, it was a substitute. Nothing can beat a real Reuben with real Corned Beef.

I have a great recipe for a layered salad but it calls for frozen peas and canned just don’t hack it. I did find artichokes in the can and in a jar on the coast and recently was able to make my Artichoke Dip!

So, making a trip to the mainland for groceries is a pleasure trip and one to the U.S. to bring back those really hard-to-find things is heaven - except for toting back everything in a suitcase. Fortunately, the market I shop at in San Pedro is getting more and more upscale and I am finding more there than ever before. Heck, they even carry fillo dough!

All in all, the lack of things make one really appreciate the item when you get it or miss it terribly when you don't have it. Imagine you are sitting watching a movie at night and there is no popcorn to pop! Oh, they carry popcorn in town but all of it is in microwave bags! Microwave and solar and not really energy friendly!

Guess, my weight will stay down and I’ll be more healthy??!!

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