There are times when the pickings feel pretty slim around here. Us expat wives responsible for the weekly grocery shopping have gone through long dry spells when we can’t even find flour, sugar, or vegetable oil at our local mining-camp store. Stinky frozen fish, yes. Moldy cabbage, usually. But even then, don’t count on it. Nearly everything we’ve thought was a “regular” item on the shelves has run out at one time or another, and there’s no telling when it will be restocked.
Enough of these experiences can lead one to develop hoarder’s syndrome. Whenever something finally comes along that I need, or think I might need someday, or even just partially recognize, I buy at least four of them. Which makes my pantry look something like this:
What can I say? Finding the right balance is a little tricky. We never know when our next big-city shopping trip will be or what will be available when we get there. Our local store has changed hands four times since I’ve been here, and it’s now the best it’s ever been… but it’s still, as my dad would say, a crapshoot. They may have 35 different varieties of canned tuna on the shelves, but last week they had no milk. Before that, a solid month and a half without butter. Cheese comes in once a month or so and sells out overnight. It’s no wonder our neighbors have turned vegan.
Our local grocery store also doesn’t have a great selection of meat, and what they do have is usually badly freezer-burned, so this has led us to eat more and more vegetarian meals. Ironically, though, they also don’t have much in the way of vegetables. The moldy cabbage I mentioned earlier? That’s the norm. Occasionally they’ll bring in moldy grapes, too, which I’ll pick through and run through a bleach rinse so I can get my antioxidants in solid form every now and then.
When it comes to fresh veg, we’ve had to learn to rely on other sources. Our gardens, for example, or the local market in the village, which most of us girls find fun and adventurous but is not everyone’s cup of tea. Recently the company has started running a weekly farmer’s market just outside the same grocery store that lacks fresh vegetables. There’s a Belgian farmer who lives nearby and will sell us crates of leeks, beets, carrots, cucumbers, green beans. A small but energetic group of us herbivores gather every Saturday, patiently waiting for somebody else to make the first move before we all pounce on the pineapples like a pack of rabid dogs.
This past weekend Seb and I did our usual farmer’s market run, buying extra for two other neighbors who couldn’t make it. When we came home we picked some green mangoes from our tree which is producing for the first time ever. Then we decided now was as good a time as any to also harvest some green jackfruit from a neighbor’s tree, borrowing a ladder from another neighbor, and sharing the harvest with everyone. (As our host shared some single-malt Scotch with us well into the evening.) The next day, another neighbor gave us some bananas he had just picked. Yet another neighbor left a bag of eggplant and peppers from his garden on our doorstep. Then, to top off this incredible bounty already spilling over my refrigerator and countertops, one of Seb’s South African contractors made a surprise visit, bringing with him fresh tuna and Spanish mackerel he had caught himself just two days before off the coast of Mozambique!
As we prepared a meal of fresh tuna tartare that night (what a treat!) with green mango salad and a side of roasted beets, it occurred to me that our pickings aren’t so slim after all. This sense of community, of sharing, of all of us being in the same boat and helping each other out where needed — in the end it makes us incredibly rich and spoiled for choice. I haven’t seen a turkey for sale around here since that time in March, but that doesn’t mean we’ll go hungry anytime soon.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope your table is as full as ours!