In getting ready to move, I thought I was ready for some of the challenges. I assumed that there would be some bumps for the kids with school and that our new house would be smaller than our old one. I was even ready for the challenge of feeding the family once we arrived in China—or so I thought. I had no idea how much of my time and energy would be spent on a daily basis trying to figure out how and what to cook over here. I have always prided myself on the fact that the kids are pretty good eaters. They will usually try almost anything, and, more often than not, discover that they love the thing they had earlier been hesitant to taste. I like exploring and figuring out how to use local ingredients. I like seeing what the locals eat and going to the markets. When we lived in Paris, I spent most of my afternoons deciding what to make for dinner and then shopping. I remember those afternoons as great experiences. Yes, I sometimes had trouble asking for what I wanted in French and I had to make substitutions when I wanted something specific form home, but France has beautiful markets (duh) and I was usually more than willing to change what I ate when something better presented itself. I was flexible and we ate really well. When I couldn’t find salsa, I figured out how to make it myself. I made friends with the butcher. I was really just learning how to cook so sometimes my creations fell flat, but other times I was surprised to find that I could make something really delicious. We had a house full of roommates who were always willing to try the things I made and mealtimes were full and joyous. I was expecting our time in Shanghai to feel a little like this. Well, this is no Paris. Not yet, anyway.
Part of the problem is my own. I want things to get to the point where they are easy and I want that feeling now. Shanghai is fun for exploring, but not when you need dinner on the table for 3 kids at 6:30 sharp. I have really had difficulty with this lately. They are not my hungry roommates from Paris, not by a long shot. My kids have usually spent the day tasting new things at school (school lunch is saving me, by the way) and when they get home they want familiar snacks and a no surprises dinner. I want to give that to them, but finding the ingredients here to make what used to be my go to meals is complicated. Look, I haven’t even made it to the actual markets yet. Right now I am navigating a maze of multiple supermarkets. If I ever go back to work we will starve to death because my carefully crafted system of supermarket shopping will collapse around us. The supermarkets are worthy of a post all by themselves but suffice it to say that imported things are available… for a price and right now it seems that everything we want to eat is somehow imported. Oh, and it is never all available at one store. I go to multiple places just to make burritos and then we are all disappointed with what ends up on the table. When I find something that I thought we would have to learn to live without, I do a little dance of joy. Usually, however, my dancing is interrupted because my next step is trying not to hyperventilate over the price. This is especially painful if I have just recently thrown THE EXACT SAME ITEM in the garbage during the pantry purge in Baltimore. Don’t worry; the next few posts will contain hard evidence of this painful experience. I just paid 72rmb for parmesan cheese after searching everywhere for something other than the kind in the can. Yes, $12 for a hunk of cheese. Not even the really delicious cheese that would have been worthy of a $12 splurge! Of course, the next day parmesan was everywhere and the exact same piece was 52rmb. Really, it doesn’t pay to dwell on it. The lasagna I made was passable (it is usually to die for) and only one kid refused to eat it. It probably cost me $75 and gave me a handful of gray hair, but at least we all lived to tell about it, right? Yeah, right.