Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Living Abroad: Not Always Fun and Games

Most of us have a healthy sense of self-preservation. When things are bad for us, we think about avoiding them. When we are hungry, we eat. When tired, we sleep. But I've always been a B-student, doing only the minimum on auto-pilot to insure no one notices that I'm not bothering. Always enough to get by, to stay below the radar of anyone who might notice and call me on it.

I've put on ten pounds since 2005. Which doesn't sound like much, until I realized that in the previous 20 years, I'd put on zero pounds. I accepted that it was a waste of money for me to join the gym here (since I wouldn't go), bought a mat, and brought along an exercise DVD that came with a salad I bought from McDonald's in JFK Airport last year. Admittedly this is a half-assed approach. But have I—the B student—used even these? Once. Last night. Ms. Virtual Reality McDonald's Fitness Trainer kicked my butt.

Living in a hotel, working long hours, and moving across oceans every three months is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. It makes me too tired to seek out healthy food, too resigned to write, too discouraged to bother interacting with people, and too alienated to know what to do with one when I end up across the table from one. I seek out the easy comfort of the digital world, where if people don't respond in a way I like or expect, I can just hit the Off button.

I am aware that all of this is kind-of pathetic. That's why I used the fitness mat last night. That's why I found Mango's new store in Mohandiseen and forced myself to buy three shirts yesterday. That's why I bought a box of imported Raisin Bran and a bowl instead of continuing to eat the free hotel breakfast of omelettes, potatoes, and bread. (Shipping across the world had turned my $6 box of Raisin Bran into Raisin Crumbs, but I am eating it anyway.)

I've purchased a single-burner hot plate so that I can stop eating takeaway food. And now I find my laziness is my worst enemy. I bought some rice, butter, a pot, and a sharp knife. And the trick is this: What can I cook that is so easy that I can do it on a single burner in the hotel bathroom, healthy, and so simple that even a lazy, tired, disinterested non-chef can make it without excuses?

Or maybe I should just eat hummous for the next two months. That might be all right too.


Marie Javins said...

Oh and bear in mind that all seafood and tofu products are out due to my allergies.

Matt Hollingsworth said...

Hummous is nice! No healthy take away there? Or not overly expensive place you can go to to eat AT? They don't have cereal there? If you ever see a store called "DM" go there. It's German, but we have it here. Evidently, it's name implies it's a drug store of some kind, but in reality, they have lots of healthy cereals and such.

Marie Javins said...

Sure, we have cereal here! I didn't mean to imply I brought the Raisin Bran with me. I bought it here. It's just that cereal is really expensive here because it's an import item (not an Egyptian habit, breakfast cereal).

We definitely don't have a DM.

Amanda Castleman said...

One pot meal, courtesy of the National Outdoor Leadership School:

Brown garlic and onion.
Add water and stock cube. Rice.
Curry to taste. Fresh herbs if you got.
Veggies (zucchini are good here)
Slivered almonds
Sliced Turkish apricots

OK, I haven't cooked that in a decade, but the essentials are there, I think. The apricots and almonds add protein, crunch, sweetness – cleverly disguising the gruel...

I gotta go eat pizza over the sink now... Ax.

Linda said...

AC has the right idea. Once you have cooked rice, you can re-use it as fried rice Chinese style. I improvise to avoid soy sauce since it is not allergy-safe. You can make a passable version with just garlic salt, cut-up veggies, and and stirred up egg. If you have chunks of leftover chicken or some cashews, throw them in.

I also have a version of chicken a la king that works over rice or toast. Or use chicken a la can.

Marie Javins said...

Last night, I was determined to make pineapple veggie cashew rice (in sweet chili sauce and Thai red curry).

Got everything but an onion and pepper when I remembered... to buy a single vegetable in Zamalek, I can't go to the supermarket, where they are sold in large packages. I have to go to the veggie store. And that's when I just got hummous from the hotel coffee shop.

Maybe I'll try again tonight.

Anne-Marie Weeden said...

Cooking on rallies across Africa meant everything was based on a dried soy mince component that broiled up with added pasta/rice/tomatoes/herbs/onions/veg.
It was nice the first time, okay the second and the most unappetising thing in the world by the end of week 3.

Omelettes are good one pan wonders, tho not every day.

Or, search for a ceramic tagine and do Moroccan style stews. They stick the garlic, onions and chicken/meat in first, until browned, then add the veg and maybe a bit of liquid with some spices, the old apricots and almonds too. If you slam enough chopped potatoes in you don't need the rice/pasta second ring conundrum. And if friends come round you can cook for 3 or 4 in one big dish.

Anne-Marie Weeden said...

Cook up some rice. Chop some papaya, some ham (hmmm... substitute some cooked meat of islamic persuasion here but what you want is the salty rare taste of something like parma ham - in Turkey they used to do ham-a-like products) and mix with the cooked rices and some cashew nuts. Squeeze over lime juise and you have a yummy healthy rice ham fruit thing.

Marie Javins said...

I have secret salami! Will that do it?