My pembantu*, Atik, indicates with her hands for the computer–Google Translate–when she needs to ask an important question. Usually involving money. Like before she left for the holidays, she wrote, “I’ll miss you during Idul Fitri.” Awww . . . I wrote back, “I’ll miss you too.” She persisted and I began to realize, she was negotiating her holiday bonus.
In any case. we usually chat back and forth throughout the day–generally she’s indicating what needs to be purchased and I’m pretty much expressing way too much gratitude for what she considers her job. We also like to make observations about people we know or look at Google Maps. But mostly, we like to cook together on the weekends.
The weekends are her holidays. Yet, she likes to say, “We cook together on Saturday.” It’s fun! We’re at the round glass-top kitchen table, because we have zero counter space. Measuring flour, sugar, baking soda, powder, etc. Grating carrots and apples. We’re on the floor, near the strip of outlets with the hand mixer or blender–because of the limited counter tops and electricity.
I’ve been to boles’ (ex-pats) houses where their kitchens look like HGTV or even my condo back home, but my place is a 2-burner, box oven, bare essentials kind of place.
Atik likes to try new things–bole recipes. She’s made Vietnamese summer rolls, Lebanese stuffed eggplant, Japanese shabu-shabu, chicken curry . . . But carrot apple cake with cream cheese frosting is our favorite. As supplies run low, she’ll point to something and say, “You buy.”
There are bole supermarkets sprinkled here and there–usually about a $7-10 taxi ride away. The most popular are the Ranch Markets. I’ve been to three locations. Also there’s LotteMart–but it doesn’t feel Korean at all. The other is Grand Lucky–downtown Jakarta. I randomly ran into a family from school at this cavernous Cosco-like superstore over the holiday weekend. It was like seeing someone you know unexpectedly at an airport.
When you’re in the presence of items you recognize, you can go nuts. Pretzels? Tahini? Cilantro? Sour Cream? Rice paper? Nothing is “Empty, Miss!” We still live in a world where the possibilities are endless?
Then you get greedy. Then you can’t find the floss. Or you realize that brown sugar = palm sugar. That’s when you have to back away. Be thankful for the gummy sour rings that are available anywhere–even at an IndoMaret or AlfaMart.
Last night, I made pumpkin cream cheese muffins in teacups because the muffin tins from home are too big to fit into the oven.
The muffins were orangey-brown and autumnal and dense. Yet somehow, not the true comfort food I was anticipating. Maybe because I was drenched in sweat from baking in 90 degree heat. Maybe because I knew I had to rescue them immediately from sitting out for fear of the mold that is ready to pounce instantly in the tropical climate. Maybe there was another reason.
This morning, Atik wondered when I came downstairs to breakfast as she cleaned out the crumbs from inside the box-oven that was too hot to address before bed, “What time you make?”
I had come home a bit late from church and she was resting.
“I think I already sleeping.” She was smiling, but somewhat skeptical about the muffins.
Oh yes, the missing ingredient. I had baked on my own.
*I’m an international teacher living near Jakarta. Indonesia.