Fat Fridays: The Stories Behind the “Why”

I grew up in the North of Haiti as a missionary kid. Our final four years there was a very turbulent time for the country, during the time of Aristide’s presidency. We were there when the US placed an embargo on the country and it was a very difficult time of food, gas, and medicine shortages. 

We lived in a flat roofed, two story, concrete brick house at the top of a mountain pass (ok, it was really a very tall hill, but it had the feeling of a mountain, and the road was steep enough that it might as well have been a mountain.) We had a view of the Bay of Acul and the Plan du Nord, a beautiful plain dotted with rice paddies and sugarcane fields, surrounded by distant mountain ridges. I spent a lot of time outside, just gazing at the view, maybe trying to sketch what I was seeing, thinking a lot. 

We didn’t have electricity. We had a generator, but during the embargo we had to be very careful with our fuel. We would turn the generator on every couple days so we could get the water pump working. We had a utility room that was full of 5 gallon buckets and water jugs that my brother or I would stand and fill with a hose. This would be our water supply until the next time we turned our power back on. (I mastered the 5 gallon bucket bath.) We had a kerosene refrigerator, but no kerosene, so we just made do without a fridge. Our stove was gas, but somehow we were able to get the fuel for that. 

My mom was a genius at making do with what we had as she tried to feed the family on a very limited budget and very limited available resources. We had friends in the States who would send boxes of food occasionally and there was the local market place. By the time of the embargo, the few grocery stores around were mostly empty. I remember that my mom would buy a giant bag of flour and a giant bag of sugar that she would keep in a steel barrel in the kitchen. The barrel was to keep all the bugs out of the food. My mom baked our bread every week.

There were many times that we were unable to leave the house due to unrest and disturbances. While that sounds exciting, it was actually very boring. Imagine a fifteen year old sitting at home with nothing to do. 

Mom, I’m bored. 

One of my favorite things to do was look through old GOOD HOUSEKEEPING magazines that someone had sent us. They had so many amazing pictures of food. Imagine. Decadent desserts, fancy roasted chickens. Our diet at the time consisted of a lot of canned tuna and Spam, because that was what people sent in food boxes. My mom is a gourmet cook, but she didn’t have much to work with. We will never let her forget the “Sweet and Sour Spam with Angel Hair Pasta” that she made. One of the few times I think I just didn’t eat. 🙂 So, here I am, bored, looking at food magazines, wanting to make all these amazing recipes. I asked my mom if I could bake something. Sure. She handed me her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook with the red-checked cover. 

Find a recipe that we have the ingredients for. 

Ok. 

Turns out, the only recipe I could find that we had ingredients for was simple sugar cookies. Sugar, flour, margarine. Some salt and baking powder. Eggs. Ok. We can make this recipe! I mixed everything up and then pinched some dough when my mom wasn’t looking. (Salmonella! Don’t eat raw cookie dough!) We baked the cookies. A bit too long. They were rather crispy. But they were sweet. It satisfied a longing. It pushed away the boredom for a little while. The cookies made me feel good. 

And cookies and other sweets still make me feel good. For a little while. Until I look down at myself and see the consequences of too many cookies. Check my blood sugar, see some more consequences. But how to change this life long habit? I’m bored. I’m feeling antsy. I’m not happy…food will make me feel better. 

I am discovering that it’s a really hard habit to break. 

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