Culinary Trade-offs in the Tropics

You know the story. Standing at a window, staring at a foot of snow, shuddering at the knowledge your commute will be equivalent to a ruthless hockey game. Endless wishing you lived somewhere Old Man Winter can’t touch you. Husband and I know that story. We lived that story. Now we live in Maui.

To make this dream our reality, we sold just about everything. We let go of things that were meaningful, things that were not, and things we didn’t even remember we had. Many times we second guessed ourselves. Stepping off the plane and onto this island, this paradise that always smells like flowers, we knew we were many times right in our decision. But right does not always equate to easy. Life as we had always known it immediately changed – and changed in ways we didn’t anticipate.

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Like the kitchen. Our humble island abode is about the size of a large closet. If you want to know what island life is like, go into your closet on the hottest day of the year and try to cook dinner. A galley kitchen would be an enormous upgrade from the one we have now. Actually, I’d just take a cabinet. A single cabinet hung on the wall in which to put a glass. Or a plate. Or any of the items currently sitting on the remarkably limited counter space we are now enjoying. Making a meal starts with the world’s weirdest game of Jenga.

A quiet couple who loves tasty food, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In our pre-rock days, we collected all the gadgets, ordered expensive exotic ingredients, and labored for hours to create tiny two-bite treats. Here, with fewer big box stores, shelves can be a bit sparse at times. Fresh and local may be easier to come by, but there are also a lot more unfamiliar wares. Our gadgets gone, budget tightened, ingredients limited, we stared at our tiny propane powered stove top and pondered that timeless question.

What’s for dinner?

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Admittedly, I am not the culinary wizard Husband was born to be. While my brain was busy floating options that involve more chopping than actual cooking, he morphed into Food MacGyver and got to work making miracles. With virtually no tools. By no tools, I mean two forks, two spoons, a single 4-inch pan, one spatula, a chef’s knife, and a wine key. It’s like we’re on a strange episode of Chopped where kitchen tools are in the basket instead of odd food items.

The fact of the matter is, we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, not the Midwest of the mainland. Things take a lot longer to get here. Some things are simply not available here. We’re pulling food stuffs and utensils from different parts of the world in many cases. Things that arrive have to travel on very slow ships across long distances or be available on island. Did I mention slow ships? For some perspective, the few belongings we shipped we said goodbye to in Indiana the last week in January. We hope they arrive this week. Very. Slow. Ships.

The first thing purchased for our Maui kitchen was a toaster oven. Notably smaller than the one we sold before our journey to this rock, it was the cheapest option on the shelf. To me, it was an expensive method of making crunchy bread or defrosting frozen nonsense. I couldn’t fathom how this toaster oven was essential. But, as I often do, I trusted Husband when it came to all things culinary.

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Good thing I did. Ever had a perfect medium-rare steak seared on a skillet and finished in the toaster oven? I have. Homestyle meatloaf? Roasted veggies? Yep and yep. Fish of all shapes and sizes? The best I’ve ever tasted. He even produced a perfectly cooked Gratin Dauphinoise. But the most impressive, jaw-dropping feat was the melt-in-your-mouth pork butt.

If you’ve ever cooked a pork butt, you know the logistics aren’t complex. In an oven, that is. An actual oven. In a toaster oven, things are a bit more complicated. First issue: the 2-1/2 pound lump of meat wouldn’t fit. At least not with the racks situated as they are designed to. Out they went. Husband triple-wrapped the pork butt in foil and was able to wedge it between the two heating elements. Seriously convinced the situation was a fire waiting to happen, I was a nervous wreck for almost 5 hours fearing we were pushing this instrument too far. I was wrong. Actually, I was probably both right and wrong. We were definitely operating outside the toaster oven manufacturer boundaries, defying all safety warnings, but boy was that pork delicious. Feet up on the lanai, forks shoveling melty pork into our mouths, staring at the lush vegetation that permeates Upcountry, we felt ready to conquer the world.

We’ve learned (quickly) in our short time on a rock that ingenuity will get you far. We may not be working with a kitchen full of gadgets or a pantry worthy of a gourmet grocer anymore, but we are eating healthy, staying on a budget, and happier than we’ve ever been. We’ve found there is no point in being frustrated and it can be a lot of fun getting creative. Learning to use what limited resources we have available has given us a sense that we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what we are capable of. CERN will surely soon be recruiting us to help solve the world’s most complicated problems. We will no doubt provide solutions that involve using only a screwdriver, a mirror, and palm fronds.

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Before we can join that crew of geniuses, we’ll have to adjust to the way technology outside of the kitchen works in our island paradise. Like GPS. Because ours apparently thinks you can get gasoline from a cow in the middle of a field on the side of a mountain. For the record, you can’t. But that is a post for another day…

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Carie Williams

About Carie Williams

Caught in the mundane of landlocked life, Carie and Husband made the decision to sell it all and see what island life may have to offer. They sought many things including the rejection of death by beige office walls and a focus on life outside the rat race. A mere 120 days later, they landed in Maui with their two pups, Old Dog and Miss Monster.

Carie is now in pursuit of a career as a wordsmith and a life less expected. Husband is exploring the pleasures of working with the land. The pups are just loving life. None of them know whether this is the first or the last stop in this adventure, but they all know that the future is sure to hold a wealth of surprises and the mundane has been left in the dust.

When they aren't out exploring this brave new world, Carie and Husband can be found untangling dog-related shenanigans, feeding their news junky additions, or whipping up some new, creative miracle in the kitchen. Actually, Husband would be the one creating those kitchen miracles while Carie stands in awe, if we're being honest. You can follow Carie's daily debacles on her blog, http://adventurebeyondboundaries.com/.

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11 thoughts on “Culinary Trade-offs in the Tropics

  1. Oh I can totally relate with this. I tried to maintain a food blog living on a small island in the BVIs. Island life surely teaches you to be the most creative version of yourself when it comes to cooking. 🙂
    PS: Your toaster adventures oven are really funny.

  2. My kitchen is “larger”, think big closet and so hot it was unbearable. We bought an industrial extractor fan – one of those chimney things that rotates with the breeze ( no electricity needed) and it pulls heat up and out the roof. BIG difference. I wouldn’t say the kitchen is cool, but I can get a glass of water without breaking a sweat now!

    • When thing heat up in a few hours, that’s going to sound like such a heavenly object – perfect, but just out of reach. I’m going to be dreaming about this fan.

  3. Bravo for following your heart. Less is more and I completely enjoyed your post. Please continue to share. Many thanks!

    Ann P.

  4. I can relate – we just sold all our belongings and have been on the boat about 3 weeks. I went from an enormous kitchen complete with commercial fridge and freezer a pantry the size of 2 large walk in closets to 1 cabinet about 3 inches deep – it’s an adjustment but better than going to job I’m not happy in 🙂 -I’m sure we will survive.

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