A Spoonful of Sugar

In my tennis class the other day, my professor gave us a lecture on nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices, since it was raining and the courts were wet.

It is tough to beat a view like this when you are playing tennis!

He stressed some random topics, like how you are supposed to drink alcohol IN MODERATION and how exercise is important, even if you aren’t getting credit for it through your university! He also talked a lot about maintaining a balanced ‘athlete’s’ diet, which includes mainly carbs, and not a whole lot of sugar. This made me laugh because it seriously seems like every one of my stories from the past week or so have either been directly or indirectly related to azúcar (Spanish word for sugar). Talk about timing…

So to start with, last weekend my American friends Danielle and Payton came over to my house on Friday night just to hang out and relax. I think our taste buds were all craving some American food, because we decided to make chocolate chip cookies—and trust me, we were quite excited about it!

After searching through the cupboards in my house for a good 20 minutes, we finally determined which ingredients we already had and which we needed to buy. We were able to find eggs, butter, salt, and sugar (of course!) but we were lacking baking soda, vanilla, flour, and brown sugar. Thinking these were about the most basic ingredients you could need, we headed off to the store. Boy, were we mistaken!

We had no problems finding the flour, baking soda, or vanilla. It actually surprised me that a big bottle of vanilla here was only about $1- much cheaper than in the United States. Chocolate chips were a little tougher; it appears that they are really hard to come by here because a small bag was about $5, and they were kind of hidden away in a corner of the store. But without doubt, our biggest obstacle was finding the brown sugar. We seriously searched up and down every aisle before we finally gave in and asked someone, who told us it wasn’t sold at that store. I couldn’t believe it- it wasn’t like we were at a random gas station, this was a really big supermarket! Apparently Chileans just don’t use brown sugar…? So anyways, we thought about trying to use a different recipe that didn’t call for brown sugar, but that one needed cream of tartar, and if the grocery store didn’t stock brown sugar, I highly doubt they would have that! Another option was using molasses and white sugar to make brown sugar, but since none of us actually knew how to say ‘molasses’ in Spanish, we quickly gave up on that idea and decided to just add extra white sugar instead. After a 10-minute lesson from my host brother Felipe on how to use the oven, we were good to go! BAKING TIME!

 

 

So we made our dough, while dancing along to the odd combination of Spanish and English music on the radio, and started baking the first batch. As many of my friends and family members know, I am terrified of ovens even in the US, but Chilean ovens are way more terrifying: you have to use a match and a gas knob to light them! So obviously, I didn’t start the oven. But one of my friends did, we baked the first batch, tried them, and realized they pretty much tasted like warm butter and sugar mixed together. Gross. The fact that the bottoms were all burnt really wasn’t helping matters much either. So we added some more flour and chocolate, and tried again. Better this time, but still not the cookies we were hoping for. With our last bit of dough, we added even more flour, crossed our fingers, and sent them in to bake. Success! Although they still weren’t the best chocolate chip cookies I have had by any means, at least they were barely burnt and tasted somewhat like we had hoped. I don’t know if it was the lack of brown sugar, the strange oven heating pattern, or both that did us in, but my baking skills could use a little practice here! Felipe doesn’t think so, though- he kept eating our first batch of really sugary, burnt cookies, and telling us how delicious they were! He actually liked those ones better than the last batch we made, so at least someone appreciated our cooking!

 

Our fabulous cookies- inside the scary oven!

 

Felipe is definitely not the only Chilean who loves sugar. The other day Joaquín (my younger host brother) kept complaining to me about how he was really hungry but his mom wouldn’t let him have a snack. I was making my dinner in the kitchen when he came in, told me to be quiet, took out a spoon, and literally ate a heaping spoonful of plain sugar! I pretty much just stood there staring at him in awe, wondering how anyone could manage such a feat, when he ate another spoonful! It was seriously one of the most impressive and most disgusting things I have ever seen in one.

My family’s maid also appears to like sugar. This week I was the lucky recipient of ‘pankakes’, which are tortillas wrapped around manjar (a food similar to peanut butter, but made almost completely with sugar). I tried one to be polite, and then said I was just really full and I wanted to save them for later. I figured if I brought them to school with me the next day, I could find something to do with them- maybe if my host family liked them so much, other people would too.

So the next day I was eating lunch with five Chileans from my tennis class. My roommate who studied abroad in India this summer has told me that one of the best ways to make friends is to bring people food, because who doesn’t love free treats?!? So I tried her strategy, and I am pretty sure it was a success! I brought out the pankakes, and at first no one wanted to eat them because they thought that was all the food I had, but once I told them I literally did not want them, they got really excited and ate them all! They thought it was hilarious that I did not like them, and told me anytime my host family gives me them, they would gladly eat them! What a perfect arrangement- I get some awesome Chilean tennis-playing friends, they get pankakes!

That’s all for now, folks! Tomorrow I am going skiing in the mountains, which should be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I will let you know how it goes in a few days, assuming I make it back…. If you don’t hear from me soon, there is a good chance I am still stuck on a peak in the Andes somewhere- who knows how good my skiing skills are anymore?!?!