It is interesting when you revamp your environment (e.g. going abroad for a year), to see what adjustments we make in our eating and cooking habits.
In Florence, I find myself converting measurements such as kilograms, pints, liters and grams, Celsius. In the states I relied on cups, teaspoons, Fahrenheit, ounces and pounds. I thought in quarts, not liters, and based my measurements on our American system. So I am adjusting.
Sometimes I actually translate baking directions from Italian to English. Just the other day, I was making rolls and had to interpret the times and heats suggested in the recipe, plus 'kneading' and 'recommend you bake a container of water' with the wheat rolls (it keeps the oven environs moist). It isn't the first time I sat with my computer, translating instructions. A few days into our new apartment, I was sitting on the floor in front or our washing machine learning what 'mezzo', breve', and 'ammorbidente' meant. These Italian words are: half, short and softener.
If you know me, you know I don't mind being pushed a bit beyond my comfort zone. I like being able to order 'mezzo kilo pomodori, per favore.' (Though my children might cringe at my pronunciation, at least it is a start!).
While I think about little things that require adjustments in our new home-abroad, my biggest smile comes from the boys' creativity. With fewer distractions, they are spending time on arts and crafts, drawing and painting, and creating homemade games (read more about their games here). And because the food in our cupboard is different than before---because the grocers offer aisles of novelty and unfamiliar products---we have had to be creative there as well. My boys are growing adolescent boys; they play soccer and bike daily (to and from school, to and from soccer). They work up quite the appetite. Most of the snack options here are different than in the states. Which stretches us to redefine snacks.
What do you mean there is no string cheese, pecans, Kettle chips, root beer or Chex mix? No microwave popcorn (okay, we actually have no microwave... how is that for adjustment)? Only one [sorry---nasty] jarred version of salsa? No cheddar or jack cheese? No 'normal' apple juice (here it is pulpy)?
One thing that isn't new: having my boys try new foods. Lets just say being in another country makes that 'new foods' goal inherent, even unavoidable. They are already accustomed to taste-testing cheeses or sampling salami flavors (here meats are often designated by region). I have long encouraged my boys to be 'taste connoisseurs,' and what kid doesn't like to give their 'professional' opinion? The goal isn't necessarily to like everything, but it is to educate your palate and keep searching for new foods you do like (but didn't know about before). I am a big fan of all this prattle (note soap-box); I think kids dig the idea of self-discovery---and learning about their food likes and dislikes. Food is fun, even if you are making fun of it. En route, I can plunk down parental quips about nutrition or health, good balance and the pros and cons of various food decisions... I don't deny my kiddos treats, but try to teach them moderation, and supply them knowledge to make good decisions.
Besides, we are in another country. It is our duty to sample their ice cream bars and sandwiches, don't you think? A biscotti wafer ice cream sandwich? An ice cream treat that has eggnog/chocolate and vanilla ice cream or one that is a chocolate cookie, half dipped in chocolate... there is novel food in every category, down every aisle of the store. It is a hoot, really.
So, snack-wise, we still eat much of the same fruit (grapefruit, apples, pears, bananas, oranges, etc.). There are hoards of crackers to choose from, the only one familiar to us is Ritz. Ritz are everywhere. Crackers and a lot of 'toast' looking products. Almost all of the chocolate is different, except M'n'M's, Kit Kats and Snickers. We adore trying all the new chocolates, wafer cookies, spritzer-type cookies, etc. The Italian stores have very few chips to choose from---a handful of plain chips and tortilla chips---but always have a full aisle dedicated to sponge cakes. It isn't fair to compare them to Twinkies... but that is what comes to mind. Though we haven't tried them yet.
Sure we will try cookies and chocolate and crackers, but we still aim toward the healthier side of snacks. The boys eat sandwiches and toast, Parmesan/mozzarella/Edam cheese and salami/prosciutto/turkey. Cereal is on the list, as is focaccia dipped in olive oil and balsamic. Our cupboards come equipped with walnuts---amazingly fresh and inexpensive---and the other day the boys were eating them dipped in nutella. A new snack! I loved the idea, and tried it myself: delicious! James went so far as to make a 'Reeses peanut butter cup' sandwich. Don't cringe: it was wheat bread, organic sans sugar peanut butter and of course, nutella (made with hazelnuts). Not bad, and chock full of protein and carbohydrates for boys going off to soccer...
I confess I really love the yogurt in Europe. I can't eat the yogurt in the states, it is often too sweet due to a lot of sugar (seriously---check the back). The yogurt here is healthier, and I always keep some on hand in the fridge. In fact one of my favorite new snacks (thanks to an experience in Utrecht, Netherlands) is walnuts and honey with plain Greek yogurt. Not new to many of you, but since I was so out of the yogurt-eating habit, I hadn't given it a chance. Oh, and fun tip: the last honey that went into my yogurt was saffron honey (Anthony tried it and picked it out at an outdoor market). The wild honey is taken quite seriously; when you go to outdoor specialty markets in the piazzas, they often have artisan wines, cheeses, meats, olive oil and honey. And so much of it is promoted by region and terroir. So far, I remember trying honey made from [bees that suckled] sunflower, saffron and raspberry.
I will be curious to see what other snacks emerge out of our unfamiliar cupboards and underlying hunger. Stay tuned...