I learned to cook while growing up in Houston with five younger siblings. (That's me on the back right, next to Daddy.) Mother Joy always had things for me to do.
The advantage of shopping in the UAE is that the country's central location enables stores to get a wide variety of products from Europe, Asia and Africa. Here is a selection of imported cheeses.
Our neighborhood grocery, Spinney's, has a 'pork room' for non-Muslims only.
The checkout counter at Spinney's in Khalifa City.
ABU DHABI -- I love to cook. It's something I've done for a long time.
From early on, as the oldest child of six, I was taught to cook by my incredible mother. Growing up in Houston, I was required to do a lot of home-making and my jobs went beyond cooking. At four years old and with an infant brother, I had to sit on the steps and fold his diapers.
Mother Joy was quite particular, and the diapers had to be folded neatly, after being taken out of the clean laundry basket. The diapers were not to touch the ground and end up folded and laid neatly into the diaper basket.
At age 10 - fifth grade - I walked the five blocks home each day from my Spring Branch, Houston, elementary school, come in by the back door to the kitchen, and go straight to the refrigerator.
On that fridge was Mother Joy’s list for me of what to do for dinner that evening. While cooking, I could hear the piano students playing and being instructed by my mother in the living room.
There in the kitchen, I encountered such instructions as, “1. peel and cut potatoes and put into fresh water in pot,’ and so on. (Almost every evening included “spuds” - my father loved them.) There were always instructions for an entree (chicken, beef, pork or fish), potatoes, a salad and a vegetable. Many evenings there was a dessert - tapioca pudding, Jello, or other sweet.
I learned to cook quite well because Joy was an outstanding teacher and I a willing and fascinated pupil. Oh yes, there were some evenings I did not want to cook, but it didn’t matter, because I was the oldest of the children. As much as I would have liked to go outside to play on the patio, dinner preparation was first.
In Abu Dhabi we have a wonderful grocery store called Spinney’s. It is quite a treat for me, as the ingredients I want to make my delectable and delicious dishes are available..
Today, Claude and I usually have an entree and perhaps one side for dinner, and no potatoes. (Too starchy). I have gotten pretty good at this cooking business. It was rather a miracle. Well, ok, my childhood gave me a great base, and then in dental school when there was not money to eat out, even fast food, I subscribed to Bon Appetit magazine and spent each month cooking many of the recipes in each issue.
With all that practice, I learned how ingredients tasted and acted, and what combinations seemed to please our palates. The miracle? - the little girl who wanted to play outside quicker than she got to, became a dental student who wanted to eat out more than she got to, and then somewhere along the way my cooking just came along. Now we don’t want to eat out a lot because the food is great at home.
I delight in walking the aisles of Spinney’s, choosing the goodies for our meal preparation, diverse, and pleasing, from many countries. There are peaches right now from South Africa, Greengage plums (fantastic little fruits!) from Spain, a choice of 15 to 20 different balsamic vinegars, Cassoulet beans from France made with duck confit, clotted cream from Great Britain, sausages from Austria and Germany, all sorts of cheeses from all over Europe and farther, roasted red peppers from Macedonia, coffee from Ethiopia, Italy and many others and on and on. When I am home in East Texas, Kroger seems rather tame in comparison.
The Spinney's pork room is a particular delight. I never realized how much I love to cook with pork until I went without it here in the UAE, before discovering the pork room at Spinney’s -- for non-Muslims only, of course. Last night Claude and I enjoyed our salad, prepared by roasting sliced onions in the bacon fat after the bacon had been lifted out, and then adding the romaine and arugula to wilt just enough. In the middle of the plate was a nice large spoonful of crunchy bacon bits, chopped roasted red peppers, surrounded by the wilted greens, all sprinkled with a squeeze or two of lemon juice.
The attention to detail so important in dentistry and in orthodontics sure pays off when preparing a fabulous meal. I’m off to see about dinner for tonight.
Dr Chris Baker
Dr. Chris Baker is Past President of the American Orthodontic Society, a pediatric dentist and teacher of orthodontics, An author, dental practice consultant, mentor, and a current or former faculty member of three U.S. dental schools, Dr Chris practices and blogs in beautiful Abu Dhabi, UAE, and glorious Texas, USA.
Text and images
© 2019 Dr Chris Baker