Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back to Normal

We had quesadillas for lunch yesterday. Maybe that doesn’t sound odd to you. But it meant I cooked lunch. And I cooked dinner, too. I cooked four days in a row. Why is that so strange? Since returning from Peru, I haven’t really wanted to cook or eat. I lost 5 lbs the first week we were home. And it’s not a lingering effect of the food poisoning. This happens every time I go on a volunteer trip to a developing country. It rearranges my world for a while.

First the recipe as originally printed in Bon Appetit magazine. Then I’ll tell you what I’ve changed after making this for years.

Potato, Brie and Red Onion Quesadillas
½ c honey
½ c fresh cilantro, chopped
6 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp canned chipotle chiles, minced
Salt and pepper
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into cubes
6 oz Brie cheese, cut into 1” pieces
8 flour tortillas
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

Puree honey, cilantro, tomato paste, 2 Tbsp water, and chiles in processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, mash in pot until smooth. Add Brie and mash until blended and smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread ¼ c Brie mixture over half of each tortilla. Arrange onion slices on top. Fold tortillas in half to close.
Heat large skillet over medium high heat. Brush lightly with olive oil. Working in batches, cook quesadillas until golden brown. Serve with chipotle honey.

Now for my version:
Although this chipotle honey is good, once when we were in a hurry (or missing an ingredient) we threw on our favorite spicy fruit salsa. End of chipotle honey. This time we used Mrs. Renfroe’s Mango Habanero Salsa, which is quite hot. We put the onions on the outside of the quesadilla (only because it’s prettier) and still add lots of fresh cilantro on top. Makes a great quick meal or if cut into smaller pieces, an appetizer.

Cooking again has helped me return to my normal. I don’t speak Spanish, but for several nights after returning home from Peru, I was dreaming in Spanish. How can that be? I don’t know, but it’s true. The same thing happened after the trips to Brazil, but at least I do speak a little Portuguese.

On the first trip, I was prepared for the culture shock of immersing myself in a completely different world and language and a standard of living that is dramatically different from my own. But it was the reverse culture shock on coming home that really took me by surprise. I was disoriented for weeks. I had become so used to living in a tiny room with nothing but beds and a few clothes, I couldn’t see why I needed anything else. I was overwhelmed by my possessions. I wanted to discard everything I owned.

And I have a lot of stuff. I’m a collector. Not a hoarder, but a collector. As I unpacked only a few of my Christmas decorations and dishes today, I realized I have lost track of how many different Christmas china patterns I have. I think it’s at least 30 place settings in about 12 different patterns. And I have a few other collections, too. The first volunteer trip dramatically changed my perspective. I just couldn't see why I needed so much stuff. I still don't, but now, after three international volunteer trips, I have learned what to expect on re-entry to my world and I am better equipped to deal with the shock.

So as I unpacked my Christmas decorations and dishes, and began to plan my holiday menus, I wonder. I wonder how I ended up here and not there. Why do I have so much and so many people have so little? Each trip we have met and worked with amazing people who have dealt with incredible hardship and poverty. So many of them make the best of what they have and are grateful. In today's world it is easy to take our abundance for granted. Working at Los Martincitos in Peru reminded me again of just how fortunate I am and that I have far more than I need. I am  grateful.

Lunch at Los Martincitos daycare for the elderly in Villa El Salvador, Peru


  1. I love this version of the quesadilla. We eat a lot of plain boring cheddar cheese quesadillas, it is our go to quick snack, it's time to change it up a bit!

  2. My husband would never used to have though of a quesadilla as a meal, but we've had a couple of successes over the last year or two and have come to really like them. Love your version, and will definitely have to give it a try.
    I'm with you on the clutter... as I look around my house I just want to get rid of it all! I find myself shuttling things from one place to another wondering, do I really need this? I need to do a good clean out too... usually it's after the holidays when I'm putting everything away.

  3. Glad to see things are going back to normal, as long as that is good.

    Solid ponderings for this time of the year. Living and learning. Thank you for sharing it.