Cooking with a Spanish-English language dictionary
Coming to Santo Domingo with limited or no Spanish can sometimes make living difficult and confusing, but never impossible. Since arriving, my family and I have found the people to be good-humored and patient when trying to interpret our gestures, pantomimes, mispronunciations and general abuse of the Spanish language.
The family has been very happily, although slowly, learning Spanish. And no one has complained. Until I began trying to cook local food by translating Spanish recipes and directions literally into English.
Suddenly, every member of the family approaches each meal slowly, stalking it in slow moving circles, noses in the air sniffing the scents. “For crying out loud,” I protest, ego wounded to the very soul. “There isn’t anything in there that will hurt you! It’s all edible food. It all came from the store.”
Have some more, Mom
“Have you ever heard of chemical reactions changing one substance into another?” asked my husband. “It occurs when two incompatible ingredients are combined, one acting as a catalyst...”
“In a pig’s eye!” is my usual response to this tirade. I know all he is really doing is stalling so he won’t have to eat the food.
While the group continues to circle suspiciously, I am the first to try the new dish. “It’s good,” I always tell them while chewing, swallowing and smiling happily. But they always wait me out. As the green begins to show around my mouth and goosebumps make their appearance, they encourage me. “Have some more, Mom.”
“No thanks,” I mumble. “I don’t want to eat it all.”
“There are at least two gallons there, Mom. You can have all you want,” says my son, his latent sadism coming to the surface.
“I think I’ll go lie down,” I tell them and, as I do, I can hear the rustle of the bread bags as they once again eat sandwiches for dinner. All of them are happy knowing they won’t have to try the new meal and inordinately, they enjoy their sandwich dinners.
I don’t understand it. The same recipes taste great when someone else makes it. I must admit some of the ingredients and directions sound a bit odd. The latest was for a frozen coconut dessert that looked beautiful in the picture. I followed the recipe with precise interpretations.
It called for a can of condensed milk, a large coconut, two cups of water, three spoonfuls of corn flour (that explanation was provided by a benevolent neighbor), and two cups of water.
Rallar el coco, I read. Interpretation: Annoy the coconut. Well, I called that coconut every name in the book. I wouldn’t let it rest. I rolled it up and down the drainboard and spun it in circles.
The next sentence was a long one. Agregue las dos tazas de agua y extraiga la leche así obtenida, exprimiendo a través de un paño fino.
Lots of words there, but my dictionary remained faithful. I added the two cups of water. I couldn’t, however, figure out how to extract milk from it. I decided to let that go for a moment and do something about it later on. Never having seen anyone extract milk from water, I doubted that it could be done anyway.
The last part of the sentence told me to squeeze it across a fine cloth (especially wool). Well, I didn’t really have any fine woolen cloth and I didn’t think it would add that much to the water anyway, so I moved on.
Añada la leche condensada y la maicena diluida en agua. Waddle the canned milk and the corn flour diluted in the water. Actually, I’d never waddled in home economics, but I did the best I could. I wasn’t sure just how much corn flour to waddle in. The dictionary said that cucharada is a spoonful, but not what size spoon. I threw in three tablespoons full, just to be sure I had enough.
Bata bien y ponga en un molde a helar. Wear a good lounging robe?
‘That can’t be right,’ I told myself. But, when I looked again in the dictionary, the definition had not changed. Bata is a lounging robe. It must be for the leisure cook, I decided. Well, I didn’t want anything to go wrong, so I put on my robe. It has a few small holes and is a little faded, but it should do as well as any. All that remained was to pour the mixture into a mold and freeze.
After placing the completed product into the freezer, I felt very happy. I’m a little confused as to why I had to irritate a coconut before I started, but maybe it is a Dominican tradition to relieve all hostilities before cooking. Outside of that slight confusion, the recipe is freezing, just like it is supposed to do.
Now I can take off my robe, get dressed and wait for the family to return home to try the new dish. They were threatening not to come home any more, but I’m sure they didn’t mean it. Did they?