Oftentimes as an ESL teacher, I like to offer more than just my language.
I also like to think I make available my cultural difference for answering various questions about the world (“Why are there black people in America and white people in Brazil?”), exposing them to indigenous cultures (Students: “Eskimo!” Me: “Actually, Inuit; Eskimo is offensive.” Students: “Eskimo!”), and letting them know about various international holidays (Me: “It’s Canada Day today!” Students: *absolutely blankness*).
It’s also my greatest pleasure to share my knowledge about food.
Now as you might know already, I fucking love food. If you give me the choice between having a crazy orgy involving Alexander Skarsgård, Hugh Jackman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Scarlett Johansson (gotta throw in a level 3 girl crush, hey), and getting a super-stomach where I could eat as much as I wanted without ever feeling full or making me fat, well I’d be in and out of surgery before you could say sex.
Sometimes, however, my expertise as a food addict and a foreigner don’t really come in handy – or at least as handy as I’d think it would.
Recently, my co-teacher, HM, was having a cooking class for her home economics classes. She wanted to make mashed potatoes, but was having some reservations about the recipe she’d found, having never made them herself.
Mashed potatoes are, blissfully, one of the easy foods I can make here (though they’ll never be as good as my Omi’s), and as such I swelled with pride at being able to help her on her food adventure.
Only…well, our conversation followed more or less as thus:
H: So you need potatoes…
M: Yeah, I guess that’s kinda delicious even if it’s not conventional.
H: And then you put ketchup on top?
M: Errr…not unless it’s shepherd’s pie… *nervous lol*
H: Oh…well then mayonnaise?
H: Oh, then how do you eat it?
M: With a spoon?
M: Sometimes we put gravy on top.
H: How about with crackers?
M: Err…I can’t say I’ve ever eaten mashed potatoes with crackers.
H: But then how do you eat it!
M: It’s most delicious when you just eat it like that! 😀
H: *looks thoroughly unconvinced*
M: Also you need butter in the recipe, but I’ve used that cheap 1$ margarine stick and it’s very good with that too.
H: *is suspicious of this suggestion* Oh, but that’s not what the recipe said…
M: Oh okay…but my family has been making mashed potatoes for as long as I can remember, and I do it every couple of weeks here, and I’m pretty sure it needs butter.
H: Yeah but the recipe said no. I think I’ll just use cheese.
M: Okay…I guess that works too…
H: And can you eat it with eggs?
M: Never done that, no….
H: Oh, but we’re supposed to make eggs with the potatoes and I was hoping to put them together.
M: I see.
H: So how do you start? You boil the potatoes…then mash them?
M: Well, first you skin them, then you –
H: Oh, but that’s a lot of work to skin them before.
M: True, true. But they do cook easier if you dice them in cubes, otherwise the outside gets overcooked and the inside stays raw.
H: Ah, but I also want to show them how to steam whole potatoes.
M: Have you considered making potato salad instead? You can boil whole potatoes, leave the skin on, chop eggs into it, and mix it with mayonnaise?
H: ….Uhhhh I think I’ll just do it the other way.
I did understand her point of view though; this was coming fairly last minute, and I know the feeling of anxiety that comes of changing plans without much wiggle room. I definitely didn’t want to add any stress, so I let it lie and left her with the offer that if she did indeed want any help, I’d happily offer mine.
When the day arrived to be making this worrying concoction, HM asked if me and JH would like to help. I of course said yes right away.
Alas, I’d just been quite sick from a sunburn (I seem to get sun sick very easily). The closed windows and Korea’s conservative stance on using excess electricity in schools, aka more than 50% of fans on at a single time and no A/C unless absolutely necessary or in secret (you might remember the same conservatism on using heating during winter from my brief whinges on the subject), made me feel alarmingly nauseous.
I had to back out after setting the kids up at their cook stations.
HM seemed pretty set though, especially with JH’s aid. She also seemed much more relaxed, especially since she’d worked out ways around the kinks that I’d brought up before. The potatoes were small enough to boil whole, and once boiled their skin came off easily. I asked her how she was going to mash them (potato mashers not being very easy to find in Korea), and she’d proudly showed plastic bags she’d prepared for the kids to smoosh the potatoes by hand. Ghetto, but actually ingenious.
There was ketchup on the desks, but I figured if I just ignored it, it would be like it didn’t exist. So I
reddited worked at my desk for the next while, minding my own business.
Except the fact that I had helped set the kids up clearly made them think I was still taking part in the activity and as such missing out on their finished recipes while being lonely at my desk.
They decided to rectify this situation by bringing me samples of their food.
The first student to come over had made a creamy potato salad type dish. It had some egg and seasoning mixed into the semi-mashed potatoes, and the whole thing was perched atop a saltine cracker. He held it out to me and I was so touched that he would think to bring me some of his precious home economics cooking experiment that I ate it happily despite the weirdness of the cracker.
And you know what? It was pretty decent. HM clearly had known what she was talking about all along.
After that first boy, several more must have got the same idea, because then a bunch of them started coming in at intervals to bring me all their food.
The only difference was, after that first boy, the experiments became more and more…well…
I have never been a picky eater. I’m probably the closest human goat equivalent you’ll ever find in that I eat anything. But these experiments taught me even human goats have lines, and those lines were blasphemously tangled in the above combinations.
Perhaps most unfortunate were the students lingering long enough around my desk to watch me eat and express praise/delight at their gourmet kid-style concoctions. Which I did of course, albeit whilst dying inside a little
But I managed to eat enough to satisfy them, and they quickly scampered off.
Thankfully HM and JH didn’t judge me when I snuck the leftovers into the food waste bin.