It’s been two months since I arrived in Quito and about six since I started this blog, but hey, procrastination is my specialty. I’ve spent the time here in Ecuador attending high school again – what made me think that was a good idea? Especially because classes start at 7 a.m. It’s torture. Torture that I willingly signed up for, so there’s no one to blame but myself. My classmates are all very nice though, and that almost makes the fact that I’m expected to write a 30 page research paper (in Spanish) okay. Well, not really, but I can pretend it does. And aside from absolute boredom 35 hours a week in school, I’ve really been enjoying getting to know the city.
I’ve been to the beach twice with Rotarians and other exchange students, once for a language camp at a secluded resort in September, and I just got back from a second trip to Manabi. My Spanish has slowly been improving, and although I still have quite a bit to learn, I’m finally able to hold a conversation. I’ve started reading a Spanish translation of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, although having to look up every fifth word adds hours onto my normal reading pace.
I’ve decided that I want to become well versed in the classics this year, and the vacant hours of 7 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. have been designated as reading time. Technically I’m in school, buuuuut having already graduated really diminishes my motivation to participate in classes that I’ve already passed in the U.S. The whole not understanding Spanish thing also puts a damper on my ability to do the work; which most of my teachers seem to be understanding of.
Stray puppies that my classmates hid in the corner of our classroom for two days and the paper mache mask of my face (painted the hopes and colors of my dreams) that my classmates and I took turns making for each other on a class trip.
The bookstore in Quicentro- one of the malls relatively near to my house- has an English language section consisting of only two shelves, and the first time I went I purchased The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I finished in about a week of classes. I’m no expert on what makes something literature, but in my opinion this novel deserves every bit of praise that has been heaped upon it.
About a month ago I searched online and found a used English bookstore in the Mariscal section of Quito (also known as gringolandia), but the first two times I went and searched for the address I wasn’t able to find it. This past Tuesday I finally found the new location; they had recently moved a few blocks over. Their selection includes a bit of everything, but I picked up The Rainbow and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, both by D.H. Lawrence, a translated script of ten ancient Greek plays, and a collection of short stories from 36 authors of American literature.
The store that most frequently receives my patronage would have to be Super Maxi, the big (and only) grocery store chain in Quito, that I’m aware of at least. I go most frequently for chocolate (duh, this is me we’re talking about) but searching for gluten-free flours- there are more varieties than I expected- and wandering the aisles just to see what’s there also entertains me. My passion for grocery shopping transcends continents- seriously.
That is one of the things I miss about the U.S. I haven’t been cooking/baking as much as I used to though, and there are two reasons for that. One, we have a maid who makes lunch (which is the main meal) everyday and there are almost always leftovers for dinner. I would cook in spite of that, but my host family has a gas stove that has to be turned on and then lit with a match. And uh, me and fire do not get along.
But yesterday I went over to my friend Jenny’s house (she’s a gringa too) to make pumpkin sugar cookies for our two month anniversary. We flew together from Atlanta along with a few other people, and out of the seven on the flight the three of us who live in Quito- Luiza is the third- have become extremely close. It’s funny how it happens that way with exchange students; I’ve only known them for two months but can’t imagine this year without them, or not being in each other’s lives in the future.
Quito lies just south of the equator, which basically means that there are no seasons, but the same weather all year long. Not to say that it’s hot; the altitude- more than 2000 meters- means it only gets into the 70s (Fahrenheit) during the day, but afternoon thunderstorms are a frequent occurrence and around 5 p.m. the temperature drops back down getting into the 50s and sometimes 40s at night.
At home, autumn is my favorite season, and I am definitely missing all that comes with it: pumpkin picking and carving, hay rides, corn mazes, apple cider, going to Friday night football games, and every other traditional fall activity (but you can leave raking leaves off of that list). Thus, pumpkin cookies! I went to three different locations of Super Maxi as well as Mega Maxi (like Super Maxi, but Mega!) and wasn’t able to find canned pumpkin at any of them. I did, however, find precut pumpkin chunks, so I boiled those and then mashed them to use in place of the canned pumpkin.
The recipe is adapted from Minimalist Baker: basically I changed the ingredients that I can’t eat or wasn’t able to find. And don’t forget to set the timer or your cookies will end up stuck to the pan and even a hammer won’t have much luck getting them off. They will still be delicious though. Eventually I want to get back to baking frequently and developing my own recipes, but for now I’ll leave you with this.
- 1/2 cup solid but softened coconut oil
- 3/4 cup cane sugar (preferably organic and vegan, but make sure the crystals are very fine)
- splash of vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup amaranth flour
- 1 1/2 tbsp yuca starch (or cornstarch)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- dash salt
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1 tbsp water (or nondairy milk)
Beat everything together (if you don’t have a mixer you can use a fork), adding the ingredients two at a time. So first the coconut oil and sugar, after the vanilla and pumpkin, etc. Preheat the oven to 350 F or 175 C. Line a tray with parchment paper or grease it lightly with coconut oil. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes- however ours needed a bit longer than that. Let cool for at least 10 minutes and enjoy!
Seriously. Parchment paper or coconut oil is a MUST