Monthly Archives: November 2009

How to make a pumpkin pie in Singapore

When do you celebrate an American holiday if you’re not in America?  (Thanksgiving always falls on the 4th Thursday of November -a day that has come and gone in Singapore; it is now Friday morning.)  Do you celebrate on the 4th Thursday in your local time zone, before everyone in the States, or do you celebrate with everyone in the States, meaning I should have switched up my traditional breakfast omelette for turkey, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie?

The answer for me is surprisingly neither.  I think that before I left I had visions of gathering some fellow Americans, other expats, and Singaporeans together for a happy little international Thanksgiving and introducing the non-Americans to a very important part of our culture – pumpkin pie.  Perhaps this was expected by those who know me as well, since I got an email wondering what sort of adventures I was going to encounter while trying to track down cranberry sauce.

This did not happen for a few reasons.  First, I went to a Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by the Fulbright Association last Friday.  So I already had my happy little international Thanksgiving complete with turkey, (Japanese) sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.  There was cranberry sauce as well, but those dishes comprised the extent of the traditional Thanksgiving food.  Nevertheless, I gave thanks that someone else had cooked the turkey.

I was also thankful I had attempted to make a pumpkin pie in a foreign country, because it turned out to be the only one.  (How can you have Thanksgiving dinner without pumpkin pie?)  Making the pie was a little bit of an adventure, but I’ll do pretty much anything for pumpkin – I’m a little obsessed with it.  You know the character “Bubba” from Forrest Gump who loves shrimp?  I’m him, just with pumpkin.  There’s pumpkin bread, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin curry, pumpkin pie….right, I’m supposed to tell you about the pie, not declare my undying love for anything pumpkin.

How to Make a Pumpkin Pie in a Foreign Country (shortly after your arrival)

  1. Bring cans of pumpkin and evaporated milk with you when you move, since you’re not sure of their availability in said country
  2. Upon collecting your baggage, discover that your backpack is dripping an off-white liquid.  Twenty-seven hours on a plane has made your brain foggy, so it takes you a little while to realize that it is evaporated milk, and so yes, it is coming from inside your bag.  Open your bag to discover that one of the two cans you brought sustained a rather large puncture en route and has completely emptied into the bottom of your backpack.  This was, of course, the bag you put assorted papers in, and they are now stuck together.  The important thing, though, is that three cans of pumpkin and one can of evaporated milk remain intact.
  3. Discover, on your first trip to a local grocery store, that both Libby’s canned pumpkin and evaporated milk are available.
  4. Buy cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in Little India.  You could have bought them in a grocery store, but they are cheaper, and presumably fresher, in Little India.
  5. Hunt for a refrigerated pie shell, which you did not find in the local grocery store.  Contemplate making some sort of cookie crust, but ultimately locate the appropriate pastry in Carrefour.  Buy something to bake the pie in.
  6. Get home and realize you need a can opener.  And sugar.  Return to Carrefour the next day, as it is the only place you know that will definitely have both items.  Thankfully realize you also need to buy a mixing bowl before leaving the store.
  7. Get home and head towards the oven to pre-heat it.  Turn back towards the computer to google “375 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius”
  8. After selecting the temperature, stare confusedly at the settings knob – there are seven and they are depicted in hieroglyphics.  Pick the one that looks like sun rays coming down at a pie-shaped object.  (Other options include three small triangles, two horizontal lines, a thermometer with an up arrow, a lightbulb, a fan with three small triangles, and a fan with a plus sign.)
  9. Take the pie shell out of the refrigerator and realize the instructions are in French.  Dust the cobwebs off of your high-school and college French and attempt to translate.  In between words you don’t know, gather that you are supposed to keep it at room temp for 10 minutes, unroll it, prick it with a fork, fill it with a filling of your choice, and bake it at a temperature lower than the pumpkin pie requires, for a shorter period of time than the pumpkin pie requires.
  10. Make the pumpkin pie filling, pour it into the pie shell, and put it in the oven.  (At the pie temperature, not the crust temperature.)
  11. Lick the spoon.  And the bowl.  There are worse ways to die than Salmonella, especially if pie batter is involved.
  12. Notice that the crust is browning very quickly, but the pie is still liquid.  Borrow some of your roommate’s aluminum foil and attempt to cover the crust.
  13. Have trouble concentrating on work for the next 40 minutes because your apartment smells delicious.
  14. Take the pie out of the oven when it’s done.  There isn’t enough time to let it cool completely, so wrap it in foil and then a towel in order to transport it to dinner.
  15. Stare longingly at the pie throughout dinner and the post-dinner lecture.  Observe that there are at least twenty people in the room and there is only one pumpkin pie.
  16. When dessert-time is announced, stealthily maneuver yourself so you are near the front of the line.  Rationalize that you need to make sure it is not poisonous, as you do not want to cause an international incident.
  17. Eat, and enjoy.

While I gladly would have repeated this to consume more pie, there are two other reasons I did not coordinate my own Thanksgiving.  First, it’s easy to forget it’s Thanksgiving.  This is partly because I already had a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner, but also because there are no external cues it’s Thanksgiving.  There are no displays of canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce at the grocery store.  There are no Publix (grocery store) commercials featuring animated salt and pepper shakers in the form of a pilgrim man and wife.  There are no leaves falling to the ground – it’s 84 degrees outside and it feels like summer.  If it weren’t for the food blogs I read and my friends’ facebook statuses, I probably would have forgotten.

Secondly, we’re busy.  The 4th Thursday in November is not a holiday in Singapore.  My friend Clayton actually had an exam.  I had various visa-related errands to run before today, which is a holiday in Singapore.  It’s Hari Raya Haji, the Malaysian name for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.  From what I’ve heard, there are no public festivities as the holiday involves praying and sacrificing sheep in a mosque.  So unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), I will not be participating in any related activities today.

However, I am organizing a Hawker Centre Stall Crawl for tomorrow, so I’ll be feasting in the spirit of Thanksgiving and Hari Raya Haji shortly.  Rest assured that pictures of food you’ve never seen before are coming your way, but for now I leave you with the acknowledgement that I am thankful for you.

And pumpkin pie.

And that I live here:

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Twenty-Seven Hours

It took me twenty-seven hours to fly from Miami to Singapore.  When you consider time spent checking-in and waiting at the beginning of my trip and passing through immigration and customs at the end,  the total time I spent in airports and airplanes was at least thirty hours.  So what was it like?  Overall, it was not nearly as bad or as exhausting as I thought it would be.  Even though my trip was mostly uneventful (I watched movies, I slept, I wondered if we were there yet…), there were three memorable incidents.

For everything else there’s MasterCard, but sometimes you need a visa

For some silly reason, I expected any difficulties I might have with the authorities to come on the Singaporean side of my journey.  Not so.  I arrived at the Miami airport somewhat relaxed after a hectic morning.  (While I didn’t take a two-hour trapeze class -like I did the day I left for 5 weeks in Europe – I ran a variety of errands that needed to get done before I moved to the other side of the world.)  I started to relax when those were finished and I got in the car.  Little did I know that my blood pressure would skyrocket once I got to the front of the rather lengthy check-in line.

After handing over my passport, I leaned down to transfer some of my clothes from my checked bags to my carry-on, just in case.  As I was fiddling with my luggage, it occurred to me that the guy behind the counter hadn’t said anything.  Maybe he was waiting for me.  I stood up.  His eyebrows furrowed as he focused on the computer screen in front of him and typed furiously.  I hoped he could find my reservation, because I hadn’t remembered to write down the locator number.

He looked up. “Do you have a return ticket?” he asked, in a seemingly friendly voice.  I was relieved he had found my reservation, and so I smiled as I responded negatively.  He continued, “how long are you staying in Singapore?”  I smiled again as I thought about my imminent adventure and told him nine months.

He conspiratorially leaned over to his desk mate and said, “Second opinion?  She doesn’t have a visa and she’s staying for nine months….”  My heart started racing as I suddenly realized where this was going.  Despite the whirl of thoughts and alarm bells going off in my head, I managed to form actual words.

“But I have a Fulbright grant from the U.S. government….I have paperwork….do you want to see it?”  The words tumbled quickly out of my mouth and my tone inched slightly higher with each one.

He said they might help, so I frantically reached to the bottom of my suitcase where my papers where hiding and pulled out the first ones I touched.  I passed them over with a smile.  I needed this man to like me.  I needed this man to let me on my plane.

After carefully scrutinizing them, he looked up.  I awaited my verdict, still smiling sweetly.  Or, potentially like a half-crazed clown.  But I like to think it was sweetly.

“Congratulations,” he said unexpectedly, “you should be proud.”  I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.  As he proceeded to check me in, I looked at the papers I had passed over.  The first one, my initial acceptance letter, stated, “your selection for a Fulbright is an achievement for which you can be justly proud…This award is contingent upon your obtaining: official research clearance from the host country; satisfactory medical clearance; and, required visas.”  Thankfully he had apparently focused on the “proud” part and not the “visa” part.  (My visa is currently being processed, but more on that later.)  Moments later I had my boarding passes and he was wishing me good luck.

And so I was on my way to Singapore (via San Francisco and Hong Kong).

Coming Up: Twenty-Seven Hours Part II – “No, I don’t have Swine Flu” and Part III – “Gum-sniffing dogs”

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