Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Taco Salads

The summer weather can be hit or miss here; some days we have sun and warm temps and other days, well…all I can say is that it’s the Netherlands.  I knew I wasn’t signing on for weeks of heat and humidity in the summer when I moved here, but every once in a while I have a craving for a sticky day.  I read this post, and it just brought back memories of taking my dog out to the breeder's property a few evenings a week in the summer to train him to hunt.  I loved those evenings in St. Louis when the heat of the day (although not the humidity) suddenly seemed to ease up.  Once I got home from training, I would pour myself a big glass of lemonade and be thankful my apartment had air-conditioning.

Oh, lemonade, just one of the things I can’t get here.  Also, no one believes in ice cubes.  For the most part, I don’t whine about the foods I can’t get here.  Wait, do I?  Maybe I whine here on the blog more than I do in real life.  During my first year in Amsterdam, I would get deeply upset about the unavailability of certain products—the hunt for cake flour was a particularly difficult moment.  As all ex-pats must learn, and as I've said before, you either learn to roll with the unavailability of certain goods, or you decide to fight against the “system.”  If you choose the latter, you will live in a constant state of misery and never truly learn to appreciate all the great things about living in a foreign country.  I might add that learning to love Dutch food—I’m not so sure that I would go so far as to say I love it—does not stop me from bringing back a suitcase full of the comforts of home every time I go to the U.S.  I already have a list for our trip to California in August, and you had better believe it includes such necessities as King Arthur flour, vanilla extract, and chocolate chips.

But what about all the foods I can’t transport in my suitcase?  What about all those freshly made meals that don’t seem to be available, because the Dutch don’t appreciate/know about them?  Anyone who has been around me in the last few years knows how obsessed I am with taco salads.  I blame Los Angeles for this.  All those Mexican restaurants spread out across the city can’t help but invite you in with their colorful tablecloths and fresh salsa bars.  If you then give me an amazing combination of crisp salad, creamy guacamole, beans, and steak all warmly held together in a fried tortilla bowl, how can I not help but fall in love?  I had never had anything like it before moving to SoCal, and I do miss it here on occasion.  A few weeks ago when the warm weather hit, I started getting really intense cravings for taco salads, and I have done my very best to create my own rendition here. What I have ended up making is like the imprint of an imprint of a taco salad.  It’s absolutely not the same, but it will suffice for the time being.  We use store-bought taco shells instead of making our own taco bowls, and I am ashamed to admit that I put shredded gouda on the salad.  To be honest, I accept my version of it because the avocados have been decent lately, and any sort of salad and bean combo tastes better when smothered in guacamole.  We've eaten taco salads for dinner at least once a week for the past few weeks and sometimes we eat them twice a week.  Man, do we know how to live it up, or what?

The rest of my summer cravings will have to wait for August.  In particular, I’m looking at you pitcher of lemonade and heirloom tomato salad with a side of grilled steak.  (Before someone points it out: I know I could make lemonade myself, but it would be expensive and would not flood me with childhood memories of mixing the concentrate with water in my mom’s special pitcher.  And yes, I’m sure some fancy market here sells heirloom tomatoes, but I guarantee no one here knows how to grill steak like an American.  Well, maybe someone does, but I have yet to be invited to that house for a backyard barbeque.)


  1. They have to have vanilla extract there; I'm assuming that there's a difference between there's and ours. I recently found a bargain on double-strength vanilla extract and thought I'd just use half as much in recipes, but what I hadn't thought of (and this is what I'm supposed to be an expert about) was that different flavor compounds have different solubilities, so the double strength is more like artificial vanilla, as all the minor components are muted. Expensive mistake! And that's from someone who has Mexico, Madagascar and Tahiti vanilla extracts on his shelf.

  2. "Theirs," not "there's." Can't believe I made that typo.

  3. Steve,
    Truly, there are very few places that sell vanilla extract here. I've found it in a few cooking stores, but they only stock stuff from Wilton's. I'm pretty sure commercial bakeries can get it, but home bakers rely on vanilla sugar instead. That stuff is gross and tastes like chemicals. The bottle I have now I bought in London, and I'm hoping it will see me through to our trip back to America.
    What would one use double strength vanilla for? Just curious.