The kitchen gets a lot of traffic. Few industrial or convenience foods appear on grocery shelves in Tunisia and if they exist, the price is prohibitive. This means that in any functioning household, someone must cook from scratch everyday, usually the mother. Every day. The good news: obesity problems do not plague Tunisian society and Tunisian cuisine is healthy.
When I first arrived in Tunisia, my father-in-law would set off for market every morning with his empty basket and return home with fresh meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables that were in season. Every day. And my mother-in-law spent the morning in the kitchen preparing delicious main dishes, salads, and deserts for the day, enough for the family and any possible visitors that might appear at the door. Every day. All the recipes were in her head—no cookbooks. My husband says that those were the good ol’ days, and heaves a heavy sigh. I say he didn’t appreciate his mother’s good cooking when it was in front of him, but, such is human nature—we don’t appreciate what we have.
Because it was the man’s job to fill up the basket for his family every day, there existed an unwritten code between vendors and shoppers—a sort of male code of honor. Produce is sold from crates and the shopper asks for the quantity needed and the vendor does the necessary choosing and weighing. My father-in-law never came home with so much as a rotten tomato because he knew the vendor and expected to be well served if the vendor wanted his (male) estime and future business. A good system—it worked.
Then women began to take over the shopping duties and the vendors became sly, slipping in sub-standard produce. When I shop once a week, I go to vendors who allow me to pick out the produce. It’s a constant battle—no more honor code. Something has broken down. In addition, prices have risen steeply due to the chaos and uncertainty in the region. In the end, we are thankful that the produce remains available.
Back to the kitchen where I find myself every morning, cooking. Every day. I have stream-lined the process and have a set of recipes in my head. However, I require organization in the kitchen for things to go smoothly. This brings me to the subject of the unruly utensils. I could put them in a drawer, but then I would have to fish in the drawer every time I needed a wooden spoon or a ladle or some other item.
My solution: a pot painted to match the cupboards, which sits on the counter and keeps utensils upright and within easy reach. Recently, the bottom fell out of this 30-year-old pot, so I glued and cemented it back together. It didn’t look so great; it was worn.
So I mosaicked it. Of course, I could have drilled a hole in the bottom and planted it, but, those unruly utensils were driving me nuts!
A new life. I think the pot can go another 30 years. And order has been restored in my kitchen. Now if the current government could restore a semblance of order as well…