Monday, August 31, 2009

Afghanistan - Kabul Express

It's too bad that my kids don't know much about Afghanistan other than there's a war going on there. John told me that Afghanistan is a corrupt country that's near Iraq (Iran is actually next door to Afghanistan, but thanks to Bush Iraq and Afghanistan will forever be lumped together). I admit that even to me Afghanistan seems barbaric and war torn - out of reach. My exposure to the country has been like most everyone else's in North America - headline news about roadside bombings and the Taliban and the best-selling books by Khaled Hosseini "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," and from the movie "Charlie Wilson's War." Sadly its beauty and ancient history are mostly lost to us in the onslaught of bad press. What's underneath the sordid layers of this perhaps( perhaps not) misunderstood country?
My kids and I may not have discovered Afghanistan's hidden treasures but we did taste its cuisine today.
My husband Kevin dropped us off at the train station, but before I got out of the car he said, "While you're in Toronto see if you can find another ethnic restaurant on your list and get that one done."
"I can't just do any ethnic restaurant," I said. "I'm doing this in alphabetical order."
"Oh. Well, what country's next?"
"Yeah. Right. I mean, if you can, you myswell do two in one day." I knew what he was thinking: that'll be another one I won't have to eat!
"Sure. I'll do my best to find an Albanian restaurant while I'm at it," I said sarcastically.
We caught the 12:30 train to Toronto. Being that it's the end of the summer (only one more week to go!) John and Julia can barely stand to be in the same room with each other, let alone, sit next to each other on a train. They kicked and pushed until I moved John the next seat over and gave them both a hard, cold stare.
"Why are we going to eat Afghan food?" John asked as he stared aimlessly out the window. I sighed. "Because we're starting the project!" I've been talking about the Eat Planet project for a week and I gave him the full rundown that morning on what we were going to do and where we were going.
At Union Station we hopped on the subway (well, a subway and I just prayed we were going in the right direction). We were - thankfully - and we got off at the Eaton Center - a huge and crowded mall. From there we walked a few blocks east on Dundas, and just when I started thinking how shady the neighborhood suddenly looked, I saw a bight yellow sign saying "Kabul Express." It was on the other side of the street and we ran to it - barely looking to see if cars were coming we were so excited (or at least I was excited). As soon as we arrived I made the children stand in front of the restaurant's sign. I happily snapped pictures while John tried to stand as far as he could from Julia and still be in the picture.
It was 2 o'clock by the time we strolled into Kabul Express. The place was virtually empty except for three women sitting at a back table talking loudly. Even though the place was small it was clean and airy. A T.V. hung on the wall and a soap opera was on that nobody was watching. Everything except for the brown tables and chairs was orange and yellow - orange walls, orange trays, big illuminated yellow menus on the wall beside a series of big, yellow illuminated photographs of all their meals. The kids and I stared at the menu that proudly proclaimed it had world famous Kabul Kabobs. A pleasant-looking woman stood behind the counter and took our order as we pointed to the kabob photos we liked. John got the choppan kabob (lamb chops). Julia got the beef koffa. I got the chicken tandoori kabob. After we finished ordering the woman said to me, "You have beautiful children."
A short time later the woman served our meals on the orange trays. The food was piled on oval plates, the rice spilling over the edges every time we cut into our meat. I sheepishly took pictures of the food making it all too clear we were new to this Afghan cuisine. Julia gladly posed for the pictures while John tried to stay out of them.
The food was delicious and we had way too much ( in addition they served us a basket piled high with warm nan). My chicken was red and a bit spicy (I've had it before, actually), Julia's looked like two long beef logs and tasted like a hamburger. John had three lamb chops spread across rice and his dish was - hands down - the best.
When we were done the three of us had a ring of rice around our plates - enough to feed a hungry family of four. We happily waved good-bye to the nice cashier lady and stepped out into the sunshine. I said, "Yeah! We did it! Our project has officially started!" It felt good.
On the way back to the station we couldn't help but stop at the Eaton Center and buy a few things. Even though we went to an Afghan fast food restaurant where every thing on the menu was under $10, the excursion to Kabul Express turned out to be any thing but economical. The two-way family train ticket to Toronto was $25, the subway to and from the Eaton Center was $8, the meal was $38.39, a stop in Banana Republic for two blouses was $129.00, and an impulse buy at the Disney Store cost me $22.50.
On the train coming home I called Kevin to pick us up at the station. He was there waiting when we arrived. We told him all about our Afghan eating experience on the way home. Finally, after a long day, we pulled into our driveway - five and a half hours later and $222.89 in the hole - we were back from Kabul Express.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting started

Okay. I haven't even started and already I am running into problems. This weekend was supposed to be the big kick-off for our Eat Planet blog. I had planned that on Saturday afternoon, after John's football practice, we would drive to Toronto and eat Afghan food from a restaurant called Kabul Express - apparently a fast food joint. I originally wanted to go to a place called The Afghan Village which got great reviews on the internet. But it's in North York, an hour and a half away. Kevin suggested that we wait to go there when John's football team plays North York, but who knows when that's going to be (??) That wasn't going to work for me. Call me crazy but I am biting at the bit to get started.
Then Kevin gets sick. He came home early from work Friday, threw-up and went straight to bed. He hardly ate a thing yesterday and today the only thing he's had is a dry bagel. Driving into the city to eat Afghan fast food was not high on his list of things he wanted to do this weekend. He suggested we wait until next weekend (I don't think he understands the seriousness of this project). I thought about waiting but I've decided that the show must go on. Tomorrow the kids and I will trek into the city and we will go to Kabul Express! Tune in tomorrow when I write about it.

Problem number 2: I wrote that there are 257 countries. Well, after investigating it a bit further when I couldn't find the country Akrotiri in the dictionary (!!) I discovered that I had included about 60 territories, colonies, dependents of independent countries, etc. No wonder I hadn't heard of so many of them! Apparently there are 195 countries in the world, and I also learned that "How many countries are in the world?" is a frequent question because different sources often give you different answers. I wondered then if I should include the territories, colonies, and what not, but then I thought I should keep it simple. So 195 it is - unless another source tells me the number is all wrong! Perhaps the next project can be eating foods from the territories, the colonies, and the like - if I survive this one, that is.

Trivia: The United States has more territories than any other country (there are 14). The United Kingdom has 12.

Definition of an Independent Country -

1.) Has land that is internationally recognized.
2.) People live there.
3.) Has an organized economy.
4.) Has the power of social engineering, such as education.
5.) Has a transportation system for moving goods and people.
6.) Has sovereignty.
7.) Other countries recognize it as a country.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


My name is Jennifer Bushman and my husband's name is Kevin and our children are John (age 11) and Julia (age 8). Presently we live in Oakville, Ontario outside of Toronto. I say presently because we are a family that moves quite often. Kevin and I started our married life in El Centro, California - where our babies were born - and from there we moved to Virginia Beach, Pittsburgh, Chicago and now Oakville. Every time Kevin gets promoted we're off to live somewhere new and I tell Kevin that he married the right woman because I don't mind moving. I have moved all my life. My parents were U.S. diplomats and I grew up all over the world. This is how I acquired an interest in food. Even as a small child I had a sophisticated palate. When I was three my favorite food was artichokes and when I was six I had my first taste of mussels in Brussels. So when I had children I was not about to have picky eaters. Picky eaters would not stand a chance in my house because when I cook I experiment with different types of cuisines. I can't stand cooking the same dishes over and over again, let alone eating the same dishes over and over again. Since I often feel nostalgic for my years living abroad I will cook things that take me back in time- hummus and falafel reminds me of Israel, bulgogi reminds me of Korea, moussaka reminds me of Greece, and schnitzel reminds me of Czechoslovakia. John and Julia have eaten and like all theses things, and more. I never assume my kids won't like something and just like me they were eating things like caviar and brie by the time they were toddlers.
I always wished that John and Julia could travel the world like I did and then it dawned on me that they could through their palates. Our family's challenge is to eat a cuisine from every country in the world (there's 257), in alphabetical order, in one year.