Meal planning for a family of five is never easy, but imagine doing your grocery shopping in a country where you don’t speak the language, and many of the foods are unfamiliar to you.
That’s what happened to Abby McAllister when she and her husband, Harley, left Valleyford to teach school in the Dominican Republic three years ago.
Her experience prompted her to compile a cookbook, “Familiar Tastes in a Foreign Place.”
How the family got to the Dominican Republic from Valleyford is a tale in and of itself. “I didn’t even know where the Dominican Republic was,” McAllister confessed in a recent phone interview. “I thought it was near the Philippines.”
Harley McAllister worked at SprayCool in Liberty Lake, and Abby McAllister home-schooled their three sons in addition to substitute teaching at Summit School in Spokane Valley.
When her husband was laid off from SprayCool in 2009, the couple pondered what was next. “We wanted to give back somewhere because we felt like we’d been so blessed,” McAllister said.
Because she was passionate about the expeditionary learning model –an interdisciplinary project-based method – they use at Summit, they began searching for schools similar to Summit and found Doulos Discovery School in the Dominican Republic. The Christian school needed high school math and science teachers. “We were both qualified to do that,” she said.
After calling the school, the couple felt like the jobs would be a perfect match for their family’s new direction. However, the teaching positions were unpaid, and the McAllisters had only six months to raise the support they would need to move to the Dominican Republic.
With assistance of generous donors including members of Valleyford Community Church, the family moved to Jarabacoa, a mountain town located in the center of the Central Range of the Dominican Republic, in July 2010. “We showed up sight unseen and planned to stay with the school director until we found housing,” McAllister said.
But within one day of their arrival, they found both a rental house and a vehicle. Then, the real challenges began. Neither of the McAllisters spoke Spanish. Although the school required them to teach in English, simple tasks like shopping proved daunting.
“When we first moved here, my idea was to totally live like Dominicans,” McAllister said. “We ate rice and beans a lot, and plantains and yucca.”
They also “ended up being sick a lot.”
Trying to adjust to the climate and the language proved stressful enough, but the food issues were the last straw.
“I decided to look for a way to bring my family comfort by using foods that were available and adapting them to recipes from home,” McAllister said.
It was a challenge she relished, and “Familiar Tastes in a Foreign Place” is the result.
The cookbook opens with a “survival guide” section filled with hints and tips for shopping and food preparation in the Dominican Republic. She also includes a language chart showing the English/Spanish names for produce, meat and other foods.
McAllister hopes the book will ease the transition of other new arrivals. Important basics like thorough washing of fruits and vegetables and how to pasteurize your own milk are vital for newcomers to understand, she said.
The recipe section features McAllister family favorites and dishes fellow teachers shared. McAllister includes substitutions, so the recipes can be prepared in the U.S. as well as in the Dominican Republic. For example, mango cobbler easily becomes peach cobbler, if mangoes aren’t available.
In addition, each recipe contains notes – often the story behind the recipe or funny anecdotes. McAllister said friends and family back home have expressed appreciation of these slices of Dominican Republic life. “It makes us feel connected,” she said.
As she compiled the recipes, McAllister found new motivation to finish the book and make it available to the public. She and her husband had talked about adopting a child before they moved to the Dominican Republic. Once there, the desire became a goal. The couple are hoping to adopt siblings from the Dominican Republic.
But, the adoption process is “going to cost about a year’s salary,” McAllister said. “We’re selling the cookbooks as a fundraiser for the adoption costs.”
Her hope is that those who use her cookbook will invite others to share a meal. “When you share food and recipes it creates a sense of connection,” she said.