Sometimes I think living overseas must be similar to being pregnant. I have often heard of expectant mothers being hit by food cravings. Once the thought gets in you head it is hard to forget. Living here is the same way. Sometimes the memory of a well loved dish from home enters my thoughts and I can't function well until I have had some. The only trouble is not everything is available out here for real western cooking.
One of my latest longings is for cheesecake. This is not a new thing for me, and over my years here I have discovered how to make cheesecake in a land where cream cheese is foreign.
When I first started to describe cream cheese to my local friends two years ago, they seemed to think I was crazy… in fact they wondered if butter would do the trick (also a hard to find item, but somewhat more well known). Some suggested a Kazak cheese product that might work… but in truth it is way to hard and sour to make a good cheesecake (trust me we tried once).
However, I have learned from my Kazak neighbours that they make their cheese by cooking milk and yogurt together and then hang it up in a bag for a week or so. Based on this simple practice I had heard that you could make creamcheese simply by straining yoghurt through a cheese cloth.
The first time my classmate and I tried this method we had quite the contraption hooked up to our clothes line. There was a bag of yogurt hanging three feet in the air (It might be more accurately described as a large blob of yogurt wrapped up in cheesecloth, bound together with safety pins, string and clothespins). Every so often a drop of water would drip into the metal bowl we had sitting beneath it. The sound was madding and actually drove us from the apartment. The other problem was that we had to leave it out for several hours and feared that our yogurt would go bad as it sat out for a full day in the heat of the summer. This method did work, and while it was cumbersome to hang the bag of yogurt and the constant dripping did get annoying, the cheesecake was sweet, and almost perfect.
It was my current roommate that moved us one step closer in reinventing the wheel of cream cheese production. The smarty that she is, thought to put the cheese cloth inside the strainer and set the strainer in a deep bowl. The whole thing can slide nicely into the fridge were it can sit for the required length of time, still cool and clean (the door even insulates the noisy drips).
The ladies at our local store now think that all North Americans do is eat yogurt. We buy large amounts to strain down to various consistences to make cream cheese, or a sour cream based veggie dip and so many other things.
And so food cravings, the real mother of invention, has found a way to bring cream cheese to a land that doesn’t know cheese from butter. And the black bottom cup cakes my roommate made this week have gone a long way to meeting my dessert needs.