x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

When it comes to caution, I live life in the fat lane

Engaging in high-risk behaviour is a tendency etched into my flawed constitution and I love doing it in my kitchen and with my diet.

By nature, I’m a pretty cautious driver. This is mostly because I don’t trust anyone else on the road. The UAE (where I’m from) and Santa Fe (where I live) have more in common than dark skin, tribal culture and sand: both have abysmal records when it comes to road safety. Add precious cargo – such as groceries, a cake or a kid – and I’ll drive like a weary old goat in a snowstorm, squinting through imaginary weather and hunched over the steering wheel with hazard lights blinking.

I have bad habits, to be sure, but reckless driving isn’t one of them. I admire anyone coordinated enough to break 120kph and eat a burger simultaneously, though I would never want to do it. Instead of speed, I take life in the fat lane, facing off juicier demons such as hypercholesterolaemia and gout. Engaging in high-risk behaviour is a tendency etched into my flawed constitution and I love doing it in my kitchen and with my diet. If I’m eating a burger in the car, I pull over and use both hands. (How else are you supposed to salt those fries?)

Slow drivers such as me reap mixed rewards. On the one hand, driving below the speed limit carries its own set of offences, such as the soporific redundancy of those finger-wagging “baby on board” signs that people refuse to stop hanging in their rear windows. On the other hand, we’re less likely to meet our maker in a steaming heap of metal.

I would hate to have a car with sensors that cause audible seat-belt warnings when anything heavier than a wallet is placed on the passenger seat. But I do nestle my groceries carefully into the cushioned recliner like it’s a form of spiritual practice. At red stoplights, I’ll sometimes check that certain contents are safe. If the sun is beating down or the mountain air has lost its chill, I’ll ask for ice at the fish counter to transport my pound of salmon a mere three miles. These are things a cautious person might do.

But I’m not that careful when it comes to the kitchen and I’m especially prone to painful injuries, random mishaps and regrettable misjudgements. It took many expensive and inconvenient experiences before I figured that I need a contingency plan (Ikea comes to mind) for every fragile thing I own since, chances are, it will end up broken. Before you go thinking that perhaps I don’t value my belongings, let me add that I broke my nose two winters ago by running into a glass door at a restaurant. I’ve also lost other cherished belongings, such as my eyebrows, to kitchen blunders. (Luckily, they grew back, but they’ve never been the same.)

In addition to being consistently clumsy, I’m consistently inconsistent. I don’t have the patience or the precision for pastry, preferring to eyeball quantities. When discussing a cake recipe recently, I mentioned my pattern of ignoring recipes for chocolate frosting, no matter how good the description or photograph promises it will be. I already have a delicious and reliable standby, adapted from my mother’s version, and for someone who eats chocolate frosting as rarely as I do, that’s good enough for me. When asked to share the recipe, I fumbled, having never really paid attention to the steps. This time, I wrote it down – and even managed to do so without hurting myself or anyone else.

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico

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