CASA GRANDE

Cheez-Its, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and boxes of macaroni and cheese were among the foods my two foreign exchange students squeezed into their suitcases as they packed to return home recently.

Joy from Taiwan arrived in July and lived with us for nearly a year. Haruka, from Japan, lived with us from early December until the end of the school year. Both departed for their home countries soon after the school year ended.

For many of the exchange students, trying new foods that aren’t available in their own countries is part of the fun of living away from home. For the host parents, watching newbies to some of the foods we take for granted — macaroni and cheese as well as a variety of snack and breakfast foods — is also fun.

Soon after they arrived, Joy and Haruka quickly became fans of American snack foods. In my house they found steady and abundant supplies of Cheez-Its, popcorn, Goldfish, chips, granola bars and cereal. They especially enjoyed trying new flavors of boxed cereal every week. Cinnamon Toast Crunch quickly became a favorite. Cap’n Crunch was a close second.

Joy was so impressed with Cheez-Its that she told her father and grandmother about them during one of her early phone calls home. Her father was the one who suggested she bring some back to Taiwan so he could try it too.

Both students took back a few boxes of macaroni and cheese, not so much because they like it but because it can often be hard to find in Asia and Europe as two of the yellow dyes in the cheese mixture are banned in many other countries.

I asked both Joy and Haruka what foods they discovered in Casa Grande that they’ll miss the most when they return home. Both had the same answer — burritos. During their time here, they tried burritos from several different restaurants and at several different homes.

Among the foods they say they won’t miss — pizza. They also ate a lot of that while they were here but say it’s easy to find pizza in Taiwan and Japan.

Below is a recipe for Taiwanese beef curry, sort of like a thick Asian-inspired beef stew, which Joy made on her last night with us.

Taiwanese beef curry

2 pounds boneless beef rib pieces of stewing beef, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 carrot, chopped

1 white onion, chopped

3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup warm water (more may be added if needed)

1/3 cup golden beef curry

1/3 cup coconut milk

Heat oil in pan under medium heat until very hot. Add beef and sautée until brown.

Add 1 cup warm water and cook for about 15 minutes. While it’s cooking, in another pan, sautée onion and carrots. Add onion, carrots and potatoes to beef pot. Add curry paste and coconut milk and stir. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Remove lid and allow the mixture to cook another few minutes until sauce is thickened.

Serve over rice or noodles.

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