Friday, December 19, 2014

Elias Turns 3

Elias was so excited about his birthday this year! I think it's the first one he's been old enough to anticipate and really understand. He (very nicely) asked if he could have a chocolate star cake this year with strawberries, his favorite. He also wanted "lots of balloons!"

I had two circle cake pans, but I figured I could find a tutorial online to turn two circles into a star, and sure enough, I did! Basically, you turn one into a pentagon and cut the other into 6 (one extra) even sliced triangles by removing the rounded part, and stick them together.

I used this devil's food cake recipe by Laura Vitale and the icing again is chocolate whipped cream (from this recipe) because it pairs so nicely with the fruit my kids always request. I did the writing with cream cheese icing for color contrast.

We recycled one of Ben's pretty blue flavored water bottles for a vase and put one of the gorgeous yellow marigold's from our garden in it. It has lasted all month.

Elias is a thoughtful, decisive little boy. He is always observing what's around him and figuring out how things work. We love him very much and look forward to many more birthdays with this special guy.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi 30: Knafeh

Knafeh, or, as wikipedia says:

"Kenafeh also spelled knafeh, Kunafeh, kunafeh, knafeh, or kunafah) is a Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup, typical of the regions belonging to the former Ottoman Empire.[1] It is a dessert specialty of the Levant, especially in Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Syria and northern Egypt. It is a first cousin of the Greek kadaifi and the Turkish tel kadayıf, künefe and ekmek kadayıfı. [2]"

Or, in other words, as we learned from our friendly Jordanian neighbors, DELICIOUS!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

December's First Days: National Day and Murder

These first few days of December have been full of events:

 On December 2nd the U.A.E. celebrated their 43rd year as a nation. There were amazing airshows, fireworks and celebrations all over the U.A.E. Dubai's famous Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, had a huge firework display from its many different levels. The Corniche in Abu Dhabi had beautiful displays along its coastline. In Ruwais, the mall was decorated with National Day colors and the schools had special assemblies and are off this week, but I'm not sure if anything else happened. I'm just enjoying the time with the whole family together.

Also happening this week is Elias' 3rd birthday, which he has been counting down to ever since August. It's probably the first one he can really understand what it's all about and be talking enough to express that.

December 1st, however, is what made the news back home: A woman in a niqab and gloves waited  in the restroom until the woman, an American teacher she appears to have been waiting for, entered. People heard arguing. The American was found later stabbed. The ambulance didn't get there in time. The American teacher was the mother of 11 year old twins. Their father was contacted and coming for them last I heard. Police said today on Twitter via AbuDhabiPolice that the suspect was caught and it is being labeled an act of terrorism since after the stabbing she supposedly went to bomb an American doctor's house.

If your goal in life is "safety," then there is still nothing here to worry about compared to the States. (That's not our goal and I believe that "safety" is an illusion in the first place.) This is an unusual event and the only one of its kind that I've heard of the whole time we've been here. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Today, Talia and Elias were excited to get their name in pancakes for breakfast as something special for Thanksgiving. Since Thankgoving isn't officially observed in the U.A.E., yesterday was a school/work day and special breakfasts weren't easy to squeeze in.
(Not pictured: Benjamin with his- morning pictures aren't his thing. ;) )

Turkey is only offered seasonally here, and they're large for what our family can eat and only available at the mall that's not easy for me to get to (physically and mentally. ;) ) So, for supper we had roasted chicken, stuffing, broccoli casserole and a peach crisp. 

The kids and I had fun making paper turkeys to decorate the table. Hearing the things they were thankful for was a highlight of the day!

This Thanksgiving was dedicated to Benjamin: the guy we are all thankful for. He loves his children and puts in time with them training, educating, talking and playing. He puts his family's needs first and is always consciously providing for us now and keeping the big picture of the future in mind. There's so many things that go into being a good father. I'm thankful our children have him.

Happy Thankgiving!

Friday, November 14, 2014


If you think I haven't been posting anything substantial lately, you're correct. It's not that I would write something criticizing the people or government here, because I don't usually write about that sort of thing and I truly try to find the positives in every place we live... but just the fact that there is censorship here makes it difficult to write at all. Maybe it's a mental block, because truly, with the immense quantity of nationalities, foods and cultures blending in this place, there's a lot I like to learn about and would like to share, I just never know what will be offensive to someone else. Over-thinking things really kills any creative flow or desire to write. Because of this, here's what you end up with: recipes, photos, what the kids are saying and, you know, basically anything without thoughts deeper than the surface level of life here because that's what is for sure (until I say it is, perhaps) allowed to be written.

There's nothing that makes one want to be critical as much as the preemptive admonition not to be.

There are so many good things here. I want to be able to write about them.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Green Spaces

I recently had a conversation with a friend comparing this desert to the desert of Las Vegas. Las Vegas, they said, was all sand, buildings and plastic "grass." Coming to Ruwais, then, it was refreshing to find more trees and grass than they had expected. 
There is an extensive gardening and landscaping effort throughout each city I've visited in Abu Dhabi. Miles and miles of Palm trees line the highways watered by even more miles of black hoses that utilize desalinated water from the gulf and give gardeners from places like  Bangladesh and jobs.
I have read some complaints about the amount of energy and water that is used to produce these green places in the desert and I'm not sure how to solve that problem, but every time I see these green places, I appreciate them. I'm not sure there's a way to measure, but I would bet it helps people stay sane and continue living here longer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Pakistani Recipe: Sabzi

If you would like to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, maybe you'd like to try this simple Pakistani recipe called "sabzi" which means "vegetables".
All you need are:

2 medium sized potatoes
1 large carrot
1 small/medium sized red onion
1 handful of peas
1 fresh tomato
dried fenugreek leaves
1 tsp coriander powder (crush the pods- so much tastier)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
desired salt and chili powder

Fry onions until translucent.
Add all chopped vegetables.
Add all spices including dried fenugreek leaves.
Add a splash of water and cook on low/medium heat, checking a few times.

It's easy and tasty and a great way to add more colorful vegetables to your table.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kids Unscripted: Chapter 29

Ben: (at supper) "Talia, you're waxing poetic about that..."
Elias: "Talia's not waxing in the diamond room!" 
(Diamond meant "dining.")
Elias: "Whale eat Jonah with cheese..."
Me: "With CHEESE!?"
Elias: "Yes. Whale eat one Jonah. Shark want two..."
Talia: "When I see bright purple it makes my throat feel spicy..."
Talia: "Sheeram and Yokeedotch [that's a phonetic spelling, I have no clue!] were running around the classroom. I think they wanted to get their energy out"
Me: "How do you get your energy out at school?"
Talia: "I write, you have to wiggle your hand to write!"
Elias: "Grammy went back to the Nice Dates of America"
Me: "I have an idea for your birthday cake"
Elias: "In the refrigerator!"
Me: "No, your birthday is not until December"
Elias: "We have to drive to December and get the cake!"
Ben: (to the kids outside) "Why is the bicycle on the table?"
Talia: "Because we are building a house."
Ben: "So why is the bicycle on the table?"
Talia: "It's a machine to carve off the sharp."
Me: "Talia, do you like mashed potatoes?"
Talia: "Yes, especially when they're surrounded by things I don't like..."
Me: "You didn't like the chicken?"
Talia: "No... it turns into strings when you chew it and it tastes like beach sand."
Me: "When did you try beach sand?"
Talia: "Well, it was an accident..."
Ben: "It's supper time!"
Elias: "No, it's shawarma-warma time!"
Ben: "Do you want some chill out tea?"
Me: "Chamomile? Sure..."
Elias: "I want some tea! Chilly tea!"
Talia: "It's a moth! It's brown, you like brown!"
Ben: "I like coffee brown and wood brown, not moth-that's-been-flapping-around-in-the-desert brown!"

Braiding Bread

Talia has been wanting to learn how to braid bread, so we had the opportunity to try not long ago and she did a pretty good job.

Next, she wants to learn to braid her hair and other people's hair. I have a feeling that will be a little bit trickier, and without such delicious results.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Coffee: Convenience over Culture

How great of a marketing feat must it be to go to a country famous for its high quality coffee and get most of the population to drink coffee crystals rehydrated with hot water?

This is a question posed in conversation with some friends the other day while discussing the prevalence of Nescafé (in Guatemala sometimes jokingly called no-es-café, or "it's not coffee") throughout the world. Guatemala had ideal conditions for quality coffee: lots of high elevation cultivation land that was 2) enriched with volcanic soil. Supposedly, these two qualities contributed to some of the best flavored coffee. Like most quality things produced by Guatemala, most of the general public never consumed it, but rather exported it.

While coffee isn't an export here, it is still very much a part of the culture. If you have business to do in a bank or other important office, sometimes you will be offered coffee or tea while you are waiting. Turkish or Arabic coffee, (coffee mixed with cardamom or other spices) is something associated with this region... and yet, almost everybody drinks Nescafé.

Perhaps, like many things, it's an example of convenience over culture.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi: 29

There is a cage with several peacocks near a man-made lake on the way to the post office in Ruwais, Abu Dhabi.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi; 28

Fall is here and it's finally planting season!
This little fellow was visiting the climbing plants on our back wall this morning.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Weaving and Middle Eastern Culture

This August Ben's mom came for a visit and we had an opportunity to visit a lot of the tourist places we wouldn't visit otherwise and show her the things that make Abu Dhabi what it is. One of the places we visited was the Heritage Village: a place preserving the traditions of the people who lived here before the discovery of oil created an explosion in their economical status and subsequently, their population and they no longer survived off of the land unless they chose to.

One of many craft booths available there was a weaving shop. I really appreciate things made by hand and especially those with beautiful detail and bright colors.

The gentleman at the loom was very friendly and passionate about his work. He was social and patient and enjoyed interacting with my husband in Arabic. He asked if we were Muslim, and when my husband responded that we were Christians, his eyes lit up and he told us the story of the Muslims and Christians in his country of Egypt who surrounded each other so that each could pray in safety.

 He was like most Muslims I have met here: respectful.
Something living in Abu Dhabi has shown us is the super hospitable, family oriented, and honorable side of a culture we would have never seen from in the States. I am thankful for the experience.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Samosa Pinwheels

One of our favorite culinary discoveries in the United Arab Emirates has been Indian food. There's not a lot of that in the southern United States... A particular favorite has been samosas. When I found a recipe that eliminated the need to make all of the little triangles, but instead rolled all of the ingredients together in a pinwheel fashion and then sliced and cooked, it looked like a good recipe to try.

Just make and divide, then roll out the dough:

Roll them up tightly and then cook... I have tried baking and frying them. Baking works, but not as well as frying.
We served them with a chicken garden salad.
Check out Manjula's recipe and YouTube demonstration here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 28

Ben: (after Talia played a really good move on a board game) "Oh, it's ON now!"
Talia: "Yeah, we turned it back on..."
(Talia and Elias playing hospital:)
Talia: "So what's your problem? Are you too hot?"
Elias: "Too cold!"
Talia: "Ok" (and apparently he goes in something like a toaster oven because then I hear...)
"DING! 9 degrees! You're just right!"
Talia: "Why is the answer always no?"
Ben: "Maybe you're asking the wrong questions..."
Ben: "When you're a kid you just have to learn, learn, learn."
Talia: "Yeah, and you get tired of teaching me sometimes, that's why you rented me a school..."
Me: "It's bedtime"
Elias: "WAAAHHHH!"
Me: "Do you want a story about a frog?"
Elias: "No..." 
(Broken hearted) "bad frog..."
Talia: "You're too little to do that!"
Elias: "No, Elias is big, BIG!"
Talia: "Fine, you're too big to do that."
Elias: "Yes, ok. Big."
Elias: "Mommy, I'm a super hero."
Talia: "Where's the fireplace? Or the chimney?!"
Me: "We live in the desert..."
Ben: (to Elias with his play stethoscope) "Did you hear my heart?"
Elias: "yes, talking..."
Ben: "What'd it say?"
Elias: "Hello, Elias!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Non-birthday cake

I've been wanting to try to make this layered cake since I saw the recipe on, (not an advertisement) but this isn't the kind of thing I would make to have around the house. The way I see it, the more calories something has, the more people it's meant to be shared with; so I had to find a volunteer and an excuse to make it for them.
A friend had a birthday coming... And this was the perfect excuse, so I asked if I could bake her a birthday cake.
It was my first time to make a ganache...

And a cream cheese, peanut butter filling.
Like many layered-cake-learners, I had a problem with the top layer cracking...
So, I obviously still need practice. (My next victim/volunteer wants this for her birthday next January, so maybe I can figure out the cracking issue before then.)

The crazy part was, I misunderstood her birthday and it ended up being just an excuse to make it and be with friends after all. So there you go: Non-Birthday Cake.

Recipe here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Butterfly Birthday

For her birthday party this year, Talia chose a butterfly theme. She looked through my recipe book and chose a yellow cake recipe and a chocolate whipped cream recipe for the frosting. She also chose a pineapple jam filling. We looked up how to make circle cakes cut and turned into a butterfly shape and she helped decorate it with fruit.

We used this cake recipe:

And something like this frosting recipe:

It was a lot of fun to make and then to share. The flavors combined nicely!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Making Atchara (Pickled Green Papaya)

When a Filipina friend gifted me with a green papaya I had never used one before. She mentioned using it to either make atchara (pickle) or it could also be used as a vegetable in chicken soup. As I had no idea what I was doing, I looked up lots of online versions of atchara and finally decided on this one.

The first step, is to peel off the outside.

Then scrape out the seeds...
While green papaya seems to usually be julienned in this manner, I couldn't seem to do it well and just ended up putting it in the blender... so maybe the texture wasn't as nice as an authentic version.

After dehydrating with salt overnight, it is very important to rinse it well and squeeze it to get all of the bitterness out. I did the rinsing/squeezing part twice to make sure.
Then mixed in all of the spices, (alas, no fresh ginger, so powdered, and I didn't have red bell pepper so I omitted it.) Then add the brine and let pickle in the fridge in a sealed container for at least 5 days... and then:

This version turned out nicely. It's a tangy sweet and sour pickle used with fried or foods that need more flavor in the Philippines. I liked how it turned out. Ben works with several Filipinos and I gave him a jar to take to them to be taste testers. One said, (since every region in the Philippines has their own version of atchara,) it was not bad, but where he was from used less vinegar. The other one said it was great and just like his mother made it and he couldn't stop eating it.

Cooking a food outside of its culture, especially when you haven't gotten much experience with that culture, is challenging and interesting at the same time. This was a fun project!

Thursday, August 7, 2014