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.
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.
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"
Me: "Do you want a story about a frog?"
(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?"
I've been wanting to try to make this layered cake since I saw the recipe on laurainthekitchen.com, (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.
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: http://divascancook.com/moist-yellow-cake-recipe-old-fashioned/
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!
Elias: "Dancing shoes!" (pointing at some camo-colored Croc-like shoes.)"Belly button dancing! Chin dancing! Head dancing!"
Me: "Do they just make everything dance?"
Elias: (Nodding head vigorously) "Yes!"
Elias: "Elias need it!"
Talia: (big sigh) "I need to teach you how to use pronouns!"
Me: "Talia, do you like the name Calliope?"
Talia: "It's not my favorite..."
Me: "Do you like the name Penelope?"
Talia: "Those names sound like geography names!"
Talia: (about soup she didn't care for) "I'm too full to eat anymore..."
Me: "So you don't want fruit with yogurt?"
Talia: "I meant... I'm too full to eat anything after dessert!"
Elias: (looking a wind blowing the grass) "Grass waving at Elias!"
Talia: (reading to Elias) "Do you want to laugh at that?"
Elias: (fit of fake laughter...)
Talia: "Elias, you're a monkey!"
Elias: "Elias a big boy!"
Me: "Can the big boy put this in the trash, then?"
Elias: "Oh, Elias monkey..."
Elias: "Ezra woked up! Opened pretty brown eyes!"
Talia: "Look! I found a cricket... Oops. His abdomen fell off..."
Talia: "I like spicy things... except for spicy things that aren't cheese."
Elias: "Elias not peach, Elias gray."
--- Elias: "Elias want a purple banana!" --- Ben: "Talia, can you see that book Ok? Do your eyes ever get blurry?" Talia: "Only if I've been looking at it too long and need to stretch my eyes out." ---
It's Ramadan and summer at the same time. What that means in the produce section of stores is that you will see large crates of dates for sale everywhere.
During Ramadan, able-bodied Muslims fast throughout the day and break their fast at night with a few dates, typically. In addition to this, it's harvest time for dates all over the country. Date palms line the miles of road between Ruwais and Abu Dhabi, are planted throughout the city, in every park and green space. Typically the dates have a mesh bag around them to catch the dates and protect them from birds or other things.
Dates are really filling, have a lot of nutritional benefits, are supposed to help a woman have shorter labor, aid digestive issues and, depending on who you ask, are given as a remedy for just about everything here.
When Ben brought home 2 huge boxes of them I began looking for a way to use them beyond eating fresh since we have so many. This recipe for date cake was one Ben and a teacher he works with liked with had good things to say about. The kids loved it, too. Dates have a caramel-like flavor when ripe that comes through in this cake without the odd resemblance of, well, whatever you think an actual date looks like...
Most of the boxes of dates are fresh, still yellow and smooth, but quickly turn brown after a day or two, but not the brown, dried version you're probably most familiar with. If not used soon, within a week the dates start oozing and have interesting reactions with baking soda.
(Can this fall under home school experiment?)
g dates pitted
1/2cup / 100g
stick - 125 g Butter
1 1/2 Cups
Self raising flour
the oven 180 or 160 fan forced.
dates, Butter, sugar & water.
till it boils
and leave it to cool down.
self raising flour,vanila and mix well.
mixture in to a baking tray and bake 40 min.
Sometimes it's surprising how something so insignificant as our neighbors having a mango tree has several small impacts on our own lives. It's not something I would have even though to consider when moving to this house.
The back yards of the villas here are separated by walls about 7 feet tall. The walls have a gap on each end about 4 inches wide, so it isn't exactly private. Some people have opted to fill the gaps with boards, bricks or climbing vines. I wonder if this were for the convenience of the cats to wander through each yard, though they seem to have no trouble scaling the sealed ones.
The neighbors on both sides of our back yard patio have mango trees. One of them hangs over our clothes line. In the spring, all of the pollen falls on our drying clothes. In the summer green mangoes plop around and as the season progresses, ripe ones ferment on the ground over the fence filling the air with a sweet, sticky, fruit smell. The ants make trails from their homes to the mangoes and march back and forth until it is gone.
Talia and Elias collect the fallen, brown mango leaves and pretend they are gardeners. Talia crunches the leaves in her hands and Elias follows her directions to "fertilize" different areas of the garden with them. His bare little baby-looking feet slap, slap on the bricks as he runs from the terraced part of the patio to the grassy part looking for a bare spot to distribute the "fertilizer."
Looking up into the mango tree.
School children play behind the back wall yard of our villa and the ones we are sandwiched between. They throw stones at the mangos and use tubing from the watering system for the school yard to reach up and try to knock down the mangos. Once, when I was out hanging clothes on the line, several of the boys from the school had managed to grab a branch and get up into the tree. I said "get down" and they did. The school ground caretakers are more smooth about it, they get a long branch and tie a small stick to the end so that they can snag the branch right above the mango and jerk it down. When that isn't available, they are strong and flexible: They run at the wall and grab the top and with a few kicks and grunts are up the side and onto the roof of the terrace, up the tree and tossing the mangos down for the others to catch. The school grounds caretakers are always careful to put the mess made from the mango leaves right back into they yard that hosts the tree. Occasionally a hand shoves some over our section of the wall on accident.
One weekend our engineer-neighbors, who share the house provided by their company with the mango tree in the back, climbed up in the tree and harvested the majority of the mangos. I noticed because I was upstairs and was startled to see that there was a man even with our upstairs window in our bedroom.
Three mangos happened to land on our brick patio, kamikaze style. The impact busted the end that made contact. I let it ripen, but only half was ripening. Talia and I tried it, the ripe end was sweet and the green end tart like a sour candy. They were both delicious. The flavor wasn't enough to drive us to scale the neighbor's fence, but we did understand why so many green mangos were being sold in the markets!
These first two months with Ezra have been good ones. I've seen a side of the older two children that I would have not been privileged to see so up close and personal otherwise. They are consistently gentle with the baby (even when they're frustrated with each other) and so excited when he "interacts" with them by smiling or sticking his tongue out, or even burping. Their reasoning for why he does any of those things is hilarious, but endearing.
Ezra has grown from this skinny little guy of 7 pounds 12 ounces at one week:
To a little bit bigger and more alert at two weeks.
And chubbier now and getting some loving from Elias, who really likes to hold him. (But when Ezra starts protesting because he doesn't like laying on his back, Elias' turn is over.)
I'm thankful that he is gaining weight and sleeping well. He is generally happy unless he has a legitimate problem like hunger or pain and he's observant of what's going on around him, which is usually quite a bit with Talia and Elias "teaching him how to dance" or something equally amusing.
(Apparently, the camera doesn't look so amusing, however. We look
forward to more smiles and laughs from him, too, in the coming months.)
wishing for a pet, especially a horse, but since that's not possible
right now, she's been befriending every moth that she sees in the house. One day, she had one sitting on her hand and she was talking about how
beautiful it was... and then it flew into the bug zapper (because there
are so many mosquitoes lately) and she cried: "I loved it
and it had died like Uncle L!" I'm not sure how much of that was
drama and how much of it was real. Ben tried to be sympathetic, but he
couldn't help laughing at the same time just because of the sheer amount of drama in her voice. For now, we just share our friend's pets. Cats are super abundant and wild here, there is always 4 or 5 sitting outside around our garden, on the walls, in the trash cans or around the gates. They're constantly caterwauling at night making all sorts of interesting music. They're also always reproducing, so the most popular pet seems to be the kittens. (That might be because the dogs are likely to get eaten. Seriously.)
Some people have fish, the fashionable Emirati's have things like lions, tigers and cheetahs, and there are things like foxes at the animal markets (a place many people find cruel and are trying to change.) A pet that surprised me were the parrots caught wild here who were eating the sunflower seeds from a friend's sunflowers. Her husband is a capable trapper and was able to catch them. I've never seen wild parrots here, (though I thought there was one in the neighbor's mango tree.) The kids were excited to see the birds here, but I'm not so sure the birds were excited to see them.
I'm not sure that we'll ever get a pet here, since we don't have long term plans to stay and it doesn't make sense if we are just going to leave. It's also difficult to know what to do with one if we have to go to the city or travel home on vacation... but one day, maybe, we will settle in a place where a pet can thrive and who knows? Maybe Talia will get a horse some day.
Then again, we did wake up to this in our garden yesterday morning... maybe we can just have wild, outside pets for now.
Where we live now, we have the unique opportunity for Talia to attend a school right behind our house where she can learn Hindi and Arabic in addition to normal subjects. With language-lover parents and an interest in learning languages herself, combined with the closeness and super reasonable fees, it was a great opportunity. Hindi and Arabic both use a different alphabet than English, and that is where they are starting.
Talia's first Hindi alphabet lesson
Many times what can be gained by living in another culture is found within the context of community, a context that can be avoided to a large degree in a land full of many expats. Some tend to stick to communities of people just like themselves and re-create the country they left behind to the best of their abilities. And, of course, time spent with familiar people and languages is definitely refreshing in a sea of unfamiliar languages and customs. However, the unique thing about Abu Dhabi is the immense variety of different cultures that are co-existing with the indigenous one. Most of the time harmoniously.
Something we have to balance with third-culture kids (children raised outside of their parent's culture where they have neither the culture of their parents, nor the culture of the land they live in, but rather a combination of both) is providing them with a stable home base and familiarity with the culture from their home country, but also finding ways for them to experience the culture they are living in as well. What's the point of living abroad if you're only going to insulate yourself and re-create something that will never live up to the original in your mind?
It can be challenging, but many times it's mind-stretching, interesting and fun!
Talia: "I'm putting lotion on your freckles because I don't want them to go away because I think they're beautiful."
Talia: "That was just my unrhymable rhyme..."
Elias: "wear pip-pops!" (Flip flops)
Talia: "A chin is just a big point growing down your head..."
Talia: "I'm a factory lady..."
Me: "What kind of factory?"
Talia: "It's the kind that goes to all of the barber shops and sweeps out all of the hair and turns it into soap! It's really hard and you have to go to school to learn how to do it."
Talia: "This is a nice king. He doesn't just sit around and tell people what to do, he actually helps them!"
Talia: (to Elias) "I knooooow... if you know it, I know it. In fact, you probably learned it from me to begin with..."
Talia: "It's just like normal... except it's different."
Elias: "Lid, stucken!" [The lid is stuck.]
Talia: "If you want to see if someone is breathing, you could put a harmonica to their mouth. If it doesn't make any sound, they might need to go to the funeral home..."
[She later reassessed this theory since she noticed she had to be breathing fairly strongly to produce sound.]
Talia: "Do you have to water your hair if you want it to grow?"
Talia: "Do moths say anything or are they shy?"
Talia: "Babies are weird: they poop and eat in their sleep and they don't know any words... But they're baby people! I like baby people!"
Elias: "Baby, peepee, diaper. Need prize!" [He was trying to share some of his potty training prize with baby Ezra.]
We used this recipe but left out the chocolate chips, which seem difficult for me to find sometimes since I mostly have access to the local market and not the mall very often.
cup chocolate chips
cup unsweetened cocoa powder
teaspoon baking soda
teaspoon vanilla extract
cup plain yogurt
cup chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Get the 2 year old to grease the muffin cups with the oil and a brush... or line with paper muffin liners.
2. Get the 6-year-old to help the 2-year-old dump flour, sugar, 3/4 cup chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
3. Help them whisk egg, yogurt, milk, and vegetable oil in another bowl until smooth; pour into chocolate mixture and stir until batter is just blended.
4. Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips.
5. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes or until the 2 year old anxiously waiting by the timer calls "Mama! Cupcake, DING!"
6. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely.