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

Method:
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 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.

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: http://divascancook.com/moist-yellow-cake-recipe-old-fashioned/

And something like this frosting recipe: 
http://duckysalwayshungry.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/chocolate-whipped-cream/

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lays Flavors in Abu Dhabi

Flavors I've never seen before: Spanish Black Olives, South African Cheese and Mexican Chili Con Carne.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kid's Unscripted: Chapter 27

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."
---

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ramadan, Date Harvest and Date Cake

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?)


Date Cake

Ingredients
  • 3cups/500 g dates pitted
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2cup / 100g brown sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/10 stick - 125 g Butter
  • 1 1/2 Cups Self raising flour
  • 2 tsp Vanila
  • 1 tsp Bicarb.
Method
  • Preheat the oven 180 or 160 fan forced.
  • Add the dates, Butter, sugar & water.
  • Cook it till it boils
  • Add bicarb and leave it to cool down.
  • Whisk the eggs.
  • Add eggs, self raising flour,vanila and mix well.
  • Add the mixture in to a baking tray and bake 40 min.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Our Neighbors Have a Mango Tree

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!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 26

Elias: (holding Ezra:) "baby have one, two ears!"
---
Elias: (helping mix banana bread with a spoon, scooping egg in mixture and dropping it back in) "Egg says 'bloooop!'"
---
Talia: "There's a new boy in my class."
Me: "What's his name?"
Talia: "It starts with a 'p' but it isn't 'Psalms' or 'P.J.'..."
---
Elias: "'C' says 'kuh.' Apple says 'mmmmmm!"
---
Elias: "...eighteen, nineteen, ten-teen..."
---
Talia: "When I met Ezra at the hospital when he was first born, I fell in love with him because I just love tiny, cute babies!"
---
Talia: "Every time I take a drink, I feel super-hero fresh! Like an apple!"
---
Talia: "Washing dishes is fixing history."
---
Talia: "Sometimes a little bit plus a little bit makes a lot."
---
Elias: [about Ezra stretching] "Baby made a 'Y!'"
---
Talia: "I know that makes sense because it was said by an adult..... But I don't know what it means!"
---
Talia: "I think cheetahs are cute but I don't like them because they're meat-eaters. I wish they were broccoli-eaters because I don't like broccoli very much."
---

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ezra: 2 Months



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.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pet Moths


Talia keeps 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.