20 June 2017

Travel Food

I need to start collecting some recipes for meals that only require a few ingredients, especially those you can carry in a suitcase or that are available just about everywhere.  Here's the first batch.

Nutella mousse.  Requires a blender or mixer and bowls and spoons, plus nutella and whipping cream.

Whip two parts cream to soft peaks, then add one part nutella and gently mix.  Pour into individual serving bowls and chill for a couple of hours, if you like.  One cup of cream and 1/2 cup of nutella is plenty for 3-4 people.

Ramen.  Requires ramen packets, microwaveable containers, protein and vegetables as available, and other toppings like cayenne, vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, gochujang, as available.

This is just regular instant Ramen, but you can make it much better without too much effort.  Boil and shred some chicken or scramble or fry an egg to add to your noodles, or fry some tofu (the chicken is easiest because you can store it in the freezer to use over a few days).  Add a big handful of greens, like spinach or jusay, to your hot broth and they'll wilt and be delicious.  Use the provided flavoring packets wisely or add your own flavorings if any are available.  I think the ramen with four different flavor packets is best for this.

Spaetzle.  Requires a pot, a bowl to mix the batter, a grater or strainer with big holes (or a spaetzle thing), an efficient way to get the spaetzle out of the pot, plus eggs, milk, salt, flour, cheese, and butter.

Get a big pot of water boiling. Combine 4 eggs, 1/3 cup milk, 2 tsp salt, and 2 cups flour in a bowl. Pour some of the batter into the strainer or onto the grater and push it through the holes (I smush it with the back of a spoon) into the boiling water.  The batter will blop out in bits.  Boil till they float in a couple of minutes.  Fish them out and serve with butter and strong cheese.

Rice with yogurt curry. Requires a small pot and a spoon, plus rice, yogurt, onion/shallots/scallions oil, turmeric, cayenne, cumin, salt, and mustard seeds.

Oil
1 T black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Minced shallots, not too much
1/2 cup water
2 cups yogurt
1 tsp salt

Heat the oil and the mustard seeds in a small pot over medium-high heat till the mustard seeds have mostly popped (keep the lid on). Lower the heat and to medium and add the spices and shallots and stir-fry for a few minutes till the shallots have softened a bit. Add the water, then whisk in the yogurt. After it's combined well and the sauce is smooth, stir in the salt. Heat gently till the sauce is warm (don't boil). Serve over rice.

31 May 2017

You can see where we ended up on the escarpment here, and if you zoom out, see the wadi we followed for a long way.  You can see a road leading to power  lines just south of there and it looks like we can access that road from some new points, instead of the old blocked-off ones.

Google Earth does not do this place justice at all, nor does a cell phone camera.




30 May 2017

Ramadan

It's interesting to be in a rather strict Muslim country for Ramadan.  Ramadan in Kyrgyzstan is barely noticeable.  In Palestine plenty of people are observing it but since there are lots of non-Muslims living there too, it doesn't completely take over the month for everyone. But here, it does.

There's a mandated shortened workday of six hours.  Generally that means people come in around ten or eleven and work till four or five.  My children love the late start at school and early release.

Any business might be closed during the day but open at midnight.  My husband needed a haircut in Saturday and his usual place was closed at 11 am, but when he went back at 10 pm, he was able to get the haircut. Even medical places do this.

Grocery stores usually open from 10 am to 6 pm, then again from around 9 pm till 2 am.  I'm going to the grocery store later today and I'm curious to see if there are any changes inside. I'm just glad it's allowed to buy ingredients during the day and that the stores open in time to get a shopping trip done before noon prayers. I hear they can be very crowded in the late afternoon.

Restaurants are closed during the day.  They open in time for iftar and feed many, many people.  

There is no eating or drinking allowed in public during the day.  I might get a pass, since I'm obviously foreign, if I make a mistake, but eating or drinking in public during Ramadan is actually a deportable offense.  Even water.  The water is tricky for me since I carry it everywhere because I get dehydrated here very easily.  But I also don't go out much during the day.

I love being in a place where I can watch the majority religion join together for some type of religious observation. But the majority also needs to remember to not try to control everyone's lives.

Update:  I didn't make it to Lulu today because the traffic was horrible.  I was too optimistic thinking that I could get there and do the grocery shopping before prayers.  Well, I probably had time, but when we weren't even halfway there after 25 minutes, it wasn't worth it.  So I went to Hyper Panda instead.  I'll try Lulu again next week.  The grocery store was normal though.  I'd wondered if prepared foods were banned, but no.

Also, the A/C in the kitchen died last week.  The repair people are coming either tonight or tomorrow night after 9 pm.  Lovely.

29 May 2017

Wadis and Camels

Our usual road to the escarpment is often blocked now, which isn't surprising, but I convinced my husband that an adventure would be a good idea so we tried going to a different part of the escarpment.  The problem is that there really are very few roads going there so you just have to hope.


We got lucky and found a wadi that went all the way to the edge of the escarpment, complete with a bit of a track.  It was a long ride with some dicey parts, but we made it all the way there.  We were joined by camels and goats in several places.

I doubt we'll ever go out there again, but that wasn't the point. It was so nice to get out and do this.  More photos when I get them off the other device.


23 May 2017

Refugees in the Book of Mormon

There are multiple refugee stories in the heritage of many religions and cultures.  From Passover to the Hijra to US Thanksgiving to so many other examples, it's likely that most people have a refugee story.

One of my favorites is from my own religious tradition, in the Book of Mormon.  There are a number of refugee stories in the Book of Mormon, but I'm writing here about the people of Ammon.

The people of Ammon were a group of people was being targeted because they had converted to another religion.  They had also taken a vow of non-violence as part of their conversion.  A small faction in their homeland incited war against the people of Ammon and many were being killed. They had to leave.

But the only place to go was to the Nephites, the people they had warred with before their conversion.  The Nephites didn't much like the people of Ammon's ethnic group, calling them lazy and filthy.  And the people of Ammon had killed many Nephites before they took their vow of non-violence.  The people of Ammon were not at all sure it was wise to go to the Nephites, but Ammon (their new religious leader who was a Nephite and the son of a former Nephite king) convinced them to seek refuge with the Nephites.

So the people of Ammon picked up as a group and went to the border of the Nephite land.  Ammon, who had prayed about all of this, went to the chief judge and asked if the people of Ammon would be admitted.

And here's the part I like best.  The Nephites voted (no idea if women were allowed to vote, but I'm assuming not) and agreed to take in the people of Ammon.  But not only did the Nephites give them a place to live, they also agreed to protect them so they wouldn't break their vow of non-violence, in exchange for a tax to help support the Nephite army.

So you have one group of people welcoming refugees who not only were from an ethnic group they hated and fought with, but they agreed to give them a place to live and provided military protection because they would no longer fight themselves.  Good stuff. And I hope my pronouns didn't get too confusing.


21 May 2017

There's a rather large event going on in Riyadh right now.  My favorite part is the Islamic Summit because there are flags from all over the Muslim world lining the streets.  It's lovely to see all those old friends.







08 May 2017

Cucumber Feta Salad

This is amazing. If you're stuck with the huge American cucumbers, peel and seed them, but if you can get smaller, thinner-skinner cucumbers, you can just cut them up. The amounts are all very adjustable.  Fiddle with it to taste.

1/2 kilo cucumbers, chopped
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1-2 T chopped mint
1/2 T or more sumac
Pinch or more cayenne
A bit of minced garlic
Blop of olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt 

Mix everything together and serve.

07 May 2017

But the Plumerias are Blooming



In The Geography of Bliss, a book I didn't like much, the author says that people in Moldova were really focused on the fresh vegetables and he seemed to think that was odd.  But for me, after living in Kyrgyzstan once and having returned since reading the book, that phrase is perfect.  The vegetables really are very fresh (something that cannot be taken for granted), but even more than that, sometimes you just need to focus on something good.  So yes, the vegetables are fresh, but when you say that, you're also acknowledging that a place like Kyrgyzstan isn't always that easy to deal with, but it's certainly not all bad.  Even if the vegetables are really limited in the winter.

Right now my corresponding phrase for Saudi Arabia is "But the plumerias are blooming."  They started blooming again a few weeks ago, after it warmed up a lot, and they'll keep going till November when it cools off.  I have lots of plumerias in my garden and I can smell them when I go outside, especially in the evening. 

It's hard to be here when it's hot.  The heat is awful, of course, but it also takes away my last bit of independence.   I really can't go anywhere without finding someone to drive me because I live too far to walk from any public indoor place.  Biking is a possibility, but I have to admit to being really annoyed with having to bike in the heat when a bunch of men are driving around in cars.  So I can either be annoyed and find someone to drive me in an air conditioned car, or I can be annoyed while also baking on a bike.  When none of your options are good, it doesn't really matter much if you have choices.

Saudi does seem to be relaxing some of its guardianship rules though.  One can hope. And the plumerias are blossoming.

03 May 2017

Four-wheeling

The very first thing we ever did in the desert was four-wheeling.  There are people renting four-wheelers in outside the city in nice sandy patches and can rent one for about $15-20/hour.  

I don't ride, because I am not that coordinated, but I still love to go out with the group and be in the desert.  Also, we go down the escarpment and I never pass up a chance to do that.




01 May 2017

Strasbourg

I can't believe I didn't mention what we ate in Austria.  We had a kitchen where we were staying so we went to the grocery story (rather complicated by our arrival on a Saturday night a few minutes after the grocery store had closed for the weekend) and mostly cooked at home.  There was lots more spaetzle and cheese along with yogurt and muesli.  Delightful.

We had one night between Austria and needing to be back in Paris for our flight, so that morning we decided to go back through Strasbourg, I think to maximize castle and Lego store visits.  I was just happy to go to Strasbourg since it has a long and interesting history.  We were mostly driving but I still loved it.  And we were back to French food.  Also, the place we stayed had kuglehopf.







30 April 2017

Austria

After Germany we went to Austria for a few days and stayed in Ehrwald. It was a perfect location where we could zip off to castles or just enjoy the Alps.  We also went up the Zugzpitz and on the Highline 179 and went to church in Innsbruck  And more Lego stores.

A lot of these photos are from Germany since we drove over the border a lot while we were staying in Austria.












27 April 2017

Germany

After Paris we drove to Germany to meet my sister. In an amazing coincidence, we had each independently planned on being in the same part of Germany on the same day.  I hadn't even known she was going to be in Europe at all.  It still gives me warm fuzzies.  We reserved a room at the place they were staying at and went to castles and lovely towns the next day before we drove off to Austria and they went to Switzerland.  Also, I'm sure there was a Lego store in the somewhere, in the morning of the day we met up.

Also, France even has delicious gas station food.  The best food in Germany was what my brother-in-law made, but the place we stayed had an amazing breakfast.  So yummy.










26 April 2017

Paris

I never really blogged about spending a few days in Europe last year.

We started in Paris and stayed in a hotel near the Eiffel Tower. We were there on Bastille Day for the second day.  Paris with three children is different than the Paris I would want to see, but we went to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, the Catacombs, the Louvre (free on Bastille Day which is nice when you have people who don't want to stay long), Notre Dame, and the Lego store.  I'd decided that this trip would go better if all I cared about was eating iconic food rather than getting to the places I really wanted to see, so I was happy to eat crepes by the Eiffel Tower and fresh croissants and baguettes.  It was a lovely quick stop but I'd really like to go back with just my husband (or on my own) and spend more time there.







23 April 2017

So, I recently discovered that my youngest likes nori chips, and since the sushi maki wasn't a hit, I decided that we'd try a new sushi system for dinner that works a lot better.  First, make sushi rice http://amiralace.blogspot.com/2017/03/hiromis-sushi-rice.html.

But rather than rolling it, I just let everyone do their own thing.  I make a bunch of nori chips (cut up some nori sheets, brush with oil and sprinkle with salt, then bake till they're crispy) for the boys, put out some nori sheets for the people who want to roll, and whatever fillings we're using. Especially for the people who don't trust that I'm hiding something weird in the sushi, this new system works much better.

19 April 2017

Crockpot Adobo

Brown 2-3 pounds of pounds of chicken, any kind you like, in some oil and put it in a crockpot.  Combine 2/3 cup cane vinegar (you can get this in an Asian grocery, especially one that carries Filipino products), 2/3 cup soy sauce, a bit of sugar, and the juice of one lime, if you like, and some oyster sauce.  Pour that over the chicken and throw in a bunch of peppercorns, a lot of whole garlic cloves, and a few bay leaves.  Cook on low for about five hours.  

16 April 2017

Happy Easter!

That very day two of them [I like to think they were Mary and her husband Cleopas] were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

15 April 2017

Holy Saturday

More holiness give me,
More sweetness within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of His care,
More joy in His service,
More freedom in prayer.
 
More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More zeal for His glory,
More hope in His Word,
More tears for His sorrows,
More pain at His grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.

More victory give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More quest for the throne,
More fit for the kingdom,
More useful I’d be,
More blessed and holy,
More, Savior, like Thee.

Holy Fire
The Harrowing of Hades

Hot Cross Buns

This just makes a few buns so you can easily double the recipe.  You can also make the buns twice as big if you want larger ones.  The cardamom is there because I like it but you can easily leave it out.

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 T spices (I use cardamom seeds, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves)
1/8 cup sugar, or to taste
1 tsp yeast
1/4 cup grated butter
1 egg beaten with 1/4 cup milk

Combine the first five dry ingredients, then rub the butter in till it's a bit crumbly. Taste it and add more sugar if you want your buns sweeter.  Add the egg and milk mixture and pull the dough together, adding a little more milk if it's too stiff.  Let it sit for a few minutes then divide into 8 pieces and shape into buns.  Put them on a baking sheet, cover, and let rise for about an hour.  They won't double in size. Preheat the oven to 200/400 and bake for 12 minutes.  After they've cooled, drizzle a cross on each with icing.

14 April 2017

Mournful Friday

Holy Week and Easter are a little complicated in Saudi Arabia, not surprisingly.  Some people try to talk about Easter Sunday on Holy Friday which just doesn't work for me, but I shall survive.  Yesterday at Lulu they had some fruit buns that can only be described as cross buns (they were not hot).  I like finding surreptitious holiday items here, like Valentine's roses, Christmas ornaments, and these buns.  I didn't quite dare take a photo.  I should have bought a package, but no one in this house would eat them and I didn't think about the photo part of buying them.

2015
2014
2006
Stations of the Cross at the Templo Expiatorio in Guadalajara 




O Savior, thou who wearest
A crown of piercing thorn,
The pain thou meekly bearest,
Weigh'd down by grief and scorn.

The soldiers mock and flail thee;
For drink they give thee gall;
Upon the cross they nail thee
To die, O King of all.

No creature is so lowly,
No sinner so depraved,
But feels thy presence holy,
And thru thy love is saved.

Tho craven friends betray thee,
They feel thy love's embrace;
The very foes who slay thee
Have access to thy grace.

Thy sacrifice transcended
The mortal law's demand;
Thy mercy is extended
To ev'ry time and land.

No more can Satan harm us.
Tho long the fight may be,
Nor fear of death alarm us;
We live, O Lord, thru thee.

What praises can we offer
To think thee, Lord most high?
In our place thou didst suffer;
In our place thou didst die,

By heaven's plan appointed,
To ransom us, our King.
O Jesus, the anointed,
To thee our love we bring.

13 April 2017

Jueves Santo Empanadas

2 cups flour
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
About 1/2 cup grated cold butter
1 egg
About 1/4-1/2 cup milk

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the grated butter and mix with your hands till it's all crumbly.  Combine the egg and milk and add to the flour mixture and stir in.  Start with less milk and add more if you need it.  Pull it into a dough and knead a bit, adding a little flour to make a soft dough.  Cover and put in the fridge for 30 minutes, then roll out, add a filling, pinch closed, and bake at 375 till golden.  

I still love coconut for these, but the number one family favorite filling is raspberry jam with labnah or cream cheese.

Holy Thursday

Next year I really need to be somewhere with churches during Holy Week.

2015 in Guadalajara 
2014 in Guadalajara
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Women on the roof
2006
2005

Rev'rently and meekly now,
Let they head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.

With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love than cannot end.

Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful, evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

10 April 2017

Semana Santa Empanadas

I've talked about these before, but they're an essential part of Holy Week for me now so here they are again. I've asked and searched in English and Spanish to find out why these are so traditional during Holy Week, but I still have no idea.  Church squares are filled with stands selling these, especially at the end of Holy Week.

They couldn't be easier.  Use or make puff pastry or another pastry if you like and fill squares or circles of pastry (triangles, rectangles, and half-circles are all completely normal finished shapes) with a blob of filling, then pinch then closed and bake till golden.

We saw so many different sweet and savory fillings in Guadalajara, but never meat because it's Holy Week.  Tuna, cod, or other seafood is very common though.  Personally, I love the ones with raspberry jam and coconut.  You can use or make jam, sweeten some coconut cream or find a more traditional recipe, or so many more things. We'll have savory and sweet empanadas for dinner tonight.

These fillings are condensed milk, strawberry, mango, and sweet potato.

09 April 2017

Palm Sunday

It's Palm Sunday today.  But it's also a regular weekday here in this Muslim country and no one will be openly celebrating.  I'm going to the grocery store in a few minutes, the boys are at school, the husband is at work.  We're just coming off spring break and a big change in our family.  So it doesn't feel all that much like Palm Sunday or the beginning of Holy Week.  I think some Mexican Semana Santa pastries would help with that.

The usual Palm Sunday post

You need music today.  



"Tell Me the Stories of Jesus" (especially starting at 2:55 and here are all the lyrics)




"Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" (if you're LDS, this tune will be familiar from "Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise")

Hosanna, loud hosanna,
the little children sang,
through pillared court and temple
the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them
close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises,
the simplest and the best.

From Olivet they followed
mid an exultant crowd,
the victor palm branch waving,
and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven
rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children
should on his bidding wait.

‘Hosanna in the highest!’
that ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer,
the Lord of heaven our King.
O may we ever praise him
with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence
eternally rejoice!







05 April 2017

Rosewater Lassi

So it's not really lassi, since it's not from India, but rosewater laban just doesn't sound as good. 

4 cups yogurt
1 cup water
1/8-1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rosewater
A bit of red food coloring, if you want

Blend it all up.  Start with the smaller amount of sugar and add more if you must. You can fiddle with the other amounts too.

04 April 2017

Tabbouli and Mint Lemonade

The Middle East and Central Asia are really good at herbs and greens.  Sure, most everywhere else has its share too, some as good as this part of the world, but it doesn't get better than this.  In Mexico you can always get perfect tomatoes, avocados, and poblanos, and here you can always get mint, parsley, green onions, cilantro, and arugula (plus lots of other good things in both places).

And what do you do with big bunches of fresh mint?  You make mint lemonade.  Or you add it to your tabbouli.

For the lemonade, combine the juice of about five big lemons, 1/2 cup of sugar, lots of mint leaves, and a cup of water and blend. You can add some ice too, if you like it slushy, or adjust any of the amounts.  Depending on how much mint you used, it might be rather green.  If that is not appealing to you, add a lot less mint.  Pour that into a pitcher, then add as much cold water as you like - at least four to five cups.  That's it.

Tabbouli is super easy too, but it's best if you can make it ahead a little.  It'll get better and better for a few days in the fridge so make a lot. The bulgur will continue to soften too.  You can also add some cilantro.  To me, the soapy taste is too strong right after it's chopped, but once it has been in the tabbouli for an hour or two it's perfect.

1/4 cup bulgur, soaked in the juice of three or four lemons 
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
One bunch green onions, finely chopped
One bunch parley, finely sliced
One big bunch of mint leaves, minced
A nice blop of olive oil
Salt to taste

Mix it all up and serve.  This is a green and lemony dish, not a bulgury tomatoey dish.  

30 March 2017

When you've been blogging for almost as long as there have been blogs, and when you're not updating your blog all that often, you start to see what old posts people search into.  Around here, that's mostly Central Asia posts, especially the ones about food and bone games.  And I still use those recipes too, in the US or Mexico or here in Saudi.  We had laghman last week for Nooruz, and borsak too, of course.  Since I can easily get jusay here (Filipinos eat it and call it kuchay), we eat that a lot too, along with carrot salad and Uzbek salad (that one is just cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and salt with nothing else). And there is always plov.  

But I don't bother making naan here, just like I never did in Kyrgyzstan because why bake flatbread when you can buy inexpensive and delicious flatbread?  The grocery stores sell lots of different flatbreads from their own bakeries and there are plenty of small bakeries everywhere, where you can get everything from tamees from a tandoor to date breads to fatayer. 

Central Asian food is nice because it's not terribly complicated and you don't need a lot of unfamiliar ingredients (although I spend a lot of time wishing for black rice vinegar since that's really hard to find in most of the world and balsamic vinegar is not a substitute no matter what the cookbooks say).  Mexican food is nice too that way, as long as you have masa harina at least.  And did I mention that the Indian frying chiles they sell here are passable substitutes for poblanos?  They're better than sweet bell peppers at least.


28 March 2017

Tortas Ahogadas

It's taken me much too long to post a recipe for tortas ahogadas here, but I'm finally doing it.  These are Guadalajara's signature sandwich.  You can get them outside of Jalisco, but they're hard to find so it's worth making them at home because they're not too hard, although they'll only ever be an approximation of what you can get in Guadalajara.

There are six parts to this.  Pork carnitas, crusty bread, marinated onions, two sauces, and limes. The limes are the easiest part and you'll want plenty on hand to squeeze over your sandwich while you're eating.

There are tons of carnitas recipes out there and you can use one that looks good to you, but traditional carnitas don't have lots of stuff added in like so many recipes do.  Stick with Diana Kennedy's simple version here https://food52.com/recipes/13098-diana-kennedy-s-carnitas.  Or put a hunk of pork in the crockpot with a good hit of salt and a bit of water and cook till it's falling apart.  It's not going to be as rich as cooking it on the stove and rendering the fat into the meat, but it works.  Shred or chop the meat and spread it on a baking dish and broil till it's a bit crispy, adding some of the cooking liquid as necessary to make sure it doesn't dry out at all.  

The bread.  This is the part where you're going to have to make sacrifices.  Tapatios get a little dramatic about the birotes salados they use for tortas.  Some US restaurants even fly in birotes from Guadalajara since they apparently can't be reproduced anywhere else.  If someone in your town is making birotes, use those. If you can find decent crispy bolillos, they should work. Whatever you do, don't use the bolillos you can usually buy in the US because they're often more like teleras and completely wrong for tortas. It is absolutely essential that you use a bread that can stand up to being drowned in sauce.  Personally, I get baguettes and cut them into smaller hunks depending on how hungry the eater is.  They're not quite right but they work and are neither difficult nor very expensive since you can get three or four sandwiches out of one loaf.

The day before you want to eat these, thinly slice a large white onion and mix it with 3/4 tsp of marjoram or oregano or Italian seasoning, a couple tablespoons of vinegar, 1/4 cup of lime juice, and 1/4 tsp salt.  These amounts are all flexible.  Stick it in the fridge for at least 24 hours and they'll just keep getting better the longer they sit.

Most torta chains in Guadalajara serve two salsas.  You can drown your sandwich in the spicy one, but usually people use a tomato-based sauce for drowning and an arbol-based sauce to spice it up.  I recommend making both sauces so the eaters can choose how spicy their sandwich is. Both are really easy.  For the spicy sauce, simmer about 15 arbol chiles (or whatever small, dried, red chile you have in your grocery store) and a small clove of garlic in a bit of water to soften them.  Blend the softened chiles with a bit of the cooking liquid and strain.  Add salt to taste, and you can add some vinegar if you like or herbs.

For the drowning sauce, simmer a kilo of cored tomatoes in a bit of water for 25 minutes, then blend with a tablespoon each of marjoram (or another herb) and salt, plus some sugar or tomato paste if the sauce is too thin or bland.  You can also add vinegar and some people add more herbs or some onion. Everyone has their own recipe for the sauces so you can experiment a bit.

To assemble, cut open the bread and pull out of bit of the crumb so there's more room for the meat.  Stuff it with plenty of meat (they add a lot of meat in Guadalajara).  You can serve the sandwiches at this point with the sauces, onions, and limes on the table for people to add as they please. Or you can drown them yourself.  These can be fun for a picnic if you bring the stuffed (but not drowned) sandwiches along with the sauces, limes and onions.  But make sure to have a way to wash your hands because these are messy.  

This makes a good ten sandwiches, if you used a big chunk of meat, with plenty of drowning sauce.  Adjust amounts as needed, or freeze things for later like I do.

26 March 2017

ربع

One of my favorite things about Arabic is its root system.  Nearly all Arabic words are based on three-radical roots with extra letters added in certain places to create different meanings.  For example, the root k-t-b (kataba) means "to write."  If you double the second radical (kattaba) you get "to cause to write" and if you put an alif before the root you get "to dictate" and so on.  Then there are related nouns like kitaab which means book (kutub is the plural), maktab which means office, kaatib which means writer, and lots more.  You can insert letters into the middle of the root or add them at the beginning and there are often predictable changes in meaning depending on which letters you add (doubling the second radical often makes the verb causative, for example).   It's all rather fun.

On to today's root, which is ربع or r-b-ayn (there's no equivilant letter in English for this one) and is pronounced something like "raba'a." The basic root means "to sit" or "to stay, live" and other forms of the verb mean "to quadruple" or "to sit cross-legged."  That form II meaning of quadrupling results in nouns meaning "four," "quarter" (both as 1/4 and a delineated physical area), and "square," plus lots of related nouns.  When you talk about the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia, the name uses this root, for example, and you also use it in math all the time, obviously.

In Arabic a few weeks ago, we were talking about women who have been political leaders and this root came up again.  The form V verb "taraba'a" means to sit cross-legged, but if it's used in a phrase with the word throne, it would be translated as "to ascend the throne." The other woman in my class is also an American and both of us were having a hard time figuring out what our teacher was trying to tell us that connected sitting cross-legged and thrones, because in English, one never would sit cross-legged on a throne, especially in the context of becoming a queen or king.  I love seeing a little piece of cultural differences like this.

25 March 2017

Odds and Ends

It's nearly the end of the cool season here in Riyadh.  It's already too warm in the afternoons, but I cannot complain about highs in the 80s, not when it will soon be much warmer and when the 80s felt so good in November.   April should still be tolerable in the mornings but then we'll get five long, hot months until we start to get tolerable mornings in October.  That's a long time to wait.  But I feel like I've enjoyed the last five months as much as I could.

There was a sandstorm earlier this week.  I did not know it was possible to have a sandstorm combined with rain.  It was quite literally raining dirty water and it made the city even dirtier than a normal dust storm.  It was so bad it was almost impressive.  But it wasn't as bad here as further north or west.  We were lucky.

The rumor mill is strong right now, saying that Saudi will announce on April 3rd that women (well, some women, maybe, with lots of rules) will be allowed to drive.  One rumor is that women 40 and over will be allowed to drive first, or maybe just during certain hours of the day.  I don't really want to drive in Riyadh so I'd mostly just go to the closest grocery store, but I would drive out of the city to explore if that were allowed.  The idea makes me so excited.  Except I'd probably have to wait till November to really enjoy it.  Also, there are rumors about movie theaters happening, although there will still be lots of rules for that too.   It would just be nice to have more options.

The other day we tried to go bowling together, but since my 16-year-old was wearing shorts, we couldn't go in the family section.  So the rest of the family when to the men's section and I waited in the car.  I wait in the car a lot here for one rule or another but I always bring a book and I can't really complain about sitting quietly in the car while the rest of the family does their thing. I didn't want to bowl in an abaya anyway so I was happy to volunteer to sit that one out.

We were in Bahrain a couple of weeks ago, the first time I'd left the country even though most of the rest of the family has been all over the place since last summer (Iraq, UK, Egypt, and Bahrain).  And it was so normal.  You forget sometimes how not normal Saudi Arabia is, because you sort of have to not think about it all the time.  But in Bahrain, people's faces were on the billboards.  You can choose if you wore an abaya or not.  If you're not Muslim, you don't need to keep track of prayer times.  You can go to church.  We were quickly reminded what it's like in Saudi when we stopped for gas after crossing the border and realizing prayers had just started.  But we had enough gas to drive on till prayers ended.

Also, Bahrain has a Lego store, and the food court in that mall has a place with a tandoor oven.  I never would have thought I could get bread cooked in a tandoor in a mall food court.  We were going to watch a movie but it was not a good weekend for it.  Everything we wanted to see wasn't there anymore or not quite released yet.  The tandoor and the Lego store made up for all that.  There was a bowling alley too.

There are lots of things I like about Saudi Arabia though, like watching families stopping to pray along the highway.  And finding more interesting places to eat.  Last week we found a place that takes traditional fatayer toppings and puts them on pizza.  Not exactly giant fatayer, but also not exactly pizza because who puts labnah and honey on pizza?  We do here, with mozzarella too, and it's delicious.  And someone has been doing lots of new geocaches in our neighborhood.

21 March 2017

Hiromi's Sushi Rice

A Japanese friend of mine recently taught me how she makes sushi rice.  I can't say that my family is much of a fan, but I'm happy with whatever I've made with this.  Her recipe calls for 5-6 tablespoons of vinegar and 4-5 heaping tablespoons of sugar which is too sweet for me so I use what is listed below.

2 1/2 cups sushi rice, or Egyptian rice
2 2/3 cups kombu dashi (add powdered kombu to water or soak your own kombu which is very easy)

6 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 tsp salt

Wash the rice well, drain, and dump into a pot with the dashi.  Bring the rice to a boil, then stir, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it sit 5-10 minutes.  While the rice is cooking, combine the rest of the ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Pour the mixture over the hot, cooked rice and mix carefully so you don't smush the rice.  Spread the rice out to cool it or fan it while you're stirring to help it cool off.  Then cool completely before using.

Anything made with this rice is sushi, whether it has any type of fish in it or not. We used lots of different things in our maki sushi.  You can't get sashimi-grade fish here so she didn't use any, but we had lots of other delicious things with wasabi and soy sauce.  My friend did not approve of someone adding strawberries to their sushi though. :)

You can get nori and kombu at an Asian grocery. A sushi rolling mat is nice but you can use a dish cloth if needed. And slice your sushi with a very sharp knife so you don't mangle it.  And even if your family isn't impressed, this is an easy thing to bring to a potluck because it's easy to eat and everyone else will be impressed because people think sushi is complicated even though it doesn't have to be.

08 March 2017

Fatayer

Like all good non-sedentary cultures, Saudi Arabia borrows extensively from its more sedentary neighbors to provide lots of great food choices (thank you, Yemen).  Levantine pies are easy to find here, from fast food chains to much more authentic places.

Or you can make them at home.  I use Paula Wolfert's dough from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, except that I use whole wheat flour.  There's enough olive oil in the recipe that the dough is still tender and delicious. There are so many recipes out there for the dough.

Preheat a baking stone to at least 450 degrees for at least 30 minutes.  After it's hot, pinch off a bit of dough (around 60-70 grams) and roll it into a very thin oval.  In my opinion, the most important part of making fatayer making sure the dough is thin.  Let it rest for a minute, then put the filling in a wide strip in the middle of the oval (the long way).  Fold the edges of the dough over the filling but don't cover the filling, then pinch the ends to make a boat shape.  It might take some practice but even if it looks weird, it'll taste good.  Bake on the hot stone till its golden on the bottom - it'll depend on how hot your oven is.

There are so many fillings you can use.  One easy one is to sauté a bit of onion and garlic in olive oil, then add some chopped greens and quickly cook them down.  Drain and press out as much liquid as possible before using as a filling, and add a squeeze of lemon and some salt to taste too.  You can sprinkle on some feta if you want.

Cheese with tomato.  Cheese (experiment with Middle Eastern cheeses, and soak them first if they're too salty, or just use the kind of feta you get in US grocery stores). Cheese with zaatar.  Labnah with a drizzle of honey after it's cooked.  Labnah with zaatar.  Cheese with mint.  Cheese with mint and tomato.  Chicken and mint.  Potato and mint.  Potato and cheese.  You get the idea.

07 March 2017

Lumpia

These are super easy.  Sauté some onion and garlic in a little oil, then add some chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, green beans, jicama, bean sprouts, or whatever makes you happy.  Add some soy sauce and oyster sauce, but don't cook the vegetables for too long.  They should still be crunchy.  You can add some cooked protein, or add it later, or not bother with it at all.

Put a few tablespoons of the vegetables in the corner of a spring roll/mutabbaq wrapper.  Add some protein if you like (chicken, tofu, meat), then fold the nearest corner over, then the two edges, and roll up.  Stick it on a baking sheet and repeat with all the rest. Brush with a little oil then bake at 375 till they're golden brown.

You could fill these a little ahead of time and then put them in the oven later.  Any number of sweet and spicy sauces would be good with these.  I use whichever one is in my fridge, because there's always a homemade chile sauce in there.

06 March 2017

Jareesh

This is cracked wheat dish from the peninsula.  Jareesh is either the wheat or a dish made from the wheat.  It's called harees in the UAE, apparently. There are lots of versions but last night I tried it this way.  Since it gets fairly thick at the end, using a crockpot is a good option.  This is not very exact, but I don't think I'll get back to this recipe till next winter.  This is exactly what you want on a cold, rainy night.  Creamy, savory, and hot.

Dump all of this in a crockpot and cook on high for about six hours, probably.  Add more liquid, whichever one you prefer, if it's getting too thick.  You can also add 4 oz of butter near the end, but I felt like it was plenty good without it.

1 1/2 cups jareesh/cracked wheat (not bulgur, despite what you might read elsewhere)
1 cup shredded chicken
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1.5 cups yogurt
Salt to taste

Just before serving, thinly slice an onion or two in olive oil and/or butter till it's very brown but not crisp and serve on top.





04 March 2017

Janadriyah

Saudi Arabia might be slowly opening up right now (we'll see), but for over 30 years they've had a festival in the spring that is the main cultural event of the year in this part of the country. I've been looking forward to the Janadriyah Festival for a long time.

The logistics of going to this are a bit hard.  It's only open for families for about a week and over a million people go so it can be terribly crowded.  The weekends are the worst, but I was able to avoid that and go on a Monday and Tuesday evening, first with my husband and then on my own.  Parking/drop off is either slow or you can walk a long way (I recommend the latter), but once you're in there, it's an amazing place.

Everything I'd read about the festival, and I mean everything, talked about how many mutaween are always there, but either because we were there on boring nights or because the mutawa isn't as powerful right now, I saw no religious police and walked around with my head uncovered and even held my husband's hand.  So exciting.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming, without exception.

There's a lot to see here, from camels to falcons to dancing, but I wanted to see all of the provinces and I almost made it to all of them.  A few years ago they built a large, permanent compound (sort of like state fairgrounds in the US) with sections for each of the provinces.  They each had spaces for demonstrating handicrafts, selling stuff, food stands, traditional houses, and all sorts of other things.  It was so interesting to be able to go inside all the different homes, plus there was lots of food to try or to buy and so many things to see.  I didn't take the camera with me the second night, unfortunately.

They also have spaces for the other Gulf countries, plus a guest country. This year was Egypt so we were happy to poke around in there.  

It's fun to see the photos others post and hear what their favorite parts were.  There really is far more to see and do than is possible in one night.

I can't wait for next year.










22 February 2017

Hoopoes (and other birds)

When we came to Saudi Arabia I hoped to see hoopoes, because I loved them in Kyrgyzstan even if they weren't very common. They don't come to my yard here, but I see them most days when I go on a walk. There are a few spots where I usually see them.  I'll have to take a real camera to get a better photo.


Mynahs, sparrows, doves, and pigeons are really common here, and so are white-eared bulbuls.  They're the most interesting ones to see out of the birds I see all the time.  I also see black scrub robins quite often.  I'm hoping to see white wagtails someday.