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.

18 February 2017

Champorado, Domaiti Cheese, Zapote/Sapodilla, and Dosa Batter

I'm still loving Lulu, both for the produce from everywhere and the everything else from everywhere.

Champorado.  I didn't know there was a Filipino version of one of my favorite Mexican drinks, so when I saw it sitting at Lulu, I had to try it.  It's basically a chocolate rice pudding. While it's really nothing like champurrado except that it's chocolate, it was still delicious.

Domiati.  This is an Egyptian cheese, and apparently the generic white cheese of Egypt.  It's fairly soft and salty, of course.  I used it in mutabbaq but it would also be great as the base for a dip.

Zapote.  When I saw this on sale and labeled as sapodilla, I had to try it especially since it seemed vaguely familiar.  After some searching, it turns out it's from the Yucatán which warmed my heart.  I didn't much like it, which is pretty typical for me at tropical fruits, sadly, but having fruit on the counter that originated in the Yucatán was totally worth it.

Dosa batter.  I've made dosas before, but the fermented batter takes more planning than I usually can pull off so when an Indian friend of mine told me they sell dosa batter at Lulu, I was delighted.  I'll get this again.

31 January 2017

The Executive Order

It's been three days now since this thing was signed.  I've written so much about it elsewhere, and anyone who's spent any time reading this blog wouldn't be in doubt about how I feel about it, but I have to say it here too.  The refugee ban is obviously something I care about a great deal, but the immigration ban has hit my family personally.  This truly has been awful.

It is important to remember that this is not normal.  No president has done anything like this in recent memory, and when we have done this in the past, it has only hurt people instead of helping.  There are families separated now on the flimsiest of national security and legal justification.  There are people who have been trying to get visas for a very long time who can't use them. This is only blocking legal immigration or hurting people who have done things the right way.  It is foolish and wrong.

I hope this is really just a 90-day ban on entry for citizens of the seven countries, and a 120-day ban for refugees.  I hope Syrians are allowed back in ASAP.  But Trump has given me no reason to believe that. This is what Trumpism is.  Trump kept his promises. No one should be surprised, most of all those who voted for him.

27 January 2017

Akkawi and Areesh Cheese

Not long after I got here I bought a lot of different local or Middle Eastern cheese.  And then I didn't have time to use it all so I put it in the freezer, but cheese in the freezer isn't so convenient so we didn't get through it quickly and the labels weren't on anymore so we didn't know what we were eating anyway (there was just one we didn't like much).  Anyway, we finished off what was in the freezer and now we're trying a new type of cheese every week or two and keeping track of what it is and what we think.

Akkawi cheese originated in Akko (Acre in English) and it's not as soft as most of the local cheese here.  In fact, it reminded several of us of adobera cheese in Jalisco, although they're really not made the same way.  I'm thinking of using it for queso fundido to see if it's a good substitute.  Oldest son at most of it in his pasta so he loved it. I got a local Saudi version.  Lulu also sells a Syrian version we'll have to try.

Areesh cheese is made from yogurt and is Egyptian. Most of thing things I read said it was like cottage cheese or ricotta, but not what we tried since ours was creamy. Everyone really liked the flavor of this one and we used it in mutabbaq, both a savory version with tomato and a sweet version with honey.

23 January 2017

Six Months In

We've been here six months now. This has been the hardest transition we've had for any move ever and while some of it is Saudi Arabia, not all of it is. But like I did for Guadalajara, here are some of the positives and negatives about living here.

The biggest positive for my daily life is living near a wadi.  Being able to hike and walk along the wadi every day is huge.  There really is nothing like it in the world.

Also, I love the desert.  If you like erosion, you'd love this desert.  And the escarpment. I'm so glad we started exploring it quickly.

I love speaking Arabic again. I love that I don't have to learn a new language.  I love that I can ask questions.  I can earn at least a tiny bit of credibility, which isn't easy to do here, because I speak some Arabic.

Riyadh is a really diverse city.  I talk to people from all over Asia and Africa, my kids hang out with kids from India and the Philippines especially, and we are happily eating our way through lots of different countries, all from right here in Riyadh. 

I love the weather in the winter.  For all the awfulness in the summer, getting months and months of cooler weather is a lifesaver.  There are so many interesting historical and geologic sites around here and the winter is the time to explore them.

But the climate really is awful in the summer, and summer is very long here.  Having air conditioners, air purifiers, and humidifiers running constantly is so wasteful, but the place is not livable without them.  It's hard to breathe, it's almost impossible to go outside at any time of day, and it's just miserable.  The year-round average air quality is one of the worst in the world because of the sand in the air. This is not a sustainable location for a city of millions of people.  I am not looking forward to another summer.

There really are so many restrictions here, but there's also flexibility and people often try to work around the restrictions as hospitably as possible. People are so kind and apologetic when I make a mistake and never, ever demanding.  I *still* have never seen the religious police.  I know they're out there, but they haven't intruded on my life yet.  

Also, Riyadh may be diverse, but it's still a boring city.  There are only a couple of historical sites and shopping and lunching are the appointed activities for women who aren't working. I don't like to shop and lunch. Maybe I'll have to start signing up for the expensive tours going out of the city, or hire a driver to take me to mud ruins during the day.

Honestly, it's the summer climate that's the worst here.  I can deal with most anything if I can breathe and go outside.  

Why I March

I suppose it was to be expected that some women wouldn't support the march on Saturday, and that's fine. But I disagree pretty strongly with some of the criticisms I've read today.

This march was about women and women have a lot of different issues they care about. I had friends carrying signs about refugees, religious freedom, human rights, reproductive rights, equality, and so much more. Trying to reduce this to a single issue ignores millions of women's voices (unless that issue is women's rights).

I also had friends marching in solidarity with and for women from all over the world, from Saudi Arabia to Burkina Faso to Kyrgyzstan and India and Mexico and more. They were marching for women to be able to go out without being assaulted, for women to have political representation, for women to have access to education, for women to choose their own clothing and transportation. No matter where they were marching, they were marching for something important.

This wasn't a temper tantrum or a pro-abortion march. This was millions of women all over the world standing up for issues we believe in. The only reason we could even do this is because generations of women before us marched and made their voices heard. This was one of the biggest political events in the history of the world and it mattered, not only for those of us who marched, but for all of the women over so many years who made this possible.

16 January 2017

Ushaiger Heritage Village

Old mud villages are everywhere in Saudi Arabia.  The first restored section of Diriyah should be opening in a few months and if you drive in pretty much any direction, you'll find a town with an old mud section in varying states of dilapidation.  They really weren't abandoned all that long ago but these buildings need constant maintenance so they fall apart quickly.  They're a bit like ghost towns.

It seems that you can go poke around these places whenever you want to and no one minds.  Historical preservation in general isn't a major priority here and no one owns the buildings.  I love going to these so I've been suggesting for a while that we go to Ushaiger because the people there have restored part of their old town and it sounded interesting.  And it was.

There are several museums and restored homes that open for tourists, especially tour groups.  We were there on a weekday morning so nothing was open except the main museum. If you go, try to budget some extra time for tea and chatting with the man running the place.  He loves it.  But other than that, you can wander wherever you like.  There are larger homes, several mosques, squares and courtyards and nicely paved streets, and farms and fields and wells around the edges.  We spent a couple of hours there without seeing everything, but I want to go back with some of the boys because I think they'll like it too.

It's just two hours from Riyadh.  You can go northwest out of the city or down the escarpment and north from the first exit toward Dhurma.  Go one way and return the other.  It's also a nice way to see the escarpment.

In some of the photos below, you can see a restored home with a spot where a fire could be lit inside, plus ruined versions of the same thing.










06 January 2017

Camel Trails and the Escarpment

The Tuwaiq Escarpment runs for about 500 miles down central Saudi Arabia from al-Qassim to the Rub al-Khali.  It's about 20 minutes west of the edge of Riyadh and is pretty sheer near the city.  The first time I saw it was when we were driving out to go four-wheeling and I had no idea it was there.  I love it.

But it's a pretty big impasse if you're trying to get from Riyadh (or Diriyah before Riyadh) to Mecca, and lots of people were trying to do that.  There's a road now, about thirty years old, that zips you up and down, but before that you had to go south toward al-Kharj and then head west to access (I believe) a wadi that cuts through the escarpment (around Dirab - I need to explore this one more). That's a much longer trip on a camel.

So some enterprising people built camel trails down the escarpment.  There are several of them although most have crumbled away.  But the one you can see best, that expats call Camel Trail #1, is actually climbable all the way down and that's what's in the photos below, if you see a trail.  We haven't done the hike yet but I plan to very soon.  It has a bit of a developed area on top with some stone picnic benches and more people go there. The road is also fairly good, except for the washed-out parts.  This one is south of the main road.

North of the main road, you can try to find at least three more.  We've been to the top and bottom of several of these and I don't think any are still climbable, but we'll keep exploring.  The photos below with the pinnacle are near camel trail 4.  The pinnacle is called Faisal's Pinnacle and you can climb it.  We hoped we could climb part of camel trail four if we got to the bottom, and we had the coordinates for the trail, but I don't think it's possible.   Also, there really aren't a lot of roads along the bottom of the escarpment but it's very interesting to drive down there.  No matter what, standing at the bottom of the escarpment or the view from the top is worth the trip.  If you go along the top, there are fenced-off quarries but camel trail 3 (or the spot marked that but there is not a trail left maybe but hiking down to the edge is very cool) is not fenced.

These are all very conveniently marked on google maps if you want to try finding them yourself. Also, there are geocaches.







05 January 2017

Wadi Mawan

I read about this place a few days ago while I was looking for interesting places to go outside Riyadh.  The photos looked cool and I conceived my husband to drive me out, but I had no idea it would be so wonderful.  The things I'd read talked about bouldering and rock climbing and didn't really focus on the fact that this is a little slot canyon.

It's a little more than an hour south of Riyadh from the edge of the city.  There are several different routes and my favorite is along 5399 rather than 509 or out toward Al Kharj.  After that, the new road toward Howtat Bani Hamim is quick and easy. The slot canyon part of the wadi is about half a kilometer long and maybe 30 feet deep at the most.




04 January 2017

Al Ha'ir

We came back through Al Ha'ir after one of our jaunts into the desert. People who aren't from deserts might say that oases are what they think make deserts livable, and there are some in Saudi Arabia (although many are disappearing because there's so much more demand for water now), but it's really the wadis that matter here.  It's an entirely different world in a wadi and Al Ha'ir is no different.  It was interesting to drive through a mud town that's still being maintained.  

Al Ha'ir also has the dubious honor of having the country's largest maximum security prison nearby.  We drove by on our way out and were trying to decide if it was a military installation designed to keep people out or a prison designed to keep people in.  Here's an interesting article about it.  





03 January 2017

Tuwaiq Escarpment

Saudi Arabia really does get so much better when it's not hot, and since we live on the edge of the city, we can get out of town quickly. Right now, our favorite place is the Tuwaiq Escarpment. We've found several places along the edge that only take 30 minutes to get to and they're perfect for dinner over the fire and some stargazing with the telescope.  

The escarpment is totally fascinating and I'll have more posts about it.