Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hot Town Thursday Night In Salalah

I missed it all. Another rockin night in lala land. First the Oasis had a bbq with open mic night, so any expat with delusions of grandeur, too much beer in the belly, or MAYBE even actual talent, could get up and sing. Then, the Hilton had one of it's occasional beach parties, with DJ Bassom justa pumpin' out the tunes. He's a great guy, don't get me wrong, but unless it's old school music, I can't bring myself to move away from my shisha and dance.

And oh how I love to dance. I really do.

I just couldn't do it. I couldn't go to either party. Something deep in my soul rebelled. Another party night in Salalah? Nope. Can't do it for awhile. I suspect you know the feeling. You've lived here for awhile. There are only a few places to go that serve "western" food and...let's say it...booze. The Oasis even serves pork, utterly unheard of anywhere else in Dhofar, except the military base. Somehow, after a couple years, the luster of an expat club wears off. I know some people who still go every Thursday, some who go just about nightly, and many who don't bother anymore.

I wanted something else. I wanted what I can't have. I wanted variety. I wanted choice. I wanted to go for a drive and try a new restaurant. Anything but the same thing. The Rotana won. We had a nice meal, amid the caterwauling of Omani babies and children running pell-mell around the restaurant. I cared for about ten minutes about the kiddos, because I have that New England Puritanical thinking that children should be seen and not heard at restaurants, then I got over it and ate seafood until my jaws hurt. It was lovely.

See we can't have variety here. That's just how it is. Time to get over it right? Time to be thankful there are lots of nice people where ever I go here in Salalah, who know me and wish me well. Time to be thankful it's ISN'T an anonymous city with thousands of options. If you walk into the Oasis, or the Hilton, or the Crowne on a Thursday night, the waiters know who you are. Friends will be there. Gossip will be shared and drama observed. Who is with who now? Who's zooming who? What's the scoop? At the Hilton, clothes will be tight, eyebrows perfectly penciled, and the Arab women dressed like it's prom night every night.

Come to think of it, what was I thinking? I missed it! I didn't see any of my buddies become Salalah superstars at open mic night! I didn't see the fabulous ripped jeans painted over awe inspiring hips, sparkly blouses, or any of the full length gowns and high heels worn at the Hilton. I didn't see my Filipino friend of a certain "orientation" tell me I am a FANTASTIC dancer! I missed it all. Sob!

Ah well. I had a good meal. Know what? One good thing about Salalah is if you miss it one night, you can surely catch it the next time around.

Beach Party (used with permission)

This cake was a box cake with Twinkie frosting. A Twinkie is a revolting American mass produced pastry. I did think the frosting using Marshmallow Fluff (available at Lulus) would be great for people with strong teeth. It also makes a pretty cake.

To make this, prepare a two layer box cake of your choice of flavor. You can certainly make a cake from scratch if that is your preference. The frosting recipe is really for a three layer cake, frosted as you see it in the picture. On two layers, it's a shocking amount of frosting!

Twinkie Frosting
(forgot where I found it)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 t. vanilla
2 cups Fluff
3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

In a mixer, blend the butter and cream until creamy. Add the fluff and whip. Add the vanilla and blend. Slowly add the confectioners sugar and whip on high until light. Frost your cake.

Clearly I am no longer doing a cake a day, but I still make a lot of cakes, usually to order. I hope this one is satisfactory!


Felicia El Aid

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Muslim Grammy

Being a Muslim at Christmas time presents a quandry for me. What is a loving grandmother to do this time of year? I grew up with Christmas, for crying out loud. It's a deeply embedded piece of my cultural milieu, so to speak. For years, I really couldn't be bothered. I stopped decorating and ordered gifts for my grown children over the internet. The whole Christmas thing creates so much pressure for so many people. Too much money is spent, too many people place so much emphasis on every moment being joyous that they don't have much joy at all. That was kinda me. However, my daughters love Christmas, and all the wonderful decorations that come with it.

But I'd had enough. When I converted to Islam, I really let go of the pressure. Now I have this:

 Complete game changer.
And I want to buy this:

Or something equally tacky!

Opinions vary on this topic. Can we celebrate Christmas if we are not Christians? Welp, millions do it every year, to the annoyance and sometimes outrage of devoted Christians. Christmas is part of the cultural makeup now, and for many people it's a celebration separated from Christianity. For Muslims who grew up in countries where it is a non-event, this seems pretty odd. UnIslamic even. I spoke with a friend, another convert to Islam, who said he tried not to "do" Christmas, but simply couldn't bear it. It goes too deep into the psyche to ignore. His Arabic wife is understanding, and now even though she could not care less about December 25th, they observe it in a small way.

This year I am going to put up a few decorations. Not doing so simply depresses me. You can get a few things here. Carrefour has a small collection of decorations put in the farthest corner possible. Lulus is more overt. Home Centre has a display at the front of the store as you walk in, with several delightfully tacky artificial trees and enough ornaments to make a respectable display. I also have my eye on a Santa cookie jar. The lack of hoopla is a decided relief after suffering through months of excess back in the States, I must say. And as we speak, I am checking out the selection of baby girl Christmas dresses for my little buttercup back in America. Her parents, who are also decidedly not Christians, will go haywire this year celebrating the holidays. As I said, we have a game changer now. I can't do otherwise. 

As for cakes, I made my own recipe again. Once you make 20 cakes from other recipes, you start to get an eye for what is wrong with someone else's directions. I made another brown sugar cake for my regular client, but changed a few things.

This is the cake, without frosting

I would have done a simple glaze, but the client wanted chocolate frosting. No pic for that!

Brown Sugar Amaretto Cake
(with halal alternative)

1 1/2 cup butter, softened but cool

1 3/4 cups brown sugar, packed

5 eggs

1 cup milk

1/4 cup amaretto liquer OR 1 t imitation almond extract for halal cake (if using extract, increase milk by 1/4 cup)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F or 180 C

Grease and flour bundt pan. Place chopped walnuts in bottom of pan and set aside. Sift dry ingredients and set aside. On medium, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each. Add the milk and flour mix alternately in thirds, mixing just to incorporate. Blend in amaretto or almond extract. 

Gently spoon over walnuts and smooth. Bake for 50 minutes, or until toothpick tests clean.

I really like the brown sugar sponge. It has a caramel taste that a white sugar frosting lacks, and tastes more homely with tea than white cake. 

Bon appetit as my beloved Julia Child used to say!


Felicia El Aid

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


The day is almost upon us and really, I am fairly well bummed out. Thanksgiving is a puzzler to people outside America (and possibly Canada). It isn't a religious holiday; it is a day to be thankful for what you have. It is a day to eat shocking amounts of food, possibly go shoot a deer, and watch a football game. And no, I don't mean a soccer game.

My kids will be rounded up at tables heaving with food. There has to be a turkey front and center. Stuffed, and not with any weird tasting, Saveur magazine recipe crud. Gravy is critical, as is pumpkin pie. My mother used to make candied yams, a truly revolting mixture. Picture yams (already a questionable vegetable) smothered in small marshmallows, then baked. She also made some yacky thing from the 1950's with whipped cream and cocktail fruit, and MULTICOLORED mini marshmallows called "ambrosia." Twasn't ambrosiac atall. We wouldn't eat that either. We teased her mercilessly about cutting up the turkey innards into the gravy (called giblets) until I just took over the whole process.

My mom worked her butt off at Thanksgiving, once she moved back to Maine.We ate off paper plates at the table...none of the fancy china for our crew. Washing up was too much work. Of course we helped, but it was her show. Then my mother got a little tired. Then she got cancer. She recovered from that cancer, and planned a move to Florida. We had a last Thanksgiving dinner at her place, after she married her high school sweetheart (long past the point when he was sweet I might add) and I waved goodbye to her in Clinton, Maine on a late November day, I think it was. She seemed fine. One the way to Florida, she suffered a massive stroke. My siblings and I flew to Florida in shifts, and during my turn, once she was out of the hospital, she tried to cook a turkey.

She put it in the oven raw and frozen the night before, and cooked it for a couple hours. Then she left it there, thinking she could finish it the next day. I'd just arrived from Maine and she was really excited about her sister and brother in law  coming over for a very late in the season turkey dinner. What do you say to someone who is brain damaged, and can no longer cook the dinners she's done all her adult life? I quietly called my aunt and we went out and bought a couple pre-cooked chickens, and I teased her a bit about trying to kill us all, just to make her laugh it off.

Mom got a little better, but now has Parkinson's disease, lung cancer, and dementia related to the Parkinsons. She has a great outlook on her situation much of the time. I suppose having dementia helps, in a perverse way. And here I am. I honestly try not to think about it very much. I haven't had a real Thanksgiving dinner for a few years now. I've tried. An American friend and I had a fun Thanksgiving last year, with friends from all over the world. My mom and her husband went to Cracker Barrel. I guess I am thankful that Thanksgiving isn't a huge deal here. I am insulated from all the stresses the holidays bring; unfortunately I am also insulated from much of the joy.

By the way, my mom knows how to cuss. If she knew about this cake challenge, she'd tell me I'd gone bats**t crazy!

My mother's youngest sister, me, and Mom, at 20 years old.

Tonight's cake was a special order, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I have a yellow cake recipe on hand, which you can double. Even better, go buy a box of cake mix. Hah! I've also figured out another angle these cake makers use. The cakes pictured are three layers, not two. When the heck did three layer cakes become the done thing! Crimanitly. (Pronounced crime-ah-nit-lee). 

Her Cake

1½ cups butter (3 sticks), softened
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
5 cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon espresso powder

  1. Add cocoa to a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer. Whisk through to remove any lumps.
  2. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until well-combined.
  3. Add sugar and milk to cocoa mixture by adding 1 cup of sugar followed by about a tablespoon of milk. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute. Repeat until all sugar and milk have been added.
  4. Add vanilla extract and espresso powder and combine well.
  5. If frosting appears too dry, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. If it appears to wet and does not hold its form, add more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.
This recipe really does make a great deal of frosting. You can frost three layers with this, and not be stingy with the coating. I will post my pic later. I dropped my crappy tablet and it broke to smithereens, so we will all have to wait until my husband returns home. It really looks yummy.


Felicia El Aid

Monday, November 24, 2014

Football? That Ain't Football!

I never watched football before coming to Oman. You know what football looks like to an Americano? This:

Go Patriots!
Oh wait. This is football:


The other stuff is soccer. 

Just a tad different. Bless them.

The problem is, nobody here gives a crud about football. Er...American football. Outside America, everybody watches football. Er...I mean soccer. Sweet heavens it's confusing for a Stateside girl. I listen to people scoff about my football. It's a ridiculous game, I've heard, with all that padding and the constant penalty calls. Hardly worth watching at all. Honestly, I don't understand half of what I'm seeing either. I still love it. Yeah, I understand that soccer is a game with more finesse. I get that it is "real" football. I just can't connect with that game the way I connect with football. Football is violent and exciting, and the best players are American gods. We know nobody else cares about the Green Bay Packers, or the New York Giants, or the New England Patriots. But any given Sunday during the season, we care. We care a lot. We care about Friday nights, when we go to the local high school in our hometowns and watch the boys play the game. It is the quintessential American experience. Yes, American students play soccer. You know who goes to those games? Their mothers. 

But I live in Salalah now. I adapt. I watch football games with my husband sometimes, and I tuned in to the FIFA games with my son in law occasionally so I could stay lateral with my Oman buddies. It's cool enough. But it ain't football. 

Moving on to cake, last night's cake was a simple yellow cake. I planned to get all crazy cooking a three layer pumpkin cake with marscapone frosting, but someone wanted a simple, inexpensive cake for tea. So that is what I made. It was boring. It was so boring, I forgot to take a picture. 

1 cup flour 
2/3 cup sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 cup shortening 
1/2 cup buttermilk 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 egg 

Preheat oven to 350? 
Grease an 8 inch square baking pan. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add shortening, milk and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add egg and beat for 30 seconds more. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Allow cake to cool before frosting. 

As for a cake a day, it would take a miracle. I calculated the cost over a year (perhaps should have thought that one through at the start) and figure it is about 3000 usd. No can do. I will continue to bake for my standing order on Wednesdays, and for loved ones, and a challenge cake weekly. Something like that. I can always write, and perhaps eat cake the other days. Haha. I will think of something.


Felicia El Aid. aka Epic Cake Challenge Failure

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Garbage! Garbage Everywhere!

Let's talk about trash shall we? When I came here from India, which unfortunately has gigantic amounts of trash, I thought Salalah looked pretty clean. It isn't. It gets dirtier all the time. There are easily accessible dustbins all around the city, yet trash is flung from cars and left on the beach with disregard that leaves me breathless.

And grumpy. It makes me grumpy as all get out, as my dear old grandma used to say. Yes, we have people who routinely pick through the trash as they look for enough plastic and cardboard boxes in order to piece together a meal. It certainly helps, though not the way a good recycling center would. Back home (and how I hate it when we all whinge on about "back home"), but back home recycling is almost like a religion. Tin cans and glass containers are separated and put into different bins. Paper goes in another bin. If you are like some of my family, food leftovers are composted for a garden. Obviously that particular aspect of life is dying out as people give up gardening for their own food, but it is part of the mindset. Fanatical recycle-rs used to annoy the crud out of me. I kinda get it now. You know what my epiphany was? I went swimming in a cove in Mirbat the other weekend.

I had to get out of the water. As I waded out, I saw that my legs were surrounded by soda bottles and potato chip bags. It was gross. Gross and discouraging. What's next? Faziya? I have watched families on beaches bbq, then simply leave all their junk right where it was. The good news is there is a movement afoot to clean up Oman. Alhamdulilah.

I will be the first to admit my carbon footprint stinks. We consume too much water out of plastic bottles; we throw away a lot of stuff. Honestly, I'm not sure I can easily become one of those people who sorts everything into a separate bin, to be collected from the side of the road by the trash patrol, to be taken to a recycling center. However, "back home," it's the law. You can't even drop a cigarette on the ground without getting a fine should a passing police officer sees you. Society doesn't like it either. Someone sees you leave a butt on the ground, or your doggie leaving his digested dinner in a big pile on the sidewalk, and they will correct your behavior. People freak out over trash.

Even India is trying to change, despite the shocking level of trash created by a large population living in very tight quarters. Plastic bags are losing favor quickly. Shop keepers are likely to wrap your goods in a newspaper. A entire cottage industry exists now of  smarties making bags out of newspapers! Last time I was in Kerala, I felt I saw a difference. I can't say for sure, but it seemed cleaner. Bravo. I hope Oman continues to be the place where "Beauty Has An Address."

Photo taken from a Times of Oman article

Jumping from trash to's that for a transition...I triumphantly announce I made a cake that is my very own recipe. I took a few clues from the pound cakes I've already made, and modified this and that. I am quite happy with the result. I reduced the sugar, increased the baking powder, and used cream instead of milk. It's delish. I even woke up this morning and saw a wee nibble taken from it, with the slice tucked back into the cake. 

Felicia's Pound Cake

1 c. butter, softened but cool
2 c. sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
3 c. flour, sifted
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c. whipping cream
1 t coconut extract
1 t almond extract
1 t vanilla

Be aware that pound cake lends itself to any old flavor extract you have on hand. It's that awesome.

Beat butter and sugar in a mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and continue beating until light and creamy. Add extracts and blend. 

Sift dry ingredients and fold into sugar mix, alternating with cream. Pour into a greased and floured bundt or loaf pan. 

Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes, or until toothpick clean. Do not preheat the oven; start the cake cold. I don't know why this works better, but it does.

I did add a glaze later to the mutilated cake. 

Welp, thanks for sticking with me. The cake goes to work tomorrow because I don't need to weigh more than my already awesome....yeah no. Not telling you how much I weigh. 


Felicia El Aid

Gimme That Shisha!

I now have my own pink shisha pipe. For the uninitiated, it's kind of a hookah pipe, like the caterpillar smoked in Alice in Wonderland. Before moving to Salalah, I thought these pipes were used for nefarious substances (such as the aforementioned caterpillar smoked). They aren't. Instead, they are filled at the top with lovely carcinogenic tobaccos, flavored with apple, mint, watermelon, grape..all kinds of things.

It's brilliant. How I love it. I never used to touch the stuff. They looked difficult, and the women smoking them far more exotic than myself. Beautiful Arabic women, makeup always exquisite, sitting and smoking a hookah and chatting about...whatever. It's still mostly gibberish to me. I smoked only occasionally and usually knocked the pipe over in front of everyone, because I am basically a graceless dolt. And I was warned. A Lebanese friend told me if I smoked very often, I would want to tap a vein. Woe unto me, how right she was.

It happened when one of my besties from England came to visit. We went out with the husbands just about every night, because showing her a good time during her visit was priority one. I had a shisha every time. People, it's like crack. Erm..not that I would actually KNOW what crack is like. But I've heard. After she went back home, I started jonesing hard. Oh my dear heavens. It's been a trial and a tribulation for my husband. I beg. I plead. Finally, I got an overtime check from the college and had to go buy my own. They aren't that expensive...just kind of needless. My husband accompanied me, and advised. I insisted on a big one with a pink and blue one and a matching blue wand, because with my new eyebrows, I am all about style baby. All about style. And here I sit, huffing away like near professional, little plastic smoker thingie clenched between my teeth while I write to y'all. My heart could just burst with joy.

According to the CDC (that bastion of joy crushing) smoking hookah tobacco isn't any better for you than cigarettes. The charcoal carries all kinds of crap to your lungs, just like cigarettes do. There is still a high risk or oral, bladder, and lung cancer. I get it. Honestly, it appears it's even worse for me than smoking a pack of cigarettes. But I love it. I love sitting with my Arabic friends and listening to them chatter, then they translate to me the latest Salalah gossip. And now, I am going to sit on the roof in my thobe and watch Mehdi barbecue some fish for dinner. Life is good people. Life is good, if perhaps now a bit shorter. Peace out.

Rock on with that, rock star.

The cake of the day was a white cake flavored with orange blossom water instead of vanilla. Orange blossom and rose water are very common flavorings in the Middle East, and I wanted to see how that would taste. I heard the cake was fine. I sent it to a friend as a late birthday cake! I have another cake in the oven...I have kept to my cake a day, but due to epic fails with the internet, I didn't do a blog post yesterday. Meh. I will double up on recipes tomorrow. I know you can't wait.

1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 egg whites
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 3 (8-inch) round cake pans; line bottoms with parchment paper, and grease and flour paper.
2. Stir together milk and vanilla.
3. Beat butter at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Sift together flour and baking powder; add to butter mixture alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition.
4. Beat egg whites at medium speed until stiff peaks form; gently fold into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans.
5. Bake at 350° for 20 to 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks; discard parchment paper. Cool completely (about 40 minutes).

Their cake. Not gonna happen. Maybe someday, but not today.

I love bundt cakes. So this is what I did with the batter. The glaze is a simple mix of confectioners sugar, cream, and almond extract.

I realize I am not challenging myself too much with the latest cakes. Perhaps tomorrow. Once I get in a groove, maybe I can approach layer cakes again. Right now, not so much.


Felicia El Aid

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Candy Crush Salalah

If you play Candy Crush, there are people out there who want to strangle you. Yeah, you.

I'm not sure if this game has taken over life in America, but it certainly dominates the adult world here in Salalah. Eating at a restaurant and no one at the table is talking? People looking at their mobiles? Yeah...they're playing Candy Crush. Me? I've been on level 87 for over a year. I just couldn't take it anymore. The stress of getting stuck on a level, the braggadocio among "crushers" (my name for them) as they state what level they have achieved, and the scornful laugh of others who eschew the whole thing just became, well, not fun.

Wives gesture at their husbands now as the man sits glued to his phone and just says to others, "Candy Crush." People kind of laugh with understanding. If they are also married to a crusher, they understand that she has become worse than a golf widow. Candy widows? Yeah, Salalah is full of them.

According to the Guardian, Candy Crush is played by about 93 million people, more than a billion times a day. What! Why? Ok, it's free. It doesn't take massive amounts of time. I know it feels like it takes up loads of your crusher's time, especially if you are a crusher widow, but it really doesn't. Just look at the hours hardcore gamers spend locked in front of a computer or television screen, doing all that fancy multi-player alien killing stuff, and you will see that the five lives given by King enterprises doesn't take much time at all. And most people won't pay for extra lives. So relax. Truly it could be worse.

It could also be better people. Not to get all preachy, but the world is cold enough without all of us spending time around a table glued to our smart phones. My daughters don't do it. The Nintendo their grandmother gave them spent most of the time on top of the refrigerator. There was a handheld Nintendo thingie kicking around the house for awhile, but since I didn't allow them to hit the crack pipe of gaming at the beginning, none of these things actually "stuck" with my kiddos. Not to get all superior on you all, but I made them pick up a book. Or go play outside. Weird, old fashioned things like that.

So yes, keep playing Candy Crush oh lala land peeps. But put your dang mobile down tonight when you have dinner with your mates and talk. Even if it is just to swap Candy Crush hints. I won't listen though, cause I am too busy playing Farm Heroes.

Today's cake was a Cinnamon Roll Cake. I wanted to make my friend something that would lend itself to a caramel sauce, something he likes a lot. It didn't work out very well, and I don't recommend this recipe. I really don't think it was me this time either. This cake is just...too heavy. meh

Their cake. 

1 1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
4 T butter, melted
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 T flour
1 T cinnamon
2/3 cups nuts (optional)
2 cups powdered sugar
5 T milk
1 tsp vanilla

With an electric mixer or stand-up mixer, mix 3 cups flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Once combined well, slowly stir in 4 T melted butter. Pour batter into a greased 9×13″ baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix the 2 sticks of softened butter, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons  flour, cinnamon, and nuts until well combined. Drop evenly over cake batter by the tablespoon and use a knife to marble/swirl through the cake. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out nearly clean from center. Place powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle over warm cake. Serve warm (we like it straight out of the oven) or at room temperature.

I don't have a picture of my cake yet. Probably a good thing. I delivered the cake before taking a pic. But hey...if he send me one, I shall post it!

Seriously? Got the pic! At least they are eating it. But that is another fugly cake.


Felicia El Aid

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

His Excellency, Sultan Qaboos

I will no doubt be back to my light breezy, and perhaps snarky self tomorrow, but today I have something serious to say. I hope you stay with me on this.

Here in Salalah, many young women are married at a fairly young age, and have a growing family by the time they are their late teens. However, we teachers are seeing a growing trend with Dhofari women. They are getting a college education first. Most of my student's mothers were married at twelve or thirteen, with the onset of menarche. It's easy to get a little judgmental about this, but this has been common for millenia all over the world. You know why so many women are now going on to be literate, educated mothers? Sultan Qaboos.

Today is National Day in Oman. I am honoring the Sultan in today's blog with a thank you. Thank you, your highness, for encouraging women to go to college. Thank you for promoting Omani women within your government. Thank you for making the education of women an acceptable, even a desirable choice. In a world that STILL doesn't value the education of women, you have made it a priority. Not only do you make a college education free, but you give students a stipend to attend. Brilliant. My country honestly doesn't care about the education of it's young people. Young Americans are drowning in debt, even with a public university education. Shameful isn't it?

People outside the Middle East, particularly Westerners who don't understand Islamic countries (too much Fox News and not enough NPR), look at our young ladies dressed in black from head to toe and see oppressed people. Rubbish. They are beautiful. Most of my students are sweet, caring individuals who see themselves as totally free. And they are. When you have a free education, with assistance from the government, you are free to choose the life you want. Yes, most of them will choose to be wives and mothers. They will marry at a mature age, and raise smarter children who are better able to serve this country. May God bless every one of them.

I'm proud to be here, and proud to be part of this process. I love my job every day, and I love this country. I wish the Sultan good health, and many more years as the Omani people's beloved ruler.

Tonight's cake is a chocolate one. Nothing fancy..just a two layer chocolate cake. I am going to frost it with a chocolate ganache in the middle and on top, like in the picture (only not as thick cause I don't have that much chocolate on hand).

Their cake

2 cups white sugar
 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
 1 teaspoon salt
 2 eggs
 1 cup milk
 1/2 cup vegetable oil
 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
 1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two nine inch round pans.
In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache

My easy peasy chocolate spread.

Take half a bag of decent quality chocolate bits. Bring 1 cup of heavy cream to a near boil. Pour over the bits and let sit for about 20 minutes. You can use as a glaze, or let it thicken more for a thicker "frosting." Delicious.

My cake. Pardon the slobbery spoon.

I was going to make a two layer cake, but we had a guest who wanted to take one home, and another person who wanted a cake. So I just glazed each layer. But guess what? It looked really good, so we dug in. No regrets. 


Felicia El Aid

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beep Beep

Can we talk about drivers in Salalah for just a moment? Do you feel as if you've been assaulted by wild buffalo when you arrive at your destination? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Those lunatics who bear down on you in the "slow car" lane, driving right up on your bumper before careening into the fast lane in order to do it again, flashing their headlights whilst casually smoking a cigarette and sending messages via whatsapp. Or so I presume.

It isn't a question of IF you will get in an accident here in the loverly town of lala, but WHEN. My first happened not long after I arrived here, and it couldn't have been a more pleasant experience if I do say so myself. I drove along that stretch between the RAFO roundabout and where Carrefour is now, and an older Omani gentleman simply bumped on up the side of my teensy rental car. I was a tad startled. He simply didn't see me. I pulled over to check the car, and so did he. Now in the grand U.S of A, a road accident usually involves some anger and denial of fault. Not so with me. He came and looked at the scrape on my car and said, "No problem, no problem." I would later find this is the Dhofar mantra, but I was new to Salalah. I said yes, problem. He promptly came and sat in my car while I called Budget, leaving his kin in the giganto SUV. He wanted a bit of a chat with the English speaking lady in a hijab. He was very nice in a geezerly, aged way. I think he might even have been, ahem, important. He was a retired judge or lawyer or some sort, educated in Russia. He asked if Americans like to dance, and shared that he'd quite enjoyed a bit of a dance when he was in Russia. I tried to visualize this, and failed mightily. Once Budget arrived, he accepted responsibility for everything, and drove off with a wave, having left me his business card with an admonition to call should I ever need help with anything.

There is too much to say about driving issues here in Salalah for one post, and I have a stinkin lot of posts to write, so no worries there. It isn't India out there (trust me, if you haven't been driving in India, you don't know what you're missing) but the roads ARE dangerous. Until not long ago, there was one largish road in Salalah. Now? Lotsa roads, and lotsa drivers. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to call my husband for a lift to yoga class. I gave up my car a month ago, and it feels oh so much better!

Not my picture. Please note the hilarious parking along the road. 

Today's cake is banana cake made with olive oil. Frankly, I just didn't want to use butter today. Banana cake gets no respect, certainly not from me. I am not wasting precious butter in a banana cake! I refuse to even follow the cake routine. You know, sift the dry ingredients, whip the oil and sugar, blah blah blah. No. For banana cake, you mash the bananas, throw all the ingredients in a bowl, stir, and dump into a greased pan. Finito my friends. F.I.N.I.T.O.

"Her" cake

Completely copied and pasted.

1 2/3 cup plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup castor sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
3 mashed bananas

1. Mix all the dry ingredients- flour, baking powder, cinnamon, caster and brown sugar in a bowl.
2. Make a well in the middle.
3. Add olive oil, vanilla extract, 2 eggs, 3 mashed bananas
4. Mix altogether
5. Pour into greased loaf tin, or line with baking paper.
6. Bake for 45 mins to an hour - 160 degrees.

My cake, dusted with a little confectioners sugar.
The yoga ladies will partake shortly.

I read a statistic today that said only 10 percent of bloggers who start this are still blogging in six months. Truly, I can understand that! I will persist people! Inshallah.


Felicia El Aid

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Plush Yogi At Your Service

I used to do a lot of yoga. I used to be the rock star of plump yogis. Please note: used to be. In 2012 I traveled to India for the first time. My life was definitely in a weird place after quitting my job and looking after my grandmother for nearly two years. I muddled through the financial stress with part time work at L.L.Bean (once my aunt came to help) and just...survived.

I originally got a gander to go to India after talking to someone about cosmetic surgery in Bangalore. I was still solvent at the time, and I longed to have a tummy tuck. Oh how I yearned. I researched, and researched, and researched. I talked to a surgeon there, and then another. It was quite a process. But really, one day I just snapped. I had a visa that would run out in a few weeks, so I bought a ticket with my smart phone whilst having lunch at Ruby Tuesday. My aunt was a bit shocked. I was no longer solvent, so I bought a ONE WAY TICKET and just kinda hoped something would save my butt for the return home. Clearly I was a woman on the edge.

The yoga teacher at my hotel in Kovalam kept asking me to take classes. I absolutely freakin refused. I told him, "I'm too fat." He sighed and said you are not. "I will start you at the beginning. You can do this." I never did start yoga on that particular trip. I went swimming, read the newspaper on my porch, listened to the rats squabble at night, and didn't bother with much of anything.

The view from my porch. Twas my fate to stay in a pink hotel.

But when I got back to Maine? Whew baby. I went with a friend to Panacea Yoga Studio (yes that is a boost cause the teacher is the best) and that yoga stuff just TOOK. I bought an unlimited pass and went to every class she did, usually twice a day. Even that fast vinyasa flow crap was on my list. I sweated, then relaxed, and lost over 20 kilos. I stopped eating much, to the distress of my future plastic surgeon, who thought possibly I'd lost my mind. I went back to India, to the same yogi, and asked him to work with me. I thought I was pretty great at that yoga stuff.

He told me I didn't know anything. That yoga isn't exercise and my breathing was rubbish. I told him I would cooperate with whatever he said to do. Just help me. It was like training for the Indian Army. Yoga at dawn, which made me want to kill him, followed by a 6 km walk, then a banana. I remember trying to sneak some cookies and throwing the packet at the hotel receptionist when the yoga teacher saw me. Crikey!

For the first time in my life, I had thigh muscles. I could walk uphill for quite a distance. Then I came to Salalah, and stopped moving. Those of you who live in Salalah may know the effect it can have on motivation. Sadly, things are not as they were, but I'm trying. Not very hard though. I've once again organized classes at the Salalah Plaza Hotel, and at a friend's house for "ladies only." Things hurt though. Poses I could do with no problem just feel awful. I hope I find my mojo for yoga again soon. For the first time in my life, I'd found something I could do, something that made me feel good. Here's hoping eh? And if you are in Salalah, feel free to join us. Heck it's a good old stretch even if the teacher (moi) aint what she used to be!

Tonight's cake is a vanilla cake with a blueberry filling. I am winging it with the filling, but the recipe I used is one published by Hannaford grocers, or "the Hannafeds" as Mainers call it. As in, "I have to go down ta the Hannafeds."

2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup Whole milk
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 each egg
2 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon Fresh lemon peel, finely grated-I just squeezed some lemon into it.
2 teaspoon vanilla extract (divided)
3 cup cold heavy cream
1/4 cup Confectioners` sugar
2 1/2 cup Fresh blueberries (wild or cultivated, rinsed and drained well)-I used frozen, thawed out
1.Preheat oven to 350degreesF. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable cooking spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and spray the paper.
2. Prepare the cake. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
3. In a medium saucepan, heat milk and butter over medium heat until butter melts and mixture is hot. Remove from heat.
4. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy, thick, and lightened in color, about 2 minutes. Mix in the lemon zest and vanilla. On low speed, mix in flour mixture to blend. Slowly add hot milk mixture, mixing on low speed until batter is smooth and blended. Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing it evenly. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. Cool pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the cakes to loosen. Invert each onto a wire rack. Discard the paper liners. Turn the cakes right side up to cool completely, about 1 hour.
6. When cakes are cool, prepare the topping. In a large bowl, beat the cream, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla, using an electric mixer on high speed, until firm peaks form, about 6 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to overbeat.
7. Put 2 cups of the topping in a medium bowl and fold in 1 cup of the blueberries. Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Tuck waxed paper strips an inch or so under the bottom of the cake all the way around to keep the plate clean. Leaving a 1/2 inch uncovered around the edge, spread the blueberry toppingover the top of the cake layer.
8. Carefully place second cake layer over filling. Spread remaining plain topping over the top and sides of cake. Arrange remaining 11/2 cups of blueberries on top of the cake. Gently pull out and discard the paper strips. To make it easier to slice, chill cake at least 30 minutes. Use a large sharp knifeto cut the cake, then serve cold.

Their cake. Mine won't resemble this in the slightest.

I used a standard vanilla buttercream recipe:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half

Put butter and sugar in a mixer and whip the bejabbers out of it. Add vanilla and cream and whip for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add a bit more sugar if necessary, until it is the consistency you desire. 

I did frost the cake as seen, throwing the blueberries in the middle. 

My cake. I am pretty dang pleased with it. I can't show you the inside (probably a good thing) because my husband's boss pre-ordered a cake. This is good, because now I can buy more butter. 

Now tis time for bed. I facilitated a yoga class tonight, and my stuff hurts. A lot. 


Felicia El Aid

Happy Anniversary Baby...Got You on my myyyyyhind.

Yeah, yeah, everyone knows I got married a year ago. I admit it. I have a trophy husband now. But that isn't the absolute reason why my wedding was the best ever. I did enjoy watching the hottie dance, but really, I was preoccupied with other matters than gawking at my husband. My wedding was the best ever because my daughter attended.

I tried asking her to come. I knew the older one couldn't (and wouldn't) fly 21 hours to lala land but I thought the younger, Hillary, just might. Impossible, she said. "I have to work mom. I can't get away. Just enjoy your day..everyone is happy for you." Or some such comment. But that night, to the poppity pop of flashbulbs, my friend Skip got up on stage and said he had a surprise for me. I wondered a bit wildly if someone bought me a car. Or did a money collection and had a fabulous pile of money to hand over. That would be sweet right? But no, a small young lady all wrapped up in an abaya and hijab was escorted onto the lawn of the Hilton. Three friends had pooled resources, bought a plane ticket, and spirited her into the Salalah Plaza Hotel to wait for the reception. It was heartstopping. I screamed like a loon and we both clutched at each other like long lost friends. For the rest of the evening, I hardly had eyes for anyone else. Yes, I had many reasons to be happy that night, too many to mention in a blog post, but really that night I looked around at all I'd been given here in Salalah. Not money or a car, but loads of wonderful friends. To all of you who attended, from both Mehdi and myself, thank you for your friendship and support this last year. Our marriage is one that perhaps could only have happened in Salalah, but we make it work.

My daughter and I with the sneaky culprits.

Waiting in the wings.

Today's cake is reputed to be a fav of Elvis. Whipping cream pound cake. I muffed up the recipe (mistook a half pound of butter for a pound). I am not surprised. I've had a run of good cakes; I suppose it was time for me to royally screw one up and waste a shocking amount of butter, cream and eggs. Gar! I am a big fan of both the pound and bundt cake. They are deceptively simple in execution, but oh so easy to ruin. Done well, a pound cake is sublime.

Follow the original link for a metric conversion!

3 cups sugar
1/2 lb butter, softened
7 eggs, room temperature
3 cups cake flour, sifted twice
1 cup whipping cream (heavy cream)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Butter and flour a 10 inch tube or bundt pan.
Thoroughly cream together sugar and butter.
Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Mix in half the flour, then the whipping cream, then the other half of the flour.
Add Vanilla.
Pour into prepared pan.
Set in COLD oven and turn heat to 350ºF.
Bake 1 hour to 70 minutes, until a sharp knife inserted in cake turns out clean.
Cool in pan 5 minutes.
Remove from pan and cool thoroughly.
Wrapped well, this cake will keep for several days.

Their cake.

You should see the bottom of my oven. Why I filled the pan to the top is anyone's guess.

I dub thee fugly cake.

If I'd filled the pan properly this cake would have been fine, despite a cup of too much butter. Also, I would cut back to 2 cups of sugar. But really, we ate a couple pieces and it is still tasty.

Life is now back to normal. Anniversary weekend over and hopefully I don't feel sick anymore (didn't get into that did I?). Hooray!


Felicia El Aid

Saturday, November 15, 2014

That's Amore

I can't dang believe I missed the camel beauty pageant  up in Thumrait. Just cannot freakin believe it. I finally have a legit man person to accompany me, and it passes me by again. Curses! I want to see camel races, and camel milking competititons, and yes...a camel beauty pageant. Salalah people LOVE their camels. Alas, the festival is over for another year.
Who can resist them? (thanks Joanne..)
I am comforting myself at the Hilton. My wedding reception was here a year ago tomorrow night. A year ago, I put on a frothy pink gown with insufferable shoes and walked into the garden here on the arm of one of my best friends (now a married man himself) to an Eddie Veder tune. But I digress...I have tomorrow to blog about the wedding, and I know you will all tune in because you are RIVETED!

For tonight, we are staying at the hotel. I love staying in hotels. Not those soulless horrors by the side of the American interstates that accomodate desperate long distance drivers. Nay nay nay. And although I would love to stay in chic bed and breakfasts, I suspect those will always be out of our financial reach. No, I am talking about decent chains, like the Hiltons or the Rotanas of the world.

I love the little soaps in a box and the tiny shampoos. I love the plastic wrapped slippers and the robe hanging on the bathroom door. Mostly, I love those little welcome baskets of snackies. Here, you get a Galaxy bar (heaven) and a sizeable bag of Chips Oman, among other things. Oh the pleasure of digging into snacks you didn't give a grocer money for yourself. Deep down, you know that stuff isn't free, but it FEELS free. Until you pay a hotel mini bar bill of 40 bucks. Then those chips wanna make a fast exit.

People have teased us a bit about coming to stay at a hotel about 4 km from our home. Why? Why pay money to stay at a hotel when you live right here? They clearly don't understand the comfort of lying in a cushy king size bed with sheets I don't have to smooth out myself. cleaner actually changes the sheets for me when he comes, and I don't actually MAKE the bed in the  morning. What's the point?

When I saw the advert for Dhofar residents, I fired off a message to the sales manager at the Hilton. I, you guessed it, couldn't be arsed to call myself, so I asked him to walk over to the reception desk and make them for me. He is a very occasional yoga attendee (another day people, another day) and so of course he obliged me. You know what? He GAVE US A JUNIOR SUITE!! We had a couch! A big television! A bathtub! It was grand.

I am such a farmer. Truly I am.

I have to go back to the Hilton soon, because of all the pleasures available there, I still haven't had a cronut.

Before leaving for my night of amour, I did bake a blinkering cake. It was brilliant.

Their cake.

My cake. Nailed it! It was sold. Basically my husband calls a friend and orders them to buy a cake. It's pretty funny. 

1 1/2 cup(s) sifted cake flour
1/3 cup(s) Dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon(s) baking soda
1 cup(s) sugar 1/2 teaspoon(s) salt
1 cup(s) strong brewed coffee, warm
1/3 cup(s) light olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
1 tablespoon(s) aged balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8-inch round cake pan with softened butter and dust with all-purpose flour. Set aside. Whisk the cake flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside. Stir the coffee, oil, vanilla, and vinegar together and whisk into the flour mixture just until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center rack of the oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean — 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. 
Serve the cake, iced with about 1 cup Deep Chocolate Glaze. Cake can also be served plain alongside whipped cream or coffee ice cream.

Chocolate Glaze
8 ounce(s) (1 1/3 cups)bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoon(s) unsalted butter, cold
1 tablespoon(s) corn syrup ( I didn’t bother…just isn’t necessary)
1  cup(s) (plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream

Place the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a medium-size heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Gently stir, using a whisk, until smooth. Use immediately.

I do believe I will make Elvis's favorite whipped cream pound cake later today. For now, I need to go eat some pizza on my own couch and pretend I give a hoot about football. It is, after all, my anniversary.


Felicia El Aid

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Arab Eyebrows....You Look Mahvelous

I got my eyebrows done at a salon the other day by a Moroccan stylist. I've been ogling the local ladies eyebrows for two years now, and it was time. You know the kind of brow I speak of. They are part eyebrow, part eyebrow er...color. They are shaped perfectly, with frightening geometrical precision. They are dark, bold, and uncompromising. Elizabeth Taylor rocked these eyebrows back in the day. And who doesn't love la Liz?

I don't look like me anymore. I look strong and uncompromising. Perhaps a tad irritated. Gone are the wishy washy, misshapen brows I've sported all my adult life. Because, people, I cannot pluck, wax, or thread a symmetrical eyebrow to save my soul. To ready myself for this transformation, I grew my brows for months, with nary a pluck. Oddly nobody noticed any difference. Go figure.

Tuesday, THE DAY, came, and those Arabic ladies consulted over my face, talking and gesturing and poking here and there with a stylus. Then the pain. Waxing. Plucking to the nth degree with even the finest baby hair pulled that didn't fit the plan. I clenched my toes and my teeth and endured. I pleaded with her not to thread anything, and she agreed. Probably because the last time she did it, tears ran down my face and I whimpered like a kicked puppy.

When she finished whipping my brow hairs into shape, the oh so careful tinting began. She, bless her heart, took thirty minutes to carefully craft the perfect Arab lady brow (for a reasonable price, just in case you dream of the perfect look for yourself as well). The manager of the salon came in periodically to judge whether or not they'd achieved just the right look. When it was all finished, I was unrecognizable. Bold, dramatic, dark...browskin. Because my skin didn't take the color totally THE FIRST TIME I had to make a run to Rania for a brow pencil. Now twice a day I lovingly pencil in the lines, just like in a coloring book. Yes, sometimes I feel faintly ridiculous. Back home, eyebrows like these are not associated with Elizabeth Taylor anymore, but corpulent trailer park denizens who sell crack cocaine with their twelve year old sons for Allens coffee brandy money and filterless Camels.

But here, oh here in Salalah, I am now de rigieur. My husband (also an Arab) loves them. I have to wear excessive amounts of eyeshadow to pull off the look. Small price to pay I say. Heck, I may even go buy some false eyelashes! It's still a shock though when I look in the mirror and see that slightly weird tinted eyebrow. No matter...I just go fetch my new pencil and color em in. Next Tuesday, I will hop it back in for my now weekly eyebrow tint. Life can be full of simple pleasures here in lala land can't it? Just try not to look too startled next time you see me. I might strike you with my hookah wand.

Teehee. Erm...they really aren't crooked. It's the cam. Or how I'm holding my head. Really.

Now to the cake. I made the Salted Caramel Pineapple blah blah again because my Mehdi really liked that one, and he only got one piece. Because I have set myself free from the tyranny of "the list" (hardly anyone voted so I just decided by my ownself to bake whatever cake I darn well please), I made this:

Well, this is their cake. 

(honestly they could have said caramel)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
¾ cup milk
1 cup butter
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (can’t find any here…I don’t bother with it)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease bottom and side of 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch angel food (tube cake) pan with shortening; lightly flour. In medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In large bowl, beat 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, the granulated sugar and softened butter with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on medium speed about 5 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat in flour mixture alternately with 3/4 cup milk on low speed until smooth. Pour into pan.
Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours.
Meanwhile, in 2-quart saucepan, heat sauce ingredients except vanilla to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil and stir 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Serve warm sauce with cake.

My cake. I can't cut it for y'all because I sold it for 5 omr! woot woot

This weekend is my first anniversay with my awesome husband. Let's see if I can squeeze in a couple cakes.


Felicia El Aid