Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ramadan is Coming!

Welp, Ramadan is a month away now. Occasionally I hear other expats talking about Ramadan and how they want to go home because, "it isn't the same here."

Obviously. Then I hear other expats (non Muslims) talking about how people eat like they are starving to death, when in fact people have missed one meal. I gained 3 kilos myself last year, so I can say the struggle is real.

I have no experience with Ramadan outside Salalah. I am from Maine, and haven't yet participated in any of the Ramadan activities there. And you know what? They have them. The University of Orono has an Eid gathering for local Muslims that I hear is quite fun. For much of Ramadan, I am here. And I like it. I like it just fine. I don't have any emotional baggage tying me to a homeland in order to appreciate this religious observance, and why we have it . I reserve that longing for Christmas.

A friend at work asked me why Muslims have Ramadan. Like, what's the point? I don't think this person was looking for a history lesson, but for a quick wiki. Good thing, cause I don't wanna get into it THAT much. I'd have to read stuff to pull it off.

During Ramadan, you are supposed to fast with your entire self. You are supposed to refrain from gossip and backbiting. As for your eyes, don't look at things that are inappropriate or unlawful. Keep your hands to yourself and don't take things that don't belong to you. Stop cussing and don't listen to rude music. And keep your feet out of bad places. The word "sawm" means to refrain, and we refrain from food and drink too, from sunup to sundown. Refraining from being a jerk for a month increases the likelihood you will stop for good.

Before I became a Muslim, a friend told me fasting helps us empathize with the poor. Of all the reasons to fast, I like this one the most. If you are hungry for a time, compassion for the those who are hungry every day of their lives increases, and thus charity towards them. For this reason, I admit I look at people who sleep through fasting  with a little "judgeyness." We are SUPPOSED to feel uncomfortable.

So shouldn't we all do this all year long? Yeah. People are people, though, so I think it's great to have a month where people try just a bit harder to be good. Do people fail in this endeavor during Ramadan? Obviously. Conquering the flesh is no easy proposition, as any religious can tell you.

This year, I am here for the first two weeks, then I go back to America for a month. I plan to enjoy it. The air will be cool, the desert will turn green, and Salalah braces for the onslaught of tourists arriving during Eid al Fitr. Snack places open outside restaurants only for Ramadan. Yummy. The government sponsors tents in Saada and New Salalah for local ladies to sell their home cooking (yes, there are poor Omanis). More yummy. When I cook dinner, people arrive on time. Always a bonus.

As for hunger, lately I am always hungry. I PAID MONEY for the priviledge. After all that ranting about diets, I joined Smart Diet. If hunger were the point of Ramadan, I'd be a spiritual giant right now. But Smart Diet, and my whiny suffering, is a post for another day.

Ramazan with the Poor by Azim Azimzade, 1938

As for cake, I meant to make Apple Cheesecake Bars. Know what I forgot? The cheesecake middle. The part of the "cake" that made it good for posting here. Why? I blame the 700 calorie a day diet. So what came out of the oven was a slightly burned apple crisp. I remembered the cheesecake element when I saw my husband slather Philly cream cheese in a sandwich. Dang!

This is the original picture:

Yeah. Didn't happen. This is what happened.

It isn't awful.

My daughter is right. I do not have the patience to be a great baker. She is a great baker. Her cakes are divine, and look it. Like this one:

I think it's sweet that she believes I am capable but impatient. That I just can't be arsed. It's like a compliment!

In any case, here is a decent recipe for apple crisp. It's quite nice on vanilla ice cream and super easy to make. 

Apple Crisp

4 peeled apples, cut into small chunks (Granny Smiths are nice)
1 small box of digestive bisquits, or one packet of graham crackers.
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. ground ginger

Grind the bisquits in a food processor to coarse flour consistency. Add 5 tsps of cold butter while grinding, in teaspoon size bits.

Press into the bottom of an 8x8 pan. 

Cover with the chunked apples. Sprinke spices over the apples.

Mix 1 1/2 cups oatmeal, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cut in another 6 t. of cold butter until thoroughly mixed. I used a food processor, and I think that was a mistake. A crisp should have a bit of a country feeling to it, and the oats don't stand out this way. 

Spoon over the apples and bake for 25 minutes at 180/350

Mine burned a bit, I think because we just changed the dang gas tank and the oven ran hot. 

I made a caramel syrup but I think you should eliminate that. Too sweet. That is also the matte look you see on the crisp, rendering it distinctly uncrispy. 

So, all in all, a moderate fail last night. But there's always another day. 


Felicia El Aid

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Art of Feeding a Tunisian Husband (Yikes!)

Do you know that before the Arab Spring, I didn't know where Tunisia was? Really. Not a clue. Then the country erupted and CNN couldn't stop talking about it, and I had to google it. Until a couple years ago, to my Americano mind, it was still just a tiny country at the top of Africa, albeit a country that changed the face of modern Arabia. Oh the arrogance of it all!

Then I met my husband, a Tunisian national. He and his friends, who I call Team Tunisia (sometimes Team Arabia if others join in) are the mainstay of my social life. Life is a rum old business isn't it? If I am using my own words, I'd say life is freakin amazing...never a dull moment!

Now my cooking world is filled with attempts at making food that is at least North African in flavor. I struggle with getting just that exact Tunis taste to my food, and it's difficult. As he isn't fussy, and eats whatever is put on the table with a "very nice," it isn't TOO stressful. And here is the thing: I love most Tunisian food. And I love him. When you love someone, whether it is your person, your children, your parents, whatever...you cook with affection.

I do know women who don't cook, or hate cooking, and while we laugh about it together I still look at them and feel...bemused. But hey, I didn't cook for yonks when I came to Salalah. I raised two kids, sometimes being all momish and making healthy, edible meals, and sometimes I couldn't be arsed and served cornflakes. I keeps it real gentle reader. Salalah was my first experience at utter oneness, and I never once cooked for myself. I just couldn't be bothered. I picked up a cheap meal at an Indian restaurant (three years ago, food was cheaper) on the way home from work, and that was that.

I think I bought a pizza the first time Mehdi came over for iftar. Seriously. Iftar, by the way, is the meal that breaks one's fast during Ramadan, when Muslims don't take anything by mouth from sunup to sundown. Yeah. Pizza. Like that happens now! Ha!

Now I will make brik, or breek, depending how one's Tunisian friend spells it in English. Brik is like a Tunisian spring roll, and they are just heavenly. My lovely friend Asma taught me and a group of womenfolk here in Lala land how to do it the other day.


Brik pastry is available in Carrefour near the eggs. Outside areas with a lot of North Africans, I don't know where you'd find it, but spring roll wrappers are acceptable. They are thicker, but still nice enough. Brik pastry is simply much thinner, for a really crispy fried experience. Rabiha (another friend) talked about how in Tunisia the women make this thin pastry from scratch. Ain't happnin'. 

You will need for 12 large briks:

A package of brik pastry or a package of large spring roll wrappers
A dozen eggs
1 cup chopped parsley, flat leaf
1 cup finely chopped onions
some capers, unless you think they are revolting
good quality canned tuna

The canned tuna thing is very Tunsian. It just is. I dunno why.

Lay your brik pastry on a clean surface and line it with parsley, onions, tuna, and capers thusly:

See how thin that pastry is?

See where the fold is? See it? Drop an egg in there, fold the pastry over it and place it in hot vegetable oil. Fry that baby up crispy. You'd think the egg would run out into the oil, but it doesn't. It cooks too quickly to do so, setting up quickly in the marvy parsley nest. You can add leftover mashed potatoes to that mix, take out the tuna, whatever. Mashed potato brik is quite Algerian really. I've made it that way, and it's delish. 

She is gently spooning frying oil over the brik. We ate them with mutton and couscous. Well worth the effort, and the expansion to your waistline. The couscous directions are in my last post, by the by. 

My very own Team Tunisia. I'd put a full pic but he is just too dang good looking!

As for the cake, I made some disgusting Nutella muffins. Nutella is delightful stuff, and so I choked a couple down, but these had a greasy feel to them that I found quite off-putting. It is certainly an easy recipe, but if I were to make Nutella muffins again, I would use a regular recipe, not a fast yeast one. 

. I will never use it again, and I don't recommend you do either!

1/2 cup melted butter
6 T sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T yeast (one packet)
1/2 t salt
250 ml of milk (sorry for the metric, but I really had to use it)
about a half cup of Nutella

Add the sugar to the melted butter and let cool a bit. Beat in the eggs. In a seperate bowl, mix the flour, yeast, Add the milk and butter mix and stir until just mixed, leaving the batter lumpy.

Here is my advice. LET THE BATTER REST FOR 30 MINUTES. This gives it more loft than if you bake them right away. The yeast gets a chance to rise a bit. The original directions didn't recommend this, but I sure do. Blech.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners and fill 2/3 full with batter. Push about a teaspoon of nutella into the middle. 

Bake about 20 minutes at 350. 

If you make these and you have more success than I did, let me know your trick!

This is the original pic, not mine. I forgot my mobile at home so I couldn't take a pic before the teachers here ate them. But this is pretty accurate, except my nutella was just globbed in the middle.

My cooking adventures continue, as does the experience of an inter-cultural marriage. Those of us brave enough to marry someone completely outside our realm of experience are a bit like pioneers eh? Crikey I should write a book someday!


Felicia El Aid

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bring on the Fast Food, Salalah!

Recently I was invited to a marketing event at New York Fries in the Salalah Garden Mall. It was my first blogger swag. (If anyone else wants to give me free stuff go ahead..no problem). This new locale is at the cinema and features hot dogs (gak in general) and fresh cut french fries with toppings.

They were pretty good. And free.

By the time the other swag recipients went to the movies clutching complimentary tickets (I'm not the only social media person in Salalah. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE FRENCH FRY SWAG RECIPIENTS!!), I was ready to scream. NY Fries plays a lot of heavy metal music in a very small space. Heavy metal. In a small space. It was a bit surreal truly.  I actually felt a bit dizzy at times. Did I mention the fries were free?

Here's the thing. I am not a small woman. I love french fries and can hardly wait for this business to get the right cheese for Poutine. Some of you might say I don't have a leg (a chunky one) to stand on when I carp about the problem of fast food in Salalah, but I do find it worrying that, as the promoter said, there is no concern by the franchise that the concession stand will lose on popcorn and candy sales. Cinema goers, DHOFARI cinema goers, simply buy both. Salalah sales are so high that indeed management came from Canada to see what was happening here. What is happening here, and call me Debby Downer, is diabetes and obesity at life threatening levels. Fact. Diet Centers are also booming right along with the fast food eateries. For all the Hardees and fried chicken places, a new nutrition center opens. And hardly anyone is getting any smaller. Lot of people getting richer though. Lot of people sicker, lot of people richer.

Holy crud it sounds like America!

Poutine. It's what's for dinner. In Quebec anyway. Dem good stuff.

This weekend I learned how to make couscous and brik, Tunisian style. If you've never had couscous, you must try it. To me, it is without doubt one of the tastiest foods on the planet. I never tried making it because many Tunisian women make it sound like it's shockingly difficult, as housewives with a specialty are wont to do. A Tunisian girlfriend from Tatooine finally showed me (and a few other Salalah ladies) how to make it. Step by step. Once she finished cooking this yummy lamb stew and couscous with about 14 large "briks," we sat down and ate like we'd just crossed the Mojave Desert. Me? It's what's on the menu Friday. Come on over.

Tunisian Couscous

First you must make your stew. You can do this with any animal protein. If you are cooking beef or mutton, you must cook the meat first and add the vegetables later. Fish is added at the end. Chicken you can cook with the vegetables. Sa? These directions serve about 4. This stew is made in the bottom of a double boiler with a steamer on top. 

Saute 1 c. rough chopped onions in 1/3 cup olive oil until translucent.

Add 1 1/2 sachets of tomato paste (a small can for Americanos)

Add 1 spoonful of harissa. If you want more heat, add more. Harissa is readily available at Carrefour, but not so easy to find in the States. 

Brown about a kilo (2 pounds) of lamb pieces.

Add 10-12 cloves crushed garlic. NOTE: Not all Tunisians use a lot of garlic. My friend doesn't like the taste of mutton, so she adds a lot of garlic. I heartily agree. I hate any strong mutton taste, and all this garlic did the trick. 

Add 5-6 cups of water.
I would also add a can of drained chickpeas. My friend added a couple cups of chickpeas she'd soaked overnight. What a woman!
Add a pinch of black pepper, a heaping teaspoon of barat, a teaspoon of chili powder and salt to taste. NOTE: We keep barat on hand because I am married to a Tunis man, BUT it is hard to find, even here. Ground coriander is a perfectly acceptable alternative, and just as authentic.

Bring to a boil and let your meat simmer for awhile, then add your vegetables. Keep an eye on it and add more water as needed.

Potatoes cut into wedges, carrots, pumpkin, whatever you have on hand for root vegetables are nice. They are cut into wedges and such so that you can "present" your couscous with the meat piled in the middle and the wedges and cubes arranged around the meat.

While your meat is stewing, pour about 3 cups of couscous in a large bowl. Add several whole cloves. Wet the couscous a little at a time and start turning it with your hand. Aim for 2 cups of water. The idea is to wet and fluff the grain. You don't want to soak it. This takes several minutes and isn't nearly as hard as it sounds. Just pour some water over your hand and fold, 

Place in top of steamer and leave about 20 minutes. Do not cover.

Remove the couscous and stir with a spoon and fluff. Once it's cool enough to handle, hand fold it again with about a cup more water. It will have nearly doubled in volume. Add it back to the steamer for 20 minutes. Add it to your bowl and fluff a bit. You can remove the cloves at this time if you are worried your guests won't like finding them. I shan't bother. 

Now, my friend is from Tatooine (of Star Wars fame). They typically skim some of the oil off the stew and fluff it into the couscous. The juice is then poured over the grain and the meat and vegetables placed on top, like this:

In the north, in Tunis for example, enough sauce is poured into the couscous to make it moist but not wet. I think this takes just takes practice. She made a LOT of couscous for us, so she put about 2 cups of sauce in the couscous. Fluff it and place it on a platter. Arrange your meat and vegetables and serve. Extra meat and vegies can go in a bowl on the side. Granted this is a dish that takes a little practice. It is WELL WORTH THE EFFORT.

Eat. Then nap. I know it sounds like a lot of bother, but it really isn't such a big deal. I say that now, but we will see on Friday when I practice alone for the first time.

Freakin yummy. 

I will be here the first two weeks of Ramadan, and hope to serve this regularly. Come on over for iftar! Just don't tease me too much if it isn't just as your grandmother made it! 

As for cake, I know I didn't post one. I'm not doing so well this week with the no sugar, no wheat, no milk regime. I go to India for the finishing touches on my tummy (lipo is my friend) and no matter what I do, the weight just doesn't come off. Bugger! 

My next post will be how to make brik, a fried Tunisian spring roll thingie, and a ridiculous German Chocolate Cheesecake I am attempting for my student's last day of class. Wish me luck. 


Felicia El Aid

Sunday, April 26, 2015

White Skin...What's the Deal?

When I arrived in Salalah, I noticed a strange phenomenon. Women with gorgeous brown skin had very white faces, as if they'd apple dunked in a Micheal Jackson face bleach. I was startled, really. It's rude to stare though, so I learned not to do a double take and fought the urge to gasp. Up close, my student's skin looked damaged. Skin scaled and peeled and pits formed on the surface. This is an awful thing to see on an otherwise lovely Dhofari girl. Of course this subject is gabbed about by the expats (often the white ones) and much tut tutting goes on. One acquaintance, a medical professional, told me of one dermatologist who refused to prescribe some of the horrid steroidal lotions and bleaches women here slather on. He was fired.

What is it about bleaching one's face? Do I speak from a position of  "white privilege" when I express dismay at such self hating behavior?  This isn't a phenomenon just with Dhofaris either. Many Indian women avoid the sun (black is bad) as do a lot of women from any brown skinned ethnicity. I don't get it, but why would I? I used to work arduously at browning my skin in a tanning booth until my sisters scared the habit out of me (skin cancer for both of them don't ya know). Oh how I miss that deep golden brown. I think my husband is more handsome the browner he gets. But that is not the prevailing notion with many people born in shades of brown.

I used to keep quiet about it. This is not my culture, and so it isn't my place. I've been here three years now though, and I feel I have some leeway. The other day my students remarked on the whiteness of my calves. The girls spoke...a young Omani man would pass out dead before he'd say anything about my personal appearance thank you very much. "Teacher..so beautiful." I was puzzled. Usually a comment about my beauty precedes a request for a favor. "Your legs. Your skin is like milk." I said I know, and it's yucky. My legs just won't tan no matter how much I sit on the beach. It's ghastly. I said as much to them. "I want YOUR skin..your lovely brown skin." Most of them wrinkled their noses.

Now I speak. If the topic comes up I quite bloody rant at them, telling them how lovely I think they are just as God made them. I tell them they have exactly the skin and bodies Allah made just for them, in His infinite wisdom. If I am especially close to a young woman (my lovely Sara comes to mind) and I see peeling skin, I tell her to stop it this instant. I do. Why? Because I love them. I really do. Am I speaking from a position of privilege as a white woman with little understanding of the overall issue? Maybe. I do know it's a dang complicated world. I'm just ranting from my little corner of it. Sa?

Stock photo from an advert for skin whitener. Stop it. 

Now for the cake. This cake is MY GO TO CAKE. This is the cake you keep in the pantry for visitors and grandbabies. It is. You can substitute any variety of chips in the batter, and its full of oatmeal (don't yack..you can't taste it) and it welcomes any variety of frostings, or none at all.

(caged from Pinch of Yum with slight modification)

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten with fork ( I don't friggin bother)
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats*
  • 1¾ cups boiling water
  • 1 12 oz bag chocolate chips, divided into 2 portions
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½-3/4 cup chocolate chips 
  • ½-3/4 cup mini marshmallows (NOTE; HALAL MARSHMALLOWS DON'T MELT)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Add the eggs and mix well.
  2. Add flour, soda, salt and cocoa and mix until just incorporated. The batter will be very thick.
  3. Add water to oatmeal and let stand for a few minutes. Once oats are soft, add oats/water mixture to the batter and mix well. The hot oatmeal loosens up the thick batter and makes it pourable. Stir in half of the bag of chocolate chips.
  4. Pour into a greased or buttered rectangular 9x13 cake pan. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the rest of the bag of chocolate chips.
  5. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until the surface springs back lightly when touched and your house smells amazing. Do not overbake. Let cool completely.
  6. For the frosting, melt the butter, sugar, and milk in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a boil and boil for 30 seconds.
  7. Reduce heat to low and add chocolate chips and marshmallows. Stir or whisk until frosting is smooth. Pour immediately over the cooled cake. The frosting crystallizes almost immediately as it cools so pour it right away. 

Here's the thing. Marshmallows in the Middle East don't melt. I tried. Halal marshmallows don't contain that gel that may or may not be made from pig.....something. I'm not going to get into that here. So if you are a Muslim, you have to make the SECOND option I present for frosting. Or use something else you like. This recipe is all mine.

Peanut Butter Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature but still cool
1 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter, and not that organic rubbish either. It doesn't work
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
about 4 cups of confectioners sugar

Mix the butter and peanut butter on medium high until fluffed. Add the vanilla and milk and beat until fluffy. TURN YOUR MIXER TO LOW and slowly add confectioners sugar. Beat on high until you have a fluffy, creamy frosting. Add a titch of milk as you go if it gets too thick. Please note I said a titch. A dite. Just a bit. 

This makes enough for a two layer cake or a 9x13 cake. It's yummy. 

This glaze is with peanut butter chips and what marshmallows I could melt and sieve. Don't bother. I also used cinnamon chips instead of chocolate cause sometimes the store doesn't have what you need. It tastes freaking awesome. Pair it with vanilla ice cream and BAM!

This cake is covered in a thick layer of peanut butter frosting instead of the original recipe. They are both fabulous. Makes me sad I gave up sugar six days a week. 

Oh by the way, there is a new home bakery up and running in Salalah. I ordered 3 dozen shortbread cookies and they were so good. She also decorates cakes, and I don't. You can find her on facebook under The Teacup Bakery. Good luck fellow baker! 


Felicia El Aid

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wasta? Me No Wasta!

In casual terms, wasta translates into influence. It's a little more complicated than that though, isn't it my Salalah peeps? (Peeps is my cool hipster word for people).Wasta is one of the first words I learned after arriving in our fair city, so I did a little research. People said it worked out as a "who you know" kind of thing, where jobs and contracts and favors boil down to well...who you know.

I thought what the heck is so different about that? The whole dang world operates by "who you know" whether we want to recognize it or not! Right! Right?

So what is different, if anything, about Vitamin W? Wasta is supposed to be an honorable process. Tribes and families in the midst of a blood feud (back in the old days of course..heaven knows there are no blood feuds now between tribes) could name intermediaries to negotiate a peaceful solution. It wasn't supposed to be about who had bigger guns, or more money. It was a system of mutual respect, or so the history books say. Did you know the root of the word in Arabic, w-s-T, means "middle'"? Kind of gives you a warm fuzzy glow about wasta now eh. Yeah baby. I feel it. It was also used by one family to approach another in order to arrange marriages. Nice right? One thing the wasta gained by using his  influence, along with prestige and honor, was favors. Nothing in this world is free my friends.

I remember joking with a few students back along about MY wasta over in Amerika. I told a story about how my younger daughter was followed by a copper for quite a while as she toodled around town (at 1 in the morning mind). She went into a convenience store and the police officer was waiting for her outside.  As it turns out, he was a former student of mine, and she knew it. She said hello, and "I'm Felicia's daughter." He nodded politely (he was always a good kid), told her say hello to your mother, and drove away. Wasta baby. Who's your daddy!

There are those who know far more about this than I, and who will tell you it is a pernicious evil in the Middle East, keeping Arab countries from truly progressing. I couldn't say. As one article pointed out, even though wasta is pervasive here, very little has been done to study and understand it. I think those who live here grasp it intuitively. I hope it goes away. I do. I don't think it's healthy, speaking from my loftly pillar of ignorance.

For the cake, I made something I normally consider a little trashy. I made a funfetti style box cake into a "poke" cake. 

I'm not going to copy all the directions for this cake, because everything comes from a box or a packet. For some of you this is a big heck ya, others not so much. 

1 box mix yellow cake (I used funfetti cause sometimes it's that kind of day)

2 small boxes banana pudding mix

4 ripe bananas

2 cups whipping cream (if you like loads of whipped cream use 3 cups)

1/4 cup sugar

crushed vanilla wafers for topping (not my thing)

Bake the cake according to the directions. While the cake is still warm, poke holes in it. 

Prepare the pudding according to the directions. Pour the pudding over the cake. 

Cool cake completely. Slice bananas onto the top of the pudding. 

Add the sugar to the cream and whip on high until soft folds form. Do not overbeat.

Spoon and smooth over the layer of bananas. 

Sprinkle it all with crushed cookies if you like. I think they are gross.

Her cake. It's really easy to make. 

My cake. I heard it was yummy. I am still not eating sugar and flour so how would I know?

This is why I don't use box cakes hardly never. They are too soft. 

I haven't done a post, or a cake, for ages. Sorry about that. It's just been too hard to make one and not eat any of it. It's been almost a month though since starting this bloody regime, so I feel a bit more solid. I think more cakes will come, and thus more riveting blog posts. I'm also going to try my version of Tunisian spring rolls, so keep yer eyes peeled. 


Felicia El Aid

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sugar Free Me

I've been without sugar, wheat, and milk for eleven days.

It stinks. I'd like to say that I feel the beginning of a refreshing change to my health and that my mind is clear and rejoicing in the new me. I don't. I feel homicidal. I haven't baked any cakes either, even though I assured everyone the Cake Lady would carry on. I don't feel I can resist eating just a slice.  I really wanted to make my mates a date cake for work today too. I boiled the dates, then I froze the date mush. I thawed it out, and left it on the counter instead. Date cake is my absolute favorite, and honestly my date cake with homemade caramel sauce is brilliant.

Maybe if I added raisins to it, I'd find it repulsive. Cause raisins are gross. Ya think?

I digress. This happens a lot lately. Last night I snapped and started driving to the MacDonald's drive through for a diet Coke and a small french fries. In the middle of the night. Potatoes are still allowed, and I was hungry as hell. I never made it, as it occurred to me halfway there that my behavior was slightly mad and perhaps I should just go home and sleep it off. Not everyone was impressed either. Ahem. Don't get me wrong. There is loads of food at home. Loads. I got every allowed food item I could think of, but I just can't be arsed anymore no matter how hungry I am. Brie? Who cares. A lovely salad? No thank you. I just don't want anything, except for possibly a tuna sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie.

I've been fat my entire adult life, with varying amounts of chub over the years. I've actually been very damn fat, as opposed to rather north of pleasantly plump as I am now. I vowed never to go on a diet again; they don't work and when I do it I hate all of humankind.

Then my stomach started aching all the time, and I wanted to sleep every spare minute of my life. My doctor said to cut out wheat and stop drinking milk. And yeah, cut the sugar out too. It's like a mystery malady that he attributes either to stress or some kind of food sensitivity. Those are the go-to things blamed when someone feels like crap and there's no explanation. I suppose I am less tired. My stomach maybe feels better. I'm not sure there's an appreciable difference, but there's only one way to find out. Baskin Robbins and a Big Mac. Yeah baby. If I get a stomach cramp then have to take a nap immediately I guess we'll know won't we? Hah!

I plan to make that date cake soon. Whether I will break down and have a slice or not, I couldn't say. Perhaps it's time for a meal off.

Date Cake with Caramel Sauce

2 cups pitted dates, boiled to paste with about 1/2 cup water. Cool to room temperature.
1 t baking soda
1 T baking powder
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temp
2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F/180C

Cream butter and sugar on medium high until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Add half the dry ingredients and mix. Pour the boiling water slowly into the batter and blend. Add the remaining dry ingredients. 

Pour into well greased tube or bundt pan and bake for about 45-60 minutes. The edges might still be a bit sticky when it comes out of the oven, but the interior should test dry on a toothpick. Cool completely and invert to a plate.

Caramel Sauce

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 c heavy cream
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 cup cold butter, chopped into pieces

Melt the brown sugar over low heat with the cream and bring to a simmer. Boil gently for about 5 minutes, until nice and thick. Remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes, and beat in butter and vanilla. Cool to room temp and pour over date cake.

Not my cake. It's just an awesome way to serve it. 

If you want to see my cake, well you can just go read all my blog posts till ya find it! 
Cause that's the kind of mood I'm in eh!

I don't know how long this regime will last. Maybe not until my next post. Meh. Here's to sore tummies and thighs that rub together! Bravo! 


Felicia El Aid

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Saint Patrick's Day That Wasn't

Even in Salalah, talk of wearing green on "the big day" was everywhere. To get a special on Irish beer at the bars, ya had to wear green. Green eyeshadow doesn't count by the way. I didn't want beer but I did want one of the specials and the Oasis turned me down. No discount on calamari for you!

I wailed that I didn't HAVE any clean green clothes; I put on green eyeshadow instead!. I wailed that I, in fact, was one of the only people sitting in the club with a genetic connection to Ireland. No dice. No specials, no discount, no way. Come back in green.

It kinda pissed me off, but I've moved on. Very few people here even know why they will wear green tonight to get boozy discounts at the Hilton. Even fewer know what St. Patrick's Day is all about.Or care. This week, we're all Irish!

Cracks me up every time.

The day actually celebrates St. Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and is held on the anniversary of his death on March 17, 461 CE. Should you ever get the urge, reading about Christianity in Ireland before Rome took over is really interesting stuff.  Lenten restrictions are lifted that day, which might explain the green beer and enthusiastic drinking. Not that the Irish are typically known for excessive drinking. As for green, the story goes that Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the unconverted, and it's green, so there ya go. 

I remember my mother insisted on American Irish food on that day, a salty corned beef and boiled cabbage dinner beloved by New Englanders, Irish or not. She said we had to have a meal and think about our crazy Irish relatives. There was my Aunt ****, for example, who broke her arm and for years simply flopped it around, hoisting it's considerable girth with her free arm when she needed to. It was kinda gross really, but she didn't want to go through the hassle of a bone graft, and since she was in no pain, didn't see the point. Her sister was a legend in the area for her prodigious skills with men, and had a very special nickname I dasn't repeat. I dasn't. I don't think being faintly and remotely Irish had anything to do with this family lunacy, but it made for good talk over the boiled cabbage! 

I wanted to make a green cake for the good people at work; we have one Irish teacher left so why not? The problem is I had very little good green food coloring left, and I don't love my coworkers enough to drive to the store and buy more. Hah! 

I made a simple almond flavored bundt cake (again with the bundt cakes) and put a dite of green in the batter. Then I had a massive gas bubble in my brain and dumped in BLUE AND RED COLORING. What possessed me to think those colors make green? I know they don't. At the same time I did that, I turned off the oven with the soda bread, thinking I was shutting off the burner with the boiled eggs. 

Not my morning. The soda bread was delicous though, even though the oven was off for about 20 minutes.

This recipe really does cook in an hour, and is yummy with butter and jam. Or beef stew. Man I'm hungry. 

4 cups of flour
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 c raisins or currents (disgusting..I did NOT include)
1 T caraway seeds (I didn't have any)
2 1/4 c buttermilk (use whole milk with a tablespoon of white vinegar if none available)

Preheat the oven to 350. Leave it on the whole time you bake the bread (unlike meself). Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. I personally use a stand mixer with a dough hook for the whole process. Add the buttermilk, raisins and caraway seed. Mix until it all comes together in a ball. Knead briefly into shape and place on baking sheet. Slash the top and bake for about 40 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding. 

Their bread. Note the yacky currents.

My soda bread. I want some now, except the doctor told me to stop eating bread. Dang it!

I dub thee Larry Flint Pink. If you have to ask.....

There is no recipe for this, as I can't really remember what I did. It was one of those kinds of mornings. Mornings where you try and make a green cake for an Irishman, and you end up with a ghastly porno pink confection. Let's just leave it at that. 

Tasted ok though. 


Felicia El Aid

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pinterest Pinning Fool

What the hell happened? What possesses me now to spend money keeping my data plan firing away on my phone? Pinterest.

You know, when a coworker suggested I'd love it, I kinda pished at her. Like...pffft. I'd looked at it before and wondered what the point was. Why were people grabbing pictures of this and that off the internet and putting a little red "pin" on them. Useless right? Then, mildly curious after watching her cute little head hunched over a laptop poking red pins on pictures, I took a serious look.

SO not useless. I totally found a crocheted owl on there, used to store rolled fancy towels. I shall make it and put it in the bathroom of my someday dream restored farmhouse. A friend even MADE a small test owl and told me how to start the damn thing. Have I made it yet? No. That is not the point. The possibility of a crocheted owl for towels now exists in my head, and I revel in it.

Do you want to do yoga? Well you can read about it on Pinterest! Any asana, thoughts about yoga, you name it. Pin away! And as everyone knows, reading about yoga in a really meaningful way is the same as doing it. Heck, you don't have to read it anytime soon. It's pinned! Go to your "Someday I will get off my lazy arse" board and read at your leisure.

I have boards for books, North African food, Arabic food, regular food, desserts, erm....sewing...erm....ok I might be a little out of control. Maybe I am using Pinterest to live life without actually getting out the door and living it. Maybe I am depressed and living in a dreamworld.

Nah. I will absolutely someday make a rug out of old tee shirts using the friendship bracelet technique. Absolutely.

The splendid owl. It could happen.

As for the cake, I made the same recipe I used before by Ina Garten. I doubled it, then realized I didn't have enough baking soda. So I tripled the baking powder. It was fine, I guess. This doubling made for three good size layers. Two went into this cake, and one stayed at home. Here is the modified recipe:

Ina Garten's Chocolate Cake
(adapted from the original)

3 1/4 cup flour, sifted
4 cups (yes!) sugar 
1 1/2 cups cocoa
1 t. baking soda
3 t baking powder
1 t salt
4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups hot coffee
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk with 2 t white vinegar added)

Put all dry ingredients in a mixer and mix using the paddle. Add the oil and eggs and blend. Add the buttermilk and blend. Add the hot coffee and mix well. 

Preheat oven to 350/180. Grease three 8 inch cake pans and LINE THE BOTTOM WITH PARCHMENT. Grease the parchment. 

Bake for about 23 minutes or until toothpick clean. Cool in pans for 20 minutes, run a knife around the edge and invert to a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting. This is a sticky cake. I don't know why. If you don't line the pan, it will come out in pieces. Besides, you haven't lived until you've smelled buttery hot parchment. Really. 


6 oz chopped semi sweet chocolate (I've used Hersheys bits twice. Not good. It just doesn't melt properly. No more.) Melt it in microwave and cool. 

1 cup butter

1 egg yolk

1 t vanilla

1 t instant coffee dissolved in hot water

4 cups confectioners sugar

1 T cream

This recipe is quite different now from Gartens. 

Whip the butter on high until fluffy. Add the ROOM TEMPERATURE egg yolk and whip. Add the vanilla. Slowly whip in the powdered sugar. If you dump this all in your mixer at the same time, you will wear a lot of it. 

Blend and pour in melted chocolate. Whip until light and fluffy. Add the cream if you need to for texture. 

Frost the cake. I love the taste of this cake but it annoys me to frost it. Sticky. Both times. 

If it looks like its caved in on the side, it is a bit. Tried to fill it with frosting but meh. Part of the dang cake stuck to the sides because I was late for work and didn't wait long enough. Sigh.

This cake is for my class of rangers, a group of men working for the Diwan to try and save the Arabian leopard. They have been a joy to work with every time. I hope they like it, even if it is a little fugly. 

Our rangers. May Allah bless their efforts.
(published with permission)

Felicia El Aid

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Angela's Ashes Anyone?

I would like you to take a look at this picture of my mother. She is the redhead in the corner holding the (real) baby.

Honestly, this picture makes me a little ill. I asked her why she looked so angry, so sad. At 73, 60 years after that Christmas day, she remembers exactly what happened.

Her father was drunk. He'd promised to play a board game with her on Christmas day, and as this picture was snapped, he was lurching around the kitchen, acting like a drunken ass. Sad isn't it? To remember the keen, sharp feeling of disappointment so many years later? To have looked so forward to playing a game with your dad, only to see he cared far more about getting sauced than spending time with you. My aunt is holding the doll. She talks to me of how she'd leave every Friday when school got out to stay at her Aunt Bea's. She'd return Sunday night. As much as she loved her father, she just couldn't watch his weekend benders. She rages to this day, increasingly lost to Alzheimers.  The youngest sister sits with her chin in her hands as if to say, "Well, isn't life just that way?" She's still kinda like that. (By the way, I got the pic from the baby in Mom's lap). 

My mother never recovered from her childhood. She is a nice lady for sure, but narcissistic and unable for all of her life to stop being a victim. I love her anyway. I remember this father of hers, though he died when I was six years old. He was funny; a right jolly fat man. He loved us dearly, and my mother said he cried when she told him he couldn't play with us when he was drunk, that she just didn't want him around. One day, in his early fifties, he walked out on the porch and died in his boots. Now down to the third generation, many of his grandkids have "issues," or we consistently choose someone who has "issues," as if we cannot see a world where we aren't trying to fix something. I can honestly say most of us are incapable of true happiness. We just didn't learn how to do it. My chin holding auntie told me that once, and I regret it may be true. The children and grandchildren of alcoholics are either drunks themselves or exhausted by one. We don't know any other way. The great grandchildren are doing well. Only four generations to recover from one alcoholic. Not too shabby eh?

What does this maudlin crap have to do with Salalah you say? Welp, there has been a flurry of concern the last couple months because the majority of Omani community representatives voted to ban alcohol in Oman. This would result in a loss of 100 million rial a year to Oman in taxes. One friend said if drink were banned in Oman, he'd leave. I value my job way to much to give booze so much importance in my life, but there is no denying it's importance to a lot of people. Regular people too, the vast majority of casual drinkers who haven't any problems with excessive consumption. Nobody really thinks the law will pass; the Sultan would need to approve it for one, and most people think he won't.

Not so long ago, I went for shisha at one of the local hotels. Late that night, a punch up occured. A few locals got in a brawl after getting sloshed at the bar. I watched one man go arse over teakettle to the ground. I wondered if he fully realized the humiliation of his position as he fell face first in the dirt, a man from a race of people with prophets in their history. I wondered if this law might indeed pass after all. Omanis may decide that the social consequences of drinking are not worth the financial benefit, and that if the law follows what they believe to be correct, God will sort it out. It's complicated isn't it? 

I guess we'll find out. 

I think they vastly over estimated their appeal. I bet, though, my grandmother understood the sentiment.

So enough of all that. Onto the cake! It was Bob the Birder's birthday today, or rather Dr. Robert Tovey's birthday. He is a fellow blogger, and travels all over bloody Oman...well the world really...looking for birds. When not birding, he teaches English.

(yeah...this is a link to his blog)

2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temp
3 eggs, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 T instant coffee, dissolved in 1/4 cup very hot water
1/4 cup cocoa
Raspberry jam (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350/180. Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans. I personally used greased baking paper in the bottom of my tins for this one. I don't trust cocoa.

Beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix well between each one. Add the vanilla. Mix the 1/4 cup cocoa in with the coffee mix and fold into the butter mix. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until incorporated.

Divide evenly between baking tins and bake about 12 minutes. These are not tall layers by the way.

Cool 10 minutes and invert to a wire rack to cool completely. 


1 cup room temp butter
4 cups (approx) confectioners sugar
1 t vanilla
1 T instant coffee dissolved by 1 T hot water

Beat the butter and two cups of sugar on high until blended. Add the vanilla and coffee. Slowly add about two more cups, whipping on high until light, fluffy, and creamy. 

I generously scooped icing on the first layer and spread it. I put a thin layer of jam on the bottom or the other side. Next time I'd use more...just wasn't sure of the combo but it was brilliant. 

I used all of the balance on the top. I did not ice the sides as the pic Bob sent me showed an "open" cake. His day.

Note the artistic bedspread backdrop. Stylin.

There ya go. Read his blog, dang it.

I hope my post doesn't put anyone in a tither. Other than me poor ma, it wasn't personal to anyone really. I've always been a thinker, and very emotional, but that doesn't make me right about every solid thing. 

As the goofy announcer for a Maine news channel used to say after editorializing, "That's our opinion, we welcome yours."


Felicia El Aid

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tunisian Quest

Being in a cross cultural marriage is like being an adventurer in unknown worlds. I feel, at times. a bit like Richard Burton questing for the source of the Nile. When I got married, my husband (only half joking) said, "First an Arab man loves his mother, then he loves food. Then he loves his wife." I did roll my eyes a bit, but since his mother is lovely to me when we speak on the phone, and always expresses her love for me, the first quality is acceptable.

But food. Oh my dear lord the food. Tunisian food is unlike Gulf food in every way. It's not like I can whip up a batch of hummus and throw some flat bread at him. No. Harissa (a hot chili paste) features in just about everything! There is also what I call the "Tunisian triumvirate" of green peppers, tomatoes, and onions in many things as well. Spices like barat have to come via Tunis, and we keep it in the kitchen by the half kilo it seems. I actually felt a bit panicked when we ran out. Fortunately a sister in law came to the rescue and sent down a large jar of the stuff. As long as I have that, harissa, turmeric, cumin, and ground caraway, I can (barely) manage.

Tunisian spice market. You've got to be kidding.

I used to fancy myself a good cook. I've made couscous from a box back in the States and my daughter really liked it. Think that is the way to do it? Nooooo. Think again. Tunisian couscous has to steam above a red sauced meat dish of some kind, then (I guess) some of that red sauce is mixed in, in JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT, to give it that red color so beloved by Tunisians. I despair.

The thing is, I put a lot of stock in food happiness. I want the person I love, my person, to be happy with what he eats. He's a good cook himself, but my white sauced meals don't always thrill. During a recent trip to Muscat, the women in his family cooked for us all weekend, and his jokes about finally eating good food wore thin. I sent more than one hard look in his direction. Gave him the ole gimlet eye so to speak. Hardy har mister. Haaaardy har. I decided I would try, really try, to make something that tastes somewhat North African-ish. With the help of Pinterest (fab app), I nailed a few things recently, Felicia style.

The women in his family make a yummy dish called a tagine. The word tagine covers a seemingly limitless number of foods across North Africa, but this is essentially a frittata. Even Pinterest couldn't really help me with specific directions for this egg dish, but really, how freakin hard can a glorified quiche be? Not very.

This tagine is also my cake of the day. How, you say, can I get away with calling a quichey dish a cake? Well, a Dhofari friend told me they call these tagines cakes. If it has chicken in it, it's chicken cake. How cute is that?

So here, my friends is MY OWN version of the egg and cheese tagine. As for the other cross cultural marital issues, well, good food helps, as does patience from all concerned.  After all, Richard found the source of the Nile didn't he? Yah. No. He didn't.

Felicia's Egg and Potato Cake

Several sheets of filo dough. Damn that stuff.

Preheat oven to 350/180.

12 eggs. Yes. 12. Beat them in a bowl with a splash of milk. 

Mince one onion and one green pepper very finely. I do it in a food processor.

Boil three potatoes and cut into small bite size pieces. 

Grate about a pound of cheese. I see this as an opportunity to use up those bits of various cheeses you have in the fridge. 

Melt a half stick of butter and get out a pastry brush. 

First butter a medium size casserole dish, about 10 inches or 20 centis long. 

Line the dish with a few sheets of filo, letting the filo drape over the sides of the dish. Brush with butter. 

Layer in the cheese. Then layer in the minced onion and pepper. Layer the cubed potatoes. 

Pour the eggs over the lot. Fold the filo over the top and brush with butter. Add a few more sheets of filo to the top of the tagine, brushing with butter to make it all stick down. 

I hate handling filo. Just sayin. But filo gives this a nice buttery crunch. My husband's family doesn't use it; actually none of my Tunisian friends have that I remember.  But this is my tagine, so filo it is. 

Bake about 30 minutes until golden. 

Serve hot or cold. It's nice. 

And there you have it. Cake. 

I wish all of you out there in relationships with those from very different backgrounds bon chance. Good luck. God be with you. The rewards of any relationship that crosses borders, religions, age, social statuses, and educational backgrounds add color to our lives. I suspect that is why I see red sometimes. Hah!


Felicia El Aid