Monday, January 26, 2015

Homesickness..Not a Terminal Condition

I grew up with a dad who is an anthropologist. While my parents were married, this meant parties with long haired hippie type grad students drinking beer in the sala, and good snacks. We were banished to our rooms (mostly) but the spoils of victory were grand. Oniony sour cream dip, potato chips, and whatever leftovers my mom couldn't be arsed to clean after the party were on hand after the folks crashed, along with the occasional wine dregs. Ya know. We had no idea all this hairy grad student banter masked much deeper problems in our parent's marriage, or that bigger, more onerous childhood stressors loomed ahead.

Anthropologists leave hearth and home for exotic locales to study hunter gatherers, dig up dino bones and whatnot, and perhaps live out their Edgar Rice Burroughs childhood fantasies. Barack Obama knows this well, but unfortunately I didn't have the smarts to parlay the detachment and cool headedness that comes with being an anthropologists child into political superstardom. Meh. I DO remember my dad waxing eloquent at the table about how NASA talked of sending an anthropologist on an expedition to Mars, and how he would love to be that guy. I was maybe nine years old and remember feeling bewildered and hurt. I didn't see this as an opportunity for adventure for me pater; I simply couldn't fathom how he could leave me. But like I said, anthropologists leave to go study the things they study, and while it isn't like having a parent off fighting a war, gone is just gone.

Now I am gone. My children are old enough to live alone, but it still feels wrong. Here is the thing though: we all have to make a living. We get old and need stuff. I took a look at the lives of my mother and a couple other aging women in my family and felt cold terror. I got a job in Oman, packed my bags, and off I went. Now I see my children once a year, and life goes on. Without me.

So I play on the beach at Faziya, go to the Hilton and smoke shisha with my husband in the middle of the night at the weekend, visit with friends, cook dinner, and generally live a full life. And I dream. I dream about going home. I dream about going home in ten years to a restored farmhouse and making jam with my daughter. My model handsome husband is there making shakshuka for everyone. My aunt is aging gracefully, sewing aprons and puffing on her electronic cigarette. My grandkids play there in the summer and pick blackberries. My mother is alive and well and taking a nap in the living room. My dad is still kicking ass and taking names.

This life in Oman isn't meant to be a grand adventure for me. It is, as it happens, but that is not the point. I am storing up for a different future, one that doesn't involve being gone. It isn't killing me to be so far from home; it isn't a terminal condition. It is depressing as hell sometimes to always miss the people you love, every day. Good thing I am an anthropologist's daughter.

Yeah...I saw this.

The Anthropologist

 I am nothing if not adaptable.

As for the friggin cake, it was a disaster. They all are since changing the gas tank for a full one. There are hot spots, and the fine tuning I did to find 180C is out the door. Crikey. I have two cakes on order, and thank goodness they are for friends, because I dread approaching the oven again. I have burned cakes that aren't even going to appear in the blog! 

Anywhoooooo....the Red Velvet Cake Debacle

Red Velvet Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large egg yolks
3 T red food coloring
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa
1 t salt
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour ( I used all purpose)
1 cup milk w 1 tsp added white vinegar
1 t baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350/180C. Grease and flour 2 9 inch cake pans. 

Cream the butter and sugar on medium. Add the egg yolks one at a time and cream until light and fluffy. Add the food coloring and vanilla extract and blend. Add the dry ingredients with the buttermilk alternately. 

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth. Bake 20 minutes, or until toothpick clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes and invert to a wire rack. Cool completely and frost with the white frosting of your choice. Heck buy it in a can.

I was disgusted with this cake. First, I burned it. I've made this cake before, and it was edible, though not spectacular. It's just too dry. I suspect the poor quality red food coloring found at Lulus may have something to do with it. Next time (and there has to be a next time because my friend has kids who love red velvet cake) I will add the entire eggs instead of just the yolks. I will also try not to burn it.

It looks better than it was. We kept it on the counter a couple days, then to the trash it went. What a waste!

What I aimed for. Normal looking, but tasty. Gar!

If you have a good recipe for Red Velvet Cake, I'd love to see it. Third times the charm? Next post aims to be about the movie American Sniper so it may not be very pleasant. I am trying to get my stomach ready. We'll see.


Felicia El Aid

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Salalah Dentists..or WTH???

Have you been to a dentist here in Salalah? Fun, was it? Occasionally in the Salalah Facebook group someone will ask for a reference for a GOOD dentist. Suggestions are floated, and everyone continues as before.

I've decided a good dentist in Salalah is a bit like the unicorn. Beautiful to behold if seen, but ever elusive. What is my evidence you say? Welp, it's my tooth. A few weeks ago, my back molar started to hurt if anything hot or cold touched it. I put up with that for about three weeks, hoping the situation would magically heal. I really freaking hate going to the dentist. I hate the smell of ground tooth and I hate fingers shoved in my mouth. I hate the Novocain needle, which to me feels as big as a pike. My stomach clenches and my hands spasm as soon as I hear the drill start and that awful tooth dust makes its way up my nose.

However, you can only go without hot tea for so long, so off to a (recommended) dentist I went. He ground out the old filling and replaced it with new. I believe he was amused, or at least bemused, by my quivering hands and spastic toes as he ground away. His assistant, an especially merciless Filipina lass, yarded the water suckie thing around at will.

The tooth is worse. It hurts all the time now. I took it upon myself to go to Muscat Pharmacy and get antibiotics (no need for a prescription here) and today the tooth is better.

My experience isn't unique. A good friend, in terrible pain from a rotten tooth, when to another dentist (of good repute) and had it pulled. Well, he thought he would have it pulled. SHE PULLED THE WRONG TOOTH!!!! She numbed up that side of his face, then asked him which tooth hurt.

Did you hear what I just said? She asked him which tooth. Is it me? He was so numbed he pointed to the tooth next to the rotten one, and hey ho, she pulled it. Leaving the bad tooth happily in place. Oddly he blames himself. I said no, any damn dentist worth anything knows what tooth needs to go. Or heaven forbid, how to save it. Teeth are pulled here willy nilly with no thought to how that...oh never mind.

ANOTHER good friend got a brandee new cap from the bestest dental clinic in Salalah. It cracked two months later while she chewed on..oh...a pancake or something. I was there.

If you are a dentist here in Salalah, and you are reading this, please be the unicorn we seek. A dentist who takes an xray to see what the actual problem might be. A dentist who knows when a tooth can be saved, even if it does call for shocking amounts of epoxy or whatever the heck it is you people use to build teeth. A dentist who charges a reasonable fee for work. Meantime, I am keeping my head low and hoping the antibiotics work.

Hermey, where are you?

As for cake, a coworker requested an orange cake, not too sweet. He actually wanted one that was "tangy." I don't really know how to make something very tart in a cake, but I went with this recipe:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. grated orange rind
2 tsp. orange flower water (optional)

Grease and flour 2 8 inch cake pans. Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time and blend on medium high until light and creamy. Sift dry ingredients and add alternating with orange juice by thirds. Blend in orange zest and flower water, if using. I live in the Middle East, so I threw it in there. 

Divide cake batter between two pans and bake 20 minutes, or until toothpick tests clean.

Cool ten minutes, then remove from pans to a wire rack and cool completely. Spread some orange marmalade between the layers and dust with confectioners sugar. 

Their cake.

My cake.

In my defense, there is a hot spot in my oven now that the gas cylinder is new. People at work ate it anyway. I should call myself the Salalah Ugly Cake Lady. meh.

I realize my blog has pooped out a lot. Most bloggers are dead in the water within six months. I shall continue.....mock me not! 

Last night I made my husband a strawberry cake with whipped cream. Maybe I will even get a picture and write about it tomorrow. It could happen!

Wish me luck on the tooth.


Felicia El Aid

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hopeless? You Bet I Am!

You know what I aspire to accomplish in life? Ok...those of you who know me well would say not a damn thing. You may have a point. Mostly I enjoy naps. The other thing that really cranks my wee mental facilities into overdrive is...sewing.

Really. I used to sew a lot. I want to sew like Givenchy and those wonks in Runway Model or whatever the heck that show is called.  No matter how I try though, almost everything I make looks horrible. Seams are crooked. Zippers fall out. Carry on, you might say. Keep trying! Really? I've been sewing since the age of eleven. That is like....thirty years of sewing. Ahem. As a child I sat and worked on clothes for my Barbie dolls, and threw myself into tantrums that left my dad and neighbors shocked and confused. Tiny misplaced dolly sleeve? Tears and rage. Now that I think about it, it's kinda sick and weird isn't it? Where was Oprah when back when my parents had to deal with a psychopathic Barbie clothier? But I continued to sew. I now have machines that cost a mini-fortune and all the accessories a hobbyist could desire. In Maine that is.

I don't even know where to buy a decent pair of scissors here. Or buttons. Or thread. Fabric I can find, though a lot of it is just boom chakalaka dreadful. Patterns are not availabe at all, much less cutting tables, rotary blades (that I know of) and all that stuff that makes sewing so much fun. It's easier to just take your cloth to a tailor with a picture and let him do it.

And oh the bevy of tailors here in Salalah. They are everywhere. On every street you can find little niche shops that either sew dishdashas and other "gents tailoring" or abaya shops, where hopefully the pint size Bangladeshi manning the machines can make magic with that photo you brought him.

I  would totally look like this in a vintage swimsuit. Totally.

Wanna wear a green linen Liz Taylor cocktail dress to the Oasis? Can do!

Honestly to me a man who can look at a picture and produce a garment, and do it well, is like a mini god. No disrespect to the real G intended. I want that skill. Neeevvver gonna happen. I do think it is time to buy a machine here, look for scissors, find a shop with sewing supplies, and spend some time in our spare bedroom sewing and having tantrums. I told my aunt to expect a bag of my failures this summer, ready for her to fix. She said, "No problem Flea." 

I want to be that aunt someday. Really I do. That wonderful lady of a certain age who can fix anything with a smile and a pat on the cheek. Inshallah. 

On a cake note: though the blog was neglected the last ten days (not my husband is the cake photographer...nuff said) the cake baking rolls on. I tried making a date cake with sticky toffee and the first one was outstanding. No pic. I did it again for our Friday trip to Faziya and it wasn't quite as good. If I ever get the picture, I will write about it.

Today's cake is a lemon cake with cream cheese frosting. It was really, really good. The recipe is my own, modified from the Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Cake. I don't often follow recipes exactly anymore. I think many of them use far too much sugar and so on.

Felicia's Lemon Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened but still a bit cool
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup evaporated milk mixed with 1/2 cup lemon blossom water
   *lemon blossom water may be available in Middle Eastern markets. Mine was made by hand from my mother in laws lemon tree in Tunis. tralala. You can use a teaspoon of lemon extract and water for the balance if lemon blossom water is impossible.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 350F/180C

Grease and flour two 8 inch pans.

Cream butter in mixer on medium until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and mix for about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and continue creaming. The original recipe called for 4 eggs, which would give your cake more loft. I wanted a denser cake to go with tea. Cream in the vanilla and lemon zest.

Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda together. Add alternately with the milk mixture and mix about 2 minutes.

Divide between the two pans and bake about 35 minutes or until toothpick clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Frost with cream cheese icing.

Felicia's Cream Cheese Icing

1 8 oz pkg cream cheese or that family size tub at Carrefour here (350 grams?)

4 oz marscapone cheese (also in a small tub at Carrefour)

Allow to come to room temperature.

1/2 cup butter, softened but cool

6 cups confectioners sugar

2 t vanilla

This makes a huge amount of frosting...enough for two cakes. The whole mix was a mistake actually, but somehow it works. The resulting cake must be refrigerated as this frosting is very soft and will run otherwise. 

Spread a bit of orange marmalade on the bottom layer and about 1 cup of the cream cheese frosting. Do a crumb coat and refrigerate 30 minutes. Finish by frosting the top and sides. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

It really is very dang good. My hot hubby even sent me this one!

I hope to get back to writing my riveting news from Salalah more often. I am taking orders for cakes, but I especially like it when people offer me money to make whatever cake I damn well please. You'd be surprised how much better those are. ha!


Felicia El Aid