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. " 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 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