Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How Sweet It Is? Ramblings on Yemeni Honey and the Starvation of the Masses.

I recently went to Hafa Souk here in Salalah. My husband wanted to pick up some frankincense for his family, and I tagged along. Whoop dee whoop right? We went to our usual booth, and behold! I saw a bottle, clearly re purposed, with Arabic handwriting on a piece of paper, taped to the bottle. Honey. Bestill my heart.

The handwriting said (the mister translated for me) that this honey was of bees kept next to Sidr trees, in the Do'an valley of Yemen. Oh. My. God. At 125 dollars a bottle though, I just couldn't justify the purchase. Oh the gloom of it all! Next to the bottle of liquid gold sat a modest lonely wee plastic container, same writing. He offered it, and for 12 bucks (5 omr), I said ohhhhh yeaahhh. Next he pulled out a round tin, taped shut with masking tape, a bit banged up and worse for wear (that simply made my heart beat more keenly) and opened it. He knew. He just knew by the way I whipped 5 rial from my purse that I wasn't quite finished. You know, I like the Omani sales people at the souk. They are low key, gracious. They just smile and kindly offer.

Wadi Do'an, Yemen: Land of  Honey

Honey from Yemen, easily procured here in Salalah. Thanks to God.

So what was in the tin? You probably guessed. A block of delicate honeycomb, also from Yemen. Fifty bucks? Yup..I was in. He had me at hello.

I do take a spoonful off that honeycomb every morning, just to feel the delicate walls of wax collapse in my mouth and to feel that Sidr honey ooze across my tongue. Sounds sublime doesn't it? While the wax collapses, I also think about Yemen. I've wanted to go to Yemen for years. It is old Arabia, poor and without resources. It's right here too, just a few hours drive through stunning mountains and coastal fishing villages. I have indeed gone as far as the border, and I did indeed try to get in. Just a bit. Just to see. It was impossible. And now my post takes a dark turn. Hey, I'm a dark woman.

You see, Saudi is bombing the shit out of Yemen. We Americans are also fond of droning possible Al Queda hideouts. And now everyday Yemenis are starving to death. The once beautiful city of Sanaa with it's utterly unique architecture, it's honeycomb high rises, is reduced to rubble as Yemenis flee to...well nowhere. They have nowhere to go. It isn't a high profile war like Syria. Nobody is posting pictures of sad, drowned Yemeni children who've washed up on beaches. It's almost as if the conflict is invisible, like that old Arab country itself.

Sanaa before.

Sanaa now, as people search for survivors.

It really pisses me off that over a million children are going to die of starvation, and sooner rather than later. I don't pretend to understand the conflict, and I don't really give a shit. My opinion counts for nothing in this world but it is this: get some food to Yemen. I don't give a damn who is currently zooming who in this epic confrontation of super players in the Muslim word. Children need food. Now. They need food NOW.

Hard to look at isn't it? Really fucking difficult. Poor mite, and entirely preventable. Bastards.

I may never get to Yemen. The world seems mired in a morass of ever deepening conflict. It breaks my heart. It really does. Meanwhile, as I take that spoonful of honey, I close my eyes and think about you, Yemen. I think about your dying children and I wish you Godspeed toward recovery. You are in my prayers Yemen, for what it's worth.

Felicia's "It's a Dog Eat Dog World" Baklava Cake

I am a failure at baklava. I hate handling phyllo dough (devil dough as I see it) and my baklava was an epic fail. However, I'm not going to waste good (expensive) nuts and honey, so what to do? Use it as cake filling.

Basic Yellow Cake:

1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 t vanilla
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 cups flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 cups buttermilk (or more likely whole milk soured with white vinegar)

1/2 cup confectioners sugar for dusting (optional).

*A note about buttermilk. It matters. It's all about acid and alkaline and the milk/baking soda, buttermilk/baking powder thing. So don't substitute one for the other. You cake won't be quite as good.

Preheat oven to 350/180. Butter and flour 3 cake pans (or use that nifty baking spray)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Creaming matters folks. A lot. The purpose of creaming is to drill the sugar into the butter as in moves, thus aerating the butter and "melting" the sugar. If you don't cream it enough, your cake won't be nice and tender. Use softened butter (not melty) and just let that mixer whirl away.

Add the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each time. Same for the egg yolks. It matters. 

Whisk your flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add half of it to the butter mix. Combine briefly. Add a cup of the milk. Combine. Add the remaining flour and combine. Repeat with the remaining milk. 

I would use three 8 inch cake pans, but 2  will work if you want higher layers. This batter easily makes 3 decent layers, and the filling is enough for 3 layers.

Bake for 18 minutes or until toothpick clean. Cool 10 minutes, then cool completely on wire racks. 

The filling:

1 cup honey
1 T orange blossom water (available in Middle Eastern shops or everywhere here in Salalah)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
3 cups of mixed nuts (I used roasted hazelnuts, roasted almond slivers, and pistachio slivers, and walnuts) CHOPPED roughly
Beat the honey and brown sugar. Add the orange blossom water.  Add the 3 eggs and beat well. Mix in your nuts. I actually heated this through in the oven with the cake layers. 

Cool completely and spread between cake layers. Dust the cooled cake with confectioners sugar. 

I did make a simple syrup with orange blossom water and spoon it onto my cake layers before filling. It's a nice touch. 

Heat a cup of sugar and half a cup of water. Bring to a boil and cook until a syrup consistency. Add a tablespoon of orange blossom water. I stored the remaining in a jelly jar for lemon mint drinks.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Malted Milk: A Twisted Romance

It's hard to follow up a very serious post about FGM with my usual la di da about cake and life in the chubby lane. Here goes.

Do any of you remember malted milk powder? Carnation made it in the states, and it added a yeasty sweetness to a normal glass of milk. My grandparents kept a jar of it on hand, and I did love loading some into my milky drinks. Surreptitiously. Quietly.

This, as with anything to do with  my grandmother, was fraught and fucked up. Always.  Many of us have a relative in our lives who caused us immeasurable harm, and one of mine was my grandmother. However, if I presented her talcum powdered presence as always malevolent, I'd do her a disservice. Doris had moments of generosity and kindness, and this may have been her downfall. She agreed to epic sacrifices in order to help her children, and thus ruined what should have been a more relaxed old age. But make no mistake. She was an angry, bitter woman who found fat on a woman's body worth gagging about. Yes, I said gag. . She'd yip in horror, eyes agoggle from the safety of the car in the grocery store parking lot, over a woman with rolls of fat. "Look at how fat she is!" She'd kind of bark out an amazed laugh. "Disgusting!" It was a spectacle of vitriol and malice. 

I was fat. I was sitting there. She'd make these comments, then go home and feed me.

"There's pie. There's leftover casserole in the refrigerator. You can make some tuna salad; there's plenty of bread." My grandmother made homemade bread twice a week, and it was delicious. So yah...I ate the pie and the sandwich. Along with a glass of malted milk. I ate a lot sometimes. She was my primary caregiver after my parent's calamitous divorce, and to this day I think she was incredibly conflicted. She loved me, yet found me revolting. She did. It must have really sucked being her. 

"Great day in the angels Felicia. You are getting very stout. Why must you eat so much? You have rolls!" And on and on and on.

It's a wonder I don't weigh 400 pounds.

So what can you take from this? How is hearing about my mad granny helpful? For one, if you are fat yourself, take heart. You can learn to love yourself, despite what some daft mare said. The size of your bum is just that...the size of your bum. It ain't fair, but it's the body you have, and you can learn to get along with it.  Despite what your partner says. Despite what anyone says. You can look in the mirror and see a person worth loving. Easier said than done? Oh my yes. I read books. I surround myself with positive people. I have a loving husband (I got rid of the one who wasn't). The struggle is still real; I still hear my grandmother's voice, and am always aware of myself as a person who simply takes up too much room. I write. So can you. 

If you are reading this and know, deep down know, that you are rather an asshole toward the fat people in your life, consider stopping that shit right now. You aren't helping anything. Back off and leave that person alone, because you are doing inestimable damage. If she wants a glass of fucking malted milk, mix it up and hand it over with a smile. Practice acceptance. Practice an acceptance that encompasses everything you love about your child, your partner, your parent...whoever. Accept that this person may never be thin. Like...ever. Because that is reality. Most of us never, ever lose that weight. If we do, it comes back with interest. And is isn't our fault. It might even be yours, mad grannies of the world. It might even be yours.

Mad Granny Malted Milk Cake

I did modify this recipe a bit...I think it's very heavy on malted milk powder.

4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 t. vanilla extract
1 3/4 c flour
1/2 cup malted milk powder (I used Horlicks)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 cup of butter, room temperature

Adjust the rack of your oven so it's in the middle. Butter and flour 3 eight inch cake pans, and line them with parchment. If you're lazy like me, you can spray them with a special bakers spray. Really though, the old fashioned way is best. 

Whisk the eggs, coconut milk, and vanilla in a small bowl. Combine the dry ingredients in your stand mixer, and whisk using the paddle attachment. Drop pieces of the butter in one at a time. Your dry mix will combine into pea sized pieces as well as looking like wet sand. Add half the egg mixture and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mix and beat another 30 seconds. 

Divide the batter between the three pans. They make thinner layers than a 2 layer cake (which you can certainly do-not everyone keeps 3 cake pans on hand). 

Bake about 20 minutes until toothpick clean. 

Cool completely on wire racks.


1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup of malted milk powder
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
pinch of salt

Heat the coconut without boiling it. Stir in the malted milk powder. It makes a very thick paste. Cool that completely.

Using your balloon whisk, cream your butter for 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, malted milk paste, and pinch of salt. Mix completely. Add the confectioners sugar slowly until it is of spreading consistency Then keep whipping it for about 5 minutes. Yes, I know it's scary but American buttercream tastes better if it's whipped silly.

Using an offset spatula, spread about 1/2 cup between layers. Spread the remaining over the top and sides of the cake.

NOTE: I crumb coated then cooled the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes before finishing the top and sides of the cake. 

Purty cake init?

Coffee station! Cake time!

Don't mind if I do.

Bon appetit. I know the recipe looks a wee bit involved, but it's a really easy cake to make. Unusual and tasty! 

Until next time.....


Monday, April 24, 2017

You See How They Are? My Rant about FGM

Once again, the mutilation of little girl's vaginas is in the news. We're all a tither of course, because it's happening on (gasp!) American soil.

I've got news for you in case you're late to the party. Two hundred million women in about 30 different countries are circumcised. If it's the United States we're in a lather about, some estimate half a million women in the USA have had some or all of their lady parts sliced off.  As is typical of Americans though, we can't really be bothered with the plight of (black) Africans, or other barbaric (Muslim) cultures until the problem is on our doorstep. Well folks, the problem has been on our doorstep for a long time.

I'm from a small town in central Maine. Yes, I grew up in Hawaii in an academic milieu, among anthropologists, and that certainly informed my world view. At the end of the day though, I identify most with the place from which my extended family hails: A back woods town in the middle of Maine. So Muslims? I didn't really know any. Oh there were some kicking around the university in Honolulu, but if they were part of the crew of grad students drifting in and out of the house when I was a child, I have no memory of them. 

More years ago than I care to remember, another teacher in good ole Augusta, Maine came up to me with an open National Geographic and shoved it under my nose. "You see how they are? You see? This is what Muslims do to women." He stated this as a fact, simple confirmation of all his anti Islamic bias. I looked down. Felt sick. Looked away. I really had no idea this practice existed. I asked my father about it, and he said anthropologists were well aware, but that it wasn't something known outside the countries where it's practiced. It wasn't something anyone talked about then, but this picture helped create wide spread awareness of FGM in the Western Hemisphere. There was a freaking uproar. CNN and the BBC got on the documentary wagon. Alice Walker also published The Temple of My Familiar around this time, which depicts in novel form the effect of FGM on a marriage and a woman's sanity. Heck after the hoopla some countries were....embarrassed. Gestures were made, laws were passed, and the beat went on, one slice at a time. 

"The picture"
An Egyptian barber cutting off a girl's clitoris while whistling (apparently) a merry tune. 

I confess this one picture colored my view of Muslims and Islam in general for a long time. This is how I thought of Muslims for the next 20 years: Woman-hating barbarians. Apostate, irreligious misogynists outside the pale of anything civilized. They were just  Other. So, so |Other. Do I know differently now? Sure. I know this isn't part of Islamic teaching. However, now that the Dawoodi Bohra, an Indian Muslim sect, are in the news for female genital mutilation in the state of Michigan, the PR ain't great.  It isn't enough that Islam is seen as a religion of terror by many;  now Americans are in a (greater) state about the Muslim man's perceived hatred of a woman's sexuality. People are googling FGM and coming up with statements by Egyptian clerics saying moronic bullshit like women need their clitorises straight razored off (I paraphrase here OBVIOUSLY) because men won't be able to keep up with a woman's voracious sexual appetites otherwise. I couldn't make this shit up. 

I've listened to people make apologies for FGM in the Islamic community for years. Know what? I'm really tired of hearing it. Yes, I know this appalling act of misogynistic terror isn't "Islamic." I know it's "cultural." It is, though, a real problem in the world wide Muslim community. Sweeping this . under the carpet or excusing oneself from the discussion because it isn't YOUR Islam is unacceptable. This is an Islamic problem. It is an act of barbarity that affects 200 hundred fucking million women. Your sisters. Putting up your hands and making excuses isn't helping a damn thing. Bleating on about how the Quran advocates for a woman's sexual satisfaction doesn't mean crap when hordes of women undergo a horrifically painful act, done in order to...let's be real here folks...keep us in line. To keep us in line. To keep us from pleasure. To keep us from asking for something other than being a receptacle for a man (much like a toilet is used) or a receptacle for his children. It's because female mutilation isn't Islamic, indeed predates Islam, that we should defend little girls who can't defend themselves. 

What the hell are we going to do about this? For one, speak. If you are an American or live in a country where elected representatives have any power at all, write letters demanding that FGM is pursued as a crime. Arrest parents. Arrest that sweet old lady with the straight razor. Yes. Arrest their parents and put them in jail. There are many, MANY Somalian girls, for example, taken home for a "vacation" during the summer at about age 12. They're not on vacation. They're butchered and told to keep quiet once they return to say...Lewiston, Maine. Although countries like the UK (for example) require doctors to report instances seen of girls who have been mutilated, not one person connected to said mutilations has been arrested. France, in contrast, arrests the shit out of people. Yay France! 

Full disclosure: this is not a pic taken in the UK. It's in, I think, Kazakhstan. 

 I'm convinced the number of men who hate women is legion. Before you get all stroppy and huff and puff about how the men you know don't hate women, or you're a man and you're swelling up resentfully right now, hold on. No shit Sherlock. Of course YOU don't hate women.Clearly all the men you know are oozing with warm, fuzzy vibes for all womankind. If you happen to live in a country that practices FGM (by the way...that covers most countries) start publicly expressing your revulsion. Start a rant about how the parents of people who do this should go to jail. Start some shit, man. You never know who will overhear you and think twice before sneaking his daughter into some back office for a date with Razor Man, like that fucker Fakhruddin Attar and his sweet hand holding wife Farida. I hope they burn in hell. I really do. 

In the end, that is my wish for any person committing atrocities against children. Eternal torture. Like Sisyphus, I hope they spend eternity suffering the same done to them, over and over and over again. 

Make no mistake.  This really isn't Islamic.  This isn't how the vast majority of Muslims "are." It is a problem though.  A big one. 

There's no cake today. Maybe tomorrow, but not today. I almost feel like we should all observe a moment of silence. Damn. 

*This is an addendum in response to "what can we do" concerns. Please write your legislative representative and request that reporting by schools and doctors is required. More importantly,  demand prosecution of all parties involved, including parents. Too harsh?  As one woman said in a documentary I can't place the name of right now,  "They ruined my life. Why shouldn't they pay?" 

Repost this please. It matters.