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.

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