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…in which I divide my year into two three parts cuz it was oh-so-interesting.

September: Ilsa is off to Rhode Island for art school, which is pretty much exactly opposite Portland, Oregon, and nearly as far as you can get and still be on the same continent. Meanwhile, her twin brother is staying home and going to the local community college. They’ve always been opposites in every way, so it’s reassuring to see that continuing. Right?

She got FF miles from her grandpa, so Donn and I ended up having to take the red-eye the night before, arriving in Boston at 7 a.m. Donn had cleverly googled “how to get out of Logan Airport without paying tolls” so we drove for hours and hours, down bumpy railroad tracks and through sketchy-looking industrial areas, eventually ending up far to the north east of Boston, when our hotel was far to the south west (towards Providence, which is an hour south of Boston). By this point it was after 10 and we were starving. No tolls though! Triumph! We found a hole-in-the-wall diner with wonderful eggs and bacon and low prices and thick china and where everyone talked like they’re supposed to in Boston. “They-ah, dea-ah,” said the waitress as she banged down the plate in front of me. (I’m not sure I’m doing the dialect right) We asked for directions to the hotel, and she yelled at the guys in the back and they came out and looked at the address and talked amongst themselves for ages before telling us which alleys and lanes to traverse on our way back to the toll road that didn’t require us to buy a special Boston pass, which also required an extra $20 to the rental car company. This was the real reason we were avoiding certain roads. We had to pay tolls (question: WHY? The roads were not that amazing) but we preferred to pay cash rather than have to buy a special gadget for a short visit.

People do complain about east-coast drivers. We thought they were fine, if a bit confused at times…

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Yes, that’s a holiday-weekend-start-of-college-busy road in one direction only.

We eventually found our hotel, and they let us check in early so we passed out on the bed for a few blissful hours. (Remember, we’d been up all night) It was a super cute, very fun hotel, set in the middle of a sort of commercial wasteland. We drove back into Boston and drove to the Common and looked for parking. We ended up finding a place just across from Cheers, so we went in for a pint, but no one knew our name, it was crowded and no one was glad we came, and the beer was $7.50 a pint for something that claimed to be an IPA but wasn’t. It just wasn’t.

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Swan at Boston Common

This was later though. At first we wandered round and found someplace to eat. We were somewhat bemused to find that Portland, OR is trendy place in Boston. We saw menus proudly touting their use of Tillamook cheddar and Willamette Valley hops, and the guy at the front desk told us he’d always wanted to come to Oregon. And after that pseudo-IPA, I could see why!

We walked part of the Freedom Trail, which was super cool and interesting. We collected Ilsa at the airport at midnight, drove 45 minutes to the hotel, and unsurprisingly missed breakfast the next morning.

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Boston at night…

We had a day to explore before taking Ilsa to school, so we went to Concord, and Lexington.

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We explored the outside of Louisa May Alcott’s home and also the gift shop.

ilsa as a little woman

This perfect tree is just outside the Alcott family home, and it was all too easy to imagine Jo (from Little Women) sitting here eating apples.

We wandered through the Boston Common, where we saw 3 different bridal parties having photos done.

boston phone wedding

This just amused me, the bride frowning at her phone, the limo driver taking pics with the groom’s phone (not pictured).

The next day, we drove down to Providence and left Ilsa in her own little dorm room, at the top of a hill and on the 4th floor. No elevators. She was ecstatic to be there, and waved us off with a big smile, anxious for us to go and leave her to the serious business of Being a College Student.

On the plane on the way home, I read a book written by a woman who was raped on her second day of college. I do not recommend this. It was a good book, but still. Dang! Ilsa was fine though.

donn and founding fathers

Here is Donn, checking the wording of the Constitution on his phone so as to help the Founding Fathers get it right. (They had these panoramas (diaromas? Cardboard cutouts? What would you call this?) set up at Logan Airport.)

AND I think we’re going to have to stretch this into 3 parts, since in October, we went to Thailand…

Well this was the year I basically let the blog die. I only posted 5 times all year, and the last time was in April!

Blogging is basically dead as an art form. Few read, fewer comment. It seems the only ones still going are some sort of niche. But I’ve decided that I’d like to revive the old girl (my blog is a girl. Yours?) after all, and post sporadically about whatever I feel like. So let’s start with me getting you all caught up about last year chez the Nomad family.

2015 was a good year with lots going on. So much, in fact, that I’m going to put this into two posts. See? 2 posts in the first week. I’m off to a great start! In the meantime, here is Jan-Aug.

January: we come home from an afternoon out to find ourselves banned from the kitchen. Ilsa is applying to art schools, and one requires that she draw a bike. Since we live in Oregon where it’s cold and dark by 5, she has put the bike in the kitchen and is lying on the floor, drawing and drinking tea. We are not allowed to bump the bike. We manage to get out cheese and crackers for dinner.

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She got in! This was for her first choice, RISD (riz-de), officially known as the Rhode Island School of Design. We’ll get to the implications of this in September.

January also saw a friend from Mauritania visit. It was his first time visiting a Western country. A lot of things were new to him. For example, he had hoped to meet with some local officials, but really didn’t understand how far out he would have needed to schedule something like that. Seat belts were also very new to him. He was a good sport, although I know this had to be like another planet to him.

February is lost to the mists of time, which keep growing thicker with my advancing age. Seriously, I suppose we did something?

March: The twins turned 18. Ilsa always chooses cinnamon rolls for her birthday breakfast. I accidentally doubled the recipe–which makes tons even normally–so we had a million or so cinnamon rolls. The neighbours, random Iraqi friends, and of course the twins were very happy. I use the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, modified to not kill us quite so quickly (i.e. 1% milk instead of whole, half the amount of butter, etc), and with cream cheese frosting instead of that nasty muck she puts on hers.

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April, May…I dunno. Life. Stuff. Hiking, visits from people. Oh I dyed my hair red! I’ve always wanted to be a redhead. As I’d suspected, I looked good, but it quickly faded to orange, which didn’t look good. Also I went to Memphis as part of a blog tour for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It was a really cool time and I only managed to blog half of it, as is my wont.

June: This is where it gets interesting, as we began the Summer of The Visitors. Seriously, we had out-of-town guests almost nonstop from June through mid-August.

First of all, the twins graduated from high school.

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Donn’s family came for graduation, and his parents stayed for a week, which is always a bit like having Archie and Edith from All in the Family to stay. Happily we didn’t have to go camping this time. Donn’s sister Kris, who reads this blog, and her husband came for the first week and then decided to stay for an extra two weeks. They stay in a hotel, so they are very easy visitors. We went down the gorge, ate giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw, ate fresh berries, and did other summery, family-type things, like going to Powells.

Elliot came home for 2 days and then left for a summer in Jordan, where he spent the summer in an intensive language program. This was a government-sponsored scholarship, starting with a day of orientation in DC. When his 6 a.m. flight was cancelled, we waited in line for several hours only to have the airline clerk tell him they couldn’t fly him out till midnight that night, which would mean he’d miss orientation. We agreed, and were leaving the airport while he called the program to let them know. “Unacceptable, soldier!” they told him. (Not really. That is just a line from a Bourne movie.) And they put him on a flight leaving at noon. How? The person working for the airline couldn’t do it. Only the government. (Cue creepy Twilight music here).

I told Elliot that someone had probably gotten bumped. He was thrilled when they actually paged a “John M Caine” while he was waiting to board. Oh, we watched the Bourne movies too often when he was younger.

elliot off to jordan

This picture was taken after his flight was cancelled and he was put on another one 5 hours later, so we took him out for breakfast. It’s still very early in the morning, which is probably why he looks so bleary.

He had a great time in Jordan. He lived with a host family and took classes and went on cultural excursions and saw ancient ruins and was tired and busy and hot and actually missed us.

July: For most of July, a friend from Morocco was here. (She’s Moroccan, but I first knew her and her family in Mauritania) We had a great time. We went hiking down the gorge, went to the coast, went downtown and ate giant ice cream cones at Salt and Straw, went to the Rose Garden and Powells, and just generally had a good time. It was her first time in America. We have now seen each other in 3 countries, and we are wondering where we’ll meet up next. Any ideas?

It was the hottest summer ever. It was terrible. We had a dry winter, a normal spring (wet and cool), and then a hot, dry summer. Sumi and I went to a lavender festival in Hood River on a day when it was over 100 degrees. Even though we lived in the Sahara desert together, we both agreed that we hated the heat.

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This may not look like drought to you, but nonetheless it was a bad year. Lakes and rivers were really low, and several Oregon counties had to declare emergencies.

At the end of July, another friend came to see Sumi. We were all in Mauritania at the same time. Michelle now lives in Kansas, from which it’s easier to fly to Oregon than Morocco. We had a whirlwind few days of it, including eating giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw. This was a theme of the summer. Actually, it’s kind a theme anyway. Come visit! We are used to people visiting and will eat ice cream anytime of year. The lines are shorter in winter.

August: Sumi left, then Michelle left, then the next day we got a visit from some French friends of ours, a family we knew in Morocco. It was blazing hot during their visit, so hot that we couldn’t enjoy being outside, even though we took them for giant ice cream cones. We went down the Gorge to Hood River on a Friday and it was 104 degrees. The next day we went to the beach and it was 65, and so foggy we couldn’t see the water while actually standing on the beach. Obviously, Oregon hates them. I don’t know why, as they are actually very nice.

Also, we saw a seal! Seal in French is “phoque” and if you exclaim that word excitedly to children on a public beach in America, you will get some side glances.

Elliot also came back mid-August from Jordan and was actually home for 2 entire weeks. Donn and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, although we waited to celebrate properly till November. More on that later. Ilsa got all 4 of her wisdom teeth out at once and was really funny while coming out of anesthesia. Also really difficult. Pain Med Ilsa is not very nice.

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Tintype (taken with app on my phone) of restaurant where we ate on actual 25th wedding anniversary. We are officially old now, although according to Ilsa, we have been for years. Oddly comforting, in a way. 

Several people have started following my blog recently, and I wanted to say hello and welcome. Also, I love comments! And now, back to our regularly scheduled overly-long story…

Our trip to Oudane, continued from parts 56 and 7.

Our visit was short, just 2 full days in the village with a day each end of travel. On our second day, we went to visit a family that lives at the very edge of the plateau. Let me tell you about how we met them…

When Yahiya first moved to Oudane, in 2002, he invited us to come and visit. At that time, Oudane had no electricity, no cell phone reception, no telephone, no internet, nothing but wind and sand and innumerable stars in a sky that stretched on to infinity. “Just come, ask at any house in the village, and they will come and find me,” he assured us.

And so, about 6 months later one February weekend, we packed our 4×4 with water and sleeping bags and food and set off, bumping uncertainly down the unpaved road. It took us 8 hours of driving, including the last part where the road is more than just a set of tracks in the sand, but not by much. We picked up a hitchhiker (it is safe, or was safe, to do this back then), an old man in a stained robe, who sat in the back with the kids and watched perplexedly as they snacked on raw carrot sticks. I had the feeling raw carrots had not played any kind of role in his diet up to that point.

Eventually we bumped up the plateau and pulled up in front of the first house we saw. We asked the boy standing out front if he knew Yahiya, a high school teacher. “No,” he said. He went to fetch his mother. We asked her. “No, I don’t know him,” she said, “but come in! come in!”

A little worried and perplexed, we allowed ourselves to be guided through a doorway, into a salon. We were sat down on thin matlas against a concrete wall, were given cushions for our elbows. They sent someone out in search of our friend, and in the meantime they served us a meal and told us we could stay with them for as long as we wanted, a week, two weeks, a month, no problem. When Yahiya eventually appeared and joined us for couscous, they still urged us to stay with them. They were a family and therefore better equipped to host a family than a single man, they said. We turned them down, but the experience has stayed in our minds for years, this beautiful example of the hospitality of the desert, of a people that would take in complete strangers and welcome them.

We sat once more in the same room, although it looked different now. There were lots of teenagers, kids we didn’t recognize, who made us tea and practiced their English on us. Our host send one of the girls out to a local shop (I am tempted to put that word in quotes, since nothing in Oudane looks like any kind of shop seen anywhere else on the planet) to buy me a muluffa, which they draped around me. Then we were served banarva, which is sort of a stew of meat and onions, eaten with bread. There were also little bundles of intestines, made by coiling intestines round one’s finger and tying the end round it. Eating intestines is a skill I never managed to hone, and our hosts noticed Donn and I skillfully avoiding the small clumps. They taught us the word for intestine in Hassiniya, which I used to know, forgot, relearned, and have forgotten again. (Debbie?)

Afterwards we sit back, full, which is a mistake, because the second course comes in. This is marou ilHam, meat and rice, and it’s tasty, well-seasoned (which isn’t always the case) and steaming hot. Of course we’re sitting on the floor, eating with our hands. I am going to admit that I don’t really like eating rice and pasta dishes with my hands, although my husband and kids do. When we lived there, I could do it, of course, but given the chance, I always used a spoon. My inability to eat with my hands greatly displeased my host. I would take a small bit, halfheartedly work it into a sort of egg shaped ball, and pop it in my mouth, often scattering bits of rice. He took it upon himself to feed me. He made me an enormous ball and slipped it into my hand, motioning that I should put the whole thing in my mouth. I tried and nearly choked. I was perfectly happy making my own, avoiding the more gristly bits of meat and making small balls of rice, but he kept insisting that I was doing it wrong and making me large perfectly-round balls of rice. Embarrassing for only one of us, apparently.

Later that evening, we walked down the hill to visit Chez Zaida, Oudane’s only auberge. When we spent that long-ago summer month there, we got to know Zaida, a warm, friendly, out-going woman who invited us for lunch and used to visit us and play chess with Elliot while helping us with our Hassiniya. At the time, Zaida was in the process of opening her auberge, and we were thrilled to see her success. The auberge is located on the outskirts of Oudane, built on sand instead of rock, and I heard stories of flush toilets!

Zaida remembered us, and settled us on thin matlas outside while we caught up a bit. She’s made many friends through her inn, and spent a month traveling through Europe staying with people who wanted to return her hospitality. We showed her pictures of our kids. Her nephews took good care of us, bringing out cushions that were as big as they were! Her friend let me hold her son, the only baby in Oudane who wasn’t afraid of my freakishly-coloured hair and eyes (blonde and blue).

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On our last visit, when Zaida was just opening her first auberge, she served us the specialty food of Oudane–luxoor. These are buckwheat crepes (or something like that) served with camel gravy. Traditionally, the pancakes are piled in a bowl and the gravy poured on top. You eat by digging your hand down through the layers. Tasty but weird. I mentioned to Zaida how much I’d liked them and how good they were, innocently, not realizing I was basically asking her to make them again. (I am truly clueless like this, and it’s embarrassing. I’m old enough to know better) Of course she invited us to stay for supper, so we settled in for the most Western-style meal we’d ever had in the desert.

Our food was served in courses. First came a bowl of savory, flavorful vegetable soup. Then came the luxoor, only we ate one at a time, on a plate, with knives and forks. Then we had tinned fruit salad to end with, plus of course the sweet mint tea.

We had a lovely evening, lying back in the warm dusk, drinking tea and chatting of old times, of trips taken, of new sights seen. Afterwards we walked up the hill to Yahiya’s home once again.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who lost wedding rings.

She was happily married so it wasn’t a reflection on her secret view of her husband or anything psychologically revealing like that.  And she wasn’t an especially careless woman. True, she was organizationally-challenged, but she managed to hold onto  most things. And yet, by her 23rd year of marriage, she had gone through 4 rings.

The first ring wasn’t lost. Bought on a college student budget for a thin young woman, it was a circlet of gold topped with a small twinkling diamond. 5 years later, pregnant with her first, she found the ring no longer fit her and decided to wear her husband’s.

She lost it gardening. Cleaning out flower beds in Portland, OR, involves a lot of heavy clumps of clayish soil snaked throughout with a dense mat of grass roots, and after a strenuous afternoon, she was pretty sure the ring was somewhere in the middle of a large yard debris container.

No worries. Her mother had recently passed on to her a ring that had belonged to her great-grandmother. It was thick Welsh gold, 22-caret, and she loved it. It was a little big at times but seemed to fit just fine at others, so she didn’t worry about it and wore it happily. One fine crisp autumn day, she took her 3 children (Elliot, then about 3, and the twins in their stroller) to a nearby park, where she and Elliot had a leaf fight, scooping up handfuls of bright colourful leaves and dumping them over each others heads, shrieking. When she got home, she realized her ring was gone.

Her husband had just gotten home, and he asked her to describe where exactly the leaf fight took place. She told him (near the swings, there’s this little concrete area and it’s to the side of that). He went back in the failing light and, miraculously, managed to find her ring.

Amazing! She was very grateful, not to mention pretty darn ecstatic to have not lost a family heirloom.

A few years later, the family moved to Mauritania. It’s a hot desert country with not a lot to do, and family quickly got into the habit of driving about 15 km north of town and going to the beach on Saturdays. The woman was always very careful to remove her ring before going swimming, as she knew it would float right off. She enjoyed swimming, even though the current was rough, and then drying off and eating snacks under the large Mauritanian tent they set up for shade.

One week, she had finished swimming, dried off, put her ring back on, and was relaxing with a book, when her husband came in from surfing. “Come try surfing,” he begged her. She said no, but eventually he persuaded her. And, fatally, she forgot to take her ring off. It was lost to the pale green waters of the Atlantic.

This time there was no other ring to be had, and it wasn’t like the family just had extra cash to buy one. She went years without a wedding ring until, one Christmas, her husband surprised her with a gorgeous gold band with 3 diamonds that he’d bought and had someone else bring across the seas. It was such a pretty ring that she frequently got compliments on it, especially as the diamonds were unusually sparkly.

This ring lasted the longest (so far!) of all the wedding rings. She got it Christmas 2005 and, although it frequently fell off when she was doing laundry or sometimes if she gestured strongly, she always noticed and found it straight away.

Last Tuesday, she took advantage of Oregon’s lovely summer weather and excellent berry options and took an Iraqi friend of hers strawberry picking. They ranged far and wide, filling their boxes with the smaller sweet Hood variety as well as the bigger juicier Bentons. As is customary when picking berries, our heroine stooped over the small plants, lifting the stems with her left hand to find the ripe red berries hiding underneath.

After they’d finished, the 5 year-old Iraqi child wanted to play in the play area, so she and her friend sat on a picnic bench and relaxed. They fed the baby berries until her little face was red with smushed fruit and smiling happily. At one point, the woman went to wash her hands at the handy little sink provided by the berry farm, and there she noticed…her ring was gone.

She went back to search the fields but she knew it was pointless. She wasn’t even sure what rows she had picked on. Her friend felt terrible, but the baby was tired and sunburned, and the woman knew it was time to go home. She told the people up front.

“I don’t think Donn will buy me any more wedding rings,” she told her friend as they drove home from the berry farm. “And really, he shouldn’t. Perhaps I could have wedding earrings or a wedding bracelet instead!” Although that wouldn’t work. For one, you can’t sleep with jewelry. For two, you’d have to explain to people, and you wouldn’t bother. It’s not a universally-recognized symbol.

Later that afternoon, her husband and she went back to look, and they both agreed–it was hopeless. There was no way to find that ring! Her only chance was for someone honest to find it and turn it in. Days passed without a phone call though.

The following Saturday, she went again with the same friend to pick more berries. This was because the friend’s son, age 7, had been heartbroken that he didn’t get to go to the farm with his Aunty Elizabeth and pick berries, even though he categorically refuses to eat berries or pretty much any fruit or vegetable. She promised, so back they went on Saturday. “Please don’t wear ANY jewelry,” her friend told her. And later, “Maybe we will find it today!” “Maybe,” the woman agreed, but she really had no hope.

As they were leaving, she asked the guy behind the counter, “Any chance anyone turned in a wedding ring?” eyeing the discarded sunglasses and pacifiers lined up behind the cash register. “I don’t think so,” he said, and then…”Wait! Is this it?”

It was.

So…how long do you think she’ll be able to hold onto it this time?

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The Sunday before graduation was Elliot’s party. Here is a copy of the invitation with our address whited out, since I’m the one writing this blog not Abel. (Sigh. I don’t mind having these conversations about internet safety with my children; what I mind is how often I have them)

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I invited everyone I could think of, and managed to forget several important people I’ve thought of since. My problem is that the people I know and love are scattered, not all gathered about around one location (for example, a home town or a home church), but here and there from our nomadic existence.

I spent the weeks ahead of time stressing. I imagined people judging me for my back yard (with some excuse, I will admit) or for the fact that you can sort of tell at a glance that although I can clean my house, I own far too many books to be a really good housekeeper.

The nice thing about moving every 2 years or so is that you never have to reorganize closets or move the fridge on a regular basis. We’ve been in this house nearly 3 years, and our housekeeping habits are starting to show. In short, we did need to move the fridge. It was disgusting back there. I mean, really nasty. (I suspect I need to clean out my cupboards too. Darn it.) I scrubbed it clean, and I also scrubbed floors and counter-tops and made dozens of Welsh cakes which didn’t turn out well at all, due to my using baking soda instead of baking powder, like an idiot.

We were finally ready. The house looked fantastic, the yard looked almost as good as the day we moved in, and we were ready. I woke up Sunday morning and showered, and was making the bed when suddenly my lower back seized up with excruciating pain. I hobbled downstairs and sat down, only to find I couldn’t stand up again.

This was a problem. I still had things to do. Two of my Iraqi friends had gone far beyond ordinary friendship and spent their Saturdays cooking up a storm–I had 80 chicken schwarmas (I cut them into 3 pieces each), and mounds of homemade falafel and dolma, not to mention about a gallon of homemade humus. I needed to cut up Arabic bread to go with the humus and heat things and stuff like that. But I could barely move. I swallowed ridiculous amounts of ibuprofen and texted my friend to pray for me, forgetting that her husband is a doctor. He came to the party and talked to me and prescribed muscle relaxants. I found that as long as I didn’t sit down, I could function. But I dropped something on the ground, and it took me 5 minutes to pick it up. Not exaggerating! (well maybe a little. But not much)

The party was a huge success none-the-less, thanks mostly to other people. Ilsa did the fruit platters and Donn and Elliot took care of putting ice in the cooler, putting pop cans in the ice, carrying the large water thing with ice and lime and mint, and all those sort of things. Friends carried large platters to the table and took care of refilling things.

The party was supposed to go 3-5, but it was 10:30 before everyone had gone. By that point, I’d taken scary amounts of ibuprofen and was still pretty miserable. I took a muscle relaxant and went to sleep. In the morning, it took me about 5 minutes (not an exaggeration) to get out of bed. I’ve never had anything like this before. Of course Donn’s parents were arriving about noon.

I had about 3 days of excruciating pain, and then we settled into a routine of 4 ibuprofen every 4 hours, which isn’t so good for the liver but made life possible. All Donn’s family were here, which meant cooking for 11 people. It really wasn’t an ideal time but we managed. I wondered a lot about the all-extended-family camping trip planned for that Friday though. How on earth was I going to handle camping?

Oh you want to hear about camping? All right. Next post.

So I recently spent a week in Philadelphia. Now I’ve traveled a fair bit in my time, but not extensively in the US. I mostly only know the West Coast. Philly is like a whole different country.

Here are some random thoughts:

1. Styrofoam what??? Isn’t it illegal? I thought only barbarians were still using it, but we were served by perfectly nice people who seemed to think it was okay. It’s not okay, Philly. Not okay.

2. Coffee WHA???? People people people. Folgers is not coffee. Dunkin’ Donuts is not only grammatically egregious, (do they mean dunking doughnuts? Why name a business a gerund?) but their coffee, um, sucks. Good coffee is hard to find in this city of brotherly love. Maybe they feel caffeine would ruin things, but I find it hard to love my fellow man without some decent brew sloshing about inside me. And bad coffee served in Styrofoam? Ouch. It was hard not to take it personally, like they were telling me to take my European coffee and snort it up my nose.

3. Ok, all the old brick buildings are super cool. And the murals? Yes. The murals are super super cool.

4. LOVE the old stone churches, although seriously, you’ve got a LOT. I feel like every time they gathered 3 or more people together, they decided they needed to put up another large stone ediface. Literally ever other block seemed to have one.

5. Speaking of people, Philadelphians in general live up to their city’s name. They are friendly and full of advice. Another thing, everybody has a favorite deli, and if you are wondering what it is, just ask. One man explained that the deli where we were all waiting for our sandwiches was where he came for his deli sandwiches, but, he muttered behind his hand, there was another deli where you should go for your cheesesteaks. He was a large black man who barely fit in the deli’s one chair, where he was waiting. He told us about the best Philly cheesesteak sandwich in the city. “Now you are your wife should share one,” he told Donn. “I can eat a whole one, but that’s not a skill you want to acquire.” The train conductor had a completely different place he recommended for cheesesteaks. We did our best, but there is a limited number of large sandwiches one couple can eat. Perhaps if we’d split up?

6. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seemed perhaps a lot of people had acquired the skills necessary to eat the entire cheesesteak sandwich.

7. All the old rowhomes are pretty cool too. The neighbourhoods have a lot of character.

8. There is a palace downtown. I never did figure out what it was being used for. Do we have royalty here? Maybe it’s where visiting royalty stay? They were doing some sort of renovation. I did look for signs.

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9. Of course the historical part is fascinating, although since we were in meetings all day, the best we could do was go downtown via subway once we got out and wander round looking at the outsides of things, since places were closed. I didn’t mind. We did visit once before, years ago, and got to go inside places.

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10. Ethnic restaurants. I thought Portland was pretty good, but no, we are a cultural wasteland. We ate Punjabi food and Moroccan food and, best of all, Senegalese food. I was excited and kept texting the kids, who requested that I bring them some in my suitcase. Um, no. The Yassa Poulet (pictured below) was super-oily, just like it should be. They also had great bissop (a sort of tea made from steeping dried hibiscus flowers) AND really yummy spicy ginger juice, just like Howa used to make it.

I haven’t had Senegalese food since we left Mauritania in 2007. That’s a long time without good Yassa. We even met a Mauritanian man in the restaurant! (Aside: for newer readers, we lived in Mauritania which is just north of Senegal, and they share a lot of the same cuisine, and we vacationed in Senegal where we would buy Yassa from women cooking in on the beach in the evenings.) But, of course, mostly we ate hoagies. They get their own post, coming soon.

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(Insert usual whining about lack of actual camera and limitations of iPhone, which really I am super thankful for. I love my smart phone)

I’m pretty sure I have more thoughts, but that’s all I can remember right now. Have you ever been to Philly? What did you think? Where was your favorite deli? Did you have a different favorite deli for hoagies and for cheesesteaks? Can you eat an entire sandwich? Don’t worry; we won’t judge.

First there was this.

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(you could tell from the beginning which was the boy and which the girl…Abel always had a bigger nose and a receding hairline)

And before I knew it, this was happening.

cake

And then, faster than a blink, it’s like this

aftermath

 

I may have gone rather overboard on the sugar and butter and carbs part of things, but I can blame the twins for that. It was their idea. And since they were born on St. David’s Day, I always always make them Welsh cakes, and sometimes I take bad pictures of them.

welsh cakes

And of course there are always daffs. It is St. David’s Day, you know.

daffs

And for the next morning, unfrosted cinnamon rolls, until Donn went to the store and came home with powdered sugar. I do know how to make my own (an advantage to having lived overseas), but I prefer not to.

cinnamon

Who is St. David? Patron saint of Wales, of course. You should eat Welsh cakes and have daffodils on his day (1 March), and if you’re really going to be authentic, eat/wear a leek. I don’t usually go that far.

 

A few weeks ago, I was making lunch. I took up a roma tomato to slice, and noticed it had a bad spot at one end. I cut off about a third, cut 3 or 4 slices, and had an equal amount left. I tossed the bad bit in the trash and then realized I’d accidentally thrown the good bit away. It was sitting right on top of the trash can, atop a pile of perfectly clean papers that Donn had cleaned out of his car and should have put in the recycling. So I rescued it. I heard a sort of strangled sound and looked up to see two of Elliot’s friends, two teenaged boys, staring at me in abject horror. “You just took food out of the trash can?” one of them almost whispered.

I was gentle. I didn’t mock them (to their faces). I didn’t tell them about people who dumpster dive. Instead, I washed off the offending bit, just to appease them, although they were definitely unappeased, even when I ate it myself so they wouldn’t have to worry about getting it served to them. I explained, but to no avail. Apparently if their mothers threw away a perfectly good third of a tomato by mistake, there it would lie, undisturbed, even if it landed in a nest of clean receipts from gas stations.

The other day, I had to buy a new mop. I was looking at those Swisher mops and wondering if they were any good. I asked the girl working at Target. “Yeah it works great. I used to have one, but I didn’t like it,” she told me. When I asked why, she said, “After you mop the floor, you have to take off the towel, and you have to touch it, and it’s really gross.”

I know you’re thinking, but these are young people, who have never raised children, changed diapers, dealt with toddlers who have no concept of trying to make it to the bathroom before anything unfortunate happens. And you are right. But I think this is symptomatic of something larger. I wrote once, years ago now, about a time I saw a mother who wouldn’t let her daughter drink from a drinking fountain because it was “dirty.” Even before I lived overseas I wasn’t too uptight, but living in the desert definitely stretched me, to where I am more worried about wasting food than I am about possible germs that might be on perfectly clean paper. Years of drinking three rounds of sweet mint tea from tiny glasses that aren’t washed between rounds, only rinsed, or shaking hands with children who live in tents with no running water and very little daily hygiene, changes your perspective. The concept of double-dipping just isn’t going to gross out the person who’s bought fly-covered meat with the hoof still attached from an outdoor vendor who’s sitting in the baking sun, or taken a large bite out of a sandwich only to find half a locust baked into it. (I’m still grossed out by goat intestines though, just so you know)

That said, there are times when even I want to whisper in a strangled voice, “Please tell me you didn’t just do that.” There was the time I watched L dressing a salad. She sprinkled on lemon juice and olive oil and salt, then plunged her unwashed hands in to mix it. (No problems) Then she lifted out a strip of lettuce, touched it to her tongue, nodded, and dropped it back in the bowl.

Two weeks ago, I was visiting L and her 2 year-old niece, an adorable child with enormous eyes and a head of tangled curls. The child had a cold, complete with husky voice and nasty cough. We were sitting in L’s room, eating Doritos from the enormous stack she keeps underneath her bed, when the toddler pointed to a bright shiny pink lip gloss. “She loves it,” explained L, applying it to the child’s lips. The child then pointed at me, and before I could stop her, L had put the same lip gloss on me. I didn’t say anything, but in my head I was staring at her in abject horror. I knew I was going down, and sure enough a few days later I woke up croaky myself. That was also the visit where the child wanted gum so L just gave her half of what she already had in her mouth. Ew.

But I sometimes have a hard time straddling the two worlds. It’s not uncommon for my Iraqi friends to eat from a serving bowl with the same spoon they are using for their own private plates. I don’t care–I’ve had years of training–but the scary thing is that I may be getting too relaxed. Surely it’s only a matter of time before I move from grossing out the sensitive teens to grossing out my friends, to where I forget and plunge my own personal spoon into the guacamole, and double and triple dip my chips.

hands

(I made a Mauritanian dish the other night and we all ate on the floor, with our hands, for old times’ sake)

So where do you fall on the germaphobe scale? Do you freak out if other people double-dip, or take a drink from your glass? Or does it require something more like sharing lip gloss with a 2 year old to bother you? Have I ever grossed you out?

I am going to start out by telling you that I have no pictures, although just glancing with your eyes up and down this page could probably have told you that. At first I was having fun exploring the limitations of the iPhone camera, but I’m currently going through a stage of “this camera isn’t really a camera and wow, those are some limiting limitations.” Also, does anyone know how to get hipstamatic prints to anywhere else other than the app? I suppose I could google or ask my sister-in-law (basically the same thing). But I am lazy.

So, Halloween. Last year, 2 families came to my house and I took their children trick-or-treating in my neighbourhood. I mentioned one family who left the following day. They’ve just returned (YAAY!!!!) and are trying to settle in again, this time for good.

This year, the two original families assumed this year would be a repeat. Ok then! I ended up inviting 2 more families, so that no one would feel left out. One showed up with their 4 month old as the cutest Snow White ever–chubby cheeks, enormous black eyes with lashes out past her eyebrows, and all. Her mother found the outfit for $2 at Value Village, and makes jokes about how she’s really Snow Beige, and takes pictures of her with an enormous red apple. I want to post these pictures for you very badly, but I won’t cuz she’s not my kid. Just picture the cutest baby ever in a Snow White costume.

4 families meant 20 extra people to feed. I planned to race home from class, which ends at 1, but I ended up having to borrow a van, take 6 people home, take one woman for coffee because she was sick and had an appointment at 2 and I felt terrible leaving her at the dr’s office to waste 45 minutes, and then return the van. So I got home at 2:20, in plenty of time to make pizza and white chili, both from scratch, by 5, right? Or maybe not so much. Truly my organizational skills leave much to be desired. I started the beans using the Quick Method found in my handy “More with Less” cookbook (total aside: I love this cookbook. Some of the recipes are weird, but where else will you find poems to bread?), where you bring the beans to a boil, cook them for 2 minutes, let them soak an hour, and then cook them for 2 hours until they’re done. (See? Plenty of time. And my friend Debbie thought I couldn’t do it!) I got them soaking, ate my lunch, started the pizza dough, went out to borrow costumes for little ones from my friend with the costumes, came back, kept cooking. The kitchen looked like a flour bomb had gone off in it. I make the dough from scratch and the sauce from scratch, because I got in the habit of doing this in Morocco where I needed to do this, and now we all like the taste so much better and I’m so used to it that it really doesn’t take all that long. One family only eats hallal meat (that is, meat slaughtered the Muslim way and sold at special stores) so I had to wait till Donn got home with the hallal chicken before I could finish making the chili. Luckily everyone was late.

In fact, everyone was so late that I decided to go trick-or-treating first. We had 3 parties. Ilsa went with the older girls and some of her friends from school, Abel went with the older boys. I went with 4 moms and 5 kids aged 1 to 5. We had 3 princesses, a Spiderman, and an Indian. They were all pretty darn cute. We set off, leaving the men to sit around the living room and sample the candy instead of passing it out to the kids. Donn had to run out and buy more! In the meantime, the 3 older kids (5, 5 and 3), all of whom had experienced Halloween the year before, remembered that this was fun and meant candy. They began to race from house to house, occasionally tripping over their costumes, competing as to who would get there first, shrieking with laughter. It was pretty awesome to watch. Soon the other 3 year-old, who was shy at first and hanging back with his mother and refusing to try to say trick-or-treat or thank-you, was shouting THANK YOU and racing with the others.

At first, my heart was warmed. They raced ahead of us, and we followed more slowly, the one year old princess toddling with us. Then, I realized they were all ringing the doorbells, each as many times as possible. The formerly-shy 3 year old had discovered that he could open people’s doors and walk right into their houses! He didn’t go far, but each time he was getting a little bolder. “This is great!” you could see him thinking. I did my best to disabuse him of the notion, as did his mother, but in fact from then on I had to run along and keep up (in my boots with their 3-inch heels) and when necessary hold his hand to prevent him from continuing this combination of trick AND treat!

We returned about 8:30, even the mothers dragging with exhaustion. I realized that in spite of the huge pot of chili and stacks of pizza and cornbread I’d made, I probably didn’t have enough food. “So! How’s that candy?!” I urged the children, hoping they’d fill up and then go home and be hyper with their parents, not me. We started serving soup, putting pizza on plates, urging cornbread on people (they were suspicious, as they’d never tried it before). The soup was too salty but was nonetheless a hit with most people. The pizza slowly disappeared. I had a brilliant idea and made pizza bread with a loaf of bread I had in the freezer, and told my kids to fill up on that and cornbread. We had just enough food. It wasn’t totally Arab (where you have massive amounts of leftovers) but it was okay.

I made tea. I put out a dessert that one of the moms had brought (I hadn’t made one, as I figured there would be enough candy in the air to suffice). One of the children spat out the marshmallow-type candy she was eating, as it wasn’t hallal (gelatin has pork products in it. No kidding). Her mother sorted through the rest of her candy.

Elliot, age 17, had afro’ed his hair (he can do an impressive afro. I will post a picture. Here he is), stuck drumsticks in it, put on a leather coat and sunglasses, and gone out to collect cans of food for a food drive that Ilsa’s class is doing. She gets extra credit, but wanted to collect candy for herself, so he volunteered to help. Then later that night, while I was serving tea, he went into that disaster area of a kitchen and cleaned the whole thing himself, leaving it with shining, spotless countertop and a gleaming floor. I told him that he was my favorite child and he was on no account to leave for college next year. Seriously. I need him and it’s not at all creepy to keep your child from leaving home and growing up and becoming his own person, just so he can do your dishes.

Everyone left by about 10, given that it was a school night. I can’t imagine how lovely the children were next day; I know my 3 teens were exhausted. I know I was exhausted, come to that. Nonetheless, I feel we have established a tradition. I’ll let you know how next year goes. If we double again, that’ll be 8 families. What are the chances of me actually making enough food?

How was your Halloween?

June 2017
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