Monday, December 24, 2012

Lentil Soup (Vegetarian). Making Our Own Food.

When we were young, we used to make our own food, from scratch (or grains). We made Zaatar, olive  oil, and grew our own vegetables.

 The fondest memories I have are of making burgul (crushed wheat). We cleaned the grains and washed off all the pebbles and dirt, then we had our annual boiling party (think our whole extended family, our town, and passerby's from the next town): We placed the wheat in a big barrel on a big fire to boil. (How do we stir the wheat? Just borrow shovel from the construction workers and clean it.)

 It was wonderful. The smell of the fresh wheat, with brown sugar, walnuts and raisins always warmed our cold October afternoons.

  Growing up, I never realized that this was rare, but I appreciated it, because I participated in all the hard work that went into it. Making our own food was never easy, but it was a beautiful, authentic, and a tasty way of life. I do miss those days.

 (If you're wondering how boiled wheat becomes burgul: spread the boiled wheat on the roof to dry, then hand- pick all the pebbles, then it all heads for crushing.)

 The soup today is incredibly simple, but very tasty. It's very traditional in the Lebanese mountain villages.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Vegetarian Grape Leaves. Mist.

I walked to the office this morning. There was this soft cold breeze and the road was misty, just before sunrise. It reminded me of my two favorite novels, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Somehow it was always misty and rainy in these two novels, and I loved that. The serenity of today's early hours was captivating, and I just strolled slowly.

In Lebanon, I used to wake up at dawn, wrap myself with a blanket, and go out to watch the sunrise behind our beautiful mountains. I sat there, before the world awakes, observing the mist crawling up the valley, and waiting for the warm rays of light. Every sunrise was different, yet each one was tranquil, magnificent and divine. 

 As I walked into the fog this morning, the quiet blurred town seemed angelically beautiful, and one thought crossed my mind. When our days become so crowded and overwhelming, and when our feelings become so confused and bewildered, sometimes, all we need is to slow down, and enjoy the peace and calm of a new cold misty morning.

 I've been meaning to make vegetarian grape leaves. My mother always cooks grape leaves, but until now, she still doesn't know how much filling she should prepare for how much grape leaves. Unfortunately, me neither! But I have a rough estimate. If you end up with extra grape leaves, just put them at the bottom of the pot, and if you end up with extra filling, just cook it on the side. It's good!

Recipe: Vegetarian Grape Leaves (Photos arrived!)
  • 1 jar (16 oz, 465 gr) brined grape leaves.
  • 1 cup rice.
  • 1/2 cup parsley.
  • 3/4 cup tomatoes, finely sliced.
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely sliced.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 medium potatoes, sliced in thin disks.
  • 4 cups water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil.
  • Juice from 1 lemon.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Salmon with Cilantro. War.

I was born during a civil war. I used to play "war" with my siblings and my cousins, full blown war, with rock(et)s and tanks and street fights, just like the war we were living. We were lucky, because whenever the fighting was in Beirut, we stayed in my hometown, whenever it was in my hometown, we fled to Beirut, and whenever it was in both Beirut and my hometown, we fled to Syria. We used to hear the rockets fly above us, and we'd ask my father, "will it fall here?", and my father would listen a bit more, and say, "no, it's high." We thought that was normal, that was our reality. (One time, a rocket did actually explode next to our house, and something happened; I may share that sometime later).

 There is nothing good about wars, nothing, dot. But for a child, the war is a game, the war is what everyone talks about, the war is scary, the war is how we meet other children, it is thrilling- fleeing is thrilling. Will we make it through the checkpoint? Will the fighters let us pass? Will we pass that 100 m dangerous zone? Will the rocket miss our house? Will my mother give birth in the car? Will the militias believe she's in labor? Will we not go to school? (The best war time was when one year we didn't go to school for 6 months in a row.)

 Extreme fear and thrill, and high doses of adrenaline, that's the experience of the children of the fortunate uninjured families. Then we, the children of war, grew up. I have lots of memories from the war, though I never talk about them, and never will. But that's who we are, that's our history and what we were born into. It made us strong and life loving. It made us fighters, and, it made us push ourselves to the extreme, seek the thrill of life and love the adrenaline high.

 During the war, I remember a car coming to our town to sell fish. I actually thought it was normal to buy fish from a car. I love the fish in Lebanon (though this year, when we went for a visit, we had a 1lb fish for 100 dollars! Just one fish that's true, so be careful).

Recipe: Salmon with Cilantro
The fish in this picture is cod and not salmon, but I prefer salmon or catfish for this recipe.

Friday, November 23, 2012

It's Thanksgiving..

Candles at Karen's favorite holiday in the U.S.!
 This year, I and Sary spent our Thanksgiving at our friend Karen's  house (thanks Karen for the last minute invitation, it was wonderful), and V. spent it with his soccer mates.
 The hard thing about not settling down in one place is that we always know we'll be leaving, soon. It becomes hard to invest in having a life, and getting to know people, especially with a young child.
 I've been here for two years, completely occupied with my family and work. I was busy, and very satisfied with only having two close friends. I barely know anyone in this town. My idea was to postpone 'my real life' until we settle down. What I didn't realize is that I was missing out on so much great stuff and so many amazing people, right here where we are.

Yesterday, at the dinner table, it was time for each of us to say what we're thankful for. I think that when someone asks us what we're thankful for, usually, the first thing that comes to our minds is what we are truly and deeply thankful for.

I am thankful for Sary.
I am thankful that even though we're very far from our countries and our families and friends- and that is very hard, we still meet great strangers who welcome us to their houses, and they become our new acquaintances, friends, and bigger families.

Sometimes, all we have to do, is to leave our doors open.

Food's cooking. I told Karen I'll make her kitchen mess look nice in the photo.
Sanelma making the best pumpkin pie ever, right from
a fresh pumpkin!
Karen's so excited about her amazing turkey after 7 hours.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Going Vegetarian? Foliage

 It's getting cold again. I have to get out to snap some nice photos of the Autumn leaves. I think the peak is this weekend.
 There is this episode (Lethal Weapons) from Family Guy when New Yorkers or "leafers" invade the quiet town of Quahog to watch the leaves. I am a leafer! I mean, how can anyone not be? They're fabulous!
 I am sharing some of my favorite foliage photos. How do foliage colors happen? (click here to find out.)

 The dish today is a simple whole wheat pasta dish. This definitely does not qualify as cooking, but it's pretty fast and convenient. I am trying to go semi-vegetarian. Growing up, my mother was obsessed with nutrition and the quality of our food, so we only ate meat once a week. I will try to go back to that level first.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kafta with Potatoes. Baby turning two

Baby turning two.
 It's September! I and V. don't want to admit to ourselves that Summer is over, so we decided to extend it. Every weekend, we will do something special. So far, our September weekends have included camping, Traverse City, and Baby's birthday party. Hopefully this will go on.. until the snow comes.

 It's working. It still feels like summer, and we're not as stressed as before. Maybe this also has to do with Baby turning two. Does it just get easier, with the occasional terrible two's tantrums?

 I weaned Baby two weeks ago, and I proudly boast nursing for two years. But now I'll just say, "It feels great to reclaim the ownership of my body". It's been three years since I felt that way.

 To celebrate, I and my friend G. joined a Pilates class. The last time I was in a workout class was during my pregnancy, and since then I've only exercised at home using dvd's. I love being able to go out, sometimes, again.

It's getting cold outside, and Kafta with Potatoes is a warming winter dish.  

My friend prepared this cookie cake for Baby's second birthday.
Cheese and fruits assortment.

Kafta with Potatoes, and a side of rice

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2 Great Side Dishes. Cooking and Lifestyle

 Today I added the subtitle: "cooking after office.. with a touch of style" to my blog. I have many hobbies, though some of them are only temporary (like when I met V., watching soccer became my hobby, until I married him.)
 My passion, however, is for fashion, yoga, running, cooking, and sitting alone in a cozy cafe sipping hot caramel cappuccino while working on my laptop.  
 I have to squeeze all my hobbies into life after work.  
 I still struggle to establish some sort of balance (because life is hectic, and work plus baby is nunca easy). It will happen though, someday..

 The dishes are two great side dishes. Very fast to prepare in case you didn't have much time.

Recipe: Breaded Shrimp 

  • 13 large shelled and veined shrimps (cooked)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs (seasoning: 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
  • vegetable oil 
  • 1 cup Italian breading
  1. Using a fork, beat the eggs with their seasoning.
  2. Mix the flour with 1tbsp paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
  3. Heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet.
  4. Dip the shrimps (one at a time) in the flour mix, then the eggs, then the Italian breading.
  5. Fry the shrimps, about 1 minute on each side, or until golden red.

Recipe: Potatoes and Eggs

Friday, August 31, 2012

Frijol con Pollo (Beans and Chicken). NYC

 Here's a list of the amazing things that happened to me since I arrived in the USA (I omitted the parts that indicate my real job). They are given in chronological order, from oldest to newest:
  1. I landed in NYC. 
  2. I learned how to cook.
  3. I met my husband V. (He didn't immediately realize that it was also amazing meeting me). 
  4. V. realized that it also was amazing meeting me (like 4 months after I was amazed by meeting him.)
  5. I got my degree.
  6. I had my baby.
 There is something in NYC that accelerates personal development, at an abnormal rate. For example, if  you arrive in NYC, let's say, on a business trip, don't be surprised, at all, if you leave like..this. That's just normal.

 NYC has this ability to make people totally comfortable being squeezed in tiny apartments, paying tons of money in rent, and just being so happy about it. I and V. lived in two of these places. We only left the first one after it became the headquarters for the new OCCUPY mice. (The plumber left a hole in the kitchen.)  

 Our horribly small apartments had even smaller kitchens. So… I am the master of cooking in the smallest kitchen. I have always fantasized about creating a competition of cooking in a small kitchen, and me winning it.

 Today's recipe is very healthy. It's my mother-inlaw's recipe. Mexican bean recipes are way much better than Lebanese bean recipes. You'll never see a Lebanese beans recipe posted on this site.

Recipe: Frijol con Pollo (Beans and Chicken)