‘In the desert, we make our own sour cream…’

Image

I attended the rather jolly birthday celebrations of an Emirati friend at the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed stuffing my pretty lil’ face with various Mexican dishes prepared by two beautiful colleagues, R & M.

As we are living in the desert lands, these resourceful ladies, upon realizing that our two local food markets (not forgetting one an hour’s drive away) didn’t stock any sour cream, they decided to do what all good desert inhabitants do: make their own!

Please read below and try it out. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s muy delicioso!

Here are R’s words…  

Sour Cream was easy to make. I used about 1 carton of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of yogurt. I used a lot quite a bit of yogurt because the one we get in the market is not very sour, so requires a little bit. Do heat the heavy milk slightly in the microwave for about 2-3 minutes and then mix the yogurt or butter milk and let it sit in a warm place for about 24 hours. Ours was ready to go just before the party and I had started it 10:30 pm the night before…

Listen to: Salsa Music Party Mix, of course!

Lord, thank you for giving us imaginations and creativity. Thank you for parties, birthdays, global friends and all things jolly. Thank you that you delight in providing so much for us so that we can get together in the isolated parts of the world to have fun. Thank you for our Latino friends and their wonderful recipes and music. Bless them, Lord, and keep them in your care.  Amen. 

Cath’s Chilli Prawns

Image

Cath’s Chilli Prawns

My good friend, Cath, has sent me her Chili Prawns Recipe (complete with photographic evidence.)

Her recipe sums up her attitude to life:  Keep it simple for the best flavour.

  • Pour enough olive oil in to the pan to coat its base.
  • Add the  2 crushed garlic cloves and chilli flakes to taste.
  • Once the garlic is sizzling and has turned a shade of golden brown, add the prawns.
  • After a few minutes, the prawns will start to brown.
  • It’s now time to add the chunky slices of red and yellow pepper and the slim stalks of asparagus.
  • Stir them around and about until all golden and crispy but still crunchy.

As this dish is fairly hot, the best drink is probably iced water or a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Dear Lord, thank you for our daily bread but most importantly, thank you for delicious ingredients found in the sea and in our vegetable patches.

Variations on a Theme of Veggie Spice…

Image

Tonight, I added half a pineapple (which I had chopped up into pieces yesterday morning), to the basic veggie recipe which is listed below. Half a packet of roasted almonds in the cupboard were urging me to add them to this dish of mouth watering proportions so I dropped them into the bubbles towards the end. Next time, I am going to fry them at the start before I add the oil and spices, remove them and then sprinkle them over the top of the final plat du jour, as they felt a little soggy, though tasty nonetheless, in the dish.

I also asked the green beans and some bean sprouts if they would like to join and they said that they would be delighted.

The beansprouts, of course, didn’t have to cook in the pan. They were set gently on top of some couscous (which had been fluffed up and cooked up with a veggie stock and a knob of butter), before the spicy veggies were placed on top.

Treat of the week is a UK CHOCOLATE TWIRL bar. Have found a shop in the area which stocks a few UK chocolate bars, and, for obvious reasons will under no circumstances be disclosing its location. (There’d be less for me, duh.) I bought five bars and put a packet of McVities Chocolate Digestives back on the shelf. It was hard, but too much of a good thing…

Listen to:  Michael Bublé: It’s Time. (An oldie, but a goodie. Downloaded from iTunes for a fiver.)

Lord, thank you for Michael Bublé and Twirl Bars to help the Saturday Night Blues pass by…

Yummy, Spicy, Veggie Dish

Image

This is a simple, healthy veggie spicy yummy dish which I can’t help but rustle up each week.  It feeds me for a couple of days or would feed about four people around the table. You choose.

You can use any vegetables you like, but the most important ones are of course a large, red onion and about 4 cloves of garlic (when cooking up, I always use one clove per person. Garlic, like most things, doesn’t scare me and is vital for flavour).

In the picture above, and pretty much also considered as most important veg to use are two big spuds, a broccoli, one red pepper, a large carrot, about 4 large squishy, ripe tomatoes, a couple of small courgettes, a fair bit of olive oil as you fry up the veg and a spoonful (tablespoon is ok if you like spicy and quite hot) of Arabic masala spice, a small tin of coconut milk and a mug full of chicken or veggie stock.

Start by warming up the pan on a medium heat as you wash and peel the veg. Start by peeling the red onion. I’ve learned over the years that the best way to peel an onion and to avoid streaming eyes, is to work with the onion next to the sink and keep the cold tap running (ok, so not ideal if living in the desert where water can’t really be taken for granted, but if you’re using the water to then wash the rest of the veg in, then it’s completely justified…)

Chop the top and tail off the onion and carefully peel off the outer red layer. Now take a closer look at the onion and you’ll see a small circle in the centre. Sometimes, there are two odd shaped circles but you want to aim the knife towards these little dudes, but UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES CUT THROUGH THEN as they are the little blighters which maketh the crying starteth.

You can either chop the onion or tear it into small pieces as red onions are groovy like that. Keep rinsing the knife under the cold tap as this will keep life from becoming teary.  We all have enough to deal with…

When you’ve given the pan a couple of minutes to warm up, add a splash of olive oil (enough to coat the base of the pan).

Add the onions and the mashed up garlic.

Stir it around a bit and then add the chopped up, peeled potatoes along with the peeled carrots (which should be cut into slices which resemble a little finger). 

Now add the spice and mix it all together. Shawaya Shawaya. Slowly, slowly.

As the potatoes are cooking, you can sort out the rest of the veg.

The capsicum/pepper is pretty easy to deal with. Cut the top off and then just pull out the centre bit with the millions of seeds. Rinse it through and then you have an easy way to slice through if you use the creamy lines as a guide.

Add the peppers and the other veg and keep stirring around. You can also add some chicken/veg stock at this point (about a tablespoon at a time just so that the veg have something to soak in and the flavour gets to groove.

When you’ve added all the veg, add the tin of coconut milk and let it simmer on a low heat for about 45 mins.

When all is finished up, I usually just throw some couscous into a pan of boiling salted water and immediately take it off the stove. Add a knob of butter and let it stand for about 2 minutes before fluffing it up with a fork. Follow the instructions on the side of the couscous packet but usually it’s one cup of couscous for half a cup of boiling water.

This dish may be too spicy for some so make sure you serve this dish up with some/lots of yummy plain yoghurt.

Drink with Peroni/Tiger/Singa beer, if you have an alcohol license, or just plain water if you don’t. Again, I’m a BIG fan of Perrier Water and a slice or two of lemon and/or lime.

Listen to:  Ella Fitzgerald.

Lord, thank you for all the wonderful things you’ve provided for our palates, even the ones which make us cry. Forgive us for the times we have made others cry by the things we have said and done and the things we ought to have said and done and didn’t.  Grant us the grace to forgive those who have made us weep. May we never take things like water or food for granted. Forgive us, O Lord for the countless times we have grumbled, both audibly and internally, at the discomforts of life. Help us Lord. Please help us and graciously hear us. We can’t do this life through our own strength. 

Courage and Encouragement

Image

The desert is getting hotter and the environment feels like it is on a knife-edge. As we leave for work at daybreak, there is no telling just how hot each day will become. The heat is like a wild, untamed beast. It bites your face, your mood, your diet and stings every aspect of your life. But yet, the desert terrain remains beautiful and ever changing; a hot mess melange of intrigue and exasperation.

In this environment, of course it is vital that people drink enough water, take exercise, eat healthily and get enough rest, but most importantly it is imperative that we remain kind to one another despite our feelings and our internal and external struggles.

Everyone is fighting a demon of some kind or other. Maybe it’s fear; maybe regret about the past and worry about the future. Every single person you meet today, or have come into contact with or watch crossing a road is wrestling with something. They are worried they don’t have enough money to pay the bills. They’re regretting putting that new laptop/dress/shoes on their credit card. They’re thinking their clothes are feeling too tight. They’re worried why that person never called. They’re wondering if they are in the right job, the right relationship, the right city. They’re wondering if they will ever waken up without exhaustion or dread breathing its smelly breath in their face before their feet have even got out of bed and touched the floor at that most mutant of the morning hours.

So often, when people ask how we are, we are pressed for time (or we pretend that we are), or we are afraid of the reaction to our truthful response, so we chirp, ‘Fine!” and skip past them as quickly as we can for fear that they might just see the real us with our jaded and faded smiles and stinging tears welling in our eyes.

I have tried so many times to tell myself to be a person of courage and encouragement. In fact, if we take a closer look at the word, Encouragement, we will see that within it lies COURAGE! Yes, it will feel like we are stepping off a cliff edge by opening up and saying that we are actually not FINE (Fearful, Insecure, Neurotic & Exasperated), but by staring fear in the face and admitting that we are perhaps feeling rubbish, inadequate, ashamed, remorseful, we will free ourselves up to allow more love to grow in our relationships with others. (Now, I’m not saying we have to start telling everyone we meet how we are actually feeling, but I am convinced each one of us has at least one trusted friend with whom we can openly talk. When my friends and I meet together to catch up, we have the rules that what is said in these walls, stays in these walls. It is my dad who wisely says that if someone is not there to defend themselves, then we are not to talk about them.)

Encourage one another. We are not better or worse than anyone else on this planet.

Be careful with words and body language. In Christianity, the Bible teaches us that we have the power of life and death in our tongues.http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=proverbs%2018&version=MSG

It also teaches us that if we judge others, we will be judged.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%206:35-42&version=MSG

How many of us have looked at someone else’s tattoos, lifestyle choices, tutted and sighed thanked our lucky stars that s/he wasn’t our child/brother/husband? (I thank you Lord that I am not like that tax collector over there… http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+18%3A9-14&version=MSG)

When we judge others, we are actually opening up a spiritual crack in the doors of our homes and our lives to invite the very same things into the lives of those we love and are called to care for. With each harsh word spoken or judgement made on someone else, bricks fall which form a wall around you, ultimately separating you from friends, family, colleagues and fun times! So, check out your tongue. Give it a medical and remind it and you of your responsibility to speak LIFE into those around you so that you, too, will experience life in all its fullness.

PRAYER:   Lord, thank you for friends around us. Forgive us for times when we have judged too readily or harshly. Guard our mouths and our minds. Fill us with your gentleness and compassion. May we grow in honest and comforting relationships, building one another up with joy, encouragement, trust and love. Lord, help us to become those people of courage and encouragement. May we speak life into all those we come into contact with. Help us, Lord. 

Don’t give up!

Image

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:28 MSG

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scbn4mXADaQ 

Memories of food (good and bad).

Image

I’ve never really recovered from the time I ate take away sushi in Singapore and managed to get wasabi in my eye. Fear and loathing set in as a result of such unbearable burning and watering of the eye and I haven’t touched the stuff since.

The same applies to my relationship with octopus. I choked once on the slithery tentacles in an upmarket restaurant in Languedoc whilst on a French exchange as a teenager and now look fearfully towards this particular specimen. I can almost feel the gag in my throat as I write and am reminded of this most distressing of formative teenage moments.

Mushrooms, too, remind me of a time a guy at university sent me a valentine’s card with a mushroom stuck on the cover asking me to be his valentine as I was a ‘Fun-Gal’ to be with. Sure, it made me laugh and I loved the unique approach but there was no chemistry and alas, I had to break up with him shortly afterwards. I am reminded of the breakage of his heart each time I see these slithery items in grocery stores and vegetable stalls throughout the world.

Such is my culinary malaise that I will often reply with a grimace, “Seafood and mushrooms,” when asked for dinner and what I eat and don’t eat.  Mushrooms make me feel guilty. Octopus makes me gag and reminds me of social clumsiness around a sophisticated French dining table. Sushi just hates me.

What a shame! I am most probably missing out on the most exquisite culinary delights in the world yet am letting fear and memory combine to prevent this from happening. And I always, always feel uncomfortable telling people that I really don’t like to eat these things as I love, and am so grateful for, any invitation to eat with others.  I get so excited at the prospect of what topics of conversation will be covered and the people I will watch and learn from. And I  especially enjoy getting dolled up in anticipation of a good evening with friends and acquaintances.

Once bitten, twice shy, is a phrase often associated with a broken relationship but can also be applied to our relationship with food. Memories and emotions associated with mealtimes are powerful tools to prevent us from living in an emotional and healthy state.

How many of us were forced to eat dried up fish on a Friday and now resent Christianity as a result?  Sometimes, it is through facing our fears and gulping down that octopus, mushroom or dried up piece of Friday fish that we regain power over our minds and emotions. Perhaps this is why the good Lord invented Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot to help ease our pain in both the natural and in the emotional?

Not so long ago, whilst staying in a Kibbutz along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I was offered some tasting looking St Peter’s Fish. Juicy, succulent and smelling great (and without a hint of dryness), I cautiously accepted. The fish was lovingly prepared by a chef and perhaps this attitude towards its preparation combined with the lack of association with a religious ritual had something to do with its tastiness and flavour?  Words can’t describe how delicious that piece of trout was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from the Sea of Galilee itself, but it certainly has made a difference in my attitude towards eating fish in the future.

It is my prayer today for freedom in our memories and a quiet yet strong healing our hearts and minds and their somewhat unfortunate (and at times overpowering) association with food.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the freedom and love that you bring through allowing us to all have our quirks and foibles and attitudes towards food. We thank you for providing us with so much food in this earth to cater for our diverse palates and menus. But most of all, thank you for providing us with new mercies each morning to enable us to walk forwards and forget about the pains associated with food from our past.  Help us and forgive us Lord for the times we have allowed our memories to prevent us from moving onwards. Crush the fear in our hearts with your love. Amen.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Lamentations+3%3A22-23&version=NIV

Listen to:  Angus & Julia Stone:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDiCXmERp7Y&list=PL3B4CAA77361F7D49

Eating together in eateries…

Eateries in Nazareth

All human beings need food, clean water and shelter but here in the Middle East, cooking can seem too much after a day at work or travelling through heat-filled lands and buying produce to cook for one can prove expensive. 

Thankfully, we have many eateries where people gather to fill their bellies up on local produce and, in turn, repair their souls whilst chatting, sharing, encouraging, laughing and burping.

Recently, I had the pleasure of eating a delicious shwarma in a family run restaurant in Nazareth. These jolly bunch of Arabs were delighted to show me their home made pickled vegetables and flatbreads. I also witnessed a fiery rant between those two brothers which thankfully seemed to resolve itself quite quickly when I flashed a smile and started to ask them to ‘shawaya shawaya’ in my dodgy Arabic.

Within a few days, I found myself stuffing my face with a yummy chicken curry in Christchurch Café, Jerusalem, prepared by a group of volunteers, of which religious persuasion I am unsure and quite honestly don’t really care about as this didn’t seem to affect the goodness of the tasty feed I enjoyed.

In spite of what the media would wish us to believe, in this part of the world, we seem to all be sitting around a large, round table where we chat to (and thank God for) our Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist and Agnostic brothers and sisters who are all lovingly and happily sharing their culinary skills and expertise with one another.

Drinks:  Diet Coke in Nazareth; still water & too many creamy cappuccinos in Jerusalem.

Some love tunes to listen to whilst perhaps drinking a 2011 Dalton Cabernet Sauvignon from Galileehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_RqDOaUS6M

Lord, in spite of the differences in how we perceive and express our thoughts towards you, thank you that you are both greater than that and much more forgiving than we could ever imagine. Help us to love one another and grow in inviting those whom we consider to be different to us in to our lives and our homes to share the food you give us. May we also grow in the courage to walk lovingly towards the homes and lives of those whom we may consider too difficult or different to share our experiences and love with them. Help us, Lord. Please, graciously help us. Amen.  

When life in the desert is dry, get together, make some food, pray, laugh, cry and encourage one another.

Tuna Nicoise Salad is a favourite, easy dish to prepare in less than half an hour. It’s got so many yummy ingredients to keep you healthy and sane as you go about your daily life in the desert. The most complicated part is making the dressing into which I sometimes put a dollop of honey. I hope you enjoy! Image

I’m not good at remembering exact quantities when I cook and I know that I most probably have inherited this from my late Grandmother, Lally Jean, who could rustle up the best feed out of next to no ingredients. Please feel free to add whichever vegetables you like to this salad.  I’m not a fan of anything to do with lettuce so never add it to a salad, hence my love of the wonderment that is the Tuna Nicoise Salad.

This evening, I bought about 6 small potatoes, washed, peeled and cut them up into bite size chunks (they’ll cook quicker this way and you get to eat this delicious salad sooner!) and put them into boiling salted water. I set the timer to boil them for ten minutes during which time I then topped and tailed and cut in half the handful of long, French beans I had purchased earlier from my culinary advisor, Mr Abu the fruit & veg vendor in the Local Fresh Market here in the desert lands. (I think he likes to see me each day; he greets me with a big smile and says,’What you cook tonight? You want some zis? And put wis sis, ok ah?’ Last week, it was Banana Plant in a curry. Delish!)

I dropped the chopped up beans into the boiling water along with the potatoes. I’m not a fan of washing up as it wrecks my manicure, lol, so the bigger the pot, the better. While everything is bubbling away and getting to know each other better in that big, bad pot, I started to chop up two super huge, wonderfully pesticide free tomatoes and sprinkled salt over them. I put them into a large salad bowl and opened a tin of tuna and placed it into the bowl along with the tomatoes.

Next come the small tub of fresh Spanish Olives. Add these to your salad bowl.

Bubble, bubble, bubble go the disco dancing French Beans and the Saudi Spuds.

The ten minute timer should now be buzzing, at which point, add three eggs to that multinational bubbling, boiling brood and boil for a further three minutes.

Now start to mix one big tablespoon of olive oil, two big tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a crushed clove of garlic into a mug. You can add your tablespoon of honey now if you like and a squirt of lemon.

Everything in the pot, the French Beans, the Saudi Spuds and the Emirati Eggs should now be almost done and dusted. Carefully drain them into a large colander and pick out the eggs with a large cooking/serving spoon and run them under a cold tap for a minute or so.  Set the eggs into a bowl of cold water and put the spuds and green beans into your salad bowl. Pour the dressing over the top of the dish. Now mix everything together. Carefully peel the eggs and slice them with a sharp knife and place them gently on the top of the dish, giving everything one or two more turns with the big serving spoon.

Voila! Enjoy!

If you’re cooking for one person, there should be enough for lunch and dinner tomorrow. Bring it to work to share with a colleague or drop it in with a neighbour.

Pudding was White Toblerone.

Drinks: Perrier with a slice of lemon.

Music:  Stephane Grapelli on Youtube.

Prayer: Lord, there are so many things to be grateful for today. With my two hands, I offer up these prayers. On my right hand, I thank you for these 5 things. I give you my 5 cares and worries on my left hand and I throw them away. With both hands, I open myself up to you. Please care for us, Lord, through these times in the desert lands. Strengthen and guide us with peace and kindness towards out brothers and sisters. In your name we pray, Amen.