Tag Archives: Arab

Laundry Day!

Semi-automatic Washing Machine

Semi-automatic Washing Machine

Today is a glorious sunny day, the kind where I see the weather forecast and think, “I need to get the laundry going!”  It is odd but true that in this desert city, winter is rather damp and frequently cloudy–weather not at all conducive to drying laundry on a clothesline.  But clotheslines are the norm here, and my four lengths of wire outside the kitchen window will hold just one small load of laundry.  I also have a drying rack in the living room, but it takes two or more days for things to dry inside the house.  I know of people who have electric clothes dryers, but they are very expensive and use a lot of electricity, and are mostly found in the villas and apartments of foreigners and the very wealthy.

Thankfully, washing machines are pretty common.  However, we–and most people of normal economic status–have what is called a “semi-automatic” or “half-automatic” washing machine.  Most Westerners have never heard or seen one of these, and I’ll admit that the first time I had to use one, I stared at the (Arabic) instructions for over half an hour before I started.  These washing machines are probably more appropriate for use in the Middle East than what I think of as a “normal” washing machine, as I think they use less water and electricity.  They also are portable, not requiring their own specific plumbing and electrical outlet (which would not be found in most apartments).

The process for washing laundry goes like this:

1. Move washing machine from the kitchen to the bathroom.  It is made of plastic and light enough that I can carry it on my own.  Plug it in to the electrical outlet in the hallway.

Washing machine in the bathroom.

Washing machine in the bathroom.

2. Hook up water hose to the bidet (Lulu calls it “the washing machine toilet”) and begin filling washing tub (the big one on the left) with water.  Add detergent and clothes; make sure not to overfill it.  It is better to err on the side of too little clothing, as these are not super powerful washing machines.  Put the washing machine drain hose into the bathroom floor drain.

Hooking up to the bidet.

Hooking up to the bidet.

Adding water.

Adding water.

3.  Turn off water, put on washing tub lid, and turn washing dial to desired washing time, usually 9-12 minutes.  (Make sure the setting dial is on “Normal.”)  Watch the magic begin!

(I had a video for you, but apparently have to upgrade my blog before I can share it.  Have to think about that…)

4.  When it finishes, turn the Settings dial to “Drain.”  All the water drains out of the washing tub.  At this point, the clothes are pretty twisted and tied up, so I try to untangle them.

Water going down the drain.

Water going down the drain.

5.  When it’s done draining, turn the Settings dial back to “Normal” and refill the washing tub with water.  Now we are doing the “rinse” cycle, which is basically a repeat of the “wash” cycle but without adding detergent.  Repeat steps #3 and #4.

6.  Now we move on to the “spin” cycle, the right hand tub of the machine.  This tub is much smaller than the washing tub, and can only hold a few items of clothing at a time.  If you overload it, it won’t work, or it will try to go and you’ll start to smell burning plastic.  The clothing in it also needs to be balanced weight-wise around the tub, or else when you turn it on it thumps and bumps and the washer jumps all around.  So, put the clothes in, make sure the Settings dial is still on Drain, and press the clothes down with the insert.  I guess this keeps them from flying around when they’re spinning?  Close the lids and turn the Spin dial; two minutes is usually sufficient for everything except jeans and towels, which need a minute extra.  For one load of wash, I usually end up with five or six loads of spinning.

7.  When you’re done spinning, unplug the washing machine and then gently tilt it in the direction of the drain hose to make sure all the water comes out.  Then pack it all up, move the washer back to the kitchen, and hang your clothes out on the clothesline.

The whole process takes a little bit over an hour, and is obviously more labor-intensive than just throwing things in a washing machine and moving them to the dryer.  Even with family of just three, I end up doing laundry four or five days a week since it’s not possible to wash much at once and I have to space things out to make sure they have time to dry.

Makarona bil-Bechamel

So, when I pulled up my schedule today, I realized that TUESDAY (not Wednesday, as I said in my previous blog post) is my blogging day.  Guess it’s going to take awhile to get used to this new routine!

Here is a recipe that I can’t believe I didn’t share earlier.  It was one of the first dishes I learned to make, from my Arabic teacher in Cairo.  It is also the first dish that ever earned me a true compliment, from an old, old woman who I visited with nearly every day.  Her only critique was that it needed more salt!  This is one of Hungry Husband’s favorite comfort foods, and in Cairo I would make it with camel meat, although ground beef is a fine substitute for those of you without a local camel market 😛

MAKARONA BIL-BECHAMEL (macaroni with bechamel sauce)


For the meat filling:

1 large onion, diced

1 lb. ground beef

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

Spices of your choice (for the meat): cinnamon, whole cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves, allspice

Salt and pepper

For the noodles:

13-16 oz. penne pasta (it doesn’t have to be precise, just whatever size the container is at your grocery store)

For the bechamel sauce:

1 stick of butter or ghee

1 cup flour

2 cups chicken brother

2 cups milk

2 eggs

salt to taste


1.  Brown the meat with the onions, tomato paste and spices.  You can vary the amount and type of spices depending on how savory you like your meat.  My teacher cooked the meat in a small pot for a long time, so that eventually it reabsorbed all the fat that initially ran out.  It was very, very tasty, but you can drain the meat if you prefer.  When the meat is done, remove any whole spices you used.

Meat browning.

Meat browning.

2.  Cook the noodles to al dente.  Drain and rinse them so that they cool enough to handle and don’t stick together, then return to their pot.

3.  In a pot, melt the butter or ghee over low heat, then add the flour and whisk together.  Cook it over a low heat for several minutes–you should be able to smell the flour cooking.  It may start to brown, in which case take it off the heat so that it doesn’t burn.  Add the chicken broth and whisk vigorously–the flour and broth will seize up and turn very firm, but you can add the milk right in and keep whisking, and it should smooth out.  Cook it for two or three more minutes.  It should be about the consistency of pudding.  Turn the heat off and let it cool for a minute, then whisk in the two eggs.

4.  Pour half the bechamel sauce onto the noodles in their pot and mix together thoroughly.  Spread half the noodles into an oiled 9 x 13 casserole dish, then add the meat layer.  Spread the rest of the noodles on top of the meat and cover with the remaining bechamel sauce, using a spatula to smooth it down.



Lulu spreads the bechamel sauce over the top.

Lulu spreads the top layer of noodles.

5.  Cook in a 375 F oven for 50-60 minutes, until it is heated through and the top is golden brown and firm.  If you can, let it cool in the pan for 20 or 30 minutes before you cut it, as this will help the layers solidify an be more casserole-like.  We never manage to wait that long, so it tends to fall apart a little bit when I am serving.



Not ready to come out of the dish, but we're eating it anyway!

Not ready to come out of the dish, but we’re eating it anyway!

Welcome to the Kitchen!

It is appropriate but entirely coincidental that this post is happening on New Year’s Day. I am not a resolution maker, or a goal maker, although I often think I should be. Maybe it would help me to focus more and stay aware of my accomplishments. I frequently feel like I float through my days without much sense of what I have done; I feel it more acutely now that Lulu is in preschool five days a week and I have these huge blocks of “free” time that get wasted on Facebook and Pinterest and puttering around the apartment not knowing what to do with myself.

So, I made myself a weekly schedule, and Wednesdays are “Blog Day.” Meaning that each Wednesday you will be treated to a new musing on expat life, or parenting, or a recipe for some delectable but not-too-complicated-or-crazy dish. Because I am still, and will always be, a simple home cook using whatever ingredients I can find easily and cheaply in my neighborhood.

Also, this:


is the kitchen in which I cook. While it provides all my basic culinary needs,

Cupboards, counter and sink

Cupboards, counter and sink

Refrigerator (and washing machine)

Refrigerator (and washing machine)



it is no one’s idea of gourmet. It is, however, up-to-date with what Pinterest tells me is a current kitchen decorating trend: cupboards without doors. And as a bonus feature, we have the option of hot water from the sink—a luxury I have never had in the Middle East.

Without a doubt, this

Coffee and tea station

Coffee and tea station

is the part of the kitchen that gets the most action. I cannot even express how much I love my hot water kettle, and the nearly constant flow of tea and coffee is an important source of warmth these cold winter days.


P.S. I realize this is being posted on January 2, but I did write it on the 1st. As usual, life intervened before I could get this up 🙂


I am happy to report that after what seemed like a very long, hot summer, I am sleeping under a blanket once again, enjoying the feel of my cold nose peeking out above the covers.  After all, it gets down to 72/73F in my bedroom at night—chilly!  But apparently the real cold is yet to come; yesterday the neighbors were admonishing me that we need to hurry and buy a heater, because the temperature will start dropping fast and before I know it, there will be rain and even snow.  Life in non-insulated buildings with drafty windows can become very difficult in winter for those of us who are most sensitive to the cold.

One way of dealing with this?  Spend a lot of time in the kitchen, preferably concocting things full of spices and butter and meltingly soft vegetables.  Today I wandered around the market gathering things that may not be at the height of their growth season right now, but are definitely appropriate according to my internal sense of what to be eating in autumn.  This evening, as Maghrib (sundown) happened just before 6:00 p.m., I was at the stove putting together one of my favorite fall dishes, a Moroccan-style vegetable tagine.  (I have no idea where I got this recipe…I found it somewhere on the internet three or four years ago.  My apologies to its creator.)  It is fragrant and sweet and savory and full of nutrition and makes me feel like I have a warm blanket of happiness wrapped around my internal organs.


(makes 4 large servings or 6 small)

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 lb. pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 14 oz. cooked chickpeas
  • 2 tsp. harissa (I used 1 ½ tsp. Sriracha instead)
  • ¾ c. raisins, dried cherries or dried chopped dates
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • Salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat oil and add the onions.  Cook gently for 5 minutes, then add the garlic, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon.  Cook over low heat, stirring, for 2 minutes or until aromatic.

Add the carrots and water, stir well, and cover.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add the pumpkin/squash, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, harissa, raisins, and honey; cover and simmer until vegetables are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with couscous.