Tag Archives: Introduction

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:

IMG_0197

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)

Stove

Stove

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 🙂

Running Out of Gas

Well, friends, it is that time in The AmerArab Life: we are preparing for another transition.  Given the past few years of our lives, you might assume that we have developed the necessary emotional, relational and logistical skills to manage this process relatively smoothly.  After all, in the past five years we have:

  • Gotten married;
  • Changed jobs;
  • Lived in five different countries (two of them more than once);
  • Lived in three different states within the U.S.A.;
  • Lived in 11 houses or apartments for at least two months each (the longest period in any one house being eight months), a one-star Arab hotel for three months, and had eight periods of one month or less stays with friends, family or in temporary housing;
  • Actively studied four dialects of Arabic;
  • Decided to start having children, and are now pregnant.

So, it is time to move again, probably at the end of next week (assuming our visas come through as promised).  However, instead of being the efficient list-making, people-visiting, introspective journal writer that I was at the beginning of this past period of life, I am now a procrastinating, uncaring, celebrity gossip googling zombie.  Do I feel guilty about this?  Definitely.  I spent years teaching college students how to “finish well” in their cross-cultural experiences: push through the fatigue, fight the urge to withdraw, plan events to honor the people you have met.  In the past, I have spent the final days before moving making sure to get pictures taken with all my most important friends, distributing gifts and any possessions I planned to leave behind, visiting my favorite places in the city.

None of this knowledge or past experience is helping me gain any motivation at this point.  I am so tired of moving, starting over, settling down, and saying goodbye, and it has gotten more and more difficult each time.  Honestly, apart from the fact that we chose an apartment and furnished it, there is nothing that makes me feel as though Hillside is my home, which seems like it should make leaving easier—but it’s not.  We came in knowing it was temporary, and have lived that way for the past five months.  We spent six weeks away traveling, never formally studied Arabic, lived without routines or schedules or friends.  The only person I have any sort of relationship with is the landlady, and I don’t even know her name; I just call her the respectful word for “old woman.”  I was supposed to go talk to her today, tell her that we are moving, ask if she wants to buy any of our furniture.  Instead I crawled into bed, felt frustrated by my poor attitude, and decided to wait until sometime when Hungry Husband could go with me.

And to top it all off, the gas tank that fuels the stove started sputtering a few days ago, a sure sign that it is low and will be empty soon.  I have been nursing it since then, praying that it does not run out before we leave, because I don’t want to pay the $15 to replace it for a week’s use.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take much time on the stove to make ramen noodles…

The point is, I am 31 years old.  In six months we are going to have a baby.  My brain’s capacity for learning foreign languages is diminishing rapidly, and my introverted, intimate relationship-oriented personality is spent from years of forming friendships that come to an end before I am able to communicate any of my deep thoughts.  I don’t feel like I have much left in me to keep living this lifestyle.  Please pray that this will be our last move for a long time!

There should be 3 P’s in “happy”

Pineapple, melted butter and brown sugar...yum!

1. Pineapple Upside-down Cake: when I was a child, my mom would occasionally make this cake, full of sugary buttery goodness and topped with that delight of all delights, maraschino cherries.  Somehow in the “sophistication” of my twenties, I forgot all about it, and it was only recently brought back to memory by a recent Food in Jars post on an adaptation made with jam.  I almost went with a boxed yellow cake mix, but thankfully Betty Crocker saved the day, and I whipped up a homemade Pineapple Upside-down Cake (sans maraschino cherries, which I now find frightening in their over-chemicalized state) in a few simple steps.  Here’s a link to Betty’s recipe, because Betty does it best!

Oh so golden and sweet.

2.  Peanut butter.  I will not go into a full treatise on the glories of real peanut butter right now; suffice it to say that I am a peanut butter snob.  I have high expectations and will generally refuse to eat any that includes ingredients other than peanuts.  However, I have recently found myself desperately in need of an easy way to get a lot of extra calories, and unexpectedly finding three jars of (highly processed, not even as good as JIF) crunchy peanut butter in my local shop, I decided that, at the least, it is a better option than eating an entire Pineapple Upside-down Cake every two days.  The good news is that since it’s been at least 11 months since I last tasted peanut butter, even this plasticky, gooey mess seems wonderful and delicious.

3. Pregnancy!  Yes, I am now almost 12 weeks pregnant with our first child–hence the need for extra calories.  Between our normal diet, which is very high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes but low in meat and fats, and the normal first trimester of pregnancy eating discomforts, I have actually lost a few pounds the past two months.  I didn’t start this pregnancy with much extra weight to spare, so I am trying to be very conscious about adding in healthy, high-calorie foods whenever I can.  (And Pineapple Upside-down Cake only when really needed!)  Little Baby (henceforth to be known as LB) is due June 22, and so far is normal and healthy and, as the doctor proclaimed during my ultrasound yesterday, “very active.”  Hungry Husband and I are very excited, although he did ask me if this is going to turn into a blog where I talk about nothing except pregnancy and the baby.  Um…I don’t know, but if it does, well, it’s my blog and I suppose I can write about whatever I want!

THE CURRENT KITCHEN: OUR HILLSIDE HOME

Friends, I am back.  After days of cleaning, shopping, packing and moving, with minimal cooking and even more minimal internet access (which I have to admit was very freeing at times), we are settled and ready to create a new version of normal.

This is what we started with in the kitchen:

Yes, that is a dried fish head.  It was probably left by one of the stray cats that wander around the rooftops and occasionally try (sometimes succeeding) to enter through our open windows.  Yes, we are considering getting screens; they are on the list of “Things to buy if we are going to live here for more than a few months.”  Other things on the list: a TV, curtains, end tables, and a new front door.

Back to the kitchen: after two days of scrubbing, bleaching, scraping, bleaching, more scraping, and the eventual deposit of appliances and dishes, here is what we have now:

I realize these are not great pictures.  It is hard to get a full view of the kitchen given that it is only about 8 ft. x 8 ft.  Not joking.  Some of you may have noticed that no refrigerator appears in the photos; that’s because it is not in the kitchen, but rather in the “dining room” on the other side of the half wall.  I’m sure that this is shocking, especially for those of you who don’t know us personally, but we are choosing to live amongst a section of the population that most foreigners (as well as the wealthy of this region) will never see.  My kitchen is comparable to that found in the majority of the “average” Arab homes.  Although there are times that I get jealous of my other foreign friends, who live here with kitchens and apartments that are like little slices of America, I am happy with the path that we are on.  This is the place for us.