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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.


This has not been a stellar week for eating in my house.  I’m not quite sure what exactly to blame it on…I have a few suspicions (well, one in particular), but in general I can say that it has been very difficult to get back in the swing of things.  Especially because, at this point in our lives, we are in a period of rather inactive waiting with nothing specific to do, and I have found that in times of aimlessness like this, I am prone to wasting inordinate amounts of time doing absolutely nothing.  Hopefully we have only one or two more weeks of this before some of our future life murkiness clears up…

Upon returning from our long trip, we spent several days grudgingly eating thawed chicken-and-vegetable noodle soup, the very same soup that seemed like such a lifesaver when we returned from traveling and there it was, ready to eat in just minutes!  Two days later, there were still several servings lingering in the fridge, and in my desperation to clear out that precious space for food that we actually wanted to eat, I threw the remaining soup in a casserole dish, spread a thick layer of garlicky mashed potatoes on top, and baked it to a bubbly, golden brown.  (This is one of my main tricks of reinventing leftovers…thankfully, it usually works.)  In this case, it was like a potato-y version of chicken and dumplings, and I was happy.

We managed to finish that off, and to replace it with…

Disaster.  I don’t know what happened.  I went to make one of my old stand-by dishes, a spinach-tomato-and-chickpea bake, a dish I have made so many times and which is so fundamentally easy in its composition that I don’t even have a recipe anymore.  And yet this time it turned out weird and watery and I still haven’t figured out what went wrong.  We choked it down the first night and then it sat in the fridge for two days while I wondered if there was any way to save it.  Last night I threw a bunch of curry spices in a pot with some chopped potatoes and cauliflower, and then added the spinach yuckiness, which resulted in a tolerable (although still not entirely enjoyable) curry.  I also put it in a nice serving dish, which is another trick I have for increasing edibility.  However, the addition of more vegetables increased the volume to such an amount that there are, again, leftovers sitting in the fridge.

I really, really hate throwing food away, even when I really, really don’t want to eat it.  But at the same time, I have a very low tolerance for food repetition, especially if it is a food that didn’t taste good the first time I ate it!  There is a good chance that this curry will languish another day or two until I give into the guilt and throw it away.  I doubt even the stray cats that live off my garbage will be interested in it!


P.S.  Do you have any favorite leftover-saving tricks?


I am continuing on in the world of eggplant, although maybe it is no longer eggplant season in America.  Meh.  It seems like it is always eggplant season in the Middle East, so if your world is now devoid of glorious purple orbs, give a little sigh and bookmark for next year any future recipes that seem interesting.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this be a recipe you rush to come next August, although I think it has potential.  It’s from a cookbook called Perfect Mediterranean, one of those little cookbooks that probably has companion versions like Perfect Italian and Perfect Asian.  I think this book concentrates very heavily on the north Mediterranean coast, and this moussaka is definitely closer to the Greek versions than any of the Arab versions I have ever had.

We liked this dish okay but I would make a few changes next time.  My main complaint was that the sauce-to-vegetable ratio was way off; you can see from the pictures the difference between my dish and the cookbook.

In the book...

In my kitchen.

The pieces of vegetable were also annoying large to me, so I’d probably go for chunks rather than slices.  I am going to give you the recipe as is but would suggest doubling the sauce.  I also would add more garlic, because I like garlic, but I would add it to the roasting pan halfway through the process, as leaving it the whole time resulted in burnt garlic.  And I might add potatoes, which are often part of the Arab moussaka, to give it a little more substance.  What would you try to improve this dish?


(from Perfect Mediterranean, Parragon 2008)

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced thickly
  • 2 med. zucchini, sliced thickly
  • 2 onions, cut into small wedges
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped coarsely
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
  • 5 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 ¼ c. strained plain yoghurt
  • 14 oz. canned chopped tomatoes in juice (I used fresh tomatoes)
  • 2 oz. feta cheese

Put the eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell peppers, and garlic in a roasting pan.  Drizzle over the oil, toss together, and then sprinkle over the thyme and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in a preheated oven, 425 F/220 C, for 3-35 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the cooking, until golden brown and tender.

Meanwhile, beat together the eggs and yoghurt and season with salt and pepper.  When the vegetables are cooked, reduce the oven temperature to 350 F/180 C.

Put half the vegetables in a layer in a large ovenproof dish.  Spoon over the tomatoes and their juice, then add the remaining vegetables.  Pour over the yoghurt mixture and crumble over the feta cheese.  Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until golden brown.  Serve hot, warm, or cold.


Although my birthday started out in a very American fashion, I had more fusion-oriented ideas for dinner and my cake.  Dinner was scrapped when one of our neighbors offered me a ride to the surprise dinner party Hungry Husband was planning for me (not realizing that it was supposed to be a surprise—poor sad Hungry Husband).  But I was really excited about my cake idea and made it before we left that evening so that it would be waiting for a late-night treat.

Unfortunately, this is one of those thoughts that was better in my imagination than real life, and I’m giving it to you for a challenge.  The primary issue was a lack of flavor, as the pomegranate did not seem to contribute the way I expected.  The seeds also turned weirdly hard and nubby after baking.  What would you change to ramp up the flavor and accentuate the pomegranate-ness?  Any ideas on how to prevent pomegranate seed hardness?  The original recipe follows; leave your suggestions in the comments!

Pomegranate Pound Cake

  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg white
  • ¾ c. buttermilk
  • 2 tsp. lime zest
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 ½ c. flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • seeds from 1 pomegranate

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Beat the butter and sugar until well combined.

Add the eggs and egg white, one at a time, to the butter and sugar.  Beat well.

In a separate bowl combine the buttermilk, lime, vanilla and baking soda until thoroughly blended.

In another bowl combine the flour and salt.

Alternately add the milk mixture and the flour mixture to the eggs and butter until well blended and without lumps.  Stir in the pomegranate seeds.

Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.