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Monday Listicle: Food

Mid-December and the madness is upon us: students trapped in end-of-semester zombie-state, with circles under their eyes down to their jawlines; piles of (as yet ungraded) papers; emails from Grandma asking what the boys want for Christmas presents; a round of holiday parties (some a pleasure, some an obligation); and of course the requisite dementia-inducing Christmas music being piped into all the malls.  The cognitive dissonance of standing in the grocery checkout line at the Australian-owned grocery store next to a woman swathed in black abaya and sheyla as my groceries are rung up by the lovely Filipina at the register … and Bruce Springsteen howls “Santa Claus is comin’ to town…”  Sometimes the world seems much flatter than other times.

But. Holidays. Holidays in almost any culture means sharing and eating food. Cookies, cakes, pastries, soup…all the recipes come out at holiday time.  So Stasha’s listicle this week–suggested by Bridget at the always funny Twinisms— asks us to think about food, and I thought that maybe I’d list my favorite recipes or favorite holiday treats, but let’s face it: I am a competent cook and only a so-so baker, so my recipes aren’t going to be that much fun.

Better, I thought, to offer you all a list bounteous with schadenfreude: you can read my list of food fails and feel better by comparison. Consider it my holiday gift to you.

You’re welcome.

1. My new favorite cocktail, the French 75.  A delicate drink that packs a whammy: gin, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, champagne. I read the recipe, thought “hey, that’s easy,” and mixed up a cocktail for myself and Husband.  Who knew you weren’t supposed to put the champagne in the cocktail shaker with the other ingredients? Do you know what happens when you put champagne in a jar and shake it? Yes. Expensive French fizz pretty much all over.  Expensive French sticky fizz. The drinks looked pretty (although a tad foamy), but apparently you’re only supposed to top off the glass with champagne. Who knew?

2. Baked brie. Who doesn’t love a baked brie? Gooey warm cheese wrapped in flaky pastry (courtesy of Pillsbury, natch) that gets spread on yet more bread. Dee-vine.

Now I’d like you to imagine the top of that delicious-looking treat completely charred. Yep, blackened, as if the instructions read “cook Cajun style.”  In case you’re wondering, blackened baked brie is not a taste treat. Not even if you try to slice off the burned top and flip the thing over. Then you get something that resembles smushed bread floating in goo. Unappetizing in the extreme.

3. Pizza with goat cheese, spinach, and carmelized onions. Yum. You can serve this for supper or cut it into small pieces and use it as an appetizer. Use pizza crust, or boboli, or flatbread, then spread goat cheese, sauteed spinach, and carmelized onions on top. Heat the pizza a bit so the goat cheese gets warm and melty.  Do not flip it over onto the bottom of the oven as you try to take it out of the oven. If, perchance, you should flip the entire goddamn thing onto the bottom of the oven, make sure no one sees you scoop the toppings off the oven floor and attempt to re-arrange them on the pizza crust.  Should someone see you do that, you can assure them that it’s okay because you never clean the oven, so it’s not like they’re going to be tasting any chemicals along with their goat cheese.

4. Very Important Realization (VIR): checking the expiration date on the package of yeast is always a good idea. Otherwise, your pizza crust dough might look something like this:

We went out for dinner instead.

5. Birthday cakes. Ah, birthday cakes. I want so badly to be that parent, the one who lovingly crafts perfect confections for the little darlings. Erin, over at the Sisterhood of the Sensible Momsshe is that parent:

If she weren’t so funny and kind, you’d sort of have to hate her.

My birthday cakes don’t look like that. They’re more…um….let’s say they exhibit a charming DIY sensibility, shall we?

Another VIR?  Frosting is the spanx of baking. It can make anything look good. Or at least okay.

6.  And yet a third VIR?  Find friends who cook, and cook well.  Their recipes and advice (and samples!) are invaluable. I’m lucky to know Sean over at Big Poppa Eats, with his cobbler, and Lily, Abu Dhabi’s very own Queen of Tarts. And of course, the Sisterhood of Sensible Moms (when I’m not feeling intimidated, cakely speaking)…

7.  My foodie talent might run in the family. During our growing-up years, when we asked my mom what was for dinner, she’d say “chicken glop” or “hamburger glop” or, basically, whatever form of protein she’d purchased mixed with some cans of tomatoes and spices. Usually it tasted good but the concept of “glop” remains in my head, whenever I confront the dinner hour, with one kid who does not like sauces, another kid who loves sauces, a husband who will eat pretty much anything, and me, who would happily be a vegetarian but lives in a house of carnivores.  That’s why I often find myself in what I call three-way chicken hell, even though I vow (pretty much monthly) that I will not cave in to all these separate preferences.

8. Shopping for food in a country not your own always presents challenges. For the most part, I can find food we’re used to here, or at least versions of what we’re used to. There is bacon, for instance, although it’s hideously expensive and requires doing the walk of shame into the pork room at the grocery store. But then there are those jarring moments when you realize, as you browse the shelves, that you’re in a country that caters to a palate very different than your own:

9.  This:

Would someone please explain A) what is a “malt loaf” and B) what it means to have “squidgy energy”?

10. Okay. I will make one gesture towards recouping my culinary sense of self.  I have learned how to make a pretty kick-ass cinnamon roll. And the smell of baking cinnamon rolls is like a holiday all in itself.

Continue Reading · on December 12, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, food, Monday Listicle, UAE

Monday Listicles: what i learned in 2012

Stasha’s listicle today, with a suggestion from Kerstin at Auer Life: ten things we learned in 2012.

I’d like to go on record as saying it’s still a little soon to be making lists about the entirety of 2012. I mean, in the next six weeks, before 2013 hits, I still plan to learn Arabic, figure out the intricacies of crochet, and master the art of pie-crust.

In the meantime, however, and in no particular order, what did I learn in 2012?

1. I love twitter. I love the challenge of 140 characters; I love the fast responses; I’m a sucker for a good hashtag.

2. I learned to paddleboard. I even bought one: a nifty inflatable thing that rolls up and fits in the back of my car. It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s great exercise. And then I hurt my shoulder and I’ve not been able to paddle for almost two months.

3. Blogher ’12 taught me all kinds of things: say hello to strangers, because they might turn out to be Good Day Regular People, or The Suniverse.

4. I learned also at Blogher to give people talking to you your full attention, because the person speaking might be the mah-velous Marinka and when you realize you missed an opportunity to talk to her, you will feel pretty much like an idiot for…well, let’s see, that was August and this is November so…

5. I learned that missing my sister and my mom and my brother – and my dear friends “stateside” – is something that needs to be kept sort of over there in a little room that doesn’t get unlocked very often, because if it did get unlocked, then the rushing of emotion would be almost Sandy-like in its power.

6. I know a little bit about this whole expat thing now, even though I am surprised almost daily by what I don’t know. And I’m surprised, sometimes, by my own resilience (or powers of denial – see #5)

7.  I learned that there are limits to my imagination: I could not for the life of me imagine why a woman would want to vote for Romney. I’m sure there are many, many women who had good reasons for casting their votes for him, but I can’t get myself into those moccasins. I think that makes me a bad less-good person.

8. I learned that I like – no, I mean really like – Rachel Maddow. And I wonder if anyone has done a survey of women who consider themselves more or less straight to see how many of them would consider switching to the other team if Rachel would but cast a friendly eye in their direction.

9. I learned – or rather, I am learning – that living without cheese is a bit like living without daily phone conversations with my sister. It’s possible, but it’s nowhere near as much fun.

10. I learned – or re-learned – that I am happiest when I’m writing. And yet, of course, writing is also this:

What’s that old saying? A writer is person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Yeah. That. I guess you could say I learned that in 2012, too.

Continue Reading · on November 19, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Monday Listicle, writing

Monday’s Listicle: Things That Make You Go “hmm…”

The Sisterhood chose the listicle topic for today: “things that make you go hmmm.”  If you don’t know the Sisterhood, you should; they’re exactly the kind of people you’d like to have on vacation with you, in part because they’re so good at finding the “hmmm” in everything. I keep asking them to adopt me but they mutter something about having too many kids, and I’m too far away, and so the best I can hope for is to join their lists.  Make sure you click over to Stasha’s site and see what else makes people say “hmmm.”

 

1. Sylvester Stallone selling . . . fine pens? You know that Sly, he never gets credit for being intelleckshual.

2. How the windows in my fifty-story apartment building get washed:

Apparently, the little scaffolding platform that they used got stuck too often, including once last month when it crashed through someone’s apartment window.  So now we get these window-washing rappelling guys who are being belayed by these guys down on the street.  Not precisely confidence-inspiring, is it?

3. This house, in a compound way outside of town. All the houses in this brand-new compound are dust-colored: beige, tan, brown. Except this one, which takes up most of the block, and whose owners seem to have purchased every single lawn doodad in the shop: fake urns? check. playground equipment? check. plaster stag-head, “rock” waterfall, plastic swans? check, check, and check.

4. The dosage instructions for Liam’s antibiotics, because scrawled instructions on the side of the box are so professional:

5 & 6 are things that make me say “ewwww” rather than “hmmm:”

7.  This also makes me say “ewww” but with a slightly different emphasis:

It’s what happens to cheese if you leave it in the car for about 15 minutes while you run into another shop.

8. Speaking of cheese, here’s another “hmm:” Wisconsin’s failure to recall Scott Walker. Given that Wisconsin is where the Progressive movement started (Robert LaFollette ran on the Progressive Presidential ticket in 1924; he was also an outspoken critic of corporate involvement in politics) and given the state’s long history of liberalism (yes, I said the L-word), Walker’s policies are all the more shameful, as is his debt to the Koch brothers.  I know many of you cheese-heads worked like dogs to oust this guy but I’m wondering how those of you who voted to keep Walker in power justify that decision? Do you think the Brothers Koch will be sending you million-dollar checks any time soon? Let me know how that goes, m’kay?

9.  This ad, in the Marks & Spencer mall near our house. Does Ryan need the money? I dunno, but he sure is nice to look at while I shop:

10.  These “toys” I saw being sold in a “bookstore” (or at least, a store that sold book-related products).  Really shows girls how to aim high, professionally speaking, don’t you think?

And if your little princess should get tired of top trends, here’s the companion volume:

11. And because I’m not always a crotchety old lady, I throw in a bonus “hmm…”  Not all “hmm” has to be bad, right? This bird lives with his family in the shrubs near where I go to yoga. When I walk by this fine feathered fellow on my way to class, I say to myself, “hmm….life here in the desert ain’t all bad.”

Continue Reading · on June 11, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Monday Listicle, Politics, pop culture, UAE

Monday Listicle: Home

Home. That’s what Stasha is asking us to think about this week and as often happens, the listicle topic and the topic floating around in my own brain right now seem to mesh. I’ve been missing “home” a bit, even as I’m wondering where home is: is it with my mom, in Indiana, a state where I’ve never actually lived? Is it New York, where I no longer have an apartment? Is it Abu Dhabi, where I live in an apartment filled with furniture that belongs to the management company, not to us?

Maybe the answer is “all of the above.”

So. Given all these possibilities, a list about home.

1. Settled – we’re staying another year.  Unsettled – it still feels like new territory

2. Light – our living room has an amazing view of the Gulf, the city, the sky. Dark – the kitchen has walls the color of old oatmeal and no windows.

3. Spacious – to my squashed New York perspective, I think to myself we have a three bedrooms, which means the boys in one room, grownups in another, and one whole room for people to play computer games in, without mommy yelling politely requesting that they turn that damn thing game down.  Cramped – Liam desperately wants his own room; I don’t have a desk of my own; piles of paper are slowly coalescing around Husband’s desk like coral growing on a reef.

4. Decorated – there are silk drapes at the windows and alabaster light fixtures in the ceiling.  Overdone – I didn’t choose the drapes, didn’t choose the light fixtures, didn’t choose the rugs. It’s all better than what would’ve been here if we’d moved into an unfurnished apartment (windows with no privacy, bare bulbs in the ceiling, cold tile floors), but occasionally I want to chuck it all and start again with MY stuff.

5. Comfortable – the couch in the living room is perfect for napping or cuddling for story time.  Uncomfortable – the chairs that came with this dining room set are white leather with wood trim and give me a back ache. (Carmela Soprano would love them, however.)

6. Fragrant – we have sweet-smelling candles around, and occasionally I go into my dreary kitchen and cook good-smelling food. Smelly – the heat and humidity combine to create the fastest-growing breed of mildew you’ve ever sniffed: dishrags and washclothes can go from clean to euuwwww in about two hours.

7. Warm – sunlight streams in, an ocean breeze wafts in through the open window…eight or nine months a year. Freezing – the AC blasts non-stop the rest of the time; I keep a sweater draped over the back of my chair.

8. Loud – boys squabbling, music playing, and everything here pings: the microwave beeps, the washer beeps, the dishwasher beeps, the dryer beeps, even the damn fridge beeps if you leave the door open too long.  Quiet – unlike New York, where a constant barrage of sirens penetrates everywhere, the streets are quieter here, which means that the stillness in our apartment astonishes my New York ears.

9. Clean – the amazing luxury of a cleaning lady means no dust, tidy bathrooms, floors that aren’t sticky. Messy – socks on tables, homework spread on all surfaces, Very Important Lego Projects being built across the bedroom floor.

10.  Home – we live here.  Visiting – it’s an apartment in someone else’s city, not ours.

the sunset from our living room window a few months ago – no image manipulation whatsoever, I promise

Continue Reading · on May 28, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, Monday Listicle

monday’s listicle: a list for husbands

Because of traveling and work and just general life, I’ve missed a few listicles, which I swear to god keeps me awake at night – will Stasha hate me, I wonder?  But now the semester is over, so I’m climbing back on the listicle bandwagon – and this week’s topic is a doozy: a list for husbands.  How to tackle such a topic, especially when one’s Husband is perfect, the very model of a modern man? (Cue Gilbert and Sullivan here).  I mean, a person might write a list itemizing all the ways in which her partner’s shortcomings make her realize that the only reasons swans can mate for life is because they neither speak nor wear socks – but humans are not so lucky.

My sweet husband, however, in our almost fifteen years of marriage (how in god’s name we’ve been married this long seems impossible, given that we’re both only 29), has perfected any number of important staying-married skills.  Here are a few high points for other husbands (or wives, whichever seems appropriate).

1. Husbands do not wake their wives up for sports.  Husband loves the New York Rangers with a deep and abiding passion. He is a Fan. I am not a Fan, or a fan, or even someone who particularly likes hockey. Nevertheless, I am aware that having the Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a Seriously Big Deal. I mean, the last time that happened was in the previous century, for god’s sake.  Stanley Cup Playoffs is the good news. The bad news? We live nine time zones away, which means that in order to watch the games, Husband gets up at ungodly hours of the morning: 3:30, 4:00, 2:00.  Here’s how much he loves me: the nights (or mornings) he’s going to watch the game, he sleeps on the couch in the TV room because his darling wife has become an insomniac and if he stirs out of bed at 3AM, she will wake up and never go back to sleep. This will make her grumpy. She has been known to bite when she is tired.

2. Husbands offer unconditional tech support with little or no explanations. Yes, I know, I know, I should learn how to do various techy things myself but really? I don’t want to and it gives you such pleasure…just download, install, sync, upgrade. There is no need to explain your decisions to me; you’re the one who reads Wired. I have nothing to offer in this conversation.  (And for all those times I haven’t said thank you? Thank you.)

3.  Husbands offer unsolicited compliments, foot rubs, and gifts. These things do not all have to happen at the same time – sequentially is fine, but unsolicited is key.

4. Husbands remind their partners that “hot” doesn’t always have to refer to feverish children, soup, or last night’s leftovers. Husbands should also be aware that sometimes “hot” really DOES mean children, soup, leftovers, and that maybe it’s a good night to watch reruns of last year’s Premier League games.

5. Husbands know these things: how to make a crisp G&T; how find joy playing with their offspring; and that the grosser elements of housekeeping (clogged drains, clogged toilets, dead bugs, live bugs) will be his domain. Continue Reading →

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Continue Reading · on May 22, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, family, marriage, Monday Listicle

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