Iftar

We have officially been in Tunisia for one week!  With all that we have experienced, and all that we have had to do it feels much longer. Not in a bad way, the days are full and they have that sense of flashing by but also feeling long.

We have had the great fortune to meet some very gracious people this week. People who have extended themselves with acts of hospitality, offers of help, their time, their shoulders to lean on. Grateful can't be said too many times for this community.

We arrived in Tunisia during Ramadan, the month long period of fasting for Muslims. Things here are pretty quiet during the day, but after breaking their fast our city certainly has a new energy about it. The breaking of the fast is called Iftar. After fasting all day it is tradition to begin by eating dates and water. This is part tradition and part practical, the dates give a nice hit of sugar and nutrients and the your body is ready for some hydration after not having anything to drink all day.

Dates filled with almond paste and rolled in crushed pistachios

I have to give this little spoiler alert. The pictures in this post aren't great. They were done on a camera phone in poor light, but I felt the evening needed to be documented.

All the new staff here at the school were invited to an Iftar dinner, the dinner where Muslim's break their fast. It is a big family affair, and there is a very celebratory air about it. Our neighbors are all out playing soccer on the beach, the cafe's are filled with men drinking tea and smoking. We went to a special restaurant downtown, it was owned by a woman who is a Princess of the last Ottoman ruler over Tunis. (I could be wrong so don't quote me)

Our dinner was lead by 2 veteran staff members. Dorsaf who is Phoenician and Karima who was born in Algeria and has lived in Tunisia since she was a small girl. I have to say they are the most interesting women I have ever met. I look forward to sitting down for another chat with them soon.

Dorsaff and Karima

After the dates, we were next served a four course starter (four course)! Soup, similar to Avgolemono, couscous with raisins, a salad with tuna and shrimp, and a meat dish that I was told was a sausage. Everything was fabulous. The flavors big and bold but not overly done. After this we were served Brik which is a Tunisian specialty. It is a pastry similar to Phyllo, wrapped around some highly seasoned ground meat, and an egg. The whole thing is deep fried (that can't be bad right?) and when you eat it you squeeze a little lime over it.  My husband asked where he would be able to find it in Tunis, they were mighty good.


We were stuffed,  and we weren't sure what the etiquette was. Must you be a part of the Clean Plate Ranger's club during Iftar? I'm contacting Emily Post to find out.  After the above we were served our main course. Andy had Lamb with figs, and almonds, I had a chicken that was oven poached in local olive oil, my friend Julie of Bergamot Orange had the stuffed calamari.

Olive Oil Poached Chicken

Stuffed Calamari

Lamb Braised with Figs and Stone Fruit with Almonds

I guess when you fast all day you feel entitled to eat your entire weeks worth of calories in one sitting because next came dessert. We were groaning at this point and I am pretty sure I heard someone say this wasn't fair.

There was, what I would call a fruit salad. Fresh fruits, almond, and a little cream. It was very refreshing and had I known that more was to come I would have only sampled it.  Next came a Pistachio pudding which was light and not overly sweet and this was served with fresh mint tea that had a thick cap of pine nuts floating on top. It was unusual and I think I would really like to try it again when the temperature dips below 98. Hot tea on a hot night doesn't equal good times to me. Lastly, out came some almond cookies which were very similar to Greek Kouramebides or Mexican Wedding Cookies.

Mint tea and Pistachio Pudding

Almond Cookies

This however was not the end of our night.  Oh no, we rolled our over stuffed and groaning bodies back into the bus and headed over the Medina and Casbah for a short tour. We passed the sights of the recent revolution complete with razor wire and soldiers still on guard. The Libyan Embassy was flying it's new flag as news was just rolling in that Tripoli was being taken by the rebel fighters. The streets were crowded with families strolling and of course men smoking and drinking tea. 

At the entrance to the Medina I was talking to Karima and asking her as many questions as I could in the short amount of time we had. I noticed that her eyes kept welling up with tears, but she would go on with her stories, passing on important bits of information. At the end of the tour she told me that this was the first time that she had returned to the Medina since the revolution. She was seeing again in her minds eye her friends and fellow countrymen being beaten, reliving the realization that they had fought a hard won fight that was not yet finished, and coming into the fullness of the great hope and fear that now grips her nation as they await elections. 

At the outset of the evening I was not sure what to expect. The evening was so much more than my words here can express. The Tunisian people I have met are filled with pride for their country, with hope for their future, and a joy for life that I have not seen in my travels. We really are living in interesting times and living here in Tunisia, I feel I am living at the crossroads of history in the making.


Tunisia so far......


The picture above is the view from our bedroom window at 5 am on our first full day in Carthage. 

It is pinch me gorgeous isn't it. Can you see how blue that water is? Sigh.

The landing here hasn't been soft. It's been as expected though. Good moments, hard moments, adjustments of expectations, slamming learning curve. It will be good in time. As we left Seattle my cousin Becky pulled me in tight and whispered, "I wish I could transport you to next August. The second year is always easier." She's right, the second year is always easier. But since I'm deep into the first week, and time travel isn't quite yet mainstream, I'll just take things one day at a time.

Today I was in a funk and I don't really know why. (My husband would say, "Um, it's because you moved to Africa 3 days ago.....") I probably should give myself a little more grace and time to settle in.

This afternoon I read a quote from a friend of ours:
When we take for granted what God has done and is doing, we lose interest in what He will do. A simple prayer: Thank you Lord for what you have done; thank you for what you are doing. Thank you for what you will do. ~Gary Thomas. So while I chew on that, I'll let you dream of all the good things we have been feasting on here. 

It has been our good fortune to have several of the staff here at school host dinners for all us newbies every evening since our arrival. They truly are a gracious and hospitable group.  Here is tonight's menu!
Handmade, Handmade people, couscous with cinnamon, chili, raisins and chickpeas
Lamb
Shrimp
Pork Tenderloin
Roasted vegetables
Tunisian carrot salad
Peaches, plums, Nectarines, figs and melons
Tiramisu and cannoli
Tunisian wines, and actually they are very good!

I'm hoping to put together some sort of meal plan and get into our kitchen to do something other than warm a croissant next week.  Hopefully I'll pull together something to write about! Until then our next big adventure is finding out how to dispose of our garbage.

Here We Go!


Last 2 days at the lake.
Last 2 days with family in Seattle.
Fly to Tunisia on Monday.

Thankfully the "To Do" list is keeping my mind occupied so that I'm not in a total state of anxiety. We need to get the house cleaned and organized, pack up what is left here, and find some interesting ways to use up what food we have left.  If you happen to have a recipe that uses blackberries, 2 stalks of celery, half a loaf of sourdough bread, and 3 veggie burgers to feed a family of 4 I'd love to see it!

Last night was the final BBQ. We spent a slightly chilly evening sitting around a fire in the backyard of an old friend talking about life and the path that it has taken. It wasn't the path that either of us had expected, for him there have been many painful moments of late but goodness is coming. I can just feel it. For my family, we hadn't set out to live overseas, but we have embraced it and we have grown, and we love this funky little life we have. I think we are ready for this move. We've read about Carthage, where we will be living. We have seen pictures of our new home and imagined a bit about what life will be like there. We have taken French lessons so we can communicate (sort of). We have talked, and prayed, and cried, and dreamed as a family. Yes. We're ready.

We took a dessert to the BBQ. I needed to use up what was left of our flour, sugar, butter etc. So I settled on a pound cake as it would use up the most of what we had.  So here you have it, the last recipe from summer 2011.

See you in Tunisia!

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake
Adapted from Sara Foster, The Foster's Market Cookbook
Serves 12
For the Cake: 
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups butter at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of lemon zest
2 cups of blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons of flour
For the Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
juice from one large lemon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 10 cup bundt pan.

In a mixing bowl place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat until well combined and slightly fluffy the butter and cream cheese. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and light in color, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and lemon zest and mix well to combine.

On low speed add the flour mixture and mix well.

Toss the blueberries with the 2 tablespoons of flour. This will prevent the berries from sinking in the cake. Gently fold the berries into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 1 hour-1 hour and 15 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is baking mix together the powdered sugar and the lemon juice. Stir until the sugar dissolves then set aside.

When the cake is removed from the oven allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto serving platter and while still warm drizzle the glaze evenly over the top of the cake.  Allow to cool completely before serving.

Winding Down

Winding down or gearing up. I'm not sure where I fall at this moment. We have been having all our last of the summer BBQ's, coffee dates, and walks along the bay with friends and family, so in that sense we are winding down our time here in Bellingham. We also are making packing lists, buying school clothes (mourning that the girls will not be wearing school uniforms), organizing and putting the house to bed for the year, so we are also gearing up for the move too.

Kayaks at the ready

Reed Lake

The last of the summer strawberries

The remnants of a lazy afternoon spent with friends

Someone who would very much like a bite of your cookie.
Good boy Tucker.

Last evening we celebrated a birthday of a dear friend and at the same time said "see ya later". 
We don't say goodbye.
Goodbye is sad.
I can manage "see ya later".

We had hamburgers from the grill, and birthday cake, and a campfire. It was a gorgeous evening, the kids drove off at some point to watch the sunset over the bay and we grown ups went for a walk. It was peaceful and bittersweet.

6 days until we leave........I think we're ready.


Layered Bean Dip
For Sue's Birthday
1, 15 oz can black refried beans
2 ripe avocados
juice of 1/2 lime
salt
2 cups sour cream
1 package taco seasoning mix
1 medium tomato seeded and diced
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
3 green onions sliced 

Place the refried beans in a medium mixing bowl. Mix the beans with a wooden spoon until creamy and smooth. Spoon the beans onto a serving platter and smooth out evenly into a circle.
Peel and dice the avocado and place in a small mixing bowl.  Add the lime juice and a big pinch of salt. Mash the avocado with the tines of a fork until fairly smooth and the lime juice is well incorporated. Spoon the avocado mixture over the beans and spread evenly.
Mix together the sour cream and the taco seasoning and spread this on top of the avocado.
Evenly sprinkle the tomato, cheese, and green onions over the top of the sour cream.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 3 hours before serving.
Serve with tortilla chips.

A Little Celebration

Huge milestone in the Donahue house.  You'd think that I would be posting on our upcoming move to Tunisia (our departure date is in one week fyi). Nope, yesterday our oldest daughter got her drivers license. After taking drivers ed last summer, and advancing from driving like Mr. Magoo to being quite an excellent and cautious driver, and driving the 50 hours needed to get her license we found ourselves sitting at the Dept. of Licensing waiting for her to take her test.

I think that we were more nervous for her to take this test than when we dropped her off for her first day of kindergarten.

We paced, peeked through window blinds, and also celebrated this wonderful kid that we have. I'm not sure who was more relieved when she walked into the waiting area with the word from the drive instructor that she passed!! Yay!

We offered to take her out to celebrate, anywhere her heart desired.  She quickly responded that what she really wanted to do was to take her little sister out to dinner, just the two of them.  Told you she was wonderful. The girls went out for cheeseburgers later leaving Andy and I to celebrate on our own.


We split a bottle of Lambic Framboise, a Belgian raspberry beer.  It's a great beer for a hot summer day, almost a cross between a sangria and beer.  Fruity, bubbly, smooth and all too easy to drink. Then for dinner we had Salmon burgers and some baby greens with a mustardy dressing. Also very summery.


And so we celebrated our great kids, our good fortune, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and our upcoming adventure. Phew, that's a lot of celebrating!

Salmon Burgers
1 ½ pounds wild salmon filet skinned and finely chopped
1 egg white
½ red onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large mixing bowl beat the egg white until broken up and slightly frothy.  Add the red onion, lemon zest, basil, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper.  Whisk well to combine.  Add the salmon and working quickly mix  well and then shape into 4 patties. 
Place the patties on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Place the salmon patties in the pan and let cook until browned and slightly crusty on one side, approximately 3-5 minutes. Flip them over and finish cooking approximately 3 minutes or to your desired degree of doneness.

A word about wild vs farmed salmon:
Having grown up on the west coast of the US I have been spoiled by the abundance of wild salmon available. I had never tasted or heard of farmed salmon until I was in college and I was shocked at how bland the farmed stuff tasted. Then news reports started coming out about the environmental impact of farmed salmon as well as nutritional problems. The U.S. Department of Agriculture research bears out that the fat content of farmed salmon is 30-35 percent by weight while wild salmons’ fat content is some 20 percent lower, though with a protein content about 20 percent higher. And farm-raised fish contain higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats instead of the preponderance of healthier omega 3s found in wild fish.

In addition due to the feedlot conditions of aquafarming, farm-raised fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin. Farmed salmon are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed “without which their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color.

Go with the wild salmon okay. Be it King, Coho, or Sockeye, nothing tops the taste of a wild salmon.  Yes they may be pricier but they are well worth it, and you are supporting your local fishermen!

A word about canned salmon:
Canned salmon has the same nutritional benefits as fresh. Don’t be alarmed however when you open up that can to find black bits of skin and bones sticking out. You can eat the skin and bones, the canning process makes the bones soft and from what I gather are an excellent source of calcium.  If you are a tad more squeamish, like moi, you can find some “gentrified” canned salmon products.  Look for boneless and skinless on the label to avoid the shock.
And always look for the label to read WILD salmon!

Summer Afternoon Staples

Everyone has their go to things. Certain meals that you can make even if you were in a coma, your kids favorite cookies, your grandmothers Christmas fudge. Things from memory that come together easily and with little effort.  I have a few appetizers that I can throw together on the fly when friends stop by on a gorgeous summer afternoon.
Here they are.


A bowl of Edamame.  No cooking involved, nicer than a bowl of nuts and more health conscience than a bowl of chips. They are fun to eat and really tasty.

Lavender cheddar, Apricot paste, Green olives, Rondole cheese spread, Salami

Cheese and crackers.  You can be as casual or fancy as you like. You can choose really stinky cheeses or go for a more mellow palate, just make sure to have a variety. I like to choose a soft cheese like a Camembert or Brie or even an herbed cheese spread such as Rondole, like what is shown above. A semi- hard or hard cheese such as a Cheddar, Gouda, Grana Padana, or Gruyere. I also like to throw in a blue cheese or a goat cheese. Then I like to add olives, Quince or Fig paste, and some salami. Serve with crackers or really good bread.


Guacamole. Who doesn't like Guacamole? This one is made with some leftover Edamame. It was buttery smooth with a little heat. We like it with tortilla chips, pita chips, or veggies. It's also great as a sandwich spread.


Red Pepper Hummus. Garbanzo beans, roasted red bell peppers, and tahini pureed with some chipotle and lemon and just enough olive oil to bring it all together.

What are your summer throw together appetizers?

Guacamame
1 cup shelled Edamame, thawed if frozen
4 ripe avocado peeled and diced
1/2 red onion chopped very fine
1 tomato seeded and chopped fine
1 jalapeno seeds and ribs removed and minced. Use less if you desire a less spicy dip.
2 limes juiced.
salt and pepper to taste.
In the bowl of a food processor place the Edamame and process until a smooth puree forms. You may need to add a tablespoon or so of water the bring it together.
In a large mixing bowl combine the Edamame puree, the avocado, onion, jalapeno and lime juice. Mash together with the tines of a fork until it is mostly smooth and some chunks of avocado remain. Season with salt and pepper.

Red Pepper Hummus

1, 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans
1 clove of garlic minced
1 tablespoon of chipotle pepper in adobo
¼ cup tahini paste
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 red bell peppers roasted and chopped
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted pita bread and assorted vegetables to serve

In the bowl of a food processor place the garbanzo beans, the garlic, chipotle pepper, tahini, and lemon juice. Process until smooth.  Add the red peppers and olive oil and pulse until the peppers are chopped fine. Season with salt and pepper and serve with pita and vegetables for dipping.
To roast bell peppers
First wash the peppers and make sure any stickers are removed. Turn the burners of a gas range on high and place the peppers directly onto the grates. Using tongs, turn the peppers so they get evenly charred. The peppers may hiss and bubble; it's just the water from the peppers evaporating.
As soon as the peppers are blackened all over, place them in a bowl and cover the bowl with a plate or with plastic wrap. The peppers will steam making it easier to peel. Do not peek or let the steam out.
While the peppers cool, set up your cutting board. Once cool, take your first pepper, and with a sharp paring knife, make a slit down the length of the pepper cutting through only the top skin. Cut the flesh away from around the stem, discard the stem and seed knob and open up the rest of the pepper like a book. Scrape the seeds from the inside of the pepper,
Turn the pepper over and scrape the knife against the skin of the pepper, scraping off all of the charred skin. Wipe off the knife. Slice the pepper into strips and place in the bowl. Never wash the peppers or the taste will be diminished. When finished with the peppers, cover them in olive oil, adding some garlic slivers, if desired, and store in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.

What makes your list?

Today I saw an article from CNN that listed the World's 50 most delicious foods.  At first I thought only 50? Seems fairly limiting since they apparently did a world wide search.

I did notice that Singapore boasts 2 entries. Chicken Rice and Chili Crab.  Now Chili Crab I get, serious yum.  The sauce is spicy but not overly so, the crab is meaty and sweet. It is however sloppy and messy so I wouldn't order it if you were on a first date, or if you are wearing a white shirt. We loved to go to Jumbo Seafood on East Coast in Singapore for Chili Crab.  All of our visitors loved it! The best part of the whole dish is sopping up all the extra sauce with these little fried buns that they serve along side.


Chicken Rice? C'mon, it's nothing more than steamed or boiled chicken served atop oily not great flavored rice with a side of baby Kai Lan. On the side are 3 little dipping bowls with dark soy, chili paste, and ginger. They perk the dish up a bit but certainly not most delicious in the world perked up.  Now I'm certain that people will say that I just never had good Chicken Rice, and there will probably be a campaign launched to ban me from ever re-entering the country because of this blasphemy, but I stand by my opinion. Chicken Rice is just, meh.

Really? World's most delicious?

So what would be on MY list? Lechon Asada with Mojo (Cuban Roast Pork), Dungeness crab and Copper River Salmon, A perfectly ripe peach, Yum Sam O (Thai pomelo salad), Chicken Adobo....Most likely my list stems from memories, emotions, or the people who made them. Your list would be different. 
So tell me, what would be on your list?

Singapore-Style Chili Crabs
Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence
Ingredients
2 whole cooked Dungeness crabs
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons hot chili paste
2 tablespoons oyster sauce or Indonesian soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce or regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 serrano chile, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
Directions
Pull the main shell off the crab and discard it. Remove the gray gills and the soft insides. Cut the body in half and then cut between each leg. Crack the legs and claws with the back of the knife or a hammer and set aside.
In a bowl mix the ketchup, chili paste, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and tamarind paste; thin it with 1/4 cup water and set aside. Pour the oil into a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the scallion, ginger, garlic, 1/2 the chile, and cilantro and cook for 1 minute. Add the crab and stir-fry for another minute. Pour in the sauce and continue cooking, stirring often, until the crab has absorbed the sauce and the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes.
Put onto a platter and garnish with the rest of the chile and cilantro. Serve with plenty of napkins!
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