Saturday, February 16, 2013

Now you will know why I am called "The Shredder"

Cucumber and Yogurt salad-- from

So today was "food processor" day in my house.

Not only do I plan my menus around what I find at the produce market, but also what appliances I plan to use.  I would like my first principal, who thought I lacked organization, to take note of this, please.

I plan food processor day for a day I want to make a food processor heavy salad--like coleslaw or tabbouli or hummous.

An old friend taught me to buy peeled garlic in bulk and mince it the food processor.  The peeled garlic has no preservatives and once minced it releases its own oils.  It will keep forever, she claimed.  Turned out, she was right.  I do the garlic first, when the bowl is clean to reduce any chance of moisture or contamination.

I store the minced garlic in the fridge in glass jars.  I haven't had it go bad yet, and I don't have to smell like garlic everyday.

I shred the cabbage, herbs and onions, and veggies for any meals coming up in the next few days.   I always process hummous last.  That way I only have to wash the bowl once.

And I always finish with a yummy cucumber salad/ raita/ whatever you want to call it.  Its common on the Indian subcontinent as well as in the Middle East, though the Indians use garlic and the Arabs use onions.  I'm not a huge cucumber fan, though I always wish I was.  The crisp crunch, the summery smell, the cool thrist quenching freshness... but every time I'm tempted to take a bite-um, no.  Except this salad.  I actually enjoy cucumbers in this salad.  So I make it every food processor day.  It keeps pretty well in the fridge because of the salt and yogurt.

To make the salad, I mince onions and cucumbers--the exact amount depends on how many cucumbers I need to use up.  Its a flexible salad because you can always add more yogurt.  Then I mince some mint.  I salt them to see how much water they are going to release and then mix with greek yogurt.  Its nice with falafal, to cool your palate after spicy food, or served in romaine lettuce leaves.

Oh, and in case you didn't get the title, you obviously didn't grow up with two little brothers in the 80's.  Yes, I know it dates me, but I couldn't resist.  I recently had the pleasure of introducing my kids to the original cartoon series and they've taken to playing "Ninja Turtles" around the house.  Then, we discovered the video game, which quickly became a favorite.  So, I hear this line a lot lately.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Roll With It: Stuffed Cabbage with Chicken

In Arabic, this is also known as Malfoof Mahshi.  I prefer this dish prepared with the Arabian flavors of my husband's homeland as opposed to the Eastern European version with tomato sauce and flavored with ginger that I grew up eating (no offense, Mommy.  Yes, I still call my mother, Mommy)

Until we moved to my husband's hometown I had always made my stuffed cabbage with chopped (not ground) beef.  But, when we moved here I discovered my mother in law making her very delicious stuffed cabbage with chicken.  It's not traditional but, due to the extraordinarily high price of red meat here, its become common.  I actually enjoy it quite a bit like this and have begun making it with chicken myself.

Its preferable to use a looser leafed cabbage for this recipe, but if all you can find is a regular salad cabbage, that's fine too.   For my family, with 7 people eating, I use 3 or 4 cabbages.  I think a family of four would probably use 1 or 2, depending on what you will serve with it.

What You'll Need:
1 cabbage
1 cup of rice, uncooked
2 chicken breast halves or 2 chicken thighs
powdered chicken stock (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
Baharat Makhloot
a lemon (or lemon juice)
garlic, 3 whole cloves or three teaspoons minced
1 tomato

What You Do:
First your going to soak your rice for the stuffing.  Add a good four finger pinch of salt to the rice and pour boiling water over it to cover.  If you see the water being absorbed, add more boiling water so that the rice is always covered.  Let is stand until the water has cooled, then drain.

While the rice is soaking, you will soften the cabbage leaves so that you can roll them.  The traditional way is to cut out the core as much as you can, then plunge the cabbage head into a pot of boiling water.  As the cabbage softens, the leaves become pliable and easy to remove.  That is the way I did it for nearly 10 years... until I discovered that you could do it just as well in the microwave with no appreciable difference.  I cut out the core the same as with the boiling water method and microwaved the cabbage for 10 minutes, flipping it at the halfway point.  As with boiling the cabbage, you will need to repeat this finding that after the outer leaves come off, the inner leaves are still stiff.  You do not want the leaves too limp, just pliable.

After removing the leaves you are going to shave off the center rib using a sharp kitchen knife.  Don't throw them!  You can use these to line your pan and/or fill in the gaps.

To prepare the stuffing (hashwi) you will add a teaspoon of baharat, about 1/4 tsp of pepper, a tablespoon of powdered stock if using, and the 1/2 cup of olive oil.  For a long time I was too conservative with the salt; now I am far more generous.  Please, do not be afraid to taste your stuffing.  The rice should have softened enough that one or two grains can be eaten and this will give you an idea as to how much adjustment your rice and spice need.  When you taste for salt and spicing, you want it to be very richly flavored as the broth will dilute the flavors of the stuffing. Bone your chicken thighs, reserving the bones, and chop them coarsely.    Add the meat to the rice and mix it all with your hands.

Oil the bottom of your pan and cover it with the chicken bones, tomato slices, cabbage ribs, and broken cabbage leaves.  This doesn't need to be a thick layer, just enough so that the rolls will not stick to the bottom of the pan.

Take a cabbage leaf.  Start with the medium size ones until you get the hang of it.  Place it shaved side down with the part that was attached facing you.  Place about a tablespoon of stuffing in a horizontal line across the bottom of the leaf.  Turn in up the bottom, turn in the sides, then roll up.  Continue, fitting them snugly into the bottom of your pot in one layer.  Sprinkle this layer with a generous four finger pinch of salt (substitute some chicken broth powder for the salt if you want a richer flavor), garlic, and a sprinkle of lemon juice.  Repest with another layer, continuing until you have used all of the leaves.  If you have extra gaps on the top layer, fill them with some of the reserved ribs.

Some recipes suggest weighting the rolls with a plate to ensure they don't unroll.  I used a plate for a good number of years in fear of all my hard work coming undone.  Then, my stuffed cabbage on the stove and ready to simmer, I broke the one plate that fit in my pot.   I tried every plate in my kitchen, none fit well, and I finally resorted to cooking the rolls without a plate.  It made no difference and I didn't have to wash an extra plate.  Turns out, my mother in law never uses one either.  If you feel more comfortable, my all means stick a plate on top, but please don't feel like its really necessary if they are snugly fitted.  If you do want to use a plate, stick in on the top before you add your water.

Slowly pour water (or stock, if desired) down the side of the pot, aiming for a hole in between your rolls if possible.  Add just enough water to cover the rolls.  I find its better to be conservative with the water.  You can always add more and too much will dilute the flavor and make for watery rolls.  Cook over medium heat until the water boils then cover and reduce the heat to low.  You can check the flavor of the broth before covering.  If it needs more salt, this is the easiest time to add it as it will dissolve in the water covering the rolls. These will need to simmer for about an hour and a half.  If it starts to look (or smell) like the water has all been absorbed you can add more boiling water.  I usually have water heated in my tea kettle for this reason.   After an hour and a half, you can taste a roll to check if they are done.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Many hearts. Much love--My lifestyle

I received a comment the other day from a sister wondering about burnout.  She raised a number of very valid points--points in fact that I would have completely agreed with "back in the day".  Her comment was this: about a never ending job! Your sooooo well organized...mashallah, but sis dont you ever get bored or tired of the never ending cleaning? How is your body and skin holding up? I know the 2 years I was at home it was hell for me, the everything rote routine of cooking and cleaning was just too dulling for me to get into, infact it made me really-really-really depressed, I hated waking up in the morning cuz I knew I had to cook, clean, cook and clean some more...yuck. I hated it. How do you handle that sort of life? do you ever get fed up and tired from the routine? How do you stay mentally alert? Do you look forward to each day?
wow...i am in awe thought...i guess your a born housewife...I for one, am definetly not. LOL. I hope your family appreciates their superwoman mom and wife! 

Do I ever get bored or tired of the never ending cleaning?  Well, of course I get tired of scrubbing a floor and then finding a quart of milk spilled all over it 5 minutes later... I think anyone would and it has required me to develop patience.  But, I do think its important to remember that every single job has its frustrations and monotony.  Even the most exciting jobs can become monotonous in their excitement.  I know a man who buys and "flips" distressed properties for a living, and a good living at that.  He makes much more money than he would make at an office job and by all accounts his is an exciting job.  He gets to go to auctions and can meet with Realtors over coffee or lunch if he desires.  He scopes out distressed properties and envisions their potential.  Shopping for design elements at Lowes or Home Depot is part of his job.  Sounds exciting and enviable?  It is, and for a long time he loved it... but this man has considered going back to school and getting his degree in a more mundane field.  Why?  Because the adrenaline of the auction, the excitement itself,  has become monotonous and he wants a 9 to 5 job.

I have never know anyone that was not frustrated or bored with some aspect of their job.  That's the bottom line and that's the truth.  Nurses get frustrated with doctors, doctors get frustrated with their patients.  Lawyers get exasperated with other lawyers.  No one is immune.  The point is, when you see your job as valuable and desirable, when your occupation is truly your calling, your mind causes you to look past the frustrations and rewards you with that "I love my job" feeling.

There are very, very few days that I actually don't look forward to getting up in the morning... and those are mostly due to having stayed up too late the night before!  I obviously can't speak for you personally, but I do believe that many women who don't enjoy being a stay-at-home mom feel that way because they have either tried it and were not given the appropriate support by their spouses or because they have somehow gotten it into their heads that being a "housewife" is boring, tedious, and un-rewarding.  Many Western women of my mother's and my generation and socio-eceonomic class were raised on the Free to Be You and Me mentality.  Nourished with a steady diet of Mary Tyler Moore, Melrose Place, and the Cosby Show we knew that we wanted nothing less than a chic wardrobe and exciting career.  Cosmo and Vogue in the 80's were filled with attractive career women wearing Vertigo suits.  I believe that this is in many ways a cultural perspective, not unlike how Western women of my generation see an extraordinarily toned size 4 as the ultimate physique--we absolutely cannot fathom how other women can actually strive to have a size 10 figure.

I think if you look around, you may even find that the tables are turning.  Before I had my first child, I worked at an  Elementary school in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city.  There were still a few mothers who worked full time as doctors or entrepreneurs, but not as many as you would think.  With the young upper-middle-class mothers at that school, the ultimate lifestyle was to be a stay at mom.  Were they educated?  Yes, very much so.  What did they do with their educations?  Charity work.  Part time work (one doctor, my "room-mother" actually, was a very well regarded pediatrician and used to work part time).  Impart their education to their children.   I know one mother, a lawyer with an impressive resume and a degree from a tier 1 law school, who works at home for a few years until she gets frustrated, then she works outside the home for a few years until she gets frustrated.  Rinse.  Repeat.  She hasn't achieved the financial goals that many lawyers strive for but she knows in her heart she has an illustrious career on all fronts and she is pleased with her life.

Now, like I said, I can only speak from my experiences and my perspective.  There are a number of women who are truly not suited to be managers of their households, who are so miserable in the career of full-time motherhood that they bring the morale of the whole household down with them.  There are women so uniquely gifted in specific fields that it would really be nothing less than robbery for them to keep their talents to themselves.  And, of course, from an Islamic perspective, it is obligatory among every nation as a whole to ensure that certain necessary positions are filled.

Ok, on to the next question:  How do I stay mentally alert?  Caffeine.

No, just kidding (well, just kidding 95% of the time).  I stay alert and engaged by always trying new things.  New meals, new organizational methods.  I try new workout routines, study new supplements and topical actives for the skin.  I look into new science experiment to do with the kids to supplement what they are learning at school.  Sometimes I'll do some research on a specific subject for my husband.  When my kids are sick, I research on their symptoms before we go to the doctor--when we get home, I do more research on the diagnosis so that I can understand what's going on.   I'm very interested in health and holistic fitness and currently spend a lot of time researching bio-mechanics and functional fitness.

How are my body and skin holding up?  Well, that's kind of personal, but (again, personal opinion) how well a women's body and skin hold up depend on a few factors:  her nutrition, her care habits, her rest habits, and her heart.   Nutrition is undoubtedly a cornerstone of a healthy and youthful body and face, with supplementation being essential in today's world of depleted soils and unbalanced diets.  Care habits include a personalized fitness regime and appropriate topical skin and body care (including cleansers, exfoliants, creams and serums with proven active ingredients, and moisturizer/oils).  Rest habits include both proper sleep and relaxation activities:  contemplation, yoga/ stretching, massage.  Everyone has 24 hours in a day and everyone can include a reasonable amount of time to achieve their health and fitness goals if that is their priority.

What does the heart have to do with it?  Everything.  From a physical perspective, a constricted and stressed heart, and this includes emotional state, will not circulate the blood optimally.  It is imperative to the health of the body and the skin that the blood circulates well:  blood transports oxygen and nutrients to cells and carries waste products and toxins to the appropriate organs for removal from our bodies.  From an emotional perspective... let me share with you the following personal experience.  Some days I wake up with too little sleep.  I'm not completely exhausted, but tired enough to be cranky and frustrated.   My day progresses a little off kilter and I'm not in a great mood.  My mind mulls the situation over:  This is just not right.  I need more sleep than this.  I deserve more sleep than this. Coffee just isn't enough.  A friend stops by and sees my tired, drawn face and comments "You look terrible.  Is everything ok?"   Other days I wake up with too little sleep.  Again, I'm not completely exhausted, but just tired enough to be cranky and frustrated.  But my heart is at peace.  I'm grateful that I slept in a bed instead of under a bridge.  That I was awakened by my baby's painful tooth not bombs or warcrafts.   That I have fresh milk and coffee to perk myself up with.  That I'm able to serve my Lord without even having to leave my warm home.   A friend stops by and sees my cheerful face.  She comments "You look great.  What's your secret?"