Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Who turned out the lights?

Hurricane Sandy came storming in yesterday. All morning and afternoon, we were preparing ourselves for the worst; power outage. We had bought ice for the freezer, water for the cooler, non-perishables for the pantry and batteries for the flash lights. We also had a half dozen candles on hand in case of emergency. They were red party candles, as that was all there was left in the store when we went out hunting for them. My mom lent us her lighter; we thought it would be safer than matches. And we waited. I woke up every hour that night checking for light, and it was always there. I think we were the lucky ones.

Growing up in Beirut, though, we could hardly call ourselves "lucky" when it came to power outages. It is now 2012 and electricity is still being rationed among the many parts of the city. It could be a six hour block, or a three hour block of non-stop power, then an equal block of blackout. If we were really fortunate, the six hour powered block would be in the morning in the winter when we were awake getting ready for school. But that usually meant homework was to be completed by candle-light in the afternoon. When the power was on in the evening, we could see what we were eating at dinner, were able to watch television and got a warm bath before bed. If we were slated for the graveyard shift then, we were out of luck; the lights came on when everyone was sleeping and only our refrigerators and our water heaters got the benefit.

Days like yesterday bring back those memories loud and clear. But back then we were still able to enjoy a warm homemade meal even with no lights; all of our stoves were powered by gas. We could heat water for bath, pop corn, make tea and roast chestnuts. On the weekends and non-school days, I could even go as far as saying it was fun not having electricity. Who needed it when you had teta's house to huddle in and get treats. We could even listen to music and the news on her battery-powered transistor radio.

But it was not all fun and games. Laundry had to be washed, the freezer needed to be cooled, the water heater needed to be warmed, and water needed to be pumped up to the rooftop water tanks. And some times we just were without power for days on an end. On those days, we were the fortunate ones among the rest; we had relatives who lived in a building with its own generator.

We lived in the East part of Beirut. My uncle's was in the West part of Beirut. Their building association decided early on to invest in a diesel generator. For us, that was a life-saver. On the weekends when we needed to wash our hair and our clothes, we headed over to Khalo's house. We would time it so that our arrival coincided with when the generator had just come on so that we could get the most benefit. Yes, that generator had a schedule, too. On the weekends it was on more than during the week, but it still had its down times and we did not want to have to climb seven flights of stairs in the dark carrying our load. If we arrived a few minutes too soon, we would hang out in the lobby of the building and make small talk with the concierge until it was show time. Then the fun began.

It was a fine dance getting everything done in time, especially when Khalo's family needed to do much of the same things we were there for, and considering how we could only have so many appliances turned on at once. If the hairdryer needed to used, the water heater would have to be unplugged, for the washer to run, the refrigerator needed to stop, and so on. Then, you had to remember which appliance you turned off when you were done. If we turned too many on at once, then we were all out of luck for the precious few minutes it took the concierge to readjust the fuse in the basement. And, those minutes ticked quickly by; the generator waited for no-one. When it was time to turn it off, it went off, regardless of whose laundry was stuck in the washing machine and whose hair still had soap in it.

I have not lived in Lebanon for nearly a decade but I still hear stories about power outages. It makes me shudder to think that in this day and age these things still happen. But one thing that makes me smile is knowing that the people there have mastered the skills to get through that roadblock. Here, in the US, people seem less prepared for such situations. They consult websites that tell them what to buy and how to stock up. They scramble to the stores and line up at gas stations. When the power went out earlier this summer, we were considering staying at a hotel to escape the heat, and ate at restaurants to fill our stomachs. This time we were spared. We were better prepared but luckily were spared. Next time, maybe we can be even more blackout ready and have a gas stove, or even a generator. Or maybe we will live in a place where the lights don't go out.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The suitcase

One day in the future I can see myself saying: "Yes! There was a time when you did fit inside a carry-on bag, JR. These days are now long gone, but the memories will forever warm my heart."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

JR the Gardener

With Fall half-way through, it is nice to have a reminder of the wonderful days of Spring. While Falls comes with its own array of planting opportunities, JR and I do not have enough room to cater to these wondrous blooms. Instead, we still gaze at what is left from our Spring harvest- basil and mint - and look forward to next Spring when we can plant again.
This was the first gardening year for JR; well of course it was, the girl only turned two this year! But she seemed to know what to do right from the start: Scoop out the dirt with the shovel first. Decide the shovel was not worth the work. Ditch the shovel for hands. One at first, then two at once. Add water. Make mud. Play in the mud. Then add the seeds. Add more dirt. Make more mud. Then, ask Mama to clean up! Is there any other way!
It was so much fun watching her engage in this nurturing process. She was careful with the positioning of the seeds and made sure she put enough, although sometimes she put a little too much! Once the pot was completed, she moved it to the side, and took out another and began her work again. Several pots later, our planting was done, and it was time to "watch" the plants grow.
Every day for weeks, JR would wake up in the morning, fill her little water pitcher up and water her plants. What joy it was to see the first strawberry bloom, grown, and ripen. Then the mint, the basil, the parsley and cilantro made their entrance. At harvest time, JR made sure she cut some up for Mama's kitchen and some for her play kitchen; after all she wanted to make dinner for Baba.

JR showing off her garden.

Busy watering.

Preparting for harvest.
Tasting her crop.
Returning the plant to the sun.

Cleaning up.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Apple "Tea" Party: Name Place Trees

Jannah-Rae's friends will always know where to sit when they join her at her formal parties. When they came to the Tea Party, their names were spelled out on a teapot cutout.

At the Lemon "Tea" Party, a half lemon held their names on a leaf.
This time, an apple tree will bear their first initials amongst the apples.
To make the name place trees, I first had to have enough empty toilet paper rolls. For this, I called upon my friends and family and together we collected six; the number of girls in attendance. With a small cover-up job, these were then transformed into the tree trunks. Green craft paper and an online template produced the crown of the tree. Red paint spots formed the apples, and white foam letter stickers created the indicators.

Start out with blank green craft paper and toilet paper roll.

Cover the toilet paper roll with brown craft paper, then paint the paper with brown tempra paint to desired shade.
Dot the tree cut-out with red tempra paint.

Stick the appropriate letters in the center of the tree.
 Cut slits on the side of the "trunk," and insert "crown" into it.
Behold the finished prduct.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

looking out

There was once a summer,
a little girl,
a fountain.
There was a Mama,
a swim suit,
a car.
There was a journey,
a destination,
an afternoon together.
A parking spot,
a bench,
a beach bag.
Then, it began.
Standing there,
Looking out,
Do I?
Should I?
Could I?
Can I, Mama?
Can I, Baba?
Can I try?
A minute to wonder,
to appreciate,
to take it all in.
A lifetime to live.
It all starts with a minute,
a second,
a chance.
It all ends the same way, too.
To hold this minute,
To grasp its meaning,
its endlessness,
its essence.
She hesitated a bit.
Then dashed on in,
heart, body and soul.
And, once in, that was all there was.
That is all there ever is.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


S is for satisfy; to be satisfied with what one has right here, right now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

1095 hours

I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, but have been holding out waiting for the right prompt. That prompt came this morning after I watched Jane McGonigal on TED. In her talk, she informs the audience that she will add years to their lives in  7 ½ minute increments, then asks: "how will you spend these extra 7 ½ minutes of bonus life?"

The answer is clear, spend more time with my family. While I spend all my waking hours with JR, and one would think that I would seek an opportunity to spend time away from her as she is drifting off to sleep, most days I chose to go to sleep with her. Whether it is during nap-time or bed-time, you will find me sitting right there in bed with her, or rather she sitting right there in bed with me. Together we read books, sing songs, and drift off to our dreams. Some days I sleep before her, other days, she does before me, but either way, we sleep together. Sometime during the night, she finds herself in her own bed, only to wobble back to ours, and wakes up in the morning wrapped in the blankets between her dad and I. If I was to do a quick math to determine how much time I could have had by myself if JR was "taught" to put herself to sleep by herself, it would come out to around 1095 hours. That is close to 45 days that I could have had to myself. But instead I chose to spend them with her. Why? Because in the span of a lifetime, 45 days is not that long; one day she won't need me by her side to fall alseep, and that day will come only too soon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A taste of summer

In my mind nothing says summer like a crepe banane chocolat - read nutella. Growing up, I looked forward to the weekends when my mom would take us to the beach to spend the day. The whole day! We would head over there just after 8am to beat the weekend traffic and stay until close to sunset. More often than not, though, we did get stuck in the evening traffic heading back; guess everyone used to have the same idea about what is a good time to leave the beach!

We would stop for a mankoushe on the way there, or, if we did not have enough time, we would eat sandwiches in the car. Sometimes, mom even brought lunch and drinks from home. But on days that she was feeling like giving us an extra treat, we would lunch from the snack bar. And if she wanted to make our day even more special, we would be allowed a crepe banane chocolat as a mid-afternoon snack.

With cash in hand, we would hurry over to the crepe counter, place the order, watch and wait. The smooth, cream colored batter would flow carefully out of a ladle onto a hot, round, black surface to cook. Once turned over, the cooked side was  then smothered with the wondrous hazelnut chocolate concoction and sliced bananas, and for a little extra cash you could get sprinkles of chopped almonds too. A few minutes later the round dessert got folded into a square shape and hoisted neatly onto a paper plate transformed from a flat circle into a concical carrying case.

As kids, we thought the plates were a waste for once the slice of heaven was in our hands, it barely lasted a few minutes. Other than protecting our hands from the grease and the heat, it really did nothing to protect the crepe from our teeth; if that was ever the plan for the plate in the first place. By the time we got back to our beach towels, all we had to show for where we were would be chocolate covered lips, and a belly.

Both the summer days and childhood days are now long gone. All that remains are a few pictures and a lot of memories. Stories woven around a time filled innocence and joy in the ordinary, every day. Stories based in reality, but distorted by time gone by. A past romanticised, good times exaggerated, details forgotten. Still, it brings smiles, nostalgia, and flutters. Some days I want to just be back, be transported in time and place, relive those days. Alas, that surely is not possible. And so, I write about it, and talk about it. One day maybe I can relive it through my young, narrating my stories to them, and weaving new stories with them.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Through the years; New York

The first time I learned about New York was on T.V. I saw a city of beauty and charm. A city that was run by tourists, artists, actors, pretty people, rich people, powerful people. Until 2008, the closest I got to N.Y. was through stories told by my friends of their trips there; crowding at Times Square on New Year's Eve watching the ball coming down; sleeping on the subway because there was no where else to go; navigating Central Park, and visiting the elegant stores, and expensive restaurants. I formed a mental picture of one day being able to go.

Five years after I landed in America, that day arrived. In June 2008, I found myself sitting on the train with a one-way ticket to Penn station. And the love-hate relationship with NY began. For the entire month of June I lived large in New York. I stayed in one corporate apartment on 2nd Avenue, then another on Columbus Circle, lived on a corporate expense account, spent per diem money, and did not think twice about the restaurants I dined in. I even watched Mary Poppins on Broadway and treated Jeff to fancy breakfasts, elaborate lunches, fun happy hours, and exotic dinners on the weekends he took the bus to see me.

Then, I moved back home to our condo in Courthouse. Our visits to NY continued, but had a different flavor; we were now spending our own money rather than someone else's! It was still a blast, but the sting came at the time our credit card bill rolled around. And that's where the hate part of the relationship kicks in. Such a beautiful city, with such a high price tag. But that did not deter us. Four years later, we are still loyal NY travellers, and have even turned JR into much of the same. Although not yet 3, JR has been to NY three times already, with her first trip when she was 8 weeks old, and with at least one more trip in her future.

Here are some of our favotire NY photos from the trips past.

June 14th, 2008
Caught in the rain, then enjoying drinks, still dripping wet, at a glass enclosed restaurant.

June 20th, 2008.
In Times Square, after the sun went down; and at Columbus Circle in full sun.

June 29th, 2008.
Enjoying an outdoor brunch.
Thanksgiving 2008.
Macy's Day Parade and Christmas decorations in a storefront.

Christmas 2009.
Marriott Marquis in Times Square. One last couple's hurrah before JR made her entry.
March 6th, 2010.
JR at 8 weeks, 1 day. Already a traveller.

Less than a later; 27 Febraury 2011.
Another chilly day in NY did not stop JR from being seen in Times Square and Central Park.
4th of July weekend 2011.
Riding the giant dog at FAO and making her exit through the hotel's revolving doors;
NY, here comes JR!
Labor Day weekend 2011, in celebration of Mama's birthday.
Spotted: JR at Central Park looking dazzling in black.
October 2012, a last minute trip.
Chocolate pizza was the first order of business.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Apple "Tea" Party: Favors

Every good hostess knows you should not send your guests home empty handed. A party favor is a wonderful way to conclude the event, say good-bye, and leave a lasting memory.
For her first Tea Party, Jannah-Rae strung together a teapot cookie cutter and a bag of camomile for her guests.


At her Lemon "Tea" Party, the guests each received a personal lemon cake, and its recipe, to take home.
For her upcoming Apple "Tea" Party, Jannah-Rae decided to put together an apple basket for her friends. The process of assembling the gift baskets served as both our activity of the day and our art project. The final result was arrived at after a small demonstration, a little frustration, and much collaboration. With steedy encouragement and a small snack, JR actually put many of these baskets together herself.
To put these gift baskets together, JR and I scouted our favorite grocery store for fruit baskets. We got lucky and they gave us a handful for free. Next, we visited our craft store for the apples and pipe cleaners. We could have also bought the green grass there, but we already had that on hand from left-over spring packaging. 

With some paint and creativity we set on our task.

It was a beautiful Fall day, so we spread out on our covered patio to enjoy the sun and watch the people while we worked.

With a pair of scissors, I poked holes through either side of the basket for the pipe cleaner handle. JR was frustrated at fist at not being able to string the cleaner through the hole, then after a few tries, she became skilled.

Once the handle was in place, it was time for the grass. Just enough to top off the basket.

First, we put an apple tree leaf.

Then, each basket got a green apple,

and, a red one.

With six on hand, our work was done.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

a little like me, a little like him

Some say she looks like me.
Some say she looks like him.
I think she looks just like herself.
Some say she acts like me.
Some say she acts like him.
I think she acts like herself.
She is a little of me,
and a little of him.
But, she is a lot of herself.

Who else would she be?
Who else could she be?
Who else should she be?

We brought her into the world.
We shape her world.
We are her world.
But we are not THE world.

One day she will realise that.
She will see there is more.
She will hear there is more.
And she will want more.

And so, we let her be:
So that when that one day comes,
She will go;
She will learn;
She will be;

She will look back and see
that while she is a little bit of me
and a little bit of him
we let her be

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

spice your rice series ~ 3: Riz bi Hummous or Rice with Chickpeas

Hummous, also known as chickpeas or garbanzo beans, is another one of my favorite cooking staples. There is always either a can of it in my pantry or bagfuls in the freezer just asking to be eaten.

While the common misunderstanding in the US is that hummous is synomemous with dip, the word really refers to the actual legume. As versatile as eggplant, hummous can be eaten by itself, dressed with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil; mashed into hummous bi tahini, the dip everyone knows, with tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil; added to salads, main dishes as in Maghmour, or rice such as this one.

Once you have the hummous ready, either boiled through if using dried and thawed out if frozen, or drained and rinsed if using canned, riz bi hummous is really a one pot dish and can be thrown together in less than 30 minutes. All you need is a medium sized yellow onion, chopped; chicken broth, home-made or store bought; white rice; and the beans. Sautee the onions until tender, add the hummous, rice and broth. Season with salt and cumin, which is the key secret ingredient in this dish, and simmer until rice is cooked through. You can add cooked chicken legs or breasts to the final dish, and serve it with my go to plain whole milk yogurt.

For a family of four, you need:
  • 1 cup of rice;
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, or about 14 ounces;
  • 1 medium sized yellow onion;
  • 2 cups chicken broth;
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil;
  • salt and cumin, to taste.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Apple "Tea" Party: Taste Test

While I consider myself a good cook, I do not think I am an equally good baker. I have a few tried and true cake recipes, and I make some pretty good chocolate chip cookies, but when it comes to more "elaborate" desserts, I tend to shy away. Pie, more specifically pie dough, is one of these concoctions that I find extremely challenging. I treid my hands at home-made pie dough once and decided this was one that was worth more store-bought than home-made. The filling, however, is a different story. Once I have the ready-made dough, I can, and have, fill it up effortlessly. Its just the first step that is the hardest.

That being said, I decided that nothing is more suitable for an Apple "Tea" Party than apple pie, and more specifically mini-apple pie. How fun, and cute, would it be if each of the girls had her own individual pie set in front of her. It would make for an attractive table setting, too! Once the idea formed in my mind, I set out to execute it. The first item on the agenda was having the necessarty tools on hand. From the kitchen store I bought an apple-shaped cookie cutter, and from the grocery store, the ready-made pie dough. Then, I needed apples - I love Granny Smith - sugar, eggs, and cinammon.

With everything on hand, and JR napping, I threw together my trial run of these miniature pies. Below is a step-by-step tuturial should you be interested in replicating it one day.

Bring the dough to room temperature.
Roll it out, and cut it in even numbers with the cookie cutter.

Aren't these cute!

In a sauce pan, cook until soft the chopped apples, sugar and cinammon
(add sugar and cinammom to taste).

Fill half the cut-outs.

Cover the filling with the other half of the cutouts.
Pinch the edges with the edge of a fork to close the pies.
Cut a small slit in the top half to allow steam through.
Brush tops with egg wash.
Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes.

And Voila! Mini apple pies!