Friday, September 7, 2012

It's almost Fall, but not without soup!

We get one cold morning here in Minnesota and I'm running around like a crazy woman opening the windows, grabbing blankets, and making soup.  Tunisian soup (and practically every other Tunisian dish) is tomato based so when I want to make soup just for me, I try to stay away from tomatoes.  Yesterday, I was looking for something to make with a napa cabbage that my husband had brought home.  I knew I didn't want a salad or slaw and found this soup.  It sounded too good to be true because it has so few ingredients, but I am learning that sometimes simplicity really is the key to cooking.  I found the recipe for this Rustic Cabbage Soup on 101 Cookbooks

Rustic Cabbage Soup
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
a big pinch of salt
1/2 pound potatoes, skin on, cut 1/4-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 cups stock (see head notes)
1 1/2 cups white beans, precooked or canned (drained & rinsed well)
1/2 medium cabbage, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch ribbons
more good-quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Warm the olive oil in a large thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the salt and potatoes. Cover and cook until they are a bit tender and starting to brown a bit, about 5 minutes - it's o.k. to uncover to stir a couple times. Stir in the garlic and onion and cook for another minute or two. Add the stock and the beans and bring the pot to a simmer. Stir in the cabbage and cook for a couple more minutes, until the cabbage softens up a bit. Now adjust the seasoning - getting the seasoning right is important or your soup will taste flat and uninteresting. Taste and add more salt if needed, the amount of salt you will need to add will depend on how salty your stock is (varying widely between brands, homemade, etc)...
Serve drizzled with a bit of olive oil and a generous dusting of cheese.
Serves 4.

Notes for next time:
*I would saute the onion and garlic together, then add the broth and potatoes.  I found that the potatoes just stuck to the bottom of my pan.  I used homemade broth because I had made a quick one for another recipe and had leftovers. 

*I added two small parmesan rinds when simmering which gives the soup this heady richness.  Yum.
*I also simmered it for about 20 minutes to soften the cabbage.
*I used napa cabbage because that is what I had.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Memories: Bruges, Belgium

Yesterday in Friday's Fun post, I reminisced a little about my trip to Bruges, Belgium.  My boyfriend, Rick Steves, led me to Bruges through his European travel guide.  He encouraged me to stay in bed and breakfasts throughout Europe which enabled me to meet some really cool people and have a homey place to come home to at the end of the night rather than a very industrial hotel.  I stayed in a corporate (American owned actually) hotel in Vienna and hated every minute of it (especially because I had to take a subway and a bus to get there from the city) so I was happy to stay in a bed and breakfast with a comfy bed and a homey room.  Seriously, if you're going to travel anywhere that Rick Steves has written a guide about, please buy it.  Fodor's and Frommer's have nothing on my boyfriend Rick.  Bed and Breakfasts come with perks such as adorable spiral staircases and fantastic views from your window.

Bruges is a beautiful and peaceful city in the Flemish part of Belgium with amazing character.  It really is like being inside a fairy tale.  It's a pinch yourself every few minutes kind of experience.

As you walk along the cobblestone streets, you cross over and come across canals that really give the true character of the city.  Can you imagine sitting in that little turret with a cup of tea and a book relaxing the day away?  Yes?  Me too.

I traveled to Bruges during my holiday break (in January) which is not a common time to travel in Europe.  Many of the tourist attractions (such as chocolate shops) were closed because their just isn't enough tourists to stay open.  This has its advantages and disadvantages in that the city isn't crazy and you almost get a feeling of living in the city because you aren't walking around with thousands of Americans (and other tourists), but some things are closed and because it was January it was a little chilly.  You can also get mistaken for a local by locals because they aren't used to having tourists around.

One of the times I was mistaken for a local is one of the most memorable experiences I had in my travels.  I was shopping in a Belgian department store and an employee came up to me and asked me a question in Flemish.  I was so surprised that she mistook me for a local that I looked at her and exclaimed, "I'm sorry, I don't speak English!"  Everyone in the store within ear shot immediately started laughing and I high tailed it right out of the store with a red face.

While wandering through the city, I wanted to visit the Begijnhofs, through a recommendation from my boyfriend, of course.  The Begijnhofs were built to house women of the lay order called beguines who spent their lives in piety and service without the vows of nuns.  It is now inhabited by Benedictine nuns.

One day I came across a group of school children mailing letters. In my mind, they were letters to pen pals far away, maybe even the United States.

This little guy just couldn't quite reach!

Markt Square in the center of the city and includes the 12th century belfry and the Provincial Court.  Such a great place to sit and people watch.  And eat a snack, like a crepe!

The architecture of the city is so interesting.  The United States is so boring compared to so many European countries.  In Bruges, everywhere you turned, you could see something beautiful.  It's a challenge for me to look around in my day to day life now and do the same thing, but it's an exercise worth doing because it makes you grateful for the things that surround you wherever you are.  A tree.  A lake.  A little bird.  Even the highways and cars.  There really can be beauty everywhere.

Belgium, especially Brussels, but also Bruges is known for its' mussels.  Delicious, sweet mussels.  I ordered mussels with tomatoes and garlic but apparently the restaurant wanted me to eat more vegetables.  They were still amazing.

As I reflect on my time traveling around Europe, I still can't believe that I was there.  That I did it.  I moved, by myself, to a foreign country where I didn't speak the language and then traveled by myself to numerous countries where I also didn't speak the language.  It was truly an amazing experience and I'm so proud of myself for doing it and so incredibly happy that I did it.  I learned so much about the world, life and myself.  It changed my life permanently for the better.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Fun!

This post at Thought Catalog has been cracking me up for a few days.  I don't know who thought of this?  Can you imagine that board meeting?
Idiot Man 1: Dude, I have the best idea...pens just for ladies!
Idiot Man 2: Yahhh, dude, why didn't I think of that?
IM 1: Dude, imagine what we can do with the commercials.
IM 2: Dude.

I have the travel bug again.  I know that I won't get to travel anywhere until we move to Tunisia so I am trying to think of ways that I can have mini get-aways right here in Minnesota.  I miss taking pictures so I think that has to be incorporated in some way.  I love finding small moments or a new perspective that other people perhaps wouldn't have seen.  I was just thinking today about how I moved from a small town in Minnesota and lived in and traveled around Europe by myself for a year.  That's pretty rad.  Two of my favorite places were Florence, Italy where I lived and Bruges, Belgium which was one of my stops in my traveling around.  Bruges is absolutely beautiful.  Almost magical.  It's one of those places that you don't really think should exist.  Peaceful canals, cobblestone streets, delicious food, adorable shops, the cutest houses ever, and friendly people make Bruges a place that I felt so comfortable in.

About a year ago, with the help of my sister-friend, I taught myself how to crochet.  Even though I feel like a grandma, it is something I really enjoy.  I haven't been practicing as much as I want to be, but with fall coming, I'm looking forward to cuddling on my couch and crocheting my little heart out.  I really want to make these adorable keychains, super cute slippers, and this herb pot.  I would also like to make gifts for friends and family at some point.  Right now, no one wants what I make because I'm not good enough to make things evenly, but I'm working on it!

I made this Lemon Blueberry Bread the other day.  Yum.

More fun to come on this blog inshaAllah!  Stay tuned :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fun Friday!

I'm back to blogging!  We'll see what happens.  I thought I'd start back with a fun post since it's Friday and I'm having fun!  I'm visiting my Mom and spending our time relaxing, thrift store shopping, eating junk food, and really just relaxing.  It's great!  It's such a nice break.  Plus, she has cable TV that I can watch.  Here are some things that I'm really enjoying on this Fun Friday.

I'm really socially interested in learning about people of different cultures.  Yesterday, I watched a few shows about a Hutterite colony.  Their culture is just so interesting to me.  They are very religious, live in colonies with people that are all related to themselves and only marry other Hutterites.  And some of them have the most bizarre accent.

A few days ago, I was watching a show with my friend about American Gypsies.  It's really like watching a train wreck.  You don't want to watch, think that you could be doing something so much more beneficial, but you can't keep your eyes off of it.  It's bizarre.  They are very conservative, but you would never think that from looking at them.  They are what Americans think Muslims are.  The men are in charge and work and the women stay in the home cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children.  The women dress really skimpy which is just so weird because they will be talking about how they can't have sex before marriage and some won't even kiss before getting married, but they are standing there wearing these crazy clothes.  Check out these gypsy "fashion" pictures.  My eyes.  They burn.

I'm totally in love with stupid jokes.  Like these:

I made these Spicy Black Bean Burgers a few weeks ago.  They were seriously delicious.  Delicious!  I used Cholula for the hot sauce and added all the panko to the burgers rather than coating the outside.  Next time, I would make 6 patties instead of 4 because they were pretty big.  Yum.

I'm in love with Pinterest.  If you don't know what it is or haven't started using it yet, I would recommend that you stay away from it.  Addicting.

Ramadan starts in about one week.  Wow.  Time goes so fast!  I really need to take better advantage of my time.  The time that I have been gifted in not having kids and being able to not have to work full time.  One day soon I think I'm going to come up with some short term and long term goals so that I don't feel like I'm wasting away my days.  I think Ramadan will be hard this year but I'm really looking forward to growing spiritually throughout the month.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tunisia. Tunisia which is in Africa.

I always knew that it was a strong possibility that we were going to move to Tunisia some day.  I have always thought that it was somewhere in the distance and wasn't something I really even needed to think about for a long time.  That distance has gotten shorter and shorter as time has gone on the possibility of moving is becoming a reality.  My brain is finding it hard to process the fact that one day in the near future I could be living in Tunisia.  And living there indefinitely.  Tunisia.  Tunisia is in Africa.  One day I could be living in Africa. One day maybe I'll understand what the other people that live in Tunisia, which is in Africa, are saying.  One day maybe I'll actually like living in Tunisia, which is in Africa.  Maybe one day I can go see some giraffes!  In AFRICA!

This is the countryside in Labiyad which is the "town" near where my husband's little village is.  They have a school, masjid (mosque), and a coffeeshop in Labiyad as well as a souk (marketplace) one day of the week which qualifies it as a town.  This is the view from my in-law's front door.  It's so gorgeous!

This is hindi - prickly pear cactus.  My husband (A) LOVES hindi.  When he was a kid, he made a business from hindi.  He would pick it the night before, all by hand, using a long stick because you can't touch the hindi before you wash it.  Not only does it have the prickles on the outside, it also has this hairy stuff that makes you itch for days if you touch it.  The next day, he would leave early in the morning (3 or 4am) and take the donkey to Haajeb al Ayoun to sell on the street.  He's always been a businessman, mashaAllah.  Hindi is not the business we will be doing when we move to Tunisia.

And here's Baba (my father-in-law) and his sheep.  This year, at the age of 84, he is no longer able to care for his sheep.  Makes me sad because I know he loves walking with morning and night.  The main reason that he can't take care of them any longer is because of thieves in the area.  BOO to the thieves!!

We won't be living in Labiyad when we move to Tunisia.  We won't even be living in Haajeb al Ayoun (the namesake of this blog).  We will most likely live near the capital city of Tunis so that I have access to other English speakers as well as some of the creature comforts I'm used to.  I have a strict set of parameters that my husband must meet before I even consider moving including: running water in the house, a bathtub and shower, and internet.  

We also won't be living here.  This is Sidi Bou Said with beautiful houses built into the hills along the beach.  It's absolutely gorgeous, but you have to have a lot more money than we have to live here!

Tunisia and especially the city of Kairouan is known for their blue doors.  I would LOVE to live in a house with a blue door.  I've always said that I have wanted to to live in a house where you could tell someone generally where you live but they could find it because of some distinguising feature.  Like the house is painted yellow or that you have a blue door. 

How dreamy would it be to walk down this corridor to this blue door when coming home?  Alas, we won't be living here either.  Maybe we'll have a cool door though!

While moving away from my family, friends and the life I've known for 30 years is really scary, I know that moving to Tunisia will have its' own benefits.  I'll be close to my husband's huge family and they have all taken me in as their own, alhamdulilleh.  I also think my husband will be happier there which makes for a happier home.  I'll come visit Minnesota at least once per year (hopefully twice) and will have internet to keep in touch of course.  I know that I'll learn a lot about myself if/when we do move to Tunisia and I know that I will have many, many stories to tell during our time there!  The funniest thing about me moving to Tunisia is that just four years ago when my husband and I met, I had never even heard of Tunisia and now I will probably be moving there!  Life is really full of some amazing twists and turns. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hands Spread DISEASE

Found in a local restaurant bathroom:

Don't mind the nasty used sponge, but do be sure to wash your hands!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hamburger Steaks with Creamy Onion Gravy

Hamburger Steaks with Creamy Onion Gravy.  I'll give you a minute to think about that.  Hamburger Steaks.  With Creamy. Onion. Gravy.  If this recipe doesn't sound American to you, I'm not sure what will.  I was a little worried that this recipe would taste flat to both my husband and I because we are used to eating so internationally, but we both LOVED it.  So, so good!

I didn't take pictures of it because it was late, I was hungry and I wanted to eat.  I'm planning on taking more pictures for this blog in the future!

I used this recipe I found on Pinterest.  Love Pinterest.  I promise I won't talk about Pinterest in every single post.  Seriously though, that website is pure genius.

Here's my adapted recipe:

Hamburger Steaks with Creamy Onion Gravy
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
1/2 onion, grated
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 t seasoned salt (I used Lawry's)
1/2 t garlic powder
Fresh ground black pepper
~1/4 c flour for dredging
~3 T canola oil
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
1 c beef broth
1 c water
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c flour for gravy

Heat oil over medium high in large cast iron skillet (of course you can use a regular stainless skillet, but don't use nonstick because you can't get it hot enough).  Mix ground beef, grated onion, cayenne, seasoned salt, garlic powder and black pepper gently.  Form into 4 oval shaped thick patties.  Dredge each patty lightly in flour, then brown very well in pan.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Remove excess grease from pan leaving a little for the onions.  Reduce heat to medium and add the sliced onions.  Cook until lightly caramelized.  Meanwhile, whisk together beef broth, water, 1/4 c flour, and pepper to combine.  Pour into the skillet and stir constantly for a few minutes until it begins to thicken.

Return the hamburger steaks to the pan, turn to coat, and reduce heat to very low and simmer, covered for 20 minutes.  If you want the sauce thicker after 20 minutes, remove the hamburger steaks and turn the heat up to medium to thicken for a few minutes.

I served these with mashed potatoes and buttered peas.  Delicious!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Baked Oatmeal

Last year during Ramadan, I made baked oatmeal to eat at the morning meal before fasting all day.  It did not get eaten and neither A (my husband) or I really liked it.  I knew that it had potential and that I liked the idea of having the oatmeal with a less runny consistency.  A few months ago, I made baked oatmeal to take to a friend's for a brunch which everyone, including myself, loved.  I forgot about baked oatmeal again until I started seeing recipes on Pinterest (which I love) for baked oatmeal.  This morning, I wanted something yummy for breakfast and decided to try one of the recipes.  I used this recipe from the Taste of Home website for my base.  I used 1 cup of not packed brown sugar because I'm trying to cut down my sugar intake.  Next time, I think I'll cut it down to 1/2 cup.  I also added 1t of vanilla extract and used 2t of cinnamon.  It's truly delicious.  I poured a little bit of hot milk over my serving and mmmm!  The leftovers will make good breakfasts for those mornings that I don't feel like making anything.  I hope I can convince A to try it (and like it).

A Weird Name for a Blog

I have been wanting to blog for a couple of years now but was always stuck on what I would call the blog or what focus it would have or which of my interests it would be about.  Yesterday, I decided that I was limiting myself too much so I have decided to start this blog and will cover all my various interests.  There may be posts about any variety of things including food, crochet, Islam, weight loss, healthy living, and my general life.  I blogged for a few years like this and really enjoyed it.  It's more a blog for me and some of my close family and friends, but if I garner other readers as well it would be great.

Now, what about the name?  My husband's family is from a small village in Tunisia near a small city called "Haajeb el Ayoun".  Literally this means, "brow of the eye" which really amused me.  The name has stuck with me for over a year so instead of trying to think of a clever name for my blog that encompasses all my interests, I decided on this.  I think it fits.