BETTER THAN HEAVEN BROWNIES

 

 

 

 

INGREDIENTS:

 Butter  ½ Cup

Oil  ½ Cup

Eggs  3

White Sugar  1 and ½ Cup

Brown Sugar  ½ Cup

Flour  1 and ½ Cup

Baking Powder  1 teaspoon

Baking Soda  ½ teaspoon

Salt   ½ teaspoon

Cinnamon  ½ teaspoon

Cocoa Powder  3 tablespoons

Semi-sweet Chocolate  One 4 ounce bar

Vanilla  1 teaspoon

A splash of milk

 

 

RECIPE:

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Now oil  a 13 x 9 pan, or  use a bake release spray such as Baker’s Joy or any other spray. Set the pan aside. Sift together  all the dry ingredients and set those aside as well. Now mix the butter, oil, eggs, white sugar and brown sugar. Only mix for about 30-40 seconds, do not over mix. If you you don’t have brown sugar, you can just use white sugar. In the absence of brown sugar, reduce the quantity of white  sugarto 1 and ¾ cups. Now, add the dry ingredients to the mix. Again, beat for another 30-35 seconds.  Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a dry pan over another pan of hot water over stove. First,  boil water on top of the stove. Then add the chocolate chocolate bar in another, smaller pan, and put it on top of the boiling water. Chocolate cannot be melted right on top of the stove because it will burn and turn chunky. Add the melted chocolate to the batter with a spatula, and mix with the spatula. Add vanilla and a splash of milk. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, and check the brownies with a toothpick or a pin. It should come out as semi wet. Brownies can be amazing if under baked a bit, but over baked brownies are dry and nasty.

 

OPTIONAL:

A tablespoon of fine orange peel can be added, and it is a very good fit for the chocolate. However, everyone might not like it, especially kids.

 

 

 

I Really Hate Myself, But I Cannot Help Myself

 

I haven’t written anything in a long, long time. However with Ramadaan gone, I really wanted to reboot and re-energize my blog once more. When Ramadaan came this year, it made me think about many things, but one event really stood out. As many people know that my mom suffered a stroke around mid- February, and is totally bed ridden, unable to talk or even move  her fingers. My two sisters and their families are caring for her, and are doing a very good job. I visit her every few months and every time I go, I make a new resolve before going. I promise myself that this time I will massage her hands, read Quran to her, you know the little things. The problem is, with every trip, it takes me a about a day to muster up my courage to go inside her room. I cannot reconcile the stranger on the bed making inhuman sounds that I see with the larger than life person that I knew. What I remember is a very strong personality, one that could wither a person with a single look. I remember her fasting during winter months for years,  for two-three days a week.  I remember her reading newspapers and magazines, and I remember her as thoroughly enjoying the company of others. I remember that she liked to cook, and was extremely picky about her clothes. She had such an odd personality full of contradictions, likes/dislikes and strengths. She was born and raised  in India, and had a very interesting  and idyllic childhood. She used to share some pretty spectacular memories of growing up in the pink city of Jaipur. There’s so much to remember and not enough space to write everything that I recollect.

 

I am so ashamed for not being able to go inside her room, so ashamed for not being able to fulfill the purpose of my visit, so ashamed to be scared of the barely alive person on the bed.  Instead I go outside to do shopping, sit outside the room, do really insignificant chores inside my sister’s house, and take care  of really mundane things that can be left undone. To put it bluntly, I do everything I can to avoid going inside the room to face her, a life that’s really just hanging in there by nothing more than a single breath. I don’t even know if she can be called a life. I know with certainty that she would have hated this existence. I am so bewildered and grieved by her condition. Maybe I am afraid that one day I will be like her, maybe worse than her. She has very dedicated family memebrs taking good care of her, but I feel that nobody will be there for me. I have an existence without a country or a people, and  I fear that in the end I may be in that same kind of room with a thread of my existence  and no one to even check if that thread is intact or not.

 

Finally, I had a conversation with my seventeen year old son about the kind of death I’d like to have. He only offered one perspective, and it was that he didn’t want to die of old age. However, which death is better? The gradual death from age or sickness or a sudden death from an unforeseen accident. I am very scared of dying in an airplane crash, but my mom makes me think that dying in an instant in a ball of fire and explosion might not be so bad after all.

OLD FASHIONED POUND CAKE


 

 

INGREDIENTS

One Cup Canola Oil

4 Eggs, at room temperature. Take eggs out of the refrigerator, and put them in a bowl full of tap water. This will move the temperature of the eggs faster to the desired room temperature.

One Cup Sugar

One and a half Cup Flour

Two teaspoons baking powder

One tablespoon liquid vanilla

Splash of milk

 

 

RECIPE

Heat the oven to 350F. Take a bundt pan or any ten-inch tube pan.  Spray the cake pan with any baking spray. If you do not have any baking spray, put a few drops of oil in the cake pan. Spread the drops of oil with the help of a paper towel or a brush. After oiling the pan, sprinkle flour over the oiled cake pan. Sift the flour and the baking powder together, put it aside. In a large bowl, mix the oil and sugar with an electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time and mix. Add the flour mixture to the batter. Finally add vanilla and a splash of milk. Now bake for about fifty minutes, or until the cake looks golden.

 

The credit for this recipe goes to a good friend of mine named Rozina Siddiqui. Not only is she a fantastic cook, but she is also a spectacular person. I am inspired by the way she approaches life. She brings a lot of positive energy with her presence.  This is one of my favorite recipes because it takes anywhere between 8-10 minutes to put together, and the result is superb. It will leave people asking for more, and the recipe.

Tariq and Me; Love, Loss and Grief

 

 

 

I wanted to write this blog on February 14th, but I chose to do it now. Six years ago, when I was expecting my third child, on February 14, my only brother passed away. If I say that the loss was crushing for me, it would be an understatement. Let me tell you a bit about him. His name was Tariq, and he was twenty years my senior. I was my parents’ late child, and he was the oldest.  Growing up, he and I were close like normal siblings with an enormous age gap, which meant distant sometimes and close at others. However, circumstances moved in a direction that we became very close. He was my friend before, but by the time he died, he was truly my other half and my companion. At the time of his death, we could finish each other’s sentences. On occasion, If I thought of an idea, it came out of his mouth. He held my hand through thick, thin and many other very turbulent times. He wiped my tears when nobody was around. 

 

We moved to the United States when Tariq was in his mid-thirties, but he could never gain a footing professionally. For those of you who may not know, America is all about adjustment. Adjustment in many aspects of life, and Tariq who was previously a high-ranking bank employee couldn’t adjust. When I look back, analyze and take stock, I see so many wrong decisions that he made after moving to the U.S. However, what’s done is done, but I miss him enormously. What happened was that despite being in excellent physical health, he started smoking in his late teens and early twenties. He used to smoke three packs a day, about sixty cigarettes every day. One fact I have noticed about smoking is that it is bad for health, but the damage is different for everyone. By the time he realized that smoking was wreaking havoc with his health, he was already hypertensive with high cholesterol. His health just didn’t pick up after he was diagnosed with hypertension, and gradually he became a diabetic as well.  All this poor health was combined with sporadic jobs as a computer programmer, and no marriage. That was another factor that made him very careless with his health and lifestyle.

 

I was in circumstances that needed support on occasion. I cannot pinpoint the exact time, but gradually we became necessary for each other. I took care of his apartment, cooked for him, and he returned the favor by babysitting and helping me with other chores. Our friends realized my urgency and would do their best to help me find him. He had so many friends, and he had us. My kids and I worshipped the ground he walked on.  I simply couldn’t dispel his feelings of having nothing and being nothing. I remember, if we went out for ice-cream, he would have a huge serving, and I would have a small child-sized serving. In my frustration, I used to scream at him loudly that he was slowly killing himself. I used to scream that he would have glaucoma, kidney failure and other health emergencies if he didn’t watch his food intake.  I would scream at him that he would be bed-ridden in a bad, sub-standard nursing home. I would scream at him that he was breaking God’s orders by indirectly killing himself.  I would scream at him at the top of my lungs for long periods of time, but the gentleman that he was, he would just listen stoically, and not give any response. Sometimes, my kids would get angry at me for screaming at him.

 

Overtime, he started going into congestive heart failure, and again he was not compliant with food or medicine. Shortness of breath Followed swollen feet. Painstakingly, I can talk about every stage of heart failure because I saw almost  every stage. He couldn’t  walk  to the mosque located barely five minutes from my home because he was so out of breath.  It was excruciating to see him like that. I visited him in December, and as usual, cleaned his house with some help, and cooked for him. He had another angiography scheduled in the first week of February, and I wasn’t able to go.

 

It was a gray day in Columbus and snowing lightly. I called him in the morning, while on my way to drop the kids at school. He didn’t pick up the first time I called him, answered the second time, and told me he was waiting for my call. We had a beautiful conversation, and my kids talked to him as well. I told him repeatedly that I loved him, and I desperately wanted him to get better. After I hung up, I called him throughout the day, but he never answered the phone. I had no panic that day because I thought he would make it another few years.  That was the only day I never raised any alarm with his friends. It turned out that he never talked to anyone after me, and to this day I have the memory of that last call.  You see, my best friend and my other half passed away right after talking to me. I never saw him in death because I wanted that last conversation to keep ringing in my ears. In those first few days, my grief could have drowned me. I couldn’t sleep or eat or drive without wanting to call him. His memory, his voice and the image of his swollen feet almost killed me.  While driving, I would dissolve in uncontrollable tears, and had to pull to the shoulder because that was when we had our calls. I knew there was no one at the other end of the line; I still called him many times in those first few months following his passing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE DOHA IN A GOOD WAY

Finally, I am getting the hang of living in Doha. Actually, Doha is kind of fun, a very expensive kind of fun. At last, I figured out that the government building in West Bay, close to Adagio and Intercontinental was not really called “Office of Public Prostitution” instead of “Office of Public Prosecution.” Since June of 2016, when I came to visit and looked up at this building, I squinted in the sunlight and grossly misread the words. It was too embarrassing to ask anyone, lest someone thought I was too silly and old-fashioned. When I misunderstood the words, I was just spectacularly floored at how advanced, and modern Doha was. Now that I have that mystery figured out, it hardly took me any time to figure out that “Court of Cassation” was exactly that and nothing else, so glad I didn’t make a mistake on that one. Also, now I don’t incredulously ask the coffee baristas to repeat twice the price of a small latte or a chocolate brownie, (I am still fond of lattes, but have laid off brownies because I don’t want them to end up where they became harder to get rid of than super glue on your skin).

My maid woes have also been taken care of. After the greatly temperamental and famous Fauzia of Amoudia Village, I have been blessed with a low key and decidedly kinder helper from the Philipines. When I hear her call me madam in a soft baritone, I just about pass out with barely restrained pleasure. I clearly remember the day when a friend came to visit in Jeddah. As soon as I told her that our house didn’t have much work, a very loud snort followed by witchy cackling came from the direction of the kitchen where our erstwhile helper was working. Then this came from the direction of the kitchen, “hah this house doesn’t have work?”, followed by more laughter. Needless to say I was publically shamed. Yes, Fauzia cooked and cleaned like a dream, but having her was akin to a very expensive car. You know you love those pricey wheels, but they are rather delicate and high maintenance. My current helper doesn’t possess good culinary skills, but her attitude and work ethic is nothing short of dazzling. Her cleaning is immaculate, and her manners are exquisite. I don’t reconnect with one-year-old orange slices, bread pieces, candy wrappers and other unidentifiable food particles upon moving sofas to retrieve shoes or some other item. All the areas underneath the sofas, beds, tables and other pieces of furniture are as clean as the floors in our house.

The Uber drivers are a bit tricky though. There are all kinds of Uber drivers out there. The chatty ones who don’t let you talk even though you are the customer, and you need to unload because you paid for the privilege. Then there are also the rude ones who never get out to help with anything, and grunt out their responses, well no five stars for these ones or a healthy tip.
Just a couple of days ago, I sat in a car with a fresh-faced young man who repeatedly kept asking my five-year-old not to make his car dirty. It was all I could do not to snap at him that if a child was stressing him out, then maybe Uber driving wasn’t meant for him. I saved the best ones for last because they make a person very happy, and always get five stars from me and a nice tip. They are unfailingly polite, help out with your stuff, and smile at your child. Good news is that the good ones are the norm, and the not so polite ones are an anomaly.

I have also learned to navigate grocery shopping without getting thoroughly stressed out. It does not cause a minor panic attack to pay exorbitant prices for produce and other household items. Milk, that elusive headache, has become readily available and at much reasonable prices than before.

Things have become normalized, or maybe we have become acclimated. I have finally realized that in Doha traffic, getting from point A to point B can easily take 30-40 minutes even in short distances. It’s very fulfilling and incredibly gratifying to be able to do small things for people in the service industry here, such as offering higher tips to the grocery bagger, restaurant servers, asking how they are faring here and about their families back in their land. Finally, I am learning that Doha is an interesting place to live with much to offer if a person will open their heart and mind to newer experiences.

v

OLD FASHIONED FLAN/PUDDING

INGREDIENTS

6 Eggs
Two cans of Condensed Milk (they are 7 ounces each)
3/4 cup of Sugar
1 Tablespoon of Vanilla

RECIPE

Take the sugar, melt it in a pan by itself and pour this molten sugar into a loaf pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and on some stoves it could be 190 Celsius. Fahrenheit is used mainly in the United States, and Celsius is used in England. Also for Gas Mark ovens, the setting would be at 5.

Open cans of condensed milk, pour into a mixing bowl. Now fill the same empty condensed milk cans with milk, and add to the condensed milk in the bowl. You don’t have to fill the two condensed milk cans with milk, you can fill one and a half empty cans with milk. Crack the eggs into the condensed bowl one by one, and add the vanilla. Mix this custard by a fork or a hand mixer, and then heat it gently on stove-top at slightly less than medium heat. Heat for about 5-6 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure that the eggs aren’t cooking. Pour the egg custard into the loaf pan with the molten sugar. Finally, take a larger dish, fill with hot water and put the loaf pan inside the hot water dish. Bake at 375 for about one hour. When you notice that the top is a nice caramel color, take the pudding out and cool it on a counter top. After it is cooled down, put it inside the refrigerator overnight or at-least 5-6 hours before serving.

v

MALLS, MALLS AND MORE MALLS

 

 

I hate going to the mall, it’s so boring and not fun at all. I hate the stuff they sell there, it’s a visual assault on my finer senses. The clothing is so ugly, gaudy and poorly manufactured that it manages to make a person look ugly and fat simultaneously, now that’s what I would call killing two birds with one stone. However, at this point in my life I’d prefer to be neither. The only way I would wear the clothing is if I was about to be executed in the most painful manner possible, (like being thrown in a cage full of lions or dropped in a pit full of poisonous snakes…you get the gist of it), and only wearing those hideous blots on fashion would grant me a stay of execution. Apart from few choice brands, shoes aren’t much different from clothes. They are uncomfortable, expensive, and, tasteless, (again not something I wish to even contemplate buying.) Any piece of clothing or shoes remotely presentable is so outrageously overpriced that they can feed a family of five for a week. However, as a mother of two teenagers, I do have to make those dreaded mall trips just about every other week. Although my daughter would totally disagree with this frequency, “you never take me to the mall” or “we never do anything”, ‘doing anything’ in her language is another euphemism for going to the mall. I manage to give a few feeble responses, but the result is inevitable. Usually the one tactic that works, and I capitulate is when those Machiavellian teenagers tell me that my refusal has more to do with being tired which is a sure fire sign of advanced age. Needless to say, after this dirty trick, I find myself giving in, meekly led to the mall.

 

Although I must say the one thing I really enjoy is watching people. Sometimes I go to City Center on the weekend, and the visual, auditory overload is simply over-whelming. The diversity in people, religions, languages and ages is nothing short of phenomenal. There are rich people, poor people, brown people, white people, Arab people, Asian people. There are mixed couples and non-mixed couples, and single people. There are hijabis and non-hijabis. There are hijabis who you can tell don’t really want to be hijabis, but are covering under duress. Then there are the censorious hijabis looking at non-hijabi world with tight lipped judgment. There are the nervous looking white people, the confident Indian and Pakistani people passing each other with casual indifference, the perpetually smiling Filipinos. Then there are the uniformed maids looking sad and dejected, taking care of multiple kids, and my heart goes out to them.

 

I must say that the couples are fun to watch too. There are so many fascinating power dynamics in couples, I can tell by observation. My kids call this observation ‘stalking’. Did you guys know that power couples are present in every age, race, religion and economic strata? You can tell by looking at the way the couples are walking and interacting with one another as to who wears the pants in the house. Although some homes can have a partner who wears two pairs of pants, (another little gem from my two gems). Or in some relationships, each partner has one leg of the same pant, you know everything is shared fifty-fifty.

 

There are the couples where one spouse is just barely walking behind their other half with all the kids in tow, and you can see the defeat in their faces and the triumph in other’s face. It’s almost like witnessing a prisoner being led by a noose around their neck. There are the couples who are walking together and the kids are equally distributed too. It is fairly obvious that they have a power sharing agreement. Also, there are those who can barely wait to get away from each other, but the kids are keeping them together. Then there are the couples without the kids, and they appear to be quite happy to me, although not in all cases. Finally, happiest are the single men and women spanning across age, race and religion. I am not saying that because I am with two temperamental girls who are pulling my arms in opposite directions. I am certainly not envying the childless couples because I have constant verbal disagreements with both of the girls about the stuff that they’d like to buy and the stuff that they can buy. And I certainly do not eye the childless couples with any longing because I am stuck with two opinionated girls who don’t and I do mean don’t take no for answer. Also, I don’t entertain the thought of running into the crowd and never be seen or heard from again.

Another place I truly enjoy in the mall is Sephora, the makeup store. It’s so much fun to go inside Sephora. I feel like a child in a toy shop, or like a poodle rolling around in treats, well you get the picture. Now to afford something in Sephora is entirely another matter. The fact is that there are very few items priced at less than 100 riyals. I do enjoy looking at makeup and people who are trying the makeup. There are the ladies with pouty lips so wide that the lips practically have a postal code of their own. I mean how do women get lips like that, and are they natural or not? I can’t tell and I am sure touching someone else’s lips can land a person in trouble. Although I have wondered on occasion if someone’s very, very pouty lips were poked, would they bounce back or not? You know like a child inside a bouncy castle or on a trampoline. I am so eager to have pouty lips that anytime I go outside I put on a lip treatment called Fresh Sugar, and then stand in front of the mirror to make a pout, (I think a temporary pout would be better than none). Everyone in my family has learned of this pout exercise, and my son has actually learned to pout better than me.

 

The next thing I am so curious about are the eyes. The eye-brows are so perfect on some ladies, it’s as if God is devoting extra time and effort especially for making those amazing eye brows. Honestly, the curvature on those brows puts the St. Louis arch to shame, they are simply spectacular. Also, lets not forget the shoes, the heels that some women wear can practically be a murder weapon in a pinch, or can be used as intravenous needles in case of emergency surgery. I love those heels, and gaze at them longingly in the stores, but if I wore those, not only would I fall flat on my face and cause some serious damage to myself which in turn could lead to permanent mental and physical harm. Although sustaining serious harm in order to avoid shopping is certainly food for thought.

 

Finally, I’d like to share a few products that I bought from Sephora on my latest mall excursion and truly enjoy using them. I bought an eye pencil and a liquid lipstick by Marc Jacobs, and four matte, liquid lipsticks in various shades of beige by Huda Beauty. I bought these products because I had read good reviews about them, and when I tried them inside Sephora, they looked nice. Upon reaching home, I realized maybe I could’ve done without couple of the liquid lipsticks, but again impulse buying is a big problem for me. I try and buy products after reading their reviews on a blog or a magazine, and in my opinion, best buys are those that we use often even if expensive.