Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Good Morning Starshine ...

... the world says "Hello!"

Today i got news via the chatbox in one of my scrabulous games that I am an aunt, again!!
My sister who does not blog (TDB) just gave birth to a healthy 3kg baby girl at 8.19am (malaysian time, 3:19am saudi time).
My latest niece's name is Sharifah Nabiha.
She shares the same birthdate with her eldest brother Arif, yay! (Less birthdates for me to remember).
So my parents now have 13 grandchildren, out of which 8 are boys and 5 are girls. Number 14 is coming end of July Insya-Allah, expected to be another boy. Masya-Allah, Alhamdulillah!

From our phone conversation, I also learned that my sister has opted for vss (Voluntary Severance Scheme)(Read: she quit her job), so we are concocting a business plan, for when I come back for good, which is dont know when. heh heh so much for a plan.

That's the news for today :)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Izani's one week trip Doha

If you've read Lollies' blog, you'd know by now that I was in Doha for the whole of last week.
Taufik had a 5-day training at the Doha Marriot. The older kids didnt want to tag along coz they didn't want to miss any more school (they had missed 7 days when we went to Cairo, and it was just a week since Spring Break was over). I know, it is shocking that my kids actually chose to go to school!
I think they were relieved to get a little break from us the parents as well. They got to stay at a friend's house in Ar@mco for a whole week. They didnt have to do any chores (the friend has a maid), they could play with the computer all they want (the house has 2 computers), they dont have to walk to the bus stop (the bus comes right in front of the house) and they got to ride on the huge, better conditioned Ar@mco bus (our school bus is a rundown old mini bus).
So even though I felt bad about leaving them for a whole week, I didnt feel that bad coz it was like a vacation for them as well.
So we just brought Izani with us .

Here's a pictorial record of what Izani did during this trip:

hover over picture for notes

I am so grateful that women can drive in Qatar, and that Lollies actually made the effort to spend her free time with me and drive me around to all sorts of shops. She brought me to all the discount stores in Qatar (I never want to pay full price again!), and to the best and cheapest mamak restaurant in Doha, maybe even the world (8 pieces of roti canai with dhal and mutton keema, one nasi lemak, 3 mugs of teh tarik for QR11!! weh.. kat malaysia pun tak dapat tau!). I am also thankful that she puts up with Izani's smelly farts and poop, something which he had a lot of.

We also went to a few pretty places where Taufik could practice his photography skills. She even let us borrow one of her tripods to hold our camera steady for some night shots.

Check out Lollies' new look!

More and clearer pictures in my Doha set on Flickr.

Thanx Lollies and family for such great hospitality!

Friday, April 18, 2008


Tried making Deceptively Delicious' Chocolate Chip Cookies (with chickpeas) today.

oh man, they were so yummy.
I think I could've told my kids I had put worms in them and they would still eat them.
Izani kept chanting "cooties!! cooties!!", while munching on his. When he had finished, he'd come to me and say "cooties?"
The other kids would swarm and ask for another one too.

I had to make another batch for the spring fair.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Easy Peasy Beef Queso

Reading Swahili's post on how she could turn chilli into lasagna made me crave for chilli con carne. But entah camner jadi beef queso pulak...
heh heh
By playing around with my chilli con carne recipe (damn.. I wanted to put a link, but that recipe was swallowed up by modblog. Pity), I discovered I could make it into Beef Queso, which is basically chilli con carne (beef/meat chilli) mixed with cheese. I brought the whole thing up a notch by adding corn and red kidney beans (you can use whatever vegetables you like).

Easy Peasy Beef Queso

One large onion chopped
5 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon meat curry powder mixed with a little water
1/4 cup beef stock
250grams minced meat
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can (15oz) sweet corn kernels - drained
1 can (15oz) red kidney beans - drained
1 can (15oz) nacho cheese sauce*
salt, pepper, sugar to taste

Saute onions and garlic in a little oil till brown and fragrant.
Add curry powder, with a little water if things get to dry, let simmer till a film of oil rises to the top.
Add beef stock, then minced meat. Stir to break up meat and for ingredients to combine.
Add tomato paste, stir, then season to taste.
Let simmer till sauce thickens.
Add vegetables.
Stir in cheese sauce.
Ladle into a bowl, use your favourite nacho chips to spoon.

sedap dimakan panas-panas, ramai-ramai

*If you can't find nacho cheese sauce in a can where you are, just buy one of the cheese dips in the bottle. Alternatively, you could also just use grated cheese (cheddar, mozarella, whatever you fancy). Some nacho cheese sauce/dip has jalapeno in them, so make sure you choose according to your taste in spicyness.

The red kidney beans really made the chilli yummy. I had initially put only half a can coz I wasnt sure how it'd turn out, but after tasting it, I decided to dump in the whole can! I ended up picking the beans with my nachos. Yummeh!

Buenos Nachos, Amigos!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Izani is 2!

On the occasion of Izani's 2nd Birthday today, I present to you:

Izanish Dictionary - Special 2nd Year Edition

ayah n dad
abahn n "abang" , big brother usually followed by sun or yum
anish n Anis, his big sister, usually preceded by kakaq
appo n hippopotumus
ahs v "ask", used to ask for milk.
awan v "I want", his polite way of asking for something also see nawan
baa n bye
bubba n baby
bubbye n bye bye :)
bus n bus
but n derrier, backside
bunder n "bonda", mom (me)
cane n crane
car n car, often said with gusto
cat n cat
chee-qun n chicken.
chocot n chocolate
cooties n cookies
digger n excavator, bulldozer, diggers. Accompanied with a hand digging action.
drint v, n drink
feet n feet
fits n "fix", used when something is broken
fish n fish
go v go
hen n hand
iron n lion (he can't pronounce 'L' that well)
kakaq n "kakak", big sister, usually followed by anish
kengkoo n "Thank You"
koo-wah n "kuah", gravy for his rice
mah-dee n "mandi", take a bath, usually said as an order to his elder brothers and sister. e.g. "mah-dee!"
mama n mom, used when he wants something especially his milk. also see bunder
me n me, usually accompanied with one hand help up
mun adj "mine"
moose v move
nawan v "I want" said repeatedly. Used when he really really wants something. also see awan
nas n "snap", as in Crocodile
noe n no
noes n nose
nowan v "I dont want", often confused with nawan
oh n an exclamation of realization, sometimes followed by otay
otay adj okay
ought adj hot, often repeated 3 times, as in "hot hot hot!"
ouchy n .. is an ouchy, any kind of pain, felt or inflicted.
peas n please, as in "bunder awan wotar, peas?"
pie-duh n spider
shoos n "shoes", anything he wants put on his feet, including other people's shoes.
soo-shoo n "susu", milk, said with a lilt in the last syllabul.
seep n sleep
sun n "Ihsan" , usually preceded by abahn
trut n truck
tie-*roar* n tiger
uh-gain v "again", as in repeat, either sing, or dance, or read.
wotar n "water"
yum n "ilham", usually preceded by abahn

He can also string words into a sentence now. See if you can have a go at translating these sentences:

1. "bunder, awan cooties"
2. "kakaq anish! moose! moose!"
3. "abahn yum, abahn sun,.... mah-dee!"
4. "uh-gain uh-gain, pie-duh"

Alhamdulillah, Izani has enough books and toys to last him till the next year, but he would like to see other kids have the same joys of reading as him. So, he would really be happy if you could help his favourite clown, Dr.Bubbles, set up a library for an orphanage in Machang.
Come let's help Izani help Dr.Bubbles spread some love around!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cairo - Anecdotes

Okay before you guys complain "Tak habis-habis lagi ke cerita pasal cairo???", I promise you, this is the absolutely. last. one.

These are bits and pieces that happened that I didnt think fit in any of the other posts.

Jumpa Pelakon Melayu
When we were in Saqqara, we saw that there were a bunch of Malays. We knew they were Malays coz there was a makcik pakai tudung macam melayu (bukan style indonesia) and she was saying "eeehhh best aje dengar pakcik tu cakap arab shuey shuey shuey". They were walking past us while we were climbing up a slope so we couldnt say hi.
Anyways, when we climbed down on the other side of the slope, we met a couple melayu who sengih sengih at us. The guy looked really familiar and he was acting really friendly and smiling at us and he said Hi so we stopped to chat with him.
Taufik was like trying to figure out where he knew him. "where are you from?", "Where did you go to school?", "Do you work for Petr0nas?", Taufik asked. The guy's impatient frizzy haired friend offered, "He's on TV", and the first thing that came to my mind was, "Oh do you work for TV3?", you know, maybe he was mokciknab's colleague and we had met him at her house or something. Nope. The friend laughed and finally said "Dia pelakon" (he's an actor) and the guy gave a humble smile and said "I'm Khairil Anuar".

and we were like,


It was so embarassing. Taufik even managed to muster up a "sorry, but we've been out of the country for a while" as an apology (for recognizing him, but not recognizing him).
Anyways, Encik Khairil Anuar (I dont even know if I spelt his name correctly, coz seriously, I do not know who he is), if you're reading this, I would like to apologize if we had inadvertantly hurt your feelings. I mean, if you looked familiar to us, you must be quite a prolific actor lah kan? Our bad.

Panic in The Street
We were walking down one of the streets in town in mid afternoon when most of the shops are closed and most egyptians are having their siesta, when we heard a loud screech. An old black taxi (for there were so many in Cairo) which had been barelling down the street a moment ago, had actually suddenly screeched to a halt about a meter in front of us.
The taxi driver jumped out , shouting angrily at someone. That someone turned out to be one of his passengers, who also jumped out of the one of the back doors. They continued shouting at each other and were only stopped from lunging at each other when a passerby intervened. We watched this commotion in amazement.
What amazed us more was that after the sounds of quarelling died down from both of these men, both driver and passenger got back into the taxi and the taxi drove off.
I don't know what they were arguing about, but if I were the passenger, I would not have gotten back into the taxi.
Now I wonder if the taxi screeched to a halt again further up the street.

Poor Doctors
We met some Malaysian medical students from Alexandria a day before we left Cairo. We chatted a bit, asking about what life was like in Alexandria and they were really friendly and happy to meet another Malaysian. We asked them how much allowance they got from their scholarship/loan and they told us it was between USD200 - USD300, which I thought was reasonable in Egypt, considering the cost of living there. I only got USD500 when I was studying in Illinois (that was to cover rent+utility, food, stationaries etc.).
The next morning we read an article in the paper about Egyptian doctors threatening to go on strike unless they get a pay raise. The article stated that the starting pay for doctors is LE300 per month. That means that medical doctors are making less than what Malaysian medical students get every month.
I thought that was amazing and apalling at the same time.

dah, finish.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Deceptively Delicious

Last Wednesday there was a scheduled power interruption in my compound, so I decided to make it a day out with the kids. We went to the bookstore at the mall and I found this widely-promoted cookbook on the shelves. My kids were ecstatic and insisted I buy it coz they saw it on Oprah and was drooling when Oprah raved about how delicious the brownie was.
I looked at the price and was suprised that after currency conversion, it was cheaper than I thought it would be. Needless to say, I was sold and bought the book.

Leafing through it while eating Fish and Chips for lunch with the kids, I wondered how I could use this newly discovered knowledge of hiding pureed vegetables into the dishes that I cook every day (read:Malay food), but this made me realize that hiding pureed vegetables is not rally a novel idea. We Malays have actually been doing it for ages!
Thin about all of the bingkas (malay cakes) you've ever had - bingka keledek, bingka ubi, bingka labu, bingka pisang.. arent they pureed vegetables made into a dense cake?
Cekodok is simply mashed banana fritters.
The Johoreans have been adding pureeed sweet potatoes in the gravy for their mee rebus (noodles with sweet+spicy gravy) for ages.
The book's recipe for donuts with pureed sweet potatoes reminded me of Cucur Keria (look for my recipe under Culinary Jam). And we take the mashed sweet potato donut a step further - by turning it into a spicy prawn filled ball (cucur badak).
And Vade and Masalodeh - are simply chickpeas and lentils mashed and made into savoury cakes - a very good way to subtitute meaty nuggets.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to put down Mrs Se1nfeld, or her efforts. I'm sure I'll be trying our her recipes, and I'm sure I'll love it.
I'm just saying, maybe we should come up with a melayu version of this lah.
Like how to hide sayur in Ayam Masak Merah.
Mesti boleh buat punya lah...

Siapa nak join? Kita kasi tajuk .. "Sedap tapi Tipu", boleh?
ha ha.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cairo - For Kids

We were in Cairo for 10 days. During the 5 days that Taufik has training, I had to make sure the kids were entertained and did not get on my nerves (hey, this was my vacation too). So I did extensive research on what activities I could do with the kids, and places that would interest them (aside from the places that we were going with Taufik, i.e. pyramids, citadel and khan el khalili). I had planned a visit to several parks, a few small museums, and one puppet theatre show. Some of the planned activities did not pan out, because of the attack of the cairo foxtrot, but I think the kids were pretty entertained with the stuff that we managed to do.


I think they found visiting the citadel quite fun. The citadel is on top of a hill and had a lot of wide open spaces they could run around on. It also offered an unprecedented view of Cairo. Some say that on a clear day, you could even see the Pyramids in the distance. It wasnt a clear day when we were there.
You could easily spend one whole day in the Citadel. We had lunch in the italian restaurant there and they were quite reasonably priced. The pizza was very good and passed my kids' discerning tastebuds.
The citadel also has a Police Museum that might interest your budding law enforcement officer. But since Ilham was interested in army stuff, we visited the Military Museum instead.

Military Museum

The military museum is in a 2 floor mansion, and holds military equipments (or copies of) from the ancient egyptian times till present. It was quite interesting to see the different eras that Egypt has gone through (Ancient Egypt, Islamic, Industrial and now Modern). Unfortunately, some rooms were cordoned off for god knows what reason.
Ilham's favourite part was outside, actually, where they displayed several tanks and fighter jets. Also on display were a few missiles.
There were many families who were just sitting around in the park surrounding the museum, just spending time with their children and eating ice cream or just chatting.

There is also a carriage museum and a garden museum within the citadel, but we didnt visit them because we got hungry (again) and Taufik needed his daily dose of rice.

Egyptian museum
The Egyptian museum was not as big as I thought it would be, but boy was it filled to the brim with stuff!!!
I hired a guide to help explain what was what. Truthfully, he was quite expensive, but I milked him for what he was worth. He helped me get through the crowds and helped carry the stroller up steps (Tip: if you have a baby in a stroller, officials and visitors alike will usually make way for you). I made him entertain the boys while I sat down at a quiet corner and fed Izani. When he attempted to end the 'tour' prematurely, I whipped out my guide book and showed him the rooms that he had not brought us through and made him bring us through them.
A guide is invaluable though, because unless you've read extensively on the ancient egyptians, the labels on the artifacts really don't provide you much. Our guide related the backgrounds of the important artifacts, its relevance and little anecdotes about them. He kept us moving and engaged, and entertained with his little jokes (he was a fatherly guy).
My favourite artifact must be the Tutenkhamen's throne. It was this rickety looking thing covered in gold leaf, but I liked it because of what was on its back. There was a picture/drawing of Tutenkhamen sitting on his throne, with his wife standing in front of him with an offering of food, one hand on his arm. My guide pointed out that they were sharing a pair of sandals, him wearing the left pair, her the right. I thought it was *so* romantic! (I spent the rest of my stay searching for a reproduction of this drawing, but failed to find one :( )
If you're wondering, we did not go into the mummy room (different ticket), because there were several mummies on display outside of the room and the kids got a little spooked looking at them. When I asked whether they'd like to go into the mummy room, they declined.
I can imagine spending half a day or even one whole day inside the museum, perhaps sitting down and drawing (there were many art students doing that, some even painting with little pots of watercolor). But my guide inticed my kids with the prospect of watching how papyrus is made, so they were itching to get out. I was a little pissed actually, coz tickets were damn expensive (LE50)!
Since I expected him to bring us to his friend's shop that sells payrus and perfumes, I made him help me with crossing the road. If you see how Egyptians drive and the speed at which they drive on Sharia Ramses, his sheer skill at helping me and my 4 kids cross the street is worth at least LE50. After I bargained my way out of the shop with a roll of papyrus and 2 bottles of perfume, we headed for Abou Tarek for some koshary for lunch (yum!). We then made a pleasant leisurely walk back to our hotel.
(no pictures. The compact ran out of battery and I did not want to lug the SLR)

Gabaliya park and aquarium

We chose one day to spend entirely in Zamalek island, an island that sits in the middle of the Nile river, in between central Cairo and the suburb of Dokki (where Taufik was having his training).
I had originally planned a morning in Mahmud Khalil Museum, but my kids were a bit hyperactive that morning, so we headed for Gabaliya park instead. Gabaliya Park supposedly has an aquarium in like tunnels and bunkers, so Izani was looking forward to looking at some fish. We were showed the way by a security personnel, who took the time to show the displays and shoo away dating couples within the tunnels while he's at it. The tunnels/caves had a lot of nooks and crannies and coming from Saudi, it was very suprising for us to encounter couples sitting in any available hole or nook. They weren't doing anything outrageous, some were just chatting (Or at least, to what I could observe). But they were about the only lively things in the aquarium section, because most of the glass cases were empty and dry. We saw a few tortoises, catfish, tiny fishes and bottles filled with dead specimens and that was about it.
The security personnel helped carry izani's stroller up the multi story 'cave', till we reach the roof of it, where we were afforded an arial view of the whole garden. Up there with us were a few teenage boys who made it their duty to whistle and tease any couples that they deem were doing 'too much'. It was quite humorous to me. I gladly gave the security personnel some baksheesh for his assistance.
We spent the rest of the morning walking around the park, which was very very green compared to the concrete jungle in central cairo. We sat at the many many benches around the park and the kids drew pictures of the empty fountain, the fish they saw, and we also sat under a banyan tree while Ihsan drew it.
The park was a little dilapitated, but the cheap entrance fee (50piasters) and the peaceful atmosphere more than makes up for its deficiencies.

Walking Around Zamalek

Zamalek is quite pedestrian friendly. The island has lots of trees and wide sidewalks and couple that with the cool weather, was very pleasant to walk in. (Watch out for dog poo though). We stopped for lucnh at Beano's, which is not only a cafe that serves coffee and food, but also sells books. They had really comfortable couches instead of metal chairs and Izani took a really long nap in ours. We went through several books while waiting for our food and I bought a very interesting book called "Hayy bin Aqzan". This is also wehere I ahd the best hibiscus blueberry juice, evah.
After lunch we proceeded to slowly walk from one end of the island to the other end, to meet up with Taufik when his training ends for the day. We walked past the Gezira Sporting Club, and the Cairo Tower before reaching Sharia at-Tahrir. The leisurely walk took not more than an hour, even with stops to take pictures, to gawk at people playing football and a few buildings along the way. The kids didnt complain much.

At the end of our walk was the Cairo Opera House, which not only has 2 theatres where performences (Musical and otherwise) are staged almost every night, but also 2 galleries that display contemporary art by local and foreign artists. The information booth was very helpful with questions and they have brochures on all the performences available there. The galleries were very interesting and I think it inspired my children to produce more of their own 'artwork'.

We had to wait for Taufik to walk to where we were, so we sat at like a tiny bench meant for tourist police (who were not there at that moment). While waiting we played a game where each of us has to pick a number from 1 to 10 and count the cars that pass and the car matching the number they picked would be 'their car'. Izani had fun just waving at the female drivers waiting for the traffic light to change and he'd be most delighted when a few of them would shriek in joy at him.

Walking down the river nile on our way back home was also very nice. There were a lot people selling stuff though, and they would just hand one to your kids, saying it's a gift, but then they would come up to you asking for payment. You have to tell your kids not to accept anything given to them. We had to shell out LE20 for 4 wilting carnations.
Other than that, the bridges and the riverside offer many great opportunities for beautiful pictures!
There are many feluccas parked along the river and you could hire one by the hour. Some people even pack some food and drink with them to eat on these sailboats while watching the sun set. I hear that it could be quite romantic :)
Unfortunately I didnt do this because my husband sememang nya blurr dan tak romantic lansung.

Cairo Puppet Theatre

One other day we decided to watch a puppet show. The Cairo Puppet Theatre is very close to the Ataba Metro Station, which was really close to our hotel. There are even signs for the Cairo Puppet Theatre at the underground station, so we just followed the signs. Emerging from the tunnel, we were suprised to see that the theatre was really close by, just a short walk across a dusty lot filled with people selling all sorts of household items. We identified it by the queue of kindergarten kids at the entrance. We paid LE15 each to get in (even though the guidebook says it's free, i guess it's only free for egyptians) and the guy sat us in the front row, long before they started seating the kindergaten kids and their teachers.
While waiting for the show to start, popcorn and tit bits were sold and the DJ played popular arabic children songs which all the kids (except mine) knew and sang and clapped along to. Some kids even got so excited that they got on stage and danced. It was amazing to watch 4 to 5 year old girls gyrate their hips to the beat of the music like a pro belly dancer. Are they taught this at home, I wonder.
The 'puppets' were not confined to simply puppets. There were live performers in costumes playing the main characters, supported by smaller characters in the form of hand puppets. Even though the whole show was in arabic, due to the physicality of the show, we could roughly figure out what it was all about and it was still enjoyable. The children especially enjoyed the slapstick bits.

Al Azhar Park

Al-Azhar Park is this huuuge park on top of a hill on the outskirts of Cairo. Be prepared to pay at least LE30 for a cab ride. Our hotel helped us get a cab, and the driver could speak english and was a semi-tourist guide. We secured a ride home with him by promising to pay LE60 at the end of the day.
We spent almost 5 hours in the park (from 10am to 3pm), taking a leisure stroll, enjoying the view of the garden and of the city from the garden. We stopped a few times, once to take pictures. Another time to sit down among palm trees on a green patch. We ate chips and the kids ran around while I read Artemis Fowl. Then we walked around abit more and then stopped for lunch. I only realized after ordering food that I hadnt taken any extra cash. I had to ask the waiter if they accepted credit cards (no) and had to ask him to tally our bill before they brought our food. Luckily the waiter was friendly and obliging, and I was hapy to discover that I had enough money to pay the bill, with less than LE10 in change. The lack of funds sorta tarnished the rest of our day there because I kept worrying if the kids got thirsty or hungry again and I couldnt afford to buy them anything.
While we were having lunch, the day turned for Dzuhr and we could hear the call for prayer coming from mosques at every corner of the city, the first one being the loudest, then garbled by the overlapping calls and lastly growing into almost a hum of calls coming from near and far. It felt quite surreal.
On the way back, our cab driver drove us through the back streets of cairo and we saw how egyptians go about their daily lives, buying bread almost all times of the day, having coffee, buying groceries, fixing bicycles, hitting carpets to get rid of the dust. I asked the driver to wait for me in the lobby while I rushed up to the room to get money for his fair, and I was glad that he didnt scold me or anything.
The kids spent the rest of the day drawing what they saw.

Wikala Al-Ghouri

On the last day we were in Cairo, we decided to visit Wikala Al-Ghouri. 'Wikala' means 'hostel' and this one used to house traders who came from all over the world to sell their goods in Cairo. It's not filled with activities for children but my children enjoyed it anyways. I made them imagine what it was like during its heyday, when the ground floor square would be filled with stalls selling goods from all exotic corners of the world and the fountain in the middle of it would be spewing water for the enjoyment of customers visiting the wikala.
The custodian brought us up to the 3 story living quarters. We had to go up narrow stairs and through heavy wooden doors. He showed us the office with a built in safe, the middle floor for servant quarters and kitchen and the uppermost family rooms. Looking through the mashrabiya (wooden grates covering the windows) towards the open courtyard below, I had a vision of how the womenfolk might have peered through them to watch the trading activities below.
Very interesting indeed.

Other tips

Ilham was given a holiday diary by his teacher, so he spent most of his free time filling that up. Even though the others did not get a diary from school, I bought them writing books so that they could do the same. They were allowed to draw or write about whatever they saw during the day. This had saved me a lot of headaches, especially when I was sick and had to stay in bed.

Even though it sounded like we did a lot of walking, most walks are kept short, or have a lot of breaks within them. Breaks could include a proper sit down for lunch or just an ice cream, or just standing in front of shops looking at their wares in the window. I also think that my kids are so used to us walking alot during our holiday trips, that they've given up complaining about it :)

Allowing them to hold the guidebook or the camera or push the stroller also gave the kids a sense of purpose and responsibility, and kept them occupied and interested. Being observant and interested in your surroundings yourself also helps, coz then you notice and could point out interesting things to them, and they in turn, would start trying to look around more and point out interesting things to you.

All in all, I think cairo was as enjoyable for my kids as it was for Taufik and I.

More (and clearer) pictures with notes on flickr.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Blueberry Cheesecake

Believe it or not ...

I made this for a kenduri aqiqah yesterday.
I think it turned out pretty good, considering it was gone in a flash. I actually had to convince a little girl to put off eating her piece so that I could take a picture of what it looked like inside. hee hee.

I got the recipe for the Japanese Soft Cotton Cheesecake from kak pea's blog. The first time I tried it, I brought it to Riyadh and my kids loved it. It was fluffy and only mildly cheesy and not too sweet. Since I was bringing it to a gathering this time, I decided to make it more presentable by slapping on some vanilla whipped cream (whip 1 cup whipping cream with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla), spooning on some blueberry topping/filling (from a can) and practicing my piping skills (still not there, but I think was better than before.. tee hee)

I am refraining from labeling this as 'easy peasy', because it does involve a few steps that sounds tricky and like it requires high culinary skill, but I think you'll find that it's pretty easy once I've explain it out and you've tried it.

Japanese Soft Cotton Cheesecake (original recipe here)

100ml milk
300grams philly cream cheese
50 grams unsalted butter (half a stick)
6 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 heaping tablespoon corn flour
6 egg yolks
juice of half a lime

Preheat oven to 160degC or 325degF. Line 11" circular cake pan or 8"by11" rectangular pan with ungreased waxed paper.
Whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a standing mixer (makes it easier) till soft peaks form. Add sugar by spoonfuls and let it whip till stiff.
Melt cheese, butter and milk on a double boiler (Note 1), using a whisk to smooth. Cool to room temperature.
Sift flour and cornflour together and whisk into milk+cheese till smooth. Add in egg yolks and lime juice and whisk to mix well.
Fold in egg whites till thoroughly mixed.
Bake in a water bath (Note 2) for 1hr and 10minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool cake before decorating.

(1) Double Boiler
Doesn't really require special equipments. Just find a pot that is big enough to support your mixing bowl on its rim. Boil some water in it and then place your mixing bowl on it to melt the ingredients. The purpose it to melt ingredients without burning it. (For the engineer-minded folks : The steam from boiling water provides a relatively even and constant heat source, that is not too hot that it reaches the melting point but not the burning point of ingredients)
(2) Water Bath
Again, no special equipment required. Find a pan with at least one inch high side that you could fit your cake pan in. Place your cake pan in the middle and fill the outer pan with water. Place the whole thing in the oven. Check the water level every half an hour or so, top up if necessary.
If you're using a springform pan for your cake, wrap the outside bottom with aluminum foil to avoid watter from seeping into your cake batter. The purpose is to keep the cake moist. (For the engineer-minded folks : the heat from the oven will make the water evaporate and fill the oven with water molecules. The heat keeps the water molecules from condensating and that keeps the water molecules in the cake from escaping).
Beware: Unless you want a steam facial, do not stick your face in when you open the oven door.

Happy Trying!!!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cairo - Shopping

There are a lot of places where you can go shopping and a lot of stuff to shop for in Egypt.
Aside from the usual papyrus, perfume and miniature pyramids and statues, they also have pretty patchwork (leather or fabric), crystals (at al-Asfour) and costume jewellery (silver or otherwise). Their carpets are not as famous nor elaborate as those found in Turkey and Iran, but if you like simple beduoin artwork, you might like them. Egypt is also famous for its cotton, but somehow most of the cottonwear I found at the every day markets were made in india.. I wanted to check out the linens, but instead of quality cotton, I found they were made of cheaper synthetic material, and was made in china. Perhaps I did not shop at the right places for these items?
Anways, here were the places I did manage to shop/browse at and the stuff I found there:

Khan El-Khalili

Khan el Khalili is a huge maze of shops. If you do not have a chance to shop anywhere else, I would suggest that you do all your souviner shopping here. Most shops sell almost the same stuff, so use that to your advantage by comparing prices and bargaining.
Bargaining is a must! They usually start with a ridiculously high price, so you have to start your bargain with a ridiculously low one and move up to a price which you feel is reasonable. Be firm, and don't be afraid to walk away if you don't get what you want. Most of the time, the guy would offer to lower the price for you if he sees you walking away. Be polite when you decline, say "La, Shukran" (No, Thankyou).
Don't rush yourself, be prepared to spend at least 2 hours in Khan El-Khalili, first browsing around and looking at the amazing architecture, then comparing prices and bargaining.
Don't be afraid to venture into small alleyways. You might just be rewarded by a coppersmith working on his wares. Or, you might encounter a group of art students making sketches of the archways and shopfronts.
Try to remember corners and junctions, so that you dont get lost.

What to buy
Copperware - price ranges between LE100 to LE500, depending on size and workmanship. Multi-colored ones may cause more. Make sure to check whether they are really handmade (the coppersmith actually hammer multicolored metals on the plate) or just printed. you can tell the difference.
Leather patchwork poufs - they may start the price at LE250 each, but I managed to get mine for LE85 coz I bought two. Check to see if they are really leather (The smell would be a dead giveaway).
Silver trinkets - keychains, stuff to hang on your door knob. Price between LE5 to LE20

granite/marble/glass items - from statuettes to mini pyramids. If that is your thing.. i'm not sure about price coz we didnt buy any.
Them hanging copper lights - we couldnt figure out how to bring them back, so we didnt buy any and didnt even bother to ask.
Miniature gambus - small, fat bodied traditional guitars. i dont know the price.
Sheesha pipes - they are really pretty and they have lots of different designs. You just have to figure out how to carry them home.
What not to buy
Pashmina shawls - They come from India, and look like the same stuff sold in Khobar, and get this , on the streetmarkets in Italy. If you still want them, make sure it's at most LE30, because they are SR25 over here.
T-shirts - the ones we bought had such a stiff collar that we couldnt even get Izani's head through! Buy these at the mall, or check the elasticity of the collars.
Papyrus - be aware that some papyrus sold here are actually made of banana fibre and not really papyrus. You can tell real papyrus by the finer grain, softer feel and its sturdiness (does not crack, break or peel off that easily). Guidebooks suggest going to Dr. Ragab's Papyrus Institute, but because the institute is a little out of the way for me, I just bought mine at one of the many stores in downtown Cairo. But again, bargain like crazy and don't back down. I got mine for 20% of its original price.

Tentmaker's Market

The Tentmaker's Market is just a small row of shops and they all sell the same things - fabric patchwork and tents.
The fabric patchwork are amazing! You can also see some men sewing these patchwork by hand in their shops. Keep this in mind when you are bargaining. I felt a little bad about suggesting a lower price for these items because I knew it took a lot of effort to make it. Once you've settled for a price though, be content, because you have just bought a handmade heritage item, made 100% in Egypt by egyptians, and they are simply works of art.
Here, you can also buy tents of all shapes and sizes. The normal tents are really huge and you can't possibly fit them in your suitcase, so they have tents that are 1metre by 1 metre (perfect for kids, LE250), and they also have miniature ones, really small (for army action figures, LE20), medium (for barbie dolls, LE30) and large (for teddie bears, LE40). These tents are made of plain canvas, with trimmings of multicolored fabric.

Sharia Muizz Li-Din Allah

This street starts from Al-Ghouri Complex and ends at the Tentmaker's Market. The stalls along this street sells clothes and bed and table linens. It's almost like a pasar malam, looking at the quality of the items, but they also have quite nice abayas. Abayas here have elaborate embellishments of colorful and glittery embroidery or sequins, and with the most expensive ones around LE200 (About SR150), it is quite a bargain.
Also along this street we found a shop that makes and sells fez, something that you dont see worn that much in egypt. The Fez were made popular during the turkish Khedive administration and most stereotypes of egyptians are potrayed with a fez on their heads (think old P.Ramlee movies). Nowadays it is very difficult to see anybody wearing the fez and is mostly sold as souviners. Ilham bought one for LE10. ;)

Lehnert and Landrock
This is my favourite bookstore in Cairo. There is a branch right in front of the Egyptian Museum (You can't miss it, it has a statue of Anubis, the god with the head of a jackal, at its doorstep), and there is another branch in Sherif Street, closer to the Windsor Hotel (This one is pretty easy to miss among the numerous other small stores on this busy street). The branch near the museum is understandably busier than the one on Sherif Street, so I prefer the latter coz I can browse with ease.
This bookstore sells lots of postcards and pictures of Egypt. It also sells books and prints of lithographs and sketches of Egypt. What they are most famous for are the collection of photographs taken between 1905 till 1925 by the German Rudolf Franz Lehnert. He established the bookshop in Cairo together with Ernst Heinrich Landrock in 1924 and it is still revered by egyptians and foreigners alike till today. Some photographs are sold in tasteful frames (Prices start from LE50), but they also sell reprints in postcard size.
Be prepared to spend at least an hour to go through all the postcards, prints and pictures. They are not really categorized and may be overwhelming at first, but when you find one that you really like, you'll see that it's all worth it, because you wont find them at the other souviner shops.
We bought a few prints of watercolor and ink drawings of mosques and khan el khalili here.

Whatever you do, do not buy souviners at the airport, coz they are priced in US dollars and are waaaay more expensive than the ones sold outside.

More (and clearer) pictures on flickr.

uh oh ....