Friday, October 31, 2008

Four Foods On Friday 53

This weeks’ meme is all about carbs. Thank goodness I’m not (re)starting South Beach until next week! Here are this week’s four questions.

1. What kind of pretzels are your favorite?
Although Hubby adores them, I’m not much of a pretzel girl. That said; I do occasionally enjoy a nice bag of Rolled Gold pretzels with spicy mustard for dipping.

2. What’s your favorite way to eat pancakes?
I’m Canadian, which means that I only use pancakes as a socially acceptable vehicle through which I can consume copious amounts of real maple syrup.

3. Do you make garlic bread from scratch or buy frozen?
My mother makes incredibly tasty garlic bread but I’m lazy so either I go to her house for homemade (which isn’t really feasible since we live on different continents) or I buy it.

4. Share a recipe that calls for mozzarella cheese.
I like this lasagna recipe, which I based off of one of Giada De Laurentiis’s. I have all her cookbooks but can’t remember which one this was in.

1½ cup béchamel sauce
1½ cups tomato sauce
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1lb ground beef or veal (a combination always works nicely)
8oz ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 box of precooked lasagna sheets (ready to use)
3 cups shredded mozzarella
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Make your béchamel and tomato sauces. Combine them together to make a smooth pink sauce. Set aside.

3. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Add the ground beef and season generously to taste. Meat is one of the most important flavours in a good lasagna so when it comes to seasoning your meat, go big or go to Olive Garden. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

4. In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

5. Into the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish, spread 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread a layer of all the ricotta mixture and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/3 the mozzarella cheese on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining béchamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

6. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil in case of spillage. Place lasagna dish on top, and put it on the middle rack of the oven. Bake until the top is bubbling, about 30-40 minutes.

As good as this recipe is fresh from the oven, I found it even better the next day!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catching My Breath

Holy lots of visitors to the blog, Batman! I can’t believe how many people stopped by yesterday on my Blog Around the World day. Thank you so much to Debbie, all BAtW folks, Devoted Readers, and new Wanderers who popped in. To keep my ego in check, I will be visiting all of your blogs over the next few days to say hi and spread the comment-love.

Since the moment I found out I was going to be the Blog of the Day I have been bouncing around the flat with excitement. I’m going to be on a blog-high for the next week thanks to yesterday.

Thanks to everyone and I hope you all keep reading!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Welcome to Egypt!

I would like to welcome everyone from BAtW. I can’t tell you how lucky I felt to be chosen to help highlight my adopted home of Egypt.

Before I tell you about Egypt, I thought I would tell you a little about me. I am a professional trailing spouse, which is basically a nice way of saying that I’m an expat wife, which means that I move every few years as the whims of my husband’s job take us around the globe.

Although I left my home country of Canada over ten years ago, I only consider myself to have been an expatriate for slightly over three years. That was when my husband and I left the US to live in New Delhi, India to work with The Group. A year later, we left India behind for Nairobi, Kenya and The Organization where my husband “counted sheep” for a living. A few months ago, we bid kwaheri to our East African home and found ourselves in North Africa - Cairo, Egypt to be specific - where Hubby now works for the Institution.

If you think that sounds like a lot of moving, meeting new friends, and saying good-bye to old ones, you’d be right. Luckily, while I am not enamored of change, I do enjoy traveling and learning about new people and places. With my house once more set to order, I have started Arabic lessons, joined associations, looked into volunteering positions, and am finally ready to start work on the Egyptian phase of my life.

Living in Egypt is an amazing adventure. Some people assume that because I live in an Islamic society, I am required to wear a hijab or that it means that I’m going to convert to Islam. While I do dress more conservatively here to be respectful (no shorts or tank tops), I don’t cover my hair unless I am playing tourist by visiting one of the many beautiful mosques to be found in Cairo. There is a great tolerance and respect for other cultures here that is reflected in the incredibly open and friendly attitudes of most Egyptians I have met. Welcome to my new home.

During today’s layover, I thought I would take you back through time to a few places you can see on day trips from Cairo.

When most people think about the Arab Republic of Egypt, one picture comes to mind: the pyramids. The three famous Giza pyramids are Pyramid of Khufu (also known as the Great Pyramid or the Pyramid of Cheops), the deceptively smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren), and the “smaller” Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos). Just to the east, as if guarding its neighbours, is the Sphinx.

When you see a picture of the three pyramids together, Cheops is the one with its top missing. Many people make the mistake of thinking that Khafre, with its still intact cap, is bigger, when in fact Khafre had it built on higher ground and at a steeper pitch than his father’s. If nothing else, this proves that difficult father-son relationships are nothing new.

Most people still think of the pyramids as a quixotic desert destination replete with camels and palm trees. The truth is somewhat less romantic. The pyramids, you see, are literally on the edge of Cairo. I will never forget the first moment I saw them rising up from behind a series of residential buildings as we drove along Pyramids road. Nothing kills the ambiance of false expectations quite like a grey haze of pollution and the harsh honking of horns in the distance.

(Conspiracy theorists may now discuss whom they believe really built the pyramids. Was it aliens, time travelers, time traveling aliens or something else entirely? Personally, I blame a guy named Bob, but that’s a story for a different time.)

Continuing our journey backwards through time, I highly recommend a visit to Saqqara, which is just a short drive from Cairo. The ancient step pyramid of King Djoser was designed by the famous architect and engineer Imohtep.

Sadly, when I saw this great edifice for the first time, I was in the midst of dying of heat stroke. Note to future travelers: water, a wide brimmed hat, and portable snacks are not suggestions – they’re compulsory. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to have your “Adam needs a cookie” moment while surrounded by the memories of people who moved around thousand pound stones for a living.

My favourite thing to see at Saqqara has nothing to do with pyramids and is conveniently shady for those 43°C moments. I happen to be a bit of a book-oholic and am completely capable of spending endless hours in galleries and museums looking at incredible (and not so incredible) art. Which is why, for me, the highlight of these tombs is on the walls. Mereruka's mastaba (tomb) is home to some incredible hieroglyphics and reliefs.

For our final trip in the time machine, we will go even further back into history to Wadi Al-Hitan or the Valley of the Whales. About 150km from Cairo, you will find the home of ancient fossilized whales that demonstrate “the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal.” Or, in laymen’s terms, it demonstrates whale evolution. I will be visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site in a few weeks time as it is a must see for fossil lovers and science geeks alike. (Not that I’m a geek or anything.)

(Since I have not yet visited myself, these photos of the Valley of the Whales are courtesy of the very talented Tiffany of Americans in Cairo.)

I hope I haven’t tired out all you tourists too much. We haven’t even visited Al-Qarafa (the City of the Dead), visited the Matarayyiah Obelisk of On, sailed a felucca on the Nile, or wandered through Islamic Cairo. Of course, when all that history gets to be too much, you are always more than welcome to go diving at Sharm el-Sheikh before heading back into the desert to see Luxor, Alexandria, and Rosetta.

I haven’t lived in Cairo very long and am still learning about its culture, language, and people but I can already tell that I will have no problem calling this place home. Egypt is a country where history literally comes alive around you. I hope, Insh’allah, you’ll visit again so we can continue our tour through time.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wandering Down the Street

Today, I have decided to take you along as I walk, taxi, walk, and finally taxi back home, all in the name of a quest for the “the best pasta in town.” Last Thursday, I set out from my flat with a short list of chores that needed to be accomplished before Friday. Hubby, you see, had scheduled an Institute picnic for Friday at which my job was to look pretty and make a good impression on everyone present.

To accomplish this Herculean task, I needed to rip hair from my face, buy a decent bottle of liquor or wine, and practice my Arabic so it would look like I hadn’t spent the last two months nesting. Obviously, I was in trouble before I had even started out the door. I couldn’t get an appointment at the spa in Zamalek, wine in this town sucks and I wasn’t going to share from our South African stash, and in three Arabic lessons, all I’ve managed to retain is how to buy vegetables and even that was rather shaky.

Undaunted, I made an appointment with my friend for an at-home eyebrow wax. I then spent twenty minutes finding my sun hat and making taxi packets before heading out the door without my now forgotten hat.

(Taxi packets are my pre-made rolls of money that will cover the cost of my taxi ride to and from wherever I am headed within Cairo. I fill them full of piaster notes and always make sure to put at least one large pound note on the outside as this is what the driver will first see when I hand it to him after I alight from his vehicle.)

Traffic that day was unusually heavy and it took twice as long to get to the liquor store, Drinkies, than usual. Once there, I perused the shelves for a minute and eventually decided to torture my hosts with Egyptian champagne. I packed the bottle away in the satchel I brought for that purpose and began my long walk to lunch.

Walking anywhere in this town takes patience, good eyes, comfy shoes, and extra dose of patience for good measure. You see the “sidewalks” here are often inaccessible because cars frequently park on or across them. They are also littered with garbage, animals, and the feces of said animals. The final icing on this cake is the danger of walking around buildings with air conditioners hanging out their windows, as these often rain down Freon and dirty water on unsuspecting pedestrians below.

The following is a typical walk to the end of a typical Cairene street. Imagine that you have cars parked on both sides of your already narrow street. This feat of parking prowess ensures that there is only just enough room for a small car to maneuver its way down the street. Since the sidewalks are generally inaccessible, you elect to walk on the road and jump between cars every time someone honks at you to get out of the way.

Annoyed and about to be driven to murder by the constant beeping of horns, you look around and see what appears to be at least 100 feet of uninterrupted sidewalk. Like the good pedestrian you were taught to be back in the Real World, you hop over to your designated area and proceed forward. Only this is what greets you at the end of the 100 feet:

Your path blocked, you look to the right to see if you can squeeze between the cars and continue on your way. Instead you see this:

Frustrated, but still patient, you retrace your steps until you find two cars you can safely squeeze through. When you finally find such a spot, you look around and realize that you just walked ALL THE WAY BACK TO WHERE YOU STARTED!

That was how I spent Thursday afternoon. All I wanted was two eyebrows, a bottle of bubbly, and a bowl of pasta. Instead, I walked up and down the streets of Cairo losing what precious little was left of my sanity.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Four Foods On Friday 52

The biggest problem with this weekly meme is that it always gives me cravings for things I can’t have in the developing world.

1. Name something you use cream cheese in/on.
The perfect Sunday breakfast: A poppy seed bagel sliced in half, generously slathered with deli-style cream cheese, topped slivered onions and tomatoes, and then generously peppered and lightly salted. (Irish smoked salmon and capers are optional.)

2. Do you use yogurt in any recipes?
My mother uses yogurt in my favourite chicken curry. The key is to watch the simmer closely and be ready to serve otherwise the yogurt will split.

3. Macaroni salad. What do you like/put in yours?
I’ve never made macaroni salad, which is kind of weird since I adore macaroni. I do; however, make pasta salad on a regular basis. Yum!

4. Share a recipe that you use sour cream in. (I totally misread the question. I thought it said cream cheese instead of sour cream. Sorry!!!)
Growing up one of my specialties was the world’s best carrot cake. Whenever I made this award winning delicacy I would always double the icing recipe so that concerned parties could properly test it.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 4oz package of chilled cream cheese (cut into pieces)
2 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1½ cups of confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons of mace

With knife blade in a food processor bowl, start machine running and drop cream cheese chunks down the chute into the blade, one at a time. Turn off processor. Add butter and lemon juice. Pulse to mix. Add sugar and process until smooth – about 15-20 secs.

The List

I could pretend that I’m not a TV addict but I think that we all know better. I watch more than the average amount of television and I’m okay with that since it gives me great fodder for the blog. For example, my husband is not a big fan of “Friends” but we watched it when it was on NBC and continue to catch it from time to time in reruns no matter where we are in the world. Moreover, he uses it as an excuse to legally cheat on me.

Allow me to explain. The episode in question had Ross and Rachel composing “lists” of five famous people that, if they met in them in real life, sleeping with them would not be considered cheating. On the show Ross famously removed Isabella Rossellini because he wasn’t likely to meet her in real life. Naturally, at the end of the episode he meets her at Central Perk but it was too late because he had laminated his Isabella-free list.

Ever since that episode aired, Hubby and I have discussed our own lists. We frequently debate the degree of fame one must attain to be legally allowed on “the list” but have yet come to any definitive criteria. I also added a rule (must to Hubby’s annoyance) that we are each allowed to veto ONE person from the other’s list.

Hubby changes his list on a fairly regular basis but a few women have permanent spots: Kate Winslet and Natalie Portman come to mind. I have long since vetoed Julianne Moore as I think he can do better.

Personally I have never been able to come up with five men good enough to replace my Hubby for a night. Hahahahaha! Just joking! I amuse myself.

Without further ado, my list:
  • Patrick Stewart (Make it so, baby!)
  • Taye Diggs (He’s hot and sings like an angel)
  • Bill Clinton (I want to know what all the hype is about)
  • Two players to be named later.
So who would be on your list? Who would you veto from your Significant Other’s list?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Carbo Loading

A few weeks ago, a friend took Hubby and I to a local eatery where, we were promised, we would enter famished but leave full enough that we wouldn’t eat for a day. The menu at this restaurant was three items long: small, medium, or large Koshari. (Incidentally, I found no less than five spellings online for Koshari, so I simply chose one at random.) The small plastic tables held bottles of lovely, spicy looking oils and our bowls of food were accompanied with smaller bowls of tomato sauce, and fried onions and garlic.

Koshari, for the uninitiated, is Egypt’s “in your face” to the whole no carbs idea. This vegetarian meal contains macaroni shaped pasta, chickpeas, lentils, rice, and vermicelli noodles. The best part is that it is insanely inexpensive running only LE4 for a small. To put that into perspective, a small bowl of this local delicacy is, in my opinion, enough food for an entire day and costs less than a can of Coke.

The other day, in a fit of laziness and as a consequence of working late, Hubby introduced our household to “take away Koshari.” For LE10, he brought home enough food to feed a small army. While the condiments weren’t as plentiful as they were at the restaurant, the oil was still super spicy and the tasty meal was still more than enough to bloat me and force me to hand Hubby ¾ of my portion to finish.

I’m not ready to say that this is my favourite meal ever, but as traditional foods go it’s pretty tasty. Carbs, carbs, and then more carbs for good measure, all flavoured with yummy spicy goodness. We literally couldn’t make this at home as inexpensively as they sell it. And I’m even thinking of asking Hubby to get extra spicy oil next time so I can use it to make salad dressing. For pasta salad, naturally!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Happy Place

Way down there on the right hand side of my blog is a badge that says Afrigator. This social media aggregator was built for “African digital citizens who publish and consume content on the web.” What does that mean? Well, basically, that Afrigator sends traffic (readers) my way, and in return, I use it to find other African-based bloggers who write about topics that interest me.

Yesterday afternoon I received an email from the good folks over at Afrigator telling me the most astounding news: I am one of the Top 45 Female African Bloggers. More specifically, and I don’t think they’d mind if I editorialize here, I am (just barely) one of the top 45 female bloggers in Africa who has registered with them.

The list of incredibly talented and gifted women naturally brings up several questions. How many women bloggers are there in Africa? How many of them are registered with Afrigator? What are the rankings by country? The latter comes up since most of the “winners” are from South Africa and the only other African countries to have made the list are Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Now that the list is out there, people have already started to dispute the rankings. Some people think that only blogs that discuss African issues (i.e. not “life” blogs like this one) belong the list. Other people have started listing blogs that are “way better” than the ones on the inaugural list. As the folks at Afrigator themselves pointed out, the list is subject to change based on who is registered with them and statistical data like page views, links, and unique visitors.

Regardless of how this list was compiled or how long I’ll manage to stay on it, to say that I was chuffed after reading this news would not do justice to the huge, goofy grin of pride I wore all day yesterday. I know that I’m not actually one of the best bloggers on the continent, or even one of the most popular, but having a complete stranger tell me that I’m not a complete loser is validating in an incredibly lame and to pathetic way.

Thanks for making my week, Afrigator!! *blush*

Monday, October 20, 2008

My TBR Pile

One thing that unpacking our mountain of boxes showed me was that Hubby might have had a point about my reading problem. The problem, of course, being that I read a wee bit too much. In my opinion, I don’t own that many books. That said, despite having worked in a circulation library for numerous years, I’m not into “borrowing” books.

Most people who have known me for a long time, are used to seeing me pull a book out of my purse at a moment's notice. Truth be told (although please don’t tell my mother or teachers), I was somewhat famous in high school for never reading the assigned books and yet always having a book open inside my desk during class. I have always enjoyed reading, but I don’t like being told what to read.

I am trying to get over the latter issue by joining (and in the case of Cairo “finding”) book clubs. The ladies I read with in Nairobi were lovely and always filled with ideas and opinions so different from my own that you’d think we were several generations and continents apart. (Which we were, but that’s hardly the point.)

I am always keen to see the latest bestsellers lists from the New York Times or Amazon to see if I’m reading the “right” things. But even more than the “right thing” of the moment are those lists that can tell us if we’re reading the “long-term” right thing. The key to finding one of these lists is to find one where you can check off at least 10 books. If you haven’t read at least 10 of the “best 100 books ever written” find another source – I guarantee that their list will be different.

Last week I started my blogging day by checking out Blogger's “Blogs of Note” and found Reading Adventures. (Aside: Is it just me or would it not be beyond awesome to be the Blog of the Day. Not that I'm looking for validation from complete strangers - that's not what this blog is about. Oh wait...) While there, I noticed that the author had blogged about Angus & Robertson’s Top 100 Book List. After perusing the list for a moment or two, I was pleased to see that I had actually read a few of the books that the Australian company had deemed worthy.

I copied the list here to help me keep track of my own reading. I have highlighted the ones I have definitely read (there were a few I wasn’t sure about) and italicized the books that are physically sitting in my To Be Read (TBR) pile (Amazon wish lists don’t count).

So how did you fare on A&R’s top 100 list? How do you think I did? More importantly, what books do you think are missing?

1. Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
2. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
3. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
4. The Obernewtyn Chronicles - Isobelle Carmody
5. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
6. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
7. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
8. Breath - Tim Winton
9. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
10. Break No Bones - Kathy Reichs
11. The Power Of One - Bryce Courtenay
12. Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
13. Magician - Raymond E. Feist
14. The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons
15. Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin
16. Memoirs Of A Geisha - Arthur Golden
17. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
18. Cross - James Patterson
19. Persuasion - Jane Austen
20. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
21. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
22. The Secret - Rhonda Byrne
23. Marley and Me - John Grogan
24. Antony and Cleopatra - Colleen McCullough
25. April Fools Day - Bryce Courtney
26. North & South - Elizabeth Gaskell
27. In My Skin - Kate Holden
28. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
29. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
30. The Other Boleyn Girl - Phillipa Gregory
31. Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
32. Atonement - Ian McEwan
33. Shantaram Gregory - David Roberts
34. Pillars Of The Earth - Ken Follett
35. The Pact - Jodi Picoult
36. Ice Station - Matthew Reilly
37. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
38. Jessica - Bryce Courtenay
39. A New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
40. The Princess Bride - William Goldman
41. Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
42. Anybody Out There? - Marian Keyes
43. Life Of Pi - Yann Martel
44. Seven Ancient Wonders - Matthew Reilly
45. People Of The Book - Geraldine Brooks
46. Six Sacred Stones - Matthew Reilly
47. Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
48. Brother Odd - Dean Koontz
49. Tully - Paullina Simons
50. Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
51. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D Salinger
52. Eragon - Christopher Paolini
53. Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
54. It's Not About The Bike - Lance Armstrong
55. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
56. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
57. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
58. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
59 A Fortunate Life - A.B. Facey
60. The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
61. The Notebook -Nicholas Sparks
62. Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen
63. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
64. The Host - Stephenie Meyer
65. Dirt Music - Tim Winton
66. Eldest - Christopher Paolini
67. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
68. It - Stephen King
69. World Without End - Ken Follett
70. Emma - Jane Austen
71. Temple - Matthew Reilly
72. Little Women - Alcott Louisa May
73. Lean Mean Thirteen - Janet Evanovich
74. Scarecrow - Matthew Reilly
75. American Gods - Neil Gaiman
76. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
77. P.S, I Love You - Cecelia Ahern
78. All That Remains - Patricia Cornwell
79. The Last Lecture - Randy Pausch
80. Past Secrets - Cathy Kelly
81. The Persimmon Tree - Bryce Courtenay
82. Husband - Dean Koontz
83. Plain Truth - Jodi Picoult
84. Wicked - Gregory Maguire
85. Spot Of Bother - Mark Haddon
86. Always And Forever - Cathy Kelly
87. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
88. Cents & Sensibility - Maggie Alderson
89. Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris
90. The Shifting Fog - Kate Morton
91. We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
92. Everyone Worth Knowing - Lauren Weisberger
93. Hour Game - David Baldacci
94. Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Jeff Lindsay
95. The Woods - Harlan Coben
96. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
97. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
98. Scar Tissue - Anthony Kiedis
99. Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali
100. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In Which I Seriously Freak Out

Last night, I bragged to Hubby about how all of the boxes were unpacked. While not everything had a home yet and none of our artwork is hung (stupid plaster walls!), “The place,” I told my husband, “is finally starting to feel like home.” After mutual pats on the back for our unpacking prowess and the dent we had made in our newly grown mountain of laundry, I continued to putter around adjusting frames and throwing out random pieces of paper.

That’s when it happened.

I was perched on the daybed watching some random program on TV when I noticed a bag I knew was filled with an incomplete knitting project. My eyes drifted right to my unsorted knitting books and I smiled thinking of all of the projects I could now procrastinate about. More importantly to my puttering brain, it was a hint to find a home for my needles, box of yarn, and other assorted crafting items.

I wandered into the back room and mentally catalogued the items I had unpacked and knew had not been stored into large, plastic bins. I was able to check off crystal, cutlery, and unneeded sports equipment, but no needles. I tore into a laundry basket paper-wrapped objects I couldn’t immediately identify. “NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I literally screamed across the apartment, tears burning their way down my cheeks.

“Call the Professor!” I urged Hubby.

“Why?” he asked calmly, unwilling to give into my rising hysteria.

“I think,” I choked. “I think I left all of my knitting stuff back in Nairobi!”

“Where?” he asked again in a somewhat disinterested tone.

“Remember that cupboard I told them to ignore? All my needles, notions, and knitting things were in that cupboard! I can’t find any of it! Not even my Jamaica basket with my sewing needles. What have I done?” My voice was becoming increasingly high-pitched the further into despair I fell.

“Could they be in there?” He pointed to a series of plastic drawers I had set aside for him to go through.

“Maybe,” I sniffed.

After spending several minutes trying to open the drawers from the back, I finally turned them around and what I beheld, without even opening the drawer, filled my panic-stricken heart with hope. Sitting in the top drawer were several tins of what I knew to be filled with circular needles and buttons. Behind those were cases of straight needles.

I attack hugged my husband and thanked him for his calm, even temper. “They’re here!”

“Whatever. You’re such a spaz.” And with that he sat back down at his own laptop, shook his head, and tried to pretend that he wasn’t married to this crazy lady.

I really do have the best husband ever. *sigh*

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Scary But True

I think the folks over at xkcd are stalking me again. How else would they know how I spend my mornings?!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Four Foods On Friday 51

Another week means another great series of questions from Valerie over at Fun, Crafts, and Recipes.

1. I passed Costco and saw gas at $2.84 and have had Costco on the brain since. Share a cupcake, muffin or cookie recipe.
I got this recipe from my Cooking Light cookbook so I get to pretend that they’re “healthy.”

Double Chocolate Chews

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate mini-morsels, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 egg whites
Vegetable cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine first 5 ingredients in a bowl; stir well, and set aside.
2. Combine 3/4 cup chocolate morsels and oil in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate melts, stirring constantly.
3. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into a large bowl, and let cool 5 minutes. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, water, vanilla extract, and egg whites to chocolate mixture; stir well. Stir in flour mixture and remaining chocolate morsels.
4. Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 8 minutes.
5. Let cool 2 minutes or until firm. Remove cookies from pans; let cool on wire racks.

2. Cupcakes, muffins and cookies require something to drink. What do you drink with them?
Whatever I have on hand. Can of Coke Zero, glass of wine, port, cider – I’m not terribly fussy.

3. Which do you prefer, mini muffins and cupcakes or full sized ones?
If you’re going to have a muffin or cupcake don’t be a wimp about it. Go full sized or skip the treat and have some museli.

4. What type of muffin or cupcake pan do you use? Silicone, disposable, etc.
If my shipment ever gets unpacked, I will have a very nice non-stick, Teflon muffin tin. Full-sized muffins, thank you. None of those wimpy mini things for this Fat Girl!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Great Day

Yes, it's true, my long awaited sea-shipment finally arrived! *cue dance of joy* Although my flat has now been designated a disaster area due to the mountains of boxes, I honestly couldn’t be happier. *bounce* Not that the move-in was without its hiccups (trust me, there were plenty) but as far as I’m concerned, the entire process has been a success.

I will be blogging about the entire process later in the week but wanted to share one quick story with you that I hope you will enjoy as much as I did. Our somewhat extensive DVD collection arrived with our air shipment but I never got around to unpacking or cataloguing it since the shelves where I keep them were in the sea shipment. Naturally, once the movers had placed my teak shelves in their new home the first thing I unpacked was my DVDs.

The first thing I noticed was that the “Running Man” DVD I had previously joked about had definitely been used for pirating purposes. Not only was it one of the few DVDs that had been removed from its bubble wrapping but I also noticed one small telltale sign on the box that had eluded me on first glance. Someone had split the cardboard wrapper open to photocopy it, and then crudely taped it back together. The other box they had definitely had their paws on was my “Matrix” box set, which was no longer in the correct release order I had left it in. Moreover, they hadn’t even replaced some of the DVD’s in the right boxes.

But wait, it gets better.

In that obsessive OCD way I have, I carefully organized and alphabetized each box before assigning it a place. Once all the boxes were neatly arranged, I opened the Excel file on which I had catalogued all our DVD’s prior to moving. At first glance there was nothing missing, but thanks to my meticulous list I discovered that there are definitely some perverts in the Egyptian Custom’s office. The only DVD that I could find missing, was Tyra Banks’ 2000 hit “Coyote Ugly.” Trust me when I say that we have much better PG-rated, DVD salaciousness from which they could have chosen. Hmmph! (Luckily, we took the non-PG stuff with us in our hand luggage.)

Isn’t it amazing that what would normally make me seethe with anger can now only make me giggle uproariously thanks to the arrival of a few boxes. You know, I think Egypt is starting to grow on me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Oscar Speech

“You like me! You really, really like me!” Sally Field uttered those famous words when she won her Oscar in 1979. Like many people that day, I wasn’t watching the Oscars because I had better things to do. But unlike most people, I have spent many hours since then writing my own Oscar speech in case I was ever lucky enough to be nominated. Of course, since I no longer act, that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

But this morning I had cause to think that my time had finally come! I wasn’t winning a wimpy, naked golden man – I had won something far, far better. Connie of Whale Ear and Other Wonderings presented me with a Proximidade Award.
“This blog invests and believes, in ‘proximity’ meaning, that blogging makes us 'close'. They are all charming blogs, and the majority of them aim to show the marvels of friendship; there are persons who are not interested when we give them a prize, and then they help to cut these bows; do we want that they are cut, or that they propagate? Then let’s try to give more attention to them! So with this prize we must deliver it to eight bloggers that in turn must make the same thing and put this text.”
So in honour of the occasion I thought I would share the first few lines of that Oscar speech I wrote so many years ago. “I’d like to thank all the little people. Leprechauns, faeries – this is for you! I’d also like to thank all the people who said this would never happen. Mum, Dad, Hubby – thank you!!”

Since I will never have the opportunity to share the rest of the speech with you, I have decided to move on (temporarily) and thank Connie for bestowing this award upon me. I cannot tell you how wonderful I felt this morning when I found out about your award. **hugs** “Warm and fuzzies” doesn’t even begin to describe the honour I feel at the moment. Thank you.

My duty, as I understand it, is to now pass the adoration along to other bloggers, so that they too can feel the love. My daily reading list is almost fifty blogs long so this was a very difficult list compile. In my opinion I have fifty winners of this award but since the rules state I can only nominate eight people. With that in mind, I have decided to nominate and present the Proximidade Award to a few of the wonderful bloggers I love to read each day.
Congratulations everyone! Don’t forget to pass the love along!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Perfect Cuppa

Last week I went over to one of the local five-star hotels and indulged in a very overpriced mug of hot chocolate that was worth every penny. Heck, even the biscuits that came with it were tasty and I’m not a cookie kind of a girl.

Now I just need to convince Hubby that paying LE50 for a weekly cup of relaxation and yumminess is not a waste of money. After all, his reward is a happy wife so it seems like money well spent to me.

POSTSCRIPT: Check back in tomorrow for some WONDERFUL news! **bounce**

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pollution Revolution

According to some sources, Cairo is one of the top five most polluted cities in the world. In terms of day-to-day living, that means that even on a seemingly beautiful day, there is a thick shroud of pollution in the air, choking the breath from even the fittest citizen in its environs. There are a multitude of factors contributing to this wall of pollution, ranging from cars that are older than I am running on leaded gasoline, to the simple fact that there simply isn’t enough space in the city for all the people living in it.

The garbage accumulated by the millions of people living in and around Cairo is just one part of the pollution problem. When I was growing up, Toronto was often referred to as “New York run by Swiss.” People often followed that up with comments about how there was never any trash on the streets. While that may not be entirely accurate today, it is the exact opposite of this town. The amount of trash found in the streets in Cairo, however, isn’t simply a matter of people carelessly tossing their candy wrappers on the ground. A large part of the issue here is that there simply isn’t enough space to throw the millions of tonnes of waste that millions of people create every day.

The most obvious sign of Cairene pollution is the rather disgusting air quality. This is a photo that I took on Saturday from a cliff in Muqattam City, which overlooks the entire city of Cairo.

As I stood on the edge of that hill and listened to our brilliant guide for the day tell us about the history of the city below us, I spotted the area where I live, the area where the Institution lies, and, off in the distance, the pyramids.

Most people remember the pyramids from movies and photos dating back to the turn of the last century. They imagine Giza surrounded by desert, accessible only after a several day camel ride. The truth of the matter is that the pyramids are located on the outskirts of Cairo and are smack dab in the middle of a population encroachment problem. There are currently thousands of people living “in the shadow of the pyramids” in what used to be desert and then later agricultural land.

From the cliff on Saturday, the pyramids were difficult to see with my naked (and practically blind) eye, yet Brilliant Guide exclaimed that he had rarely seen the city so “unhazy.” I didn’t fully appreciate what he said until I looked at my photos and noticed the grey/brown pallor that seemed to be smothering the entire city. That lovely blanket of pollution is the result of the things I have discussed here, and many other mitigating factors that I’m even less qualified to discuss like the weather and government regulations.

Before you ask what I’m doing to improve the pollution situation, I’m afraid to tell you that the answer is “nothing.” Between Hubby and I, we have taken at least 50 flights so far this year; I run the air conditioner all day because the alternative is to sweat and I don’t like to sweat; I do take taxis as opposed to driving my own car but if you saw the state of taxis in this town you’d know that was probably more damaging to the environment than driving my own Hummer; and finally I drink a lot of bottled water because the alternative is to drink the local water and there is such a thing as too much chlorine.

So what have we learned in blog-land today? Typ0 likes to complain about the environmental hazard that is Cairo but isn’t willing to do much to fix it. And that at the rate pollution is enveloping the city, the pyramids are going to be eaten by a Pollution Monster within the next ten years. I love having things to look forward to!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Finding the Funny

People in the know have informed me that I can be a miserable and negative person. Moreover, they have pointed out, I have shared this bitchy attitude with people who did nothing to deserve it – namely you, my Devoted Readers. To make up for what I have been told is a gross abuse of your good spirits, I have decided to share a few amusing anecdotes as they apply to the crappiness of my current situation. (A girl can’t change overnight, you know!)

Our sea shipment hasn’t arrived yet despite promises from everyone and their baladi dog that it is safe in Egypt and should be delivered “tomorrow.” I have long given up hope that my things will arrive in one piece anytime before I hit menopause which means that either a) I am due for early onset menopause in the next two weeks; OR b) Hubby can be happy that while we may never see the beautiful things we had made in India and Kenya, he will also never have to see me in the midst of a hot flash.

While we’re on the subject of my oft-discussed but never seen sea shipment, I feel the need to share the reason I haven’t gone ballistic on anyone yet. You see, everyone else is busy going ballistic for me. An incredibly fun game of “You’re the Bigger Screw-up” has developed over the last week with everyone from the Institution and both the Kenyan and Egyptian branches of the moving company pointing fingers at everyone else. In my mind, the Institution won the game yesterday with their scathingly superior email that had me in giggles before the first paragraph was even finished. What that means for our things is anyone’s guess but I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop with lots of complaining in the interim.

One of our most recent discoveries has been a small town of mold living beneath the floorboards in our bedroom. While the village never bothered us before, once Hubby knew it was there his hypochondria kicked in and he has been sniffing and coughing nonstop ever since (Hubby Edit: this was purely a coincidence). Upon finding this culture of penicillin living mere feet from our bed, we immediately contacted the people in charge and politely asked them to rectify the situation. Earlier that day, we had also asked the PTB if they could pick up some unneeded things from our flat and take them away to Not Here Land. Needless to say, in the five days since our first email none of this has been done and the mold town is well on it’s way to becoming a mold megalopolis. Yay!

The silver lining here is that if the PTB don’t take away my furniture by Sunday, I’m going to have a yard sale. Well, obviously I won’t do that since I don’t have a yard (this is Cairo after all) but I will put it all in the front hall of the building and thank the PTB for their kind response to my emails. I am a bitter woman who has not been granted the ability to nest. Don’t mess with me!!

I have many more amusing tales of my bitterness, but I have decided to save them for another day. It’s early and I have a busy day of food shopping, dream killing, and television watching ahead of me. And who knows, by this time next week, I may be sitting on my own couch, enjoying blog inspired menopause while talking to benevolent aliens from another galaxy who simply want to watch cartoons and listen to Avril Lavigne songs. Yup, there’s always a silver lining in my bitter universe.

POSTSCRIPT: Hubby says that he is bored of my talking about this topic ad nauseam. He further observed that you are probably bored of my talking about this topic. Sadly, as is often the case in these situations, he is probably right. Thus, unless something spectacular happens like our things are actually delivered or our shipment is seized by land-based pirates in the Egyptian Customs office, I will not be blogging about this topic again in the near future. Luckily, Cairo is sure to provide an endless supply of great blog topics in the interim.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Four Foods on Friday 50

Last week was my inaugural attempt at this weekly meme and since it was so much fun, I thought I’d play along again. Food themed fun really is the second best kind of fun.

1. Pasta. How do you tell when it’s done? Do you cook on medium or high?
I tend to keep the flame somewhere between medium and high so that I can have a nice healthy simmer. I like my pasta slightly al dente so I just keep tasting pieces straight out of the pot until I’m happy.

2. Deep frying. What kind of oil do you use?
We don’t fry often but when we do we use vegetable oil. I love olive oil but it just doesn’t work for frying.

3. Grilling. Do you grill on foil or directly on the grill?
Tin foil defeats the purpose.

4. Share a recipe that involves cooking something two different ways. Example, for lasagna you might fry the meat and bake the whole dish.

Yummy Roast Veggies
3 potatoes
5 carrots
3 parsnips
1 bulb of garlic
1 bunch of thyme
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Peel and chop the vegetables. Cut the potatoes into large chunks and slice the parsnips and carrots lengthwise. Separate the garlic into individual cloves.
3. Boil the potatoes, carrots, and parsnips for 5-7 minutes.
4. Drain the veggies making sure not to let the potatoes break apart.
5. Place the parboiled vegetables and the garlic into a large roasting pan and coat liberally with olive oil. Get your hands dirty here and toss them around yourself to make sure that all sides are oily. Make sure that your veggies don’t overlap, as that will prevent them from cooking evenly and crisping up. Grind some salt and pepper into the pan and sprinkle the fresh thyme over everything.
6. Place the pan in the oven and cook for one hour. Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

God Willing

There is a double-edged sword in Egypt that few people speak about. But today I’m going to break that silence and tell you about the word Insh’allah. Meaning “God willing” or “if God wills it,” this catchall phrase is used in a multitude of situations that drives type-A personalities like mine crazy. You see, there is no “yes or no” here - it is simply “if God wills it.” While this often means “yes” or “hopefully,” it usually means “dream on,” or “not so much.” Heaven help the poor girl who simply wants a straight answer before she has a nervous breakdown.

Imagine if your boss asked if your report for that huge client would be done on time and you said, “hopefully.” Or what if Fox News started talking about a Republican win in November with “God willing.” These are types of things that I deal with day in and day out here in Egypt. I want a flat out yes or no!!! I’m not a maybe kind of gal.

As you read through the following questions, think about what the answer really means and then join me in the happy room with the padded white walls and the huggy jacket.

Q: Will the movers be here this weekend with my things?
A: Insh’allah

Q: Will they somehow manage to time their arrival to mess with plans that I have already made A: Insh’allah

Q: Am I going to once again find that the only item broken during the move was something of mine that I love and is irreplaceable?
A: Insh’allah

Q: Is Hubby going to be happy at this job longer than he was at any of his previous ones?
A: Insh’allah

Q: Is the current worldwide economic crisis a harbinger of the fall of Rome?
A: Insh’allah

Q: Are Americans really crazy enough to be taken in by someone who can’t pronounce the letter “g” and thinks that “betcha” is a word?
A: Insh’allah

Q: Am I going to learn enough Arabic from my tutor to live comfortably in an Arabic-speaking world?
A: Insh’allah

Q: Is Typ0 going to kill the next workman who excuses his lack of timeliness and shoddy work with a smile and “Insh’allah?”
A: Insh’allah

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Chew on This

Hubby arrived home late Saturday night with a bag filled with gifts including the new Jamie Oliver cookbook, “Jamie’s Ministry of Food.” He didn’t bring me a purple iPod but he did go to Wal-Mart and buy me lots of Crystal Light. Long story short, I have a great husband and he has a wonderful wife who can be bought off for the price of a couple of books and a box cereal. Which only makes the fact that I need to spend a lot of money even more difficult.

Don’t worry, I’m not planning to take a cruise around the world (although I’d love to), nor am I busy spending his money on designer clothes. Many of you have heard me complain about this before so I apologize for boring you, but I need to go to the dentist. Except that I hate dentists and think that they’re all evil. I realize that I posted about this just a few months ago, but let’s be honest; we all know that I didn’t go to the dentist at that point because I’m a giant wimp. A giant, cheap wimp. Heck, even my driver, Rock, knew the reason I didn’t go was my fear of all things dental.

In order for me to go to the dentist I need that dentist to have the means to knock me unconscious – or at least have laughing gas. Novocain doesn’t work on me and the thought of being awake while someone puts a six-foot needle into my gums makes me want to scream in terror. Even the distinctive whirring sound of a dental drill makes me cringe. I am a big scare-dy cat baby and I have no defense other than that my childhood dentist was in league with Satan and had no soul.

So if any of my local readers know the name and number of a good dentist with the means to put me to sleep during what will be a lot of invasive dental work, please tell me. Because I’m almost at the point where I’m going to give in. Almost.
Happiness is your dentist telling you it won't hurt and then
having him catch his hand in the drill.
~Johnny Carson

Monday, October 06, 2008

Just So

Living in the developing world has taught me many things, not the least of which is that one should never expect or even hope that anything will happen the way you plan. Whether it’s a flat tire in the middle of a romantic night out with your husband or a leaky pipe at the start of the “perfect” weekend visit with your friends who flew thousands of miles to see you – the developing world will always attempt to dash your dreams. It took a month or two, but this weekend Egypt joined the ranks of those countries that hate us.

Last week I received an email from our mover saying that our sea shipment would be delivered on Sunday. I instantly started the dance of joy and mentally placed the new furniture where it belonged. I spent hours moving the existing furniture around and generally puttered around in anticipation of the Big Day.

Sunday dawned and when no movers had arrived by 10:00 a.m. I smiled, content in the knowledge that nothing could ruin moving day. After all, I told myself, our street is incredibly narrow and double parking is a sport in Cairo, so the truck was simply having difficulties getting to our building. Nothing would dash my optimism on this fateful day, I trilled to Hubby. Of course, all of my happy, rainbow hued ideas were dashed the minute I picked up the phone and called the moving company.

The Institution allegedly filled out a form incorrectly and now no one knew when our things would arrive. I know that they’re just “things.” Heck, I even know that this time we’re not even going to unpack most of those “things.” But I wanted to have custody of them by now! I wanted to hang my artwork and fill my shelves with books. I wanted to sleep in my own bed under my snuggly duvet and invite people over to see a place I could call home. I wanted to finish the nesting process, dammit!

Yes, I’m a sad pathetic person who wants to control the universe she inhabits. And yes, I’m a tad OCD in that I’ll spend days alphabetizing, organizing, and nudging knick-knacks so they sit at exactly a 40 degree angle. I’m that kind of girl! I’m pathetic! But I don’t hurt anyone with my obsessiveness. So why does Egypt have to hate on me quite so much?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Empathy is Not a Disease

Pretty much since the day I left University, I have worked in Customer Service. Heck, even as a library Page in high school that was part of my job. Between jobs in Canada and the US, I can safety say that I have worked at virtually every level of the hierarchy that Customer Service has to offer. I have been a (shamefully) good telemarketer, a Customer Service Representative (CSR), a Senior Service Representative (SSR), a management intern, a manager, a back-office flunky, and a back-office assistant manger. Over the course of ten years I learned to live and breathe telephonic Customer Service.

After that brief resume, you can surely understand why I take Customer Service so seriously. If I call into a company for assistance I expect to receive the sort of service that I would provide. Words like please and thank you should be used often. The mute button should never be used. And if it is absolutely necessary to put me on hold tell me that’s what you’re going to do and when you get back thank me for holding. Those of you reading who are in the industry are no doubt nodding your heads and mentally ticking off your Quality Assurance forms.

But what I desire most in a call is empathy!

Last week I had to call a company in the States and cancel an order I placed on their website. Although the item I wanted was not backordered when I placed my order (or the four days that followed) my item was never shipped. When I called and explained that I needed to cancel since I had only a brief window of opportunity to retrieve my item, the girl on the phone didn’t say “sorry,” “oh dear,” or anything vaguely resembling fake sympathy! My grief at not having my beloved item was quickly overshadowed with righteous indignation that this CSR would treat a customer so shabbily.

As a former CSR I know that there are two golden rules that customers should adhere to. First, never yell at a CSR because they don’t get paid enough deal with your rage. Although you will find it incredibly difficult to get a manager to take your call, insist upon it because he is paid to take your grief. Second, if you are the recipient of exceptional Customer Service thank your CSR and ask to speak with their manager (or manager’s voice mail) so you can give props to this paragon of telephonic service. Chances are that they will receive some sort of reward for your taking three extra minutes out of your day to be kind.

I broke these rules when I “politely” informed my rude CSR about the definition of empathy. She didn’t care and probably mocked me the moment I hung up. Since the chances of that call being monitored were negligible she didn’t care how she treated me. And I shouldn’t have expected anything more. Most people wouldn’t have noticed the things I did during the call – but then most people weren’t trained to.

Good Customer Service is a two-way street. And while it is my fondest desire to walk into some of these call centers and help them excel I know that it will never happen. My standards, as anyone who ever called me manager can attest, are slightly too high and my desire to make you a better CSR for the next caller is usually about as welcome as milk in Hubby’s cereal. I know that empathy gets tedious but please, for the sake of my sanity, learn to fake it!