14 December 2014

Holiday Gift List

I don't usually do a gift round-up on the blog, but as we are headed to Beirut for the next few weeks, I don't think we'll be doing much cooking over the holidays - just plenty of eating! Living overseas we have to order gifts far in advance, but if you are looking for some last minute ideas, here are a few!

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Hand-carved olive wood utensils. I love my olive wood kitchen spoons, they are beautiful and useful. These are made by From the Earth, a fair trade organization based in Amman, Jordan. They have several different spoons, spatulas, wood bowls, and cutting boards. Ships from the U.S. $12-$18

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Thelonius Monk and Booker Ervin recordings. These two recordings reissued last year have become my standard dinner party background music. They have just the right amount of pep without being too loud or distracting. Although recommending jazz albums does make me feel like this clip.

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Moroccan rugs and crafts from The Anou. Moroccan rugs are all the rage these days, selling for thousands of dollars in the U.S. Very little of this money goes to the Moroccan women who weave these rugs, who often get only $100-$300 per rug. A project called The Anou, started by Peace Corps workers, aims to fix this problem by letting you buy directly from the weavers and craftsmen themselves. The prices are ridiculously low ($200 for a handmade rug) and include shipping. I also like that the website tells you about the techniques used to make the crafts, and has small profiles on the craftspeople. On my personal wishlist are this cool green rug, this plush carpet, this handira blanket, and these earrings. The Hanbal rug shown above is $172.

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Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oils. I think olive oil is a great gift because it's something that people use frequently, but it's also a chance to give someone something nicer than what they would have bought for themselves. Canaan, a Palestinian fair trade cooperative, sells olive oils, za'atar and a kind of couscous called maftoul, which would also make great gifts. You can choose olive oil from two types of trees, Rumi or Nabali, and they also sell raw unfiltered olive oil (my personal favorite). Currently they only come in cases of 6, but you can give a few as gifts and keep a few for yourself. Ships from the U.S. $94 for 6 bottles

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Quitoquito Antique K Sabatier Carbon Steel Chef's Knife. My mother insisted on using only Sabatier carbon steel knives. We have a range of knives at home, but my Sabatier's are the ones I always reach for first. If you've never used carbon steel before, be aware that they will change color naturally. $165

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Fruit and Veggie Finger Puppets. I'd be happy with pretty much any gifts from Food52's store Provisions, but these are adorable for your littlest family members. $18

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Brahms Mount blankets and throws. I am a total sucker for a good blanket or throw (or tablecloth, napkin, bedspread, scarf). Textiles, man. Brahms Mount blankets are all made in Maine and gorgeous quality and texture. The wool ombre blanket (above) is perfect for colder climes, whereas their linen leno stripe is light enough for somewhere like Egypt. $200-$300

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Charitable donations, for that person who has everything on your list. I have both given and received donations from Heifer International as a gift, and enjoyed the experience every time. They're a great organization and do a particularly good job of of make the gift giving experience fun. However, I also want to recommend a donation to an organization that is very near and dear to me personally, which is a donation to the World Food Programme Syria. WFP is a United Nations organization, like UNICEF, so you can feel assured that the donation is safe and secure and going to the right place. To learn more about their work in Syria, please read this Dexter Filkins piece and watch this 60 Minutes segment.

And, as always, homemade cookies, jams, liquers, and preserves make great gifts!

What are you giving for Christmas this year?!

10 December 2014

Hummus Musabaha

I started to write a long-ish post about starting to settle in here in Cairo, and what it's like being an expat in a Muslim country over Christmas, but then I started to get long-winded about advent calendars, and I remembered that what I really wanted to talk about was not those little chocolates behind paper doors but hummus. HUMMUS. Oh wait, none of you are surprised?

I couldn't really figure out how hummus and the holidays went together, so I figured just screw it, let's talk about the hummus. As I've mentioned probably a bazillion times before there's a LOT of ways to serve and eat hummus, way more than you probably know about. But one of my favorite ways is called hummus musabaha. Hummus musabaha is basically warm hummus with chickpeas and a bit of hot water stirred into it until it becomes a sort of spoonable concoction. It's not the sort of thing you find in a fancy restaurant, but it's one of those things you might find at a corner shop or in your mom's kitchen.

I often make hummus musabaha right after I've made fresh hummus. I take the still warm hummus, thin it with some of the hot chickpea cooking water, and stir in a handful of fresh cooked chickpeas. You stir the whole soupy delicious mass together like a thick stew, and then you top it with lemon juice and tomatoes and herbs. It's warm and smooth and nicely lemony, and total comfort food. Which I guess does make it right for the holidays after all.

Hummus Musabaha
Though I may lose my cooking bonafides for saying this, you can make hummus musabaha from purchased hummus and canned chickpeas, which makes it a snap to whip together. The hummus needs to be very good quality though - I find most US grocery store brands taste disturbingly of citric acid and preservative. Try to find one that doesn't (Oasis is a decent brand), or buy your hummus from a local Middle Eastern grocery or take out place that makes their own.

for hummus:
2 cups prepared hummus, room temperature
2/3 cup boiling water
1 cup warm cooked chickpeas (I prefer the Whole Foods no salt brand for canned chickpeas, or cook chickpeas from scratch)
sea salt

for topping:
1 lemon
olive oil
chopped tomatoes
chopped herbs (parsley or scallions or mint, or a mix)
Aleppo pepper or sumac for sprinkling

1. Place your hummus in a very large bowl. If our hummus is cold from the refrigerator, you can microwave it or place the bowl over boiling water to take the chill off.
2. Pour in the hot water. Very carefully and slowly mix the hot water into the hummus until smooth. Adjust the consistency with more hot water or more hummus as desired. You want it soupy but not runny. Fold in the chickpeas. Squeeze half a lemon into bowl, add salt to taste, and mix together.
3. Top the hummus with your choice of tomatoes, herbs, and spices. Eat warm, with a large spoon.

** Please excuse the paltry photos, my camera and phone are on the fritz, and we have yet to set up home internet in Cairo, so my apologies if posting are a little slim.**