Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Typical Thanksgiving Outside the US

Not in the US to celebrate Thanksgiving?  Well celebrate it anyway!

Feeling like a real baker rolling cookies at 5am!
In the past, when I first left the US we would gather with American friends and rather than cook, go out to a restaurant that was serving Turkey and the other traditions and enjoy a nice dinner.  These were always fun.  The food was great as well as the company.  However, we would always find ourselves reluctantly the last to leave as restaurant staff were mopping the floors and stacking chairs on tables.  This is what motivated me to start cooking at home a few years ago.  Now with a child who is growing up with parents from two different cultures living in a third, I also think this is a good way to expose him to some American culture.  Our closest friends join us every year.  

I really enjoy this so much more than eating out, and I think part of it is that I have surprised myself with my ability to cook a Turkey.  I can bake, but I am not a big carnivore so any kind of flesh coming out of my oven always impresses me. I can’t take all the credit – Butterballs are pretty much foolproof.  Yes, you can buy them here around the holiday season.  There are more American products readily available than you would imagine. 

I do pumpkin pie, pecan pie, stuffing – yes, I stuff the Turkey and fear no salmonella.  I cook the extra stuffing in the pan, but it is always too much and I end up giving it away.

For the pumpkin pie I tried a Williams Sonoma pie mix that I picked up during my US visit.  It wasn’t bad, but didn’t taste so traditional to me so I mixed it with my “traditional” pie mix (the one on the label of the pumpkin can is fine) and that did the trick – and it created enough mix to fill my gigantic pie dish.

Le pumpkin pie
Pecan pie is so much easier to make than I ever thought it would be.  After the first time I made one about five years ago, I kept searching the recipe frantically – that can’t be all?!!  This year, I did not have any Rum, JD or other fancy versions of moonshine to put in the mix.  What to do – add a little single malt scotch!  I am not sure which brand, but I think any will do.  I was told by one guest that this was the best pumpkin pie ever and I think the scotch had everything to do with it.   That and adding less sugar than the recipe calls for.  I do that with most recipes now because the taste just seems so much more balanced as a result and not overly sweet.  Try it - cut back about 1/4 to 1/2 the suggested sugar measurement.  You may like your recipe better.

Cranberry sauce. Check.  Although I was challenged this year and could not find cranberries anywhere it was a mixed berry sauce, but it got the job done.  I made an amazing roasted sweet potato recipe I got from my stepmom.  Basically roast the cubes, add olive oil, a little white vinegar, salt, pepper and rosemary – hands down the best sweet potato dish ever.  They were not sweet or covered in marshmallow goo.  Green beans, salad, bread from the oven and lots and lots of wine – a little for cooking, more for drinking.

Since Thanksgiving is obviously not a holiday here, I usually do dinner on a Saturday since our weekend is Friday – Saturday.  This year my husband had to travel early Saturday for a meeting so I did it on Friday.  Thankfully we (son and I) were still super jetlagged from our US flight so we were up at 5am Friday.  I was basically Erin’s sous chef as we made all the pies and sugar cookies for the kids to decorate that evening.  It was so fun because he was so into it.  But why wouldn't he be - baking is really just messy play and he is a boy.  The only thing I prepared the night before was a pumpkin roll – which I love more than anything.  My childhood best friend’s mom would make these and I loved them so much.  It has been so long since I made one that I forgot and rolled it with the filling before it cooled.  We can't all be Julias or Nigellas, but no need - it still turned out fine.

The moral of the story - do not use a cheese cutter for desserts!
So come 7:30-8:00 the apartment started filling with friends.  Just like every year we ate, drank and were merry.  We were thankful.  Traditionally, we all take our turn saying what we are thankful for.  2011 had its share of ups and downs, but we all have so much to be thankful for.  I didn’t get a chance to explain the story of Thanksgiving to the kids, but we’ll get there eventually.

So not in the US for Thanksgiving? It doesn’t change a whole lot except your geographic location.   Ok, not everyone can physically be together sometimes, but there is still so much to celebrate and be thankful for. And there is the added bonus that you are not bombarded with Black Friday advertisements and its related horror stories!

Angry Bird

Saturday, November 26, 2011

UAE National Day

In 6 days the UAE will celebrate it’s 40th birthday.  I enjoy being here every year to witness it.  There is a lot to celebrate because as a nation they have achieved quite a lot in a short period of time.  I hear the traffic in the Jumeriah area can get a little crazy with the young locals and their crazy string spray and driving, but hopefully that is the extent of it.  Because it is the 40th, decorations have been going up for the last two weeks.

The fire station I pass daily has opened one of the ladders on top of their fleet and hangs a large flag for all to see.  Almost all businesses seem to have lights, flags or some other kind of red, green, black and white decoration up.  I saw one building near my office draped in streamers in the number 40.  I am told at the parade near the Burj Khalifa they will release 40 x 365 balloons.  It should be a very festive atmosphere that day.  If you are around and want to enjoy the festivities there is a nice website with all events.

Even when I bought my coffee today, they sprinkled the number 40 on it!  Ok, the zero is kind of a coffee bean, but its cool.  Since I’ll be 40 in only a few months, I wonder if they will keep the decorations up?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Visit to Ground Zero

The last time I was in New York was 1996 or so.  As a tourist, I was in awe of the city and hit all the major sites – including the observation deck in the World Trade Center.  Like probably everyone else who has visited New York post 9-11, I went to Ground Zero. 

There are really no words to describe how overwhelming that day must have been for those in New York.  I took the train from Central Station.  The whole ride there I could only think of all of those people who started their day just like any other day expecting a normal day.  Out of the station I was faced with all the policemen and women on standby for the Occupy Wall Street movement.   One block in the opposite direction is the massive site where the Twin Towers once stood.  I could only cry.

My visit was so long ago that I could not recall exactly where they stood.  All I could see was the massive reconstruction going on in the area and empty sky that used to be full of two towers and other buildings.  I did not go into the memorial area as they were limiting visitors to those who only purchased tickets online due to construction.  I did not need to go in to feel the weight of what happened there.  The hole in the sky was enough....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Mac Daddy

I paid a visit to the Apple store in New York.  I later learn it is one of three in the city.  This one is just between the FAO Schwartz and Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue.  As you approach that open area, there is a rather large, 32 ft glass cube with that unmistakable piece of eaten fruit.  From there you descend into Apple world.  I was in shock when I saw the inside.  There were so many people inside you would think they were giving away the latest gadget for free.  But no, this was a slow day the helpful employees tell me.  

The interior is simple IKEA like tables and bar stools with accessories on the walls throughout.  Florescent lighting and no windows, there is nothing sexy about it considering how sexy their products are.  Even the staff are dressed in simple jeans and matching T-shirts.  At each table are several MacBooks and iPads for people to try or to play with while they wait.  It is truly insane in an interesting way.  There are enough people to start a riot, but yet they sit around happily in an organized chaotic kind of way waiting for something.

The employees are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable.  Young, friendly and amazingly calm considering the chaos that could potentially surround them.  This is the next uber tech savvy generation that is leading the world into an exclusive Mac time.

The only downfall in the store for Apple were the leaks as a result of the rain.  Nothing major, just a few drips.  I can't help but wonder if this is also patented as another glass Apple staircase was in 2006.

It is amazing to me that a company that makes just five products has such a cult-like following.  I myself love their products and use them.  As a music lover, I was sold at iPod, but all of their products are awesome and I am always amazed at the speed of my MacBook in comparison to the Windows platform I have to use for work.  I give credit to Steve Jobs and whoever worked with him to develop and market these.  To create such a global response to a product and now a place where people from all walks of life come to congregate in a no frills basement near Central Park is truly amazing.  I am sure New York is happy to have such a signature store here because it is such an important landmark and tourist attraction.  However, it may be stealing it’s thunder a bit and giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “The Big Apple”.   May the Mac Daddy rest in peace.

If you are into architecture and curious about the layout, visit Apple's site here.  It also has beautiful pictures in comparison to my rainy day snapshots!