Colorless thumb

I’ve never really successfully kept a garden. I tried in Texas and became overwhelmed with very ugly bugs.
So now I am endeavoring to start a garden here. We are starting small. I’m not feeling overly confident.

But! I have my first sprouts successfully sprouting.


These are my leeks in the basement. My brother-in-law set me up with a nice growing space in the basement. It’s a start!

Tonight I also planted broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

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A Paleo Dinner Party

I learned just yesterday that my wonderful husband had invited 3 travelling coworkers over for dinner. It’s 2 guys who travel around teaching oil drilling and well control classes and who typically don’t get a home cooked meal for the 2-3 weeks they are travelling around the world.  My husband used to be one of those guys and has had many opportunities to stop by and visit old friends in places like Doha, Qatar or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

So, the menu tonight was mostly thanks to Geoffrey Zakarian and his recipe for Salmon and Smashed Cucumber – Date Salad.  A fellow “foodie” on my homeschool forum who also blogs her culinary explots at “Wild Life in the Woods” clued me into this recipe.  It’s just fantastic.

Grilled Salmon with Smashed Cucumber-Date Salad

Along with that, we had Spaghetti Squash.

I had made the Salmon last week and I had used our gas grill.  The fish was “OK” but it didn’t crisp up at all.  I don’t think the gas grill was hot enough.  So, I decided that for this meal, I’d use the charcoal grill side.  I started the charcoal with a charcoal chimney – if you like to grill with charcoal and you don’t have a charcoal chimney, GET ONE!  So, I spread out the hot charcoal and added some more charcoal to get a nice hot base.  I left it to warm up and came out to a grill that was way too hot.  700 deg. F.!  It took about 30 minutes before it cooled down enough for me to actually cook with it.

Got everything done and dinner on the table and it was a success!  I do wish I had taken pictures.  Improving my organization for my food photography is something I want to work on.

Our guests loved the fish.  One guy said he’s “Not a fish lover but really loved it” and the other guy reported he is very fond of fish and he thought it was fantastic!  Success!

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The Great Paleo Experiment – a month later

Wow.  Where did the month go?!

The good news is that the reason I have not been blogging our first month is that we were very busy cooking and working very hard to integrate this new “diet” and lifestyle change into our daily lives.  The bad news is that I’ve neglected to blog it.

I deem our month of the paleo diet a real success and we (or should I just say “my husband and I”) have no intention of backing down and reverting to our former way of eating.  Our rules for this month have been sticking strictly to our paleo diet plan here at home and when we go out, we ask the kids not to drink soda but then they can order whatever they want and I try not to cringe.  My kids are old enough that they need to start taking ownership of their own diets.  I can only control what goes on the table at home.

For myself, other than the weight loss, I have seen tremendous benefits.  My digestive system has become more regular.  There’s no pain.  There’s no heartburn.  Swelling in my extremities is almost non-existent.  My fingers used to swell to the point I could not clasp my own hands without discomfort.  I find myself clasping my hands because it’s almost a foreign feeling and this feels good!  Dark circles under my eyes are all but gone.  I am very pleased with how I feel.

My husband reports that he appreciates how well his clothes are fitting.  He has had a very rough week at work that previously would have had him coming home and collapsing into his recliner.  He feels he has more energy and I can tell by how much more  involved he is in the evenings after he comes home.

My son has been dragged kicking and screaming through this diet.  He’s 17 and thinks he’s invincible.  For our first 10 days, he was sticking with it and had no junkfood or soda.  His acne was gone and he dropped weight very quickly.  Once our 10 days was up, he went back to drinking his soda… when he was out of the house… and his acne returned.  He does eat most of his meals at home however and so he has continued to drop weight.  He says his favorite part of the diet has been a cooked breakfast essentially every morning.

My oldest daughter is a carbohydrate addict.  I had been getting a sense for the last year or so that her larger than usual tummy was a direct result of “wheat belly” and I believe that to be true.  She has lost the least amount of weight but has dropped from a size 16 to a size 12!  Her size had really started to affect her self-esteem and while she mourns the loss of her beloved bread, going clothes shopping and needing to request a smaller size was a real pick-me-up for her.  She even suggested we go out and try more clothes and maybe even a dress!

My youngest is the one I have most hope for.  She has had a serious battle with her weight her whole life at the age of 12.  In just one month she has seen a boost her in memory and energy and symptoms of insulin resistance are fading.  She absolutely can’t wait for her new wardrobe!  As her mom, the results that this child is seeing makes all of the struggle to put new meals on the table all worth it.  She needed a drastic change and this is working.

Well, our weigh in this morning was a mixed bag.  My husband and I lost weight.  My son was down 11 pounds.   My oldest daughter weighed in and was 5 pounds down after a church youth pizza party last night.  My youngest was very surprising as she gained.  Last weekend she weighed in and had lost a full 11 pounds since we started and this morning she was up a full 5#!  It would be discouraging if I didn’t think that this might be a related to a “monthly” water weight gain.  Time will tell.  (Confirmed!).  She certainly doesn’t look as though she put on 5#.  Because of her other hormonal issues, if this were help her being regular with her menstrual cycles, it’s just as good of news as weight loss would be.  Because of these fluctuations, I am going to estimate that our total loss at just over 50 pounds.

50 pounds!!!

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Watch as I tap-dance around the Paleo diet

I have struggled with a disease called PCOS all of my adult life.  It affected my menstrual cycles and my ability to get pregnant.  I had my first two children with the miracle of fertility drugs.  After I had my 2nd daughter, I dove into researching natural treatments for PCOS.  I wasn’t considering another baby, I just wanted to stop gaining weight and get healthier.  The most common recommendation for PCOS is a low-carb diet and exercise.  To our absolute shock and pure joy, we were surprised with another baby!

Through the course of motherhood of very young toddlers who had unfinished cheerios on their high chair and grilled cheese sandwiches, the notion of a low-carb diet went out the window.  Over time, I was distracted by other “diets” and other food plans that I thought were easier (easier is just eating the cheerios off of the tray) or healthier (I was vegetarian raw for 2 whole months!).

But now, as I am trying to learn to be a better cook, most of the foods I have cooked recently and most of the foods I have blogged about recently have been more-or-less “paleo-like”.  I have been noticing recently that more and more of the ideas I have been googling online have been coming from “Paleo” websites.

I had vaguely heard of the concept behind the paleo diet and just sighed “ugh” when I thought about implementing it with my family.  I have kids and they love their cereal boxes and they love baked goods and our usual Saturday morning deliver of donuts.  But I know that every single one of my kids could see benefit of eating this way and so we’ve discussed it this week and we are going to be “going paleo” for the whole month of March.  My oldest, he’s 17, has only agreed to 10 days.  I think 10 days of any radical change is enough to recognize the benefits.  I do hope he’ll give it more.

I am not sold “hook, line and sinker” on the paleo diet.  There are certain things that I disagree on – such as most paleo diets preference for bacon as a good source of protein.  It’s the candy of the low-carb world.  I can get bacon here in Abu Dhabi, but it’s expensive and it’s worth my effort to try and find better ingredients than bacon.  While I am sure that the paleolithic man ate cured meat, it was likely saved for times where they had no other choice.  I need to find those other choices – my husband suggested camel meat, which yes, it is for sale here.  I think it’s awful.

So, here we go, feet first into a Paleo Diet experiment.  We measured the kids yesterday and they are always delighted to be reminded that I am the shortest person in the family. I made a form that includes their height and ideal weight.  There’s also a spot on the form for them to fill out things about themselves that may be helped by a change in diet – from weight to acne.  I have teenagers.  There is acne.  And then, in 10 days time or longer if they’ll stay with it, we’ll open up those forms again and weigh ourselves and measure ourselves – the kids are growing taller and my husband and I are getting shorter – and we’ll see how our bodies responded to a different eating plan.

I hate calling anything a diet.  I was not put on this earth to diet.

So, here we go, March 1st.  Stay tuned for our eating plan for our first week of

The Great Paleo Challenge.

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I need a personal photographer

I have been making good stuff lately, I just haven’t been able to keep up with photos.    My team is so hungry when the food hits the table that photos don’t really ever get a chance.

I have been putting a great deal of thought into being a better cook and expanding my repertoire of cooking skills.  I went on Amazon.com to look for some books on cooking skills and found books by James Peterson.  I purchased two books from James Peterson and am looking forward to trying some new “skills”.  I now have Cooking and Kitchen Simple:Essential Recipes for Every day cooking.  If you’re curious about these books, let me tell you about my first impression.  I have an iPad and downloaded the books to be viewed on my iPad.  I was pleasantly surprised to find very colorful photos inside.  And all of the recipes have a hot-link so that you can go directly to them.  These are my first Kindle cookbooks and I think they are both well done.

I’m also addicted to cooking shows.  Quite often, if I want to watch television, my choices are either Bollywood comedies, Arabic sports or a cooking show.  It’s an easy choice.

I love watching Iron Chef and my favorite chef is Michael Symon.  I just love his style.  Chef Symon has his own cooking show and he recently had an episode called “Steak Night”.  Who knows when it originally aired in the US, I just go to watch it the other night.  Chef Symon cooked a steak under a broiler and made a salad to go with it.  I knew David would love it.

Earlier today, David and I were out and about in Abu Dhabi and checking out a grocery store that we had heard about but had never explored together.  Time had gotten away from us and I realized that the chicken that I had wanted to cook wasn’t going to have time and so we had to think of something else.  David mentioned that he was having a hankering for a burger and I thought about that salad and so I made it.  Here’s the recipe-

Peach and Blue Cheese Salad

That is a man’s salad!  I will say, that I found the salad almost overpowering.  But we did not have very good peaches available to us and we did not have the right vinegar.  If you want to try and make this, get really firm and sweet peaches and use the right vinegar.  It’s a very bold salad and it needs to be paired with beef.  Even with it’s shortcomings, it went really well with the burgers David cooked.

I’ll work on my photos.  It’s tough to get the photos.

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Deviled egg salad… a confession

I have never been a fan of egg salad. I have “texture issues” that remain unresolved from childhood and egg salad is one of those. I have only recently recovered from one of my childhood issues of the sound of smacking while stirring certain foods together – Goulash, macaroni/pasta salads, etc. they had a sound while being stirred that just grated on my nerves.

See why I need to be a better cook. I have so many issues.

So, I boiled eggs over the weekend because I thought I’d put some hard boiled eggs in David’s lunch and my kids like them as well. When I boiled them, I was thinking that maybe I could get up the courage to make egg salad and I started surfing up recipes. I came across a recipe for “Deviled Egg Salad” and lightbulbs went on. I might be able to make an egg salad I would actually eat.

Here is where the confession comes in.

I was one of those evil children that would sneak up to a plate of deviled eggs. While no on was looking, I would take the deviled egg and lick the center out of it and put the white back. I just read this out-loud to my own children and they’re horrified. I may have only done this once or twice. But I remember liking the filling of the deviled eggs, but not the white part at the same time. Oddly enough, when I was a child, I would have rather eat the white part of the egg over the yolk and white together. Put a little salt on it, I liked it.

So, I got this idea while surfing up these recipes for “Deviled Egg Salad” of taking the yolk out of the hard boiled egg, and chopping up the white but then whipping up the yolks in the mustardy and mayo cream and then mixing them together. So, that’s what I did. Oh, it’s good.

My own, Deviled Egg Salad

12 eggs, hard boiled.
1/4 c. chopped celery
2Tbls grated onion
1 clove of garlic, pressed or fine chop
2 Tbsp pickle relish
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp hot sauce
salt and pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/4 c mayonnaise

Cut the boiled eggs in half and separate the yolk from the egg and the white. If you have a food processor, just throw the yolk into the food processor. Roughly chop the egg whites. Having my daughter help was nice here.
Add the chopped celery to the egg whites and set aside.
In the food processor, using the chopping blade, put together the yolks, onion, garlic, relish, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, pepper, paprika and mayonnaise. Process this until creamy and smooth.
Add the processed yolk mixture to the egg whites and celery and gently fold these together.

Finally, an egg salad even *I* like.

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What’s for lunch?

My enterprise of being a better cook has taken a new turn.  My husband approached me last week about having our housekeeper pack his lunch.  While I think she would actually enjoy doing this, the language barrier of the details would prove difficult.  I suggested that I could pack his lunch.
After 21 years of marriage, we’ve both been down that road before.  In our lean years, David would take a whole loaf of bread and make sandwiches out of it and then put it back in the bread bag and his lunch was packed for a whole week.  In other times, I would pack his lunch in old margarine or Cool-Whip bowls – things I don’t even buy anymore – and then he could use them and throw them away.  That worked reasonably well until he pack his lunch and arrived at work… sat down to eat… opened his container to find he had brought a bowl full of MARGARINE to work.  In other times, I would send him his lunch with foods I liked and he would get tired of it.  David just has a more varied palette than I do.  But I took his complaints personally and eventually stopped doing it.  Occasionally, David would pack leftovers and my Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers would come back weeks later with medical experiments growing in them.

I suppose it goes without saying that the suggestion of my packing his lunch came with it’s own baggage.

But David’s afternoon meal had reached a serious impass.  His office orders the same sandwiches for takeout daily.  There is no microwave and no chance for anything hot except for bowling water added to instant soup.  The idea of that just sent shivers up my spine.  I can’t be cooking gourmet at home and sending my husband to work with instant cup-a-soup and a pre-made whole loaf of sandwiches – The Horror!!!

So far this week, I have made Gazpacho and Chicken Salad.

I’d never made Gazpacho before.  And I never got to taste this soup, it didn’t last that long in the house. And, after David took it to work once, a coworker had a taste of it and I was requested for a second bowl for the coworker on the following day.

Want the recipe? It came out of my trusty “Whole Foods Market Cookbook”.

1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 1/2lbs tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped or 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained – that’s what I did.
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
1 medium red pepper; seeded and roughly chopped ( about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups tomato puree
1 cup tomato juice
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

Place half the onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper and cilantro in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse to chop coarsely. Remove the chopped vegetables and set aside. Repeat with the second half of these vegetables.
Combine the vegetables with the olive oil, tomato puree, tomato juice, lemon juice and salt and pepper in a large container. Blend in the balsamic vinegar. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

The Chicken Salad recipe was a huge hit.  You can find it here – Chicken Salad Recipe.

This week, I have planned leftover roast chicken, pasta salad, veggie salad, veggies and hummus (a definite perk of living in the middle east is the hummus! I can’t wait to report on his opinion on the pasta salad! I’d tell you but then he’d read this and wouldn’t be as surprised!!

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Barbadian Chicken Fingers

I’m still setting up my new home here at WordPress *and* I don’t feel good… so here is a wimpy post that doesn’t even have pictures.  But since we really like this recipe, watch this space for a future picture.

I actually started marinating these two days ago.  Wow, what a difference!  If you’re looking for a kid friendly, adult happy, alternative to chicken nuggets – these are fabulous.

I’m even cheating with a link. Barbadian Chicken Fingers.

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This is what I’m hoping for

While we were cleaning the kitchen, I assigned my 11 year old to water the herb garden.

She started inquiring about which plant was which and I suggested she just take a nibble of one…. I gave her a bit of chive and told her to tell me what it tasted like. “Oniony” was her response. She continued sampling each one and when she came to the cilantro, she couldn’t get enough! She mentioned how much it reminded her of Tex-Mex back home and I told her how easy it was to make it. Before I knew it, we were looking up recipes at allrecipes.com and we made pico de gallo.

This is what I’m really pushing for here. To have my kids appreciate this fresh food and make it themselves. We had a great time!

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Where’s the Beef?

I seem to be tap dancing around this elusive beef roast.  Well, it’s actually still marinating.  It all goes back to that planning thing…

When I announced that the beef was going to be on the table the day after I tried to copy KFC, I had forgotten to take into consideration that we had friends coming into town and that we would be driving to Dubai over the dinner hour and dinner had to be eaten out early.  So, the roast out to be good since it will ultimately be marinating for 3 days by the time we eat it.

Meanwhile, friends are in town and we have been out enjoying Abu Dhabi like we’re all seeing it for the first time again.  Today, we toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi and then came back to our house and had Turkey soup – something my husband cooked up with Christmas dinner leftovers and it had no recipe – Turkey, rice, corn and some appropriate spices.  That’s how he rolls.  But we also had a salad – lettuce, cucumber and yellow onion and I made a dressing for it.

It’s called Szechwan Dressing…

1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
1/4 c. canola oil
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
salt to taste

It came out of the Whole Foods cookbook I have.  I skipped the crushed red pepper flakes because when I sampled the new red pepper flakes that I had bought left my tongue numb from the heat.

It was yummy.  Perfect for our lunch. 🙂

Fast forward to dinner, we went out. 🙂

Lebanese Flower
Our favorite restaurant!
Now, Lebanese is not truly an Arabic cuisine.  But it’s found its way into the hearts of the people here and this is one of the best, if not THE best restaurant for Lebanese in Abu Dhabi.
Falafel, Shwarma, Kofta, Arayes.  It’s always reasonably priced and always delicious!!
Here’s the Shwarma grill.  The chicken cooks all day on this stack and then when it is served, it’s shaved off in thing slices.
There was even a Christmas Tree!

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