Thursday, December 22, 2011

Home

So, as some of you have heard, I am home from my Qatari Adventure. I got home about a week ago, just in time to be involved in all the last minute preparations for Christmas. While most are really excited that I am home and back in the good ole US of A, you are also asking how long I am stateside and what my next plans are! Well, the first question is easy…I’m here for good…no current plans to return to Qatar (or go anywhere else!) anytime soon.

While I loved living in Doha, Qatar, the job that I went to do turned out to be very different from what I was actually asked to do. I wanted to go to Qatar to gain experience doing certain tasks and be in a role that turned out to be very different than what they had in mind for my position there. I fought hard to make it into what I had hoped and could tolerate, but in the end I was unable to convince them to change their ways and mindset. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted this experience to work out and last for two years, I couldn’t continue to endure some of the things that were going on. I won’t go into too many details in this public forum, but invite me out for chai/drinks and I’ll spill the beans. Just know that I am a strong woman that doesn’t give up on things easily and I believe this proved to be both my greatest asset and my biggest downfall while in Qatar. I still gained a lot of great experience, and learned a ton about business (especially international) and even more about myself. I met a bunch of really great people that I hope to turn into lifelong friends and be able to travel the world to see them in their home countries someday.

So, what’s next you ask? I’m not entirely sure. While I would love to continue to pursue my dream of baking and providing high quality sweets/desserts to people, I’m not sure if I can do this immediately. I do think that I need to stick close to family for now though, so while a quick trip to the DC area is planned, I think I’ll be settling in CA at least for the short term. If you know of any great opportunities that I should pursue, please let me know!
I recently posted on my FaceBook page the quote, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” I am living that quote right now. I am enjoying the time I have with my family and friends this Christmas and New Year’s season. I am praying that God will show me how this fresh start is going to lead me to wonderful things that I just don’t see quite yet. I’m confident that whatever is next will be just another adventure that will teach me a bunch of lesson in life.

With Love,
Christina

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving in Doha, Qatar

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my friends and family in the United States! What a day of food, fun and football! This is also a great time to remember all that we have to be thankful for in our lives. For me, this year I am most thankful for my parents who have taken on so many things for me to be able to come to Qatar and be on this wild adventure! Not only are they taking care of my loving cat, Marvin, but they are also minding my finances and sending me lots of care packages so that I don’t miss too much of home.

I am also very thankful for the love and support of friends. So many of you have kept in touch via Facebook, mail, Skype or emails which is such a blessing. Every time I connect with someone from home it makes me grateful for the connections I’ve made in this life that endure space and time. It also reminds me how thankful I am for today’s technology! My grandparents could have never imagined Skyping with someone on the other side of the world!

While I could easily fall into a woe-is-me thought process because I am not home for the holiday, I am far too blessed for that. God has me right where he wants me at this exact moment. I’ve spent many holidays away from family, so this is not a new thing for me, though being so far away and facing some of the challenges I face here it is a bit bittersweet this year. But I am choosing to focus on the blessings.

This time of year also reminds me of how fortunate I am to be an American…and an American that can afford to live comfortably, or at least have family and friends that would help me if needed. So many people in this world are hungry today. To think that there will be way too many leftovers and wasted food on American tables today is a bit sad. I wish somehow this world could figure out how to distribute the excess from one part of the world to another. I wish we could all share the benefits and reduce the struggles of our fellow mankind in the world.

On that note, I recently read a food blog written by a woman who lost her husband unexpectedly in August. She is doing her best to move forward and remember to be thankful for what she does still have in this life, as well as help others. (In Jennie's Kitchen for those that want to read her beautiful, yet heartbreaking journey.) She inspired me to ask of those with a little extra this Thanksgiving and Christmas Season to consider giving back.

Whether you support Small Business Saturday and support your local independent small businesses or simply spend a bit less at the major chains, this will go a long way in helping your local community. (Yeah, I know it’s sponsored by American Express, but you don’t have/need to use your credit card…in fact I would encourage you to spend within your budget!) Don’t forget that you favorite Mary Kay, Tastefully Simple, Party Lite or other independent consultant would love your business too.

You could volunteer at your local shelter to help those less fortunate than you. I remember making sandwiches one year for my local shelter in Reston, Virginia. That simple act of purchasing and making 60 sandwiches to be delivered to the shelter for their clients was immensely rewarding. I also was richly blessed when I went on a mission trip to Denver and worked with the homeless community for a week with D.O.O.R.. The people that you are able to bless are truly in need, whether it is because of a mental, physical illness or whether they battle addictions that have stolen their lives. Most of the people that go to shelters are keenly aware of their dire situation and just want a warm smile, listening ear and a bit of help. Find a local shelter in your community and get plugged in…not only during the holidays, but year-round.

You can also get involved with groups that volunteer year round. There are the biggies like Red Cross, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, but don’t forget the smaller ones too. The local Boys and Girls Club or your local high school’s booster club would probably gladly welcome a donation or the offer of you time to help. Also, if you’re already involved in a church, get involved with one of the ministries! Extra hands to help your community go a long way and you normally get a pretty decent blessing out of it too.

If you really want to keep things personal, offer to babysit during the holidays for that single mom/dad that you know so they can go shopping or get some rest one afternoon. Go hang lights or decorate for your elderly neighbor (and then take them down after the season!). Take a meal to a family that you know is barely making ends meet. Have coffee with that single gal/guy that is missing their family because they live far away. Smile at people while you’re out…it’s amazing how much this simple, free gesture can make a difference.

No matter what I hope that today and year-round you remember to be thankful, even when there are storms and struggles in your life. I am thankful for some of the struggles I’ve endured because they have made me the person I am today. While I don’t wish to ever face some of those struggles again, I also realize the blessings that came from them. Thank you God for always working things out for good.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Have an extra piece of pumpkin pie for me!

With Love,
Christina

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quick Photo Post and Request for Help!

Hi everyone! This will be a quick photo post...I know I've not written much this much (heck, not at all!). Trust me that it's been super busy here and the weather has finally cooled off so there is a lot more to do when I have time off. I'll do my best to write more again soon, but in the meantime, here are some more photos!
Having a bit of fun at the Irish Harp...I can't hear you!

This little guy (named him Mortimer) was hanging out at the villa...seemed suspicious of me.

A customer took this photo and posted it on our Facebook page...a bit blurry, but a good shot overall.
Shows you a bit of the shop and what I look like 54+ hours a week!

Sunsetting...on our way to the beach....over the dunes and through the sand!

 
Sand Duning and Overnight Camping on the Beach....So fun, so beautiful, so scary!
We went through that waterto the other side...
 
View from the top of the Dunes....we'd just come from that direction!


Another view from the top...Breathtaking!
 
We were just down in that valley...those are our fresh tracks!

Lindsay and I at the Ministry of Sound Beach Party...Fun times at the InterConteniental Hotel

Photo of Doha...on the Corniche

Doha Skyline at sunset

This was dinner one night...Lobster with Pasta...so good (La Dolce Vita at Souq Waqif)

I can't seem to get this next photo to rotate properly...but it's a recipe I made with my mom, but I didn't keep the actual recipe! It's called "Apple Cheesecake Breakfast Bars" and if you can help me find the recipe I'd be so grateful! I've done internet searches and can't seem to find it! It was in one of those small recipe books they sell at the checkstand of grocery stores...in May.

Apple Cheesecake Breakfast Bars...HELP!
UPDATE: My brilliant friend, Kathy, quickly found the recipe!! Check it out here! Thanks Kathy!


Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Relationships and Chocolate Pudding Pie

“Christina, you just have to understand that your American way of being friendly is often misinterpreted as romantic here. You need to stop it.” This was the verbal blow given to me by a guy that works at one of the other restaurants near our bakery. We had been discussing among other things relationships and how things work in the Middle East/Qatar. He said that I flirted with way too many people here. He defined my flirting as the smiles I easily gave to anyone and saying hello or chatting with them. I said that I was simply just being friendly, that I liked to smile at people and that I talk to just about anyone if they’re not being jerks. He then let go with the above line. I was a bit hurt. Why should I change who I am and how I am just because they can’t understand that I’m just trying to be friendly?

I posted about this on Facebook. I got lots of comments about not changing who I am or how I am along with some advice on bridging the culture gap. One friend (Hi Cathy!) even suggested that I contact the US Embassy to see if they could offer any advice on how to work out this challenge. I’ve not done that yet, instead choosing to be more selective in whom I flash my “eyes-smiling” smile at. So far, this tactic seems to be working. I still smile at just about everyone, but not everyone gets the “eyes-smiling” smile (does that make sense!?) opting instead for the “closed mouth” grin. So, you could say, I’ve tried to change who how I am a bit…not a bad thing, and sometimes the “eyes-smiling” smile creeps out and shows itself anyway.

In that same vein, I’ve also met some really great customers. Of course, I often hear giggles from my staff when I sit and talk with American customers (why are they mostly men!?). The customers are normally quite engaging and share a common humor and understanding that fills a hole in me. I don’t think I prepared well enough for the fact that some things (humor) just wouldn’t translate here. Only my American friends/customers seem to understand sarcasm or silly “That’s What She Said” jokes. My staff of course sees the laughter and joking as flirting (::Sigh::) when really, I’m just having fun with some customers.

That’s not to say I’ve not met some really great locals with wonderful, humorous sides as well though. We have a few customers that are starting to become friends and even though I had to literally explain the concept of sarcasm to avoid a major confusion recently, we’re having fun learning each other’s cultures. The night that I was invited out after work and I only had a tank top on under my uniform jacket, I was more uncomfortable than they were even though we went to a place filled with mostly men in thobes. I thought for sure they thought I was a Western Hussie….I was told to just relax that it was ok and more common than I realized. We found common ground in music from the 80’s and 90’s, playing music on the laptop and singing along to power ballads by Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton and Bryan Adams. Introducing each other to new music and laughing the whole time when something just wasn’t translating. Of course, being on their “home turf,” I’ve been introduced to new foods, new hobbies (shisha anyone!? *cough* *hack*), and interesting ways of approaching things. (By the way, I was told that here when people ask where I’m from that I should respond, “America” not “United States”…they’ll understand faster. You don’t get tips like that from the travel books and websites!)

As much as I’m realizing that I need to adapt to this culture, I’m also firmly reminded that a lot of things are universal. People are people no matter where you are in this world. The people here all desire love, joy, peace, understanding and community with others….just like we do in America, just as I imagine they do in Europe, South America and Asia. This human need is so strong that people look for it in a smile, in a friendly “hello,” or an inadvertent touch. Sure, at times it will be misinterpreted, but at other times it may just help someone get through the day. I suppose in the end it is balance and just knowing how to respond if someone misunderstands.

Relationships seem to be a big theme right now in my life. Not only have I had the above experiences, but a few friends back in America have been sharing their relationship experiences as well. Rita is being super brave and blogging about her journey of going on 35 dates in 35 days in light of finding herself single upon turning 35 recently(Her blog Rita’s Quest is great…read it!). Her experiences have been so transformational and eye-opening to read, sometimes even helping me to see some things about myself that I could probably work on in regards to relationships. Still another friend recently has been emailing me about her experiences with a dating coach and the changes she’s making to hopefully find her a partner to share life with as she is in her mid/late 30’s as well. Still another woman that I know posted on her Facebook about “what’s left?!” when one of her friends told her to stop dating her typical type of man, but you could read the relational frustration in her post. All of these women, along with the experiences above have given me pause.

I find myself asking, “Am I such an odd duck that I’m really ok with being single right now (meaning my late 30’s)?!” Sure I still long for relationship, I crave that emotional intimacy with someone like I had at the beginning of my (former) marriage, but I think I can honestly say that, for now, I’m really ok with being single. To the woman that asked “what’s left?!” on her Facebook, I responded “Happiness being single!” and I honestly meant it! I know that had things played out differently in my life, and I sat here married with kids that I would likely be just as happy, but I also am grateful that I’ve been able to lead the life I have BECAUSE I’m single. In no way am I saying that my friend’s journeys and changes they are making to find a husband are not great, because I think they are wonderful! I applaud them both for getting out there and going after what they want in life and finding someone to share that with. I guess for me, right now, that’s not what I want. I’m so glad that we can all be so unique and yet, honestly, so much the same. It’s also good to know that if I happen to meet a wonderful man in the coming days and decide to be happy with someone that none of you will hold this last paragraph against me…right!?

By the way, I spoke a lot of romantic relationships in this post, but I realize that relationships go way beyond that…even to friendships. The recipe I’m sharing with you in this post is one that made for my friends in DC last Thanksgiving. By request of the host of Thanksgiving dinner (Hi Cody!), I took a chocolate pie for dessert (along with a pumpkin, but don’t get greedy for recipes!). This pie was so delicious! It was intensely chocolatey and I just so happened to perfect the crust for once in my life (Ugh! Who else struggles with pie crust!?). As you can see from the photo, I barely snapped a shot before it was completely gone and devoured by my friends. Great pie, great friends, great memories…great relationships that continue beyond physical space and time. Maybe in honor of my friends, if I can find the ingredients here, I’ll make this pie again soon. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and make it for you and the people with whom you are in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. I miss you friends!
Not really a glamour shot, but this is one mighty tasty pie!

Recipe: Chocolate Pudding Pie
Source: Gourmet

Yield: Makes 8 servings
Active Time: 30 min
Total Time: 5 hr (includes chilling)

Ingredients
For pastry dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

For filling:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream

Equipment: pie weights or dried beans
Garnish: bittersweet chocolate shavings (optional)

Preparation:
Make dough:
Blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If dough doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until incorporated. (Do not overwork dough or pastry will be tough.)

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all of dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and form into a 5-inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Make pie shell:
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp edge decoratively. Prick bottom and side of shell all over with a fork, then chill shell 30 minutes.

While shell chills, preheat oven to 375°F with a baking sheet on middle rack.

Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake on baking sheet until pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil, then bake shell on baking sheet until pale golden all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool shell.

Make filling:
Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with wax paper (if you want to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least 2 hours.

Just before serving, beat cream with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie.

Gourmet Cooks' notes:
Pastry dough can be chilled up to 2 days. Pie (without whipped cream) can be chilled up to 1 day.

With Love,
Christina

Friday, September 16, 2011

Beach, Becalm and Beans


Have you ever feel like time is passing quickly and that you’re missing out on things, only to realize that in fact time isn’t passing as fast as you thought and you’ve experienced way more than most?! This realization is what happened to me recently. I was starting to feel like I was missing out on all there was to see and do in Doha. I was starting to feel that my time here was passing quickly and that before I knew it this adventure would be over and the only thing I’d have gained was work experience. Then, I met “Mr. Donut.”

Mr. Donut and I met while I was driving from the grocery store to work to drop something off. He saw me driving and singing in my car to some very loud, very American rock music. It was me blowing off some steam and just recapturing joy through music and not having a care in the world about what was going on around me. I was “in the moment” of the music. Of course, I also was trying to be very aware of the other cars on the road and that’s when I noticed a handsome local man smiling at me and gesturing (in a friendly way!) to me. I politely smiled and laughed having been “caught” in my moment of singing in the car. He seemed to persist in his polite gesturing and seemed to be offering me something he had in his car with him. I, being a cautious woman, continued to politely smile and drive towards where I knew I’d have plenty of people around. In most situations like this, the other person usually drives off in the other direction (this isn’t the first time I’d been caught singing). But, Mr. Donut followed me all the way to work and parked next to me. As I got out of the car he engaged me in conversation and offered me the cookies he’d been showing me, as well as to take me to dinner. Not wanting to be rude and offend him, I reluctantly accepted the gift of cookies, exchanged numbers and went into work. I immediately told my co-worker about the experience and had a good giggle about how these things always seem to happen to me randomly. But I also was intrigued by this man and texted him a thank you for the cookies and invite to dinner.

Mr. Donut and I texted each other a few times, he stopped by work one morning with 18 donuts (who needs 18 donuts? This sweet gesture is how he got his nickname), and we set up a time to get together. I must admit, I was really curious about getting to know a local man who, when I met him, was wearing a thobe and driving a Lexus SUV (though he also owned a hot new Camaro!). He was also around my age (a rarity in my new circle of friends).

The day that we spent the majority of our time together, we went to the other side of Qatar, Zekreet to be exact. Sure, I was a bit nervous at first about hopping into the Lexus and wandering off to the desert with him (Lindsay was on high alert for my “help me” text should the need arise), but soon I was at ease and we had a great chat. I was amazed at how he seemed to be so unlike my initial impressions of single men in the Middle East. He was respectful of me (a woman!), spoiled me with gifts (without seeming to want anything in return if you get my drift), insisted on paying for everything everywhere we went and always seemed to be concerned if I wanted or needed something (Water? Tea? Hungry? Air conditioning at the right temperature?).

That day, we went to two beaches, drove to see the camels being trained for the races, ate at the Souq, hung out by the water on the Corniche, took some photos and just had a great time talking together. We shared stories about our past, our families and things we wanted for the future. It was almost too comfortable really…though it was just the kind of day I needed to have at that time. 
Zekreet, Qatar
Zekreet, Qatar
Camels off to be trained for racing
Notice the trainer is barefoot and smiling for his photo!
Just past the Lusail area...That "home" used to be the previous Emir's
Tide was coming in when we were there
Doha...Artistic View

Doha Skyline

So after a few times of getting together I was starting to wonder…how this would ever really work. He was a Muslim after all. He’s a local (we certainly got looks when we were out and about from other locals…much like I imagine any mixed race couple would have in earlier decades in the states). I figured I would let it play out and just trust that God knew what I needed most for now, but also guard my heart a bit. And of course, after just about a week of knowing Mr. Donut, he said that while I was wonderful, that due to family reasons he could not continue to see me. While I have my suspicions that this may not been 100% the truth, it was sweet all the same. (Maybe he did want something for those gifts afterall!?) I bid him farewell, offered to return the gifts (beautiful necklaces and earrings…he told me to keep them) and wished him well. This mature, handsome, local man and I parted ways…and it was ok because it was meant to be that way and I had learned a lot during our time together.

What did I realize? I’ve been here three months….time is passing just as fast as it always has and always will. I also realized that I have seen and done a lot in Doha since arriving. These three months have been filled with lots of work, yes, but it has also been filled with a lot of unique experiences that I will treasure and remember for the rest of my life. That this time is shaping me into the person that God wants me to be in the future. God also recently reminded me that He is ever-present with me, even in Qatar. That while I can’t seem to find a church to call home and have that traditional community of believers, that I am still not alone.

You see, I tend to be a bit of a restless soul or a renaissance soul I’ve been told. Someone who always wants to be moving, accomplishing, achieving, getting what is best out of life and me. I fight for it. It’s not always a bad way to be, but it’s not always productive either. I find myself getting sucked into situations that probably would turn out a lot better if I were to just be still and let God do the work without me mucking it up.

This message came to me loud and clear one night on the way home from a really long (somewhat stressful) day at work. I was spent, emotionally and physically. I just wanted to go to bed and sleep for a long time (not gonna happen anytime soon). I plugged my iPod into the car stereo and hit play…God knew I needed to hear the song “Word of God Speak” by Mercy Me. As I sang along (yep, still doing that), I could feel that God was speaking to me and telling me to be still, becalm. He was reminding me that though I’m all the way on the other side of the world from all that is familiar…that He was right here with me and therefore everything was going to be just fine…. I needed to let Him do the “fighting” for me and be still. I cried tears of joy and relief, much like I always do when God decides to remind me that I’m in the palm of His hand and He’s got things in control, that I can relax and rest in Him. (Of course, because I've put this out there, I'm sure this refound peace will be challenged, so please pray for me!)

I know this blog post is a bit different than some of my others, but I thought I needed to share this part of the journey as well. I’m realizing that this journey is much bigger than just work experience and living in/experiencing a different part of the world. It’s about me being open enough to experience the things that God has planned for me to shape me into who He needs me to be for the people and places he is guiding me towards. He’s putting people in my path to teach me things about myself and others…all for His good and His glory. Pretty cool beans, huh?!

Heehee…see how I did that...I mentioned beans…that brings me to the recipe portion of my post. It’s one of my new creations that I seem to be surviving on these days. There is a lot of rice and mystery meat being offered in these parts. While I’m all for adventure and trying new things (remember, I tried camel!), some of these new things don’t play well with my body…so I had to find something familiar. I came up with this recipe while wandering around the grocery store and craving an avocado salad that my friend Jane had made for me before I left California on this adventure. I did my best to remember most of the ingredients and tried to recreate it. I know I didn’t quite hit the mark, but it is a darn tasty substitute when I can actually find avocados (here today, not the next, but just wait a week, they’ll be back..oye!). This “salad” consists of all things familiar and known…it’s super easy to make and tweak with whatever you like and can find…which, changes for me all the time. So, I’m giving you recipe as I’ve made it twice now…seems these ingredients are becoming consistently available in Doha. Give it a try, tweak it to your liking, and just realize…it’s better than mystery meat any day! (Sorry no glamour shot of the salad...it's not much to look at anyway!)

Doha Avocado Bean Salad (DABS?)
1 ripe avocado, diced
A handful of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 shallot, sliced finely
1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can of sweet kernel corn, drained
A helping of black olives (mine need to be rinsed because they’re packed in olive oil!)
A healthy drizzle of Italian salad dressing

Toss everything together in a large bowl. Serve.
I like mine with crackers or tortilla chips, though I struggle to find good tortilla chips here.

With Love,
Christina

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Busy Bakery and Cheesy Bread

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since I last posted! Sorry for all of those who anxiously await updates! I know most of you also follow me on Facebook, so you know I’m still alive! HA!

We finally opened the store on August 4. We were originally going to open on August 1, but that got delayed and then in the afternoon of August 3 we were told we’d be opening the next day! What a flurry of activity that created…talk about a bit of stress! But, we survived (barely!) and are now starting to find our footing and get into a routine. Of course, since it has been Ramadan, we have only been open in the evenings. I’m sure once Ramadan is over and we’re open all day we’ll have a bit more adjusting to do again.

The cupcakes have been well received and my staff is adorable. We have lots to learn together about the changes in concept, adjusting to that as well as serving Arabic customers along with the customers that are from all over the world. I’m still adjusting to the structure within the company at large, but also trying to focus on what is best for the store and getting the job done the best way possible. Not always easy, but I’m hoping in the end it will all be worth the personal and professional struggles.

Personally, not much has been going on since I feel like I am either at the store or sleeping…the life of a manager at a new store right?! I did get my temporary license, so I am renting a car a white Nissan Sunny!). That has been such a life-changing event…for the better. Being able to go wherever I want whenever I want without paying for and waiting for a taxi has been great. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve ventured too far. The malls/grocery stores still seem to be the places I find myself most often, but I’ve also ventured to the Souq as well. The Souq is an open-air market of sorts. It has a ton of local merchants that sell everything…candy, pets, fabric, jewelry, etc. It also has several restaurants that serve a variety of cuisines.
Camel at the top, Mixed Grill Kebabs and Rice on my plate
One night, a few of us went to dinner at Tajine…the Moroccan restaurant. Most of the food seemed to be standard fare, what you would expect at a Moroccan restaurant such as kebabs, rice and chicken. Much to our surprise, there was also baby camel listed on the menu. We were all intrigued, yet no one wanted to commit to eating it as their main entrée…so we decided to share it and each get our own other entrée as well. I must say, it was a lot better than expected. It was a bit stringy, in a pork or beef roast cooked in a crock-pot kind of way, and it had a gamey or unusual taste to it. No, it didn’t taste like chicken…HA! It was good, but not something I would probably eat often. It had a bit of fat to it as well, which seemed out of place in this land of kebabs. I ended up sticking to my mixed grill entrée mostly and sharing some of the fat from the camel with a stray cat that we named Scavi (short for scavenger). Scavi was my best friend for most of the meal after I fed it just a little bit! This made me miss my boy, Marvin.
Scavi, the Scavenger Cat
After dinner we wandered around the Souq and discovered that if anyone thinks there is a shortage of fabric in the world, we’ve found the hidden stash. Fabrics of all colors and textures seemed to flow from every store in one section of the market. (My mom’s fabric dreams come true…really!) As we wandered further we found the “pet” section and were immediately greeted by these chicks that had been dyed…so sad...we noted that PETA would go crazy in this area. The colored chicks were only a precursor to the dyed birds and bunnies. Luckily, they don’t dye the dogs and cats. We also found the jewelry section of the Souq and the candy section…all good things for this girl though I didn’t actually buy much.
Poor baby chicks :(

They really don't know when to stop dying their pets. :(
One thing I have noticed here is the lack of bread as we know it in the US. Sure they have their naan and rolls seem to be served with dinner a lot, but traditional bread doesn’t seem to be a big staple here as it is in the US. I’m wondering if once we move accommodations (exciting news, I hope!), and we have a stove/oven that really works properly, if I’ll be able to make some of the breads I’ve made in the past. With that thought, I started thinking of one of the breads that mom and I made when I was in California: Chunky Cheesy Bread.
Chunky Cheesy Bread Loaf 
Anyone who knows my eating habits well will tell you that I adore cheese….of just about any kind. I also really enjoy fresh breads, so this recipe was a must try. It was also fairly easy. Mom and I each made a loaf out of the dough and both used slightly different techniques, but both turned out great. It certainly was best warm, but it made for good sandwich bread with salami the next day as well. The recipe comes from the same cookbook I blogged about last post, A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman. I’m telling you again, it’s a great book! Give this a try if you want to have cheesy bread goodness in your home!

See how the cheese goes all through the bread...Yumm!
The Recipe: Chunky Cheesy Bread
Source: A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
2 tablespoons rapid-rise yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
5 to 6 cups bread flour

Chunky Cheese Part
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 scant cups cubed Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
1 teaspoon seasoned salt or garlic salt
Sesame seeds

Generously grease two 8x4-inch or two 9x5-inch loaf pans. (This is important to prevent bread from sticking to pan.)

In a mixer bowl, hand-whisk water and yeast together and let stand 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve yeast. Briskly whisk in sugar, salt, mustard, eggs, oil, butter, and half of bread flour and mix. Begin kneading with dough hook on lowest speed 5 to 8 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to make a soft, elastic dough. Form into a ball in mixing bowl, spray lightly with a large clear plastic bag. Let dough rise 30 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate. Divide dough in half. Press each half into an oval and distribute 1 cup shredded cheese over each. Press in cheese and roll up each section into a jellyroll.

Using a dough cutter or sharp knife, cut each jellyroll into thick slices and then in half—basically odd-sized chunks of dough. Arrange chunks of dough in loafpans. Scatter cubed Cheddar cheese over chunks of dough, drizzle with oil or butter, and scatter on seasoned salt or garlic salt (any gourmet herb mix will also do) and sesame seeds.

Place loaves on a baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise 30-45 minutes until quite puffy.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until well browned and sizzling and cheese is melted, about 30-45 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing and serving. Serve warm or as a sandwich base.

With Love,
Christina

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Random Thoughts, Photos and Recipe: Outstanding French Country Bread

So, as this adventure in Qatar continues, I have some random thoughts about being here, working here and such.
The Beautiful Beach of the Persian Gulf
I’ve gone on and on about how beautiful the water/beaches are here. Yes, the water is turquoise blue, the sand almost white, and the water is warm and salty as you would expect. The views of the water are surprising at times with the absolute beauty. There is also the opulence of some of the places we’ve been. The crystal chandeliers, the gold leaf trim or speck in the walkways. The towers of the downtown Doha area are so interesting and reach to the sky with such a beauty in the way that they seem to defy gravity and involve such ingenuity.

But, right alongside of all that beauty is poverty. The men who work on the towers to build them so beautifully sleep in shacks that don’t have air conditioning or running water. They work in the heat of the day and sometimes into the heat of the night to meet the deadlines set by those who sit in plush offices. The workers only make on average $300 Qatari Riyals a month…that is the equivalent of about $82 US Dollars. They send most of that home to their family in their country of origin. It is sad to see the heartache and tiredness in their eyes. You know they live in such awful conditions yet have such a love for their family that this hard life seems like the best option for them. As they lay specks of gold into the walkways, they simply dream of providing a better life for their family back home. I suppose that, in and of itself, is beautiful, yet heartbreaking at the same time.
Towers Area of Downtown Doha
Another thing that boggles me sometimes is the way that the “locals” feel so entitled. I’ve been told many, many times when working to open the bakery to remember that you can’t tell a customer “no” when they ask for something. They say to remember that if you tell them “no” that they could complain to higher management to get what they want or simply just never set foot into the store again. Can you imagine? I mean, I understand making a request and being disappointed that the store doesn’t offer it (heck, I’ve been lots of places here that don’t serve iced tea, a staple for me in the States!), but to complain to the point of going to higher management because we don’t serve the flavor of juice you want? It’s a challenge to remember that I’m not dealing with the American way of thinking and the way of doing business. The Arab world apparently does not like to confront people directly nor call people out when they are just plain wrong or telling mistruths (note I didn’t say lies…that would be rude!). This creates a culture of a lot of double-talk and going around people to get what you want. The He-said, she-said game is quite maddening at times.
Camel Crossing
They also have a lot of “tomorrows” here. I’ll do it tomorrow can mean that they will actually do it the next day, or it could mean a week (or more!) from now. For this “say what you mean, mean what you say” gal, that is difficult to handle. I always try to explain why something is delayed if I can’t meet a deadline, not just “Oh, I’m working on it, I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Let's think about that tomorrow!
On a happier note, the pubs and clubs here are quite fun! One of the few forms of entertainment that I have indulged in is going out at night to dance and let my hair down so to speak. The places I have gone are normally crowded with a lot of international people…a slice of the United Nations! Most people are very fun and are there to just have a good time. I’ve met some interesting people who are always interested (and some surprised) that I’m from the United States. It seems that not many Americans find their way over here for an extended period of time. I also think it’s great that English is so often spoken and understood by the internationals. I wish I knew at least one other language, as it seems everyone here knows several (yes, I know, that high school Spanish class didn’t quite stick with me all these years later).
Shiny Happy American Gals!
The photo below makes me laugh. It was taken the night that Lindsay and I decided to have Taco Tuesday! We had gone to the store and purchased everything we (thought we) needed to make a great taco night. We started to make dinner and got interrupted by the villa maintenance people who were there to fix our washing machine. After three weeks without the machine we weren’t about to turn them away. Well, three hours later, we were able to finish cooking our meal!! This is when we also discovered that we had a bottle opener, but not a can opener. I wasn’t about to let that fact keep us from our beans, so I started to dig into the can…besides being dangerous, it actually worked out great…we got our beans and had super yummy tacos…just a bit later than expected. We call this photo a testament to American ingenuity…I didn’t get a photo of the strainer we made from an aluminum tray, but we credited that same ingenuity for that invention as well. Oh, and for those that are curious, we bought a can opener and proper strainer the next time we were at the store. Heehee!
American ingenuity at it's finest!
Now for a random recipe. The recipe below was taken from a cookbook by Marcy Goldman called “A Passion for Baking”. This bread recipe was one that my mom and I made while I was in CA waiting to start this Qatari adventure. It looks like it requires a lot, but most of the time is spent waiting for the bread to rise and do its thing. I must say, this bread tastes SO good. If I had the means here, I would try to make this bread every week and use it in place of the stuff we buy at the store. Worth every second of waiting…give it a try (We made one big loaf, but later thought it would have been better as two smaller loaves). The whole cookbook has several recipes that we tried and loved…and several that we just didn’t around to making but look so yummy. I’d recommend the cookbook as well as this bread!!

Outstanding French Country Bread
Recipe: Outstanding French Country Bread
Source: A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman

Sponge Starter (8-16 hours ahead)
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
1/4 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 cups, approximately, bread flour

Dough
All of sponge starter
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
1/2 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 to 6 cups bread flour

For Sponge Starter, in a small bowl, stir together water and yeast and let yeast dissolve by briskly whisking.

With a whisk or wooden spoon, stir in bread flour to make a thick mixture. It should be like a gloppy pudding. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap (leaving a small air space); let stand at room temperature 8-16 hours.

Stack two baking sheets together and line top sheet with two sheets of parchment paper. If your oven and baking sheets cannot accommodate two breads, prepare another set of sheets to bake second bread (or make one large bread).

To make the bread, stir down starter to deflate it. Spoon it into mixer bowl. Hand-whisk in 1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees), yeast, oil, salt, sugar, and most of flour. Stir to make a messy mass and then loosely cover bowl and let until dough is smooth and resilient but not tough and bouncy. Remove dough hook and lightly spray dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover entire mixer and bowl with a large clear plastic bag. Let rise 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours until dough has doubled.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate. Divide dough in half (or keep it as one large bread); form into two balls.

Gently place balls of dough, seam sides down, on prepared baking sheets. Spray dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover baking sheets loosely with large clear plastic bag. Let dough rise until puffy (and 50% larger in volume).

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Slash loaves with a sharp knife before baking. Spritz with water and dust with flour. (If dough deflates with you slash it, it rose too much but might recover with oven heat.)

Atomize oven with a few squirts of water and place baking sheets on lower oven rack. Spray oven interior every 5 minutes for the first 15 minutes (Do not spray oven lightbulb!). When 20 minutes remain, reduce heat to 425 degrees to finish baking. Loaf should be well browned after a total of 25-35 minutes. Cool well on a wire rack before slicing. To store, keep in a loosely sealed plastic bag (which softens crust but keeps bread moist) or in a brown paper bag lightly sealed.

With Love,
Christina