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)

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)

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,

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'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,