Shukto

The first course served in the Bangladesh lunch is a bitter course.  The bitter course tradition is also in the Portuguese culture.   Before every meal the Portuguese would have a dish with bitter fruit to prepare the mouth for the food that was to come.  The Portuguese settled in Bangladesh which is where they got the tradition.

Speaking of bitter I got my results from the MRI, which determined my cancer stage.  I was diagnosed as stage III.  My doctor called the night before the appointment to let me know.  He felt the news was good.  It was a relief to hear it was not stage IV, but not really great news to have any stage.

The next day my friends Jeff and Amanda go with me to my medical oncologist.  The goal of the appointment was to finalize which chemo treatment I was to do and when it will start.  I’m not nervous with this appointment as I think of it as settling on the details.

The appointment starts with the three of us seated in front of my doctor’s desk.  The desk feels large for the room and he started the appointment by saying, “since the cancer has not spread you are stage III”.

My friend Amanda yelled out, “Thank God!”.

The doctor stared at her a bit, puzzled and I realized she hadn’t heard.  I told her “Oh we already knew.  The doctor called me yesterday you must not have seen my update.”

She responded, “No I didn’t have a chance to go online, well good news.”

We all chuckle a bit as her expression is what I felt last night when he called with the results.  It hadn’t dawned on me that anyone else was so worried and concerned about my test results.  I know my friends were willing to come with me to my appointments to support, but didn’t think about the fact that this was suspenseful for them too.  It made me feel loved and I felt that I wasn’t the only one that carried the burden of this disease.

Now that we had my stage settled, the doctor is able to carry on with the real message he wanted to deliver.  He believed that I would need an additional surgery that will take place after chemo.  The reason being is that the count of the 6 lymph nodes is really high and rare.  They think it is best to have more removed and do a radiation treatment as well.  So the plan is chemo, lymph node removal surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery to put in my inplants.

We discussed again the chemo options as there was a 3 month chemo regiment and a 5 month chemo regiment.  He recommends in my age and surgical biopsy results that I do the 5 month.  I agree with him I would like to be aggressive.  So he walks me over to another room where I will get my chemo.

In the room there were two nurses behind a desk, big reclining chairs all around the room facing the nurses, and windows behind the chairs that looked out onto the city.  He explained the treatment I am planning to do with the nurses.  The nurses and the doctor discuss whether I should get a port.  The conversation took place more around me than with me.  Once they have come to agreement they turned and explained that with the lymph node removal I only have one arm that they will be able administer the chemo and I don’t have great veins, so 16 treatments would be difficult.  The port is a device that is surgically embedded in my chest and they can poke in the chemo there.

The conversation only took a few minutes and at the end I had agreed to get a port.  I’m not so excited about all the surgery, as I had already been to more doctor appointments than I think I have been to in my whole life!  However, it feels solvable and I have a plan that will have an end.  So the plan is port surgery, chemo, lymph node removal surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery to put in my implants.  I don’t even think about the surgery needed for my port removal.  That is something to think about for another day the next things are to focus on wigs and learning how to draw on eyebrows to get me ready for chemo.

In the meantime lets get back to this bitter meal made out of bitter gourd. It is a popular dish in Bangladesh that uses this fruit amongst other vegetables.

The first thing in the recipe calls for a few odd things:

  • Bitter gourd
  • Drumsticks
  • Raw rice ground into a powder
  • Mustard paste
  • Mustard oil

The mustard paste I am assuming means mustard.  Likely not a french mustard, so I substitute it for a stone ground mustard in my fridge.  So one random ingredient acquired.

The raw rice powder I assume is rice flour, which I am familiar with from some Japanese recipes.  I don’t think this will be hard to find.  It is common in the Asian aisles of U.S. markets and if it’s not there, there are a few Asian markets near me that will have it for sure.

The rest of these ingredients require my google skills to figure out what is going on.  The drumsticks, I’m a bit lost on.  I highly doubt that this is chicken drumsticks.  With my research I find that this is a common seasoning in India.  I figure I will get this at an Indian Market that isn’t too far away.  I have never heard of mustard oil, but am fascinated.  I find this is also common in Indian cooking, so figure I will find it in the same store as drumsticks.  The bitter gourd I look up to see pictures of.  This is not something common in U.S. markets, but think I have seen something similar in Asian markets.

So my first grocery stop is at the U.S. market.  I don’t find any of the remaining four items.  The next stop is a Japanese market near me.  I find the rice flour only.  Then I stop at a Korean market and the remaining three ingredients are not to be found.  Finally at the Indian market, I find the Mustard oil!

 

I also find the bitter gourd.

I can’t find the drumstick.  I am tempted to add chicken and call it that, but that doesn’t seem right as this is a vegetarian dish.  I look up ideas of how to substitute the spice and I don’t find anything.  So I just decided to skip it.  My friends are coming and I have now been to 4 grocery stores!  This is supposed to be the Bangladesh meal Americans can make.

The recipe also called for pumpkin.  I don’t feel like buying a big pumpkin and cutting it up, so I substitute butternut squash.  It is easier and I can buy it already cut up.

With all the ingredients I am ready to start.  Well the recipe is basically a stir fry in the mustard oil.  So this shouldn’t be hard.  The only thing to learn is how to cut a bitter gourd.  Here is the method:

First, to chop this bitter gourd-

Cut in half.

Scoop out the seeds and slice.

Personally I would have thought you have to removed the skin, but not from what I read. This is the way to eat it.

It all takes a bit longer than I expected to cook, I think it actually takes closer to 40 minutes to get the vegetables to soften.

 

The mustard oil is amazing and makes the vegetables taste good.  The bitter gourd, well is bitter.  I’m not a fan of the bitter gourd, but I enjoy the rest of the vegetables.


Recipes

Shukto
Original recipe can be found here
  •  1 medium eggplant
  • 5-6 green beans
  • 2 medium bitter gourd
  • 1/2 of a butternut squash
  • 2 medium size yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 2 tablespoons rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
  • 4 tablespoons mustard oil
  1. Dice the vegetables into similarly sized pieces.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoon of oil in a wok, throw in the mustard seeds and rice flour.
  3. Add all the vegetables as the mustard seeds start popping.
  4. Mix the oil well with the vegetables and let it cook in low flame under cover.
  5. Take out the cover when the vegetables are half done, pour in a little water (about half cup), ginger and mustard, and turmeric; mix well.
  6. Cook for about 40 min or until the vegetables are well cooked.
  7. Pour in the rest of the mustard oil and take off the flame.
  8. Serve warm with white rice.

 

 

 

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Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a country in south Asia. It is boarded by India, Myanmar (Burma), and bay of bengal.

It is the 8th most populated country and has a population of over 10 million. It is one of the most densely populated contries. It was originally part of Pakistan and was known as West Pakistan. After a war they gained independence in 1971. Bangladesh struggles with corruption, poverty and overcrowding but has made great strides in gender equality, health, and population control.

Bangladeshi cuisine is very similar to Indian cuisine. It also has developed a multi-course tradition with food served course wise rather than family style. It is similar to the way the French have a 7 course meal, however the way that they course is different. For example, a common lunch would have: a first course with bitter gourd; a second course of daal; third course is a vegetable; fourth course is fish; fifth course is optional, but typically meat; sixth course is a chutney course acting as a palate cleanser, and 7th course is dessert.

I have two old friends from college coming to visit for this meal. We haven’t hung out in a few years, but we always enjoy each other.

Speaking of old connections, I also reconnected with my ex-husband after I was diagnosed. Okay dirty minds, not like that!

As all couples fight, we had said some harsh words to each other and as the fighting continued it was time to end our 10 year relationship. Once we agreed it was time to split we tried to have the most amicable divorce. We tried to stay friends for a bit after, but I started to notice that I would cyber troll him. This was not my healthiest hobby, so I cut off all ties to him, his social media, and his friends.  I had even asked our mutual friends not to discuss him around me.

When a few friends of mine came over for lunch after my surgery Ed’s roommate asked “Does Ed know?”

I realized how much I was truly isolated from him and said “likely not.”

She asked, “Should I tell him?”

I had to pause before I answered and think about how I would want to be treated and said “Yes.”

Of course as soon as he found out he reached out. We chatted over text and my friend invited me over to their place for the Bay to Breakers party. In the past I wouldn’t but somehow I felt at peace and showed up. We chatted about my cancer, our families, work and what not. We just caught up on our lives for the past few years. Later his best friend, who had been there when we met, stopped by and it felt like old times. I missed our friendship and shenanigans. It felt like I was visiting home, you know when you go to college and come back? It’s your room, but not yours anymore. At once comfortable, but awkward.

When I got home after the party I felt a mixture of emotions: vindicated, because he showed feelings, a warm blanket of home, and a breath of fresh air I could move on. Maybe it was just the cancer, but it felt like I finished a great book. Sad it was over, happy I read it, and ready to read something else.

It does seem unfortunate that my cancer is what has allowed me to rekindle some of these old relationships. However I needed the cancer to help me evolve and get perspective, so it may not be the ideal way, but it is a way and to me it is a gift. So, I will accept the gift even with all the fear I have of what will happen next. This at least has given me the gift of hearing my friends support me and getting some old relationships back. Well now to cook these crazy girls some food!

Here is what I have planned for the 7 course lunch:

  • 1 st Course: Shuko
  • 2nd course: Mashur daal and Bagingan Bhaja
  • 3rd course: Phool gobhir
  • 4th course: Shorse bata
  • 5th course: Murhir Jhol
  • 6th couse: Cherry chutney
  • 7th course: Mishti doi

 

Kunafa

Kunafa is described as a Bahraini cheesecake.  It is actually made with noodles and cheese. It is a common dish throughout the Middle East and is believed to have originated during the Ottoman Empire.  In Bahrain they color the desert with food coloring.

The noodle is kataifi dough.  It is described as shredded phyllo dough.  I don’t find it in grocery stores ,and research if I can make it from scratch.  It seems this is not suggested, so I find a Middle Eastern grocery store that isn’t too far from me, but it is small and cramped.  I’m not sure where I would find it so slowly search through the aisles and find it in the refrigerated section.  I’m excited that I found it, so I can make this dish.

First step is to soak the mozzarella overnight and then to mix the cheeses together. .

Then I make the syrup.  It is just boiling water, sugar, and lemon juice together.  I don’t use the rose water.  I actually remember I had a noodle dessert with rose water at a Middle Eastern restaurant once.  I thought it tasted like soap and later discovered that is what the rose tastes like.  So, I have found that I don’t like floral flavors like rose and lavender, it tastes like perfume to me.

 

Next I mix together the food coloring to make orange.

 

Well it is still fairly red, but maybe when I mix it with the butter it will lighten to be more orange.


Nope it is still really red!  Oh well it will do.  Then I run the bottom of the pan with the colored butter.

Chop up the noodles and soak them in milk and butter.

Add 2/3 of the noodles to the bottom of the pan

add the cheese

then top with remaining noodles and bake.

While it is baking I grind the pistachios to decorate the top.

It comes out of the oven and I flip over to plate.

It is still more red than orange and a bit messy, but I will decorate it with the pistachios. The picture from the original recipe has a beautiful pattern from the pistachios.  I try and get creative and make polka dots, but I’m not really skilled enough to make it come out.  So I go with this pattern and it isn’t really that pretty, but will do.

The cake is interesting.  The cake is not sweet and so the syrup is needed to make this feel like a desert.  The noodles and the cheese are good, but I’m not blown away by it.  It actually is a bit bland.  However I liked the butter food coloring idea.  I may use that again for something else.

Well that’s a picture of me before the whole cancer chemo experience.  I was celebrating on of my 40 birthday’s.  I highly recommend celebrating yourself 40 times.  It makes every day feel special and man I needed it going through all my treatments.  Well the next step in the treatment was to get a PET scan so they can figure out if I am stage III or IV.

I went in for my CT and PET scan.  The first part is that they make me go to a room and cover me in blankets.  I’m not sure how they knew I was cold, but I felt all snuggly.  Then they gave me some soapy looking water to drink.  Figuring out that I don’t like the taste of soap I am relieved that it is a sudsy drink, but doesn’t have any perfume flavor.  I had an hour to drink it.  So I sat in my snuggly chair drinking this odd drink.

After an hour they came to get me and took me over to the scanner.  There they positioned me, so my arm was over my head.  I’m still recovering from the surgery, so the position is painful!  I manage to hold it for the 15 minutes as they do the CT scan, but let them know I can’t do it for the 30 minute PET scan.  So for that I comfortably get my arm to the side and they image away.  I will explain my results with another recipe.  Go out and celebrate something!

 


Recipes

Kunafa

Original recipe can be found here

  • 1 lb  Mozzarella
  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup  water
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 Tbsp  unsalted butter (melted) – for the pan
  • 1/4 tsp of red and yellow food coloring ( if you can find orange use a 1/2 tsp of that)
  • 1 lb kataifi shredded dough
  • ½ cup  milk
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter (melted) – and lukewarm
  • 15 pistachio (ground)
  1. Desalt the mozzarella if salty.  Cut the cheese into 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes and soak in cold water, in the refrigerator overnight.  Change the water twice.  After soaking, rinse with cold water then drain and pat dry using paper towels.
  2. Shred the mozzarella and combine with the ricotta or cottage cheese.
  3. Using medium heat, boil the sugar, water and lemon juice for 10 minutes.  Let it cool down completely.
  4. Butter and colour the bottom and the sides of a 10 in. round, 2 in. deep pan with 1 tablespoon melted butter and ½ teaspoon kunafa pastry colouring.
  5. Cut the kataifi dough into 4 equal pieces.  Add the milk and lukewarm butter.  Make sure that there are no lumps and that the kataifi is fluffy.
  6. Place ⅔ of the kataifi in the pan.  Press down and along the sides of the pan.
  7. Place all of the cheese.  Level and press down.
  8. Cover with the remaining ⅓ of the kataifi.  Press well with the palms of your hand or use a spatula.
  9. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 40 minutes.
  10. Let the kunafa cool down for 10 minutes before inverting it into a large platter or cake stand.
  11. Decorate with ground pistachios.
  12. You can pour the cool syrup over the entire kunafa or pour on individual servings.

Machboos

I’ve recovered from my first surgery, so it is time to move on to the next steps of my treatment plan.  The results from my pathology report have determined what will be next for me. The results are scary, but I am reassured that my choice to have a double mastectomy was the right one.  My left breast is where I found my lump and that tumor is measured at > 2.1 CM.  The measurement is not exact, because the main mass is surrounded by smaller deposits of tumor cells. So the left breast is described as being “extensively involved by carcinoma in the left half.  The surgical margins are narrowly free of carcinoma”, which means that I will need to do radiation.  They also found a tumor in the right breast which is only 2 mm.  The surgical margins are clear, so I won’t have to do radiation on the right side.  There was a removal of 7 lymph nodes 6 on the left and 1 on the right side, the one on the right came back negative and 6 on the left that all came back as positive, which means I will have to do chemo.  During this time my cancer stage is still undermined.

My breast surgeon gave me a list of various medical and radiation oncologists.  Based on my pathology she thinks the treatment plan is going to be chemo followed by radiation, so she suggested that I choose my medical oncologist first.  There about five medical oncologists on the list.  I have no idea, which will be better than the other, so I go in the logical order.  Call the first person on the list.  I never got a response, so I move on to the second person on the list and was easily able to make an appointment.

The morning of my appointment I am completely nervous.  My two friends Amanda and Jeff arrive at my house and we walk to the appointment.  I feel my tension, but it stays at a minimum as we tell jokes and giggle with each other.  At the office they take my weight, temperature, and blood pressure then wait for the doctor in an exam room.  The oncologist comes into the room and greets all of us and invites us back to his office.

He goes through the pathology report with us again, concentrating on the 6 lymph nodes that are positive.  This, he explains is a significant number to have positive.  “We typically see only one or two lymph nodes that are infected but you had six.  Six were removed and all six came back positive.  Based on this you are at least stage III.  We will need to determine if it has metastasized, or spread through other regions of your body.  The most common places for breast cancer to spread is in your lungs, bones, and liver.  We will have you take a PET scan to see if it has gone to any of these areas.  If it has, then you will be stage IV. ”  Each point he delivered with an awkward smile.

The oncologist continued to explain, “We don’t know what stage you will be, so let’s go over the treatment plan as if you had stage III.  I will recommend that you do chemo.  If you don’t do chemo the chance of reoccurrence will be about a 50% and if you do chemo the chance is closer to 10%.”

Amanda interrupted, “Okay, well that sounds like pretty good odds.” She stares at me.  To me this sounded like awful odds.  I just nod a bit too numb to say or ask anything.

The oncologist continues, “I am going to recommend that you do 5 months of chemo. There is a 3 month option, but it is a bit newer and with the extensiveness and how young you are I would recommend the 5 month.”  He writes the two drugs on a note pad and I don’t hear it all as I’m wrapping my head around 5 months of chemo.

As my mind comes back into the room, I ask, “What are the side effects?”

He answers, “You will have hair loss.  You will lose your hair, eyelashes, eyebrows.”

A lump in my throat forms and tears start to well up in my eyes.  I am totally taken aback. Since I was told the pathology results I had known I will do chemo.  I have come to terms with the fact that I was going to lose my long hair, but it never dawned on me that all the other hair on my body would be effected.  I love my eyebrows and the news that I will look like an alien just shocks me!

Amanda asked, “I had a friend and she did some treatment with chemo and didn’t loose her hair.  Is that an option?”

The oncologist hesitates and with an awkward smiles and answers, “I would not recommend it in her case. ” He looks at me, “There is a treatment where you can freeze your hair.  You bring ice packs and you put them on your head every 30 minutes.  You will have either 12 – 16 treatments and they are fairly lengthy.  So you will need a friend with you, a cooler, and multiple packs.  It will end up being a burden and there is no guarantee it will work.”

He continues on with the other side effects, “Nausea. We will give you medicine to help you combat the nausea.  You’ll likely experience fatigue and your menstrual cycle will likely stop.  He asks do you want kids?”

I respond, “No.”

He asks, “Do want kids in the future?”

I respond, “No. How about tastes?”

“On some of the treatments taste buds can be effected. This is different for everyone.”

Jeff asks, “How about drinking. She likes to drink.”

He says “Yes you can drink. I have one patient who is younger and she likes her wine.  We monitor your blood levels and saw that her liver numbers were going high and we went to the board as it is not normal for the chemo to be doing this.  I chatted with her and found she was taking tylenol after drinking.”

“Ohhh”,  Jeff, Amanda, and I all said in harmony.  Tylenol and alcohol don’t mix, we are not amateurs here!

He says, “Yes, so we will watch you every week and if we see an issue we will let you know. You will have blood drawn at each appointment and we have a blood lab here to do the measurements.  Your body may not like drinking any more as well.  It will let you know.” After a pause and no more questions from us.  “Okay, after chemo you will have radiation. We will then recommend that you go on a hormone therapy that will stop the estrogen in your body.  This is a daily pill that you will take for 10 years.”

I asked, “Why?  I thought it was 5 years.”

He answered, “Studies have shown that 5 is okay in people that are older.  You are very young and to keep the chances of this growing, I’d recommend 10 years.”

Jeff asked, “What is her survival rate?”

He responds, “It’s really scary you don’t want to know.” He gives an awkward smile and responds, “Well there are tools and things I can plug in and give you a number, but it doesn’t really matter as this is about what happens to you.  Those are based on a larger population.  I don’t recommend we look at it.”

Jeff starts to tear up.  I look at the doctor and say, “He cries for me so I don’t have to.”

Jeff says, “Stop making fun of me!”

“Someone has to.” I explain. We all laugh and the tension in the room is released a bit.

He starts to wrap up our appointment, “so the next step is to get you a PET scan booked.  If you have stage 4, none of this treatment will matter.”

I ask, “What will the treatment be?”

“It depends on where it has spread and what has happened.  There are too many possibilities to look at now.” He responds with an awkward smile. “Let’s first see what the results are and take it from there.”

This seems prudent.  So we say our goodbyes.  He walks us to the receptionist and I make an appointment.  I am thankful for my friends being there Amanda is organized and, well, Jeff cries for me.  We all go to lunch to process the information together.  Our conclusion is that we like this guy.  He smiles awkwardly at bad news, but I find it strangely endearing.   I see no reason to shop for another oncologist.  He won me over with his quirky smile, intelligence, and how he handled our questions.  He was honest and straight forward; I left feeling like I can trust him, which is great progress.  However, I can’t help feeling sad and depressed.  The reality of how long the process is going to be and how much of myself and lifestyle will be affected.  It is a shock and so instead of facing it, I am going to make some yummy food while everything still works.

In Bahrain there is a common dish mixed of meat, rice, vegetables, and spices.

It is an Arabic dish in the Persian Gulf it is called machboos, where in other areas of the Middle East it is called kbasa.  The version I am making is a chicken and rice that is claimed to be traditional in Bahrain.  It sounds yummy.  Comforting, and perfectly distracting.

The recipe calls for black dried lime… I have no idea where to find that!  I look up and find that it is indeed black dried lime.  You can get it as a lime, or ground into a spice.  I go to a Middle Eastern store and don’t see any.  A bit more research and the spice is named limoo. I have a spice store near by and talk to them about it and they introduce me to a Persian lime spice or lemon omani, which is ground black lime.  When I was a kid I used to eat dried lemon peel and the seasoning reminds me of that smell.  It has a tangy citrus quality.

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The recipe calls for a seasoning mix called baharat.  This is a spice mix that is used in various Middle Eastern cooking.  There is a version called Gulf baharat or kebsa.  This is of course a spice mixture more commonly used in the Persian Gulf region.  As I am cooking Bharian food I use this version of the spice mixture.

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Then season the chicken with the baharat, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom.

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Cook the onions with the lemon omani.

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Then add the chicken to the pan and add the remaining ingredients.  The chicken cooks for an hour.  After I remove the chicken and broil while the rice cooks in the stock.  I serve the chicken over the rice.

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I thought the chicken was overcooked and a bit dry.  I probably should have used a thermometer or cooked just the dark meat.  However the rice is flavorful and delicious.  It is reminiscent of chicken and rice my mom makes, but with much more flavor and complexity.  It is a perfect comfy distraction to an information heavy day.

 


Recipes

 

Gulf Baharat

 

Machboos

Original Recipe can be found here

  • 4 1cups water
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 chicken, cut in half
  • 3onions, finely chopped
  • 1cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground lemon omani (dried black lime)
  • 2 teaspoons baharat spice mix
  • 1 12teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch ginger, grated
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  1. Cut the chicken in half.  Heat the water and leave aside.  In a small bowl, mix the baharat, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom together and add to the mixture one teaspoon of salt.  Sprinkle half of the spice mixture on the chicken halves.
  2. Heat oil in a large cooking pan, fry the onions until golden brown, then add to the pepper and the black limes.
  3. Add the chicken to the onion mixture and turn it over a few times in the pan. Sprinkle on the chicken a teaspoon of cinnamon and the rest of the mixed spices. Turn the contents all together so the chicken is coated with the spices, cover the pan and let it cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, chopped ginger, and tomato cubes to the pan and turn the ingredients in the pan a few times.  Cover again for 3 minutes on medium heat.  Sprinkle with the rest of the salt and pour water on while its still hot.
  5. Cover the pan and let it cook for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked.  Add the chopped cilantro 5 minutes before you remove the chicken from the stock in the pan. While the chicken is cooking, wash the rice well and soak for 10 minutes in cold water, then drain.
  6. Remove the chicken from the pan and put on an oven tray, brush with some oil and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon powder and grill in the oven until the chicken is golden brown.
  7. Add the rice to the chicken stock, stir, then let it cook on low heat until the rice absorbs the stock and is almost done.
  8. Sprinkle with lemon juice over the rice and place the butter pieces on the top.  Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.
  9. Serve the rice on a large serving plate and place the grilled chicken halves on the top.

Chebeh Rubyan

I found another global cookbook that happened to have Bharani recipes in it called,  “The World Cook Book, the greatest recipes from around the world.”  There is a recipe for Chebeh Rubyan, which is shrimp balls.  This is served as an appetizer.  They sound interesting, so why not.

I decided to use my meat grinder and grind the shrimp and cilantro

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Mix in the spices and a lot of it sticks on my fingers.

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Then fry onions and split in half, one part for the sauce and the other for the shrimp ball filling.  The shrimp ball filling calls for a spice mix called Baharat.  It is a common spice blend of pepper, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, and paprika.

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Take a handful of the shrimp mixture.  Flatten it out.  Then add the onion mixture to the center.

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Then take the fold the shrimp mixture over to create a ball.

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Then you make a tomato based sauce.  One of the ingredients for the sauce is Tamarind.  I went to 3 grocery stores and could only find Tamarind chutney.  It will have to do.

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Then you cook the shrimp balls in the tomato sauce.

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They are ready!

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They are delicious!  They are not spicy, but have a very complex flavor from all of the seasoning.  I love them!  Definitely worth making again.

Okay now that we have talked about yummy food here is something much less appetizing. When you get plastic surgery they sometime have to drain fluid from you. T o do this they have tubes that are in your body and they come out in my case from my under arms and then there is a drainage ball at the end to catch the fluids.  This to me looks like a grenade and they are totally uncomfortable.  Twice a day I need to drain them and measure the fluid.  You have to drain and then press the tube to create suction.  Doing this usually pulls on them a bit and hurts.  When the fluid is low enough the doctor will remove them.  I have 4 of them 2 on each side.  The nurse showed me a trick to wrap a scarf around my neck and then attach them with a safety pin.  This hides them and helps with the weight of the fluid.  Also when I take a bath I can have the scarf wrapped around my neck so it doesn’t get wet.  Two weeks after my surgery the surgeon thought they would be ready to be removed!!!   Well unfortunately for me there was too much liquid so he was only able to remove 2.  3 weeks later I got the rest removed, even though I had a lot of healing left to do.  Having the grenades removed feels freeing and I am closer to recovery.  The bad news of all of this is that when I get my implant surgery they will likely have the grenades in again.  Oh well at least I have yummy shrimp balls to eat!


Recipes

Chebeh Rubyan

Original recipe can be found here

  • 2 lbs uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and drained
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup rice flour
  • 4 tbsp Ghee
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Baharat
  • 2 tbsp tamarind chutney
  • Juice of half of lemon and lemon rind
  • 1 canned drained diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  1. In a meat grinder, shrimp, garlic, and cilantro together.
  2. Then mix in turmeric, salt, and rice flour.
  3. Transfer to a covered dish and refrigerate until needed.
  4. Halve the Ghee and saute onion until translucent.  Reserve one half of the onions for later us in the sauce.
  5. The remaining half of onions stir in one tsp of Baharat and lemon rind.  Cook for one minute.  Remove from heat and reserve for the onion filling.
  6. In a sauce pan add the reserved onions.
  7. Stir in tamarind chutney, 1 cup warm water, 1 tsp baharat, tomatoes, chili powder, and sugar.
  8. Cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  9. To prepare the shrimp balls, moisten your hands with water.
  10. Take 1 tbs of the shrimp mixture and form into a ball then flatten.
  11. In the center add 1 tsp of the spiced onion filling.
  12.  Reshape into a ball.
  13. Add the balls to the sauce and cook for 20 minutes on low heat.

 

Gulf Baharat

Original recipe can be found here 

  • 1 tbsp red pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground lemon omani (dried black lime)
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads
  1. Mix all the spices together

Borani Esfanaj

My brother had stayed with me for a week after my mastectomy.  It seemed really soon for him to have to leave, probably because I was out for at least 2 days of his visit.  It ended up being way more comforting than I expected.  My friend Issac volunteered to stay with me after my brother left.  I was still struggling to do some minor things, like picking up, cooking, taking out the trash, so having the help was still needed.  The surprising thing for me was how hard it was to put on clothes.  My arms just have limited movement and stretching the arms up over my head and to put on a shirt hurts.  The doctors recommended button down shirts, which I found useful for the doctors appointments, but buttoning the buttons was no fun.  I got some loose fitting dresses and this is now what I wear.  They really are fancy muumuu’s.  Never really saw myself wearing them, but it works.  Also helps with people coming over and not just being in my pajamas.

Equally as hard is finding Bahrain recipes.  A lot of things I found online seems to be middle eastern dishes rather than specific Bahrain dishes.  With a lot of time spent researching I find a cookbook called “multicultural cookbook of life-cyle celebrations”.  It basically has recipes from all over the world.  It has a recipe for a spinach salad called Borani Esfanaj.  The book describes how it is common on feast and wedding days that a whole baby goat is served and this is a common salad to accompany it.  I’m not feeding a family, so don’t go for the whole goat recipe but want to make this salad.

When reading the Borani Esfanaj recipe it seems to be much more of appetizer or more specifically a dip than a salad.  I was thinking of this as a side dish.  What goes well with a creamy spinach dip?  BREAD!  Well as I am cooking Bahrain I start to look into what is a common bread and find that they typically eat khubz.  Which is like a pita, so I am going to make this as well and serve with the “salad”.

The khbuz is a yeast dough.  Following instructions I add yeast to water and let it sit.

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Mix the dough and let it rest.

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Then split the dough into small balls and let it rest.

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I roll out the dough into the circle.  Yeah, my skills are of rolling dough is getting better!

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Then you bake it in the oven.  While it cooks the dough puffs up.

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Then broil till brown.

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Once it is done the air in the middle forms a pocket like a pita would.

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The “salad” is straightforward to make.  Boil spinach in water and then cook with onion and garlic.  Cool a bit and mix with yogurt.

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Then top with nuts and mint.

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The result is good.  The “salad” is like a dip.  It is like a spinach dip with a bit more unique flavors.  The mint is refreshing bite with the yogurt.  The bread is like a pita not particularly flavorful, but I’m shocked at how crisp the outside and soft the inside is.  The two pair together well, this may not be how they ate it in Bahrain, but works in my imagination.


Recipes

Borani Esfanaj

The original Recipe can be found here

  • 1 lb fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons roasted walnuts, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped
  1. Boil water and add spinach.  Cook for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain spinach.
  3. In large sauce pan heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add onion and garlic.  Saute for 5 minutes
  5. Add spinach and cook for 5 minutes
  6. Transfer to bowl and let cool for at least 5 minutes.
  7. Add yogurt, salt and pepper.
  8. Serve with walnuts and mint sprinkled on top.

Khubz

Original recipe can be found here

  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
  1. In a large bowl, pour in the warm water and add in the yeast, stir until the yeast is dissolved.
  2. Add in the salt.
  3. Start gradually adding in the flour and oil while kneading.
  4. Knead the dough for 8 minutes.
  5. Put the dough into a large greased bowl and turn dough to grease all sides.
  6. Cover with a dry tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size about 1 ½ hours.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  8. Punch dough gently.
  9. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and shape them into smooth balls.
  10. Place on a floured work surface and dust tops lightly with flour.
  11. Cover with a dry tea towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  12. Roll out each ball into a 6-inch diameter circle.
  13. Place in oven and bake for 5 minutes, until puffy.
  14. Then broil for 2 minutes to brown.

Bahrain

As I’m writing this I realize I’m very thankful for my friends. They are helpful, take great care of me, but most of all I like them around. I’m single and live alone, so when I have my friends here it seems to make my house more a home. I am really starting to understand how important this hobby of mine is to me.  It not only is satisfying my craving for learning, travel and creativity but that it is an excuse to get my friends together.  I get to share this  crazy adventure and have them try the dishes I am making but more importantly, I get to enjoy their laughter and companionship without the focus on me being sick. It also has been super helpful in making me reflect on my experience and learn a ton about myself.

I have made it to Bahrain, which is the 13th country I have cooked. It has taken me only two years and 5 months to get here. I still have 193 countries to go. Which at this rate I will finish this project in about 25 years.  My cancer treatment is going to take about 10 years to complete. I’m curious and map the events together and find I will be in the tail end of the G’s when my treatment is done.

Cancer treatment

After mapping things out I realize that the cancer will only be a portion of my story and that makes me feel good. I will end up having more adventures with my food and friends than events around my sickness. With that being said I do think I should start speeding up the writing, so lets talk about Bahrain.

Bahrain is an Island country in the Persian Gulf. It actually is an archipelago of 33 islands.

Bahrain_map

Bahrain was one of the earliest areas to convert to Islam. It was originally under Arabian rule and then for a period of 80 years it was ruled by the Portuguese and then the Persian empire. Since 1783 it has been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family. It is now one of the fastest growing economies in the Arab world, with banking and tourism being a large part of their economy.

Bahrain is an island nation, so what is produced on the island is limited and majority of the food is imported. They are heavily influenced by the Arabs and have a lot of dishes and flavor profiles common throughout the middle east. Historically, it has been a trading post, so it also has influences from India, Persia, and Europe.

I will be making:

  • Borani Esf Anaj
  • Chebeh Rubyan
  • Khubz
  • Kunafa
  • Machboos