1949 Sugar Rush

From a 1949 recipe booklet for Crisco vegetable shortening.

Vegetable shortening was considered to be desirable because it didn’t have the pork flavor of the lard used on the farm. Now it’s all olive oil.

We used do all of this, the decorative plates, the lace doilies, and fresh flower centerpieces. The dish on the right I can’t figure out. The center is veal stew with cubed meat, celery, and carrots. The instructions say “Serve in rice ring if desired.” but no directions for how to make that. And the peaches around the edge match the plates AND the centerpiece, but peaches with veal stew? I suspect no one stopped to think about whether it could be eaten.

In fact, it reminds me of the Weight Watchers recipe cards from 1974 blog. If you can read those without laughing, you probably need to play some of the drinking games from the Housewives’ Tarot blog.

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Las Posadas

The other day I grabbed an old notebook to make yet another To Do list and found this recipe for hot guava punch from an advanced ESL class I substituted for once upon a time. The local Mexicans make this for Las Posadas in December, to commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph to Nazareth. It follows a few days after the hugely important mañanitas, a sunrise mass on Dec. 12 (it actually starts the night before and goes all night) in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Hot Guava Punch for Las Posadas December 16-24

(feeds 20)


8-10 prunes

4 lbs. guavas, cut in half (fresh or frozen)

1 lb. tejocate (yellow Mexican crapapples) frozen is much less expensive

2 sticks cinnamon

3 apples cut in quarters

1 20″ stalk sugar cane (peel and cut in 4″ pieces)

1 orange–sliced with peel on


put in a large pan with water to cover

boil about one hour

put in cups, including fruit (some don’t like it with the fruit)

at the table, add sugar to taste

optional: add tequila, rum, or brandy

eat with spoon

say “salud”

Also on the menu for this holiday:

atole-(hot milk drink)

milk, cornstarch (1 teaspoon per glass), cinnamon, sugar, heat while stirring

buñelos-flour tortilla (fry on both sides in oil)

put on plate

add cinnamon and sugar from a shaker

tamales-an entire block might go together


Las Posadas

–(student description from an essay, retaining some refreshingly expressive fractured English)

The Virgin and St. Joseph

“Las Posadas” those celebrations are representations of the journal who have the virgin Mary & St. Joseph wher they need to return to their origen land to the inscription.

Every day a group of persons have a reunion.

-9 days duration

-meet with rosary in front of Nativity

-sing litany walking

-two persons carry shelf with figures of & the Holy Couple

-carry a candle & stay in front of closed door

-singing a song requesting to enter because the Virgin is pregnant and the night is cold.  This representation is made 2 or 3 times until the last door is open everyone comes in and all is cheer.  Then on the patio the piñata is ready for the youngest ones.

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Dead bread

You can tell Halloween is approaching. Yesterday I found dead bread in the supermarket. This is the traditional Mexican bread, pan de muerto, made for Dia de los Muertos. I think this one is meant to be bones. The Mexican bakeries will also have bread in the shape of a man. Like much Mexican bread this one is slightly sweet and unremarkable, except for the addition of nuts.

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Injera–Ethiopian bread–with a choice of split pea or meat sauce. The photo is from our class end-of-semester party.


In Ethiopia the bread is more of a purple color. This bread is from a Pakistani specialty store.

The bread looks exactly like rolled up ace bandages.

You start with two rolls. The first one is unrolled across your plate and holds the sauces. The second one is torn off bit by bit and used to scoop up the sauces with your hands.

The sauces are made by pretty much the same method.

Lamb sauce

In a pan:

One large onion, chopped
Oil, enough to cover onion
Powdered hot pepper
1/2 pound lamb, chopped in small pieces (about 1/4″)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 spoon salt

Bring to a boil.
Turn down the heat and simmer on low heat for 1/2 hour.
Serve on injera (Ethiopian bread).

Split Pea Sauce:

1/4 pound split peas
water to cover
simmer 1/2 hour

These look like yellow split peas and not the green ones we usually see. This dish is good for fast days. Ethiopian Christians fast from meat on Wednesday and Friday, but if you’re staying at a hotel that caters to westerners, as I did when my plane was delayed in Lalibela, you’ll have to do some fast talking to get them to bring you the fasting menu. Fortunately I was with an Ethiopian Harvard student who had just returned from a survey of the tragedy in Rwanda and could explain it to the maître d’ in Amharic quite convincingly.

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Folding Hobez

It’s still gardening season, but the rain has driven me indoors today. No matter, here is the perfect breakfast, using the labneh (yogurt spread) I made yesterday and pita bread (hobez) خبز folded the bedouin way, along with a little Italian decaffeinated espresso and heart-healthy evaporated milk instead of cream.

The bread was taken from the freezer and defrosted for 40 seconds in the microwave.  Then a few seconds on the stove over a flame.

For dipping, the bedouin way with bread is to tear off a piece and fold it with one hand–remember that bread and water are sacred and accepted with the right hand only. The end result has ideally three folds and is folded something like an envelope. The children are very good at this, turning and folding simultaneously with the same hand.

Then use it to scoop up some labneh. Yum. Here it’s had a little olive oil dribbled over it, although I’ve only see it eaten plain.

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It’s been a long time since I made labneh.  If you’ve never eaten it, it’s a spreadable Middle Eastern yogurt.  You tear off a piece of pita bread, use it to scoop up some of the spread, and pop it in your mouth.  It’s very easy to make, and delicious, but a bit time-consuming.

It also is a welcome diversion from staff meetings and the syllabus stuff I’m supposed to be writing.

In Jordan, we made it with a liter of whole milk and a container of yogurt (the kind with live cultures). Here I have a gallon of milk and two yogurts.

First, you heat the milk until a skin forms on the top.  Do not start blogging and forget it is on the stove.

Let it cool a little, then lift the skin off the top.  Check the temperature with your wrist the same way you would check a baby bottle to make sure it’s not too hot, then stir in the yogurt.  Cover it and put it in a warm place overnight.  I covered it with the pan lid;  in Jordan we used blankets.

The next day it will be nice and thick, and it will have a nice yogurt smell.

Spoon it into a bag for draining.

Then hang it up. In Jordan this would go on the balcon for the afternoon and the juice would drip out on to the balcony floor and trickle onto the street below. In the U.S. it can hang over the bathtub.

After eight hours or so, depending on how thick you want it, you can take it out of the bag and store it in the fridge.

This reminds me of the bowls of tzatziki with fresh pita that they bring to your table in Greece when you sit down at a restaurant. It’s made with thick lebna as a base, mixed with garlic and small cubes of cucumbers.

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Arabish: A cure for every aliment but tedium

Abu Huraira reported that he heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Nigella seed is a remedy for every disease except death. This hadith has been narrated through another chain of transmitters but with a slight variation of wording.
–From the hadiths of Sahih Muslim, Book 26, Number 5489


A few weeks ago I decided to stop drinking black seed tea and go straight for the (more potent?) oil, taken on a spoon with a little honey poured over it to mask the strong flavor.  The black seed (nigella sativa) is a well known Arab cure-all recommended by The Prophet (see this post).

I can’t find the Arabic text for Sahih Muslim’s hadith about black seed anywhere, but apparently this Egyptian firm is working from it directly.  The English portion says it is “a cure for every aliment” (من كل داء ) .

As if dealing with the slippery ways of English wasn’t enough, the firm’s website seems to have suffered even further from the labyrinthine ways of the western internet. The website listed on the box has been taken over by squatters demanding ransom, and not giving in to blackmail, the site’s guardians have moved it a different location, where we find the startling claim that the oil of the Blessed Seed is good for everything except “tedium”.

I beg to differ. With package inserts like this to puzzle over, I’m not going to be bored to death anytime soon.

How is it going for me so far with the black seed oil? Although I’m taking this to see if it will improve my breathing (I’m an ex-smoker), I seem to be losing weight, plus I find I’m not taking quite so much stomach medication.  As with many dietary supplements (like glucosamine, which nobody is quite sure works, but when they stop taking it, they seem to feel worse) the results are hard to judge.


For anyone who wants to try to follow the Koranic scholarship, here is a website in Arabic (via Google translate) that I found by googling من كل داء, the phrase on the box. Discussions of hadith in Arabic usually give the chain of transmission as well, which is how “strong” and “weak” hadiths are determined.  This website cites seven different sources for the hadith about the black seed.

Abu Hurayrah [narrated by Imam Muslim from Abu Hurayrah in a book of peace door medication pill black number (2215) (but they’ve got the hadith number wrong, that one’s in Book 5)-Nij] may Allah be pleased with him that he heard the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him says: «in black bean cure for every disease but poison». Ibn Shihab said: The toxic death, and black bean Alhuniz.

The  Arabic:

عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه أنه سمع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: «في الحَبَّةِ السوْدَاءِ شِفَاءٌ من كل دَاءٍ إلاَّ السَّام». قال ابن شهاب: والسام الموت، والحبة السوداء الشونيز.

What  Al-huniz الشونيز (shouldn’t it be al-shunez?) might be I can’t guess, but it must be related to both death and boredom.

Recipes from Haiti

The end of the semester brings frenetic activity: grading tests, pre-registration for summer session, and the deadline for handing in grades, but it also brings end-of-semester parties and FOOD.  We have always had a few Haitian students (and staff), but this semester’s course started about the time of the disaster in Haiti and there were more Haitian students than usual.

Here are some of this semester’s recipes from Haiti. The rest were written on the blackboard and photographed.  On the plate is pictured (clockwise) carrot and cabbage salad, rice, green plantain, and in the middle, chicken.

Plantain banana


3 sweet bananas (yellow)\water to cover
salt – 1 coffee spoon (tablespoon)
oil for frying


cut bananas lengthwise
put salt in water
put banana in salt water, soak 3 minutes
put banana in hot oil for 1 minute
turn banana and fry the other side 1 minute

Variation: Green bananas

soak 6 or 7 minutes
press to remove water (with something hard, not spatula, not towel)

[see blackboard photo for more directions and image of wooden plantain press]


remove skin and wash chicken with lemon–squeeze lemon over chicken and rub in with hands
rinse off lemon
put chicken in pan of boiling water for 30 seconds
season chicken with Maggi chicken seasoning, lemon juice, garlic
boil 5 minutes
put chicken in hot oil, fry 7-10 minutes, turning frequently

Macaroni (with ham)


1 onion, minced
salt-2 large spoons
milk – 1 can Carnation condensed milk


boil water with salt and garlic
put macaroni in boiling water
boil 5 minutes
drain macaroni
put in cold water

In a casserole:

grease casserole with butter
put in macaroni, onion, milk, ham
sprinkle cheese on top
bake 300 degrees for 15 minutes until cheese melts

The recipes for fried rice and carrot-cabbage salad were written on the board and photographed.  Nice how photographs can save so much time copying.

Fried rice:

Carrot cabbage salad:

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Fresh mint

If winter means sage tea, summer means mint tea. Yesterday, when I went across the street to mow the lawn at my old apartment building, I came back with a handful of fresh mint. This is the same mint I propagated from a few sprigs of Jordanian mint I got from the mosque ladies years ago. It tastes like…summer in Amman.

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Perfect hobez

Today I was so engrossed in what I was doing I forgot to eat for more than 12 hours.  Of course by that time I was famished, but fortunately I had visited the Arab store yesterday.

One thing can be counted on over in the Arab neighborhood–the faces are always changing.  The last time I went over there to stock up on bread, the former Emir’s supermarket had a new sign that said “Judy”.  Judy?  How Arabic is that?  Yesterday “Judy” had an addition, “Hesh and Nesh”, a small counter for felafels and sandwiches. “Nesh”?  [Could that be something like the Yiddish “nosh”?] As a guy with the most incredible blue eyes explained to me, “hesh, nesh” is an onomatopoeic name for the sound of fanning a charcoal fire for grilling meat, sort of like “swish”.

I was also given the secret for perfect defrosted hobez (pita bread–خبز) First you have to freeze the bread the minute you get home, not the next day.  To revive the frozen bread, zap for forty seconds in the microwave then toast a few seconds over the stove’s burner on both sides. It works.

Bonus tip: to rejuvenate prepackaged hummos, put the hummos in a bowl, squeeze some lemon over it (the Jordanian word for lemon and lime is the same) and mix, then dribble a little olive oil over the top.

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