Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reminder: Keep Breathing

Crises have to be prioritized just like everything else in life.

At the Dammam airport, I discovered that the pants I was wearing had an enormous rip in the crotch.

It is a measure of my state of anxiety over the animals that this didn't even cause me to blink.

I repaired them by sealing the rip with the strip of tape that was placed on one of my carryons after it was scanned by Saudi airport security and two hair pins.

As you might imagine, this repair was far less than optimal, and after sitting and sweating on it for hours on the plane, things were not looking good down there.

Once I got off the plane in Amsterdam, I made a beeline for a shop that sold clothes (I've been at this airport enough times to know where specific shops are) and bought a pair of terribly expensive pants.

The pants are nice but this was money that I didn't want to spend. Even so, this little blip of a crisis is resolved.

Extraction 9: Reaching Escape Velocity

Warning: long post.

I almost didn't make it out of here.

I started Saturday morning by meeting the taxi driver at 7am. We headed off for the Ministry of Agriculture in Dammam. Even though I had to wait an hour and a half for the document I needed (the manager simply couldn't be bothered to show up for work that morning), a document that in any other country would take 15 minutes, no, that in any other country wouldn't even be required, we were still on schedule.

I should mention that I was doing all of this in a borrowed abaya as I realized the weekend before that mine had been packed with my shipment. A woman simply wouldn't be allowed into government offices without an abaya.

The driver and I headed off to the Dammam airport, a good hour's drive away. There I met with the airport veterinarian. I handed him the form I got from the MoA and he made a couple of new documents. The airport veterinarian is a MoA employee but in a typical backwards-land fashion, his office is nowhere near the MoA.

I was operating off a set of notes that I had made back in November when I accompanied a friend on this same journey as he was preparing to leave with three of his cats (his wife had already departed with three cats and a dog a couple of weeks earlier). He had the GPS coordinates of the places in Dammam that we needed to visit and had written a rough outline of the steps required and their order, what documents were needed at each stop, etc. I had expanded on that document quite a bit and was correcting and expanding my notes as I went along.

Our next stop was the office of Kanoo Freight in downtown Dammam...a few hundred meters from the MoA! Although my friend had pointed out the Kanoo office in November, he and I didn't actually stop there as he didn't need to complete that step then.

It turns out that if I had been able to observe the Kanoo process in November, I probably would have been much better prepared for what ensued.

The driver and I pulled up across the busy street from the office and examined the small, grubby building with fully blacked out windows. There was a metal security gate pulled across the only visible door. I had to call someone in the office to show me how to get in (the door was down a filthy alley along the side; perfectly logical).

My stop at Kanoo was to deal with the cats. The dogs were going to travel as checked baggage and would be processed at the airport when I checked in. The cats had to travel as manifested cargo and the only company licensed by the Saudi government to handle animal export is Kanoo. Yes, I know, it doesn't make any sense that things had to be arranged this way. Nothing makes sense in Saudi Arabia, the logic-free zone.

As I was pulling out the pile of documents required, I was thinking that I might actually get all the pet logistics handled in less than four hours, in one morning!

I should have known better. After all, it is partly the constant FW of random rules that change without notice or explanation that drove me out of here in the first place.

You can't imagine my horror when the Kanoo guy told me that the cats were not going to fly on April 1. The reason? He couldn't call KLM cargo in Dulles to define the consignee for the cats because they were closed (it was Saturday morning in KSA). The fact that I was going to be on the same flight as the cats was irrelevant. For some reason, KLM in Dulles had to approve this in advance. He told me that if I had called Kanoo the week before, this could have been arranged. But my instructions regarding Kanoo were that no business regarding them could be conducted any sooner than 48 hours before travel. See? FW. One end of the process says one thing, the other end says the opposite. Which one is correct? In the end, it doesn't matter. We are at the mercy of the logic-free zone and all of the planning the world won't protect you from this sort of thing.

After sitting in stunned silence, I said, what can we do? Well, he suggested that the cats travel on Wednesday (KLM doesn't fly the Dammam-Amsterdam-Dulles route every day). However, I would need to get an entirely new set of documents, including new health certificates from the vet on camp. Why a new set of documents, requiring 4-5 hours of time to gather and money to pay a driver, assuming one could reserve a taxi with such short notice? The documents all specify a date of travel, April 1, and with this new plan the cats would be traveling on April 3. Thus, new documents.

My mind was racing--how could this be accomplished when I wasn't even going to be here?

I cried in the taxi all the way home, completely freaking the driver out. I finally called my friend Penny. She's level-headed and rational and all the things that I was most certainly not at the moment. After sobbing on the phone, I asked her if she could help me with this cat business. She agreed even though it was going to be a huge inconvenience and would require her to take time off from work.

I won't bore you with the details but she and I sketched out a Plan B and even before I got home I started to put it into effect.

One of the things that bothered me the most about all this was the Kanoo guy's initial assertion that KLM cargo office in Dulles was closed. See, I kept thinking that the fourth or fifth largest port of air shipment entry on the eastern seaboard simply wouldn't be closed on a Saturday.

But I had to wait three hours, until 0800 EST, until I could verify this.
I realized that I needed to calm down so I ate some food then decided to go pick up my passport from Aramco HR.

In the old days, if you were leaving on a final exit visa, you couldn't pick up your passport until you got to the airport. Now, you get it from the HR office but you can't pick it up sooner than 24 hours before travel. Why? Who knows? The Saudi culture is all about control and coercion and a profound and immediately assumed lack of trust, so I suspect this is just one more aspect of that.

I had to wait nearly 45 minutes at Aramco HR which didn't improve my mood. So when the guy told me that it was more than 24 hours before I was to travel and that I needed to come back the next day, I nearly leaped across the counter to strangle him. Gritting my teeth and trying not to snarl, I said, I'm traveling Sunday night at midnight. Please give me my passport.

When I got home with my passport, I stared at the phone waiting for 0805 EST then called KLM cargo in Dulles. The chipper young woman who answered said, of course, they were open from 0800 to 2000 EVERY DAY!
I immediately called the Kanoo guy. After some consultation with his boss, he told me that if I arranged things with KLM in Dulles that they could accept the cats on Sunday night in Dammam. Let's not go into the matter of why I needed to do his job for him. Let's not even get started about how fucked up this entire process was from start to finish. I said, fine, while thinking at least I was going to be dealing with someone reasonable in Dulles. And that is how it turned out.

Many phone calls later, plus a repeat visit to the Kanoo office to hand over the original documents and lots of riyals, it was mostly settled.

Sunday, my last day IK, was still a mess. Because the cat issue wasn't settled until 1000, and because the cats had to be delivered to Dammam cargo hours earlier than I had planned to be at the airport, I didn't have enough time left to do all the things I needed to do. Just as I was beginning to get wound up over this latest set of stumbling blocks, Penny called (she'd been calling regularly to check on the progress of Plan B, and in fact she had Moya and me over for dinner on Saturday night for some hand-holding and companionship). She literally gave me permission to hand over some of the final tasks to her and Moya, and told me that I needed to take care of myself.

The metaphor is "a weight lifted from my shoulders" but in this case it was literal. The items left on my list fell into place. I was able to go to the gym and burn off some bad juju, take the dogs for a very long walk, finish packing, and take a hot shower. I didn't have to rush.

The saga of getting the cats handed over then checking in my bags and dogs would easily require another 1000 words. My stress levels for the past 12 hours have been stratospheric. I need to endure this for a few more days.
The cats and dogs and luggage and I departed KSA a little after midnight on April 1.

Extraction 8: Last Minute Departure Details

I intended to post this before I left but as you can read in Extraction 9, the last two days didn't quite go as planned.

Amazingly, I managed to jump through all of the hoops required by Aramco to clear my departure process before the payroll closing date. That means that I should get my final payment with my March paycheck.

Departing is very different from arriving. When you accept that job with Aramco, they take care of nearly everything necessary to get you into KSA. When you leave, you are mostly on your own. Personnel does have a "guide" with a sort of checklist, but it isn't very helpful. For example, let's say you have to complete a task that requires five steps. The guide might mention four of them, might mention all five but one of them is wrong, might contain online links that are get the idea. You can spend hours or even days trying to sort out how to complete that task. And there are dozens of them, some large, some annoyingly insignificant yet they can't be ignored.

The only things left to complete are the animal departure logistics (inshallah, I will complete that tomorrow by noon prayer time), picking up my passport (the government used to hold them at the airport!), delivering the Honda to its new owner (fortunately, he lives a 15-minute walk from the hovel), cramming everything into my luggage (three large suitcases, two carryons, and a dish pack box), emptying the fridge, turning in my house keys, turning in my badge, and surviving the check in at the airport, which includes the aforementioned luggage plus three dogs, two cats, and their crates--I had to reserve two large cars to hold it all.

Everything has been completed at work. I either finished all of the projects I was working on or I moved them to a plateau where someone else could take them over without too much effort, and I wrote a detailed handover document.

Quite a few people have been asking me if I'm excited about leaving. I have been operating on a fairly high level of stress for some weeks now and I wouldn't say that I'm excited. Resolute, perhaps, since there's a fair bit of teeth-gritting going on.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Counting Down

It is now just over two days until I depart. CircusK9 is living in a mostly empty hovel. The animal transport logistics FW really doesn't begin until tomorrow although getting all of them up to the vet clinic last week to get the health certificates was rather chaotic; I hope to have time to post about the FW required to get the animals out of KSA before I leave. I sold everything but a set of shelves which I will have to leave with a friend to take care of for me.

My agility handlers threw a big old-fashioned party for me after our last class. It was complete with cake and fruit and coffee (thanks to the thoughtful planning of Lois for the extras like cups and milk for the coffee; such luxury!) and lots of photos and hugs. My friend Penny (no more initials!) got a little teary when she was making the official presentation speech (they all chipped in and got me a generous Amazon gift card which I will reserve especially for school-related purchases) which in turn made me a little teary and neither of us managed to say all that we wanted to say. Helen gathered photos from every corner and designed an enormous, four-sided card (full color and laminated!) with pictures of nearly every dog and handler who has been in the agility class. And those sly folks invited people to the party from previous sessions who hadn't been able to continue with the class for one reason or another. While I know it was tinged with a bit of sadness, the party itself was fun and light and struck the exact tone that we needed to finish off agility here in Dhahran.

Mimi was fascinated by the cake and managed to get her long tongue on that strawberry in the corner. That "photo" is done with a computer spraying edible ink on a layer of frosting. Fabulous!

Last week, a friend and colleague along with his wife and family most generously offered their house for a ma'asalamah party. It was potluck, my favorite kind of party, and the table was groaning with fabulous food. Tom got a fabulous LandSat photo of the Arabian Peninsula from Cartography and had people sign it on the back. I've enjoyed looking at that image ever since I arrived and now I have one that I can frame--it will have far more to say to me than just the story of the surface geology.

That's the real story. Without all of these friends and colleagues (and their dogs), I would have bailed from here a lot sooner.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Harry Is the Center of the Universe

The girls arranged themselves around Harry. They don't normally sleep together like this. I think this is an expression of the disquiet they feel over the household disruptions.

I also had the A/C turned down a little too low!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

HellBeast 1, Flip Flops 1

Apparently keeping the flip flops on top of the fridge wasn't quite secure enough.

It took four days before the flip flop bits made their way back up. For scale, the tiles are 12 inches square. Now that's some projectile vomiting.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Harry and Azza napping in the afternoon sun.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bartering Update

I did get two bottles of whine for the banana bread and a bag of rubber o-rings that go on the ceramic tops of the green glass bottles that we use.

And last night I sealed the deal for two more (full) bottles in exchange for 20 empty ones. (Not to worry, I plan to continue my whine-making back in the US and accordingly put 16 empty bottles in with my shipment.)

This afternoon, I agreed to trade my fancy chlorine-eating shower head and filter set for a third bottle from the same person who is taking the dusty empty bottles.

Woohoo! I'm on a roll!

Unfortunately, I'm pretty much out of stuff to trade by this point. My hovel is nearly empty. With 13 days to go until I leave, that's not bad.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

CircusK9 Is Tired

All the disruption today took its toll. I woke up around midnight to discover myself swaddled in animals.

Note the interesting placement. Although Azza has been trained to stay towards the foot of the bed, HellBeast decided to cede the coveted spot near my head to Tsingy. She hasn't slept on the bed in months.

Extraction 7: Pack Day 1

Today is packing day. Here is my ebox, which will go out via air freight. It might get there before I do! It contains precious items such as my computer and cooking pots and some towels and sheets. The rest of the shipment goes by sea and usually arrives 90 days after it ships...which might not be for a couple of weeks. My biggest fear is that my shipment will be overweight which will delay all kinds of things, including processing of my exit visa.

Even though the packers were issued steel-toed work shoes, all three are working barefoot. Here two of them are rolling up one of my carpets.

WIth typical Aramco FW, there are no shipping crates available today. So the packers are putting everything in boxes and leaving it in my house! I was expecting to end this day with a mostly empty house--and to end this day with this task over. Because the packers know that they won't finish the job today, they are not particularly exercised about getting the packing done today either! They didn't even touch the stuff in the bedroom. Aramco only gives us one day off to oversee the packing. It's fortunate that my supervisor and colleagues are relatively understanding but not everyone has that luxury. What if this happened to a nurse who had to be present for her shift the next day? Aramco does spoonfeed us through this "personal effects" process but It's still at heart an Aramco process--dozens of points along the way where it can all head south in an eye blink.

Boxes, boxes everywhere.

You might be wondering where I have stashed CircusK9 today. I didn't have very much room to begin with, certainly nothing like a spare room that I could have left them all in. Each of them is in a crate right now (I really put HellBeast's crate training to the test this morning) in a corner of the living room. Azza was initially quite disturbed by the noise and commotion and HB was not at all happy at being lifted up onto a shelf. I covered them all with a sheet which had the desired calming effect. Sure, it's just as noisy as before but it's really the principle of the thing.

Azza is on the floor, Harry is in the far back corner while Mimi is next to him, and the two cats are up on the shelf.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


The value of any item is ultimately based on what the seller and buyer want from the deal. I’ve been exploring this concept recently in some interesting interactions with friends and neighbors.

It all started about 8 weeks ago when I had to decide if I should put a new batch of whine on before I left for my late January US trip. I decided not to do it and eventually drank up the rest of my stock in February. I now have 40 or so empty glass bottles collecting dust.

Our jaunt to Bahrain at the end of February gave me plenty of opportunity to enjoy the real thing but eventually I was going to need a little something to tide me over until I left.

So the bartering began.

I traded 0.4 kg of smoked, streaky bacon for two bottles of white (haram for haram, my friend said; “haram” means “forbidden” in Arabic).
I exchanged 9 GBP in coins (can’t turn coins in at currency exchanges) and a pound of organic butter for a bottle of sid (always good to have a bit of that stashed away).
I gave away all of the potted plants on my porch for two more bottles of whine; they haven’t arrived yet so I don’t know whether they will be white or red. But of course, that doesn’t matter, does it?
And I traded my 12 stick-in-the-ground weave poles (assembled, decorated with tape) for 12 stick-in-the-ground bottom pieces and three more bottles of white.
I probably don't need all this whine but now that I'm on a roll, it's become more about the principle. What else do I have that is of sufficient value that it is worth a bottle or two of whine?
Before my kitchen stuff gets packed on Saturday, I think I'll bake a loaf of banana bread (with real butter). That should be worth another two or three bottles, don't you think?

Agility in KSA

The final session of agility in Dhahran is drawing to a close. As of this post, we only have two more classes left. We have had a dynamic and dedicated group for this last set of classes so it is a bit sad to know it will soon end. It is so heartening to see the progress that the handlers have made.
Last week, I designed a Novice Snooker course with three red jumps. I don’t actually have three red jumps so the yellow jump had to be a red one for the morning. And I included the table, an obstacle which is never used in Snooker in the real world. But when doing agility in KSA, we can change the rules as we need to!
Some of my friends have been making jokes about “you won’t miss that” when the F16s scream overhead every minute or so or when we are faced with some particularly idiotic situation that is unique to living in Dhahran and working for Aramco. And they are right, I won’t miss any of that. There isn’t much I’m going to miss when I leave here.
Mangos, now that is something I am going to miss. Round, oval, green, red, or yellow outside, gorgeous pale yellow or deep orange inside, sweet or sour. I will miss mangos in all of their glorious variety.
And I’m going to miss the agility classes too. They have been such a lifesaver for me. They are close enough to the real thing to satisfy both me and Mimi. And being the instructor has been an amazing experience. I have learned so much about teaching agility, which is not at all the same thing as doing agility yourself with your own dog. I will miss all of the agility class participants as each one brings a unique challenge and perspective. I know that I am a better handler by the simple act of helping others to become better handlers.
We don’t have a lot of equipment but I’ve tried to make the most of what we do have. Even with the challenges of our limited equipment, I now see patterns of obstacles and handling pathways very differently than I did before I started the classes.
The weekly exercise of designing a sequence with the intent of teaching a specific skill has given me deeper insights into handling. Having all sorts of dogs in class (old, young, slow, fast, tall, short) has given me a broader understanding of handling paths. I have learned an amazing amount about agility and dog handling by teaching the agility classes and will really miss the weekly challenge of figuring out what we should work on and how to get us all there.
I grumble to myself every week as I pack the car on Wednesday night. I have to haul all of the equipment from my hovel to my car in at least two, sometimes three dolly trips, over a distance of about 100 feet, which doesn’t sound like much until you walk it back and forth four times in a row. The equipment fits into the car only one way so I can’t just toss things in there. Then at the school parking lot, we have to unpack the cars (CJ is regularly carrying some of the equipment for this session) and haul it up a curb then down a somewhat steep hill over a distance of about 300 feet. Depending on the morning, it might take us a couple of trips to accomplish that. Next we set up the course, usually in the dark as the field has no lights. Then after class, the whole thing goes in reverse, except now it’s uphill. I spend more than a couple of hours each week hauling equipment around and stacking and unstacking it in various locations. Grumble, grumble.
I’m going to miss that.

Easy Bok Choy and Tofu

Yes, yet another recipe. I’m stressed and cooking calms me. Here is one of my favorite dishes. It is another vegetarian offering because I’ve been eating a lot less meat the past few weeks. I love greens and bok choy is a great one to cook with. It’s not bitter and is easy to handle. If this is the main or only dish, this recipe feeds 2 hungry people. But it is easy to double it.

Put some rice on to cook.
Thinly slice an onion and dice two or three garlic cloves. Put in a saucepan with a liberal addition of olive oil and lots of fresh ground salt and pepper. Cook on low heat until the onions begin to turn clear. Stir often to keep the garlic from burning and becoming bitter.
Open and drain a packet of firm, lite tofu. I prefer Mori Nu. It has a very smooth texture. It comes in tetrapaks and is easy to use. Dice the tofu into pieces about one centimeter square. Add to the onions. With a spatula, gently fold the tofu into the onions and olive oil. You can increase the heat a bit because you want the tofu to brown. Stir often but gently so you don’t break the tofu squares up.
Check on the rice.
Clean a bunch of bok choy. Remove the root ends and coarsely chop the rest including most of the stems. When the tofu has begun to brown, reduce the heat and drop the bok choy on top. Allow the pan to rest for about a minute then gently fold the bok choy into the tofu and onions. Cook for a couple of minutes on low heat then turn off the heat and cover.
You can add a handful of dried pomegranate seeds after you turn off the heat. They add wonderful color and a sharp bite of sourness.
Serve over rice.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Extraction 6: Selling the Car

In order to turn in my residence permit (iqama) and passport so that my final exit visa can be processed, I have to get the car registration (istmarrah) removed from my iqama. That is, I have to find a buyer who would get a new istmarrah for the car associated with his iqama.

There were some complicating factors. I need to use the car until I leave, which means the buyer would be paying for a car they couldn’t drive for at least three more weeks. While this is standard procedure around here, sometimes new hires have a hard time wrapping their brains around this.

I was getting pretty frantic a couple of weeks ago because the first couple of people who were interested in the car decided not to get it.

But I’ve learned that problems in Aramco can usually be solved if you can get the attention of the right person. Your ability to get things done is only as good as your own personal network. I ran into a friend on the way into the office one morning and he asked me how things were going. I said, not so good, I can’t sell my darned car. He said, there are some new hires in my area, send me the info and I’ll forward it. This guy, a reservoir engineer, has been here over 20 years, raised three boys here, and has wasta oozing out of his pores. It was a great stroke of luck that I ran into him and an even better boost that he so quickly offered to help. I emailed him the ad when I got into my office. And that morning not two hours later, I got a call from the perfect buyer: an expat (Canadian), wife is arriving in April so he doesn’t need the car yet, been here six months so he’s learned a bit about the strange customs in the weird bubble that is Dhahran.

He ended up offering me a little less than I wanted but it was an acceptable price given the situation. Once we shook hands on the deal and exchanged a couple of emails outlining the terms, the fun started.

In order to apply for a new istmarrah, the buyer first has to get insurance for the car in his name. This took a couple of days although fortunately he didn’t have to go off camp to do this. A couple of the insurance companies have offices in one of the outlying Aramco buildings, although this building isn’t particularly convenient for people like me and the buyer who work in the main admin area.

Then we had to turn over a pile of documents (ORIGINAL inspection report which I’d just had done in January, ORIGINAL buyer’s proof of insurance, copy of buyer’s DL, copy of DL’s iqama, copy of my iqama, and my original istmarrah) and SR 500 to Javed, the car “fixer” who works out the Arabian Auto Association (AAA, funny, right?). Javed takes this stuff to a government office somewhere and in about 24 hours returns the new istmarrah and the original documents. I think Javed is a driver for somebody but he seems to be making a reasonable amount of money taking care of car-related matters like this since very few of us want to visit Saudi government offices.

Next, I had to call my insurance company to learn what they needed so I could cancel my policy. I had to scan the new istmarrah and prepare another pile of documents that I faxed to my insurance company to request a cancellation of my insurance. I am waiting for them to email me a form which I will fill out and send back so I can get a partial refund.

Then I had to go online and initiate a request to cancel the “camp sticker” that is associated with my Aramco badge number. The camp sticker allows me to drive the car in and out of the residential part of camp. I was assigned an appointment date a couple of weeks from now but everybody knows you just drop by the Security office once you start the online process. I had to coordinate this trip with the buyer because he had to go with me. Once my sticker was officially cancelled, he had to initiate a request to add a new sticker for the same car, only on his badge now. They physically remove the sticker associated with my badge and put a new sticker in the window associated with his badge. This seems very silly since the stickers are pretty much identical and are never electronically scanned; why not just transfer the original sticker to his badge? That would make too much sense and would definitely not be the Aramco way.

It’s been more than a week since we agreed on the car deal and no money has yet changed hands. That is planned for next week, hopefully Saturday. The buyer and I will go to his bank (most inconveniently, not on camp) and he is going to withdraw the purchase price in cash, in Saudi riyals. This isn’t as much of a problem as it might sound since I am going to need a fair bit of cash, probably ten to fifteen thousand riyals, for animal shipping, paying drivers and taxis, paying the overweight charges on my shipment, and other things that I’m sure I can’t even anticipate at the moment. I’ll take the rest of the cash to the bank here on camp and electronically transfer it to one of my US accounts before I leave.

This business of selling the car is fairly typical of the way things work around here. Nothing is written down in a guide book, not for Aramcon lack of ability or interest in doing that but because rules change in the Magic Kingdom without warning or explanation. What works today may not work next week. This might sound maddening to you in the real world, but after a while, most Aramcons become rather fatalistic about this reality. Even the simplest task is made excruciatingly difficult so you plan for that. The only constant is building your network and not being shy about using it.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


I don't think I can begin to reconstruct how I stumbled across this recipe the other day but I had to try it immediately. Shakshuka (or shakshouka) is a common dish in North African and the Middle East with various groups laying claim to its origin (typical for this area, really; what don't these tribes fight about?) and is often served for breakfast. It can be made in large quantities limited only by the size of your largest skillet and works well as a vegetarian main dish. Don't let the simplicity of the dish fool you: it has some wonderful flavors, textures, and colors.

I'm going to give a bare bones version of the dish here. You can visit this link or this one for more elaborate recipes.

Slice or dice some onion and garlic. Place in a large skillet with olive oil.

Add sea salt, chili pepper, paprika, and cumin to taste. Be generous, this dish is suppose to be quite fiery! Mix the spices in with the onions. Simmer, stirring often, until the onions begin to turn clear.

I've not researched this but I like to add dry spices to cook with onions because I think this method brings out more of the flavor than adding spices later to a cooking liquid. Anecdotal, of course, but my tongue tells me this method works well.

Dice several fresh tomatoes. I used canned because that's what I had and they work just fine too but you need to drain the juice from them. Let's be practical: we don't all have access to good fresh tomatoes and we don't need to be food snobs all the time.

Add the tomatoes and a container of tomato paste to the skillet. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes or so over reduced heat. Stir frequently to prevent sticking or burning. The mixture should be gently bubbling but not throwing tomato sauce all over the kitchen.

When you decide the tomatoes and the spices and the onions have joined forces long enough, carefully crack some eggs on top (be careful not to break the yolks), spacing them evenly. Allow the eggs to cook completely. This might take a few more minutes and you might need to reduce the heat a bit more.

Most recipes call for diced parsley to be thrown over the top but I didn't have any and it tasted totally fabulous without it.

One cooking pan, total prep and cook time about 40 minutes, vegetarian, relatively low fat and low salt (unless you overdo it). Plan on each person eating two eggs. It's a winner!

Friday, March 01, 2013

Red Cabbage and Cilantro Salad

Cilantro is certainly one of a class of foods that people either love or loathe with no room for fence-sitting. I don't use it often since I find the flavor quite strong. But it is a perfect fit for this dish.

I got this recipe off the internet. There are several sites that claim to have "invented" it and I can't be bothered to sort out who is being silly and who is right. But I'm certainly not going to add to the confusion. This is somebody else's idea.

I've made this salad several times now. It turns the most fabulous purple color if you can let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Because it is easy to make a lot of it, it is tempting to take this dish to parties. Beware the cilantro snobs, however!

Juice two limes. Add one half tsp of sea salt and 1 Tbs of honey. Stir well to dissolve the honey. If the limes are large, add more honey.

Remove the outer leaves and wash one small or half a large head of red cabbage. Finely dice and add to the liquid. Mix well.

Wash a bunch of fresh cilantro. Remove enough leaves to fill about 1/2 cup. You can give them a chop or two with your knife if the leaves are large. Add to the cabbage and lime-honey mixture and gently stir.

Leave in the fridge for at least a couple of hours and give it a good stir before serving. The leftover salad will keep for several days in a tightly closed container.