Archive for November, 2009

Fuul – A Syrian Breakfast

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

One of our favourite Syrian snacks is Fuul – a broad bean stew drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, and tahini. We often found it at small stalls in the souk (market). Each stall serves it in a slightly different manner.

Our local Lebonese halal grocery store has some nice big (about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide) fava beans. With some experimentation and Web research, I’ve manage to reproduce something similar to one of our favourite types of fuul. I tested it out on Scott’s extended family this weekend, and it met rave reviews.

I hope you enjoy it too!

IngredientsFuul

  • Large fava beans (one can or about 2 cups dried) *
  • 4 tbsp olive oil (separated)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • salt
  • sprinkle of cumin powder
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 tbsp of tahini (sesame paste)**

* If you cannot find fava beans, you can substitute white kidney beans or another large bean. It won’t taste the same, but it will still be good :)

Directions

  1. If using dried fava beans, soak them overnight with 1/2 tsp on baking soda. Cook until tender – this is best done with a pressure cooker, as boiling tends to make them mushy.
  2. Peel the brown shell off the fava beans. This is required for both canned and dried beans.
  3. Heat the fava beans. I use the microwave, but you could also bring them to a quick boil.
  4. Sprinkle salt over the fava beans. This is necessary when using dried beans. Canned beans are sometimes salted.
  5. In a deep frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil.
  6. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds.
  7. Add the fava beans and stir – fry for 1 minute.
  8. Add the onions and stir – fry for 1 minute (you don’t want to cook the onions too much, they should be crunchy).
  9. Remove from heat and add the tomatoes – stir.
  10. Divide into serving bowls (makes 3-4 servings).
  11. Sprinkle with cumin.
  12. Sprinkle with lemon juice.
  13. Sprinkle with the remaining olive oil.
  14. Drizzle with tahini.**

** Optional.  If you can find it, Lebanese tahini (which is a thick liquid rather than a paste) tastes better than Greek tahini.

Christmas in the Middle East

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

We will be hosting a slide show and discussion session about our journey through Turkey, Syria, and Jordan last holiday season – highlights include Bayram (Eid Al-Adha) with friends in Turkey, Capadoccia Turkey, Christmas in Aleppo Syria, Petra in Jordan, the Dead Sea, and Palmyra in Syria.

When: Sunday, 13 December 2009 at 12:30 pm
Where: NOW Room, First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, 30 Cleary Ave, Ottawa Ontario

Everyone welcome.

If you want to learn a little more about Unitarian Universalism or the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, feel free to join us at our Sunday morning worship service, which starts at 10:30 am every Sunday.

Poster

Questions and Answers

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Since we have been home, we are often asked the same questions over and over; however, every now and then someone comes up with a unique question that challenges us to reflect upon our journey in a different way. If you read this, please do not ask us what our favourite place is!

Question: “What is your favourite place?”

To chose from all the countries we visited, the countries we liked the most were Turkey and Thailand. Turkey was culturally rich and the people were wonderfully friendly. Thailand was also culturally rich and it was an easy place to be a traveller, making it an easy place to be when your are travel-fatigued.

Our favourite cities (not for biking) were Damascus and Rome, although we also felt that we could easily spend 2-3 weeks in Istanbul without seeing all there is to see there. Damascus is such an old city that it still feels like you are stepping back into history when you walk the streets. The Syrian people are friendly and if they see you with a camera will often pose and ask you to take a picture. Rome is a place that Becky feared because she had heard a lot of bad things about gypsies and getting robbed. We never felt unsafe wondering the streets of Rome at all hours of the day and night. There are so many neat fountains and churches, you could spend weeks there and not see the same church or same two ceiling frescoes.

Question: “Did you ever get sick?”

Yes, we each had various bouts of stomach sickness throughout the trip. This is expected when you are eating strange food all the time. We received some advice and antibiotics from our travel doctor at home before we left, that got us through most of our stomach woes.

Becky did get rather sick in Syria and Jordan. All the coal used in households for heating and cooking in Turkey and Syria caused her asthma to act up. She ended up with bronchitus in Syria and a lung infection in Jordan. In our experience, Syria has much superior health care to Jordan. In either case, if you are sick in either country and need to see a doctor, go visit a Christian or Islamic hospital – do not visit the state miliary hospital and avoid Egyptian doctors!

Question: “Now that you are back, what will you miss most about being on the road?”

This question was asked when we first arrived home, and we couldn’t answer it. Now that we have been back for a month, we have a better sense of what we are missing.

Becky is missing living outdoors. There is something about breathing fresh air all the time. It is much more difficult to wake up in the morning indoors. It makes her want to crawl back into bed. Becky remembers having a hard time sleeping in Turkey unless the windows were open. Our hosts thought we were odd to open the windows when the weather was cold, but Becky was so accustomed to the fresh air that she couldn’t sleep without the fresh breeze. Some nights, she finds she has the same problem at home.

Scott is missing the time spent contemplating on the bikes. We spent endless hours riding and there was never any pressure to contemplate any specific thing other than perhap where we were going to sleep that night or where we were going to get our next meal.

Question: “Have you gotten back on the bikes, or are you totally sick of them?”

We do not yet have a car, so often the bikes provided us with the most effecient means of transportation. That being said, winter seems to be approaching us earilier this year than in years past. We hope to have a car before snow on the ground makes cycling unsafe.

Unfortunately, we have not found the time and necessary weather such that we can enjoy a long ride on our recumbents; although Becky has been out to a meeting in Kanata (about 36 km round trip), and we have done a few rides downtown and back (about 60 km).

Question: “How far do you travel in a day?”

This changed throughout the different legs of our trip. When we look back at our distances for the beginning of the trip, we can’t believe how short our days were!

  • Going around Lake Ontario average 76 km / ride day (16 ride days).
  • Eastern Canada average 68.6 km / ride day (45 ride days).
  • Europe and Middle East average 50 km / ride day (19 ride days).
  • Southeast Asia average 64 km / ride day (46 ride days).
  • Western Canada average 92.9 km / ride day (70 ride days).

Question: “What was the furthest you rode in a day?”

Our longest day by distance was 152 km from Prince Rupert to Terrace in British Columbia. Our longest day for riding time was 8 hours: the day we rode into Stonecliffe Ontario in the Ottawa Valley.

We rode over 100 km on 37 days (195 ride days total); the majority of which were ridden in Western Canada.

Re-integration and future plans

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

I wrote this a month ago today, with plans to publish it in a day or two, but then life intervened. Our church has a yearly “Holly and Lace Bazaar” where we sell used goods to raise money, and it is a huge production. Over 350 volunteers, thousands of visitors, and a Facilities Coordinator who has just discovered a serious heart problem. “Who can we ask to fill in? Scott just got back from a trip and hasn’t started working yet…” So I’ve spent the past month on a very steep learning curve, figuring out all the logistics and requirements around set-up and tear-down and balancing the often-conflicting needs of the various organizers. A great exercise in project management, but not how I was planning to spend my time. The bazaar was yesterday, and most of the tear-down is now finished, so it’s time to get back to what I started…

——

It is very strange to be back in Ottawa, both familiar and very different. From what I’ve heard from others, this is to be expected – whenever one spends time in another environment, coming back to the familiar may not seem that familiar after all.

My biggest stressor so far has been all the stuff we have. After living on a bicycle with only what we could carry, a full house of accumulated stuff seems excessive, but I struggle to get rid of any of it. The big things that are solely my responsibility are the contents of my office (lots of papers, computers and electronic equipment) and the workshop (lots of tools; from a table saw and floor-standing drill press down to many clamps and screwdrivers). Before we left, Becky did a lot of work to de-clutter her personal stuff, both clothing and office, and has done well weeding out the kitchen since our return. I have not done so well.

Our sporting equipment is another big chunk that needs weeding through. Between equipment for sports we rarely play (e.g. hockey equipment) and multiple versions of the same piece of equipment, that’s another big chunk of space and stuff. I’ve been reading Zen Habits and Unclutterer as inspiration for simplifying my life, but have not yet reached any epiphanies.

One thing which did stick with me was the idea of clutter as procrastination. Any time I put down something not in its correct place, I’m procrastinating dealing with it correctly, and it becomes clutter, which results in later stress and effort. As I sit in my office and look around, I can see piles of stuff like that. This sort of procrastination-induced clutter is really a tax on my future self, since the piles cause me stress, and they will need to be dealt with again.

{insert brief pause while I quickly move stuff out of my direct line of sight, either into an inbox for later processing, or away if it is an easy and obvious thing to do}

…Ahhh… If not perfect, at least the clutter on my desk now has a proper home.

As I go through this exercise of de-cluttering and organizing, I need to remind myself why I’m doing it. As we travelled, I realized that I was not content with my former life in high-tech and telecommunications. It was interesting work, and often technically challenging, but it never fed my need to make a difference in the world. Helping big companies solve technical problems, and allowing the people of the world to be more connected (if only in a small way) is a good thing, but I look at the inequities of the world, and humankind’s focus on the near term and immediate self-gratification, and think that there must be some more meaningful contribution I can make.

I started to think about this as we were riding, but found that the day-to-day effort of riding, finding food, and finding shelter in strange places (and foreign languages) prevented much deep reflection. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs at work!

I also need to bounce ideas off of people in order to refine them, and didn’t want to inflict all of that on Becky. I thought that the simplicity of life on the ships might help, but there we were recovering (and getting caught up on photos or blog posts) or getting ready for the next phase. As well, there was always something new and shiny to look at on the ship, whether up on the bridge, in the engine room, or walking around the deck.

Now that I’m back in Ottawa, I’ve decided not to look for work, and instead focus on this search for a different path. Even without looking for work, I find the activities of daily living taking over, and it’s easy to lose sight of my goals.

Speaking of goals, that’s another thing I’m struggling with. I’ve never been successful at elucidating my goals. When I was asked for 5 and 10-year goals back in high school, I had no good answers, and I have nothing better to offer now. I have always let the river of life push me where it will, and taken the easy (or at obvious) path. Now I’m twenty years past high-school, and looking to change that, but have 20+ years of inertia helping to keep me in my current life.

As I’m de-cluttering my computers and electronic stuff, I find the detritus of various other attempts to organize my life and direct my energy, whether it’s various attempts at GTD, different tools for information capture (each with a bit of information captured from a short period, until I stopped using the tool) or lists of books, websites and blog posts about organization and self improvement. If I can locate the data, it might be interesting to look at how long each tool lasted, and the periodicity. I suspect that each tool was used in a focused way for no more than a month, and I changed tools or approaches every 6-8 months. It’s too easy for me to get caught up in the “productivity porn” of a new system, a new device, or what have you, rather than actually figuring out what I want to do and accomplishing it.

What am I going to do do differently this time?

  • simplify my life by not taking on too many projects immediately (whether that be looking for a job, volunteering, or starting new hobbies)
  • journal daily, and aim to publish something at least once a week on some aspect of my quest
  • acknowledge that I do have things I want to do differently in my life, and challenge myself to actually figure out what those are
  • focus on my physical health, with daily exercise and an effort to become strong, flexible and healthy
  • make music (and improve my musical skills) a priority, to help develop balance in my mental development

What do I want to do that I am not yet doing?

  • be ruthless in weeding through the “stuff” of my life, and willing to let some of it go
  • work on my mental fitness through hard focus training, mindfulness, and meditation
  • figure out a way I can actually decide what I want to do (or what the world is calling me to do) so I can find goals which resonate with me

I’m looking at this time as a time of seeking, a time of training, and a time to look at the overall balance of my self. I’m seeking what the world is calling me to do, and training both body and mind. My body to be strong and healthy, and my mind and will to be focused and dedicated. This feels pretentious as I write it, but it also feels true.

I’m sure there are resources to help with all of this, and as I find them I plan to document how useful they are to me.

Chiang Mai Noodles – Kao Soy

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Chiang Mai Noodles
During our cooking class in Chiang Mai, we made a wonderful Thai curry dish served over egg noodles called Chiang Mai noodles or Kao Soy in Thai. This has become one of our favourite Thai dishes – although we never successful ordered it in Thailand, I’ve made it several times since we got home.

I had to modify the recipe from our cooking class to account for ingredients available in Canada, as following the exact recipe in our cookbook made a very salty and spice dish!

For those that want to try it, the recipe follows.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon thai red curry
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 to 1 lb of chicken cut into thin chunks (can also use pork or beef)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (about 1/2 a lime)
  • 1 lb Chinese egg noodles – fresh are best, but any egg noodle will do
  • 1 zucchini or Chinese eggplant (can substitute other vegetables – beans, bamboo shoots)
Garnish:
  • chopped green onion
  • chopped fresh coriander / cilantro

Procedure

  1. Slice shallots, chop garlic, chop ginger, and set aside.
  2. Mix the Thai red curry with turmeric and set aside.
  3. Chop vegatables and set aside.
  4. Chop chicken and set aside.
  5. Heat oil pot – it is best to use a heavy skillet or dutch oven.
  6. Add a portion of the curry to the oil and stir until fragrant. The more you add now, the spicier the curry will be. Add a minimum of 1/2 a teaspoon.
  7. Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger – stir until shallots are cooked.
  8. Add the chicken, and brown (about 1 minute). If the pot is too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water.
  9. Add 1/2 the coconut milk, 1/2 cup of water, and simmer until the chicken is cooked (about 5 minutes).
  10. Add the vegetables and simmer for 2 minutes.
  11. Add remaining curry and stir until it is well mixed.
  12. Add sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, and remaining coconut milk – heat until just before boiling.
  13. Taste – if not salty enough, add more fish sauce. You may also wish to add more sugar.
  14. Set aside – turn off the heat if the pot will keep it warm; otherwise, turn to low heat.
  15. Cook egg noodles per package instructions.
  16. Put a serving of egg noodles in a bowl, top with curry, green onions and cilantro.
  17. Enjoy.

When right is wrong!

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

When you are a child, you are taught that if you must ride your bike on the street, that you should ride as far to the right as possible. This gives cars as much space as possible to pass you. However, as you grow older and bolder, and start to ride on busier roads, it becomes time to revisit this lesson in safe cycling.

On the way to work each morning, I ride on a couple of major city streets. These roads have two lanes of traffic in each direction; however, they do not have bike lanes. To make matters worse, they also have square curbs. As a cyclist, if I were to follow the “keep as far right as possible” rule, I would have no place to go when a car passes me too close. In addition, the further right I ride, the more likely a car driver thinks they can sneak pass me without changing lanes. To be safe, I ride in the middle of the right most lane. Once I started doing this, the car drivers got the message “to pass this cyclist safely, I must move over into the left lane.”

Taking this one step further, anytime I am riding on a street where I think it is unsafe for a car to squeeze by me, I ride in the middle of the lane. This requires cars to wait behind me, or pass only when the left or oncoming lane is completely free of traffic. I learned this lesson the hard way; when a car passing me in a narrow construction zone clipped my handlebars with its side mirror, knocking me onto the shoulder. This would not have happened had I been in the middle of the lane, as the driver would have been unable to pass me.

Of course, riding in the middle of the lane only works if you are very visible. If you are wearing dark clothing at night, and are not well lit, stay off the road!  Unlit cyclists are a danger to both cars and other cyclists.

The new me

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Last week, I started a new job. I am now a Project Manager for In-Touch Survey Systems. Going through the interview process and starting work, I realize that the trip has changed my attitudes and behaviours.

First and foremost, I have much more self-confidence. Crossing some of the less travelled roads in Canada on a bike certainly has left me with a bit of an “I can do anything” feeling. I went into the interview process feeling like I can do anything. I was not afraid to be myself and did not feel the need to create an artificial image of myself. I figured they could “take me or leave me”, and if they did not like me, then it was not meant to be. This made for a mutual interview process, where both sides were interviewing the other. I found that I left each of the interviews feeling like I would fit right in.

I find that I am much less afraid to ask for what I need or want. In Canada, our cultural norms tell us that it is impolite to ask for things. We wait patiently and hope that someone will offer us what we need or want. This applies in the workplace too, where we expect our coworkers or bosses to feed us the information we need to do our jobs. This behaviour is flawed, because it expects that those who would make the offer of assistance can read our minds and know what we need. On our trip, the flaw in our cultural norms was emphasized when our Turkish friends told us “if you don’t ask us for what you need, we will think you don’t like us.”  Sometimes giving others the opportunity to help provides both sides with something they desire.

Finally, I find that I am much calmer. When my second day of work got really busy – yes I am already working directly with customers – I found myself able to step away from the busy-ness and watch. I no longer feel the urge to make myself busy, or the need to make myself important. I am happy to be there, do the best that I can, and walk out the door at the end of the day putting it all aside (or at least mostly, I have been known to check my work email from home – mostly as a means to procrastinate on something else that I should be doing – like updating the blog!). I do hope that I can remember this calm as I transition to full time and get more attached to my job.