Ginger Lemon Chicken Soup


My favorite soup when I’m sick…the garlic, lemon and ginger in this soup really hit the spot!


1 small chicken, cut up into manageable pieces

2 whole carrots, peeled

1 onion, skin removed, cut in half

1 head garlic, peeled and smushed

Lots of ginger (I added two 6 inch long pieces, peeled and grated into the stock)

4 hot thai peppers (or any pepper that suits you)

2 lemons worth of juice


Salt to taste

12 cups water

½ cup of rice, vermicelli or little star pasta (optional)


I know some people throw the onions, carrots and garlic in unpeeled, but I find that taking a few minutes to peel them creates much less foam and much less skimming work for me!

To make my stock nice and hearty, I brown the chicken pieces in a splash of olive oil in the bottom of the stock pot. Once they are nice and golden, throw in the carrots, halved onion, garlic, peppers, a sprinkle of peppercorns and grate the ginger over the top. Then, pour in the water, bring to a boil, and reduce to low, uncovered. The longer you cook the stock the better- but I find that after 2 ½ hours, especially if you brown the chicken first, the stock is of satisfactory taste.

Strain the stock and return to the stock pot. Let the chicken cool until you can handle it. At this point you can throw the stock in the fridge over night and skim the fat off the top, or you can just move ahead with a rich stock! When the chicken is cool enough to touch, pull the meat off the bone and throw it in the pot. Once all the chicken is returned to the stock, over a medium flame, add the rice/vermicelli/pasta if you wish and cook till soft- usually only a few minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste! At this point I usually grate more ginger into the final soup, but you will have to see how you feel about the ginger-lemon combo! A little cilantro garnish is a nice touch too…

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More brigadeiros…


Mexican Mocha- instant espresso granules and cinnamon rolled in cocoa
White Rose- rose water and lemon juice rolled in crushed pistachio
Black on Black- chocolate rolled in dark chocolate flakes

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Brigadeiros, Lebanese Style

So, my food soulmate Ari (who I recently reconnected with on Facebook) was telling me about her obsession with brigadeiros, a Brazilian take on truffles. After 2 minutes of conversation, I was gathering my purse and keys and heading to the corner store to gather the ingredients for this incredibly simple but delisious treat. Traditionally, they are just made with coco, sweetened condensed milk and butter. Ari mentioned she has tried all sorts of combos, and we decided that brigadeiros with a hint of rose water rolled in pistacios would be worth a shot.

I made a batch of regular brigadeiros rolled in chocolate jimmys and a batch of “Lebanese” brigadeiros- both barely survived the night. Kudos to Risha for participating in the womanly bonding experience of rolling brigadeiros.

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons coco, unsweetened
Splash of vanilla
1 tablespoon butter

For the “Lebanese” version add:
1 Tablespoon rose water or 1 teaspoon rose flavor
Crushed pistachios for garnish

About 15 Servings

This is disgustingly easy. Throw everything in a pan over low heat. Stir constantly for about 10 minutes, when you will notice a dough starting to form. Basically, the sugar in the condensed milk starts to caramelize and you will smell something delightful. Keep stirring until the dough is pulling away from the pan, and starts to act as a solid mass. Better safe than sorry- make sure it is really sticking together before turning off the heat.

Set aside for a few minutes until it is cool enough to handle. Using cold (or butter smeared!) hands, grab a little nubblet of dough and roll between your hands into a ball. Dip in pistachios to coat, and you are done!

These are amazing hot, amazing cold, amazing period- as long as they are in your tummy!

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Timman Bagila (Rice with Fava Beans)

Timman bagila is an Iraqi dish, though it is originally from Iran, where it is called bagila pilaow. I would hesitate to call my version authentic, as I cook it to my own tastes, but the traditional components of dill, fava beans, rice and lamb are the stars of this dish. I cook it in a complex way, but once mastered, it is a no-brainer and a guaranteed feast!


Lamb Shanks- I used 3 lamb shanks, bone in, cut in half by the butcher

2 Cups Basmati Rice, soaked in water for at least an hour

Olive Oil

1 Cup Dill, chopped

1 bag frozen fava beans (lima beans work as well)

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

1 loomi Basra ( a dried lime, totally optional)





Serves 4

Start by rinsing the lamb shanks and patting dry. Place lamb shanks in a heavy oven safe pot with a lid. Pour a few tablespoons olive oil over the shanks and rub with cinnamon, salt and pepper. Sprinkle in a pinch or two of your dill, and place in a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

In the mean time, chop your onion and garlic. When the lamb starts to become fragrant, pull it out of the oven and cover with water. Reduce your oven to 300. Put half of the onion and both cloves of garlic in with the lamb, and pierce the dried lime and throw it in with the rest of the components. Cover, and place in oven. This lamb should cook at least 2 hours, but 3 hours will give you lamb that melts right off the bone!

When your lamb is starting to look quite delicious (or you are getting very hungry!) place a large pot on the stove, and sauté the rest of your onion in a little olive oil. Take the lamb out of the oven, and set up a platter, bowl or cutting board along side. Pull each shank out of the broth with tongs, and fork the meat off of the bone- after 3 ½ hours I didn’t even need a fork. The meat fell right off on its own! Reserve broth and discard the lime.

At the same time, pour wet rice and a few pinches of turmeric and 1 tablespoon of salt into another pot over medium-high heat and cover with water. Moving back to the onions- go ahead and throw your meatless shank bones in with the onions and sauté- this will really give the dish extra flavor! After about 5 minutes, pull out the bones and discard. Pour in your bag of fava beans, and sprinkle turmeric over them and stir to coat- the turmeric will help make your fava beans look really beautiful and green! Add the rest of the dill, and throw in your reserved lamb meat, and cook together for another few minutes, then add about ½ cup of water and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes more.

Pour the bean/onion/meat mixture into a bowl. At this point, you should have par-boiled rice with softening kernels that have absorbed most of the water. The rice should be wet, but there should not be much extra liquid. In your large onion pan, run a paper towel over the bottom to clean out any dill, and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and place over medium heat. Spoon enough rice into the pan to coat the bottom in a layer of rice. Shake the pan a bit to make it a nice even layer and let it cook for a minute or two so it starts to brown on bottom.

Scoop a large spoonful of beans and meat and place over the rice. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Then, add another layer of rice. Repeat a few times, sprinkling each bean layer with cinnamon, and end with a top layer of rice. Ideally, you want to be mounding the rice and beans in a pyramid- if you form the rice in this way, it allows the steam to build nicely around the rice and it also helps create a nice crust on the bottom of the pan.

Poke a few holes in the rice with the back of your spoon, and ladle about 1 ½ cups over the rice, pouring it into those holes. This is not an exact science- you don’t want to cover the rice at all- it is more about pouring enough in that there is liquid about ¼ of the way up your rice pyramid.

Cover the pan, and turn the burner down as low as it goes. You should be ready to go in about 15 minutes! Pick up the lid, and stick a spoon down into the deeper layers of rice to make sure it is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed.

If the rice is done, scoop the rice onto a large serving platter without disturbing your bottom crust. Sometimes God is on your side and the crust will slip out. Other times you can stick your pan into the sink with some cool water underneath, and the crust will loosen. Usually, you have to scrape it out. What ever happens, arrange your golden crust on top of the platter, and you are ready to serve- unless you are me and refuse to eat any rice without a delicious sprinkling of nuts. Today, I sautéed up some almonds and pistachios and sprinkled them over the rice.

I know it sounds terrible and complicated, but once you start mastering the processes and learn that great rice dishes like this require simple but numerous steps, it becomes easy!

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Spiced Pomegranate Lamb with Rice

Sarah suggested I start posting recipes for some of the things I cook. I realized that I don’t measure anything when I cook, so it might be difficult to post the way I go about it. However, I will give it a shot- I find learning about other peoples cooking techniques alone is interesting, so hopefully you will find it to be too!


1 ½ pounds lamb, cut into cubes
½ cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons each of:
-all spice
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
one medium sized onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped


2 cups basmati rice
2/3 cup vermicelli (you could skip this if you don’t have it on hand!)
¼ cup ghee/semna or oil- olive or vegetable works fine
½ cup each of each, but you could substitute other nuts if you wanted:
-roasted pistachios, roughly chopped
-pine nuts
-almond flakes
-golden raisins

Crank your oven up to 425 and pull out a dutch oven or covered casserole dish. To start off, combine the olive oil and half of the pomegranate molasses in a small bowl. Combine all spices plus salt in pepper in a separate bowl. Dunk each lamb cube in the olive oil/molasses mixture and then cover in spices and put in your dutch oven. Put the dutch oven, uncovered, in the hot oven for about 20 minutes, or until the lamb is fragrant, browning and producing juices. Pull out the dutch oven and turn the oven down to 300. Pour water over the lamb until it is covered, and add the onion and garlic. I usually scrape the bottom of the dutch oven to pull up those yummy lamb flavor particles. Add the rest of the pomegranate molasses. If you are feeling sassy, throw in some cinnamon sticks and bruised cardamom pods- FYI, I’m always sassy about cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods.

Cover the dutch oven, stick it back in the 300 degree oven, and be prepared to wait. This lamb is best if you give it 3 to 3 ½ hours in the oven. While it is cooking, every once and a while I pull it out to check its progress- if the liquid starts to reduce and expose the meat, pour some more water over it and stick it back in the oven. This type of lamb usually becomes pretty edible about an hour in; but if you have the time, wait it out- I find the results after 3 ½ hours of cooking are well worth it!

When I figure there is about ½ hour to go on the lamb, I start the rice. First, I always soak my rice for a few hours in a bowl of water- this softens the kernel and helps release the flavor, which is really nice with basmati or jasmine rice. Pull out a non-stick sauce pan, and throw half of that fat (either that ghee or oil) in the bottom of the pan over medium heat. Toss in the vermicelli, and make sure to stir it because it will start to burn quickly. When it is a golden brown, toss in your drained rice and turn up the heat a bit. You want to keep stirring the rice until it starts to color a bit and soften.

Here comes the eye-balling part: Pull the dutch oven out and pull off some of the stock. I use a little Turkish coffee pot because you can stick it in the pan and it is nice and pourable. Take as much as you can get, and replace the stock with some more water, and put the dutch oven back in the oven. Pour the stock over the rice- you want to cover it by about ¾ to 1 inch. So, if you have too much stock, don’t keep pouring. If you don’t have enough, admit defeat and use water. Stir the liquid into the rice and give that stock a taste- if you need salt, add a little.
Turn the heat up and bring the rice to a rolling boil. If you are STILL feelings sassy, throw in some cardamom pods. Then cover and reduce to low. Whatever you do, don’t lift the lid for at least 20 minuets!

Throw a little of what ever fat you used in a skillet, and dump in the nuts. I salt them a bit as well, as nuts tend to come unsalted here. Once they start to brown, throw in the golden raisins- watch those carefully because they can burn quickly and turn into angry brown bombs. Once everything is fragrant, turn off the heat and set to the side.

The rice should be getting close to done after about 20 minutes. Its not an exact science I find- thus I make sure my rice pot has a glass lid. If it is looking fluffy and good, go ahead and lift the lid off and taste it. If it needs more time, stick the lid back on and admit defeat again and be patient.

When the rice is ready to go, scoop it onto a serving platter. Spoon the lamb over the rice, and cover with the nuts and raisins! I will admit, this photo features some delicious boiled quail eggs… and if you look, there are golden flakes of the much coveted crust from the bottom of the rice pan!

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Produce and eggs galore!


One of my favorite parts about living abroad is taking advantage of different available ingredients. Quail eggs are so cute and spotted! And check out those quality tomatoes… 

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Where to go from here…

Now that I have broken out of “the system,” am a “free woman,” and can do anything that I please, the possibilities that lay ahead seem more like an overwhelming nebulous blur than a clear illuminated path to my ideal future. My philosophy of keeping doors open has always translated into a mental image of white poufy clouds, each carrying a door with a beautiful golden handle with golden sunshine rays pouring in, beckoning me to all the possibilities my future holds. Now that I have the opportunity to take those golden sunshine rays up on their offer, that mental image is different. I see a long hall with terrible red velvet carpet, flickering gothic sconces, doors laden with thick wrought iron handles, and a chute to an abyss on the other side.

So, when I close my eyes these days, that is what I see. But I shake my head and open them, and tell myself I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to come here, to fulfill at least what I thought was my dream the moment I said “I’m going!” Taking responsibility for my actions has become a theme lately- that translates into me telling myself, “Well, kid, this is what you wanted, so you better get the best out of it.”

Fear not, my friends- I do not hate life over here in Beirut. Quite to the contrary. I happen to have just watched My Sisters Keeper, can barely see through my swollen, teary eyes, and am having a moment of introspection. Sappy movies about valuing family, friends and life in general always reel me into some serious thinking about what I am running away from. Or towards? Or, am I just running for the sake of running?

When I think about what I am going to do when I graduate with my Masters in Urban Planning and Policy in June 2012, I always think first about the people I want to surround myself with. I think of Northern California and being in my Mothers kitchen, leaning up against the counter and seeing a room full of women that mean the world to me. Friends I have known since pre-school, friends I have traveled the world with. Friends who are falling in love, having babies, living their lives- all with out me. I get email updates, I see them once a year if I am lucky. It is always as though nothing has changed. Same faces, same kitchen table, same love.

I also think of DC. In DC there is a group of young, brilliant people who choose to be in this particular city because they are driven to shape the future of our country. A group of leaders and mentors who supported me even though I was different. People who think like me, and even better, people who don’t. Friends and old colleagues who I became an adult with, who challenged my perceptions, who encouraged and supported me when I decided to drop it all and walk away. Friends who I could not have made this choice without.

And oddly, the place that exists in the fuzzy allure of over-exposed vintage film fantasy is Indiana. When I think of bliss, I think of an old country road to a lake in southern Indiana that I’m not sure I have ever been on. It is a fantasy of simplicity, bass fishing, flannel shirts, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. It is watching drive-in movies, running through corn fields, and shooting the shit with my college roommates under the stars. It is the warm glow of 4460 Broadway street, and watching the fireflies twinkle as I dance on the porch to old records with my grandfather.

I think of all these people and places, and I can’t figure out where I want to be. I can’t figure out where I need to be. And worst of all, I actually need to decide. It is time to grow up, and it is time to decide where this life is taking me. Or, I guess this is the point where I say: It is time for me to decide where I am taking this life.

Do I apply to USAID and bridge my old career with a new one, live in DC and work for a mission which flies an altruistic banner that I can stand tall under? Where I can travel the world, have long philosophical conversations about politics and war, and go to Nationals games? Give James a break from Maria by going shopping, enjoying fall leaves and eating at the newest restaurant we have salivated over? What will I do about my serious misgivings about the greater political context in which aid is given?

Do I move home to the Bay Area and work for some urban planning company and let my life revolve around car turning radii, increasing public space in housing developments, and calming rush hour traffic through transportation infrastructure interventions? Babysit while Celia and Bob have date night, go to Napa with the girls and watch another one of my friends bite the dust and get hitched? But after the places I have been and the things that have become a part of me, can Marin keep me happy?

Now translating Indiana to a future is the tough one. What makes me want to go to Indiana as quickly as possible is my Grandmother. When I was leaving Indiana in August, I said goodbye to her. I said goodbye being quite sure that she would not be sitting in her chair by the time I got back. If my Grandmother is still alive when I come home, my decision may be made.

Where am I in all of these equations? I can’t separate myself from the prospect of being with the people I love. But I love people in all of these places. So peeling back the next layer still leaves just me. I want it all. I want all of these things, and I want all of these people to continue to be a part of my life. Asides from being a wandering nomad, I am still at a loss on how this all works out. I feel like all of this running has me coming to an edge- a sea cliff perhaps, one I have no interest in going over. Or maybe I am running up a big mountain path, and when I get to the top, I will have to come back down. I can’t expect anyone to keep up with all this running, especially when I don’t know where I am going.

I’m having trouble with the mental image of my end point- what happiness and satisfaction will look like. For now it is me with my eyes closed, smiling and feeling content. On a porch- somewhere. Surrounded by friends- which ones, I am not sure. But for sure I know that this smiling me has made up her mind, and she is content- and this contentment doesn’t mean giving up dreams, friends or family. Now I just need to figure out how I find this porch and I’m sure the rest will fall into place.

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