Dec 17, 2018

Date and Ginger Gems

Chewy dates, spicy ginger, and sparkling sugar give these cookies a festive flair. Their natural sweetness and moist texture make them the perfect anytime treat or holiday gift!

I've been looking for the perfect recipe to showcase these Khalas dates from the UAE and this is it! Khalas are one of over 250 varieties of dates grown throughout the Middle East. They are one of the most popular dates due to their high sugar content, rich caramel-like flavor, and tender flesh. Amazingly enough, they are less than $5USD a pound here in Nepal and come beautifully hand-packed in a resealable tub. (No, this not an advertisement nor sponsored post for Date Crown- these are really a fabulous product!)
I also wanted to utilize this "new to me" product in a recipe, date syrup. Date syrup is made from cooked down dates and is commonly used in the Middle East in everything from chicken dishes to desserts. Molasses is a rarity in South Asia and I was curious to see if date syrup would work in baked goods in its place. It does! The flavor is a bit lighter than burnt sugar taste of molasses, but not as caramel-like as golden syrup. It perfectly compliments the chopped dates, brown sugar, and the double dose of fiery ginger (both fresh and dried) in this cookie recipe. If you can't find date syrup where you are at in the world you can try making your own or just use molasses instead. I was going to take more photos of these cookies but my family ate them before I had a chance. Guess that's a testament to how truly yummy these are! I'll be sure to make these Date and Ginger Gems for Eid as well as Christmas from now on! Off to the recipe:

2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 TBS ground ginger
1/2 C butter
1/2 C date syrup (or molasses)
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBS fresh ginger, grated or minced
1/2 C brown sugar, packed
1 C chopped dates
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C coarse or sanding sugar for rolling

Here's what to do:
1) In a medium saucepan, melt together butter, date syrup or molasses, 1/2 teaspoon salt, brown sugar, and fresh ginger. Stir in the dates. Remove from burner and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

2) While the above mixture is cooling, in a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and ground ginger.

3) Add cooled butter mixture to flour mixture, stirring just enough to combine. Add beaten egg to dough and stir in just enough to combine. Refrigerate dough covered for at least 30 minutes.

4) When ready to bake, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5) Put the coarse or sanding sugar in a small bowl. Scoop tablespoonfuls of the dough and roll into 1-inch balls. Coat each ball in coarse or sanding sugar and place on prepared baking sheet.

6) Bake each batch for 7-9 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack. Keep in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. Makes 3 dozen.

Anyone else doing any holiday baking?
What are you baking? 
I want to know it all!
(Especially any date related recipes!)
Let me know in the comments....
Calmly currying on,

Dec 10, 2018

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

A German and Swiss holiday staple, this cookie has it all: It's spicy, it's chewy, and it's enticingly covered with sweet frosting. Zimtsterne or cinnamon stars are traditionally made in the shape of a six-pointed star, but if you only have a cutter with five points, that's okay too!

This recipe is adapted from my good friend Cyn's blog, Home Cyn Home. My longtime friend Cyn is a Swiss national living in Mumbai with her Indian husband, adorable daughter Ishita, cute cat Mittens, and dedicated dog Jasmine. Cyn celebrates Christmas by making traditional Swiss treats and lots of fun Christmas crafts. She is also a professional artist and her designs are available on Society6, Redbubble, and Colorpur. Be sure to visit her blog for more easy recipes and craft projects or a hilarious rant on the perils and pitfalls of expat life in India.

Bibi's Kandy-Kolored Raspberry-Flake Streamline Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (My apologies to Tom Wolfe)
So when I first saw this recipe for I thought, "Egg whites and royal icing, hmm, sounds fiddly." But then I picked up this KitchenAid stand mixer while last passing through Delhi and that's what made this recipe a snap! I had my mom's 70's harvest gold and my own late 80's hunter green KitchenAid mixer in California, but did not bring them to Nepal due to voltage issues. (No, this is not an ad for KitchenAid) That whisk beater makes short work of whipping egg whites.! If you don't have a stand mixer a handheld electric mixer will do, but possibly take a few minutes longer. I ground the almonds finely in seconds in my Indian-style mixie.

See that glorious pile of local oranges on the Tarkariwala's cart?
Right now oranges are in season so I used a little orange zest and orange juice to make these cookies halal. Kirsch is the traditional flavoring but I'll bet Gran Marnier would be delicious also. Orange and cinnamon are such a great pairing. Cyn advises putting the royal icing on just after baking rather than before or during as is traditional. I agree as the pure white icing tends to discolor if baked, especially if you have a convection style oven. Be sure not to overbake as the Zimtsternen are meant to be a bit chewy and will taste burnt even if they're just baked to medium brown. Overall, this recipe is a keeper! I love this cookie's festive star shape and snow-like topping.The delightfully chewy, nutty texture and spicy cinnamon flavor are delightfully different. They really are easy to make - especially if you make the dough in advance and then bake and frost them the next day. I love'em! Off to the recipe:

3 egg whites
1 pinch of salt
1 C powdered sugar
2 TBS cinnamon powder
1 TBS of orange juice (or Kirsch)
1 tsp orange zest (optional)
4 &1/2 C or 500g ground almonds (with skin)
extra ground almonds as needed
extra powdered sugar for rolling out dough
gold glitter sprinkles for decorating (optional)
Royal Icing:
1 egg white
1 C powdered sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp orange juice

Here's what to do:
1) In a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites and salt until they form stiff peaks. (I use the whisk beater for this step.)

2) Add the powdered sugar to the beaten egg whites and fold until you have a smooth paste. (I switch to the regular beater from the whisk for this step.)

3) Mix in the ground almonds, cinnamon, orange juice (or kirsch) and orange zest and combine as evenly as possible. At this point, you will have a sticky dough. Add some extra ground almonds gradually until the dough sticks to itself but remains soft yet pliable.

4) Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate it for at least 8 hours to allow the cinnamon flavor to develop and the almonds to soak up the moisture. This dough can also be frozen for several weeks before use.

5) When ready to bake make a small batch of royal icing* (directions below) and preheat oven to 180C/350F. Place a large piece of waxed paper on a flat surface and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Place the chilled dough on the waxed paper and powdered sugar, lightly sprinkle with more confectioners' sugar and press or roll out to 1/3-inch thick.

6) Using a cookie cutter dipped in water, cut into 2-inch star shapes. Reroll and cut any scraps. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Bake the cookies in the center of the oven for about 10-15  minutes (they should just start to turn brown on the edges). Do not overbake!

7) Spread the royal icing* on the cookies as soon as you take them out of the oven. Ideally, the cookies should still be a bit hot. Sprinkle with gold colored sugar before icing sets if desired. Allow the cookies to cool on a rack. When completely cooled store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. Zimtsternen taste best if allowed to stand for 24 hours.

*Royal Icing:
1) Place egg white, a pinch of salt, and a teaspoonful of orange juice in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or beaters. Beat until frothy.

2) Add the powdered sugar and beat on low speed until well blended. Increase the speed to medium-low and beat until the mixture is stiff and shiny, usually about 3 to 5 minutes. This icing hardens quickly, so be sure to cover it with plastic wrap until you're ready to use it. Gently press the plastic wrap into the surface of the icing to prevent a crust from forming.

Helpful Hints:

Grind almonds quickly and easily in your Indian-style mixie. I did mine in two 250g batches and it took only seconds!

Dec 3, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to dry mint

Dried mint has a lovely fresh aroma and can be used as a seasoning, garnish, or in teas. This is my simple method to perfectly dry and store this versatile herb.

Mint is a hardy perennial herb available in many cultivars. The plant is easy to grow and found all over the world. Each culture has its own uses for this beautiful, fragrant herb. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is what I grow in my garden. Spearmint's name comes from “spiremint” referring to the tall purplish spires of its blooms in late summer. The refreshingly mellow and slightly lemony flavor of spearmint makes it the preferred mint in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines.

This method of drying mint was taught to me by an elderly Syrian neighbor long ago. Prior to learning this method I would tie the mint up in bundles and hang them to dry in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. This method is much easier and the mint dries faster. Bundling herbs to dry does not work well in most of South Asia. It is rather humid most of the year and herbs tend to get mold or mildew if bundled and hung to dry. I usually only dry mint in the Winter here in Nepal as that's when the arid and cold winds blow from the high Himalayas.

Here's what to do:

1) Harvest the mint:
  • Cut mint early in the morning as that is before the flavorful volatile oils have dissipated.
  • Cutting the mint just before it blooming if possible to ensure the highest concentration of flavors.
  • Cut 3-4 inch long sprigs oof the mint for easiest handling.
  • Gently shake the mint sprigs just after cutting to remove any lingering insects.
  • Use a colander or sieve to collect the mint sprigs while cutting, then rinse them under cold water gently. If you bruise them they will lose their volatile oils and flavor.
I picked this mint at 8 AM. I use our iron patio table to dry the mint after rinsing. It is shaded by an umbrella and the metal grate allows for best air circulation
 2) Allow cleaned mint sprigs to air-dry: 
  • Spread the washed mint sprigs out on a clean and dry surface out of direct sunlight. I use our metal patio table but a metal baking sheet or serving tray will work also.
  • Try not to overlap the mint sprigs so no water gets trapped on the leaves.
  • Allow to fully dry. The mint should look wilted when properly dried.

3) Place air-dried mint sprigs on a flat baking sheet or serving tray:
  • Place them as close as possible but try not to overlap.

4) Place the mint-filled trays on top of the refrigerator:
  • This is just genius! My Syrian neighbor taught me this. The air is warmer and dryer atop the fridge and the trays are completely out of the way. The mint stays out of direct light on top of the fridge too.

5) Allow mint to dry completely. Check mint daily to make sure no moisture or mold is present: 
  • Remove and discard any moldy or brown leaves.
This took only 3 days to dry!

6)  Transfer the dried mint into a clean, airtight container:
  • I like to store the mint as whole dried sprigs and crush it by rolling between my hands to use it. The flavor and aroma will keep longer if the leaves are kept whole.
  • Choose with tight lids and made of non-porous, non-absorbent material such as glass, plastic, or metal. Paper, cardboard, plastic, and wood containers absorb the volatile oils from the mint.
  • Label each container with the current date and contents. For best flavor, use the dried mint within a year.
  • Store in a cool, dry, and dark spot.  

So that's my method for drying mint!
I use dried mint in my Kashmiri Eggplant with Tomatoes (Tamatar Wangan), Cucumber and Mint Raita, Kashmiri Walnut Chutney (Doon Chetin) ,and Kashmiri Onion Chutney (Ganduh Chetin).
Do you have any favorite recipes that use dried mint?
Any tips for drying herbs you can share?

Nov 19, 2018

Bal Arneson's Garam Masala

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Bal Arneson is a TV Host, an award-winning author, a Compass Celebrity Chef, and a well-known culinary personality. This is her recipe for the classic and versatile Indian spice mix, garam masala.

This recipe is adapted from the 2014 cookbook, Bal's Spice Kitchen by Bal Arneson.  Originally from a small village in the Punjab, India, Bal, at the age of seven, learned how to cook from her elders. She has three national bestselling cookbooks Everyday Indian, which won the Asian Cuisine category prize for Canada by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, Bal’s Quick and Healthy Indian, and Bal’s Spice Kitchen. Her TV Shows are airing in several countries around the world, including the US Cooking Channel and Food Network Canada. She is the host of Spice Goddess, which was nominated for a James Beard Award and NAMIC Vision Award, and Spice of Life. Bal has been a judge on ‘Iron Chef America’, Bobby Flay’s Dinner Battle, and Cooking with Fire.

I had never heard of Bal Arneson before I picked up this cookbook at Delhi duty-free. I'm not sure if her cooking shows are still airing or not. (The cooking channel we get here in Nepal is still showing 90's reruns from The Naked Chef and Nigella Bites.) I found the above-pictured ad on Instagram so Ms. Arneson seems to be currently popular in Canada. Most of her recipes seem to a fusion of western and Indian. This was the first recipe for garam masala I have tried that I was disappointed in, it is a bit too heavy on the cinnamon/dalchini side for my taste. However, if you are looking for a garam masala that leans to the sweet and spicy heat of cinnamon - this is it! Now I don't dry roast my garam masala (for reasons I go into here) but I've provided two ways to do so in the directions below. Off to the recipe:

6 cloves/laung
4 green cardamom pods/elaichi
3 black cardamom pods/kali elaichi
3 cassia leaves/tej patta, cut into small pieces
2-inch piece cassia bark/dalchini (or cinnamon stick)
1 TBS coriander seeds/dhania
1 TBS cumin seeds/jeera
1/2 tsp black peppercorns/kali mirch
1/2 tsp mustard seeds/rai
Here's what to do:
1) Place all the spices in a coffee or spice grinder and grind until to desired consistency.

2) Keep in a sealed airtight and light-resistant container in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.

Two methods to dry roast spices-

1) Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan or tawa for 7-10 minutes.
2) Dry roast spices one at a time in batches, or toss all spices in & stir frequently until spices give off a fragrant aroma.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.
(The problem with this traditional method is that the temperature isn't really even over a tawa on a gas flame & some spices may scorch while others remain unroasted.  Cumin usually roasts faster than the other spices & when burned has an unpleasant bitter flavor. Roasting spices separately reduces the risk of scorching but is tedious. Why do South Asians still do use the traditional tawa method? Because most South Asians do not have any sort of oven in their homes.)

Fast & easy oven method-
1) Preheat oven to 220F/100C.
2) Spread all spices over 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely and grind coarsely using pulse button in a mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.

Have you ever seen any of Bal Arneson's television shows?
What is your favorite garam masala recipe?

Nov 12, 2018

Perfume Review: L'Occitane's Néroli & Orchidée

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Today I'll be reviewing L'Occitane's Néroli & Orchidée. The fragrance is part of the company's La Collection de Grasse which pairs ingredients from the Mediterranean with scents from distant lands. Néroli & Orchidée combines two white flowers from two continents: white Madagascar orchid and Grasse neroli. It's a light fruity floral with notes of peach, fig milk, muguet, white musk, and iris.

For those of you who may not know, L'Occitane en Provence (commonly known as L'Occitane) is an international retailer of skincare, fragrances, and home products based in Manosque, France. The company was founded in 1976 by Olivier Baussan who wished to create a company that celebrates the traditions of his native Provence. The company name literally means "The woman from Occitan in Provence." All of L'Occitane's products are developed and produced in Manosque, where its 1,000 employees work. L'Occitane strives to preserve traditional cultivation methods by: supporting a program of raising almond trees in the Haute-Provence Alps, preserving species by planting rare Immortelle flowers in Corsica, and developing partnerships with organizations that support the development of scented and aromatic plants (such as the Office National Interprofessionel des Plantes à Parfum). In addition to products sourced from Provence, shea butter is purchased by L'Occitane directly from women's groups in Burkina Faso with Ecocert certification. La Fondation d'Entreprise L'Occitane is a private organization founded in 2006 by the company to support visually impaired people and help the economic emancipation of women in Burkina Faso. L'Occitane does not conduct animal testing, and no animal products or by-products are used other than beeswax.

L'Occitane is one of the few luxury European brands that has stand-alone shops in every major city of India. Although they are a bit pricey, I love their ethically sourced shea butter skincare products for my dry, eczema prone skin. L'Occitane's fragrances perfectly capture the scents of the south of France. (Which reminds me of my native California with its Mediterranean climate.) I have hesitated in the past to purchase any of L'Occitane's perfumes as they tend to suffer in longevity. I'm not paying over $20USD for a scent that lasts only 20-30 minutes, I don't care how fabulous it is.
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 Néroli & Orchidée was absolutely love at first whiff! I adore white florals and this one does not disappoint. Fortunately, the eau de toilette has good longevity and is interesting enough to set it apart from your usual neroli offerings. The fragrance is also available in a perfumed body milk, perfumed shower gel, perfumed solid soap, and a perfumed candle. I believe they recently added a scented hand cream too. Néroli & Orchidée was created by Grasse native Karine Dubreuil in Spring 2014. Here's what the ad for Néroli & Orchidée states:
"A tantalizing and lovely fragrance, Néroli & Orchidée Eau de Toilette blends the scents of two precious white flowers in a beautiful harmony. A heart of radiant neroli essence from the Mediterranean is blended with caressing white orchid absolute from Madagascar. Fruity bursts of orange and heart notes of peach complete the sensuous bouquet, which lingers delicately on the body throughout the day."
Additional notes include mandarin, fig milk, muguet, musk, and iris.

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Now, what exactly does "caressing white orchid absolute from Madagascar" smell like? I'm getting rather irked with all these popular perfumes that list some rare orchid no one has ever heard of or just plain "orchid" as a note. The Orchidaceae family has about 28,000 currently accepted species, distributed in about 763 genera. In addition to this, since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars of orchids. Furthermore, all these orchids have their own distinctive scents. There is an orchid that smells like coconut, and others that have scents similar to chocolate, lemon, baby powder, cinnamon, and many varied things. I am guessing that the white orchid from Madagascar is this:

L'Occitane's Néroli & Orchidée, perfume, review, La Collection de Grasse, neroli, orchid, scent, perfume review, orchidee, eau de toilette,

Angraecum sesquipedale, also called the Christmas Orchid, Darwin's Orchid, King of the Angraecums, Star of Bethlehem, and the White Orchid of Madagascar. It is native to Madagascar and releases a heady fragrance at night reminiscent of lilies, Nicotiana, and to my nose the cool, metallic, fresh, green notes of lily of the valley or muguet. Night-fragrant flowers often produce scents reminiscent of jasmine, honeysuckle, tuberose, lilies, and gardenia. When you see orchid listed as a note for a fragrance, this is most often what you are getting. Muguet or lily of the valley is also listed as a note in Néroli & Orchidée so it's part of the "caressing white orchid of Madagascar" accord I suppose.

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In the opening of the fragrance, I get a blast of bright and brisk neroli flower and a bit of juicy Mandarin orange. As that settles down the lily of the valley peeps though and what I suppose is the caressing white orchid. Its cool floral notes lend a fresh, Spring-like air to the warmth of the orange blossom. Then the velvety green fig milk and peach show up.  The peach is realistic but not too sharp. Underscoring it all is a delicate silvery tinge of iris and white musk. Given the list of notes, you might think it'd be overpowering but the overall impression is elegant, feminine, delicate, sophisticated and airy. Neither the fruit nor the floral notes overpower each other. It remains clean and fresh lasting about 6 hours in miserable Monsoon heat and humidity. In moderate weather, the fragrance remains with discreet sillage for 8 hours or more.

There are a total of 9 fragrances in La Collection de Grasse. Of all the fragrances in the collection, this was my instant favorite. I'm looking forward to making my way through all of them to see if I find any more gems. If you're looking for a light fruity floral scent that's not too sweet and suitable for Spring and Summer  - this is it!
Have you tried any of the La Collection de Grasse scents?
If so, which one do I need to try next?

Nov 5, 2018

Fall, the Flu & a Fiasco or Two....

Yes, it's that most wonderful time of the year when the monsoon clouds recede and breezy, balmy, mild, and dry days prevail. The tourists arrive to enjoy the spectacular weather and the festivities of the Hindu and Buddhist high holidays. What could possibly go wrong??? Read on for the rant!

You know it's October when you can see the mountains again here in Nepal. This was the glimpse of the Annapurnas from our backyard last week. Gone is the fetid, festering heat and humidity of the Monsoon season. Unfortunately, the agricultural burning starts in October and continues through March. The influx of tourists bringing microbes from around the world combined with the persistent smoke lead to a host of respiratory problems.

And so it happened that the Sheikh (my husband) came down with the nastiest flu. What started with simple allergic rhinitis (a runny nose) gradually escalated to an acute viral respiratory infection. High fevers (103F/39C) alternating with chills, cough, headache, and horrendous body aches. So I sent the Sheikh to clinic to get blood work done. I wanted to make sure he wasn't having a typhoid relapse (we are all due for a typhoid vaccine booster and typhoid is endemic here ) and rule out a secondary bacterial infection or pneumonia. An executive blood panel includes screening for dengue, malaria parasite, leptospirosis, and four strains of typhoid. The bloodwork came back fine but the physician on duty at the clinic wanted to admit him due to his high fever. We decided to try the clinic's new home health care option. Most westerners do not realize that if you are hospitalized in South Asia someone is going to have to bring your meals to you, buy your medications at the pharmacy, and buy/bring any supplies such as bandages or syringes. They don't send you a bill at the end of your hospitalization like in the US, it is more a "pay as you go" sort of system. So the home health nurse came to our house and installed the intravenous port in the Sheikh's hand as you see in the above photo.

The home health nurse arrived by scooter, looked to be about 20 years old, and wore a hoodie over pajamas. Not the most professional of presentations. She proceeded to take the Sheikh's temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. She never washed her hands, used a hand sanitizer nor wore gloves. The home health care physician recommended a triple whammy cocktail of antibiotics, lots of paracetamol to bring down the fever, and the antiviral peramivir. (I was surprised they even had peramivir here - I guess they're thinking the next permutation of Swine Flu is going to be truly vicious.) I thought the triple antibiotic regimen was overdoing it but I was glad they had the antiviral. So then the pajama-clad nurse looks around and asks where the pole to hang the IV is. I replied, "You didn't bring a pole or anything to hang the IV on?" Whatever. Above you see Bibi's "jugaadi" (make-do or hack) IV rig. A sturdy clothes hanger affixed to the curtain rod over the sofa. The clips on the clothes hanger can also be used to hang the patient's chart. The cord you see the drip suspended on is the drawstring from a pair of my salwars (trousers).

Oh, I love a parade! (Except when it is through my living room.) This is actually the Indian Border Securities Forces Camel Cavalry in the Republic day parade. Camels and pompoms- what's not to love?

Culture Clash: If you are sick in South Asia you can expect a parade of well-wishing visitors possibly bearing fruit or fruit juices as gifts. It doesn't matter if what you have is dire, deadly, and or contagious. It doesn't matter if you really don't feel up to having visitors. You must invite them in to sit around you, express concern,  and cheerfully chat up your morale. Your medical chart may be passed about for all and sundry to peruse too. I don't know about you but the last thing I want around when I'm spiking 103F/39C fevers and am miserably ill is any sort of guest.

And you are obliged to serve those well-wishing visitors tea, coffee, and snacks. So in addition to caring for the Sheikh whilst he is miserably ill - I get to be hostess, barista, and chaatwala. The type of tea and coffee served here both require boiling milk and must be served scalding hot. This means you can't stray far from the stove while making them lest the milk boil over. No drip machine for the coffee and the tea leaves are boiled separately.  The snacks are easier to manage as they're usually just packaged biscuits and chaat mixes placed on a tray. We averaged about 20 to 30 guests a day.

The Ongoing Melodrama of the Maid: On the second day of all these harried happenings the maid announces that she is leaving for 15 days to Kathmandu. Why? Because she's pregnant and is going to have "treatment." Congratulations and goodbye was all I had to say. I know I sound like a heartless, entitled, and overprivileged meanie. But this maid has just had a 50 day paid holiday this Summer whilst we were on vacation. Then she said she was taking four days off for Dashain and she was gone for seven days. Both times she has asked for cash bonuses and raises. She hasn't even worked here for 8 months yet! She's only here for 2-3 hours a day and usually washes the dishes, cleans the floors, and makes the beds. We are already paying her twice the going rate for a maid. Many households also require their maid to do laundry and cook but I do that myself. Sigh.

With no maid, I now have to do all the dishes for not only our family but all the guests' teacups and whatnot myself. And I'm starting to get low fevers, chills, and nasty body aches too. UGH. Surprisingly, I never seem to get as severe a case of whatever flu is going around anymore. Not sure if that is due to getting the US version of the flu vaccine for 20 years or my sturdy constitution. I didn't spike the high fevers like the Sheikh did. The body aches were so severe I felt like I'd been hit by a truck, even the bottoms of my feet hurt.

Germs? What germs?

As you may surmise, due to this cultural practice of visitation during illness all of our valley now suffers this nasty virus and local clinics and hospitals are filled to capacity. Why does this cultural practice persist despite modern notions of contagion? Well, you will find throughout Asia that they don't truly believe in the "Germ Theory." Illness is believed to be brought about by changes in weather, dietary indiscretions, and cleanliness is considered more of a spiritual matter. Yet despite these erroneous beliefs South Asian physicians prescribe antibiotics like they're handing out candy. Is there any wonder that New Delhi is the birthplace of the latest antibiotic-resistant superbug?

Curiously, there is a commonly held belief here that drinking chilled water or any other cold beverages is unhealthy and can cause illness. Given the lack of sanitation here, I can see where drinking water that has at least been boiled is safer. Conversely, taking a cold shower or bath is preferred and considered good for health. Nepalis believe that a hot shower or bath is bad for the skin. Apparently, this is idea derived from the Nepali practice of pouring boiling hot water over a slaughtered goat or pig to make the skin bubble off. The variety of ancient traditional medical systems here like Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha probably accounts for many of these practices. Living in Asia has taught me that culture supersedes education, religion, and common sense.

About three days into his illness the Sheikh decides our living room needed refurbishing. Suddenly, amidst the throngs of felicitous guests, he is embarrassed about our worn out 12-year-old carpet and ratty sofa. 
Why now?!? 
The old carpet looked manky when we first moved in 12 years ago and has suffered water damage from an indoor flood (the drains on the roof became clogged during a severe storm and water came streaming out the electrical outlets) and the cats have shredded the edges into oblivion. The sofa has had a hole ripped clean through one end by our cat Spotty for about a year now. We are currently building a new showroom in a new hotel so the Sheikh asks the carpeting crew and upholsterer to stop by. Above you see two of the carpet samples I was shown to choose from. Pretty amazing selection. eh?I believe there was a solid burnt orange sample too but I chose the boring solid brown you see in the background. South Asian home decor has been stuck in stodgy 70's earth tones since forever. So in between serving guests, I managed to dismantle the 3 huge bookcases in our living room so the carpet could be laid. The hole in the sofa has also been repaired so people can sit on it too! Woo Hoo!

And that was the week that was.......
We are all slowly on the mend here now, THANKFULLY.  I eventually convinced the Sheikh to turn the @#$%! phone off so that people would quit coming and he could get some rest. I'm still going through the 700+ photos I took of the wedding in Kashmir- hope to have a post up on that soon. If you made it this far, thank you for listening to my rant! Hope your week went better than ours did!

How are you all faring with the flu and cold season in your area?
Be sure to load up on zinc  and vitamin C to support your immune system!
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