It is pouring outside. The rain is actually coming down at a horizontal angle and streaking across the windows. This morning I had a craving for French toast. Susie had to have it. Unfortunately the bread I needed was in the freezer on the bottom level of the house. In order to get to the third floor you have to go outside. Once outside you can either go down the steep RV ramp at the side of the building, which with the rivers of rain flowing down it would have propelled me the half mile or so down the hill to the lake, or you have to wind around a wrought iron spiral staircase on the outside of the building. Ach.
It was difficult to open the door to the patio the wind was blowing so hard. Stepping out on the deck our small patio table flew past me as if it was light as a matchstick. Grabbing the rail to the staircase I must have looked like a bizarre windsock with my robe blowing wildly to one side and my hair all pushed in one direction. All I needed was a weather vane and a rooster on my head.
I like blustery days like this, at least when I’m inside. Nova Scotia certainly has its share of weather so growing up it was an assumed part of my everyday life. Candles were lit, my grandmother cooked in the kitchen with the little turquoise plastic radio playing in the background, and another log was tossed on the fire in the living room.
For my other half being raised in Cairo this was certainly not the case. Truly if we had tried to think of two opposite places to be raised we couldn’t have come up with two more different.
Egypt has always filled my mind, as I’m sure it has many people who have never set foot there, with pictures of Bedouins roaming the desert perched high on a dromedary’s back, exotic essences, beautiful brown-skinned people, corpulent sheiks lying on colorfully embroidered pillows smoking hashish from ornate water pipes.
Rick’s Egypt had a much different face. He grew up in a suburb of Cairo in the home of his paternal grandparents. Servants gathered at the house early each morning to begin cleaning, preparing meals, and shopping. At the time he was young, shopping was done on a daily basis. Fresh vegetables, fruits, and warm baked breads were hand picked from local street vendors and meat was cut and trimmed to order while you waited.
Housemen gathered curbside in the mornings to have buckets filled with milk ladled from the stainless steel containers attached to the bicycles of local dairy farmers. Along their routes, the farmers wives or daughters could be seen traveling door to door with eggs in wire baskets fresh from the hens and white cheese, similar to Feta, which was often served with the morning meal accompanied by soft Egyptian flat bread, pocketed like pita.
Pita bread could be found as well at restaurants or stands featuring Tamiya (falafel) or foul (pronouced foe-oul) which is basically well-seasoned slow-cooked strained Fava beans, a staple for the Egyptian lower class. Kabab and shawarma stands were also prevalent, offering skewered lamb, chicken and beef or meat shaved with a knife from hanging slabs for sandwiches. Typically these stands passed down from one generation to the next.
Most homes offered fresh fruits for desserts.Strawberries were small there as he tells it, and incredibly sweet. Baskets and platters of figs, black, red and yellow dates, and all varieties of grapes, mangoes, guavas and pomegranates. Accompanying these you might find trays sticky with honey laden desserts such as Baklava and om ali, a raisin cake soaked in milk and served hot, Kanafa, a dish of batter “strings” fried on a hot grill and stuffed with nuts, meats, or sweets, Egyptian rice pudding, mahallabiyya, topped with pistachios or French-style pastries are called gatoux.
Three languages were dominant in Egypt at the time he was born. French, spoken mainly by the upper class, English which predominated in the business world, and Arabic which was the national language. At the age of three he came to live with his maternal grandparents speaking only French. His grandfather spoke all three languages, and his grandmother, originally from England, spoke only English. In order to be able to communicate with his grandmother Rick had to speak French to his grandfather who would in turn translate into English for his grandmother, and visa versa. In the end he would learn all three as he entered the school system.
There’s so much I find interesting about his life there. With the mixed cultural influences under his roof dinner would vary from strictly Egyptian fare to roast beef with braised vegetables and Yorkshire pudding the following night.
Diversity makes us interesting. Hopefully some day I will get to experience Egypt for myself and in turn I would like to share Nova Scotia with him. Although they might move the tree the original roots are still buried deep beneath the soil.
This recipe is a Heinz 57 Variety of cultures. Enjoy!
Blueberry Honey Syrup
1 1/2 cups honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 3/4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 tsp. sugar (I use Splenda)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. maple syrup (not buttered or flavored)
Heat honey, water, and cinnamon over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil. Reduce heat and cook on low boil for 8-10 mins. until mixture begins to thicken.
Remove from heat and add lemon juice, vanilla, orange juice and blueberries. Place back on burner and simmer stirring occasionally for another 7-8 mins. until blueberries begin to soften, mashing a few against the sides of the pan as you stir. Remove from heat and stir in maple syrup and Irish Cream.
Irish Cream French Toast
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. Irish Cream liqueur
4 slices brioche (you can substitute Texas Toast)
Whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, salt, and liqueur. Heat butter in large skillet over med-high heat. Dip toast in egg mixture, turning to cover both sides.
When butter is bubbly but not burning, drop toast in pan cooking until golden brown on both sides. Top with additional butter and serve with blueberry syrup. Serves 4.