Palestinian food (Makloobeh!), Ramallah Christmas and yoga

Sufyan and Laila do yoga:

At first this post was simply going be a brag about the fact that I took on my first Makloobeh, a time consuming but staple Palestinian dish whose name means “upside down” because the last step is to invert it and serve.  But then I woke up this morning to hear that our housekeeper, Im Amad, had brought ingredients and was ready to teach me how to make Fatayer, a savory stuffed pastry that we all adore.  It’s so good that we have been buying a couple dozen from her regularly.   Well, I am not going to pass up an opportunity to learn to cook from an honest to goodness Palestinian “falaha” (peasant, self proclaimed).   Plus Im Amad gently but firmly insisted that I get up and cook with her despite the fact that I have the flu, god love her.  So now I get to brag about having made Makloobeh and Fatayer.

Makloobeh is time consuming in that it requires around 5 or 6 separate steps to be completed before being assembled and finally cooked together.

the parts of Maklooba ready to be assembled. Chicken, eggplant, cauliflower, carrots, rice, and broth.

1st rice layer (rice has been spiced), then chicken (which has been browned with spices and onions and then cooked in water to create a broth) and then eggplant which was prepared by basting in olive oil and broiling

then a layer of cauliflower (also oiled and broiled) and carrots (parboiled)

then another layer of eggplant and 3 cups of rice, and the broth poured on top.

invert and pray....

and then it stays together if you are lucky. yay!

Now the Fatayer in pictures

chopped cheese (here jibneh nabulsia), fresh zatar and sumac which is a sour flavor like japanese ume. Also chopped onion.

lightly yeasted dough that we pressed flat and stuffed like dumplings

the stuffing on the dough which is gathered and pinched closed, then flattened and brushed with egg and sesame seeds.

Sufyan got to paint the egg and sesame on

Final product. So delicious!


Growing up, Christmas was always my favorite holiday (followed closely by Halloween because of the beautiful leaves and smell of burning leaf piles).
I loved Christmas it’s because it was infused with so much magic.
Magically, everyone was in a good mood.  Magically, relatives appeared in my life who had been gone all year.  Christmas music meant being surrounded by love, and magically my parents happy being together in the same room.

Presents under the tree didn’t hurt, of course.

But there are two main things that I held up as the pinnacle of Christmas goodness and magic:
1.  the multi-colored glow of lights on our christmas tree after everyone else was in bed.  I used to sneak out just to stare at it.  It made me feel so peaceful and warm.

2.  the buying and wrapping of gifts for my family.  I still remember being at a Tru-Value Hardware store in Michigan where I grew up.  It was freezing and snowing outside and I was out on my own to buy gifts with my saved allowance.  I felt grown up, and so happy.  I would guess I was 12.

I’ve often returned to the idea from the movie After Life that when we die we are allowed to pick one memory and live in it forever.  I’ve said that I think I know where that memory would come from for me, but now I realize that I would also have it lit by the glow of a strand of multi-colored christmas lights casting shadows on the floor in the quiet of Christmas eve.

Our Christmas tree is  made of green plastic and we love it

There they sat, in the window of a bookstore here in Ramallah:  green plastic trees with white flashing lights and metal stands included.  Well.  We had to have one and real trees are kind of rare as you might imagine.  I was thrilled to hang ornaments on our 7 foot tall plastic tree from China with my 2 little ones.  And for the first time in my life, it meant something to take a family christmas picture.
I give you the Abboushi Family Christmas in Ramallah Portrait

I’m anticipating new experiences for my first non-American Christmas.  Here is what we have already done:
-we went to the Ramallah Municipal Christmas tree lighting ceremony where the smell of something and the overwhelming volume of the PA system made Sufyan melt into a puddle of freak out.  I should say that the rest of us really enjoyed the hubbub, but I was with Sufyan in the sensory overload so I welcomed his idea to leave.

crowd at the Ramallah municipal Christmas tree lighting

Faris and Laila in the crowd

-we bought and decorated our own tree.

candid shot of the 2 kids scheming about the ornaments

Non-consumer Christmas
And now, I wonder what to do about presents.  I don’t want to set up the expectation of lots of toys, particularly since our options are so limited here anyway.  I am considering baking cookies on christmas eve and wrapping a box for each of my kids along with a coupon that they can cash in to go someplace they love to go in Ramallah for fun.  A place that we don’t normally get to go because it’s too far or it’s just not mama’s first choice (like Kiddie Fun Land where the techno music is deafening but they have shekel rides and an indoor trampoline.  Last time we were there they also had a man welding metal not 10 feet from where the kids were playing.  Sufyan totally freaked out about the smell of it.)
I might also make a kit for each of the kids that includes art supplies and all the accoutrements to make something with Mama and Baba.
I would love to hear what other parents are doing.

Mom Thought for Today:  on sensory integration

Ramallah is a full sensory experience to say the least.  Even for those with senses in the range of normal sensitivity, Ramallah can be overwhelming.  But I wouldn’t know about that, since my senses and my kids senses are incredibly sensitive.  2 days ago I took Sufyan and Laila to a restaurant and upon nearing the door Sufyan stopped cold and covered his nose, refusing to go any further.  He could smell that sometime in the recent past someone had been smoking argileh.  Knowing he is very sensitive to smell, I talked to him gently about going in to see if anyone was actually smoking and maybe seeing if it wasn’t so bad once he got inside.  So we went in, and all was well at first.  But then someone lit up argileh at the next table and that was that.  Sufyan put his hand over his nose and started to wail.  “oooooh MAMA!!! STINKY!!!! OOOOOOOH!”  And who can blame him?  By the time we moved outside a few minutes later he was actually weeping because of the smell.  This city is really challenging for him.

The following is a map of Ramallah according to Sufyan’s nose, all of these smells are so intense for him that he could easily end up feeling assaulted by them to the point of tears:   laundry detergent, house cleaning supplies, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, dust, argileh, sewers and the poop truck, perfume, cologne, kebab, argileh starter (which is particularly pungent), burning trash, burning brush.  Most of these we smell every time we go out of the house.
It’s been a real challenge to help him find a way to be comfortable in Ramallah when we leave our house.  I don’t allow cleaning supplies in my house except in the case of serious germs (like if we handle raw chicken or if there is a sick cat outside that might have touched something that my kids play with), but I literally have no choice about things like laundry detergent (I have looked into making my own but we can’t even get washing soda).
And then there is his sense of hearing in this “city that goes to 11” as my friend has dubbed it, which is another post all together.  Suffice it to say that we were only able to be at the Christmas tree lighting for about 5 minutes before his senses were so overloaded that he couldn’t handle it anymore.  Poor little man.  The video below is what pushed him over the edge….

Our solution so far is to listen to Sufyan, take him seriously, and leave the situation when he’s being overwhelmed on the sensory level.

Yoga Thought for Today:   on the limitations of dogmatic lineage

The whole idea of my practice is to serve me in gaining wellness, clarity and ultimately to continue to take steps toward knowing God within and without.  Oh, and keep me sane under pressure of mothering and life in a foreign country.  And my training and my practice serve me very well, but sometimes I need a change despite the fact that I have knee injuries and shoulder estrangement and a flattened cervical curve (which my training is great at helping me work with).  So the question of when to get out of my rut and when to stay safely within my own lineage is a constant conversation in my head.   One thing is clear:  being too dogmatic about any yoga asana system leads to mental fatigue and joints that are overworked.  So pushing out into other systems (if one is observant of one’s own limitations) is a great way to learn about one’s own weaknesses and strengths.

For example, I am a believer in, practitioner of and trained in the American Viniyoga system of yoga.  But lately I have been doing classes from the Anusara lineage, which couldn’t be more different from Viniyoga.  Anusara pushes me harder than most of my Viniyoga classes do in terms of accomplishing asana and I love the new planes it asks my body to move in.  But, Anusara really lacks the finesse of sensible sequencing to better care for the body and compensate for the hard work being done (ducking now, don’t hurt me Anusara yogis).

So the end result is that I am hard at work creating my own way to practice Viniyoga (with it’s deep understanding of sequencing and purpose for all the tools of yoga) that moves me in the same directions that Anusara does and that will allow me to sweat sometimes when I need it.  And Laila is here to help:

dvi-person pitham


6 thoughts on “Palestinian food (Makloobeh!), Ramallah Christmas and yoga

  1. Your Makloobeh looks AMAZING! Congrats on what looks like a time-consuming dish! I can almost smell the spices just looking at the pictures and wish we had access to that kind of fare. Do you think you’ll be able to recreate many of the recipes you’ve learned in Palestine when you eventually return to the States? Cooking is such a great way to connect your family to its heritage. I wish my Galician/Ukrainian ancestors made better-tasting traditional dishes than headcheese, onion pie, cabbage rolls and prune dumplings! Ew ew and ew! 🙂 Glad my husband is middle eastern!
    Looking forward to seeing you too!!!

  2. Hee hee! I can’t stop commenting! 🙂 You pack your posts with so much! As far as Christmas goes, do your kids even know that there are supposed to be presents under the tree on Christmas Day? It’s unavoidable knowledge for Lucas being in preschool with 3 to 6 year olds, but last year, we did a 12 days of Christmas thing similar to the Hanukkah tradition of getting something every day and counting down Advent-style. But it wasn’t a someTHING that they got. I made a paper chain and wrote a special activity on the inside of each one that Lucas could tear off the chain each day. He got one present on Christmas Day because that felt weird to me for him not to have a present then! Here were some of our activities:
    * dancing to Christmas music with jingle bell and shaker instruments when Daddy comes home from work
    * making homemade play dough
    * visit the SPCA to give a present to the kitties (a couple cat toys)
    * make paper snowflakes together to cover our windows
    * make cookies together
    * open a present (we’d always have some stashed in the closet that came in the mail from relatives)
    * Hang Christmas lights inside his play tent
    At this age, anything goes since Sufyan and Laila aren’t getting info from their peers about how the holiday should be celebrated!
    One thing Lucas hasn’t learned yet is what stockings are for (thank goodness! We need to cut back on the toys!). I asked him why there are stockings hung on the mantle in the christmas books we read to see if he had a clue. He told me that when Santa comes down the chimney, he jumps into the stockings so he has a soft landing!! 🙂 So cute!

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