Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dreams and Love in the Face of Violence

"Khalil was shot and killed by Israeli guards at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah after he allegedly tried to stab one of them on 22 November. No Israelis were injured during the incident."

Anything about Kalandia catches my attention, regardless of the way the word is transliterated. This one stood out with vivid clarity. That could have been Muhammad. Sometimes the characters we create in novels become real enough to appear in news articles. Muhammad, at least the hero of my novel Checkpoint Kalandia, never really existed. He never really had to be held down to keep from attacking the soldiers at the checkpoint, but his is the background I ascribed to Jihad Khalil. A situation that should never happen continues to be repeated…and repeated…and repeated for years, decades, and generations.

The people of Gaza live under even more repressive conditions than those on the West Bank, yet they continue to make art. They paint, they write, they produce plays, they make amazing music. The video below was one I found on the same website, I find it great fun to find that hip-hop music has found a home in Gaza.

The English subtitles are hard to read, but the words are very uplifting. I have taken some liberties with their less-than-perfect translation:

We’re tightening our strength to be the people who never kneel down to death.
We give the mute dream persistence and voice.
We’re tightening our strength to be the people who never kneel down to death.
 Time passes fast. We still hold faith in our hearts
Immigration is not even an option for us
so we will resist the humiliation until we return
We still hold dreams in our hearts
Tomorrow they will be facts.
The bitterness will change to love
And carry the meaning of liberation.
Come sing with us. Let us fly.
We build the love of the land deep in our hearts
And keep it safe within us.
 Sing with us. Let’s all fly. Let’s all fly. Let’s all fly.
 We’re tightening our strength to be the people who never kneel down to death.
We give the mute dream persistence and voice.
We’re tightening our strength to be the people who never kneel down to death.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Always Time for HUMMUS

Americans think of hummus as a dip; Arabs think of hummus as a meal—especially at breakfast time. Early in the morning, children scurry down streets in their pajamas, or with a dress or jacket thrown over pajamas. Each child carries a plate and a few coins, and all heading for the nearest hummus maker. Nothing beats good hummus with fresh pita bread for breakfast—unless you add falafel.
Breakfast doesn't last all day, but hummus can. For many families in the Arab world, the main meal of the day is at midday. If someone, or several someones happen to visit at meal time, a quick trip to the local hummus maker can stretch every meal to accommodate everyone.
 Unfortunately, where we live, there is no local hummus maker. So... I make my own. We haven't found a pre-made hummus that suits us, but it isn't hard to make.

  Add a can of chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, and a little garlic in a food processor and let 'er rip. Make sure it is a smooth paste and not grainy. Canned chickpeas work just as well as cooked dried chickpeas, although there are purists who disagree. Don't forget to keep out a few chickpeas to use as garnish.

Finish the garnish with sumac and parsley. Top with extra virgin olive oil, and it's ready to go.

I did say hummus was good anytime, didn't I?

Ever have a day with no inspiration for dinner? Try this: Crumble some ground meat in a skillet, add some pine nuts that have been lightly browned in olive oil. Instead of the sumac and parsley, put the meat on a dish of hummus. Top with browned pine nuts. Serve with a veggie platter—and add some pickled turnips, or dill pickles if you can't find turnips.

If you want to top your hummus with some of the best olive oil in the world, try some made from olives grown in Palestine. I buy mine from Canaan Fair Trade. They sell all kinds of great food.

This video shows a Palestinian woman making hummus with a blender. While she doesn't use as much tahini as I would use, I love watching the family eat. Notice that they use little snippets of bread and pop the whole thing in their mouths. No double dipping, just sharing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Arabic Bread: an important part of culture

© 2010 jeffreyw, Flicker from

Arabic bread is more than just a food. It is an integral part of the culture across the Arab world, and no wonder, since historians believe that wheat and barley were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago. At that time the first grinding stone was invented in Egypt, and the first grain was crushed. The first bread was flat and thin, similar to tortillas. ("History of bread," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 23, 2015).
     It is widely thought that the Egyptian skill with brewing beer and the warm climate led to the discovery of levening. Around 2500 BC, the first leavened breads were made in Egypt. (Encyclopedia of Food and Culture | 2003 | Franklin, Peter S. COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group Inc. as quoted in
     Ever since that time, Bread has been part of each meal. The soft flat loaves can serve as a plate. Its soft, pliable texture make it perfect for dipping in liquid or semi-liquid foods. It can be folded into a scoop to pick up anything solid or semi-solid. Endlessly adaptable, it is the plate, the utensil, or the meal itself. Often called aish, which also means life, it is clear that for Arabs, bread is truly the staff of life. With a ten thousand year history, is it any wonder Arabs say that Bread is Life?
     Food plays a large part in my novels, Born a Refugee and Checkpoint Kalandia, just as in real life.  It truly is part of the culture. (
     Pita bread, also known as pocket bread, can be made from any standard bread recipe. When it is time to shape the dough, shape into balls about two inches in diameter. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise. After the dough rises, roll each ball into a disc a little less than a half an inch thick and let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Baking will puff the loaves into shapes resembling improperly inflated footballs. After the bread cools, each loaf will flatten out into its characteristic shape and there will be a pocket in the middle.

© 2010 jeffreyw, Flicker from
     Although everyone thinks of pita bread when the topic of Arabic bread arises, that is not the only kind of bread native to Palestine. Taboon (or tabun) bread is named after the domed stone ovens that villagers used to build. The ovens resemble stone igloos. On baking day, a fire is built inside the oven. As the fire subsides into embers, the village women slap the thin rounds of dough onto the oven walls. When the dough begins to fall off the wall, it is done. At least that is what I remember from a conversation with an elderly relative who lived in the small village of Burhahm. Today there are other ways of getting similar results. I have seen people bake the bread on an inverted wok over an open flame. It can also be approximated at home. that suggests preheating a flat baking dish covered with small rocks or pebbles to duplicate the texture of the original.

All recipes for good pita bread. It is easy to make at home. Some people use ovens, others used large flat frying pans. There are many videos available that walk you through the process. Here are a couple of my favorites.