Remembering Eid Celebrations

It’s a strange thing to describe Eid to people who are unfamiliar with it as I have found myself doing this and past years, as the holiday rolls around. Probably because it is a really diversely celebrated holiday, and might look pretty different as every family has its own yearly traditions. For me, some of the things I would look forward to every Eid are even too silly to be given such a weighty word as ‘tradition’. One of these was escaping the banalities of adult dinner party conversation, with my cousin by absconding to the balcony where we would dangle our legs over the edge and gravely discuss the boy bands of the time, or whatever other pressing matters demanded our attention. The general basis of Eid celebrations in Pakistan is probably the same as most other holidays — to visit with relatives you don’t see much of during the year, to put aside work and spend time with family (whether or not you really want to), to send gifts to neighbors, give charity to the less fortunate, and partake of a variety of rich foods reserved especially for Eid entertaining.

 

Cham Cham (in pink) and Khopra Pak (Green Coconut Squares). Photo by Shabbir Siraj.

 

A bit of background: Eid is considered the most important Islamic holiday. It’s celebrated to mark the end of Ramadaan, the lunar month of fasting in which the first verse of the Quran is said to have been revealed. In many countries where Eid is a national holiday, there are 3 days of holidays. There are two Eids — Eid-ul-Fitr is the eid described here, the other being Eid-ul-Azha which is called the greater eid. It seems odd to me that Eid-ul-Fitr is called the lesser eid, since I have always observed it to be anticipated with more excitement and celebrated with greater force than Eid-ul-Azha. I guess a fitting analogy would be the way Christmas is a bigger celebration than Easter. Like Eid-ul-Fitr, Christmas involves more planning, presents, food and entertaining than Easter does (to my knowledge at least — there may be some die-hard Easter planners out there and I wouldn’t want to offend them).

 

A shopping centre lit up for Eid-ul-Fitr (& more evidence for the Christmas analogy). Photo by Henrik.

 

The end of Ramadaan also means the end of fasting — this may also contribute to why Eid-ul-Fitr seems like a more joyous occasion. Whatever the reason, for Eid-ul-Fitr my mother would prepare a much more elaborate spread, and we would receive many more visitors and gifts from relatives, friends and neighbours. For Eid-ul-Fitr we also received more Eidi — envelopes of money that younger people receive from their elders as a gift. It was always fun to collect all the envelopes containing mysterious amounts and then count one’s loot at the end of the day. I remember there were a few years where I felt very fortunate that I suddenly had more pocket money than I knew what to do with.

 

Eid moon. Spotting the new moon at the end of Ramadaan means that Eid-ul-Fitr is the next day. Photo by Imran Dawood.

 

In the last few days of Ramadaan, people watch the sky for signs of the sliver of the new moon. Though the date of the new moon is predicted, there’s always room for a day (sometimes two) of error as lunar months vary in length. When the new moon is sighted, word spreads quickly and mosques everywhere blow a celebratory horn to announce “tomorrow is Eid”! The new moon is only in the sky for 5-10 minutes, which makes actually sighting it feel rather special. The image of the new moon is the symbol for Eid, as it heralds the beginning of the new lunar month, which must explain why the crescent is such a prominent image on Eid cards around the world.

 

On Chaand Raat (the night of the new moon) before Eid, many go out to celebrate and get their hands painted with henna. Photo by Onuva Chowdhry.

 

As soon as it’s confirmed that Eid is the next day, the celebrations begin. The night of the new moon is called Chaand Raat (literally, ‘moon night’). On chaand raat stores stay open late into the night as people throng the markets looking for henna, bangles, flowers, new clothes, sweets and ittar (perfume), as they prepare for three days full of visits from family and friends. Sweet shops are overflowing with customers getting boxes of treats wrapped up in shiny paper. The streets are filled with bright lights, crowds, makeshift hawkers, henna stands and general merriment. Preparations for Eid are usually happening at least a week in advance, as everyone knows that there’s a lot of visiting and entertaining to be done within 3 days, during which no shops will be open for business. As soon the horns announcing Eid are heard people rush to buy sweets and savouries to celebrate the news, wish their friends eid mubarak and send boxes of goodies to friends, neighbours and families in need.

 

Bangles to match your Eid outfit are a traditional accessory, and often bought on Chand Raat. Photo by Mohammad Ghouri.

 

It’s been a fair number of years that I was part of a a traditional eid celebration and I have to admit I do miss some of it. Although just like any holiday where it felt obligatory to do the rounds with one’s family, I did feel irritated sometimes by how all-consuming the eid routine felt when I just wanted to stay home and read a book instead of embarking on a day-long visiting marathon with relatives near and far. However now that I look back on it there was something comforting in the non-negotiable stability of Eid visits. On the first day of Eid, the same sequence of visitors would come wandering into our house all throughout the day. On the second day, my family and I would make our visits – the challenging part of this was accepting enough sherbet and snacks at each stop so as to not offend our hosts, and also allowing enough room for the next group of warm relatives to ply us with refreshments. (What a predicament, I know. Goodness knows how I made it out alive.) The third day of eid was kind of a wild card: no set routine, meeting relatives that got left out, catching up on housework from all the guests that had been by those days, and recovering from the food coma. Now that I’m looking back on it, there is a lot I didn’t fully appreciate about Eid: the neighborliness, almost overwhelming hospitality of extended family members, and time spent building relationships with cousins, are all things I can appreciate now.

Before my sudden craving for cham cham becomes dangerous (pink sweets pictured above), I’ll end my Eid reminiscing for now.  I wonder how Eid looks and feels in other parts of the world than Pakistan. Thoughts or stories anyone?

 

Vancouver Theatre: Ensemble Theatre Company presents The Farnsworth Invention at Jericho Arts Centre

The Farnsworth Invention opened at the Jericho Arts Centre in Vancouver on Friday, July 19th. Ensemble Theatre Company‘s production of Aaron Sorkin‘s play tells the story of the invention of television — a story that turns out to be more rich and complicated than I ever thought. The play introduces us to Philo T. Farnsworth, who was struck with the idea of transmitting images electronically when he was just twelve years old, standing in a potato farm in Idaho. The play plunges us into a world in which the idea of television was considered impossible, and even insane, while scientists all over the world raced to develop a working prototype.

 

Yurij Kis and Michael Smith in the Farnsworth Invention.

Yurij Kis and Michael Smith in the Farnsworth Invention.

 

The dream of television is ringed by hope, fear, greed, doubt, warring patent claims and business interests poised to pounce upon what promised to be a radical, world-changing invention — if it ever became a reality, that is. In the centre of this landscape driven by  power, politics and profit is the artless Farnsworth, whose love of electrons and glass tubes is delightful and contagious. His work made electronically transmitted images a reality. In other words, his invention changed the world so fundamentally it’s hard to imagine what we’d be without it. Which makes you wonder why Farnsworth remains such an obscure figure today (even for a scientist).

The play goes far to answer that question — showing us that getting credit for inventions isn’t as straightforward as one might think, especially when men with means and much to lose with the Farnsworth invention intercede. The play is as much of an introduction to Farnsworth as it is to David Sarnoff, leader of the Radio Corporation of America, and broadcast communications visionary.

 

Michael Smith and Yurij Kis in The Farnsworth Intervention.

 

Ensemble‘s production makes us intimately acquainted with these giants of history, who address each other and the audience like old friends. The Farnsworth Invention is warm, funny and engaging throughout. The design is refreshingly simple — it keeps the story and strong script front and centre. And production really makes you feel like you’re immersed sometime in the 20′s and 30′s.

Thanks to director Matthew Bissett for this wonderful production. The Farnsworth Invention stars Michael Smith (Philo T. Farnsworth), Yurij Kis (David Sarnoff), Rebecca Walters (Pem Farnsworth) and nine other talented cast members in the Canadian premiere of Aaron Sorkin’s play.

The Farnsworth Invention plays 8 PM nightly July 25, 28 31, and August 3, 6, and 9, with a 2 PM matinee on Saturday July 27th at the Jericho Arts Centre, Vancouver, BC.

Roamancing Mozambique: Sights and Sounds of Maputo

One of the nicest things about Maputo, Mozambique is how sunny and close to the sea the city is. It was a pleasure just to get into the car with no destination in mind and take in the sights. With the weather warm and conducive to relaxation, sometimes we would just take a ride into, around or out of the city to see what we found.

 

Coconut water vendors in Maputo, Mozambique

Coconut water vendors in Maputo, Mozambique

 

It was not uncommon for us to start such a day with a fresh coconut juice. The most fun part of this was watching the vendor hack into a fresh coconut and seeing its juice spurt out of the top, before he stuck a straw into it and handed it to us through the car window. It was still cool from being inside the coconut, where the summer heat hadn’t got to it. It’s such a perfect drink for the hot weather too. No wonder the area is filled with so many palm trees. I loved looking at all the flora in the neighborhood, because it is so different from the kind we find here in Vancouver.

 

The tropical plant life in Maputo was fun to look at.

The tropical plant life in Maputo was fun to look at.

 

The kind of mood I found among the people in this city was generally relaxed. It seems hard to believe that a whole city can still function while most people are relaxed and cheerful, and yet that is the general sense I got in my interactions there. My unofficial tour guides for example, loved to have fun but were also hardworking art students and ambitious entrepreneurs that worked late into most nights. And the coffee shops were full of people shootin’ the breeze at all hours of the day. Perhaps it was because I myself was on vacation and not so stressed, but I found that the general environment of Maputo was one of general ease and relaxation. You never see anyone in a terrible rush. I’ve heard that other residents and visitors find this to be true about Maputo as well, and can’t really put their finger on why either.

 

La Dolce Vita, a popular cafe in Maputo, Mozambique.

La Dolce Vita, a popular cafe in Maputo, Mozambique.

 

Even though the city is quite commercialized, there are some pretty gorgeous sights to take in just driving or walking around. Being as there are so many roads that run near the coast, the sea is never far, and something about a big blue ocean view is so lovely. No wonder they advertise them for hotels and such. But I’ll quit rambling and just let you see for yourself.

 

A small lake in Boane, just outside Maputo

A small rivulet in Boane, just outside Maputo.

 

Okay, that’s not an ocean, but look at how blue it is! Even having seen it face-to-face it’s hard for me to believe the colour. I asked to stop the car so I could take a picture of this rivulet, because of how striking its colour was. It could not have been bluer if a child had coloured it with a crayon.

 

costa

Costa du Sol, a road running along the coast in Maputo, whose name literally translates to the “Sunshine Coast”.

 

Looking at these pictures again in the depths of a drizzly winter, I really do miss the sun and sea of Mozambique. I’m glad it’s always summer somewhere in the world. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. It almost brings out a sigh of relief to see a place so bathed in sun and warmth. I hope it does for you reading too. To summer! And travel. And cheating winter by going to the Southern Hemisphere in February. And using pictures of sunny days to get through the winter. To those of you that understand what I’m saying, We can do it! To those to whom I sound crazy, my apologies. But I hope you all enjoy the pictures.

Until next time, happy travels!

Roamancing Mozambique: Bolo de Arroz

Bolo de Arroz is a Portugese rice cake popular in cafes and bakeries in Portugal, Mozambique, Brazil. You’ll know it when you see it because of it’s characteristic cylindrical shape, golden crust, and wax paper wrap that often reads ‘BOLO DE ARROZ.’ (‘Bolo’ meaning ‘cake’, arroz meaning ‘rice’). It’s unique shape and wrapping make it a singular member of the pastry world. It`s usually taller than a cupcake, and thinner than a muffin. It’s in a class all on its own. Bolo de Arroz! I love saying it.

They were a part of why I loved visiting cafes so much while I was in Mozambique.

 

Photo by Inayaili de León

 

So now that I’m far from cafes with delectable looking bolo de arroz-es in their windows, I had to set about making some of my own. I found there isn’t very much on the internet (in English) about recipes and guidance about how to make these cakes. With the questionable help of Google Translate, I looked to Bear’s Kitchen and Outra Comidas for general instructions to work from.

I learned that there are different versions of the cake: the traditional and the more commercialized bolo de arroz. The traditional ones are denser than the adapted versions, which are airier and, from what I read, a bit greasier. Though I think they’d both be yummy, I was looking for a traditional recipe, and so made sure the instructions I used were from purists looking to restore the cake to its past glory.

Contrary to what the name of the cake suggests, it is not made with only rice flour. Most of the flour used is wheat, and to confirm this I asked to go into the kitchen of a little cafe in Mozambique so the cook could show me what he used to make my beloved pastries. The bag of flour he held up for my inspection was undeniably wheat flour. Anyone interested can find a wheat-free version of the recipe here. Because I was looking for a traditional cake, I followed a recipe that used wheat flour and was pleased with the results.

That said, one of my downfalls as a chef is that I don’t have a kitchen scale. And to my dismay, all the traditional bolo de arroz recipes I found used grams and millilitres. So did a risky thing and used an online metric converter to turn grams and millitres into cups. I’m going to include the measurements I used in the recipe here, but I would strongly recommend using a kitchen scale if you can get your hands on one. The dry to wet ratio seemed kind of off in the batter, and I am certain the results would be even better with more exact measurements.

While you can make these cakes in a cupcake, or if you have one, a tall muffin pan, I wanted to have them in the traditional shape with the pleasure of tearing the paper away, and so I made the moulds myself using parchment paper. I am indebted to these instructions on how to do so.

If you don’t want to make your own moulds, skip ahead to the cake recipe below. If you do, you’ll need:

  • Parchment Paper
  • A paste of flour and water
  • A can or vitamin bottle, about 2 inches in diameter
  • A pencil and some scissors

 

What you'll need to make Bolo de Arroz moulds

What you’ll need to make Bolo de Arroz moulds.

 

First trace the bottom of the can onto the parchment paper to make a circle. Each mould will use two of these circles. As I was making 8 cakes, I traced 16 circles.

Next roll the can with the parchment paper so that it is covered with some overlap. With the can still wrapped in the paper, coat the overlapping paper with the flour paste and glue it around the rolled up can to make a cylindrical casing.

 

Roll your bottle or can in parchment paper and seal with flour paste.

 

Slide the casing over the can so that there is about a centimeter of parchment overhang. Cut slits into it on all sides, about 3-4 in all. Place one of the circles on the bottom of the can and coat its edges with flour paste. Then fold the parchment down onto the circle. Put more paste onto the folded parchment and press another circle onto it. That is the base of your mould.

 

Let some parchment paper hang over the bottle. Cut slits into the sides of the overhang and glue down.

Let some parchment paper hang over the bottle. Cut slits into the sides of the overhang and glue down.

 

Wait a minute before carefully sliding the can out of the mould and putting it aside to let it dry. That is your first mould! Repeat 8 times.

Bolo de Arroz

(Makes about 8 cakes)

Ingredients:

  • Butter (softened), 100 gr (7 oz)
  • Sugar, 200 gr (1 C)
  • Eggs, 2
  • Egg yolk, 1
  • Milk, 200 ml (4/5 C)
  • Flour 200 gr (2 cups)
  • Rice flour, 200 gr (1.25 C)
  • Baking powder, 1 envelope (1 Tablespoon)
  • Baking soda, a pinch of
  • Salt, a pinch of
  • Lemon zest (finely grated), from 1 lemon
  • Lemon juice, from 1/2 a lemon
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
  • Teaspoon vanilla essence (optional)

 

Gather your ingredients together

Gather your ingredients together.

 

Preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F.

Sift the flour, rice flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl, mix well, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, using an electric beater. In a third bowl beat together eggs, milk and vanilla if you are using it. It helps if the eggs are room temperature so keep them outside the fridge for an hour or so before you start.

Next add the egg mixture to the butter and beat it in. Then add the lemon juice and zest and mix.

Add the flour mixture in gradually and mix until all the flour is incorporated. The batter will be pale yellow. Mine was thicker than anticipated (a problem I think might be solved by using a kitchen scale to measure the flours). You can trim the parchment paper so that there is just one inch of it above the batter line, or trim it after baking, like I did.

 

Line the moulds in a cupcake or muffin pan. It helps keep their shape.

Line the moulds in a cupcake or muffin pan. It helps keep their shape.

 

The recipe said to bake for 20-25 minutes, but my cakes took longer before the toothpick came out clean — about 40 minutes.

When they were done I took the tray out of the oven and sprinkled icing sugar on top. They still looked pale yellow so I broiled them at 500 F for two minutes to give the cakes their emblematic crust. It worked perfectly.

I distributed them among friends and the consensus was that they were crumbly, lemony and very tasty. They smelled so good too. I don’t think I would go through the trouble of making my own moulds again, but I will definitely make the cakes again. If you try the recipe out, do share how it worked for you. Enjoy!

 

Finished! Bolo de Arroz.

Finished! Bolo de Arroz.

 

Learning Portuguese in Sunny Mozambique

My favourite part about going to a different country is delighting in the unfamiliar sounds of a new language — and then trying them on my own tongue. Mozambique has many different dialects, but being a recently decolonized country, Portuguese is the most commonly spoken language in the capital of Maputo where I spent the greater part of my visit. My impression of the culture here is very much a fusion of European and native Mozambican, as many Portuguese people still make their home there even after the country’s independence in 1975. Though I’ve never visited Portugal, I compared notes with a friend who had and found many similarities in the cuisine in particular: lots of seafood, salad, fruity puddings and juices, wines, and many, many little cafes with a variety of to-die-for coffees on the menu.

 

A seaside cafe in Maputo, Mozambique. Also the place I practiced a lot of beginner’s Portuguese.

 

My aunt, who has lived there for about 14 years, describes it as a “Latin” culture — people from all walks of life like to dress up, dance and be social in the evening rather than stay home. Even the music on the radio in the morning in rhythmic and makes you get in the mood on the way to work or school. Also, since it’s customary to kiss the cheeks of someone when being introduced, I think I will save a lot of people the embarrassment — the nature of which I will leave up to your imaginations — if I share with any future visitors: start with the right cheek. Every time.

The following are several Portuguese words and phrases that I found myself using a lot in Mozambique. Knowing them might make your travels in Mozambique, or any Portuguese-speaking country, smoother and easier. The biggest challenge I found to learning Portuguese is that the spelling of the words is often very different from the pronunciation. For example, ‘bem‘, meaning ‘good’, is pronounced ‘bay(n)’, with a nasal sound at the end. Once you’re there and hearing the local speech, the nasalizations will grow on you and even become intuitive.

 

Trying to decipher street signs is a fun way to learn the language.

 

Here are some phrases that it really helped to know in Mozambique.

Greetings and Goodbyes

Bom dia — Good morning

Boa tarde — Good afternoon

Boa noite –  Good evening

Ola — Hello

Como estas –  How are you?

Tudo bem? — Is everything good? (more casual)

Como vai — How’s it going? (to which you can respond, tudo bem, if everything is good) – also more casual

Até amanhã — Until tomorrow, see you tomorrow

Tchau — Goodbye

Asking for things

eu care — I would like…  um cafe com leite (a coffee with milk), or o menu (the menu), for example

a’cabou? — Is that all? or Is it/Are you finished?

quali-sensa – Excuse me…

por favor — Please

Obrigada/Obrigado — Thank you (say obrigada if you’re female, obrigado if you’re male)

 

If you visit, be sure to enjoy the fresh coconuts. They are everywhere and so refreshing.

 

Miscellaneous

hoje – today (silent H, pronounced auj)

primera – first

segunda – second

depois — then, followed by

amanhã – tomorrow

outro dia – another day

d’escupa — apologies, or sorry

falar — to speak

muito — much, a lot

And finally: d’escupa, eu nao falar muito portugais — sorry, I don’t speak very much portugese. This last one was particularly helpful.

That’s my portugese cheat sheet. These phrases got me through a surprising number of situations with many accomodating portuguese speakers, and hopefully will do the same for you.

Happy travels!