Sunday, January 31, 2016


I’ve been preparing for this meal all week. Literally. Thankfully, my brother-in-law caught a deer this year and had a bunch of it ground and some cut up into steaks. So, I was able to get a couple steaks off of them, and my sister threw in a couple tubes of ground deer as well. I started marinating the deer on Tuesday, so hopefully after almost a week, it should be good and tender. 

This is probably one of the best parts of the meal. Who doesn't love cookies? To be honest, we ate them all up.
Today we’re cooking food from Liechtenstein. It was kind of difficult to find an actual bread recipe from this country posted online. So, I expanded out a little bit and found a traditional Christmas cookie recipe instead that was posted on the embassy website. (Because the last day of January is not too late for Christmas cookies.) I went with a type of butter cookie called mailänderli. I made the dough by creaming one stick of butter until it was smooth and then adding in about 2/3 c sugar and 2 eggs, beating it until it was light and fluffy, more or less. In a separate bowl, I mixed in 2 c of flour and a pinch of salt. I gradually poured in my flour to the butter and mixed until it was the consistency of a dough. Then I put it into the refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours (it’s best to let it sit overnight, but I forgot). When it was time to bake, I rolled my dough out so that it was about an 1/8” to a ¼” thick. I let my son use a star cookie cutter to cut out shapes (do you know how hard it is to find cookie cutters after Christmas?) and put them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Then I let him lightly brush each cookie with an egg wash (1 egg yolk plus 2 Tbsp water). These went into a 375ºF oven for about 8-10 minutes. I left them in there an additional 2 minutes and they were perfect. It had been so long since I have made cookies from scratch, but these turned out just fine. I think it’s also a good basic butter cookie recipe. There are so many possibilities of adding in other ingredients (I think it would be good with a little almond extract.). The egg wash gave it a nice smooth, slightly firm top, but the cookie itself was soft and flavorful. 

Actually, these were pretty good. I thought the asparagus ones were good.
This side dish is probably best as an appetizer. I read that they use asparagus a lot, but I couldn’t find any definitive recipe using it. I did find a mention in one article of asparagus canapé. I did manage to find one recipe of an asparagus canapé; I don’t think it’s from Liechtenstein, but we can pretend it is for all intents and purposes. For this, I mixed together some blue cheese crumbles, some chive and onion cream cheese, and a little bit of heavy whipping cream. (I left the walnuts out.) Then in a small skillet, I heated some butter and sautéed a little bit of shallots before adding in my asparagus, salt, and pepper. On bruschetta toast, I spread a little of the cheese mixture and topped it with the asparagus mixture, garnishing it with a little lemon zest. Because my husband hates asparagus, I also made one with mixed mushrooms (crimini, shiitakes, and oyster mushrooms) and garlic sautéed in a little olive oil and Worcestershire sauce. The kids liked the mushroom ones better, and my husband—who made a big deal about hating asparagus—actually thought the asparagus ones were better.  

Um, not so good. The flavor was there, the texture was not.
Next, I decided to go with Käsknöpfle. I made a very similar dish for Austria, but because this was always the first recipe mentioned on anything related to Liechtensteiner cuisine, I felt inclined to include it. In a bowl, I poured in my flour and salt. In a separate bowl, I beat 5 eggs with some water, adding this to the flour mixture and mixing it to form a dough. I added a little water to thin it out since it looked too thick. In a small skillet, I fried my onions in oil for about 10 minutes until they were caramelized, and set aside when they were finished. At the same time, I boiled my water with a pinch of salt. When it was ready to go, I poured my batter through a colander into my boiling water. It globbed all up and didn’t drain through the holes of the colander like I thought it would. It wasn’t very appealing looking, and I wasn’t even sure how to tell if it were done. I tried to drain it and placed it in a bowl and then added my grates Swiss cheese to it. (The recipe called for Gruyère cheese, and I actually found some, but it was far more expensive than I could work into my budget.) I stirred in the grated cheese into the hot pasta to melt it and then topped it with the caramelized onions. While it didn’t look appetizing, I didn’t think it tasted bad. It was almost the consistency of creamed corn or something. My son thought it was good. It was just so-so in my book. 

Seriously, I know it's bad for you, but fried potatoes and bacon are my favorites.
The next side dish I made was called alpine rosti. I started this by cutting up a couple slices of bacon into small pieces and frying it, setting it off to the side when it was done. Then I peeled and grated two potatoes and mixed in the bacon into the shredded potatoes. (I supposed I could’ve just bought some frozen hash browns perhaps and saved myself a little time. Probably wouldn’t have tasted the same, though.) Then I added in some salt and pepper.  In a skillet, I melted some butter and formed patties with the potatoes and fried them until they were brown, flipping them and frying the other side as well. When they were done, I removed them and sprinkled a little of the grated Swiss cheese on top to let it melt while it was still hot. Some people make this as a stand-alone dish and serve it with a fried egg on top, but since I’m serving this as a side dish, I left the egg off. Although I think it would make for a great breakfast idea. I liked this side dish. It was probably my favorite part. It needed a lot more bacon in it, though. 

My husband has been letting me know off and on for the past hour how sour this was and not to ever make this gravy again.
Finally for the main dish: jugged venison. I took out my venison from the refrigerator that had been in there for the past five days and drained the marinade into a separate bowl, letting the meat drain for a couple of hours. (I did this first before making the cookie dough.) When I was ready, I heated some oil in a pot to sear the meat with a little salt. Then I strained the marinade through a cheesecloth-lined colander. Meantime, I fried the rest of the mirepoix vegetables in a little oil and added it to my seared meat to fry together before pouring in the marinade and letting it simmer for about an hour. While that was cooking down, it was time to make the red wine gravy. The recipe actually calls to make this with pig’s blood, but I’m pretty sure that’s difficult to find. In fact, I didn’t even try to find it. So, I’m modifying my recipe and using a cup of cabernet sauvignon, a little bit of apple cider vinegar, seasoning it with salt and pepper and thickening it with flour. It turned a lovely plum color but was sour. When the meat is done, I scooped out the meat and set it on a plate, serving the meat topped with some of the gravy. The meat was fine, really tender and had a nice flavor. It had certainly been a while since I’ve made any venison. But the red wine gravy was too much. First, it was too sour (perhaps the pig’s blood would’ve cut it?). Second, the meat still had a wine flavor to it anyway. I think it would’ve been better with a different kind of gravy instead. I may have to figure out a way to modify this tomorrow. 

Overall, this meal was about 50/50. But I could make it better. So, maybe next time.
I learned a lot about this tiny country. Well, seeing how I didn’t know hardly anything about it at all when I started, everything was fairly new. I now have a couple new bands I’m going to listen to this week. I say new, but I mean new-to-me. And although my feet are tired, I spent my Sunday afternoon doing exactly what I love: cooking, watching Classic Dr. Who episodes (since Netflix is dropping it from streaming in the US, and I’m not a British citizen, although I would like to be for other reasons not related to Dr. Who.), and just being with my family. No one had to go anywhere, no one had anything pressing to do, and the weather was warmer. It was the perfect Sunday, even if dinner was partially meh. But at least there are cookies.

Up next: Lithuania 

Saturday, January 30, 2016


The music of Liechtenstein is stemmed from being in the middle of the three music capitals of Europe—France, Germany, and Italy. However, their musical culture is probably tied with that of Germany the most. Their most famous composer is Josef Rheinberger. He is often referred to as being the mentor to the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (most famous for his opera Hänsel und Gretel). Rheinberger, prolific at the organ, was also a friend of the famous Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. Although he was born and raised in Liechtenstein, he spent most of his time in Germany. And even though I was a music major, this is the first time I have every heard of Josef Rheinberger. After listening to some of his works, I really like what I heard. I may try to find some of his piano pieces. What’s interesting is that the Liechtenstein Music School is housed in the same building that Rheinberger was born in 1839. It is one of the main schools promoting music education in the country. 

Music is incorporated into much of the culture of Liechtenstein. There are numerous music festivals held every year celebrating a variety of music, such as the Liechtenstein Guitar Days. Choirs are popular; the Singing Society has 24 adult choirs and 12 children’s choirs. There are also several symphony orchestras, not to mention a big band orchestra and several jazz and blues bands. Brass bands dress in traditional costume and are quite popular. 


Theatre, dance, and music are often combined together. The TAK is one of the premier theatres in Liechtenstein that promotes all of this. Not only do they promote their own arts, but they also open it up for a number of international acts there as well. Music and dance are often showcased at community and national celebrations. Carnival is a very busy time for musicians, and dressing in masks and face paint is often used as a way to dance uninhibited. (Alcohol will also do the same thing.) 

There’s not a ton of information on bands from Liechtenstein, but there are a few, though. And some of the bands mentioned may or may not exactly be from Liechtenstein, but rather it might be highly popular in Liechtenstein. Sometimes I couldn't tell. Metal music seems to be a big thing there. I highly enjoyed listening to the band Erben der Schopfung (literally means "Heirs of Creation" in English). It was more along the lines of gothic metal, but they also used some synthesized filler in places as well. But you know me, a gothic metal band with a female lead singer? Yes, please. And especially because I can tell the lead singer is classically trained. Double yes. 
Another metal band I listened to was Dark Salvation. There were definitely some moments that almost reminded me of Yngwie Malmsteen. But then the drummer turned his set into a machine gun and the lead singer let out this primal scream. So, you know, if that’s your thing… My husband loved it. 

I found the band Nevertheless. It was a nice change. They’re definitely a little more on the pop-rock/indie-rock level. I think they remind me a little of Imagine Dragons style (my daughter is obsessed with them) with their chord changes and instrumentation. And they sing in English. I think she’d like them, too. 

Landvogt is a mix of rock and a little bit of synthesized electronica a la late 1980s rock. Singing in English, they had catchy riffs. Even though the lead singer really doesn’t have the strongest voice as far as pitch and timbre goes, but the rest of it makes up for it to a degree.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Artisanal arts of Liechtenstein cover a number of handicrafts like basket weaving, woodcarving, pottery, and other similar skills. They’re known for making elaborate rakes and for their elaborately designed postage stamps. Many of their stamps are based on paintings from Liechtensteiner artists. For Liechtensteiners, art is about the skill and the creativity that goes into the artist’s works. And art for them is not strictly tied to the canvas: it’s in its architecture, handicrafts, public art sculptures, and wall murals. 

Liechtenstein celebrates a vibrant art scene. Art museums and galleries are popular destinations and special exhibits often bring in many people. And as far as mediums of art go—photography, graphic arts, painting, sculpting, filmmakers—Liechtensteiners embrace all of them.  

Because Liechtenstein is located between several of the major art capitals of Europe—Italy, Germany, France—there are plenty of influences and art schools to be found nearby as well. Many art students travel abroad to study at some of the most historically acclaimed art schools in Europe. The government strives to promote the arts as a means of preserving their history and culture. The Liechtenstein School of Art is the leading art school in the country. Not only are there classes for adults, but they also offer age-appropriate lessons for children and teenagers as well. The school has classes in the classical arts like painting, drawing, and sculpting, but modern arts like graphic art, graffiti, photography, and jewelry making are also popular. 

One of the more famous artists from this tiny country is Hans Kliemand. He spent many years studying drawing and painting in Germany but returned to capture the landscape and the flora and fauna. Several of his works were presented to the prince and subsequently used for postage stamps. 

Literature from Liechtenstein is primarily written in German. In fact, it’s the smallest German-speaking country in the world. In an interview with Stefan Sprenger, a short story writer from Liechtenstein, he discussed the fact that because Liechtenstein is small (among other reasons), being a writer is often isolating. There are certainly other writers from this country despite its size, but that there is no strong national literary lineage. There’s no great group of writers who emerged at one point, setting off new trends in writing literature from and/or about life in Liechtenstein. It’s just not really there.

However, if you look closer, you’ll find there actually is a small but growing literary scene. With the efforts of Literature House and Theater am Kirchplatz, writers do gather together and focus their efforts with workshops and events. Along with Sprenger, other writers like Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Iren Nigg, Jens Dittmar, Mathias Ospelt, Evi Kliemand, and Hansjörg Quaderer not only promote their own works but literature in general in the hopes of creating a literary history.  

The Liechtenstein State Library, known simply as the State Library, also doubles as a copyright and patent library. It’s actually a government-run library, at least in the sense that the government appoints the library board members. Not only does it catalogue books, music and other works by Liechtensteiners, but it also handles works about the country as well. There are a number of other libraries holding various special collections: the National Teacher’s Library and the Princely Liechtenstein Library.

Up next: music and dance

Monday, January 25, 2016


To be honest, I always get Liechtenstein and Luxembourg mixed up. They’re both small countries in Europe that start with L. (Even though, Luxembourg in comparison is far larger than Liechtenstein. Actually, I think the coffee stain on my desk is larger than Liechtenstein.) So, hopefully doing this blog will help me keep them straight. 

Liechtenstein is named after the Liechtenstein dynasty and literally means “light stone” (the “light” in this sense meaning “bright”). It was once part of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Emperor named this region after the family.

This sliver of land is located between Switzerland and Austria in central Europe. The entire country is generally located halfway between Innsbruck, Austria and Bern, Switzerland. It’s what’s considered a double landlocked country, meaning that the countries surrounding it are also landlocked countries. So, essentially Liechtensteiners have to travel through two countries in order to reach a coast. The country is located in the Alps, and the border with Switzerland is the Rhine River. 


This region was originally part of the Roman Empire. The Alemanni (a Germanic tribe) were one of the largest inhabitants here before the Frankish Empire defeated them, and it changed hands again. By the 1200s, there were several dynasties that were established throughout the region. As they started to fall to other dynasties, the borders changed several times. Essentially, the Holy Roman Emperor bought off the remaining dynasties, forced them to combine lands and decreed it to be named after the Liechtenstein dynasty. After the Napoleonic Wars caused this area to fall under French rule, it later joined the German Confederation (which was ruled by the Emperor of Austria). For most of the 1800s up until the end of WWI, Liechtenstein had close ties with neighboring Austria and later Austria-Hungary. When Austro-Hungary broke up, Liechtenstein was kind of by itself for a while. During WWII, Liechtenstein began to look to Switzerland for assistance in its desire to remain neutral. Although it did remain neutral, there were some Nazi sympathizers despite no official Nazi party, and Liechtenstein did provide asylum to Russian soldiers. Liechtensteiners were prohibited from entering Czechoslovakia during the Cold War years, and it remained that way until 2009 when the country re-established diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As a means of strengthening revenue for the country, they lowered corporate tax rates during the 1970s and is now one of the richest countries in the world.  Women weren’t granted the right to vote until 1984 and weren’t able to vote in their first election until 1986. 

For many countries, the capital city is the largest city in the country, but not so for Vaduz. While Vaduz is the center of government, the neighboring city of Schaan to the north is the largest city (but it’s only larger by about 500-600 people). Both cities are located along the Rhine River on the western side of the country. The Vaduz Castle, where the Liechtenstein family once resided, is one of the most famous landmarks in the area. The Cathedral of St. Florin, a Roman Catholic church built in 1873, is also another famous landmark. Prince Franz Joseph II and his wife are buried there along with the wife of Prince Franz I. Vaduz is connected to other major cities in the region by bus and train; the nearest airport is in Zurich, Switzerland. Vaduz is home to a few museums and historical buildings along with a stadium for Vaduz’s soccer team. 

Liechtenstein is small (obviously) and has limited natural resources. So, to figure out a way to boost their economy, they started offering super low corporate tax rates— a flat rate of 12.5%. (Andorra does this too, but theirs is 10%.) They also make it really easy to incorporate your business there as well; many holding companies register these companies (sometimes called “letter box companies”) under the name of a Liechtensteiner, usually a lawyer. This way it offers a type of anonymity for the true business owner and creates a tax haven for foreign companies. (How convenient.) Outside of tax evasion, the country also makes money in a less lucrative way: manufacturing (they are the world’s largest producer of false teeth—and that’s something to smile about), electronics, tools, pharmaceuticals, and others. They’re also known for their wine and beer. 

The vast majority of Liechtensteiners are Roman Catholic, and a small number are Protestant. There are also a significant number of Muslims and non-religious people.

The official language is German; however, most Liechtensteiners speak an Alemannic dialect, which is actually quite different from Standard German. It’s closer to Swiss Standard German, which is what most people speak and understand. What’s interesting is that Liechtensteiners aren’t the only ones who speak Alemannic German. Besides portions of neighboring countries, it’s also spoken by the Amish in Allen County, Indiana (where Fort Wayne is—about two hours north of me). 

Because Liechtenstein is so small, they have a relatively low crime rate. In fact, many people don’t even lock their doors at night. They are also keen on observing quiet times during the national lunch time of 12 noon to 1:30pm as well as after 10 pm. And once a year, all the residents are invited to have a beer with the Prince. It sounds to me like a great big retirement community. And given their proximity to Switzerland and Austria, I think their food will be rather tasty. My sister donated a couple of venison steaks to the cause, shot by my brother-in-law. I will start marinating it tomorrow. I’m hungry already.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 17, 2016


So, we finally had our first bout of winter weather, complete with snow, icy roads, and cold air. But we survived, and the temperature rose back up to the 40s, which felt rather balmy. But now it’s back and will be even worse this week. But the kids have a four-day weekend this weekend for Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, so I foresee finishing up Season 8 of Dr. Who and drinking plenty of hot chocolate. (Oh yeah, and working.)
This was really good, especially when it was warm. The recipe suggests to eat this with mint tea, but I was all out. 

But today, we’ll cook food from a warmer weather country: Libya. I started out with making the bread called Libyan Herb Bread (Khubzah bil A3shab). First I mixed together ½ c of warm water with one packet of yeast and 1 tsp sugar, stirred it and set it off to the side. Then I poured in 1 c warm milk and ½ c of warm water in to a bowl before adding in the yeast in as well. Then I slowly added in 4 c of white flour, 2 tsp baking powder, and 2 tsp salt. Then I added in other ingredients used to add in some flavor according to taste (probably about 1-2 tsp each if I had to guess): thyme, parsley, rosemary, paprika, poppy seeds, bouquet garni mix, dried marjoram, and about 4 oz or so feta cheese. After forming the ball, I rubbed olive oil over the ball. I covered this with some plastic wrap and let it rest for about an hour. Then I put the ball into an 8”x8” springform cake pan and spread it out with my hands. There was enough olive oil on it from resting that I felt I didn’t need to add any more. Before putting this into a 425ºF oven, I did sprinkle the top with just a tad bit of za’atar mix and poppy seeds and baked it until it looked golden on top (about 25 minutes while on the second-from-the-bottom rack). It rose rather nicely and the crust was crispy, yet the inside was soft. I tried to stay light on the herbs and spices, and I think it kept it balanced. 
I thought this was fantastic. I think I'm going to try to make a larger version of these.

The next dish I made is called Braided Puff Pastry with Savory Fillings. Now, I thought I had pastry sheets in my freeze, but what I actually had was phyllo dough, so I thought I would modify it just a little to make this work. The first thing I did was set out my phyllo dough to thaw. Then I made my fillings. The first filling was a spinach-feta cheese filling. I diced my onion and sautéed it in butter, then threw in my spinach. When the spinach started to look wilted, I added in my black pepper and salt. I put this in a bowl and set it off to the side. The second filling I made was a chicken-herb-cheese filling. I took one chicken breast and diced it finely, sautéing it in a skillet with some onion. Then I added in some dried thyme and parsley, black pepper, salt, baharat spice mix (in lieu of seven spice mix), and some shredded cheese (I went with an Italian mix). After stirring everything together, I set this off to the side. Now this is the part where everything started to fall apart. Because I was trying to use phyllo dough, which is thinner than puff pastry dough, I set it out to thaw. I thought that if I put it on top of the stove while the bread was baking, it would thaw quicker, but I was so completely wrong. It pretty much cooked it and the rest crumbled to oblivion. So, I thought, “Why don’t I try to make a puff pastry dough really quick?” Well, the problem with that is that to make puff pastry, you can’t do it really quick, and I didn’t quite have enough butter. So, I pulled a recipe from the All Recipes app and modified it: I mixed flour, salt, water, and the 6 Tbsp of butter I had left. After I got it to form a ball, I threw it in the freezer to rest for about 10-12 minutes. I ended up having to add more flour to get it to be smooth. I divided it in two and rolled it out. Arranging the sheets so that they’re taller than wider, I divided the dough in thirds putting a very slight indention as a divider, leaving a gap at the top. The inner section is where I’m placing my filling down the middle. I cut diagonal ribbons on where the outer thirds would be. 
These are the cuts I'm failing at describing. A picture is worth 45 words.
After I placed my filling down the middle, I took one ribbon from one side and crossed it over to the other, doing the same thing from the other side, giving it a braided effect. I made sure each ribbon was tucked underneath. After doing this with both breads, I brushed each with a beaten egg. Placing them on parchment paper placed on a baking sheet, I baked this at 450ºF until it looks brown on top (about 25 minutes). I think it could’ve probably used another minute or two because the inner layers of dough were still slightly underdone. Otherwise, I thought these were great. My husband thought they tasted like they were store bought. Even the kids ate them (and that includes my picky eater), which says a lot. I thought they were fantastic. I had a lot of filling left over, so I may make some more tomorrow (after I buy some more butter, of course). And my fake puff pastry? The outside of it was actually pretty good. 
It's a hit! My kids ate it! I'm a winner!

Macroona Imbakbaka is listed as “the most quintessential Libyan dish.” So, of course, I was immediately drawn to it. To make this, I sautéed my onion in some oil before I added in my diced chicken to brown as well. Once it was browned, I lowered the heat and added in the tomato paste, baharat mix (in lieu of bzaar spice mix), salt, and pepper, letting it simmer for a few minutes. I added in about 7 c of water before turning the heat back up and let it simmer for about 25 minutes. At this point, I added in some spaghetti that I had broken up into 2-3” segments (basically breaking the spaghetti into thirds) along with some minced garlic and just a tad of cayenne pepper. Once the pasta was done and most of the liquid was gone, it was time to eat. I really liked this, and so did the kids. My husband has a hard time with tomatoes and spices, but he did have a taste and said liked it. 
Overall, I'd say this was pretty good. Definitely dishes I'd do over again.

I’m glad I covered this country because I see Libya in an entirely new light. From the time I learned where Libya was in elementary school, and every time I heard it on the news, I always had this view that it was “probably a terrible place” filled with “some scary people.” Definitely not on my vacation list. But as I got older, I realized it was only a run by a few terrible people in its government—and even at that, there were still only a few things that weren’t completely terrible. And growing up, I always referred to Muammar Gaddafi as “that crazy man.” But just like reading about some of the other world dictators, there were actually a few minor “redeeming qualities” about them as well. It still doesn’t make them great people in the least, but it makes me realize there may also be reasons behind their actions that aren’t reported on in the West. It makes me think of Paul Harvey’s “And now for the rest of the story…” line. So, I suppose to say the least, it’s opened my mind to how the media works. These places that are often in the news are filled with normal people with families and dreams and talents and aspirations and all the same feelings we feel. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s to read stories about people and events a little differently, questioning what NOT being reported: to dig deeper, to find the story from the other point-of-view. And now it’s time to move on with that knowledge.

Up next: Liechtenstein

Saturday, January 16, 2016


The Berber people have been creating their own music for thousands of years. These groups of people are generally nomadic and pastoral; their territory stretched from Morocco across North Africa and extended down into Mali, Burkina Faso and other areas of West Africa. Much of their music was built on the pentatonic scale (a scale made of five notes — think of it like playing only the black keys on a piano). Utilizing instruments that resembled the modern oboe and bagpipes, musicians would often travel from town to town performing their music, much like the troubadours in France did. 

The Tuaregs, whose music is often similar to that of the Berbers, used the call-and-response style of music, and music was generally a woman’s area of expertise. Women also dominated at playing the imzhad, a type of string instrument similar to a violin. Other instruments heard in Tuareg and Berber traditional music include the flute (usually made of bamboo), the oud (a fretless lute), tambourines, and the darbuka (a type of goblet drum played with the fingers). Clapping intricate rhythms often accompany their music.  

Tuareg folklore dance styles are still widely popular and are linked with traditional music. Many times, these folkloric dances are showcased on television programs. Hagallah is a style of dance performed by women during special ceremonies. She will often use a handkerchief or a straight stick as a prop and is very rhythmic, utilizing the intricate clapping mentioned earlier. This style of dance is often used as a way for a young girl to showcase her beauty. Line dances are also another style of dance performed in Libya; dancers will link arms while gliding and hopping their way across the performance area.  

As far as pop music goes, there’s not much. After decades of music being repressed and only traditional music being played, it’s no wonder it’s been a little slow on the uptake for new music to open up. I mean, if you were under constant threat of being arrested and/or “disappearing” just for expressing your craft, would you do it? It’s certainly the true test of an artist, and many did it anyway. But many also emigrated for their safety. Musicians who did stay knew that Western music styles and speaking out against the government were pretty much out of bounds. 

However, one musician that stands out is Ahmed Fakroun. As someone who is skilled in many instruments, he was also influenced by the Europop styles and the rock coming out from France. I listened to the Compilation album. It certainly reminded me of the raï music; some songs were reminiscent of the style of Cheb Mami and others. 

In the aftermath of the Civil War, more musicians and bands are slowly feeling more comfortable with creating music that was originally banned. Although I think many of these bands are still on the underground, metal bands and rappers are starting to make names for themselves. I found some references for a few Libyan metal bands: Rex Mortifier, Acacus, Magma, Libya Death Metal Rebels, The BlackForce, Tasnim, and others. Some bands, like Rex Mortifier are no longer together.

Western- and European-style rap and hip-hop are also making an entrance on the music scene. Artists like Volcano often rap about the events that have taken place in their country in the past decade, the end of the civil war, and their sentiments about it. Often covering topics like injustices and calling out ISIS over their ridiculous extremist ideologies, these rappers use their art form as a means of dealing with this mess. I listened to Volcano’s song “C5,” which is fairly catchy and well written. The video is done well and is eye-catchingly riveting with scenes performed on the rubble from the attacks. Rappers like Volcano, Ibn Thabit, and Libyan-American rapper Khaled M. often use current events to fuel their message.  

Up next: the food

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Libyan art shares influences with several cultures that have historically been in the area: Romans, Ottomans, Arabs, Tuaregs, Berbers, Italians, and others. The earliest forms of art are in the form of cave drawings found at a site near Awiss. These drawings mostly show the hunt of animals and desert life. Really, what else is there? (I’m joking.) Wadi Tidwa is known for its more bizarre rock carvings, and archaeologists have thought that perhaps it’s related to some ancient religion because, you know, religion can be bizarre sometimes. Other areas where rock carvings have been found include Messak Settafet, Mellet, and Wadi Matkhandoush. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Libyans invented the wheel, and subsequently, there are about 500 examples of cave drawings of chariots. (Yes, but are they on fire?) 

It's supposed to be two cats fighting. They must've been able to see into the future and paint what I deal with every single day..
Many of their folk art traditions are tied in with Islamic traditions. And per the Islamic guideline that no figures or animals are to be depicted, Libyan crafts and folk art do not have this either. Instead, geometric patters are used. Other crafts and folk arts include embroidery and weaving, metal engraving, instrument making, jewelry making (mostly out of leather, silver, and beads), and leatherwork. 

Libyan Berber jewelry
Art has long been used as a means of expression and as a means of addressing issues that need to be dealt with. Unfortunately, many of Libya’s artists left the country due to the high level of censorship under the Gaddafi government. One artist is Aimen Ajhani (aka El Bohly). He was instrumental as a graffiti artist, and often created art with a political message. In Libya, he often faced arrest for his craft, many times reported by people who didn’t understand what he was doing — even after the war. I think that although most art was repressed for almost two generations, now that we’re on the other side of the Civil War, artists are finally starting to come out and be more open about it. The political situation is still somewhat shaky, but I think it’s heading in the direction of getting better. (Maybe? I hope?)

by El Bohly
Libyan literature stretches back thousands of years. Early Libyan literature was stemmed from its oral poetry traditions. It didn’t have as much impact on early literature coming out of the Arab Renaissance. However, its oral poetry strived, and it was this medium that was used to express their unsavory sentiments during the Italian occupation. 

by Sadeq al-Neihum

Modern Libyan literature didn’t really get its momentum until after they gained their independence. Many of the writers who rose to prominence during the 1960s wrote on progressive and socialist views. Writers like Ali al-Regeie, Khamel al-Maghur, Sadeq al-Neihum, Khalifa al-Fakhri, and Muhammad al-Shaltami followed these themes and were widely read during this time. 

Ghassan Fergiani owns a bookshop in London promoting Arabic and Libyan literature.
These writers hit a wall after Muammar Gaddafi took over. He set up one single state-owned publishing house that everyone had to go through whether you liked it or not. The state got to decide who and what got published. The ones who didn’t like it were either imprisoned or just simply left the country. It was a rough time for anyone in the arts, especially if your views were contrary to Gaddafi’s. After the Civil War, however, this uber-conservative censorship was lifted, and writers could freely write again. (More or less, I suppose.) Their constitution made sure they wrote in freedom of the press. It’ll be interesting to see how free their freedom of the press is as we continue to watch the changes in their political situation.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, January 10, 2016


On New Year’s Eve, I finally showed my kids the movie Back to the Future. And as we were watching it, I realized it was Libyans who were supposedly the ones firing on Doc Brown at the scene at the mall where he was showing the capabilities of the car/time machine to Marty. Of course, it would be Libyans. Why not? This movie was set in 1985, and I suddenly realized that up until a few years ago, Libya I knew was actually Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. In fact, my mom was barely out of high school and my dad was a senior when he took over. Practically all of our general views on the country are that of oppression. Looking back to five years ago, I don’t think I realized what an impactful event it was when he was killed. 

The Italians renamed this land Libya in 1934, reviving the old Greek name for the area. The ancient Greeks actually used the term Libya to refer to all of Northwest Africa (minus Egypt). Before Italy usurped the land, it actually consisted of three territories. 

Libya is a country in North Africa, surrounded by Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, Algeria to the west, and Tunisia to the northwest. It also has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Sea of all the North African countries. It is directly across the Mediterranean from Italy, Greece, and Malta. Most of the major cities in Libya are located along the coast, mostly because the Libyan Desert covers the rest of the country. There are some places that haven’t seen rainfall for 5-10 years, even though one location hasn’t had a recorded rainfall since 1998. Some record high temperatures have also been recorded in the desert, but the areas along the coast tend to be milder. 

The Berbers were the first peoples to live in this area before the Greeks spread their kingdom across North Africa and into where Libya is now. They founded the city of Cyrene, a major city at the time, lending its name to the region called Cyrenaica. It was later handed over to the Romans and converted to a Christian state. As the Roman Empire fell to ruin, it was swept in as part of the Byzantine Empire before the Muslims took it as theirs. For the next several centuries, Libya was ruled by several different Caliphates from the Middle East, and of course the Ottoman Empire moved in during the early 1500s. They took control of Tripolitania (the region that includes Tripoli), and they eventually took over Cyrenaica as well. War broke out between the United States and Tripolitania in a series of wars known as the First and Second Barbary Wars. (This is referenced in the “Marine’s Hymn” of the US Marine Corps: “From the Halls of Montezuma/To the shores of Tripoli…”) This was the first land battle the US fought on foreign soil. As the Italians and the Turkish fought in 1911, the Italians took these Libyan regions and turned them into their own colonies. In 1934, they finally decided both regions (Italian Tripolitania and Italian Cyrenaica) along with a region south of Tripolitania called Fezzan were to be renamed as Libya, based on the original Greek term. The Italians didn’t treat the Bedouins well at all, to say the least: some estimates say that nearly half of the Bedouin population were killed, many through disease and starving in camps. Libya finally declared its independence in 1951 and was headed by King Idris I. However, in 1969, Muammar Gaddafi led a band of militants in a coup and took over the office. His position was more or less a non-official, symbolic position. He published his famous book, The Greek Book, in 1975, essentially outlining his political philosophy and guidelines. Libya was involved in several conflicts during the 1970s, but they also discovered oil during that time as well. This created a stronger economy, which led to a higher quality of life for many Libyans. A full-scale revolt in 2011 would leave the country combing through the wreckage of its civil war. Violence spread to several cities and lasted for many months until the final days when rebels captured and killed Muammar Gaddafi. A year later, Islamist militants launched an attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi (the Republican’s favorite word), killing four including the US Ambassador to Libya. They continue to struggle with the presence of ISIL taking up arms in Libya. Today, the UN Security Council and UN Human Rights Council are working together to create some stability for the country. 

Tripoli is the largest city in Libya, and it serves as its capital. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, the Port of Tripoli is one of the country’s major ports. The city was actually founded by the Phoenicians, who sometimes called it Tripoli of the West so as not to confuse it with the Tripoli of their homeland, Lebanon. Tripoli acts as center for banking and finance as well as its media and communications hub. Many businesses and corporations are located here, and the city is also home to many colleges and universities. With a modern infrastructure, people in Tripoli enjoy sports, the arts, shopping, restaurants, and a variety of other sights. Throughout the city, people can see evidence of the Ottoman influence as well as Italian architectural styles; modern buildings standing next to ancient ones.

The vast majority of Libya’s economy depends on its oil reserves and its exports. Libya’s economy is ranked as one of the highest in Africa. Although they have a stronger economy, they also deal with weak political stability and unemployment. Libya has experienced a surge in immigrant workers in the past decade, even though the numbers have decreased during the war. Even before the Civil War, infrastructure was lacking due to negligence, but it is now slowly being rebuilt.  

Islam is the dominant religion in Libya with the majority belonging to Sunni Islam. There are smaller numbers of other Muslim denominations that are found there as well. After the fall of Gaddafi’s regime, the super conservative sects of Islam infiltrated the holes left in the instable government. There are also small numbers of Christian denominations found in Libya, the largest being the Coptic Orthodox Church. Libya was also home to large numbers of Jews, until the Italians came over. Many of the Jews died in concentration camps the Italians set up. By the time Libya gained its independence, most had emigrated by that point. 

Arabic is listed as the official language; Libyan Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic are the two of the most spoken varieties in Libya. There are many Berber languages still spoken in Libya as well: Suknah, Ghadamis, Nafusi, Awjilah, and Tamasheq. English and Italian are understood and used in the larger cities, especially in commerce. 

And as I was doing my research on Libya, I read through some information more than once that made me stop and think: yes, life under Gaddafi may not have been the best on many grounds, but socio-economically, there was a lot of good decisions made regarding the money made from oil. Citizens could get loans at zero interest. The country practically has no foreign debt. Students got an allowance from the government to study anywhere in the world. They were also paid for the profession they were going into as they were studying it. Married couples get a free apartment or house when they start out, and cars are sold at the factory cost. The list goes on. I read about similar measures Kuwait took with its oil money being put back to its people. So, I think there’s a lot of learn here. At least a lot to learn that’s not quite mentioned in the mainstream media.

Up next: art and lit

Sunday, January 3, 2016


It’s been a wild past couple of weeks. We survived Christmas and New Years, and I only had a minimal hangover. However, I did make my annual New Year’s Eve Feijoada Dinner (on the day before New Year’s Eve because we thought we were going somewhere that night, but we were mistaken). It was so good, even though I didn’t use chorizo this year, and I wish that I had. I got some new knives for Christmas, and I apparently didn’t move my finger fast enough and scraped off the tip of my finger and half the fingernail while cutting the greens. So, that was exciting to say the least. 
Mmmm, I'm very happy this turned out as good as it did.

That being said, I promised my husband I’ll be more careful today. (Success!) I started out with Traditional Liberian Ricebread.  I peeled eight bananas and mashed them in a bowl. Then I added in 1 egg, ¾ c sugar, and 1 c oil. I beat it for about a minute with my hand mixer on low speed. Then I added in a box of Cream of Rice (I didn’t even know this existed, but the one I found is made by the same company that makes Cream of Wheat), 1 Tbsp butter, 2 tsp baking soda (which I had to substitute baking powder), ¾ tsp salt, ½ tsp ginger, and 1 c water. I mixed it on high speed for about three minutes, desperately trying to avoid making a mess. Then I poured the batter into a greased 13x9” baking pan and put it into the 350ºF oven for 50 minutes. I let it cool completely before attempting to cut it. To me, it tasted like a banana cake. The best part was the little bit of crispiness on top and on the edges. Nothing else is needed with this bread. Except maybe a cup of coffee. And because there’s no flour used in this recipe (just the Cream of Rice), it’s a great recipe for those who have gluten sensitivity. 
This was very, very good. I think it would also be good with asparagus.
The main dish for today is Liberian Chicken Gravy. I bought a package of chicken thighs and boiled them in slightly salty water for about an hour. I took them out and cut the meat off the bone and put the meat in a bowl, saving the broth for later. Then I heated up some oil in my skillet and fried the chicken slightly, removing it and putting it back in the bowl. I immediately poured in my chopped onions to sauté for a few minutes before adding in some soy sauce, salt and pepper. (I left out the bouillon cubes since they all have MSG in them, and my husband is deathly allergic to MSG.) I mixed everything well before adding in the flour and stirring, and then adding in the tomato paste and stirring it in as well. Now it came time to add my chicken back in and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Then I added in a little of the chicken broth slowly so that it wouldn’t form any clumps. I added in the string beans and covered for about 15-20 minutes to let it thicken. I served this over rice that I made using the chicken broth. I really liked this, and so did everyone else—even my finicky son who recently claimed he hates chicken. The chicken at this point was so tender, and the beans, although listed as optional, was a great addition to the chicken. The spices were well-blended and flavorful. And I’m glad that I saved some jars for my chicken broth. I can use that this week in another dish. 
A little on the spicy side, just the way I like it.
To go with this, I served this with Collards and Cabbage. In a large pan, I combined my chopped collard greens, bacon, onion, salt, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and water and let it simmer for about a half hour. Then I added in my cabbage wedges with a pat of butter and let it cook down for another 15 minutes or so. At the end of this time, I drained off what water was still left and served it warm. This was a wonderful side dish and definitely reminiscent of Southern U.S. cooking. Even though I cut back a little on the crushed red pepper, there was still some fire on the back end. I loved this tremendously. 
This was the surprise of them all. Definitely a winner!
As a dessert, I made Stewed Mangos with Cloves. I peeled and cut four mangos (which is always harder than it sounds) and put them in a small saucepan. I added the syrup from a can of peaches to it. I was supposed to get six whole cloves, but I forgot, so I added in a little bit of ground cloves and stirred well. I wasn’t sure how much to use, so I used ½ tsp, and it seems like it was the perfect amount. Not too much, not too little. Then I let it simmer for about 15 minutes, only stirring occasionally, before taking it off the heat. I definitely would let it cool a little bit before serving. I tried to taste it too soon and it practically burnt my esophagus up on the way down. But it was a wonderful flavor. It almost reminded me of a peach cobbler. I wish I had some vanilla ice cream to put this on. My daughter tried it on chocolate and said it was good. Maybe I’ll try some and drizzle just a little bit of vanilla-caramel coffee creamer on it. There are several possibilities to go with this. 
My dinner was better than yours.
This was one of those meals where every single dish was excellent. Usually one or two dishes could’ve been better, but this one was absolutely wonderful. All of them. One of my “New Year’s Resolutions” is to stop eating when I’m full, so it really sucked because I totally wanted to go back and get some more. But I know I’ll have some tasty leftovers tomorrow. And as I finish up this post, I know that tomorrow the kids return to school, and our mini-vacation time is over. It’s time to stop staying up until 2 am and sleeping in until 10. I haven’t really done New Year’s Resolutions seriously for the past couple of years, but I do have some goals for this 2016: 1) continue writing my Happiness Log that I started right after the attacks on Paris. Every night, I post to Facebook five things that made me happy that day. 2) Finish the French track on Duolingo and then finish Portuguese and maybe the Russian one that I started. 3) Continue to cook and read and share what I learn with the world. 4) Meditate more. 5) Keep working on my writing and try to get published.

Up next: Libya