Wednesday, September 30, 2020


My dad’s side of the family is from Scotland; I was born a Campbell. However, my mother’s side of the family has some British ancestry mixed in with the mainly German lineage. Even from the time I was growing up, I was interested in British culture. I distinctly remember watching Keeping Up Appearances with my mom when I was in high school, which may have been my introduction to British comedy. From there, I read quite a few books and plays in the canon of British literature. The amount of cultural reference that the world is aware of is astounding, as portrayed in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. So, these posts are probably gonna be longer since there’s just so much to unpack.

This is Inveraray Castle in Scotland, the seat of Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell.

The United Kingdom (commonly called the UK) may be a confusing term for some. So here’s the breakdown of common terms used for this area: United Kingdom consists of English, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the island that includes Scotland, England, and Wales. Britain can refer to Great Britain or the UK in general. British is used to refer to people and things from Great Britain and/or the UK. England is one of the countries (and largest one) that makes up part of Great Britain. English refers to people and things from England and also refers to the language. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and found on the island of Ireland, but separate from the Republic of Ireland, which is its own country. Scotland is a country found in the northern part of Great Britain. Scottish refers to people and things from Scotland. Scotch is only used in certain names of things like Scotch tape, Scotch whiskey, and Scotch eggs. Gaelic is a Celtic language including Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic. Wales is a country in the southwest corner of Great Britain. Welsh refers to people and things from Wales and also the name of their language. Celtic is a branch of languages that includes Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton.

The United Kingdom is located in the northwest corner of Europe. The island of Great Britain is just east of the island of Ireland across the Irish Sea. The Isle of Man sits in between northern England and Northern Ireland. Across the English Channel, you’ll find mainland Europe, almost directly across from the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Interesting enough, London (and more specifically, the Royal Greenwich Observatory) was chosen for the placement of the Prime Meridian, or 0º longitude. (The 180º longitude is also called the antimeridian.) England is mostly lowland terrain with some mountains. Scotland is known for its highland moors and nearly 800 islands, including the famous Hebrides, Shetlands, and Orkneys. Wales also has some mountainous areas as well. Northern Ireland is fairly mountainous and contains a rather large lake called Lough Neagh. (And on top of this, there are also 14 territories outside of the UK but part of its sovereignty known as British Overseas Territories as well as three Crown dependencies.) Most of this area falls under a temperate maritime climate but some of the northern Scottish islands may experience tundra and subarctic climates. In other words, it’s cold and rainy much of the time. Except when it’s not. (Haha.)

Sir Winston Churchill

People have been living in this area since nearly 30,000 years ago, having come in waves over the centuries, mostly as Celtic, Brittonic, and Gaelic settlements. The Romans arrived in 43 AD and controlled the southern portion of Britain for 400 years (many of the roads and cities they established are still around today), followed by Germanic Anglo-Saxons. Gaelic speakers connected with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. The Normans and Breton allies in northern France invaded England in 1066 and took over much of Ireland, Wales, and even up into Scotland. They brought along two major things that greatly impacted their society: feudalism and a ton of French words that entered the language (pardon my French!). During the Medieval period, English kings conquered Wales but failed to conquer Scotland who maintained their independence for a while more (och, that’s right). They were also involved with many conflicts in France including The Hundred Years War (which was actually 116 years long), and Protestant churches were introduced after the Reformation. James VI, King of Scots, united England, Scotland, and Ireland together in 1603, and a half-century later were all at each other’s throats again. Starting around this time, English sailors were committing acts of piracy throughout Europe and the Caribbean as well as trying to establish colonies around the world (mainly North America and Caribbean at this point). Not long after the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Culloden that thwarted Scottish independence (where my Outlander fans at?), Britain lost the Americans colonies to independence. To make up for lost revenue from price gouging the American colonies, they dabbled in the African slave trade for a while (and by dabbled, I mean, were completely horrible people about it). War was almost a pastime with the British; they were always involved in someone’s skirmishes somewhere. Britain fought against Germany and its allies during WWI and were given control of many former German and Ottoman colonies afterwards. After WWI Ireland broke away from the UK, but Northern Ireland stayed. Britain fought against Germany again during WWII under the direction of Winston Churchill as prime minister. For several decades after WWII, Britain granted independence to many of its colonies and protectorates around the world. In 2014, Scotland put independence to a vote and it was defeated. However, two years later, the UK voted to leave the EU (known as Brexit), a vote I’ve read that many British citizens have come to regret once they realized what that actually meant.

London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom, and it’s also the largest city. A major global city, it was originally settled by the Romans as Londinium in 47AD. It is famous for such landmarks as Buckingham Palace, the Royal Observatory, the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, among other historical sites. Located on the River Thames, the city now has close to 9 million people and serves as the center for government, commerce, transportation, education, culture, and entertainment. It’s famous for its high quality universities; its museums (like the British Museum and the National Gallery); its West End theatre district; having hosted the Olympics in 1908, 1948, and in 2012; and the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament.

Rolls Royce, one of the oldest auto manufacturers in the UK.

The UK has the second largest economy in Europe, next to Germany, and it comes in fifth in the world. Using the sterling pound (and not the euro), the service sector makes up the vast majority of its GDP, although there’s some significant contributions in agriculture and tourism. The UK was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution that spread to much of the commerce centers of the world. Early on, they were really known for shipbuilding and steelmaking, which eventually led to a strong market for automobile manufacturing, aerospace industry, and pharmaceutical industry. Both England and Scotland had numerous scientists who made world-changing scientific discoveries: Alexander Fleming, Francis Crick, James Watt, Charles Babbage, Alexander Graham Bell, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, among many others.

Inside St Margaret's in Westminster

Christianity has been in England for nearly 1400 years, which played an important part of its history for many centuries until around post-WWII when church attendance dropped off. Of the Christians in the UK, many people follow various Protestant churches, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and the Roman Catholic church. With immigration, it became a much more religiously diverse place to include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jewish followers. Not to mention the large number of people who just don’t adhere to any religion at all, especially among the younger crowd.

Nearly 95% of the people in the UK are monolingual in English (with the remaining speaking a language through immigration: various languages of India being the largest group and Polish coming in second place). Several Celtic languages are still spoken here (and gaining speakers) including Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, and Irish (Duolingo now offers lessons in all three of these languages. I've tried Scottish Gaelic--it's really difficult!), and a few people trying to keep Cornish alive. Scots, related to Middle English, and Ulster Scots, spoken in Northern Ireland, is gaining recognition.

There used to be a saying that went, “The sun never shines on the British Empire.” It refers to the time when the British had a colony, territory, or protectorate all over the world. They were one of the largest empires in the world at one time. According to Statista, out of the 196 countries (depending on how you count them), only 22 have never been invaded by the British Empire: Andorra, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Paraguay, São Tomé e Principe, Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Vatican City.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, September 20, 2020


So, today is my daughter’s last day of being 14 years old. As a treat, one of her friends is coming over to drop off a small gift and hang out in the driveway to chat for a bit. We’ve been taking this pandemic very seriously and doing our part to not be out in public too much or be around other people. My husband is the main one to go out and he takes a lot of precautions in cleaning and disinfecting when he gets back. Needless to say, we don’t go “hang out” with other people or have people over or go anywhere that’s not a gas station or grocery store. So, this is a real treat to see someone other than each other.

Amazing with honey, I want to try it with jam next.

But I’m also making some tasty food from the United Arab Emirates today. The first thing I made was Emirati Khameer. In a bowl, I added in 2 c of all-purpose flour, ½ Tbsp of yeast, 3 Tbsp of sugar, ½ tsp salt, ½ Tbsp baking powder, and ½ tsp of cardamom powder and mixed until it was all consistent. Then I added 2 Tbsp of olive oil and mixed before slowly pouring in ¾ c of warm milk, just enough to make the dough soft yet still slightly sticky. I kneaded it for a few minutes and placed it in a greased bowl to let it rest for about an hour and a half. It should be doubled in size at the end of this. While it was resting, I placed 3 Tbsp of milk in a small bowl and added in ¼ tsp of saffron threads in it and let it soak. It was weird that the milk turned a kind of yellowish color, like eggnog. I preheated my oven to 500ºF when my bread was done resting, and then I divided it into 4 pieces and shaped them into balls. I covered the dough balls until the oven was ready. Then I lightly dusted a work area and rolled each of these balls out into a circle until it was about ¼” thick. I got out two of my wire cooling racks and placed the dough circles on them (I put two circles on each rack) just enough to make indentions on it and then flipped them over. Before I put them in the oven, I brushed the tops with the saffron milk and sprinkled the sesame seeds on top. I just used white sesame seeds, but you can use either black or white (or both). Then I carefully placed the entire cooling rack in the oven on the oven rack and let it bake for about 9 minutes until it was browned on each side. Then I carefully removed the first rack and put in the second one. You can serve these with jam, cheese, or honey, and I chose to use a cinnamon-infused honey. I really liked this. The inside was really soft, and I probably could’ve left it in a few more minutes to make it browner, but otherwise, it was amazing.

So good! It was actually really good with the fresh parsley.

The main dish today is Robeyann Nashif, or Shrimp Fried with Spices. You can either use fresh/raw shrimp or frozen cooked shrimp like I did. Just make sure you clean them the usual way if it’s not already cooked. I fried some onion in a skillet until they were browned and then added in some black pepper, turmeric, garlic cloves, a little bit of lemon zest (in lieu of loomi), cumin, tomato paste, and grate ginger. (I did leave out the curry leaves since it was harder to find.) I stirred everything together for a few minutes before adding in my shrimp and a little water. Turning my heat down to low, I let it simmer for about 10-12 minutes, keeping an eye on the water level. I forgot to get some fresh coriander to garnish, so I garnished with fresh parsley. It seemed a little watery, so I added in a couple teaspoons of cornstarch in it to thicken up the sauce. I really liked this. I thought the spices were perfect; it wasn’t too overpowering at all. Such a simple recipe, it makes the perfect weeknight meal.

Surprise of the night! The chicken in this was really good, and the chickpeas were a nice addition.

And finally to go with this, I also made another “main dish” called Dejaj Tahatah. I cut up some chicken breast tenderloins into small pieces and rubbed them with black pepper, salt, cardamom, and turmeric and let it rest for 15 minutes before browning it and then setting it off to the side. In the same skillet with the same oil, I browned some onion, garlic and lemon zest for a couple minutes before adding in the can of chickpeas (that I drained) and some tomato paste. I removed it from the heat to stir it together and set it off to the side as well. In a separate pot, I brought some salted water to a boil and added in the rice to boil rapidly 8-10 minutes (the rice should be slightly undercooked). Then I turned off the heat, drained the rice and rinsed with cold water. I poured 5 Tbsp of oil into the pot the rice was in, then I added my chicken in the bottom of the pot before adding the rice on top of that. I packed it all down firmly in the pot, and then poured the tomato-chickpea mixture over the top and smoothed it down with a spatula before sprinkling the saffron over the top. Then I covered the top of the pan with a wet cloth and put the lid on top of that. Once everything was secure, I placed it on low heat for about 20 minutes, turning the heat off and letting it sit for 10 minutes until it was set. After stirring everything together when it was done, I really liked this. I was kind of skeptical about it, but it was really pretty good. It might’ve needed a bit more salt, but it was good either way. In fact, I mixed some of my shrimp in with it.

Overall, I really liked this. Excited to have this for lunch tomorrow!

So, this ended how I hoped it would. I’ve heard of the human rights issues in the UAE, but I found out more about their culture and learned of different artists, authors, and musicians who have cultural ties with this country. And that’s the whole point of what I do. I am essentially doing this for me (ok, and my kids) as my own journey to being an armchair discoverer.

Up next: United Kingdom

Saturday, September 19, 2020


You can trace certain elements of Emirati back to its Bantu origins. Some of the rhythms in this area of the Arabian peninsula share similarities with liwa music of the Swahili coast of eastern Africa. These African rhythms blended with other Arab styles to create a particular Afro-Arab form; you can see these fusions in Bandari and Sha’abi al-Emirati music. Music is important to many aspects of their society, especially ceremonies and celebrations.

Most of the instruments used in traditional music have their roots in Bedouin music and are widely used throughout the region. You’ll often hear instruments such as the oud (a type of short-necked lute), the rababa (or rebab, a type of bowed string instrument), the daf (a type of tambourine), a doumbek (a goblet drum), the tanboura (a long-necked plucked string instrument), and the nai (a type of panflute).

There is a strong link between music and dance, many of these with origins from Bedouin and African music. One of the most well-known dances from the UAE is the Al Ayala dance (generally known as yowalah). Colloquially called “the stick dance,” this is a group dance where two rows of dancers face each other carrying a bamboo stick that represents a sword or spear. The musicians typically perform in between the rows of dancers, playing the drums, flute, and bagpipes. The yowalah is also performed as a victory dance upon returning from war or a successful pearl diving expedition, or making it through the grocery store and staying under budget (ok, that last one was me).


I found quite a few modern musicians who were either born in the UAE or spent a significant amount of time living there. The first one I listened to was Narcy, a rapper who mixes a bit of jazz into his music. I really like his work. I listened to this the other night and added several of his songs into another playlist I have. Another one I listened to was Karl Wolf, really known for his remake of “Africa,” which I think is fantastic. I also liked Eslam Jawaad, who has a unique sound: part 90s hip-hop style but adds in regional rhythms and instruments. All three of these guys rap in English in a US/Canadian style.


I did manage to find a couple of rock bands. The first one I listened to was Flamingods. They kind of have an alternative style but almost seem like they’re fans of psychedelic rock. I listened to Point of View’s album Revolutionize the Revolutionary, which is a solid rock album. At times, they reminded me of System of a Down. I appreciate the acoustic guitar version of Bach’s Prelude in C# minor. Of course, one of the most well-known bands to come out of the UAE is the metal band Nervecell. If you like machine gun drums and growled lyrics, this is it.

Esther Eden

I also listened to Esther Eden. Her music tends to be more pop but mixed with a little folk and jazz. The cool thing is that she was sort of discovered by the British singer Jessie J when Jessie showed up to Esther’s school. Esther got the chance to perform an original song and Jessie was blown away, and then invited her to play that song at her concert.


And if you’re a fan of electronica or dance music, I’d highly recommend listening to Hollaphonic. They are good to listen to while working. I might even make an entire playlist of just their stuff.

Up next: the food

Thursday, September 17, 2020


Many of the craft arts enjoyed in the United Arab Emirates have been around since the bedouin times and have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of these, like pottery, have been around since the Paleolithic times and evidence can be seen in local museums. Weaving and embroidery also comes from this time as well. A type of traditional weaving called Sadu. Using the fibers from sheared sheep, goats, and camels, it’s cleaned and spun into soft threads. Typically in colors of beiges, tans, browns, creams, and blacks, designs are mainly either stripes or geometric shapes and girls start at an early age learning the trade. Sadu has been listed on UNESCO’s “Tangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding” list.

Much of their traditional architecture is based on Arabian and Islamic styles. One of the most identifying aspects to buildings in the UAE are the keen use of the barjeel. This is a type of ventilation used to cool buildings and homes in the hottest days of the year. It’s a type of open column sticking up from the main roof of the building, it looks like open windows with decorated borders. It almost kind of reminds me of the game Monument Valley. Many homes along the coast are built using fossilized coral and molded together with a seashell-lime mixture (called sarooj) and chalk.

Most visual art as we know it is mainly in the 20th and 21st centuries, and this includes sculpting, painting, design, animation, and photography. A few well-known Emirati artists include Moosa Al Halyan (surrealist painter), Abdulraheem Salim (painter and sculptor, one of the first artists to participate in the fine arts movement in the UAE), Najat Makki (she helped create the contemporary arts movement), Mattar bin Lahej (painter, sculptor, photographer), Farah al Qasimi (photographer known for capturing life in the Persian Gulf), and Abdul Qader Al Rais (award-winning abstract artist, known for combining Arabic calligraphy with geometric shapes). Mohammed Saeed Harib is a well-known animator, mainly for his cartoon FREEJ.

by Abdul Qader Al Rais

The UAE is also known for its cultural arts fests in the region. The Sharjah Biennale, Art Dubai, and Abu Dhabi Art are some of the festivals focused on highlighting the best in the art world.

From Sharjah Biennal 13

Literature in the United Arab Emirates is written primarily in Arabic. Poetry has long been the go-to form of expressing themselves. Early on, their poetic styles were highly influenced by the works of the 8th-century scholar Al Khalil bin Ahmed. He was the one who is credited with creating the first Arabic dictionary. He not only helped put the language on paper, but he also introduced harakat (the diacritic vowel marks in the Arabic language), musicology, and established poetic meter. These traditional poetry styles still exist today, but some Western-style prose poetry has also worked its way into what modern poets use.

Sheikh Saqr al Qasimi

Quite a few 20th century poets have become popular, especially some who wrote in a Classical Arabic style, like Ahmed bin Sulayem, Mubarak Al Oqaili, and Salem bin Ali al Owais. There was a group of poets from Sharjah known as the Hirah Group that were also fairly influential in the poetry world and used many elements from the western Romantic poets: Sheikh Saqr al Qasimi (a former ruler of Sharjah), Sultan bin Ali al Owais, and Khalfan Musabah.

Rashid Abdullah al Nuaimi

However, the first novel that was published was Rashid Abdullah al Nuaimi’s Shahenda’s Novel. A diplomat by trade, working as a foreign minister in the oil and gas division, I’ve come across several articles about the award he received in 2015 acknowledging his feat as writing the first Emirati novel, but nothing ever mentioned its publication date.

Khalid Albudoor

Other authors of note include Nujoom Al-Ghanem (poet and film director), Khalid Albudoor (important in the modern poetry movement), and Ousha Al Sha’er (her poetry is prominent in Nabati, or Bedouin poetry).

Up next: music and dance

Monday, September 14, 2020


When I was a kid, I first heard about Abu Dhabi through the Bugs Bunny cartoons. It was always used as a “far away” destination from what I could remember. As I was scrolling YouTube to see if I could find any videos of some old cartoons, I discovered there’s a Warner Bros World theme park in Abu Dhabi that's been named the world's largest indoor park. It has shows, rides, dining, the whole works. I clicked on one video of a Bugs and Daffy show, excited to hear what they sound like in Arabic, but it was in English, so um, ok. On a different note, it’s located not far from Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, so there’s something for everyone.

I didn’t know where it was then, but I later learned that Abu Dhabi is in the United Arab Emirates (often just abbreviated as UAE). The name is fairly self-explanatory, but it comes from the fact that they were originally the seven emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain. An emirate is a territory ruled by an emir.

The United Arab Emirates are located on the Arabian Peninsula, surrounded by Saudia Arabia to the west and south, and Oman to the east. The part of land that sticks out into the Strait of Hormuz actually belongs to Oman, and there’s also a small enclave in the Fujairah Emirate that belongs to Oman, but within that enclave there’s another enclave that belongs to the UAE which is the Sharjah Emirate. Enclaves on enclaves on enclaves. The UAE borders the Persian Gulf, directly across from Iran. It’s pretty hot here most of the year, although it’s cooler in the mountains. The western part of the country is mostly sand and desert that blends in with the Rub al-Khali desert in Saudi Arabia.
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE

The Arabian Peninsula was originally part of the African continent and its first people were thought to have been part of the Bantu migration. Communities started popping up along the coastal areas and began trading with each other. The creation and spread of Islam had a significant impact on this area. While the cities were mainly located along the coasts, there were huge groups of nomads moving throughout the interior, and many times these nomadic groups would clash. At the same time, several European powers were expanding in this area, and the Portuguese had a pretty good hold along the Persian Gulf. The British got involved to protect their role in the Indian trade routes, which led to conflicts and a truce that resulted in the creation of the Trucial States that then became a British protectorate. Throughout much of the 1800s and 1900s, pearling was a major industry. At one point, Persian Gulf pearls were some of the most coveted pearls in the world, and it was a major source of their income. However, between WWI and the economic collapse afterwards, it completely wiped out the industry. The discovery of oil swept in and took its place, and the British told them they couldn’t sign any deals with other countries (because of course they did). The British company that eventually became BP [British Petroleum] started setting up drilling sites. Other companies popped up practically overnight, and one of the first major holes drilled resulted in a dud, costing the company a ton of money. With so many companies vying for oil in the Gulf, it led to quite a few arguments over territorial rights, including border disputes between the UAE and Oman. They finally struck oil (or as it was called in the Beverly Hillbillies: “black gold, Texas tea”). The British couldn’t afford to keep the UAE as a protectorate anymore, and they declared them as independent, even though the Emiratis had a lot of concerns about being out there on their own for good reason. An Iranian destroyer ship took over some islands that belonged to the UAE while a British ship sat there and watched. Saudi Arabia had its eyes on parts of Abu Dhabi and claimed it as theirs. But in 1971, they were officially their own country. Since then, the UAE has supported several military operations throughout the region. Their first national elections were held in 2006, although they’ve escaped much of the Arab Spring that several other countries dealt with.

Abu Dhabi may be the capital, but it’s not the largest city in the UAE. That honor goes to Dubai, an important port city but also known for its extravagant shopping. The city was supposed to hold a huge Expo this year that lasts six months, but it was moved to next year because of Covid. More centrally located, the city of Abu Dhabi is also an important port city. Literally meaning “father of the gazelle,” the city was founded in 1761 when the Bani Yas bedouin tribe settled on the island of Abu Dhabi. What started as a center for pearling changed over to oil. It started to grow in major ways in the late 1960s to become the financial and commerce center with its iconic skyscrapers it’s known for today. The city is also recognized for the Red Bull Air Race World Series, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and as the scenery for many Hollywood and Bollywood movies.

The UAE has the second-largest economy among the Arabian Peninsula countries after Saudia Arabia. It’s highly driven by oil, and foreign workers who arrived helped boost their growth. The country also ranks fairly high for doing business and also strongly depends on financial business, construction, professional services, and tourism. The Emirates airline is the 4th largest airline in the world, with the Dubai Airport ranking as the busiest airport in the world in 2014. If you’re a fan of sports, you may have seen the Emirates logo on shirts and stadiums since they’re the title sponsor for several teams in cricket, soccer/football, Formula One and other racing sports, rugby, tennis, baseball, cycling, and sailing.

Islam has been declared as the state religion, but they do allow tolerance for other religions. Although nearly ¾ of the population are Muslim (vastly Sunni), there are significant followers of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. And even though they typically don’t meddle in what you choose to believe, they are quite adamant about actively spreading your religion, and they do uphold its citizens and visitors to a strict social code of acceptable public (and private) behaviors.

Arabic is spoken throughout the United Arab Emirates, and more specifically the Gulf dialect. However, because the British held it as a protectorate for so long, English is also used quite a bit, and mainly as a lingua franca (which probably explains why the Bugs Bunny show I mentioned earlier was in English).

One thing that’s hard to ignore is the issue of human rights in the UAE. Quite a few organizations have the country in their sights for reports of forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse, using overly aggresive punishments (electric shocks, flogging, stoning, beatings), among other issues -- and this goes for their own citizens and visitors alike. Some of the biggest offences are things that don’t receive as harsh punishment in most other countries, like public affection, public intoxication, drugs, or homosexuality. The UAE is listed on many reports as being “not free” when it comes to censorship and freedom of their people to express themselves. But as with every country, I’m sure there are some redeeming qualities, and I’m looking forward to finding them.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, September 6, 2020


Finally, a mini-vacation. It’s Labor Day weekend, so we have tomorrow off, and the kids and I both have Tuesday off as well. I certainly don’t feel comfortable with doing things that would require us to go inside places or around a lot of people. My husband doesn’t think we should leave the house at all. But we’re going to take a long drive, pick up some fast food and go eat at a park somewhere and then take the long way home. I even have a kickass playlist made up (mostly based on songs from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and songs similar to them), so it's official.

Small, but mighty. Just like me.

The first thing I made was Garlic Pampushki, or Ukrainian Garlic Bread. I started out making a sponge (which I remembered at 1:45am this morning). To make the sponge, I mixed together a package of yeast with a tsp of powdered sugar (instead of caster sugar), then I whisked that into 2 oz of warm water and threw in ½ c of flour and mixed it together to put in the fridge overnight. Then today, I added in another ½ c of flour and a ½ Tbsp of salt to the starter and knead it until it’s smooth. I actually had to add just a bit of water to get it to come together. After that, I divided it into 8 pieces and shaped them into round buns. I placed these buns into a well-oiled round casserole dish, covered it and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour. They joined together, but they certainly didn’t rise at all like I thought they would, maybe only the slightest. As I preheated my oven to 425ºF, I made the basting oil by stirring in some crushed/minced garlic into my olive oil with a bit of salt and let it sit to infuse. When the buns looked rounded and ready to go, I brushed them generously with some beaten egg as a glaze and then baked them for 20-25 minutes until they were golden brown on top. Right after I took them out, I brushed them with the garlic oil. Outside of just being small, these were actually pretty tasty. I may amend this recipe a bit (I kind of have a feeling the recipe I was using wasn’t written correctly) and try it again.

It almost got me, but I'm glad I tried again because it was amazing.

The main dish today is Chicken Kiev, a dish I’ve often heard of and not sure if I’ve ever had (much less, made). The first thing I did with this is make the Kiev Butter: I mashed softened butter with some minced garlic, lemon juice, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. Then I shaped it into a log, covered it and put it in the freezer while I finished prepping everything else. Then I took my chicken breasts out and placed them between two pieces of wax paper, and then I used a rolling pin to flatten them (or you can use the smooth side of a meat tenderizer tool, which I couldn’t find). It should be thinner on the edges. I couldn’t get mine too flat; some pieces behaved, others didn’t. Once all the chicken was done like this, I sprinkled some salt and pepper on one side of them. Taking my Kiev butter from the freezer, I divided it into four pieces and placed a piece in the middle of each chicken breast. Then I folded the top and bottom together over the butter, and tried to roll them together. At this point, I preheated my oven to 350ºF, and set a deep skillet with oil to heat up (you should have enough oil to go halfway up the chicken roll-up). Then I dipped each chicken piece in a bowl of flour, then dipped it in beaten eggs, and then dipped it in bread crumbs (which was more difficult to do in real life and keep them rolled up). Then I put it in the hot oil to fry, and that’s where my troubles began. The first batch I had my heat up waaaaaaaay too high, and so essentially, I burnt up the first piece of chicken and was able to snatch out the second one to salvage. So, I dumped the oil (ok, it was my husband who saved the day) and tried again. After about 4 minutes on each side, I placed them in a baking dish and baked uncovered for about 20 minutes. Even though I had a lot of cursing and frustration making this dish, it actually turned out really well. (I just flat out hate frying.) The butter on the inside kept the chicken from getting dried out, and the breading was really good. I think I should work on this a little more.

I may have made similar salads, but it's ubiquitous for a reason.

To go with this, I make Odessan Vegetable and Sheep Cheese Salad. This simple salad consists of chopped lettuce (I used a premade bagged salad), cucumber, tomatoes, and red bell peppers. I added some feta cheese (feta is traditionally made with sheep’s milk, but nowadays, feta is often made with a combination of sheep and goat milk). To make the dressing, I took some apple cider vinegar and mixed in a little salt and pepper and sprinkled it over the salad. It was a little sour, but as long as you just had a little bit of the vinegar, it was pretty good. It was the only thing my son ate (besides the bread).

This was the surprise of the evening. Sooooo good.

I also couldn’t help but make Olivye, or Ukrainian Potato Salad. I peeled and boiled a few potatoes (that I diced) and some carrots (also diced) together. When they were soft, I drained them and let them cool. In a separate pot, I hard-boiled five eggs and let them cool when they were done as well. In a bowl, I added my chopped potatoes, diced carrots, chopped eggs, chopped pickles, diced green onions, some diced ham, and some mayo (or Miracle Whip, you know, the fake stuff. I’m NOT a fan of real mayo). I mixed enough to combine it all together. The recipe called for some peas to be folded in as well, but for the life of us, we couldn’t find the can of peas we just bought the other day, so we left it out. I finished this off by seasoning with a little bit of salt and pepper. This was amazing. Like I really, really liked this. This is the kind of recipe that I’m going to keep around to take to get-togethers (whenever that might happen again).

Overall, this was pretty good. Ok, it was really good.

This blog was supposed to teach me patience, and apparently I still haven’t learned that. I’ve cooked 182 meals and haven’t learned a dayum thing about patience, haha. I’m either the worst teacher or worst student (or both?). I think quarantine’s got my nerves all frayed. Probably like everyone else. But here’s a huge shoutout to my husband for coming to my rescue, as he always does. (But not without his infamous commentary!)

Up next: United Arab Emirates


Ukraine’s musical history is as complex as its history. While Ukraine was one of the centers for music when it was part of Russia, it didn’t quite pull in the major-minor system as much as the rest of Europe. Much of the traditional music is still steeped in the medieval modal system, mainly Mixolydian and Dorian modes. They also make use of a tetrachord system that can be heard in many of their wedding and harvest folk songs.

Vocal singing is a very strong tradition in Ukraine. While they rarely use complicated time signatures or keys, their use of harmonies can be more complex with their use of solo singing, heterophonic, homophonic, and polyphonic singing. Call and response is also heard in some folk singing.

Folk dances vary from region to region. Some of the more well-known dances include the Kozachok (a type of 16th century Cossack dance), the Trepak (another Cossack dance from Ukraine and Russia), Hopak (originally a male dance that changed over time to include mixed groups), and the Kolomyjka (combines fast-paced dance music with comedic verses). However, dances from other areas of Europe were also just as popular in Ukraine as well, like the polka, mazurka, and the waltz.

Quite a few instruments are used in Ukrainian music, including several string instruments like a type of lute called the kobza, a bass lute called the torban, a 3-stringed cello called the basolya, a hurdy-gurdy, and others. Folk music also utilizes woodwind instruments like a type of flute called the sopilka, another type of end-blown flute called the floyara, an alpenhorn called trembita, and a type of bagpipes called volynka. But it wouldn’t be complete without a set of percussion instruments like a frame drum known as a buben, tambourines, jaw harps, and kettledrums.


I feel like when it comes to classical music, the study of Western music tends to focus on the music generated from only certain countries (Germany, Austria, Italy, France, England, Russia) with a few others of note because of a few composers (Norway, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland). Not only are there quite a few Ukrainian composers (like Mykola Lysenko, who’s considered the father of Ukrainian classical music; and Mykola Leontovych, who is famous because of his arrangement of the folk song “Shchedryk,” known to many in North America as “Carol of the Bells”), but there are also many composers from elsewhere in Europe who studied and worked in Ukraine and used themes from Ukrainian folk songs in some of their own works (like Bartók, Beethoven, Dvorák, Haydn, Kabalevsky, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and von Weber).

Mykola Lysenko

So, I did sample through some Ukrainian musicians. First of all, I listened to some piano music by Mykola Lysenko, and that’s some nice stuff right there. I might even try to find the sheet music for some of his pieces. It has a lot of feeling behind it; just technical to sound impressive, but probably not so technical that I couldn’t figure it out. Related, I also listened to some of the music of Roman Miroshnichenko, a classical guitarist. He is fantastic to listen to, and he isn’t afraid to pull in sounds from other cultures, like incorporating a sitar and Latin elements.


Next, there is a lot of pop music from Ukraine that I listened through: Ruslana (she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004), Vremya i Steklo (a duo, more of a dance/pop group with elements of EDM), Zlata Ognevich (participated in Eurovision 2013), Anastasia Prikhodko (known for her contralto voice; mixes rock, folk, and pop), Maruv (more dance/pop/EDM), and Jamala (she won Eurovision 2016).

And there are also a lot of rock bands from here as well: Okean Elzy (an alternative rock band, can be quite melodic at times), The Hardkiss (participated in Eurovision 2016, shifts between harder and softer rock), Marrakech (alternative rock, one of their songs was used in the Grand Theft Auto IV soundtrack), Robots Don’t Cry (a little punk/ska yet a little garage band, I really like them), and Zhadan i Sobasky (ska band, equally as fun to listen to).

Make Me Famous

While there are quite a few metal bands, I took a listen to one called Make Me Famous. Their lyrics are in English, and they also seem to have someone doing the growled lyrics and someone singing the melodic parts. I like their style.


And I only found one hip-hop group: TNMK (stands for Tanok na Maidani Kongo, or Dance at the Congo Square). It’s kind of odd because at first listen, I was sort of like, "It's alright," but when the vocals came in, it got better. Even though I don’t understand a word of it. Is that important, though? (Probably.)

Up next: the food

Thursday, September 3, 2020


The earliest arts in Ukraine include illuminated manuscripts, which are highly elaborate illustrations that accompany various kinds of texts (mostly religious). The most famous of these is the Peresopnytsia Gospel, written in Old Ukrainian during the mid-1500s. It seems that Ukrainian art is built on intricacy, from its famous pysanky (highly decorated Easter eggs) to the art of vytynanky (the folk art of elaborate paper cutting that’s also popular in Poland and Belarus).

Jewelry making in Ukraine has been around since the Old Stone Age. There are artifacts of bracelets made out of mammoth ivory, and there are also many bracelets, necklaces, arm cuffs, and hair ornamentation made from various metals, like gold, copper, bronze, and iron. Over the centuries, they added new techniques like mother-of-pearl inlays, forging, stamping, and enameling. Ukrainian jewelry makers eventually incorporated different folk patterns into their jewelry pendants and pieces and are worn by both men and women regardless of their social class.

Embroidery and weaving also plays an important part of their culture. Folk dress makes use of these elaborate, brightly colored embroidery patterns as well as different weaving techniques and lace-making. And the colors, motifs, and even types of stitches can vary depending on what region you’re from.

Ukrainian artists typically followed the artistic movements throughout Europe. Some of the famous painters from the Ukraine include Kazimir Malevich (part of the Ukrainian avant-garde), Ivan Aivazovsky (born in Crimea, known for his marine art), Maria Prymachenko (folk art painter, known as a representative of naïve art), Vladimir Borovikovsky (son of an icon painter, he was widely known as one of the best portrait painters around the turn of the 19th century), and Kseniya Simonova (does graphic design and illustration, became famous for her sand animation performance art on Ukraine’s Got Talent. I remember watching her years ago, you need to check it out.).
Kseniya Simonova's sand art

Literature in Ukraine is mainly written in Ukrainian, but it kind of had a rocky journey along the way, simply because so many people have ruled over the country over the centuries. The earliest pieces of literature were written in Latin or Old Church Slavonic. Literature in the Ukrainian language didn’t hit the scene until about the 1700s; folk epics called dumy helped make it more popular. They were essentially a way for Cossacks to retell historical events.

Iryna Vilde

What really set the stage for the Ukrainian language was a poem called Eneida by Ivan Kotliarevsky that was published in 1798. It was significant because it brought the modern Ukrainian language to the forefront, and many literary critics often consider him the “father of Ukrainian literature.” On the prose side of literature, the novel Marusya by Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko, published in 1834 is considered the first to be published in Ukrainian. One of the first influential female authors is Iryna Vilde, pseudonym for Daryna Dmytrivna Makohon. She was known for her short stories and novels about life in Western Ukraine as well as family life in bourgeois society, many of which were published during the early 20th century. One of her most famous works is Sisters Richynsky.

Throughout much of the time they were connected to Soviet Russia, there was a ban on using the Ukrainian language, whether written or spoken. There were quite a few Ukrainian authors who contributed to Russian literature during this time. (I mean, when the ideas are flowing, you just gotta write.) It wouldn’t be until they broke off from Russia that a whole new generation of writers would emerge from this censorship fog. Some of the authors of note include Serhiy Zhadan (novelist, poet, translator), Maria Matios (poet, novelist), Moysey Fishbein (translator, poet), Ihor Pavlyuk (writer, translator), Yuri Andrukhovych (essayist, poet, writer, translator), and Oksana Zabuzkko (novelist, poet, essayist).

Up next: music and dance