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Mid-Summer in Qatar

25th Jul 2012

Here we are late July, the holy month of Ramadan has started, the temperatures are averaging mid 40’s, the skies are clear, our personal effects are still somewhere on the high seas, we experienced being in the middle of a twelve car pileup this week, we arrived back from a trip to Sri Lanka and Australia last month and we are off to enjoy the delights of Istanbul and Crimea next week.

Where to start?

Ramadan is a month long tradition for Muslim people when fasting (no water or food) occurs between a predetermined time in the morning and evening (currently about 3:30 am to 6:30 pm). The objective is to refocus on God and to practice self-sacrifice. This is taken very seriously here in Qatar and working hours are reduced to between about 8am and 1pm for most people. The shop hours are also adjusted to reflect a life that is lived largely at night for the month.

Of course, it is in the nature of people, even while practicing self-sacrifice, to make the most of life, so fasting is often broken, after prayer, with feasting and celebration and many of our Muslim friends look forward to this time of year with some anticipation. That said, i have concerns about the impact on the health of many people of not drinking for more than 15 hours in these temperatures.

After the windy, dusty conditions of June and the earlier part of July it is great to wake each morning to clear blue skies. The humidity has risen so the evenings give us very little respite from the heat. We have tried swimming in the evenings recently but, sadly, the pool is just too hot to make that much fun. I am guessing the water temperature is well above 40 degrees because it is quite hot when you get in and when you get out it is definitely cooler just standing in the open air. A good shade cloth over the pool would probably make a huge difference.

ImageAt the risk of being controversial, I am going to put up a health warning here.

You will see at right a device that is widely deployed in toilets in the Middle East and across much of the sub-continent. This is surely an act of genius and it is astounding how rarely you see one of these bum guns in European countries, they save on paper and are very hygienic and convenient. The warning – Do not use in Qatar in the middle of the day when the water in your cold-water tank is about 50 degrees.

A 12 Car Pile Up

On Monday we received an object lesson in leaving enough space between yourself and the car in front, and a reminder as to just how STUPID some drivers can be.

Yuliya and I were going to arrange delivery of our personal effects with the local shipping agent prior to going to work. We were driving across the West of Doha on the Shamal Road, a three lane highway at that point. We were travelling in the left hand lane (the fast lane) at about the speed limit (100 kph). This is never a comfortable experience in Qatar (travelling in the fast lane) because there is always some clown who believes the speed limit doesn’t apply to them, comes within a metre or two of your rear bumper and starts flashing their lights or tooting the horn. Hence when in the left lane you tend to be very alert.

So, on full alert, I was able to bring the care to stop in time when, about six cars ahead of us, someone stopped in the left lane to change a tyre. Unfortunately the five cars between us and the guy with the flat tyre were not so alert, and apart from the car directly behind us, neither were the next three cars. The result was as you would imagine six cars in front of us nose to tail with steam smoke and water pouring from various orifices. Behind us the car immediately following managed to stop without touching my Landcruiser but a split second later he was heavily rear-ended by another car. The result? My follower slammed into the back of my car and we were pushed into the car in front. The result can be seen below.

Luckily, and thanks to the design of modern cars which are designed to absorb shocks like this, it appears in the whole fiasco that no one was hurt, and after we had all shaken hands and introduced our selves we settled back to wait for the police to come and sort out the mess. I rang work to let them know I might be a little late and, of course, the first question that was asked was “Are you both OK?”, the second question  was a little more unusual though; “can you still use your air conditioner?”. Thankfully, the answer to this was also “yes”.

I have to say that I was impressed from this point on with the efficiency of the Qatari road Traffic Police and the way in which the formalities have been handled (so far). The police were on the scene within 5 minutes and, bearing in mind that this was rush hour, arranged for all the cars to be moved into the left lane quite quickly and for the car behind us to be towed from the scene. Then, within 1/2 hour they had taken statements and details from all the people involved and advised us to pick up our police report (one cannot get a body repair of ANY sort done in Doha without a police report) at 5pm from the main road traffic office.

As arranged we arrived at the road traffic office in Madinat Khalifa at about 5:15 to find that, due to Ramadan, there was one person working. We joined a fairly short queue and 15 minutes later we were able to leave with completed police report written, completely, in Arabic. As you might guess, I was a little concerned about this and asked my good friend Waqas if he could arrange to translate it for me. He did and I was surprised but pleased to find that the traffic police had got all of the material facts completely correct. I am not sure what the process would have been had they been wrong but I’m guessing that early intervention would have been the safest course.

Being fully insured by QIC, the next day I fronted their claims office in Wholesale Market Street to submit my report and make a claim. A few notes about this: The QIC claims office fronts the street directly, there is no obvious door, no obvious place to park and no driveway, a hand scrawled sign says that parking is around the back. To reach the parking you must drive your vehicle up over the curve and drive down a steep rocky incline into a large open area of desert where you will see a dozen or so cars that have clearly been written off and left to decay peacefully in the sun. After you park your car you will find a door in the back of the building and upon entering you go up to the first floor where there is a large modern office. The staff are very polite and helpful and I found they spoke good English, following the obligatory “take a number – wait for it to be called” routine you are processed quickly and efficiently and taken back downstairs so that photos can be taken of the damage. You are then issued with an approval to get your car repaired.

So that’s it, the care is heading into the Toyota repair shop tomorrow evening and I am hoping that it will be sorted by the time we get back and that it will be none the worse for wear. Especially since it is effectively a new vehicle.

Sri Lanka, Australia, Turkey and Ukraine

I went to Sri Lanka with my first wife, Suzanne, back in 1983. Tat was a two week stay when we visited many of the amazing historic sites and enjoyed the hospitality of these wonderful people. Last month Yuliya and I spent a week there on the way to Australia and my observation, at least as an outsider is that there have been some changes, not for the better, but that the people, despite a long and horrible civil war, remain as friendly and welcoming as they were nearly 30 years ago. I will write a separate post about our trip to this lovely country.

We would not normally have elected to visit Melbourne in June, however this was a special occasion. Not exactly a land of ice and snow, but miserably cold and grey, southern Victoria is not the place to be mid-winter. My  daughter, Ashlee, was turning 21 and we were there to help her celebrate. I have posted some photos here of the festivities fro the family and friends who were involved. It was a great opportunity to see many people, family and friends, and to enjoy some excellent Australian food and wine. It really is the lucky country.

We stayed with my sister Clio and brother in-law Terry and our thanks again to them for their hospitality. Next time we will hopefully be well enough to do another round or two of traditional Russian toasting!

The Ongoing Saga of Our Personal Effects

Following on from my last post, we have now been told that our personal effects will arrive here in Doha on 30th July. Two days after we go on holiday, slap bang in the middle of Ramadan (slow work time), and three weeks later than originally promised.

I have arranged for the goods to be cleared through customs and in return, been informed that this process is going to cost nearly another thousand pounds (well over 4,000 ryal). If anyone is considering shipping goods to Qatar, be aware of this. Customs clearance, paperwork and anything to do with the port here in Doha is incredibly expensive by local standards and not to be considered lightly.

More information will be posted as it comes to hand.

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Ahhhh… Vienna

5th June 2012

Living in the northern hemisphere has one particular advantage over living on the other side of the planet for me. That advantage is the ease with which one can travel between countries where the cultures are significantly different but the locations are not separated by huge distances.

And so it was that one Saturday morning in October 2010, Yuliya and I found ourselves in Vienna, eating breakfast at a cafe and contemplating how we would spend our next three days.

Vienna proved easy to navigate and it was not long after breakfast before we found ourselves settled in to an apartment about a kilometer west of the Maria-Theresian-Platz and the Museumsplatz at Kandlgasse 36. We had arranged the apartment on the Internet and found the double room, with ensuite for a reasonable price. I think the only thing we missed was a refrigerator but hey ho, there were plenty of restaurants and bars nearby.

We found that walking around Vienna and using public transport was very easy. The locals were helpful and quite used to people who did not speak German.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Vienna is what I will describe first, once this is out of the way I can describe all the good points. In Vienna, the powers that be still allow smoking in enclosed public places! … and boy can the Viennese smoke.

For those of us who have lived in countries where smoking in public enclosed spaces has been banned this is a horrible experience and you really wonder how it can go on. In Vienna we found that coffee shops, restaurants, and bars would contain thick, eye-watering clouds of blue smoke. In one restaurant you had to walk through the smokers area (most of the restaurant) to get to a small glassed-off room at the back for non-smokers, to pay for your meal you needed to duck your head down to about 4 feet off the floor to get below the smoke layer! I cannot tell you what a pity this is in a city that in other ways seems oh so civilised.

There’s Art and There’s Art

Up-front, Yuliya and I have different taste in art.

While she can marvel at the old masters and stare for hours at faithful reproductions of people’s faces and clothing I love the chill that goes down my spine when I look at the best works of Van Gogh, Picasso, Whiteley, Warhol or Banksy. So, we agreed to split our viewing time between two major galleries, the Ludwig Foundation Museum of Modern Art (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig) and the Leopold Museum.

We passed a wonderful day at these two venues and I have included here some of the snapshots that we were able to take home with us.

Opposite the galleries is the Kunsthistoriches Museum (the Museum of Fine Arts) and the Natural History Museum. The former is quite spectacular with an awe inspiring restaurant, painted ceilings and massive range of sculptures and art works from around the globe. This really is a must-visit location.

Out and About

Walking around Vienna is easy and there are a wide range of shops, galleries, parks, restaurants, and other things to see.

I can report that the Danube is not blue in Vienna. The opera of that name must have been written about a different part of the river. Or… perhaps the title “The Brown Danube Canal” didn’t have the same resonance. Sadly as well, the grafitti that adorns the walls of the Danube canal is really quite uninspiring for such an otherwise art-conscious society.

 

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The family website is gone… but the recipes are back!

Most people seem to have visited the family web page for the recipes! I am going to add them on again here for anyone who cares to try.

Welcome to the Snoxall family recipe pages

Why?

I come from a family that seems to have been lucky enough to attract some very talented food preparers influenced by the cuisines of the Middle East, East Africa, Switzerland, Spain, China and Burma. I am often asked to share recipes and so thought it only fair to publish them once here for posterity. Please feel free to help me add to the collection by sending me your favourite tried and true family recipes.

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Yogurt and Cucumber Raita

Ingredients

1 cup natural yoghurt
Salt
1 clove of fresh garlic crushed (do not substitute crushed garlic from a jar as this will add a bad flavour)
1/2 cucumber chopped

Method 1 (quick)

Mix all ingredients together and serve.

Note: Sometimes, depending on the quality of the yoghurt where you are, this results in a fairly runny mixture. If so I use method two if I have a little more time.

Method 2

Mix about 1 1/2 cups of yoghurt with about 1 teaspoon of salt (I know this sounds like a lot but you will lose some at the next step).

Put the yoghurt in a muslin cloth (a cotton cloth with a weave like that of a pillow case), let the liquid drain from the yoghurt over a saucepan or sink for about an hour (this is where the salt gets lost again). The draining wont work without salt. After about an hour the yoghurt in the cloth should be noticeably thicker. Put it back in a bowl and add the cucumber and garlic. Serve.

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Tomato Soup

This recipe is a bit of a “cheat” but I hope you find the results make it worthwhile.

Ingredients

  • 1 can of commercial tomato soup (around 400gms) – note in Australia soup is typically condensed while in the UK….not. If you use condensed soup then add the recommended water as well.
    1 can of tomatoes or tomato pieces
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 teaspoon of dried oregano (dried herbs have a much stronger and robust taste than fresh – don’t overdo it)
    About a tablespoon of sugar
    Salt to taste
    Two dried kafir lime leaves (optional)

Method

Mix the soup from the can, any water and the can of tomatoes and use a blending wand to make the mixture smooth. Add the oregano, sugar, salt, and kafir lime leaves.

Sauté the onions for a few minutes just to make them clear, don’t let them brown.

Add soup mixture to the onions and heat gently until just before it boils. Add salt to taste.

Variations on a theme:

You can leave out the kafir lime leaves and instead add about a tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce.

If you want to use some fresh tomatoes you will need to add these and heat the soup ingredients before doing the onions, bring the soup with the fresh tomatoes in to the boil and simmer for a few minutes until the “raw” smell is gone, then add the onions.

I sometimes use some tomato paste to up the “tomato-i-ness”. If you do this you need to add some water as well.

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Tea Eggs

Ingredients

6 chicken eggs
3 black/English tea bags
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 pieces star anise

Method

Boil eggs for about 10 minutes then take them out of the water and gently crack the shells all over, don’t remove shell from eggs.

Replace water and return eggs with all other ingredients to the saucepan. Simmer gently for one hour. Allow to cool, peel and eat! The ggs should have a lovely brown marbling and a delicate flavour from the tea, soy and star anise.

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Spotted Dick

Ingredients

170g / 6oz sultanas
75g / 3oz soft brown sugar
Grated zest/rind of 1 lemon
225g / 8oz self-raising flour plus extra for dusting
115g /4oz shredded suet
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup of milk

Method

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl; add the suet and the salt and rub together to combine. Add the sultanas, sugar, and lemon rind and then a little milk and using a strong spoon mix, adding more milk little by little until it comes together. Finally use your hands to combine into a soft, elastic dough. Add more milk if necessary.

Now there are two ways you can cook the pudding. I use the first and haven’t tried the second.

Steaming: Put the dough into a glass bowl which has been greased with a little butter or lightly sprayed with oil (to stop it sticking). Tamp down. There should be a little space (an inch – 2.5 cm or so) at the top to allow the pudding to rise. Cover the bowl with grease proof paper and then aluminium foil and tie some string around to seal it. Put the bowl in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Fill the saucepan with enough water to come half way up the side of the bowl. Simmer for 2 1/2 hours checking occasionally to make sure there is still plenty of water.

Boiling: Wrap the suet roll pudding in a napkin, twisting at each end and securing with kitchen string. Steam the pudding roll for 2 hours in a steamer. Alternatively, wrap the pudding suet roll in foil and bake in a hot oven (200 degrees C) for 1/2 hours.

Whichever way you choose to cook this, when the pudding is cooked, unwrap immediately, cut into thick slices and serve in warmed bowls with custard or icecream. I also like golden syrup drizzled on the hot pudding.

Hint: I am told that if you want to reheat the pudding the next day you slice slice it and fry in butter. This sounds delicious but probably is not great for your saturated fat intake.

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