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Sweet Hands: Island Cooking and a Stew Beef recipe

Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago has become a new classic for Trini cooking, alongside the old faithful, the Naparima cookbook. It is now in its second edition (first published in 2005, this edition 2010), testament to its popularity. I am not entirely a newcomer to this book – years ago I sent it to friends when I couldn’t get the Naparima Cookbook and wanted to give some non-Trini friends something that would show them the foods I’d grown up with. The recipients were pleased with it, discovering recipes and information that confirmed what I’d been telling them (seasonings, street food, methods etc) with clearly set out recipes and photos. They especially liked the Beef Stew with Dumplings recipe (more on that below) which for one friend has become almost a staple…

Sweet Hands is by Ramin Ganeshram, a trained chef, journalist and teacher. Her claim to Trini cooking is from her Trini father, visits to his homeland and growing up with the food and the stories. The book has much of the expected traditional Trini recipes – Indian delicacies like phoulourie, doubles, aloo pies; the classics like pelau, pastelles, shark and bake, various curried meats; drinks such as sorrel and cocoa tea; chutneys and other condiments; and of course desserts that are derived from all our cultures, barfi, sweet bread, sugar cake etc. You can look for Ramin on twitter, or on her Sweet Hands blog. And I so want to make her Cocoa Tea Cakes posted in this NPR story here.

Since we were on the topic last week, Sweet Hands, in introducing the reader to Trinidad and Tobago, also provides information on the history of T&T and traveling to the islands. She lists some essentials for visiting Trinidad, even suggesting an Indo-Trinidad tour day among others. So what made her list?

  • The Hanuman Temple, the Indo-Caribbean Museum in Waterloo, Temple in the Sea
  • La Brea Pitch Lake
  • The Beaches
  • Asa Wright, Caroni Swamp, the Wildfowl Trust
  • Turtle watching (leatherback turtles during nesting)
  • Grafton Nature Sanctuary and the Tobao Rainforest Reserve

Sweet Hands Beef Stew recipeBut now, onto the recipe for beef stew with dumplings. This appears to be a Trini dish – it also appears in the Naparima book (see Trinigourmet’s recipe and post) – but not one I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, at the core this is an authentically Trini stew beef recipe, completed with the browning of the sugar, (green) seasoning of the meat, soy sauce etc. I’ve just never eated stew beef with dumplings. I’ve seen recipes online for Irish, or English Beef Stews with dumplings, and certainly these Trini recipes also include the beer element (which I obviously have to substitute). But, never let it be said that I have not had a Trini dish (one that can be made halaal of course).

I have some very very nice Qurbani beef (from the Eid ul Adha sacrifice) and was waiting to use it. I modified the recipe somewhat – of course, I needed to replace the beer…and not with ALE as suggested on some sites :-) – so I looked around my kitchen, saw something also “brewed” on the stove, and threw in my Dominican Republic coffee. Yes, COFFEE. I have no idea what beer or ale is supposed to take like and I didn’t want to use up my rare productive-awake-Saturday time googling. While it smelled very much like coffee when I first poured it in, and I was worried, the dark coffee flavour blends very nicely with the stew adding to the rich, dark flavour. I also haven’t used oil for stews in a long time. The sugar browns just fine in a hot pot just like that, and beef especially will have enough fat on its own. This also gives me the freedom to add a bit of salt butter in a stew if I feel like it :-)

Oh, and I only had chicken stock (but homemade) not beef stock. And I used my pressure cooker to cut down the simmering time. Of course my pressure cooker is a tad wide/big for my portions, which means that I had liquid-depth issues when it came time to drop in the dumplings, but I managed. There’s enough flavour in this recipe to add some more water at that point. Just don’t oversalt the dumplings since they pick up the seasoning from the stew.

Stew Beef with Dumplings (as modified by me noted in red)

Beef

  • Sweet Hands Stew Beef - Onions1.5 lbs stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons green seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Canola oil (I didn’t use this)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (I use brown for almost everything)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup brewed coffee (instead of the beer)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt (I used sea salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 2 cups beef stock or water (I used chicken stock)

Dumplings

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • pinch of coarse or kosher salt

1. Mix beef with green seasoning and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. You can do this overnight.

2. Heat pressure cooker, and add the sugar. Let the sugar caramelise until dark brown. Add seasoned beef and stir well to coat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes more.

3. Stir in the coffee, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, salt and hot pepper sauce. Add the stock, making sure it covers the beef, adding additional stock or water if necessary. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cover and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 hour, adding the dumplings as instructed in step 5. OR Close pressure cooker, add weight and cook as usual until tender, then add dumplings.

Sweet Hands Stew Beef and Dumplings

4. While the stew is simmering, make the dumplings. Mix together the flour, cornmeal and salt. Add 6 tablespoons of water and knead to form a stiff dough, adding more water if necessary. Knead until smooth and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.

5. Pinch off 1-inch pieces of dough and roll between the palm of your hands to form ovals. Pinch both ends, then flatten the oval between palms or against a cutting board. The dumplings should resemble small flat footballs. Drop them into the beef stew in the last 15 minutes of cooking. (You may need to add more liquid to get a good depth of liquid to cook the dumplings…just let the extra liquid come up to a boil then lower heat) Adjust the seasonings of the stew to taste.

Serve hot.

Touring the Homeland: Trinidad

Red Flag means Danger

So, in case you are a new reader to this blog, I am a Trini – I come from Trinidad and Tobago, and specifically, born and raised on the island of Trinidad. Trinidad is the most southern island of the Caribbean, right off the coast of South America. Being that close to the continent we were once part of, means we are blessed with rainforests and moutains, flora and fauna not always found on our fellow Caribbean islands further away. In addition to being the land of the hummingbird, with the Scarlet Ibis being one of our national birds, we also have a species of deer and an ocelot. They’re a bit smaller on the island than their relatives on the mainland, but that’s normal since we’re a smaller landmass. The human Trinis haven’t made it any easier for the forest-dwellers by dissecting their historical connections between the Northern, Central and Southern Ranges and making their habitats that much smaller. And don’t get me started on the forest fires…Papa Bois must be constantly vex…

I live in Guyana, more or less consistently for the past 5 years. There are things to explore here – Georgetown, Kaieteur Falls, the massive rivers like the Essequibo and the islands in the rivers. And their wildlife is certainly impressive (even if I’ve only seen certain species in the zoo as I am not a jungle explorer). But home is home, and the beauty of the place where I still consider my permanent residence is always at the forefront. So I was extremely excited to host a couple friends from foreign last month, when they visited Trinidad as part of their honeymoon (they stopped in Grenada first). I’d met Jess while I was studying in Edinburgh years ago, and we’ve seen each other since then in California, where she now lives, Toronto and back in Edinburgh for our first reuinion. She was the first of my friends I made in Scotland to visit T&T and I’d been planning for about a year to figure out essential things to see over a few days. I’d exposed her to Trini food back when we shared a kitchen, and her new husband got his taste in Brampton, Ontario when we were attending a wedding and I found a Trini roti shop that did good work. So scenery and food. Must-haves on this tour of Trinidad. I had must-sees and must-haves for Tobago too, but they didn’t make it there this trip.

BWee and the Northern Range - coming homeSo, if you had 6 days to show people Trinidad, what would you choose? My list  ended up being –

I had more on the list that couldn’t be done, like –

The Trini DoublesAnd there were specific food tours or foods that had to be eaten –

Central Range 2It was an intense 6 days of driving around, mostly through green and beautiful Trinidad but I think my guests enjoyed it :-) And that was in spite of the dire warnings they got in Grenada about Trinidad…(tsk tsk, and Grenada is my favourite non-home Caribbean country too…) My friends even made it from Long Circular Mall to West Mall by MAXI-TAXI on their own (i.e. without me) and then back to their hotel, in the NIGHT…and found people were willing to give them information and direct them all along the route. And all for US$1.  They even found a panyard. We’re not all thugs and predators in T&T.

So what would make your list of must-see or must-do (or indeed must-eat) in Trinidad?

It’s a New Year!

Scarlet Ibises

And I am only 8 days late :-) but Happy New Year! It’s also the beginning of a new decade, did you know? I didn’t realise until I heard some random “Top 40 songs of the decade” countdown. Wow. Was I too burned out from the millenium end/beginning discussions even 10 years later? But nevermind. We’re in 2011, and next year we’ll be riding the icebergs and continents to new destinations, as long as the Chinese finish that big secret construction project. It’s TRUE. I saw it in a movie. It MUST be true.

White IbisesSpeaking of birds…those Scarlet Ibises above were taken at the Caroni Swamp/Bird Sanctuary last month. And those are white ibises on the right. More on that anon.

Last year started with one of the great tragedies of the region, the earthquake in Haiti. And unfortunately for Haitians, the year brought them hurricanes, cholera and suspect elections. There are still many ways that our Caribbean brethren need help (just perhaps not through Wyclef’s Yele…if the news reports are anything to go by…) but we can hope that 2011 sees some positive developments. Hurricanes also hit closer neighbours like St Lucia, Barbados…and the related controversy involving the new Government elected in T&T in 2010 is one I am not going into here…

Northern RangePersonally, I started 2010 on the seawall in Guyana after some long-overdue touristing around Guyana and then jetted off to Trinidad for some family time. This year was a bit reversed – in December I had some long-awaited touristing around Trinidad (photos and story coming), driving friends from foreign around to La Vega Estate, Caroni Swamp, Asa Wright Nature Reserve, Mount St Benedict and other parts of the island. And then I brought in the New Year at home in Trinidad, before jetting back to Guyana to start the working year.

One of the great things of 2010 for me personally  was the opportunity I had to (re)connect and spend time with actual people, even some new people. I joined Twitter and Facebook as Chennette, embracing this social media thingy, just a little…I am still finding my way there. In July, I bravely went on a Photo Walk in the Queen’s Park Savannah, and I hope I can meetup with other Trini photo-enthusiasts and photographers for another such event. Maybe even one in Guyana…

La Vega HutsI posted at least once every month in 2010 and let’s see if I can make it to twice every month this year :-) My readership is certainly loyal despite my erratic schedule – I had to upgrade my bandwidth in October

As a gesture of my good intentions, sprinkled through this post have been some photos from La Vega Estate in Gran Couva, Trinidad and the Caroni Swamp… more are on Flickr here and here…but I am going to post very soon on my visits to some of my favourite places in my homeland. It made me miss T&T more, but at least I am close by.

Have a good year people!

Pizza Cheese Rolls

Pizza Cheese Rolls

Nothing to do with Christmas – just a tasty variation on my Cheese Rolls recipe. I had to make some kid-friendly food this weekend as my sister’s under-5 posse was sleeping over. They like my cheese rolls (as long as they can’t detect any onions or pimento pepper in it) and they like pizza (cheese only of course). I didn’t really feel like making pizza, but wanted a variation on my cheese rolls.

If you check out my recipe for the cheese rolls, you’ll see I usually spread a little mustard the dough before sprinkling the cheese (house rule – cheese and mustard are a great pair!). So I decided to spread some pizza sauce instead! Just don’t tell my niece that there were some onions sprinkled in…I pretended I didn’t hear her asking her mother. Never mind, she ate lots, and made sure to ask for the last 2 before she left the house this evening.

The rest of the child favourites included mashed potatoes, chicken fingers (baked) and ice cream. And lots of running around outside to deal with the (brief) sugar rush from the ice cream.

Caribbean Vegan: a WINNER!

Hello People. We have a winner. Courtesy the lovely List Randomizer at random.org, Natalie, of Cinnamon Bums and the lover of “kabocha squash with a miso-tahini sauce over brown rice” is the lucky winner of a copy of Caribbean Vegan. I’ll be emailing you Natalie to get your mailing info for the publishers, but Congratulations!

Random List

Randomised List for Caribbean Vegan Giveaway

Everyone else – feel free to go get your own copy of “Caribbean Vegan: Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free – Authentic Island Cuisine for Every Occasion” and thanks so much for visiting!

Caribbean Vegan: a GIVEAWAY

COMMENTS TEMPORARILY CLOSED UNTIL I ANNOUNCE THE WINNER LATER TODAY!

Caribbean Vegan“Caribbean Vegan: Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free – Authentic Island Cuisine for Every Occasion”

If reading food-related blog and websites is part of your regular routine then you should already know by now about veganism and how it differs from vegetarianism. From wikipedia:

“Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle whose adherents seek to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.Vegans endeavor to never consume or use any animal products of any type. The most common reasons for becoming, or remaining, vegan are moral conviction concerning animal rights or welfare, health, environmental concerns, and spiritual or religious concerns…”

Vegetarians on the other hand, adhere to a meat-free diet, but may eat foods from animals such as eggs, dairy or honey. There are some people who call themselves vegetarian and say they eat fish. Or chicken. I’ll leave that one alone :-)

Me, I am not actually vegetarian. But being Muslim (for me) means that I try to eat only halaal (or permissible) food. This means that I don’t eat meat of the pig or alcohol. I eat meat, but it must be halaal,* which means that the animal is slaughtered in a particular way with a prayer. What this also means that, since I didn’t grow up in a Muslim country, is that I grew up reading food labels and being very conscious of ingredients in my food. Also, when I travel to places where halaal meats are not available, I tend to be (what Lilandra termed) a pseudo-pesco-ovo-lacto-vegetarian. Sometimes, I have even been an actual vegetarian, albeit for brief periods.

So, of course I was excited when I first encountered Taymer Mason’s blog, Caribbean Vegan and then later that she was working on a cookbook with real Caribbean food. Real Caribbean food that happens to be vegan. Caribbean Vegan is wonderful collection of recipes and information, with gorgeous photography from Cynthia Nelson of Tastes Like Home. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to want to make Bajan conkies, or coconut turnovers, macaroni pie, traditional peas and beans. She’s even managed to convert the Bajan fishcake into a vegan dish. There are 125 recipes but that’s not all. There is much Caribbean cooking information and guidance, including kitchen-necessities like our green seasonings so you can be assured this is REAL Caribbean cooking.

People may think veganism is exotic or bizarre but many foods we normally eat are already vegan. Or can be easily “veganised”. I looked through my Recipe page and found 9 recipes that are already vegan (not counting condiments) and a few more vegetarian dishes where the dairy element could easily be replaced with a vegan-friendly substitute. Many of these might be foods with loose or direct origins in India, but are part of every day Trini (and Caribbean) life. Here are a few of my vegan recipes to get you thinking –

Aloo Pies Fried and GoldenAloo Pie– well-seasoned potato stuffed into dough and fried – Trini street food served with chutney or channa Baiganis for Ramadan!Baigani – Sliced eggplant, dipped in a seasoned thick yellow split pea batter and deep fried. Serve with some spicy mango or tamarind chutney. Black-eye Peas Googni – boiled peas, sautéed with onions, garlic, cumin (geera) etc Use your favourite legume, whether channa (chick peas) or pigeon peas etc.
Dhal, Trini-style - enjoy.Dhal, trini-style – spicy boiled and chunkayed yellow split peas, served in liquid form to accompany rice, roti or as a soup Fry Aloo Done! close up!Fry Aloo – Trini dish, usually eaten with sada roti – thinly sliced aloo (potato) sautéed with onions and garlic until the edges are brown and crispy The Trini Doubles
Doubles – thin fried rounds wrapped around soft curried channa, eaten with pepper sauce and hot chutneys.
Eid ul Fitr - Falafel
Falafel – crunchy fried channa and lentil fritter, that well-known Middle Eastern treat
Kachorie - insidesKachourie, Trini-style – ground split peas, seasoned and deep fried to crispy goodness, served with spicy chutney Paratha - bussing itParatha (Buss up Shut) Trini-style – roti, flaky light and layered flat bread cooked on a tawah and then bussed-up, or pulled apart

So, check out Caribbean Vegan (Amazon link) for some wonderful recipes and information. But for now, and until Wednesday 8th December 2010, you have an opportunity to win a free copy of Caribbean Vegan right here! Yup. All you have to do is leave a comment here (or on my Facebook page) naming a favourite food item that is vegan. Imaginary points are added if you just realised you’ve been enjoying a vegan dish all this time.

I’ll announce the winner (random selection) on Thursday 9th December 2010 and will contact you to get mailing information for the publisher, The Experiment, to send you your free copy.

Edit (2 December 2010): Disclaimer! I should add that I only received a copy of the book for review, with no conditions attached. So, other than knowing Taymer through her blog I have no affiliations and whatnot.

Also, my family (Lilandra and Trinimom) aren’t part of the competition :-) for fairness and transparency. But they also enjoy vegan dishes!

———–

Muslims are also permitted to eat food “of people of the Book”, which refers to Jews and Christians. Since it’s only Jews who have prescribed and certified foods that I can recognise, I also eat kosher (once it’s alcohol-free of course – kosher does not include pork)

More Photos from Brussels

I’ll be getting around to the giveaway never fear, but in the meantime, I’ve uploaded a few more photos of Grand Place, Brussels. Enjoy some old world city buildings.

Grand Place in lightsLooking Up
La Maison du Roi, le soirGalleries Royales St Hubert

The rest of my photos from Brussels.

I have realised that I have photos and stories from various trips since May that have been idling on my computer. So look out between now and the New Year for some pictures from St Kitts and Nevis, The Bahamas, Central Trinidad etc.

Updates and Caribbean Vegan

Hotel de Ville lit up at sunsetDear Reading Public,

Once again I have been remiss in regular posting. I am glad that after 4 1/2 years there is sufficient content to provide results for the searching Divali (Diwali) celebrants. And extra glad I updated my hosting package before the surge :-)

As always, the dreaded day job took over in the last month. You know, paying the bills to provide for that upgraded hosting :-) I did get a trip to Brussels though. And got some gorgeous photos, which I am in the process of uploading to Flickr. Although I did have my D80 the last time I visited in June 2007, it was brand new to me, and I have to admit I was scared of it. Settings? Manual Focus? Size? It was so big, how did one carry it about? And I only ever posted a few photos from that trip. This time around, even though I am no expert, I know how to (try to) get colour in waning light – capturing the light in the sky AND the lights in the building. Of course, I realise I want faster, sharper lenses, but it was nice. These are 2 of my favourite photos so far from the trip – taken about 15 minutes apart.

Grand Place at sunset I’ve also updated my Caribbean Cuisine page – you know where I highlight all the Caribbean food bloggers I have found in the last 4 years. I’ve discovered a couple bloggers by way of Twitter (you remember I started chirping a few months ago) – Macafouchette and Kimberly Parris. And then there are a couple other diaspora bloggers with Guyanese roots The Inner Gourmet and Wendy’s Kitchen. There are also 2 Trini bloggers – one Chillibibi, who wants to showcase oldtime Trini food and does indeed have a recipe for that schoolyard favourite of mine –  and Belly in Hand, who’s reviewing good places to eat in T&T.

One of my favourite parts of blogging, and being part of this whole online Caribbean world, is seeing exciting developments firsthand, like Taymer Mason’s new book Caribbean Vegan. I had discovered Taymer’s blog back when she was blogging as a Barbadian Vegan, but she changed the name to reflect a wider Caribbean and of course the fact that she wasn’t in Barbados any more (but in the French West Indies, so still very much Caribbean). She was writing her book then and it’s now published (with photography by another longtime Caribbean food blogger, Cynthia of Tastes Like Home) and I am eagerly awaiting my copy. I am not vegan or vegetarian, but I do have my moments of meat-free living. And in any case, so many of our Caribbean foods are suitable for vegetarians or vegans – roti and doubles for example. So I’ve been very excited about this book. Coming soon, I hope to do a giveaway for this book, so keep an eye out for that! And congratulations Taymer!

Yours sincerely,

Chennette

PS – I know better than to make any promises about regular posting!

Halaal Trini Black Cake? (recipe)

Halaal Trini Black Cake

Mom's black cake texture

A few months ago I got a request for a Halaal Trini Black Cake recipe. Those of you familiar with the permutations of the traditional Caribbean Christmas black cake (whether you call it black cake or great cake) will know that this cake is generally viewed as inextricable from its alcohol content. In fact, a visitor to this photo on Flickr felt compelled to tell me “the call it rum cake because theres some rum in it“. Grammar and spelling notwithstanding, I understood the sentiment although I had never called Mom’s Black Cake “Rum Cake” for obvious reasons…but maybe some people will think it’s sacriligeous to make this cake any other way than reeking of rum or other spirits :-) That’s ok – I just won’t eat it that way. And this cake that Mom makes, which she agreed to share the secrets, is so rich, and moist that it is appreciated by rum cake lovers and Muslims alike.

The traditional way of making Black Cake involves mincing and soaking the fruits from up to a year before baking. Soaking in alchohol. People pride themselves on getting the fruits together earlier than their neighbours so they get the right flavours and textures. No alcohol ergo no need for soaking. We’re not fermenting anything here. The cake is supposed to be moist, dense and dark. The fruits get the moistness into the cake and Mom’s secret, from her mother, is the addition of condensed milk, which maintains helps maintain the right texture. There are NO leavening agents used in the cake – the eggs will do the necessary – and bake on low heat. With plenty browning, the cake is supposed to be black, remember.

The other notable difference between a regular Black Cake and the halaal version is the timing of its baking. We (my family) don’t celebrate Christmas, so we don’t make the cake for Christmas. (That’s not to say that there aren’t Muslims who might make it around Christmas time, just not us). Mom will make it for special occasions indeed (it is a rich cake) such as Eid, or to send with me to Guyana so I have a taste of home. In fact, we still have some cake that she baked for Eid ul Fitr a month ago, that stayed, just like the alcoholic version, in the cupboard, getting moister and lovelier by the day.

Without further ado, onto the recipe.

Halaal Trini Black Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Black Cake Batter8 ounces margarine/butter
2 ounces shortening
8 ounces brown sugar
14 ounces flour
6 eggs
14 ounces condensed milk (1 395 gm tin)
1.5 cup browning
Minced fruits – 8 ounces  each of prunes, raisins,  dates and black currants; , 4 ounces mixed peel, 2 oz cherries
1 tsp cinnamon

Method

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease cake tins with shortening and line with parchment or waxed paper – line bottom and sides. Mom likes to use the old Danish Butter Cookie tins, since they have covers for storage after baking.

2. Mince fruits in blender or food processor until as fine as you like it (I like it almost to a paste – I don’t like discernible bits of fruit).

1. Cream butter, shortening and sugar till fluffy.

2. Add eggs one at a time, beat well between additions.

3. Add fruits, mix well.

4. Add browning, condensed milk and cinnamon, mix well.

5. Add flour, about 2 ounces at a time, mix between each addition.

Black Cake - Just out of the ovenAt this point, Mom will put a tablespoon of the cake batter on a saucer into the microwave to cook. Taste this to test for sweetness and of course look at the colour. Determine if you need more condensed milk or browning, or if you are in a really humid place (more than here? whew) more flour. If you think it has too much flour, addition of a little condensed milk or more browning can help balance it out.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans.

7. Bake in the oven for about an hour – until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Notes on Soaking the Cake

Traditionally, the Black Cake is soaked in alcohol after baking and “topped” up ever so often, which keeps it edible and moist long after the normal shelf life of cake. Mom used to soak her cake in grape juice or apple juice to mimic this process and texture. However, this won’t keep the cake. You’ll have to store it in the fridge.

However, this cake is naturally moist and it tastes better and moister after a few days. In fact, without soaking it stays moist and keeps out of the fridge for weeks. Mom currently has the cake from Eid (whatever’s left) in a container and it hasn’t been refrigerated yet. For safety, you could choose to refrigerate and then just bring to room temperature before eating (if you microwave it before eating it gets a little soft and the sweetness can be a bit over the top – but maybe you like that).

While I was in California…

While I was on vacation, my bandwidth was exceeded. Thanks people! I mean that. Clearly my visitors exceed my expectations and my brief forays into the world of social media and marketing have had some effect :-) I shall have some upgrading to do…

I’ll have a few photos to post soon, but here’s one from the drive up the California coast to Big Sur. California is really more desertlike in its geography – it’s dry and can be rocky. Notwithstanding the areas of winegrowing country and pseudo tropical flora. Along the way – just before Hearst Castle I believe, there was a herd of elk on the mountains. This is from the car window – but it typifies some of the views from my vacation – clear blue sky (very clear), brown hills and Highway One.

Lilandra and I are also trying to add to our Hajj blog, since that time of year is coming again and we have been terribly delinquent. So feel free to pop over if you are interested in how we used modern technology and facilities to prepare for the Hajj.