Monday, October 20, 2008

The Joys of Having a Wood Stove

As mentioned in the last post, we had our first freeze two nights ago. In my household, that means shifting to our winter kitchen arrangement - to accommodate heating and cooking with our wood cook stove.

In the summer, I use my wood stove as a counter-top and its reservoir as a spice and condiment rack, which works great when company arrives for our cook-outs over our outdoor fire ring. However, when cold weather comes around, the table cloth is taken off of it, and everything else on it has to find a home elsewhere in new cabinets or in the dry sink in the outdoor kitchen.

Due to my neglect to check the weather forecasts last week, what I normally do for "winterizing" over several days, had to be done within one hour - in addition to bringing in a large load of wood, moving a bakers rack and cabinets around, etc. Then there was the fun of building the first fire - (my son took the liberty of doing that).

You would think, that after all of that, we would be fed up with having only a wood stove for winter heat and cooking; but quite to the contrary, once the fire was going and the reservoir filled, a sense of comfort enveloped the house, subhanallah. There is nothing comparable to the sound of a crackling fire and the type of heat that a wood-stove puts out. No electric or gas stove can compare to the ambiance of a wood stove.

On the practical side, we don't have to worry about the ups and downs of rising fuel costs that jack up electricity bills and gas or propane bills. If the electricity goes out, we know we have heat and a stove and oven to cook with (we probably would not notice, unless we tried to get on the internet.)

As long as we keep the reservoir filled, we also have a constant source of hot water on demand, as well as humidity in the house rather than the dryness and static that electric and gas heaters produce.

Some people may think our way of living is "backward", but I challenge that. If any major blackout, or energy crisis or technological breakdown were to occur, everyone will be knocking at the doors of homesteaders like us. Our homemade candles and lanterns are always handy - as well as our homemade soaps, homespun yarn for weaving or knitting for just about anything needed.

All of this is by the grace of Allah (God) of course. He is the one who brought our harvest to fruition, allowing us to preserve enough for use til next season and who sustains our animals as well.

I usually save some things in the freezer, like the blackberries picked in June, so that I can make them into jam over the wood stove and save electricity. Also, having a nice smooth metal top (about 36 inches wide), I can make specialty breads directly on top of the stove (the tortillas and Bosnian Pita bread come out great, as well as several Indian breads).

My wood stove is my favorite part of Autumn and Winter. Now it is time for me to enjoy its coziness while I sit down and finish removing leaves from the Malukhia!

Lost in a Pile of Malukhia Leaves!

While most of my garden had already been harvested, I had left a couple stragglers out there to "milk their worth", like some late tomatoes that had not yet ripened, sections of basil that I wanted to go to seed for next year's planting, and most importantly: malukhia! I had left about a 20 x 20 foot section of malukhia.

Last night we had our first freeze (that snuck up on me). That meant that today my son and I had to scurry to get all of it harvested onto a large bedsheet in a huge pile that is now sitting on my living room awaiting processing. It is now 2:14 am and it doesn't look like I have made a dent in the "de-leafing"process. (I dry some and cut some to freeze "green").

If you are not familiar with Malukhia, a native of Egypt (in my dialect, pronounced "imlukhia"), it is a plant that is actually related to the mint family and it is a mallow (also known under the name of "Jew's Mallow or by the common name of "Leaf Okra").

When cooked, it is slimey like Okra, but it is the leaves that are cooked (like spinach). As a matter of fact, spinach or other greens are sometimes mixed with it to vary the flavor or cut down on sliminess. (I happen to like the sliminess!) When left to mature, it actually develops long, skinny, okra-like growths at the crown.

Malukhia is also a relative to the marsh mallow. Yes, there is an actual plant called a Marsh Mallow. You guessed it! It grows in marshy areas. There is a lot of it growing wild in my area along the creeks, lakes and rivers. Initially the roots of these plants were harvested and boiled and sweetened to form the original "Marshmallow" that is used to put in S'mores and hot cocoa. Of course, synthetic nation that we are, they began to be produced for large market leaving out the most important element - THE MARSHMALLOW! (I opt to dig the real thing out and cook it the original way).

The leaves have a similar taste and consistency (Marsh Mallow and Malukhia). Cress and either mallow makes a nice taste combination.

Recent studies say it helps remove cholesterol from the body. Move over Crestor!

How do I Prepare Malukhia at MY House?

First, I get my pressure cooker ready, put some olive oil in it, saute onions, then brown some lamb or goat meat (you could use chicken). After it is brown, I cover it with sufficient water and add salt and pepper. Then I let the pressure cooker do its job for a sufficient amount of time (depending on how much meat) to let the meat fall off the bone.

In another pot, I melt some butter (or ghee) and saute the minced malukhia before adding broth from the meat in the pressure cooker, to a consistency that I like (sometimes I might add turnip greens, or spinach or swiss chard also minced, with it). Once it comes to a boil again, I turn it down to simmer for no more than 20 minutes. (note that this is the way for green [fresh or frozen] malukhia, as dried only needs about 5 minutes).

During that time, I take a heaping tablespoon of whole coriander seeds and crush with mortar and pestle (you could use a coffee grinder, but its not as good) and set aside. Then I crush about 8 cloves of garlic over some salt in the mortar and pestle. In a skillet I add a tablespoon of olive oil then saute the garlic for at least 3 minutes while stirring to prevent burning. To that mixture I then add the crushed coriander seeds and stir constantly for about 30 seconds to a minute (don't burn it!). Then I quickly pour about 1/4 cup of lemon juice into that skillet, stir it and add it immediately to the malukhia mixture.

I serve it with lemon wedges and a side of rice (I personally like to put the rice in a bowl and ladle the malukhia over it and squeeze some lemon over it). I sometimes just eat it with pita bread, tortilla or just a spoon as a soup.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sacred Months - Hajj is coming!

November 30th, 2008 (depending on Lunar crescent sightings) will be the beginning of the month of Dhul Hijja - the month in which Hajj is performed, inshallah. Given this date, Hajj rites start on December the 8th and Eid-Al-Adha on December 9th 2008. The time between the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Hajj is two months that seem to fly by without notice.

Those of you who plan on performing Haj this year, should definitely begin brushing up on your knowledge of Hajj rites from now in order to best utilize your precious time there.

Preparation should be physical, mental, and spiritual.

Physical: Start walking! If you are out of shape, know that you will have to do a lot of walking - even if just for making tawaf and sai - the expanse of Sa'i is more than you would expect.

Mental: You will need to know the rites - when to be where, how to do this or that. Do not assume that those around you know more than you, nor make the mistake that it is okay to do what the majority is doing. You are responsible for your own actions and no one else's. There are a lot of false practices out there.

Spiritual: Make sure you are right with God before you go. Do you owe anyone money? Have you offended anyone and need to set it right? Seek forgiveness from those you have wronged, make tawba. Increase your salawat. Practice shutting the world out during your 'ibada. Let go of any prejudices.

I'll be posting more about Hajj and Eid-Al-Adha both here and via articles on from now though the Eid inshallah - so stay tuned. You will notice that there are Hajj related videos now on this site to give you more information.

If you are not Muslim, it's a great opportunity to learn more about your Muslim neighbors and what we're up to. :-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


If I have been missing since the Eid was finished, it is because I have discovered If you like trading of any sort, chances are you can find it there. As for me, I enjoy doing crafts of all sorts and trading with others who do as well, in order to learn new techniques or just to enjoy getting a surprise.

Yes, I did see the Veep Debates - big snooze. Yes, I am aware there is a financial crisis (but hasn't the rest of America known all of this for quite a long time, despite denials by current administration and its mouthpieces?).

Swap-bot provided more useful entertainment than either VP candidate or the talking heads regarding Wall Street.

I can at least wear a crocheted scarf, or use some new fiber for spinning into yarn. Whereas, it doesn't look like neither VP candidate nor W. nor Wall Street can do anything useful for me or any average person at this time!