Some thoughtful commentary on the Egypt political situation…

I stumbled across this podcast yesterday and thought I’d share it here.  It’s from an episode of Common Sense, a podcast primarily focused on news and political issues in the US.  Anyways, this episode provides an interesting perspective on the recent events in Egypt and discusses the challenges faced by new democracies.

It was originally released in mid-August, so there have been a few developments since then, but it’s still relevant for anyone interested in understanding what’s going on over here. FYI, it is just over an hour long, so be warned.

Enjoy!

Common Sense with Dan Carlin – “Show 259 – Arab Spring Fever”

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My first dietary recommendations in Arabic! (sort of)

My wife and I have been taking Arabic classes for almost 2 months now.  Its been hard work I tell you.  Many of the sounds are so different than English.  And on top of that there’s an entirely different script, so nothing even looks familiar at first glance.  On the positive side, we’re getting some of the basic vocabulary down pat.  Enough so that we’re now able to exchange basic pleasantries, barter with vendors and give directions to taxi drivers.  I must say, it’s quite satisfying finally being able to communicate with locals in their own language, even if it’s still in a very basic way.

Anyways, last week we started studying some vocabulary related to “work/careers”.  Inevitably our own careers soon became the topic of conversation.  My wife’s job (teacher) was easy, but it took took some effort to describe what a dietitian is – nutrition apparently doesn’t translate in Arabic.  I described what I do is “teach people what foods to eat to be healthy”, BUT I’m not a teacher.  Our instructor (Bishoy) seemed to get it, but he’s settled on just calling me a doctor, which suits me just fine!

Now, as I’m sure other dietitians can attest to, one of the first things people ask when they find out you’re a dietitian is what foods they should eat and/or avoid.  Bishoy was no different.  I thought I could use his request as an opportunity to practice some of my Arabic writing.  Bishoy specifically asked me for foods that he can eat to keep his energy up throughout the day.

Below are my recommendations…

dietaryadvice

Dietary recommendations in Arabic!

Keep in mind, our vocabulary is pretty limited right now (and some of the grammar is likely off a bit), but translated the above lists foods to eat for energy (vegetables, fruits, yogurt, cheese, milk & bread) and foods to avoid (chocolate, cake, coca cola/pepsi & chips).  Certainly nothing ground-breaking in there, but good general recommendations nonetheless… and they’re in Arabic, which is really cool to finally be able to do!

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5 foods I’m loving in Egypt

Despite my recent rant lamenting the lack of bacon in Egypt, things aren’t all bad.  There are some foods, either because their not readily available in Canada or their quality is so poor that I refuse to purchase them, that I’m really loving while here.  Here are my top five:

1.  Pomegranates
pomegranatesSure you can buy pomegranates in Canada, but they’re really expensive (upwards of $5 each) and their quality is mixed at best.  I suppose this isn’t a big surprise given how far they have to travel to get to us.  Either way, I rarely bought them back home.  Fortunately pomegranates here are grown locally so that means they’re cheap (less than 50 cents each) and fresh.  Its a bonus that pomegranates are packed with polyphenols (ie. antioxidants), which have demonstrated promising results against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and prostate cancer.

And now because of the video below, they’re also easier to eat!

2.  Egyptian Flatbread
egyptian breadA staple in the Egyptian people’s diet since pharaonic times, Egyptian flatbread is served with every meal over here.  It’s similar to, but not exactly like, the Greek or Lebanese pita breads you can find easily back in Canada.  It’s a chewy, low salt bread, that is typically made with whole wheat flour.  We don’t eat it with every meal ourselves just yet, but we’ve found it great for dipping in sauces, or being toasted to make chips.

3.  Istanbouli Cheese
istanbouli cheeseYou must be able to find this in Canada, but I’d never seen it.  We first tried this type of cheese when we were in Turkey last December.  There it is served with every breakfast.  In Egypt, it seems to be found everywhere too.  It’s creamy texture and salty taste are absolutely delicious.  We find it’s a great substitute to Greek feta on salads and makes a nice snack with fresh veggies.

4. Fresh Mint
mint-leavesThis one has less to do with it’s availability/quality in Canada and more to do with the fact that since we’ve been in Egypt we’ve learned several new ways to include it in our dishes.  I really enjoy mint as a substitute for cucumber in traditional tzatziki yogurt dip.  It also adds a nice freshness to salads, especially to those lacking other greens.  And of course, it’s tough to beat a few sprigs of fresh mint in a cup of tea.

5.  Eggplant
eggplantI had a difficult time choosing my last spot, but decided to go with eggplant.  I’ve seen at least 4 different varieties here – they seem to come in several different shapes, sizes and colors.  The eggplant in Egypt is grown locally and makes a great side dish or when stuffed, a delectable little appetizer.  A fantastic Egyptian dish utilizing eggplants is also Mosaka.  I learned this recipe at my Egyptian cooking class and we’ve made is a couple of times since.  It’s very similar to Greek Mousakka, minus the bechemal sauce.  Mmmm.

An ode to bacon

My original plan was to write a post about some of the foods I miss while living here in Egypt.  Maybe, I’ll still do something like that in the future, but there’s one food that I think I miss more than any of them right now.  Bacon.  Well, all cured pork products really.

For my unenlightened readers, Egypt is a Muslim country.  And as outlined in the Quran, Muslims do not eat pork.  As such, pork, in all its forms, is not readily available here.  Sure it can supposedly be purchased at a few select places (I hear there’s a German butcher shop that sells it in the neighborhood), but there are no pork products to be found in any of the supermarkets or restaurants that we regularly frequent.

Before you get too critical, yes, I realize I’m a dietitian.  I’m more than aware that bacon is not a healthy choice.  Its packed with salt and saturated fats, which can contribute to increased cholesterol and elevated blood pressure.  Don’t worry, I’m not trying to make an argument that you should eat more bacon.  

Bacon is, however, delicious.  I often quote Dr. Yoni Freedhoff in my posts.  He always says “live the healthiest life you can enjoy”.  Well, my “healthiest life I can enjoy” includes bacon from time to time.  

The funny thing is, it’s not like I even eat bacon that often – maybe once or twice per week, and in relatively small quantities.  This includes prosciutto, ham and pepperoni too.  I might put a little in a salad or pasta dish, on a homemade pizza or eat it with the occasional Sunday morning breakfast.  I’m especially missing our prosciutto wrapped salmon recipe that we regularly prepare.  My mouth is watering a little now just thinking about it.

Now I should say that we’ve encountered “bacon” a few times on the menu at a couple of restaurants.  I excitedly ordered a pasta dish with bacon a couple months back at an Italian restaurant, only to be disappointed that it had beef bacon in it.  It just wasn’t the same.

I think Ron Swanson sums it up quite nicely below:

How does that saying go?  “You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone” – or something to that effect.  When it comes to bacon, never has that rang more true :-)…

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Why I have no love for diets

Below is a sneak peak of the second article I’ll be publishing in Oasis magazine.  I’m told this one will appear in their February issue….

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no diets

I have no love for diets.  Probably not the words you expected to hear from a dietitian, right?   It’s true though.  No love whatsoever.

First off, I should probably be clear.  I’m not referring to medically prescribed diets for various ailments, like diabetes, celiac disease or any other number of chronic conditions.  In fact, I quite like those types of diets.  When properly adhered to these diets can help to reduce symptoms and significantly improve the quality of life of the patients following them. 

When I say I have no love for diets, I’m referring to the diets that you heard about from your friend, co-worker, family member or read about in the newest bestseller, magazine or on the internet.  These are the types of diets that promise all sorts of things – weight loss, more energy, better skin, longevity, a better life.  And more often than not they involve some sort of financial investment.  These are the types of diets I can’t stand.

Why no love?

Where do I begin?  Most diets make claims that are unquantifiable, vague or downright false.  How many diets have we heard of that claim to do things like remove toxins or give you more energy?   Sure that may sound good, but what does that actually mean?  Unfortunately, in medical terms, not that much.

Diets also tend to be overwhelmingly unsuccessful in the long term because they are not sustainable.  If we look at weight loss diets, it can be easy to lose pounds in the first few weeks of virtually any diet that reduces the amount of calories you consume.  The problem is most people will regain their weight (plus more) because the diet they’re on is so restrictive and/or just plain unenjoyable that they drop it after a short period of time.

And if you don’t meet the goals of one of these diets, the blame is always placed squarely on you.  You must’ve failed because you didn’t have enough willpower to stick with it.  Somehow it’s never because the diet was poorly designed or made unrealistic claims in the first place.

Frankly, it’s to the industry’s advantage to keep alive the perceptions that you can improve your health with a quick diet fix.  In 2012 alone, companies in the US generated 20 billion dollars in revenue from the sale of diet books, supplements and medical procedures.  The unfortunate side effect of this situation is that the truth about these diets is often pushed aside in the face of these enormous profits.  Ultimately we get a situation where misinformation is spread and the self-esteem of the dieter is eroded to the point where they may give up on trying to improve their health altogether.

If not a diet, then what?

So if I’m not recommending going on a diet, what should you do?  You still want to lose weight, improve your health or just live a long productive life.

Rather than go on a diet, I advocate healthy eating.  The good thing is healthy eating is no secret.  It’s about doing things we’ve all heard before.  It means eating a variety of fresh foods.  Things like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, beans, fish, and lean meat should form the cornerstone of your daily menu.   A nice bonus about eating this way is when you do so everything else tends to fall into place.  No need to count calories.  No supplements required.

The downside of healthy eating is there are no quick fixes.  It takes real commitment and hard work.  I get that there are lots of reasons why it can be a challenge to eat healthier, but any step in this direction is a positive one.  New habits take time to form.   You’ve taken a lifetime to build up bad eating habits.  You shouldn’t expect to be able to make long term sustainable changes overnight.

I’m doing it anyway

So I’m hoping that I’ve convinced you to skip the next diet you’re considering, but maybe you’re still thinking “Diet ‘X’ really worked for my friend – I’m doing it anyway”.  If you’re determined to try one out, I implore you to at least ask yourself the following questions to help evaluate the worthiness of the diet you’re thinking about going on.

  • Does it overly emphasize or severely restrict/eliminate a major food group? – Healthy eating is about balance.  Unless there are medical reasons (for example, allergies or intolerances), any diet that requires you to overly emphasize or eliminate certain food groups probably isn’t worth your time.
  • Do you have to purchase supplements, vitamins, etc? – To me this screams scam.  If you’re eating healthy there are rarely any reasons that you require any additional supplements.  You certainly don’t need to shell out potentially hundreds of dollars on shakes/pills to accomplish your goals.
  • Is it intended to be limited in duration? – The reason for this is often because the diet is extremely restrictive and if it were followed for any length of time it would cause major nutrient deficiencies.  Cleanses are often the big culprits here.  Be aware that lasting improvements to your health are not made by following a diet for only a few weeks.
  • Is it sustainable? – This is the most important question of all and you need to be honest with yourself when answering it.  Will you actually enjoy being on the diet?  Are you expected to swear off foods you really love?  Can you realistically expect to follow it for the rest of your life?  If not, I’d look elsewhere.

I’ll end with a quote from Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a famous obesity doctor in Canada, which I wholly subscribe to.  He often says you need to “live the healthiest life you can enjoy”.  If you’re not enjoying what you’re eating (or the diet you’re on), it won’t be sustainable.  And at the end of the day if it’s not sustainable, what’s the point?

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Cooking Jordanian Style

Last week my wife had an extended long weekend, so we decided to take the opportunity to pop over to Jordan for a quick visit.  For such a small country, Jordan really packs in the sites – Petra, Jerash and the Dead Sea were all on the itinerary and were fantastic.  Of course, in keeping with our theme of doing cooking classes in the countries we visit, we also managed a class at Petra Kitchen to learn a little bit about the local cuisine.

petra kitchen

Owing to its geographic location, Jordan’s cuisine has absorbed many of the traditions from its neighbors – particularly Turkey & Lebanon.  In addition to the always popular falafel and shwarma, both hot and cold mezzes (aka appetizers that are often used for dipping pita bread or salads) are quite common.  Main entrees are quite varied too and often consist of stews and/or rice dishes with meat and various spices (such as cardamom, tumeric, parsley and sumac).

The Petra Kitchen cooking class was a little different than the last few we’ve taken in that we had quite a large group – 17 participants this time!  When we found this out we were a little worried this might be a negative because with so many people it would be a challenge to get everyone involved.  Fortunately, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.  The folks at Petra Kitchen had their program very well organized and split us into 3 groups (each with our own chef) so we could tackle the rather lengthy menu we’d be preparing for the evening.

menu

Petra Kitchen cooking class menu

Each group worked on several of the dishes – we prepared the Baba Ganuj and Fattoush cold mezzes.  We also took the lead on the Galayat Bandura and assisted with the Magloubah entree.  To speed things up, the chefs had already done some of the more time consuming prep work like making the chicken stock and roasting eggplants.

DSCF2811

For the most part we ended up mostly just prepping vegetables and herbs, but since we had our own chef (Tarek) guiding us, we had ample opportunity to ask lots of questions.  I found it particularly interesting how several of the dishes were things I’d eaten before (Baba Ganuj, Fattoush, Tabouleh), but they had a distinct differences from what I was used to.  For example, the Baba Ganuj (aka Baba Ganoush) lacked the creamy texture I’d previoiusly experienced.  Instead the roasted eggplant was mixed with fresh vegetables and herbs, which I think I actually preferred.

Fattoush - without crutons

Fattoush – without crutons

Tabouleh

Tabouleh

from left to right: Gayalat Bandura, Tahina Salad, Baba Ganuj, Cucumber and Yogurt dip and Fattoush

from left to right: Gayalat Bandura, Tahina Salad, Baba Ganuj, Cucumber and Yogurt dip, Fattoush and Tabouleh

Shourbat Adas (lentil soup)

Shourbat Adas (lentil soup)

Magloubah

Magloubah

After all the food was prepared we sat down to a nice family style meal with the other students and shared some great conversation.  Well done Petra Kitchen.  This was definitely one of the more enjoyable cooking classes we’ve ever taken.

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