This blog is officially 12 years old and yet you probably wonder why it's been pretty bare this last year or so.

I've been blessed with so many connections, friends, and opportunities with this blog over the last decade-plus. Unfortunately, this style of blog is pretty much dated and dead. Everything is more visual today with Instagram stories and YouTube channels. You may find more of me on these other channels. Meanwhile, this blog has become what blogs originally were intended for. It's an online personal diary for me. That's why most of my postings in 2019 were of my adventures in Saudi Arabia and my trip to Europe.

I'm still around and still participating in the Sacramento food scene, just not posting here as much. Catch you around town!

If you enjoy dining outside in Sacramento, then I have a new suggested spot for you. It's a bit exclusive since they only do these dinners a few times a year. Imagine dining on a rooftop near Golden 1 Center with great views of the surrounding city. This is what the Revival Garden Dinners offer you.

Coming up in October you can enjoy a meal during the evening hours on the 5th floor of the Sawyer Hotel. There you will find their small rooftop garden where Chef Patrick Prager has been growing such things as peppers, tomatoes, squash, melons, and herbs. 

I was both lucky and unlucky to attend in August. The unlucky was only because that was possibly the hottest day of the whole summer. It was so freakin hot. But I was super lucky to enjoy a fabulous meal where every dish was so flavorful that we all had a hard time picking favorites. 

Don't miss out on the last rooftop dinner of the year. 

Details for the October dinner:

Revival Executive Chef Patrick Prager is hosting his next Autumn Garden Dinner Series event on Fri, Oct 18. Set in Chef’s rooftop garden at The Sawyer, the intimate sunset dinner will have incredible view of the city, live music, and, of course, delicious food and drink.

This very special evening is hosted in partnership with San Francisco-based Chef Justin Deering of Scala’s restaurant and in collaboration with Justin Wines. Festivities kick off at 6 pm with cocktails and passed appetizers, with dinner to follow. The menu features seasonal favorites prepared by both chefs, featuring fresh ingredients right out of the garden.

Tickets are $150 and available here or by calling 916-389-4081

In these rather tumultuous and divisive times, it is good to celebrate humanity and the good in people to help those less fortunate. That's why I am recommending the upcoming Festival of Flavors. This event takes place on October 5th in support of Opening Doors. I went last year and the event was one of the better ones I've attended, certainly for the price and the food that was on hand. 

Our mission is to empower refugees, immigrants, human trafficking survivors, and underserved Sacramento area residents to achieve self-sufficiency by accessing opportunities to mainstream economic and social systems. We do this by providing safe places, skills development, business loans, and connections to community resources, assisting our clients to build financial and personal assets while maintaining their cultural identity and individual goals.
I'm especially interested due to the immigrant and refugee situation. I often think about the Syrian family who took us in for the night when we were traveling through Syria in the 1970s. They fed us and gave us their rooms with such generosity. Now I wonder where they are as Syria has been ripped apart and whole cities and towns have been obliterated. Are they even alive? Together?

This event will feature a diverse group of restaurants and businesses that wish to help in the effort of empowering refugees, immigrants, and survivors of human trafficking.

Purchase your tickets today
Free admission for volunteers. Email if interested.
$45 for food only.
$60 for food, wine, and beer.

Location: Sierra 2 Center in Curtis Hall
2791 24th Street
Sacramento, CA 95818
* Parking available in lot on 4th Avenue

I've been a little depressed lately with the state of the world. More than the current politics, it's the destruction of this planet that has me feeling so low. I was thinking the other day that in the span of my lifetime alone (55 years), we have killed off about 60% of the world's wildlife, created zillions of tons of plastics and spread it so that even the smallest of sea creatures show plastic ingestion, sped up global warming, and now the Amazon, producer of 20% of our oxygen, is being wiped out by fires. 

This is a grim beginning to a post, I know. I did get a little bit of sunshine (literally and figuratively) today with a bunch of bees. The decimation of bees is also added to our list of environmental woes and so it was with this in mind that I decided to have a beekeeping experience today. 

There is an Airbnb Experience called Hive to Spoon that takes place in nearby Davis. For about two hours you get some bee education as well as a chance to handle some bees.

The tour takes place at an agro-community in Davis called The Cannery. New housing is being developed in an area that once housed tomato fields and an actual cannery. Some of the land has been preserved for agriculture and education purposes. My friends at The Center for Land Based Learning take care of a portion of it and use it as incubator acreage for newbie or wannabe farmers. 

One of the 'farmers' using the land is Rachel Morrison, our guide for the day. Rachel is the President of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association, a participant in California Master Beekeeper Program, and the founder of The Beecharmers. Her love of bees started years ago in Alabama and now she manages several hives in the Sacramento area and shares her love of bees through education for adults and children.

We start off by a native bee house. It turns out that there are about 1,600 native bees in California but the honeybees that we all think of for pollinating our agriculture were actually brought over from Europe. Honeybees live in colonies in hives, but native bees most often live solitary lives in holes in the ground, trees, or other habitats.

The native bee house has different sized bamboo tubes for the variety of bees. The female bee will enter it, lay an egg with some nourishment for the hatching larva, seal a wall, and then do another chamber. Here, at the bottom, you can see some sealed bee tubes. By the way, they sell houses at Costco and Target. Just be aware that the ones shown here are not ideal. Rachel says they need a bit of overhang on the roofs to provide a bit of shade.

We continue through the garden area where Rachel points out a couple of bee varieties. Some are tiny and mistaken as flies. She's given us bee guns, which are actually small vacuum guns that can suck up a bee into a chamber so you can look at it up close safely.

Eventually it is time to suit up in full beekeeping gear. It's a hot day and I am thankful that the hives are in a shady area.

Rachel explains the makeup of the hive - how it is organized internally. The nursery section is in the core of the hive and honey will be stored at the outer edges of the hive. She carefully pulls out sections of a hive and passes it around so that we can examine the different areas and the bees in action. The bees are oblivious to us and don't seem to care that we are messing with their home.

Above are some newly laid eggs in a new section of the nursery.

This section is a well established section of the breeding area. You can see the filled cells that have growing larva and food for them.

This section shows how the center has the breeding cells but the outer corner has honey cells.

This slat is from a more established hive and is completely used for honey production. The honey is what will sustain the bees over the winter. It is the beekeeper's responsibility to only take some of the honey from a hive and leave enough for the bees to make it through the winter. When harvesting, Rachel will scrape off the surface membrane and shake the honey out with a centrifuge. Then she will replace the empty combs back into the hive so the bees can refill them. She scrapes a tiny section to expose the honey underneath and show us how the bees immediately rush in to repair the seal.

We weren't able to find a queen bee today, but she did notice a couple of drone bees. They have bigger eyes than worker bees. Their sole purpose is to fly off and find a queen somewhere that they can mate with. Note the comb of darker honey underneath the bees. A hive could have different color honey as the available flowers in the area change during the season.

After our hive experience we sat down for a light snack of honey, almonds, and fruit and some cold water to re-hydrate. The two hours had flown by. There was a lot of information that was shared that I won't even try to cover in a post. After all, it's more fun if you go to do a Hive to Spoon experience of your own.

Why is it that everything always gets scheduled on the same dates? I've been back from Saudi for over a month now and bored during the weekends. Now I'm frustrated because a bunch of events that I am interested in all land on the same weekend. Some of these may be of interest to you.

Heritage Fire

Many of you know that this is my FAVORITE food event of the year and I generally go if I can. Problem is it is on a Saturday when other things are competing for my attention this year. This meat fest takes place at the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena and features a couple dozen of Northern California's best chefs. The premise is every type of meat being cooked over open flame. This year, so far, the Sacramento chefs representing are Patricio Wise of Nixtacos and Eric Miller from V Miller Meats. I'm not sure what is delaying the chef update, but we usually have a couple more Sac chefs there. Regardless, if I tell you it's my favorite, that should be enough of an endorsement to go. My past post will give you a good idea of what to expect. Tickets 

Garden Rooftop Dinner with Chef Patrick Prager

I didn't know that the Sawyer Hotel and Revival Nightclub/Bar had their very own rooftop garden until I got an invitation to a special dinner for the night of Saturday, July 27th. Apparently it's time to harvest some of the bounty to be used by the restaurant and for homemade mixers and garnishes by the Revival barkeeps. To showcase their green thumb achievements, there is a special dinner planned. It’s a farm-to-fork, family-style menu paired with Silt wine on the open-air, 5th floor garden terrace. The event kicks off at 6:30pm with cocktails and appetizers with dinner to follow. Tickets 

What else am I to choose from? An invitation for an all-day white water rafting trip with friends as well as the Styx concert at Thunder Valley.  Decisions, decisions!

Other Saturday events that I'm interested in, but just can't go...

Taste of East Sacramento

Caribbean Festival

Sactown Wings

Another favorite that I can manage is Sactown Wings because it takes place on Sunday, the 28th at Southside Park. If you love wings, then this is the event for you. I eat a lot of wings on my keto diet, so this year I couldn't resist. Local restaurants will compete for your vote for best wings. Come say 'hi'!


Other Sunday events...

Pear Fair

Wouldn't you take advantage of free airfare for a two-week vacation in Europe? That's what I did on my way home from Saudi Arabia. I decided to hop through Amsterdam, Paris, Antwerp, and Cologne before flying all the way back. It was in Antwerp where I visited Michelle, the one who helped me get the Saudi job. Michelle was so thoughtful to purchase us a food tour for my visit. I would get to try the local specialties and she would get some background for her to share with future visitors.

Michelle was careful to select the tour after one mentioned a stop at Five Guys! Really? Please! Luckily she found Nina, who runs Bites and Walks. Nina has grown up in Antwerp with a Belgian mother and Spanish father. She grew up around food and worked in the hotel food industry before deciding to take the leap to start the food tour. You can choose from weekday or weekend, food or beer, private or group tours. We were lucky that my visit included the Saturday market day.

Here are some of the highlights. Thanks to Nina for providing proper names, spellings, details.

Belgian breakfast at CafĂ© The Pelikan (above) which included "Rodenbach beer + grey shrimps + Brugges Cheese + Tagliate Charcuterie, finely sliced from Beef Belgian Wit Blauw (White Blue Belgian Beef breed) topped with celery in a vinegar sauce" 

Antwerpse Handjes from Philippe Biscuit, a patented "biscuit that won a competition back in 1934 to celebrate the battle between Brabo and Antigoon, the legend that tells the story how Antwerp got it’s name." Basically the story is that a giant, Antigoon, demanded a toll at the river or cut off your hand. Brabo defeated Antigoon and cut off his hand and threw it in the river. "Ant" comes from "hand" and "werp" comes from "throw".

"Eel which we just topped of with some drops of lemon. From Soraya, a Moroccan entrepreneur and leading lady from Rungis Fish at the Provinciestraat in Antwerp." 

Belgian croquettes are unlike the ones we generally know. These are very moist inside with a very crispy outside. Above we see shrimp, asparagus, and truffle croquettes. Nina explains that it's all about the textural difference between the two, which is also reflected in...

Belgian Frites (fries). This particular batch we tried comes from Frites Atelier, a fast casual chain from a Michelin star earning chef, Sergio Herman. He researched to find the perfect potato for the texture they prize - double-fried, crispy outside with tender inside. He has a proprietary samphire salt and his own blends of aiolis.

"The herring, intestines removed, salted and matured for some time. Served with chopped onion, which is an old habit. The name MAATJE is very important, it means VIRGIN, it is only caught at sea during the months May and June when the fish haven't spawned. If it is caught after this period, it is called SALT
HERRING. The fish is flash frozen for 24 hours because eating raw fish can be dangerous and so that the herring worm will be killed. The reason why we eat onion with it goes way back to the time when it was not as easy as today to conserve fish, so they needed to add much more salt. When they ate the herring they needed to rinse the fish with water and milk. The result was that the herring tasted a bit too bland and onion was added."

There are only a few places left that serve it freshly prepared. Here you see the guy gutting and prepping it fresh for us.

There were some other stops along the way for pastries, Belgian chocolate, and sites, but I don't want to give everything away. And you may have noticed that our tour was food only since our small group had agreed we weren't too interested in alcohol that early.  So, if in Antwerp, look Nina up at Bites and Walks and you can schedule the tour with her tailored to your needs!

No. There is no problem with the picture. It's supposed to be black. That's because I couldn't see or take pictures of my food. I had attended a dark dinner.

You may have heard of these restaurants. They have them at most major cities around the world, including San Francisco, Amsterdam, London, and Paris. That's the one I chose to go to -Dans le Noir en Paris. The restaurants feature a dining experience where you cannot see your food and must rely on your other senses instead. We know that if a person loses one sense, such as sight or sound, they compensate with stronger responses of their other senses. Can this translate to a fully-sensed person on a temporary basis?

I arrived for my dinner reservation and was asked for my dining option. The menu is set, your choices are just how many courses you want and if you want wine or beer pairings. I chose three courses and no beverages.

Each restaurant can operate a bit differently, but many of them have blind servers. Such was the case in Paris. I was grouped with a young couple since I was dining solo. Our server was introduced as Yaya and he took the young man by the hand and his girlfriend and I followed by putting our left hands on the person in front's shoulder so that we were a human chain. We were led through a series of blackout curtains until we were in absolute darkness. There was not a pinpoint of light at all. I decided to just keep my eyes closed for the duration because I knew if I left them open, I'd be straining my eyes all night looking for something...ANYTHING... to see. I have enough eye strain in my daily life with computers, I didn't need more. 

When we arrived at the table, Yaya guided us each one at a time to our seat. I then felt the table and found the fork, knife, napkin, and cup. My companions had been given the water bottle and told to pour for ourselves, but to use our fingers in the cup to know when to stop the pour. We also had a basket of bread.

Yaya returned and asked or our hand out. He placed a small shot glass in my hand with the amouse bouche. It was a cold soup. I was thinking perhaps a cold pea soup. At the end of the meal they actually do tell you what you ate, so we later found out it was a cucumber gazpacho. 

Next was the starter. It was cold and on the first bite I knew it was salmon lox, but with what else? There were definitely melon balls as well, but we did not figure out the shaved asparagus ribbons.

The entree came out next and we gently poked around. There was, we thought, mashed potatoes, some beef with sauce, and then a cold portion of the plate that definitely had cherry tomatoes. Could we figure these ingredients out.

We guessed easily enough that it was beef and surmised it was in a red wine sauce and that the mashed potatoes had fresh peas in it. What threw me a bit was when I got a warm strawberry! There's no mistaking strawberry flavor and then the texture with the tiny seeds on the outside. Why was the strawberry there and warm? 

I am no fan of tomatoes and after taking a few tentative bites of other things, I pretty much left my cold section alone. The gal at my side guessed eggplant, another thing I'm not a fan of.

In the end we were to discover that the beef was actually in a balsamic based sauce with the strawberries as a component. The mashed potatoes were actually pureed peas with some whole ones left in. The cold portion was a camponata with the tomatoes, eggplant, and olives. None of which I care for!

At this point I posed the question to my companions - do you think not seeing is enhancing your other senses to the food? We generally agreed that it didn't do so much. Although we obviously paid a lot more attention to the seedy strawberry, we didn't really feel our sense heightened. Instead, we felt we had a better of understanding of how it is for blind people to navigate dining.

The final course arrived in warm, closed mason jars. It was immediately recognizable as rice pudding with a lime zest curd. It had just a bit of bitterness you get when you get a bit of the white pith in with the zest. What we did not detect was the coconut fumee on top.

Once complete, Yaya led us out the same way we came in. Breaking through the final blackout curtains was a shock. It took some time for our eyes to adjust to the lights. We were then given the iPad to see what we had just consumed. We had generally done a pretty good job with only a few surprises.

It's a fun activity to do, especially with a group of friends. The next table over was a party of 11! They were having quite a good time. I just had no one ever interested, so I figured might as well go in Paris as anyplace else. Made it more memorable for me. Convince your friends, set a date, and try it!

When I was growing up in Saudi Arabia in the 70s and 80s, we did not wear abayas. We went shopping in Khobar with the understanding that our legs and shoulders must be covered. We would even go in jeans. It wasn't until the 80s, after the Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in Iran and the 1979 uprisings in Qatif and Mecca, that the Kingdom started to go back to more conservative ways. By the time my parents retired in 1987, we were going to Khobar in thobes, although not abayas.

In the spring of 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that it was no longer a requirement for women to wear abayas or cover their heads. 

“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” the Prince said. “This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”

With the Kingdom looking forward to tourism, that's another big reason not to wear abayas. Female tourists will not be enthusiastic about wearing that extra layer. In my opinion, it's in the best interest of the country to get locals used to foreigners not wearing them.

before I stopped wearing one
So why are so many women, particularly expats, still wearing the abaya when they don't have to?

There is definitely no problem with an expat choosing to wear an abaya out of respect to the Saudis and Islam. More power to them. And abayas are convenient in some ways. They cover you up if you have a problem with body image or lack fashion. Sometimes it is a matter of laziness. You can throw on an abaya and just be in underwear underneath. In many ways, it can be similar to lounging about in your pajamas all day.

When I came to Jeddah for my three month contract, I bought a modern, cream, zip-up abaya with pockets. I also bought a thobe. When I arrived, I sort of felt guilt-tripped into buying a more traditional, loose, black/blue one. Once I realized they were no longer required, I stopped wearing them.

I do wear my thobes into town because they fit the conservative, loose, covering criteria to still be respectfully dressed, but I don't wear an abaya over them. I also have loose Cambodian harem pants with a long sleeve top that I wear. I've even gone to Thuwal in jeans. Again, no abaya.

by Skna Hassan
By the way, when did the black abaya even come into being? I tried to research it and can't find any indication of when it started being the black tent version. Black has been around for a while, but keep in mind, that for centuries the women wore traditional, tribal attire that was long and covering, but still colorful and decorative. You can see many examples at the Al Tayabet Museum in Jeddah (picture at top). Also in the artwork of Skna Hassan, who traveled the Kingdom to research the attire.

Yet my abaya revolt doesn't stop the urge to want to buy another abaya. They have changed so much over the years that they can be quite the fashion statement. Colors, fabrics, trims all make for more interesting abayas. It's been hard to resist buying another, but I'm back to the U.S. and they would just end up tucked at the back of my closet. Pointless.

So don't wear them if you don't want to! Especially when it's hot! Who needs another layer?!
I'm calling this a diary but it's actually more like a food log. Instead of daily entries in a diary, I'm giving you an overall log of all the wonderful Arab foods I tried on my trip to Saudi Arabia.

As I child I wasn't exposed to all these wonderful treats except for maybe some baklava and Turkish delight. It also turns out that the Eastern province seems to have less diverse and interesting food (to me, anyway) than the Hijaz (western) region where I was on this trip.

FYI, often used below is...
Kashta - clotted cream flavored with rose water


Mammoul - cookies with date filling

Logaymat - donut hole-like pastries served sweet or savory depending on the toppings chosen

Mann al-Sama (manna from heaven) - candy nougat of nuts

Barazek - eggless sesame seed cookie

Basbousa - semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup

Esh al Saray - AKA Rich Man's Bread- toasted bread in rose water sugar syrup with kashta

Halawat al-Jubn - semolina-cheese dough rolled and filled w/ kashta

Madlouka - orange blossom syrup soaked semolina cake topped with kashta and nuts

Mafroukeh-syrup soaked semolina-pistachio cake with kashta and pistachios

Nammora - phyllo dough with kashta

Booza - ice cream, sometimes referring to...

Turkish ice cream - stretchy ice cream 

 Om Ali - (mother of Ali) a pudding using leftover bread shreds

Kunefe - made with either cheese or clotted cream in the center of shredded pastry, grilled, then pour over sugar syrup

 Kunefe being grilled in special plates

 Arika - torn up bread and dates soaked in honey, topped with cream, cereal, and cheese

Sahlep - warm, creamy milk drink that is thickened w/ sahlep (orchid root), with mastic, rose water, pistachios

Qatayaf - dumpling filled with cheese

Qara’ ‘Asali - middle eastern pumpkin pie w/o a crust


 Maklobat eggplant - Rice with eggplants and meat, served with yogurt

 Shoshkash kebab - Grilled seasoned fine minced lamb served with pepper paste, peppered parsley, tomato & pomegranate molasses

Fatet makdous - crispy roasted flat bread pieces topped with layers of eggplant and saucy minced meat with a yogurt, garlic sauce

Shish barak - Syrian style raviolis in a yogurt sauce

 Buraik - filled with ground meat and chopped hard boiled egg

Lamb madini -lamb and rice

 Chicken Saleeg - rice is risotto-like

 Meat mulgalgal - a meat stew of meat, fresh tomatoes, onions and green pepper fried with spices

Chicken bukhari - chicken and rice

Fatteh - Pita chip pieces, chick peas, tahini, sumac, parsley, Olive oil, walnuts.