Beirut’s best burger

Beirut’s best burger

There are dozens of different burger places in Beirut, but hands down my favorite burgers are at Shake Shack.  The ten year old chain started in Manhattan and now has two branches in Beirut – one in City Centre Mall, the other at ABC Ashrafieh. I’m no meat connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I absolutely love the patties on the burgers at Shake Shack.  The ratio of meat to cheese to condiments is perfect and with a frozen custard milkshake on the side, it’s a meal that is approaching perfection in my opinion. But, even when all the other restaurants surrounding it are packed, Shake Shack is always nearly empty. IMG_5184 No surprise, because even though it’s got the best burger, the value for your money is terrible.  The burgers are pretty small, even Isla can eat two (although this child can put food away like a teenage boy, so she might not be the best example!)  A double cheeseburger is $10 and if you want fries (which you will if you are hungry), then you have to order them extra.  Compare that to a place like Classic Burger, where $10 will get you a burger twice the size and unlimited fries. Shack Shack has amazing milkshakes, but the concretes have the same problem as the burger.  Super small portion for way too much money.  We tried the flavor of the week (chocolate mint – my fave!) and their signature Shack Attack and both were disappointing.  The girls had strawberry and peanut butter chocolate, which were very very good, but not even enough of a serving for a 3 and 5 year old.  We’ll definitely wait til Goodberry’s to indulge in frozen custard from now on! IMG_3702

(this was a free sample of red velvet custard… good, but I wouldn’t pay $5.33 for one small scoop!)

Now that I’m not pregnant, where I would oddly crave meat and specifically Shake Shack burgers :) it’s definitely not a place we’ll be eating at very often… it’s just not worth the $$$.  Plus, they don’t have plain water.  What kind of restaurant doesn’t serve plain water?!?

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The snack plate

The snack plate

Ruby has always had a really hard time gaining weight.  Though she was the biggest of my three babies when she was born, she quickly fell to under 5% on the growth curve, at one point she had fallen off the chart completely.  She was diagnosed failure to thrive around a year, and though her doctor wasn’t too worried we did run a whole bunch of tests just to make sure there wasn’t something serious going on.  We added oil and butter to all her food to try to get her to gain weight, and while she’s caught up a little bit, she’s still super skinny.  No biggie, look at her Daddy!

But at the same time, she eats like a bird.  Sometimes we’ll sit down for dinner and she’ll take two bites – literally – and declare she’s full.  If we spoon feed her, she might eat, but on her own, she’s done.  For about a week we tried just letting her be done, figuring she’d get hungry enough to eat, but she never really made up for the missed dinners.  She’s not picky really, she eats from all the food groups and there are only a few things she doesn’t like, the problem is the amount.

A few years ago at a La Leche League meeting, I remember the leader talking about having a grazing tray for her toddler.  Basically she filled an ice cube tray with healthy snacks, set it on a table at toddler level and let her little one eat whatever and whenever he wanted.  The idea is, if we nurse on demand, why do we suddenly expect a toddler to eat on a schedule?

So I thought I’d give it a try.  I filled a plate with all sorts of healthy options… veggies, fruits, sandwich, eggs, raisins, nuts… basically a little of everything I had on hand.  I set it out on a serving table, pulled up a stool and told Ruby she could eat anything from the plate whenever she felt hungry.  She was confused at first, and asked every few minutes if she could eat some cheese or a raisin or whatever.  I kept explaining that she didn’t have to ask, that she could eat anything, anytime.

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To my surprise, by mid-morning, Ruby had polished off the entire plate!  I refilled it, sticking with a wide variety of healthy options.  And by lunch, she’d nearly finished another plate full!  That’s more than she would normally eat in an entire day.

I’m not exactly sure why this works with Ruby… maybe that she is in control?  Or maybe I’ve just been trying to feed her at the wrong time of day?  Who knows, but if it works, we’ll run with it!

Isla’s Frozen party

Isla’s Frozen party

I kind of have this rule about birthday parties… I learned pretty quickly that small kids could care less about how well the food matches the theme of a party and it’s just not worth the effort to be creative with party food for a 4 or 5 year old’s birthday.

But as I was planning Isla’s Frozen party for her 5th birthday, there were just too many snack ideas that fit so perfectly, that I decided to break my rule and do a lot of food that fit the Frozen theme.

So we had carrots in the snow for Sven…

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… melted Olaf (mohalabieh pudding with pretzel arms and an orange candy nose)…

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… plus marshmallow snowdrops, Anna & Hans’ sandwiches, a plate full of Olaf’s arms (pretzels) and chips and salsa for the grown ups.

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I was quite proud of the food, but of course the only things the kids ate were the pretzels and the cake.  We were eating leftover sandwiches, carrots and mohalabieh for days.  Lesson learned.  We’re back to ordering mana2ish and putting out a bowl of pretzels and a bowl of fruit for party food from now on!  :)

Speaking of the cake, I decided to try my hand at one of those princess doll cakes.  I was really nervous it would be a flop, literally, so I made a bunch of cupcakes too, just in case.  But it was actually much easier than I was expecting.  I used a bundt cake on top of a small pie shaped cake.  Didn’t really carve it, just stuck Elsa in the middle and used frosting to shape the dress.

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Isla doesn’t like games where anyone loses or anything that puts her on the spot (pin the anything on anything, for example… she can’t handle everyone watching her and cries every time).  So we decided to do more activities instead of games.  We had play snow, ice painting, a frozen dancing game and a scavenger hunt using song lyrics from the movie.

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We also played Frozen Bingo, which was a huge bust – the kids got bored really quickly.  But my girls have played it nearly every day since then, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Party food and games aside, my big five year old was most excited about having all her friends come over and celebrate… Isla was so happy and had a great day, which is really all that matters in the end!

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Happy birthday, Little Lu!

An American’s guide to Thanksgiving in Beirut

An American’s guide to Thanksgiving in Beirut

So a few weeks ago I had the brilliant idea of blogging about how to prepare a Thanksgiving meal in Beirut.  This was our 6th Thanksgiving in Lebanon, so I figured I had a pretty good handle on what was available and where.   I was going to talk about how canned pumpkin starts disappearing from the shelves around the end of October, but fresh pumpkins are in season through mid-November.  I was going to tell you that the cranberry sauce is on the top shelf of the baking aisle, just above the chocolate chips and sprinkles at TSC Verdun.  Spinney’s Hazmieh was the best place to get a turkey, as they have a wide range of sizes, though you should plan on spending around $40 if you need one more than 3 kilos.  I was also going to mention the whole display of Thanksgiving foods, including boxes of Stove Top stuffing, in the exotic food aisle at the same Spinneys.

That’s what I was gonna blog about.  I headed to Spinneys Hazmieh to get a picture of the Thanksgiving shelves to include in my post.  And. it. wasn’t. there.  Nor was there any cranberry sauce.  In any of the six grocery stores I visited.  No orange sweet potatoes anywhere either.  The only turkeys we could find were between 3.1 and 3.9 kilos and wouldn’t you know it, cans of pumpkin were literally everywhere.

So, my advice to Americans living in Beirut looking to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving?

Hoard it.

If you see it on the shelf, even if it is the middle of July, buy it.  Buy it all.

This is not Beirut.  If it was, I'd be in big trouble.
This is not Beirut. If it was, I’d be in big trouble.

In the end, it all turned out more than okay.  A desperate facebook plea led to an exchange of canned pumpkin for cranberries.  I found a guy who told me he had orange sweet potatoes.  I bought three kilos, but discovered that only one was actually orange.  But they still tasted great.

See the little orange ones in there??
See the little orange ones in there??

And the turkey…  well, I’ll allow Ruby to let you know how the turkey was…

due to rainy weather and ridiculous upload times, this video is currently unavailable

No football to watch, but we had a great lunch with fun friends, and even if I’d never found the cranberries and ALL the potatoes were white, we still have so much to be thankful for.

Hope your holiday was just as full as ours!

Zaatar wo Zeit

Zaatar wo Zeit

Let’s just say Isla nearly cried when she found out there was no Zaatar wo Zeit in America.

It’s her absolute favorite restaurant and there is nothing there that isn’t amazingly tasty!

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She requests it every week after church and it was one of our last meals out before coming to the States to the summer.  Isla ran in and gave her favorite waitress Leila a huge hug.  She left several times during the meal to give Leila a picture she drew and ended up leaving with Leila’s headband.  Needless to say, we are always satisfied customers of ZwZ!

Shawarma

Shawarma

American fast food has nothing on fast food in Lebanon.

McDonalds and Taco Bell, move over for a juicy, hot, cheap, full of flavors shawarma sandwich.

DSC_8026My favorite version is chicken.  A pile of chicken grilled all day on a spit… shaved off and put into a sandwich with garlic paste, fries and veggies.

At about $2 a sandwich, it’s one of the cheapest, tastiest and most filling street food lunches out there!

Laban

Laban

If there is anything that has become a staple in our diets since moving to Lebanon, it’s laban.  Basically it’s just plain yogurt…. a bit tart, sort of soupy and apparently very easy to make, although I haven’t tried making it myself yet.

First, it (and it’s thicker version, lebne) started out as a replacement in recipes…. for sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese.

And then it took a bigger role…  mixed with cucumbers and mint and served as side, for example.

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Now, we just eat it plain.  It’s one of the girls favorite snacks and Caleb puts a little honey on top and eats it for dessert.

We’ve been looking for a laban replacement here in the good ole US of A, but so far, no luck.  Greek yogurt is good, but too thick, and for some reason it’s really hard to find full-fat, unflavored (ie not vanilla!) yogurt.

Laban, we miss you!