Wide Earth Smallholding

Wide Earth Smallholding

And Allaah has made for you the earth a wide expanse.(Qur'aan- 71:19)

Ummi, What Is This?

Eggplant. Okra. Wheat kernels. Powdered milk. A small bag of goat cheese.

I looked at the selection of items arrayed before me, the product of my husband’s first foray into the markets of Sana’a, Yemen, and had absolutely no idea what to do with any of them.

I grew up in Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Valley, the youngest child of a securely middle class family. We ate cereal for breakfast, soup and sandwiches for lunch, and a supper of meat, potatoes, one of three vegetables (peas, green beans or corn) and a salad of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. That’s it. As a teenage single mom out on my own, I experimented a bit with food after deciding to go vegetarian. I winged it, making whatever I could from what I could pick up from the food co-op I worked at as each day closed. I prided myself on breaking away from the “normal” eating plan of my childhood, and being adventurous and daring with trying new things.

okra1I admit, I almost met my match in okra and eggplant.

Since adulthood, I have always lived below the poverty line, and this was true in Yemen as well. Not for us the fancy supermarkets that catered to the Westerners. This was especially true once we moved to the village, where all that was available was locally grown produce and staples like rice and powdered milk. If I didn’t want my family to starve, I had to buckle down and learn how to cook in a whole new way.

I made it a point to get to know people from all sorts of backgrounds- Yemeni, Somali, Moroccan, and more. I tried whatever was given to me, and asked lots of questions. I became proficient at cooking common, everyday dishes from all over the Middle East and Africa. I was excited. But the same could not be said for all of the children. I had to find ways to gain their enthusiasm for the new foods that were becoming staples in our house ; first, due to simple necessity, and then due to their good taste and high nutritional value. Here are a few things I have found that worked beautifully with my children.

–          Introduce new foods one or two at a time, keeping the meals simple. Somali maraq, or vegetable stew, for example, with Yemeni flat bread. This keeps them from getting overwhelmed, and also assures that they don’t fill themselves up on something familiar instead of trying what is new

–          I tell them stories about the people who taught me the dishes, or  we look up the countries together in books or on the internet to learn more about them, so they see the food in its original context. The best thing of all is when a sister comes over and shows us how to prepare dishes. Lots of laughter and love, and a direct connection to where the food comes from.

–          Get them involved directly, from bargaining with the guy at the vegetable stand to chopping carrots and kneading bread. Children love to feel as though they are a part of something, and are contributing to the family well-being. Plus, it’s just plain fun!

–          Try the food of the common people, rather than the elite of a place or country. It is unfailingly more economical, more local, more nourishing and, to be honest, more delicious. The story of a people told in food is a beautiful thing, and can build bridges of understanding and common ground.

–          Make sure that they understand the importance of food, and the blessing that it truly is, when so many are going without.  It is hard to understand true poverty, or true hunger, when one has not experienced it, or at least seen it and looked it in the eye and realized that that little girl, or that old man, is not so far from us, and that we are united in our humanity.

–          Grow some of the ingredients if you are able. Have a few herbs, like cilantro and basil, that are popular in many different cuisines, growing in pots in a nice sunny window. Nothing beats the taste of fresh food, and children get an appreciation of and connection to where their food comes from

 

These are just a few of the things that have worked for us. My children all love trying new things, and have very adventurous palates. We freely mix and match dishes from all over the world, depending on what is in season and affordable.

 

But is it foolproof? Will they always love what you come up with? Well, no.  But they are always willing to give it a try. And if all else fails, their father will eat it!

 

Even the okra. Ew.

okrastew2Yemeni Okra Stew (Bamiah)

We rarely had the meat to put in this stew, so I often added potatoes to it instead of the meat and used the bouillon cubes.
INGREDIENTS

1 kilo of fresh okra
2 medium Onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tb oil
2 lb lamb or beef, cubed
4 Tomatoes, chopped
1 tb Tomato paste
2 beef boullion cubes if desired
1 tsp each cumin and cinnamon and coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion and stir until soft and golden, about 8 – 10 minutes

2. Add the spices to the onion and saute a couple of minutes more, until the spices are fragrant

3. Add the garlic and give a quick stir or two

4. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and cook and stir for another 5 minutes.

5. Add the lamb. Cook on medium heat until the lamb starts to brown, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Dissolve the beef bouillon cubes (if using) in 4 cups of boiling water. Pour the broth into the pot with the lamb and add the okra.

7. Season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat 1 1/2 hours or until the meat and vegetables are tender and the sauce is thickened and reduced. Add a little more water if necessary. Remove from heat, and add juice of one lemon.  Stir and serve.

 

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17 comments

  1. Great name for the site! I have a hard time reading the font though and especially down here in the comments. 😀 Too pale and small for my old eyes.

  2. Khadijah, What a beautiful concept for a blog! I love the name and the idea of it all, and the design. Except for this comment field. I can barely read what I’m typing, it’s so light. Technical stuff aside though, I look forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you Dani and Susan- I will pass your technical observations on to the webmaster! I’m so glad that you like the concept and overall design, though. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.

  3. As salaam alayki wa rahmatullah

    Allahû Akbar! Wa baraka Allahu feekum, may Allah reward you immensely for you works, ameen. I agree with Mrs. Dani and Susan.

    I was thinking in asking you for advices on organic garderning and how to make bread, but Alhamdulillah the idea to share all you knowledge on those fields is wonderful, masha’ Allâh. Im so happy for your blog.

    I will spred it with other muslim so they can as well benefit from it biitnihllah. As far I know, there is not a blog like yours on the muslim community.

    May Allah reward you all for what you do on His behalf, allahumma ameen.

    Umm Sakînah Tasnîm al Biruaniyah.

    1. Please, ask any questions you have, and I will do my best to answer them in future posts. Insh’Allaah I will get a couple of articles up on making bread and organic gardening. We’ve started our indoor seedlings this year, and are working to get things ready outside for planting.

  4. As Salam Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatu;
    Barak Allahu Feekum for providing us with yet another amazing reference site ukhti. As always, I will surely gain much need knowledge from your postings. I have to agree with the other sisters about the font color on the comment section. It is very difficult to read while typing…InshaAllah I dont have any errors.

    Alhamdulillah my little nephew and I started our little garden yesterday. So far we have planted strawberries, squash, cucumbers, beans and watermelon. I am looking forward to any pointers. Also we tried your wonderful recipes and they were amazing as always. I can not wait to try them with our homegrown vegetables.

    Shukran for all your efforts and may Allah reward you and your family both in this dunya and Jannah.

    Aisha

    1. I did mention the font color to Abu Sukhailah, insh’Allaah he will try to fix it, but some things are due to the template and might not be able to be changed. We will see what we can do, insh’Allaah.
      So glad about you and your little nephew and your garden! The strawberries probably won’t bear well this year, maybe not at all, but your other plants will, insh’Allaah, give you some good eating this year! Our little seedlings are coming up well inside, a little leggy, but hopefully, insh’Allaah, they will be okay. We need to get some trellis for the sweet peas and the green beans before we plant them outside. We bought strawberry plants that grow in containers, so we will see how they come out!
      It’s amazing what you can plant in even a small space, alhamdulillah.
      So glad to see you here, any comments or questions are always welcome!

  5. Wow! Where to start! How wonderful at every turn. So many of my dreams come true from your homeschooloing and baking to your gardening and living sustainably. Dave and I did so much of this in the beginning and then it went by the wayside as our relationship did. I even stopped making my own bread. Sukhailah, your recipe really got me excited to try my hand at getting into bread making again. Juwairiyah, I make a lot of cornbread and squash, but never did these variations. I can’t wait to try it. You all inspire me so much! I can’t wait to hear more about your villages! Always, Thurayah

    1. Hello Thurayah, so good to hear from you! I think I first got interested in living in a sustainable, responsible way through Mujaahid’s dad and you and Dave. He used to tell me about the things that you did, mash’Allaah. Hopefully someday you will be baking bread with us, insh’Allaah. Love you!

  6. asSalam aleikum,

    I came across this website as I am very interested whenever Islam and ecology intersect, especially when Permaculture is involved.

    My wife and I have started our own Permaculture company based in Malaysia where we live. We actually are visiting my parents in the NorthEast U.S. at the moment.

    I just noted the part where you mentioned you have been in Yemen for ten years and recently moved to America. I have not really been following your blog so forgive me if you mentioned it in another post, but I am curious to know what was involved in the decision to return to the U.S. if you don’t mind sharing.

    I myself am of Italian descent and was born and raised here in the U.S. and find myself facing a struggle of whether to stay “here” or “there”.

    Anyhow, I wish you and your family success in this life and the hereafter.

    Best Regards,

    Giovanni

    1. Wa Aleikum Assalam wa Rahmatullah
      Alhamdulillah, I have read about your company in Malaysia, I believe at the PRI site. Excellent work, mash’Allaah, I’ve bookmarked your site.
      Our decision to return to the States was based on many things. For one thing, the political situation where we lived (and in all of Yemen, really) was, and is, rather volatile. Even with the change of presidents, there are a lot of undercurrents going on over there concerning autonomy for the North and the Houthi rebellions in the North. Also, was the fact that we could not really own land there properly, or become citizens- though three of our children, who were born there, would have had that possibility had we stayed until they had reached a certain age. Yemen is known as a place where you can be thrown out for no apparent reason, creating an even more unstable environment. We wanted the stability to be able to build and grow as we wished, with some sort of security involved. As of now ,there are limited places you can live legally in Yemen as a foreigner, and much of that depends on where one is employed. Because of this we had to live in the South, and my heart was connected to the North and its more gentle and wetter climes. The heat and sun of the place we lived actually made me physically ill, as I have a condition that is exacerbated by that type of weather. Also, as you probably know, the water situation in Yemen is very dire, mash’Allaah, which was yet another thing we had to consider. If it came down to the people with money having the water, we wouldn’t have had the water! Another consideration was simply monetary. We have a very large family, and it was difficult to live on what my husband made there. We are in the book publishing business, and I am a teacher and writer, and we are hoping to do more with these things here, where the Muslims need a way to get correct knowledge in English.
      These are just some of the reasons we considered when trying to make a decision. Then we made istikara, and went ahead as we felt we had to. When I was there, I missed the land of my childhood- now, here, I miss my adopted land, of Yemen- so my heart is in two places.

  7. Assalamoe alaykoem Khadijah,

    I haven’t gotten around to looking at this blog yet but i read about it on your other one, which, mashaAllah, i love . I just wanted to share the concept of ‘transition towns’. If you google it inshaAllah you’ll find something in your area, they’re all over the place. It’s all about becoming self-sufficient as a community and not being dependent on peak oil, so I thought you might be interested considering the quote you mentioned on striving towards self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
    Barakallahoefik for your beautiful and inspiring writings mashaAllah.

    1. Wa Aleikum Assalam wa Rahmatullah
      Mash’Allah, I have heard about transition towns, but I never looked into them closely. I will certainly do a search on them now, insh’Allaah. BarakAllaahufeekee for bringing them to my attention!
      Alhamdulillah, I am glad that you enjoy Yemeni Journey!!

  8. Hi Khadijah,

    I found your blog from your comment post on my recent article on the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia http://permaculture.org.au/2012/05/23/getting-kids-into-gardening-part-iv-creativity-in-the-garden/
    Thank you for your lovely comment!

    I see you are a homeschooler (as am I) and into ‘green’ living and since you liked my PRI series, I thought that maybe you would be interested in some of the stuff I have on my own websites.

    One is an eco/sustainability website http://earthwiseharmony.com which has eco type articles on all kids of topics, as well as a section of kids activities http://earthwiseharmony.com/KIDS/index.php

    The other is an educational website, with kids activities in all kinds of subject areas (with lots more to come!!) http://barinya.com/

    I am passionate about kids learning in a relevant manner that brings purpose to their activities and helps prepare them for the future that is unfolding.

    I hope that maybe something on my sites will be of interest to you… or your readers. I’d also welcome it if you would like to write anything for us (or anyone who reads this) giving any ideas or thoughts you may have, or sharing the kinds of things your kids do, or that you do on your small property.

    I wish you well on your life journey!

    Anthea.

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