Pre-Wedding at the Fairmont

The American Contingency

Travel There: Photos, Metal Detectors and Machine Guns

So it was here, the reason we had come to Egypt.  My nephew Bassem is very dear to both of us and his wedding is just about the only thing that could have convinced Bill to go Egypt.  On the afternoon of the wedding, we left our room at the appointed hour and headed to the lobby for pictures.

Pictures at Four

Family members were told to be in the lobby at four for pictures, but it quickly became obvious that was 4 PM Egyptian time.  The American contingency was dutifully in the lobby by 4:15, but it was a very lonely lobby.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the time I spent visiting with the guys, Bill, Steven and John, but in spite of myself, I was wishing I’d had a little more time to solve the electrical emergency.  I had really wanted those tendrils.

All dressed up with somewhere to go.

About 4:45 the Egyptian contingency wandered into the lobby and we were a good-looking bunch.  When everyone was assembled we were marched out onto the lawn to be photographed.  There was a certain amount of frisson, but I blamed it on wedding jitters and a ticking clock.  What I didn’t know was that the bus to take us to the wedding hadn’t arrived yet and there were serious negotiations going on with the hotel about how many guards with machine guns would escort us to the wedding.

Yes, I Said Machine Guns

There was a certain amount of friction throughout the trip about the status of the people in our party.  We were visiting just days after the Palm Sunday bombings, so security was high.  Most of the members of the family were Egyptian, in origin if not in passport, but they considered themselves Egyptian.  Some of the exceptions were pint-sized kids born in the US to Egyptian parents, but they looked just like any kid born to an Egyptian – olive skin, dark curly hair and big brown eyes.  The other exceptions were Steven, John and myself.  We looked like tourists, plain and simple, and American tourists at that.

Even though most of the people in our party considered themselves Egyptian, that’s not how the other Egyptians saw us at all.  To them we were a bunch of foreigners.  The idea of 20 or 30 of theses foreigners traveling by bus from the Fairmont to a Coptic Church created fear and trembling to the hotel’s staff.  They intended to keep their name off the evening news by providing us with protection, and that protection was two guys with machine guns.

On the bus with the groom

To my Egyptians, the armed guards seemed like a red neon arrow pointing to us saying, “Blow this bus up!”  While the photographer tried to get pictures of the whole crew smiling at once, some very tense conversations were going on behind the scenes.  The bus arrived and a compromise was reached.  We’d have one armed guard and his machine gun would stay out of sight unless needed.

The machine gun guy did pretty good.  He looked just like most of the rest of the guys on the bus – dressed in a suit, headed to a wedding.  As we approached the church, he unbuttoned his coat and wrapped his fingers around the gun.  I can assure you that did not make me feel more secure.

Entering the church was just like entering a hotel, museum or other area.  You either put your purse on the table or cleaned out your pockets.  Then you entered the metal detector.  On the other side, someone would rifle through your belongings to be sure that tiny beaded bag didn’t have a weapon in it.  Perhaps they would frisk you for whatever reason they picked out, be it concern or just a random practice.  We stood around on the steps of the church for awhile and then it was showtime.

Come back next week and hear all about it.

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Hello, Hello Fresh

TRAVEL HERE: AND NOW FOR CONTESTANT NUMBER TWO

When your husband is not happy at the dinner table, it’s time to try out something different.  We both loved Blue Apron in the beginning, but as time went on, the level of satisfaction sank – especially for Mr. Bill.  Bill was tired of Blue Apron’s flavor of gourmet.  He wanted less adventure and more plain food.  I could feel his pain, but I didn’t want to go back to the days before delivered meal-kit came along.  So, a survey of the available services suggested Hello Fresh would solve my problems and give Bill a steady diet of good, but un-gourmet choices.

Choices and Ordering

When it came to the nuts and bolts of ordering meals, Hello Fresh seemed a lot like Blue Apron.  One new opportunity was the chance to upgrade one of your meals to a premium choice.  I just missed the lobster!  It had been available on the previous week.  I decided on my first order to stick with the regularly priced choices.

The selections were more like my mother used to make without the gourmet frills.  While that lowered the fun factor for me, a happy hubby was the goal, so I went with it.  We got an Italian Ciabatta Burger, Parmesan Crusted Fish and some Glazed Pork Chops.

Here Comes the Box

The box arrived as scheduled and from the outside it looked pretty much like the Blue Apron box, but with green as the primary color instead of blue.  When I opened the box, the story changed.

Inside the box were three huge grocery bags of food, each with a sticker announcing the meal they contained.  I’m not sure exactly what they thought I was supposed to do with that, because the sacks were too big for my frig.  It’s probably very convenient for them from a picking and packing standpoint, but I had to unpack the bags to get the items into the frig.  Blue Apron’s box came loaded with individually packaged items, not mystery grab bags.

As I unloaded the bags I sorted the ingredients into Ziplocks.  I discovered some of the items didn’t need refrigeration and some like the maple syrup would be better without it.  So each grocery bag of food was offloaded into one large Ziplock of refrigerated items and one small Ziplock of pantry items.  Points to Blue Apron!

Hello Fresh packaging wasn’t much fun either.  While unloading my Blue Apron box, there were elaborate packaging solutions, like individual cartons for eggs and plums, and I’m a sucker for great packaging.  There were other interesting items in Blue Apron, like unusual vegetables or breads or intriguing descriptions on labels, while there was nothing at all exciting in the Hello Fresh box.  The biggest thrill was some artwork on the bag of shredded mozzarella, but I do graphics and could have whipped it out myself in moments with a better vocabulary.  Points to Blue Apron.

The best part of unpacking Blue Apron was small brown bags of what they called “knick knacks.” It was like a present for every meal – spices, bottles of vinegar, sauces, crazy mushrooms, beautifully packaged rounds of butter and on and on and on.  I would load the small bags in the refrigerator and not open them until I cooked the meal.  Home-run for Blue Apron.  Nothing for Hello Fresh.

So, we hadn’t even started cooking yet and Blue Apron was way ahead.  Did Hello Fresh come from behind at mealtime?  Come back next week and find out!

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The Electrical Emergency

What do you think? Not bad for an old lady with an electrical emergency?

TRAVEL THERE: THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU HAVE TO PUNT

Bill’s taking a nap.  Our clothes are pressed and ready to wear.  It’s time to do my hair and make-up.  What could go wrong?

The Electrical Emergency

We’d discovered an AC/DC outlet in the bathroom as soon as we arrived.  We’d been recharging our phones since then without any trouble, so I assumed I wouldn’t have any difficulty with my hair appliances.

I’d had a hair appointment hours before I got on the plane and planned to put my own hair up into a French knot, using one of those long-fingered combs that makes it a relatively easy thing to do, even for me.  This particular comb had rhinestones and pearls on it, so I thought I was going to be pretty cute.  We all know that slightly dirty hair is easier to put up than when it’s freshly-washed, so I was all set.  The finishing touch was going to be wispy tendrils all around my face and neckline to soften the look.

While Bill took his nap, I plugged in my tendril curling iron, whipped my hair into the French knot and put on my make-up.  The tendril curling iron didn’t heat up.  I’ve had it for a hundred years and don’t make tendrils very often, so I laughed at myself, thinking I’d carried a broken curling iron all the way to Egypt.  Not to worry, I still had a regular barreled curling iron, electric curlers and a flat iron.  Surely something would work.  Nada!

I began to panic.  The women in the family had suggested several times that I take advantage of the hairdresser who was coming to the hotel to do their hair.  The bride had her own hairdresser, but everyone else was sharing another guy.  I’m funny about my hair and usually when a new person does my hair they freak me out.  I end up with a bouffant larger than something from the Sixties and want nothing more than to hide until it deflates.  Right then the bouffant sounded pretty good.  Sure I’d gotten my hair up into the French knot, but I needed tendrils.

Just about then, Mr. Bill woke up and, as calmly as I possibly could, I told him I needed his help with an electrical emergency.  First he performed all the plug-ins and plug-outs I’d already performed, but that was fine.  I hoped he’d hold his tongue just right and make everything better.  That didn’t happen, but we did locate another AC/DC plug next to the desk, so we tried again.  This time the tendril curling iron heated right up and I thought I was set.  Mr. Bill headed into the bathroom and I pulled out various wisps of hair to curl.

I picked up the curling iron and was about to curl my first tendril when I realized smoke was coming out of the barrel.  I ripped the plug out of the wall and tried the next curling iron.  It wasn’t behaving properly either.  I attempted a few curls, but I was scared the overly-hot implements were going to melt my hair.  That’s all I needed to ruin my day – melted hair for the wedding and every other event for the balance of the trip.

I tried wrapping the tendrils around my fingers and spraying them with hair spray.  Nope, Lori had done entirely too good of a job making my naturally curly hair straight.  I couldn’t get it to curl for the life of me.

Thankfully, I had not pulled too many tendrils out or I would have had to start all over.  It would have looked like my French knot had simply come untied.  My look was not complete, but I had about 15 minutes to slide into my waiting clothes and get downstairs for pictures.

As I put on my dress and accessories, I had a talk with myself.  This was Mariam’s day, not mine.  I was not going to let a little electrical emergency ruin it for me.  I thought I looked a little more severe than I had intended, but I’d just go with it and pretend I’d wanted this very sleek look.

On to the family photo session.

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Blue Apron Is My Friend

TRAVEL HERE: WHY I LOVE BLUE APRON

Even though I knew immediately that I wanted to try out one of these meal services, it took me a while to convince my husband that he was interested in it, too.  When I finally convinced him a meal service would be the answer to all my prayers, I then had to prove the financial viability of it.  I found a consumer site comparing the available services and they said Blue Apron was the most cost effective.  Then we found a deal at Costco and that sealed it.  I really think he was just tired of hearing about it and he assumed that after a week or two I’d get tired of it.  Au contrare!

Heaven in a Box

I confess, I loved everything about Blue Apron.  It was easy to order.  I loved unpacking the box it came in.  It solved every problem I ever had with cooking.  It gave me easy-to-follow, step-by-step, illustrated instructions.  I did what they said and with only a very few exceptions, the results were amazing – at least to me.

I loved “shopping” on the website to pick my meals.  I loved getting ingredients I didn’t normally have access to.  I loved the way the items in the box were packaged.  I loved following the instructions.  I liked the quality of the meats.  I loved rating the food and making comments on the website.  I loved sharing my experience on Facebook.  I loved giving my friends a free week of food.  I loved how responsive their customer service team was.  I was having a grand time.

So, It Wasn’t Perfect

Really, my one and only complaint about Blue Apron was the limited selection.  I could have easily found what I wanted out of the six choices they offered, but as soon as I started making selections, things became unavailable.  By the time I got to my third choice, there was no choice.  I just had to take whatever was left.  I’m sure that had to do with food cost, but it was irritating.  Otherwise I was a happy camper.

Then They Improved the Selection Process

Then they improved things and that’s always dangerous.  We’d been on Blue Apron for about six weeks when they announced, not only were they expanding the number of choices available, they were also doing away with limiting selections as you made choices.  Sounded like all my dreams were coming true.

The switch coincided with our vacation.  I left all excited, because when I came home, the new process would be in place.  The selection process was great when I got home, but suddenly, the food was not as good.  It was small things.  Like there seemed to be more in the way of steaks, but the steaks were tough and gristly.  We were getting good vegetables, but the combinations seemed weird to my husband.  I was ready to trade my new options in on the way it used to be.

In the beginning, Bill had been as happy as a clam, but suddenly, his level of satisfaction was going down, down, down.  Now, I was not as dissatisfied as he was.  Those odd combinations were fine with me.  The steaks bothered me, but I could choose around the beef.  I’ll be honest with you.  I didn’t think the food was quite as good as it had been before the improvements, but it was good enough and it beat the heck out of going back to the pre-Blue Apron system.

Let’s Try Something Else

After some pretty tense conversations about it, because I loved the easiness of the program, we finally decided that we’d try out some other services.  Bill had offered to “help” if I’d go back to just doing it myself, but I didn’t need help with the cooking or cleaning up and he didn’t want to take over the planning.  So it was time to give Hello Fresh a try.  Come back next week and see how that went.

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My Ahhhhhh Day

TRAVEL THERE: TAKING IT EASY

After seeing off the guys, my first stop was the laundry.  I was wondering if they’d be able to press my dress and Bill’s suit for the wedding.  Nope, they were closed for the holiday.  That determined a lot of what I’d be doing for the day.

An Hour at the Spa

The spa was on the other side of the pool.  As soon as I exited the building, a nice lady wanted to help me out with my pool arrangements, but I didn’t want a towel, a chair or a cabana.  I was just passing through.

If you’re interested, the spa was quite nice.  I spent my hour on the treadmill,  I actually prefer a recumbent bike to a treadmill, but I wasn’t at home.  There was a nice variety of workout machines and stations, but no bikes, so I made do.  The gym area was neat, attractive and clean, not the cluttered mess of some hotel’s workout rooms and all the equipment worked!  They had bottled water, towels, magazines and other amenities to enjoy.  More than once an attendant checked on me to see I had everything I needed.  High points for the spa.

Those Semi-Wrinkled Clothes

In spite of folding tissue paper in with our wedding clothes, as my mother had taught me to do, when I pulled them out of the suitcase in the wee hours of Saturday night, they looked like a wadded mess.  Late Monday morning all Bill’s suit needed was a little touching up, but my dress was still pretty pathetic looking.  The bodice with all the beads were fine, but that full skirt looked pretty bad and the sheer lace over-blouse was still a mess.  Since attacking it with an iron almost ensured I’d melt some of the sheer chiffon in the skirt, I tried the old traveler’s trick – a steamy bathroom.

I hung the dress and blouse up over the toilet, glad for the commode’s lid, and took a very long hot shower with the shower door open and the bathroom door closed.  By the end of the shower I had a lake on the floor and the room was pretty steamy, but the gown needed more.

I toweled down and put on the fluffy terry robe provided by the hotel.  I made the water from the shower even hotter than I could tolerate on my skin, opened up the hot water tap on the sink all the way and escaped from the bathroom, trying to leave as much steam as I could behind.  I gave it about 15 minutes and then checked on the progress.  The room was all steam, but the dress was still a little wrinkly.  I turned off the water, gave my outfit a good shaking out and then left everything in the steamy bathroom.

As the wrinkles melted, I caught up with my travel journal, spent some time on social media, read a little, did some crossword puzzles and entertained myself with various distractions.  I’d opened the window to the perfect weather outside and was glad the hotel actually had operable windows.  I enjoyed hearing cocks crow throughout the nearby neighborhood and I’m pretty sure I heard a peacock.  Some kind of black birds cackles dominated the sound track for a while, but they moved on.  I’m sure there were traffic noises, but thankfully, faint enough to ignore.  From time to time I’d hear the crash of a metal tray or the sound of something heavy being dropped.  It was pleasant.

A return to the bathroom revealed the steam had all dissipated.  The dress was fine. The over-blouse still needed some help.  The room had a very nice full-sized ironing board with a heavily padded cover which I wished I had at home.  The full-sized iron had markings in both English and Arabic.  I was in business.

The blouse took no time at all, but the suit actually ended up giving me some challenges.  I wished I had put it in the steamy bathroom after all, but now it was too late to start all over.  Just about the time I got it and Bill’s white shirt professional laundry perfect, in walked the man himself.  He was earlier than I anticipated.  Khan-il-Kalilli had been a big disappointment, a dearth of dealers because of the holiday and far too dirty to be enchanting.  They’d found a cafe and enjoyed some down time, too.

Now Bill was ready for a nap and it was time to start on my hair and makeup.  Comeback next week and see what happened next.

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Why I Love Meal Kits

TRAVEL HERE: FOOD DELIVERED TO MY DOOR

Have you tried out the latest culinary trend?  You see them everywhere.  Some companies call them meal kits.  Others call them recipe services.  I call them wonderful.  From the moment I first heard of them, I knew I was their target customer and I couldn’t wait to sign up.  See if you have the same kinds of complaints about preparing meals.  You might be a candidate for meal kits, too.

Meal Planning is a Mess!

I love a good meal.  I enjoy cooking a good meal.  I don’t even mind cleaning up after a good meal.  What I hate is planning and shopping and managing ingredients.  Don’t get me wrong, I love browsing through a gorgeous cookbook and imagining making the dishes, but the fun stops as soon as I pick out a recipe.

There’s only two of us in this house and every recipe has that one ingredient.  It could be almost anything – a spice I don’t have in my collection and may never use again, a vegetable I have to buy that will ruin before we can finish it or a can of something I will only use a portion of and have to figure out what to do with the rest.

These are not insurmountable problems, but I get tired of dealing with them – especially when I live in the boondocks and Kroger  is the only place I have to shop.  Here’s why:

  • I need three mushrooms and all there is available is that huge plastic-wrapped carton of them.
  • The tomatoes are awful and the cucumbers all have soft ends.
  • The recipe calls for X, but it’s not in season or they don’t carry it in Texas or whatever.  Of course, I find this out only after I have all the rest of the items for the recipe in the cart.
  • After scouring through the produce department I ask the clerk if they have any shallots and they direct me to the seafood department.
  • I want things to quit changing every time I go to the store.
    • Remember when the canned onion rings you needed for green bean casserole were made by Durkee’s.  Forget that.  Now you have to figure out who bought the company and how they are packaging them on any given week.  Will they still be in a can or will it be a bag this time and a box next time.
    • My favorite fish recipe ever was made with White Wine Worcestershire sauce.  Apparently I was the only person that liked it, because it is no longer available and the recipe just doesn’t work with regular Worcestershire sauce.
    • Once I could get brand-name green beans – DelMonte, Green Giant or S&W.  Not now.  Kroger is saving me money by only carrying their store brands – and I don’t like their store brands.

Cooking the Recipe

Let’s pretend that once, just once, I picked out a recipe and found everything I wanted at the grocery store with very little hassle.  Now, I have to keep it somewhat real, so nothing actually came in a package that fit the recipe, but just getting home with everything I wanted would give me a thrill.

The next thing one has to do is figure out what order to do stuff in so that everything will be ready at about the same time.  I have a few meals for which I have mastered this skill, but they are few and far between.  Most of the time I’m throwing things in the warming oven and then being mad because they dried out or getting to the table to face crunchy rice, too raw meat or any other number of fails.

Then there’s all the ambiguity of recipes: a pinch of this, a drizzle of that, add this until that happens, stir until it has this consistency, salt and pepper to taste.  Quit that stuff!!  Tell me exactly what to do and don’t leave it to interpretation.  If I had wanted to play a guessing game, I would not have used a recipe.

Oh yes, and every once in a while, something you have made five million four hundred thousand and thirty-seven times, turns out completely different from every other time you made it.  You didn’t change a thing – it just happened!

The Aftermath

When you’re all done the worst for me is not cleaning up the dishes.  I hate the rest of it.  Was my husband hungry when we were through, because it wasn’t enough food OR do I now have leftovers, because the recipe’s idea of a “serving” and reality are two different things?  There’s about half a can of chicken broth left and a half a head of cauliflower, both of which I have to store and figure out how to use – not to mention the thousands of mushrooms, because I couldn’t buy three.  If we liked the recipe, great.  If not, well then, should I keep that spice or throw it away?

When a meal is over, I want it to be over, but it seems it never is.  Six months from now I will still have that extra piece of meat in my freezer, but it will be frost bitten and I will have to throw it away.  I feel the same way about laundry.  You gather the clothes and sort them and wash them and dry them and fold them and put them away – but then you have a sock without a mate, a blouse that has a button missing and there’s always something that’s going to need to be pressed or taken to the dry cleaners or something.

So now you know why I was so excited about meal kits, recipe services or whatever you want to call them.  If you have any of the same feelings, then you might be interested in meal kits too.

 

 

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Wedding Morning Breakfast at the Fairmont

Quiche at Le Marche

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT I DID ON THE DAY OF THE WEDDING

Waking up in my hotel room, my first thought was, “This is it.  Bassem and Mariam’s wedding day.”  My next thought was a sense of gratefulness that I hadn’t allowed Bill to talk me into a tour on the day of the wedding.  I planned to relax all day.

Back to Le Marche Cafe

When we headed out of the room on our second morning at the Fairmont, there was no question about where we’d have breakfast.   We were going to Le Marche, as much for the delicious food as for our friend, Ahmed. We were momentarily disappointed when Ahmed was not there to greet us, but when we asked for him, the other guy faded into the background and a wide-smiling Ahmed appeared to welcome us back.

We sat down to peruse the menu and enjoyed several chance encounters with family, who passed to and fro in the lobby.  The groom scooted by on an errand, then along came the bride and her mother with a trail of attendants.  The attendants were in charge of the luggage and a rolling rack which was transporting the wedding gown.  Don’t worry the gown was completely covered, so there was no peeking.  Double kisses all around!

Next to arrive were nephew Steven and his friend John.  They decided to join us for breakfast and enjoy the attentions of Ahmed, the new friend of the family.  The meal was delightful.  I ordered a scone and got a second one on the house.  Steven ordered a chocolate croissant and got a Danish to boot.  Bill was delighted by his generous slice of quiche.  John, however, did not have such great fortune with his selection.

John’s Egyptian fantasy meal was a plate of fresh dates and figs.  He arrived a day or two before we did and asked for this delicacy at every opportunity and though he continued his quest throughout the whole trip, I don’t think he found it anywhere.  So much for Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Ahmed was so disappointed to admit he couldn’t provide the plate of dates and figs, but he suggested fruit instead.

John wanted to know how the fruit was presented.  “Is it on a platter or in a bowl?” John asked.  “Whatever you like,” Ahmed assured him.  “Is it a fruit salad?” John asked.  “No,” Ahmed replied, “it is a salad in a bowl.”  That being settled, John decided to see what would appear.

Ahmed roamed back and forth between the kitchen and the table.  Beverages were the first to appear and for awhile it seemed that was about all we were going to get.  Then the orders dribbled out.  First the pastries.  Then a while later, Bill got his quiche.  We were all just about done, when we started making noise about the missing fruit.  Ahmed was contrite in his protestations and assured us the fruit was almost there.

Ahmed, you were a treasure, but the fruit bowl, salad or whatever was a disappointment!  I’m sure any American could have driven to the nearest Kroger, bought some grapes, apples and oranges, returned home to chop them up into a bowl and then delivered them to the family, faster than Ahmed delivered up the same boring bowl from somewhere in the bowels of the Fairmont.  Not even a pineapple slice, no melons, nothing.  Just grocery store fruit!

Going Separate Ways

Bill was still having a difficult time believing I did not want to fill up every moment of the trip with tours and museums, but I was truly new and improved.  When Steven and John suggested he join them for a trip to the Khan-il-Kalili, I had my fingers crossed he’d join them, so I could have some alone time.

The crossed fingers worked.  The guys headed off on their adventure and I created my own spa day.  Come back next week and see how it went.

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