Bahrain

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Baking a Bread

One day, quite recently…
Me: “I am going to bake a bread”
Family: “Bake a – WHAT?”

The entire household was practically paused for well over a few minutes.
In total disbelief.

“Why bother making something you can easily get for BHD 0.100?”*
“Bread? One can NEVER bake a bread at home!”
“Baking a bread needs special equipment. Forget it!”
“Hmmmm…. you’ve found another way to waste money, time and effort…
But
The above comments could not dissuade the baker from chasing, and later achieving, his dream.

*BHD 1 = USD 2.57 appx.

Let me take you back to another day, many many years ago…

The idea of baking a bread at home was toyed since childhood.
The inspiration was the small local bakery near the place of domicile.

Around mid-afternoon, the heavenly aroma of the nearby baker baking his loaves will find its way to our home. Giving the baker a few more minutes to finish his work, a fresh loaf will be at home soon. The family gathers around, being a Sunday, marvelling the freshness and softness of the bread. Baker refuses to slice the bread as he maintains it is too early to slice a bread straight from the oven. There were many times when the bread was enjoyed without being sliced. The experience was always worthy of repeating a million times. That is when the idea of baking bread at home was born.

During those years, my Mother used to cook many dishes. Most of them could be categorised as nothing short of “complicated”. List of ingredients, the processes included in preparation and cooking, adjustment of heat by adding or removing firewood from the stove (those were pre-LPG days) were some reasons for the complexity. Delicious sweets which require hours on fire were made only during festive seasons: Easter or Christmas. Whole family chips in and the house maids also join to support but the main cook was always Mother.

Yet another day, couple of years back…

The childhood idea was put to action quite recently. May be a couple of years back when the first bread was baked in-house. Only few super markets carried bread flour. The recipe said bread flour specifically. Some of them mentioned using all-purpose flour but the fear of failure in first attempt prompted the would-be baker to travel to the edge of the world to find the perfect bread flour. He found it in a super market in the Amwaj Island.

Other ingredients were a fairly easy to come through: yeast, egg, milk, honey, salt. The 10-year old Italian-made oven with an external temperature gauge were the major components towards the first bake. Stove-top cooking was for every day but the oven was rarely used.

All the ingredients were mixed with yeast added in to the traditional well in the centre. The mixture was far from promising. Sticky, without any form or shape.

Baking a bread is all about proving. First the yeast has to prove itself. Then the dough. Then the dough in loaf-tin, again. But the real proof is in the pudding which is the proof of the baker himself. Yeast was over-energetic. It was excited to thrive in the 114 degree Fahrenheit water mixed with honey. In less than 10 minutes, the yeast-proofing was done.

Slowly, the dough began to transform itself as if by a magic spell. The mix was then kneaded by hand. Five or ten minutes, I do not remember. But the kneading stopped only when the dough felt pliable and soft. Time for the dough to prove itself. Well oiled glass bowl, the recipe did not specify which oil, was used to store the dough “for an hour or until it doubles in size in a warm, dark place”.

Slowly lifted the tea-towel that covered the dough-bowl. Could not believe own eyes. The dough had proved itself!

Followed the recipe to the t and inflated the dough after a bit of hesitation. Baker is still not confident. Is it not the first attempt to bake a bread? Pardoned.

Left the dough in a loaf tin this time in the warm dark place to prove again. The dough took the challenge well and overflew the standard bread tin thus ensuring the classic champagne-cork shape.

Meanwhile, in another part of the kitchen…
Pre-heating the oven was meticulously done. Temperature was monitored to the degree. The risen-dough went straight into the oven. Half-way into the baking process, the rich, heavenly aroma of the bread began to fill the apartment. The crust was light brown. There was no way to test the doneness of bread without opening the oven door. Door was open, crust was knocked for that reassuring hollow “thud” sound.

A home-made bread was born.

Family, who were nearby since the aroma started filling the air, now gathered around the bread.

Some suggested butter. Others jam. How about chicken curry? Plain bread taste as good, came in another revelation. Olive oil and salt. Creativity is beginning to cross boundaries now.

Five minutes later, I thanked the heavens for the family leaving the loaf tin alone.

A question came up… when are you going to bake the next bread?

Soon, the baker said, and smiled to himself.

A few weeks back, a Challah was baked.


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Blue Crabs

Anticipation grows in the shores of Hidd fishing port, north-east of Bahrain.
But the air is kept light with smiles and laughs.
Amazing to see how the human spirits could soar so high on a long, hot summer day.
Weather-beaten faces perfectly blending with the day’s hard work.

And then someone sees the boat approaching from the seas.
Somehow they know it was a good catch indeed.
Blue Swimming Crabs are wild caught from seas around Bahrain by using traps.

A boat carries 6 to 8 crates of freshly netted Blue Crabs.
After a quick rinse, the crates are brought ashore.
Experienced eyes picks few bad ones and promptly removes them.
Dilip and his team effortlessly moves in sync as a well-rehearsed drill.

Rest are chilled with crushed iced, ready to be transported to the factory in refrigerated trucks.
The cluster portion of the crab with claw and legs untrimmed is the final product that carries a shelf-life of up to 2 years.


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Extremely Useful Emptinesses

“We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”
– Lao Tzu

The Potter, a man in his forties,
sat there on the wooden, tall stool
by a table
with a shapeless lump of clay.
Smiling.

He had a few kids and their parents as his audience.
Wide-eyed kids.
I’ve-seen-it-all-eyed parents.
Deep inside,
the parents wanted to mould the clay as much as their kids.

But
being elder to the kids, they appeared to show more restraint
and even scolded the kids for their impatience.
Potter smiled.

While his fingers and palm
moved around the wet clay,
and the people thought of how relaxed the man was,
his legs were tirelessly working.

Pushing the heavy flywheel
under the table
that held the platform
that rotated
the clay…

I wondered
how many kids must have seen the hard work
of the legs
that is needed for a clay pot?

Potter continued to smile.
Perhaps he could listen to everyone’s thoughts…


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National Museum

Located in the waterfront near the Marina Club, Diplomatic Area, National Museum is one of the popular monuments with visitors. A few hundred meters away resides the newly built National Theatre. Exhibitions and cultural talks see the National Museum as its venue attracting the art lovers of Bahrain and from neighbouring countries. The entrance leads to a vast hall almost covered with the sharp aerial photograph of Bahrain.

National Museum

National Museum

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National Theatre

National Theatre

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National Museum, left

National Museum, left

A complete detailed visit could easily take about half-a-day. Exhibits are meticulously labelled in Arabic and English.


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Ghriyba Marocaine aux Amandes

Weekends are cooking days. Sometimes the daughter joins in but mostly it is alone.
Bahrain feels like the best-of-Europe with it’s mild weather. While sunny and bright in the day time, the temperature stays at around 12-14 deg C. The weather was never lovelier before than today.

Rib-eye Steak with Mushroom Sauce served with Mashed Potatoes and crisp, sautéed Mangetouts for the lunch.
Thai Green Seafood curry with Jasmine Rice for dinner.
[Ed: Those posts are for another day].
But the highlight of the day was Moroccan Almond Cookies or Ghriba.
The sweet from Marrakesh took everyone by storm.

Most of the dishes tried at home were tried before in a restaurant or at a baker’s.
Ghriba was an exception. Came to learn about the sweet from a beautiful blog in WordPress https://thetaste0flife.wordpress.com/

Ghriba is something unlike any of the sweets.
It does not use any flour (wheat or rice, eg.)
Sites those talked about Ghriba mentioned the Moroccan Mint Tea that goes well with the sweet.
[Ed: Forgotten to make mint tea, by the way].

Almonds eggs caster sugar lemon zest lemon juice almond extract orange blossom water.
The taste was much beyond the realms of any sweet tried so far.

Started off with zesting the lemon after keeping the oven to heat-up to the required temperature of 350F (180C).
Prepared the baking tray with parchment paper and kept aside.

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Almond flour and sugar were then blended in a food-processor briefly.
Baking powder, vanilla extract, almond flavour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest were whisked in.

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Egg yolks were then added to the above mixed using fingers taking care not to knead towards bread consistency. However, as the four eggs were added, the dough was bit like a bread dough.

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Added less caster sugar though the recipe asked 125 gm as the cookies are going to be rolled on icing sugar before baking.

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Baked at 350 deg F just till cooked… a cookie unlike any cookie. Inside the oven, the cookies began to crack about 12 minutes into the baking process.

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The oven was switched off soon after the cookies started to crack.
Rest of the baking happened in the subsiding heat and for about 18 minutes.

Final note:
Mildly crunchy outside and soft,chewy inside, the Ghriba was loved instantly at first bite. There sure is a lot of room for excelling and the pursuit of excellence makes the baking process more challenging and therefore enjoyable.

Reviews say that the cookies can be stored in airtight containers for 2-3 weeks. May not be applicable at our place. Confluence of flavours will take several hours was a maxim seldom listened to by the end users. Thus, the cookies finished fast. But their taste remains.


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Falcons are beautiful.

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As much as they are aggressive hunters,
their gentleness and elegance is worth admiring.
Here are some portraits of Saker Falcons
from the archives…

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Stranger to stranger, with kindness

Alleys of the village
may not have the flourish of sophistication
urban-dwellers often take for granted.

Instead
all you get would be a smiling face
of a complete stranger.

An invite to a cup of tea.
And more than a few helpings of kind words.

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Playful kids
that follow a wandering photographer
with an amusement
lacing their merry laughter.

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Babies that coo for no reason whatsoever
and jump to reach for the camera lens,
often with their lavishly-salivated tiny fingers,
wondering what on earth is going on
in a world so new to them.

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From one stranger
to the other.

Everyone, same-same
and
miles and miles away from their homes.
Homes, they call their home.


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@ Restaurant in Muharraq

The succulent chicken came marinated in yoghurt and lime real hot from the charcoal oven.

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And the Turkish bread was thick, soft and warm.

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Date palms lining the restaurant swayed in evening breeze. Somewhere inside the open courtyard, the gurgling of a fountain cold be heard between the infrequent silence of the kids. Bell rang several times from the kitchen counter keeping the boys on their toes.

Quinoa Salad with grilled chicken and sliced almonds was served first. Forgotten to take a snap… food sometimes makes the mind blank.

Middle-eastern cuisine with the mild herbs and spices, plenty of green leaves, oil-less breads and grilled meat could be undoubtedly the healthiest. However, most of my Bahraini friends say they prefer the hot, spicy Indian food.


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Friends

Friends are friends…
anytime.
anywhere.
Friendship is being together.

But
how about being with oneself?

Me: Hi!
Myself: Hi!!
Me: How are you today?
(pause)
Myself: Not bad… you?
(long pause)

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Honest

During a photo workshop, she was a model.

No pretence.
No masquerade.
No façade.

And when requested for a pose next to her own portrait, she obliged, smilingly.

Few could ever attempt to achieve that smile…

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The Mall and the Shamal wind

Come evening and the multi-storied car parks of the mall becomes full.
The rows of cars approaching the mall never seem to end till late into the night.
From the car park heated by the summer sun and idling engines to the coolness that embraces you stealthily from all sides.
Walk into the mall with soft and bright lights…

Food courts overflow with long queue of families waiting for a seat in their favourite restaurants.
Movie theatres run in full capacity.
Boutiques with up to 70% sale got no space for another potential customer.
Children play in the designated space seen with their Nannies in pale blue or pink uniforms.

Paper-bags, huge ones, with thin rope-like handles, find it difficult to accommodate themselves in the hands of shoppers.
Occasional lost kids calling “baba, baba” looking for their Daddy, almost in the verge of a tear short of bursting out. Mall securities nearby with their crackling Motorola handsets.
Sales professionals getting busier by the minute at their kiosks of perfumes, white gold and silver jewellery, mobile accessories, spa promotions, teen watches and many more.

Credit cards rake up unpaid debts shaming the speed of light.
Notion of happiness is thus for the chosen few.
Who is sleepy?
It’s only 3AM.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city.

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No malls.
No car parks.
No sale on-going.
No small, rectangular, plastic cards with or without a cute chip.

Just plain talks and laughter, when someone makes a remark, mostly funny.
Laughter even when one opens his mouth to say something.
And then the beverages are served from a nearby tea shop.
A small break from roasted sunflower seeds.

No malls could ever give that feeling being with friends out in the open with the Shamal winds.
Or could they?


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Buyer’s Dilemma

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Baker

Succulant Chicken Tikka.
Freshly grilled Riyash (Lamb Rib Chops).
Tabouleh, the great salad made of Flat Parsley, Mint, Tomato, soaked Burgul wheat and Lemon.
Hummous, the chick peas and garlic dip with olive oil.
Kubooz from the Tandoor (a brick-and-mud oven) completes the list.

Kubooz bakeries comes alive as the sun sets.
The baker remembers who came first and what he had ordered.
No notepads and paper slips.
Everyone is served.

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Blue Macaw

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A Saturday afternoon.
Zallaq highway.
Long stretch of cars.
Families with excited kids.
Visitors to the animal show.

Animals in nominal enclosures.
Domestic.
Birds resting outside their cages.
Pets.
Sunny. Warm. Breezy.

An unforgettable day for the kids.
And therefore to their parents.
Bahrain loves animals.
Birds, too.


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The Other Shop

The shop in Muharraq Souq (Bahrain) specialised in valve radios… working ones, among other interesting lost-in-time items. Green-tinged, thick, Coca-Cola bottles, for example. Prices for the radios ranged between BHD 100-BHD 140 (roughly USD 250 to USD 350).

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The owner agreed to reopen his shop late in the evening.

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He and his friend also agreed to pose for a few photographs.

A similar shop was seen in the souq in Madinat al Isa (Isa Town). The souq hosted several shops selling everything: fabrics, hardware, coins, antiques, furniture, plants, mobile phones, sunglasses, Oracle latest release, auto-parts, curtain clothes, key chains, bathroom accessories, perfumes, bukhoor, lingerie, incandescent and fluorescent and neon lamps, kites, knives, DVDs, used books, pipes, lighters, mobile Apps, abayas, local fruits, plastic toys and dolls.

Friday being an off day at work, a casual browsing along the souq had become a routine. Knew several vendors by their first name and vice versa. The shop that belonged to a Bahraini – an old gentleman – who dealt with coins and currencies and precious stones and prayer beads. He spoke in perfect Hindi about old times and how the present generation feels shy even to say the word “souq”. He spoke of his travels to Bombay (present day Mumbai) with his Father.

It was another Friday and the usual chat with the coin-shop owner went past the prayer time. The mildly sugared red tea must be the one responsible to make time pause somewhere in the 80s. The old man excused himself and asked me to be at the shop while he finishes his prayer in the nearby mosque. Before I could say anything he was gone.
He thanked me for waiting for him after he returned. I just wished such friendliness and trust last another thousand years.


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Girl in the Souq

She came with her Grandpa to the souq.
A bit overwhelmed by the antiques and knick-knacks.

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Arne Hodalič

Arne Hodalič grew up and studied biology in Ljubljana (lyoo-BLYAH-nah), Slovenia. After finishing university, he was working for five years as a professional sailing boat skipper and diver and had his own charter company on the Adriatic coast in Croatia. He began taking photos, mostly of boats, diving and nautical activities. His first trip to India in 1989 changed his professional career when his photos were published in a prestigious Swiss magazine Animan. He received more than 20 assignments from the magazine and travelled extensively around the world with his camera. In Paris he joined Gamma Press agency and began working for French press as a member of several photo agencies.

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In 2008 he received an honorary doctorate at the Academy of Arts and Design / University of Ljubljana and became a lecturer in photography and photojournalism at FDV (Faculty of Social Sciences) University of Ljubljana and at VIST (Visoka šola za storitve) in Ljubljana. He is currently the photo editor of National Geographic Magazine (Slovene edition).

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Met Prof. Arne during a workshop conducted by the Diplomatic Protocol Society at the Downtown Rotana Hotel in Bahrain recently. The photographs are from the photo walk around Suq Manama that followed the lecture.

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BIAS 2016: Glimpses

The organisers of the Bahrain International Airshow confirmed that the Bahrain International Airshow saw its strongest international presence to date reflecting the event’s growing standing in the global aviation event calendar and cementing strategic relations between key nations.

[Note: If you wish to see the photographs in a larger format, please visit “Bahrain Airshow 2016” on the menu above. Thank you for visiting].

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The show saw representation from the US, UK, France, India, Russia and Turkey. Furthermore, the high level aviation event will also see more participation from MENA states, with the largest participation yet from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from which numerous companies including Saudi Arabian Airlines joined for the first time, alongside Kuwait Airways, Emirates and previous attendees Qatar Airways. Multi-national organisations included Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing, Chevron, CFM, Finmeccanica, Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, Turkish Aerospace Industries, TAG Aeronautics and Thales Group.

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The exhibition feature hall at the show has also allowed a growing number of international SME businesses to attend the show with national pavilions from the India, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and the UK. The popularity of the feature hall, which was introduced at the last edition of the show in 2014, has resulted in a size increase of almost 50% for 2016.

Team NCSIST BIAS 2016

Speaking about the growing international participation, His Excellency Engineer Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed, Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications for the Kingdom of Bahrain and Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Organising Committee for BIAS said, “The Bahrain International Airshow is a real platform for trade and business. With so many countries represented, it allows businesses to bolster and build new partnerships. With the value we bring through our extensive delegations programme we offer all our participants the opportunity for extensive networking and discussion.”

HH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain HH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain with India's Minister of External Affairs of India, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain with India’s Minister of External Affairs of India, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj

[Note: The above photograph was published by the Gulf Daily News on 26.1.2016].

Team Sarang, Indian Air Force

Team Sarang, Indian Air Force