It managed to take my mind off the fact that I had to update my Flickr professional membership so no photos till I can now sort that out!
We have had a wonderful couple of weeks with family - buckets of family - staying. My father and my stepmother and friend Judith have been planning their trip for a long time. Unknown to them my brother Bernie also decided that he would come to Egypt with his girlfrend Claire to coincide with my father's eightieth birthday.
Then Tabbi decided to cut her trip a bit short, and join us. It was also to be a secret from Alan and Judith, and I had to keep muttering 'still in Estonia' to their inquiries about Tabs. I am not a good liar, and was uncomfortable with it - but a confession that she had shifted to London would have meant that they would try to line up a meeting there after they left Egypt - and it was all just too complicated.
There was a delightful mornig when they were sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast, and Tabbi wandered in with a routine sort of good morning and then stuck her head in the refrigerator while they spluttered into their cereal.
We spent the birthday on a felucca. I had been storing a ham since Christmas, frozen in one of our banks of freezers downstairs. Somehow nothing ever seemed like an important enough occasion to use my precious ham. It cannot be served if there are Moslems at a function, and most of our functions have a lot of Moslems. I even hesitate to contaminate the kitchen with it because of lovely Ahmed, my cook. Did I even tell the blog that I now have a cook?
However, an eightieth birthday is decreed as quite special enough so out came the ham to thaw discreetly in a plastic bag in the frig. I removed rind, scored and crisscrossed it with that lovely diamond pattern, studded it with cloves, and slathered it with a marmalade, mango chutney, glace ginger (precious supplies brought from Australia) pineapple juice and soy glaze and baked it until it glistened gold and brown. The house smelt marvelous, rich and savoury and sugary-spicy, but I had surreptitiously done it before Ahmed arrived for the day and felt guilty about the smell.
With Ahmed I made a potato salad with browned onions, caraway and dill, and a chocolate pound cake - my mother's wonderful recipe for a dense and moist cake that keeps well and does not really require icing. However, for such an occasion I mixed a cream cheese icing with a good whack of coffee and was all prepared to smooth the top with it, when it was whisked away and Ahmed covered the top with beautiful scalloped rosettes with a squeezed icing bag! Because candles and feluccas are not a good combination - a wind that moves a large and heavy boat has no problem blowing out a fistful of candles - we put one small candle in a deep glass bowl in the centre of the cake.
I have also been using the time at home to show Ahmed a few other things - so we made a Mrs Harrison's Peach Pie - just because peaches are around at the moment. This is a wonderful pie in the best American tradition - fresh peaches with a light egg,butter,sugar,flour batter stirred through them before they are encased in pastry and baked.
We took the picnic out to the felucca docks at Ma'adi - finished off with smoky roasted almonds as a before dinner nibble, Greek Salad with tomatoes, olives, basil and feta, and a good supply of wine and Egyptian Sakkara beer.
We had had one previous felucca experience. It was good enough for Alan to decide that that was how he would like to spend his birthday. Dagmar, Bob's treasure, had delivered something to our door minutes before we left, and been pressganged into coming too. We had to find a way to finish all that food!
The wind was perfect and we asked the captain to take us downstream past all the islands and as far as the bridge, This meant some heavy tacking and occasional dives to prevent the pie from sliding off the table.
Evenings are wonderful on this part of the Nile. Women come to the edge of the water to wash family dishes in the poorer areas, dresses kilted to their knees, and sleeves rolled as they sluice and rinse. I am always careful never to even dip a finger into the water as it runs through twenty six African countries before it gets to Egypt and has known risks of bilharzia and other nasties. I shudder at the idea of eating from dishes washed in it. Stupid really - as all water in Egypt comes from the Nile. Household supplies are treated though, but we don't drink it unless it has been boiled.
Dishes are not the only things washed in the water. We watched a young woman wringing out clothes and hanging them from a line across her tiny fishing boat. Her husband was pulling in and folding nets, and in a classic multi-tasking she would hold parts of the edges of the net in her teeth for him as she deftly handled the clothes in the river. There were three small children in the boat. Families live on board these tiny boats, curling up in thenets to sleep, and they fish for food and income - and there are very few fish in the Nile at this point.
We passed many fishing boats, nets glistenig as they were pulled in for the evening. There was a good wind and the boat moved fast over smooth water, sliding silently towards reed beds (and I could see Moses caught there in his basket)and swinging around just as I was sure we would wedge in and stick. Birds flew in low and fast across the water, egrets, cranes, ducks, and pigeons, coming in to roost in the silvery evening light. The sun seemed to stick fast in silhouetted date palms as the sky went rose and gold and orange, then dipped behind a building and was gone.
On the island we watched cows and donkeys settling for the night, and people as they milled around small huts. Barges and cargo boats moved past, disturbing the water with their wake. One huge load of hay (?) seemed about four times the size of the boat, and extended on a wide platform well over the boat's sides.
It was a magical night, and rare in felucca terms. Last month we had a ride where there was so little wind that the captain simply punted out and anchored in midstream and the the picnic was a 'people smorgasbord' for the ravenous mosquitoes able to pour in in the absence of the wind!
This was perfect, and a fitting birthday for my father.
Then next day we went to the White Desert - so more to come!