Friday, October 13, 2006

A visit to the neighbours

'Would you take me to visit the family that lives on the farm next to ours?' my mother-in-law asked me this the other evening when I was visiting her. 'In the evening or during the day?' I asked her. 'Oh, during the day would be fine. Can you pick me up after you pick Ibrahim up from school? We could stop along the way and buy some juice and cookies for their kids.' she replied. 'Ok. Sure. I'll let you know the exact day later.' I told her.

The neighbours at the farm are simple country people. The family has 18 kids; two of them have down syndrome and quite a few of the girls are a bit older and still not married. We usually stop by to visit them for a chat when we spend time at the farm, and my mother-in-law likes to drop in on them every year during Ramadan.

I called my brother-in-law's flat and left a message with his daughter, 'Tell your grandmother I'm on my way to pick her up to take her to visit the neighbours.' I arrived shortly after that to find my mother-in-law dressed and waiting to go. The farm is about a fifteen-minute drive away. I stopped when we were nearly there to buy the juice and cookies. The shop that I stopped at didn't have much in the way of choices but I did notice they had plastic buckets full of Libyan cookies called cak for 2 dinars, so I bought a bucket. When I bought it out to the car my mother-in-law was horrified. 'We can't give them cak.' she said. 'I'm sure they make it themselves. You leave that in the car and we'll take it home.' she told me. 'OK, Hajja. Whatever.'

We got to the neighbours and had a nice visit. The girls caught my mother-in-law up on all the neighbourhood gossip; who was getting married, who was building, who had been robbed recently, what they were growing and planning to grow, etc. I sat quietly and listened to the happy chatter. On the other side of the sitting room was one of the mentally handicapped boys. I judged that he must be in his mid to late twenties. He was sitting on one side a huge pile of unfolded laundry and on his other side was neatly folded and stacked laundry. One by one he was patiently folding the laundry. I've never seen anyone do such a nice job. I seriously thought about bringing him home with me! We all hate folding laundry in my house.

After about an hour and a half it was time to leave. We said our prolonged goodbyes - saying goodbye always seems to take forever in Libya. Finally we drove off. My mother-in-law had a satisfied look about her. It was like she'd been recharged.

When we got back to her house she asked me, 'How much did you pay for the bucket of cak?' I told her 'Two dinars, Hajja. There's a kilo of cookies in the bucket.' She was amazed. She looked at the cak and at the bucket and said 'Why do people bother to make this at home? The bucket alone costs a dinar and it probably costs more than a dinar to make the cak. Then there is the hassle of having someone take it to the bakery to bake it too.' She was inspecting the cak. They were actually very nice biscuits. They were machine made but the ingredients were the same as homemake cak. 'We're not making these at home anymore, not as long as these are available.' she announced. My mother-in-law's house goes through lots of biscuits and I know that she's always asking her daughters and daughter-in-laws to make them. They'll be able to spend their time doing something else now.

I left Hajja in her kitchen. She was happy and satisfied. It was back home and into the kitchen for me.


  1. What a nice story, and what a surprise appreciation from your mother-in-law....You are a good woman.

  2. ps. do you have a recipe for "cak"

  3. hhmmm.... I haven't made cak in years.... I've forgotten the recipe :)

  4. There is a couple of recipes for Ka'k at

    Happy holidays to all!

  5. What a lovely afternoon. The simple pleasure of visiting a neighbor of an afternoon seems to be so rare these days. We are all so busy. That's a real shame, the world moves too fast.
    I too am interested in the recipe. I visited the site that suliman suggested now I need to know, what is Baker's Ammonia? Is that baking powder or soda or something different yet?

  6. Here is a nice video on
    That may teach how to quickly fold t-shirts .. It' magic ..

  7. typical libyan visit.. hehe.. really cute story!

  8. dear khadisha , i enjoyed ur story for today and i lought about the prololg goodbye , ahh u remind me when i was going with my family to our best friends , when we wanted to go my mom who is frnech and her friend all remember every thing in the door to chat when they were saying good bye , and we waite like forever to finish thier chatting it is funny , i thought it is only us ,,,, but seems every body ....have a nice day ....and enjoy the libyan cookies

  9. chatalaine you can use baking powder.
    Actually there are two types of kak; one is sweet and the other is salty.
    Kaks are used for snacks with tea.

  10. Ch: Baker's ammonia, baking soda and baking powder are all levening agents that produce gas in the dough and ultimately give baked items a flakey texture. But they are different in their chemical composition and in their action.

    Baker's ammonia is ammonium carbonate (NH4CO3), which is not ever to be confused or substituted with "ammonia", the poisonous household cleaning stuff. When it reacts with water it gives off ammonia gas and carbon dioxide. In Libya, baker's ammonia is called "Moniaca," which is a bastardized version of the Italian "Ammoniaca."

    Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It gives off carbon dioxide when it reacts with something acidic. If there is no acidity in the mix, the soda will not react and the baked items will taste bad, sort of like soap. I'd say, never use baking soda.

    Baking powder is soda with acidic and other additives mixed in, so it reacts in the mixing stage (single acting) and possibly during baking (double acting.)

    The link I posted has two recipes for ka'k, one called "Hilu" which literally means sweet. The other is called "Maleh," which literally means salty, but that is not really the intention in this case. Ka'k is not supposed to taste like pretzels. In the Libyan culinary, Maleh can simply mean unsweetened, or not sweet. It is also used to mean the counterpart of sweet, i.e. "savory."

    You can buy baker's ammonia in the US. If you have trouble finding it locally, you can always order it online, from Amazon, for example. Substituting baking powder might work, but that probably requires some experimentation to get the amount right. Give it a try and enjoy!

  11. Ch: Baker's ammonia can usually be found in most Arabic/Middle Eastern grocery stores in the US. Baker's ammonia is used because it keeps the cookies crisp for a long time.



    Tomorrow I am going to be near my Arabic market so I will drop in and get Bakers Ammonia. I think I'll have a bite for lunch while I'm there.

  14. I use baking powder and have all my life. And I never tasted soap! I did try foods with bakers ammonia in them and yes the uncooked dough is dangerous. The bakers ammonia is susposed to make it fluffier. It is found in arabian markets in the usa. The pharmacy in my local stores no longer carry the item, but all my sryian friends said they get bakers ammonia at the markets. Sadly things like this is why we are loosing our old ways. It is easier to just buy it and therefore people begin to stop making it at home. Not like the ladies have anything else to do all day? hehe. Im being sarcastic, I made the cak on libyanna site and it sunk but otherwise it tasted the same. Maybe I didnt do something quite right.


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