No Place Like Home – Tucson

It has been a long time since my last post so I thought it only fitting to revive the blog with a post about my last trip home to Tucson. Also, speaking of home, great timing to mention that this is the same week we welcomed a new Abyad into the world, Justus Jeffrey Abyad. I am now an uncle for the 6th time and enjoying it. 🙂

Tucson ShotOne of my favorite food activities when staying with family is breakfast. When done Middle Eastern style, it will usually consist of a bunch of little dishes including a lot of cheese, bread, eggs, falafel, fruit, more cheese, and sometimes “ful” (an Arabic dish that is basically fava beans). And possibly my favorite cheese ever is Armenian string cheese. We grew up eating this constantly, also good toasted and melted on pita bread.

String CheeseHere is the ful, awesome with fresh tomato and onion.

FulJust to prep you, the food in this post will be really diverse but it is a typical showing of what is eaten when I go home. 🙂

Anytime I am home in Tucson, a large chunk of my time is spent with my Vietnamese family. This last trip, I got a chance to hang out with one my best friends growing up (Trung), and his girlfriend Paulina. Paulina very lovingly made us some homemade Pho which was awesome. I wanted to take a picture of them but they weren’t being so cooperative so I’ll just have to find one of Trung in Vietnam, drinking from a cup with his name!Trung and CoffeeHere are the Pho and condiments… done the right way with fresh meat and ingredients.

IMG_6768 PhoFortunately this trip was also the week of Thanksgiving so we spent Thanksgiving at my Uncle and Aunt’s house in Phoenix allowing for another Middle Eastern Thanksgiving experience which I can share with you here…

The TableAnd just to get closer…

BOOM tabouleh…

TabboulehBOOM green bean casserole…

green beansBOOM sweet potato casserole…

sweet potato casseroleBOOM kibbeh…

kibbehand finally grapeleaves…

grapeleavesAnd so you can have a view of the plate…

PlateSo Happy Thanksgiving a little late. And this last segment of going home was our visit to Old Tucson Studios, which every child in Tucson loves. It is an actual film studio that has been filming since 1939, filming movies like Tombstone and The Three Amigos!

Old TucsonCheck out the excitement on this child (Bethany); the excitement I also shared when driving/riding in these cars…

bethan in old tucsonFood wise, we had a pretty great experience here as well. There was an open grill with lots of good stuff including the infamous Sonoran Hot Dog which I love and can only get, legitimately, in Tucson.

Sonoran Dog SignSonoran DogWith some nachos…

NachosHere are some grill shots…

Flame broiled IMG_6916Cooked CornSo there’s a rundown if what just 3 days may look like in Tucson, always a good food experience. 🙂 How can you turn this down?





Christmas Dinner GRAPELEAVES Style

My favorite food, right here… Mahshi (in Arabic), stuffed grapeleaves and squash/zucchini, sometimes tomatoes and eggplant. I don’t know what it is about it but it is all so good, especially when smothered in yogurt.

So whenever I am around my mom, this is the dish I request! My mom is from New York but learned how to cook Middle Eastern food from one of the best cooks, my grandma; in this was birthed my great love for food! 🙂

My family is in DC visiting for some Christmas time fun so I requested they come stay at my house for one night to meet my DC family as well as experience at least one night in the city since they’re mostly staying out in VA with my brother. Fortunately, Larry and Michelle, the DC part of the family, share my love for food and Michelle requested to make the grapeleaves with my mom so there was a small training session.

Mom Prepping

So as you can see in the bowl, you start with making the filling. We used ground beef (lamb can also be used) and then mix it in the bowl with the rice and other good stuff such as olive oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and more! To get a more specific recipe, I’ll have to ask my mom to write it down…

Rice and Meat


And then you can add some of the inside of the carved out tomato…

Tomato Inners

So after you mash up this filling, you can now stuff your grapeleaves, squash, zucchini, tomato, eggplant, coconut (joking). But hey, whatever you want.

Here is our family relied-upon brand:

Orlando Brand

Found at your local Middle Eastern grocery! Which by the way, is kind of hard to find in DC. I would have thought there would have been a lot. I only know of one legit Lebanese place in the District, Shemali’s, in Northwest DC, by American U. And the family that owns it is really nice. However, (as everything in DC), it is pricier than usual. In our case, we happened to find a grocery in Vienna/Fairfax that was pretty sizable, Al Nakheel.

So let the wrapping and stuffing begin! My dad cut the stems and my Mom and Michelle began to wrap/stuff.

Raw GrapeleavesMom wrapping Dad Cutting Michelle wrappingAnd then you come out with this before it goes into the pressure cooker…

Plate of Stuffed Wrapped stuff

You then stack it with garlic and other goodness in this contraption:

Pressure Cooker

Aaand voila… you come out with this tasty goodness:

Plate of cooked grape leaves Side view of plateAnd my sister contributed the dish, from my amazing Armenian Grandma, Salad-Rus (Russian Salad). My sister made one of the best ones I’ve had and she said she just winged it basically… so I’m glad to say it is in the blood!

Salad-RusOh so I guess that may look weird to some; it is just a egg/potato salad combined. It is really good and very satisfying!

And then Michelle also provided some good sides: Tabouleh (store bought, no time to make fresh but really good none the less), prosciutto with crackers and some kind of delicious muffaletta spread.

Tabouleh Crackers and Prosciutto

Oh and add some chicken to that,


And like any other Arab meal, good food is no good without a great family to share it with!

Jenn Mom and Annabelle