How to Make Jibneh (Guest Post by Prince Charming)

Jibneh is the Arabic word for cheese. As many of you know, Charming is a talented and dedicated chef.  He enjoys challenges like trying a new recipe or cooking an unfamiliar vegetable. I've enjoyed the results of his dairy explorations and think it only fair that we share his forays into fromage with you. -GPH

How to Make Jibneh by Prince Charming

I originally started making cheese in Palestine because Cheddar costs a fortune. I did not think that Cheddar would be hard to make,  but that it would simply take a lot of time. I was wrong; it is hard to make. I found out, however that another thing I miss from home (which costs more than it should in America) is very easy to make. Basic white cheese. Also called full cream ricotta. Or queso blanco. Or paneer. Or Farmer’s Cheese, Cottage Cheese. Or, in Palestine, Jibneh.I also started making cheese in Palestine because we moved into an awesome apartment above La Vie Cafe in Ramallah. Our neighbors own the cafe and their love of DIY fit in pretty well with the way my wife and I want to live. It’s inspiring. The fact that they rave about everything I make doesn’t hurt.I wake up early for work, usually around 5am. I like watching the sunrise, and it's a good way to remind myself that I want to skip hangovers when we’re drinking cocktails at the cafe downstairs in the evening. The habit, however, is hard to break on the weekends, and I am usually lucky if I can sleep until 6am. To kill time until Genevieve wakes up I usually do something in the kitchen -- bread or cheese for the most part. Sometimes butter. I have mustard marinating right now too.

Simple White Cheese


A pot, 2 liters of cow milk, lemon juice or white vinegar, salt, cheesecloth. If you don’t have cheesecloth a clean cotton t-shirt or pillowcase cut up into a square will do. If you want to press the cheese, you'll need a carton (such as a cleaned out ice cream carton) with small holes sliced into it for the liquid to drain.
 How to Make Jibneh-001


  • Heat two liters of milk in a pot until it is almost too hot to put you finger in. Don’t let it boil. turn off the heat.
  • Immediately add ¼ cup (125 grams or so) of white vinegar or the juice of half a lemon, mix.
  • Let sit for 20 minutes until the curd and whey have separated (when you see white chunks of cheese floating in yellowish liquid, it is done)
  • Strain this through a cheesecloth. I usually tie this to my kitchen faucet and let it drain overnight, but if you want to eat it immediately just ball the cheese in the cloth and press it until most of the whey is out.
  • Add a couple pinches of salt and mix.
  •  If you want paneer or queso blanco, you can press the cheese slightly using heavy cans or jars set on top of the cheese in a carton. Here is how it looks pressed:
 How to Make Jibneh-002
If you want classic American cottage cheese, mix it with a bit of cream only without pressing. Otherwise, I usually mix it with spices of some kind, cream, and put it through the food processor. It is particularly good mixed with lemon pepper, jalapenos, or zataar (Genevieve's favorite).Alternatively you can add it to pastry,  or you can use it to make lasagna.Serve with olives, olive oil, zataar, or whatever else you want.

Sawtain! (Double Health = Bon Appetit!) *** Al albak (right back atcha -- literally "to your heart") Prince Charming

My Brother's Wedding & Back to Palestine


It's always a challenge getting back to our little slice of heaven in Palestine. Last time my taxi home from the airport broke down, forcing me to hang out on the side of the highway for an hour while a replacement came.

This time, our first flight was late, meaning our entire trip became delayed by almost 24 hours. Then upon our arrival in Tel Aviv, we discovered that the airline lost all three of our checked bags (one was filled with books donated to a local library, but yes, we still traveled with a rather un-minimalist amount of stuff).  After filing an incident baggage, we jumped in the special cab reserved for us (not one in the regular queue, which can only travel within Israel) . After a trip free of engine problems, we finally arrived home.

Home to our garden gate, that is. Morgan, our neighbor, rushed out to meet us at the entrance, explaining that we couldn't go into our house yet and it would be best to wait in the cafe for ten minutes or so.

Apparently, the bees, who live in a hive on the roof, had escaped. A swarm of them was filling the hallway

entrance to our apartment, thereby blocking our entry.  Exhausted from our voyage, we just had to laugh. We waited ten minutes, and then gingerly stepped our way through the remaining cloud of confused, tired bees to our apartment. It was wonderful to be home and great to see Jelly Bean.

The last leg of our USA trip included my brother's beautiful wedding and then a trip to the family cottage at Holden Beach.

I practiced my photography a lot at the wedding, snapping some portraits with Prince Charming's 50mm lens.

NOTE: These photos are in a very small size because the internet is very, very slow right now, which means each photo is taking several minutes to upload. I will wait as long as it takes to upload my favorite photo from the wedding in a larger size, so when you see the bigger photo, you know that's my favorite.

I also handed over the camera for this shot.
Then I stepped back to get the bigger picture, ending with the late, late Chinese lantern send-off attended by partygoers who had more stamina than I.
I took these from the balcony of the B&B on the farm where the wedding and festivities were held.

My Birthday Letter

As a birthday present to myself, I thought I’d write an open letter to the girls of the world. This is inspired by a special CNN did called Girl Rising where anyone could submit an open letter to the girls of the world via their website. That project is now closed, but I continue to be inspired reading letters from the likes of Christiane Amanpour, Queen Rania of Jordan, America Ferrera, Gloria Steinem, and other celebrated women.

Posted here exclusively is my letter:

Dear Girls of the World,

Some of you will eschew the word “feminist” because you believe in equality between the genders. “Feminism” sounds, and is sometimes used contextually, as if it condones world domination by women. A better substitute is the word gylany, which means a society based on equality between the genders.

Most of us do not live in a gylanist society, but we are growing that way and there is much you can do to foster it. Here are twelve of my suggestions for doing so.

  1. Think freely and for yourself; you don’t have to take my suggestions or anyone else’s.
  2. Learn to love reading; continue to read and learn for your whole life.
  3. If you rail against emulating your culture’s female role models or icons, find a new role model or create your own in the powerful realm of your imagination.
  4. Travel. The world is, in general, a less scary place than you may have been raised to believe.
  5. You can do it all, but not at the same time. Commit to a goal, and see it through without distraction. Commitment dispels the confusion you might feel about what you are supposed to do in the world. You cannot make a wrong choice about this.
  6. Seek a variety of friends from backgrounds that are different than yours; talk with friends more often about ideas rather than about other people.
  7. You can live your life the way you so desire it. Don’t let anyone take away the pen that writes your own life story; it is yours alone.
  8. Beware of gurus who tell you the world is black and white, with clear cut rules for right and wrong;  especially beware of anyone touting rules about your sexuality or body.
  9. Exercise; dance; be athletic; learn martial arts or self defense.
  10. Remember that everyone is doing their very best, especially when it doesn't seem like it.
  11. Seek to grow, connect, and contribute; that’s what we are here on this planet to do.
  12. Love without fear, and never be ashamed of who and what you love.


There is No Cure

At my pre-wedding ladies brunch back in May in North Carolina, I was surrounded by loving family, friends, and neighbors. I was touched at how many people came to Lumberton for the wedding - even most of my mom's big family, including her best-friend-sister, my beautiful Aunt Jenny. Aunt Jenny came to the brunch with all the other women, but she looked like she was in pain.She wrinkled her brow as she looked at me and said "you look beautiful, honey." I could see that her eyes were a combination of glassy and glossy from pain and perhaps tears. I asked her if she was okay and she said she wasn't feeling good, that she had a terrible headache.The headaches she experienced that wedding weekend were the first of a series of telling headaches that eventually led to a diagnosis of  stage IV Glioblastoma Multiforme, the most aggressive and malignant type of brain tumor. Currently, there is no cure. Mom and Aunt Jenny (in pink).

This is a "worst nightmare" sort of situation for Aunt Jenny, her husband Ray, her children Charlie, Ethan, Timothy, Grace, and Joe, and all of those who love her.  Yet she and her family are handling it with the knowledge of being loved that is the only way they can find grace for each moment.My mom, Maria Parker, happens to be a world record holding cyclist, and she has a HUGE new goal.She's going to raise one million dollars for brain cancer research. Before you balk, I should tell you that my mom's world records are in ultra-distance cycling. She holds the women's world record for biking the most miles in 24 hours. She does not give up and she has stamina and persistence.
I love my mom so much, and she inspires me with her passion, her warmth, her loud laugh, and her kindness. In addition to being an endurance athlete, she is a counselor and Life Coach.  If you met her, you'd probably tell her all of your problems, she'd give you some down-to-earth advice, and you'd feel totally loved.  She seems to radiate pure love, and as someone who knows her very well, I can tell you that's the real her. It's authentic love all the way down. She's a leader worth following on this long path to raise a million dollars for brain cancer research.

Me and my mom before my wedding.

She's going to raise this money via a very Packing Lust worthy event: a Race Across America. Yes, she's going to cycle across the entire U.S.A. in June 2013. I'm going to crew, so I'll make sure you know all about it as we travel from state to state, following my mom on her bicycle.Remember how I said there's no cure? It's true. Aunt Jenny will leave this life and go on to the next unless God steps in. Another word for God? The best part of you. The Love part. God is Love, and with the love in each of us, we can do this. We can change the outcome for future brain cancer victims by sharing the story of Jenny and Maria, and funding brain cancer research.  If 200,000 people give only $5 each, we'll meet our goal.Would you be willing to give $5 to brain cancer research today?And if you like this challenge, "like" it on Facebook.

With huge warm thanks,


Puppies and Soldiers

They might be able to sling guns and yell at elderly Palestinians all day, but when a puppy this cute was involved, it was a bit of a different story.

I drove up to my building with my new friend Eden last Wednesday night, and there was a tiny, adorable puppy hanging around outside my apartment. It wasn't Jelly, the puppy I previously introduced to you, but another puppy. That's right. After months of seeing zero puppies, two puppies came into my life within eleven days of each other. Naturally we asked around, realized she'd die soon if left alone, and took her in.Unsure whether my new guest was carrying any diseases, I took Friday afternoon to get her to the vet who was visiting the Atarot shelter where we adopted Jelly. The trip required my first experience with walking through Qalandia checkpoint, the area's most infamous checkpoint, and the one with the wall painted with graffiti that is featured in the news when they show the wall separating Israel from Palestine.

Usually I go in a car or taxi, but my taxi didn't have clearance to go through Qalandia. However, I was very motivated because this puppy had cried throughout two nights and I was worried he might be sick.

I waited and waited at the first of several prison-like turnstiles, where they have people walk through one by one, yelling, occasionally, through loudspeakers in Hebrew. I'm was holding the puppy in a box because I was afraid that he would poop or throw up in the taxi. It was cold and rainy, and the atmosphere at the checkpoint was filled with a mixture of fear and boredom. A young well-dressed woman translated for me and to asked the soldiers to open the handicap door so I could go through with my box, which was too big to pass through the turnstile. As she went through the tiny turnstile, which was only meant for one person at a time, an older man tried to squeeze in behind her. He had thick yellow fingernails and was playing with his cell phone, as if oblivious to what he was doing. What he was doing was pressing his body against that of the woman who had helped me. I watched as she turned around and spoke some harsh words in Arabic which had him backing up and apologizing for his obviously feigned non-attention.

Finally after several people who'd arrived after me had passed through the turnstile and a brief interrogation, I got to go through.

"What's in the box?" said the boy soldier, who looked like he was around 17. I opened it, and he said. "You are not allowed to bring dogs with you."

So I hold this tiny puppy...

...up to the glass window where the guardians sit. And you could see the two soldiers' little teenage hearts melting. Their eyes showed that they were calculating whether they could live with themselves if they denied this shivering adorable puppy access to health care. I could tell immediately that the answer for both of them was no. They might be able to sling guns and yell at elderly Palestinians all day, but when a puppy this cute was involved, it was a bit of a different story. Seeing this in their eyes kept me standing there as the seconds ticked by.But rules are rules. "I'm sorry. You can't," said the girl soldier, avoiding eye contact with the puppy, and then being drawn back into eye contact by the puppy's tractor-beam cuteness.

The puppy shivered. The two teenagers tilted their heads, thenconsulted each other quietly. The boy turned to me.

"You can't technically bring a dog with you. But," he smiled, "If the puppy followed you across the border, then why would anyone care?"

I sighed with relief. "Put the puppy on the ground, take your box, and just call to her," he whispered quickly.

After they looked at my passport, I set the puppy down and he pranced right across the border with me.

This is the kind of thing that makes me happy, sad and angry. I'm happy because I had a human-canine moment with the guards. But the other emotions are because this event demonstrates the kind of inconvenience and arbitrariness that most people here experience constantly. The Israeli military is filled with teenagers because it's mandatory to give two years of service at that time. Few volunteer to be in the army. They have to. And they really are young... sometimes they seem like kids. They have dangerous, stressful jobs, and they don't know what they are doing. They really don't. At the vet, the manager said that if you simply have a letter saying, "this dog needs health care at this clinic," they let you bring the dog across without a problem.

The happy ending to this puppy story is that, after he spent some time playing with Jelly…

...we found a home for him. One of Charming's co-workers has a home, yard, and family that is perfect for the little puppy, who we took to calling Newby, and who will soon get an official name from his new family.

Still Deeply in Labneh, I Mean Love

Warning: Cheese Factor High

1341914125I intend to get a little bit cheesy with this post, just to let you know that the romance is still alive out here, just a few days after our three month wedding anniversary.

Photo proof is a must, of course.

To the left is one of the gorgeous meals Charming put together on a recent low-key night in.

The white cheese slices are labneh, which we eat almost constantly. Labneh is a Middle Eastern cheese product so ubiquitous and so varied in its forms (yogurt labneh, creamy labneh, firm labneh, labneh with various seasonings) that we even made up a game inserting labneh into movie titles (ie, Rebel Without a Labneh) that was snorting good fun.

Apparently the proof of love is in the cooking. Here's another delectable light dinner Prince Charming prepared:


The fresh produce here this summer is the stuff of legend. As I write this, I am eating a Fuerte avocado that practically peeled itself out of its own skin. The pit smiled at me and jumped into the garbage on it's own. The creamy green meat is packed with flavor and is perfectly ripe.

Even though Charming does most of the cooking, lately I've been reciprocating with my latest obsession: green smoothies.


What have I learned in three months of marriage? Getting married and then moving to a land where neither of your speak the language or know anyone very well is a quick way to learn exactly how each of you respond to stress, loneliness, and a completely new environment. There have been arguments with very fast resolutions, as each of us quickly realize we better be nice to each other since we are each other's only friend here. The low times have been balanced out with the fun we've had together seeing wonderful new sights, eating delicious new food, meeting people together, and many shared frustrations, I mean adventures.

Wedding Bells in Ramallah

Charming's Co-Workers Tie the Knot

I love weddings. And I was so excited because Charming and I were invited to a local one last Sunday (July 1st). The couple were married in the Greek Orthodox church in Ramallah.Look how beautiful they look with their family and friends all around them in the receiving line:

440734_origOoh, look how beautiful the bon bons were. Along with champagne, what  a great reward for sitting through an hour-long church service in a language we don't speak yet (Arabic).
The couple entered the reception hall maybe an hour or more after we got there: 9pm, and dinner had not been served (although we were doing just fine with drinks and appetizers) .Finally the couple begin to process in. And the process involved dancing with swords. Must be a tribal tradition.

The dancing with swords in the entry hall lasted at least twenty minutes, with the crowd sort of slowly summoning the couple into the reception hall.Once inside, the couple were announced and they began their first dance. Not a three minute slow dance, but a long, high energy, shake-your-tail-feathers type of first dance. They just kept dancing and dancing, being joined by the crowd. Actually, I wasn't feeling so well and Prince Charming had an early morning, so we left before the first dance (going on 20 minutes) was over. By then it was around 10pm, and the bridal party showed no signs of taking a break from dancing.

Some of Charming's co-workers were there, and told us about other local weddings. Apparently when it's a Muslim wedding (this was a Christian one) the men and women party separately.

Two days after this wedding, my prince got to attend a Muslim wedding in Gaza. The men got together to drink Coke, and someone announced that the couple was now married and made a little speech. He said it lasted about 15 minutes and he even got a little party favor gift. The women were celebrating in another room. No, the bride was not present at the announcement of her marriage to the men. But the groom did get to attend the ladies celebration.

Rubbery Ice Cream

1339668075This evening before attending a lecture, we went for our first taste of Rukab's ice cream. In this photo I'm trying to demonstrate the rubbery nature of the delicious Mint Chocolate Chip. Wikipedia explains it best: "One hallmark of Ramallah is Rukab's Ice Cream, which is based on the resin of chewing gum and thus has a distinctive taste."

I found the taste to be generally more or less a normal ice cream taste, but the texture was ever so slightly chewier. Interesting. Prince Charming says that it looks like snot in this photo. Don't worry, it tasted much better than that.

More from Wikipedia so you know a little about the scene in Ramallah:

" Ramallah is generally considered the most affluent and cultural, as well as the most liberal, of all Palestinian cities,[50][51] and is home to a number of popular Palestinian activists, poets, artists, and musicians. It boasts a lively nightlife, with many restaurants including the Stars and Bucks Cafe, a branch of the Tche Tche Cafe and the Orjuwan Lounge, described in 2010 as two among the 'dozens of fancy restaurants, bars and discotheques that have cropped up in Ramallah in the last three years.'[36]"

So far I haven't been to any discotheques (ever in my life?!) but I can say the folks here in Ramallah can rightfully boast about the food. It's exceeded my wildest expectations. Huge portions and everything is fresh. They season with a lot of lemon juice and parsley, two of my favorite flavors.



























































Bug Bites and Black Belts: The Little Things Are Big Things

5054374Yesterday was a tough day of little challenges. I couldn't sleep, and in the morning, I was complaining to my prince about the extreme itchiness and discomfort I was experiencing from the bites from whatever tiny creatures inhabit our mattress. Or, I theorized, were the bites from mosquitos? Could he ask the people at the office if they had any advice? He was sipping the morning coffee that I made him in front of an open window, and looking doubtful that among all the saving children, he was going to have time to ask about the possibility of bugs in our mattress. I looked at the open window and got up to slide the screen shut, giving him a "the least you could do is shut the screen to keep the bugs out" look. Then we argued about the insect life in Rammallah, Palestine, vs. Lumberton, NC. He went to work. I cried my eyes out for an hour, loudly, relishing the fact that no one I knew was going to hear me and ask any questions.  I rallied, called him, and resolved our stupid little argument. I found the pain-relieving spray (see photo) that Prince Charming had, of course, thought to pack, covered my skin with it, and slept blissfully for four hours.

Later, doing the dishes, I was scrubbing a hardened flake of oatmeal off a cup. My hand slipped, shunting the sharp shard of oatmeal under my fingernail. A small cut, a small annoyance. But damn it, couldn't something just go right today?When Prince got back from work, I told him that if something big and horrific happened to us, like something like the people back home are afraid will happen to us (crime, terrorism, etc.) we'd get through it. Our "I'm a tough survivor" instinct would kick in. Adrenaline would flow, and we'd roll with the challenges like it was our job. And people would think we were so tough, so heroic.We laughed and laughed about how it's really the little things that are the big things. He reminded my about how he'd stubbed his toe hard a week back, and even though it was just a stubbed toe, damn it, it was sore for days, and he had a lot of walking to do. So long to impressing his new staff with his powerful gait.I was reminded of when I was at a Tae Kwon Do Tournament as a teenager. I had just sparred with a huge, Amazonian warrior black belt with legs twice as long as mine, and a deadly, "I'm from the Bronx and I've killed girls just like you," look in her eyes. (It's my story, I'll embelish a little. Okay?) I was tough. I was brutal. I fought hard. I got kicked in the stomach and the face. I didn't cry. I probably won the match, but the point is that my instructors, my teammates, everyone was telling me I was One Tough Cookie. And let's be honest, I was. There weren't a lot of girls like me in my peer group.But what happened later was that I had to stay  for hours supporting my teammates. I wandered around the tournament, getting increasingly hungry, thirsty, and tired. This was right at the beginning of puberty, and I was just beginning to learn that I had a blood sugar issue and I would feel wonky if I didn't eat every three hours.

I didn't feel hungry, but I felt lost. I began to cry. I wanted to lie down. I remember that my instructor came over to me and said "What's wrong?" I shook my head, saying something like "I don't know, ahhh! I don't know….no snack yet, I lie down here?"

He gave me the most bewildered look, and said something like "You just beat Bronx girl, and now you are crying?"

It was a Little Things are Big Things moment. It's not the big fight that'll get you. It's missing your snack two hours later.

Seventeen Hours, Breast Size, and Marriage

After 17 hours sitting next to my seat mates, I got pretty chummy with Ala and Albert. Chummy enough for Ala to reach over and turn my magazine pages faster than I was turning them so she could see "Who Wore it Best" in Hollywood. Chummy enough for her to comment on the wonderfully perfect size of my breasts, as compared to the fake ones on the model in the magazine. 17 hours will do that to you. After the flight,  a person named Toby with Delta emailed an apology for the problems with the flight.  Toby wrote:

"I can only imagine how disappointed you must have been when our aircraft had to return to the gate multiple times for maintenance reasons. Additionally, we are genuinely apologetic that you arrived at your destination much later than scheduled."

He backed up his sorrow with $100 credit and 7,500 bonus miles. It's cool, Toby, that was just four more hours I got to spend with Ala and Albert. About the age of my own parents, Ala and Albert were an adorable Russian-American (Ohio) couple who'd been married for 32 years. He got less sleep than her because he let her sleep cuddled up on his shoulder or lap for the whole night. He even got up for about an hour so she could sleep on both of their seats. Her knees were hurting her.I asked her what their secret was. She said she picked a good one - a man who is just as wonderful now as  he was the day she married him.

"Even though he's getting a little belly," she said as she patted his tummy affectionately. Albert grinned a tad sheepishly. Ala continued: "It doesn't feel like it's been 32 years. Not at all."