The Sartain family in Paris visiting the Eiffel Tower. From left: Mike, Hannah, Tracy and Nathan.
The Sartain family in Paris visiting the Eiffel Tower. From left: Mike, Hannah, Tracy and Nathan.
Monday, May 23, 2011

It may be 10 a.m. in Iowa, but Tracy (Wiederin) Sartain and her family are sitting down to dinner in a Middle Eastern desert over 7,000 miles away.

Tracy, a 1992 Carroll High graduate, husband, Mike, and their children, Hannah, 4, and Nathan, 3, have been living in Doha, Qatar, since June of 2010. The Sartain family left their home in Blue Springs, Mo., for this capital city bordered by the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Mike, a Structural Engineer, has been overseeing a large-scale construction project designed and engineered by his firm, Burns & McDonnell, of Kansas City.

This project is a redevelopment in the old “Heart of Doha,” and part of a multi-billion dollar plan to rebuild the city. This particular portion will house a government office, headquarters for the Amiri Guard (equivalent to the United States Secret Service), and the new Qatar National Archives building. The final stage will include spaces for retail, residences, and hotels.

Qatar’s economy is booming.

It is a main producer of oil and natural gas and in 2010 its economy grew by 19 percent, which per capita, is the fastest in the world.

Last spring, Mike came home from work and asked Tracy how she would feel about moving to Doha. Tracy was surprised and first asked, “Where is it?” Since Tracy had never heard of Doha before, Mike was positive Tracy would say, “No way” but instead answered, “I don’t know.”

Tracy researched Doha on her own and surprised Mike by saying, “Why not?” She decided their two children were at an age where the temporary move would not affect them too much and the family moved forward with the move to the Middle East.

Although the family greatly misses their family and friends, neither has regretted their decision. The four of them have been able to experience a new culture, travel the world, and meet wonderful new people from several countries. Mike’s contract is set to expire in September, but Tracy explains the contracts are always extended. The family is anticipating a move back to Missouri in May of 2012.

Since living in Doha for almost a year, one major adjustment for the family has definitely been the food.

Usually Tracy does all the cooking since their villa’s kitchen is very small, but, when it’s time to bake cookies, Hannah and Nathan are always ready to help their mom in the kitchen.

While in Doha the family has been introduced to a myriad of new foods. Tracy has tried to embrace Middle Eastern food, but she admits she still isn’t a big fan of some Middle Eastern food and spices. Although she did surprise herself and found she loves baba ghannouj, an eggplant dip at a Turkish restaurant.

Mike has a very adventurous palate and will try almost anything, including Korean octopus and a pig’s foot in a Parisian restaurant. During their travels and time in Doha, the family has tried several exotic foods although camel is not one of them. Camel is offered on Qatari menus, but neither Mike nor Tracy has enough “guts” to try it.

Tracy says she tries her best to make her kids feel at home by searching for familiar foods and cooking the same recipes as always. The city of Doha is 80% Muslim and since Muslims do not believe in eating pork, pork is not available. Tracy and Mike both grew up in the Midwest where pork was always on the menu and now realize how much they miss eating it.

Grocery shopping in Doha is a big challenge, because everything is imported and the cost is triple what is paid in the United States. Also, Tracy can’t find everything she needs in one store. She has to make her grocery list by store and has to visit at least two stores to find all the ingredients she needs. Tracy says marshmallows are hard to locate, so both grandmas have included them in their care packages to the family.

Hannah and Nathan may miss the comforts of home, but they don’t have to go without a Happy Meal. Even McDonald’s is in the desert, along with many other western restaurants, but Tracy says the food still doesn’t taste the same as in the United States.

Mike and Tracy miss many of their favorite eateries in Missouri including P.F. Chang’s, Jimmy John’s, and Chipotle. They will be sure to frequent those places on their trip back home this summer. Since the heat is so intense in the summer, many travel out of the country. The family will make the 17 hour plane ride to visit the Kansas City area in July and will stay in Carroll during the month of August. During their visit to Iowa, Tracy and her family will visit her mother, Teri Dieter, of Jefferson, her father, Bill Wiederin, of Carroll, and her sister, Tina Meiers, and her family, of Carroll.

Most of all, Tracy misses her family and friends. She says she never realized how much support they were to her until the move to Doha. Fortunately Tracy has been able to keep in touch with family and friends back home via email, Skype and Facebook.

Tracy says she also misses greenery. She describes the desert as “so beige.” The family also longs for the change of seasons. Tracy says Doha winters are wonderful, but the summers are unimaginable. Tracy says the heat is unbearable and the evenings do not cool down as one would think. From May to September, the temperature is over 100 degrees. The family can’t even go outside when the temperature climbs to 120 degrees.

Another adjustment has been the clothing and driving. Qatari women wear abayas, a robe-like dress. Women of other cultures are asked to cover their elbows, shoulders and knees out of respect. Tracy says it’s hard not to want to wear a tank top and shorts when it’s hot outside. Tracy says it’s also hard to keep her cool while driving in Doha. Locals can be extremely impatient, aggressive drivers, but it’s against the law to show any type of disrespect or road rage towards a Qatari.

One of the big perks of living in Doha is having the opportunity to travel to exciting places including Sri Lanka, Paris, Rome, Austria, Germany, Oman, and Dubai. Tracy is amazed at the sights she’s seen while traveling.

She shares, “We have seen things that I remember learning in history class with Mr. (Ted) Edwards at Carroll High that I would have never thought I would see.”

She can’t believe she’s had the chance to visit the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower, The Cathedral of Notre Dame, and Saint Peter’s Square. The family still has many more places they’d love to see including the Maldives, Africa, and Ireland. Tracy is also hoping for a Mediterranean cruise to Greece before their move back home next year.

When the family returns from their visit to the States, they will travel once again. The family’s next adventure will include Budapest, Hungary, and Croatia. August is the holy month of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting from dawn to sunset. Even “expats” (short for expatriate, someone living in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing) are not allowed to eat, drink, or even chew gum in public.

Despite the cultural differences, Mike and Tracy’s children have adjusted well to their new surroundings. Many of Hannah and Nathan’s toys and belongings were shipped to Doha to make it feel like home, but not much else has been done because the Mike and Tracy want their children to embrace Middle Eastern culture.

Hannah, 4, attends a British school, which runs from 7 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. because of the afternoon heat. Hannah’s class is very diverse, but she is the only American in her classroom. Her classmates hail from all over the world. Tracy says it’s amazing to walk into the classroom and hear them all speaking English, the common language of the school, but once the students walk out the door, they immediately begin speaking in their native language to their parents. Tracy estimates most of the children at Hannah’s school speak two to three different languages.

Tracy has been lucky to connect with a group of women in Doha through her MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group and has formed bonds with other mothers. Tracy describes them as “an amazing group of women” that have been a blessing to her. She says it is refreshing change of pace to get together for coffee or playgroups. The playgroups are held in a Christian church, but in a villa with all the windows covered. Tracy explains while the presence of Christianity is accepted, it is wise not to be open about it.

Tracy describes their new life in the Middle East as “a new adventure every day.” The family is constantly meeting new people from around the world. They have made friends with people from Germany, Venezuela, the Czech Republic, Romania, Spain, South America, the United Kingdom, Scotland, and Italy. Their new friends are in the same situation as them and have come together to create a temporary community. Tracy says it is wonderful meeting families from other cultures and enjoys getting together for international potlucks.

Hummus Dip
While in Doha, Tracy has learned to make hummus from scratch. Hummus is served at almost all of the local restaurants and served with fresh bread.

2 cans chickpeas
juice of 3 lemons
olive oil

feta cheese
Drain chickpeas but reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid. In a blender add the chickpeas, the liquid, lemon juice and feta cheese. Begin to blend then add olive oil until smooth and creamy. Serve with bread, vegetables or homemade pita chips.

Asiago cheese artichoke dip

Tracy and Mike love to entertain with this dip and it’s quick and simple enough to make for impromptu guests. Serve with crackers or fresh fruit.

1 8 oz package of cream cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

2 Tablespoons half and half

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese

1 can of artichoke hearts drained and chopped

With a mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth then add sour cream, half and half and salt. Stir in cheese and artichoke hearts. Spoon dip into an oven safe dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes (until bubbly).

Mango Chicken

In the Midwest, mangos are fairly expensive, but produce in Doha is less expensive, especially mangos. The family makes this dish often. It’s fresh and perfect for summertime. The mango salsa can also be served with tortilla chips.

chicken breasts

mango vinaigrette salad dressing

Havarti cheese, sliced

Mango Salsa:
2 ripe mangos


red pepper

small orange


1 Tablespoon olive oil

juice of one lime
salt and pepper

First marinate the chicken in the dressing either over night or for at least 2 hours. Next chop and mix the ingredients for the mango salsa and let sit in the fridge for 2 hours. Then bake the chicken at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Finally add a slice of Havarti cheese to the top of each chicken breast, then top with mango salsa and put back in the oven until the cheese is melted. Serve with rice.

Lemon Chicken Braid

The Sartains loves this recipe. Tracy learned it from her MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group back home. She admits it may appear complicated, but it’s easy and delicious.
4 chicken breasts
lemon juice
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 oz softened cream cheese
1 oz. sundried tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 fully thawed puff pastry sheet
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl toss the chicken breasts with lemon juice, salt & pepper and oil. Bake for 20 minutes, cool and then cut into cubes.
Place sundried tomatoes in a small bowl cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 30 seconds. Let stand until sundried tomatoes are plumped & cool, then chop. Increase oven temp to 425 degrees. In a bowl mix together chicken, sundried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, cream cheese and pine nuts. Grease a sheet pan and lay out puff pastry. Spoon chicken mixture down the middle forming a mound. Cut 10 slates into the pastry on each side. Fold pastry over the chicken mixture like a braid. Fold down top and bottom of the pastry to enclose. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

Chicken enchiladas
Tracy’s sister, Tina Meiers, of Carroll, gave her this recipe. Tracy loves making it because it reminds her of Tina. Also Mexican food is very hard to find in the Middle East, so Tracy makes this dish quite often.
1 can cream of chicken soup
16 oz sour cream
1 small can chopped black olives (drained)
1 small can chopped green chilies
2 cups shredded cheese
4 to 5 chicken breasts
Bake chicken breasts then cool and cut into cubes. Mix together the soup, sour cream, black olives and green chilies. Place a small amount of the mixture on the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan. Also reserve a little of the mixture for the topping. Add the chicken to the remainder of the mixture. Fill and roll the tortillas and place in pan. Top with reserved mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Bruschetta Chicken

Italian food is a favorite of the family. When they visited Rome, they fell in love with the food. Tracy likes this dish because it a nice way to incorporate bruschetta into dinner instead of an appetizer.

eggs, slightly beaten
4 chicken breasts 
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon melted butter
Dip chicken in flour then in egg and place in a greased pan. In a small bowl, combine cheese, breadcrumbs and butter and sprinkle over chicken. Loosely cover dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

Bruschetta mixture:
5 tomatoes
sundried tomatoes
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
fresh basil, chopped
Chop tomatoes and sundried tomatoes and place in bowl. Add balsamic vinegar and basil. Refrigerate. Once chicken is done remove foil and spoon bruschetta over chicken and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Spinach and Chicken Alfredo Lasagna

This recipe came from Tracy’s Bunco group. Tracy says playing Bunco keeps moms like her “sane.” Tracy looks forward to this adult time. She likes this dish as it is a nice change to traditional lasagna, but she warns, it is heavy!

4 chicken breasts baked, cooled and cubed
2 8 oz pkgs cream cheese

3/4 cup milk

1 Tablespoon minced onion

1 Tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup shredded Monterrey Jack

10 oz. thawed spinach (drained and squeezed dry)

1 can chopped artichokes (packed in water)
Combine all ingredients (except chicken) in a pot on low and stir until all is melted together.

Alfredo Sauce:

1 pt heavy cream

1 stick margarine

2 Tablespoons cream cheese

Melt together in a sauce pan, then add:

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp garlic powder

Simmer sauce ingredients for 20 minutes on low. Add chicken and Alfredo sauce (or you can use jarred Alfredo sauce) to cream cheese and spinach mixture. Grease a 9x13 pan. Cover bottom of pan with small amount of sauce mixture then place oven-ready lasagna noodles, cover with more sauce mixture, then sprinkle with shredded Mozzarella cheese, (repeat 2 or 3 times and end with Mozzarella cheese). Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, remove foil and bake for additional 15 minutes.

Southern Baked Beans

One of Tracy’s friends shared this recipe with her and she has made it in Doha for a few potlucks with friends. It’s a favorite among the family’s new international friends.
1.5 pounds browned ground beef

1 cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon mustard

3 cans pork-n-beans (Tracy has found similar beans without pork in Doha)

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper

1/4 bottle ketchup 

1/4 bottle BBQ sauce

Mix all together and bake at 350 degrees in a 9x13 pan for 1 hour.

Zucchini Casserole

This casserole is one of the family’s favorite Midwest meals. Tracy says this is a pork dish she really misses.

Saute 1 pkg Jimmy Dean hot sausage.
Drain very well.
In a very large pot add the following:

7 chopped zucchinis

2 cans of mushrooms (drained)

1 can corn

1 can Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies

browned sausage
Season with a little salt and pepper, garlic, and Aunt Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt. Cook on stove until zucchini is tender.