Sunday, September 23, 2007

Summer Softball Redux

Though we've now moved on to fall soccer, fond memories of summer softball were rekindled by my good friend's article which appeared in the lastest issue of the English language magazine Luxury. The first part of the article will give you a good idea of how the softball league came about and why my guys value and enjoy their participation in it. I'll intersperse a few pictures I took for the article.

"Ramadan is a time for remembering those less fortunate, identifying with their poverty and their pain. But a diverse and creative group of Jordanians and expatriates have found a way to make the generous giving of zakat a ball."

"The Amman Softball League (ASL), a league for adults held by the Amman Little League Association (ALLA), has been partnering with a Jordanian charity called Gift of Life Amman (GOLA) to raise money to provide underprivileged Jordanian and Iraqi children with life-saving heart surgery. In just over a year's time, GOLA has helped save the lives of 14 children.

Since its first season in 2005, ASL has raised more than JD 10,000 for ALLA and GOLA. Hemude Sartawi, Softball Coordinator for the past three seasons said, 'We wanted to find a worthy cause to support, and who can say no to dying babies? We hope that those we help today will grow up healthy and will themselves become volunteers someday.'

In a perfect blend of synergy and serendipity, the first Softball Coordinator, Brent Faulkner, was a police trainer with the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC). One of the Jordanian employees had a baby boy, Adam, who need prohibitively expensive heart surgery. Through several fund-raising events, including the Winter 2007 ASL season, Adam's surgery costs were covered and a new passion for helping at-risk babies was born in the hearts of softball players. Nearly two years prior to that, it was JIPTC, by fielding two of the original six ASL teams, which ensured the successful launching of the league.

Some may be surprised that the favorite sport of rural mid-America is actively growing in Jordan. 'It all started in these bleachers,' explained Hemude, 'when my wife Brooke and I were coaching a little league (baseball) team and talking to Brent, who also coached. We were thinking, why do the kids get to have all the fun?....Within a couple of weeks, Brent had everything set and had signed up six teams and over 100 players. It was a huge success.'

Why softball when football (soccer) is obviously the number one sport of choice in Jordan? Tom Manning, coach of the Eagles team and current ALLA Baseball Commissioner weighs in. 'Softball provides a strong sense of community, said Tom. 'Amman , with its fast growth, really lacks gathering places for community to be built, especially recreational places. Softball also levels the playing field, where people of different ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds--even some with polarized political ideologies--can build in-depth relationships.'

...As further evidence of the popularity of softball in Jordan, barely 10% of the inaugural season's players were locals. Two years later, the league continues to grow and now boasts a Jordanian majority.

...In the spirit of year-round 'zakat (alms giving) of the heart,' Amman Softball isn't just about fun and games. It's also about individual investment in bringing growth and progress to Jordan, from a small baby with heart disease to anywhere else help is needed."

And now, just one month into the soccer season, dear husband has confirmed rumors of the inception of yet another league: winter baseball. Given that they play on dirt/clay fields, I can hardly wait to see the laundry generated by those games. Let's just say I only buy black sports socks for the males in my family.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Miss Potter....and friends

You won't find many movie reviews on this blog for the simple reason that I do not care much for movie watching--one of my biggest shortcomings, according to my dear children. And the movies I do watch are almost never of the cutting edge, just released variety. (My 15yo son cringed when he saw that I had begun a blog post inspired by my recent viewing of Miss Potter so I'm going to out him here: he watched it with me.)

As one who has long loved the writings and illustrations of Beatrix Potter, I was biased to like this film and I was not disappointed. The cast of characters, featuring Renee Zwelleger as Miss Potter and Ewan McGregor as Norman Warne, were wonderfully cast and charmingly portrayed. The story of Beatrix Potter's life is a warm, enchanting tale, though not without the taint of pain and sadness. And though I am quite a sop when it comes to watching movies, I didn't cry...until the credits began to roll at the end. My family looked at me in bewilderment so I tried to explain: Memories of all the hours I had spent enjoying The Tale of Peter Rabbit and all his woodland cohorts with my dear children had come flooding back to me.

Which makes me realize this post really isn't a review of the film Miss Potter, but rather a reminiscence of the beauty of her writing and illustrations, particularly as I enjoyed them with my dear children when they were young.

A biographer of scholar C.S. Lewis writes of how the transcendent beauty of Potter's illustrations, particularly in the work of Squirrel Nutkin was a formative influence in Lewis's life, one which sparked in him the feeling of desire. While I can't recall such a specific defining impact in my own life I do remember being drawn to the design of the small slate colored books and to the magical stories and beautiful watercolor illustrations they contained. Simply. Beautiful. And, Potter's lovely British turns of phrase was and is music to my ears.

When I was a young adult my interest in Potter's children stories was renewed when I purchased two binding-damaged collections of her works from the campus bookstore where I worked. I didn't have spare cash for much of anything in those days but I bought these two books and taped up the bindings. These are the books which I read to my children and which l sit on our bookshelf still, taped bindings intact.

To further indulge my love of Peter and his friends, I decorated my first-born's nursery with a Peter Rabbit and friends theme, complete with a large cross-stitched quilt (still hanging). We've a Beatrix Potter music box, cups, and dishes besides.

After I had explained to my family what memories had brought forth the tears my 15yo son remarked with a grin, "Now Mom is going to get out all the Beatrix Potter books and read them to us at lunch time." Well, what a good idea! It is said a really good children's story is one that can be enjoyed by adults as well as children, and the tales of Beatrix Potter fit that bill as far as I'm concerned. Why it wasn't until I was an adult that had the joy of laughing at the antics Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca when Tom Thumb tried to carve a plaster ham, or the silliness of Jemima Puddle Duck when she let a foxy gentleman help her find a place to hatch her eggs, or the predicament of Tom Kitten when he nearly ended up as the middle of a pudding, or ... And who can drink a cup of chamomile tea without thinking of Peter Rabbit's mischief and subsequent illness for which he was sent to bed without the bread and milk and blackberries which Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail enjoyed.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

When it's too hot to turn on the oven

As this dear friend had to await the return of her writing muse, so I feel as if I have been awaiting the return of my cooking muse. (Yes, I know there is no mythological cooking muse, but I've never had a writing muse, so I thought, "why not a cooking muse?") The temperatures have been so high for the past few weeks that I've turned on my oven hardly at all--baking daughter has taken to checking the extended forecast on the internet so that she may request permission to bake cookies--and the times I have turned it on, I've regretted it. Limited stovetop cooking and creative energies directed towards beginning the new school year have taken their toll on my culinary offerings.

This afternoon, faced with a neglected pantry and just one hour to prepare dinner, I resorted to what almost never works: I picked up a large cookbook that I've been wanting to cook from and looked for a new recipe to try. Amazingly, I found one! I was lacking a few essential fresh vegetables to I headed to the local vegetable stand, which had everything on my list. So, I give you this recipe, acclaimed by all in this household and prepared in one hour, from searching the cookbook to table, including the trip to the vegetable stand.

My inspiration, though not my law:

Cilantro Rice with Chicken
from The Best of Cooking Light with some variations on the main theme

2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups quartered shitake mushroom caps ( I could only find white mushrooms and not quite 2 cups at that. Also I'd recommend cutting them smaller than quarters unless your children have mature tastes and like chunks of mushrooms in their food.)
1/3 cup chopped green onion bottoms
1 (1/2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed (I used three and chopped them finely)
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice (I used 2 1/2 cups basmati)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
About 1 3/4 pounds (just under a kilo) of boneless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cups chicken broth (I used 3 3/4 since I slightly increased the rice)

2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped green onion tops
1-2 teaspoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt (or less if your broth is salted)
1 garlic clove, peeled

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (I used small grape tomatoes and threw them in whole)
2 tablespoons chopped green onion tops

Optional extra addition:
2 cans of drained chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, which my mom called them when I was growing up)

Note: I've changed this from a bake-in-the-oven to a stovetop recipe.

1. To prepare rice, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy bottom pan. Add mushrooms, green onion bottoms, ginger piece, and chopped garlic, and cook 5 minutes stirring frequently. Stir in rice, cumin, and chicken. Cook a couple minutes more. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Let simmer on very low heat until the rice is cooked, about 20. Add drained chickpeas and let sit an additional 10 minutes..

2. To prepare sauce, place cilantro leaves and the next five ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Stir into rice mixture. Discard ginger piece.

3. To prepare the topping, toss the olive oil with the tomatoes and chopped green onion tops. Place the rice mixture in a large bowl, and spoon the tomato topping over the rice. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Desired condiment as suggested by my family:

Yogurt and Cucumber Salad
( I didn't make this tonight but instead served plain yogurt)

~ an approximate recipe~

about five or six cups of plain yogurt
several cucumbers, peeled, seeded (if necessary), and finely chopped
salt to taste
chopped mint, fresh or dry, to taste
1 cloves chopped garlic

Mix all ingredients together.