Monday, June 30, 2008

A Middle Eastern/North African Meal

One of the things we enjoy when we are back in the States is preparing a Middle Eastern meal for family and friends. This week, I, with the help of my children, dear mother, and a few other friends, prepared and served a lunch for about 120 people. We prepared the main dish on one afternoon, the couscous another morning, and the salad was put together just before the lunch.

This year I chose some recipes which were more North African (Tunisia, Morocco) in origin, though the ingredients and flavors are found throughout the Middle East. All three recipes were inspired from those found in the Australian Women's Weekly Middle Eastern Cooking Class.

Women's Weekly Middle Eastern Cooking School Class

For the main dish we served Chicken Tagine with Dates and Honey. Tagines are slow cooked stews of North African origin, traditional cooked in special clay pots. Ours was cooked in stainless steel pots on electric burners.

Chicken Tagine with Dates and Honey

2 lbs chicken breasts cut in to strips or chunks
2 tablesppons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1/2 cup seedless dates, halved
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup blanched almonds, toasted
2 chopped fresh coriander leaves

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a pan, add chicken and cook, stirring, until browned. Remove from pan.
2. Heat remaining oil in the same pan, add onions and garlic. When onions are nearly soft, add all the spices and continue cooking, stirring, until onions are soft.
3. Return chicken to pan with stock and water and simmer covered for one hour. Remove lid and simmer for about 30 minutes or until mixture is thickened slightly and chicken is tender.
4. Stir in dates, honey, and nuts. Sprinkle with fresh coriander (cilantro).

Serves 4-6

The chicken tagine was served with couscous:

Almond Coriander (Cilantro) Couscous

3 cups couscous
3 (or 4) cups boiling water---or better, us the quantities of couscous and water as directed on the package of couscous. I usually decrease the water a bit so that the couscous isn't too wet.
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves

1. Heat water (I add a tablespoon of olive oil) to boiling. Take water off the heat, add couscous, and let sit for about 5 minutes, covered, or until the water is absorbed. Fluff couscous with a fork.
2. Heat oil in a large pan, add garlic and onions, cook, stirring, until onions are soft. Add the onion mixture to the couscous.
3. Stir nuts and coriander into the couscous mixture.

And, the salad:

Tomato, Feta, and Green Onion Salad

1 lb. feta cheese
4 medium onions
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3-4 green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
3 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

1. Cut tomatoes into wedges, remove seeds, and chop tomatoes finely.
2. Whisk oil and juice in small bowl until combined; add onions and mint. Mix well.
3. Combine the mint mixture with the tomatoes and let marinate for about 1 hour.
4. Crumble the cheese in (about) 1/2 inch chunks on a plate or platter.
5. Spoon tomato mixture over the crumbled cheese and sprinkle with the toasted walnuts and sesame seeds.

Confession: If I were serve this meal to Middle Eastern friends it would be considered a light meal. Besides the three dishes above I would need to serve at least one other main dish, at least one more salad, olives, and flat bread. And even then, this amount of food would be acceptable only because I am a foreigner.

Sahtayn! (Double your health)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Linguistic Irony

It strikes me as ironic, in this age of linguistic fluidity and relativity, the reply I am receiving from the younger generation in response to my inquiries:


Monday, June 16, 2008

"Mom, You're such a geek."

I received this comment from Artist Son with a smile as it was given with a smile and was not at all pejorative in nature. Truly, I had just enjoyed an afternoon of unadulterated geekiness (except for the M&M's); while the fam headed to the local pool to cool off in the scorching Arizona heat, I stayed at home, afraid to subject my finally subsiding major-allergic-reaction-to-who-knows-what-hives to sun and chlorine, to read philosophy, ponder, and write book notes. At my disciplined best, I try to summarize each chapter I read, but I am not often at my disciplined best. My usual MO is to underline, star and bracket (pencil only) and then, when time allows, to write or type up my 'book notes', adding some summary on the fly where I can.

School's out and I've just begun three books that have been on my shelves for some time. As I prepare to dive into a study of Ancient Literature for our Great Books Course next fall (second time)it think these books will help prepare me, as a tutor to guide my students, Active Son and Artist Son:

The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton

A wonderful book, so far, by the late classicist, Edith Hamilton, explaining the Greek mind and the it's impact on and contribution to Western Civilization. I read the first several chapters of this book on our international flight but left it on our domestic connection--thankfully, Delta has retreived it and it is waiting for me at the baggage claim.

Six Great Ideas, Mortimer J. Adler

I'm about a third of the way through Alder's primer on philosophy and his discussion of the six great ideas of truth, goodness, beauty, and liberty, equality, and justice, which the ancients gave such particular and in depth attention to is sparking lots of teaching ideas for next fall. For some years I have felt that philosophy is the subject or, better, way of thinking, which is sorely absent from education. I am in full agreement with Alder that philosophy is everybody's business:

"It cannot be too often repeated that philosophy is everybody's business. To be a human being is to be endowed with the proclivity to philosophize. "

"It is also necessary to understand why this is so and what philosophy's business is. The answer in a word, is ideas. In two words, it is great ideas..."


Chesterton presents his essays on orthodoxy as autobiographical however he "will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me." I'm not completely sure how this one is going to dovetail with the other two, but after just two chapters, I'm pretty confident it will.

One thought I'm pondering, particularly as we re-enter American culture:

..But nearly all people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Tomorrow morning we leave for the States where we will spend the next couple of months plus connecting with family and friends, 'taking care of business', and taking Oldest Daughter to college. I thought I had preparations pretty well in hand but I was thrown a bit off balance by family illness: Active Son has a tiring cold virus and Tayta was sick to her stomach four times throughout the night. She seems to have stabilized but I put her to bed tonight with a "jiggly" stomach and a fever. As for me, I thought I was handling things pretty well and wasn't feeling too stressed, but apparently, not: this morning I began breaking out in hives. First my face and then my torso. Most annoying, but at least I have been able to carry on.

A special thanks to Dr. Angie who gave Oldest Daughter her two necessary vaccinations this morning, prescribed something for me and gave me advice regarding Tayta.

We'll arrive in Arizona tomorrow night, and then move on to Idaho on the 17th, so probably no blogging until I resurface in Boise.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Violin Adventure

Caveat: A long story

With all the relief which came with Oldest Daughter's acceptance into music school, we soon began to consider the inevitable issue which we had conveniently and, perhaps, necessarily, put out of our minds: Oldest Daughter would soon need a new violin. There is no question why I didn't enjoy dwelling on this not yet urgent but impending need: 1. It could and probably would be costly. I really didn't want to think about how much it could be but I knew the possibilities and they weren't encouraging. 2. Even if we could afford it, finding a suitable instrument could entail a lot of searching, shipping of violins cross country, etc. One cello mom informed me that it took over a year to find their daughter's last instrument. Oldest Daughter didn't nag or despair but when she mentioned her need and uncertainty I admitted the challenges and encouraged her to pray.

God, in his Goodness, provided.

About three weeks ago Oldest Daughter's violin teacher received a call from his rising-star-violinist-son who studies in Germany. The violinist-son was performing in Spain and knew a Hungarian man who was selling several violins to raise cash. Violinist-son had played a couple of concerts on one of the violins, French-made, which the Hungarian was selling and called his father in Jordan to sing its praises--and to tell him that the violin was valued at at least twice the selling price. In other words, an exceptional instrument which violinist-son wanted to purchase himself but couldn't, for sale at a price far under its value. If Oldest Daughter wanted it, she would have the first option to purchase it.

Now, I am not very experienced in the realm of violin purchasing, however I do know that it is pretty much unheard of for a musician of Oldest Daughter's caliber to purchase an instrument sight unseen and, more importantly, sound unheard. It's just not done. However, we trusted violinist-son implicitly. We agreed to purchase the violin. But how to get the violin from Spain to Jordan?

The first step was easy. Violinist-son brought the violin back home to Germany; however, he was soon leaving for a European tour and couldn't help any further. Shipping really wasn't an option, even with insurance, as there was no telling what would happen once the violin arrived in Jordan. Customs would likely be high and it could be a major hassle to get it out. The violin needed to be hand- carried from Germany, and, before we traveled to the States on June 12.

Next, I sent an email to many friends in Jordan, hoping that someone knew someone traveling through the Frankfurt airport on their way to Amman. On friend wrote back suggesting I call another friend whom I had neglected to include in the group email. I called the second friend, who at first thought said he didn't know of anyone coming this way, but on second thought remembered a friend who would soon be traveling to Jordan on business. I contacted this German businessman via email and he graciously replied that he would be glad to help out by carrying the violin to Jordan--we just needed to get it to him at the Frankfurt airport before departure. The violin was several hours away by train, in Duisdorf, near Cologne.

The next email went to a dear German friend who lived in Jordan for five years and is now living very near the Frankfurt airport. She was thrilled to be included in what was now becoming known as the "violin adventure" and graciously agreed to help however she could. When I told her our dilemma concerning the present location of the violin she wrote back that her sister-in-law, who lives in Duisdorf, was planning to come to Frankfurt that weekend!

So, violinist-son's sister, a harpist also studying in Germany, delivered the violin to my friend's sister-in-law. A few days later my friend came into possession of the precious instrument, which she, in turn, delivered to the German businessman at the Frankfurt airport (I has hoping they wouldn't ask any of those security questions, like "did someone you don't know give you something to take on this flight."). At about 8pm last night we received a call from the German businessman informing us that he had arrived and that we could meet him at his hotel to pick up the violin.

Dear Husband and I drove to the hotel and while he parked the car I waited in the lobby, watching for someone carrying a violin case. Within a couple of minutes, in strode a German couple, carrying hand luggage and a violin case; I approached them and introduced myself. The German businessman told me that he had actually decided not to make this particular trip to Jordan, but had changed his mind shortly before receiving my email--he was sure that God was involved in all the details and was very glad to have helped us. After heartfelt thanks and handshakes, we headed home.

The violin is beautiful and the sound, gorgeous--it produces a much fuller and richer sound than Oldest Daughter's old violin. This evening Oldest Daughter's violin teacher came to inspect and hear the violin and concurred with our conclusion: the violin is perfect for Oldest Daughter. And, she is able to sell her old violin to a fellow violin player here in Jordan, where good instruments are extremely hard to come by.

We are thanking God for this perfect provision. Dear Husband's only lament is that, as Oldest Daughter departs for music school in August, we have only a few short months to enjoy listening to Oldest Daughter practice on this beautiful new instrument.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Violin Recital

As the lone senior in her homeschool senior class, Oldest Daughter decided that she didn't want to have a traditional graduation ceremony--too much pomp and circumstance focused on just one person, she felt. Instead, she decided to invite all her friends to a senior violin recital, her last before leaving Jordan. She and her teacher planned a delightful program:

J.S. Bach~ Sonata 1 for Solo Violin, Adagio and Presto
J.S. Bach~Double Violin Concerto, 1st movement
(played with her teacher)
E. Lalo~Symphonie Espanole, IV movement
Jean Sibelius~Violin Concerto, Allegro moderato
J. Massenet~ 'Meditation'
Peter Tchaikovsky~'Russian Dance' from the ballet Swan Lake
Rimsky-Korsakoff~'Arabian Song' from Scheherazade
Arr. Fritz Kreisler
Pablo de Sarasate~Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs)

Oldest daughter included this Note to the Audience:

Ever since I was a little girl, I have wished I could sing. I can sing, but I can't 'sing'. Instead, at the age of six, I embarked on a journey which is by no means over. I started taking violin lessons. Throughout the years I've found that the violin, the only instrument which can imitate the sound of a woman's voice, can not only sing, it can laugh and cry, dance and sleep, meditate and pray, speak and whisper, explode in fits of emotion and bursts of passion. It can allow you to hear what it is to be joyful, what it is to love, and what it is to mourn.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, believed that the beauty we sense is merely an imitation of a higher, more perfect immaterial beauty. It is a shadow of true Beauty, which comes only from God, Himself. I hope that I can help you see things with your soul as well as your eyes. Close your eyes if it will help you see the music, and let the music show itself to you. Music is not a common thing; it is a rare treasure. Please enjoy my humble efforts to present a bit of what I've discovered along my journey. Thank God for the beautiful gift of music he's given us, and for allowing us to enjoy it.

It was truly a grand evening, with many friends gathered to celebrate with Oldest Daughter and to enjoy the beautiful music which she shared with us all.

Though difficult to choose which pieces to post here, I've decided on Gypsy Airs and Russian Dance. However, Lalo and the Bach Sonata are lovely too. And, if you've a little time, you'll want to listen to Sibelius--very dramatic and I had to upload it in two clips as it is about 13 minutes long. This was Oldest Daughter's audition concerto movement--though she played only about the first 3-5 minutes of it for most auditions. All nine videos can be accessed via my YouTube page.

Russian Dance, Peter Tchaikovsky

Gypsy Airs, Pablo de Sarasate