Monday, December 28, 2009

When life gives you lemons...

...preserve them. Fresh lemon is one of my favorite cooking and baking ingredients so when I saw mention of preserved lemons in one of my Middle Eastern cookbooks I  knew I needed to try preserving them myself. Preserved lemons are part of the Moroccan culinary tradition, which would technically make them North African rather than Middle Eastern, but their flavor is distinctly Mediterranean. Think lemon olives. After reviewing a few recipes I came up with the recipe below and it worked perfectly.

Preserved Lemons
10 lemons, thin skinned works best
1 1/2 cups rock salt (I use coarse sea salt)
1 litre boiling water
juice of one lemon
8 cardamom pods
a few pieces of cinnamon bark
about 12 peppercorns
2 red chilies
2 bay leaves
olive oil

-Soak the lemons in water for three days, changing the water daily.
- Make deep cuts in the lemons, dividing them into quarters but not separating them completely. You can see how I've cut my lemons (sort of) in the picture above.
-Pack the cut lemons generously with salt and arrange in a glass jar.
-Add the cardamon pods, chilies, and bay leaves. I sliced my red chilies and distributed them around the lemons. These are optional and depending on how large/small and hot your chilies are you may want to use more or less--or none at all. I found other recipes that didn't include cardamom so you could leave that out if you don't have access to it.
-Pour the boiling water, lemon juice, and any extra salt over the prepared lemons Top it off with a thin layer of olive oil. If one liter isn't enough water to cover your lemons, add enough to just cover. If you add much more, add more lemon juice too.
-The lemons will be ready to use after one month.

These are really very easy to make and add a deliciously intense lemon flavor to cooked dishes. I'll soon post our new-favorite-fish recipe which includes preserved lemons, so start a jar of these today. They look very pretty in the kitchen, besides.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Very good news for book lovers in Jordan and beyond

I'm not sure how I, bibliophile, internet purchaser of books extraordinaire, and contriver of plans to get books to Jordan at a reasonable cost, missed this site and their incredible offer:

Free delivery worldwide on all our books

When a friend told me about this site yesterday I thought it couldn't be true, yet I rushed home, checked it out and placed my first order of two books. Even my husband, who sometimes cringes at the amount of books I've accumulated--on behalf of our family, of course--received this news with gladness as the amount of money we've spent on shipping books over the years could probably make a nice down payment on a little house--only a slight exaggeration.

The Book Depository has been in business since 2004 and stocks over two million titles--many of the books I searched for were available, and often at Amazon-comparable prices. And speaking of Amazon, I love, love, love their service and feel slightly guilty at even the thought of diverting my book buying business elsewhere but free delivery is a seriously good offer that I can't pass up when the next cheapest shipping option is $10 a pound--that, or trying to bum a ride for a few books with friends or even friends of friends who are traveling to Jordan.

Seriously good offer, seriously good news.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Longing for Home

Even before reading Oldest Daughter's plaintive and pitiable Facebook status yesterday morning-- "no inclement weather, please. i want to go home."--I had noticed a status trend developing over the past couple of weeks:

I can't wait to go home!
One more final and I'm home
3 more days!

From Odysseus striving towards Ithaca, to the Israelites wandering in exile, to the throngs of college students flooding airports, man longs to return home. Or, like Abram and Aeneas, he searches to find home.

As I reflected on the meaning of home, my thoughts dancing back and forth between the physical and the metaphysical ideas of home, distinct yet intertwined, I considered that the meanings were inseparable . The hope of home is a theme woven throughout the Biblical narrative; it is also one of the sublime themes God writes on the hearts of all men, a theme that is woven into the narratives of our lives. Perhaps this is something of what the author of Ecclesiastes meant when he said that God has put eternity into the heart of man.

But, what is this hope of home, this longing for a place where we will find familiarity, completion, acceptance, rest? G.K. Chesterton says it beautifully in the last stanza of his poem The Christmas House:

To an open house in the evening Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

In his book, Prodigal God, Tim Keller writes about home, "The houses we inhabit are only inns along the way."

Jesus is the homeland, the home, the rest. The Incarnation, God come into his created world makes it possible for us to come home.

A Healthier Artisan Bread

Below is my recent modification of the Artisan Bread recipe and method I wrote about here. Since I've become comfortable with the original recipe I thought it time to do a little experimenting in an effort to produce a healthier loaf of bread. This is what I've come up with so far:

A Healthier Artisan Bread
(following the method here)

3 T sea salt
3 T yeast
5 cups all-purpose flour
6 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup cracked wheat
1/3 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup millet
6 1/2-7 cups warm water

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mint Fudge

Simplicity is a key objective in our Christmas kitchen this year and this recipe for mint fudge, from my dear friend, Linda, is helping us attain that goal while still enjoying some festive and celebratory treats.

~Mint Fudge~
250 g. semi sweet chocolate (1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips is 300 g. so we just used the whole bag)
2/3 can sweetened condensed milk
83 g. white chocolate (1/3 of the amount of semi-sweet chocolate)
1/3 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. mint extract
couple/few drops green food coloring

1. Prepare an 8x8" square pan by lining it with waxed paper.

2. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler (ours, makeshift, is a pyrex bowl resting in a saucepan, but not touching the bottom) and add 2/3 can sweetened condensed milk. Spread this mixture in the prepared pan. Refrigerate while you prepare the mint layer.

3. Melt the white chocolate and add the remaining 1/3 can sweetened condensed milk, mint extract, and food coloring. Spread this mixture over the cooled fudge layer and cool. When cool and firm, cut. Makes 36 pieces.

And if you are fortunate enough to have a baking daughter like Tayta, making this fudge is as simple as saying, "Please."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'll Be Home for Christmas

The House of Christmas

G.K Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

~Let every heart prepare him room~

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


" Little Adele was half wild with delight when she saw me. Mrs. Fairfax received me with her usual plain friendliness. Leah smiled; and even Sophie bid me 'bon soir' with glee. This was very pleasant: there is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort."

~Jane Eyre

Dear Oldest Daughter, how we look forward to your soon-to-be-with-us presence; it will certainly be an addition to our comfort.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Taking a Break

It's been a full semester so far: two high school science classes, a junior high writing class, a high school Great Books class, and college applications and essays for Active Son; we were ready for a break. So, the day after hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for many friends we packed up the car and headed south to rest on the beach for a couple days.

It was still warm enough to do a little snorkeling
(at least for the guys)

Artist Son skipping rocks in the Red Sea


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Turkey once, turkey twice, cooking turkey soup with rice

As our post-Thanksgiving pot of turkey soup simmers on the stove, I'm thinking that I should have posted this favorite recipe before Thanksgiving, giving anyone who doesn't already save their turkey carcass a heads up to do so; though you can make an equally delicious soup using chicken. So beloved is Turkey Carcass Soup-perhaps I should consider modifying the name- at our house, that everyone will willingly give up a round of turkey leftovers if they know that turkey will be used for soup.

This is the most used and best loved recipe from my Jane Broody Good Food Book, which I acquired in the first years of married life. My "adjusted" version:

Turkey Carcass Soup

~A good soup begins with a good stock~

1 large turkey carcass, broken into pieces (today I'm suing two smaller carcasses
water to cover the carcass ( I use 35-40 cups, approximately)
4 onions coarsely chopped
a few ribs of celery with leaves, if available
4 carrots, chopped
1 large turnip, chopped
5 cloves garlic
salt (a put a couple of tablespoons in now but you can add more later when you make the soup.)
4 bay leaves
a handful of fresh parsley (or some dry)
2 tsp dried thyme

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer it for 2 to 3 hours. When stock is ready, strain it--I use a mesh sieve. Remove any remaining turkey from the bones before discarding them.

1 cup minced onion
6 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup butter
6 cups diced carrots
3 cups diced celery
3 cups finely chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup flour
36-42 cups stock
2 Tbsp sage
2 cups brown uncooked brown rice
6 cups diced turkey meat
1/2-2/3 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

(I use my food processor to chop/mince all the vegetables but the celery, which I chop by hand.)

1. In a large stockpot, saute the onion and garlic in butter until soft.
2. Add carrots, celery, and mushrooms; cook the vegetables, stirring them, 3 to 5 minutes longer.
3. Add the flour, and cook the mixture, stirring it, for another minute.
4. Add the stock, sage, and brown rice. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the soup for about an hour.
5. Add the turkey meat, salt and pepper, adjusting seasonings. I sometimes add a few shakes of hot pepper sauce instead of black pepper.
6. Sprinkle the soup with parsley just before serving.

As you can surmise from the quantities of the ingredients, this makes a very large pot of soup. You could halve or even quarter my recipe. Tonight we will enjoy this pot with friends and I will store some in the freezer for our traditional Christmas Eve supper. And, there may still be enough for another meal...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Behold the Lamb of God~A Soundtrack for Advent

Last year I discovered the wonderful Christmas musical/album, Behold the Lamb of God, by Andrew Peterson (I'm pretty sure the hat tip for this discovery goes to Justin Taylor, whose blog provides me with more great resources and links than I could ever exhaust) and I have just begun listening to it again in preparation for the celebration of the advent of Christ. A gifted musician, Peterson is also a gifted theologian, who begins the Wonderful Story as it should begin: in the days of the patriarchs and prophets. He says:

What makes this bunch of songs unique is that I wanted to remind (or teach) the audience that the story of Christmas doesn’t begin with the birth of Jesus. Many people tend to forget or have never even learned that the entire Bible is about Jesus, not just the New Testament.

So the musical begins with Moses and the symbolic story of the Passover (Passover Us) and works its way through the kings and the prophets with their many prophecies about the coming Messiah (So Long, Moses) to the awful four hundred years of silence before God told Mary she’d be having a baby (Deliver Us). After the song called Matthew’s Begats, which lists the genealogy of Jesus, the story picks up in more familiar territory with Mary and Joseph and the actual birth (It Came To Pass, Labor of Love). The final song is called Behold, the Lamb of God, which ties together the Passover and the beauty and scope of the story.

You can listen to samples of the different tracks via the widget above and you can enjoy the third track, So Long Moses, in the YouTube video. And note, the widget links you to the recently released 10th Anniversary album which contains all the recorded tracks and all tracks, live.

***Edit*** You can sample the whole album, with lyrics here
(HT Justin Taylor, of course)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Awesomely Humble

Or is that humbly awesome? This post is dedicated to Active Son and all my senior-in-high-school friends who have labored or continue to labor over their college admission essays, seeking to distinguish themselves from the masses, while remaining winsomely humble--yet confident--in the process. No small feat for a 17 or 18 year old who is still in the process of discovering who they are. Below is a "college entrance essay" which made the email rounds back in the nineties. I enjoyed the authors satire so thoroughly that printed it off and have saved it for the past ten plus years. I dusted it off again a couple of weeks ago for Active Son, yet working on his essays, to enjoy.

It is now, of course, on the internet, with the information that while the author, Hugh Gallagher, was admitted to and graduated from NYU (1994), this was not his college entrance essay, but rather an essay he submitted to a writing contest in 1990. It won first prize in the humor category. And, the author is now a free-lance writer--no surprises there.

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently.

Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400.

My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA.

I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid.

On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prize-winning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin.

I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.

I think he gets it just right.