Monday, May 30, 2011


The blog is mostly empty, but the nest is full...

The college students are home for the summer!

...the garden is in bloom, providing a restful haven of inspiration for students trying to finish spring studies...

...the bougainvillea is just beginning to bloom... is the fragrant jasmine...

...the plums are beginning to ripen...

...and the air is full of the melodious songs of blackbirds and the longed-for music of Oldest Daughter's violin.

Sweet summer is just around the corner...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Holiday Fare~Two Recipes

These dishes aren't everyday fare but they are favorites that we enjoy on special occasions. We brought both to Easter lunch with friends last month and both recipes were requested--I didn't forget, but just got a little sidetracked.

This is our favorite salad and on most days the main ingredients can be found in our fridge and pantry; we enjoy living in a land of inexpensive and delicious feta cheese and tomatoes! I posted this recipe a couple years ago but I'm re-posting it as I've made a few corrections/modifications. It is adapted from Women's Weekly Cooking Class, Middle Eastern.

Tomato, Feta, and Green Onion Salad

1 lb. feta cheese (you could use less)
about 6 tomatoes, depending on size
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (or more if you've got a potful in your garden)
about 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
3 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
Coarse sea salt to taste

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, but I've also made this without time to marinade and it is still delicious.
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. Salt to taste.

Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and Glazed Nut Topping

This is a good carrot cake recipe but it is the frosting which makes this cake so delicious. I vividly remember when carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting came into vogue in the 1970s: My mom made one and I found the cream cheese frosting irresistible--so irresistible that I put my finger on the frosted cake for "just a taste" so many times that I created a margin of un-frosted cake around the circumference of the pan. Yes, I was found out. This frosting is even better as it starts with browned butter. Think toffee/cream cheese frosting. I didn't lick the cake this time, but I do confess to eating a few teaspoons from the mixing bowl.

Carrot Cake
Adapted from Sam's Famous Carrot Cake recipe:
3 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup oil
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple w/juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two layer 8 or 9 inch layer cake pans. In a bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a larger bowl or mixer combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar, and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour mixture and mix well. Add carrots and walnuts, whisking/mixing just until blended. Pour into prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and toothpick comes out clean--about 35 minutes (but Tayta's not sure. The original recipe had it one larger pan baking for one hour.) Cool the cakes about 20 minutes on a cooling rack and then remove from the pans.

Brown Butter Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Melt the butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 20-30 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from he bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom. Discard the solids.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Note bene: once when Tayta made this we had to add a little more powdered sugar so that the frosting was firm enough. Make sure your butter is "just firm" all the way through and not liquidy before beating it with the cream cheese.

Nut Topping
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and cook, stirring, until the nuts brown slightly, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet. Arrange in a ring around the frosted cake as shown in the picture above. Credit goes to Tayta for the creation of this beautiful and delicious cake.

The frosting recipe is from the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of Fine Cooking (I was a sucker for those cooking magazines at the grocery store check-out while we were in the States last fall). The topping recipe was adapted from a recipe in the same issue.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills.
When all at once I saw a crowd.
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And winkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company;
I gazed-and gazed-but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought;

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

~William Wordsworth

Alas, no fields of golden daffodils are to be found in Jordan, but "my heart with pleasure fills" when the graceful poppies toss their red-bonnet-ed "heads in sprightly dance."

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Art Show

This year has been an artful adventure for our family as Artist Son has worked his way through the Advanced Placement (AP) Studio Art-Drawing course. I say it has been an adventure for our family (the four of us at home) because although it was Artist Son who spent up to 15 hours a week thinking, composing, sketching and drawing, we the played the role of supportive patrons who had a lot to learn about what it takes to make art.

As the end of the course approached and we realized that Artist Son had produced 24 final drawings, we decided he should put on an art show--with his agreement, of course. Dear Husband rose to the challenge of turning our adjoining sun porch, living room, and family room into an art gallery: furniture was moved, drawings were hung, easels were improvised. Tayta made cakes--four of them, and it was a good thing as many friends showed up to see Artist's Son's work and to encourage and support him.

Artist Son provided helpful Gallery Notes with an brief explanation of each drawing.

We weren't able to hang all the pieces at eye-level, but that didn't stop some of the serious art aficionados from getting close enough to appreciate the detail Artist Son accomplished in his stippled drawing.

I was impressed to see and hear some of the particulars that Artist Son's friends noticed and appreciated in his drawings.

Yesterday Artist Son hit the button and submitted his online digital portfolio and today DHL picked up his five piece quality portfolio which will be delivered to the AP readers in the US. He hopes (okay, okay, mom is hoping more than he is, but...) to post his entire portfolio online in the near future, but short of that I will post my very favorite piece from his portfolio.

I get a little teary when I look at it for any length of time. The piece is titled, "Boredom" and it is one of the pieces that was sent off today in the quality portfolio. It is a self-portrait and the setting is the side yard of our house. The bar he is hanging from used to bear a grape-vine and the trees in the distance are olive trees. A dear friend who has had three teen-age boys also picked this one as her favorite. We should receive this drawing back sometime this summer and Artist Son says I may have it. It will be one of my treasures.