Sunday, July 31, 2011

Down to Size

Today I'm loving the feeling of downsizing but I haven't always felt so cheery about the prospect or the process. For the last six months we have been slowly preparing to move house, and that for the first time in ten years. When we moved to our present house we were making the conscious decision to upsize: homeschooling four growing children who needed places to study, play, practice instruments, entertain friends, etc. And then there was the growing number of books we seemed to be accumulating.

One word to describe the last ten years of our family's life: full. Full days (and nights), full relationships, and, I finally had to admit it this January, full cupboards, wardrobes, drawers, and Rubbermaid tubs. I can empathize with essayist Anne Fadiman's recollection of the their pre-move New York City closets (only we don't have closets, but free standing wardrobes, trunks, and whatever else I can find to store things in) :

"Our (closets) held layers we hadn't seen for years. New Yorkers, lacking attics and basements and garages, treat their closets like trash compactors (or, to put it more charitably like the squeezing machines that turn duck breasts into canard presse')."

At least I can be thankful that I don't have an attic, basement or garage to clean out.

When I first realized the scope of my downsizing task I did a fair amount of whining and moping. How was I expected to live without _____ ?? And, where would I put____ ?? Dear Husband was firm. He drew a floor plan complete with measurements and informed me that if didn't fit, we couldn't take it. Made sense, but I still whined a bit. Tayta, ever the comforter, volunteered to absorb two bookshelves into her bedroom ("I think bookshelves a nice decor item.") and Artist Son agreed to take another. We're still not sure where the ping-pong table will go, but that is Dear Husband's concern.

Today I sold the last two pieces of furniture that we are not taking with us and both were picked up this afternoon.

This large chest freezer was often full during the past ten years. I emptied out before we went to the States last summer and didn't refill it when we returned. So far, so good.

This wooden shelf was a bit of a sentimental piece: though not a carpenter, Dear Husband crafted it for us 23 years ago when we moved to Jordan. Our budget was slim, furniture was expensive, and wood furniture was extremely expensive. Our landlord had an empty room under his building and let Dear Husband set up a little workshop. He made our first bed, too, though that was passed along many years ago. Everything I want to keep on the shelf has to be absorbed someplace else--I'm still working on that.

Only the actual packing remains, but after all the sorting and purging it really doesn't seem so ominous. I laugh at the packing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Wildflowers

Though summer is definitely not prime wildflower spotting season in Jordan, there are a very few summer blooms breaking up the monotonous dusty brown landscapes. Both these wildflowers are found in my west Amman neighborhood, along roadsides, and in fields.

Echinops polyceras

The Caper bush is an interesting and unique Mediterranean plant which I have written about here. Look for them growing through the cracks and crevices of limestone walls and rocks.

Capparis spinosa

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Szechuan Style Noodles with Chicken

If my blog seems to be morphing into a food blog, the preponderance of posts of late being recipes, it is because much of this summer has been about preparing food; kids are home from college, kids college friends are visiting kids home from college, and we're enjoying having friends in for meals and coffees during these summer months when our schedules are accommodating.

Szechuan Style Noodles is a favorite family dish which I made last week for eight. Lauren's friend, Holly, requested this recipe, making it a good candidate for my blog. My recipe is adapted from a recipe shared by friend, Alyse, who credits Helen Chen's Chinese Home Cooking.

This recipe makes a lot but if you're not feeding company, you'll enjoy the leftovers--perfect for lunch. And if you've been reading this blog for awhile you've likely discerned one of my cooking philosophies: Why make a little when you can make a lot?

Szechuan Style Noodles with Chicken
serves 8 hearty appetites


1 1/2 pounds thin spaghetti
3 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in small pieces (see picture)

1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup sesame oil
4 teaspoons grated or finely chopped ginger
2 large cloves garlic (or to taste)
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1/3 cup light soy sauce (not to be confused with light salt soy sauce)
4 teaspoons sugar
red pepper flakes to taste

1 cup thinly sliced green onion
few handfuls of cilantro (unless you are Holly : )
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water just until tender. Drain the noodles, rinsing them with cold water. Drain thoroughly and mix with 3 T. sesame oil; place the noodles on a large platter or in a large bowl--my Italian pasta platter/bowl is perfect for this dish.

Saute the chicken pieces in a little oil with some spices. I gave the chicken a few shakes of a prepared Monterey Chicken spice mixture that I had on hand, but you could also use salt and pepper, a little lemon pepper, etc. Set cooked chicken aside.

Combine the next set of ingredients (tahini through red pepper flakes) in the blender and process until smooth. Pour over the noodles and toss to coat. Arrange chicken on top of the noodles and sprinkle with green onions, cilantro and sesame seeds. Since this is served at room temperature, you still have time to make a side dish:

Carrot Salad with Chinese Dressing:

1 or 1 1/2 pounds of carrots, peeled and grated (I like the coarser grate for this salad)

Dressing: (And most of these ingredients are already on your counter, unless you are a very tidy cook)
5 T rice vinegar
2 T water
1 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1 T sesame oil
1/4-1/2 tsp pepper
1 T sugar
optional: 1-2 T toasted sesame seeds.

Mix dressing ingredients and toss with carrots.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Art Blog

Artist Son, aka Andrew, aka Drew the Artist, is launching an art blog where he plans to share his AP Studio Drawing course experience through words and drawings. If you are interested in that sort of thing you can find him here. I'm opting for the email subscription--available on the right-hand toolbar.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Humble Harvest

Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi' th' sun,
And with him rises weeping; these are flow'rs
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.
Shakespeare, Winter's Tale

I am particularly taken with this humble harvest of hidcote lavender as it is the first harvest of two small bushes I began from seeds a couple springs ago.