Friday, November 25, 2011

House Tour~ The Salon

Welcome to our "salon", also known as gurfit id'dayuf, or guest room. When we first moved to Jordan 22 years ago, I was put off by the formality of the Arab guest room. Popular furniture sets were in the style of of Louis XVI, with elaborate curlicues and gilding, and entire walls were draped in heavy fabric. One didn't purchase individual pieces of furniture, but rather a complete seven seat set (couch, love-seat, two chairs) all upholstered in the same fabric.

Our salon, as decorated here, is how I've made peace with the concept of a formal guest room. We had this set of furniture made (common here) about 15 years ago and I chose complimentary fabrics rather than just one for all the seats. In a bold move, I also mixed chair styles. Some of my friends really liked it and some others asked why I didn't use all the same fabric. This is the largest room in our home, and the dimensions/layout are almost exactly those of our previous home. While I have eschewed the opulent faux-crystal chandeliers, I have embraced the oriental carpets.

A view from the front sunroom entrance

Ideally the couch would be away from the door, and we may still move it, as the most inside seat, the one farthest from the door, is considered the most honorable place to seat a guest. Often a guest will begin to take the seat closest to the door, but the host who seeks to honor his guest should insist that he be seated away from the door. Nesting tables which are located between the two larger chairs are essential furniture as they are placed near the guests when refreshments are served. Here is a view taken from the other end of the salon:

The other end of our salon in our formal dining area. I am lacking the traditional, ornate china cupboard, but have instead an antique Damascus wedding chest, with which Dear Husband surprised me on our 20th wedding anniversary.

It is made of heavy oak (the lid is all one piece) and is inlaid with mother of pearl outlined with silver. Dear Husband once wondered aloud what we would do with it if we ever move overseas to which a male friend instantly replied, "Take it with you, of course." I told our friend thank you, of course!

The main modification we made to this room before we moved in was adding the large, Arab-style double door which opens up into our family room. We usually keep the doors open but can also close them when Dear Husband is entertaining male guests.

That completes the tour of the two rooms of our home that I keep picked-up and uncluttered all the time. The other rooms will likely need to be tidied before I photograph them!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Perfect Autumn Stew

We're enjoying a number of new dishes around here, thanks to Pinterest and this week's meander through the food page yielded this recipe for a delicious chicken stew with butternut squash and quinoa. Butternut squash isn't a staple in Jordanian markets, but I can hope that may be changing; I found lovely butternut squashes in the open air market last Friday--not even in the western-style supermarket! We all agreed that that this stew provided a full sensory experience: vivid autumnal colors, delicious blend of flavors, pleasing textures, and savory aroma.

Cookin' Canuck's fantastic recipe was my inspiration. I have added a couple of ingredients, adjusted a few quantities, and slightly modified the cooking process.

Chicken, Butternut Squash, and Quinoa Stew

1 1/2 lbs (2 small) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
4 cups water
1 1/2 lbs (approximately) boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in bite-size pieces
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp (or a little more) red pepper flakes
1 28 oz (or 800 g) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa (I like red. If you use white, rinse the quinoa well before cooking.)
3/4 cup sliced kalamata olives
1/3-1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • Cook quinoa in a small saucepan. I used red quinoa and cooked 1/2 cup quinoa in 1 cup water.
  • While quinoa is cooking, steam the squash until just tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside half the squash. Add 1 cup water to the remaining squash and mash well with the back of a fork.
  • Brown chicken in olive oil, adding salt, oregano, red pepper flakes, then onion and garlic as the liquid cooks out and the chicken browns.
  • When chicken and onion/garlic is cooked and browned, add three cups water and simmer a few minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, mashed squash w/water, cubed squash, and quinoa. Let stew simmer about 15 minutes.
  • Stir in olives and parsley, simmer a few more minutes and serve.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

House Tour~The Sun Room

We've been in our new home for two months now, boxes are all unpacked, furniture arranged, light fixtures installed; all that remains are a few pictures to be hung and a few window shades to install. This is our new home thanks dear friends whose home it was for 14 years before we moved to Mafraq. Planning to spend at least a year back in the States on an extended leave, they decided they wanted to give up their house and offered it to us, sparing us the laborious task of searching for a new apartment in a city where good rentals aren't readily available, let alone realty companies or want-ads to help you find them.

Our "flat" is the bottom floor of this traditional middle-aged Jordanian home. A young couple lives in one of the flats upstairs and the other is presently empty. As you can see, we have a large front yard with lots of dirt--which Dear Husband ordered in shortly after we moved. We brought the stones from our garden in Amman and a few perennials, which we are getting planted. (And, the trees were pruned today, after this picture was taken)

The big tree on the left is a bitter pomegranate--not sure why anyone would want one of those, but it is pretty--and the the little (look hard) tree on the right is a sweet pomegranate which Dear Husband recently planted. He likes symmetry! We have about five olive trees, seven or eight lemon trees, and a small pomelo tree. Oh, and a lowquat tree. I'll take another picture in the spring when, hopefully, the flowers will be more visible. I am so thankful for this yard! It is very unusual to have such a big yard in this city. When I look out the front windows, I feel like I am looking out into a park.

Into the house...

This is our second house in Jordan to have a south-facing sun room. I think every house should have a sun room, even a small one, and it is to this room that people gravitate for a few moments alone in the morning or afternoon with a book and a cup of tea. When Oldest Daughter was still at home, the sun room was her favorite place to practice the violin. I miss that.

This is the straight-on view when you come through our front door. The large double doors lead to the family room and the interior of the house.

To the right, is a narrower set of doors which lead into the sitting room, or guest salon and dining room. Traditional Arab homes have doors which close off guest rooms from the rest of the house so that men can visit the husband while the rest of the family, particularly the women, can carry on with living, uninhibited, in the rest of the house. Dear husband sometimes has guests which I never even see.

To the left is the sitting area of the sun room, and more plants. I'm not very clever with houseplants but I have learned of two that love direct sun: ivy and ficus. Thus I have have three ficus trees and three ivies happily thriving here. The nifty old black trunk (It has Ramallah via Jerusalem stamped on the side) on the left is my... linen closet. It really is. Jordanian homes usually don't have built in closets, instead we have cupboards, wardrobes, and trunks for storage.

This photo shows the the bright sunlight steaming through the sun room window. The bars on the windows are for protection. Robberies are rare and they say that the iron bars are the reason why. I'm used to them now and they even seem kind of decorative. They also offer protection to small children who like to hang out upper-story windows.

This is my new-ish succulent garden. Two or the plants are aloe-vera, which we really do use to sooth burns and other skin irritations. The others are new to the market here and I jumped on the succulent-fad band wagon a bought a few for our home. They remind me of my California childhood, so for me it is a retro-garden. I'm hoping to plant a succulent garden outside this spring.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Autumn Accumulation

The hardest thing about letting the blog go for awhile is jumping back in again; so many thoughts and events have accumulated, but it is beyond me to blog them all. I'll just make this about our autumn, which is really not much of a season at all in Jordan, and try to keep going.

I love the weather patterns in Jordan, arid and warm, so I am not really complaining, but I do miss autumn. No stunning golden and crimson leaves to intoxicate my vision, just the lovely fall-ish golden sunlight coming through the windows on a fabric-leaf wreath a dear friend so lovingly made for us when she found out we had no fall leaves.

We do some leaf color changes in Jordan: from gray to green. After a long rainless summer, the accumulation of dust casts a grayish hue over the landscape; everyone rejoices when the first rain falls. We've received a few good downpours in the last 24 hours and this morning, between cloudbursts, I spent some time walking around the garden, admiring the green leaves which have been covered with dust since we moved in. We recently spread bags of sheep manure in the garden, so it smelled fresh, indeed!

With no further aideu, we head into the winter/rainy season, which on one hand we hope will be very rainy, but on the other we hope will not be too terribly cold. Homes generally have poor insulation, and are difficult and expensive to heat, but a beautiful spring will make it all worthy it. Though we don't really have an autumn, the Jordanian countryside puts on a riotous show of wildflower color in the spring if the rains are abundant. It is Jordan's most beautiful season of all.

We are cozily secure in our new home in Mafraq, and now just have minor things to do, such as hanging pictures and painting mirror frames. Tayta and I have been on a creative adrenalin high since being introduced to Pinterest a few weeks (don't click this link unless you have some free time.) After letting myself be sucked into it's vortex and swirled around for a couple of weeks, I found my equilibrium and can now spend a very modest amount of time on Pinterest, and find a lot of useful DIY, craft, garden, recycling, cooking and baking ideas. A couple recent results of all the creative inspiration: this sweet needed-for-ages sewing machine cover that I made from an over-sized European pillowcase I found in the used clothes market. I love the colors!

These simple garden markers were made from a recycled yogurt container:

An then there are the pine cone decorations and some really great recipes we've tried...

We continue to make new friends and otherwise get involved in the Mafraq community. Artist Son has been playing drums for the Arab church we are attending and he and Tayta will go with the shabibi, or youth of the church on an outing this week. I've been spending too many (sometimes angst filled) hours searching out college options for Artist Son as he prepares sit for his last SAT exam and apply to colleges. I can now fill out the online scholarship/financial aid calculators with one hand tied behind my back. I'm thankful that we seem to have narrowed the field to three schools, two of which require portfolio submissions and artist statements. Remembering is important: God has so faithfully and generously provided for Oldest Daughter and Active Son. He will provide for Artist Son as well.