Friday, September 27, 2013

Pumpkin Chai Spice Granola

Everything seems to be coming up pumpkin chai spice flavor these days: cookies, lattes, muffins, cakes, pancakes, etc., etc., so why not granola? As my Banana Date Granola was easily adaptable, I decided to join the pumpkin chai spice bandwagon:

I substituted 2 cups of pumpkin puree -or mashed sweet potatoes for the bananas, about 1 cup boiling water and used about 2/3 cups dried dates to make 3 cups puree. (Put the boiling water and the dates in the blender first and let the dates soften a few minutes before adding the pumpkin puree.)

In addition to the 3 Tablespoons cinnamon I added (approximately):
2 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons cloves
2-3 teaspoons nutmeg
2-3 teaspoons ginger
2-3 teaspoons allspice

I wonder if the pumpkin chai flavor is a female preference? Dear Husband isn't even tempted to try it as long has he has his beloved Banana Date Granola, but Tayta and I really like it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Birdwatching~Confessions of a Wimpy Naturalist

I thought myself ready for a new naturalist interest and birdwatching seemed the perfect choice:

1. It is fall and there are only about two wildflowers blooming now.

2. It is fall, and therefore the migratory season. Jordan is on the migratory route for birds flying between Europe and Africa and so it is prime bird watching season.  Here are some pictures of the beautiful birds that live in or fly through Jordan.

3. Trees. Birds like trees and we have a quite a few tall pines and various fruit trees in our yard. It's by no means a forest, but I do hear lots of birdsong in our garden so I know they are there and flying through. Also, the hospital compound where we walk in the early morning has hundreds of trees and lots of birds. Last month my friend observed a flock of storks flying overhead--a sight I once experienced some years ago while driving in Amman. I still remember the awesome moment of sighting them as I rounded 7th Circle.

I felt like a wimpy naturalist upon discovering that bird watching is a lot more difficult that wildflower spotting. I knew it would be more challenging, given that birds move and move quickly, whereas flowers hold a pose for an eternity in bird time. I just didn't realize how challenging it would be. And pictures? Ha!

Perhaps part of my problem is that years of wildflower spotting have inclined my gaze downward. I've missed some bird sightings, but I've found some of their feathers. The striped feather on the bottom right comes from the Hoopoe, or Hudhud in Arabic. A friend suspects there is a nest of them somewhere on the hospital grounds as a few have been spotted. I've only seen one and it was running quickly across the road. Hoopoes like to stay close to the ground.

And since I decided to become a bird watcher, I joined the Jordan Birdwatching Club on Facebook. I was immediately intimidated by how seriously these bird aficionados took their bird spottings and identification. I would say many of the members of this club are birders, which I'm learning is a more intense level of birdwatching, judging my the identification minutiae discussed on this page. I am seriously out of my league but I'll hang in there and hopefully I'll learn a few things.

One thing I have learned is that there is a bird observatory in Aqaba, the Red Sea port city in the south of Jordan, and the birdwatchers there observe some spectacularly beautiful birds. I've also learned they have pretty nice cameras.

I had just about given up seeing a bird stand still for more than half a second so that I could observe it and appreciate its beauty, let alone photograph it, when this week I heard loud bird chatter in the lemon tree in front of my bedroom window.  I grabbed my camera and once I saw the two birds flitting in and out the lemon tree, and over to the pomegranate tree and back again, I started snapping photos--through the screen and all.

Great Tit
Parus major 

Not such a great picture, but it shows the Tit's distinctive yellow breast.  Listed next to the Great Tit in my guide is the Blue Tit. For "activity" it says that the Blue Tit is very active, moves in small hops on the ground, and hangs upside down in search of insects. That was true as well of the Great Tit I observed.

In humility, I list the few birds I've actually observed and identified in September:

1. Hoopoe
2. White Spectacled Bulbul (Lots of these fly through our garden)
3. Great Tit
4. Eurasian Jay (These fly around the hospital compound in small gangs and they steal the eggs of other birds out of their nests. Bad birds!)
For now I'm not counting all the pigeons and doves. We have lots of those. We're off to camp in Wadi Dana for a night next week, so maybe I'll get lucky there.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Succulent Redux

I'm really digging succulents these days. Growing up in  1970's California, I didn't think succulents were anything special. They just were--everywhere. Especially the ubiquitous jade plant. Now they are stirring up memories--like those of my mom's Sunset magazines, with all its pictures of terraced gardens, natural, modern interiors, and "new" western food. My mom planted those gardens, decorated accordingly, and made those recipes.

 And now I'm appreciating the colors, textures, and lines of the succulents too.

A gardening friend let me clip these starts from his large succulent garden early this morning and I arranged them all in a tarnished brass pot that I picked up in Damascus, oh, about 24 years ago. As they grow, I plan to replace the larger plants with smaller starts. Who knows were it will all lead... I haven't had much time for creative endeavors lately, so arranging this living bouquet was very satisfying. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Everyday Food~Pakistani Kima (Ground Beef Curry)

Very few recipes have endured the tests of time (25 years) and taste, but Pakistani Kima, from the Mennonite More With Less Cookbook, is one such recipe. It has all the requirements of a great family recipe: easy-to-find and healthy ingredients, economical, one-pot meal, delicious. And, notice the TS notation in the top right-hand corner of the recipe. That stands for Time Saver--yet another great feature of this recipe. I made this ground beef curry just last night and Tayta reminded me that it is one of her favorite meals. I recall others of my children saying the same.

You can see from my well-used cookbook that I've made this dish often. I've strayed from the original recipe over the years, so I offer here my version which increases the spices and vegetables. I've made this so often that I've come to add vegetables by sight, but yesterday I took the time to measure everything so that I could share my recipe accurately.


~Pakistani Kima~

Saute in a large pan:
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion. chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

As meat browns, add:
1 1/2 Tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
dash each: cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric

Stir in:
3 medium-large potatoes, diced
2-3 cups diced carrots (I cut half or quarter carrot slices depending on the size of the carrot--we have quite a variation of sizes in Jordan!)
1 1/2 cups or so frozen peas-or-corn-or-green beans. The original recipe calls for peas, which my kids weren't crazy about as frozen peas in Jordan were dry. I used corn for a number of years, but as we've tried to make our eating healthier, I've omitted the corn and added green beans.

I saute the vegetables together with the meat, onions, and spices a bit before adding the liquid.

3 cups tomato puree. If you live in tomato-land-of-plenty as I do, you can toss several fresh tomatoes into the blender to make your puree, or you can used canned or boxed diced tomatoes.

Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. If you've cut your potatoes and/or carrots on the larger side, you may need to cook it a little longer. Check at about 20 minutes and add some water if necessary.

EDIT: I am now using cauliflower instead of potatoes to make a healthier version of this meal. Substitute a small-medium head of cauliflower.

I served this with rice and a yogurt/cucumber/garlic sauce on the side:

Yogurt Cucumber Garlic Sauce

2 cups plain full-fat yogurt
1 cup finely chopped cucumbers (cut out seeds if you are in using American cucumbers.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
some chopped fresh mint or a little dried mint if you have it on hand

Many thanks to Ann Naylor of Ames Iowa for contributing the original recipe. Give the popularity of The More With Less Cookbook, I 'm sure it has been enjoyed by thousands of people, if not families.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sahtayn~ Moussaka, Middle Eastern Style

I've long been meaning to post some our my staple middle-eastern dishes, and a request this summer from a good friend was just the impetus I needed.  Last week I happened to have a lot of ripe tomatoes that I needed to use, so I decided to make Moussaka, a dish I made a lot when all the kids were growing up, but I had sort of forgotten about  in recent years. Too bad, as it is delicious, easy to make, and would have made a great crowd-feeding-pleasing dish when I had all those young bucks in my home this summer. This dish, made with two pounds of ground beef, fed Dear Husband, Tayta, and I for most of the week! Thankfully, it was delicious and hearty enough that no one minded, and like a stew, it tastes even better the next day.

Moussaka is a Greek name for a Greek dish, but I gather that variations of this layered vegetable and meat dish are made throughout the Middle East.The recipe that I started with was written for a western kitchen by an Iraqi woman, and I've tweeked it some as I prepare it in the Middle East.


About 2 medium eggplants, depending on the size
3 medium onions, sliced
About 7 medium potatoes, again, depending on size
2 lbs or 1K lean ground beef
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon  middle-eastern mixed spice mix  (I highly recommend using such a mix, but short of that you   can use allspice, or a mixture of allspice, nutmeg, and a dash of cinnamon)*
As many fresh tomatoes as you can spare for the top layer
4 cups fresh tomato puree or puree from a box, can, or tomato sauce
2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

*edit: I checked the ingredients of my mixed spices: allspice, cloves, coriander, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves. However, I don't know what the ratios are.

1. Wash and slice eggplant about 1/2 inch thick. Place it in a colander and salt it. Let it sit for about 30 minutes and then rinse it and pat it dry. This salting/rinsing process helps to extract the bitter flavor.

2. While waiting for the eggplant, wash and slice the potatoes, also about 1/2 inch thick, and cook the potatoes in a saucepan of boiling water for 6-8 minutes. Drain.

3. Place the onions in the baking pan first, and then cover the onions with a layer of sliced eggplant.

4. Next, prepare the meat patties: knead the minced garlic, salt, pepper, and mixed spices into the meat. Knead well for several minutes, until the meat becomes smooth and uniform. Form into thin patties and place them over the eggplant slices.

5. Next comes the layer of potatoes, and some olive oil, which I drizzled on just because it makes everything taste better.

6. Aren't these tomatoes beautiful? Yes, we are blessed with an abundant supply of  fresh, flavorful, and inexpensive tomatoes from the Jordan Valley, so I try to use them in as many meals as I can. I had a big box of tomatoes to use up and so didn't even count how many I used. You could manage with only three or four  if you slice them very thin and spread them out a little more.

7. The last step is preparing the tomato sauce to be poured over the top of the layered casserole before baking. Again, I like to use fresh tomatoes, but you can use boxed or canned tomato puree. I put half tomatoes, cored and unpeeled, in my blender, along with the water, salt, and pepper. I do this in a couple of batches. Try to pour as much of the sauce as you can between the tomatoes and other vegetables so that the casserole will cook in it. As you can see some of the sauce will end up on top, but that is okay. It all cooks down together in the end.

8. Place casserole in a 350 F  (180 C) oven for about one hour or until potatoes and eggplant are cooked through. You might need up to an hour and a half.

I serve this with yogurt, salad, and pita bread.

(literally, double your health, but the Arabic equivalent to Bon Appetit) 

Monday, September 09, 2013