We bought our first piece of Syrian furniture (a chest and mirror) while we were in Amman before we even had a house in sight. Luckily, the chest and mirror fit beautifully in our new home. Here’s the chest while it sat forlornly in Amman:
And here it sits proudly in Alexandria:
Just before Raj left Amman, he was able to pick up a few more pieces, with the house in mind (but without my opinion). I have to say he did an excellent job and surprised me with these pieces for Christmas. He’s been waiting for the homage to Raj since then, so here goes. How lucky am I to have such a generous, sweet, and tasteful husband?
With my underwhelmingly open schedule while living in Jordan, I had lots of time to bake homemade bread almost daily, make Greek-style yogurt, read, exercise and craft. A lot! Here are two fine examples of what my idle hands were able to stitch in record time. Normally, such projects would take countless months to make each one; not so in Jordan. I did both of these stockings in about two months. I’m not a skilled sewer, unlike my highly gifted mother, whom I managed to convince (connive?) that no one else would be able to sew the final products nearly as well as her. I think they turned out spectacularly, even better than I imagined with lining, piping and all.
Raj’s is sewn on a tan linen, and mine is sewn on an off-white, extremely fine Irish linen.
Love to cook. Cook to love. That’s Penzeys Spices motto and my adopted motto as well. I’ve been a devotee of Penzeys ever since my sister turned me on to their catalog years ago (yes, Nicole, I give you full credit!). The closest store to us back in California was Torrance (way too far from San Clemente) so we would both study the catalog, read the articles, and then coordinate our orders to save on shipping. Lucky for me, I have access to the fabulous Falls Church, Virginia store, which I have yet to visit, but plan on supplementing my diminishing stores of spices soon.
Some of you may know that I was featured in the catalog a few years back and paid homage to Raj by including our traditional Friday night pizza recipe. One night while I was combing through the catalog in Amman (feeling sad for not being able to ship spices overseas), I was inspired (once again) to respond to their “Calling All Cooks” campaign. I was contacted by one of their pleasant writers and shared with her my experiences of living overseas and a few of my favorite Middle Eastern recipes. The story sort of morphed into a love story about how Raj and I met.
Here’s the link to the Fall, “True Love” catalog http://www.penzeys.com/images/F12.pdf. Our story is featured on page 48-49. Check out my recipes for Shish Tawouk (my favorite, simple and easy grilled chicken kebabs) and fattoush (a mixed salad with toasted pita bread pieces). Enjoy…
So the time as come to bid goodbye to Amman. Although I’ve already left the country for good and have been living in what I now consider home, I feel the need to come full circle and say goodbye. It was an interesting fourteen months to say the least; I’m happy that I had the opportunity to live in another country, amongst a culture that was different from my own, but nothing feels as good as coming home to familiar things, places, and people who you’ve missed so much.
I didn’t warm up to Amman quickly. Rather, our relationship was on shaky ground for the first few months. Here’s a list of the things that drove me crazy from the get-go and then the things that made my time in Amman something that I’ll cherish and look back upon fondly:
Cats, cats, and more cats. I am an animal lover, not necessarily of cats, but I hate seeing starving and sad, pitiful cats (some with wounds and worse still, a one-eyed cat I saw in my neighborhood) climbing into dumpsters looking for food. There’s obviously an overpopulation problem that hasn’t been addressed.
Driving and traffic circles: Everyone can agree that driving in Amman and throughout all of Jordan (perhaps all of the middle east) is a nightmare. Lanes are merely suggestions; the light barely turns green and hordes of angry drivers slam on their horns. It’s stressful and dangerous and I’m so happy to never have to drive there again.
No love for dogs. Poor Shanti. He moved from a dog-friendly community where people treated dogs equally as well as children to a place where dogs are considered harem (forbidden). He is currently in hiding until his hair grows out enough to take him to the groomers. I may just drop him off on the curb in front of the groomers in a basket with money attached so that I don’t have to face the groomer’s horror when she sees the situation–good thing the place is called Hairy Situation.Additionally, he had a bump removed last year in Amman, leaving the poor pup disfigured. His show days are gone.
Lack of shopping options. As I mentioned throughout my stay, I suffered severely from retail withdrawal. Sure high-end boutiques were aplenty, but there was nothing I could afford. I couldn’t even sneak purchases in the mail because the ‘boss man’ picked up the mail at the embassy, thereby eliminating my stellar ability to sneak items into the house. I have since made up for lost time and am feeling quite content at the moment.
Continuous stomach virus: I won’t get TMI on you here, but it seemed that between the two of us, one of us was sick every week regardless of what we ate, where we ate it, or how careful I was in the food preparation. Enough said.
AFN and Tiger Box television: I will never, ever watch Armed Forces Network (AFN) again. Luckily for me, Raj is not in the military, so the chances of me staying true to my word are good. AFN has no commercials, though they have just as many public service announcements to make up for the lack of commercials. Reminders like “what right looks like” or “never to drive when your medication says may cause drowsiness” will not be missed. Tiger Box, a satellite of sorts, is equally as abysmal. I have never seen so many B movies that I didn’t know existed and yet because I was so starved for entertainment, I was captivated with them solely because there was nothing else on TV.
My tennis coach Basel: I played tennis collegiately and then gave it up for close to twenty years due to burnout and lack of a (good) partner to play with. I rediscovered my love for the game by taking tennis lessons with a fabulous coach whom I wish I had met when I was playing competitively. The only bargain in Jordan was tennis lessons. By the time I left, I was taking lessons three times a week for an hour and a half each time. According to Basel, had he been my coach when I was young, I would have played professional. Oh how I miss my lessons.
My self-indulgent “me time” schedule: Now that I’m back to work, I no longer have the luxury of waking up when I want, playing tennis or running at the gym, going to Barre classes, teaching or doing my own personal practice of yoga, meeting Raj at the embassy for lunch, laying out by the pool, reading, blogging…O my God the list could go on and on…. Gone are my days as a “lady of luxury.” You will be missed!
Grace, our friend and cleaning lady: Grace was recommended to us by a co-worker of Raj. She was such a loving companion to Shanti when we left him in her care on multiple, long-term occasions. She took such great care of our house too. I wish she could come to live with us here! I know Shanti would sing to that.
Traveling: We have been on so many amazing long and short trips while we were in Jordan. The Egyptian cruise at Christmas still remains my all time favorite, though there were so many fabulous others. As much as I love traveling, I’m looking forward to staying put for a while and traveling locally, revisiting our favorite haunts and checking out other new places.
Parties and Events: We had to opportunity to attend parties at a number of embassies in Amman. The highlight, getting up-dos and sanctioned shopping for appropriate ‘party’ clothing.
So I’m left with a blog entitled Jen Maan in Amman and even though I’m no longer living in Amman, I’ll be redirecting my focus to the things that I still love to do regardless of where I’m living, like cooking, baking, crafting…just no longer in the middle east.
Who would have thought that I’d be introduced to the Barre Method while living in Amman! Although yoga may be an underground enterprise in Amman, the Barre is anything but a secret. It’s an incredible workout that works every part of your body. I love augmenting my workouts with the Barre because it’s a lot less cerebral than running and yoga. It’s fun and active and it was made even better by the incredible instructor, Carrie Cole.
Here are some fun photos that were taken and featured in a Jordanian magazine in June, 2012 called Family Flavors. I forgot to post these a while ago.
There is nothing to buy in Amman. Sure there are shops and malls, amazing ones too. There are the usual designer boutiques: Louis Vuitton, Burberry…, all of the familiar mall brands: MAC, H&M, Gap, (no Anthropologie)…, but I cannot afford anything here because everything is about three times more expensive than what I’d pay at home. I suppose it’s a good thing that there’s nothing to buy because it makes Raj all the more willing when an opportunity to spend arises, as it did last week at the embassy.
Before arriving to Jordan, Raj and I discussed our desire to purchase some sort of furniture or artwork reflective of the region without going overboard with a middle eastern theme. The uprisings in Syria began shortly before Raj arrived, seriously impeding our travel plans to visit and buy Syrian furniture. The Syrian situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better so I’ve accepted the fact that Syria’s not in our future travel plans. Luckily for us though, a Syrian furniture salesman braved the border crossing to sell his wares at the Embassy.
I’ve been relatively good so far, limiting purchases to a couple of camel-hair rugs, some Arabic looking pottery, a brass lantern, a large mosaic, and now a Syrian chest and mirror to place in our foyer back in Old Town. I don’t know much about Syrian furniture, other than what the salesman shared and what I saw, but it seems to be easily identifiable through its use of walnut wood, mother of pearl inlay, and traditional Arabic design.
The guy arrived with a truck full of tables, chairs, armoires, a few chests, and a fantastic array of lanterns (these were amazing but were the first things to go). He got delayed crossing the border, creating a stir for the eager shoppers (money in hand) anxiously awaiting his arrival. He began unloading the truck while a small swarm of embassy employees pretended to feign interest, casually eyeing each piece as the packaging materials were removed. People began posturing and sidling up close to the things they liked, lest something better was to be revealed from the truck. I soon became afflicted with the buying frenzy as nearby shoppers discussed the worsening situation across the Syrian border and how this might be our ‘one and only’ chance to buy authentic Syrian furniture. I was determined to buy something, anything in case this was true. Cost and reason flew to wayside as one chest and then another were quickly spoken for. I swooped in on one of only two remaining chests and had Raj settle the price. (This guy had a captive audience so there wasn’t much in the way of haggling). We added in a mirror to be hung above the chest and sealed the deal.
The chest we bought has grown on me significantly since we brought it home. While it was sitting at the embassy, side by side among the other pieces, I was a little overwhelmed. I was having a hard time deciding whether I loved it or not because I felt the pressure to buy, buy, buy. I’m happy with the purchase. I can’t say we got a great price, but who knows? It’s beautiful without being overly ornate.
Jordan is not known for its loaves of bread; pita bread, sure, but loaves of fresh, whole wheat bread, NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. I started experimenting with baking fresh loaves a few months ago after I gave up on trying to locate everyday bread. I can buy beautiful French loaves at Paul’s in Abdoun, but their loaves are expensive and last for a day or two before going stale. (Raj LOVES this bread and ensures that I’m baking it about twice a week, making sure we have fresh bread for his weekend breakfast.)
Here’s the recipe that I’ve perfected through trial and error. It only takes a few minutes to prepare, requires about six hours of sitting on the counter to ‘bloom,’ requires another hour of rising in a loaf pan, and then one more hour in the oven and you’ve got yourself a fresh loaf of heaven.
Make 1 loaf
2 cups white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups ice water, plus 1 tbl water
4 tbl sugar
3/4 tsp. yeast
1 3/4 tsp salt
3 tbl canola oil (or whatever oil you have, I’ve used vegetable oil and corn oil)
baking spray for the tin and bowl
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Mix and fold all of the ingredients, making sure that all of the flour at the bottom of the bowl is blended. The consistency of the dough is very wet and sticky, no need to fuss over it. Spray the top of the dough with cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for at least 6 hours or overnight. (I’ve accidentally left it out for more than 18 hours and it still turned out great).
2. After about 6 hours, the dough will be a little bubbly and will have risen close to the bowls upper edge. Spray a rubber scraper with cooking spray, fold the dough in towards the center to release it from the bowl’s edges and scrape the dough into a prepared (with cooking spray) loaf pan. Spray the top of the loaf with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for about an hour, or until the dough rises over the top of the edge of the loaf pan.
3. Remove the plastic wrap from the risen loaf, preheat the over to 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. With a serrated knife, slash a line down the center of the bread; sprinkle with the top of the loaf with about 1 tablespoon of whole wheat flour. Place the loaf in the oven and bake for approximately 60 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it.
4. Allow the loaf to cool for about 10 minutes before removing the loaf pan.
Raj wanted falafel, but not just any falafel–he wanted the best, most highly rated falafel in ALL of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. After a short visit to Jerash (second time around), we headed downtown toward Hashem Restaurant, an institution in Amman since 1956. (Note: downtown is the area near the Citadel (it took us three weekends to find the Citadel), near the flea markets ON the street–a particularly frustrating and confusing place to drive; not a smart move given the fact that Raj was already hungry (Remember, Raj gets ‘hangry’ (hungry plus angry) when his blood sugar levels dip and I didn’t have any ‘snack packs’ to tide him over–a particularly vulnerable position to be in).
Invariably, we had difficulty locating the elusive Hashem’s. I was getting worried because at this point I was hungry, imagining how Raj had to be starving. We drove around searching for about thirty minutes–at this point I was ready to give up and go ANYWHERE…but Raj was undeterred. Lucky for us, Raj’s friend who accompanied us is an Arabic speaker and he helped us out tremendously along the route asking passers-by for directions. Eventually we found it, no small feat since the signs for Hashem are in Arabic (except for the one above which faces away from the street).
The restaurant is outside in a little alley way along a busy street. It’s certainly not fancy, perhaps a little dingy (euphemism for dirty), but very busy and FULL of Westerners. If you’re persnickety, RUN (or bring along lots of hand sanitizer and wipes to quell the neatniks you may be traveling with–I forgot mine and admit I was bothered). There are no plates here (probably a good thing), just thin paper used in place of plates. You may be surprised that I ate here with my history of ‘street-food’ syndrome, but what was I supposed to do? We were ALL starving!
I’m not sure what we ordered (our friend ordered for us), but it seems that everyone around us got the same thing: a basket of small meatball sized falafel, another basket of larger falafel covered in sesame seeds, a handful of steaming hot pita bread, tomatoes and onions, tea with mint, hummus, and fuul (fava-bean paste).
The verdict? It was all very good AND for three of us it cost only $6 JD’s. (Imagine how happy that made Raj, see below?) Best of all, no one got sick and I’ve agreed that we need to go back (although this time I’ll come equipped with hand sanitizer and maybe some wipes for the table top and chairs).
Running in Amman is a challenge. Prior to moving here, I ran outside almost everyday, along a beautifully maintained path that paralleled the Potomac River. Here, I can’t really run outside. Sure, I could run with a group that runs on Friday mornings, but then I’m not a social runner (it takes ALL of my concentration and focus just to run, so conversations are out of the question). For me, running in Amman is limited to running on a treadmill. It’s not that bad, but training on a treadmill is difficult, to say the least.
I ran a half marathon (only my second) last Friday down at the Dead Sea. Raj dropped me off at Sport City at 5:00 AM. I boarded a bus at 6:00, and the race began at 7:40. The organization of the race was fabulous, the route was beautiful, and the weather couldn’t have been better! Where else but Jordan will you be able to run alongside camels and donkeys or see goats and sheep across the road?
The plan was to meet Raj at the finish line and then go to one of the hotels to spend the day away floating in the Dead Sea, but that didn’t happen. I ended up telling Raj not to meet me, afraid that the hotels would be booked to capacity thus making my Dead Sea soak a bit too crowded. We’ll be making up for the lost soak in an upcoming weekend when it’s less crowded and when my muscles aren’t as exhausted as they were at the run’s completion. All in all it was a great run (even though the race results aren’t up yet), well worth the hours of monotonous training on the treadmill!
Last week we had a blizzard (ALL weekend long); this week a heat wave. Last week we hibernated, ate too much and complained about our luck–the weather in DC was WAY warmer than here in the DESERT; this week we promised ourselves that we would get OUT of the house and enjoy Jordan. We hashed a plan last Saturday, in the midst of the blizzard (after checking out the upcoming forecast–it said it was going to be sunny and hot) and decided to hike the Soapmaker’s Trail in Ajloun. What I love about this trail is that at the end of it–and it’s only a two-hour hike–there’s a soap factory AND gift store (part of RSCN’s (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) efforts to help support the local economy). So you’re basically hiking to a store. Love it!
We packed our daypack with water and trail mix and were all set to leave until we searched for directions. Upon searching, we noticed that the trails in Ajloun DO NOT open until April 1st. We called to make sure this was right and were told ‘inshallah, we will open April 1.”
Plan B. We decided to go to another RSCN location–the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex. As the RSCN website describes it:
“Perched at the edge of the Zara mountain range, between Ma’in hot springs and the Dead Sea basin, the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex offers some of the most spectacular views in the Kingdom. From the observation terrace you can absorb breathtaking vistas over the Jordan Rift Valley and Dead Sea basin and you can dine in style watching sunrise or sunset over the mountains of the Holy Land. There is also a large and fascinating museum devoted to the natural and cultural history of the Dead Sea, a Nature Shop and a range of other attractions and activities suitable for both adults and children.”
The place is stunning–both architecturally and view-wise. It would be a perfect venue for a wedding with the views and the restaurant…but I don’t know anyone getting married, so nevermind. Best of all–there was hardly ANYONE else there, so we had the restaurant almost exclusively to ourselves.
The restaurant, “Arabic style with a hint of Lebanese” is operated by Evason Ma’in Hot Springs (a neighboring hotel/resort that we haven’t stayed at…yet). The food was amazing! Generally I stick to my favorites, shish tawouk or mixed grill, but feeling a bit crazy (perhaps from all of the glorious sunshine), I ordered something new–musakhkhan (chicken seasoned with sumac, an abundant amount of onions and served on top of pita that soaks up all of the chicken juices and oniony flavors). It was served on a hot griddle placed on a wood serving piece (similar to Mexican fajitas). [I wasn’t sure what sumac was, so I looked it up–it’s a spice made from the ground dried berries of a bush that grows wild throughout the Middle East. Sumac has a sour and vaguely lemony taste.] We also ordered a cold mezza–hummos Beiruty–chickpeas, tahini, hot paprika, parsley, and fava beans.
The Panoramic center has a lovely museum and TWO stores: one is a Rivage, Dead Sea product store–you can buy these product anywhere, AND the RSCN store. I love RSCN products–the teas, soaps, jewelry…too many choices so I got overwhelmed and bought nothing. I’m saving my money for the day when we hike the Soap Maker’s Trail and end at the soap factory that sells the soaps that are sold at stores like the Panoramic Center.