Baking · Cooking · Eating · Living in Amman

Penzeys Spices True Love


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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…

Eating · Travels

Diet Secret of the Middle East Revealed


Raj’s Arabic class went on a field trip today and I tagged along. We met in Swéfiéh, about a five-minute drive from our house (if we didn’t get lost). According to Wikipedia, this area is  “…notorious for its night-life and shopping culture…” And even more interesting, “It is estimated that Swéfiéh has more Strip clubs, Gentlemen’s Clubs, Sex Shops, Bars, Nightclubs and Adult Entertainment Venues than the rest of the city combined, making Swéfiéh an unofficial red-light district among the residents.” In the Middle East? Did Raj know this?

Back to the ‘G’ rated field trip…We met outside of a bakery and our first stop on the tour was into a spice store. Raj’s teacher showed us around, pointing out different spices, letting us taste and smell things, some were familiar to me, others were not. There was a tea section in the rear of the store that held all sorts of Middle Eastern homeopathic remedies. This is where things got interesting. There were herbs and concoctions for kidney problems, weight issues, anxiety, any ailment you’ve got, they have something for you to steep in hot water. My favorite was the ‘natural glue.’ It looked like rock candy, all crystalline in structure and in many different colors. You steep it, like everything else here and drink it–but DON’T eat it (it looks like what I’d imagine crack looks like). We had a few minutes to shop and guess where we headed? Back to the tea section. We picked up the miracle tea to “control satiety,” otherwise known as “Fitness Tea.” I’ll let you know how much weight I’ve lost next week.

Next stop, a deli. We congregated in the front of the store by the preserves. There were all sorts of interesting looking preserves, whole fruits, vegetable medleys, and syrup. The writing was all in Arabic, but the teacher told us what each one was and how it’s used. She said that these were all “hand-made” in Syria, known for very sweet fruits and the best preserves in the region.We picked up some pomegranate syrup to splash in our vodka tonics.

Next door to the deli was the butcher. I’m not squeamish, but I prefer to go to the butcher only when it’s absolutely necessary. I avoid butchered body parts and blood and prefer my meat clean and sanitarily prepared (how I miss Whole Foods). I saw the hanging carcasses in the window, checked out the chicken parts, and then headed out to wait for the group. As you can see, felines are welcome into the store. What’s wrong with cats roaming through the butcher shop?

Last stop, the bakery. The intoxicating smell of sugar and yeast had been wafting through the air since the moment we stepped out of the car. The bakery was overwhelming with an amazing array of sweets, chocolates, breads, pizzas (not pizzas, but something that looks like them), pita, croissants, bread sticks, everything you can imagine. We bought a selection of desserts to try along with a small selection of chocolate croissants and other extremely healthy snacks.

Best of all, now that we’ve got the fitness tea, we can eat all of the sweets we want and not worry about a thing. Let me know if you want me to send any your way.

Here’s our loot. The best deal was at the bakery–about $5 JDs for all of the fat-free treats; the syrup was $4 and the tea was $5.