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.
As I mentioned in the previous post, France was freezing (not really, but it was cold after our jaunt to Portugal) and I only packed for warm, sunny weather (sun dresses and sandals) so I had to wear the same thing over and over again (this was very difficult for me). As a result, you will not see ANY pictures of me (picture me with my dad’s red sweater, jeans, and running shoes, walking though the streets of Paris. I would have been shown the exit had I walked into Hermes dressed like this). In fact, ALL pictures of me from this part of the trip have been burned…SO, we’re skipping past the photos of Paris and ending the European vacation on the few items that I purchased.
I also purchased a couple of scarves in Paris, but I’m not sure where they’ve walked off to. It’s hard to believe that I didn’t buy anything else. All of these pieces, like everything else that I’ve bought will go into storage in Amman until we’re reunited in the States in a few months. At this point, it will be like Christmas when I get to unwrap all of the treasures that I’ve been collecting over the course of 15 months–all of the items from Egypt (which I never got around to posting), the icons and bowls from Israel, the pottery from Jordan, the mosaics, the Syrian furniture…
I’ve been a lazy blogger but I have been meaning to finish posting the last of our R&R trip through the Loire Valley. I’ll try not to drag it out by posting three days trips into a single post.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres
Visiting this cathedral is every art history major’s fantasy. Just like visiting the pyramids, seeing Chartres in person is an amazing experience. Constructed between the years 1193-1250, Chartres is considered one of the best examples of the French High Gothic style. What a testament Chartres is to human ingenuity!
You know the raspberry liquor that comes in the cool looking bottle with the crown atop its lid? Chambord (the liquor) is said to have been introduced to Louis XIV during one of his visits to this Chateau. Chambord is still being produced on the premises of this Chateau. In Paris, one of the pricey cocktails I kept seeing was the Cham Cham–champagne and Chambord. I’ll have to try it.
Chateau d’Amboise & Clos Luce
Located in Amboise and built on a spur above the Loire River, Chateau d’Amboise sits in a picturesque little village. The Chateau was confiscated by the monarchy in the 15th century and became a favored royal residence that was extensively rebuilt. King Francis I was raised at Amboise, which belonged to his mother, Louise of Savoy. Leonardo da Vinci came to Château d’Amboise as a guest to King Francis I in December, 1515, where he lived and worked in the nearby Clos Luce, connected to the château by an underground passage. It’s said that Leonardo is buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, adjoining the Château, which was built in 1491–96. Who knows if this is true.
Our first day trip was to Chateau de Chenonceau, the Ladies Chateau. This château is considered by many to be the loveliest of all of the chateaus and I’d have to agree. It’s surrounded by formal gardens and wooded grounds and visitors are free to roam freely throughout the rooms of the castle.
Here’s a little history of the place, in case you’re interested. As Eyewitness Travel’s Loire Valley states:
“Chenonceau reflects the combined influence of five women, who brought a feminine touch to this grateful building. First came Catherine Briconnet, wife of the royal chamberlain, who supervised construction of the château. Later, Diane de Poitiers, Henri II’s mistress, created a formal garden and built a bridge over the Cher. After Henri’s death, his widow, Catherine de Medici, reclaimed the château and topped the bridge with a gallery. Chenonceau survived the 1789 Revolution–because of local respect for Louise Dupin, wife of a tax collector–to be restored by Madame Pelouze in the 19th century.”
My highlight to the château was the kitchen. I only have one picture of the pans (I must have been overwhelmed), but the kitchen is made up of two areas, located in two enormous bases forming two piers in the bed of the River Cher. The kitchen equipment, including ovens, pans, knives, bread baking equipment, etc., do a nice job giving the viewer an idea of what a working kitchen would have looked like.
On the day we visited it was freezing, which is really a shame because had it been a nice day out, we would have spent much more time exploring the formal garden, the vegetable and flower garden, and the 16th century farm. There’s also a lovely cafe that served lunch, pastries, coffee and wine. Perhaps next time…
Our second leg of the trip was spent in the Loire Valley, France. Here we had the privilege of staying in a splendid Chateau (Chateau de la Noue) dating back to the 16th century.We stayed in one wing of the Chateau, equipped with all of the necessary creature comforts (including a DVD player, which enabled us to watch seasons 7 and 8 of Curb Your Enthusiasm–the nights got a little long, but we were in good company with Larry David).
The Chateau is located in the quaint village of Villedomer, a perfect jumping off point to many of our day trips throughout the week. The Chateau is blanketed by a beautiful forest of trees, including pine, sequoia, and chestnut. The only sounds to be heard were frogs in the pond and an occasional ‘moo’ of the neighboring farm’s cows. During our stay, we saw two deer, hares, and rabbits, and enjoyed walking along the grounds foraging for mini strawberries.
The owner of the Chateau is warm and friendly, without being intrusive. She welcomed us with a bottle of Vouvray (from Touraine, just east of Tours–my new favorite wine), made a delicious dessert for us one night, and invited us over for hors d’oeuvres and wine on another night.
What I liked most about staying at Chateau de la Noue was the unique experience it provided. Rather than staying in a sterile, perfectly appointed hotel room, we were afforded a more authentic experience–we drove hundreds of miles on small windy roads, shopped in local markets, and made many a pit stop to the abundant patisseries in every town. After exploring Chateaus throughout the week, staying at a place like this gave me an appreciation for the workmanship, upkeep, and history of the Chateaus.
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.