Saturday, November 28, 2009

My helper

So, I asked each child to please choose a bathroom sink to wash. I don’t ask them to do a lot of housework – they have school and homework to focus on during the week, and play to catch up on the weekend – but I do ask for some. They need to learn how to do the tasks, and to appreciate the work needed to accomplish household chores so they do not take things for granted. Brian is more of a typical kid, he does what he has to, but is happy to run off again and continue doing what he wants to do. Honor is my helper. She not only cleaned the sink, but continued on and scrubbed down the entire bathroom – except the mirror which she can’t reach. Good girl – Thank you!!


Frying by the seat of my pants – part 2: Da Bird


I had a 11lb Butterball turkey, a cheapo store-bought aluminum roast pan, and a friend due who does not like dry turkey. Of course, I can’t stand dry turkey either, but it’s good to have an excuse to try another recipe. Although, I guess, cooking turkey is less of a recipe, and more of a technique, but I felt like experimenting.

My normal method is to roast the turkey at 350F, covered in foil, or in my large roaster if the lid fits (sometimes it does, I don’t get giant birds). Only removing the foil during the last 20 minutes to brown.

Here’s what I did with the bird this Thanksgiving.

After removing both bags of giblets which I save aside for gravy, I tucked the wings under the bird, sprinkled outside with salt, pepper and random herbs. I put a whole onion and a whole peeled apple inside the cavity – for extra flavor, and another source of moisture. I chopped up a 50g stick of margarine and spread it on top, not in… not sure it helps the bird, but it does add to the drippings for gravy. Then I tented it well with foil.

I found this link on how to cook a turkey. I didn’t follow all the guidelines – like inserting butter or herbs under the skin. I figure Butterballs are already pumped up. But I preheated the oven to 475F, and cooked the turkey at high for 20 minutes, then lowered the temp to 250F and cooked at that temp for 20 more minutes per pound, which for my bird, was about 3 hours and 40 minutes. If you go to the website at the link above, you’ll find the full technique and a chart of cooking times. At 3hrs and 20mins, I removed the foil and cranked the temperature up to 375F to brown the turkey – it was also the temp that I needed to cook my dinner rolls at for 15 minutes, so it was a good time to multi-task!

The turkey turned out to not only look beautiful – which is not usually my priority, often my turkey falls off the bone – but it is a bonus when the turkey is pretty too, but it was very juicy and delicious. Apologies to my friend, who did not make it due to a sick child, but this was an exceptionally moist turkey! The breast meat had that lovely pink tinge around the edges, and was so full of flavor. We didn’t even get to the dark meat at our first helping of this bird!


Frying by the seat of my pants – part 1: Good Gravy

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by loved ones – hopefully NOT working, except in the kitchen! We had a very pleasant day, a theme which has continued through the long weekend. We are getting 5 days off this weekend as our Thanksgiving holiday overlaps the Eid al-Adha holiday. We’re not complaining!

Among the usual things that I find myself thankful for this weekend (by name, Brad, Brian, Honor, and add in this year: Pumpkin, Pixie and Ninja :) !), is that we were able to pull off a lovely dinner despite the lack of decent cookware or access to my favorite recipes. Our dinner turned out nice, very nice! The only disappointment was that friends who were to join us for the dinner had to cancel because their child became ill. We’re just going to have to have a make-up day.  (I hope Z feels better!)

As I looked over the mess in the kitchen after our amazing dinner, for which, quite literally, we’d used every pan and dish in the house – some several times – I couldn’t help but think that this was truly a flying by the seats of our pants operation.


Decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a pre-determined plan or mechanical aids.

Except, we were cooking, not flying, so this title idea was born (or at least, stuck in my head) and I’ll use it to share some recipes, and because I only had one actual dish, gravy, that used the fry pan, I suppose I’ll start with that, even though it was the last thing I cooked!

This is a simple recipe – experienced cooks probably didn’t need to see it, although additional hints and suggestions are always welcome in the comments! This is mainly for people, like the young me, who never learned how to make gravy at mom’s elbow. I was always a bit intimidated with the gravy recipes I found – they sounded complicated and unforgiving… especially nerve-wracking when you are attempting to put together a spectacular holiday meal. This is a simple technique and you can practice with roast chickens before being put on the spot with a turkey dinner!

Good Gravy:

As soon I got the turkey going, I dumped the giblets, including the neck, into a saucepan with water, bouillon, some sprigs of fresh rosemary, and set it to simmer. I kept it simmering, adding water as needed, until the turkey was done. I used some of this broth in the stuffing, then added more water and continued simmering.

When the turkey was done, I set it aside to rest for 20 or so minutes (so important!) and started the gravy. I put 2-3 tablespoons of the drippings (yes, the oily stuff – gravy is not a diet food, either do it right or forget it!) from the turkey pan into a frying pan over low heat. I added 2 tablespoons of flour to the side of the oil, and with a spoon, slowly mixed the flour and drippings to a paste. Then I added a scoop (I used a 1/4 cup measuring cup – but the official measurement = some) of broth and slowly mixed it into the paste … this often involves tipping the pan a bit to keep the ingredients apart until blending is done little by little. It helps to avoid lumps. Then I added a couple more scoops of broth, and let it simmer. For some reason, starting off slow like this works best for me, but I use a simple trick to add broth/flour/drippings more quickly to increase the gravy without a lot of that lump-preventing stirring and pan tipping.  On the side I took a covered container (like a rubbermaid or tupperware storage container) and combined a tablespoon or two of drippings, same of flour, and a couple scoops of broth – put the lid on, and shook vigorously (glad I default do this over the sink – my container was not happy with this abuse and leaked a bit!). This mixture was whisked into the gravy base in the pan, and more broth added until it was rather thin. I know my family loves gravy, so I mixed up about 2 more containers worth of broth/drippings/flour to add to the pan, adding less broth with the last batch, and made a huge bowl of gravy. It thickens as you cook it, keep whisking as you go. More of the drippings and flour mix help thicken it, more broth helps thin the gravy.

This gravy saves well, although warms up best on the stove, not in the microwave, and I saved the broth to make more gravy if/when we run out… we do have lots of leftovers!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Four Foods on Friday #96

I realize that I’ve missed Friday, but I answer these memes as soon as they pop up in my reader – and these just popped:

Here’s this week’s questions. Thanksgiving is almost here.

1. Pumpkin pie. Do you make it yourself or buy one already made?

Pfft! Pie? I don’t make pie! Ok, I have made a pie… and in 18 years of marriage, perhaps only one pie… and it was a rather tasty, and very genuine, authentic key lime pie, made with Egyptian “limuns”… but I truly do not like or want much pie, so my poor hubby is the pumpkin pie maker, and eater, in our family. He doesn’t mind the tradition, and loves his pie.

2. Where are you eating Thanksgiving dinner this year?

At home. Probably just the four of us – with three kittens begging desperately – as we usually do. We like having the day as a family day. Couldn’t really invite anyone this year anyway as our household goods have not arrived yet and not only is our baking and cooking gear supply woefully under-stocked, we only have 5 plates/bowls, glasses, etc.!

3. Turkey. Do you like white meat or dark meat?

Dark meat best, although because I cook the turkey covered in foil for most of the baking – in direct defiance of so many turkey recipes that state you must leave it uncovered – and only uncover it to brown at the end - all of the meat is much juicier. Something like this link. And don’t forget to let it rest before carving… that’s when I make the gravy anyway.

4. What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?


Saturday, November 21, 2009

We’ll return to our regular programming…

I have spent the last week fighting a mean head cold and not being too terribly productive. The good thing is that it is me being sick, and not the kids… touch wood. Ah well, eventually we will all get healthy again. In the meantime, here are some random glimpses from the past week.

The kids have discovered peanut butter and nutella sandwiches. In general, they do not like sandwiches at all. I remember a certain tiny 3yo informing in no uncertain terms to NEVER send sandwiches in her lunchbox, EVER. It was a waste too, because she would pick sandwiches apart and only eat the insides. Neither kid likes mayo or mustard – honest dislikes, they have tried it. Neither like jelly, which is fine with me – it’s concentrated sugar - so no PB&J. School lunches are either bought (luckily their schools have nice healthy lunches), or are meat and crackers, or leftovers. These are kids who would rather have cold leftover rice, than bologna on bread. I however, like some sandwiches, and have discovered that peanut butter and nutella make a great combination – and nutella isn’t as decadent as it may seem – its nutritional values are very similar to peanut butter. And surprise… the kids like it enough to make it for their after school snacks!


Free ear piercing! No. No actual ears pierced (yet) but this is a common sight.


All of these cats were well trained by their momma cat to wash behind ears. Their ears, their siblings ears, and this has even translated to us big cats. I have never known kittens to be so insistent on grooming their humans. Honestly, we are clean folk! But it is a social thing. They climb on our laps to cuddle and nap, and before settling down, they have a good wash, and share washing. We are not left out, they’ll climb up on our shoulders and treat our ears like their sibs’ ears… lick lick lick bite lick bite lick snuggle…

Here is one reason I love our new home. Acres of space! It doesn’t have the number of rooms our old place does, but it doesn’t matter! The living area is just bigger, and well, more livable! True, we haven’t got our household goods yet, and we’ll fill some of this space when we do get them, but we’ll still have elbow room. Elbow room and room for crazy kids – and kittens – to play at sliding across the floor on socks and furry paws.


If you look waaaaay past where the kids are sitting, around the corner to the left, is the formal dining area, yea, a huge table with 8 chairs around it… if you were to take that area behind the kids, you’d have a good idea of how big our entire living space was in Cairo…and seeing how the Cairo apartment space was filled with the same size table and furniture, with less room left over, well, I am being generous in comparison. We are truly blessed to have ROOM to play inside or outside.

And speaking of outside, we’ve had some beautiful skies recently and I tried to snap a photo but it didn’t work out so good. Looks like I captured an explosion, or a one-eyed smiley face peeking in from the side. Or maybe it was the camera having sympathy pains… I’ve been dealing with some headaches that look like this :p


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Things that go whap! in the night.

Ah. The kittens are so cute and innocent looking when they are asleep. Pixie is curled on top of one chair, Pumpkin is flopped along the back of mine. Half on the chair back, half slid down and resting on my shoulder. If I get up, he will roll off onto the seat, although It would be rather hard for me to get up as Ninja is on my lap, between my belly and laptop desk, also snoozing peacefully. She is still the littlest, and such a sweet baby. She loves to gaze into my eyes and have her faced rubbed. But don’t be fooled, she earned her name, and is always training for combat, or possible pirate invasions.
Anyway, the kittens should be exhausted. They got up early and played hard for nearly two hours this morning. Chasing each other, attacking feet from under the beds (and other means of distracting kids from preparing for school), abusing the laundry baskets, arguing over bits of paper, and helping Brad to tie, untie, tie, untie, tie, untie (etc.) his shoes for work. Soon, one will wake up, and if one is awake, he or she will ensure that all are awake and the mayhem will start anew, but for now, they are tired little angels. 
The kittens usually sleep well during the night, which is good for allowing the people in the house to sleep too, but last night they woke up around 2am for some reason. And for some other reason (only known to the felines) they thought that the perfect place to play would be our bed. Usually only Pixie sleeps with us, but all three kittens joined her for this rompfest wrestlemania assault. Up and down the bed. Leaping over body parts, or bouncing off whatever was available to gain momentum. Wrangling with a sibling, a foot, or fold of blanket. And let’s not forget the high-speed chases… you would think that there’d only be so far that three high-energy kittens could race on an occupied queen size bed before they got bored and ran off into the house, but you’d be wrong. We did our best to ignore them – but at one point, I felt the three of them romp up the center of the bed, past my pillow, and at least one go over the head of the bed, between the headboard and the mattress. I made the mistake of opening my eyes. There was Ninja, right in front of my face, in full attack mode. Faster than I could blink - she turned her assault from her brother, to me, and Whap! Whap! Whap! – triple kitten karate chops right on my nose! and then with a silent bound, she was gone!
(Images were saved from emails and I’ve had stashed for awhile – I am not sure who to credit, but I’m borrowing, not trying to steal.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Five Foods on Friday 95

Four Foods On Friday 95

This week’s questions are inspired by cold weather where the creator lives. I can’t say that we are suffering the effects of a Nor’easter too, but the temps here have been in the 50’s and it’s even been raining – doubly chilly for us - so I can pretend to empathize:

1. Chicken soup. Regular or creamy?

It has to be creamy. Unless it is the ‘soup’ (broth) from Ramen noodles.

2. Do you have a stew recipe?

I’d rather not have stew. I’m not even all that fond of soup unless it is a specific flavor, like broccoli or tomato – and I like the creamy varieties. I prefer foods with separate flavors and textures. Not chunks of mushy stuff floating around in flavored water.

3. What’s your favorite hot comfort food?

Probably something with rice. I can’t think of one particular food that stands out as a ‘hot favorite comfort food’

4. Do you like chicken fried steak?

Oh yes! But not often, and I don’t like to cook it. Every so often it is a real treat to stop at a place like Cracker Barrel and have some else cook me a chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes – gravy over the both – fried okra, collards with hot sauce, and baked sweet apples. Served with – of course – sweet ice tea. (see why I don’t need this very often?!  :D !)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Arr! I’ve got a parrot cat!

Little Pixie is a momma’s girl. She loves to follow me when I tuck the kids in at night, she’s decided she wants to sleep on my pillow even as her sibs continue to nest in the living room, and she is crazy about climbing me when I am standing still – especially in the kitchen. Ninja and Pumpkin will too, but Pixie is the craziest. I know we went through a phase of this with Misty. I can remember having him climb up and into my shirts, down sleeves, get stuck etc.! Fortunately, he outgrew it before he was a 20lb adult cat. I hope my jeans/clothes survive until these kittens find a new game! As distracting (and sometimes painful) as it is to be a jungle gym for rampaging kitchen (wannabe) panthers, there are some benefits. Ever have a headache that wraps up and around your head, from eyeballs to temples, across the skull and down the neck and shoulders? I blame the sinus/head cold I’ve been fighting the last few days. Anyway, Ibuprofen can kill the head pain, but it takes awhile to make it down to the stiff and sore neck. Wrapping a warm, purring kitten across my shoulders is downright medicinal. I should market this! It’s better than one of those strange-smelling rice bags you microwave and that only stays warm for about 30 seconds… it promises relief, but it’s all just a cruel lie. Kittens are self-applying, and provide a bit of acupuncture work as well, no extra charge!
Ignore the dark circles, my red eyes, and pink nose here.. this is my cold suffering look and not my best! At least I have a tropical shirt on to go with my pirate cat. All I need is a margarita. The kids’ school is having an International Day, and while I have no USA-logo-patriotic clothes to wear – a habit/practicality of living overseas so long where we try to be conservative and blend in - at least I can look like a Floridian.
If Pixie isn’t on my shoulder, I will often have a cat in my arms instead. These guys are snugglers! Pumpkin – inventor of the attack bear hug – is a big baby.
And just how am I supposed to get up now?
(unseen in this pic – Ninja on my shoulder!)
And it’s not like they have nothing else to play or sleep on. They have the run of the house, and we even bought them a kitty-climbing-scratching-fort-thing. They’re not sure about it yet, but the kids like it.
It’s a good thing we brought these cats in. They’d have never made it in the wild without all the cuddles and love they require for survival! 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Out and About

Just thought I’d share some more peeks of our new home town with you. We are finding that some things are very different, and others are almost too similar! We feel very comfortable here already, and I cannot wait for these kids (and us adults) to stay healthy enough for us to go do some more exploring!

We’re doing ok with the traffic. It is not as organized as traffic is in most places of the US, but it really isn’t that difficult. The roads are marked, and for the most part, set in a easy to figure out grid/pattern.


I like traffic circles vs traffic lights, and I LOVE the tunnels that let you avoid the intersections altogether!


I like that the roads are marked, and have barricades to keep cars where they are supposed to go. 


I like traffic lights (except when they are red) and the fact  that they are used here. How’s this for a morning rush hour?! So neat and orderly!


I try to always look on the bright side of things… and I find it quite easy to do too, especially when there are so many bright and shiny things to see… but some things are more difficult than others. Say what you will about US roads and traffic, but it is one thing I really miss when we travel. Ours may not be a perfect system, but it is darn close (IMO). I dealt with Cairo traffic, but it was tough. Our truck still bears scars from the total lack of ‘personal space’ on Egyptian roads. I’m finding Amman traffic to be sane (mostly – you, the guy who made a right turn to avoid the traffic light, then immediately cut around, through the intersection, to continue on the way you were going, you know who you are…) and for the most part, non-stressful.

Speaking of our truck – it arrived!!! Last week our Explorer came home to us. So nice to have our own vehicle again! Our first family trip was to take the cats to the vet for their first shots… poor babies. We have been going to see Dr. Ala’a Shehadeh at the Vetzone. He is good with our cats, he answers the kids’ questions, and carries a bunch of quality pet supplies and food. He has been doing some work to expand his office and we are very impressed with everything so far.

Amman Vet Clinic


We did our grocery shopping at City Mall this past weekend. As well as being a full scale shopping mall, there is an attached Carrefour… think 'Wal-Mart superstore’ and you have Carrefour – I kinda wish it were more like a Target though! There are also a bunch of banks, media stores (for internet, wifi, etc) and mobile phone outlets. I had to do some paperwork to switch my cell phone from a pre-paid account… which would require that I spend the next 3 years chasing scratch off cards to charge my account… to a postpaid account, which is direct debited. This mall has it all in one place, so we made it an outing.

The mall is about 3-4 floors (I wasn’t actually paying close attention!) with a great variety of shops – many names that I recognize from the US and EU, others that I am just going to have to learn about here. We stopped in a Virgin music store and bought books (of course!). We had lunch at TGI-Fridays, which was very nice. The kids were hungry(!) and both polished off adult-sized meals, in addition to grabbing about half of my rice. (Really, we do feed them. I think they’re growing again.) And then we wandered. There is a good-sized food court on the top floor, a children’s fun/activity center, and there’s a movie theatre attached as well. I am not actually a huge fan of malls – to be honest, I tend to avoid them as crowded and annoying places - but I could see us spending some time at this one (small doses will be ok). Here are a few snaps from my mobile:

Brad and Brian at the restaurant.


Honor looking at the people below in the central court. There was a guy at a booth down below with a remote control helicopter – guess what Honor wants for Christmas? (Speaking of which, yes, we saw at least one store with Christmas trees already on display.)


Honor at the food court (sorry, couldn’t get the guys, they were walking too fast). Photo_110709_005

How to do housework

First, wake up your assistant with a gentle poke in the nose.


Pick up any papers from the floor – it is always so mysterious how they get there in the first place?!


Get some sweeping done.



Always offer to help mom with the dishes.


Make sure to have some play time scheduled too, you know you need it.


And after your work is all done, relax!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Four Foods on Friday 94

Filed under Four Foods Meme

Here’s this week’s questions.

1. How do you make mashed potatoes?

Peels usually left on. Dice potatoes, boil with a little salt until fork-mashable. Mashed up (with a hand masher) adding butter, milk, and fresh ground black pepper. Very rarely I will throw in some finely minced garlic bits to boil with the potatoes.

2. What do you wash pots and pans with?

It depends on what I make a mess with, and the pot or pan, because different methods work on different messes. I am a big fan of ‘fill it with soapy water and let it soak overnight’… that tends to be a one-size fits all solution.

3. Name something red in your refrigerator right now.

Thai sweet and hot sauce. Apples. Ketchup.

4. Do you prefer to use boullion cubes or the boullion powder mix?

Powder. It is easier to adjust for taste, and when the cubes get stale, they turn rock hard and difficult to dissolve. Besides, you can’t take a nibble of a cube – I can never resist popping a grain of boullion in my mouth for that extreme salt experience!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wait a minute…

It’s 10am, the low last night was 52F, and it is 50F currently. What happened to our warm weather??

It is still raining, since yesterday. Actually, yesterday we had high winds, periods of blowing sand … although from our perspective, it was only blowing – I didn’t see any sand. Lots of leaves and a neighbor’s rooftop antenna were flying around though … and constant, light to heavy rain. It rained last night, with a few rumbles of thunder, and it has been raining all day. This is like Maryland weather! Brian is home sick again today, fighting a chest cold, but Honor went to school today.

Here’s a first for her:


Waiting for the bus in the rain – WITH an umbrella (we bought them in the US this summer, good to finally get a chance to use them) – both of us shivering and turning purple. I did make her run in and exchange her sandals for sneakers, but we were still cold. I know. We’re wimps. But a wet, windy, 50F morning is really cold for us! Fortunately, it should go back up into the 70’s for the rest of the week.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Hope you all had a lovely Halloween weekend.

Pull up a chair, get comfy…


… and I’ll share a few photos.

Brian chose to be a gladiator again this year, but needed a new costume. I think he chose a good one. Here he is, posing with his class’s scarecrow.


Honor really wanted to be a tiger, but we could only find a leopard costume… I think this is much cuter anyway! I didn’t bring make-up, and before the parade, she asked me to draw on a nose and whiskers with marker. We had no idea if it was permanent or not, but she has such a crazy attitude – she didn’t care if she had to wear them the rest of the week! – so I drew them on. They did wash off :-X)


We went to the Embassy party and I must say, the folks who decorated and operated the haunted house(s) and trick-or-treat lanes for the kids really went all out. It was basically a walk-through of halls and rooms, all wonderfully decorated by individuals from those particular offices. They did an awesome job and it was a fun adventure for the kids. Thanks!!

The school hosted a very nice Spooktacular party. There was a haunted house and a trick-or-treat lane, as well as carnival like games to play. Fortunately, it was set up in the gym because it would have been rained out otherwise.


Halloween goofiness.


We found Honor’s class’s scarecrow outside.


The kittens unpacked Honor’s backpack, pulled her homework folder out, and scattered papers around. One of the papers was a little certificate she earned from the pumpkin carving contest. She got 1st prize for the weirdest pumpkin!


And while we are still talking about spooky topics, check out what I found at a local bookstore when I went out looking for a notebook for my recipes! She’s a great kitchen witch!