Posts in Food and Drink

My own food revolution

As I write this, I’m seated on a train headed back to DC from New York City. This basically means that I can’t keep making up excuses about not having time to update the blog. I do have time (four hours to be exact), and I can’t keep delaying something I wanted to share for a while. No I’m not with a child, for those who are so eager for me to procreate. The news is a major change of my lifestyle. It can simply be summarized as my own food revolution, mostly inspired by a celebrity chef.

But before I talk about the chef and his effect on me, I would like to go back in time to when the journey downhill all started. The story of my deterioration began with my first pay check. Yep, you  heard me right, it all went downhill when I got my first pay check, and decided to be fully independent by detaching myself from  my mom’s home-cooked food.

I thought dinning out and paying for whatever junk I put into my body was all it took to show that I made it into the adulthood world. So I quickly replaced mom’s Magloubeh‘s and Mlukhyeeh’s with fried chicken and big Mac’s. Please note that I’m talking about the early 90’s, the decade when Amman got introduced to the fast food industry with the advent of what I like to call the ” junk food firsts”, the first McDonald, the first Burger King, and the first Subway.

Yep, back then it was cool and hip to be seen devouring American food. It was empowering to be able to leave with my coworkers during lunch and delve into KFC’s “Zinger” and Arby’s curly fries. Yes, I made it , I thought to myself. I’m an emancipated woman who had just distanced herself from fresh produce and organic farming. Of course, that’s was when I started raking the calories, no surprise here. It was also when I started to feel lethargic, easily irritated and moody. While my downhill journey was just beginning, Amman Junk food stores kept mushrooming.

My deterioration continued for almost a decade until I decided to put an end to the fast food era. Not sure what made the first change. It might have been  my moving to a region in the US where health awareness was widespread, or it might have been the fact that I turned thirty and felt my body deteriorating. I started watching my diet and began doing some moderate exercise. This slightly improved my well-being but not to the level that was needed. I knew there was something still wrong in my eating habits. Getting rid of junk food was simply not enough, for some reason.

However,  in the past few months or so, I got a brand new inspiration. This might sound a bit cheesy and borders on the cliche, but I don’t care. My inspiration came from a TV  reality show. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a mere reality show has changed my life. The show is called Food Revolution and it is about British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who went to the most obese city in the US: Huntington, West Virginia to try o change the school’s lunch system. In his show he promotes healthy eating, and encourages the love of cooking. Nothing new, no? True, but the most striking thing for me was the issue of processed food. Yes, that was the missing link. Since I moved to the US, I had fell hard for the convenience of American living by buying whatever processed food I could find to make a quick semi-tasty meal. I thought when in Rome, buy processed. My freezer was filled with frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, potato wedges, pasta meals and others. At least, I was not eating a Whopper, I thought. Little did I know how some processed food can have even a worse impact than some of the nastiest junk food out there.

It was really until I watched this show, and realized how important whole food cooking is that I ultimately decided to make a drastic change in my life. I made a conscious decision to only eat food that is made from scratch. It was easier than I thought. I gathered all the cook books that I owed and made weekly grocery lists to achieve the goal. I didn’t stop here. I made sure to double the size of our moderate garden beds to include a large variety of vegetables that I can grow in our backyard. I rode the now yuppie wave of organic food, and even took the time to watch Food Inc.

The result was remarkable. Not only do I feel better, but  I look better. I lost almost 10 pounds mostly by focusing on wholesome food. I have to admit, cooking from scratch everyday can be a burden but the sense of sataifaction that I get after I finish any meal is usually my ultimate pay off. The most fascinating part for me was how I came full circle by actually embracing the home-cooked food that I rebelled against in my early twenties. I found myself looking for my mom’s recipes and making sure that I include them in my weekly meal planning. Yeah, yeah, mothers are always right!

Before I end this rant, I’d like to leave you with this TED talk in which Jamie Oliver talks about the show and his food revolution. I encourage everyone to watch it until the end.

Disclaimer: I never got to finish this post on the train. I got distracted and lost my inspiration. On a positive note, I managed to finish this post two days later, right after I devoured a shrimp linguini made by yours truly and yes, totally from scratch.

More than just a cookie!

The Almighty SamoaLike nearly everything else "American," the first time I heard about Girl Scout cookies was while watching American TV shows when I was living in Jordan. At the time, I didn’t pay them much attention. They were just cookies after all. But after recently having my first bite, life is no longer the same. These little sugar creations are truly, utterly, completely, and extremely orgasmic! Just one bite of a Samoa, and I’m "sinning" all day!

In these last few months since they entered my world, I’ve been sinning quite a bit. I’m consuming way over my average sweet intake, something I’m sure will send me directly to hell. What can I do? I’m only human; I was unaware of the power of Samoa.

The only good news: Girl Scout cookies are sold only once a year, giving me a few months to redeem myself and burn off the calories accumulated. I’m a bit distracted, so this will conclude my blogging for the day. Almighty Samoa here I come!

Majestical Mansef in the USA!

Holiday MansafLast night,
I devoured my first Mansaf for the first time in over six months! Yes, you heard me right: Six whole months without a taste of my country’s national dish! I know. I could lose my Jordanian citizenship for such a faux pas, but I’m sure those in charge would understand!

The place where we partook of this celestial meal was my friend Ajlounieh’s place, where we, along with other family friends, were invited to a dinner prepared by Ajlounieh’s super mom. Of course, and without doubt, the food was just divine. As was the case with my first Magloubeh in the US, I ate like there was no tomorrow.

Besides the heavenly food, the company was just divine. The guest list was diverse: Jordanians, one Palestinian, a Syrian, a Lebanese and some Americans. All were gathered together to get a taste of Jordan’s famous Mansaf.

So as not to break the tradition, we all enjoyed our Mansaf while talking about nothing less than the political developments in our volatile region. Our primarily pan-Arab chit-chat went on for hours and I have to say it was an entirely engaging and thought-provoking conversation.

Last night was definitely memorable. We had such a truly wonderful, wonderful time. I can’t wait for the day when I start throwing Mansaf dinner parties of my own. Hopefully this day is just around the corner. This picture comes courtesy of the one and only, Ajlounieh.

After the ‘Sunset’

Before Sunset box coverWe really had an enjoyable evening last night. Along with Amal, we invited my colleague and next-door neighbor Indelib over for dinner. So, the moment I got back from work (around 4pm), I attacked the kitchen, managing to make two dishes — a first for me. The first was Chicken Divan with Broccoli Casserole and the second was Tuna Macaroni Casserole.

Since I didn’t detect any ailments among our guests following the meal, I deduced that the dinner was a success. Indelib brought with her the movie Before Sunset, the sequel to Before Sunrise, so after we had our dessert and choice of coffee or tea, we excitedly pressed play to see if it was as good as before.

Before I share with you my humble review of the movie, let me go back in time and tell you how much I enjoyed Before Sunrise the first time I saw it. I thought it was just perfect — one of the best movies ever made. I loved everything about it: the scenery, the engaging dialog, the romantic flavor and an ending open to interpretation. So you can imagine my excitement when I got my hands on the sequel. I thought it would be an extension of the beautiful dialog and stunning imagery from some ten years ago; I’ve been waiting for the sequel since I posted about it last July.

But I was disappointed. The movie was not bad, don’t get me wrong. It is just that the two protagonists became so jaded through the years and so am I. As a result, the movie served as a reminder of how jaded and less optimistic you become as you grow older — to the extent that you stop enjoying watching movies that discuss being jaded! I really wish I didn’t watch it. I felt it ruined the idea I carried in my head of those two up-beat young idealists wanting to conquer the world in the first film.

This movie revealed characters that I had idolized throughout the years to be young and stupid with unrealistic ideas, as their lives moved on and developed into one big misery. I really did not have to see that! I want my young, happy, motivated characters back. I wanted to cherish the memory of them. Now, after this movie, I find Celine and Jesse to be two immature, fake, whining, pampered youngsters! Ah, I should not have watched it! Ok, enough blabbering. Time to wash the dishes.

On cooking and more

In the spirit of respecting one of my new year’s resolutions, last night I cooked the Mexican dish Chili for the very fist time. I know, I know, it is not that complicated, but take it easy on me I’m still learning. The most unique thing about my endeavor last night was substituting sour cream (an almost non-existent item in this part of the world) with Labaneh (a Middle Eastern yoghurt cheese). The result was divine.

Still on the issue of making food, I thought I would share with you this picture series:

The wrap begins Brigitte peeks in Some words of advice The finish line Four down, 100 to go

Yes, the images you see are real and have not been altered. Click them for enlargements. This is me rolling grape leaves in an effort to master the art of making the famous Middle Eastern dish Warq w Kousa (stuffed grape leaves and zucchinis). For some reason I thought I would never see such a day since I have always thought of myself as a career woman (whatever that means). But while I was in Jordan, Brigitte and Zizo (the master) both encouraged me to take on the challenge of making this dish and I complied. It was great fun! To hell with the career, I’m all for making food!