Tuesday, July 31, 2012

DIY - Art Display "Clothesline"

If you are like me, you probably have a mass of kiddy crafts lying around. Some are covering the refrigirator door; do you even remember what the color of that door was at one time? While others are stacked up on the floor, in a box, on top of the desk, waiting for their turn on that magnetic door.

If you do, and are looking for a better way to display them, here is what I put together with a few everyday items. Yes, you can buy these already made; but again, if you are like me and do not want to spend more than you have to, then do it yourself.

Here is what you need:

  1. Rope or twine, you decide on the leght depending on the wall space
  2. Clothes pins; I got the classic ones from the Dollar Store, and the "fancier" you can find cute ones at Michael's 
  3. Nails, to secure the rope to the wall 

And, voila, you have yourself a fun and inexpensive art display that does not take up any desktop or fridge door space. Of course, our fridge door still has its share of art hung on it, but this way we get to enjoy the artwork in more than one room.

Monday, July 30, 2012

have you tried? pasta with spinach

In Lebanon we eat lots of stews served with a side of rice: okra, lima beans, green beans, eggplant, to name a few. One of my favorites, though, is spinach cooked with ground beef and rice. Growing up, my mom would make it at least once every other week. Until, one day, we all got tired of it being served with rice. Bring on the pasta! Since then, it has become the new favorite. And now, with a child of my own who will eat pasta with almost anything, spinach as a topping is an amazing hit. If you are looking for something different than simply mac and cheese, try this. You can serve it with a dollop of garlic-mint whole milk yogurt on top to make it even more nutritious; that's how we eat it here.

Here is what you need;

  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound bag of frozen spinach, not thawed
  • 1/4 diced yellow onion
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 1/4 water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add onion and cook until tender, but not browned. Add meat and brown completely. Season to taste. Once meat is cooked through, add spinach, lemon juice and water. Cover, lower the heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes. When spinach is wilted and flavors have blended it is ready to serve.

To serve simply pile it on top of a plate of angle hair pasta, drizzle yogurt and enjoy.

To make the garlic-mint yogurt, crush a garlic glove with salt. Mix it with 3 tablepoons plain yogurt and 1 teaspoon dried mint.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Signs of (my) Life

The dishes piled up in the sink; The laundry waiting to be folded;
The dirty floors; the trash needing to be taken out; the mail that needs sorting.
These are the signs of my life.

The five changes of clothes a day;
Washing the crib sheets every day;
Serving food and drinks to my child and all her dolls at every meal;
Taking those dolls with us whereever we go.
These are the signs of my life.

The toys splattered all over the floor;
The tiny apartment turned a large playroom;
The tricycle, push car, baby stroller, and scooter parked in the living room;
The five purses, umbrella, and three hats hanging on the toddler coat rack by the door;
These are the signs of my life.

The children's library books stacked up on the night table waiting to be read again;
The baby shampoo, conditioner, body soap and lotion crowding the bathroom window sill;
The food pouches, plastic spoons, BPA-free containers, and water bottles;
These are the signs of my life.

Preparing snacks every morning, special meals during the day, and watered down juice;
Watching Elmo, Arabic Alphabet and Mary Poppins videos;
Playing Farmers Market, Hotel, Airplane, and Going to Work;
These are the signs of my life.

Playdates, gym classes, arts and crafts, and story times;
Jumping in puddles; running through the sprinklers; splashing in fountains;
Collecting rubber duckies, balloons and stickers;
Enjoying the little things;
These are the signs of my life.

My life has been taken over by my daughter;
She occupies my heart; she occupies my home.
She is the sign of my life.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Photo Friday: A picky little eater breakfast

At first glance this may look like lunch to you,
but if I had a time stamp on the photos you would see this was
actually breakfast, at 8:30 in the morning.
When asked what she wanted to eat, JR could not
decide; sushi or pizza?

So, she had both!
She had an avocado roll,
and a smoked salmon pizza complete with grilled red onions and capers. 
The part of the meal she enjoyed most? The pickled ginger.
Turns out that was what she was after the entire time!
My picky little eater does have a mind of her own!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What I'm thankful for today

Food, and its availibity
Money, and being able to use it to buy food at my discretion
Family, being close and willing to help
Friends, near and far offering their love, support and advice
My Doctor, and his taking a personal part in my well-being
Modern Medicine, and its ability to alleviate pain
Health insurance, without which the previous two would cost a lot more than they do
Electricity, with rare interruptions
Airconditiong, especially on hot, humid days like these
Jannah-Rae, and her company on days that are too hot to go outside
Jeff, and his flexibility to come home for lunch some days

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A true Lebanese

I do not know much about toddlers; JR is my first. But I do know quite a bit about the Lebanese; my being one of them. They have a deep love for two things; they love to tell you "Bokra," and they love to practice their multilingual skills.

"I will call you; Bokra."
"When will you take me to the movies?" "Bokra."
"When is pay day?" "Bokra."
"When are you coming to visit?" "Bokra."

and so on and so forth; you get the point. But you may be asking what "bokra" means. Well, if you have not yet figured it out from context, or googled it, bokra simply means tomorrow. The Lebanese are known for putting off till tomorrow what they can, or cannot do, today. They do not make promises and they do not say "No." They simply play the time card and put things off, so that when bokra does come there is another one after it, something along the lines of "Waiting for Godot", if you are familiar with the book.

JR being half-Lebanese must have somehow inhereted the "bokra" gene. I really do not have an explanation to her behaviors other than helplessly attributing them to genetics. Now, it might well be a toddler trait, but like I said I am not an expert on toddlers, so I tell myself I have a true Lebanese on my hands. At least if I name it, I can fight it. But alas, it looks like this trait is here to stay.

"Jannah-Rae, it's nap time!" "No, Bokra I sleep."
"Jannah-Rae, are you hungry?" "La2, tomorrow I eat."
"Jannah-Rae, do you want to take a bubble bath?" "La2, I am not dirty, bokra."
"Jannah-Rae, its lotion time!" "No, I put lotion on last Sunday, tomorrow."

and one of my favorites,

"Jannah-Rae, do you want to go to story time (grocery store, get the mail, etc. insert your own)" "La2, bokra I will go!"

And, oh! Did I also mention she speaks like a true Lebanese? If you have not taken notice of the bilingual sentences, please do. They are not a typo. They are actual, real, spoken phrases. Yes, the Lebanese talk like that; we love to accentuate our sentences with words from several languages with French, English and Arabic being our favorite combinations.

If you walk down the streets on Lebanon, pass by cafes or overhear a phone conversation, you are certain to think you have gone mad for not one sentence is completely constructed in one language. Why would one do such a thing? When putting our sentences together, we take the most suitable word from one language and string it with the most appropriate one from another. I remember one time Jeff and I were dining out in Lebanon and I was teaching Jeff to ask for the bill in "Arabic." I told him, tell the waiter, "maitre, please l'7seeb," (waiter, check please). He looked at me like I was from outer space. "Are you serious?" he asked. I sure was! I do not know of any other way to ask for the check at a restaurant in Lebanon than this; a simple three word sentence where every word is from a different country! Now, that's a true Lebanese!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Just add smoked turkey

Do not let the leftover meat from the smoked turkey wings you used for that potato salad go to waste. Here is how I use it best; add it to my homemade white sauce.

There are many recipes for the ultimate white sauce; mine uses sour cream and milk instead of heavy cream or half an half. Because I never have cream or half and half on hand, I used to always end up with a runny and low quality sauce when milk was the only white ingredient. One day I decided to experiment with sour cream as I almost always have it stocked, and voila! That was the key. I also make a mac and cheese adaptation for JR using sour cream; more on that later.

Here's what you need for the, in my opinion, ultimate white sauce
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 4 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1/4 cup water, to thin it out
  • meat from smoked turkey wings

Melt butter in pan on medium heat. Add onions and sautee until tender but not brown. Add flour and mix until well combined. Slowly add the milk, stirring in the process to completely integrate the roux, or butter-onion-flour mixture. Once all the milk has been added, slowly add the sour cream and stir until dissolved. Turn down heat to low and let sauce thicken. If too thick, add water until desired consistency is reached. Add turkey meat and let simmer to blend the flavors.

Serve over your favorite pasta and/or vegetables. I like to use shell pasta and sauteed mushrooms, onions and broccoli.

Cook's note: (1) this recipe does not call for any seasoning, especially salt, because the turkey meat is already seasoned and can be quite salty.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Saturday Together

A spring day.
A Saturday.
A family day.
Jeff, Ranya and Jannah-Rae.

We try to spend as much time together as we can.
But sometimes life gets in the way.
Today, we made a point,
To make everything else go away.

No work, no chores, no wait.
No rush, no schedule, no time frame.
Just the three of us;
on our family day.

The sun was out.
The bugs were out.
But we were not deterred.
Determined to have our time together,
we headed out that way.

Time is precious.
It goes by so fast.
There is only so many hours,
but we try to make it last.

That Saturday it lasted
longer that it normally would.
Because we lived it
as we should;

Friday, July 20, 2012

Photo Friday: Toddler Pianists

JR and T; friends since birth.

Who would have thought you could fit two toddlers
on one piano bench; but they made it work!

They even shared the keyboard,
and made music together.
Twice the music; twice the fun.

JR stopped long enough to smile at the camera,
while Tessa continued with the tune.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My picky little eater

I will be the first to admit; I have a picky eater. It is partly my doing; I offer her choices, and she chooses. She chooses when to eat and what to eat. She even chooses how to eat; standing up mostly when we are home. Although I have been trying to promote sit-down meals at home, I am not disciplined enough to enforce them. I pick my battles, and asking JR to sit down at a table and eat is not high enough on my list. Chairs are modern day artifacts, and I want her to continue squatting and sitting on the floor as long as she can. 
So she picks what she wants to eat. Some days, she has carrots for breakfast, others she has pasta. Some dinners consist of French toast or pancakes, while lunches can range from sliced turkey breast, to avocado to a full meal with fruit afterwards. Every day is different. Every meal brings a surprise element.  But one thing holds true, she makes the right choice every time.
I have a kid who gobbles down a legume salad, have plain asparagus and broccoli for dinner, and snack on green beans and beets; she even ate Brussels sprout once or twice. My girl eats Labneh (kefir cheese) with a spoon, drinks Ayran (a Lebanese yogurt drink), and nibbles on cheese and zaatar after dinner. She has never had a hamburger, does not know Slurpees, and has yet to set foot in McDonalds.

The above being true, when JR asks for chocolate, you can be sure she gets some; but not just any kind of chocolate. The only chocolate this little girl has a taste for is Godiva; the treat Teta brings her after work. "While other kids will have Hershey bars in their lunch boxes at school, this girl will take Govida Gems," I tease. But that's ok; I am intentionally cultivating a picky eater, even when it comes to chocolate.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Salads Series ~ 4

This fourth entry in the summer salad series comes with a couple of twists: a seafood twist, and a smoked turkey twist, turning an everyday salad into an everyday meal.

Seafood Salad

This salad is so easy to make, it is almost not worth filing it in the "cooking" category. You really only need 10 minutes on your hands to make the dressing, boil the seafood, and toss them all together. This salad is a family hit; even JR loves to eat it. The sercret is all in the dressing!

  • 1 pound frozen mixed seafood, I love the one Trader Joe's carries
  • 8 ounce bag spring mix salad
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard

To make the dressing: heat olive oil in a sauce pan. Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant. Turn heat off. Add mustard and lemon juice. Whisk until well blended. Add salt if needed.

Once the seafood is cooked. Toss everything in the still warm dressing. Enjoy immediately with sliced baguette on the side.

Smoked Turkey Potato Salad

We all have favorites that just become "old" and "boring." This classic potato salad turns into a new favorite with the addition of just one ingredient; smoked turkey. I hope you like it as much as I do.

  • 2 pounds boiling potatoes, unpeeled
  • smoked turkey wings
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • sour cream, 1 tablespoon
  • mayonaisse, 1 tablespoon
  • juice of one small lemon
  • yellow mustard, 1 tablespoon
  • olive oil, 1 tablespoon

Boil the potatoes until they are fork tender, but not too soft. Cut into quarters. Bone the turkey wings (save the bones and any extra meat for later). Chop meat into bite size. Make the dressing by mixing all the condiments together. While the potatoes are still warm, add the meat and onions and stir in the dressing. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

relaxing; a photo story

Here is the story of a little girl who had such a busy morning, she just wanted to relax when she got back home.

Here I am back from my long morning looking cute. 
It is hard being this precious.
People want to touch my hair all the time; 
that is why I decided on this hat,
it keeps the nosy hands away.

I think I will sit on the couch. Yes, the white one.
Of course I still have my shoes on.
I know I am not allowed to wear my shoes around the house,
 I am so tired though I will ignore the rules - just this once!
But I do not feel rested yet.
The couch is too big and my feet are hanging in the air.

Maybe if I scoot down a little my tired little feet will touch the ground.
Not a chance. I need longer legs, or a smaller couch.
Well, neither is happening any time soon.
So maybe I should try hanging out somewhere else.

How about the bed? My parents' bed. Shoes and all, how else!
This certainly is more comfortable but still I don't feel it.
Something is standing between me and my relaxation.
It's the hat!
You might not know this, but with all my curls, it gets hot under there.
Now maybe I can relax.

Let's see....
I have my hat off, my shoes on and I am reclined on the bed.
Have I achieved what I am after?
Not yet..... 

There! Just a little bend in the knee.
Now I can melt the day away and rejuvinate.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Photo Friday: A Family Friendly Restaurant

A truly family friendly restaurant is one
that goes the distance to cover
the power outlets!
This is Michie Tavern
in Charlottesville, VA.
Head over there; for the food if nothing else!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

DYI - Blackboard

I am not much of a Do-It-Yourself kind of person mainly because I think I lack talent and mostly because I think I do not have time. But living in an already toy-cramped condo I knew that this was one item that I have to acquire in two modes; cheap and space-saving.

JR already has a easel that is chalkboard on one side and whiteboard on the other. It is big, fancy and new, and it lives in storage these days; I just do not know where I would put it elsewhere. With so little space and so many other items wrangling for space, this one just had to go. And so, it has been months since JR last saw the easel and has forgotten about being able to use chalk indoors. Until this morning.

Here is my simple wall-hanging blackboard that cost less than $10 and 30 minutes to make.

What you need is;

  1. Recycled cardboard box; I was lucky to get mine from Starbucks, out of all places!
  2. Chalkboard Contact Paper; YES! They make those. Buy it here.
  3. Stickers for decorations; I chose to personalise it with JR's name.
  4. 3 nails to fix it to the wall.

Recycled cardboard box
Chalkboard contact paper

Semi-finished product

All finished

JR totally enjoying her new board.
And, I still have floor space!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Walk of Life, and Love

The young and the old;
Hand in hand;
Take a walk.

Could be down the street;
Could be around the corner;
Down the path of life.

The young gets older;
The old gets older;
And the love keeps growing.

A mother and a daughter;
Two anchors on either side;
While life drifts slowly by.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Salad Series ~ 3

Carrot-Feta Salad

Having friends is a wonderful thing. Having friends who enjoy cooking as much as you is even more wonderful. But having friends whose recipe you continue making is priceless. Below is a salad my good friend Sarah made for me once years and years ago. It still has a spot in my heart and on my table.

  •  one pound carrots, peeled and cut
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 6 ounces black olives, pitted
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • juice of 2 small lemons
  • olive oil
  • paprika, to taste
  • salt, to taste

Par-boil the carrots until they are tender, but not cooked through; this makes them able to better absorb the flavors. Cool slightly. Toss carrots with the rest of the ingredients. Chill at least 2 hours, or overnight. Enjoy!

cook's note: (1) this salad gets better with age and not as soon as it is prepared. So plan to make it in the morning, or the day before, to have with dinner.

Asparagus Salad

Here is another long-time favorite. I came across it in a magazine, and my then 2-person family loved it. So, I continued making it. Now, my 3-person family loves it. So, I will continue to make it.

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sweet white onion, finely chopped
  • whole-grain mustard vinaigrette, recipe follows
Steam the asparagus until tender but not overcooked. Drain, cool and add the rest of the ingredients. Toss with the dressing. Chill 1-2 hours. Serve cold.

 cook's note: (1) to make the whole-grain mustard vinaigrette you will need whole-grain mustard, white balsamin vinergar, and olive oil. Mix all three ingredients to taste until combined. Drizzle over salad.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

going on vacation; a photo story

Here is the story of a little girl who found a suitcase and decided to go on vacation.

"Mama, let's go on vacation," she said.
"Okay," I replied. "What shall we take with us?"
"Cups, water, shoes, clothes, lotion, Baby Nana, Teddy Bear, and all my toys."

So, she starts packing.....

Then, she stops and thinks.
"I forgot something," she informs me.

"My new shirt!"
Of course, how could we forget!

"Ok! I'm ready," she states.
Let's close it up.
"Mama, help me! Zip it"
Wouldn't have it any other way.

Ok, now to lift it off the floor.
"It's too heavy Mama."
"You can do it, Jannah-Rae."

And, she is on her way!
"Where are you going, Jannah-Rae?"
"On vacation!"

Friday, July 6, 2012

Photo Friday: Friends

There is nothing more precious than a friend.

“We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet.
Even longer,' Pooh answered.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

to have and to hold

Today marks our anniversary. What year are we on? I really cannot tell you readily. I have to stop and think. I have to go back in time to the year I moved to the US; 2003. Then, I can tell you what year we got married; 2004. From there I can do the math and figure it out; we are on year 8.

I am not good at remembering dates; I still do not know my parent's birthdays. But I am good at preserving memories. Knowing that about myself, I have kept track of the years of by thinking of them as "before September 3rd, 2003" and "after September 3rd, 2003." I specifically picked my birthday date to leave one life behind and start a new one fresh. That year, I celebrated two birthdays on the same day; one before I left and one after I arrived.

So, I have been here going on 9 years and have been married for 8. In these 8 years, so much happened: We lived in Portland. I started, and stopped, a Ph.D. program in Urban Studies. We moved to Washington, DC. Jeff graduated from an M.A. program at JHU. We moved back to Portland. Bought a house. Left the house back to Washington, DC. Jeff started a Ph.D program at GWU. We had JR. And, somewhere in time we got married.

Our wedding was our own "creation." We planned it ourselves, and executed it ourselves. There were no wedding planners, or fancy decorations. There was no overdone hair and makeup and no elaborate dress and suit. And, there certainly wasn't a lengthy wedding guest list or an overly priced venue. It was simple, it was fun, and it was memorable.

We held the ceremony on the roof-top of the apartment building where we used to live, 1969 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR. We covered the fence with blue satin and the tables with white linen. I did my own hair, bought my wedding dress off the shelf, and got my shoes from a consignment store (for something "old"). A friend even made my veil.

We did not have a tiered wedding cake. Instead, we had an assortment of personal cakes surrounding a larger one, Big Cheryl's "Ghetto" Cake best described by the pastry chef who created it: dense, moist cake with a touch of orange and rum, and filled with pastry cream and mixed berries. There’s nothing “ghetto” about it except for the bad pronunciation of the French word “g√Ęteau!" On top of the "Ghetto" cake stood our Polly Pocket bride and groom figurines; they now live in a shadow box on our wall.

Best of all, we did not have a man-made boquet. Instead, we have a hand-made one; one made by our very own hands. And that, to this day, remains the best and most memorable part of the wedding. We got married on a Sunday morning. On Saturday, we strolled through the Portland Farmers Market at PSU, as we did every Saturday. But this day was different; we had a mission. We were looking for flowers. We stopped at all the stands that carried them, but nothing caught our attention. Not until we arrived at the last one did we find them. There, sitting in buckets of water, were the prettiest Calla Lillies. They called out to us, and a few bunched later, we headed back to start working on the center piece. The final result was just what we were after; a collaboration of both our efforts, a memory to cherish, and a bouquet to hold.

I love telling the story of our wedding to friends who come over and look at our wedding photos on the wall. But I have never recounted it in words. While the above summarizes it in words, it does not capture the joy that floated that day, nor that that continues to float every day. The past 8 years were simply amazing, and I am looking forward to many more to come.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer Salads Series ~ 2

Here are two more easy summer salads for you to try.
Bon Appetit.

Beet and Carrot Salad

While at the Farmers Market this weekend, I happened upon beets, carrots and one of my favorite salad ingredients, onions. Beets are very popular in Lebanon and I want to keep them as part of my family's food repertoire. Growing up, I remember having them all the time. The go-to serving method is to cut them up, add garlic lemon juice (or red vinegar) and olive oil, and serve. With carrots on hand, I decided to modify the traditional recipe. Here is my version. 

  • 4-5 medium sized beets, cut into eights
  • 2-3 medium sized carrots, shredded
  • 1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • juice from 1 small lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt to taste
Mix all the above in a serving bowl. Enjoy at room temperature. 


Baby Arugula Salad

Another Lebanese favorite is arugula. It took me a long time to find the American cousin of the Lebanese "rocca". I say cousin because although the two are very similar in taste, they are not identical in shape. The Lebanse version has flat leaves while the one found in American stores is crinkled on the edges. But, it is close enough, and will suffice for my purposes.

Like beets, in Lebanon rocca is served simply dressed with onions, lemon juice and olive oil. Some people may add black olives. I chose to add dried cranberries, mushrooms, almonds and feta cheese. Here is what you will need.

  • 5 ounce bag of baby arugula
  • 3-4 white button mushrooms, sliced
  • handful of driend cranberries, I like the orange flavored ones
  • handful of sliced dry roasted almonds, I like the unsalted ones
  • feta cheese
  • white balsamic honey-mustard dressing (recipe below)
Toss all the ingredients together. Plate and serve.

cook's note: (1) you can also add sliced onions to the arugula salad
                    (2) to make the white balsamic honey-mustard dressing you will need store bought honey mustard, white balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Shake, to taste, the three ingredients in a bottle. Dressing can be made ahead of time and kept, in the refrigirator, for up to a month.