Monday, June 27, 2011

My Favorite Books

Great Books
The Postmistress  (sarah blake)
Little bee (chris cleave)
The Tea rose (jennifer donnelly
The Winter rose (jennifer donnelly)
Last night in twisted river (john irving)
The Outlander (Gil Adamson)
Altogether in one place (jane kirkpatrick)
No eye can see (jane kirkpatrick)
What once we loved (jane Kirkpatrick)
Rashi’s Daughters (maggie anton)
  Book one – joheved
  Book two – Miriam
  Book three – Rachel
Paths of glory (jeffrey archer)
Prisoner at birth (jeffrey archer)
The Travels of Jaime McPheeters (robert lewis taylor)
Bound (sally gunning)
Widow’s War (sally gunning)
Never Let Me Go (kazuo ishiguro)
A pale view of hills (kazuo ishiguro)
The Glass Room (simon mawer)
The Fall (simon mawer)
Roses (leila meacham)
Fortune is a woman (elizabeth addler)
The Property of a lady (elizabeth addler)
The Object of Beauty (steve martin)
Room (emma donoghue)
At Play in the fields of the lord (peter matthiessen)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (susanne clarke)
Flower Net (lisa see)
Interior (lisa see)
Dragon Bones (lisa see)
A Wife's Tale (lori lansens)
People of the Book (geraldine brooks)
Year of Wonders (geraldine brooks)
The Faithful Spy (alex berenson)
No Angel (penny vincenzi)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tuna Steaks with Citrus

six ¾-inch thick tuna steaks
2 Tbsp. sesame oil (as necessary)
2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. white sesame seeds
1 - 2 Tbsp. olive oil (used to sauté)

citrus-ginger sauce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2C thinly sliced fresh ginger
3 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1C fresh red grapefruit juice
1C fresh orange juice
1/3C fresh lemon juice
3/4C dry white wine
3 Tbsp. light soy sauce
2C chicken stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ stick unsalted butter, soft

1/4C wasabi paste (optional)
pea sprouts (optional garnish)

In a large pan, heat one tablespoon oil, add the ginger, shallots and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened – about 3 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and boil over high heat until sauce is reduced to ½ cup and is slightly syrupy – about 40 minutes.  Add the butter and turn off the heat.  Whisk in the butter to form a thick sauce.  Heat a sauté pan until hot, add one tablespoon olive oil and heat.  Sauté the steaks, turning once, until medium rare.  Transfer to plates, spoon the sauce over and garnish with pea sprouts and wasabi paste.
MAKES:  6 servings


Syria - April, 2011
This morning after breakfast we drove from Madabar, Jordan to Syria and had no problems crossing the border.  We changed into a Syrian minivan and drove into the fascinating capital of Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities.  I walked around the corner to a recommended falafel stand and had a delicious sandwich before we started our orientation walk of old Damascus.  We delved into the ancient alleyways and bustling bazaars, visited the beautiful Umayyad Mosque and had Turkish coffee in the courtyard.  The Umayyad Mosque is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world as well as the fourth holiest place in Islam.  Non Muslim women must wear an abheya covering us from head to toe but so dressed we could wander freely throughout the mosque.  That night we had a fabulous dinner at Al-Khwali including spicy hummus, eggplant and chickpea “stew” and crisp pita bread. 

The next morning it was breakfast at Al Nawfara Café near the mosque and afterwards a visit to the Azem Palace.  It is a lovely old palace filled with fountains, courtyards, formal halls, baths, etc. with models in the rooms showing how wealthy people dressed and lived in Damascus a long time ago.  I also visited the Assad Paha Khan which had  acourtyard of shops on the first floor and lodgings on the second in former times.  As you walk through its lovely domes of black and white Ottoman architecture you go back in time.  It was great to have the whole day to wander the covered and uncovered old city, stopping into old homes turned into restaurants and really getting a feel for Old Damascus. 

Late in the afternoon I stopped at Bakdash, famous for its pistachio coated Booza, a pounded ice cream known around the Arab world and so delicious.  Early that evening, I returned to Nawfara café to listen to the storyteller telling his ancient stories of Damascus for about 30 minutes.  He spoke in Arabic so it was just the experience of being there that I enjoyed.  I then wandered on down Straight Street for dinner at Naranj, a fantastic restaurant.  I told them I was a chef so was able to first visit the kitchen and see what they were cooking up.  They then prepared a tasting menu for me that must have included at least half the items on their menu.  The meze platter contained about 20 little tastes, including mini stuffed grape leaves, crispy meat/vegetable turnovers, beet dip, etc.  The main courses were little lamb kofta, lamb kebabs in sour cherry sauce, lentils, rice, spinach with crisp onions and finally for dessert an enormous platter of Syrian baklava, cookies, fried pastries, etc. followed by a basket of fresh fruit!!!   I must have spent at least 2 hours eating – a highlight to be sure.  Returning to the hotel so late at night was another story I will keep to myself!!!

In the morning I visited the nearby National Museum filled with artifacts from many villages in Syria.  We then took the local bus to Palmyra where we arrived just in time to drive up to the old castle and watch the sun set.  The town is very small and quaint and the weather was very cold.  Dinner at the Palmyra Restaurant was delicious:  lentil soup, eggplant and potato casserole, chicken with eggplant/rice/toasted almonds.  In the morning we had a guided tour of the roman ruins, i.e. the temples, baths, pillars and statues which are very well preserved.  We left after having cheese and jam pancakes for lunch and drove to Krak de Chavaliers.  Our room had a view of this enormous medieval crusader castle with its two moots.  A typical Syrian dinner of chicken, lentils, eggplant, fried cauliflower, pita bread, lebneh, etc. was served in the dining room with a stunning view of the castle.  In the morning we watched the sunrise over the castle from our balcony and then walked up to it after breakfast.  Our guide showed us the hidden passageways, fortifications, slits in the walls for bows and arrows, dungeons,  etc. as we climbed all around, imagining all the fighting which must have taken place there.  More falafel sandwiches for lunch before catching the local bus to Aleppo, our final Syrian city.

My roommate and I decided it was time to have our own rooms.  Mine overlooked the courtyard and it was wonderful having my own space!!!  We all met at 5 p.m. and wandered through the old souk to the mosque, outside the walls, to the Baron Hotel where T. E. Lawrence stayed and finally to Al-Kommeh for dinner.  My eggplant/lamb kebabs and tabbouleh were very tasty and I picked up a couple pieces of pistachio baklava to eat on our way back to the hotel. 

The next morning Jess, our tour guide, took us on a little walk to some of the old buildings in Aleppo.  We visited an old asylum with bars still on the windows, an old restored house with an exhibit showing how many of the old homes are being restored so people can live in them again, ending up at the citadel, which was once a walled city.  The great throne room with its stained glass windows and wooden ceiling was a highlight along with all the staircases leading down to the dungeons and up to the top of the wall for great views.  I wandered through an enormous fruit/vegetable market on my way across town to the old Armenian quarter and visited a traditional home/museum and the lovely church of the 40 martyrs of Christ dedicated to the 40 proclaimed Christians who were condemned naked on a frozen pond to freeze to death… 

Dinner that night was at an Italian restaurant for a change – mushroom pizza baked in a wood fired oven.   Afterwards, we wandered slowly back into the walled city for the night.  In the morning we had Turkish coffee and baklava for breakfast and then drove out of Syria and crossed the border into Turkey…


Jordan – April, 2011
After a delicious oriental salad at our campsite on the red sea we caught the ferry to Aqaba, Jordan, a very small seaside village.  After a quick orientation walk down the only street in town we had dinner at a little local restaurant  and shared some meze plates of tahini, hummus, tabbouleh, pita bread, eggplant dip and some grilled lamb and chicken kebabs.  In the morning I wandered down to the beach and saw little children dressed in swimsuits but many of the women were wearing black heavy burquas which cover them from head to toe, leaving only their eyes and hands visible or at the very head scarves.  I stopped at a bakery to pick up some spinach filled pastries for later and then we headed into the Wadi Rum, a valley cut into the sandstone and granite filled with sand dunes, rock paintings and petroglyphs.  It was here that T. E. Lawrence based his operations during the Arab revolt of 1917 – 18.  Riding in land rovers we had a great look around, stopping to slide down some sand dunes and hike up to some rock caves before stopping at a Bedouin camp for the night.  We six were the only ones there along with a couple Bedouins who cooked us some chicken and potatoes underground and set up a camp fire.  It was fantastic to sleep under the stars as there were lots of blankets to keep us warm.

After pita bread, jam and homemade cheese for breakfast we drove out of the desert, transferred to a little mini van and drove to Petra, a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its rock cut architecture.  The “must” sees there are the “treasury” carved into the sandstone cliff, the amphitheatre, many tombs found in rock caves and the beautiful mosaic floor of the Byzantine church.  According to Arab tradition Petra is where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth.  We had one day with a guide and one free day to wander the cliffs at our leisure – it was truly awesome.

The next morning was cold and rainy but we stopped at the Dead Sea nevertheless.  Before going in we had a scrumptious buffet lunch of lentils, olives, chicken, stews, many type of rice dishes and even a grand selection of desserts.  Also called the salt sea, the dead sea is a salt lake bordering Jordan and Israel.  It is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water which makes floating easy but swimming almost impossible.  There are changing rooms, towel rentals and showers but it was a very cold and rainy day so we didn’t linger long!!!  We walked up Mt. Nebo where God showed Moses the promised land and supposedly where he is buried as well. 

We arrived in Madaba just in time for a quick orientation walk and to eat felaful pita bread sandwiches for dinner at Ayola Coffee shop.  In the morning a few of us shared a taxi to Jerash, a well-preserved Greco-Roman city where we wandered through the ruins of old cathedrals, amphitheatres, hippodromes and temples.  We returned to town with plenty of time to visit the many churches and museums filled with the city’s famous mosaics including the the oldest Byzantine Mosiac map of the Middle East on the floor of St. George’s Orthodox Church .  Our last dinner in Jordan was at Haret Jdoudna Restaurant (,  an old atmospheric home with delicious food.  My chicken w/potatoes and herbs cooked in a wood burning oven and fattoush salad were very tasty and a great way to say “good-bye” to Jordan.