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20 December 2010

Happy Christmas

I don't have any pictures; the day ran long and the night has just about got away from me.

But I do have words, and it's with those I'll paint a picture.

Our tree isn't very big. Last year it was over 9 feet tall. This year, it's a bit over six. It's spun round with strands of white lights and the ornaments have been collected from my first Christmas (1977, baby!), our first Christmas together (2004 to be exact), to the fat little blue glass owl I picked up just a few short weeks ago. There are owls and polar bears, coffee cups and snowmen. Jon and I made yarn ornaments this year. Beautiful, multi-colored balls of fabric-stiffened yarn and fabric.

There's a raven atop our tree. No star or angel for us! Truthfully, we don't have a tree topper and the raven just happened to be perched atop the bookshelf just behind the tree so it appeared to rest on the tree when I took pictures of it when it was first put in the stand. And thus a new tree topper tradition was born.

There's a manger scene in the window, wrapped round with white fairy lights. A snowman sits on the record player, a little homemade candle warms his mitten-hands.
Our cat is nestled all snug in one chair, dreaming of canned food and Christmas tree flavored water. The space heater hums merrily next to the sofa where I usually find myself after a really long, really stressful day at work.

This year has been hard. Seriously hard. Lots of stress and changes. There's been good things too, choices made, new paths discovered. For the most part, however, I'm ready for a new year. A new chance. A clean slate and a fresh start. My dreams and goals are forever growing. I see them looming on the horizon, just, as it would appear, out of reach. For a moment I ask you dear blog friends, what are your dreams for the coming year? Was your year a hard one? Perhaps you experienced loss. Big changes or small may have put the breaks on your plans. Maybe things didn't go exactly as you'd hoped.

That's what Christmas is for. To remind us of miracles. To remind us that no matter how hopeless the situation, no matter how dire the circumstances, there is always hope.

Christmas is magic. The word "magic" and the word "miracle" both come from the same roots. When boiled down to their essence, both words can be used to describe something that can not be explained, something which has just happened, without any plausible explanation.

Look out your window. Look at those around your table. Look at the pictures on your wall, the people who pass you on the street. Everyone a miracle. Everyone magic.
Nothing is impossible, dear friends. Not dreams, not goals, not plans. Not hopes. Not angels singing or virgin births. Nothing is impossible.

I'll be taking a bit of a break from blog land until January. I'll be back with a new blog to start up, a new part of the world to explore on this one, and some interesting news I'm sure! Oh, and I most definitely plan to return with a story of the impossible.

Save yours to share, dear friends.

And remember:

Where there is life, there is hope.
Jen

Be Jolly By Golly Fest



And a Happy Monday to you all! (If there is such a thing. I hear rumors and I'm running with them this morning. It is, after all, the week of CHRISTMAS!)

This isn't an "official" post, but I wanted to let you know of a lovely blog fest that's going on. Melissa at Through the Looking Glass and Jen at Unedited are hosting the Be Jolly By Golly blog fest today. It's an impressive list of participants and the posts are pouring in. Wander by either of their blogs to get the full list and spend this week reading about the blog world's Christmas traditions. I'll be posting mine later this evening, so do come back by and see what I've got brewing over at the Manor :D

Cheers!
Jen

16 December 2010

Soup's on!


Delicious Photo Found HERE

Last time, we had salad. People usually start a meal with a salad, I thought. So why not move on ahead to the soup course?

I found two delicious sounding soups which would go excellent with the aforementioned (and posted about) salad. They're vegetarian, but if you crave meat in your soups and stews like I do, a bit of beef or more traditionally, lamb, would go great in both of these. Enjoy!

Middle Eastern Vegetable Soup

You'll Need:

•3 white potatoes, chopped
•1/2 yellow onion, cut into eighths
•4 carrots, sliced
•1 clove garlic, crushed
•1 celery stalk, sliced
•1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
•1/2 cup fresh string beans or canned
•1/4 teaspoon black pepper
•1/4 teaspoon cumin
•1/8 teaspoon ginger
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•4 cups water
•3 cups canned tomato sauce
•1 8oz can tomato paste

What to do:

Combine water, tomato sauce and paste in a large saucepan and put on medium heat. Stir well. This will make your soup base. Add water or more tomato sauce as desired and then add in your vegetables and spices.

Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to low-medium and let simmer for 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

**This recipe is from About.com's Middle Eastern food site and is totally worth reading for the comment underneath. I love it when people share personal stories about food.

Middle Eastern Lentil Soup (if anyone knows the Arabic/Farsi names to these, I'd LOVE to have them!! Calling everything "Middle Eastern ____ Soup is a bit bland.)

What You'll Need:

1 cup dried lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

What to do:

Rinse lentils, getting rid of any debris or lentils that look blemished; drain.

Heat your oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion and bell pepper; cook and stir 5 minutes or until tender. Add fennel seeds, cumin and ground red pepper; cook and stir for 1 minute.

Add water and lentils. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in salt and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until lentils are tender. Stir in lemon juice.

Top with yogurt and sprinkle with parsley once you've ladled soup into individual bowls.

**This one sounds like it would be FABULOUS with some lamb. I LOVE stew this time of year, and a hearty meat stew always hits the spot. But I'm willing to try it without, as per the recipe. This one was found at TLC's Cooking Site.

I'm contemplating a Middle Eastern soup and salad night here soon. Perhaps this weekend? My mom is coming down for a visit and I think that would be the perfect menu for a chilly Sunday afternoon.

Cheers!
~Jen

13 December 2010

Anyone for Salad?


photo found here

I love salad. For real! I do. I never do anything too fancy when I make it at home. Toss in some bell peppers now and then; always add cheese. Oh, and the bacon bits. How can I forget about the bacon bits?

Whilst perusing the Middle Eastern food sites today, I came across this delicious sounding salad and thought, "Hmmm, sounds tasty and festive...and easy." Not that I have a problem with tough recipes, but usually around the holidays the easier the dish the better. (Yeah, and me with my baklava plans...)

Salad-e Shirazi is a summer tomato-cucumber salad but the ingredients are readily available anytime. This salad would make a colorful and fresh alternative to the normally heavy foods at the holiday table. (This recipe was originally found @ About.com)

Salad-e Shirazi: Tomato-Cucumber Salad

•3 large, firm tomatoes
•2 cucumbers
•1 small onion, red or yellow
•2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, depending on taste
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
•1 teaspoon minced garlic
•salt and pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions finely. Toss with the remaining ingredients and mix well gently.

Serve chilled.

The recipe says it takes about 15 minutes to prepare and serves 4. Double or triple it for your holiday gathering. As for me, I think I might just try this for a weeknight treat. I'm also thinking some chickpeas tossed in would be a lovely addition.

And bacon...can't go wrong with bacon...

***In other news, I won a contest!!!! Yep, I got an email from the fabulous and talented Shannon Whitney Messenger telling me I won a copy of the Middle Grade book The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little. Woo-hee!! This book sounds very intriguing. It takes place in the deep south, in bayou country (that's Lousiana if you're wondering). I'm really looking forward to reading it. Wander on by and check out Shannon's blog! She'd always got something awesome going on over there!

10 December 2010

A Little Middle Eastern Christmas Cheer

I have an excellent excuse for not blogging the past couple of days; I've been writing. Yes! Real live writing and NOT NaNo editing (that is to come). Yesterday, I got an idea for something (non-fiction, if you can believe that), and off I went, typing between phone calls and writing on a napkin during lunch in my car.

That said, I've been thinking a lot about Middle Eastern Christmas customs this week. Funny, but when I realized my virtual travels would land me in the M.E. for Christmas, I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to be in England for Christmas, or at least the Alps. But my self-imposed trip had me traversing across Pakistan, Afghanistan and into Iran.

More out of compulsion than anything else, I simply typed in "Middle Eastern Christmas" in the search engine and *voila!* I was gifted with a whole mess of interesting sites. And then it hit me: Christmas started in the Middle East. What's more appropriate than a Middle Eastern Christmas? Not only that, but when I was pondering some recipes for this month, it was Hanukkah and THAT'S a Middle Eastern Holiday as well. Serendipitous I must say.

We don't really think of Middle Eastern countries celebrating Christmas but they do. Lebanon especially, but there are Arabic Christians in most M.E. countries that celebrate. Their celebrations aren't as garish as our western traditions and I find them far more endearing.

In Lebanon, about two weeks prior to Christmas, people will plant chickpeas, beans, lentils and wheat grains in cotton wool. The seeds will get watered every day and by Christmas, they have a nice little garden of greens. These shoots will be plucked and used to surround manger scenes.

Friends and family gather around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. They celebrate with an evening meal and at midnight, the church bells begin to ring. Everyone puts on their new Christmas clothes and they go to church for a midnight service. The children eagerly await Papa Noel to bring their gifts and they hang little red stockings for him to fill with sweets.

Pakistan is a predominately Muslim country and therefore, Christmas is not a national holiday. Those that do celebrate, do so quietly and simply with traditions that vary from town to town. Church services are held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day called Barha Din or Greatest Day.

There are also Christmas celebrations to be found in Syria, Egypt, and even Iraq. I also read that Bethlehem has 3 Christmas celebrations due to the three different denominational churches in the city and their holiday observance calendars! And get this, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem sits upon the traditional site of the original manger. Christmas Eve services are held in what's called The Shepherd's Field and then the crowd continues the service inside The Church of the Nativity. Only a small amount of people can attend and it's by invitation only. If you're not one of the lucky invites, however, they set of a large screen outside so you can view the celebration from Manger Square.

Recipes are forthcoming! Have an awesome weekend. Speaking of food, I'm off to Maggiano's in Atlanta this evening for the office Christmas party. Repeat after me: Italian food. YUM.

Cheers!

Sources: Habeeb.com
Christmas in Pakistan
Christmas in Israel

**Some of these sites have music, so keep the speakers low. Unless you like to start your day with blaring organ music**

07 December 2010

ugh...guh...blah...

Not feeling too well today, folks. And work has me slammed addressing envelopes and filing a forest of papers. Riveting, I know.

Anywho, I had a smidge of time this morning (and about as much energy) and I wanted to give you guys a little teaser of what I've found whilst roaming around the Interwebs in search of Middle Eastern noms.

Like this:


Jumbals

and THIS:


Maamoul

and, cue the Hallelujah Chorus, THIS:


BAKLAVA

(small disclaimer: yes, I know the above link is to a Balkan recipe for Baklava, but this site had the prettiest photo. so there.)

Enjoy the photo-link love, my dears. Hopefully I'll be feeling better tomorrow and I'll be able to post an actual recipe. I'm REALLY hoping I'll be able to MAKE one of these delicious treats for Christmas. Maybe all three? Who knows.

Cheers!

06 December 2010

Hopscotch


Go, Granny, GO!

Been thinking a lot about spice lately. Yep. Spice. You know, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (yes, even cloves...bleck!). Blame it on Christmas. When the holidays roll around, I start wanting spicy things: gingerbread, spiced (or spiked ;)) cider, chai. We made chai last night. It was the bagged kind; Holiday Chai it's called. We added some heavy whipping cream and some sugar and yum-yummy was it good! I'm glad I got over my chai-a-phobia. It tastes like Christmas in a cup!

Perhaps I'm thinking about spice because the next location in our culinary journeying is the Middle East. I've been thinking of the best way to do this, seeing as the Middle East is a very LARGE area and we have a very small month in which to explore it's culinary wonders. So. Instead of bouncing from country to country, how about if we look at Middle Eastern dishes in light of the holidays? Sounds groovy to me!

I promised you an update on the NaNo novel. I finished (*confetti*) and it's over 50,000 words (*trumpets*). Funny story: I finished the book by writing a rather detailed outline, spilling out the words as they came, untangling plot lines and character mishaps as I went. And I discovered, shock and amazement, that it's not a stand alone. THIS story is: it has a beginnings, a middle and an end. BUT, and this is a very big but, a character who decided to pop up in the middle of the tale (no, not the little girl I told you about before. A shape shifting cat named Finn), just HAD to go and complicate things. So now, my characters not only await my editing genius (*cough* struggle and random cursing *cough*), they also wonder just what the heck am I going to do to them next? Ah, the joys of prime exocutioner...torterer...author.

I feel like there's something I'm skipping, and not just the square upon which the stone landed. Ah, yes. I think I let slip a teensy-weensy little teaser last Friday. Something about a new blog? Yes, I know, I'm crazy. But someone (I can't recall who and for that I am very sorry) once said that blogs are like little pieces of ourselves. They allow us to be different aspects of a whole. I like to look at my blogs as rooms in an old English country manor. Just when you get comfortable in one-the fire lit, the brandy poured- someone suggests you go down the hall. Or you pull a book from the bookcase and a panel opens to a stairway and mysteriously lit torches.

The new place will concentrate on all things writing - my writing, the writing of others, writerly wisdom, prompts, rantings, ravings and rejoicings. I really (REALLY) would LOVE for you all to join me over there. I won't be posting quite yet. I'm going to let the holidays flitter me into January before I consider committing to more postings. I do have the drapes hung and the rugs laid. The walls have been given a coat of paint and the moves are just now placing the marble statues around the pool. Wander over if you like. Some of you already have and I thank you very, very much! There's not much to see just yet, but when things are settled, I invite you all over for a cuppa, be it tea, coffee, cocoa, spiced cider.

Or chai.

03 December 2010

Busy, busy, busy


(now THAT'S something different!)

Hey guys!

I hope all of you in the States had a marvelous, food and family filled Thanksgiving!I also hope my fellow NaNo-ers made it out of November alive and with a nice new novel to edit over the beginning of 2011. Let's here it for edits! Woohoo!!! (Sorry, that coffee was a bit strong. Seconds?)

I know I said I'd be back 01 December, but it seems I've hit a bit of a snag. A busy snag at that.

I didn't want to leave you without at least a quick hello. So...HELLO!

I'll be back to posting on Monday. I've got some ideas for some holiday treats from the Middle East. Yep, we're leaving India (however sporadic our trip there was) and heading over through Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, on into Turkey (which, by the way, did you know is EUROPEAN country?)

A Middle Eastern Christmas, huh? Sure. Why not. That is where Christmas started, after all. I'll also dip down into the real land of Christmas and touch on some foods associated with Israel. And while we're at it, I'll throw in some Hanukkah treats as well. Hanukkah started yesterday. For those of you who celebrate, I wish you a joyful Festival of Lights!!

Also got some other news about my NaNo novel, AND a new blog project. Yes, ANOTHER blog!! Am I crazy? Come on, you already know the answer to that ;)

Have a great weekend, Loves!
Cheers