Friday, March 29, 2013

Final Days in Jordan

As I mentioned yesterday, if you only have one day in Jordan, you must see the incredible ancient cave city of Petra. However, if you have a couple more days to play with, hire a Bedouin guide, visit Wadi Rum and go off-roading in the sand dunes. It's an experience you won't soon forget.

Our guide Salah was hilarious. He loves his country and it shows. I think he was slightly disappointed that Sarah and I were pregnant because it meant he couldn't go full-throttle while off-roading in the dunes. It was still plenty scary/thrilling for me, so I was very happy with the situation.

Our guide, Salah; photo by Sarah

I had never heard off this activity before we went, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It was crazy though. These dunes are huge and Salah drove very quickly up the sides of them and then hovered over the edge. Then, he pointed the wheels down and off we went! Had Sarah and I not been pregnant, there would have been no get to the top and fly off. That's what 4-wheel drive is for, right?

Though we were in the middle of nowhere, Salah made us a great lunch in the Bedouin style. I really enjoyed the mint tea, which was flavored with around 2 pounds of sugar.

Photo by Sarah

We spent the afternoon doing some more off-roading through a dried wadi (valley). Apparently floods in Jordan are so severe that they can completely wash roads away in a matter of minutes. We saw the aftermath of these floods while attempting to navigate a canyon. Salah had to create several of his own roads in order for us to pass. Honestly, I don't think any of us (Salah included) thought we were going to make it. It was definitely an adventure!

Our "road"

We stopped at Little Petra, another ancient cave village. We made some friends along the way.

Little Petra was cool, mainly because Bedouin tribes still live on the property.

We were lucky enough to meet and have tea with some of the villagers.

Dan got to know the local kids

The next day we explored Wadi Rum, a gorgeous valley with huge red rock formations. 

It was very hot and my poor skin has adapted to British weather, i.e. no sun. Sarah and I took matters into our own hands while Salah prepared another great meal.

Hiding from the sun

After lunch we continued exploring. This huge arch was so cool, but there was no way Sarah and I could get up there. Dan and Kyle climbed the mountain though.

It was a fantastic few days in Jordan and I owe a lot of that to our wonderful guide Salah. Thanks for showing us such a great time!

And sadly, we've come to the end of my trip to Israel and Jordan. Don't worry though. We had time for one more kosher hamburger on the flight home. Thank goodness for Burger Ranch in the Tel Aviv airport :)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Crossing the Border to Petra

After an incredible time in Israel, we made our way across the border to Jordan. We decided to do a guided tour of Jordan since we only had a few days; didn't speak the language; and wanted to make sure we didn't miss anything. I think it was the right choice.

We got started right away with a visit to Petra. Previously, my main source of information about this ancient city was from Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade. I had no idea that Petra is more than just the famous Treasury building. It is a whole city!

Petra's Treasury

Treasury; Photo by Sarah

Petra was built into the caves, which helped keep the ancient Nabateans cool during the summer and protected them from the floods in the winter. They carved intricate designs into the rock façades  but didn't bother painting them because nature did that for them. The striations in the rock were so dramatic.

Photo by Kyle

Photo by Sarah

We spent most of the day in Petra, and we still didn't see all of it. Lots of people recommended going to the monastery  but I heard it was a pretty steep hike. With both Sarah and I pregnant, we decided to skip it. The parts of town we saw were absolutely amazing though.

Photo by Sarah

If you only have one day in Jordan, definitely make time to see Petra. If you have more than one day though, hire a Bedouin guide to take you off-roading in the sand dunes. With three days at our disposal, that's exactly what we did. Stay tuned for pictures tomorrow! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

27 Weeks!

I spent half of this week in Spain and half in Harrogate with my family, and both went pretty well. I can't believe this is the last week of my second trimester! Time is definitely beginning to speed up and baby Levin will be here in no time.

I think baby must be running out of room because I feel her rolling from side-to-side. Her kicks are above my belly button now, but she hasn't hiccuped as much as she did a few weeks ago.

My family wanted to stop in a baby store to get an idea of the kinds of things Dan and I like. We weren't planning on buying anything, but it was good to look around and see what was available. It was amazing watching Dan test out the different strollers and pick out baby clothes. People say that when you have a kid it makes you love your spouse in a whole new way; I definitely understand that sentiment and the kid is not even here yet. So much to look forward to!

How far along? 27 weeks
Maternity clothes? Yes
Stretch marks? Nope
Sleep? Not good. I think I may have a problem with my bed being too soft. I'm not sure what to do about it though
Best moment of the week: Watching Dan try out different strollers in the baby store
Miss anything? No
Movement: Lots of rolling! She is definitely having a party in there
Food cravings:  None
Anything making you queasy or sick: No
Have you started to show yet? Definitely
Gender: Girl!!
Belly Button in or out? Out and proud
Wedding rings on or off? On
Happy or Moody most of the time? Less moodly than last week, but still not my normal self
Looking forward to: Starting prenatal yoga classes

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sweet Tooth Traveler: Israel

I'm back on Trip Wolf chatting about Israel. This is probably my favorite sweet tooth adventure so far. Check it out!

The Sweet Tooth Traveler: Israel
The Bible describes Israel as the land of milk and honey. I would add cinnamon and chocolate to that description. I’m not sure if it is because I grew up with them, or if I just really love the flavor profile of Israeli sweets, but I was literally as happy as a kid in a candy shop in Israel. During my ten days traversing the country, I gorged myself on cinnamon buns, rugelach and ice cream…and I would do it all again in a heartbeat!

Click here to read the full post.

Read about my other Israel adventures:
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel Aviv, Israel
Northern Israel
Ein Gedi; Masada; Dead Sea, Israel

Sunday, March 24, 2013

26 Weeks!

This post is a bit delayed because I was in Spain with my parents, my sister and Dan. I was a little worried about the 3 hour flight, but it was actually fine. Dan was good about making me get up and walk around. I was even more worried about being able to keep up with the family during sightseeing, but I think they might say they had trouble keeping up with me! We had a very busy itinerary, but it was well-worth it.

As much as I love my family (and I do, a lot!), I haven't lived with them since I was 18. Any time I'm with them for an extended period of time (e.g. a whole week), I think I revert to my teenage self. Tempers flare and sarcasm reigns. Tell me I'm not alone in this, please. That might have contributed to my slight moodiness. I'll blame the pregnancy hormones though. It sounds nicer.

How far along? 26 weeks
Maternity clothes? Yes
Stretch marks? None yet, but the skin on my belly is so tight that I can see a web of veins just under the surface. It looks like a blue road map to nowhere
Sleep? Not too bad, actually
Best moment of the week: Meeting my family at the gate in the Malaga airport
Miss anything? Being in Spain definitely made me want Sangria
Movement: Tons. I loved having my family feel and see it
Food cravings:  None
Anything making you queasy or sick: No
Have you started to show yet? Definitely
Gender: Girl!!
Belly Button in or out? I thought it was as out as it was going to be, but it's still moving outward
Wedding rings on or off? On
Happy or Moody most of the time? A little moody this week, actually
Looking forward to: Entering the "home stretch," a.k.a. the third trimester

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Passover Preparation

One of my absolute favorite holidays is coming next week: Passover. I know not everyone loves the cleaning, cooking and expense that goes along with it, but I'm willing to overlook those things. For me, it's about the family, the food and the stories. The Passover seder has such great stories and songs that I love telling and singing from year to year.

Last year's seder plate

I'm thrilled that this year I will again be spending Passover with my family. Last year I was in Dallas, and this year they are coming here! Since we're in Spain this week, Dan and I did most of our preparations last week. To make our lives easier, we decided to create an Excel spreadsheet for our grocery list and meal plan. We are very strict during Passover and do not eat any food that is not specifically labeled as "Kosher for Passover." That means that everything from the sugar to the cereal has to be replaced. Certain items are off-limits (anything made with grains or legumes), and other things just have to be marked.

Some people feel restricted during Passover, but I love the food. I can't wait to eat all of my favorites and try out some of these new recipes.

Passover kugel [source]

Martha Stewart's Tzimmes [source]

Passover Gnocchi [source]

Leek and Pea Quiche [source]

Do you celebrate Passover? What are you looking forward to? Also, feel free to use our shopping list if it helps you!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Something to Brighten Your Day

My friends Sarah and Kyle shared this with me, and I couldn't wait to share with you. It's a bit ridiculous and a lot awesome. Sit back and enjoy as Los Colorados, a Ukrainian polka band, covers Katy Perry's "Hot N' Cold."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Post: Remember, Remember...

A while back I asked my friend and fellow SOS'er Nick to write a guest blog post about the awesome jacket potato bar party he hosted for Guy Fawkes Day. To give you a sense of timing, the Guy Fawkes rhyme goes as follows:
Remember, remember the 5th of November
gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
should ever be forgot.
So, I've been excited to read this post for a while. I'm sad that I couldn't make it to the event, but now at least there are only a few more months until the next Guy Fawkes Day! Here's Nick with more.

Here is one from the archives... except that it was never written, until now! A source of fortnightly mild interrogation from Calli, the subject of this blog post has finally matured to the point that we can crack the seal and enjoy the perfectly (overly?) aged material. This introduction is a touch superfluous, but it's my way of skirting the issue of apologizing to Calli for taking SO long to do a guest post for Calli's Crossing. Without further ado...

To avoid confusing all of us Americans, we used the American 
term "Baked Potato Bar" on all official signage

The Jacket Potato Bar is an ancient Anglo-Saxon rite of passage into middle-age hood. As an adolescent and young adult, one can only handle the concept of individual or perhaps a duo of toppings. The adventurous British soul might even have ventured into a three topping jacket potato, but he was often shunned by his peers and forced to live a solitary life off in the Dales somewhere. There was an archaeological dig that uncovered all this. This is history here, people. I live in England. Wouldn't I know? Look it up... but in one of those research-journal-only paid subscription search engines. Don't have access to those? Well then I suppose you'll just have to believe me.

Another ancient British tradition was annual Blowing-Up Parliament Day. That is, until Guy Fawkes took a triumphant stand on November 5th and said, "Nay! This tradition is barbaric and fiscally indefensible. Instead of rebuilding parliament every year, how about this imperialism thing, or we could decapitate a monarch!? And drinking to excess is good, too." Mr. Fawkes was a visionary that is still celebrated annually on November 5th with a ritual bonfire representing all those years of blowing up/burning down parliament and the lives lost to such a senseless tradition. Wait, I'm being told I may have some of the details wrong. But why else would British people celebrate Guy Fawkes Day annually? Ah well, my memory sometimes fails me. Look that up, too.

Burning an effigy in "honor" of Guy Fawkes' brave stand

Now you see why I chose the ritual Jacket Potato Bar (JPB) to celebrate such a momentous day in British history, in addition to my march forward in my 30s. As this is a DIY style blog, perhaps I should discuss the makings of a good jacket potato bar. One that announces to the world that I've arrived squarely out of young adulthood into... whatever the early to mid-thirties are called. And no, it wasn’t my birthday, I’m holding this story together with tape and chewing gum here people. The village that it took to raise me would be proud.

So back to the JPB. You’re welcome to make it as small or as large as you feel comfortable with. It turns out, no matter whether or not you put out certain... let's say "coordinated ingredients," you're going to have people that take it as a challenge to fit every.single.topping on the jacket potato. You know the type, they were the same ones that can't be trusted at a soda fountain. Cherry Coca-Spri-Monade Dew is not a thing. But don't let these people deter you. Put out whatever you feel like making and embrace the madness. You can eat 3 properly coordinated jacket potatoes and feel morally superior.

Jacket Potato Bar with all the trimmings

Here were the four styles of jacket potatoes I intended with the toppings for each. There is reuse of several ingredients throughout:

The Dirty Frenchman (Xenophobia be damned)
Brie! (Sacrebleu!)
Red wine sauteed onions and mushrooms
Lardons (really just bacon for fancy folk)

Vegetarian Chili
Shredded Adobo chicken
El queso cheddaro
El Sour Cream

The Posh Brit
Cranberry sauce
Proper Back Bacon
And that's it for that one. Brits can't tolerate more than 3 ingredients. We've been over this.

And last, but not least

'Merica!  #!@(& Yeah
Gosh darn bacon!
Gal dern cheddar cheese?
Fancy schmancy chives
Whatever the heck else you want!
* Comes with a side of freedom.

I'm not getting into recipes, here, but do note that something similar to this menu for 30 people will take you most of a day of cooking because it's a lot of stuff, and it's all made from scratch. You can take shortcuts, but won't be as earth shattering, so if that's what you're going for, just keep doing your thing. But here is an idea of how I planned my day.Hopefully this will give you an idea of how to set up for this type of party:
  • 8-9am: Wake up to God Save the Queen on your alarm clock, make breakfast, make tea, forget to drink most of tea because you're busy cooking
  • After breakfast (2-3 hours of work): Chop the bacon/lardons while it's raw to make the best bacon bits (aka American lardons), and then let the fat render and let the bacon deep fry in its own fat. Because I said so. Trust me.
  • While that's going, spice up and sauté off your chicken and let it cool. Shred the cooked chicken. Sweat some onions in the same pan and then add the chicken and simmer it in chicken stock spiked with lots of your favorite Tex-Mexican spices. Simmer... not boil!
  • After you start the chicken start your cranberry sauce (sugar, lemon zest, and cranberries, plus a few teaspoons of water to get it started).
  • While the chicken is cooking (about an hour): Chop and shred things that don't need to be warm: Cilantro, cheddar cheese, brie, chives. Take the chicken off the stove after an hour or so of simmering. (If you're smart and less of a procrastinator than me, you can do this stuff the day before.)
  • Sometime around noon-1pm: Find your tea. Microwave, drink one-third, forget again.
  • Early- to mid-afternoon: Start your chili, which, depending on the recipe you're using, should take 1-3 hours of prep/simmer time.
  • Mid-to-late afternoon: while the chili is simmering, prepare your red wine onions and mushrooms. This involves sautéing both items in butter with salt and pepper, and deglazing the pan with red wine and then adding fresh thyme and maybe a spoonful of whole grain mustard, but this can flavored any way you like it.
  • You probably have a break now, so tidy up and get ready for the party.
  • At least 2 hours before people show up: put on a big vat of mulled wine in the crock pot and make sure the beer is on ice.
  • 2 Hours before you want to serve the jacket potatoes: start the potatoes baking. I wrapped mine in foil and poked holes in them so they'd stay hot longer when they're put out on the bar. They take longer to cook this way, but it's worth it to buy you extra time with hot potatoes. Without the foil, it will take closer to an hour to an hour and a half.
  • Half an hour before party: Find your tea again, feel a little shameful for doing so, but microwave it yet again and proudly finish the cup. This is Yorkshire’s finest, here. No wounded soldiers.

One thing we had to work around was heading out to the celebration of Guy Fawkes for about an hour during the party… I couldn't miss it, after all he did for our host country. Everything had to be as close to ready to go when we got back as possible. British patriotism makes people hungry. We put out cheese and crackers and some dips and breads before people headed out to the Guy Fawkes festivities. That bought us some time on the other end of the outing, but I did still have to head back a little bit before everyone else to reheat items made earlier that day. I used a combo of pots and the microwave to make things go as quickly as possible.

Once everyone has eaten and is happy, tidy up a bit and enjoy the party!Put out the desserts when it feels right. I am fortunate to be surrounded by terrific bakers. My beautiful wife and the lovely and talented Sarah King provided the desserts. Sarah made us a FANTASTIC likeness of Guy Fawkes, in pie form! No one wanted to cut into it, though. It was too impressive.

Sarah King's pie in the likeness of Guy Fawkes.
Not en flambé  but perfect otherwise!

Later on in the evening, if you live within 2 blocks of a pub, make sure everyone gets an adult juice box full of 2 pints of beer. It’s one last element of Britishness you really must fit into the day. If you don’t live within 2 blocks of a pub, make sure to have plenty of British ale stocked.

All the guys with their adult juice boxes full of 2 pints of beer

And that’s all she wrote.  If you drink too much: good, that’s the most British thing you can do.  They’ll hardly notice you’re a Yank if you’re properly slurring that ghastly bastardization of the Queen’s English, know as ‘Merican, and we wouldn't have it any other way.  Health and Safety wanted me to tell you that.

Don't you love Nick? Not only is he hilarious, but is a fantastic chef and host. I can't wait until November for his Second Annual Jacket Potato Bar! Thanks for posting, Nick!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Last Stop in Israel: Eilat

Sadly, Eilat was our last stop in Israel before crossing the border to Jordan for a 3-day tour. We didn't have a lot of time in Eilat, but we managed to squeeze in a quick snorkel in the Red Sea.

Temperatures were a little less than ideal (read: freezing) and for some reason I had a weird reaction to the water and couldn't stay in very long. Nevertheless, the views were amazing! The water was incredibly clear and there were hundreds of fish all along the gorgeous corals. The corals themselves were bright and multi-colored and alive with the movement of the sea. Dan even made a friend; one medium-sized fish came right up to his face, sniffed around and then headed out.

We spent the evening relaxing on the beach, playing cards and drinking (juice).

Before we leave Israel and move on to Jordan though, I have to tell you about the food. I've mentioned a couple of things here and there, but now is the time to give you a run-down of how amazing the food in Israel really is. Funny story: Dan and I keep kosher, meaning we basically live a vegetarian lifestyle outside of our house. In fact, most of our friends in Harrogate count us as vegetarians since that's all they see us eat. At the end of this trip though, Kyle and Sarah were...impressed? disgusted? with the amount of meat we actually eat when given the choice. Here were some of my favorite meals.

Best Burger:

BurgersBar; Photo by Sarah

Sorry McDonald's, but BurgersBar, Jerusalem wins this hands down. This is a nation-wide chain and we ate there a few times. This burger we had on the first night was the best though.

Best Meat Fest:

Haari 8; Photo by Sarah

Yes, we had more than one meat fest from which to choose. Sorry again to my vegetarian friends. The clear winner is Haari 8 in Safad. That was easily the best pile of mixed meats I've ever had.

Papagaio; Photo by Sarah

Runner-up was Papagaio in Jerusalem. This is an all-you-can-eat Brazilian grill, similar to Fogo de Chão, but kosher! The food was plentiful, but for the price I'm not sure it was the best. The chicken wings were awesome, as was the London broil. But the entrecôte was a bit overcooked. It had nothing on Haari 8.

Best Chinese/En Flambé

Mr. Shai; Photo by Sarah

Mr. Shai, one of only three restaurants in Arad (near the Dead Sea), was a surprise hit. Kyle's meal of lemon chicken en flambe was the most impressive, but Dan's was the tastiest. He ordered a crispy goose with honey that was absolutely fantastic.

Best Thai:


We stumbled upon Thailandi in Jerusalem. It's not much to look at, but this pad thai was so tasty! I've never had it with beef and goose in it before! I loved it!

Best Mexican:


Ha'Mexicani (translation: the Mexican), was a fun find in Eilat. The freshly made tortillas were were stuffed to the brim with grilled meat, fresh guacamole and salsa. It was fantastic.

Best Sign:

Quick Meat: For Those Who Like Meat

Only Dan actually ate at Quick Meat in Eilat, but I have to give the restaurateur credit for a great sign. It's like he was speaking directly to me.

And sadly, that ends our time in Israel. Next up, adventures in Jordan!

Read about our stops in Israel and Jordan:
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel Aviv, Israel
Northern Israel
Ein Gedi; Masada; Dead Sea, Israel
Petra, Jordan
Wadi Rum, Jordan