Friday, April 27, 2012

The Secret to Perfect Hummus

One of my favorite things about our recent trip to the Middle East was the food. On our 13-hour plan ride from Jordan to Chicago last Saturday, I sat next to a lovely Palestinian-American gentleman. He was born in Jordan and owns a Middle Eastern restaurant in Chicago.  I don’t usually like to chat it up with seatmates, but this guy was very interesting. In addition to talking about Middle Eastern cuisine (which I am completely in love with now), we talked about the Israel/Palestine conflict and he educated me a bit about Islam and teachings from the Quran… it was fascinating. He also told me he makes the best hummus on Earth! Unfortunately I couldn’t get the recipe out of him – he doesn’t even share it with his employees – but he told me the secret is how long you soak the chickpeas. He didn’t give me any more details than that so I had to do some research on my own.  The other tip I learned from him is there is a special hummus machine that has more horsepower than a regular blender or Cuisinart. This ensures the proper thick, creamy consistency… who knew?

Anway… my mother-in-law bought a Jordanian cookbook on our trip and I tried the hummus recipe for a gathering I had at my house this week. I have to say, it was pretty close to perfect. Several people have asked for my “secret recipe.” Since I don’t plan on opening a Middle Eastern restaurant any time soon, here it is! Plan ahead because it does take time, but it is so worth it! I will never buy store-bought hummus again, if I can help it!

OK, so now that you know the backstory, here is the recipe!

Chickpeas Puree (Hummus bil tahini)
The cookbook notes that it is the “number one appetizer in the Middle East.”

Serves 4 (I quadrupled the recipe to get the most bang for my buck since it does take a while to make.)


1 cup cooked chickpeas (see below) or canned
½ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed with a pinch of salt
¼ cup lemon juice (I used fresh-squeezed and I think that is where the magic happens! Note: 3 large lemons did not quite yield 1 cup of juice.)
2 tablespoons sesame paste (aka, tahini. Look for it near the peanut butter at the grocery store.)
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup garbanzo beans*
4 cups water
Soak beans overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Add 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of garbanzo beans. Liquid should be 1-2 inches above the top of the beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 2 hours. OR pressure cook 12-15 minutes.
*1 cup of beans yields 2-2 1/2 cups of cooked beans.
*Cooked beans can be stored up to 1 week in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer. (Good to know!)


1. Drain warm chickpeas and reserve 1 tablespoon.
2. Beat chickpeas in food processor.
3. Blend chickpeas with the sesame paste, lemon juice, crushed garlic and salt into a puree. Adjust flavor and consistency with lemon juice and salt if needed. (Hummus should be thick and smooth.)
4. Serve in a shallow bowl. Pour olive oil in the center and garnish with the reserved chickpeas, chopped parsley and cumin.

Serve with sliced cucumbers and warm pita bread.  Enjoy!

Delicious, fresh pita right out of the oven in Jerash, Jordan. 

Source: Jordanian Cooking Step by Step by Lina Chebaro Baydoun and Nada Mosbah Halawani

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trip of a Lifetime

We just returned from a two-week Adventure (yes, with a capital “A”) in Jordan and Israel/Palestine. It’s an unusual spring break destination but I am so glad my husband, Geoff, insisted we go there instead of the restful, beach vacation I was lobbying for. It was a truly AMAZING, fascinating, beautiful, exhausting trip of a lifetime!

It’s impossible to sum up our trip in words or even sentences so I am planning to write several blog posts to capture the amazing sites we saw and my favorite experiences and observations.  From archeology sites to holy sites to culinary delights, fashion and of course, color!

The flag of Jordan flying high. 

I didn’t have time to do the travel journal I was planning because each day was so full and we were exhausted at the end of each day. So my posts will not only be for friends, family and followers who have expressed interest in our trip but also will help me document this truly enriching, life-changing experience. And we have 5,000-plus photos between the eight adults in our group so editing them down to the highlights will take some time.

Brothers Geoff and Bjorn at Petra.

Before we went when I would tell people where we were going they would usually ask two questions: "Why?" and "Is it safe?" So I will start off by answering those questions so we can move onto the good stuff! We went to visit Geoff’s brother, Bjorn, who is living in Amman, Jordan, with his wife and four-year-old son, for six months on a research fellowship. Bjorn is a classical archaeology professor who has lived, studied and written extensively on the region (think Indiana Jones!). We traveled with Geoff’s parents and his brother’s in-laws. There were 10 of us, including two four-year-olds. 

Our group of 10 - the Anderson and Larson clan!

On the topic of safety, overall I felt very safe In Jordan. Ironically, I didn’t feel as safe in Israel even though there were soldiers everywhere to keep us “safe.” The presence of many armed soldiers was a bit unnerving especially at the holy sites. It felt odd to have young men holding large rifles next to the site where Jesus was crucified, for example.  I saw more guns during our three days in Israel than I have seen in my whole life combined. It is a complicated country, for sure. The border crossings between Jordan and Israel were long and tense but we didn’t have any issues, thankfully.


We spent most of our time in Jordan so to provide some context for my posts, I wanted to share a quick overview of the country, including a few basic facts that I didn’t know until we started planning our trip.

Location: Jordan is part of a region considered to be "the cradle of civilization." It borders Saudi Arabia to the east and southeast, Iraq to the northeast, Syria to the north, and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing control of the Dead Sea with the latter. Over half of Jordan is covered by the Arabian Desert.

Language: Arabic

Religion: Islam is the official religion. Approximately 92% of the population is Muslim and 6% Christian.

Population: 6 million (For comparison, approximately 8 million people live in New York City.)

Government: Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a king and queen. King Abdullah II became king in 1999 following his father’s death.

The king of Jordan's picture is everywhere throughout the country on signs and banners, in shops and restaurants. 

Each day was jam-packed with multi-faceted experiences and excursions to famous and not-so-famous sites. One of our days looked like this: Started off at Roman ruins overlooking the Sea of Galilee, then visited the site where Jesus was baptized, dipped our toes in the Jordan River and finished the day floating in the Dead Sea covered in mud. And this was pretty typical, if you could call it that!

Here are some highlight photos to keep you coming back for more!

Cousins Lars and Sofia in their kafias which were given them as gifts by a shopkeeper in Madaba! They both completely embraced the culture and want to move there!

Roman Theater (AD 138-161) in Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Jerash - one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world.

The young Jordanian girls were really taken with Sofia. She had rock star status! They took pictures of her, hugged her, danced with her and pinched her cheeks constantly. She LOVED it!

We ate delicious food in both countries. I think falafel (deep fried chickpea balls, shown here), hummus and pita is the perfect meal! My mouth is watering!

Geoff exploring Umm Quays, a hilltop archaeological site in northwest Jordan.

Sofia and me strolling old Roman streets in Umm Quays.

The site where Jesus was baptized near the Jordan River. Seeing the baptismal site and many other holy sites was very moving. 

Our group floating in the Dead Sea. It was an awesome experience!

View of Jerusalem from the house where we stayed on the Mount of Olives.

After three action-packed days in Jerusalem, we enjoyed two relaxing days at a gorgeous resort in the town of Aqaba on the Red Sea in southern Jordan. Geoff and Bjorn spent a day scuba diving while the rest of us relaxed at the beach and pools!

Orange sand in the Wadi Rum desert. It was hot and beautiful there!

Sofia and me on a camel in front of the Treasury at Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

As you can see, it was a thrilling trip. Overall, there are many, many things I miss about Jordan, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things that I won’t miss just to give you the full picture:

1. Lack of toilets… when traveling with two 4-year-olds this is a major pain.

2. Carrying toilet paper everywhere… similar to the first point. When we did finally find a toilet, there was rarely toilet paper, so we carried it everywhere.

3. Endless stares … the men aren’t used to seeing women “uncovered” and they don’t hide their interest in Western women at all.

4. Garbage … sadly, there is garbage everywhere in Jordan even in the nicer areas. We designated their black plastic grocery bags the national bird of Jordan because we saw them everywhere, even flying high in the sky.

5. Food safety… worrying about what food (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) were safe to eat because of the bacteria in the water. We took the proper precautions and thankfully no one in our group got sick. 

6. Crazy drivers… lanes don’t even seem to provide any guidance to drivers in Jordan. And stoplights seem to be optional.

7. Border crossings and security check points. They were pretty painless for us, just long, and they were constant reminders of the unrest in the region. 

8. Brushing my teeth with bottled water!

9. And last but not least - cigarette smoke! 

Even with all of this, the positives FAR outweighed the negatives. I have a renewed sense of confidence, perspective, humanity and happiness after going on this trip. Those are invaluable benefits of international travel for sure. After hearing about our trip, my Uncle Jim put it so well: "International travel is so important and allows us to much better understand points of view, beliefs and needs of other cultures, but in fact, we are all one."

I hope you enjoyed his overview. I will be back soon with more photos and tales. I promise future posts will be shorter! Thanks for reading.

Beautiful mosaics were everywhere in Jordan.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Sweet Smell of Spring

I love spring in Seattle... it is my favorite season of the year. One of the benefits of being gone for two weeks of "April showers" is we returned to spring in full bloom including our neighbor's huge lilac bush. I wrote a post about lilacs last year in mid-May... the lilac season is usually pretty short so it seems that spring came a bit early this year, which is OK with me. 

I also love birthdays and flowers so when I arranged this little bouquet of lilacs and delivered it to a friend for her birthday this morning it made me so happy. 

I picked a bunch for my kitchen table too. When I returned home a couple hours later the sweet smell of spring filled my house.... it is intoxicating. 

According to the sweet book The Meaning of Flowers, "The people of the English countryside considered lilacs the quintessential bloom of May, embodying the all-too-brief perfection of spring. For this reason, the Victorians identified lilac with the first emotion of love."

I can see why lilacs have such a strong impact on me each year. Do you love spring and lilacs too? They are beautiful and fleeting, just like life itself.

Happy spring friends!