My own food revolution

As I write this, I’m seated on a train headed back to DC from New York City. This basically means that I can’t keep making up excuses about not having time to update the blog. I do have time (four hours to be exact), and I can’t keep delaying something I wanted to share for a while. No I’m not with a child, for those who are so eager for me to procreate. The news is a major change of my lifestyle. It can simply be summarized as my own food revolution, mostly inspired by a celebrity chef.

But before I talk about the chef and his effect on me, I would like to go back in time to when the journey downhill all started. The story of my deterioration began with my first pay check. Yep, you  heard me right, it all went downhill when I got my first pay check, and decided to be fully independent by detaching myself from  my mom’s home-cooked food.

I thought dinning out and paying for whatever junk I put into my body was all it took to show that I made it into the adulthood world. So I quickly replaced mom’s Magloubeh‘s and Mlukhyeeh’s with fried chicken and big Mac’s. Please note that I’m talking about the early 90’s, the decade when Amman got introduced to the fast food industry with the advent of what I like to call the ” junk food firsts”, the first McDonald, the first Burger King, and the first Subway.

Yep, back then it was cool and hip to be seen devouring American food. It was empowering to be able to leave with my coworkers during lunch and delve into KFC’s “Zinger” and Arby’s curly fries. Yes, I made it , I thought to myself. I’m an emancipated woman who had just distanced herself from fresh produce and organic farming. Of course, that’s was when I started raking the calories, no surprise here. It was also when I started to feel lethargic, easily irritated and moody. While my downhill journey was just beginning, Amman Junk food stores kept mushrooming.

My deterioration continued for almost a decade until I decided to put an end to the fast food era. Not sure what made the first change. It might have been  my moving to a region in the US where health awareness was widespread, or it might have been the fact that I turned thirty and felt my body deteriorating. I started watching my diet and began doing some moderate exercise. This slightly improved my well-being but not to the level that was needed. I knew there was something still wrong in my eating habits. Getting rid of junk food was simply not enough, for some reason.

However,  in the past few months or so, I got a brand new inspiration. This might sound a bit cheesy and borders on the cliche, but I don’t care. My inspiration came from a TV  reality show. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a mere reality show has changed my life. The show is called Food Revolution and it is about British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who went to the most obese city in the US: Huntington, West Virginia to try o change the school’s lunch system. In his show he promotes healthy eating, and encourages the love of cooking. Nothing new, no? True, but the most striking thing for me was the issue of processed food. Yes, that was the missing link. Since I moved to the US, I had fell hard for the convenience of American living by buying whatever processed food I could find to make a quick semi-tasty meal. I thought when in Rome, buy processed. My freezer was filled with frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, potato wedges, pasta meals and others. At least, I was not eating a Whopper, I thought. Little did I know how some processed food can have even a worse impact than some of the nastiest junk food out there.

It was really until I watched this show, and realized how important whole food cooking is that I ultimately decided to make a drastic change in my life. I made a conscious decision to only eat food that is made from scratch. It was easier than I thought. I gathered all the cook books that I owed and made weekly grocery lists to achieve the goal. I didn’t stop here. I made sure to double the size of our moderate garden beds to include a large variety of vegetables that I can grow in our backyard. I rode the now yuppie wave of organic food, and even took the time to watch Food Inc.

The result was remarkable. Not only do I feel better, but  I look better. I lost almost 10 pounds mostly by focusing on wholesome food. I have to admit, cooking from scratch everyday can be a burden but the sense of sataifaction that I get after I finish any meal is usually my ultimate pay off. The most fascinating part for me was how I came full circle by actually embracing the home-cooked food that I rebelled against in my early twenties. I found myself looking for my mom’s recipes and making sure that I include them in my weekly meal planning. Yeah, yeah, mothers are always right!

Before I end this rant, I’d like to leave you with this TED talk in which Jamie Oliver talks about the show and his food revolution. I encourage everyone to watch it until the end.

Disclaimer: I never got to finish this post on the train. I got distracted and lost my inspiration. On a positive note, I managed to finish this post two days later, right after I devoured a shrimp linguini made by yours truly and yes, totally from scratch.

The simple joys of life

A tall cold Hoegaarden After two months of constant stresses that left me with a white hair (see below), I’m starting to gradually relax. This, of course, might mean I’ll get back to blogging on a more regular basis, as my mind is clear and I’m ready to scribble again. This long Thanksgiving weekend is a special treat. It is being spent with family, which really is what makes life worthwhile.

It’s worth nothing that when I’m in a fine mood I start to open my eyes to the simple joys of life. I encountered one of those simple joys yesterday at none other than Costco as I came across a brand of beer I’ve been hunting for the past five years: the mouth-watering, thirst-quenching Belgian delicacy Hoegaarden. I was introduced to this top-notch beverage by my Spanish/British friend Pilar when I was living in London in 2002. We were at our usual after-school abode: The Bull, a typical London pub that was two blocks away from City University. She told me I should try Hoegaarden. I did and became an instant fan.

I have been desperately chasing Hoegaarden since 2002. I could not find it in the countries I lived in after my London stint. Hoegaarden was nowhere to be found either in Jordan or Qatar. I could not even find it in the United States until I found it a year ago in a Belgian pub in Philadelphia, but then it was nowhere to be found. Then yesterday, which marked Black Friday, we were at Costco of all places and came across a collection of Belgian beer that included Hoegaarden. I was overjoyed.

It is now almost 6pm on Saturday and I just got back from downtown DC, where I had marvelous lunch with sister Tania in Chinatown, followed by a tour of the International Spy Museum. As I write this, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the evening. We are planning to watch Running with Scissors (my sister and I both read the book and decided to watch the movie) while enjoying the festive taste of Hoegaarden. Ah, the simple joys of life. Cheers!

At the local IHOP

IHOP logoWe took my mom out for breakfast to our local IHOP last weekend. All was fine and dandy until the waitress decided to inform me that the kitchen confused my order such that my seafood omelet would be delayed.

The waitress came to our table and then looked at the husband, who had earlier given the waitress all of our orders while mom and I were busy chatting. She glanced at me and then switched back to Jeff. "Does she speak English?" she asked, referring to me.

I guess, somehow something about me said "I do not speak English." Or was it maybe my earlier chatter in Arabic with mom? Oh well!

Been busy eating

Six sisters restaurant Dinner with Ajlounieh and family The Dance

I haven’t updated this blog for a little bit. The reason: We’ve been busy eating. For the past two weeks or so we have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food available for consumption, courtesy of my mom’s cooking and a myriad of dinners that we’ve been invited to by friends and relatives.

A number of my parents’ friends that happen to live in our area have celebrated my parents’ arrival by feeding us copious quantities of wonderful Jordanian/Arabic food. All of my cravings from last year have been sated. So far I have savored Mansaf, Maglubeh, Warg Dawali, Knafeh, Ma3moul, among other delicacies.

We’ve really been humbled by the degree of generosity and kindness we have encountered. My parents were even invited to a dinner by Ajlounieh’s parents, whom they had never met before. Tonight, we are invited to dinner at Leilouta’s place. Arab generosity never ceases to amaze me.

A peek inside Amman’s Duinde cofffee shop

Jebbel Weibdeh's DuindeIn solidarity with Roba, whose dream is to own Amman’s Lavazza, which is now called Duinde Gallery, I decided to put up a picture I took of the coffee shop, which I visited for the first time a month or so ago when I was in Amman.

Actually it was Hal who suggested we go there for our first face-to-face meet-up. I’d been corresponding with Hal for a while but it was the first time that we actually crossed over the online barrier and got to meet in person.

With its vibrant colors, Duinde is very artistic yet it has an extremely homey feeling to it. It was also remarkably quiet, allowing for a wonderful conversation to unfold with Hal. I highly recommend this place for anyone visiting – or residing — in Amman. For those that might be wondering, Hal got the bill! Isn’t she sweet.