Saturday, October 17, 2015

Walking in a religiously diverse neighbourhood in Jerusalem, my seven-year-old son blurts out, “That man looks funny,” referring to a long-bearded Orthodox Jew with long sideburns and a large black hat. 

I was surprised that Omar would say this of anyone since he is raised in a well-travelled multicultural household that embraces diversity. He wasn’t using the term “funny” in a demeaning way – he was naturally curious, but I tend to find differences “interesting” rather than “funny”. 

I can’t expect my seven-year-old to know how to approach differences at his age when even we adults struggle sometimes with it ourselves. From “ninja” (a derogatory reference to a woman who’s completely veiled, including her face) to “redneck” (a derogatory reference to a rural white person of the Southern United States who’s often assumed to be ignorant and racist), I continue to hear people throw around these insults without questioning their meaning or the ramifications of using them. 

I took Omar’s natural curiosity as a chance to talk about differences as this kind of discussion is ongoing – it’s never a one time “talk” with our children. It was time to pull out one of my favourite books of all time, People, written and illustrated by Peter Spier. Although it’s a children’s book, it is as much for adults as it is for kids, which is why it’s on my bookshelf!

Spier portrays the amazing variety of human life on Earth. He points out that "we come in many colours," with different-looking features; that we dress in different ways, enjoy different things, have different personalities, live in different homes, speak and write different languages (including a wonderful double-page spread showing samples of 40 separate writing systems!), keep different pets, celebrate different holidays and worship in different ways; that "some of us excel at things others could never do," that there are more different ways of earning a living than you would believe. While you can anticipate some of the differences he points out, others are not so obvious. 

Yet, he observes, and this is one of my favourite quotes from his book: "Without a single exception, we all began quite small...we all live on the same planet, breathe the same air, and warm ourselves in the same sun. And in the end we all must die." 

The author sums up diversity in one beautiful sentence: "Imagine how dreadfully dull this world of ours would be if everybody would look, think, eat, dress and act the same!" He never exalts one way of life over another, but fills his pages with detailed colourful sketches, and ends with, “Now, isn’t it wonderful that each and every one of us is unlike any other?” 

This book is a fun read for my two-year-old and is a wonderful departure point for talking about all kinds of subjects from conflict to prejudice with my older child. 

Although first published in 1988, Peter Spier’s People is timeless and remains, as one School Library Journal review put it, “a wonderful introduction to a global view that will answer and arouse curiosity in the young and act as an absorbing reminder for any age." 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Although I’ve certainly enjoyed the privilege of luxury hotels and gourmet meals, some of the best memories I cherish from childhood are trips to the barren desert in Jordan. We didn’t have gadgets and gizmos back then, but I was thrilled just running in the vast, boundless landscape, feeling the fresh breeze on my face, listening to the soothing sounds of the wind blowing and picnicking with homemade sandwiches. 

Today, when we think of family vacations, we quickly tend to conjure up images of long-distance trips – perhaps sightseeing tours in Paris or Rome – or nonstop thrills at world-famous theme parks. For my family of four, quality family holidays have largely meant overnight trips across Jordan – camping in Wadi Rum, hiking in Ajloun and trekking in Wadi Feynan. We’re now planning a trip to Azraq and a safari tour to Shaumari Wildlife Reserve.

Simple pleasures 

We started taking our children – Omar (7) and Shareef (2) – on outdoor trips since they were as young as three months old. Although we’ve travelled the world, we’ve discovered that our sons’ favourite moments have involved digging in dirt and petting animals – you don’t need to jet off to faraway places for that! 

We don’t focus too much on the destination as it’s really about the journey. Flexibility is essential though! Taking children outdoors, especially younger ones, does not always go according to plan. Adults hike for exercise, the views and to get somewhere; young kids want to throw rocks in a creek. We let them.

Making travel a priority 
Regardless of the family holiday destinations you choose, what’s important is that you go. Between work and daily obligations, it’s easy to opt for staying home and relying on play dates to keep the children occupied and content. But family vacations have numerous benefits; not only do they provide you with wonderful memories and stories to tell for years to come, but they’re also a unique opportunity for children to learn and grow into well-rounded world citizens.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

For the Love of Pumpkins

I love pumpkins. 

They take me back to my American roots with...

Pumpkin carvings...


Vala's Pumpkin Patch with my sister in Omaha, Nebraska... 

Virginia's Fall foliage with beautiful swatches of vibrant yellows, reds and oranges...

And I love pumpkin in dishes this time of year: 

Pumpkin chili
Pumpkin-Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Risotto with pumpkin & rosemary
Pumpkin spice lattes
Pumpkin bread
Pumpkin french toast
Pumpkin pies
Pumpkin brownies
Pumpkin cobbler with ice cream
And so it goes 

Family Flavours this month includes some of Chef Sally Jane Hurst's pumpkin recipes 
(scroll down for full recipes): 

Creamy Pumpkin Soup
Za’tar Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Autumn Pumpkin & Kale Salad with Date Gremolata

Chef Sally at Al Salleh Farms Market
Chef Sally says, "Roasting the pumpkins is the best way to develop the inherent sweetness in the flesh, but I also sprinkled on some Middle Eastern spices before baking to add layers of flavour. And don’t forget the pumpkin seeds inside! They serve as a wonderful garnish, as I’ve done here, and also make the perfect healthy snack. If you’re feeling ambitious, serving the soup inside the hollowed out shell of a pumpkin is a festive and beautiful way to wow your guests and encourage even the pickiest kid to eat their vegetables!"
Nice to have a variety of different pumpkins to cook and decorate with. Chef Sally introduces us to kabocha, blue lokota, casper, butternut, pattypan and sugar
Creamy Pumpkin Soup

This soup is so warm and nourishing. You can up the amount of cumin you use for a more Middle Eastern twist on the dish.

800 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2 cm cubes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 L vegetable or chicken stock
Labaneh and spiced pumpkin seeds to garnish 

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and place the cut pumpkin on a baking tray
2. Sprinkle with the cumin, salt, pepper and half the olive oil and give it a good massage, coating the cubes well
3. Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until tender and set aside
4. In a large saucepan, heat the other half of the olive oil and add the onions
5. Cook until soft, about ten minutes, then add the garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant
6. Place the cooked pumpkin in the pan and stir well to combine
7. Stir in the stock and allow it to come to a simmer for about 20 minutes
8. Carefully transfer the soup to a blender and blend until smooth
9. Place in serving bowls, top with the labaneh and pumpkin seeds and serve 

Za’tar Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Try different spices or even sugar to change the flavour of your seeds. Your imagination is the only limit on these yummy snacks!

1 cup fresh pumpkin seeds
1 egg white
3 tsp za’tar spice mix
1 tsp sea salt

1. Preheat your oven to 180°C
2. After you’ve removed the seeds from your pumpkin, place them in a fine sieve and run under water to remove any extra stringy flesh still on them 
3. Place them in a saucepan with two cups of water and half a teaspoon of salt and boil for ten minutes
4. Drain the seeds, allow to cool slightly and place them in a large bowl with the egg white, za’tar and additional half teaspoon of salt
5. Transfer them to a baking tray and bake for about 12 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool

Autumn Pumpkin & Kale Salad with Date Gremolata

People sometimes complain that kale is bitter, but when paired with sweet pumpkin and dates, it becomes a deliciously hearty, healthy salad that’s an entire meal on a plate!

1 kabocha pumpkin (butternut squash works well too), peeled and cut into wedges
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
250 g kale, stems removed and cut into strips
4 dates, pitted and finely chopped
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 tbsp za’tar spiced pumpkin seeds, finely chopped

1. Preheat your oven to 180°C and place your pumpkin wedges on a baking tray
2. Rub the pumpkin with the sumac, sage, salt, pepper and olive oil
3. Place in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until tender and golden 
4. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, pepper and remaining one tablespoon of olive oil
5. Toss together half of it with your ribbons of kale and allow to sit for about 10 minutes before you plan on eating
6. In another small bowl, mix together the dates, lemon zest and pumpkin seeds
7. To assemble, place the dressed kale on a plate, arrange the roasted pumpkin wedges on top and garnish with the date gremolata
8. Spoon over a little bit more of the dressing to your taste and serve