Friday, December 19, 2014

The Week In Yum Dec 13-19 Lunch at the Shangri La and a bit of horn tooting, But Mostly Planet Byn

my go to room service lunch at the Shangri La puts other hotel food to shame, I tell you

I had to work for a couple of days this week and the day started at 5:45am so that means I basically lived at the Shangri La for those days. Luckily, that hotel is beautiful, the service is impeccable and the food is delicious, even the room service. That curried coconut soup up there is my current lunch of choice and I would almost check into the hotel just so I could eat it again.

Along with my partner in crime, Alice, we beautified these two lovelies who play Rapunzel and her prince in the upcoming movie, Into the Woods. Not a bad way to pay the rent.

Because it's Xmas, a trip to Ikea was in order 

after spending 2 days together on the Into The Woods Press Tour, Alice and I had not had enough of each other so she took me along to Ikea and bought me lunch. Best 75 cent hotdog going.

Robyn complained that she has not been featured in TWIY for far too long so there she is thrice!

Wednesday, I met up with my fellow food blogging compatriots for an evening out at the Distillery's Christmas Market and it was insanely crowded considering that it was a mid week and wet snowing and cold as a witches tit. We warmed up with an outdoor hot toddy while Robyn from Planet Byn and Heather of the Tasty Gardener and I waited for our companions, Jenny, The Brunette Baker and Meg of Sweet Twist of Blogging. Word of warning if you plan to go, we couldn't get into any of the restaurants we had hoped for and had to wait for well over an hour and a half to get into the Mill St Bew Pub. Once we were in and seated and warmed up, we had a great time, eating duck fat fries, delicious, giant pretzels and pirogies with big glasses of beer to wash it all down. As always, our buddy Libby Roach , who had a previous party commitment, showed up AFTER we got a table and settled, thus avoiding the two hours of wet wandering so her hair looked fabulous. I, on the other hand, looked like wet dog.

Wow, oh yeah, two things- my onsen tomago lesson is being featured in the brand spanking new Stumbled Upon - Teach Me Something Awesome list. It's basically a curated collection of great blog posts and articles from across the web that will show you stuff you might not already know about and if you like to stumble, this is the ultimate stumble porn.

My recipe for Riesling Apple Brown Butter Ricotta Napoleon's is feature on McEwan's "Recipes from Mark" page... as in Mark McEwan. As in super intense, kind of scary super chef Mark McEwan.

Coming up this week:

The Real Jerk, on Gerrard, is having an Irie Christmas Party on Saturday night with lots of Jamaican treats, drinks and music

Its Chrismakkuh at The Drake on Sunday Dec 21

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie Butter Cookies

I have participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap since it's inception so, seeing that this is the fourth annual swap, this is my fourth time baking for three fellow food bloggers. This is always a bit stressful because cooking for other people who blog about cooking is a bit of pressure. What if my cookies are terrible? What if they got lost in the mail and sit on a shelf at some post office in Kapuskasing  for a month and get all stale and hard? What if the recipient thinks they taste like dust and cobwebs, dipped in chalk?

No matter, it's the holiday season and so we bake.
This year, I knew I was going to be away right up until December 1st and the mailing deadline is December 3 and I would really be cutting it close. If I made the cookies and they didn't turn out the way I planned, I would have to send them anyway. I had already decided on the recipe before I left on my trip but I had also never made them before. I woke up, jet lagged and groggy and got to work, hoping for the best.

I adapted a recipe that seems to be very popular out there in blogland to use some more of my Trader Joe Spekulas Cookie Butter and a can of Trader Joe pumpkin puree as well as a bag of semi sweet chocolate chips. How have lived all these years without Trader Joe in my life? Trader Joe is like the holiday baking bonanza store.

 I thought they turned out just fine, but I am not the final judge in these matters. The Kid has eaten all of the leftover cookies and, when asked for his opinion,  gave them two big thumbs up, unable to speak due to a mouth crammed full of cookie so I'll take that as a yes.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie Butter Cookies

adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg white
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cup AP flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Trader Joe Crunchy Spekulas Cookie Butter
a big pinch of sea salt

Melt the butter in a pan over med high heat , swirling as it foams and turns a nice, nutty, golden brown. Take off the heat and let cool a bit, for about 5 minutes.

Mix the melted butter and sugars in a stand mixer or a bowl with a hand mixer until combined well and then beat in the egg white, vanilla and pumpkin on med high speed until nice and creamy.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

Turn the stand mixer on again to low and slowly start adding the flour, little by little until it's just mixed and then fold in the chocolate chips. Put the jar of cookie butter and the bowl of cookie dough in the fridge for at least one hour.

preheat oven to 350F

Using about 1 1/2 tbls of cookie dough at a time, roll a ball, flatten it out and then scoop about a tsp of cookie butter onto the center of the circle. Fold the dough around the cookie butter, re roll into a ball and put it on a parchment lined cookie tray, leaving about 2" of space between cookies. Flatten them all a bit and bake them for 13 minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven, sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on each cookie and let them cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing them to a cooling rack.
Makes about 15 big cookies.

Smokey Potato Waffles and Eggs With Those Crazy Little Potatoes

Earlier this week, I whipped up The King's Crashed Potatoes using a bag of Blushing Belles, little yellow fleshed, pink skinned creamers from The Little Potato Company. We ended up eating those little crashed potatoes all week - with dinner, with breakfast and as a snack.

That still left me with a couple of bags of the Something Blues , blue skinned and yellow fleshed but with little streaks of blue running through them. I used them to make mashed potatoes and after dinner, there was about a cup leftover, not really enough to feed the three of us but too much and too tasty to throw away so I put it in the fridge, knowing that I would come up with something. By the way, If you are making mashed potatoes with them, make sure to leave the skin on and leave them a bit on the chunky side because the dark purple is so pretty and they already so creamy and smooth that a bit of texture is nice. I was planning to just throw them in the Kid's Lunch box with something until I saw this potato waffle from Joy The Baker and my brain starting churning, as my brain tends to do when I am hungry.

The Kid is always bugging me for waffles and eggs anyway so I whipped these up for him for breakfast. I added smoked paprika and roasted red pepper to Spanish them up and make them more savoury with just a whisper of heat and a crumble of crispy bacon makes everything better, so that happened. It would really great with chorizo too if you really wanted to take the Spanish theme to the wall but my kid doesn't love chorizo so I just stuck to bacon.

These waffles don't get crispy like a classic waffle so keep that in mind but nobody minded that one bit.

I used comped Something Blue potatoes from The Little Potato Company but I loooove them and all opinions are my own, yadda yadda yadda

Mashed Blue Waffle and Eggs

adapted from Joy The Baker

serves 2-3 (makes 3 waffles)

1 tbls bacon fat, cooled to room temp
2 tbls milk
1 lrg egg
1 cup leftover mashed blue
1 scallion, sliced thinly
2 tbls finely chopped roasted red pepper (i used jarred from Trader Joe)
3 tbl cup flour
1 tbls cornmeal
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
few grinds black pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar

3 poached eggs

2 slices bacon

In a medium sized bowl, mix the bacon fat, egg and milk and then add the mashed potatoes and stir it until its completely combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, black pepper and smoked paprika. Add the dry into the wet ingredients and mix well to get a thick batter.

Get all of your things ready:
put out a cookie rack for the waffles
get a medium sized pot of water, with a splash of vinegar, and bring it to a light simmer

Preheat your waffle iron.
Spoon 1/2 cup of batter on to your lightly oiled waffle iron

cook the waffle on the setting that your iron has that makes the crispiest waffle.

When finished, remove the waffle to the cooling rack and continue with the rest of the batter.

Preheat your broiler.
line a baking tray with parchment paper.

You can poach your eggs one at a time or all three at once if you are a pro. You can also poach eggs ahead of time and hold them in a bowl of warm water until you need them, it's up to you.

If you are poaching one a time, crack an egg into a small bowl and then, gently, pour the egg from the bowl into the simmering water and cook for 3 minutes if you want a nice, runny yolk and the egg is straight from the fridge. Remove with a slotted spoon, set the slotted spoon on a paper towel while you get the next egg ready.

While the last egg is cooking, put the waffles on the parchment lined baking tray, divide the cheese among them and put them under the broiler while the egg poaches.

Put one waffle on each plate, plate a poached egg on top and then crumble the bacon all over the top.

*the waffles will not be very crispy but that doesn't bother me at all. If you need the waffle to be crispier, you can crisp it up in a hot oven for a bit before you put the cheese on for the final broil.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Riesling Apple Brown Butter Ricotta Napoleons

I was given the task of coming up with a simple recipe using these McEwan Riesling Apples that I could share with you for the holiday season.I wanted something easy enough to do ahead and have on hand for an impromptu dessert but fancy enough that it would still be special. I am all about the shock and awe when it comes to desserts.

Have you been to McEwan at the Shops at Don Mills lately? I had to go to pick up my jars of Riesling Apples and did some shopping while I was there. The store is all festive and cheery and there are all sorts of tasty, seasonal treats laying around. I ended up doing quite a bit of xmas shopping for my culinary loving friends and found all kinds of great seasoned finishing salts and other fun things that make great gifts for friends. I have bought those blue cheese chicken wing chips for someone else but this is the first time I tasted them myself and let me tell you that I am very happy that they are a 25 minute drive away because that might be the best potato chip I have ever eaten. 

Back to the Riesling Apples.
One of my favourite apple recipes is my Brown Butter Ricotta Pancakes with Cardamom Apples so I decided to let that inspire me (by the way, the riesling apples would be fabulous with the brown butter ricotta pancakes but that is for another day). All I knew, after tasting the apples, was that I wanted to keep the brown butter ricotta and I would skip the cardamom since the apples are already perfectly spiced with lots of cinnamon and brown sugar and after that, it was wide open. I plan on making a trifle with the other jar so be on the lookout for that. To be honest, these apples would be great on a bowl of greek yogurt, in a crepe or straight out of the jar with a big spoon.

This napoleon is what I ended up with and I hope you like it as much as we did. The puff pastry can be made the day before and kept fresh in an air tight container, the ricotta can be made the day ahead as well so you can throw these show stoppers together at the very last minute and nobody will ever know that you didn't spend hours in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove with a bad case of rolling pin elbow.

You have three options for serving and your choice will depend on three things:

How far do you want to stretch the dessert
How easy to you want it to be to actually eat?
How much wow factor are you going for?
for the easiest dessert that will serve a crowd, smear a layer of ricotta and top with apple, dust with icing sugar and they can be eaten out of hand

two pieces of puff pastry sandwiching one layer of ricotta and apples is easier to eat than the three layer version and is pretty but not a total showstopper like number 3 down there

the triple decker will get you the biggest wow factor but it is a delicious hot mess to eat so if you do choose this version, you have to serve it with a knife and fork and I might go for a shallow bowl instead of a dessert plate. I'm just saying.

McEwan, 38 Karl Fraser Road, Toronto, Ontario 416 444-6262

Riesling Apple Brown Butter Ricotta Napoleons

baking the puff pastry between two baking sheets is a great way to keep the pastry from puffing up and it comes out nice and flat, like a buttery, layered cracker

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed and rolled out thinly to about 10" x 15"

Ricotta Cream:
475g container smooth ricotta
2 tbls honey
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tbls brown butter

1 jar McEwan Riesling Apples

powdered sugar

You will need two baking sheets, one slightly larger than the other.

Thaw according to the directions on the package and roll out your puff pastry on a floured surface. Cut it into squares or rectangles, depending on how big you want your napoleons to be.

Lay the rectangles on the larger baking sheet that you have lined with parchment, prick the pastry all over with a fork and put it back in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes.

Take it out of the fridge, cover with another sheet of parchment and put the second baking sheet on top of it to weigh the pastry down and prevent it from puffing up. Bake it for about 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through, remove from the oven and transfer the pieces to a rack to cool completely.

Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry.

*to make the brown butter, melt the butter in a small sauce pan until it foams and starts to turn a nice, golden brown. Remove from heat and scrape the melted browned butter into a bowl and cool to room temperature.

For the ricotta cream, put the ricotta, honey, powdered sugar and brown butter in a food processor and whiz until nice and creamy and then set aside.

To assemble:

lay one piece of puff pastry down on a small serving plate. Add a couple of tablespoons of ricotta cream and then cover that with a couple of tablespoons of the riesling apple compote.

You can serve them just like this with a dusting of powdered sugar and let people pick it up and eat it out of hand.

For a more elegant dessert, add a second piece of puff pastry and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

For the whole shebang,  add a second layer of ricotta and apples and top the whole thing with a third piece of puff pastry. Using a fine strainer, sieve some powdered sugar over the top and serve.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Nathan's Sweet Horseradish Pickles Complete the Circle and Lead To The Perfect Egg Salad

This is not really a recipe in the traditional sense as much as it a suggestion of a recipe. My mother loved egg salad and I grew up eating it made with Miracle Whip, French's yellow mustard and a generous heaping of Bick's sweet green relish on squishy, white sandwich bread. It never occurred to me that people ate it any other way, to be perfectly honest and I was surprised when I grew up and made egg salad for other people, to find them kind of shocked by the addition of the mustard and relish. People are weird. Everyone knows that egg salad requires more than just a dallop of mayonnaise. It's perfectly acceptable to add some minced scallion, red onion or shallot too. Hard boiled eggs with nothing but mayonnaise is like peanut butter toast without buttering the toast, right?

When I miss my mom, I crave egg salad and today I was missing my mom so I finally got around to making it. Over the years I have adapted my mom's "recipe" and I now use Hellman's instead of Miracle Whip and grainy dijon mustard in place of her beloved French's but I never stopped using the Bick's sweet green relish until today. Even though I now find that relish to be kind of thick and slimy, I haven't been able to replace it, although plain bread and butter pickles have come close but there was still something missing so I kept going back to the green relish.

Today I found my egg salad muse. I used some minced Gourmet Sweet Horseradish pickles from Nathan's. Before I left for my trip, Nathan's kindly sent me three jars of pickles to try out. I had already tasted the half sours and full sours at a pickle tasting party where, much to our surprise, both Shack and I chose the Nathan's half sours as our favourite pickle over the Strubs. We are generally pretty hardcore Strubs people when we aren't eating our homemade Dickey Dills and I had to look at the bottom of the bowls twice to make sure that there wasn't a mix up but, nope. We both chose the Nathan's half sours with the full sours coming in a close second.

They sent a jar of full sours, a jar of half sours and a third jar of something I had never tried before. As soon as I tasted the sweet horseradish pickles, I knew I had found my replacement for the Bick's relish but I didn't have a chance to try it out until now. This pickle adds the sweet pickle taste, without the kind of slimy texture of the relish but with the added kick of the horseradish (my mom loved horseradish)

I now have my own, perfect grown up version of my mother's egg salad and I think that if she were here, she would give it a hearty thumbs up. Nathan's I thank you for the pickles, my mother thanks you for the pickles and eggs, everywhere, thank you for the pickles.

Mom's Pimped Out Egg Salad

for one large egg salad sandwich:

2 extra large eggs
2 tbls Hellman's mayonnaise
approx 2 tbls, finely chopped Nathan's Sweet Horseradish pickle (about 3 slices out of the jar)
1/2 tsp grainy dijon
freshly ground black pepper
two slices of your favourite bread
sliced tomato

Put the two eggs in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, let boil for a couple of minutes before you remove the pot from the heat, put the lid on the pot and let the eggs sit for 20 minutes.
Remove the eggs and put in the fridge to cool them completely.

Peel the eggs and mash the hard boiled eggs in a shallow bowl with a fork. Throw in the mayo, the pickles and the mustard and mix well. Now taste it and you can decide you want some more pickle or mustard or even more mayo if you like it even creamier. It's your egg salad, not mine.

Toast your bread, butter it and then lay the egg salad on one slice, add some tomato, a few grinds of black pepper, a handful of arugula for a peppery bite, top with the second slice of bread.

The Week In Yum Dec Dec 6-12 CC Lounge and a McEwan Shopping Spree

CC Lounge is bringing the Prohibition Glamour back

This week was just busy enough for me since I am still a bit out of whack. The week started off with a bang when The Kid and I were appreciated as volunteers at the Mary Margaret MacMahon movie night at The Fox Theatre in the Beach. Did you know you can now enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer with your popcorn at The Fox? Well you can! How civilized and un Torontonian - I wonder how they managed to get that approved?

No matter, I had a glass of red wine, a freshly popped bag of movie popcorn, one of my favourite things on the planet, and we settled in alongside all of our fellow election volunteers to watch The Campaign. This was our third viewing and it does not get less funny.


Have you been to McEwan at the Shops at Don Mills lately? I am coming up with a recipe using their Riesling Apples so I stopped in to pick them up and did some shopping while I was there. The store is all festive and cheery and there are all sorts of tasty, seasonal treats laying around. I ended up doing quite a bit of xmas shopping for my culinary loving friends and found all kinds of great seasoned finishing salts and other fun things that are a bit to expensive for me to buy for myself but make a great gift for someone else. I have bought those blue cheese chicken wing chips for a friend but this is the first time I taste them myself and let me tell you that I am very happy that they are a 25 minute drive away because that might be the best potato chip I have ever eaten. Stay tuned for my Riesling apple dessert recipe - I tried to come up with something that you prepare ahead and have on hand for impromptu holiday entertaining aka my relatives just dropped in unannounced at 6pm and show no signs of leaving.

CC Lounge

The only disappointment surrounding my attendance at the media preview for CC Lounge is that Shack couldn't stay awake to join me. He got back from Jordan at noon and although he gave it the old college try, he was nodding off by 6pm so I had to go without him and this place has Shack written all over it. It is everything  he loves: Whiskey, old school glamour, a Boardwalk Empire, prohibition/speakeasy vibe and great, old fashioned type cocktails.

Housed in the historic Beadmore Building on Front St, the lounge (which is also a full service restaurant) features a whisky tasting tunnel with over 100 whiskeys from around the world. I tasted an 18 year old Wisers, a Forty Creek honey Piked whiskey that we paired with a salted dark chocolate and Bulleit Bourban. I really wanted to try one of the Japanese scotches but they were out and promised to have some in soon (the official opening was still a week away). James, the in house whiskey historian, will whisk you back into the tasting tunnel or, if you prefer, he will bring the booze to your table but I suggest going back into the tunnel. It's cosy and feels like more of an event to venture back into the booze cave and it is clear that much thought and care went into the making of the tunnel.

I tried three different whiskey based cocktails (I ONLY SIPPED FROM EACH OF THEM TO TASTE AND DRANK MY FAVOURITE SO YOU CAN STOP WAGGING YOU HEAD AT ME). The Whiskey Sour and the Dizzy Dame were very good but that Manhattan could be trouble. Wisers with vermouth and bitters? I think so.

I tried a lobster roll, steak tartar and the poutine and everything was fresh and delicious and I look forward to trying it out for dinner soon. Speaking of dinner, they have these booths with plush looking leather banquette seating (the largest at the back look like they would seat at least 15 people) with a low, cocktail table and when you want to eat, they come and pop this cap on top, turning it into a dinner table. After you are done with your meal, they come back and remove the cap and, presto, you are back to your cosy cocktail table.

I almost forgot the coolest thing of all: Instead of sipping scotch and paying by the shot, you can purchase a bottle and they will store it for you so when you go there, you just ask for your bottle and they bring it out to you and you can drink as little or as much as you like. Nucky Thompson would be all over this joint.

Cc Lounge & Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Taste Taiwan

The Taiwanese Tourism board hosted the second of three Taste Taiwan event at Nao Steakhouse in Toronto this week (the first event was in Chicago and the third was to take place in LA) Chef Stuart Cameron was one of three chefs (the other two were Chicago's Jared Case of Park Grill and LA's Anthony Jacquet of The Whisper) that were treated to an eight day culinary tour of Taiwan that was turned into a 30 minute documentary. As one of the guests of the event, I got to taste Chef Cameron's Crispy House Tofu, a dish inspired by his Taiwan adventure that he will be serving at the restaurant for the next little while.

If you visit Nao and order the dish, you will receive a free dvd of the documentary but you should order it because it's delicious. I can't really give a "review" of the restaurant since I only sampled a few apps there were being brought around but if they are any indication of what they are serving up, it's going to be pretty delicious. One of the most interesting things I have seen in a while was a slice of buttery, raw fish sitting on top of a bruleed lime half and as you slurp up the fish, you take the crispy, sugary crust off of the lime along with it. I may, or may not, have eaten more than a few of those.

finally popped in to the new Muji Toronto at Atrium on the Bay - very small but still happy to see it and look forward to future, larger stores with more stock

I discovered a cool, newish social media app for travellers this week called Trover . It's kind of like an instagram for world travellers and I am loving it so far. Instagram is where I go for food porn but I hate having to sift through ten million photos looking for good travel porn and this is looking like it's going to fill that void for me.

Here is my feed if you want to get a feel for it. 

Happening this week:

if it's not too late to pay at the door, tonight is Foodie MIngle at The Boroughs Building (639 Queen W) at 7pm and there will be food from Porchetta and Co, Food Dudes and more. $30 ticket includes all food sampling.

Hate eggnog? Go celebrate at The Twelve Beers of Christmas bash at The Gladstone Hotel on Saturday, Dec 13, from 7-10pm where the $10 cover will get all beered up

Pin of the week:  Come on, you have to ask why?

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ten Things You Don't Know About Jordan

I am going to be really honest about something here. When Shack first called me to tell me that he agreed to work on a movie on location, I was thrilled because when he takes an away job, it means that we get to go and visit unless, of course, it's a February shoot in New Liskeard Ontario. Then we kiss him goodbye, tell him to bundle up, that we will miss him and anxiously await his return. Where would it be this time? Brazil? Prague? Thailand?

He said "I am not sure if it's good news or bad news. It's in Jordan"

You mean Jordan, right next to Israel and Syria Jordan or is there another Jordan that is right beside the Italian Alps that I am unaware of?

He said "No, Jordan right next to Israel and south of Syria Jordan"

We stopped on the road into Petra and this is officially the highest we had ever been when NOT in an airplane

At first I reacted much like most people I know reacted when I told them where he would be spending the month of November and that I was considering taking The Kid to visit for a couple of weeks.


Because I am me and, in the end, the lure of foreign travel will always win out, I started to research the country online. Perhaps we could just fly to a nice European city after he finished the job  and rendezvous with him and then all fly home together?

As I was researching, I kept reading travel blog after travel blog about the wonders of this place, all written by people who were either still there or recently returned. Every travel forum was filled with glowing reviews from real travellers who were all raving about their trips. From what I was gathering,  it was safe, it was fabulous and full of warm, welcoming people and, slowly, I began to get excited about going. Who hasn't always wanted to see Petra (Hello! Indiana Jones, people), apart from Karl Pilkington? I certainly did but I assumed it was a region that I would never be able to visit so I didn't give it any real thought. The Kid was not sold on the idea and originally refused to accompany me and we did discuss leaving him home while I went alone but the more I read, the more I became convinced that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and convinced him to come. He admitted he was still nervous but he trusts us and knows we would never take him somewhere dangerous and so the wheels were set in motion.

Whew. That was done but now I had to deal with the well meaning friends and family who thought we had lost our minds. It's dangerous! You are a woman! You can't travel around alone with The Kid while Shack is working! What are you thinking! YOU ARE THE WORST MOTHER EVER.

I was kind of shocked that I was made to feel pretty guilty by a number of people but I knew it would be okay, so I just chose to ignore them and we bought our tickets after Shack had been there for a week and gave us the green light.

I will tell you right now that it was one of the best trips I have ever been on and that I would go back tomorrow in a hot second if I had the opportunity because there are still lots of things we didn't get around to doing and seeing.

1. It's safe and the people are lovely, welcoming, hospitable and generous.

Jordan is kind of like the Switzerland of the Middle East so while they are surrounded by conflict, this little kingdom has managed to stay out it. The death in 1999 of King Hussein, who ruled for 46 years, left the country struggling for it's survival - economic, social and in it's pursuit of peace. The King's son, Abullah II, continues to fight the good fight to maintain not just peace but economic stability. Most of that economic stability comes from tourism but their tourism industry has suffered greatly since the Gulf War. Look, the last terrorist activity (and one of the only ones) was in 2005 so, in that regard, it's actually got a better record than Canada at this point. I'm just saying.

With true world wonders like Petra, The Dead Sea and the Wadi Rum not to mention lesser know archeological sites like the Roman ruins of Jerash, the Citadel, endless important religious sites like Mount Nebo and a host of desert castles, this place should be crawling with tourists and those tourists should be there with their kids. If you like a bit of city action, Amman is where you want to be - you can go to the new part of town and stay in a high end hotel and shop in the modern malls or you can roll in the older, downtown area to soak up the middle eastern flavours, sights and sounds, shop at the souk and buy a couple of pashminas. We skipped the new part altogether because, frankly, I don't travel half way around the world to shop and H&M and eat sushi but to each his own.

I was told by many a tour guide that where there used to be so many visitors to Petra that Unesco was considering putting limits on how many people could enter the site daily but now, that number has dropped tenfold. Sure, it made it nice for us to not have to contend with huge crowds but it's not great for Jordan.


this was a little more common in Amman where there are more Syrians but it was not the norm, by any means
2. As a woman, you do not have to cover your head. I was told that when I saw women in a full on niqab that they were most likely refugees from Syria as Jordanian women usually just wear a head scarf, at the very most. It was common to see groups of women out and about and maybe one or two would be wearing a bright head scarf with modern clothing and the others would not be wearing anything on their heads at all. Nobody gave me a second look but I also remembered to dress conservatively. They might not all cover their heads but you will not see Jordanian women wearing shorts, sleeveless tops or showing a ton of cleavage when out on the street. The dress is mostly modern but modest in that regard. Some women wear these nice, full length, belted coats with a hijab, other young women wear tight jeans with hoodies and sneakers with a hijab, much like you will see here in Toronto high schools or on the street. You will see older women in long dresses and elaborate head coverings walking with women who are dressed completely in western style clothing with no head covering at all.

To be honest, I was having major hijab envy by the end of the trip because these young women WORK those things. The fashion seems to be to wear a high, big bun underneath so that the scarf sits up and extends out at the back. They all put their own spin on the way they wear it, the colours are beautiful and you never, ever have to worry about a bad hair day again. I could totally buy into a hijab if I didn't have to worry about being accused of appropriating someone else's culture. I had some really nice photos of women on my phone but they seem to have disappeared but here is a whole website devoted to helping young women express themselves through their hijab fashion steeze.

The only time I was reminded that I was not totally free to do as I please was when at the public beach. I was assured that it was not that anything bad would happen if I wore a swimsuit there, but that it would be disrespectful so I swam at the hotel or at a private beach, which was absolutely fine with me. Just be respectful and use your head.


3. The food is amazing. Jordan is a Levantine country so, like Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria there is no end to the mezzes - hummus, baba ganoush, foole (also spelled ful) , falafel, za'atar, olives, pita, labneh, kofta, lamb, lamb and more lamb. There are also dishes that are specifically Jordanian like the Bedouin specialty,  mansif, the national dish of Jordan which is so much better than it sounds. It's lamb cooked with fermented dehydrated yogurt on rice with nuts and the thin, almost crepe like bread called shrak. The tea and the lemonade are both served very sweet and full of fresh mint and both are highly addictive. I have not eaten so consistently well on a trip in a very long time. Don't even get me started on the rich, dark, rocket fuel that is the cardamom laced turkish coffee.
these filling savoury pastries come filled with spinach, potato or cheese and cost about 30 cents


4. It's a great place to take your children. It's safe, it's so crammed full of amazing, ancient history that you can't swing a cat without hitting something significant and super cool. My teenaged gaming, geek son who is a total Grand Strategy nut was in heaven. Because he spends all of his time on his computer pretending to be Saladin invading Crusader strongholds, actually sailing out to Pharaoh Island to visit the ruins of a garrison belonging to the real Saladin was pretty thrilling.

You can ride camels and donkeys, climb ancient steps to mind blowing sites, float in the dead sea and walk around the ruins of an ancient Roman city that rival anything you will find in either Greece or Italy. Jordanians love children and are very family orientated and the fact that for much of our trip, I was a women alone with her son meant we were treated with kid gloves. People were so enthusiastic, wanting to make sure we were having a great time, wanting to make sure The Kid knew all the history about all of the places we were visiting. Everywhere you go, people will greet you, ask where you are from and then, with a big smile, say "Welcome to Jordan". It almost became kind of a joke between us and we would ask each other a question and then after the other answered, we would respond "Welcome to Jordan".

"Hey Kid, have you seen my new scarf?"
"It's over there on the chair"
"Welcome to Jordan!"

Come on. Camels. Teen on Camel. 

Unlike most other vacations we have taken, The Kid was not subjected to drunken people on the streets and in restaurants etc. We could be out late at night on the weekend (their weekend is Friday/Saturday) and be surrounded by families with lots of kids running around, drinking lots of mint tea and coffee.  Now, that doesn't mean that I did not spot more than a few adolescents with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths but even the dogs smoke there. Still,  it took some getting used to.

It was odd that I saw almost no foreign children. There were lots of touristing couples, solo adults and groups (religious tourism is a big thing in this region) but the two things I did not encounter were Western families and Americans. The only families we saw at the hotels and the various sites were Middle Eastern families and that is a damned shame. As for the Americans, it was kind of like going to Cuba where it's nothing but Canadians, Australians and Europeans everywhere.


I brought back my weight in spices and scarves

5. It's affordable. If you want to stay in super fancy hotels, it's still going to cost a fraction of what those hotel rooms would cost in Europe and if you are okay with a small guesthouse, like the one we stayed at in Amman, you can get well appointed, safe, clean rooms with a small bathroom for anywhere from $40 and up. If you eat food where the locals eat, it is very cheap and very good. You can get a falafel sandwich or a shwarma on the street for a buck.

the store we bought the walking stick from. The one he really wanted had a dagger hidden in the handle. Um, yeah, no.

Just try to stick to their food and things will be much better, for the most part but this is the case most everywhere in the world.

Every time poor Shack would try to get his comfort food, spaghetti bolognese, he would ask "is it cow beef, or lamb beef?"

Each time he would assured that it was cow beef, the bowl of pasta would come, I would try it for him and laugh and laugh and laugh. In Amman you can get cow beef but anywhere else? It's most likely going to be lamb beef. Same goes for "bacon" it's going to be cow bacon or lamb bacon but you can rest assured it won't be pig bacon. Lamb, chicken, goat and seafood, if you are lucky, decent cow beef but no pork (although I think you can get it in some Christian owned places in Amman but I never saw this elusive bacon eating going on)

You will be expected to barter so don't be shy, but be polite about it. We brought back a suitcase full of pashminas and shemogs, spices, Bedouin tea and some trinkets and I would be surprised if we spent more than $150 Canadian for everything, including The Kid's walking stick. Don't ask.

I fell in love with the brightly coloured, patterned tunics that they sell in Aqaba and bought three of them for 15 JD. I gave one to a friend and I basically lived in the other two for the entire time we were in Aqaba. I wore it over my bathing suit around the pool, over jeans when I went out into town or with tights to go down to breakfast. They are cheap and cheerful and so pretty.

look at the colours in that tunic!


6. You can drink alcohol. Granted, most local restaurants don't serve it but all the big hotels do and many tourist restaurants or more expensive restaurants like the restaurant at the Yacht Club in Aqaba will offer alcohol and there are liquor stores where you can buy it yourself. Muslims are not allowed to touch alcohol (they have to declare a formal religious affiliation on their ID) so all liquor stores are majority owned and operated by Jordanian Christians and all servers are either Jordanian Christians or, from what I experienced, Filipino. I was surprised to learn that there is an actual wine industry there and that Jordanian wine is not half bad but it's also not cheap. Stick to Arak, which is a middle eastern anise flavoured liquor that turns white when you add ice or a bit of water, hence the local nickname "camel's milk". it's delicious but you must handle iy with care because it's about 50% alcohol. It's like the beverage choice of the most mysterious man in the Middle East.

"I don't always drink booze, but when I do I drink rocket fuel"


7. Which brings me to the next point. Although it is a very muslim country, not absolutely everyone is muslim and everyone I met tended to be very moderate, kind, people like moderate, kind people anywhere. There is a dwindling Christian population (between 3 and 5% at this point) but, in fact, there are growing numbers of Iraqi Christian refugees who are fleeing to Jordan for safety where Muslims and Christians appear to coexist in relative harmony. Most of the locals working on the film Shack was there for were Jordanian Christians, interestingly enough and it was really interesting talking to them and getting their unique perspective on things. They also all seemed to be related which means the film business there is just like the film business here.

Because Jordan is smack dab in the middle of what is considered the cradle of the three Abrahamic faiths, there are beautiful churches to see, Catholic and Greek Orthodox being the most common and many ruins of Byzantine Churches. Nine seats are reserved for Christians in their parliament, which might not seem like much but they represent only that 3 to 5% of the population and most other Arab nations don't make any effort to give them a voice.

We saw a number of large groups of Italians who were clearly on some type of religious tour and visiting all of the important Catholic sites like the River Jordan, Mount Nebo etc and I assume that these groups also go to Israel as part of their journey.


make sure to spend a couple of days in Aqaba. It's like the Miami of Jordan minus the bikinis, beer bongs and wet tshirt contests
8. Speaking of Israel, if you are not Jordanian, it is pretty easy to cross the border into Israel from Jordan, especially if you do it down in Aqaba. If you want to visit Israel while you are there but don't want an Israeli stamp on your passport, you can request a separate piece of paper that you put inside your passport but that you can remove so that you can travel to countries like Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia or Malaysia (Saudi and Malaysia might give you trouble or they might not, it depends on the whim of the border guard that day from what I understand).

If you are Jordanian, you must apply for a visa, you  must have one hell of a compelling reason to go there and there is no guarantee that you will ever be granted the visa. The only Jordanian I met who has been to Israel has both a Jordanian and a British passport, has a name that is more John Watkins that Ahmed Abbadi and travels with the British document and even he said it can take up to 12 hours for him to get across the border. It was another reminder of where you are to hear locals asking what it was like in Eilat because they cannot go there when it's just a few km away and basically the other side of Aqaba, in clear view across the Bay.


Watch out for this kid. He will run after you wanting to touch your tattoos. He will then demand a dinar for his trouble. He is a very busy kid and he doesn't have time to argue with you. Just give him the dinar.
9. It is illegal for Jordanians to get tattoos, although there is a robust underground tattoo scene in Amman. Almost all of the Jordanian Christian kids I met had them as well as some facial piercings, which was unexpected. More surprising was to find that some of the young Muslims had tattoos as well, although they were careful to get them in places where nobody will see them. If you have visible tattoos, you will have little kids run after you, wanting to touch them and look at them. Mr Shack's sleeves were very popular about town.


This was taken at about 3pm, and as you can see, we were pretty bundled up

10. Last, but not least, It's not always hot and it's not all desert. The Wadi Rum, although the desert, can get really cold at night, especially in the winter time. We were there in November and it might go up to a lovely, dry 28C during the day but once the sun goes down it could get as low as 8C. Bring some warm clothing. Amman is in the mountains and when we drove from the dead sea up to Amman, we watched the temperature gage in the car go from 24C down to 12C in under 30 minutes. It also rains from time to time, even in Aqaba at certain times of the year so check that out before you go. The mountains around Madaba are pretty lush and green, with olive groves, farmland and wineries all over the place.

The Jordanian shemog is the red and white one that this dapper gentleman is sporting


look at the condition of the coliseum at Jerash!

This Umayyad Palace structure at The Citadel appears to have been a repurposed Byzantine Church and was one of my favourite things 

So, there are ten things you probably didn't know about Jordan.


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