Friday, December 23, 2011

Berlin on instagram.

If you haven't seen them yet, I have been taking some pictures while I am in Berlin.
(click on the images to see them bigger on flickr with captions!)
Grey sky, bare trees. Berlin in winter. Berlin building. 
By the river - boats.Swan.
On the walls at Kaffeemitte.Christmas wheel, blue sky.

Merry Christmas from Berlin to wherever you are.
In a little while I'll be at the airport to pick up my husband who is joining us in the celebrations. 
Christmas in Berlin is this year more like a dreary November day with lots of rain and temperatures far far away from frost and snow.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Berlin vs. Amman feeling.

When I think about how I feel about Berlin I inevitably think about my hometown in comparison to my city of residence.Which, in itself, is mean, unfair and just makes me long for Berlin long after I have returned to Amman.

Although Berlin is by far not a metropole like other, bigger and more populated cities in this world, in comparison to Berlin, Amman feels almost provincial. With its lack of activities and events, diverse places to go, self-absorbed citizens caring for themselves first and then a long time nothing (but having an irritatingly big amount of interest into your shortcomings) and its almost religious obsession for shopping and spending, spending, spending.
(The worst of it all.)
I like to shop like every other girl.
In Amman though, it had become almost an obsession, although I too rarely leave the house to justify any purchases.
In Amman though, and I realized this now and here in Berlin were I felt dread over purchasing my last Christmas gifts (instead of just walking, walking, walking and seeing as much as I could), the "retail therapy" term suddenly makes sense.
I shop in Amman because there isn't much else to do.
(I am generalizing and exaggerating, of course. But it does feel that way sometimes. Less than a month ago yet another, bigger, better mall has opened while film festivals don't get half the attention they deserve.)
Sure, I haven't been to the museum I had promised myself but the pure act of walking aimlessly even now in the cold winter (I am a wimp I was told. It's unseasonably warm right now.) is already so very enjoyable. I window-shopped the other day (standing next to one of Germany's most known singers who seemed to look for Christmas gifts as well - and no one cared, I love this!) and stopped here and there in small places with things produced in Germany, in Berlin.

There is no such thing as aimlessly walking in Amman. Sure, certain areas are easier to navigate by foot then others but their size is limited. And they don't cluster. Between each small cluster (often just a single street), if it exists, is almost always a slope, a valley and a steep hill again. Amman's geography certainly doesn't help. Berlin is more clustered and within those clusters more dense in architecture than Amman (which could be great! Empty spaces! So much potential while it lies idle! But nobody there, claiming the public space even just for a short amount of time). This density in urban planning makes Berlin appear much bigger than it is, while, in fact, Amman is double its size. (I doubt that, to be honest, but then again I only navigate half the city, the rich and Western style West.)

I love the coffee shops here which (mostly) are much smaller than the ones in Amman, locally grown not another franchise (of course, the franchise is here too, but Starbucks isn't (almost) The. Only. Option.). I love how unassuming, sometimes a little shabby they are. It is not totally uncommon that blue and white collar workers drink their beverages side by side. An idea impossible in Amman where the inequality of income forbids it the former to be in the same places as the latter.

I know (or so I've heard) that Amman has come a long way compared to what it was like just ten short years ago. But yes, of course, it's not moving fast enough for me.
Amman will never be what Berlin is for me and I will always have difficulties explaining it to someone not from Berlin. I know that yet cannot help myself. If it can't be Berlin I wish Amman and its citizens would pick up a few things from a not too far away city that has so much to offer: Beirut.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

About the traffic Amman.

There are some things you should know about traffic in Jordan, particularly Amman.

Lanes are overrated.
Most of the time you won't be able to see the lanes on the streets because there a) aren't any lines or b) they have faded and nobody bothered to redo them.
But even where you can see them it's best if they stay ignored. Because that's what everybody else does and adjusting to the others - driving four lane style where only three lanes are - is much easier when you don't stick to your lane.

Signaling is overrated.
More than half the time, the person in front of you will take a left or right turn without telling you so. You will know when you suddenly see their rear lights going up, you need to brake and somehow avoid that the person behind you drives into you.
I have taken a special hating to people doing this. Because it happens all the time. Sometimes, while you wait at a red traffic light, a car will drive up next to your right side and signal. It's as if the driver was saying: "I am a rude prick who doesn't give a shit about you, now, please let me in before you?"

Accidents ruin everything.
Oh yes, you think, same here. Traffic accidents are always annoying and never pleasant. But there is a catch. In Jordan (it can't be just Amman can it?) people often remain at the spot where the accident happened. To save the proof or whatever. And because it's easier on them this way, considering that there is never an empty space around in which to bring your vehicle while you wait for the traffic police (which, not uncommon, might take an hour, maybe more). Ammani streets, though, have no space to accommodate such situations. It inevitable turns into a traffic jam mess because nobody wants to let the other in but wants to be the first person out of it.
(Often, you will find a police man next to the hit car in the middle of the street whose being there is unclear and who behaves completely useless.)

Your horn is a valuable weapon.
Use it where you can, when you can. To signal somebody to move out of your way, to tell somebody that s/he should pay attention to others on the street, to voice your anger over somebody's style of driving.

Don't ever make space for others.
When you drive around, make sure you always stick to the car in front of you. Do not leave space. As soon as the gap is big enough for another car, it will be filled. Everybody is always in a hurry, always trying to rush through the streets. Your personal goal is to be close enough to the car in front of you to make sure you don't do any favors but at the same time leave enough space to allow to brake when the car you're creeping up to suddenly decides to brake.

Park wherever you want, however you want.
This one might not be very convincing without pictures, but let me tell you: Ammanis are the worst car parkers I have ever seen. Diagonal on two spots, unable to accomplish parallel parking, occupying half (or more) sidewalk with your big ass vehicle. And come to think of it, it's not all that surprising, at least for those in West Amman. Most shops, restaurants, malls have valet - if you don't want the hassle, pay one JD and you don't have to worry.

Ignore signs. Especially Stop and No Entry signs.
Drive wrong way into a one way street! And then use your horn if the person coming from the other (the right!) direction doesn't want to give you way. Drive past stop signs without stopping, ignore priority signs, they're for the weak.

Pedestrians are your enemy.
I do have some sympathy for pedestrians having walked around this city (or tried) in the past. There aren't a lot of pedestrian crossings or proper ways to cross a street. They aren't proper sidewalks how could anyone expect there to be proper behavior towards pedestrians?
The safest way to cross a street in Amman is, indisputable, a pedestrian bridge. What is infuriating: Those pedestrians close to the bridges trying to cross 6 lane highways (or whatever number of cars try to drive next to each other). They always seem a little suicidal.

When you think you can finally speed, there will be a bumper.
You are always in a hurry, always late for something, never on time and there are hundreds of people around you facing the same issue. When you finally knocked everyone out and see yourself facing an empty patch of street on which to break the speed limit, there will be a bumper. They are everywhere. And they are there for a reason, I believe. (You don't really believe anybody cares for the speed limit within cities? Where I come from you have to slow down in residential areas, not so here.)
Instead of having a reliable, accountable police force giving you speeding tickets, the government puts up bumpers to make you slow down. They will be where you least expect it.

Forget what you've learned about the rules of driving and pretend you're alone on the streets. Then you'll be able to imagine what driving here is like.
Beware, although you try everything to be as fast as possible when driving around (horn, as little distance as possible, as many lanes as will fit on the street, furious road rage) you will, inevitably, be stuck in traffic. There is no way out of it. Modern Amman, although no more than 100 years old, is a big example for horrible urban planning, lack of foresight and accommodating the ever growing number of vehicles on the streets.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gingerbread anything.

I have one distinct memory of making a gingerbread house when I was a kid.
It was a ready made kit and all you had to do was assemble and decorate it.
Not knowing where we went wrong (the royal icing too thin?!) I just know that it was a disaster. Collapsing walls and ceilings and not the fun and joy it's supposed to be.

I've always wanted to try it again, but having kids - of some sort - is mandatory.
So this year, with my stepchildren around, I embraced the gingerbread house making and we came up with this.

Gingerbread House.

The kids had a blast, I am cured from my fear. I also thought we would keep said house in the house given that our Christmas decorating was limited to a few string lights and paper snowflakes along our biggest window.
Alas, I wouldn't have it my way. As soon as the last m&m was glued on and the sprinkles were (almost literally) licked off the table, my stepchildren asked when a) we would be able to eat it and b) when we would make another one. They are greedy like that.
It was soon decided that we'd let one of them take the house to school to share with the class.
So, what to do with the other kid who did not, to no surprise, like the idea of parting with the house without getting anything of it?!

Well, I bought those.

And then we made these.
It's a party in the kitchen. More gingerbread people.

And these as well.

Today. Gingerbread people.

(Did we overdo it? I searched for inspiration online and found those to be utterly bland and boring.)

The kid took them to school, everybody loved them, his teacher asked for the recipe and we now have a surplus of candy at home leftover from the decorating (I am not complaining).

With this post, I am also sharing something else with you: I have discovered that if my husband doesn't want to buy me an iPhone (besides the unavailability of the 4s in Jordan as of now),  I will just have to snatch it away from him to no longer miss out on the joy that is instagram. I'd been looking at other peoples pictures on the iPad we own, but didn't realize I could take pictures with that too (The two ginger bread people pictures were taken with it and although the quality is fine one the screen, it does show here that the iPhone camera is clearly superior in low light situations. I am practicing and so it's okay).
So, as weird as it feels, taking pictures with a mobile (or even the iPad) has much less intimidating qualities as taking pictures with a real camera (I took her out with me on Saturday to the city of Salt, it was grand!).

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Apple Torte.

I don't wait for occasions to occur when I want to bake. There are never enough occasions anyway.
I usually stare into the fridge/pantry/open air until an idea materializes. And then I go search for a recipe or, if I am lucky, remember one on my endless list of things to make (It's a google doc but I have started to print them out. So there is now a loose pile of papers sitting next to my cookbooks).

This cakes occasion presented itself in the form of three 7oz. packages of cream cheese in my fridge that my husband had bought for me when I was on the verge of tears over this one.

Apple Torte.

I also had some sad apples sitting around in the fruit bowl. And some time.
Because that's the one thing this cake really requires: Time.
There are three parts: A crust that needs chilling and par-baking, a sweet cream cheese filling and maple syrup sweetened apples.
At the same time, it's a really easy cake. No difficult things here, no caramel making or butter cream churning.
My husband took a bite and declared it to be one of the best cakes I have ever made.
My stepchildren each ate a slice and like it, despite it having fruits on it (which is a big dessert no-no in this house).
I very much liked it, but I am glad about the changes I made.
Apple Torte.
(Can you tell that this whole taking pictures in the dark thing is getting better!?)

Apple Torte
Adapted from Dana Treat who adapted it from "The Greyston Bakery Cookbook"
Makes one 9" cake

I always worry about desserts being overly sweet and this certainly is on the quite sweet side which is probably why my stepchildren liked it.
I reduced the amount of sugar and maple syrup in the topping by half and omitted the apricot jam. The recipe has you spread half a cup on the crust before you add the filling.
The recipe below reflects my adaptions.

For the crust
1/2 cup (1 stick, 113 grams) butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar (67grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (MM: I don't recall adding any. I find the amount of vanilla extract used in most American recipes rather overpowering and when dealing with delicate flavors like maple syrup and apples I would rather have those shine. But I give the measurements anyway.)
1 cup (128grams) flour

For the filling
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100grams) sugar 
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping
3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/8 cup (25grams) sugar
1/8 cup (25grams) maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon grund cinnamon
1/2 cup slivered almonds (MM: I didn't measure these, I went by feeling.)

Prepare the crust:
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C and grease a 9" springform pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla if using. Use a fork or your fingers and work the flour into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Press the mixture into the springform pan and 1"(2.5cm) up the sides. Pierce the bottom several times with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pastry is set and golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Prepare the filling:
While the crust is baking, beat together the cream cheese and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. Spread the filling over the prepared cold crust.

Prepare the topping:
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, maple syrup and spices until the sugar is mostly resolved. Add the apple slices and carefully coat with the sugar mixture.
Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles over the filling.
Bake for 10minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350°F/175°C. Remove the tort from the oven, sprinkle with the almonds and bake for another 30 minutes until the apples are tender (MM: check the cake regularly. My cake took another 15 minutes longer until it turned from pale to slightly golden.)

Let cool on a wire rack before you remove the sides of the pan.

Storage: This cake keeps for about 3 days but needs refrigeration. After two days the apples start looking a little tired but still taste fine.

Dana recommended brushing the apples with some warmed apricot glaze to make them shine. And while I am sure it would look pretty, I simply dusted them with some powdered sugar.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Winter Farm.

A few weekends ago we went up north to our "farm" which isn't so much as a farm as it is a piece of land with mostly olive trees.
What makes it special is the adjacent pine and oak forest and the fact that between the olives the previous owners also planted yellow plum and some fig trees.
We went up there this summer and came home with about 50 kilo of plums - distributed among my husbands sisters. I made jam out of most of them.

There are still some olives on the branches but most have been turned into olive oil already.

the last olives.

In a country mostly devoid of trees that change colors and leaves, going to the farm is as close as it gets to autumn.

autumn leaves.

Among others things: I love going there in every season. Because the air is clean and smells of forest and pines.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Week Fifty Two. One Day at a time.

This is it.
The final One Day at a time post.

Over a year ago (I skipped a Monday or two at the beginning) I wrote this and started a new project that would make me accountable, practice my writing and share my findings.
In this first post I linked to a German author who just recently (last week) died and her project about writing for decades about one specific day a year. Interesting for me is the fact that I never used these Monday posts to write about. So, looking back, I pretty much failed.

I wrote about something every week, but it didn't have anything to do with that specific day. The reason is quite simple and if you go back here to the very first week you'll know why: Nothing happened on Mondays. Or Tuesdays. Or Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays for that matter.
I would wake up early, commute to my universities library, sit by the window, write, panic, write and go home after seven hours.
I miss those days. (They lasted four months, by the way.)
(Dear Self six years ago, when you started studying your Master Thesis was already making you nervous. Mark my words: You will miss writing it once it's done!)

But for a writing project I picked the wrong time. Here, in week four, I still go on about the writing but (!) I also tell you about where I grew up and there are some pictures too!

I give you my unasked for wisdom in week six"Some things aren't worth fighting for." True that. Or in other words: Pick your battles.
Come here and have a look at the best of 2010 (there are some really nice pictures among them!)! Maybe I'll do the same for 2011, maybe not. I am still undecided.

Week nine and that particular Monday was really important. It marked the end of daily commutes to the library and the end of writing my Thesis. (Can you sense the excitement in my words?! I can, I know.)

I love the sea. It's magical. When this year is over I will have known my husband for almost five years. But this year was the first time we spent his birthday together. He's been - for what it's worth - with me on each one of mine.
It's always pretty obvious (at least to me) when I am in an uplifted mood. My writing is accordingly.
Here is more proof of the uplifted mood. And a list of things I loved in March.
I am re-reading my posts while I am writing now and have reached Week Twenty Five which means we are well into May but I wasn't showing you pictures of Jordan (which I reached earlier that month) but Potsdam! Look, it's really nice!

Are you still with me, reading along? Then, go and check week twenty six - halfway there! - in which I tell you about domestic help in the bubble of West Amman.
In June, my brother came to Jordan! Oh, we had so much fun! Read about my Beirut drama here (It all ends well, thank god!). After that I went to Berlin. It was grand and I made a list (I love list).
Let's skip through August (My birthday month and this year's month of Ramadan) and head straight over to September. Because we travelled some more. But this was different. It was a family trip, a vacation without a boring beach but two lively children.

In October, I became an employer. The awkwardness is gone, mostly. She knows her tasks and I have gotten better at giving instructions, generally speaking. (We're still working on some details.)

Read this post here from four weeks ago and learn something about Islam and its holidays...!

It's been quite the year. The good and the bad. The fun and the exhausting. It's been fun documenting these things even though my medium of choice hasn't been, looking back now, the best. Finding a post with just the One day at a time thing as a title is a little challenging. 
But I am glad for every word I wrote.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Why do

Why do mosques broadcast their sermons on Fridays via loudspeakers to the outside world?

It's not as if you could understand a word.
The speaker quality feels like last century technology and as every mosque broadcasts their sermon, Friday mornings are just full of sound in the air.
It doesn't last long. After a half an hour everything is over and the streets are surprisingly full for about five minutes while everybody is hurrying home.
(Again, rarely people walk. Even my husband, in the days he went to the mosque on Fridays, would take his car even though it's a walking distance.)