ROSE AND ZAATAR

A TASTE OF A LIFE IN LEBANON

Month: April, 2013

Dough

Yesterday I made bread for the for the first time in ages. I’d forgotten the feel of the dough in my hands, its weight, its soft stretch, its sweet thick smell. It was like coming home.

It was the first time I made bread as a mother, and while I kneaded I talked to my daughter, watching me intently from her chair. I told her that one day soon we could do it together; that she could sink her curious fingers in and squish and squash and squeeze; that she could bring her palms down and bang the drum of dough as loud and long as she liked.

DSCN0912

Today, we took a nap together in the afternoon, and as we drifted off to sleep I thought how her arms smelt just like dough. Maybe she couldn’t wait for ‘one day soon’ and crept into the kitchen when I wasn’t looking to make her very first loaf.

Elegantly unnoticeable

I am fascinated by ‘public transport’ in Beirut. My first year here I was a big fan of ‘service’ taxis but now that I’ve had my baby, who isn’t a  big fan (possibly because of all the taxis I took when I was pregnant!) my new passion is buses.

Last week a friend and I took number 15 home from the souks for the first time.  As we made our way down to the Corniche to catch it a passing taxi hooted us, meaning do you want a lift? This is something that used to happen all the time. In the beginning in Beirut it was almost impossible to walk more than a metre without someone beeping or calling out taxi taxi. I remember that once I even considered having a t-shirt made with ‘No, I don’t want a taxi, I actually want to walk!’ printed on the front and back  in Arabic, English and French- all of Lebanon’s three languages, just to be sure.

But now it happens a lot less and I wonder why.

My friend jokes that perhaps it’s because we get our our hair and nails done more regularly now and somehow we seem more Lebanese and less likely to be in need of a taxi.

I laugh, but there is definitely some truth in what she says and later on that day I put my finger on it. While searching on the internet for more new bus routes to try out I come across a wonderful piece of advice on the bottom of the Zawarib map (http://zawarib.org/):

Buses will stop for you at any point on route…Just make yourself elegantly noticeable. 

I smile and realise that we have done the opposite. After a year and a bit in Beirut, we’ve lost our tourist look and become elegantly unnoticeable.

Note to self

According to my lovely mum, when I was little I used to refuse to eat apples that had gone brown (as a result of being cut up and left for too long). I used to say they were sunburnt.

I should have remembered this earlier when I was preparing my baby’s very first banana. I was so proud of myself for being super organised while she slept, setting up the high chair next to the table on the terrace for our lunch, sterilizing the spoons, and skinning/slicing/squishing the banana for her to have fun with and hopefully eat. 

Well, an hour later, she is still sleeping and the banana has a lovely sun tan 🙂

The size of a minute

Only a minute to write today

the size of the chocolate eggs I bought, or the slight smile the shop assistant squeezed from my baby 

or

the size of the walnuts I chopped for the fruit salad, or even smaller, the ruby red pomegranate jewels I squeezed from their skins

Throw-ing the towel*

While making pizza dough at the weekend, my husband discovered a new way of entertaining our daughter, dissolving her into fits of giggles by throwing a tea towel into the air and catching it over and over again (it also worked wonderfully with a wooden spoon).

We wondered if this new trick would also do the trick when she was tired and frazzled at the end of the day, or if it was just a one-off wonder. We had the chance to put it to the test after the bath and I am happy to say that it worked.

So if you are about to throw in the towel at bedtime, it is worth actually throwing the bath towel. You might not get as many giggles as earlier in the day, but you will get less wriggles and you may even win the battle of the babygro.

*Throw in the towel: Fig. (From boxing, where this is done by a boxer’s trainer to stop the fight.) to signal that one is going to quit; to quit.

From http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/throw+in+the+towel

 

Wednesday’s Child and the Typo

This morning I typed a hasty email to a friend telling her how my baby had started the day extra early. Later I noticed that I’d actually written woe up instead of woke up. It made me smile because no matter how early she wakes up or how the bad the night has been, my little one nearly always greets me and the morning with a grin and is anything but woeful. It seems that she, like me, is a morning person, always comforted by a new day and the possibilities it brings.

She, like me, was born on a Wednesday, and my typo today made me remember the old nursery rhyme about days of the week, that I have always struggled with:

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

When I was little I used to wish I had been born a few hours earlier on a Tuesday, or even a day late on a Thursday. Anything except woeful Wednesday. My mother used to attempt to comfort me with the idea that full of woe also meant full of concern or compassion- that it meant I cared. Which I do.

But today I would like to reclaim Wednesdays, for me and my daughter. I would like to imagine that perhaps there is a typo in the old rhyme too and that woe should really be woke, and that its definition should read as follows in a dictionary:

Woke:  alert, bright eyed, ready for the world. Common expression to be full of woke, meaning full of energy, light, life.

The Great Plate Exchange

Never return an empty plate a Lebanese friend told me last year, returning my plate, which had held homemade cakes, heaped with cherries from the trees at her mountain home.

It is a principle also practised by our Syrian concierge’s wife. My left-over cake plate came back on Tuesday with a fattoush on it (green salad topped with toasted Arabic bread, typical of the region). I thought it would stop there, but on Wednesday she knocked on our door again, with a different dish, this time fatteh (another regional speciality of chickpeas, garlicky yogurt and more fried bread). We returned the plate this morning holding five fat golden coins of aubergine fried in breadcrumbs.

It seems we are engaged in a great plate exchange, which has come at the exactly the right time, when I was feeling uninspired about what to cook and longing for new ideas. It is as though she heard my thoughts all the way from the sixth floor and came to my rescue.

DSCN0878

DSCN0871

Six

There are so many things I want to remember about your first six months. For now I will choose just six:

-the way you open your mouth as wide as it will go and hold it against my cheek, giving me whole face kisses, eating me up with delight.

-the way your body stretches and bends and twists- your ballerina straight legs, your locust yoga pose, your head held so high and your eyes so bright like a little meerkat.

-the way you are with books, opening and closing them, singing their stories, trying to get inside the pages, eating them with your eyes (and sometimes your mouth too)

-the way you grab my lips, my cheeks, my chin and your papa’s ears, his nose, his Adam’s apple, as though you are trying to take our faces apart piece by piece and finally understand how we work, these funny parents of yours.

-the way you are fascinated by your own hands,  holding them up to your face, to the light, looking for clues, as though every day they are new to you.

– the way you get hiccups every time you giggle and how it reminds me that you were always hiccuping when you were in my belly, bubbling with joy before you even arrived.

Best case scenario

In order not to lose my status as an examiner for the British Council I had to work on Saturday, leaving my baby for four hours for the first time.  All week I worried away at the thought of it (even dreaming it) turning it over and over in my mind, finding all the things that could go wrong (no taxis, too much traffic, exam schedule running behind, teething, tears- hers and mine).

Until finally the day dawned and with it a new thought-that I could imagine the best case scenario instead of the worst. I remembered a wise Buddhist man saying that when you are facing the future, and deciding how to see it, you have two choices- hope or fear. They are two sides of the same bright coin of the unknown.

So I decided to flip the coin.

And in the end, what I got was even better than my best case scenario- taxis waiting like chariots to escort me door to door and charging far less than I was willing to pay; an exam schedule that was running ahead and meant I could leave more than half an hour early, and sweetest of all, opening the door to find my husband and my baby beaming at me, welcoming me home.

Bread and Roses

At your party yesterday, people brought you lovely thoughtful gifts, two of which stuck in my mind as I lay in bed last night re-living the day, wrapping it around me like a soft blanket.

They were a freshly baked loaf of bread and a gorgeous potted red rose. Two of your most favourite things.

They reminded me of something you told me in the very beginning. More than eleven years ago, when we had only just met, you wrote me an email, which I re-read today.

You wrote to me about ‘Bread and Roses’,  the title of a film and the slogan of American workers in the early 1900s demanding a better life, not just what is necessary but what is beautiful too. You told me that I was your rose, and maybe your bread too.

It makes me think of all these years we have spent together, all the kitchens and gardens we have lived and loved in,  and the life we have built, both necessary and beautiful.

Happy Birthday my love, my bread and roses