Month: September, 2013

The Recipes

Tomorrow a friend and fellow Beirut blogger is leaving. We only met 5 months ago but made friends fast- as quick as a cake takes to bake- and despite the fact we will soon be in different places, I have a feeling our friendship will last- as long as a recipe you learn by heart.

But because sometimes super-sleepless-mamas don’t have time to learn things by heart this post is for her.

I can’t literally post her any of my baking (as she suggested)  but I can post the recipes instead, here, all in one place, tremind her of cappuccino and cake; of tea and treats on the terrace; and of our little girls at our feet, or climbing our knees, trying to get a taste of our coffee and cookies.



Keep-in-the-fridge-cookie-dough  adapted from  The Cookie Book

115g butter, softened

115g white granulated sugar

115g light muscovado sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

200g self-raising flour

150g chocolate chips (can be dark, milk, white or a mixture)

50g hazelnuts/walnuts

Preheat oven to gas mark 4. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Beat butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again. Add the flour and other things and mix together until just blended- the mixture will be slightly crumbly. Put spoons (size depends on you!) of mixture, well spaced on the baking tray and cook for 10-15 mins until golden brown. The mixture you don’t use can be covered in cling film and kept in a plastic box in the fridge for up to a week. Just remove from the fridge 20 minutes before you bake.

Yogurt Cake- adapted from many different internet recipes

1 pot of yogurt (I usually use plain or sometimes banana/peach/blueberry)

1 pot of vegetable oil

2 pots of sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

3 pots of flour (either self raising or plain plus 2 teaspoons of baking powder)

Flavours (I usually use lemon rind and vanilla essence).

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 and lightly oil a loaf tin (I find the reusable aluminium ones work best). Put the yogurt in a bowl, add the sugar and oil and mix. Add the eggs and choice of flavours and mix. And the flour (and baking powder) and mix.  Pour mixture into prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for….. it really depends on your oven! Usually between 40 mins to an hour. It is done when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I sometimes loosely cover the top with aluminium foil for the last 20 minutes or so to stop it from browning too much- but again it depends on your oven.

Chocolate Brownies- adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe

190g chocolate ( I usually use 125g dark and 75g milk)

190g butter (yes it’s a lot of butter, ‘a crime’ in my husband’s words, but it’s worth it!)

250 grams sugar

3 eggs

Few drops of vanilla essence

110 grams of plain flour

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 and grease and line a small roasting pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan then leave to cool. Beat the sugar and eggs until pale and foamy. Stir the choc/butter into the eggs/sugar. Add the vanilla. Fold in the flour and add the salt. Pour mixture into the tin and bake for between 20 and 30 minutes (depends on oven again!) until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean(ish- it depends how soft and gooey you like the brownies). Mark into pieces- as big or small as you like and leave to cool in the tin.

Carrot Cake- adapted slightly from a Mary Berry recipe

225g self-raising flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

150g light muscovado sugar

1 table spoon cocoa powder (optional)

1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and allspice (optional)

50g walnuts, chopped

100g carrots (about 3), grated

2 ripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs

150ml sunflower oil

Preheat oven to gas mark 4 and grease and line a 20cm round cake tin. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until well blended, turn into tin. Cook until well risen and shrinking away from the sides- between 35 and 50 minutes- depending on your oven again! Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack.


175g full fat cream cheese

50g butter, softened

100g icing sugar, sifted

A few drops of vanilla essence

Beat together until smooth and spread over the cake and then decorate with walnut halves.


Love Street

Love Street

Everyone in Beirut knows Bliss Street. But not so many people are aware of Love Street.
I’ve walked past this graffiti many times but yesterday I had an experience just around the corner from it which inspired me to capture it.
I came across a huge car parked on the pavement blocking my path and forcing me and my buggy into the road. To the casual onlooker, it was just bad parking but to me, Beirut-street-weary-mama, it was the last straw, or to be precise the last 4×4.
Scowling and muttering furiously under my breath as I went round it I caught the eye of a young man crossing the street towards me. He shrugged his shoulders almost apologetically and said ‘Stay positive’, instantly erasing my frown and easing my heart.
It wasn’t the first pavement obstacle I’ve come across and it certainly won’t be the last. But it may be the one and only time I get pedestrian encouragement.
Maybe such a lovely thing could only happen on Love Street.

Keep Calm and Carry On Baking

Last night instead of blogging I baked.

Tonight, instead of blogging about what I thought I would, I’ll write about what I baked, as after a run of even-more-sleepless-than-normal nights, I am in need of something as comforting as a recipe, particularly one that turned out even-better-than-expected.


Chewy Fruit Muesli Slice adapted from The Cookie Book

75g chopped dates

150g Swiss style muesli (I used Morning Glory Porridge, imported all the way from the UK to my little local shop Calimera Market, with no nuts/salt/sugar so baby can have it too)

1 eating apple, peeled, cored and grated

150ml apple juice

15g butter at room temperature (27 degrees here!)

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and press into a 20cm round non-stick sandwich tin. Bake at gas mark 5 for about 35 minutes until golden brown and firm, (like the smiling centre of a sunflower). Mark into 12 equal wedges and leave to cool in the tin.

Then enjoy for breakfast the next morning with your baby or anyone else you love!

Big and small

I started this post a long while ago, on a late May Sunday, a day of firsts.

First day at the swimming pool as a family of three; baby’s first taste of her papa’s favourite fruit- launching her love affair with watermelon, and the first rockets of the year fired into a Hezbollah suburb.

At the time, it was hard to get a sense of perspective. Somehow the swimming seemed momentous and the rocket attack far away, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

Later that day my husband tried to get some clarity from the baker, one of his key local informants on ‘the situation’ along with the barber (who has since relocated to Canada because of ‘the situation’).

Is this rocket attack a big thing or a small thing?

It’s a small thing says the baker

No, it’s a big thing another customer interjects.

The baker speaks to him in Arabic, perhaps chastising him for worrying the foreigner, then smiles and reassures again that really it’s a small thing.


Now three months and many big and small things later I still struggle with perspective.

My baby won’t sleep through the night. Big or small?

They might fire missiles over our heads while we’re sleeping (or awake). Big or small?

What should I be concerned about? What should I be losing sleep over? Both? Neither?

As I wrestle with these questions I keep thinking of a Buddhist idea I heard years ago, before ever imagining I’d have a baby in Beirut, about world peace and the happiness of all mothers being inextricable. There is the belief that a truly happy society is one in which the suffering of mothers has been entirely eliminated.

Maybe that’s what I should be focusing on-being a truly happy mother- in all its bigness and smallness.


Painted feet 2

At the beginning of the summer season I wrote about our feet, mine with a new red pedicure and yours pressed into salt dough then painted sea green.

Now autumn is coming, my toes are on their third coat of paint-peachy pink- and it is time for a painting of your own.

Your very first piece of art work was a whole body effort. Not just finger painting but elbow-tummy-knee painting.

You crawled back and forth across your piece of paper (and around the room, chased by me!) spreading yellow and blue paint everywhere.

Occasionally you would stop and try to pick up the bigger blobs of paint between your thumb and forefinger, the way you pick up peas, or the way you sometimes try to pick up my toenails, lift them off my feet, like little salmon pink shells.

At the end of the afternoon, your page was a bright swirling sea like the Mediterranean outside, and your toenails were a deep shade of turquoise, your first pedicure to go with your first painting.

Life and death in a taxi

Last Saturday night we took a taxi to a leaving party for my husband’s colleague. The taxi driver, after realizing my husband wasn’t Lebanese (happens all the time) spoke reasonably good English. I sat in the back, keeping the past-her-bedtime-baby happy and listened to him and my husband have a typical taxi conversation.

It revolved around two standard questions my husband has learnt to ask after taking taxis to and from work every day for nearly two years:

How’s the traffic? and Do you have children/grandchildren?

They are neutral questions, which don’t necessarily lead to talk of politics, religion, the civil war or, more recently, ‘the situation’. Unless of course the driver wants to talk about these things. Which he often does.

On this particular night the answers were something like this:

-How ‘s the traffic?

There’s no traffic. The streets are empty. People are afraid.

It’s true that the streets are quieter than normal, fear moving through the city like a virus, curdling all our stomachs.

-Are you a grandfather?

-Yes, I have 14 grandchildren. And 5 children. 

My husband asks him more questions and we learn that they all live in Beirut and that his 30 year old son is the only one not married and still living at home. Then he tells us:

In 1983, my wife gave birth to 3 babies, 2 girls and a boy.  They were all fine. For 20 years, no problem. Then my son got sick. He didn’t go out anymore, he didn’t study, work, anything. I called many doctors to come but they don’t know what the problem is. He just stays at home all the time and thinks. I don’t know what to do.

I am touched by the way this grey haired grandfather unfurls his life for us, proud and sad, softly, in the safety of his dark taxi cab.

The conversation moves on, but I keep thinking that 1983 was right in the middle of the war, and that when he started his story I was so sure he was going to tell us some tragic event from the time. But I was wrong. His ‘tragedy’ happened many years later, in peace time.

I am reminded again how life goes on, no matter what.

Babies are born in the midst of war, sometimes the people we love get sick no matter what we do. What Buddhism calls the four sufferings of birth, sickness, aging and death exist wherever you are, be it in the safest country in the world, or the place you’ve lived all your life, or Beirut.

It’s not about escape, I realise. And the thought is both a relief and a challenge.

This house

This house has been our home for a year now. We arrived when I was 8 months pregnant and could only carry a pot plant and my bulging belly. Now our baby is more than 10 months old and as heavy as 6 big bottles of water.

This house has chocolate brown shutters outside and ice cream coloured walls inside- the bedrooms are pistachio and lemon, the living room is old fashioned vanilla. And the bathroom is tiled top to toe in candy pink and baby blue making me think of the song about two toothbrushes in those colours. Now there are three toothbrushes in the mug above the sink and I’m teaching my daughter how to use hers for her four baby teeth.

This house has a terrace that wraps itself along one long and one short side, like a crooked arm cradling us. When we arrived it was in fragrant full bloom- jasmine, gardenia, frangipani- and over the year we have added to the collection of plants in pots- more roses, more basil, an inherited fern and lopsided Christmas tree and a purple leaved plant that came from a cutting from our cleaner (who I think secretly would much rather be a gardener than a cleaner).

This house is next to a construction site, as are many houses in Beirut. When we came they were digging the foundations and it felt as though they were drilling deep down into me as I tried to practice my breathing and relaxation techniques in preparation for giving birth. Now it is nearly a 12 storey building and the shudders and judders and bangs and clangs it makes have become a familiar lullaby, almost a necessity for baby naps. 

Happy 1st Birthday house- thank you for being our home.