ROSE AND ZAATAR

A TASTE OF A LIFE IN LEBANON

Category: Food

Like Mother Like Daughter 2

Today we said another farewell to another lovely lady and her baby.

A bye bye Beirut cupcake

A bye bye Beirut cupcake

This is a card I made for her, to go with the shopping bag I gave her as a gift from Magnolia Bakery where we have spent many lunchtimes in the company of other mamas, trying to eat our cakes as quickly as possible before the babies in the buggies wake up and want some.

We had lunch there today, and I bought some cookies to take home for an afternoon tea with an old friend, who recently returned to Beirut for a visit (another one- they can’t keep away!).  We only arranged it this morning so I hadn’t had the time to bake anything, and it is almost unthinkable for me to invite someone over when both the biscuit box and cake tin are empty.

But I needn’t have worried as my daughter has recently come up with a new imaginary game where she puts her plastic cakes into a pan and then in and out of the oven, over and over again, always making sure she uses a tea towel as they are ‘hot’.

Oh where does she get it from I wonder?!

p.s. as I write about yet another farewell and return I remember that I am still missing a post for the fourth of my ‘four returns’– it’s coming soon, I promise.

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Like Water for Chocolate

Yesterday morning I mentally added a new addition to my daughter’s ‘rhyming dictionary‘ when I realised that water sounds like chocolate, reminding me of the book with a similar name.

The whole day then seemed to take on a chocolate flavour:

Chocolate Icecreams

Mid-morning drawing session

Me: What colour are the ice-creams?

Her: Chocolate! (not water, and not brown as I had expected the answer to be)

Then while she napped (and probably dreamed of chocolate ice-cream) I made my first ever raw brownies

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Raw Chocolate Brownies

which she taste tested with me when she woke up and despite the fact that the cocoa is subtle not strong, she recognised it instantly as deto (chocolate)!

Four returns: ‘Flower-picking’ and other stories

Just over a week ago we saw a friend who left Lebanon last summer, but had returned for a flying visit. The first time we met was on an organised walking tour on my very first weekend in Beirut and we fast became friends, especially his wife and I, who kept each other company (and kept each other’s spirits up) on our own un-organised walking tours of the city and beyond, interspersed with brunches on balconies and teas on terraces, with soups in winter and sparkling water in summer, and on a perpetual search for the perfect espresso and fresh lemonade and for somewhere to stop for nappy-changing and naps.

She couldn’t make it  on this return trip to Lebanon, but she was with us in spirit and I know she would have enjoyed the wine-tasting event where we decided to catch up with her husband. In particular, the wine I fell in love with, or rather, the story behind it. Apparently instead of using pesticides they plant huge red flowers in between the vines to distract the insects, then they send in geese to pluck the pests off the petals- ‘flower-picking’ so to speak. Every time I took a sip I imagined this scene and it made the wine somehow more appealing, or ‘complex’ as perhaps a connoisseur would say!

We went home with a bottle of it and, in honour of my old friend, the telephone number of a new one in need of somebody to show her the city, to share a walk along its shore and  a pause in a place where the espresso is good, the summer lemonade and the winter soup (served in glasses) are even better and the memories are best of all.

An Italian in Beirut

On Sunday we went out for dinner to Nonna pizzeria, while our little one slept soundly at home with her nonna.
As we left the house to look for a taxi, we had our usual debate about how much we were willing to pay: my maximum is 10,000 LL (approx $7), while my husband’s is 8,000 LL when he’s with me, 5,000LL when he’s not.

‘Leave it to me’ said my husband, ever the Italian- haggler.

But after just missing 2 taxis, taken by women going in the opposite direction, we began to wonder whether we would get one at all, at any price, as the sun had just set and it was time for Iftar (breaking the daily Ramadan fast).

Third time lucky I said and let’s pay 10,000.

But in the end we only paid 2,000 as a bus came and we decided to take that as far as downtown and try again with a taxi from there. We sat at the front and my husband made ‘conversation’ with the driver, who was from Syria (‘Syria, no problem!’ he insisted) but also had family in Rome. Once again I was reminded how loved the Italians are in this part of the world, despite their early exit from the World Cup this year.

So loved it seems that they will let us ride for free. When we got off the bus a taxi stopped for us and said he would take us to the end of the street where the restaurant was on his way to the airport. While driving us he proudly shared his 3 Italian words (grazie, buongiorno and…. pause while he tried to remember… prego!), complimented my husband on his 3(ish) Arabic phrases and completely refused to accept any money at all, even though my husband kept offering (we were below even his minimum!). We laughed about our bizarre journey all the way up the hill to the pizzeria, and spent the money (and calories) we’d saved on an enormous panna cotta .

Unfortunately the journey home wasn’t quite so sweet, as despite finding a taxi waiting at the door who was willing to take us for 8,000, we managed to upset the driver when we told him to get to our house from the traffic free road at ‘the top’ rather than the crowded Corniche ‘at the bottom’ and he insisted that we pay a dollar extra.

Maybe our mistake was not telling him about being Italian.

 

 

 

A week in Beirut: Thursday

On Wednesday evening, washing finally done, but still waiting for the water delivery, I was standing in the kitchen thinking about my cleaner when the phone rang. To my surprise, it was her. Actually I wasn’t that surprised as I consider her a sort of oracle anyway, and this particular call proved it. She told me about a bomb that had just gone off relatively close to our area and wanted to check all was OK, which it was.

This time the thwarted suicide attack was less that 2km away and I was wide awake but still I heard nothing. We checked the local news sites on the internet and our phones for messages from security- nothing. But then we heard the sirens screaming down the Corniche and the rest of the world caught up with my cleaner (and the TV- where she gets her information from!).

If you had asked me a few years ago what I would do in a situation like this one, I’m not sure what I would have said. But I’m pretty sure my answer wouldn’t have been ‘make watermelon granita‘ which is exactly what I did. This may seem strange but I guess it is just another version of my ‘if in doubt, bake’ philosophy.

 

Watermelon granita, made with traditional 'pink' and not so traditional 'yellow' watermelon.

Granita in my daughter’s two favourite colours, made with traditional ‘pink’ and not so traditional ‘yellow’ watermelon.

The ‘baking’ was in preparation for a paddling pool play date at our place the next day, which I wondered if I should cancel. But on Thursday morning we received a ‘situation is normal’ text message (and the water finally arrived!) and decided to go ahead. The granita was a big hit with both babies and mamas, despite nearly breaking my freezer in the process and giving me flashbacks to my fridge nightmares this time last year. And seeing five little ones splashing in the pool also gave me flashbacks to last summer, when we spent similar days with different babies (the original famous five-now scattered far and wide), and tried to keep cool, while all around us things were hotting up.

What is it about Beirut that regularly makes you feel like you’ve been here before?

No use crying over spilt self-raising flour

Today we baked together. A hummingbird cake, full of sweetness and spice and faraway promises, for a friend who is leaving us soon. A friend whose name you know and can nearly say, and whose daughter you love, like a borrowed little sister.

At this moment in your life, you want to do everything yourself, especially if there is risk or mess involved. So baking is perfect for you. Standing on a precarious chair at the table with bowls and bags of sugar and flour, you were in your element and before long the flour was all over the floor.

Not just any flour but self-raising flour, which is like gold dust in Beirut. Or perhaps star dust. Anyway, this morning it was just dust.

Oh no!!!

We both stood there looking at it. You were waiting for my reaction. So was I.

Should I say that’s it, take our aprons off and wash our hands, vowing to wait until are you are older before baking again?

Should I say forget the cake and let you carry on in your own sweet way, decorating the house with all the ingredients?

Or something else?

It was one decision too many for a tired mama and I was suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. For a second I wanted to cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, in a flash of inspiration, I moved the ‘real’ baking to the other end of the table and scooped up the spilt flour into a bowl, just for you, to play with to your heart’s content. And mine.

Later, while you napped, the cake cooked perfectly and I poured your flour into a jar, for another baking day.

Later still, we picked pink flowers from the terrace together to decorate the cake and the tears I had saved from earlier, I shed instead over my friend-who-is-almost-leaving, a much more worthy cause than flour (even if it’s self-raising and made of gold and stars).

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The Settling Point

On Friday I made strawberry jam, for the first time as a mama. I remember the first time I ever made it, and wrote about it here.

Then it was a June afternoon, in a huge aubergine coloured kitchen, with enough time billowing around me, only interrupted briefly by a knock at the door from a man who needed my signature to authorise the end of a tree, to ‘put it to sleep’ before it became dangerously entangled with the power lines.

I don’t remember the recipe I used that time, except that there were only 3 ingredients- strawberries, sugar (caster) and a lemon (juice and pulp), and to my surprise it set, sweet and sticky and scarlet. Looking back, I probably cooked it slightly too long, passing the setting point for fear of not reaching it.  I had too just a little much time on my hands to worry and wait.

This time I use the same three ingredients and Mary Berry’s recipe as a rough guide. This time it is night and I stand over the stove in my white-tiled kitchen, with the windows open, measuring the minutes and hoping that my unsettled teething toddler won’t wake up until I’m done. Of course she does. At the crucial moment, when I am spooning hot jam onto a cold plate to see if it’s ready, I hear her cries. My sweet husband does his best to get her back to sleep, but she just wants me, so I take the jam off the heat and hope for the best.

And it turns out, that her timing was actually perfect and so was the jam.So my mama answer to the question:

How do you know when jam is at setting point?

is

When your baby is at settling point!

 

Eat (anything but) your greens!

Yesterday you had broccoli for dinner. Just broccoli. Recently you had it for breakfast and a while ago you only ate peas and pear and nothing else for an entire day. Sometimes the only way to get you to eat things that aren’t green, like rice or eggs, is to put peas in them, as when there is a pea on the spoon you will usually pop it into your mouth.

I know many mothers struggle to get their children to ‘eat their greens’, but I seem to be dealing with the opposite and as happy as I am that you love your vegetables, I want to encourage you to eat all the colours of the rainbow. Which reminds me of when I was little and had to take a multi-vitamin tablet to take every day. They came in a rainbow range of colours and I was very particular about which colour was for which day- Mondays were yellow, Thursdays were purple…

Maybe you and broccoli is just another version of me and vitamins and perhaps another opportunity for me to trust you- that you really do know what your body needs and when.

 

 

 

Bake yourself at home

After being away in Istanbul for a few days last week it took awhile to find my way back into my life and it wasn’t until I baked an apple cake over the weekend that I felt at home again. This feeling prompted me to finish the post below, which has been sitting in my drafts folder for far too long!

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We have a new friend in Beirut- new to the city and new to motherhood. I admire her courage. I’ve been both of those things, but not at the same time. Meeting her has reminded me of my own first few days here, the raw fear and exhilaration, crossing roads with my heart in my mouth, even without a baby in a buggy.

But in less than a month she is finding her feet, venturing out to our homes and cafes, crossing one road after another, both physically and metaphorically.

And she even baked muffins to bring to your house, which is a good sign! I said to another friend, who just looked at me quizzically.

Well I always think that baking makes you feel at home. If you can manage to get all the ingredients and get your oven to work… I never really feel at home in a place until I’ve made a cake there… I explain, thinking back to my first baking adventure in Beirut (documented here).

Since starting this post our now-not-so-new friend has made far more than muffins- inviting us for a morning of Valentine’s Day cookie decorating, hosting a pancake party and even organising a new playgroup serving tea and boxes of her own biscuits- well and truly baking herself at home.

Happy Valentine’s Day

In Lebanon Valentine’s Day is a public holiday, but not for the reasons you might think. Nine years ago, this day, which should belong to lovers, was stolen, hijacked, or to be more precise, car bombed. And ever since, the 14th February has been associated with assassination, instead of love.

Today, some other mamas and I reclaimed the day and decorated heart shaped cookies for the ones we love and are loved by, even if they don’t celebrate Valentine’s day either (for other less drastic reasons than assassination).

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Happy Valentine’s Day Lebanon, 

these hearts are for you,

sweet and unbroken.