I wonder if I will miss London once I leave. I will certainly miss bumping into friends, and sometimes friends I haven’t seen for years as happened the other day when I saw Paul on my way to Joel, my wonderful hairdresser who I like to describe as a hair sculptor. Paul and I met on a press trip to Sao Paolo where I had played truant, missing almost all that was on the program. To be fair I had been before. It was a nice surprise to see him again and we stopped to chat before Paul suggested I go with him to the rare tea lady where he was heading. Joel had called to say he was running late as he often does, so, I went. And I am glad I did. Not only did I bump into more friends there but I also discovered a new passion, dried almond blossom. Henrietta, who I knew virtually, showed us the incredibly beautiful dried blossom saying she was getting them from a new Spanish supplier and then offered to infuse some for us to taste. Flower teas are not new. We have z’hurat (a mixture of dried flowers) in Lebanon and Syria where we also infuse individual flowers, the Chinese have chrysanthemum and other flower teas and the Japanese have sakura but I had never seen dried almond blossom. My plan now is to grow my own almond trees in Sicily (hoping I can on my mountain!) to have my own supply, and to supply Henrietta, making a little money from the land. They are expensive but totally worth it and you will be able to order the dried blossom as of September (I think) from the Rare Tea Company.
I am just back from Sicily where I intend to finish my days, that is if I find the right plot with gorgeous views that will not one day disappear if someone builds in front of me. Anyhow, the prospect of this happening is still some way off and until then, I have the ideal spot where I can live the life I eventually intend for myself, a delightful casetta with the most amazing views on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s organic farm — those who follow me on instagram will have recently seen my daily pictures of stunning sunrise and sunset. It was tenerumi season when I was there and as Mary was describing the pasta she makes with them, I asked her if she would make me some and her being the most wonderful friend, she agreed. We went into the fields to pick some. To be more accurate it was Mary who did the picking. I am hopeless at these things. Too urban I guess. Anyway, tenerumi are the green leaves of the Sicilian cucuzza, a kind of courgettes or a gourd or a squash depending on who translates it — I am almost certain it is the same as Lebanese qara’, which is also in season now and which we pick young and stuff like courgettes and aubergines and finish with a lemony ‘pesto’ made with garlic, dried mint and lemon juice. Mary picked the tenerumi young and tender with some having baby cucuzza attached to them to add a little more texture to the sauce. Here she is below picking what we need for the pasta then showing me her harvest.
A few years ago, my mother was quite ill and I spent a fair amount of time in Beirut, first making sure she got the right treatment then helping her recover. Quite naturally, this disturbed my London routine including who washed and ironed my thousand and one white shirts – those of you who know me, know that I only wear them. This may be a shallow consideration given the gravity of the situation but I needed to look impeccable regardless. This is where Sabah, a rare person, came into my life. She had just opened a dry cleaning place down from my mother’s home, and I took my first lot of shirts to her. Women in Lebanon are very fashion conscious (well, in a very Lebanese sort of way!) and few would consider wearing the same clothes two days in a row let alone have a uniform. My white shirts intrigued Sabah. She couldn’t understand why I had so many! I also intrigued her. She knew my mother but had never met me. But she was very well disposed towards me because of my mother, and became even more so when I told her I wrote about food.
I hadn’t been to Beirut for nearly two years and in that time many new places have opened, including my new favourite, Villa Clara in Mar M’khayel where owners Olivier (ex pastry chef at le Grand Véfour) and Marie-Helene have created the most delightful restaurant, inside and outside where friends and family mingle over simple but exquisite dishes, made with locally sourced ingredients. Olivier cooks these expertly and with great precision but without any fuss. Just how I like to eat, at least most days! Anyhow, what made our lunch even more memorable was the wedding that was happening across the road which took me all the way back to when I lived in Beirut even if I never saw a similar wedding. Here are some fun pictures of our gorgeous day, both at Villa Clara and from across the road! And for those of you interested in my culinary tours, I will be doing one in Lebanon next fall with Villa Clara as our base! Details to be announced soon on my travel page.