There was a time during the Lebanese civil war and for a while after, when I spent nearly 14 years without going back to Lebanon. So naturally, the first time I went back, I wanted to eat everything I had growin up there, recovering long lost flavours that I had missed in my years abroad. But there was one thing I had lost a taste for and that was raw liver. Like most Lebanese, I ate it from when I could chew — it is a great Lebanese delicacy, often eaten for breakfast from a freshly killed lamb — but my years in London and Paris had made me somewhat squeamish, at least as far as raw liver was concerned although not for very long. After gingerly taking a bite or two, I got used again to the faintly bloody taste and the slippery texture and tucked in. And I now make a pilgrimage every time I go to visit my mother to Qal’et el-Rumiyeh where they rear and butcher their own lambs to eat all kinds of raw meat dishes including raw liver.
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.
Last month I nearly forgot to post my belly dancer. Not this month when after watching a few I decided on Hermeen. She is a little plump but very enticing. In fact adorable, both her looks and the way she moves. An added bonus is the marvellous setting and lovely camera work. The clip is from the 1956 film Neda el-Hobb (The Call of Love) and the song she is dancing to is called Zahret el Rabi’ (The Rose of Spring). I love the opening sequence with the camera focusing on her beautiful hands before panning to the Qanun, one of my favourite instruments — as an aside Julien Jalal el-Din and the Kindi ensemble are coming to Rich Mix, so, go if you can. He is a marvellous musician and a fascinating man. Anyhow, back to delightful Hermeen, my favourite moment is when the cameraman films the water with the musicians and Hermeen reflected in it rather than focusing on them and because the water is very still, the action is dreamy but real enough and quite beautiful. I also like how she seems to glide on the edge of the pool. All in all a delightful sequence with a gorgeous belly dancer that should brighten up this sad autumn day!
Today, I start a new chapter in my present career by writing a bi-monthly column for a beautiful new website called Qulture, covering arts, culture, entertainment and food mainly in Qatar but also elsewhere. My first column is about how I started being interested in food and when I began to cook. There is a lovely picture of my beautiful grandmother and aunt in their kitchen. My grandmother was a fabulous cook. She taught my mother and I in turn learned from both of them, so, I thought I would post another family picture of my grandmother, mother, aunt and uncles on Palm Sunday with us girls in front — I am in the middle in front of my aunt who seems to be adjusting something; my grandmother is carrying my baby brother and my beautiful mother had yet to go back to her normal svelte figure! — before we all went back to my grandmother’s home for a feast although the big feast would have had to wait until the following Easter Sunday which is the big day for feasting for Lebanese Christians. Far more important than Christmas Eve.