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.
Three years ago I was in Dubai filming a food/travel TV show for Abu Dhabi TV with the wonderful Tariq al-Mehyas. And the first thing I did when I got there was to spend 3 fabulous days in Sharjah as the guest of the brilliant Sheikha Bodour al-Qasimi who organised for me to cook with, or to be more accurate watch a group of lovely Emirati ladies cook Emirati dishes including the scrumptious lgeimat (saffron-flavoured fritters served drizzled with date syrup) you see in the picture above in the Sharjah Heritage House.
I may not have been to an olive harvest before but I have been to an olive press, including the ancient ones in Volubilis near Meknes, Morocco. However, the one Tonino and Mary use near their farm has nothing ancient about it. In fact, it is very modern with the process completely automated from when the olives are poured into an underground chamber (through a grill to catch the last of the branches) to when they are sucked onto a conveyor belt ferrying them to a washing chamber then onto another conveyor belt which carries them to the press. The process is fascinating to watch even if not very aesthetic, at least not at Sole che Sorge whose lovely owner in the picture below doesn’t seem to have much concern for a photographer’s worry about nice backgrounds to her pictures!
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.