Ramadan is the most important time of the year in the Islamic calendar, a time when people fast from sunrise to sunset, not even letting a drop of water into their mouth. The dates vary each year, going backwards by about ten days because Muslims follow the lunar calendar. The first day of the fast is announced when the new moon is sighted and the last day when the moon has reached its full cycle after which, there is a period of three days when the whole Muslim world celebrates Eid el-Futr (the feast of breaking the fast). When I planned my trip to Indonesia for the beginning of June, I didn’t quite think of Ramadan but as it happened, the latter half of my stay coincided with the first week of Ramadan, which was both good and not so. Not so good because life slows down during the day, with many eateries closed but good because once the fast is broken at sunset, everything springs back into life, with restaurants putting on special Ramadan menus for those wanting or needing to break their fast (buka puasa as iftar is known out there) outside their home while street vendors wheel out their carts — some with Ramadan specialities which you don’t see the rest of the year. Read more >
Yesterday I was taken to buy saffron by my wonderful friend, Maryam Abdallah, Qatar’s first TV chef and a wonderful cook and educator. On the way, she gave me a wonderful tip on how to make sure I am buying real saffron which I thought I would pass on. Now, you probably don’t need to know this if you are buying saffron pre-packed by the gram but you better know it if you are going to buy saffron in industrial quantities the way they do in the souk. It’s very simple. All you need to do is ask the vendor for 3 or 4 threads of saffron which you put on your tongue and suck on for a few seconds. You then spit the threads out onto a clean tissue and rub them inside the tissue. If they colour it yellow, you know you are buying real saffron. If they colour it red, you are being sold coloured threads that have nothing to do with saffron. I wish my friend who recently brought me tons of saffron from Morocco knew this because he would have avoided buying a whole lot of fake saffron with only a few real threads in between for the smell! The top picture is of how they sell saffron here in Qatar, bunched up in ‘bouquets’ of 10 grams and below is a picture of my test to make sure I was not being sold fake saffron!
I like to think of myself as a hermit even if it is really a fantasy. The same way I like to say that I am a country girl because of the summers I spent as a child in Mashta el-Helou in Syria and Reshmaya in Lebanon. In reality I am neither, and my life is mostly very urban and thankfully full of excitement, with the most recent being a day trip to Copenhagen to eat at Noma, invited by my lovely friend Seen, who you can see in the picture above talking to Rene Redzepi and Lars Williams who brought us most of our dishes, explaining everything in detail in his soft voice. He was utterly charming, as was everyone at Noma. It is part of Redzepi’s brilliant philosophy which makes his restaurant such a perfect place, both for the amazing food and the setting from the welcome and the attentive and friendly service to the aesthetics of the whole place, inside and out as well as front of house and back in the kitchens. I had already been there, also with Seen and her husband Fred and other friends, in summer two years ago and I was intrigued to see what the menu was like in winter. Naturally, it was very different except for one dish, the classic moss which this time was flavoured with cepes. Here are the photos of what we ate.
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.