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.
Another huge influence on me on the culinary front was my aunt Zahiyeh, my father’s sister who lived in Mashta el-Helou. She had her own house below the bigger compound where most of the rest of the Helou family lived — each had one or two rooms depending on their inheritance. I am standing in front of one side of the compound known as al-Dar (meaning house) in the picture above while the picture below is of me by ‘Amto Zahiyeh’s house — the flat roof is where she dried all her fruit and vegetables. The fighting has not reached Mashta but overdevelopment has had a similar effect, destroying all that I knew as a child and even what was left from when the two pictures were taken in 1982. Such a shame really as it was the most magical place. People still love it but not for the same reasons that I did. On the other hand, there isn’t much reason to be rueful as not much stays the same as you grow older (cliche but true) and it is only natural for beautiful places to attract more and more people who want to live there. I guess I need to find myself a secluded corner somewhere in Europe or California that will remind me of both Lebanon and Syria and where I can spend my declining years!