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iran-saffron stamens & styles-alimo

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, mainly because it takes about 150 croci to produce 1 gram of saffron. Each flower has 3 red stigmas (or stamens) that are attached to the plant by yellow styles. Normally, when you buy Spanish or Moroccan saffron you see some of the yellow styles mixed in with the saffron but not in Iran where they are kept separate, and even sold separately. I bought some of the cheaper yellow styles because I was intrigued, and they smelled almost as strong as the stamens. However, when I used some, I found that they had hardly any flavour. Also, they barely coloured my milk pudding. Not sure what I will do with my remaining stash. Perhaps mix it with the pure saffron? I guess it is not such a good idea!

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iran-breakfast copy

As you may know from my previous post, I have a piece on Iranian food in Saveur and I thought I would continue with the Iranian theme with a post about a very typical Iranian breakfast I had in a modest cafe in Tehran which was just perfect. The barbari, the bread that is normally served for breakfast, had just been baked in the bakery next door — often the bakery and cafe belong to the same owner. The tea was local, from Lahijan, and my Iranian friend showed me how to sip it through a sugar cube the way they all do. Later, at the sumptuous Shah Abbas hotel in Isfahan, I sipped my tea through very elegant wafer-thin saffron-flavoured caramel brittles. The super fresh eggs were half-fried, half-scrambled with tomatoes and the curd cheese had been made by a neighbour. And it all came on a large, rather beautiful metal tray. If my bed had been nearby, I could have carried the tray back to have breakfast in bed!

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Here we go again, another month and another belly dancer. This time I am taking you to Iran, before the Islamic revolution when Iranians were able to enjoy life without restrictions and when they made fun films and not films where nothing happens for two hours. Of course, I am exaggerating and not being entirely serious but I nearly died of boredom watching Kiarostami‘s A Taste of Cherry. And I like bleak films and remember spending 7 hours (in two sittings!) engrossed in a Roumanian film (I think) set in a rainy village with the saddest characters ever. Sadly, I can’t remember the name. Anyhow, this month’s dancer is not as good as my previous ones but I love the absurdity of the scene, and I love how she lets her breasts have a life of their own. I also love the arrival of the children to an entertainment that is not quite suitable, at least not when she is jiggling her attributes!

Ps. Just had a comment from a lovely Norwegian blogger telling me the title of my never ending Eastern European film, Sátántangó. It is Hungarian and not Roumanian and it may go on forever but it is brilliant; and the opening scene, with the papers blowing in the wind, is beautiful.



Just back from a wonderful trip to Iran where I had been in April, also once many years ago during the time of the Shah when I worked for Sotheby’s who then had an office there. While walking through the Tajrish bazaar last April, I was struck by the abundance of seasonal produce, some of which I was seeing for the first time. This time I went up to Rasht in Gilan province where they have a fabulous, bustling bazaar with an amazing live poultry section where you can buy your chickens, roosters and/or ducks live to take home and fatten up or you can have them killed and plucked there there and then before taking them home to cook. In the clip above, you can see how meticulous the lady is about choosing her chickens. She reminded me of the Chinese housekeeper of a friend who lived in Singapore. When I went to the market with her, I watched her turn over each and every vegetable and fruit before buying it to make sure it was perfect. But whereas the Chinese housekeeper was vociferous in how she made her choice, I could hardly hear what the Iranian lady was saying. They have a wonderful gentle culture in Iran and almost everyone speaks in whispers. My kind of place!

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