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.
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.
I have finally found a contemporary belly dancer I like. And guess what? She may be a cousin. Her name is Saida Helou and she is originally Syrian. I don’t think there are many Syrian Helous who are not from Mashta el-Helou. If her father is from there, then she is definitely a cousin albeit with better dancing genes. I have no sense of rythm and she has plenty. I love her sinuous movements, and her body although I can’t quite decide if the upper part is enhanced or beautifully natural. Anyhow, she lives in Buenos Aires where she performs and teaches belly dancing. I wish I’d known about her before going to Mendoza. I would have stopped over to meet her and perhaps even take a class or two with her. Not that it would have done me any good!
The modern part of the caves d’affinage (where they age the cheese) in Fort des Rousses. The old part is vaulted and it is where I filmed the short clip below that of Jean-Charles telling us about comté.
Earlier this summer, I was invited to comté country in the Jura Mountains to see how the cheese is made and to meet various experts including the supremely knowledgeable and charming Jean-Charles Arnaut who at any one time has 164,000 wheels of comté in his caves in a wonderful and vast Napoleonic fort, Fort des Rousses. Each wheel weighs about 40 kilograms and when I calculated the worth of his cheese hoard, it came up to over 60 million euros. I immediately proposed but he said he was happily married — some people marry for love, others for money; I never did either but you can guess which way I would have gone if I had chosen that path!