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.
If I could put my loft on a magic carpet, fly it to New York and land it somewhere in Chelsea within walking distance of Union Square, I would do so in a heartbeat. I love the city. It is actually my favourite! And I love Union Square Farmers market and wish we had something similar in London. It is not that we don’t have enough farmers market. We have plenty. But what they don’t offer is the tremendous variety that you find in Union Square. Take the top photo for instance: beautiful, graceful hands picking okra from a selection of red and green ones. As some of you know, I was brought up in Lebanon and Syria where okra is a common vegetable but I had never seen red okra before. Nor for that matter fat okra as pretty as those with the reddish tops in the picture below. It is not my favourite vegetable but if I lived in New York, it would certainly become one. At least at this time of the year.
Today is Human Rights Day but there are many countries where such a notion does not exist including Syria where I used to spend my summers as a child; and where I ran culinary tours until the revolution started. So many children like these two beautiful ones have been killed by a monstrous regime that has no respect for human life let alone human rights, while many of those who have escaped death have been brutalised and humiliated simply because they want their dignity and freedom. Sadly, the International community is still nowhere near taking any meaningful action to protect the protesters. As a result, more people are killed, arrested, tortured, raped, being made homeless and this on a daily basis. The videos coming out of Syria are getting more and more gruesome. Today, and every day for that matter, I think of all the people I have met on my trips there, like the gorgeous children and the stern old man in the picture below and I wonder if they are suffering, or indeed if they are still alive. And of course I think of all those who are suffering and I would like to dedicate this post to my fellow Syrians wishing that a new order is established very soon where human and other rights are respected.
It’s nearly forty years since I left Lebanon. There were many things that I hated about Beirut and many that I loved. I still feel the same although much of what I loved is disappearing, like the ambulant vegetable and fruit vendors who sell their produce off wooden carts which they push through neighbourhoods while shouting out their wares. A guy like the sombrero-wearing man below would belt out “yalla ‘ala banadurah, yalla ‘ala khiyar” to let everyone know he had tomatoes and cucumbers which he may have just picked from his fields. I loved listening to their cries and always followed my mother onto the balcony to watch her bargain with the vendor to get the best possible price.