Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My favorite salad

It's simple, easy to make, nutritious and easy on the pocket. Cabbage and beetroot salad is my favorite!

While chatting with a friend, Ghassan Deeb (@gabdallah), about food on @Twitter last week, I mentioned something about my favorite salad. When Ghassan, who is an engineer, cook and traveler, asked what it was, I didn't want to elaborate before iftar.

Cabbage and beetroot are low in saturated fat but high in dietary fiber and protective vitamins and minerals. Beetroot is also a great source of iron and was used as an aphrodisiac in Roman times.

You can get a cabbage and shred it and fresh beetroot and boil it. I go the easier route of buying the cabbage already shredded and the beetroot cooked, cubed and vacuum packed.

Ingredients (serve 2)
  • 1 box of shredded cabbage (or 250 gm)
  • Half a pack of cubed steamed beetroot (4 small ones or 250 gm)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • A sprinkle of pepper (I don't use salt, but you can add some to taste)
I usually mix the dressing in a small bowl or jar and pour it over the salad just before serving.

This salad is as good with white, green or red cabbage. It can be turned into light lunch or dinner by adding a can of tuna or two boiled eggs, chicken breast or sausages or any combination of these. And if you're in a mood for sweet-and-sour, add a tablespoon of sugar.

Enjoy and  let me know if you like it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Anissa Helou at Sharjah Book Fair

The good news for those looking forward to the 2010 Sharjah World Book Fair (@shjintlbookfair) is that internationally known food writer, art collector, journalist and broadcaster Anissa Helou (@anisshelou) will be giving two live cooking demonstrations at the international event.
Anissa, one of the leading experts on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines (and whose website can be accessed here), was in Sharjah and Dubai this week. After being virtual friends on @Twitter for so long, it was greet to finally meet and chat face to face.
We got together at my favorite spot, Reem al Bawadi. Anissa was accompanied by photographer Jason Lowe. We were joined by Paul and Karla Castle (@DaddyBird and @kangayayaroo).
With Anissa Helou Friday night
Paul and Karla
The 10-day Sharjah World Book Fair, which will run from October 26 through November 6 under the patronage of HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah (third largest of the UAE’s seven emirates) member of the UAE Supreme Council, is an annual event that has been taking place since 1982.
The Sharjah World Book Fair aims to encourage reading habits, chiefly among the younger generation, and make books both accessible and affordable. It attracted more than 750 publishers from 42 countries in previous years. Apart from publishing houses, the fair brings together cultural establishments, research centers and societies, universities and media, as well as producers of educational aids, maps, audios and videos.
Anissa Helou and Jason Lowe
While Anissa, Paul, Carla and myself were chatting and catching up, Jason had a ball taking pictures of the dancers, oud player, and patrons enjoying sheesha, backgammon, card games, Arabic sweets, and all sorts of delicious fresh juices, coffee, Moroccan tea....
I discovered I had wrongly identified the kahwaji, or coffee man, in my "Ramadan in Dubai" post of August 18. He is, in fact, carrying a large urn of the traditional Tamar Hindi (Indian date) or tamarind juice. He goes around filling glasses, topped by a dash of orange blossom. His offerings are “on the house.”

Hummos balila...
,,,Tamar Hindi "on the house"

Another thing I missed on previous occasions is the waiter sporting wooden clogs, carrying a basket on his arm and mingling with diners. He distributes free servings of hummos balila -- boiled chickpeas mixed with garlic, salt, cumin and olive oil.
Young girls swirling around
Adults and children performed the traditional Arab dance that Anissa, Jason, Paul, Karla and I enjoyed Friday night. The first dancer was clad in white robes and then two little girls, no older than 10, swirled around 
I look forward to seeing Anissa again at the Sharjah World Book Fair in late October.

(You can see more pictures of the evening in my Picasa Photostream)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lebanon's blackouts

1979 cartoon by the late Mahmoud Kahil
Lebanon has been going through one of its hottest summers, with temperatures akin to Dubai’s. Imagine yourself sizzling in an ambient temperature exceeding 40 degrees centigrade without electricity to run your AC, cooler, ventilator, lift, freezer or fridge. The Lebanese have been going through this on-again off-again for the past 35 years.

They are now up in arms against the power shortages. Many have taken to the streets while others vent their outrage via the social media, including Blogs, Twitter and Facebook. All to no avail as nothing is likely to change near term.
Power outages, in the main, drove me out of Beirut in 1985 after enduring, surviving, working through and covering the civil war and the Israeli invasion. I settled in London but kept shuttling back for five years to visit my ailing mother, Vicky. And when Vicky’s health deteriorated, power outages left me no choice but to fly her to London as well.
Between the mid-seventies and mid-eighties, months would go by with total countrywide blackouts. It meant making do without lifts, water or gasoline pumps, running water, fuel, telephones, telexes, TVs, photocopiers, air conditioners, heaters, freezers, fridges and what not…   It became hard to choose between suffering the searing summers heat or the winters freeze.
It may sound surreal today, but the Internet did not exist. There were no mobile phones (let alone live landlines), no 24-hour TV, no digital cameras... Letting friends and family know you were still alive would take days or weeks. But that's another story. This is about electricity and the effects or the lack of it had on our lives, both past and present.
Going up and down stairs became second nature for me as I lived on the fifth floor. I had less fortunate friends who lived on higher floors, which meant many more stairs and greater exposure to stray shelling. The highest I climbed was to the 12th floor when visiting the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. He would laugh at the sight of me on reaching his door.
We had a basket dangling at the end of a rope from our balcony to haul up light stuff. But groceries, water (gallons of it), gas cylinders (for the oven), fuel (for the generator after it came about)… everything had to be carried up.
Showers and washing were done with a bottle or two of water. You couldn't spare more. These were lined up on the balcony in their tens ready to be refilled whenever the public electricity network was switched back on.
When electricity was switched back on (we never knew for how long), water pumps would come back to life. So frenzy would kick off forthwith -- first fill the empty bottles, wash any fruits and vegetables on hand, switch on the washing machine while keeping your fingers crossed you had time for a full cycle, mop the flat and balconies and take a shower.
I eventually saved enough money to buy a generator. But that meant carrying home two rubber canisters of fuel from the gas station, and then walking up to the fifth floors. Problem was that you could only light up so many watts on a small generator.
You wouldn’t buy perishables because you couldn't store any in a lifeless fridge that gradually metamorphosed into a cupboard. And the freezer could keep some ice cubes for a couple of days before melting away. I lived in Hamra, where our knight in shining armor was the Commodore Hotel, then owned by the Nazzals. It was the second home for us journalists. I was lucky to always get a bowl of ice to take home for the evening drinks. And drink we did... if only to get some sleep and drown out the sound of gunfire, bombs and explosives. Most people resorted to paper plates and plastic cutlery to save on dishwashing. But Vicky, Queen Victoria as she thought she was, disdained the practice, which meant more wasted water!
At one point, some ingenious "entrepreneurs" decided to sell water. They would go around in mini trucks with a water tank, a hose, a pump and a small generator sitting on the truck beds… but you had to catch them. You would run around the streets trying to find one of these enterprising people to come and fill your bathtub or water containers. I would ride the mini truck’s side step, holding on to the driver’s window for fear of losing my catch to someone else. The mini truck’s long hose would be thrown up from floor to floor until it got to the level of the intended flat.
Blacked out evenings made for a good social life with the neighbors. In-house gatherings featured mezze, drinks and card games. Two factors determined the venue: the intensity of shelling and the availability of a generator. That's when we weren't huddling in the basement, many a time for 18 hours during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut.
On top of being deprived of electricity and water, we had to cope with the scarcity of fresh food supplies during the invasion. We simply had to make do with tuna and Kraft cheese tins. A courageous friend used to scout the streets very early in the morning to try and find some "entrepreneur" who had managed to “smuggle” some fresh fruits or vegetables from the mountains. Most of what he found would go straight to our sixth floor neighbor who happened to be pregnant.
When I left in 1985, it was because I couldn't take the misery of power outages anymore. I kept spending time in Beirut every Xmas and the electricity problem would hit me in the face again.
Until this very day, irrespective where I happen to be, there is not a single time when I would switch on the lights without remembering the blackout days.
Last November, when I flew to Beirut, it was a gray, rainy day. I got to the flat where I was staying and there was no electricity. I climbed the stairs, the flat was dark and cold and 20 years of trying to forget those moments came flooding back. But as the sun came up the next day and I walked the streets and saw the familiar corners, shops, bullet-ridden walls, and especially the people who greeted me as though they had seen me the day before, I fell in love with the city again – with electricity or without electricity!
The electricity problem in Lebanon is too technical and complex for me to even begin to address in a blog post. And I am certainly not qualified to do so.
But it seems to me that the country’s electricity ills and remedies have already been clearly expounded. For instance, an 88-page World Bank report (titled "Electricity Sector Public Expenditure Review" for the Republic of Lebanon and released in 2008) presents a wide-ranging analysis of possible demand and supply scenarios for the future, lays out options for the Government to consider in improving service delivery and reducing the overall costs of the electricity sector and increasingly introduce private sector participation to enhance efficiency, improve governance and ultimately meet the sector’s significant investment needs in the medium term.
Doesn’t such an authoritative, diagnostic and advisory document offer the government an authoritative A-to-Z road-map to seriously start tackling a problem that has been plaguing the country for just about 35 years?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Royal Dua’a

O God *

Please God, don't turn me into a tyrant terrifying the innocent, or a weakling intimidated by tyrants
Help me speak justly in the face of the strong
Help me not tell falsities so as to win the applause of the weak
Should You grant me success, don't take away my humility
The Saudi monarch pointing (above) to his framed dua'a (below)  
And should You grant me wealth, don't take away my happiness
And should You grant me strength, don't take away my wits
And should You grant me humility, don't take away my self-esteem
Help me see the other side of the picture, and don't let me accuse my adversaries of treachery because they did not share my opinion
Teach me to love people as much as I love myself
Teach me to hold myself accountable such as I hold others
Do not let me turn arrogant if I succeed, or cave in to despair if I fail
But remind me always that failure is a sum total of experiences that herald success
Teach me that forgiveness is the apex of strength
And that eagerness for revenge is a first sign of weakness
Should You turn me penniless, keep me filled with hope
And should You strip me of success, keep me the determination to overcome failure
And if You deny me the blessing of good health, keep me the blessing of faith
Should I wrong people, grant me the fortitude to repent
And should people wrong me, grant me the fortitude to pardon
If I forget Thee, O God, do not forget me
*Copyrighted translation by Fawaz C. Najia of a supplication (Ar. Dua’a) enjoying pride of place at the summer residence in Casablanca, Morocco, of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and prime mover of the 2008 Interfaith Dialogue Initiative who has just been named by Newsweek as the world’s topmost reformer (Newsweek). A photo of the framed supplication, written in Arabic calligraphy, appeared in a pictorial published by the Saudi newspaper of record Asharq Alawsat in August 2009.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Emma's star

My star and angel

I was really sorry to miss the Perseid meteor shower last week but luckily shared in its magic through the breathtaking photos (see here) of my friend Abir G. (@abzzyy), a Lebanese photographer, blogger and software engineer.

But then, I have my own shooting star... It comes from a Xmas cracker.

I love crackers. There's always one little gift, among all the useless items that pop out, that's going to be functional -- like those tiny photo frames.

I would share Xmas lunch with my brother and his family. Oh, and of course Sydney, their black Labrador.

One Xmas, many years ago, my niece Emma got a star in her cracker and gave it to me, knowing I would like it. That night, I stuck it on my bed's headboard and when I put out the light, it glowed in the dark.

I have changed beds and countries many times since, but it's always there. It's the last thing I see at night and the first in the morning.

Move forward a few years, and one cracker yielded an Angel, but I can't remember who got it. It still ended up with me and pairs well with the star.

This week's Haiku is dedicated to Emma:

Emma's star

Do you remember?

It fell out of a cracker...

Your star now guides me