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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Simple Pizza Recipe

I bought the dough ready. If you'd rather make your own dough, good for you, that'll be awesome.
Using my hands and the rolling pin, I spread the dough as thin as possible over a piece of aluminum foil (mine was about 16" diameter).
Once stretched to its limit, I splashed it lightly with olive oil. In a small bowl, I mixed half a cup of Pomì, an Italian passata brand (strained tomato sauce) with two tablespoons of ketchup and a half tablespoon of mustard (I love the subtle and underlying taste of mustard in almost any kind of sauce). I mixed the sauce with a spoon, added black pepper to it and spread it over the dough with the back of the spoon.
I distributed 2 large cut tomatoes (1/2" thick slices) and chunks of feta cheese (about 100 grams).
I then sprinkled a cup of grated Parmesan, one chopped green pepper, fresh oregano, and a 100 grams of sauteed and drained ground beef. (Salt as per your own preference)
You can use whatever ingredients you like, of course, but these are the ones I used on mine today.
Preheat your oven to the highest temperature possible (heat from above and below) and stick your pizza in with the aluminum foil. My oven isn't that hot so it took about 12 minutes to bake this pizza. Ideally, it should be fully baked in 5 minutes precisely.
Anyway, it came out looking great and tasting incredibly delicious...

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pasta Tartourossa

Family Size recipe


1 266g pack of your favorite pasta, I used Bavette no. 13
1 lb ground beef, rolled into eye-sized balls
4-6 peppers (sweet, mild or hot), cut in stripes
1 lb fresh mushrooms sliced
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup tomato sauce
1 large ripe, red tomato cut in small pieces
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Salt and black pepper per taste
Fresh oregano, basil, parsley ( em, about 1 table spoon each or a little more: loosen up will ya!)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken bouillion cube
1 cup of water or red wine
Grated favorite cheese

One Way to Do It

The most important thing to remember when cooking thick, delicious tomato-based pasta sauce is that it takes time. Two and a half hours, at least. You can cook it in 30 minutes if you’re in such a hurry, but I suggest that you open a can of tuna, squeeze a lemon on top and get fed. If you want good food, you have to wait.

Heat the butter and the olive oil in the pot over medium heat. The meatballs should be salted and spiced then thrown into the hot base with the brown sugar, being careful not to let them stick until they get that beautiful light tannish brown. Add the onions, garlic, oregano and basil then the rest of the solid ingredients gradually (after they rested in salt and pepper for a while) while stirring continuously, letting the heat at the bottom of the pot touch every single piece of delectable grub you’re going to eat later. Do that for five minutes or so.

Add the tomato paste (gradually), just don’t rush it, ok! The tomato sauce follows and the small pieces of tomato. Continue stirring and add one cup of filtered water, or red wine. I leave this one entirely up to you but you already know where my heart is ;-)

At this point, the sauce may look very thin. Don't worry, it'll get thicker with time until it reaches the perfect consistency you dreamed of. Leave over medium-high heat until it starts to boil, cover and reduce heat to low for one hour. Stir the sauce every five minutes and whisper in the pot how much you love it.

Uncover and keep the sauce barely boiling for 90 minutes, stirring every few minutes. (i.e. don’t leave food to cook itself in the kitchen while you chat with your boyfriend or watch TV) Never leave a sauce alone while cooking. It gets lonely and bitchy. You can bring a book to the kitchen if you are a bibliophile, but for the love of food, stay there!

Prepare the pasta as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. I add salt and olive oil to the water (about a teaspoon each). Drain the pasta, do not wash!  I repeat! Just drain the pasta, move it to the large serving plate, pour the sauce on top with love and affection. Fake it if you have to, but until the sauce and pasta become one you have to be nice to them. Sprinkle cheese on top for visual stimulation and add to individual plates. You can splash some oil too, olive oil.

I have used so many different ingredients over the years. Veggies, the ones you like most, are delicious when cooked slowly. Use your imagination and vary your position(s), oops, I mean your ingredients.

That’s it! Bon Apetit!
Sahha wa Hana

Friday, April 25, 2014


We were born in a village by the sea, squeezed on three sides by the slopes of a mountain and two hills. It was a godforsaken place, save for the summer months, when it brimmed with tourists from the inland and beyond. With the onset of September, they left, shepherding their children back to school, while motorists on the north-south beach road went out of their way to avoid driving through. The windswept main square lay empty, and the lonely café on the overhang was deserted, except for a handful of old sailors, waiting unhurriedly for another day.

Yunus and I grew up together, as inseparable as Siamese twins. While the other kids were locked up in school, we often skipped class, by climbing over the wall. Once on the outside, we ran to an outcrop, that was only his and mine. We harvested mussels, and then grilled them on flattened tin cans over a small fire. Later in the afternoon, when raw hunger clenched our stomachs in its grip, we baited fish with a batter of dried poison leaves and dough, which we gingerly hurled toward the shallows. In the time it took us to share a cigarette, the queasy fish floated on their sides and swam in circles. They opened and closed their mouths and gills, staring at the sky above with their one eye, before our whittled sticks whipped through the air, and turned them into corpses.

We were a couple of teenage boys, working hard to stay afloat, scrubbing and painting boats and dinghies for cigarettes and cash, and helping our families to make ends meet. Once a week, on Wednesday night, we mopped the terrace floor in front of Uncle Ismail’s café. He paid fairly, and rewarded us with the privilege of using his rowboat. So it was on a morning in early October, that Yunus and I jumped aboard, and put out on a day trip. We handled the oars in turns, ten to fifteen minutes each, and while Yunus rowed and rowed, I sat on the bow munching on a loaf of bread.

A light breeze blew from the north, puckering the water with white caps, and filling our lungs with a tang of salt. I lay on my back, watching a herd of clouds scudding hastily to somewhere else.
“Do you like this place?” Yunus suddenly asked.
“I hardly know any other.” I replied. “I’ve only been to Balanea and Laodicea, and they ain't much better.”
“But do you wanna spend the rest of your life here, I mean?”
“Uh, I never thought about that. I guess when we’re older, we’ll travel the sea for a few years, like everybody else.”
“No! It's not what I want.” Yunus interrupted. “I wanna go away, and never come back, just keep rowing west, day and night, for weeks and months, till I make landfall on the other side. Will you go with me?”
“But we don’t have enough food and water, not even a tarp over our heads. We can’t make it in this boat.” I was as serious as he sounded.
“If not today, then tomorrow, or next week, but what do you say? You'll go with me, won’t you?”

The math teacher drew triangles and bisectors. Yunus and I stared at the blackboard blankly, while twenty-four kids furiously scribbled in their notebooks. At the end of class, we all filed out for recess, and once in the schoolyard, the others went berserk with the taste of false freedom. Yunus and I paced the confined space back and forth, like a pair of caged animals.
“I scrounged enough canned foods to last us for two weeks.” He said. “How about you? What did you get?”
“Four plastic containers for fresh water, twenty-liter each. I think we should get one more. Canned food, namely sardines and spam. I found one smock in good condition, and Simo promised to get me another. We already have rain boots and sweaters. We need fishermen pants...”
“OK fine! We should have it all stashed in the cavern by next Monday. Ropes, gear and everything else. We leave by dawn on Tuesday.”
I hesitated for an instant, feeling the import of his words. “Why Tuesday? Why not any other day?”
“It’ll be full moon on Tuesday. For the first few nights, we need all the help we can get.”
“What about the weather?” I cleared my throat. “What if we run into bad weather?”
“We might! The next forty-five days are our best chance, however. If we keep a constant westerly heading, we’ll make it somewhere long before then.”

A dream of being lost at sea woke me up shaking. My brother snored loudly in the dark. I slept on and off, and by dawn, I was so afraid, I stayed in bed, burying my head under the pillow. When mother came in to wake me up at seven, I told her I felt sick. She touched my forehead, checking for fever, and although there was none, I shivered violently. An hour later, she walked into the room again. “Yunus is here to see you.” She brought him in, and left us alone. I averted my eyes. I couldn’t look at his face.

Yunus took the rowboat the next morning and melted into the sea. By Friday, all the fishing boats went out looking for him. A few bigger ones from the nearby village, and a coastguard launch joined the search. A week later, Ismail’s boat was spotted by a tanker, drifting eighty miles offshore. Yunus was unconscious from fatigue and sunstroke. He didn’t fully recover until mid January, but he never went back to school afterward. In the spring of that year, his father died, leaving him with an ill mother and two younger sisters. For the first time since I abandoned Yunus, I walked into his house to pay my final respects with the other villagers. Before I reached him, he stood up, and walked out of the room.

At eighteen, I traveled the sea to the far reaches of the world. Once in America, I jumped ship and stayed there, eventually making a family and a good life. I lost all ties with my birthplace, when my brother moved to Australia, and was soon followed by my parents. Yunus, moored to the village, worked as a fisherman on somebody else’s boat. I didn't hear a word of him for sixteen years, until one day, my family and I boarded a plane for a summer vacation in the old country. We rented a car at the airport, and after spending a week showing my wife and kids the splendor of my native land, we drove to the village by the sea. It had grown bigger and more desolate. Metal roofs replaced bamboo awnings, stifling the sea breeze behind mortar walls. Where Uncle Ismail’s café once stood, we sat in a restaurant that served frozen seafood, along with chewy mutton and bland chicken. Cathy, my wife, and Michael and Brenda, my kids, didn’t like the food, and hardly put any effort into hiding their displeasure and boredom. I gulped the stale beer down, and signaled for the waiter to bring the check. He hurried toward the table, smiling timidly, hoping for a big tip from this American dude.
“Who owns this place?” I asked.
“It belongs to Mr. Adan from the inland. He owns most of the village.”
“It used to be a café”, I said, “Do you know what happened to the previous owner, the old man, Ismail?”
“Ismail? He was my father’s uncle.” He replied, with a kind of pride, that was tinged with shame.
The waiter followed us out, offering advice on a resort, where we can rent a chalet. While he and I stood talking, Cathy and the kids waited impatiently in the car.
“Say, do you know Yunus, the fisherman, he’s about my age?” I ventured, my heart pounding in my throat.
“I sure did. He passed away last year. A stick of dynamite blew up in his face, while he was out fishing alone. May God Almighty rest his soul in peace.”
“What about his mother and sisters?” I had to know.
“His mother died a long time ago. He took good care of his sisters, though. They got married, and have children. Are you related to him by any chance?”
I closed the car door, fastened my seatbelt and rolled the window down. “No, but he was my friend.” I said, putting the engine in gear. Behind the dark shades, my eyes flooded with tears, but luckily for everyone, my wife and kids were already immersed in their own worlds. At the edge of the village, I took the exit out, and sped away on the north-south beach road.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Heroic Feats

Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., novelist (1922-2007)

A light bulb exploded somewhere nearby. The glass shattered into a shower of tiny fragments, and as they cascaded in the abyss of time, the filament burned in a flash of glory and died. I lay silent in front of the keyboard, staring at the blinking cursor and wondering what to do next, what to write.

23-year old Ernesto Guevara de la Serna wrote in the opening sentence of The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey, “This is not the story of heroic feats, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives running parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.” In 1952, while still attending medical school, he and his 29-year old friend Alberto Granado started on a nine-month epic voyage across the South American continent from their home in Buenos Aires, Argentina to Caracas, Venezuela on board a 1939 Norton 500cc. The journey helped transform Ernesto Guevara from a care-free, middle-class university student into a Marxist revolutionary, who ultimately died as Che Guevara, one of the twentieth century most profound symbols and compelling heroes.

I'm by no means the reticent type, yet I had only blogged seven posts in 2013. It's easier to keep my rhetorical turmoil confined within. There will come the day when I can blab it all, of that I have little doubt. It would be too late then for my words to make a difference, but they were never meant to anyway. For you see, although I admire “Che” for what he lived and died for, I wasn't made of heroic material. I may have started this blog in 2006 as a care-free, middle-class, middle-aged Abufares, but I never expected a dramatic ascent to fame, nor a footnote in an obscure book of history.

Aris Messinis /AFP/Getty Images

While the future of my homeland is being deliberated upon over a slow-burning, yet scorching fire, thousands of my compatriots continue to die, meaningless numbers to an apathetic world, acceptable losses to the powers that be, victims to the modern day pecking order. What started as a deep sigh to breathe a lungful of the unsullied air of freedom has turned into a vicious war whose embers are continuously fed with coals of apotheosis and fanaticism.

This eighth post could be the last one of the year, so I might as well tell the “regulars”, who still pay my blog the occasional visit, that I've been writing behind their backs. Last month, I submitted an entry to the 2013 Writer's Digest Short Story Contest. I have no idea how it will rank among the more than five thousand other entries. It will be published if it makes it as one of the Top 25 finalists. If not, you'll be unfortunate enough to read it here. I'm currently working on a second short story, but my progress is even slower than Ban Ki-moon's expression of dismay, or was it disgust, over the "tragic" events taking place in Syria. This is not the time, nor the place, for cheery writing, and I'm afraid I don't make a decent commentator on world politics and current events. Since there only remains the truth that's worth writing about, I find myself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Work has come to an almost complete stop here, but unlike those I once ignored and now despise, I haven't debased myself by blaming everyone but the perpetrators. Will next year, the one after, and those to follow be the same? If I have learned anything from the books I've read over the last eleven months, or from the wear and tear of growing older, it's that nothing lasts forever. Eventually, I will ignore those I despise, and fall head over heels in love with the ones I already love. I know that my own words will come back to haunt me for not being brave enough to have unleashed them when they would've counted for something, but in true existential form, I find myself stuck in this time and place with nowhen or nowhere to go. The least and most I can aspire for in my future is inherited liberty, for the price of pure freedom is too high for ordinary folks to pay. My consolation is that one day, truly free children will be born, but not until our guilty conscience is buried deep with us. Perhaps, I should write about them, the yet unborn, and the future they will forge, instead of lamenting a past that was never as rosy as I once led myself to believe. Happy Holidays Season Everyone!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Los Colores de mi Amor

Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.
~ Benjamin Franklin

I burn books and etch their words on the walls of my mind. I crave my reading with a ravenous hunger. I want to slow myself down to cherish the tastes of characters, styles and plots, but I'm unable to. Late at night, letters twirl around inside me. Abandoned phrases with orphaned paragraphs perform a sacrificial dance to a soundless music. A silent chuckle reverberates in my head, followed by a dry tear down my cheek. Together, they chase away the remnants of sleep as I accidentally knock the glass of water on the night-table over, spilling my dreams in a puddle on the floor. With the advent of dawn, they evanesce, leaving a fugue of bittersweet memories.

The Frères Maristes taught me French very well and made me hate it too. I was barely six when the twisted priests drilled French in my head with a quill. They force-fed me francophone ink to obliterate what little Arabic I knew. They, however, couldn't touch my imagination no matter how hard they tried. I dreamed in Arabic, fantasized, skimmed the cloud tops, soared over mountain and sea in that beautiful poetic language. If English is my public face, Arabic is my very soul.

I forgave the French their misanthropy and returned to the bosom of a perfectly sublime language. They made it second class to English only through their misgivings and their xenophobic cultural protectionism. I am re-learning French on my own and advancing in elated leaps and strides. I can't wait till I embrace its profound literature again and resume reading classic fiction.

In college, I came across an uncounted number of Latinos. No, to be precise, I didn't have a single Latino friend but had plenty of chicas latinas as my best amigas. These were magnificent women, who, over the course of our companionship, had uplifted my spirit and infused me with an inextinguishable joie de vivre. Spanish became background music to my ear, but alas I never learned it. A little over a month ago I chanced upon a small ad in a local paper. A teacher at the University of Lattakia was giving Spanish lessons in her office for beginners, here in Tartous. I called and joined her class.

Last week, and after mi profesora cubana explained a few short Federico García Lorca's poems (no less), she asked her class of neophytes to write a "colors inspired" poem in Spanish. As I struggled with restlessness that night, begging both Hypnos and Morpheus to have mercy on me, my very first Spanish inspiration ran smoothly down the gullies of the Broca's area in my brain. And I wrote this:

Los Colores de mi Amor

La nieve se vuelve blanca
ya que toca el rostro de mi querida

Las estrellas están pintadas de azul
cuando ella las mira

El cielo se llena de vida con mi alma
porque mi amante está conmigo

Su pelo se mueve al viento y
pinta la noche con tonos mágicos

Entonces... nuestro amor despierta y
sale el sol

Looking forward my very first Spanish fiction read -10 años con Mafalda