Friday, September 26, 2008

Ramblings of a Hungry Man

Ramadan scuttles along unwillingly, loosing momentum as I'm running out of steam. Time hesitates then trudges along, limping heavily, throwing reluctant glances over its shoulder. Diffident to convey our exasperation with the arduous ritual of fasting, timid to exhibit elation in anticipating the inexorable end, we skulk in silence. I break my own as I am worn out by the unhurried voyage of the moon and delighted by its certain demise.

I feel the weight of the passing years in Ramadan. This is a slow moving month with often repetitive, unchanging and ageless rituals. Days drag forever, nuisances magnified, children coming of age, hurdles crossed, pledges honored, fluid images projected on the mind’s inner walls, memories forever embossed.


Fares and I went fishing together for the first time. I lent him my hand, showed him the ropes then let him be. He hooked his maiden fish, a giant Smanniseh with vicious spikes protruding out of its back. A gargantuan whale, thrashing and leaping, pulling viciously at the line, it must’ve measured more than 5 cm in length. He beamed with joy, yelling and shouting: “Baba, Baba”. I grinned with pride, seeing him morphing into a handsome young man right in front of my eyes.


I come home in the afternoon and strip for an empty room. A mélange of whiffs and scents rafts through the air coming from down the hall. Om Fares doesn’t appreciate my loitering walkthroughs of her kitchen so I delay the inevitable harmless joust. To my bedroom balcony I head instead and kneel down by my peppers. I caress the green leaves and the colorful budding cayennes, most certain that they have feelings for me as well. "I love you little clitori. I’m going to take such good care of you, oil you and pamper you then eat you up with Labneh and mint", I hiss like a mad man.


Since I’m rarely leaving home after sunset I exercise by walking to work and back. Strolling by the park in the afternoon, with scrumptious thoughts of soup, casseroles and main courses floating through my head instead of striking images of brunette, blond and redhead beauties I make a detour toward the public bakery (Firn Al-Dawleh) as we call it in Tartous. With all the shortcomings of this and previous governments I have to admit to one thing only. They make the best Pita Bread in the world right here and it’s still selling for SP15 ($0.30) per 1 kg Rabta (bag). I buy 4 of them and return home. Om Fares thinks I’m a crazy glutton. I feast on the hot bread’s aroma while I take each loaf and tenderly separate it along its seam line into two halves.

Late at night, I ask Om Faresabout her least favorable topic for this time. What about I cook a rabbit stew tomorrow? I innocently ask. "I’ll cook whatever you want just stay out of my kitchen please". I tell her about my phone conversation with Abu Ibrahim earlier in the morning. I was at work and needed to talk food with someone. So I called, appreciating him for the great chef and the superb epicure he is. He’s preparing Scottish Eggs for the Iftar (Ramadan Dinner). I wondered if it goes well with a rabbit stew. He assured me that his Scottish Eggs and my rabbit stew would make for a glorious feast befit for kings and queens. Om Fares ended up cooking both with lusciously haunting results.

My next post is likely to come during or after Eid Al-Fitr. So I might as well wish you all here and now a very Happy Eid. Since I haven’t posted any recipe during the month, I wrap up with a double header, both of which, I assure you, are most extraordinary and mouth-watering.


Om Fares Rabbit Stew

Ingredients:

1 large or 2 small cut rabbits + 1 bottle of vinegar + 1 carrot + 1 onion + cardamom + 2 cinnamon sticks + 1 cube chicken broth

1 kg cut fried potatoes

½ kg small cut mushrooms

2 sliced onions

4 pre-boiled carrots

3 tablespoons Quaker oatmeal

(additional spices per preference)

Recipe:

-Marinate cut rabbit overnight in vinegar and place in fridge.

-Place in pressure cooker along with 1 carrot, 1 onion, some cardamom, 2 cinnamon sticks and 1 cube chicken broth. Cover in water completely and keep on medium low for 1 hour after the whistle blows.

-Remove 2 cups of water and use to cook rice on the side.

- Debone the rabbit and cook over low heat with the fried potatoes, mushrooms, sliced onions and carrots for 30 minutes. Add Quaker oatmeal and keep for 5 more minutes.

-Serve with rice on the side.


Abu Ibrahim Scottish Eggs

Ingredients:

6 boiled eggs

1 raw egg

700 grams tender ground veal

1 onion

1peeled clove of garlic

½ cup bread crumbs

2 tablespoons flour

Spices per preference

Boiled vegetables per preference (enough to go complement the dish)

Recipe

-In a blender mix the meat, the raw egg, onion, garlic, floor, bread crumbs and spices until consistent.

-Divide mix into 6 equal parts and spread then roll around the boiled eggs (shell removed of course).

-Fry in vegetable oil until light brown.

-Place in oven with boiled vegetables. Top with 1 ½ cup of water and 1 cube chicken broth.

-Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes.

-Serve and enjoy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Read

"The universe shines a little more dimly now."
Dave Eicher on the occasion of Carl Sagan's death


My reading preferences follow the bends of a space-time continuum. A commended book is kept for the opulence of my bed or the ecstasy of my solitude on a secluded beach. I blissfully surf the web for my favorite pages at the small table in my bedroom or at my own private office early in the morning or in the after-hours.
Science fiction and modern literary novels are surely my preferred forms of reading. I value the classics of science fiction and I overtly revere the grand masters like Jules Verne, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Through their feral and unbridled imagination they had expanded the horizon of generations and had set the course for thousands and thousands of hungry minds in the pursuit of their dream of becoming scientists. Circuitously, their work influenced the rapid and wondrous space exploration feats of the 20th century. My fascination with science fiction inevitably guided me to become an avid disciple of a single form of non-fiction reading. Science in general and astronomy and the related physics in particular became my quotidian hobby of interest. One day I came across Cosmos by Carl Sagan (1934-1996) and my outlook on life and my assessment of my self changed forever on a deep and profound level. I had never since read a book by a mortal, as encompassing, as true and as timeless as Cosmos.



In modern literary fiction I have acquired a taste for aesthetics and opened my mind to the supremacy of words and the splendor of creativity. Although I have started reading at a very early age, I deem that I had barely wetted my cerebral toes before I came across the modern American novel. My freshman extra-curricular repertoire was heavily weighed by my initial exposure to the writings of Irwin Shaw, John Irving, Joseph Heller and Irving Wallace to name but a few. I was twenty two when Bread Upon the Waters was published. Strangely I found myself enthralled with the main character, a middle-aged professional man by the name of Mr. Strand. Is it a mere coincidence or was it an occult prophesy that twenty five years, a marriage and three kids later my life is paralleling that of Strand? To have faced and still face the very same conflicts of a character in a novel, a figment of imagination conceived in the mind of the son of Russian Jewish immigrants to America (Irwin Shaw 1913 -1984). Is it another fluke or an oracle that Irwin Shaw and I share the same birthday?
The transitory reading raids of random sites and blogs takes place in between writing or responding to work-related emails during my morning job. I have also become absurdly addicted to the laxative effect of the casual perusal of Arabic magazines in the bathroom. The combination of religiously grave portents and tastelessly whorish editorials within the folds of a single publication greatly facilitates my bowel movement. I often revert to re-reading interviews with “average” people in shopping malls about their feelings and attitudes toward, say, mixed working environments (men and women sharing the same office) or the interpretation of dreams by some devout and omnipotent witch. I come across things during these escapades, disturbing things no less. I have learned for instance that in the absence of aesthetic accountability a deranged man or a disturbed woman with pens in their hands can wreak havoc on simple and unsuspecting minds. The percentage of readers in the Arab world is among the lowest on the planet. Tragically, those who read are more likely to be aficionados of idiotic astrology, imbecilic dream interpretation and regurgitated religious books. In Dubai, where any whore, blonde or brunette, any Scotch, single-malted or blended, any religious book, interpretative or foretelling can be found on a street corner, a luxurious hotel or a superficial bookstore, my friend had to place on order and wait for 7 weeks to receive an Arabic copy of Samarcande by Amin Maaloof. I click page after page of Arabic absurdity on blogs written supposedly by the crème de la crème in our society, on Masturbation in Ramadan, on the God-ordained obligation of Hijab, on the correctness of shaking hands between men and women, on Fatwas (Islamic decrees) to kill the infidels (not agreeing that Hijab is a God-ordained obligation might be considered as a manifestation of infidelity).
As I further withdraw into my own world of enlightenment, enchantment and learning a lingering pain disturbs my serenity. My children’s intellect deteriorates in the confines of an archaic school system. Their dilemma is further compounded by a severe draught of humanitarianism in prevalent literature and even in the amusing entertainment they are being exposed to. They have no real and valid choices anymore. A teenage girl’s role model is either or. A bitchy hot performer or a shapeless veiled nobody. She is being brainwashed with obsolete ideas. Ideas that we had as a society convincingly and fully overcome in the late 40’s and 50’s of the last century only to discover with dismay that like fungi they are reemerging in the shadows of darkness.
I struggle as a parent to bring up normal children in a decaying swamp. Although my adversaries have insignificant intellect they possess formidable power nonetheless. My lot in life is to compete with men and women who, according to them, have God Almighty on their side or with men and women who look like Mohannad and Roula Saad vying for my kids’ attention. How can I convince them to read something which admittedly was not written by God himself if it doesn’t contain any sexy photos of handsome studs and gorgeous chicks? How can this and the next generations escape? We have left them high and dry in the hands of God or low and wet amid the breasts and thighs of Haifa, Dana and Melissa.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Home by the Sea


I wanted to show you how beautiful my sea is. That's all I had in mind. I skimmed through the countless photos I took over the last week during my jaunts offshore. I reckoned that I'd add a few lines depicting how relaxed my afternoons had been in the company of my son. The days of Ramadan spilling like the cascading coral beads of a rosary in the hand of a waiting old man.

Then as I chatted my morning away with a young friend of mine I remembered my Home by the Sea, both the song by Genesis and the place where I was born. Whether the song goes well with the selected photos or not I'm not sure. But it goes well with me, as this is how I often feel…


Creeping up the blind side, shinning up the wall
Stealing through the dark of night
Climbing through a window, stepping to the floor
Checking to the left and the right
Picking up the pieces, putting them away
Something doesn't feel quite right

Help me someone, let me out of here
Then out of the dark was suddenly heard
Welcome to the home by the sea



Coming out the woodwork, through the open door
Pushing from above and below
Shadows but no substance, in the shape of men
Round and down and sideways they go
Adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair
Then as one they sign and they moan

Help us someone, let us out of here
Living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the home by the sea

Sit down sit down
Sit down sit down sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you



Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
Things that go to make up a life
Endless days of summer longer nights of gloom
Waiting for the morning light
Scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame
Things that go to make up a life

Help us someone, let us out of here
Cos living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the home by the sea



Sit down sit down sit down sit down
As we relive out lives in what we tell you
Let us relive out lives in what we tell you

Sit down sit down sit down
Cos you wont get away
No with us you will stay
For the rest of your days - sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you
Let us relive our lives in what we tell you