Friday, October 19, 2007

The Poet And The Journalist

I missed the beginning of Tamim Barghouti's poetry reading - performance actually- in Ramallah on Aljazeera Live, but I could see that almost half the people in the audience were pointing their phones/cameras at him, so I wasn't too worried.

Sure enough someone had uploaded the entire 'concert' on youtube - and I found out that he had been introduced by Jivara AlBudeiri! I thought I recognised her voice, but I wasn't entirely sure until I read this account of the evening from the Al'ayam newspaper.

Perfect right? The next Mahmoud Darwish introduced by the most passionate and committed journalist on Aljazeera. If only words really were more powerful than bullets.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday, October 5, 2007


I just read (at an unlikely place) this old news: Emarati animation Freej’s winning the country award at the Hamburg Animation Awards.

It’s not like there were any competitors of similar caliber in the region so I doubt it came as a huge surprise.

The viewing figures for this ramadan are a real achievement though, and it’s also credited with “creating a dialogue”, within a society which as one of the design team says “no longer gathers together, not even during Ramadan” except to watch Freej.

It’s a less extravagant claim than Ajaaj the sandman’s proposed role as national identity and native pride booster.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

M7alabiya bil Yamish

Another variation of Ramadan’s repetitively recurring recipe at the Turkish Cookbook: Binnur suggests a layer of fruit compote topped by m7alabiya.

But the only fruit in the house was guava and mango – or so I thought, until I remembered the Yamish.

It being the end of the month, stocks were running low, so I used dried plums as there were more of those than anything else.

Though I’m sure fresh fruit –cherries! -would taste a billion times better, it was a great way to use up the leftovers before Eid. There’s not much you can do with them, unless you have enough left over for a fruitcake.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ramadan Drinks

There’s the sweet
Kasab-el-sukar: sugar cane juice, too cloying for my taste
Kharoub: also used to make sugar, so again it’s a bit like gulping down a glass of thin honey

The thick
Orzata: milk and almond syrup, the perfect combination
Qamar-el-deen: sold as a gooey paste made from dried apricots, which is dissolved in boiling water and then chilled. I like it hot though, and not as a drink: if it tastes like a sauce, and looks like a sauce, then it’s a sauce – in my recipe book anyway

And the thirst-quenching
3er’2 sous: I’m not a big fan of licorice, but I would recommend the drink – if I was a dentist. As a highly effective non-synthetic mouthwash.
Karkadeh: hibiscus flower infusion, very refreshing, but not my cup of tea
Tamer hindi: tamarind juice, literally Indian date, a bit misleading as it’s really sour – which is why I’m addicted.

My friend loves to mix it with kharoub, a sweet & sour cocktail, but on it’s own it’s the perfect thing to switch from musalsal watching to study mode.

Tart, sharp and palate-cleansing, just what I need after pigging out on syrupy pastries while watching Bab el 7ara.

Speaking of which, Duraid La7am’s scriptwriter joke comes to mind Sidi 3indi ilak musulal 15 7al2a, lau bidak, a3melhalak [stretching gesture] 30”.

But stretching is a plus in this musalsal, as it’s not a case of watching for the plot, but for the nostalgioramic details: the clothes, the houses, the feasts, the celebrations, the women at their housework, the men in their shops, the hakawati’s tales, the songs…and the inventive cursing.

Oh and most importantly, the food & drink.

Unfortunately the plot breaks in at the most awkward moments: after building up a great deal of suspense about something called 7ara2 b2asab3u, the patriarch comes home, has a tiff with his wife, and pronounces the dreaded “inti 6ali2”.

I mean they’re obviously going to get back together, but how are we supposed to find out what this exotically named dish is when Suad Khanum and her girls are too busy weeping and wailing to finish cooking?

A Coptic Christian gives his views on what non-Muslims really think of Ramadan

By Marwa Helal in Egypt Today

Ah, Ramadan for most of us it means warm, glowing fawanees (lanterns),hurried meals before dawn, faith-testing traffic, late nights of prayer, feasting and family bonding. But what does it mean for the other 10 percent or so of the population — the Coptic Christians and people of other religions who endure the month with us? Looking for an honest answer, I met with a good Coptic friend at a local café, who agreed to share his thoughts but only on condition of anonymity.

“The printable answer is, ‘Yes’,” he pauses. Then, “I enjoy sharing the festive feelingof Ramadan with my fellow Egyptians, the majority of whom are Muslim,” he says. “But truthfully, everything — from the increase in car accidents to the incredible amount of noise during the day combined with the general lack of productivity — makes me say, ‘No, I’m definitely not looking forward to it.’

… “Ramadan has definitely changed over the years, I feel it most when I exchange greetings with my Muslim friends. I remember with my parents’ generation, their friends would come over for our holidays and we would do the same and you would really feel that there was something in the ‘kol sana wentu tayibeen.’ Now, we simply exchange these words of greeting, but the feeling just isn’t there and I don’t know why that is.

“I think Egyptians have become more and more stressed over the years — I don’t think it has anything do with the fasting, though, it’s just the general stress of dealing with more traffic and the increase in population. But I don’t recall ever seeing them so tense. And I think to myself, ‘They’re supposed to be more tolerant during Ramadan, that’s the whole point, but here they are, behaving in the complete opposite way.’

I just don’t get the paradoxical mindset of people who seem to think Ramadan is the perfect excuse for road-rage, rudeness and generally obnoxious behaviour.

It’s a month of spiritual discipline to make you into a better person, and it’s not just food and drink that break your fast! And as to laziness, if you’re going to sleep through the day, then why bother fasting?

It’s not all negative though:

“My Muslim friends never leave me out either. It’s nice when I get invited along to iftar because then we really are sharing in the spirit of Ramadan. Not to mention the wonderful quality and quantity of food — it’s amazing. My favorite foods that we don’t get any other time of the year are khoushaf [dried fruits soaked in water] and qamar el-din [apricot nectar].

Which is wonderful and heartwarming and all…but isn’t it blasphemy and sacrilege to describe khoushaf as “dried fruits soaked in water”?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Cardamom Cream with Pistachio and Almonds

An Afghan version of Mhalabiya - the same creamy texture but the flavours are deliciously different. Perfect for Ramadhan when m7alabiya is a staple on every Su7ur table, and the dessert and snack of choice as well:

Cream (cheat's option: use a ready m7alabiya mix and add extra cornflour)
1/2 a cup cornflour
3 cups milk
1/4 cup water
3/4 cups sugar
a pinch of salt
Make a smooth paste with the cornflour+ 1/2 a cup of milk + the waterPut the rest of the milk in a heavy bottomed pan, add sugar and salt and place over low heatWhen the sugar is dissolved and the milk is wam add the cornflour paste, and whisk

1/2 a cup chopped almonds
1/2 a cup chopped pistachio nuts
Add the nuts and continue stirring with the whisk until you have a thick custard like consistency

1 tsp ground cardamum
pinch of saffron powder (this really is gourmet m7alabiya)
Add the spices and simmer gently for another 5 minutes, stirring occaisonally

Pour into individual m7alabiya bowls, even out the surface with a spatula and decorate with lightly roasted chopped nuts and some ground cardamum