Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions
Spring time always inspires me...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cookbook effort aims to feed Syrian refugees

Cookbook effort aims to feed Syrian refugees 
This is the link to the article that was printed yesterday in Lebanon's Daily Star.

January 29, 2014 12:35 AM
By Brooke Anderson

The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Last month, as people across the Lebanon huddled under their covers trying to keep warm during a brutal winter storm, Barbara Abdeni Massaad was at home in Beirut thinking of those who must be suffering even more from the cold – Syrian refugees in makeshift tents in the Bekaa Valley. She had to act. “It was very cold that week. I thought: What about the people in the Syrian camps? I couldn’t sleep. I had to do something. Everyone has to do something,” she says, sitting at her booth at the farmers market in Hamra where she runs the Slow Food Foundation, which aims to promote wholesome and traditional food.

This is where she sells her cookbooks every Tuesday morning and where she also collects clothing donations which she distributes to Syrian refugees. It is also where at the end of the year she will be selling a new self-published book of soup recipes whose proceeds will go to Syrian refugees, whose plight she says is the worst she has seen in her 25 years of living in Lebanon after having moved here from the U.S.

“If I were a barber, I would go and cut their hair for free. But I write cookbooks, so I did a book. I decided to do soup,” says Massaad, who has been a serious cook since the age of 15. “The most 
important thing is empathy. We can’t be indifferent.”

On her book’s Facebook page, Soup for Syria, she quotes Matt Flannery, founder of the micro-finance group Kiva: “Whatever your skill, whatever your expertise, there’s a way to apply that to help people you care about.” She also quotes he 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi as saying, “If you have much, give of your wealth. If you have little, give of your heart.”

With this book, which she believes could generate thousands of dollars, her goal is to raise money to build a temporary pop-up kitchen in the Bekaa town of Zahleh, where Syrian refugees can have wholesome hot soups such as lentil and vegetable – the same recipes likely to make it into the book. Other proceeds would go directly to refugees to pay for their needs. And while the book will be in English, she might have it translated to Arabic to distribute among interested Syrians depending on the project’s success.

“My dream is to give them a kitchen where they can have healthy meals,” she says. “There’s a war and people shouldn’t go without food.”

So far, the response to her endeavor has been enthusiastic, with people eager to give their time and skills in the printing and recipe contributions. She has already started getting contributions from Lebanese farmers who sell their goods at the market. She is expecting more submissions from local chefs, restaurateurs and foodies. The soups will all be regional dishes that can be made with local ingredients so that Syrians themselves can make them.

“The book won’t be too sophisticated. I want the Syrians to be able to make the soups,” she says.
Massaad also wants the project to be a message to everyone that they can use their time and skills to help Syrian refugees.

“I want the world to see what’s happening here and I want to show rich countries that this is not permissible in 2014,” she says.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Being a War Refugee - Last Night's Dream

Dreams speak to us sometimes if you are willing to listen...
I woke up this morning very confused.
Confused because I was still in my bed, in my home, in my country...
We take those things for granted, at least most of us do.
I had a dream that I had to flee Lebanon, chaos... war... very loud noises.
My age:15 years old at least, still a teenager ... today my daughter's age.
I did not have responsibilities, no family, no husband, no children.
My parents were vaguely present in the dream.
I remember we had to flee to a neighboring country: Syria.
We were not welcomed. We were treated like dirt, like cattle in a crowded field of animals.
Our car, which is the one I own now, a 4-wheel was packed with comforters and clothing.
We passed the borders with resilience.
I arrived wearing a summer dress. The village looked crowded.
A woman came to me and said, "hurry the supermarket shelves are emptying by the minute, don't forget to buy peanut butter."
I felt so insecure for I felt unwanted, lost and confused.
What future did I have here or anywhere else?
I was a refugee in a foreign land.
Was this dream God's way of giving me empathy, quietly in the middle of the night?
I am not a refugee.
Yet, I can relate to those who are living as one today in my country.
May God give me and others the strength to make a difference in their lives: men,  women and children alike.

It was a horrible feeling to be in this situation.
I felt it.
I have empathy.
I can walk in their shoes.
Can you?

Passion for Adventure

A book worth reading sometimes in your life:
“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
A picture take by my loving husband...in a field of wheat in Belgium

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In Search of Soup Recipes ...

Because the book, Soup for Syria will include soup recipes... I invite you to share yours. My friend Tina and collaborators of Slow Food Beirut and I are going to test all recipes and feed the needy in Hamra during the Slow Food Earth Market on Tuesday. Eventually, we will take the giant casserole to the camps to give warm bowls to the children to show we care ...

The producers of the Earth Market have already shared their recipes. We will start testing them next week. If we all do a small effort, we can conquer hatred!

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth"

Soup for Syria

        Today is the 25th of December 2013. Looking back at this year in a glimpse, I can say it’s been hard—all is relative of course. In my bubble, there’s been turmoil. I’ll spare all personal details and explain my objective for this next project "Soup for Syria". When you feel imprisoned in your own country, something is definitely wrong. It’s been building up for a while—two years precisely, but who’s counting. During that time, I did have the opportunity to finish my third book on foods of my country, but still have not felt a great feeling of accomplishment. As one grows older and wiser, the focus of one’s life diverts. I will explain. I am a free spirit who needs to roam, to look for adventure, to seek humanity, to leave a trace, to help others. I’ve missed this for a while and it’s eating me up inside. Today, on this special day, on the day of the birth of one the most influential person, the man we call the son of man, the son of God, I’ve made an important decision. I shall liberate myself from the psychological fear and prison I’ve set up for myself, in spite of any danger I may encounter. I’m not scared, I’m always guided by the ultimate being—he leads me to wonderful places, where people smile, eat, love and pray. I’m free. I have the courage. I will start my journey tomorrow.

I call my son from his sleep. We must not be late. I’m so excited to take my car and leave far from Beirut and meet those who are suffering from this terrible war in Syria. I want to be their voice and shout, “HELP”! Why the Syrian refugees, for they are the poorest and meekest in our country today. I am apolitical—never think about this leader or another. I’ve never been involved in any political party here or anywhere in the world. I adhere only to good people with good intentions who live for others instead of for themselves.

I want to photograph children and give them a light of hope. I want to make a difference somehow. Today, my girls have camp with their friends in the Girl Scout movement at school. They will sleep in a camp for two days. I take them, kiss them farewell and head to the Bekaa valley. I’ve always had a weakness for that specific region in Lebanon. My son is sleepy in the car, but also excited to share this adventure. I call the woman whom I have been referred to—she will bring me to the refugee camp sites. I feel a bit scared. Will they kidnap me on the road? Will they take away my camera? God forbid I’ve saved up for years to get all this equipment. What if they hurt my son? All doubts vanish as I head towards my destination. I call Maria, a sweet woman from Nabatieh who has been working as a social aid for years in a NGO called Beyond. Her voice is very hospitable and reassuring. We have never met. She tells me to meet her at Mc Donald’s on the main highway in Zahleh. I start joking with my son, the irony of it all—Mc Donald’s! Oh well Mc Donald’s it is.

She arrives minutes later with a man called Turkey, a war refugee. Maria and I hug and kiss and immediately head towards the first camp. My heart aches, it’s not easy to witness such conditions of life. The people are welcoming. The children laugh, sing, joke, scream—like all children all over the world. I understand their language, I’m one of them. They know that, I’ve always had complicity with children. It’s a gift. I intend to use it to make a difference. I speak to Maria to explain my intentions. My aim is simple, “I want to send a message to the world that this is WRONG. People should not endure such conditions of life in 2013/2014.” I want to be their voice, to photograph their soul. It can be done, I know. I’m introduced to a university student from Baalbeck whose name is Fatima. She has been coming to the camps for months. She knows most of the families. She shares their worries, she shares their pain. She explains to me their conditions of life. It’s hard to listen and not cry. I won’t. I hide my pain. My son jokes with the children and photographs them. I’m proud of him. I listen attentively to each one. There are so many complaints. The water is polluted. Each child has a medical problem. The weather does not help. Lebanon is going through a tough winter. They heat themselves in tents with a “sobiah”. Instead of wood for fuel, they use plastic to burn. It makes a terrible stench, polluting the environment and makes children and adults even sicker—many suffer from bronchitis. Medicine is scarce. One little girl opened her mouth to show me her two cavities. It’s a lot to take in. I’m overwhelmed. How can I help all these people?

We head to another camp. I follow a van full of clothes that UNICEF is distributing to families. I see the look of mothers as they receive their packages. It’s rewarding but makes you want to cry at the same time. The children don’t understand what is happening. They are scared when they see so many foreign people all at one. An elderly mother cries the death of her son, while she shows us his passport with the photos of his children. They look like little angels. It is surprising to see how many Syrian children are blond with mesmerizing light blue eyes. I continue towards the other families. I must hear all their stories. I promise them no money, no food, no products—I promise them only to portray their pain through words and pictures. That’s what I know. I explain to them had I been a barber, I would have given them all a free haircuts. They smile. They start to understand.

I leave late afternoon satisfied. The road will be long—not the one I’m taking home, but the one to accomplish some sort of documentation which will make an impact. I won’t give up until it’s done. Too much is at stake. Proceeds from the book will help to build the refugees a kitchen so they can cook healthy meals for their families. Maria warns me not to get involved emotionally because it affects one’s life. I’m willing to take the chance. I’m heading back tomorrow. I will hear testimonials, words, take plenty of photographs. I’m not imprisoned anymore… I’m free.

Children of War


I exist

A Father's Suffering

A Grandmother's Struggle

Blue Eyes

Maria's  Philosophy


Almost a Woman
What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. - Ralph Waldo Emerson from "Self-Reliance"