Four Things My Gastronomic Self Just Can’t Do Without

These days my anxiety is through the roof. I mean, whose isn’t? We’ve got a global pandemic raging, and though we’re starting to witness a drop in the number of cases in areas where vaccination has been launched full-scale, most of the world has yet to be graced with needles of elixir by Pfizer, Moderna, and the likes. In fact, a third wave is upending whole populations in dense countries like India.

Couple that with a trifecta of crises in Lebanon – political, economic, and fiscal – and it takes an inordinate amount of self-delusion to stay sane. We’ve literally been living on our own proverbial island, inside the four walls of our flat in the northern suburbs of Beirut. On weekends we escape to family’s chalet for a glimpse of that moderating Mediterranean and some fresh air. And if we really want to go wild, I’ll take the kids to a mall five minutes away where there are more shops than shoppers by a stretch. (Did you know that The Gap ducked out of Le Mall in Dbayeh? Subway, too. I’m totally miffed. But thankfully there’s still McD. Their fries are apparently bulletproof and can navigate any apocalypse.)

In such miserable times, there are four things my epicurean self simply cannot do without. These edibles keep me sated and quenched, restoring my well-being just enough to buoy me. Here’s what's on my plate, and in my cup, filling just about every void you can conjure up.

 

French Cheese

I used to joke that I hadn’t started living properly until I moved to Paris for my MBA in 2009. Having grown up in the United States, it was always either sliced, processed cheese – which, don’t get me wrong, I adored – or Philadelphia cream cheese. Okay, there was my good friend Colby Jack, and Pepper Jack, and some other Wisconsin greats. But yeah, that was the breadth of it (get it? Breadth, bread. Lame, I know. I apologize.).

During the twelve months that I called Paris home, I became enamored with the sheer variety, tastes, flavors, textures, and riveting shapes of French fromages. Bien sur, they are stinky, mais je les aime! Soft cheeses are my Achilles' Heel: Le Vieux Pané, Chaume, Saint André, Saint-Félicien, Saint-Marcellin, Morbier. I also dote on the firmer stuff, like Comté and Mimolette. Are you surprised I didn’t pay homage to Brie and Camembert? Oh, come on! I’m better than a cliché.


I could have this stuff for dinner every night. Every. Night.


I am perfectly willing to enjoy my cheese sans pain. But des bonnes baguettes can be had in Beirut, namely from Prunelle or Sophie de France.

 

Local Lebanese Wine

Did you know Lebanon is host to nearly 80 wineries, official and unofficial? That’s rather impressive, given we’re a nation of 10,452 square kilometers. In reality, our climate and topography lend themselves to excellent, minimal intervention winemaking, which dates back millennia to the Phoenicians who were shipping wine to every stop along their route, from Egypt to Spain. 

I recommend you read this brilliant piece penned by my good friend Farrah Berrou for Eater just days ago. Farrah is a wine writer, podcaster, and creator of B for Bacchus. In her article, she delves into the need to evolve the narrative surrounding Lebanese wines – which for decades has gone something to the tune of “look what we’re able to accomplish despite our failing statehood.” While that’s certainly true, our wines should be lauded on a standalone basis, because they’re worthy, not because they exist in spite of a backdrop of wretchedness.

Anyway, back to my obsession with a beautifully full-bodied red or a refreshingly fruity white. Once the kids have been tucked in for the night, a glass (or occasionally two) helps me shift to a zone of contentedness tinged with optimism. Nothing like the grape derivative to pull me out of “languishing” mode into a more productive, positive frame of mind. Believe it or not, wine has helped me wade through cynicism into waters that are less turbulent, where my dreams have hope of being realized.

Favorites? B-Qa de Marsyas has long been right up there, and more recently Les Vignes du Marje has joined the ranks. Other good ones are Chateau Qanafar, Couvent Rouge, and – you read it here first – Mersel, whose launch is imminent.


Have you ever savored Lebanese wine? Share your story!


 

Seasoned Roasted Nuts

Um, if you haven’t been treated to seasoned mixed nuts from this part of the world, have you really lived? Lebanon is nuts about its nuts, and for good reason: they make the perfect accompaniment to a glass of arak, or in my case, wine. They’re packed with health benefits. They’re filling. And they’re divinely flavorful. From the ritzy “kernels,” which include cashews, almonds and pistachios, to the more humble corn nuts, peanuts, cri cri (or peanuts coated in a thin crunchy shell), roasted chickpeas and pumpkin seeds, a cup of these qualifies as a meal on its own.

They both stir the appetite and sate the paunch all at once. If there were ever one thing I’d request from a friend returning from Lebanon while I was living abroad, it would be a bag of “bzourat,” the Lebanese word for mixed nuts.


A typical summertime Lebanese mezze looks like this. And I've got my eyes on the nuts.


 

Homemade Cake

Anyone who knows me well knows I have a predilection for sweets. I could easily swap a meal for dessert, and I’ve been known to replace breakfast with cake. No regrets. Ever. 

Since I’ve transitioned from Head of Strategic Development to Domestic Goddess, I dabble in cake-baking at least once a week. Nothing too fancy or sophisticated – nearly everything can be sourced from my pantry and a quick run to the produce market if the recipe calls for carrots, apples, lemons, or oranges. I definitely couldn’t rival with “Sally’s Baking Addiction,” but I’ve been known to make a mean banana molasses cake. Or more recently, an ethereal strawberry cake. I mostly bake healthier versions of popular comfort cakes because (1) I’m health-conscious, and (2) the target audience is my little ones during their afternoon snack time, or alternatively, ma pause gourmet.


Carrot cake with frosting. But Stephen's way sweeter than this gateau.


Kid-friendly. Alex approves.



So I’m happy to indulge Marie Antoinette’s charge to “let them eat cake.” You’d be proud, Marie. I shan’t ever let you down.

 

What’s on your foodie file?





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