Healthy Basket

A few weeks ago I heard about an organization called “Healthy Basket” that delivers weekly baskets of fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables right to your door. A few people in my building were already getting it and from what they described it sounded a lot like a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, which I had always wanted to get when I was in New York. I checked out the Healthy Basket website, and sure enough, that is exactly what it is. According to the website:

Healthy Basket started in 2001 as a project by the American University of Beirut to improve Lebanese farmers’ livelihood in rural areas, preserving the environment and protecting human health by adopting organic agriculture as a key strategy. Fresh , certified organic fruits and vegetables sold by HB are produced by small farmers throughout Lebanon, closely supervised by the internationally accredited Lebanese Certification body “LibanCert”.

I love my weekly delivery because it’s a fun surprise to see what’s in the basket each week. Sometimes I have no idea what something is so I have to ask my neighbors or take a guess and do a Google search and check out the images to try and figure it out. Normally when I go grocery shopping I just buy the same few vegetables so I end up cooking the same things all the time. Since I started getting the basket I have been cooking all sorts of new things: pesto, potato and carrot soup, vegetable soup with lentils, green bean stir fry, cilantro pesto, and on and on. All of this inspired by my weekly vegetable share.
Some of the things that have come from my basket:
[ 8 ] comfort food

:: Day 348 • Year 3 :: soup

[ 19 ] prep

what is this?

The retail shop is just down the street from my apartment in Hamra so I’m not sure where exactly in Beirut they will deliver. I know that they also have a stand in the “Souk El Tayeb” farmers’ market. Definitely check it out if you love to cook!

Back to Beirut

[ 1 ] It's a new year, and it's back to Beirut.

I had a lovely two week break back in the states. I went to Chicago and Arizona. Yesterday I got on a plane to get back to Beirut and back to work.

Happy New Year everyone!

Even though I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving *on* Thanksgiving, I did have three celebrations to make up for it. I certainly can’t complain about that since Turkey Day is one of my favorite holidays.  And, unlike my friend teaching in China, at least I have an oven to prepare the whole dinner myself.

Thanksgiving #1
My friend Helen had a big potluck dinner at her place to celebrate with all of her church friends and school friends. It was a good time, turkey mishap and all.

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Thanksgiving #2
All of the teachers hired from abroad at my school live in the same building so Saturday we had a potluck dinner to celebrate together. Some of the teachers who don’t live in the building also came so it was nice to see everyone together to celebrate the holiday. We started off with drinks and appetizers in one of the apartments upstairs and then moved downstairs to another for the main course.

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Thanksgiving #3
This was the dinner that I was most excited about because over the last five years in NYC I have come to love cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I enlisted my friend Kim to host with me and we both invited our Lebanese friends, most of whom had never experienced Thanksgiving. We had some trouble finding a few items for our dinner, but I’d say we did a pretty good job making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner here in Lebanon. The sweet potato casserole seemed to be the hit of the meal so I was happy to share the recipe. Mostly though, I was glad to share the Thanksgiving tradition with my new and old friends here.

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This year is my first Thanksgiving abroad in quite a while. Five years ago when I moved to NYC I started a tradition of Thanksgiving with friends. Every year my sister would come visit from Arizona and we would go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and then come home and cook a big feast for all of my friends (and of course go shopping the day after!). It became my favorite holiday and most cherished tradition. When I told my friends that I was moving to Beirut the first thing most of them said was, “What about Thanksgiving??” (And this was way back in February!) Before leaving the States, I passed on the hosting duties and taught a friend how to make my famous stuffing recipe, so as I type the celebration is being carried on without me. I know that I am with them in spirit (or at least in stuffing anyway).

Thanksgiving in Lebanon isn’t *quite* the same. Today went on just like any other day (although I did get lots of Happy Thanksgiving messages, even from Lebanese friends). I have to point out that the American school had today off, though my international school didn’t. Work isn’t stopping us Americans from celebrating though. In fact, as it turns out, I’m celebrating Thanksgiving more here than I ever did in the States.

Last Sunday, my friend Helen hosted a big pot luck Turkey dinner for her church and work friends. (Her Brazilian friend volunteered to make the Turkey and comically showed up to the dinner with the Turkey uncooked! It was his first Thanksgiving and let’s say it was a learning experience. At about 1 a.m. the Turkey was finally ready and it actually came out quite delicious.) Saturday, all of the teachers in my building (mostly American and Canadian) are having a potluck dinner together. Then on Sunday, I’m hosting my own Thanksgiving. This is the one that I’m most excited for. My friend Kim and I invited all of our Lebanese friends to celebrate with us. None of them have had Thanksgiving before so we are really excited to show them what it’s all about. Last count we had 14 coming for dinner. I can’t wait! The most challenging part will be the grocery shopping as some things can be difficult to find here. You would think celery was a delicacy it’s so hard to find. Cranberries, pumpkin pie, yams . . . all this stuff is not on prominent display at the grocery store, let’s just say that. We’ll make do though and I know Sunday will be great.

Finally, what would a Thanksgiving post be without mentioning what I am thankful for? As always, I am thankful for my wonderful family and friends. This year I’m especially thankful for the new things in my life, like my wonderful boyfriend, a job that I love, and the opportunity to live here in Lebanon and experience everything that it has to offer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Want to know when is a good time to *not* visit the Jeita Grotto? During the Eid holiday. Wednesday my friend suggested we get out of town and check out the grotto since we were on break from school and her friend was visiting from Dubai. I was excited since it was one of the few nearby attractions that I missed out on last summer during my extended trip to Beirut. Both of us were expecting a calm and peaceful visit to a natural site but no such luck. From the moment our taxi started heading down the hill to the grotto we were met with a mess of cars and tour buses fighting to pass each other on the narrow road. Still I was thinking Once we get past the traffic and to the grotto it will be fine. I was clearly wrong.

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There were people everywhere in the street and a massive line for both the tickets and the teleferique to take us up to the grotto. We waited in line for both since we’d already traveled all that way and even commented as we got to the front of the second line, Ok, this isn’t so bad. The line is moving quickly. We got on the teleferique, relieved to be done waiting in line. Then three minutes later (did we even *need* a teleferique to get to the grotto??) we got out of the car to find this . . .

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I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. Did we really want to see some old cave anyways? But alas, we’d already traveled all the way there and paid 18,000LL so we suffered through the massive line. We finally made it to the front of the line and entered the long tunnel and were greeted with this. (No pictures were allowed in the cave so unfortunately I don’t have my own picture. This one doesn’t even do it justice.) It was truly amazing and more impressive than I could have imagined. And the best part? There was plenty of space! It was worth it after all. Having said that though, none of us cared to brave another line to check out the lower grotto where you get to ride a boat through the cave. Our guide book said the upper one was the most impressive and we were satisfied with that. (And now if anyone can ever convince me to take the trip to the grotto again there will be something I haven’t seen.)

After exiting the tour we took a stroll through the small “park” which was actually quite lovely.

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We could have done without the silly extras like a mini zoo and a train that honked like the worst of the Beirut taxi drivers.

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P.S. Know what else isn’t a great thing to do on the Eid holiday? The teleferique to Harissa. Just sayin’.

Olive Picking in Jezzine

Saturday night I was out with some friends and my friend George mentioned that he was going olive picking in his village, Jezzine, on Sunday. He recently acquired a piece of land from his uncle so this was the first time that he was going to be responsible for picking the olives himself. (So recently, in fact, that he’d already ordered 40 kilos of olives from someone else!) I’d never been olive picking and thought it would be a fun experience so I volunteered to come along and help.

olives ready for the picking

We drove south to Saida and then up towards Jezzine. When I got the first glimpse of the valley I was surprised at how beautiful it was. George never mentioned that the location of his village was so scenic!

jezzine valley

There are only four olive trees on George’s land, which doesn’t seem like too much until you realize that you are only two people, the trees are huge, and there are a lot of olives on each tree!

olive tree

It was slow going at first but both of us quickly got the hang of picking systematically instead of randomly. George was the first one to climb up into the tree to get the hard to reach olives.

"George from the tree speaking"

After clearing the lower branches I got up there too. I can’t remember the last time I climbed a tree!

We worked from 9:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. before stopping for a long 2 hour lunch in a nearby restaurant overlooking the valley. It was lovely and the food was delicious. I told George that next year he could market this as a cultural activity (Olive picking in a picturesque Lebanese village with spectacular views. Lunch in a typical Lebanese restaurant overlooking the valley. Wouldn’t you sign up for that trip??) and get a lot of friends to come help.

village road

After lunch we returned to pick for another hour or so before it got dark. We got pretty much all of the olives within reach. Just the really high ones remain.

olives

Apart from olives there were grapes and persimmons.

grapes

persimmons

It was a lovely day!

Photos from My 10K Race

:: Day 284 • Year 3 :: 10K race!Just before starting the race.

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Hardee’s . . . Just what I want to think about eating while I’m running 10K.

3KThe kids doing the 3K race.

IMG_7196.JPGAlmost there!

IMG_7194.JPGMy friend Kim making her way to the finish line.

the finish line for the 10KThe finish line for the 10K.

I thought I couldn't . . . I canThe back of the finish line.

militaryWhy was the marathon an excuse for the military to show off? Anybody?

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IMG_7195.JPGI can only imagine what this little boy was demonstrating for. His guardians were more than happy to step aside and let people take photos of him.

P.S. I finished in one hour exactly! 🙂

Beirut Marathon

So who’s running in the marathon tomorrow? I am! Well, the 10K actually, but as I’ve learned in Beirut if you’re running any of the races that take place on the day of the marathon you SAY you’re running in the marathon.

I am so excited for my second race ever! Back in May I did my first 5k race, which at the time was the most I had ever run in my life. A bunch of my friends on Twitter were talking about the Couch to 5K running program and one thing led to another and I decided to give it a go. If you know me, you know that I’ve DETESTED (yes, I use that strong of a word!) running since I was in junior high school and we were forced to run the perimeter of our school campus every Monday. So needless to say, this was definitely a random decision to try and work up to a 5K (30 minutes of running!!) but I did it! The C25K program works, people!

I don’t remember how, but one way or another I learned about the races taking place in Beirut on November 7th shortly after my 5K and I made the decision to train for the 10K race. I started training for the race when I arrived here about two months ago and last weekend I ran 6 miles. I am excited to run the full 10K tomorrow and am hoping to do it an about an hour.

My First Lebanese Wedding

I was so thrilled to be invited to my first wedding in Lebanon. I had heard all about the drama and spectacle of Lebanese weddings and this one did not disappoint. The wedding was held at the Rivera Hotel which was fortunate for me since it’s right near my apartment. We ate a lot of food and then danced the night away. (My friend even commented that I knew how to do Arabic dancing. Haha.) I missed the big fake cake being rolled out with sparklers but I did get a piece of the small cake that was on our table. It wasn’t that great. (I thought one of the benefits of a small cake was that the frosting didn’t have to be so “strong.” I had to really cut through the frosting with a fork. Yuck.)

I leave you with some photos from the evening. (Lighting was REALLY tricky in there. Thank god for Lightroom!)

lebanese mezze

zaffeh

bride and groom's entrance

taking their places

dramatic

the bride and groom

dancing

I could probably start a whole blog just about taxi adventures. Heck, we could make it a collective blog and all of us bloggers in Beirut could add our stories. I’m sure it would be endless entertainment.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this tidbit from this evening. So I took a service that took me the LONG way to Hamra from Downtown. First he dropped off another passenger then he zigzagged every which way en route to Hamra. He made a zigzag motion with his hand and then mumbled something about Ahmadinejad. (OK, maybe that was the issue. Maybe not.) So we get to my destination on Hamra Street and when I hand him 2,000LL suddenly he says “two service” and then makes the zigzag motion again as if to say I should pay him MORE because he took me a ridiculously long way. Sorry my friend, but if anything I should pay you LESS because you made me go out of my way. I just got out of the car and left him with the 2,000LL.

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