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Destinations, Food, Lebanon, Musings

Flavors, Friendships, and Top Meals in Lebanon: A Visit in Review

September 3, 2012

It’s fair to say that our Lebanon experience was shaped by two main factors: the overwhelming kindness of friends, new and old, and the mouthwatering flavors of Lebanese food (and drink!).

This is one of those posts entirely dedicated to fellow foodies and free spirits: to Jodi and Wade and Megan for taking us to t-marbouta on our first night in Beirut, to Lindsay and Samantha for hosting us for a rooftop dinner high above the frantic city, and especially to Jimmy and Madeleine for leading us directly to their favorite spots and top meals in Lebanon: some in plain sight, others hidden away where we’d never have found them on our own… In town, in the countryside, in restaurants and around kitchen tables, Lebanon won our taste buds and our hearts.

Small Town Lunch in Rural Lebanon
Zahlé Blvd, Zahleh, Lebanon
“Perfection in a chicken sandwich” from the Daily Travel Journal notes. Freshly grilled chicken, a mouthwatering combination of seasonings and spices, homemade pickles (see the crazy purple color below!), perfectly wrapped pita with sesame seeds, and chefs with killer-sharp knife skills.

Continue Reading…

Destinations, Food, Lebanon

Homemade Preserves: Savoring Breakfast in Hasroun, Lebanon

August 26, 2012

Our guest house breakfast in the little Lebanese village of Hasroun would doubtless cause any DIY food-swapper to salivate slack jaw at the sight of the decadent, traditional spread.

After a night’s sleep recovering from blazing sunshine and our Qadisha Valley hike, we awoke to birdsong and our hostess’s incredible homemade offerings: bowl after bowl of preserved and pickled pears, quince, apples, figs, and cherries; apricot butter, walnut and fig spread, cheese, olives, brown farm eggs, zaatar, labneh, and a steaming pot of strong, strong tea. Continue Reading…

Destinations, Lebanon, Photography

Wildflowers, Cherries, and a Sunset: Visiting the Qadisha Valley

August 23, 2012

Kahlil Gibran’s Back Yard: the Qadisha Valley, a spot of hidden peace and calming quiet just a few hours north of the horns-honking, sidewalks-crumbling city of Beirut.

The deeply carved landscape runs through the Becharre and Zgharta Districts in northern Lebanon, eventually spilling Qadisha River water into the Mediterranean Sea near the shores of Tripoli. Ted and I spent an afternoon scrambling along high paths and low river-valley trails with our new friend Madeleine then met up with her partner Jimmy to drive to the mountain pass and watch the blazing sun sink into the western haze.

Enjoy the snapshots from the day and a few notes peppered throughout.

Strap on mental  hiking shoes, imagine the sweat beads forming on the back of your neck, taste the hot, thick air, and be sure to watch for wildflowers…

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Destinations, Food, Interviews, Lebanon

Change is Brewing in the Middle East: 961 Beer

August 20, 2012

“Hezbollah is meeting with the President at noon; that’s why the trouble on the roads.”

The taxi driver scooted along as he could, keeping pace with lanes of beat up, horn-honking Mercedes all plowing eastward through Beirut traffic. The radio scratched Arabic news stories that we couldn’t understand.

Ted and I looked to our new friend, Wade, a thirty-something cool-as-a-cucumber history teacher with a baby strapped to his chest. He’d flagged down the taxi and mapped our way toward our destination. He’d lived in Beirut for a handful of years. If he was calm, we’d be calm.

He raised his eyebrows. “Never a dull moment. Who knows? The @#$% could hit the fan…”

And so it was, as Syrian violence escalated just across the border and as Hezbollah bent the ear of the Lebanese President, we four Americans carried on in a ramshackle taxi toward our field trip to the only microbrewery in the Middle East.

It was one of those days that makes a good story after the fact; in the present moment, we simply say prayers that our moms aren’t worried at home.

We pulled away from waterfront traffic and climbed a bit into suburb hills. The driver stopped at a side street next to a chicken restaurant, leaving us to find our final steps. Somewhere in the maze of warehouses and gravel drives, we spotted the tiny red, white, and black 961 sign perched on the balcony of a grey concrete building. We’d made it this far on an email exchange and an addresses, time to find the door.

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Destinations, Lebanon

Falafel Feud: A (Very) Short Story

August 15, 2012

So, a family business opens in Lebanon in 1935. A falafel shop. Falafel M.Sahyoun. They make amazing falafel sandwiches. Everyone loves them.

Decades, wars, highs, and lows come and go. The shop runs on…

Then, two or three years ago, the brothers who inherited the family business decide they can’t get along and would rather part ways. The Lebanese solution? One opens a new falafel shop right next door to the original.

Literally, right next door. Continue Reading…

Destinations, Food, Lebanon

Tawlet. A Masterful Lesson in Lebanese Cooking

August 11, 2012

You know you’re in for an authentic meal when the chef hails from the village responsible for the recipes. And you know you’re in for an authentic cooking lesson when the teacher is feisty and not afraid to swat your hand.

Enter: Georgina Bayeh, a woman from northern Lebanon willing to share an evening (and a few jabs) with three Oregonians and friend from New York eager to learn the secrets of Lebanese cooking. Like a maestro, she set the tempo for the evening, coaxing notes from her students, leading a pitch-perfect performance. By the end of the night, we reveled in a feast of traditional kebbeh batata, moutabbal, goat-meat kebbeh, and tabbouleh and wore the smiles of proud chefs.

Ted especially. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the recommendation of our hostess, Jodi, we’d been led to a beautiful spot: TawLet Souk el Tayeb – an open kitchen in Beirut serving meals, hosting cooking lessons taught by local village cooks and chefs, celebrating wholesome, authentic, traditional foods from surrounding regions. Though we found ourselves breathing hot city air in a taxi 6813.5 miles from home, we stepped out minutes later and entered an oasis of calm with cool light and colorful produce, and it felt like a fresh breeze had blown straight from foodie heaven in Southeast Portland. Continue Reading…

Destinations, Lebanon, Musings

(Chaos Is.) Beirut, Lebanon

August 9, 2012

“Unfinished business. Loose ends. Broken sidewalks.” Notes scribbled in my little Moleskine notebook, under the heading “Chaos Is.”

Welcome to Beirut.

The rallying point at Martyr’s Square; The Grand Mosque behind.

“Lebanon?” people would ask as eyebrows lifted and the telltale hint of concern or excitement danced around the word.

Depending on the inquisitor’s level of comfort with the notion of visiting the Middle East, they’d press for more logic behind the decision to add a place of such turmoil and challenge to our itinerary.

“Why Lebanon?”

The short answer: my college roommate (one of the most true and level headed women I’m blessed to know), Jodi, has been living and working in Beirut the past few years and invited us to pay a visit if her address fit into our route.

The medium answer: Ted and I were both curious about the truth behind the hazy, sandy, stark and scary, mysterious and misunderstood reputation of the Middle East and both wanted to experience a piece of that world for ourselves. And, um, truthfully: we’ve eaten so many meals at Ya Hala in our Montavilla, Portland neighborhood that we literally salivated at the thought of family-style meals of Lebanese mezze in its true place of origin.

After three weeks of new friends, banned books, challenging conversations, shared meals, glasses of Lebanese wine and bottles of local brew, hours of leisure on calm seashores, miles walking chaotic city blocks, lectures at the base of buildings bearing bruises and wounds of war, visits to lush urban oases and book stores and cinemas and veggie markets, after all this, we should be able to answer the question:

“What did you think of Lebanon?” Continue Reading…

Destinations, Lebanon

22 Moments in Lebanon: A Preview in Pictures

August 7, 2012

Touchdown, Beirut. Three weeks. Memories and impressions, new friends, new lessons, new adventures. Old ruins, old scars, old themes…

I’ve found myself struggling to put words to time, stewing over posts, stringing words and sorting photos. Here’s a preview in the meantime…a little taste of our life in Lebanon.

Twenty-two moments as seen through my busted but trusty iPhone lens: Continue Reading…