Category Archives: Culture

Exploring Halifax


We’ve been able to get away from the boxes and the house work over the past little while and have gone out and to enjoy Halifax – we even took a road trip to Cape Breton to see the Cabot trail!

Last week-end we went to check out the Al Fresco Film Festo which is an outdoor film fest on the Halifax Seaport. It was so beautiful to be sitting outside with about a thousand other people watching “What about Bob?” (Did I mention that the theme of this year’s festival is “Bill Murray”? So random but amazing at the same time. They are screening a Bill Murray film every Friday!). We felt so Atlantic as we watched a few sailboats pull up next to the dock to watch along with us.

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The next morning we checked out the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market which we also absolutely loved. Lots of vendors selling fresh, organic veggies as well as a variety of things from home cooked ethnic foods to pies to jewellery. It was fun to be out early exploring the market and tasting the yummy pastries. Once the market started getting a bit too crowded for our liking, we headed to Point Pleasant park for some Yoga by the ocean. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know by now that I am all about the outdoor Yoga. Having loved “Yoga on the hill” this summer, I was pleased to see that I could now join up something just as beautiful here. To me, there is just something special about being outdoors and in community with others. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed the class and will be going back for sure.  For such a small city, this place has a lot going on!

To make a great week-end even better, we checked out a local Pizza place called Salvatore’s that was recommended to us by a friend. We weren’t really in any particular mood for pizza, but it was the only place we could find that was open late so we decided to try it. I don’t even know where to start about this pizza. We got the “Pomodoro” – sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese and fresh garlic. It was a perfect pizza. A ten out of ten. I’m not sure if I should be happy or concerned that we discovered this place at the beginning of our time here…


Cape Breton has been a big highlight for us too…I will have a post up about that trip soon!

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The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree


So we have been here for about a week – and I have already found a place to buy candied chickpeas!

Lucky for us, there is a Middle Eastern grocer about 5 minutes away from our home and, though it’s relatively small, it carries everything I would have wanted to find. Besides the candied chickpeas, I was hoping to find some Pomegranate molasses (and I did!). The Lebanese use this a lot in their cooking and I’ve been meaning to try it out because the few times that I have tried it, it was just so good. My mother in law makes particularly good use of this stuff and I’m hoping to follow in her footsteps. Once I’ve had a chance to try a few recipes with this little secret weapon, I will report back.  Expect greatness.

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J and I found ourselves feeling particularly at home in this shop and as a result we bought a lot of items simply because they were comfort foods, and not because we had any particular craving for them (though they will not be going to waste, I can tell you that). Its amazing how just having certain items in your fridge can make your little abode feel like that much more of a home. Here is a list of what we came back with:

  • Labneh: a soft Lebanese cheese made by straining yogurt
  • Pickled turnips (or in Arabic “lift”): you might have had these in a shawarma sandwich
  • Macedonian feta cheese: this is what my dad always has in the fridge at home.  J and I are hoping that the kind we bought will be just as good
  • Za’atar: a mixture made up of thyme, sesame seeds and sumac.  It can be used as a seasoning or can also be eaten with lebneh.
  • Mango juice: reminds me so much of my visits to Egypt
  • Halawa: a sweet crumbly spread usually eaten with bread at breakfast time but it can be eaten in a variety of ways any time of the day
  • Candied chickpeas: these were not freshly made in-store as they are in the roastery in Ottawa and as a result they are quite expensive here!

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The funniest part about this list is that the majority of these items are not ones we are accustomed to buying.  They are tastes and flavours which we are usually fed when visiting family, or which our parents will just pick up for us when they go to the Middle Eastern grocery store. In fact, save for the chick peas, this is probably the first time I have ever purchased any of these items for myself.

The outing was special to us though.  Though the Middle Eastern grocery store is not a regular stop for us in Ottawa, we naturally gravitated towards it here.  I think it might be because we both have an unspoken desire and need to preserve our cultures and  to integrate them into our new home.  When we live close to family, we really don’t need to put any effort into this.  Now that we are further away, it seems to have happened organically.

Yoga on the hill and some thoughts about freedom and rules..


One of my favourite activities from this summer has been Wednesday lunchtime yoga classes on Parliament Hill. This definitely needs to be added to the list of things that I will miss about Ottawa. Not only does it feel so awesome to be outside at lunchtime with a crowd of 500 odd people doing yoga on the grass (such a different feeling from a studio floor!), but the idea of being right in front of our nation’s parliament is so inspiring. I love being there because I feel like I am a part of something great. I also love that while we are taking part in our yoga class, others are on Parliament hill with placards protesting whatever the cause of that day might be. I have traveled to parts of the world where you could get arrested for just taking a walk in front of the country’s house of government, and as a result I have come to appreciate the freedoms in Canada that others may take for granted.

What I find most amazing though is that the very thing that allows our citizens to be so free is the very thing that restricts us: the rule of law. It is so interesting that, in the end, what creates order and freedom are rules.  If you think about a country in which there are no rules or laws, you will quickly realize that what that country’s citizens have is the very opposite of freedom. This is a widely recognized principle in politics, and yet it seems that so many of us have such a hard time recognizing this idea in our personal lives.

For instance, when I tell people that my faith is an important part of my life, I often get comments along the line of “that’s nice, but I don’t believe in following so many rules”. I find this ironic, because I believe that it is those very rules that have given me freedom in my personal life. In the same way that citizens of democratic and law abiding countries have been able to experience greater freedom than those under lawless regimes, the limits and boundaries created by the faith that I ascribe to are also what have allowed me to feel free. I think that so many of us are resistant to a deeper faith that requires some sort of commitment to rules because we don’t want to limit ourselves in this way. I would argue, however, that that the key to our liberation and emancipation as individuals might actually reside in allowing ourselves to be open to the boundaries and rules created by a higher order.

How about you? Do you feel as though the rules and laws in your life have actually helped to liberate you in a strange sort of way?

Fattoush!


So, in keeping with my ongoing fetish for Lebanese food and culture, I have recently developed a more specific fetish – for fattoush. Yes, that’s right, a fetish for fattoush.

What is fattoush you ask? It is a delicious salad made from greens and toasted or fried pita bread.  The special ingredient, which makes it taste different than other salads you may have had, is sumac – a spice used in the Middle East which adds a bit of a lemony taste. You will love it!

Since my little fetish has started to become an expensive one because I am constantly going to Lebanese restaurants for a quick fix, I recently decided that the time had come for me to make some homemade fattoush.   It is actually quite easy to make and the  only tip I have is to not overdo it with the sumac. Be  somewhat generous, just not overly generous. Contrary to what I had previously thought, it is possible to have too much sumac. 🙂

This recipe is adapted from one taken from one of my favorite Lebanese food blogs – Taste of Beirut.  Enjoy!

Fattoush:

  • a head of romaine lettuce chopped up
  • cucumbers
  • diced tomatoes
  • diced radishes
  • green onions, sliced
  • a handful of chopped Italian parsley and a handful of fresh mint
  • green pepper
  • 1 large pita

Dressing:

1. 2 small lemons, juiced

2. 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3. 2  tablespoons of sumac

4.  2 or more cloves of garlic mashed in a dash of salt in a mortar

Method:

1.  Brush the pita bread with oil and sprinkle plenty of sumac on top

2.  Toast in a 325 F oven until the bread is crispy and golden – break into small pieces and set aside *Note – if you forget to brush with olive oil and sumac – you can just mix the bread in with the salad later and it will absorb the dressing and sumac*.

3.  Prepare all the salad ingredients; mix the dressing; when ready to serve, toss the salad with the dressing and mix in the pieces of pita bread.

Picture of the Week – Amato Pizza & Good Food in the T-dot


So I haven’t been that great with my blogging in the past couple of weeks – mostly due to a previously mentioned insane busy period at work. I am glad to report that that period is over! I am happy to be back to blogging and will have a few fun posts up this week – stay tuned for my first attempt at making fattoush!

I recently returned from a business + pleasure trip to Toronto and when I looked back at my pictures, I realised that a lot of them were of food.  Let’s face it, there’s some good food in Toronto.  This particular shot was taken at Amato Pizza, possibly one of the best pizza spots in the city.  Nothing fancy, just good pizza.

While we’re on the topic of food – another great spot that I visited during my trip was Fressen – definitely the best vegan restaurant that I have been to so far.  My cousin and I ordered this fabulous zucchini appetizer and I had the seitan and veggies for my main.  No regrets whatsoever.  For desert, we shared a chocolate avocado tartine.  Besides the food being delicious, we were both extremely impressed with the presentation of the food.

Two other blog-worthy restaurant visits in Toronto this week were Grazie and Tabule, both mid-town around Yonge and Eglinton.  Grazie has got to be my favorite Italian restaurant in TO.  I highly recommend the Penza (penne à la vodka).   Tabule is great if you are in the mood for really good Lebanese food.  I am glad this place opened up because Toronto doesn’t have a ton of Middle Eastern restaurants.  This one is definitely a good spot.

All in all, such an amazing and refreshing week in Toronto.  I am ready to be back home to J and to return to daily life in the O-town. Thanks for reading!

Colour Me


A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about becoming a “contributor” rather than a “taker”.

Tonight, I got to experience one of my closest friends making her contribution. And it was beautiful.

Sherien and I grew up together, but have become especially close over the last few years.   We share many of the same interests and ideas and I’ve loved seeing our friendship grow.   Sherien has always talked about one day making a movie – and though I believed in her, I am somehow still blown away that she has actually made it happen.  She started creating the film “Colour Me” two years ago – and tonight, for the first time, I got to see the final product – Sherien invited me to preview her film at a focus group here in Ottawa.

“Colour Me” is a film that explores the tough concepts of race and identity through the life of Anthony McLean. It is a powerful movie that is a great starting point for dialogue (and even though I am biased, I really believe this to be true).  It touched me on many levels, because although the film focuses on ‘black identity’, I think the themes resonate with anyone who has ever sought to explore where they fit into society (which, let’s face it, is all of us).   What I think comes through is that we all have many layers, and that any attempt at classifying a person into one sort of ‘sub-group’ will be a colossal failure.   This failure is perhaps due to the fact that sub-groups in and of themselves are so difficult to define and demarcate.  The movie asks questions such as what it means to be black as well as where our notions of black identity come from.  It was amazing to hear stories not just from Anthony, but also from the youth who were profiled in the movie and who also shared about their journey in trying to answer these questions.

Please check out the “Colour Me” trailer and check the website for info on screenings and on how you can get a copy of this film.  I promise, you will not regret it!

Picture of the Week – My trip to the Lebanese Roastery


Can you guess what these colorful balls of sweetness are?



When I first saw them I thought they were deformed gum balls.  If you look closely though you can see that they are actually candied chickpeas!

My mother in law gave us a bag of these pretty little chick peas a few weeks ago and ever since that day, I have wanted to go to the store to get some more.  They are so delicious.  I am not sure about their nutritional value – since the amount of sugar probably cancels out the fact that you are eating chickpeas – but they are so good.

So this week I took a trip to the Lebanese roastery, where the chickpeas are roasted and candied.  For those of you who don’t know, my husband is Lebanese.  Being of Egyptian background myself, I did not think I had too much to learn about Lebanese culture. But these candied chickpeas, or kdaameh, are a case in point to show that I was wrong.  Lebanese culture is so different from Egyptian culture in so many ways – language, food, people, history, traditions, pretty much everything. I am learning and discovering more about this culture on a daily basis.  I love being able to pick and choose what I like from both of our cultures, and leaving out the parts that I don’t like as much.  In any case, candied chickpeas  definitely made the cut.

So, back to my story: I took my first trip over to the Lebanese roastery and loved what I saw.  Bins of colourfoul chickpeas, almonds, coffee beans and seeds – all freshly roasted….mmmm.  Lots of fancy chocolate and teas all imported from Lebanon.  The store itself was not very fancy, and is located in a small plaza on a side street.  But I kid you not, while I was in there, I felt like I was in Lebanon.  Arabic music playing, only Lebanese people doing their shopping,  no English to be heard in the store – it was just wonderful and I loved being in there.  I plan on making regular trips to the roastery from now on.  Well, that is, until we move.  But hopefully I can find another one in Halifax.

And that is the story of the how the “deformed gum balls” came into my world.


What are some aspects of other cultures that you have invited into you life?

How do you decide what city (town) to live in?


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how one goes about choosing where to live.  Perhaps this is because I have been moving around a lot in the last few years, and I am preparing for another move in a few months.  Now that I’ve lived in a few different cities (Toronto, Ottawa, Barcelona, Nice, Cape Town) and have experienced different lifestyles, I’ve realised that some lifestyles and cities work better for me than others.  Although I always thought I would end up in the city where I grew up (Toronto), now I’m not so sure about that anymore.  How does one go about making the decision about where to live? I mean, other than the obvious factors such as family/friends and jobs, what other factors can help guide this decision? Should we just decide to live where life takes us? Or should this decision be a more intentional one?  Even if one decides to live “where life takes you”, one is still often faced with the choice of what neighbourhood/suburb or type of home to dwell in.  So, keeping this in mind, what factors can we use to make such a choice? Again, you can choose to go with obvious factors such as what you like and what fits within your budget, but what I’m trying to get at, is that I think the decision involves a little more than that..


In fact, more and more, I’m starting to believe that one’s core values should really play a (big) part in this decision.  The more I think and read about this question, the more I am drawn to the conclusion that where you live should reflect your values and priorities (as much as possible anyway).  I also note that my internet search revealed that Ottawa is the best city to live in (in Canada), and Halifax is the second best (at least as of 2008: http://howtoliveincanada.com/best-places-to-live-in-canada/)! I guess that means we must be doing something right.  But I digress.

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