Cuccia di Santa Lucia – Wheat & Ricotta Dessert

Cuccia’ di Santa Lucia is traditionally eaten on St.Lucia’s day, 13th December in the deep south of Italy. St Lucia of Syracuse is the patron saint of eyesight, symoblised in this creamy dessert by soft grains of wheat said to represent her eyes.

Cuccia al Cioccolata

I made this dessert for my sister when she had accidentally damaged both corneas and was in a lot of pain. Off I went to Soho’s Lina stores for wheat and proper Italian style candied orange peel with this dessert in mind. She swears that her eyes improved, thanks to St Lucia! Click here for recipe.

I Love October

I love October; the satisfying crunch of leaves underfoot, gloriously golden days where the sun still warms the brow and chilly nights drawing in. As we near Halloween, I take delight in knowing the season of comfort food is upon us. Here are some spooky (ish!) recipes to consider; Pumpkin, Hazelnut & Ricotta salad, Eggs in Purgatory and Torrone dei Morti – Torrone of the dead!

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Hope for Humanity?

Gaza

As I navigated my son through the Saturday shoppers on Kensington High Street, I cursed the impending downpour. As we neared Kensington Gardens I could hear collective murmurs rising above the noise of traffic, then I began seeing placards and chequered scarves; another protest outside the Israeli embassy, a regular occurrence in the Royal Borough and one I have witnessed on many occasion in my 30 something years as a resident.
As we crossed the road to avoid the protest, I caught my son’s little face looking up to me for reassurance, his wispy hair blowing in the wind. I scooped him up and patted him on the back. Passing the barricade of police officers, my son innocently gawked at the protestors across the road, mouth wide open in amazement. To a toddler, the ruckus must have seemed terrifying. I too stopped, trying to capture the gist of what this latest protest was about; sure I keep up to date with current affairs and had some idea, but I didn’t know that by simply observing this time round would have such an emotionally profound effect. A group of Orthodox Jewish men stood on the front line of the protest, participants I really didn’t expect to see. Proudly holding placards and Palestinian flags, they politely refrained from hollering. Seemingly at ease, they appeared fearless in the face of what potentially could be perceived to the ignorant eye such as mine, not only an anti-Israeli rally, but an anti-Semitic one too.
I took a photo of the group and tweeted it assuming that it would be lost amongst the social media giants. Little did I know that within hours my photo would become viral; retweeted, shared and liked hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of times all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
With the rise of social media, distressing images are at every log-in even if you do not seek them, images so shocking and terrible that you have no choice but to feel sickened, helpless and angry. They continue to divide people at a time we so desperately need to be unified. As a mother, evidence of murdered children turn my stomach. Seeing raw sufferance moves me to tears and I often ask myself
‘Who is responsible for this?’                                                                                                                                              Bombarded by hateful captions and comments, the finger of blame is pointed this way and that. Entire creeds and faiths are vilified and perceptions are embedded into the psyches of those seeking answers. Hate is voiced and in other cases retaliation is actively sought. Yet it is massively important not to tar everybody with the same brush for regular civilians cannot control the actions of their own government.
For the average person such as myself, I cannot fully understand the horror that enrobes the every day of the Palestinian people. For me, hardships were few and fixable. There was always hope.
It’s easier to bury my head in the sand and believe it doesn’t affect me. So why then was a lump forming in my throat? Why was this protest having an impact? We had only gone out to feed the ducks! I look at my son who is still engrossed by the protest; I care because of him. I care that he should know compassion and injustice. I care that my son is accepting and shouldn’t dwell on differences spurred on by an age of rage riddled social media. I care for the sake of humanity and all the sons and daughters who are suffering. I care because I am human; I cannot see would be refugees with nowhere to turn, barricaded by land and sea. Nor innocent men women and children at best impoverished, at worse wrapped in shrouds, victims to a sky which rains bombs and bullets.
The protest was an emotionally charged collective voice with an urgent message. There is a terrible thing happening at this moment; the heart of the Mediterranean is bleeding. There are lives being needlessly spent in a crisis of humanity, one we all can no longer ignore. I saw them standing shoulder to shoulder in Kensington, Muslim, Jew and Christian and I was deeply moved, not as an activist, but as an observer.
For hours after the protest, I received messages from friends telling me that my photo had been shared by various people, some very well well-known. Some speculated it to be a fake, others were crying out for the rest of the world to see it. Why was one photo so massively relevant? Because it shows that humanity dwells in the heart of everyone, regardless of religion and race. People have had enough of an eye for an eye. With an eye for an eye everyone went blind. We may not have the immediate solution for the peaceful co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians, or for chipping away layers of hate stretching back generations, but if we begin to stand together there is at least some hope for humanity.

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One week on and there is another protest outside the Israeli embassy with supporters numbering near thousands. A helicopter circles the area and the press is out in force. An iconic London double decker is at a standstill just metres from Kensington Palace and protesters climb aboard and out onto its roof, waving Palestinian flags victoriously. One determined reporter is pushing through the crowd, I see his eyes fixed on the bus and sure enough within minutes he is balancing precariously on its roof. There is a huge roar from the crowd as an Orthodox Jew, rumoured to be a Rabbi, also climbs on top, placard in hand. The collective voice is gaining strength and they’re begging the world to listen.

 

Happy Easter e Buona Pasqua!

Happy Easter to all those who celebrate it!

Easter for me, as for many, has always meant family gatherings and festive foods.  Images of palms twisted into crosses on my parents mantle piece, daffodils and sugary coloured decorations are imprinted deep in my memory. I also recall my mother showing me how to empty an egg for decorating using only a pin and deep breaths.  Then there was the food; platters of salami, mortadella, boiled eggs with various cheeses, pasta with juicy ragu’ and ricotta, roasted lamb with peas and artichokes, colomba cake and Italian style Easter eggs with brightly coloured foil wrapping.  Then there was the Pastiera; a beautiful Neapolitan wheat and ricotta cake delicately perfumed with orange blossom. My father would cut a hole in the centre to ‘make sure’ the year’s offering was up to scratch – it always was :) This is the essence of Easter in our household.

Here are some Easter style recipes I’d like to share with you; Casatiello, a festive flavoursome bread from Naples, Italian style lamb and potato bake and a gorgeously moist Chocolate Caprese cake.

Enjoy the long weekend :)

Festive Treats – Buon Natale!!

I’ve just realised my last post was in January of this year. This is what having a baby does to you; takes your time and energy, in the best possible way of course! I kept intending to write about coping mechanisms with my noisy bundle of joy (in the way of delicious foods which have kept me going) but just as I found a few spare moments, I lost them just as quickly.

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It’s almost Christmas and with the season comes mouth watering flavours and traditions. I haven’t done as much cooking as I usually do this time of year, but here are a few of my Christmas must-haves to get you in the festive spirit. Check out easy Fig and Chestnut delights, (a great gift idea!), Cherry Chocolate Zuccotto (what to do with all that gifted Panettone) and Neapoletan Struffoli.

I wish you and your families a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2014!

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Not-So-Modern Ideas For Today…

Mevlana

One of the most basic human needs is to feel accepted. In London, where diversity is abundant and individualism embraced, we are blessed to be able to express ourselves, should we choose to.

So why, even in this liberal society, do we continually strive to adhere to perceptions of normality and shy away from revealing our own differences for fear of being judged? Society’s expectations of what how we ‘should’ be, or what we ‘should’ be doing, or what we ‘should’ have achieved by a certain age is still rife. Perhaps we are not as modern as we like to think.

We’re bombarded by depressing media reports of horrific hate crimes from every corner of the globe. Their motivations may be as menial as a difference in skin colour or faith, a different sexual orientation or political view, disability, the ‘daring’ act of dressing as one pleases, for refusing to conform and for chosing a spouse from a difference branch of the same religion. Genocide, honour killings, random attacks; all point to the refusal to accept or embrace difference. There are alarming levels of intolerance in this ‘modern’ era.

I was in Istanbul when I found a very idealistic concept of acceptance and tolerance in the most ancient of thoughts, mounted on my sister in law’s wall on our first meeting.

Dilek, the eldest of Murat’s five sisters, lives in an apartment block amongst the extended family of her husband. I immediately identified her as she waited for us outside her doorway; she has the same wavy raven coloured hair and deep brown eyes as her brother.

“Welcome! Hoşgeldiniz!” She led us inside, past a huge evil eye charm, up a crumbling staircase and into her modest home.

“Please.” She motioned to sit down and disappeared momentarily to prepare Turkish coffee.

“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a stone plaque on the muted pink wall.

“Ah…That’s a Mevlana quote. You may know him as Rumi.”

Amid delicate strokes of calligraphy twirled a Dervish, turning blissfully with his eyes closed. He was utterly content.

“I’m not sure how to translate what is written…Look,” Murat searched on his iPhone and showed me a translation.

‘Come, come, whoever you are.

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.

It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair.

come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.

Come, yet again , come , come.’

 I looked at Murat. “Acceptance?”

“Exactly.” We both smiled.

Jelal ad-Din Rumi was a Persian philosopher, born in the 13th Century. After his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Sufi order which uses his poetic prose as inspiration for its teachings.

It seems we can look to the not-so-modern wisdom from the heart of the Middle East for ideas of acceptance, tolerance and contentment.

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I couldn’t help but notice another of Rumi’s poems in which he addresses the unborn, whether it be the physically unborn or spiritually is a matter of interpretation.

‘The world outside is vast and intricate.

There are wheat fields and mountain passes,

and orchards in bloom

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight

the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’ 

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Semolina Halva with a Twist

İrmik Helvası - Semolina Halva with Cardamom & Pistachio

İrmik Helvası – Semolina Halva with Cardamom & Pistachio

After significant absence from NazarBlue, my apology comes in the form of an easy to make, tasty treat; Turkish style semolina helva with my own special twist.

It can be served hot (with ice cream) or once cooled in slices as the perfect accompaniment to tea (in our case, çay!).

The various words for  ‘Halva’ derive from the Arabic Halawa, meaning sweet. Halva / Helva / Halawa is a typical Mediterranean / Middle Eastern / Asian / Balkan / Eastern European confection which can be made from various ingredients; primarily grain flour resulting in a gelatinous texture (most typically semolina or wheat flour is used) or ground nuts which result in a more solid texture (you’ll be familiar with sesame halva.)  Other more exotic bases for Halva are chickpeas and other beans or carrots and flavourings vary wildly from pistachio to chocolate, honey or simply plain.

Here is my recipe for Cardamom and Pistachio İrmik Helvası.

Just enough, and not too much.

Another pregnancy niggle; loss of appetite, rather, everything edible in sight making you feel sick to the stomach.

The smell of lettuce, a rogue mushy blueberry,  meat.. Every unexpected smell and off-key texture led me to eat ‘safe’ beige food for the best part of six months. For a lover of food, I was more than frustrated with plain pasta with cheese, cheese on toast and butter on bread near enough forming part of my daily meals.

Luckily, as the bundle is almost here, my desire to be more daring has returned – yippee!! But I wont be eating mackerel just yet, by any account.

The other morning, I gathered a few more exciting beige ingredients together and formed a treat, light enough to be free of guilt and tasty enough to want more. Normally, I’d have drizzled the finished pastries with honey and smattered them with sesame seeds, but this time round a light powdering of icing sugar sufficed.

I present you with Ricotta, Lemon & Honey Filo Envelopes. Click here for recipe.

Dried Fruit Compote – Khoshaf

Dried fruits and nuts give much-needed energy and nutrients when fresh produce isn’t readily available. One example of their significance is found in the traditions of the Middle East at Ramadan, when evening Iftar (breaking of the fast) commences with a date.

At the moment I’m suffering from one of the pregnancy niggles, where you, ahem, simply ‘can’t go.’ Lucky then, that when Murat went to Green Lanes, Harringey last week he returned with kilos of dried fruit and nuts!

Apart from enjoying them in their deliciously sticky state, I decided to make Khoshaf, a perfumed compote of rehydrated fruit and nuts, hailing from various Middle Eastern kitchens.

Use whatever you have at hand.. It’s the type of recipe free to artistic licence (aren’t they all?). Fruit are soaked in a mixture of water and orange flower essence until plump, and nuts rejuvenated to their former milkiness. Most versions call for the use of sugar too, however let’s keep it healthy and appreciate the natural sweetness of the fruit themselves.

Click here for simple and nourishing recipe..

Meaty Stuffed Vine Leaves

My mother in law is visiting us, and with her came an array of gifts and packages of food straight from the city of dreams. Amongst the numerous baby clothes, jewellery and candied chesnuts (Murat’s favorite) came a mysterious, humid bag. To my delight, the heavy package contained vine leaves.

When I first visited Murat’s family in Istanbul, his three sisters and mothers gathered around at tiny table, crafting Yaprak Sarmasi in honour of my visit and his return. They chattered excitedly, stuffing and rolling what seemed like hundreds of leaves.  Quite the excuse to get together and pitch in, I’ve now mastered this traditional recipe much to Murat’s delight.

The family in law in Istanbul.

This recipe results in succulent meaty rolls with a subtle heat. It is absolutely authentic and often eat in Turkish households. This version is best served warm with a dollop of cooling strained yoghurt. Stuffed vine leaves can also be made without meat and with the addition of pine nuts, sultanas and dill, usually served cold.

Click here for my recipe.