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So here we go! First day back to normal after all the holiday (beautiful) madness and emotional rollercoaster that comes with this time of year.

New year, new us? Well, I don’t really think so. I’m kind of happy with my current me; I don’t really want to be a new me; this must mean I’m doing SOMETHING right, doesn’t it? I’m truly grateful for everything I have and don’t want things to change.

It is particularly hard to work in an environment that doesn’t resemble you. Even though you still find colleagues with whom you develop affinities and become friends, the environment can still be bad for you. It usually is a bad environment when you feel like you don’t belong or like it doesn’t reflect your personality.

The idea of turning 30 was devastating to me a year ago. It was all about being “out” of the twenty-something group, being “old” and entering real adulthood. Little did I know this was going to be the most enlightening age to me yet. On the 19th of August, a little over two weeks ago, I gracefully turned 30. What I thought was going to be shocking to me was actually smooth and soothing.

In the world of Therapy, cooking and having a positive entourage have always been recommended to boost serotonin levels and increase relaxation and happiness. Over time, I have found that baking cakes have the superpower of calming me down, bringing me to impressive levels of serenity – something I didn’t know I was capable of, being the anxious person I am.

cooking in group | breadonbutter

In the past year, I was lucky to make new friends who love cooking and food as much as I do. Since I’m prone to sharing my recipes and not greedily keep them in a secret notebook, I’ve engaged in a new venture: gathering people around our stove. I find it so much fun and gratifying to have friends over with their favorite ingredients and recipes to cook all together and learn from each other. Laughs are also guaranteed!

cooking in group | breadonbutter

Based on these good times and on the atmosphere of family meals and children wandering around the cook in the kitchen to learn and get a taste of what’s cooking, we had our first cook-off not long ago. Hisham from Cookin5m2, Sarah who owns Dulce n’ Banana, Maya who writes Playing With Fashion, Betty who’s the great photographer behind BetKet Photography, Sleiman who’s the one behind K-frame, and of course my husband and favorite Chef Jean, were all here to lend a hand in a meal we all had together. Hisham made a delicious chicken pot pie, Sarah made a special apple crumble and we all worked to concoct entrees of all flavors and genres.

cooking in group | breadonbutter

Food has a lot of meaning. Whether it’s culturally, ethnically, or religiously, it brings people together. Baking, cooking a meal, shopping for the food and certainly sitting down together and socializing is a pure pleasure of life.

Cook-offs are not only meant to give a chance to meet new people, but also to discover food and ingredients that people might not have come across before. Also, everyone can leave with leftovers and a new recipe.

In the future, I’d love to bring experienced winemakers, brewers, bakers, butchers, etc. to teach others tricks and techniques.

The main focus of cooking in group is on socializing, learning to cook and to cook together, learning about new ingredients and types of food, maybe even how to shop for food before learning how to cook it.

The cook-off affected all of our moods positively. Having this meal gave us greater satisfaction because we cooked it together.

Cooking has therapeutic value physically, cognitively, socially and intrapersonally. Physically, cooking requires good movement in shoulders, fingers, wrists, elbow, neck, as well as good overall balance. Adequate muscle strength is needed in upper limbs for lifting, mixing, cutting and chopping. Furthermore, sensory awareness is important in considering safety while dealing with hot and sharp objects.

This is the therapeutic value noted by the University of Alberta.

Here are more photos of our cook-off if you’d like to see. There will be other cook-offs organized so if you wish to participate, all you have to do is send an email to: breadonbutterblog@gmail.com ! 🙂

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Photos were all taken by the great Betty from BetKet Photography.

Dining table and chairs from Dfouny Technotel  – available for rent

cooking in group | breadonbutter

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I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s. It actually always felt like pressure to go out and buy teddy bears and red piggy banks to give to my significant other. So when I learnt that Jean was a Valentine “hater” himself, I was delighted. Still, I respect the cute couples who celebrate their love on that day, so I’m presenting you today with 3 unusual and un-cheesy things to do on this big romantic weekend.

1) Bring the restaurant to your home. With Bibayti, you can book your private Chef and enjoy an amazing dinner experience in the comfort of your own dining room. Just light some candles, and they’ll take care of the rest. Check their website here.

valentine | breadonbutter

Photo by Zein el Cheikh for Bibayti

2) Invite friends over and have a huge cook-off, or buy barbecue material and find a spot in nature to enjoy it. The point is, have a group Valentine dinner, it’s kind of fun!

valentine | breadonbutter

3) Just pizza/pasta and a movie would do. Valentine’s Day is all about pampering after all 😉

valentine | breadonbutter

Any plans for Valentine’s?

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The literal meaning of ‘sobremesa’ is “over the table”. This untranslatable Spanish word designates the time spent in conversation right after a meal. It can be with friends, family or even business partners.

In Mediterranean cultures, sobremesa is something that is practiced with absolute spontaneity. That time spent around the table chatting about life is one of my favorite things in life. Picture everyone full and happy, discussing interesting topics and deep revelations.

For me, December is sobremesa. Friends are back in town, families reunite, and new friendships are made. It all happens around some table, sometime in December. The Holidays and twinkling lights open up our hearts and minds, bringing out the good in us.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes like to imagine a dinner between friends before it happens. I imagine the conversation and its direction. I imagine talking about my friends’ plans for the next year, or about life’s big changes. I imagine discussing my sister’s job or fitness resolutions, my husband’s entrepreneurship journey or even my own career and travel goals.

2015 has passed by at the speed of light. We’re at a political and technological turning point. Technology is growing faster than us and we’re all growing up so fast. So let’s live this month like it matters more than anything. Let’s make the most of it and be ready for the new year to come.

Until Christmas, every post I write will include a topic for your Sobremesas. Conversation is something we should hold on to and avoid technology taking it away.

So, what will you be talking about this Christmas?

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My Whole 30 has come to an end. I honestly still can’t believe I lasted 30 Whole days without caving. I knew I was a determined person and that when I take a decision, I make it a goal to follow it till the end, but my cravings were certainly mean sometimes. I had to deal with dreaming I was biting into a fluffy chocolate cake, or endure watching everyone eating French fries covered in cheese and dipped in ketchup (true torture).

The fact that I did it has taught me a lot about myself, and my will to try something for the better. I now trust myself more as this was more of a psychological than physical challenge really. I had to control my reflexes when I unconsciously reached for peanuts, fries or bread and butter at a restaurant. I had to be really responsible for my choices, which meant not ruining a pizza night out for everyone by saying I can’t go because I can’t eat – I just adjusted accordingly, pizza places do have salads. I had to be patient with people as they asked why I wasn’t eating corn or drinking wine. Finally, I had to control my hunger and cravings by planning in advance, which added another thing to plan in our busy lives.

All in all, I can say I am beyond satisfied of the result. I feel calmer, healthier, more energized, less hungry AND ‘hangry’, and at peace with this new lifestyle.

I have made the wise decision not to give up the food we love but certainly not abuse it, and indulge moderately. I love knowing that I have a go-to, feel-good “diet” I can run to whenever I cross the line, I love knowing that I’m capable of controlling my cravings, and I hope I’ll be able to sustain that healthy lifestyle 80% of the time I spend eating.

If you wish to try the Whole 30, you can read everything about it here. For healthy meals inspiration, as well as to remind everyone that healthy can still be delicious, here’s a summary of some of the food habits I had during the last 30 days.

Eggs in all forms

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Creative salads

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Grilled proteins

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When in doubt: grilled vegetables

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Easy and delicious dishes

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Fruits

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Inspired? 😉

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A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure to attend a lunch at Mymouné (a Lebanese brand of all-natural specialties) in Ain el Kabou, Lebanon to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Apart from the wonderful ambiance and setting, the food was really excellent. The reason for this is that everything was cooked by Michelin-starred Chef Greg Malouf using Mymouné products. From the rose petals infused yogurt to the delicious shawarma, passing by a delicious freekeh, that day kept our tummies busy. The highlight of the day was when we actually got to meet Greg Malouf and have a little chat. He then happily agreed to answer some of my questions about his life and background.

greg malouf | breadonbutter

Greg Malouf is a Lebanese Chef born in Melbourne that was honored with a Michelin Star. He is widely known for his Middle Eastern cuisine and opened his own restaurant, Clé Dubai, last year.

I hope you enjoy reading as much as we did! Here goes.

About Greg – I’m an Australian boy, through and through, but I was raised in a Lebanese family and my earliest memories are of my mum’s kitchen, and of being surrounded by women – my mum and grandmothers, aunties, cousins and family friends – all pinching my cheeks and urging me ‘Yallah! Tekkel’, as they thrust a stuffed vine leaf or sweet cookie into my chubby hand. Is it any wonder I became a chef?

During my training and early years in restaurants, the last thing I wanted to do was cook mum’s food, and I spent many years working in Europe and Asia honing my skills and expanding my repertoire. But I found that as time went by I was thinking more and more about those favourite dishes from my childhood: of stuffed eggplants and home-made tabbouleh, of creamy yoghurt cheese and smoky baba ghanoush, and my all-time favourite, kibbeh nayeh, a sort of lamb tartare, mixed with cracked wheat and spices.

I returned to Melbourne in the early 1990s, a time when Middle Eastern food was limited to the odd traditional Lebanese banquet-style restaurant or greasy kebabs and watery tabbouleh from grubby Lebanese takeaway shops. I was still relatively young and energetic and I had a crazy dream of recreating the flavours of my childhood in my own style of Middle Eastern restaurant: not traditional Lebanese dishes, but rather food which captures the essence of the Middle East and expresses it in the best western tradition.

How Greg knew he wanted to be a Chef – It was through sheer appetite and love of the family’s generosity and nurturing that drove me to my life’s work. I have a vague memory of mixing bathroom products whilst bathing as a kid. I guess that was my first interpretation of hummus.

How Greg gets inspired – Childhood memories of my Lebanese upbringing and travels through the Middle East are a major creative sources of inspiration. Lebanese cooking is essentially home cooking, so it doesn’t really require much in the way of tricky techniques. Dishes are handed down through generations and like every home cook it’s important to learn patience, too, as some of the very best Middle Eastern dishes take time (slow-cooked braises and tagines) and care (stuffed vegetables or pastries) to prepare.

His favorite ingredient – Too many to choose from, but yoghurt stands out as a favorite not only to cook with but to consume!

What makes a dish special to him – I have tried to forge a unique style of cooking that captures the essence of the Middle East and that is presented with a signature contemporary flair. Ingredients such as sumac, pomegranate molasses, preserved lemons, orange blossom water, haloumi and kataifi pastry, and spice blends such as ras al hanout and za’atar are the currency of their menus (and are sprinkled through more mainstream restaurant, bistro and café menus across the cities of Australia and, increasingly, the world). The dishes they appear in are exotic and Middle Eastern but vibrant, modern and Australian at the same time. For example, I might serve Egyptian eggs with bastourma and fennel salad; warm smoked ox tongue salad with fava beans, feta and coriander à la Greque; golden ras al hanout lentil and pumpkin soup with grilled scampi; and his own Rose of Damascus — layers of honeyed crisp filo with Turkish delight ice cream and toffeed strawberries.

About his favorite city – I love Melbourne. It’s where I grew up. Restaurants, cafes, bars and eateries are very much hidden so it’s really a haven for locals. Elegant, sophisticated and non-elitist can best describe the food scene.

I’m also in love with Beirut. I’ve been back many times and just feel the city has so many more things that are waiting to be discovered. I love to explore, to get lost in its narrow streets, and to assure myself that I am on the right path with Lebanese food culture.

His favorite book – Favourite cookbook: Claudia Roden inspired so many generations as her knowledge of Middle Eastern cooking is legendary she’s a true historian. She is Egyptian but spent much of her student life in Paris. She has written many wonderful books – some about recipes from her mother’s kitchen, and others tracing the history of dishes across time and geographies. A Book of Middle Eastern Food, published in the late 1960s is a classic, and since then I have read many of her other books and really come to admire her and her authentic and grounded approach to food. She inspires me – her traditional recipes evoke wonderful childhood memories for me.

 Secret hobbies aside from cooking – Music – classical, alternative & jazz. Design – crockery, fabric, prints & jewelry

About what he does during his free time – There’s not a lot of free time as I’m still very active in the kitchen. As it happens, I work many days straight and tend to head to the airport for a 3-4 day trip to a neighboring country.

About comfort food and guilty pleasures –  Any type of kibbeh, even if it’s leftovers from a previous meal. Guilty pleasure moves into the more elaborate as I have cholesterol issues cheese, especially white mould triple cream, terrines and pâté’s.

His favorite Lebanese dish – Warab Enab – meat and rice stuffed vine leaves cooked on top of lamb neck chops with mint, lemon and garlic. And always with natural yoghurt.

His favorite town/city/village in Lebanon – Hamra for its street food, Ashrafiyeh for its classiness, Gemmeyze for its night life, clubs, bars and Restaurants and of course Mount Lebanon, the Bekaa valley, Zahle and Baalbek.

If you had to choose between Beirut, the Lebanese coast or the mountains, which one would you choose? – I’m a city boy and need the energy and vitality of Beirut.

 A perfect day – A wedding day or the birth of a child.

Here are some pictures of the Mymouné lunch.

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Thank you so much Chef! 🙂

You can click here for more information about Clé Dubai and here for Greg Malouf’s website, to be published soon.

Click HERE to follow our foodie and travel journey on INSTAGRAM @breadonbutter_

and HERE to get your daily Breadonbutter news on FACEBOOK

Don’t forget to tag us if you try our recipes and tips: #breadonbutter

Last week, I wrote about the Whole30 Challenge I’ve decided to take on (you can read about it here). I haven’t talked about the reasons why I’m doing this but I feel I should share them with you today. At first, I must admit I took it very lightly. It was just a spur-of-the-moment decision I took during a conversation we were having about it with my sister. On that same day, after my sister told me about her Nike Plus teacher’s experience with the Whole 30, I saw someone at a birthday party who said he was doing the same. Before I even spoke about the Whole 30, he said: “Just give it 30 days”. Since I’ve been feeling tired and very bloated lately, and after reading about the principles of the Whole 30 diet (which is basically to eat like our ancestors), I decided it was time to give it a go. Not only for staying fit, but also to retrieve my energy as well as my mental and physical well-being. What I’m choosing through this experience is to make it a lifestyle. I won’t be banning groups of food forever, but let’s say I’ll be having them way less often than before.

It’s been a week and I feel remarkably good. I’ve been fighting quite a few reflexes like reaching out for a frie or two or binging on those fatty nuts in bars. It wasn’t easy to pay attention to everything I was letting into my body but I got a hang of it. It’s truly awesome! Sure, I miss being able to choose between a pasta dish or an orange cake but it won’t be forever. And with time, I was told those cravings go away. What I find myself fighting as well is the constant explanations I have to give people when they ask why I’m not drinking and if I want to share a plate of fries at the beach. It’s not easy explaining it to a society that basically thinks any diet is starving yourself. What it is is making healthy choices for your own body. You can read more about the Whole 30 Challenge here.

So to sum up my whole 30 week 1 and to inspire you, I thought I’d share a few meals I had during those 7 days. My breakfasts mostly consisted of bananas  or eggs and black coffee (mainly because I didn’t have much time to be creative in the mornings).

So here goes:

#1 When eating out: Roast Chicken at Bar Tartine (Careful! Ditch the sauce and make sure the potatoes are grilled or baked).

whole 30 week 1 | breadonbutter

#2 Beetroot and lettuce salad, sprinkled with chia seeds.

Dressing: 3 Tbsp of Cider Vinegar, 1.5 Tbsp olive oil and a dash of salt. 

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#3 When in doubt: 1 boiled potato and 2 boiled eggs with a side of green salad.

Sprinkle with olive oil and spices. 

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#4 For afternoon snacking, nothing beats a nice bowl of fruits in this hot weather.

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#5 Weekday dinner: Cold boiled potato, mixed with red onions and coriander.

Dressing: Lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

whole 30 week 1 | breadonbutter

#6 When you feel like cooking something nice: Grilled salmon and asparagus (more details and recipe here).

whole 30 week 1 | breadonbutter

#7 When out in a Lebanese restaurant by the sea, make sure you enjoy a nice tabbouleh without any bulgur.

whole 30 week 1 | breadonbutter

Follow me on Instagram (@breadonbutter_) for my daily Whole 30 meals. I’ll be posting an update every week until the end of the challenge.

Any ideas on healthy whole meals? I’d love to hear!

Click HERE to follow our foodie and travel journey on INSTAGRAM @breadonbutter_

and HERE to get your daily Breadonbutter news on FACEBOOK

Don’t forget to tag us if you try our recipes and tips: #breadonbutter

A few weeks ago, after watching CNNGo’s report on Beirut, I contacted Cyrille Najjar and asked if I could see him for a chat. He gladly accepted and it was fun to talk about food with such a talented Designer. Cyrille is the CEO of White Sur White, “a multi-disciplinary Architecture and innovation agency sitting at the intersection of architecture, technology, and materials”. Not only does White Sur White work on Architecture and interior design projects, but they also create products that go beyond beautiful aesthetics and target the needs of everyone from musicians, to travelers, to home owners.

couture

We met in Cyrille’s office in Sodeco where the décor inspires designers to work creatively. The office is not too far from the workshop, which is in Ashrafieh as well and makes 600 square meters of space for infinite creativity. There, Cyril organizes workshops, sublets it for events by big magazines and companies and lets creativity unleash itself. Cyrille started by giving me a large idea of the projects and products he worked on and that came into life. He started by telling me about his passion for music (guitar to be more specific), how he worked on the design of music instruments and their customization for singers, dancers and musicians.

beirut design week | breadonbutter

He adapted music instruments to the body moves of dancers, fabricated microphones for opera singers with the help of Corinne Metni, and helped a violinist make the most of his talent by creating a violin around which he would feel at ease.

A solar suitcase was also created by Cyrille to no longer count on the generator at home.He also created products for Mothercare, for Hemiplegics, for Haute Couture, Lighting and Kitchens. I suggest you daydream on this link to know more.

lighting

Cyrille actually started his career by studying law at USJ. After thinking about it, he realized he liked it, but loved the world of Design and Architecture way more, so he made the switch. He continued with a Masters in Interior Architecture at ALBA Beirut and went on with Product Design in the Royal College of Art in London. And because he wanted to teach younger generations what he learnt, he finished with a teaching degree at Central St. Martins in London. After teaching at ALBA, he is now happily passing on his wisdom to LAU students.

How does Cyrille get inspired? It’s a combination of desire and needs. Whether it’s his needs or the needs of his clients, Cyrille beautifully fulfills them. He created his own solar energy system at home because he needed it, he confectioned Avo’s violin because Avo needed it to show the world the best he could do. Most of the time, clients come to him with a need.

Which takes us to what Cyrille has to say on Design in Lebanon. For him, it’s more of a luxury, which has its beauty. But it will eventually get more need-oriented as this is what should be done in a country that has countless needs to fulfill.

About cooking and travel

Cyrille loves cooking and is a BBQ fan at heart. He’s not yet found a need to fulfill in this area and has currently all the kitchen tools he needs in his “vastly furnished” kitchen. For him, kitchenware has really evolved over time. Quoting Cyrille, we’ve been eating for so long that we’re fine! As for the dishes he cooks, he keeps things simple with meat, chicken, fish, pasta, etc.

When it comes to travel, he does that all the time, but there’s one thing he has not yet fulfilled when it comes to this area: the Byron burger in Lebanon 😉 As far as Cyrille is concerned, his favorite burger in the world needs to be recreated in his country. The subject of travel immediately led us to talk about the good food in the big cities and countries of the world: Paris, London, New York, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Belgium for beer only.

His guilty pleasure is British food! As much as it surprises people, Cyrille views British food as going beyond beans and sausages. For him, it’s more about the homemade and the comfort food for a cold British weather and lifestyle.

Cyrille is also a big Philosophy fan. His book pleasures revolve around Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. When he needs something light, it’s comics he turns to.

Here’s a video of 10 fast questions with Cyrille Najjar for you to get a glimpse of one of Beirut’s most terrific Designers. Enjoy 🙂

Selling points: SMO gallery, Platform39, National Museum, Urbanista.

Facebook page: here

Website: http://www.whitesurwhite.com/