Roses are red.
Roses can touch your heart.
They convey deep feelings.
Sometimes even make you cry.
So is Harissa (həˈrēsə).
The words Harissa dances and flows in the mouth quite effortlessly.
It brings many cherished images to the mind.
But what is Harissa?
Harissa is a fiery hot condiment and seasoning from North Africa and the Middle East. It is a paste of dried red chilis, garlic, and olive oil, with other spices such as ground red pepper, caraway, cumin, caraway, coriander, fennel and mint. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Makes Tabasco and Sriracha take a distant second and third places when it comes to a chili sauce contest.
[Recipe for Harissa cannot be more simpler than this…
About 50gm dried red chilies
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
Mix all together].
But the fiery red sauce is not for the faint-hearted.
Not even for the moderately-brave.
It takes a real courageously-daring one to even attempt to even think about making Harissa paste at home.
I decided to make the recipe at home amidst all the usual naysayers.
“Can’t be done”.
“Not for Indian cuisine”.
“You need special ingredients… secret ones… how will you find them”.
“Why bother yourself when you can just add chili powder?”.
“We got SriRacha in the fridge”.
“Since when did you started experimenting with North African cuisine”.
First things first.
How many types of chilis are there in the market?
Wanted to learn all about them before deciding which one to buy.
World of chili was so exciting that the first learning was that it might take longer than a weekend to learn.
So decided to choose
a dark, long one,
a reddish-brownish medium one and
a cute, round one.
(The intended ones were Pasilla, Guajillo & Cascabel. Must learn which is which).
Also used four different types of chili powders: Cayenne, Paprika, Red chili and Kashmiri chili.
Soaking the chilis in hot water was easy.
But the deseeding and destemming part took a toll as a not-so-easy burning sensation on the face.
Food-grade gloves and medical-grade face mask were used.
Not to mention industrial-grade eye-glasses.
While the chilis were soaking, garlic was de-skinned and crushed.
Coriander, cumin, fennel, caraway seeds were ground using pestle and mortar.
The four-chili paste was prepared.
Dried mint leaves kept aside.
From now on, it must be a breeze. So I thought.
Soaked chilies, drained well, went to the food processor.
Warning: The first buzz will fill the kitchen with the volatile component of the chili oleoresin that one must expect and take precautions.
From mildly uncomfortable runny nose and eyes to uncontrollable sneezing could occur.
So please be forewarned.
(Note: Harissa preparation will make onion slicing chore feel like a seventh heaven).
Having survived that grinding to paste stage, spices and mint were added and mixed.
Some balsamic vinegar was added to the paste. Lemon juice, if you so prefer.
Finally, the food processor was run at very slow speed while a stream of Olive oil was mixed in the emulsification process. The processor was stopped once the mixture achieved the desired consistency.
Due to the watery-eyed environment, many photo opportunities were missed.
But the few that were taken can be found here.
In short, the home-made sauce was a real unforgettable experience in the kitchen.
But if you ask em if I would repeat the experience, I would not reply without a bit of hesitancy.
While the runny-nose tells me no, the beyond-the-words taste of Harissa in fish and chicken urges me “you must”.
Weekends are cooking days. Sometimes the daughter joins in but mostly it is alone.
Bahrain feels like the best-of-Europe with it’s mild weather. While sunny and bright in the day time, the temperature stays at around 12-14 deg C. The weather was never lovelier before than today.
Rib-eye Steak with Mushroom Sauce served with Mashed Potatoes and crisp, sautéed Mangetouts for the lunch.
Thai Green Seafood curry with Jasmine Rice for dinner.
[Ed: Those posts are for another day].
But the highlight of the day was Moroccan Almond Cookies or Ghriba.
The sweet from Marrakesh took everyone by storm.
Most of the dishes tried at home were tried before in a restaurant or at a baker’s.
Ghriba was an exception. Came to learn about the sweet from a beautiful blog in WordPress https://thetaste0flife.wordpress.com/
Ghriba is something unlike any of the sweets.
It does not use any flour (wheat or rice, eg.)
Sites those talked about Ghriba mentioned the Moroccan Mint Tea that goes well with the sweet.
[Ed: Forgotten to make mint tea, by the way].
Almonds eggs caster sugar lemon zest lemon juice almond extract orange blossom water.
The taste was much beyond the realms of any sweet tried so far.
Started off with zesting the lemon after keeping the oven to heat-up to the required temperature of 350F (180C).
Prepared the baking tray with parchment paper and kept aside.
Almond flour and sugar were then blended in a food-processor briefly.
Baking powder, vanilla extract, almond flavour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest were whisked in.
Egg yolks were then added to the above mixed using fingers taking care not to knead towards bread consistency. However, as the four eggs were added, the dough was bit like a bread dough.
Added less caster sugar though the recipe asked 125 gm as the cookies are going to be rolled on icing sugar before baking.
Baked at 350 deg F just till cooked… a cookie unlike any cookie. Inside the oven, the cookies began to crack about 12 minutes into the baking process.
The oven was switched off soon after the cookies started to crack.
Rest of the baking happened in the subsiding heat and for about 18 minutes.
Mildly crunchy outside and soft,chewy inside, the Ghriba was loved instantly at first bite. There sure is a lot of room for excelling and the pursuit of excellence makes the baking process more challenging and therefore enjoyable.
Reviews say that the cookies can be stored in airtight containers for 2-3 weeks. May not be applicable at our place. Confluence of flavours will take several hours was a maxim seldom listened to by the end users. Thus, the cookies finished fast. But their taste remains.
During a photo workshop, she was a model.
And when requested for a pose next to her own portrait, she obliged, smilingly.
Few could ever attempt to achieve that smile…
Spend months looking for the best recipe.
Ingredients were all hand-picked from super market baking sections and grocery stores.
Befriending chefs from the bakery section; picking up pearls of wisdom.
Best possible dry fruits… Medjool Dates, Dried Figs, Sundried Apricots, Glacé Cherries, Golden Sultanas, Dark Raisins, Cranberries, Black Currants,… all soaked in very special old pale brandy for weeks and months.
Then those, ah,
Chopped Brazil nuts.
Mixed with freshly milled flour, free-range eggs, butter@room-temperature, dark muscovado sugar… with a touch of Treacle.
Not to forget the nutmeg, cinnamon and mixed spices.
Oven pre-heated to a modestly warm 150 degree Centigrade (300F).
And then, three and a half hours later… where did the mittens go? Whole family assembles in the small kitchen…
Moment of truth.
They say this cake will last for months if kept in an airtight container.
Yet to see one last that long.
The Cello player at the street corner
turned many a heads
many a ears…
As the bow rode
over the taut strings of the Cello
Many ‘brows became bow-like,
A few paused,
confirmed all is fine
before continuing on their way
to their own felicity.
stalled their stroll
consigned to oblivion for a moment
got lured to the four strings.
To that single bow,
the moving hands,
the quivering fingers,
on a gold-lit night.
That made music
so heavenly and deep
mildly squeaking but mostly stringy
with random pitch et al.
Rising now, falling then
Nuances of the notes…
An enflé here, a coulé du doigt there
All in a train
moving along merrily
reflecting on the face
of the Entertainer.
MyRefractions.com met Peter Rushton in his 11th floor offices at the World Trade Centre building in Diplomatic Area, Manama, Bahrain recently. MyRefractions.com wish to thank Mahmood Al Awadhi, a good friend and a capable Administrator for initiating the meeting with Peter.
Peter was recovering from a mild stroke but was so kind enough to share his life experiences and how it feels to be a creative source of positive energy.
Some excerpts from our conversation… some images of his paintings… and himself.
Please scroll down for more.
Is there an artwork here you are most proud of? Why?
There is a painting that I dearly cherish which has been in many an exhibition I have entering, but has not included a price tag. During 1978 when I was in England and were unsure of my future direction at that time, I had a vision in my mind of a beautiful young lady with who wore a head scarf. She had a tanned skin and vivid blue eyes. This was at a time when I was using an airbrush which needed a lot of preparation and precision in technique. I look back now and the painting was depicting of what lay ahead of me for the years to come. After 19 years in the Middle East, I should have questioned my visual ability a bit more seriously.
– What inspired you to become an artist?
From the time that I could draw properly I had a passion. I grew up wanting to express art in various ways, allowing the subject matter dictated which technique I adopt.
-What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I have a number of tools that I use in most paintings, namely a wide variety of brushes and sponges. The tool that seems I can’t live without; certain in my studio are my knives. This includes a pallet knife up to a bread carving knife from the kitchen! Mostly, I use acrylic paint as it is faster to use than oils however, you can get the same depth and textured when the paint is being applied by a knife.
– How did you get where you are today?
My influences are first and foremost everything I see, feel and experience, but I’ve always loved the unexpected. My love is the rhythm of life and how it can be represented. Plus a lot of hard work, commitment and dedication!
– What is the main challenge you face when beginning a painting?
I’m never without a creative thought as I am constantly being inspired by what is around me; sometimes the thoughts are left in my mind and other times they develop into more in-depth ideas and detailed images.
– At what point in the process of the painting do you begin to feel like the painting is almost completed?
A painting tells me when it’s finished, in fact, there have been times when I could not put another stroke on the canvas; the painting would not let me! A painting develops its own life as it being created.
– How has painting influenced your life?
During my years in London where I exhibited and also became a critic at private shows, the exposure to various subject matters and styles of art has played a significant influence in my creative approach today.
– What qualities do you look for in other artists whom you would like to work with?
I would say that I wouldn’t want to work with other artists as I have done that before and I believe there needs one Captain of a ship. If I would to critic the qualities of what makes a good painter, I would say they would need to be Inspiring, concept driving, emotional, original and passionate.
– How do you manage balancing work/life?
It is difficult. However, my day to day function demands that I use my creative ability and use the experience that I gained being Creative Director for Advertising Agencies throughout my career. I naturally employ these skills with the Team and the Agency we work with. Thinking original thoughts and guiding those that need them makes up some ways in equalizing the balance.
– What do you like most about your career?
I didn’t intend to be a contemporary artist but over the years, as my portfolio styles naturally evolved from a photographic illustrative style to looser acrylics and people started to review my work at International Exhibitions, the descriptions started to emerge and I began to notice a style I hadn’t intended but am now pleased with.
-What are you working on at the moment?
As most appreciated in my last exhibition, I am drawing to the close of a painting which features two sunflowers which adopts a style that was very well received. At the same time, I have two canvases which I am starting for a project that I am really looking forward to. I see them as a pair, working together and creating a harmony in their form.
-Where else can we find you? (Blog, website, twitter, facebook etc)
I have utilized a website for a number a years and I am just updating my site. What with the Social Media leading the way, I am in the process of uploading my work onto my Facebook site for ease of visual access.
-Do you admire any artists / photographers?
The artist I most admire is Salvador Dali. For me, he was a genius before his time in conceptual thinking and technique.
-What is your favorite…
One of the Jewel colours appeals me most; a ‘charoite’ sits well with most other colours and yet is very unique in its vibrancy.
I have two Golden Retriever dogs, a mum (Sophie) and her daughter (Sunny). When they play, you know they are around and yet when I am being serious about painting, they quietly sit in my studio and keep me company.
As a gardener, I enjoy the blossom of plants that have lasted the winter. Spring adds colour, shape and form and adds life to its environment.
-Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others?
“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.”
The venue of many concerts… bathed in light
Bahrain National Theater near the National Museum.
and the shadows…