February 14, 2019

Trapped In A Virtual World

Oliver Sacks, British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author, feared for the future before he died. 

He wasn't so much alarmed at what had come into being. Rather, he was shocked by how much was missing.

“Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases. 
There is no privacy and apparently little desire for it in a world devoted to non-stop use of social media.  
Every minute, every second, has to be spent with one’s device clutched in one’s hand. Those trapped in this virtual world are never alone, never able to concentrate and appreciate in their own way, silently.  
They have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved.”
Oliver Sacks died in 2015. Before he passed he wrote, 

"I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

Sacks wouldn't have advised looking for such answers, such peace, in a mobile screen. 

We are trapped in a virtual world. I have doubts about it providing us with a "good and worthwhile life". 

February 13, 2019

Homemade Hummus, Baked Pita and Za'atar

A beautiful meal of homemade baked pita, hummus and za'atar spice.
Kalamata olives, dill pickles, and fresh tomato are nice additions.

Linda and I have made lots of homemade baked pita breads over the years. And we are big fans of making our own hummus. But we have never attempted to make our own za'atar spice before yesterday.

The only time I have tasted za'atar spice was when Linda smuggled some street bread out of Palestine, where she spent several seasons on an archaeological dig. One year, just before having to say good-bye to one of her favourite countries, she bought a couple of servings of street cart bread, just for me. 

Of course, the bread came with small folded newspaper envelopes full of za'atar spice, which was meant for the bread to be dipped. It was all she  could do to not eat it all on her flight home.

But she made it all the way back to Canada without enjoying this traditional mid-east treat. Lucky for me.

That was the first time I had ever experienced za'atar spice. I had never eaten anything like it before, or since, until we whipped some up to go with our baked pita and hummus yesterday.

Za'atar spice is used in many middle eastern regions, and can be enjoyed on a variety of dishes. While there is a standard recipe that includes sumac, many families have their own variations that are well guarded.

We decided to make what will surely become our own staple "not-so-secret" recipe. Naturally, we wanted to use only what we already had in the house, so as to not have to buy anything. 

Here is what we threw together (including rough measurements):

The NBA Za'atar Spice Blend

  • 1 tbsp savoury (we used summer savoury that we grew ourselves) 
  • 1 tbsp thyme 
  •  1 tsp basil
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric 
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds 
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds 
  • 1 tsp salt 

After making our spice blend we wanted to try it right away. As soon as the first baked pita came out of the oven we ripped it open, sprinkled in our za'atar spice generously on the still steaming bread, and bit in. 

Holy middle eastern munchie magic, Breadman! Wow. 

So pleased we were with our spice melange, that we also sprinkled some on our hummus, with great results.

When Linda took her first bite she said that she was instantly transported back. 

"It reminds me", she said, "of the old city in Jerusalem - spicy, exotic, mysterious, and tasty, not to mention hot and dusty". 

"Every time I went there", she remembered, "this is what I had for breakfast. Fresh, warm bread, dipped in a small envelope of za'atar spice, and eaten out on the street next to the cart vendor I bought it from."

It sure was nice of her to bring me back a bit of cuisine from her travels, so many years ago. Now it is even nicer that we can experience a bit of the same right here in our own kitchen in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Give it a try - it's a taste sensation. Since it is a very flexible recipe, use what you have in your spice drawer to make your own special blend.

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