Category Archives: Ramadan

Blossoms & Bridges, or Your May Book of Days

It’s May and the world around us is bursting forth, bursting into new bloom, new green, new life. It is the story that never grows old. Here in Lake Worth, where we have constant green, the green is a new shade of bright, and the flowering trees begin their annual blooming, most abundantly with the Tabebuia Argenta, or Yellow Tabs. This one is blooming right outside our front door right now, even as I type this. Fittingly enough, our Yellow Tab is the cover star of your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for May. Our monthly gift to you is a printable PDF, so you can print it and pin it to your bulletin board and keep it as a fine companion to the Book of Days blog.

May Day has come and gone, and next up is Cinco de Mayo this Sunday, and come sunset that same day, it’s the start of Ramadan. We were inspired this year by our friend Manal Aman of Hello Holy Days! to add some new items to our Convivio Book of Days Catalog: Manal’s lovely cards for Ramadan and Eid al Fitr, which she designs herself and sends to us from her home in Canada. Manal came to Canada from Pakistan as a baby, just like my Aunt Anne came to the United States from Italy as a baby. Pakistan, the same homeland as Tara and Sami, the folks who run The Pelican in downtown Lake Worth on Lake Avenue. During some of my lowest days, it was Tara who would welcome me to her restaurant for breakfast and send me on my way afterward with dinner for later on, as well. For sure, Seth and I are sending Tara and Sami one of Manal’s Ramadan cards this year, to thank them for their kindness.

Manal’s idea is simple: to bring Ramadan and Eid to the mainstream through companies like Crate+Barrel and Martha Stewart Living. As she says, “We live in a time and place where there’s a lot of misunderstandings about Muslims.” Her goal is to help build understanding between communities. Which sounds an awful lot like ours. And sometimes the simplest thing––like sending someone a card––can go a long way toward building that understanding, building those bridges. And bridges are so much better than walls. In this home, anyway, we feel this is true and this is right and good.

   

Two of Manal Aman’s beautiful cards for Ramadan and Eid al Fitr, new to the Convivio Book of Days Catalog. You’ll find many to choose from, and free domestic shipping when you spend $50 across the catalog. Image above: The yellow spring blooms of the Tabebuia Argenta.

 

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Ramadan & the Ice Saints

With tonight’s new moon this 15th of May, the holy month of Ramadan begins. For those of the Muslim faith, it is a month of prayer, almsgiving, and most especially fasting. During the daylight hours, not even water is taken. But this daily period of deprivation is rewarded once the sun has set with good nighttime meals. A common food to break the fast each night is Harira, a traditional Moroccan soup made from chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes, and onions in a broth spiced with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, chiles, and cumin. Harira is served all year long, but it is especially plentiful at Ramadan. I plan on making some this week, and maybe you’d like to, as well. There are many variations, some with meat, some vegetarian, some with egg and some with noodles, and all manner of spices. But here’s the recipe I’ll be using:

H A R I R A
1 onion, chopped finely
Olive oil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup dried red lentils
2 cans chopped tomatoes
Dried chiles, for a little heat (or 1 teaspoon chili powder)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt & Pepper
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Lemon wedges

In a large pot, cook the onion in some olive oil until it is translucent. Add the chickpeas and the broth. Bring to a boil, then add the lentils, tomatoes, and spices. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a boil again and simmer for a half hour or so, until the lentils are mushy and the soup has thickened. Ladle into bowls, finishing off each serving with a bit of fresh olive oil, chopped parsley, and a lemon wedge for squeezing. This recipe makes about 6 to 8 servings.

In places like Morocco, this simple yet hearty soup is often the first thing folks take to break their fast with the setting sun. It is a bit of spiritual and physical nourishment. Other wonderful things follow, and often the feasting goes on well into the night. And then to bed… until the tabbal, the drummer, wends his way through the dark and empty streets to awaken everyone for the final meal before sunrise, usually bread with mint tea. And so each day goes in this month of fasting until the next new moon.

This year, the start of Ramadan coincides with the arrival of Cold Sophie, who, according to German legend, brings a blast of cold weather, winter’s last hurrah. But they say it’s been such a long and cold winter that I’m not going to give Sophie any attention at all. She and her fellow Ice Saints have had a ball of it this year, so enough of that. She can have some Harira with us if she wants, but that’s it. We’ve got our sights set on summer.

Image: My husband may be a potter, but I still can’t help buying bowls I like from other potters, too. These porcelain bowls are brand new additions to our collection. They’re by local potter Nena Escobar. I found them just last week, and I suspect we’ll be eating Harira out of them this week. Oh and if you do want to read more about Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints, well… here’s an earlier Book of Days chapter about them.

 

Ramadan Mubarak

Once again, Ramadan has snuck up on me. This Book of Days is by no means perfect; we are all learning as we go. Perhaps I’m just saving the perfection for the time when it is a real book, printed and bound. Let’s hope so, anyway. For now, though, during this first night of feasting that followed the first day of fasting of this holy month, please accept this in good spirit: a reprint of last year’s chapter on Ramadan, as well as my greeting for a month of joy and happiness: Ramadan Mubarak! ~ John

 

My grandmother used to talk sometimes about a distant ancestor in our family line who was not Italian but Moroccan, and I loved that something so exotic could be part of the fabric from which we both were woven. It never crossed my mind back then to ask her more about this person, and now of course it’s too late to ask her. I’m older now and I’ve done a good bit of genealogical research on my family, tracing things back as far as the 1700s on my grandmother’s line, and the ancestor from Morocco has yet to turn up. But Italian records are notoriously muddy once you get further back in time than that. It’s a mystery I’ll most likely never solve, but chances are good that Grandma’s story is true, for the Southern Italian city from which our ancestors hail was once, in the 13th century, home to about 60,000 people of North African descent, all Muslims who had been expelled from Sicily by Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. There have always been refugees, it would seem.

And so they left Sicily and traveled north and settled in Lucera, my maternal grandparents’ hometown, which became known then as Lucaera Saracenorum, or Saracen Lucera. They were Arabs and Berbers from Arabia, Tunisia, and Morocco. Sadly, things eventually did not end well for them, even in Saracen Lucera. We have always been terrible to each other, it would seem (consider much of the current political rhetoric today in our own country). Be that as it may, even if I never find that Moroccan ancestor in my lineage, the cultural influence of these people on the culture of my family and on families throughout Southern Italy is undeniable, especially in local dialects and in the foods we prepare, even after all these centuries.

If the ancestor from Morocco lived in Lucaera Saracenorum, then he would have celebrated Ramadan, which begins tonight, most likely, with the first sighting of the new crescent moon. The start of this month of fasting is never concrete, for it is based on that sighting and this can vary slightly from place to place. Ramadan commemorates the month when Mohammed received the first revelations of the Qu’ran, the holy book of Islam. The observance of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, with fasting during the daylight hours throughout this month, as well as an increase in prayer and charity. And while Ramadan is a month of fasting, the meals that break the fast each night with the setting sun are known to be quite wonderful and very celebratory––meals that, in some places, can last through the night. Meals flavored, certainly, with some of the same flavors––mint, almond, vinegar, rose water––that were brought by Arabs and Berbers to the tables of Southern Italy in centuries past. A thread alone hasn’t much strength, but a woven fabric is a different story.

Image: One of Lucera’s most famous landmarks, the Castello di Lucera. The building dates to the time of Saracen Lucera, built in 1233. My grandparents and all their ancestors––Italian and Moroccan––lived near this castle. Photograph 2006 Creative Commons.