I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen. –Winnie-the-Pooh
The important relationships in my life are best explained by this: Stick with people who pull the magic out of you and not the madness. These are the people who fill in my gaps with their strengths. They have characteristics I love and want to absorb when we are together. They are the ones with whom I am always comfortable.
I have written about my overseas friend, Janmarie in an earlier story, Hellenic Halloumi. We saw each other almost every day for the three years we overlapped while living in Nicosia, Cyprus. She came to my kitchen table on weekday mornings for coffee and conversation after dropping off her children at the International School.
In 1993, our family moved from Cyprus to Taiwan and the daily connection was left behind. It was before email and international phone calls were common so we lost touch with the changes in each other’s lives. In 2018, our last year living overseas, Janmarie was in Beirut, Lebanon while I was in Paris. She urged me to visit her before leaving Europe. I didn’t hesitate to say “yes”.
Friends are the family you choose. –Jess C. Scott
In an overseas lifestyle, friendships tend to be intense and become surrogate family on holidays, vacations, and for celebrations.
My mother visited us the first Christmas we lived in Taiwan. We had just arrived a few months earlier. She was surprised by the closeness and quality of friendships we had already established. She said that we were at a depth of relationship and caring about people we had known for only months that could take years to develop at home.
Having lived in Singapore and Cyprus before, we knew that filling in the details of our home away from home started with the people who came into our lives by chance…and shared geography.
Janmarie met me at the airport in Beirut. We slipped into easy conversation on the way to her apartment as if it had been 25 minutes instead of 25 years. She told me how important it was to her that I made the effort to come to her home, how much it honored her, and our friendship.
A true friend is one you can go extended periods without seeing or talking to, yet the moment you are back in touch it’s like no time has passed at all.–Ellie Wade
Janmarie’s plan was to immerse me in the beauty and culture of Lebanon. Generosity and freshly prepared food are hallmarks of Lebanese hospitality. After we arrived at her apartment, the dining room table was laid with an array of dishes made in preparation of my visit.
Because I had watched Janmarie feed her family in Cyprus, I knew the importance and love that goes into making nourishing and delicious food followed by sitting à la table en famille in Lebanese/American households. An abundant table with my friend’s vivacious spirit was the perfect beginning.
Janmarie introduced me to Marti, an American of Lebanese heritage who grew up in Kansas and now lives upstairs. She is a scholar and an intellectual, studying the Quran with a private teacher, working her way through reading and reciting all of the holy prayers in Arabic. Marti became a new friend because of an old friend. We connected right away.
The three of us took a day trip outside Beirut to the beautiful Shouf Mountains and the picturesque village of Deir el-Qamar [Monastery of the Moon], which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along the way we stopped for coffee and a typical pastry snack, ka’ak [Arabic for cake]. It was savory rather than sweet–a ring shaped bread “purse” filled with cheese and covered in sesame seeds. At lunchtime we dined al fresco, under trees overhanging a restaurant patio, with freshly prepared traditional dishes to share.
My favorite cultural experience was the “Hubbly Bubbly” ritual. This is a tall water pipe that sits on the floor and is used for vaporizing flavored tobacco. It is available in every bar, restaurant or café. Janmarie chose a mint/lemon flavor for me. Not a smoker by habit, but there was enjoyment in relaxing with friends and making big puffs of smoke from an aromatic hookah in the midst of others doing the same. When in Lebanon, do as…
We spoke about the Cyprus years when our children were young and life had a different framework. But we shifted seamlessly to exchanging stories of experiences, perspectives and beliefs that define who we are today. It’s an important quality for ongoing friendships–each person capable of keeping the relationship moving forward, while savoring shared times from the past.
The day before I left, I asked Janmarie to cook one of my favorite Lebanese dishes, Mujadarah. She taught me to make it years ago when my cooking specialized in one-dish meals for the family. Mujadarah is a lentil/rice casserole smothered in fried onions. I probably served it alone because it is flavorful and filling. The version she made for me was finished with a lemon-y dressed cabbage salad over the top. I finally learned to make a complete one dish meal, salad included!
There are reasons, perhaps subconscious, as to why we want to return to certain friendships. And why others remain at a distance. There are people in our lives where any amount of time spent with them is just right, and exactly what we need. We swoop into their orbit because they pull out our better selves, even our best selves. And when a friend knows the joy in your company that you feel in theirs…then the magic is complete.
…And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. –Kahlil Gibran, “On Friendship”
MUJADARAH WITH CABBAGE SALAD-Serves 4
- 1 C. dry lentils
- ¾ C. dry rice
- Cook the lentils and rice separately. [Leftover rice works great.] Mix cooked ingredients together in a decorative bowl. Season to taste with salt and olive oil.
- Cut two onions into thin slices. Deep fry onions in oil until crispy and brown. [You can also use less oil and sauté onions very slowly until caramelized.]
- Smother the top of the lentil/rice combo with cooked onions.
- 2 C. finely sliced cabbage
- 2 cloves garlic, minced [or probably more]
- ¼ C. olive oil
- ¼ C. freshly squeezed lemon juice [or more]. Can use vinegar, but lemon is so right for this
- ½ t. salt
- Pomegranate seeds [not optional as they add color and zing.]
- Optional: 2 T fresh or 1 T. dried mint, also green onions
- Pound garlic and salt in mortar and pestle.
- Add lemon juice [or vinegar] and olive oil.
- Whisk together and pour over cabbage.
- Toss. Refrigerate 1 hour or so to blend flavors.
- Adjust seasonings.
Place Mujadarah on a plate. Top with cabbage salad. Salad must be crunchy because the cabbage rules!–Janmarie