I. Surviving the Long, Dark Night
More than a month has past since I went to the Olive Harvest Retreat at the end of October. I know I should’ve written this post a long time ago, but I didn’t. Yes, I had taken way too many photos (more than 500!), and no, I haven’t really had a moment of free time. But now I know, these were not the reason. I needed time. Time to reflect, to recover, to comprehend.
I had recently come back from Iran, and I knew it was time for me to take an uncomfortable but necessary step in my life, when I saw that my creative friend Kat from Zero the One has organized this Olive Harvest Retreat with a friend of hers, Susie, the founder of Oreeko. The event took place in the heart of Italy, the province of Umbria, in a 100% organic farm run by mother Lucia and daughter Alina. There would’ve been the stunning Italian nature in its Fall glory, good, real organic food, handpicked and cooked with love, and a bunch talented and creative people to share all this goodness with. As Italians would say “mi inviti a nozze”, or it’d be a wedding feast for me. So how I could I not go?
Little did I know however, that the slow living weekend would’ve gone far beyond this. Mind you, there was nothing quite slow in the weekend per se. We walked the grounds, we toured the farm, we cooked, we picked olives of course. And most importantly, we gathered around a table, often with a full glass, and we told our stories, upon a shared meal. This must have been the key to the transformation that occurred to me at the end of that weekend. Without me realizing it.
Telling stories during long nights has been therapeutic since ancient times. In the darkest of times, people gather round dear ones, light candles, share a meal, tell stories, communicate, and together they wait for the new day to arrive. Together, they overcome the fear of never seeing the daylight again.
That’s what happens in Yalda, the antique Persian holiday that celebrates the Winter Solstice and . As I said last year, Yalda shares many common roots with Christmas, Chanukah and other Winter celebrations. During the longest darkness, we keep each other company, ready poetry, break a pomegranate or two, go through the stock of dry fruit, and wait for the sun to shine on a new day.
Something similar happened as a result of the Olive Harvest Retreat. New things arrived. I took a new professional course in Social Media and Digital Marketing, I started a new job, I have met so many amazing new people, and closed an old, crippled door behind me. It hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t been fun (all the time), but for the first time in more than a year, I am feeling alright. I am ready for the new day, for the new year, trusting that (yet another time), the dark night is overcome.
Susie, is a survivor. By changing her lifestyle, she has tamed down a horrible disease that consumed her twenties in numerous surgeries and medications. She went vegetarian, and swears by all things natural, organic, and eco. That’s how she came up with her business Oreeko, a directory of all eco-friendly, green businesses around the world.
Kat, is an explorer, I would say. She’s a multi-talented creative, who creates videos and has an extraordinary interior and spiritual dimension.
Tip, the amazing Australian lady with Chinese and Thai background living in the Netherlands (wow! I know!), is a many things, among which a life coach. There’s some sort of fluidity and weightlessness about her that made me feel extremely comfortable as soon as I met her in Tiburtina station. She’s co-run a quite successful interior design blog and then just this summer she decided to stop. She not only helps people reorder their spaces, but their lives too.
Zara, is a physician with a passion for fashion, lifestyle and creativity, who’s trying to find a way for these things to coexist in the rigid world of medicine. She joined us from London.
Emily and Harrison, an adorable couple from London again, are professionals of the world digital content and video, with a huge enthusiasm about nature and natural living who dream of having their own little farm.
Agata, is a Polish girl who quit her big corporate job to follow her dream of being an interior design creative and consequently moved to north of Italy.
Ewa, another Polish girl, living in Warsaw runs an interior design blog and online shop.
Veronique, who flew all the way from New York City to be with us, runs an online green and eco-friendly shop of artisan products.
And Nardia, the Aussie girl of Florence, tells the story of bests of Italy; the food, the wine and the travels.
We were different but we were somehow alike. We retreated ourselves together. We harvested olives, we shared our stories with little or no filters. We lived together, slowly, just for a weekend. That weekend, I left a chapter of my life behind me and moved on.
The love that Alina and her mom put into growing, harvesting and taking care of their olive oil is remarkable; you can actually taste it drop for drop in their incomparable, organic extra virgin olive oil. No wonder they say it’s the best Italian olive oil. They have created a peace of heaven in their farm in Umbria, where you can relax, get in touch with nature and live the real Italian country, slow living. If you ever get to Umbria, you should pay them a visit. You’ll love your stay.
II. Celebrating the Light of the New Day
Breakfast. What better way is there than to celebrate a new day with a good breakfast? I made this unbelievably simple recipe one morning during the Olive Harvest Retreat, with whatever I had at disposal. Many eggs and bananas, and excellent extra virgin olive oil.
There is this belief that pancakes MUST be made with butter. I don’t believe in sacred ingredients. I believe in using local, fresh ingredients. When I am at huge olive farm with fresh olive oil, I don’t use store bought butter. If I was in the Alps where they make incredible fresh butter, I wouldn’t have used olive oil.
So this is not a recipe to celebrate Yalda, the longest night of the year. These banana pancakes, celebrate the rising of the sun in the next morning. Imagine the smell of fresh coffee, early morning light, the mist of winter, looking over a field of olive trees.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, that should be nutrient and fuel for a little nag working day. This is the basic recipe, which is 2 eggs for a banana. You can change it any way you desire. Although the egg whites give a you a fair amount of protein, you can add seeds and nut (better if ground) to enrich the pancakes. Nonetheless I don’t suggest adding sweet elements such as raisins or cranberries. You’ll be surprised how naturally sweet these pancakes are! Mashed banana releases all of its sugar (which is A LOT), And that’s why these pancakes are dark on the surface. They’re not burned, it’s the sugar of the banana that caramelizes quickly.
My only trick is to beat the egg white separately until firm and then gently fold it into the mashed banana and egg yolk mix. A pinch of bicarbonate soda always helps too. In this version I added cardamom and nutmeg to the batter and served the pancakes with different types of apples, diced and dressed with fresh lemon juice and a lot of cinnamon. (Because there should ALWAYS be cinnamon, ya know!). A little acidity goes a long way with these sweet banana pancakes. You can of course serve them with any fresh fruit of the season. Serve them with pomegranates and mince pistachios to add a festive touch and bring in the spirit of Yalda.
It has already become a tradition for us Persian food bloggers to celebrate traditional Iranian holidays on our blogs. And yet another time, here we are, celebrating the longest night of the year together. Make sure you check out their recipes at he bottom of this post and expect there to be a lot of pomegranates.
- 2 large eggs
- 1 ripe banana
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 bicarbonate soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 apples, of different types
- fresh juice of half a lemon
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 a nutmeg
- 3 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil for frying the pancakes
- Separate egg yolks and egg whites.
- Mash the banana and mix it well with the egg yolks, salt, bicarbonate soda and cardamom.
- Beat the egg whites until firm, then gently fold in the egg yolk and banana mix.
- Use two spoons to drop dollops of the dough in a hot pan filled with organic extra virgin olive oil.
- After a minute turn the pancakes.
- Remove from the pan a second before you think they're cooked (the continue cooking).
- Dice the apples, add lemon juice and cinnamon.
- Serve with the pancakes.
- Honey, maple syrup, and other fresh fruit of the season can be served with the pancakes.
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Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.