The Light after the Longest Night of the Year, Olive Harvest Retreat & Banana Pancakes with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Lab Noon-21

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. Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-106 Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-77Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-69
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? 
Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-110Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-33Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-83Little 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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-51

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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-4
Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-128

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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-100

Kat, is an explorer, I would say. She’s a multi-talented creative, who creates videos and has an extraordinary interior and spiritual dimension.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-55Tip, 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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-114
Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-79

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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-40
Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-36

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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-102
Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-86

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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-113
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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-94
Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-95

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-104

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Lab Noon-15

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

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Lab Noon-5
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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Lab Noon-18

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-142

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Olive Harvest Retreat | Lab Noon-158
Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Lab Noon-23

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.

Banana Pancake with Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Banana Pancake con l'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva | Lab Noon-9

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. Continue reading

Tips for Summer Picnic Food and Three Vegan Dips/Spreads

Three Vegan Spreads | Tre Creme Spalmabile Vegane | Lab Noon-33
I don’t know why they always say “Summer’s short”. If you ask me Spring is much shorter; One moment there are new sprouts on the trees, the other they’re filled with green leaves and in a blink of an eye you need a fan whenever you walk, you’re drenched with sweat under the hot sun and going out without a strong sunscreen (and maybe even a shade?) would be considered madness.

Well at least that’s how it feels like in Rome. The Roman summer always arrives in a rush. And oh this city looks so good in her early warm evenings, still lit by the pink & orange light of late summer sunsets. Magical hues as if they were copied and pasted right from Impressionist paintings, leaving long shadows of the typical Roman street lamps on the ochre, old buildings. It’s a splendid season.

Three Vegan Spreads | Tre Creme Spalmabile Vegane | Lab Noon-26
Three Vegan Spreads | Tre Creme Spalmabile Vegane | Lab Noon-29

The warm season in Rome (and around) is quite long. So it’s no wonder that people have picnics in parks and by the beach from April even until October. The picnic season in Italy officially inaugurates in Easter Monday, where the tradition demands having lunch all’aperto. But So often rain and cold get in the way. In a very similar way, and almost in the same period (early April) the Persian “Sizdeh-beh-Dar“, or the thirteenth day after Norouz, the Persian new year, or the last day of holidays must be spent in nature otherwise it would bring bad luck. But I believe we Iranians are not very practical picnic people. On Sideh-beh-dar we drag our heavy pots of herby pilafs (for the whole extended family) and lots of marinated Kabab meat to barbecue later, all the way from home to the green areas out of the city. We need to figure out light and practical picnic food. 

Three Vegan Spreads | Tre Creme Spalmabile Vegane | Lab Noon-1

1. The Big Tuscan Picnic AKA the Fettunta Party

My first picnic of the year was on my birthday; a lucky day I’d say. April 3rd was surprisingly sunny & warm this year, but it didn’t last until Easter Monday which was only a couple of days later. Another classic Italian picnic date is April 25th, The Liberation Day, or when the Facio-Nazi occupation ended at the end of WWII. This year on this holiday, Juls’ Kitchen‘s Giulia invited food bloggers, friends and family to her beautiful home in the faiy-talish Tuscan country side for a Fettunta Party and I was more than happy to attend. Giulia and her lovely family were extremely kind and hospital. I can’t even begin to describe the amount and the variety of food that there was. Apart from the endless quiches and dessert that guests had brought, Giulia and her family also prepared pizza from scratch and baked in the wooden oven. Such a wonderful day spent in the hills of Tuscany. Watch all of my photos of Juls’ Fettunta Party here

#FettuntaParty 2015 at Juls' Kitchen's | Lab Noon-48
#FettuntaParty 2015 at Juls' Kitchen's | Lab Noon-31
#FettuntaParty 2015 at Juls' Kitchen's | Lab Noon-42
#FettuntaParty 2015 at Juls' Kitchen's | Lab Noon-15

#FettuntaParty 2015 at Juls' Kitchen's | Lab Noon-47
#FettuntaParty 2015 at Juls' Kitchen's | Lab Noon-52

Traveling all the way from Rome, I needed to think about a food simple and easy to transport, that wouldn’t lose its shape and consistence during the not-so-short journey. I came up with the ideas simple dips and spreads, that would work perfectly not only for the fettunta (which means bruschettas or grilled bread in the Florentine dialect), but also for pieces of crunchy vegetable. These three recipes of vegan dips I’m sharing here with you —my special hummus, fresh pea & mint dip and roasted carrot and ginger dip— are exactly the ones I took the party, and I’m really happy people seemed to love them. 

Three Vegan Spreads | Tre Creme Spalmabile Vegane | Lab Noon-28

2. The Creative Roman Picnic

Somewhere towards the end of May I attended a very particular picnic. A creative one, in which I got to know three very talented girls. Veronica, the owner of WE Factory, who creates events and experiences based on food and design (crazy cool, isn’t it?), came all the way from her home in Veneto to Rome, to be interviewed for a podcast by Muse Radio. Muse Radio, which interviews creative people and talks about creative living, is hosted by two lovely and young women based in Rome; Kat, a video and photography creative, and Marta, a florist (whom I had been following for a long time on Instagram actually).

We first went to the market to pick up some fresh picnic food. It was just the right moment for some raw Fava beans and Roman Pecorino cheese (a classic snack for the Labour Day picnic here in Rome). We found fragrant local strawberries and crunchy bread from a traditional bakery. I had also whipped up a healthy, no-butter pound cake the night before, and Kat & Marta had brought Churchkhela, a typical fruity candy from Georgia. We gathered in a national muesum in the heart of Rome, I made some infused water with strawberries and basil, Veronica and I took care of styling the table, Marta arranged the flowers and Kat shot us, while we styled, chatted, ate & drank. Another amazing day, focused on creativity, beautiful things and good food. 

Watch the beautiful video Kat has made of our beautiful and creative picnic and expect to hear more of these girls on this blog. Continue reading

Blooming flowers of Spring & Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi)

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon
Foreword: This blog is a finalist in SAVEUR Blog Awards in Best Special Interest category and I would be very honored if you supported me and cast a vote for Lab Noon. All it takes is a few seconds and a basic registration. Thank you! Voting is open through April 30th.


I can’t hide it. It’s always been like this. Through the years some of its aspects have changed but the bases have remained the same. Spring is my freaking favorite time of the year! And it’s not because it’s my birthday! It’s as if I start to shed my old skin right at the end of February and by the time we’re in April the simple smell of the air makes me happy. Actually until few years ago, I used to get quite depressed at the end of the summer and in the beginning of Autumn. But thankfully, Rome’s September and October are so spectacular that I don’t suffer that very much ever since I live here. And the Springs of Rome? Oh, the blue of the sky and light green of the new buds, the smell of the blossoms, and that light breeze! Does Spring have a similar effect on you too? What’s your favorite activity in these beautiful days?

I take a lot of pictures. I took the photos you see here in Garbatella neighborhood, one of the most authentic parts of the city. It looks like a small village right inside the city. Take a look all of these photos on my Flickr account

Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-37
Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-40

Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-35
Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-17

Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-22
Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-16

And most importantly, the fruit and the produce of Spring is just amazing. After the confusion and scarceness of March, April arrives with real strawberries, fava beans, asparagus, sweet peas and artichokes. And in a short while there will come apricots and lots and lots more! This year I want to be more courageous and try new dishes with some produce that I never usually use. Like artichokes! I am somehow scared of cooking artichokes. I love them, but I think since I haven’t grown up seeing/eating artichokes I am scared of cleaning and cooking them well! But this year, before it’s too late, I want to try and make Valeria’s Carciofi alla Romana (Roman style artichokes).

Sherrie —who’s a fellow Saveur Blog Awards finalist I have just discovered— has a beautiful fried rice with Spring veggies on her blog. If you want more Italian-inspired recipes with Spring produce make sure you read Valentina’s post about what’s in season in April where she has a gorgeous frittata that’s so green it looks like Persian Kuku.

What are your favorite recipes with Spring produce? Feel free to link them to me for inspiration in the comments.

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

As for me, I have just discovered that unlike what what I thought, spinach is actually a Spring produce! Actually spinach is around right since winter, but it’s during spring that it’s at its best. Who would’ve thought? I think we’re all so used to buying frozen spinach that we no longer remember when is its real season. Mind you, frozen raw vegetable is the next best thing after fresh ones since they’re frozen when they’re in season and by freezing they conserve about 98% of their nutritional values, and they’re very convenient. 

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

This Persian spinach and eggs dish is incredibly simple, and yet it’s more than just two eggs with tossed veggies. Mainly thanks to the aromas of garlic and onion and the unmistakable taste of turmeric, merged together with lemon and orange juice that refreshes the palate. (It’s a great way to use those last oranges of the season with little juice and flavor.) In Iran we use  only the juice of bitter orange, which is a hybrid between mandarin and another citrus called pomelo. It’s tangy, not as sweet as orange/mandarin and nor as sour as lemons. This acidity combined with the sweetness of onions creates a soft, balanced flavor.

Turmeric, is truly a magic spice, that not only brings wonderful aroma and color to your dishes, but it’s also a very potent anti-infiammatory. So try to add it regularly to your cooking and you’ll get sick less often! 

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

I don’t boil and drain the spinach. Spinach and other (leafy) vegetables are so tender that would over cook quickly and release all their goodness (minerals and nutritional substances) in the boiling water that is often discarded. If you do boil your vegetables, do not throw the water away! Drink it (some lemon juice and seasoning help) or conserve it for cooking pasta, rice or legumes. After sautéing garlic and onions with turmeric and lemon/orange juice, I simply add the spinach and cover the pan with a lid and let it sweat. Even if the pile of spinach is much taller than the pan, don’t worry, just place the lid and once the leaves are heated they shrink.

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon
Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

Now it’s time for flowers to bloom in our lawn, so we break the eggs in the spinach and let them cook with the flavors of onions, garlic and turmeric. The finishing touch, the one that brings the aroma to these flowers, is a drop of saffron infusion on each egg. There, your bouquet of Narcissus is ready. It’s a very romantic name for such a rustic, simple dish. Nargessi — the Persian word for Narcissus— gets its name from eggs looking like white and yellow daffodils in the middle of green spinach. It would make a healthy and filling savory breakfast or brunch full of protein and iron. And it’s so rich yet simple that you can have it for a quick lunch, and why not, even a week night dinnerContinue reading