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

A Simple Persian Pumpkin Dessert, Fading Borders & The Travel to Iran

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I. On Home & Borders

I always have contrasting feelings whenever I travel to Iran. When I am about to leave, when I just get there, in the middle of the trip and by the time I am back in Rome I always experience very intense, and diverse emotions. No matter how many years have past since I left my country —eight, to be precise— each time, I fail at the vain attempt of keeping a sort of neutrality.  It’s that very simple word, with its captivating sound, that causes all the confusion. Home. The more time passes, the more I am convinced that I can no longer attribuite that word to one physical place, but more to a sensation, as it also said here long ago.  #BeautifulIran Visit Iran Pt.1 | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-57

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#BeautifulIran Visit Iran Pt.1 | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-39

I firmly believe that our times will be later named as the era where borders began to disappear. Those borders, are more than the imaginary lines between territories that decide who can get to a certain fortune/misery and who can’t. The borders between our cultures, our lives, our food, are fading away. And I am one hundred percent for it. 

Whenever people hear about my cooking stories and the supper club (more on that soon!), usually they first thing they ask is “Do you cook Iranian food, or Italian food?“. My answer to that question is always none. As an Iranian who has lived in Italy for more than eight years now, I can never say the food I cook a hundred percent Italian or Iranian. I have been contaminated —in the best way possible— by the culture of totally different country, that happens to have one of the best cuisine of the world, I have inherited an incredibly sophisticated and refined culinary tradition; and in between, I have tasted the world! I have met a lot of people from different countries. “Who cares what your passport say, or even if you’ve got one. Let’s eat!“. Show me what you got, I wanna try it all.

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We are not all that different after all. Not just food wise (you might find it surprising how some Italian and Iranian dishes are similar, like I said here), we human beings, at the end of the day like and dislike the same things. No matter where we come from, what spices we use more in our food, and who we worship, we like to be happy and safe. We hate to know that our family is danger. We all aspire to live a better life. We want to put some pieces together to make prospect. Some of us, like me, are much luckier than others. I wanted to attend a conference for food bloggers in London. I wanted to learn more, to make this blog —therefore my business, my life— better. But because of those imaginary lines, borders, I couldn’t. Despite the time, money and energy I had put in it to make it happen.

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Those who don’t have the our privilege of living in safety and peace, spend much more of time, energy and money, to try to aspire to live better. They risk their lives, just for having a mere chance at that. Can —and should— those imaginary lines really determine who can, and who can’t get a chance to aspire for a better life?

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II. Seasons Change, Everlastingly. So Bring a Pumpkin Dessert.

Nature is the best example when it comes to show how really similar we all are, in spite of our names and documents. All human beings celebrate the change of seasons and natural changes of the nature. We might’ve interpret it in different ways through history due to our different geography and history, but we are all talking about the same fact.

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By now that October is already here, we all have tuned into Fall. Shorter days and cooler breeze. The comeback of the blankets on sofas and soups on the stove tops. The return of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cacao. It’s time for the last harvest of the year and to get ready for the cold season. Dry fruit is more popular. Walnuts and hazlenuts. And of course, the glorious, orange presence of pumpkins, butternuts and kabochas. All types.

#BeautifulIran Visit Iran Pt.1 | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-16
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In ancient Iran, at these times of the year, they celebrated Mehregan. It’s a festivity of harvest, they say. They brought red fruit and many legumes. They celebrated all together.  It was exactly last year at this time when I had the honor of joining of other Persian food bloggers for a recipe round-up. Last year, I shared the recipe for a perfect matrimony between Persian and Italian cooking, —Lentil Risotto. This year, I am sharing a recipe so simple it could be from anywhere. At the bottom of this post you can find the links to all the other Persian food blogs sharing seasonal recipes for the occasion of Mehregan. Remember to check them out! My mom used to make this simple Persian pumpkin dessert during school days, —because it’s so simple and healthy that it doesn’t count as a treat. (and I absolutely hated it! That’s because back at my school days I hated pretty much every vegetable.) Continue reading

Persian Chia Seeds Drink to the New Year. Happy Nowruz!

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz framed text

Chaper 1. Nostalgia

I imagine the streets of Tehran at this time. It’d take you half an hour to walk 100mt and I’m not exaggerating. Everywhere’s overcrowded. Few days are left to the new year and everybody’s out shopping. Green sprouts of wheat and lentils have invaded every possible corner of every possible shop and all the angles of the streets. There are so many tanks and bowls full of gold fish everywhere you go that you might wonder if you’re walking in a huge aquarium. There’s the smell of Samanu in the air, a wheat pudding (which I dislike!) that is an essential part of Haft Seen Table. You can’t walk by without being hit by the aroma of countless flowers, specially hyacinth, narcissus and lilies. It doesn’t matter what the weather feels like. You’d know by sure, that Winter is over and Spring has arrived.

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-3
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-29

That’s why we’re celebrating. In the most romantic and naturalistic view of the world, the Persian new year begins when the Earth wakes up, after a one-year journey around the sun, exactly at the moment of March Equinox. So the new year could begin at 8.23.03 am or 6.04.49 pm or just any other time. And most importantly, it occurs at the same exact moment in the whole world. 

Chapter 2. REBIRTH

Norouz, this truly beautiful ancient festival that has been celebrated for more than three thousand years in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan & many other countries, is directly connected to astronomical and seasonal events. And again, different cultures and civilizations have interpreted these natural happenings into different celebrations of Spring. (This explains the similarities between Jewish & Christian Easter with Norouz & other Spring celebrations. Remember when I told you about the similarities of Christmas & other winter celebrations?) 
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-7
The winter solstice feasts celebrate the light and the end of darkness, while the Spring feats, in all forms and names, celebrate rebirth, resurrection, a new life, a new day. That’s what “Norouz” literally means in Persian; A new day.

Chapter 3. Graduation & Persian Food Bloggers Round-Up!

I swear I tried so hard to write a short post. But I just can’t shut up about the beauty of these ancient pagan-and-non rituals. As I told you, I am working so hard on my final thesis and I am graduating on March 28th. That’s why this year I’m skipping the detailed preparations for the new year. However, at the cost of ruining my tight schedule, I couldn’t not take part in the Persian Food Bloggers‘ round-up.

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-11
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-12

I am so glad I have known them and collaborated with them since last October. It’s almost the only celebration I get this year. I strongly suggest you check out the links at the bottom of this post for delicious, Persian-inspired recipes to get in the mood of celebrating Spring, Norouz and the new year. (1394!)

Chapter 4. Persian Chia Seeds Drink with a Twist

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-28
This simple and delightful Chia seeds drink actually has got nothing to do with Norouz! It’s usually served on ice as a summer drink. Long before chia seeds were cool & trendy in the healthy-eating world, people used them in Iran —I think exclusively— to make this drink. It’s a basic Persian syrup. Water, sugar, rose water. There’s little Chia seeds in the drink. It shouldn’t become a smoothy or a porridge; It’s just a beverage

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-14
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-18
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-20

You can actually make this drink in both a hot or cold version. All you need is a teaspoon of chia seeds for each portion, some brewed saffron, a drop of rose water, your favorite sweetener (I used Nabaat, Persian crystallized saffron sugar but you can use raw brown sugar or raw honey), a slice of lemon/lime and some peppermint. It’s basically infused water with floating moist chia seeds. You might think that there are too many aromas in this drink, but don’t worry. The only ones you should really feel are the saffron and rose water. Lemon and mint/peppermint just add a note of freshness and bring your drink to life.

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-5
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-30

The lovely lady appearing these photos is my dear friend Maryam, who turned her beautiful home into a perfect set for this shoot.

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