Adventures in Yogaland

Yoga with Heather Haxo Phillips

My fairy godparents

on May 14, 2015

IMG_3719Its important that I mention my other guardian angels, Ramzi and Mary. Ramzi is Bashir’s cousin and Godfather, Mary is his wife. They have 4 grown children living all over the world (Gaza, France, Qatar, and Canada). They were absolutely amazing hosts.

In America, guests are like fish – they start to smell after a few days. But in the Middle East, attitudes towards time, family and hospitality are completely different. Mary and Ramzi didn’t seem to mind our sudden arrival. They didn’t even know were in the country and yet welcomed us with open arms when we called from the Bridge. Bashir spent the night, but departed quickly to the West Bank, leaving his English-speaking wife behind.  I had met Mary and Ramzi several times over the years, but never spent more than an evening with them.

Ramzi and Mary didn’t seem to bat an eyelash at having me dumped on them. While they were completely shocked that I don’t eat meat, “Ever??!?” “Correct. Never ever” Mary threw herself into that task of pampering me night and day.  Ramzi, well you can look at his picture.  He insisted on posing that way.  Cause that is how he likes to come across to people.  But he is a lamb!

In her next life, I hope Mary runs and bed and breakfast, because it is clearly her calling.  She is incredibly well suited to feeding a small crowd for every meal. She is well known in the family for cooking elaborate meals every day that include many old fashioned dishes most people have forgotten about. For example, she forages the neighborhood for capers that she then pickles. She will drive an hour for the highest quality cheese, milk and yogurt products that she can turn into appetizers. She makes all her own jams and gathers wild herbs at just the right time of year to serve as delicacies.  She is the best housekeeper I have ever seen.  Totally amazing.

Mary and Ramzi have an exact schedule from which all the unique gastronomy unfolds, which suited me very well because I was feeling so completely un-tethered. Here is what I recall from my experience eating with them.

7 am – Coffee and news in the tv room.

I skipped that for my morning pranayama.

  9 am – Breakfast

Breakfast at Mary’s house is an elaborate affair with no less than 5 homemade preserves present on the table. She has a wonderful lazy susan where the options are displayed, and many extra dishes around it.

IMG_3712           IMG_3715

Here is a sample breakfast:

  • Fresh homemade bread whole wheat bread with seeds, two kinds: with olives, one without
  • Lebneh (greek yogurt) drizzled in olive oil.
  • Olives, two kinds: black and green.
  • Homemade jams: Plum (AMAZING), apricot, orange
  • Honey for tea or whatever you want.
  • Butter, freshly from the Bedouin community. Made of goat or sheep milk I think.
  • Fresh cheese
  • Zeit o’ za’taar – fresh olive oil and thyme mix.  Za’taar is a traditional mix of arabic thyme, other spices, salt and sesame.  Mary’s is completely homemade and includes Sumac (a purple herb that has a lemony taste) Dip your bread in the olive oil then in the z’ataar and pop it in your mouth!
  • Duukha – a lesser known spice mix that Mary puts right there next to the za’taar.  Its an Egyptian mix, usually made with ground spices, nuts and seeds.  Its red in color, but my online research doesn’t tell me what herb makes it so.
  • Jarjeer (a wild weed) in yogurt
  • Fresh vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber
  • Fruits – strawberries, grapefruit, apples and loquat.
  • Dibis and tahini. Dibis is grape molasses. Put dibis on the bottom, tahini on the top. Stir if you like. Dip your bread in there and eat it. DIVINE and especially good if you have a sore throat.
  • I love several cups of black tea with honey and milk in the mornings.

Yes, all this was served at every breakfast. I had to pace myself!

After breakfast, we go for a garden tour. The family has carefully tended gardens surrounding the house. It’s the time for roses, so they carefully gather the fresh buds and bring them in the house for proper arranging.

11:30 am – Coffee under the grape arbor

Ramzi reads the paper. Mary looks at the incoming pictures of grandchildren that are emailed daily. I do something obnoxious like lock as out of the house (one morning) or spill the coffee grinds all over the stairs (another morning)

IMG_37202 pm – Dinner

Mary really pulled out the repertoire of food that is “siami” . “Siami” is the food you eat at Lent, or for fasting, which is all vegetarian. She served some wonderful soups, stews, casseroles and pastas during my time there. Ramzi howled “where is the meat” and I just smiled.

One highlight was stuffed leaves of cauliflower. The cauliflower here is HUGE and so are the leaves. Mary went in the fields and carefully cut dozen of leaves. She stuffed them with rice, vegetables and spices. Then steamed them and served them to me.

Dinner is always served with many side dishes.  You will see here in the pictures:

  • Different kinds of bread
  • Fresh cut vegetables

8 pm – Supper

Ramzi insists that the evening meal is supper, in the European style. Which means everything is served cold. IMG_3721 It adds in hard Eurpoean-style cheeses and several glasses of wine, plus the jams and small dishes from breakfast. The aforementioned cauliflower leaves are delicious in both their worm and cold forms!

Ramzi loves classical music. So for most lunches and dinners, SORRY, most dinners and suppers, we were serenaded by Mozart, Bach and their friends. It was lovely.

The days I spent with Ramzi and Mary were the first time I had ever held to strict eating times in a home, and it was great. I kept myself from eating too much, because I knew exactly when the next meal was coming.

The days I spent with Mary and Ramzi were so much fun. I am extremely grateful to them for the kindness and generosity in my time of extreme duress. But I was eager to get to Bashir. So, when the call came, I went.

Stay tuned for that story….

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One response to “My fairy godparents

  1. Karyn Bristol says:

    Hi Heather, You are such a great storyteller! I am so enjoying your blog. Sorry for your troubles and yet you seem to be meeting them with poise. I am especially interested in your time in Jordan as my daughter is going to Jordan this summer for an internship in Amman. I think it will all work out for you-hope so anyways. Love, Karyn

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