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Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World {Review}

Islamic Art Promo

I was lucky enough to gain an advance viewing of Unity Productions Foundation latest feature Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible WorldI am a bit of a documentary geek and was interested to see how this story would be told. I was captivated.  This video is one of the most beautiful and interesting films I have seen in a long time.

I love travel and every minute of this video was a small vacation.  The narration and insight from scholars of history, art and Islam all added so much to the film.  I kept thinking over and over how important watching a documentary such as this would be in a classroom setting.  It’s not overtly religious, I never felt like there was a religious agenda – which is hard to do.  It was educational not only on an artistic level but as a whole.

As a Muslim there was a lot of information that I didn’t know and I couldn’t help but think how much a non-Muslim might learn.  This film shows the beauty of Islam, the culture, the history in a way that filters out conflict and propaganda.  What’s left is a beautiful story that will enrich anyone who watches the film.

I don’t want to give away too much because I really want you to tune in and watch.  I hope you’ll forgive me for not divulging all my favorite parts of the film.  After you watch, come back and share with me what you enjoyed!

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World debuts on PBS stations around the country tomorrow (Friday July 6th)  at 9pm EST.  Make sure you tune in for this film.  

Would you like a copy of this film for your home?  I have a copy to give to one lucky reader!

Leave a comment below letting me know why you would like to make this film a part of your home library.  I’ll choose one winner on July 12th, 2012.  This giveaway is limited to US entries only.

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This is truly a Moroccan cookbook love year.  First it was Paula Wolfert’s Food of Morocco and then [amazon_link id=”1579654290″ target=”_blank” ]Mourad: New Moroccan[/amazon_link] from Mourad Lahlou. There have been many articles like this one, and this one, and this one, in the press about the way that each of these authors present Moroccan food.  It boils down to this.  Paula presents authentic traditional food, the food that I’m going to find on my mother in law’s table and the only way MarocBaba thinks of the food of his homeland.  Mourad presents Moroccan food the way I dream it could be.

Mr. Lahlou is a Marrakech native (added plus) and his book is full of images from all over the country but especially Marrakech, a fact that I adore.  (If you check out page 248 the olive stall he’s buying from is the same one I bought my olives at during our last trip.  The gentlemen operating the booth was a sweetheart and held my 5 kilos of olives while we finished shopping!) He owns and is head chef of Aziza in San Francisco and took on Cat Cora in 2009 in Battle Redfish on Iron Chef America – winning by the largest margin in the shows’ history! His cookbook embraces the technique he employs at his restaurant.  Lahlou is a self-trained chef and originally began cooking Moroccan food as a way to combat homesickness when he was an economics student in the US.

The firs thing that struck me about this cookbook is its structure.  The first one-hundred pages of the book tell his story and give you the basics.   It includes text about and instructions on how to make staples such as spices, how make preserved lemons, harissa, and couscous.  These aren’t full blown meals but a how-to to begin preparing your kitchen to make the items that will come later.  As someone who cooks Moroccan food very regularly I skimmed this section but have 99% of these things on hand already. But, for someone who wants to stock their kitchen with all of these items, and doesn’t want to pay premium price for them pre-made, this section will be a lifesaver!

Things then progress to the bigger and more complex recipes.  I love the cheeky chapter titles like; “Back to the Beldi,” “Sides, Front, and Center,” and “Tea and Me.” Mourad covers all of the bases from appetizers to really lovely desserts.  But they are not traditional Moroccan recipes and in many cases I think they are even better.  He writes from where he is (which is California) the ingredients available are of course different than they are in Morocco.  Instead of trying to substitute or hunt down the actual ingredient, or grow it himself he re-creates dishes with what is available.  Something I’d be remiss not to note is that there is very little frying of food in this book, making the dishes in my opinion healthier than a lot of traditional Moroccan fare.

Above all what I can appreciate about this cookbook – I can make anything and eat it.  There’s no pork in any of the ingredients. Early in the book he does state that he cooks with wine making sure to cook off the alcohol.  I’ve heard debates about whether or not all alcohol is cooked off when heated. So you’ll have to be your own judge on that issue. Just to further in debt me to him, on page 267 there’s a recipe for lamb bacon!  He writes “Not serving pork at the restaurant but wanting to experience the magic of bacon everyone’s talking about …” let me sing his praises for giving us a bacon recipe!  Here are a few more of the recipes that caught my eye.

  • Short Rib Tangia, aged butter, and preserved lemons  p 278
  • Almond Cake, Plum Sorbet, Cardamom Yogurt, Toasted Almonds p 314
  • Black Cod, Potatoes, Saffron Broth  p 224
This week I made a variation on the Black Cod recipe – come back tomorrow to catch it!
If you like this cookbook it’s available from Amazon right now for $24.32 – a good deal and a great gift.

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Who knew there was more on top of Capitol Hill than political scum?  I spent a little more than a year calling the Hill home, tromping all around the area, and eating in dozens of restaurants.  However, only 15 minutes into our tour with DC Metro Food Tours during  Eat, Write, Retreat I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about Capitol Hill.  I’d totally be lying if I said great company wasn’t a major reason I loved this portion of the weekend.  I had such amazing conversations and bonding time with several ladies during this experience. I took pictures, lots of them in fact but they won’t come off of my camera.  I’m so upset!!  Fear not, Olga from Mango, Tomato and one of those special ladies I mentioned above said I can share her pictures!  You can find all of them on her non-food blog, My World.

This is one of the oldest residential homes on Capitol Hill.  There’s a long story that goes with it and it’s a really great story..I’ve just forgotten all of it.  I do remember however that the original owner of this house was rumored to have a very expansive wine collection.  The gentlemen got into some trouble and ended up fleeing the house (and possibly the country – sorry fuzzy details) and instead of leaving his wine collection he dynamited the entrance to the cellar.  No one has ever found the wine.  Our guides did tell us that the house will be undergoing renovations to bring it back to it’s original look soon.

Another very cool stop was to the Navy Annex area.  I had NEVER been to this part of the Hill and now I’m sort of upset that I hadn’t been.  This house is the oldest federal building in continual residence.  I think it would be a pretty awesome place to call home.

I have actually been in this church when we were looking at planning for an event.  Interesting historical tidbit, the family of one of John Wilkes Booths’ helpers attended this church.  After news reached the city that Pres. Lincoln had been shot hundreds of people gathered here in vigil for the president.  The family was too ashamed to come again.  Our guide also told us that sometimes they toured the inside, Olga and I decided they vetoed this time because we were with.

The most interesting lesson was about alley houses.  Long ago these areas were the slums and in the not so distant past they served as shooting galleries for addicts as well as other unsavory behavior.  Not so anymore.  Residents are purchasing these homes and re-vamping them.  Honestly taking a walk down this alley to these little houses was like you weren’t even in DC anymore!!!  I loved it – I would totally live in an alley house in 2.5 seconds.  Check out this piece by the Washington Post for more about these homes.

…But what where’s the Eats??  Here they come!

Credit: Allie Mak –

I was a little scared to eat here.  The first thing I think of when I hear soul food is – pork.  I was pretty sure this stop was going to mean no food for me.  Not true!  Levi’s makes their veggies without pork – making it vegetarian friendly, or halal friendly in my case! I did have to forego the pulled pork sandwich but got to eat everything else.

Las Placitas is a Salvadorian restaurant serving all kinds of yummy Salvadorian and Mexican dishes.   The meat here is to die for.  During our vacation to Florida this year we ate at a Cuban restaurant.  This beef tasted very similar to the Cuban version.   As totally yummy as that bread looks I didn’t get to try it – they make it with lard, I was sad.

The other stop was to an Indo/Pakistani restaurant.  I had a really gorgeous picture of the muligatawney soup that is now lost in cyber space somewhere.  Trust me it was good.

Overall DC Metro Food Tours is a great company.  The tour guides are witty and loaded with really interesting trivia.  The food is fabulous.  I wish I would have known about this company when we lived in DC because I would have a) taken every visitor I had on a tour and b) made it a point to take every tour myself!  Next time I’m back in the city I’m booking another tour.  My next choice would be a tour of U Street.  Which neighborhood would interest you?

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