Chapter Fifteen – “Happy birthday!” “Happy birthday.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome!”

Today was Salim’s birthday AND pizza Friday AND Aboud’s birthday (as we later found out). So in theory, this should have been the best day ever, and it came close, except that we were all feeling pretty grotty and Kim was at home, in bed, being sick and sweating garlic.

Due to the aforementioned grottiness, and being one tabah (chef) down, Flo and Daisy decided to cut a few corners whilst still adhering to the promise of Pizza Friday. So we bought some puff pastry; rogue, yes, but delicious nonetheless and an easy recipe for you to follow…

Salim turned up early to help us make his cake (i.e. play Arabic rap and eat squares of white chocolate). Cake happily in the oven, he spent the next few hours popping in and out of the OH, finally arriving at 3pm, joined by two friends, to blow out his candles and to be wished, and wish himself, happy birthday… Since we couldn’t remember the Arabic translation of happy birthday, our well wishes were met with confusion from young Salim who responded to our “happy birthday”s with, “happy birthday!”. When we then told him that the correct response was “thank you”, he replied “you’re welcome!” and we were laughing too much to argue. Before leaving, he came to wish us one final “happy birthday”, which we gratefully accepted.

By the evening we were feeling perkier and Kim was out of bed, so we hopped in an uber to our (favourite) Syrian restaurant to pick up thirty falafel to take to our first OH party, both to say goodbye to Isra and to welcome a new (and wonderful) family from Afghanistan. It was our dream party. The table was covered with bowls (buckets) of Syrian rice, salad, potatoes, flatbreads, fried chicken and garlicky laban made by the ladies upstairs. Our thirty falafel were a meagre addition next to the mountains of food on offer. As if any of us needed any more food, the buckets were cleared to make way for Isra’s farewell contribution of loads and loads of cake and baclava, to which we added a pile of brownies, which next to the patisserie’s beautiful cakes looked a bit sad, as OH’s co-founder Hassan kept reminding us!

The rest of the evening was spent trying and failing to resist Nour’s attempts to make us join him dancing in the middle of the room. Once he was satisfied with our (feeble) eforts, we were allowed to sit back and watch the pros take to the floor. It was lovely. Led by Nour and Mohammed (who used to be a gymnast!) Syrian dancing filled the room, before the eldest boy of the new family put on ‘Afghan Style’ (a remix of Gangham style) and him and his younger brother gave Nour and Mohammed a run for their money. By the time we got home, our cheeks were sore from smiling so much.

This evening confirmed that we were right to have changed our flights this morning, extending our time here by a week. Hopefully we’ll get to experience another OH party before we leave…

‘Get Well Soon Kim’ Puff Pastry Pizzas (made four large pizzas)

  • 4 ready-made puff pastry sheets
  • 3 tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 carton tomato purée
  • 1 aubergine
  • 2 peppers
  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 3 boxes ambiguous grated cheese
  • Mixed herbs, salt and pepper
  1. Make tomato sauce by sweating garlic and a finely chopped onion in a saucepan. Add chopped tomatoes and purée, season with salt, pepper and mixed herbs and leave to reduce
  2. Defrost puff pastry sheets and roll out on 4 baking trays
  3. Cover with tomato sauce
  4. Add cheese and toppings (garlic, aubergines, peppers, onion thinly sliced)
  5. Bake for half an hour in a preheated oven (190C)
  6. Realise you’ve forgotten to sprinkle with mixed herbs. Do it.
  7. Serve with a make-shift salad

Salim’s Birthday Brownie Cake (served at least 20 very enthusiastic children)

  1. Follow the above recipe for Triple Chocolate Brownies
  2. Serve with eight pink candles and a sparkler, accompanied by a slightly out of tune rendition of “happy birthday”


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