On my first visit to Australia, I came to meet John in person for the first time. We’d met online and after a few months I needed to know if he was who I perceived him to be (pretty nifty) or if he was an axe murderer like my daughter suggested.
I was nervous and scared (but not worried that he was an axe murderer) but I just had to know. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life not knowing if I missed out on the best person in the world for me. Against incredible resistance from my grown children, I announced I was going but I’d be back on Christmas day.
We met in Melbourne and had a week of fantastic memories that I’ll remember my entire life. I learned to ride the trams by myself and get back to our apartment before he got home from the office. I caught up with people I’d met online. John and I saw everything worth seeing in Melbourne and we ate the most wonderful food.
Then we headed off to Sydney. We’ve all heard about the Sydney Opera House but there’s nothing quite like standing in at the bottom of the stairs and looking up at it. Sydney has the most beautiful harbour in the world and something everyone should try to see.
We stayed in an apartment not too far from King’s Cross – the red light tourist district. What city other than Sydney makes the sleazy part of town center stage on the tourist trail? It’s where I visited my first sex shop only to be hauled out by John for laughing uncontrollably. Who thinks up those products anyway?
One night John suggested that we get some Middle Eastern food and he booked a table at Habibi’s on Oxford Street. (It’s moved now) We arrived and the outside looked horrid and I stepped back.
“Oh come on, it will be fine,” John said.
“It looks awful,” I replied.
“Let’s go in and if you hate it once we’re inside, I promise we’ll leave.”
“If you promise, okay then.”
Once past the kebab man and the greasy window, it was a lovely restaurant with all the gear you’d expect in a Lebanese establishment. After perusing the menu, John suggested we get Habibi’s Feast. At the time it was the most expensive thing on the menu but it offered small dishes of just about everything Lebanese.
The food was SO good and after the third or fourth dish, the owner – Mr. Habibi whose feast we were eating, stopped by. I said how much I liked it and he said, “American??”
I smiled and said yes and then he pulled out a chair and sat with us. He’d been to Florida and had friends in Atlanta and a cousin in New York. He stopped short of asking me if I knew them.
This was supposed to be our romantic dinner and here we were with Habibi’s feast and Habibi too. You know how you can talk with your eyes to that special person? We did that.
After one bottle of wine had been consumed, Mr. Habibi suggested that we get another bottle of wine because he had a surprise for the new lovers. (what gave it away?) John’s always up for another bottle of wine and soon after, Mr. Habibi disappeared.
The music got louder and then I saw the surprise. A belly dancer in full costume was walking our way. She was our surprise and she danced around our table focusing on John for about 20 minutes. I don’t know when I’ve laughed harder. John’s face (what I could see around his beard) was beet red. He was the center of attention in this restaurant and for him, not in a good way. That just made it made it better. He said, “I wasn’t too sure where to look, everything was jiggling.” Looney.
I told you all of this just to get to the green beans. One of the dishes we enjoyed were these wonderful green beans with spices and tomatoes. It was the one dish we ate all of and I’m pretty sure I had more than my share.
When we were leaving I said, “I’m going to make those green beans one day.” That’s nearly 19 years ago, so you can’t accuse me of rushing. The beans take a bit of time to cook but they are so worth it. If you like Lebanese or Middle Eastern food, make a feast of your own. I don’t think Mr. Habibi would mind one bit.
- 1½ lbs green beans, topped and tailed, left whole
- 2 - 3 large onions, halved and then sliced
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ¼ C good olive oil (extra virgin if you have it)
- 16 oz can of diced tomatoes in tomato juice
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp allspice
- Saute the onion in olive oil on medium heat until softened and translucent.
- Add green beans, saute until they get a bit of color and onion turns golden.
- Add garlic, saute another minute, then add tomatoes, salt, black pepper and allspice.
- Cover tightly and simmer until the string beans are cooked to your liking, but definitely on the soft side, at least 15 to 20 minutes (or longer if you like them really soft like I do)