I’ve been wanting to attend a cooking course ever since I can remember. I’d always imagined it would be in the South of France, that the weather would be perfect, and I’d consequently spend the afternoon sipping wine, reading, and taking leisurely strolls. That dream is still on my bucket list, but in the meantime I found something that fit right into my schedule – a course at the Mediterranean Culinary Academy. They have a few to choose from at the moment, as well as a couple of one-off workshops that focus on a specific dish  (e.g. pasta) or cooking techniques (e.g. braising).

Kotopoulo Kollyva pilafi and Imam biyaldi in the making

 

There’s quite a bit to choose from even when it comes to the courses – from the cuisines of coastal France and Spain, to the cuisines of regional Italy, or the cuisines of the Maghreb and the Arab Levant. There was something about a memorable meal on a balmy summer night in Greece that steered me towards the Cuisines of Greece and Turkey.

 

That’s me in the MCA apron

 

The courses run over 4 weeks, with weekly 4 hour sessions that include time to eat what you’ve just cooked and chat over a glass of wine or two. During the sessions you learn a little bit about the history of the area, and that helps you appreciate the subtle differences in the flavours you’re about to recreate. It’s good to remember that each dish is the result of the cultural heritage of the particular area. That doesn’t just mean that the ingredients must be available, but also depends on the lifestyle, how long the inhabitants could be in the area, the political ongoings, the weather, the soil, and the means available to the locals.

There’s something about these recipes that felt deeply familiar, like a life I knew – and simultaneously, they tasted exotic and foreign, new.

Of course the chefs – Michael Camilleri, Stephen La Rosa, and Keith Abela – make it look easy. Their patience, enthusiasm, guidance, and light-heartedness are choreographed into the lessons. Besides going through the recipes at hand, you’re also encouraged to observe knife techniques and learn general tips and tricks. The MCA kitchen is super comfortable to use, and quality tools are at hand to make your life easier. Obviously the experience here is rather luxurious compared to cooking in your own home. Someone else has provided the ingredients and anything else you might need to prepare the dishes. It is communal and you can ask questions at any time. You’re also being supervised in a way, so that if you’re about to make a mistake or need help before messing things up, someone if there to catch your fall, or stop your pie from burning as it were.

I’ll never forget the first lesson where Chef Stephen La Rosa demonstrated how to butterfly a fish. My first thought was: no way, baptism of fire, I’m going to make a mess, my fish is never going to look like THAT. Surprisingly, by following the simple steps, every one of us in class got it right. We delicately removed the fish’s spine and other bones, replaced its guts with fragrant wild greens, closed it up and cooked it beautifully. I have rarely been so proud of myself in the kitchen. It’s amazing what a good demonstration can do.

Chef Stephen La Rosa demonstrating how to clean up the fish

 

During the second lesson, we were teamed up and given 3 or 4 recipes for each team. There were no demonstrations this time (which I found a tad disappointing) but by the end of it, we all completed our recipes successfully. Needless to say, there was a huge feast at the end of the lesson, more food than we could handle, so we all ended up taking a doggy bag home to relive the flavours again the next day.

Day 2 – a feast of mezes

 

Overall I would say that if you’re into cooking (and eating) this is a course that will continue giving after it is over. It helped me rediscover my cooking mojo, recognise what tools I needed to help me cook better, and regain confidence in trying out new flavours. A course that provides knowledge and joy that is well worth it in cost, time, and effort. Thank you, MCA for a very pleasant experience that will keep on giving.

Day 4 – You learn how to make a divine baklava

 

Level: Competent cook with basic skills

Value: This seemed too expensive at first, but considering the experience, the quality ingredients provided, and that dinner (i.e. the fruits of your labour) + wine is included – overall it is a fair price

Venue: It’s not so difficult to park close to Sappers Street after 5:30pm, the kitchen is well-equipped and very comfortable to use

Chefs: Knowledgeable (with specialisations in different fields), easygoing, approachable, patient.

 


There are choices and pathways to take. You discover that following a storm a couple of years ago, the easiest paths may be closed, but you might only find out when you’ve walked through them for a couple of minutes. You’re excited for the adventure, wary, not sure how much you can handle or if you were completely awake when you made the decision to come here. But here you are.

The start is hard. Harder than you feel it should be. You may wonder if this was a bad idea, if you bit more than you could chew, if you had better give up now before embarrassing yourself.

Some parts are dangerous – this is not just a perception – you are risking a lot in this challenge. Have you strayed off your path? Check for signs and you will find them. When walking on such paths, you must keep your eyes on your feet, checking only the immediate next step. Looking forward or at the view is distracting and dangerous, it may cause a loss of footing. Looking back may be equally disorienting.

Stairs and steps may be uneven, narrow, slippery. Sometimes you may need to lean on someone or grab a helping hand. Accept help.

Accept the need for occasional rest. Rest is not ‘giving up’. To enjoy the view, ensure safety and stop completely. Rest is brief, it is only long enough to catch your breath. Don’t worry if you need to stop for a minute until someone gets by you.

Still the mind, listen to your own rhythm.

You won’t believe how far you’ve come, even if the road felt long and challenging. You won’t believe the view. Even if your body aches, you will look at the journey and feel proud.


There’s something about the end of September that brings about a certain nostalgia. Perhaps it’s that feeling that lingers from our younger days, where going back to school would signify excitement for some, and dread for others. And even if those days are long gone, the start of a new season, anticipating the cold, certainly brings a need for added comfort.

tealeafpen

Enter tea. The British notoriously use tea for most situations, and I’m starting to appreciate their point. Tea makes you pause for a moment, and let’s face it – most of us do with a little pause several times a day. Take a minute, sip, decide on your next move without rushing. Yes, I’m starting to catch on to that frame of mind.

The name is striking – Celestial Seasonings – and the packaging artistic and attractive. In fact, with a history behind each iconic painting used for the packaging, you just feel that you’re on the right track trusting these tea producers. The boxes are printed on 100% recycled paperboard with 35% post-consumer content. The botanicals are purchased ethically, supporting the people and places in the world that produce their ingredients. These issues are increasingly important nowadays.

The good news doesn’t stop there – there are so many different teas to choose from. Today I’ll focus on two that have made me happy. I’m looking forward to discovering more and adding to my collection!

celestial-tea

Dirty Chai Tea

For those times when you could do with a refresher and a gentle boost, whilst still enjoying a comforting taste… meet the tea with added coffee. Yes, that’s right – this special blend contains 40% black tea, a mixture of spices and 10% espresso. That means that you can get 46mg of caffeine in each brew, with a delicious flavour that you can enjoy while it perks you up. Incidentally, this tea bag will give you two cups of tea (or a pot) and infuses very quickly. Now what did they mean when they said that you can’t have your cake and eat it?

 

Sleepytime Vanilla and Sleepytime Blackberry Pomegranate

My beef with teas that are meant to promote sleep has always been the taste. If I cannot drink it, then it’s not going to get to work. The clever people at Celestial Seasonings in Boulder Colorado have managed to infuse this tea with a vanilla (and blackberry pomegranate) flavour that lulls you into a gentle sleep without any hangover sleepy feeling. I would recommend this if you have trouble sleeping, or even if you feel that you need help winding down after being on the go all day. A restful sleep will set you up to be able to better face the day ahead.