Monday, January 17, 2011

Morning of Dates and Milk

Sabah an-nour, Sabah digla wa halib. Morning of light, morning of dates and milk, they say in Tunisia.

صباح النور، صباح دجلة والحليب

Shortly after we moved into our house in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia in 2005, the ground beneath us literally shifted. There had been a water main break and water had been leaking into the garden for months. One day the doors and windows no longer closed and there were huge cracks in the wall. We had to move out temporarily, and it was a hassle, but if this had not occurred, I never would have met the owner Hanane, who became like a big sister to me. My time in Tunisia, and my life were enriched tenfold.

Two years later, the morning we left the country, I stepped out into the street before the van came to take us to the airport, already full of nostalgia. Leaving was bittersweet. The sun was rising over Sidi Bou Said, our small village looking over the Mediterranean and I snapped one last shot.

Now the ground has shifted again in Tunisia. The sun is rising for a new day, a new life without the tyrant Ben Ali, there is hope for a life full of freedoms that the people have not known previously. Open press, opportunity, freedom to speak their mind and elect their own government. This is a historic time, but one of many unknowns.

None of this comes easily. Not without violence, not without danger and a mess in the streets. Right now, Hanane is holed up, waiting in her house for the shooting to stop, for calm to be restored, the future to be written. I imagine as a young girl that her mother would make her some dates with milk in the morning, or as a special comfort when she needed it. It's soothing and naturally sweet, and drinking a warm cup full is like coming home to a hug after a long day.

And it's going to be a long day in Tunis, a long wait to see how events play out. We can only wait and hope, provide support however possible for this country full of so much potential. May there be many mornings of light, many mornings of dates and milk. A new door has opened.

Milk with Dates
From Cuisine Tunisienne by Christiane Desbordes

For Hanane, with love
Serves 4

750 ml whole milk
250 grams dates
1 vanilla bean
1 clove

In a medium pot, over low heat, gently bring the milk to a boil. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and add to the pot, along with the clove and the pitted dates. Stir frequently for about 15 minutes until the dates are very soft. Remove the clove and the vanilla bean before blending in a blender or food processor. Serve hot.


  1. What a beautiful and bittersweet post, Nicole. We've been watching nothing but what is happening in Tunisia on tv here in France and one never knows what will happen next. Poor Hanane. I do hope she finds comfort in everyday little things and the people around her.

  2. Miam, juste une question: qu'est-ce qu'une clove?

  3. Vanessa, Clove c'est "clou de girofle"- pour cette recette on utilise le clou entier (qui ressemble vraiment a un clou, mais pour beaucoup d'autres recettes c'est en poudre.)


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