from-the-horses-mouthFROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH – December 2016 edition

Hello. I hope you are okay. Here is the 24th edition of the magazine so I’m pleased. Many people have contributed to various past editions but in particular I would like to thank the following people: Michael Blackburn, Rumbi Mapanga, Robert Williams, Brenda Condoll and my mother June Charlton. Anyone can write in this magazine and you should send your contributions to us at: Thanks, Dean.

Please note that our current short story and poetry competition is running until midnight of the last day of this year. Here are the details:

Short Story (in English, up to 5,000 words) – prizes of £100, £50 and £25.

Poetry – one prize of £50 (sponsored by Brenda Condoll).

All winning entries will appear in an edition of this magazine.

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Mormon and gay: Church says you can be both

(CNN)Ricardo Rosas was the closeted father of six before he came out to his wife — and, on Tuesday, to the rest of the world.

A third-generation Mormon from Mexico City, Rosas went to church, served a mission and “did everything that was expected” of him.
Still, Rosas, 47, said he felt conflicted and didn’t truly understand what was going on.
“For 40 years,” Rosas said, “I carried the shame of those feelings… for most of my life I felt very broken.”
It wasn’t until Rosas started a new job that he discovered the resources he needed in an unlikely place: the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is officially known, in Salt Lake City.
As a creative director for church public affairs, Rosas was tasked with designing the church’s latest campaign: a new section of its official website titled “Mormon and Gay.”
As the office’s attention fixed upon homosexuality, Rosas scrutinized himself. Eventually, he was able to share his sexuality with a colleague who also identified as “same-sex attracted.”
“It was liberating,” Rosas said.
Rosas said he realized he could be “same-sex attracted,” married and Mormon. Now he and his wife Elizabeth are featured prominently on “Mormon and Gay,” discussing how they have grown together as the new materials gave them the tools for “a healthy dialogue.”

A ‘monumental’ shift

No issue in the last decade has divided churches as deeply as homosexuality. As public opinion — and scientific understanding — on sexuality has shifted with remarkable speed, many denominations, including Mormon leaders, have had to grapple with a difficult question: How do they maintain traditional doctrine that homosexual acts are sinful, while accepting and ministering to gay and lesbian Mormons who sincerely wish to remain part of their church?
Unveiled on Tuesday, “Mormon and Gay” is one answer to that question.
The web page features video messages and essays from five church members, including Rosas, who identify as same-sex attracted, gay, lesbian or bisexual. The materials are intended to facilitate empathetic understanding and provide information on sexual identification, church doctrine and mental health resources.
Senior church leaders call these new materials “simply an update” from the webpage “Mormons and Gays,” released in 2012 on a domain unaffiliated with the church’s official website. (“Mormons and Gays” now redirects to the new “Mormons and Gay” page.)
Still, the new materials present small but significant changes.
Mitch Mayne, a prominent gay Mormon and blogger, said, “Above and beyond getting into the content of the website, the URL is absolutely fantastic — it’s an inclusive statement.”
Beyond the title, the update presents a marked shift away from exclusionary rhetoric.
While the previous site prominently displayed the church’s doctrinal stance against homosexual activity on its homepage, the new materials feature the stories of gay members. “Church Teachings” is located on a separate page; roughly 1,700 words and five videos on “loving one another” precede the first direct statement that “homosexual activity is a sin.”
Still, the webpages are housed in a section of the church website dedicated to helping members deal with life’s “many challenges,” including “abuse,” “disabilities,” and “suicide.”
Jessyca Fulmer believes this church’s shift is “monumental.”
Fulmer, who self-identifies as a gay Mormon and is featured on the new website, said the new materials “give us a stepping stone to have more open communication about this and to educate others on how to help and how to respond to somebody who is gay.”
Trevor Johnson, a gay man who was raised Mormon but resigned his membership after getting engaged, said, “When I first came out, the most damaging thing was feeling like people didn’t believe me that I was attracted to men. I appreciate that the church is releasing materials that validate the reality of the homosexual experience.”
Senior church leaders L. Whitney Clayton and Von G. Keetch both say they have become more educated on homosexuality through their involvement in producing the materials a two-year process which involved the church leadership, LGBT advocacy groups and mental health professionals.
“I was touched by the individual stories on the site,” Elder Keetch said. “I thought I understood these issues pretty well, and then I was reminded… that you don’t understand the issue until you understand the individual people that are working through it.”

‘A beautiful heartbreak’

Josh Searle, was an active, and closeted, member of the church until his mother’s suicide derailed him emotionally, leading him to leave his childhood faith. Soon, Searle began to date gay men. Searle’s story is also featured on the site.
“I had been in different relationships where I experimented quite a bit sexually,” he said, “and the thing is I enjoyed all of it… I thought ‘this is what it feels like to be in love.'”
Ultimately, Searle was drawn back to the church by a series of “spiritual experiences” which encouraged him to change the course of his life.
But his experience as a faithful gay Mormon hasn’t been easy. While he believes church leaders are trying their best to understand the LGBT community, he said they can’t understand the toll of celibacy.
“I wish there was content on how to be a celibate gay man in an emotionally healthy way. Human needs, intimacy, physical touch, physical connection… am I just supposed to not participate in any of that? I feel like I am starving for affection, starving for emotional intimacy. What is the answer to that?”
Fulmer agrees, lamenting her inability to have a family or an “intimate relationship [even though] I do have those feelings for women on a regular basis. Navigating those in a healthy way is very difficult.”
For Rosas, the answer is staying married to his wife, whom he lauds as a “rock star” and feels “genuinely attracted to.” Fulmer calls her confrontation with celibacy a “beautiful heartbreak,” but says she is open to heterosexual marriage if it is God’s will, while Searle says he has never been attracted to women. Even in an afterlife, where Mormons say “all will be made right,” Searle hopes his love for men isn’t changed.
While the church once regarded homosexuality as “curable” and encouraged members to be “forced” into heterosexual marriages, the church has backed off of this recommendation. “Mormon and Gay” leaves the question of future relationships for Fulmer and Searle open-ended, saying they don’t know what the future holds.
“It is important for us to know what more we can do,” said Clayton. “I’m sure there will be [future updates] as we try to understand how to reach out in a successful way.”

Living as a gay Mormon

In a church founded on the concept of continual revelation, many members question what those “future updates” could be including whether the church will revoke its controversial policy on the children of gay parents.

Prior to 1950
Homosexuality regarded by church as “sin that dare not speak its name”

“Homosexuality” is used publicly by a senior church leader for the first time, called an “abomination” comparable to masturbation and bestiality

Homosexuality regarded as “curable” by a senior church leader; being “forced” into heterosexual relationships is encouraged

Church-sponsored Brigham Young University conducts electroshock therapy for 14 gay Mormons

Church faces public backlash for opposing Equal Rights Amendment, arguing it could extend legal protection to “lesbian and homosexual marriages”

Leaders begin referring to homosexuality as same-gender attraction, acknowledging the reality of sexual attraction while condemning the sin of acting on those feelings

Church attempts to balance “religious liberty and nondiscrimination” in political advocacy, campaigning against legalization of gay marriage in California and supporting a nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City

Church uses “gay” for the first time in public communications. In a series of videos on “Mormons and Gays,” leaders ask members to “find common ground” while “being true to religious beliefs”

“Handbook of Instruction” for church leaders is updated with a new policy barring children of same-sex couples from church baby blessings and baptism. Same-sex marriage is regarded as apostasy and grounds for excommunication

Church launches new “Mormon and Gay” section on its official website, in which Mormon leaders call for increased dialogue about homosexuality, and gay Mormons share their experiences as active, celibate church members

Last November, the church updated its Handbook of Instruction for bishops around the world with a new policy barring children of same-sex couples from church blessings and baptism. The policy also affirmed the long-held Mormon stance that same-sex marriage is considered apostasy and grounds for excommunication.
The policy was leaked online and quickly garnered intense public scrutiny. In an attempt to abate the firestorm of criticism, senior church leader D. Todd Christofferson, emphasized that love was behind the decision to protect children from feeling conflicted between their family and their faith. Christofferson, who has a gay brother, also led the creation of the “Mormon and Gay” website, according to a church spokesman.
But none of the top church leaders ordained to the highest level of the priesthood have commented on the new materials, something Mayne said is indicative of a wariness towards a perceived “gay agenda” at the highest levels of the church.
Mayne said leaders “think gay marriage is an act of defiance, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
He hopes the church’s top leadership will speak with homosexual married couples to understand that “a gay couple is really two Mormon people hoping to come as close as possible to everything that we value and hold dear as a religion: families, committed relationships, loving one another. Yet we slap them into disciplinary councils and excommunicate them.”
Last weekend, “Mormon Newsroom,” an official church website, posted a series of video messages, including one from Christofferson, on the need for greater inclusion.
Though the top priesthood leaders did not mention homosexuality, Facebook users quickly interpreted their messages through this lens. Comments on the post reveal a stark divide in public opinion amongst church members on the topic a debate that has been particularly heated since last November.
Facebook user Justin Marks said, “I only wish that the love and inclusion spoken of in these videos was the lived experience of so many LGBTQ+ people who’ve been raised in the church. Maybe this is a step in the right direction.” Marks identifies on his Facebook page as both gay and Mormon.
Another user, Ezra Alma M, replied, “God’s laws are clear. But we can still be nice to people that don’t keep the commandments.”
This exchange reveals the inescapable tension faced by a church attempting to both condemn same-sex marriage and include gay members all while navigating a tide of increasingly antagonistic public opinion.
Clayton said, “We can’t do everything for everyone what we have done is a good step in the right direction.”

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We asked people what they’ll do if Trump becomes president. Here’s what they told us.

In August 2015, four months before Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, Ibrahim Perry’s mom had a baby.

“When they were trying to figure out a name, I was telling them, ‘You should choose a name thats not too obviously of Arabic origin, just because of the state of things at the moment,'” Perry said.

Since then, the “state of things” has gotten worse. Recently, Perry’s cousin says she was confronted by a woman in a supermarket for wearing a hijab. A few months ago, the family received a threatening flyer in their mailbox.

Perry’s family came to the United States as refugees in the 1980s. His parents fled Vietnam for Thailand on foot through Pol Pot’s Cambodia, where, as observant Muslims, they were persecuted by the militantly atheist regime. Some of his relatives were killed on the journey.

The prospect of a Trump presidency has the family on edge but Perry has a plan. Should Trump be elected, he wants his family to lay low speak only English in public, wear their head scarves in a more modern style, and anglicize their names.

His mother agrees. His father’s side of the family isn’t convinced.

“They feel like all those sacrifices our relatives made, they feel like theyre throwing it away if they reject our religion,” Perry said.

For many Muslims, undocumented immigrants, people of color, and their loved ones, the possibility of a Trump victory means making “what if” plans.

Montserrat Ariza recently settled in Virginia Beach after securing a job as a secretary in her uncle’s construction company. She was a beneficiary of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order, which allows the children of undocumented immigrants who arrived earlier than 2007 and before their 16th birthday to remain in the country and obtain work permits.

“If he has to go somewhere else, I cannot follow him, because I have to think about my children first and their needs.” Maritza Tobar

Under a Trump presidency, Ariza worries about those protections being revoked.

“I am in the age where Im trying to get my life settled, and Im trying to settle somewhere here, but I have to think of plan B, plan C, plan D, in case Trump does become president,” she said.

One option is moving back to Mexico, where she fears she won’t fit in. Another is moving abroad.

Others are putting their long-term plans on hold, just in case.

Kariane Lemay, a student from Quebec City, had planned to move in with her boyfriend, who is African-American, in Texas. A Trump presidency would likely mean reversing that arrangement.

“Weve been talking a lot about him moving to Canada in that situation,” Lemay said. “Probably moving his family, too, because he has a little sister who hes very protective of.”

Lannie Rollins, a graduate studying in Toulouse, France, had hoped to move back to the U.S. to start a family with her fianc.

“Ive always told him that it would be hard for me to have a baby in France,” Rollins said, citing a desire to be closer to her family. A Trump presidency would likely mean staying put to protect her fianc, who is Franco-Algerian Muslim.

Most said they are less afraid of the policy that could be enacted by a potential Trump administration than they are of drawing the ire of his most fervent backers, who would be newly empowered by a Trump victory.

“The stuff that Trump is saying, its outrageous. Its surprising that hes willing to say such things things so openly, but its also very popular, and thats whats very scary about it,” Perry explained. He said that he and his relatives have experienced more anti-Muslim harassment since Trump launched his campaign and worries it would get worse after November 9, were Trump to win.

A Trump presidency would “basically mean the separation of our family,” Maritza Tobar, a stay-at-home mom, told Upworthy.

Tobar’s husband is undocumented. Early on, the couple discussed moving together to her native Colombia or his native Mexico in the event of a Trump presidency, but decided neither country could offer them adequate care for their sons one with autism and one with ADHD.

“If he has to go somewhere else, I cannot follow him because I have to think about my children first and their needs,” Tobar said.

She feels that many of her neighbors don’t understand the day-to-day frustrations that her family experiences due to her husband’s status, and Trump has exacerbated those frustrations.

If Trump loses at the ballot box, many will go back to plan A albeit tentatively, with an eye toward the vitriol Trump’s campaign has already unleashed.

Some worry that the genie won’t go back in the bottle so easily. Rollins said she fears a backlash against non-white Americans in the event of a Trump loss, and she may stay in France regardless. Recent attacks on his family means Perry is already keeping his religion quiet in conversations with strangers.

Others still plan to stick it out, abuse and dirty looks be damned. This election, Tobar said, has shown some of her neighbors’ true colors, but the benefits of living in America for her children are too great to let them bully her out.

America, it is a great country already,” she says.

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from-the-horses-mouthThere is just over a month left of our short story and poetry competition left!

Your short story must be less than 5,000 words and in English – prizes are: £100, £50 and £25.

There is one prize of £50 for the poetry competition.

Please send entries before midnight on the 31st of December to:

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Brexit court defeat for UK government – BBC News

Media captionBrexit challenger Gina Miller: “This result is about all our futures”

Parliament must vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU, the High Court has ruled.

This means the government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – beginning formal exit negotiations with the EU – on its own.

Theresa May says the referendum – and existing ministerial powers – mean MPs do not need to vote, but campaigners called this unconstitutional.

The government is appealing, with a further hearing expected next month.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said she would be calling President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to say she intended to stick to her March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50.


Amid suggestions that she might try to call an early general election, she added that Mrs May believed “there shouldn’t be an election until 2020 and that remains her view”.

A statement is to be made to MPs on Monday but the government says it has no intention of letting the judgement “derail Article 50 or the timetable we have set out”.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said he presumed the court ruling meant an act of Parliament would be required to trigger Article 50 – so would be subject to approval by both MPs and peers.

But the government was going to contest that view in an appeal, and said the referendum was held only following “a six-to-one vote in the Commons to give the decision to the British people”.

“The people are the ones Parliament represents – 17.4m of them, the biggest mandate in history, voted for us to leave the European Union. We are going to deliver on that mandate in the best way possible for the British national interest,” he told the BBC.

Media captionDavid Davis: The British people are sovereign

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the government “to bring its negotiating terms to Parliament without delay”, adding that “there must be transparency and accountability to Parliament on the terms of Brexit”.

But UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he feared a “betrayal” of the 51.9% of voters who backed leaving the EU in June’s referendum and voiced concern at the prospect of a “half Brexit”.

BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said the court ruling could mean potentially “months and months” of parliamentary hurdles but said a majority of MPs would be likely to vote for Article 50 – despite having backed the Remain campaign – as Brexit had been supported in the referendum.

Analysis – BBC political correspondent Eleanor Garnier

It is one of the most important constitutional court cases in generations. And the result creates a nightmare scenario for the government.

Theresa May had said she wanted to start Brexit talks before the end of March next year but this ruling has thrown the prime minister’s timetable up in the air.

Campaigners who brought the case insist it was about “process not politics”, but behind the doors of No 10 there will now be serious head-scratching about what the government’s next steps should be.

This decision has huge implications, not just on the timing of Brexit but on the terms of Brexit. That’s because it’s given the initiative to those on the Remain side in the House of Commons who, it’s now likely, will argue Article 50 can only be triggered when Parliament is ready and that could mean when they’re happy with the terms of any future deal.

Of course, it will be immensely difficult to satisfy and get agreement from all those MPs who voted to remain. Could an early general election be on the cards after all?

Investment manager Gina Miller, who brought the case, said outside the High Court that the government should make the “wise decision of not appealing”.

She said: “The result today is about all of us. It’s not about me or my team. It’s about our United Kingdom and all our futures.”

Government lawyers had argued that prerogative powers were a legitimate way to give effect “to the will of the people”.

But the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, declared: “The government does not have power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 for the UK to withdraw from the European Union.”

The three judges looking at the case found there was no constitutional convention of the royal prerogative – powers used by ministers – being used in legislation relating to the EU.

They added that triggering Article 50 would fundamentally change UK people’s rights – and that the government cannot change or do away with rights under UK law unless Parliament gives it authority to do so.

Calling the case “a pure question of law”, Lord Thomas said: “The court is not concerned with and does not express any view about the merits of leaving the European Union: that is a political issue.”

Media captionNigel Farage says he is worried Brexit will be watered down after the High Court ruling

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve told the BBC he believed there was time for the government to get legislation through Parliament before the end of March, should they lose the appeal.

He added: “It will certainly allow the opportunity to debate the issues surrounding Brexit but it is worth bearing in mind that it’s a bit difficult to fetter the government as to what it should do after Article 50 is triggered because actually, what the government can deliver … is entirely dependent on the negotiating position of the 27 other member states… So you can’t really order the government to stay in the single market because that may not be something that the government can deliver.”

Reacting to the ruling, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the House of Commons the government was “disappointed” but remained “determined to respect the result of the referendum”.

What the ruling says

  • It is a fundamental principle of the UK constitution that Kings’ or Queens’ powers cannot be used by the government via the Royal Prerogative to change or do away with rights under British law unless Parliament gives it authority to do so. The court looked at examples ranging from the 1600s to the 1970s Laker Airways legal battle
  • Parliament had a vote on the UK joining the European Union back in the 1970s, so there is no convention of the Royal Prerogative being used in legislation relating to the European Union
  • Allowing MPs a vote on the final Brexit deal at the end of the negotiations would not amount to parliamentary approval because once Article 50 is triggered there is no way that the UK will not leave the EU, and in doing so existing laws will be changed
  • David Davis points out that MPs voted by six to one for the referendum to be held, but the judgement says that the referendum bill, and background briefings, made clear that the referendum was advisory rather than mandatory. So even though MPs voted for the referendum, the way it was worded did not hand over the authority to trigger Article 50, in its view

But UKIP’s Mr Farage said: “We are heading for a half Brexit.”

He added: “I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand… I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50. If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.”

Labour leader Mr Corbyn said: “This ruling underlines the need for the government to bring its negotiating terms to Parliament without delay. Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to Parliament on the terms of Brexit.”

But Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Ultimately, the British people voted for a departure but not for a destination, which is why what really matters is allowing them to vote again on the final deal, giving them the chance to say no to an irresponsible hard Brexit that risks our economy and our jobs.”

Addressing suggestions that Mrs May could call a general election before 2020 – when the next election is scheduled to take place under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “If you’re asking me do I think today’s judgement makes a general election more likely than it was yesterday, I think the answer to that is probably yes.”

The UK voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union in a referendum on 23 June.

The EU’s other 27 member states have said negotiations about the terms of the UK’s exit – due to last two years – cannot begin until Article 50 has been invoked.

What questions do you have about the Article 50 High Court ruling?


from-the-horses-mouthNext week we will be publishing the twenty-fourth edition of the free world magazine which allows anyone to express themselves in words or images. The magazine started almost two years ago and has grown steadily with more and more people reading it and/or using it as a reference tool.

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A foodie tour of Iran: it’s poetry on a plate

Food is a wonderful vehicle for discovering Iran, with its fabulous regional produce featuring in stews, rice dishes, kebabs and desserts

Imagine a verdant, landscape filled with rice paddies, tea plantations and olive groves. A land where you can hike up mountains in the thick mist of the morning and picnic by waterfalls on sun-weathered rocks in the afternoon. A land filled with golden apricots that taste like honey, peaches so succulent you barely notice the sweet juice that runs down your chin, and small black figs, firm and velvety to the touch, that erupt with jammy stickiness as you tear them open. I enjoyed all of these delights and more when I travelled through Iran in search of the secrets of the Persian kitchen.

On my journey, I cooked and feasted with Iranians of all walks of life who welcomed me into their homes to share their favourite recipes. In a country most commonly viewed through the narrow prism of its politics, food is a wonderful vehicle for discovery. A really good meal is something everyone can relate to.

Those unfamiliar with Iranian food often assume that it is fiery or spicy, perhaps befitting the countrys climate or politics. But it is, in fact, gentle and soothing, a poetic balance of subtle spices such as dried limes, saffron and rosewater. Slow-cooked stews, known as khoresh, and elaborate rice dishes layered with herbs, vegetables, nuts and dried fruit are the bedrocks of Persian cuisine, creating a dazzling mosaic of scents, textures and colours at the dining table. Regional and seasonal delicacies are plentiful, making the most of Irans bountiful produce.

Traditional dizi stew is made to an ancient recipe. Photograph: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

My journey started in Tabriz, in north-west Iran, a place of culinary connection for centuries, a trading crossroads connecting the Caucasus, the Middle East and Europe. Tabriz was one of the capitals of the old Persian empire, famed for its bazaar, where spices from India and China were sold alongside delicate silks and intricately patterned carpets.

Today, the bazaar is a Unesco world heritage site and nearby is one of the best places in town to sample to citys signature dish, kofte tabrizi. Shariar Traditional Restaurant (corner of Tarbiyat Street, +98 41 554 0057) is converted from one of the citys old hammams, and the lamb meatballs are the size of your fist, stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, walnuts and dried plums. They are served in a tomato and saffron sauce thats mopped up with warm flatbreads.

Tabriz also has some of Irans most comforting street food. I was shown around town by psychology student Yasamin Bahmani, who took me on a stroll around El Goli park with its famed Persian garden, insisting every few hundred metres that we stop at one of the street stalls that line the paths. We feasted on mashed potato and hard boiled eggs, smothered in thick slabs of melting butter, sprinkled with dried mint and wrapped in a warm flatbread, and tender steamed purple and yellow beetroot that we sprinkled generously with sumac.

A man roasting corn at a street stall in Darband. Photograph: Amos Chapple/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Heading south, I hit the coast of the Caspian Sea and the rolling green hills of the Gilan province, famed for its river fish and caviar. The cuisine of Gilan is as green as its landscapes, making it the best place in Iran for vegetarians. Aubergines and garlic appeared at every meal, alongside the mounds of fresh coriander, parsley and dill that are used to create fragrant bases for stews and emerald-green kuku (a type of frittata).

I spent an afternoon with farmer Roya Baighi, who taught me how to cook torshi-tareh, an elegant green stew made from herbs we picked from her garden. It was bursting with flavour and virtuosity. Gilan is also home to one of Irans most famous dishes: fesenjoon, chicken poached in an earthy sweet-and-sour sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranates. I enjoyed it at Mahtab restaurant in Lahijan (Golestan Square, +98 141 422 2963), with white rice and crisp, buttery tahdig, the golden saffron-infused rice crust that Iranians prize so much.

This atmospheric restaurant celebrates Gilaki culture with a menu of regional dishes, and live folk music in the evenings. It is adjacent to one of Gilans most popular tourist attractions, Lahijan lake and promenade, which are a perfect spot to walk off any overindulgence.

The Koohpayeh restaurant in Darband.

No trip to the region would be complete without sampling koloocheh, small pastries stuffed with ground walnuts, cinnamon and cardamom which are the speciality of Fuman, a small town in the south-west of the province. Stalls all over town sell these baked treats and they were particularly welcome, washed down with dainty glasses of black tea, after a rigorous hike in the surrounding hills.

Tehran is filled with upscale restaurants serving dishes ranging from sushi and frozen yoghurt to dizi, a lamb, chickpea and potato stew made to a centuries-old recipe, cooked in a clay pot for several hours until the meat is so tender it can be mashed into a paste with a fork. The best local feasting, though, is in Darband, a neighbourhood in the north of the city at the foot of the Alborz mountains. Its a district of narrow winding mountain paths lined with trees adorned with fairy lights. Koohpayeh restaurant is about a 10-minute walk up the Darband hill and provides a scenic backdrop for sampling some of the citys finest juicy lamb kebabs. Finish the night by relaxing on faded Persian carpets in one of the many small wooden pavilions up and down the road and join the locals in smoking some apple-flavoured shishas.

In central Iran, I visited saffron farms, rosewater festivals and pomegranate orchards, discovering the history and horticulture behind Irans most evocative ingredients. The pomegranate is indigenous to Iran and, in ancient Persian mythology, the hero warrior Isfandiar is said to have eaten its seeds and become invincible.

Yasmin Khan choosing pomegranates, the nations favourite fruit, at an Iranian market. Photograph: Shahrzad Darafsheh

Today, pomegranates retain their near-mythical status and are revered as the nations favourite fruit. As well as being enjoyed on their own their scarlet seeds sprinkled with a pinch of golpar, an earthy, citrussy spice they are also salted, dried and pounded into fruit leathers or cooked into molasses to be added to savoury dishes.

The city of Shiraz is synonymous with poetry, and with the roses that flourish in the towns famed garden, Bagh-e Eram. Roses are indigenous to Iran and it was here that the petals were first distilled into rosewater, over 2,500 years ago. Today, this is mainly used in desserts such as faloodeh, an aromatic and refreshing rosewater and lime sorbet with frozen vermicelli. The Hafez garden is one of the best places to sample this local speciality and I was taken there by Shahin Hojabrafkan, a handsome and charming secondhand car salesman. We sat overlooking Hafezs shrine, squeezing wedges of lime into our fragrant rosewater-infused sorbets and watching a steady stream of Iranians pay reverence to their most cherished poet.

Central Iran is also home to the countrys finest pistachios, which feature in both sweet and savoury dishes. My favourite way to enjoy their creamy texture is at one of the many ice-cream parlours in the ancient city of Isfahan at night, such as Mahfal ice-cream on Makineh Khajoo. One of the most moreish is bastani akbar mashti, a saffron and rosewater custard ice-cream flecked with toasted pistachios.

Waiter serving lunch, Iranian style. Photograph: Jason Edwards/National Geographic/Getty Images

The final stop on my travels was the southern port town of Bandar Abbas, on the Persian Gulf. Bandar, as it is known, is a town of scorching sunshine, warm blue waters and towering palms, and was once an important post on the spice route from India to Europe. By contrast with the rest of Iranian cuisine, the food of this region is an assault on the senses a thrilling mix of Persian, Indian and Arabian flavours. Tropical fruits, such as mangos, pineapples and guavas, are picked green and used for Indian-style pickles, and seafood from the warm Persian Gulf is stewed, grilled as kebabs, or fermented, dried and ground into powders and pastes.

The best place to sample the days catch is at the fish market, where burly men shout their deals of the day and women crouch on the floor next to them, deftly shelling prawns. Next to the market, a row of fish restaurants serve specialities including ghaleyeh maygoo a prawn, fresh coriander and tamarind stew and small spicy fishcakes called kuku-ye mahi, .

Travellers in Iran are always met with warmth and hospitality: it is not uncommon to be invited to an Iranian home for dinner after just exchanging a few pleasantries. For those wishing to expand their culinary knowledge, or simply enjoy one of the most sophisticated cuisines in the world, Iran offers a wealth of culinary delights. The only challenge for most visitors will be squeezing into their jeans at the end of the trip.

Yasmin Khan is author of The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen (Bloomsbury 26). To buy a copy for 21.32 including UK p&p call 0330 333 6846 or visit

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Vatican bans Catholics from keeping ashes of loved ones at home

Cremation guidelines state remains cannot be scattered or kept at home but rather stored in a sacred, church-approved place

Catholics are forbidden from keeping the ashes of cremated loved ones at home, scattering them, dividing them between family members or turning them into mementoes, the Vatican has ruled.

Ashes must be stored in a sacred place, such as a cemetery, according to instructions disclosed at a press conference in Rome on Tuesday.

Acknowledging that an increasing number of Catholics were opting for cremation rather than burial, the churchs doctrinal and disciplinary body warned against new ideas contrary to the churchs faith.

Cardinal Gerhard Mller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated that burial of the dead was preferable to cremation.

We come from the earth and we shall return to the earth, he said. The church continues to incessantly recommend that the bodies of the dead be buried either in cemeteries or in other sacred ground.

Cardinal Gerhard Mller outlines Catholic cremation guidelines at a press conference in Rome. Photograph: Giuseppe Lami/EPA

However, the increase in cremation since it was permitted in 1963 required new guidelines, he added, noting an increasing trend for domestic conservation.

Ashes must be kept in a holy place, that is a cemetery or a church or in a place that has been specifically dedicated to this purpose. The conservation of ashes in the home is not allowed, he said.

Furthermore, in order to avoid any form of pantheistic or naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, the dispersion of ashes in the air, on the ground, on water or in some other way as well as the conversion of cremated ashes into commemorative objects is not allowed.

A bishop may allow ashes to be kept at home only in extraordinary cases, the instructions state.

Some people keep the ashes of loved ones in urns or special containers on display, while others prefer to scatter them in gardens of remembrance or favourite spots. Possibilities include mixing them with clay, concrete or paint to create works of art or to incorporate them into building projects, having ashes pressed into vinyl to make a musical memento, or turning them into fireworks or jewellery.

The Vatican document, Ad Resurgendum cum Christo, is dated 15 August and says Pope Francis approved it in March. The instructions were released before All Souls Day on 2 November, when the faithful remember and pray for the dead.

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