◊ Chopping Vegetables Is Not Enough

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Dear mom,

Chopping vegetables is not enough. This is what I came to in a moment of self-realization while studying for my Arabic exam. And also that I need to work on my stress-management.

Here’s what happened:

Jessica and I went for a study-break walk. She asked me if I was excited about starting new grad school next year.  My Yes was wobbly. 

Actually, I’m really nervous, I admitted. Like, right now I’m nervous about exams and I’m nervous about finding a new place to live when we get kicked out of our apartment, but the thought of school next year hits the nerves at my core.

Why?

Because it is everything. 

Two years ago, I was on the path to social work like every other woman in my family.* Then  I decided to take a risk – to do something different. Thanks to you and dad (thank you thank you thank you thank you), I can do whatever I want to do. 

Now, I’m at the cusp of a dream and I see two possibilities: Picasso and a homeless guy sketching tourists on the side-walk. Failure and success. I already feel homeless about to walk into a museum. It’s messed up. There is a balance between the two, I know.

I’m nervous I won’t recognize it.

After my walk with Jessica, I sat down with study gear feeling completely overwhelmed – gritting my teeth over case endings, sweating over verbal forms. I told myself that in 3 hours I’d take a kitchen break to deal with the freezer full of nuts and flours I needed to finish before moving out of the apartment. I couldn’t wait to numb my mind over a chopping board and mixing bowl. 

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I looked at my Arabic worksheets and thought, why

I love being in the kitchen – I can chop vegetables with a wide smile on my face for hours. I don’t need Arabic; I need to chop vegetables.

Again, Why?

It’s a meditation. I don’t think, I just chop. I move, I mix, I create. My brain is relaxed.

But it’s not enough. I want to do work that fulfills my desire to make a positive impact on the world. I want to learn about people and their worlds and show those worlds to more and more people. I want to explore. But this often gives me stomachaches. 

What if I could sustain my brain relaxation in everything I do?

Thus, my realization:

I need to bring the same attitude with which I approach chopping vegetables to the fulfilling work that I love to do. I will smile at my lists of Arabic vocab; I will not grit my teeth as I write my Islamic Law essay; I will not sweat (but I probably will) over Sufi elements of Persian Art. And when I start classes next fall, I will not try to be Picasso nor will I fear being homeless.

 I think this is called stress-management.

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In the kitchen, if bread doesn’t rise, I repurpose it into crackers; if vegetables are too spicy, I stir in yogurt to cool them down; if a grain bowl is too salty, I add more rice and water. My love for the kitchen isn’t about eating food, it’s about preparing it. It’s about problem-solving, creativity and building things with my own hands all with a relaxed mind and body. 

In the next phase of my professional life, I want a brain like I’m in the kitchen. It’s a long-shot — I’m clenching my jaw just thinking about course registration — but slowly slowly shwai shwai I hope to make do. I don’t want to get stuck chopping vegetables to stay sane. It is not enough for me.

xo,

Shaina

*To the women in my family – the social workers and teachers who do amazing things for the world every day – I dream of having a career as fulfilling as yours.

Warning: the recipes below involve lots and lots of chopping, mixing, grating, mashing and kneading. I really needed it this week.

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Seedy Carrot Rye Loaf

  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 4 medium carrots, grated
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, crushed
  • 1/3 cup poppy seeds
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 cup spelt (or wheat) flour

 

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Dissolve yeast in warm water and add all ingredients except for flour. Add flour slowly, kneading the dough. If it needs more flour, add little by little. Spread into two 8 inch tins.

Cover tins with cloth or towel for at least 60 minutes and allow to rise. Mine didn’t do such a good job of rising, but it still turned out ok.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes.

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Smear with butter, tahini or your favorite something. Pop it in the toaster and make an open faced sandwich. Serve as breadsticks next to salad. Treat yourself luxuriously and top it with whole milk yogurt.

 

Hearty Banana-Date-Tahini Cake (Dairy-Free and No-Added Sugar):

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oats,
  • 1 1/2 cup rye flour or spelt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeded (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
  • 15 pitted dates, mashed into date paste
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted (or other light tasting oil)
  • 4 tbs tahini
  • 3 medium very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 4 eggs (or 2 eggs and 3 egg whites)
  • Optional fold-in’s:
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate pieces 
  • 2 ripe bananas, cut into chunks
  • 7-10 pitted dates, chopped
  • handful of walnuts, chopped

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Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F and grease an 8 inch dish or pan. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients.  In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Stir until combined and fold in banana chunks, choco chunks, dates, nuts or whatever you choose.

Spread into pan and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350F or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool.

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