♦ For Now

Dear Shaina,
Vacation has taken over my life!

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A month in Portland and now Destin…the city, the mountains, the beach…different scenery, different rain clouds, different mattresses! We walked a lot. We ate a lot. We used public transportation…a lot. We shared our dollars and our candy with the homeless.

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We heard music, went to bars (even saw a comedy show in one) and meandered through vintage stores. We were entertained everywhere we went.

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Dad getting ready for Halloween…or whatever.

Tossing aside your everyday routine allows you a sneak peek into your core nature.

  • I can be pretty lazy…and enjoy it…up to a point.

Late night TV, Solitaire on my iPad, hours of sitting and knitting hats I don’t need (I couldn’t resist all the unique yarn shops in Portland including the one at the Alpaca Farm near Mt Hood), sleeping in later than you think possible, having no daily obligations or agenda. It’s both luxurious and unsettling.

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  • I function best with some structure, however minimal it may be.

Dad and I signed up for weekly Pilates, drank coffee every morning, ate steel cut oatmeal and apples and cottage cheese for breakfast on most days, went to Powell Books to hear authors, planned our days around restaurants, music and local events, walked for miles and miles everywhere, and did laundry on Sundays.

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  • Grocery stores and markets are my art galleries.

I went to a grocery store (there was one two short blocks from our apartment) or market almost every day to buy the best honeycrisp apples we ever tasted or more bulk oatmeal or just to see the stunning fresh produce displays. The farmers market offered up 20 varieties of small batch freshly smoked salmon and sable and raw locally harvested honey and gluten free baked goods in addition to rows and rows of locally grown apples and raspberries and lettuces…and wine, coffee and bread, of course.

Edible Art Everywhere

Edible Art Everywhere

  • There are only so many fabulous restaurant meals I can have before my kitchen starts calling me.

We explored the happy hour scene and ate artfully crafted small plates and drinks unique to the ambiance of the restaurant.

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We ate at rooftop bars overlooking the city, downtown establishments sporting their original 50’s decor, food trucks offering vegetarian thai cuisine in our neighborhood and highly polished converted warehouses that had been invaded by nouveau chefs and patrons, young and old, sipping on fancy drinks and Pinot Noir.

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Still, my kitchen was calling. I was inspired by some friends we visited for a weekend on the river near Mt Hood to bake my first baguette from scratch. Despite the fact that I bought the wrong yeast and didn’t have the right size bowl for the rising process, I loved messing around in my little rented kitchen. I even prepared fresh cod for dinner to accompany the freshly baked bread.

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Fresh Cod

  • Cooking is my craft, my therapy, my antidote to laziness…it feeds my soul and my need to accomplish something.
  • I love living in a neighborhood where I can walk a few blocks and get everything I need.
  • I love being in a climate where the air smells green and everyone is required to compost as much of their garbage as possible.

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  • I love living in a town where women wear their gray hair proudly and you can go into the most exclusive restaurant in hiking boots and shorts.
  • I love accessible city parks, patient bus drivers and all kinds of service employees who love their jobs and are genuinely helpful.

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  • I am a rooted creature.

I miss the predictability of routine, the comfort of community, the embrace of my home and the familiarity of the life I have known for over thirty years.

  • For now, home is still home.

Vacation is a lovely respite from the everyday routine, but for now, your childhood bedroom is still where it always was.

See you soon!

Love, Mom

Easy French Baguette

Baked by our friends...my inspiration.

How it should look…baked by our friends…my inspiration.

  • Rapid Rise yeast (use amount according to package instructions)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm tap water
  • 3 1/2 -4 cups all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • Vegetable oil for greasing bowl
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes

Optional

  • cornmeal for lining bottom of baking sheet
  • sesame seeds, salt, poppy seeds or herbs for topping if desired

Dissolve rapid rise yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add 3 1/2 cups flour, and stir with a spatula until a soft dough forms and all flour is absorbed; adding a little flour as needed if dough is sticky. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle evenly with salt. Knead until the salt is incorporated and the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Add a small amount of flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands. The dough should feel slightly sticky, but elastic. Knead into a ball.

Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or warm room. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes. Gently press two fingers into dough. If an indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.

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My first attempt.

Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. Divide in half. Working with 1 portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion on a floured surface into a 12-inch rope, slightly tapered at ends. Place ropes on large baking sheet (covered in parchment paper to make clean up easier) sprinkled with flour or cornmeal.

Cover lightly with a dish towel and let rise again for 30-40 minutes or until doubled in size.

Heat oven to 450°. Place an iron skillet on a lower rack or the floor of the oven.

Uncover the dough. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle across the loaf about 3” apart. Dust top lightly with flour. Sprinkle with optional seeds or toppings if desired .

Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms) right before putting the loaves into the oven.

I'll keep trying!

I’ll keep trying!

Bake at 450° for 20-30 minutes or until browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped.
Allow breads to rest for thirty minutes after they are removed from the oven before serving.

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◊ 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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