December 10, 2012
Falling in love with a place is much like falling in love with a person. For a while, this place can do no wrong; its flaws all have silver linings; each street, shop, and tree possesses some sort of magic to hold your fascination. Inevitably, the novelty of its newness will fade. The place won’t just be a place anymore—it will be a part of you. It will frustrate you and humble you and excite you and teach you about yourself and humanity. And one day, if you leave, you will face the jarring realization that it will always be a part of you and you will always miss it, even if you never want to return.
The first time I had such a realization was in 2010 when I moved back to the US from Egypt. Standing in the back yard of my parent’s house in New York, looking at the forest and the fallen leaves and the patches of melting snow that were so poignantly not Egypt, I knew that wherever I was, I’d feel a longing for the place that I wasn’t. Even now I sometimes stumble into a vivid flashback of the vegetable market near my apartment in Giza or the filthy roach-infested dive bar that I loved for the diptych of the owner and Gamal Abdel Nasser at the entrance. Sometimes I want to be standing on a hill in al-Azhar Park at dusk listening to the hum of mosques as they slowly join the call to prayer.
Now that I live in California, I feel the same longing for New York—for a hike on the Appalachian Trail when the leaves are changing color; for a coffee in Riverside Park when the tulips are in bloom; for a cross-country ski with my dad through sparkling fresh snow and icicle trees. Southern California, I already know, will always be a part of me too, and one day, if I leave, I’ll miss its friendly, politically engaged atmosphere and its barren alien landscape.
Perhaps it’s time for me to stop moving before my self is a collection of fragments scattered around the globe! Continue reading
October 15, 2012
Fall is the season of comfort food. Even in southern California, where the leaves remain green and the temperature doesn’t drop below 65 degrees, pumpkin lattes and hearty stews abound. Most Americans, me included, associate comfort food with dishes like macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, beef stew, ice cream, apple pie, or pretty much anything loaded with fat and processed carbohydrates.
Conversely, most Americans associate unappetizing health food with things like tofu, salad, and any vegetable but potatoes (unless it’s a vegetable smothered in cream and/or cheese, in which case it crosses over into the realm of comfort food). But there’s definitely no American-style dish involving tofu that’s considered comforting. The very suggestion is enough to give children nightmares.
I always thought the American notion of comfort food was the universally accepted definition. Then I moved to Egypt and realized that comfort food in the Middle East generally involves rice, which was not on my comfort food radar at that point in time. Growing up, my family would eat rice for one of two reasons: either it was an accompaniment to some kind of “ethnic” meal, like Indian or Mexican food, or it was the only starch we had in the house. Potatoes, pasta, polenta and bread were always preferable to rice. So I associated rice with either foods outside of my comfort zone or as the undesirable substitute for much-loved potato dishes.
October 8, 2012
I’ve read numerous articles in defense of maligned vegetables, the most memorable being Frank Bruni’s praise of broccoli. I would argue that mushrooms—not broccoli—have the worst reputation and most fervent detractors. But what about that vegetable everyone loves yet only eats once a year in its singular, seasonal manifestation made from overly sweetened and spiced canned goods?
Of course, I’m referring to pumpkin and pumpkin pie. You may be thinking “Wait! We’re much more creative with pumpkin these days! I’ve seen pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin quick bread, even a pumpkin milkshake.” But delve a little deeper and you’ll realize that all of these dishes are made with canned pumpkin, lots of sugar, and “pumpkin pie spices.”
I rarely see fresh pumpkin or savory pumpkin dishes on menus, and that’s really a shame because fresh pumpkin is a versatile, unique, and tasty addition to a number of dishes. Also, fresh pumpkin puree is incredibly easy to prepare and it makes a much better pie than the canned stuff. Continue reading
September 24, 2012
The word “double” in the name of a recipe always elicits a sense of mischievous anticipation and entitlement from me. I feel like I’m 6 years old again and allowed to eat dessert before dinner. Please allow me to demonstrate this sentiment with a little experiment. First, read this list of food items:
- Fudge Brownies
- Apple Pie
- French Fries
August 28, 2012
If I had to guess which pantry item I use with the most frequency and enthusiasm, it would be either tahini or chickpea flour.
Tahini is an obvious choice for someone who lived in the Middle East and loved the food. I use it in traditional ways—hummus, tahina, moutabbal, chicken fatteh—but also in some pretty unusual concoctions that arose, as all great ideas have, from desperation.
My favorite thing to use tahini for is salad dressing. I mix the tahini with lemon juice or vinegar (it thickens to a paste), and then thin it with water and more vinegar if necessary to make a very flavorful, creamy dressing that’s perfect on a number of salads. Sometimes I’ll add chopped herbs, like parsley or cilantro, or spices, like coriander and cumin. Always salt and pepper. Any type of vinegar is fine—I’ve used apple cider, red wine, and rice wine. If you ever find yourself out of olive oil and need to make a dressing, this is a great solution. But I suppose I’m the only person who runs out of olive oil before tahini. Continue reading