Thursday, December 22, 2011

what aisha khan taught me

Aisha Khan was found alive and well and now all the speculation begins. I didn't realize when people were posting prayers for God to bring her back safe and sound, they meant only if she was a good little Muslim girl. I don't care why she left. I am just happy it wasn't because some drunk guy raped her and left her in a ditch or something equally horrific. I pray that she finds peace and resolution for whatever caused her to disappear in the first place.

Over the last week, the first thing I would do every morning is come online and check for news of Aisha. Most days, there were just more stories of searches being organized or a new media outlet picking up the story. But in addition to that, there was the outpouring of support from thousands of people who were praying for her safe return, who were offering words of support to her family, who were crying along with her father and mother and praying that Aisha was ok.

Whether Aisha left over something trivial or over something significant, it took great courage to come back in the face of all the media coverage and attention this case received. I'm not sure I could have done it. 

I hope Aisha can see that her life is meaningful, that there is a great web of people who cared for her without having ever known her. I hope that is something we all can see. Whatever pain or suffering that each of us is going through, there is still so much humanity in the world and if we seek that in people, we will find it.

You can be angry as you want that Aisha wasn't abducted. You can demand to know what really happened. You can feel like you were deceived. But not me. I am thankful for Aisha Khan. She reminded me that there is nothing more important in the world than my family. She showed me that compassion and beauty live inside of my America. She made me realize that sometimes the best outcome is the one that you didn't realize you were praying for.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall is Here!

Happy Fall! Fall means so many great things and this Fall is extra special because it also means Sara's wedding, Eid in Michigan and a surprise vacation in November. Other than those great things, my Fall to do list includes:

Make this pumpkin crunch cake.

Wear a big cozy sweater like this.

Go pumpkin picking. (Carve picked pumpkins.)

Drink lots of tea.

Go to a cider mill.

Visit a haunted house.

Take lots of drives to see the fall colors.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Sometimes I feel like I can't write enough about loss. I am scared terrified of losing things. Ever since I was a little kid I'd think about losing my parents or my brother or sister. Now I am scared of losing Feraz, my friends, my job or so many of the thousands of amazing blessings I have in my life. Lately, my fear has been especially heightened because I ran across this blog. The author, Nie, was your average woman, probably more happy-go-lucky than most. She had a great life complete with the perfect husband, four kids and a strong faith. Then, her and her husband were in a terrible plane crash in which they lost their instructor and good friend. When the plane hit the ground, it burst into flames burning 84% of Nie's body and putting her in a three month long medically induced coma.

Three years later, she has gone through many ups and downs and has struggled with the aftermath of the accident. She has many positive things going on in her life, a beautiful life growing inside her, a supportive husband who has been with her through everything and her four children. But, she lost something on the day of that accident and her accident is a reminder that life is so incredibly fragile.

When I look at my apartment walls, when I look at the street I live on or the office that I work in, I realize that one day I will not occupy these spaces just like I no longer occupy my apartment in Turkey, or walk the streets of Ann Arbor or sit in the classrooms at Oakland University. That time moves forward and we are always leaving things behind us, and one day we will leave it all completely, one final time. But it is only death. And although it is unsettling, death does not scare me.

It is something like that plane crash that scares me. The idea that one look away from the road, one crazy person coming into your home, one instant that you might relive in your mind forever can change the trajectory of your life. Is this fate? I don't know but I don't think so. If it was fate, perhaps it would be easier to come to some reconciliation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Samosa Making Tutorial

Being Pakistani, I associate samosas with holidays, celebrations and happy moments. When I was young, samosas were staples at weddings, iftaars (parties where you break your fast in Ramadan) and at the mosque after Eid prayer. Until I was in my teens, I only knew one kind of samosa and that was what I thought was the "traditional" samosa. It was a pastry filled with potatoes, peas and spices and then deep fried so it had a crispy outer shell.

In my travels, I have seen samosas in every variation. Small ones, big ones. Vegetarian ones, meat ones. Fried ones, baked ones.Many countries around the world have their own samosa and in many cultures it holds the same positive associations it holds for me, a food that goes hand in hand with happy memories.

Since we don't have a car in DC and since I love samosas more than just about anything, I decided that I would make them at home. I remembered making them with my mom when I was quite young so I figured I was half way there. My mom used to use those freezer pastry sheets and I planned to do the same, until I saw the nutrition information on a packet Feraz brought home for me. At about 15 grams of fat, 225 calories and a very low nutritional grade, the ten dollar a pop pastry sheets were promptly returned. I didn't feel comfortable making something quite that bad as a snack for us or to serve to our guests.

I looked up some recipes for the pastry and it was easy enough to make myself. All I needed was:
  • 2 cups flour (you can use wheat or any flour you prefer but in this case I used unbleached  all-purpose flour)
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter. (I like to melt the butter on the stove and then let it cool for a few minutes before using. It seems to get a better result than just melting in the microwave. I also found that using vegtable oil as a substitute did not work.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons water

Mix the flour and salt and making a well in the middle, pour the butter in. Add the water little by little, as needed. At first the dough will feel too dry and crumbly but as you continue to knead it, it will get softer and smoother. If you are having major problems getting the consistency you want, I have found that adding additional melted butter helps.

After you have prepared the pastry dough, cover it and set it aside so you can make the filling. You have lots and lots of room to be creative with the filling. You can modify it so the flavors you love will really stand out. If you want to start with a basic filling though, this is loosly the recipe I used.
  • 4 large potatoes (which I boiled the first time, but microwaved in the future for a much faster process. Just make two cuts in the potato and put it in the microwave for 6-8 minutes per potato depending on your power)
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 3/4 spoon of salt (I use the regular sized spoon for these measurements, so something like a plastic spoon would be a good reference point. Sorry!)
  • 1 1/2 spoon of red chili powder
  • 1 1/2 spoon of cumin
  • 1/2 a spoon of whole corriander (smash these between your palms to help release the flavor and aroma but to still keep the texture they provide.)
  • 1 clove of finely chopped garlic
  • a small bunch of cilantro, very finely chopped
  • 1 green chili, finely chopped
 After you have peeled your microwaved or boiled potatos, dice the potatos up and mix them with all the ingredients above on medium heat for a few minutes, until everything is mixed nicely. It doesn't have to look pretty but I do recommend aiming to keep the potato pieces as uniform in size, as possible which I didn't do this first time around.

Now, its time to move back to your pastry. Take a handful of the dough and roll in your hands untl you have a nice little dough ball. Press the ball down onto the surface you are working on and then with a rolling pin flatten in out until you have a pita sized piece of dough. This does not have to be pretty or precise! Cut the dough into two pieces with a butter knife. Again precision is not necessary here. It will not matter at all once you make the samosa. In the picture below you can see my pastry looks nothing like a cicrle and I cut it in half wherever I felt like it. Then, take 1-2 tablesppons of your filling and place it on the middle of the pastry. I made the mistake of overstuffing my pastry the first time I made it but a little bit actually goes a long way and you want to make sure you will be able to close the pastry up.

To finish the samosa, you want to make a triangle shape. You will want to fold the pastry so what was the straight cut is folded upwards. So you can take the two corners above (in the lower half pastry) and fold them towards you for the result below. Take your thumb and press the excess dough together to seal the samosa. I have heard that brushing an egg onto the dough helps to seal the dough but I didn't notice any real difference when I did this and when I didn't. Just try to smooth everything down as much as you can so it beomes one solid shell.

For a traditional samosa, simply deep fry these in a pan of oil. (We use olive oil becuase it makes us feel slightly better about the indulgence.) These are best served with a nice mint chutney (I will post a recipe for that soon).

Since the prep work for the dough and filling can take a little bit of time, I just like to make a whole bunch and freeze them so I can whip them up quickly for any surprise guests we might get. It might be good to start with smaller batches until you tweak the recipe to get it just the way you want though! I made beef samosas using this same basic recipe but substitute beef for potatoes and cook for a bit longer so the beef is well done. I also made the samosas about half the size for the beef ones and reduced the filling accordingly.

I hope you have fun trying out this recipe as the weather starts to get colder. I would love to hear any tricks or tips you have for making samosas.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Party Favors for Adults

When I was little, the best parties were the ones that I would get a goodie bag at the end. It was fun to see my friends and play with them but nothing compared to the feeling of biting into a piece of candy and its sugary goodness erupting in my mouth.

I always hear adults saying kids don't know how good they have it with voices dripping in envy. But the funny thing about being an adult is that we get to decide how to live our lives. We obviously can't have all the joys of childhood but we can have a lot of them. We can stay up as late as we want, we can have sleepovers with our friends, we can run through sprinklers and we can look at the world as something beautiful and new. Kids take the time to appreciate and value the small, fun things. So, when we envy the joy of little kids, we are the only ones stopping ourselves from having that same joy. And we can do lots of things little kids can't! We can eat cake for breakfast whenever we want. We can get on a plane and see the world. We can  We have it pretty good.

But, I digress from the original point of this post which is to share a fun favor I recently made for a party which I hope my guests liked and which I had a blast making. I knew I wanted to do a party favor and since I have been getting into baking, I wanted to share my new hobby with my guests. I decided to give out cupcakes

I used the dark chocoalte recipe in America's Test Kitchen, the peanut butter frosting recipe found here and used organic rasberry jam for the center filing. I added a little Ghiradelli butterscotch chip in the center of the cupcake to bring it all together.

If you are going to give out cupcakes as gifts, you need something to give them in! I did some googling to see where bakeries or other DIYers got their boxes and ended up ordering my boxes and inserts from here. I ordered these, these and these.

Since I was having my party during Ramadan to break the fast, I wanted to tie that in as well. I created these little cards using an excerpt from an article I had read earlier in the day encouraging people to donate towards the Somalian food crises. I printed the cards on cardstock which I ordered from here.

I searched far and wide for Ramadan cards but didn't find anything I liked, so I used this cute image below from Pinterest and just copied it to Word and using a text box and Old Typewriter font, which you can download for free here, I created my own little Ramadan card.

Finally, I need something to tie everything together, literally. I have been seeing a lot of presents tied with twine and fell in love so I ordered some here. I wasn't really in love with this stuff and the actual color is much more brown than yellow as you can see below but then again, I accidentally ordered hemp when I wanted twine. I learned my lesson and have found great twine since then but for the boxes, the hemp actually worked out fine

Here they are all set up for the guests with Teddy Roosevelt keeping guard.

A week later, we had another party and using the same idea, I created the boxes below. I used cake box mix and frosting because making the cupcakes took me forever the first time around. I think the ideal approach is to use cake mix for the cupcakes but homemad frosting. That way you save a lot of time without sacrificing on taste.

I used the pink boxes this time.

Have you been making any favors lately? Have you gotten any that you loved? 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Making sense of murder.

Give sorrow words;
the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart
and bids it break.

In the village that I was born, there was a murder this week. A dispute went too far and a group from a nearby village killed a young man that lived close to where I was born. After the group of brothers murdered him, they called the boy's father and said, "Come collect your son's body. We have killed him."

A few weeks ago, we read the papers and there was a story about a husband and wife walking home with their son when the husband and wife were gunned down. The wife died and the husband suffered minor injuries. What was first considered a racially motivated attack turned out to be a murder plot, orchestrated by the husband and his mistress.

A few weeks before that, there was the murder of three young men in Birmingham, UK during the riots in England. As these men tried to defend their town, they were run down by a car, none of them surviving.

These deaths have been on my mind. There is a sadness for the families of the people killed and a grieving for those moments before death when these people realized that this was how they were meeting their end. In violence. In hate. Their farewell drenched in the worst of this world.

What will we think of when we die? And will others think of us when they die? Is there a way to redeem that last moment for people who are about to die? A few years ago I was in a really bad car accident and I was sure that there would be no way I would survive. As car after car hit me, all I could think of was God and the people that I loved, begging God to have mercy on me and begging God to have mercy on them when they learned the news. I was scared but I was ok because truly in that moment I knew the love of God and I knew the love of all the people I held close.

We can't control what will happen to us and we can't end all violence and we certainly can't evade death. But we can help make each others time here easier. We can be kind. We can smile. We can make someone feel loved. We can ease someones burden. I.P. Richardson wrote of death:

‘Grieve not,
nor speak of me with tears
but laugh and talk of me
as if I was beside you….
I loved you so –
’twas heaven here with you.’

We can't stop all the horrible things in the world from happening. But through our love, we can help create something beautiful here on earth. That is something.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Black Thumb

I guess I didn't inherit my mother's green thumb.

Any ideas for kill-proof plants? I still have a dream of growing my own herbs and veggies one day. Help!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An old friend found again

Today, after a long hiatus from my favorite poets, I visited Pabula Neruda. And in the middle of the day, I felt like I had gone away on a vacation, or walked on a lonely road at the edge of the world. I felt very far from where I was and I was reminded of how powerful good writing is. For the last six months, most everything I have been reading has been very technical. Even in my free time I find myself gravitating towards readings that are work related. But yesterday Feraz surprised me by having signed me up for a writer's conference that is happening this weekend at Johns Hopkins. Writing will never be my career, I will most likely never see my words in typeset at a bookstore and perhaps I will never write another 'novel' but writing has been my faithful companion from the time I learned to hold a pencil and today the echos of a great poet and the gentle caring of a husband have brought that old friend back into my life. As I reopen the sole lonely folder on my desktop called "stories," I leave you with one of my favorite Neruda poems. 

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voide. Her bright body. Her inifinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my sould is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Some people don't believe in God. Some people think that the 'power of prayer' is something to laugh at. Some people just don't want to believe. To those people I say, Go to Target. Walk down to the frozen foods section and tell me that there aren't Magnum bars in the freezer. After years of praying on it, Magnum bars are now available in the U.S. Don't ever give up hope.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Three Things I Can't Live Without

When Feraz and I moved into our first grown-up home, we had to make lots of choices like what kind of furniture to buy, how to decorate and how we would run this ship. The most important decision we made was to keep our home as organic as possible. We buy organic foods, have organic towels, organic soaps and face wash and organic cleaning supplies. It is working out great and after living here for six months we have by and large maintained our organic lifestyle. Our skin glows, our conscience is clean and we break out in at least one musical number a day. The only problem in our otherwise blemish free life is that our house never feels clean.

If you have a desi mother you know what I'm talking about. I am talking about you can eat off anything in the house clean. I love that feeling. Organic and all natural cleaning supplies can get you to regionals but for real national level cleaning, you have to go to the aerosol can, environment killing, toxic filled things you grew up using. (Only a desi kid grows up with warm memories of their favorite cleaning supplies.)

So, here are my guilty pleasures for household supplies I can't live without.

Number Three: Drano Max Gel

Our home is near perfect but the one thing I can't stand is that the water starts to back up in both the upstairs sinks and baths. There is something unholy about taking a shower with filth gathering up around your feet. Worse is that once we were getting out of the shower, the water would sit there creating a ring of film in the baths and sinks. It was becoming a supreme pain in the butt to be constantly cleaning the sinks and baths. We tried regular Drano with no luck and I even stuck my hands down the drain to see if I could coax out whatever was in there but to no avail. Yesterday, Feraz went at the drains with Drano Max and some boiling water and glory of all glories, the water goes down swimmingly. I spent a good five minutes in the shower just watching how the water go down the drain. Its the simple things in life...

Number Two: Lysol Cling Clip-On 2in1 Toilet Bowl Freshener and Cleaner

Who likes a dirty toilet? Nobody! That's who. Not even a dirty toilet likes a dirty toilet. (PSA: If you google images "dirty toilet," be prepared to pay the consequences.)

Our Lysol clip-ons are on every toilet and because of them we almost never have to clean the toilets. Anything that prevents me from having to touch a toilet gets on my top three. Also, the bathrooms smell so amazing that I am convinced that they will be featured in a commercial in the future when scents can come out of the TV.

Number One: Scrubbing Bubbles!!!!!

There is nothing in the world better for your cleaning needs then Scrubbing Bubbles. They Really DO scrub so you don't have to. When I was a little kid, I used to look forward to cleaning the bathroom. There was such a satisfaction in spraying and spraying and seeing the big mounds of foam building. I would imagine that the big mounds were houses or mountains and I would imagine lots of little scrubbing village people living their merry lives in there. Then I would turn on the faucet and destroy them. I was a very healthy child.

I killed these adorable guys on a weekly basis. Twenty years later, it is still incredibly satisfying. If I had to live on a desert island with lots of dirty sinks and bathtubs and could only take one cleaning product, (It could happen.) I would take this can hands down.

So, these three guys are the reason that our house is no longer orgosher, (I think that term could definitely catch on.) It is a bit happier, and a lot cleaner. I hope you use some of these products and they bring you as much joy as they bring us.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Carrot Cake

Do you remember the smell of cookies baking on weekends when you were a kid? Do you remember how excited you would get at the thought of your mom baking your favorite cake for your birthday? Or how comforting it was to have someone make you a pie when it felt like the whole world sucked?

I don't.

Although my mother is good at many things, she is no baker and growing up I saw more fudge stripe cookies than any sort of home baked goods. I started cooking at a young age but never really baked. When I was in law school, I tried my hands at baking cookies a few times to disastrous results. I was sure that my mom had killed any baking gene there might have been in our family and resigned myself to raising my children on Keebler products.

But everyday when I check my facebook I see photo after photo of people's success and I think if they can make a cake, why can't I?

Although I fully plan to be a tiger mother I realize that with thousands of how to videos available on the internet, there is no reason I can't become a master baker by the time my children have to start taking birthday cupcakes to class and effectively prevent my future children from blogging about how I never baked them a cake.

Last week I made these apple cupcakes/muffins which turned out ok (By ok I mean I only ate six of them on Sunday) but this week I wanted a bigger challenge and I wanted to correct some of the mistakes I made in last weeks baking adventure. I decided on carrot cake because it is my fave and also because we had a bag of organic carrots that had been sitting in the fridge for about three weeks. (They hadn't gone bad. I swear.)

I used the recipe in America's Test Kitchen cookbook. It is easy to follow and called for lots of gentleness. Gently mix the flour and spices, gently fold in the carrots, gently fluff the frosting. By the end, I thought my cake needed a therapist more than an oven.

Although the recipe didn't call for nuts, I remembered that every mile high carrot cake I had ever eaten included nuts and I remembered that they had been on the side of the cake so I decide to add that in. To figure out how to do it, I googled "how to stick nuts on the side of a cake." That led me to this website and although the name baking911 really spoke to me, all the pink, red and schizophrenic fonts was too much for me and I quickly hit the back button. The next website had too many words but as I scrolled down I saw this picture which was all I needed. Falling the smack the thing you want on the side of your cake method, I was able to get the result I wanted.

For the final making my cake look like a real cake touch I used my recently purchased pastry bag to make a squiggly thing around my cake. To learn how to do this, I googled "how to make a squiggly thing around a cake." I ran into a website that was called "Directions for Decorating a Tinkerbell Birthday Cake." I decided to wing it. Making the squiggly thing was actually really easy and I did it in about 12 seconds. I think if I had taken 30 seconds, it would have looked better but all I could think of was how badly I wanted to eat my cake so I didn't spend enough time smoothing the frosting, nicely putting on the nuts or making an even squiggly line. That did not take away from how awesome the cake tasted so I win(ning).

The best thing about making the cake at home was that I was able to use all organic ingredients and was able to use the "light" recipe which cut out half the fat and calories. It still tasted amazing as is evidenced by how much we have already eaten.

The moral of this post? With google, all things are possible.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Decorating Fever

Ever since moving to the new place I have been obsessed with reading home decorating blogs. Although our place is a long way from where I want it to be, it has been fun to start getting settled in. Now that winter is in full-gear, (Although DC winter has been laughable so far for this Michigander.) most of us are spending a lot more time at home and its a perfect opportunity to give your home a little pick me up or just have something fun to read while you surf the internet for hours... not that I would ever surf the internet for hours.

My go to blog when I'm looking for a cheaper version of something that I am in love with but am not ready to spend $3,000 on is copycatchic. Every day she finds a great piece and then points you in the direction of a much, much cheaper version.  For instance, she recently found a knock-off of an amazing $5,000 DWR lamp for $300 including delivery! Unfortunately we have way too much lighting in our apt already or I would have picked that up in a heartbeat.

For general styling tips or room decorating ideas I can count on littlegreenotebook.  Jenny, the blogger, used to just blog for fun but so many people wanted to hire her as a decorator that she was able to parlay it into her full time job. (In fact, I think that was the case for all the bloggers I talk about in this post. Pretty cool, huh?) Hers was the first blog I read and I went through the whole thing in just a few days! She also throws in some cute stories about her three little girls and has great ideas for little kids rooms.

My favorite blog of the moment is younghouselove. These are just you regular dick and jane (or sherry and john in this case) who take on massive home remodeling projects without having any formal training. They post about lots of little quick projects you can do around the house to really turn it around but then also post about redoing a full bathroom and other really big projects. They learn as they go and are trying to make the point that home improvement is something anyone can do with a little trial and error. 

So every morning the first thing I do is pour my first cup of coffee and see what these ladies (and one gentlemen) are serving up. The blogs are a fun and relaxing retreat and a great resource for anyone who feels like they have been having the un-cozy home blues. 

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