The cure for crabbiness this week was a book called Cardamom and Lime, and a tortilla press. You’d think that having a short week at work would make a girl happy, but as with the case of most long weekends for me, the opposite occurred. My expectations for what I wanted to do last weekend fell short, causing a cram on my Sunday equivalent (AKA Tuesday) and crams on both my work days (Wednesday and Thursday). Thursday night I thought about all I needed and wanted to do over this weekend, and felt overwhelmed. It isn’t an unusual weekend, I was just…. crabby. I sat on my couch, looked at my new library books, and pulled out Cardamom and Lime, by Sarah Al-Hamad.
My first experience with people in turbans came from Wishbone’s Arabian nights, and Disney’s Aladdin. After that childhood of magical carpets, September 11th came along and I started to get all sorts of new information about the Middle East. Oppression of women, constant warfare, poverty and tyrants. Not just turbans but burkas and lives behind veils. This new picture was not a good one. It didn’t help that my dad did time as an Embassy guard in the Middle East, and had very few positive things to say about the culture there. He spoke of an upper class unable to do things for themselves, and women too smart to find husbands.
“I try to find the benefits and good things in any culture,” he said to me once, “but I cannot find anything good about that one.”
I don’t know why I picked up Cardamom and Lime in the library. Maybe it was because Middle Eastern cooking has a lot of sweet and savory spice combinations in it, and that has always been hard for me. Perhaps it was because the book was small for a cookbook, and the cover was intriguing. Whatever the reason, once I started reading it something in me changed. Al-Hamad writes of her journey in the Arabian Gulf from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. She writes of how open and proud people were of their cooking, and how easy it was to collect the recipes in her book. One cook led her to another, and another, and everyone she encountered both loved and cherished food and cooking as a central part of their lives. She writes,
“Perhaps because alcohol is forbidden and mostly avoided in the Gulf, food is Big. It occupies a central position in local life and culture. It is a means of communication and a social marker, a peace-offering, a way of demonstrating largesse and hospitality to friends and family, a form of one-upmanship, a conversation starter, a boredom buster, and an arena for female competitiveness. Recipes are coveted and secretly exchanged. Specialties are shown off at gatherings—cooking and eating are a big part of life.”
Suddenly, I wanted to meet these people. I wanted to be in those kitchens, where cooking rice with crispy onions is a three step process and an art form. I wanted to see a family bursting with pride because they own not one, but two date trees, and I wanted to find out what dates taste like freshly picked. Now I want to travel to the Arabian gulf, and meet these wonderful people who greeted Al-Hamad of London with such warmth and openness.
This feeling of exploration stayed with me as I opened up and used my brand new tortilla press. My hands still smell like masa, the finally ground corn flavored with lime that corn tortillas are made of. I wonder what it is like to make tortillas every day. To have a house that always smells like masa and chilli, or to see people carrying freshly baked tortillas from the factory, because they eat tortillas like we eat bread. I never wanted to go to Mexico before. What do I know of Mexico? Gang warfare and poverty, that’s what I know. Now I do want to travel there. I want to learn. I want to find out how our enthusiasm for food as human beings, for food as the foundation of a culture and a family, can bring another person and I together as friends.
Is this ignorance or inspiration? I’m not sure. Maybe a little bit of both. But when two groups of people find common ground, however small, it is very humanizing. This week, two groups of people have become more human to me. Whatever our differences in language and culture, maybe we can cook together one day. For now, travel pending, I’ll just learn to cook here in The States, knowing that somewhere out there, fellow cooks may look different, but smell like masa, or cardamom and lime… just like me.
This week in updates:
Where to start? Well, number one, grocery shopping went awesome. There was a little confusion when a cashier thought my bulk blueberries were oatmeal (I mislabeled) but in the end it worked out. AND I even had enough money for this amazing salsa! When I had my own tomato plants, it was easy to make my own salsa, but now as I am tomato-plant-less, purchasing is much more economical. I bought this jar made by high school students for $4. Isn’t that awesome?! Why don’t more schools do things like this? It helps the kids, the school, and my taste buds. Win, win, win.
My online courses in coursera are picking up, leading to a little bit of geometry confusion the occupied quite a bit of my time. However, I had time to start fiddling with my sowing machine. I learned how to wind the bobbin, if anyone knows what that means. I do now! I have these awesome books for inspiration, as well as some daydreams of houses to come. I have my first pet sitting job! I put myself out there on Rover because I miss dogs and why not get paid to have snuggle buddies? A lovely ex army couple is having me dog sit on Saturday. Good thing too, as my motorcycle decided to overheat and I needed a little extra money to have some guys check it out. Betty-boo is all better now. Running like a champ. Which is also good, because this girl has upcoming trips to Petaluma and San Fransisco. Petaluma is for work, San Fran is for pride week. I can’t wait! Romanian deadlift finally increased to 160 pounds. 40 pounds until goal weight!
The Recipe: Barbecue Tofu and Brie Baguette
So I talked about making baguette last week, and this is why I made it. Can you say delicious? I loved how easy the barbecue sauce was to make, and how it blended with the creamy brie. A lot of homemade barbecue sauces require you to use ketchup, which is stupid. If I had the money to buy a bottle of ketchup, you can be certain if I wanted barbecue sauce, I would have just bought that instead! The ingredients in this recipe from Healthy Recipes are, simple, wholesome, and best of all, paleo!
Ingredients for two sandwiches:
1 block extra firm tofu, cut into strips
Marinate the strips of tofu in the barbecue sauce for 1-8 hours. Grease a small baking pan, and bake the tofu at 350 for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Bake with a small amount of the barbecue sauce still covering the tofu. Cut baguette lengthwise and brush surfaces with olive oil. Put the tofu and brie where you want them, the tofu with additional barbecue sauce. Leaving the sandwich open, bake in the oven on a pan at 400 degrees until the cheese is melted and the baguette is toasty. Enjoy!