Fresh produce always reminds me of Spring. The crispness in the air is just enough for a light sweater or blazer, and a welcome change from that horribly bulky winter jacket you were forced to carry around. You switch from hot coffee (or hot chocolate) to a delicious iced latte or a cold press. And the trees start blooming! This is probably my favorite part. I love walking or driving down the same streets that were so stark and dreary, and are now bright and deliciously green. That brings me to this gorgeous batch of carrots I picked up. Originally I thought I’d roast them with some butter and herbs to go with some chicken. But then I remembered I’d been meaning to make some carrot cake. On a whim I went with the cake option (obv).
Now “by a whim” I meant I decided on it and life got in the way for an extra week. I had to search for a recipe that wouldn’t fail me. My husband is a big carrot cake fan and a half ass cake wouldn’t do. I didn’t want it to be too sweet, and I wanted the crumb to have some weight to it, but not be dense like a pound cake. In the end I was debating between the recipe by Faux Martha and Smitten Kitchen. What pushed me over the edge is that the Faux Martha recipe used some whole wheat flour as well. I loved the idea and felt that it would give the cake a good amount of heft. Plus I had some whole wheat pastry flour that was going to expire in a month so…. Qismat!
I just need things to be simple. For a little while at least. I need things to flow, be easy, and just work. I need to start being on time to work, have a handle on my kids, actually get projects and work DONE, and be able to post a bit more regularly. But I feel like I’m failing at just about all of these things. I feel like I’m just playing catchup and each day I slip a little further back on the path no matter how fast I think I’m running towards my goal. I know in my head that I’m not alone in this feeling. Most people feel like they aren’t accomplishing as much as they could. But the problem with this whole feeling inadequate feeling is that it isolates you. In those moments it makes you feel like you are the only one who just can’t get their act together. Continue reading
I’m going to continue 2016 with yet another breakfast / brunch option, though this one is nowhere near as healthy as the zucchini muffins I posted about. Cream, butter, chocolate paired with strawberries… these scones are pretty indulgent if you ask me. Before 2011, the only time I had had scones was from places like Starbucks or no name bakeries. They were hard, kind of chalky, weighed down by those disgusting hard sugar granules on top. I much preferred muffins and never gave them any thought.
Now in 2011, Maheen and I got to visit Malaysia, which was such a fantastic trip, and we got to visit the Boh tea gardens of the Cameron Highlands. Lush hills swallowed by fog and clouds, just chilly enough to wrap yourself in a shawl and curl up with a good cup of tea and some snacks. The best part was a tour of the tea gardens and standing on a deck right above the gardens. Now I know this wasn’t a “discovery”; the whole thing was very touristy and every space was staged, but it was beautiful none the less.
New year, new you, right? I’ll admit, there can be something magical about Winter (when it cooperates). Snow softly falling, twinkle lights wrapped around bare trees, and the idea that we can start fresh. For years I’d be all in when it came to resolutions, promising myself that THIS year would be the year. I’d be healthier, learn to draw / play the guitar / master this skill or that, and in general just be a better / cooler version of myself. And of course, EVERY year, I’d break that promise to myself. I’m sure many of you have had very similar experiences. So I started taking a different approach.
As you guys may have noticed, I’m trying to put what’s really on my mind into my posts these days. This is part of a personal initiative to just be more reflective, and stay true to my inner self. It’s so easy to get caught up in our privilege and petty complaints that we forget to be grateful for what we DO have. Though it’s been a pretty mild winter in Minnesota, it’s still winter and pretty damn cold out. There are so many people that go without shelter, coats, food, and basics during this time. If you take nothing else away from this post, please take this. Every time you pull on your warm down jacket, or turn the heat on in your car, or breathe that sigh of relief with a warm cup of coffee or tea, think about how not everyone has access to this. Just take a few minutes, and think about how what we consider basics are luxuries for so many others.
So it’s holiday season. One of my favorite flavors that comes up around now is peppermint chocolate. You can find it in truffles, or cookie exchanges, or that addictive peppermint chocolate bark that is sold at Williams Sonoma. I’m a fan of mint chocolate no matter what time of year, but there’s just something more festive about it now. There’s a special sort of magic in the air when houses and stores sparkle with twinkle lights, and when people are a bit more ready with a smile. It’s the time of year where soup kitchens are overrun with volunteers, donations to charity organizations go through the roof, and everyone is a little bit more willing to lend a hand to a stranger. Or at least that is what I hope for. We are also living in a world where mistrust seems to be running high. Political heads and community leaders are counting on this and rallying people into a frenzy. “If you see something, say something” has honestly run amok. My three year old daughter has had to deal with more racist encounters then I think I ever had to deal with in my entire childhood. Why should she ever have to? What the hell is wrong with people where they feel it’s open season on babies? Today there were additional peaceful protests by the Black Lives Matter movement. They marched to the airport, and the whole thing dissipated in no time. We need movements like this to wake people up. To get them at least thinking about the world we live in. There have been so many cases where, even with video evidence, the victims get no justice. As a person of color, how do you not support something like this? But there are also so many communities and individuals who just don’t want to get caught up in “the drama”. They think that by being a model minority, they and their families will be safe. I can’t buy into that. Thank God, my family hasn’t been involved in anything as scary as what happened to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or Sandra Bland, but there is always the chance. And even if we were safe, I’d like to think that my privilege wouldn’t blind me from the realities of other communities. So I’m asking you to just take a moment and think about your neighbor this holiday season. Whether they are a person of color, or Muslim, or part of the LGBT community, or just something that is just different than what you know or recognize, take a minute to think about them and support them. That’s what I feel like the holidays should really be about. There is so much potential for goodness right now. Please don’t squander it by passing it out only to your own.
Chocolate Peppermint Cake
- FOR CAKE
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably dutch processed like Valrhona)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup of hot water
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1 cup yogurt (or sour cream)
- 2 eggs
- FOR FROSTING
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons peppermint extract
- FOR CAKE
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Whisk together all the dry ingredients
- Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until there are no lumps
- Divide batter across three 6 inch round cake pans. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean. About 35-40 minutes
- FOR FROSTING
- Beat butter on medium speed until smooth and fluffy
- Add 2 cups of powdered sugar until fully incorporated. Beat for 2-3 minutes.
- Add milk and peppermint extract. Beat for 1 minute.
- Add remaining 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat until thick and fluffy. 2-3 minutes.
So if you guys follow me on Instagram, then you know I got to take part in a Pinch of Yum photography workshop about two weeks ago. The workshop came at a perfect time for me. I’d been feeling down about the move to Minnesota, I wasn’t feeling inspired by baking or the blog, and I couldn’t figure out how to update my workflow to work with my new life (the move, two babies, working full time, etc). I had some vague ideas, but what Lindsay gave me were real tools to make that happen. Here are my top three takeaways from the weekend –
1. Natural light is everything – This is the go to rule on nearly every food photography tutorial / article / post / etc. But I had forgotten how magical natural light really is. And not just the light itself, but how you position your food in respect to the light, the shadows, working the colors. I finally got to play with artificial lighting and realized that it’s really not for me.
2. VSCO isn’t just for Instagram – One of my biggest problems lately has been finding time to edit photos. Lindsay showed us her workflow of using Lightroom, and a custom VSCO filter she created for her photos. Couple that with the natural light, and I have a feeling editing won’t be such a trial going forward.
3. My FEEL – If you’ve visited Pinch of Yum’s site you notice that the photos are bright, a bit blown out, and go a different direction than what I want for myself. I was a bit concerned, but what was great is that Lindsay helped me find my own style and gave me some legit pointers on how to stay true to it. Why did I like certain photos? What were the physical representations of feelings like “moody” or “soft” and how do I capture that in my own photos? What sort of editing gets me closer to that feeling?
Now I just have to make use all of this and stick with it. Until then, I’ll leave you with some random shots I took on my iPhone with basic editing on VSCO. If you want to check out more shots, check the official post on Pinch of Yum.
So the move to Twin Cities (Minnesota) is officially official. For the past year we’ve been going back and forth from NY to Minnesota to NY to Pakistan to Minnesota, and it was taking its toll. Living out of suitcases, constant packing and unpacking, working remotely on a 15 inch laptop, not having access to my car, not having access to my mixer… well it was just as stressful as it sounds. But alh things have finally (sort of) settled down. I’m still unpacking, but at least I’m in a space that’s MY home.
People keep asking me how I could move from a place like NY to something so small time like Minneapolis / St Paul, and I don’t quite know how to respond. I’m actually really liking it here. There are a ton of coffee shops, great food spaces, a pretty cool art scene, and everything is manageable. I can drive just about everywhere, nearly every spot is kid friendly (I’m talking baby changing stations in the bathroom, high chairs, crayons readily available for kids), and it’s not overwhelming. I’m pretty excited to start really exploring spaces and sharing them with you all. The only thing that gets me down is how hard it is meeting new people. We have a few friends that we’ve made and I’m actually going to brunch with a great group of women tomorrow so let’s see how that goes. Feeling grateful for the few random interactions I’ve had that have panned out so well.
Six months huh? Hah, I feel like there are times where I take the “part-time” part of this blog a little too seriously. But between a big move from NYC to the Twin Cities in Minnesota (with a toddler), to switching my job situation, to finalizing our daughter’s adoptions, to other family stuff… I just couldn’t seem to find the time. Or rather, the energy.
This is the first time in our little girl’s life where we haven’t had a family support system to fall back on. We were lucky enough to be less than 10 minutes from both sets of grandparents, which meant plenty of weekend mornings where I could just sleep in. If you’ve met my kid, you’ll know she’s feisty and a handful. She’s always been surrounded by adults, and so she now thinks she’s 25. There was always someone ready to hang out with her, play with her, keep her entertained. Now she only has us. Add trying to potty train her, a bought of pneumonia, and her first ear infection to the list and well, I’m surprised I’m not rocking back and forth in a closet somewhere.
Growing up I was taught I could be anything I wanted to be – an astronaut, a teacher, a doctor, an artist, and even President. School, especially elementary school, was about hope and encouragement. Dream big! Believe! Spread your wings and FLY! Hah at home, the message was a bit different. You are smart and can be anything you want to be, so long as it’s a responsible and financially sound path. No surprise my parents wanted me to be a doctor, or something ‘safe’ within the medical field. As I grew older, and my dad realized I was a girl, he switched his mind to just something short and safe within the medical field because I was supposed to have kids and a demanding career shouldn’t take away from a home life. Oh hello patriarchy!
The idea of becoming a photographer or a journalist or an author was a pipe dream and something only ‘heroines in novels did’ according to my Mom 🙂 Never mind that I was never found without a camera in my hand since the age of 8 when I got my first one, it was something that just wasn’t done. Years rolled on, I discovered I loved Math and decided to move forward as a Computer Science and Math major. The idea of becoming a photographer became a nice alternative life career I dreamed of when I got bored at work or frustrated.
Here’s the funny thing about this generation though, the one that follows mine; they are crazy. They have jobs like mine – fiscally responsible, stable jobs – and they just quit. Quit! Or get laid off if we are going back to 2008 – 2010. Then they become playwrights. Um. What? I can’t wrap my head around it. I don’t know if it’s ballsy or if it’s ridiculous. Or in some cases (Cat cafes, Poodle hotels, very specific robot projects) a little bit of both. It reminds me of the time when I came very close to quitting my own job and joining a Photography internship. But the whole child-of-immigrant-parents-who-have-struggled-their-whole-life-to-provide-you-a-secure-future side of my brain kicked in. I’ll quit just as soon as I have the right amount of savings. Let me just get this one project under belt so I have a safe resume. And as soon as that kicked in, my doubts took center stage. Do I even have what it takes? Imagine the grueling hours and the minimal pay. Are you crazy? Just because you have this job doesn’t mean you can’t follow those dreams on the side. Be an adult Aaisha! So that’s what I did.
Does anyone else feel that they have multiple personalities that are nearly always fighting inside their heads? No? Just me? Hm. Oh no I see a hand up near the back of the room. Hi there. You too huh? How damn annoying is that?
Part of me is a strong, intelligent feminist sort of woman. Jokes about sexism or patriarchy or privilege send me off the deep end in an instant. My family knows this. My friends know this. Hell even coworkers and acquaintances know this. Without a doubt I will always react, and it’s something they count on for entertainment. The word “princess” is never used in our house because of all the baggage and societal obligations it carries, and I don’t want my daughter carrying the burden of that word. My parents think I’m crazy and over reacting, but I know these are the sort of things I have to stay vigilant about. That and introducing the joy of reading and STEM subjects to her before the world tries to stamp out her intelligence in favor of selfies. Thank God my husband agrees.
But. I really like Mariah Carey. She’s my go to karaoke-slash-blasting-it-in-the-car-and-screaming-my-heart-out singer. And Taylor Swift. God. What is wrong with me? Yes Taylor Swift. As in I own every one of her albums. At least I can blame Mariah Carey on the fact that I have an emotional connection from my early teenage years, but Taylor Swift? I’m 33 for goodness sakes. The sparkle teenage me (as I refer to her) lifts her chin defiantly when I argue with her, and just stares me down. “So? The music is FUN! Don’t think about it too much! You’re allowed to just. Have. FUN. You’re a teenager!” (I’m really not I try to explain to her. That’s part of the problem.)