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.)
Every day, I wake up and think, “Here we go. Another day. Another day of yelling and fighting with people who are idiots, of bending every which way to finish my tasks on time. Another day of dealing with a commute that takes exceptionally longer than necessary because of train traffic, or signal problems, or taking the long way around so I’m not stuck in a stairwell that smells like fresh pee. Another day of working nonstop then coming home to a daughter who needs me, but I somehow just don’t have the energy to fully be present. Of looking at her with slightly vacant eyes while she demands I help her build yet another tower with her stack of blocks. Another day of just being exhausted, falling into bed around 11:30pm and passing out into a dreamless sleep until the next morning.” I close my eyes again for a few minutes just trying to breathe, then force myself out of bed to deal with all the drama that is bound to unfold.
The day goes exactly as I expected, sometimes worse and sometimes not as horrible as the day before. I used to take small breaks between all the headaches by browsing Instagram, reading a book on my commute (when I manage to wrangle a seat), crying through the latest NY Times Modern Love article, or scrolling through Facebook. But now, even that doesn’t cut it. My personal feed is filled with the Hell on Earth that the people of Gaza are living through, my email is forever reminding me about all the people in NY who are without food* and shelter, and I can’t even get into the elevator at work without the little elevator TV reminding me of everything else that is wrong in the world. Try as I might to escape, I just can’t.
Some days, the panic sets in. My soft heart and my imagination take hold of an image, a blurb, and run with it. How are they surviving? What series of events led them to where they are? God… how easily can me and my family fall into that same situation? To get injured and not be able to work, to watch out savings vanish in a matter of months trying to keep up, to fall to the fringe of society in what will probably feel like an instant. What can I do to keep my baby safe? My parents safe? My family intact? God… why is life so difficult?
Eid Mubarak loves! It was a crazy month of fasting, and now it’s time to celebrate! As you may or may not know, Muslims all around the world spent the last 30ish days fasting from sunrise to sunset. Here in the US that’s more than 15 hours of fasting, in the middle of Summer. I had been dreading it honestly. Crazy NYC summers, feeling stifled by the humidity and the heat that seems to ooze through the very concrete of this damn city. Not being able come out from the under the weight of it all with a freezing cold glass of iced coffee or chocolate milk. Dread. But it wasn’t too bad! The weather has been mild to say the least, and I feel truly blessed. I know this season could have been so much worse, but through the mercy of Mother Nature / God, I made it through and I feel invigorated. I was taking time to reflect, taking time to prepare food at home, and spending more time with family again. Not just, “Hey did you do the dishes? Is time to feed Razia? Ugh, more bills??” But real time with real conversations. I was spending my lunch breaks thinking about the blog and where I want it to go, or taking walks and exploring the neighborhood. There were more connections with friends, and visiting people within the community. All in all I was taking time to just make things better. I was exhausted by the end of the night, but my head felt clearer. Hah, maybe it was just the lack of caffeine