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.

Loss

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.

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.

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? 

Making sense of murder.

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

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.