Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Joy of Cooking

*DISCLAIMER: I'm NOT proposing that I make the best or most delicious hummus*

I'm not a trained chef; I'm a home cook who was taught by both of my parents and my grandmothers. Thinking more deeply about cooking and baking, however, I have to admit that those aren't the only people who influenced my cooking. My aunts and uncles (both Canadian and Japanese) have helped along the way, as have cookbooks, cooking shows, my friends and my partners. These people have all contributed to the food I prepare. So, while I was making hummus the other day (prepared the way that the Irish chef and I like it), I was curious about the recipes on the internet (other cooks/bakers and, of course, YouTube). I came across a website that made me laugh and then cringe because it made me think about cooking/baking and the preposterous theory that there's only ONE way a dish can be prepared (does anyone still think this way?!?). The website, a blog about hummus, criticized people's overuse, lack of use, or misuse of certain ingredients. It was really disheartening to read.

Just so people know where I'm coming from, let me give you some history: I grew up in a city full of people from all over the middle east; I have friends from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Kuwait and Oman. I have lived and travelled around the middle east as well, so I know that even people all over the middle east prepare hummus differently. Furthermore, when you have such a popular dish that's made by people of all different nationalities all over the world, who honestly buys into the concept that there's a foremost authoritative recipe that everyone abides by? It's a farce. The writer's criticism was so negative and authoritative that it made me question his/her intentions. If you want to use 10 cloves of garlic in your four-person serving of hummus, do it. If you want to use lemon juice from a can or bottle instead of fresh lemon juice, go for it! Your taste is just that: YOURS. Everyone has a different palate, and after trying MANY different recipes and methods of preparation, I have finally found the hummus recipe I love...For me. I like my hummus with a kick of garlic and punch of lemon. The Irish chef is a major fan of tahini. I really don't like using a food processor to make hummus (I mash it with a potato masher). So who cares how you prepare your hummus? The hummus police?!? Isn't the goal to enjoy the process and the end result???

The foremost authority on hummus can be found here: http://humus101.com/EN/2007/11/27/10-common-mistakes-in-hummus-recipes/.
P.S. This recipe breaks a ton of the former's hard and fast "rules" and comes from a Syrian: http://syrianfoodie.blogspot.ca/2009/08/one-hundred-and-one-mezze-7-hummus.html.

By the way, if you want to talk about how there is NO authoritative governing body over taste anywhere, look at the difference in opinions about the oh, so popular dish called 'okonomiyaki' among Japanese people (read all about it here: http://j-hoppers.japanhostel.net/2015/05/a-big-controversy-over-okonomiyaki-in.html). Let's go with a Japanese dish as popular as hummus: miso soup. I learned how to make miso soup from my Canadian mother who learned how to make it from my Japanese father who learned from his mother. A show of hands, please, as to those who believe my mother's miso soup was exactly like my grandmother's. My mom didn't love fish or seafood, so she used less of the fish-base. She wasn't a fan of sodium, either, so she added less miso paste and tended to favor shiro miso (white miso paste) over aka miso (red miso paste). I never ate miso soup with additives like clams, fish, carrots or celery, but that's what I ate in Japan. After all is said and done, I much prefer aka miso and have experimented with all sorts of different ingredients, including kelp soup base instead of fish. To be honest, I love my Auntie Keiko's miso soup best (my dad's brother's wife).

My mother's old cookbook (published in 1989).
She modified recipes time and time again.

Canada's no better. Simply ask people about butter tarts and you'll have a heated debate on your hands! (read all about it here: http://www.capital-cooking.com/top-10-foods-past-present-7-butter-tart-controversy/). Here's one of the more interesting butter tart controversies in Ontario: http://www.canadianliving.com/life-and-relationships/community-and-currents-events/article/the-canadian-butter-tart-wars. Speaking of, the two places I love butter tarts from are The Little Beaver (in Komoka), and Canada Comfort Foods located at the Saturday market at the Western Fairgrounds. Ohhh, man! Two different styles that are equally delicious!!!

 Meeting the Vagabonds at the Saturday market for coffee...
AND warm apple fritters from the Dutch Bakery (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Dutch-Bakery/353921442101), and, of course, great conversation!!!
 The pierogi vendor!!! How awesome are all those potato heads?!?
There were even more!!! Love it!

So please don't tell me how hummus should be prepared. Instead, offer me a recipe and let me figure the rest out on my own, please and thank you. For all of those who have contributed to my hummus recipe, a big, warm, garlic-infused THANK YOU!!!

My homemade hummus (left) with whole wheat pita that I baked in the oven with an olive oil, cumin and sea salt glaze (right).

Still Cooking: autumn dishes
 Pasta with a twist! The sauce (which I know you can't see) is a cream sauce with the lemon sheep cheese I bought from the market! Ohhh, that cheese is to die for!!!
 This HUGE butternut squash is from my friends' garden! The before picture :)
After picture (#1): butternut squash, cauliflower, carrot and pumpkin curry soup!!! I have a HUGE pot of this soup, lol!
 After picture (#2): I still had so much veg left that I roasted it :) This time, I tossed the raw veggies with olive oil, butter, salt, pepper and other spices then let the oven work magic.
 I finally made it to a Starbucks that had pumpkin spice syrup, lol! Mine is on the left (tall, half-sweet, non-fat, with whip, extra hot pumpkin spice latte), and my dad tried out the new salted caramel mocha (no modification).
Mmmm! Hello, autumn!!!
It may be autumn in Starbucks, but there's still a lot of green outside!!!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

2016 Reading Challenge: Female

I love reading. I am a HUGE fan of getting lost in a novel and only coming up for air when it's absolutely necessary. Knowing this, my officemate in Oman proposed doing a reading challenge. I happily agreed, especially since there wasn't much to do in Ibri. We based our challenge on Bustle's 2016 reading challenge, found here: https://www.bustle.com/articles/130754-bustlereads-challenge-2016-encourages-you-to-read-women-and-writers-of-color. However, we decided that every author must be female. This was one of the most inspiring and enjoyable challenges I've ever completed! Yes, I completed it! We made a few modifications, but it worked out so well that we decided to do the whole thing all over again focusing on male authors (I've already started!).

Here's what we modified:

#1-We added four categories...Yes, four MORE, hahaha! We added the following: "Short Story," "Non-fiction/Self-help," "Auto/Biography," and "Recommended".
#2-We ranked each selection out of 5. I would recommend any selection that I ranked 4 or higher.

This is what happened:

1.) Read a Book Written By a Woman Under 25: Helen Oyeyemi, Icarus Girl (4)
2.) Read a Book About Non-Western History: *I read TWO in this category because I didn't read two of the categories* Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking (5); Janice P. Nimura, Daughters of the Samurai (4)
3.) Read a Book of Essays: Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (4)
4.) Read a Book About an Indigenous Culture: Lee Maracle [Canadian], Celia’s Song (epub) (5)
5.) Read a Book Before You See the Movie: Lois Lowry, The Giver (3.5)
6.) Read a YA Book by an Author of Colour: Marie Lu, The Young Elites (3.5)
7.) Read a Book Set in the Middle East: X I've read sooo many books from this genre, so I skipped it, but I was told to read Kim Barker’s The Taliban Shuffle. Books I’ve read: Zoe Ferraris, Finding Nouf; Souad, Burned Alive; Rajaa Abd Allah Sani, Girls of Riyadh; Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul
8.) Read a Book About Women in War: X I'm not a fan of violence, and after reading The Rape of Nanking I needed time to recover. Yes, it was THAT powerful. However, if I come back to this category, I’d like to read either Anne Frank's, The Diary of Anne Frank or Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's, Half of a Yellow Sun
9.) Read a Graphic Novel: *I read TWO in this category because I didn't read two of the categories* Emily Carroll [Canadian-LONDON GIRL!!!], Through the Woods (3); Marjane Satrapi, The Complete Persepolis (5)
10.) Read a Book About an Immigrant/Refugee to the USA: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake (2.5) This was a BIG disappointment. I would recommend Monica Sone, Ruth Ozeki, Maxine Hong Kingston, or Linda Sue Park :)
11.) Read a Children's Book: Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (4.5)
12.) Reread Your Favourite Book From Your Childhood: Sheryl Jordan, Winter of Fire (5)
13.) Read a Memoir by Someone Who Identifies as LGBTQIA: Maria Bello, Whatever…Love is love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves (4)
14.) Read a Work of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction: Emily St. John Mandel [Canadian], Station Eleven (4) 
15.) Read a Feminist Sci-Fi Novel: Margaret Atwood [Canadian], The Handmaid’s Tale (3.5)
16.) Read the First Book in a Series You've Never Read: Jennifer L. Armentrout, Half-Blood (4)
17.) Read a Book Set in Africa by an African Author: Seffi Atta, A Bit of Difference (2.5)
18.) Read a Translated Book: Natsuo Kirino [Translated from Japanese], Grotesque (4.5)
19.) Read a Contemporary Collection of Poetry: Sylvia Plath, Ariel (4)
20.) Read a Book by a Modernist Writer: Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (4.5)
21.) Read a Short Story: Gish Jen, Who’s Irish? (3); Jamaica Kincaid, Girl (3); Shirley Jackson, The Lottery (5)
22.) Read a Non-Fiction/Self-Help Book: Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In (5)
23.) Read an Autobiography/Biography: Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (4)
24.) Read a Book Recommended to You: Chloe Aridjis, Asunder (5)

One of my absolute favourite books of all time. No longer in print and given to me when I was around 11 or 12 years old when I went to babysit. I didn't bring a book thinking I would have to watch the young girl, but she was already in bed. Seeing my disappintment, her mom offered me a book she'd bought that she didn't realize was YA and loaned it to me. I finished it that night and when she saw me after returning home, she gave me the book. Forever grateful and changed was I.

This challenge opened my eyes to new genres, new writers, and new voices that were powerful, brilliant, and inspirational! I would do this again with female writers for sure!!! Next? The male authors :)