Torn Between Worlds

Shayma Evren Paris

In a few hours, I am heading to my other home, Washington, DC, where my family lives. My parents spend the long, winter months in Lahore, where it is warmer and you can sit in the garden during the day, feasting on dried apricots and walnuts from the Hunza valley alongside cups of hot tea. My mother and father return to DC when the cherry blossoms start to bloom and cyclists with their toddlers in bike trailers in tow, start to flood the C&O Canal trail near our home.  While in DC, I like to laze at home with my father and eat slices of Copperthite Pie Company’s salty, flaky, buttery crust filled with cinnamon-spiced apples, his favourite. I love going shopping with my mother and sisters, because they are the only ones who will tell me that my bum looks too big in those inky-blue jeans, which I am determined to waste $200 on. In the evenings, my brother-in-law and I talk ad nauseum about the merits of Hendricks vs. Bombay Sapphire. I personally think he only likes Hendrick’s for their apothecary-inspired bottles, but he will never admit that.

What I am looking forward to the most is being able to spend time with my little boy, as he runs around in his Baby Gap monster-themed PJs at night with S, my four-year-old niece, asking for chocolate (we have introduced him to 80% dark and created a monster), singing Roly Poly on cue. His favourite word these days is “Nass” (nice). Nass Shoes, Nass Chocolate, Nass Jeans. And though I chose to go back to work after a year of maternity leave (Bless Canada), and am a proud civil servant, there are times, sometimes every day, sometimes every other day, when I am torn and want to be at home with my little boy, instead of at work. I grew up in a home where my mother was a homemaker and I didn’t have to become a mother to realise everything she did for us, I knew it all along – from the warm meals she had ready for us every evening to the after-school shoe store excursions to buy patent leather sandals she treated me to. Many a time I wish I could do the same for my son, and these thoughts come to me when I am at the office. The daycare playground is clearly visible from our boardroom, and after each meeting, I pause and stand at the window, looking towards the playground at the small, indistinguishable heads bobbing up and down in the distance.  My thoughts turn towards my son, and that’s where I want to be, with him, watching him slather blueberry Greek yoghurt all over his face, his favourite these days.

There are plenty of articles on the internets about the working mother and whether “women can have it all”. I don’t care for such labels. For me, “having it all” has very different connotations and is something very visceral and personal. There are also, apparently, two camps – “working women” and the “stay-at-home moms”, always pitted against each other (aren’t both “working mothers”?). And where does that place me – a mother who is torn between wanting to go to work and wanting to stay at home? In neither camp, it seems. It will always be a mental struggle for me, my brain is wonderfully stretched and pushed at work, and yet, my heart is with my son. There are moments which always remind me why I work where I do, after all, as an economist, I chose to work for the public versus private sector, but the best part of my day is when I walk towards the daycare to bring my little boy home. Sometimes he runs to greet me and other times, he wants to continue playing and I have to force him into the pram, kicking and screaming. Then there are some days when we get home and he asks for dinner, and we enjoy a beautiful meal together as he dives his spoon into a bowl of clove- and cinnamon-spiced lamb pilaf with creamy Greek yoghurt. Then there are other days when I prepare a spaghettini with roasted sweet potato, cream and pecorino and he dumps it out of the bowl, onto the floor. Hot, silent, tears ensue (mine). On those particular days, the rest of the evening continues with the same sort of mood and once he is asleep, I plonk myself down onto my bed, totally spent, waiting for my husband to come home and take over household duties and I look forward to going to work the next morning.

But when morning comes, after having his breakfast with my husband, this little boy comes into my room to wake me up and says, “Mamma, coffee?”. Then he takes me into the kitchen, drags the foot stool to the counter, climbs up on it, and pushes the buttons on my Nespresso machine to make an espresso for me. And it is difficult, yet again, to go to the office.

Enjoy your time with your loved ones. Happy almost-Easter, everyone.

Chana Masala – Chickpeas in the Pakistani Manner

Chana Masala

This recipe is a little over ten years too late. I had promised to scribble it down for my dear friend, Gabi, after we devoured a plate of it, sitting on my bed, in my apartment in Rome, mopping up the spicy, oily tomato sauce with soft pizza bianca, flecked with sea salt crystals, fragrant with olive oil and reminiscent of a naan freshly taken out of a tandoor back home in Lahore.

Gabi came to visit me in Rome from Barcelona a few years ago – but when I think about it more carefully, it was actually a good ten years ago, because she arrived just a couple of days after the terrible 2004 Madrid train bombings. Having grown up in seven different countries, I often think of my life in ‘time blocks’, and therefore anything related to Rome, where I lived before moving to Toronto, seems to be but a mere few years ago. In reality, it has been five years since I left Rome.

During Gabi’s visit, I wasn’t able to take any time off from work, so she spent most of the day on her own, wandering the serpentine streets of Rome. By the time the evening approached, she was tired and wanted to stay in, which meant we could cook and eat together, while reminiscing about the olden days, when we were both fresh out of university and working for the IMF in Washington, DC. Every night we met up in Testaccio, where I lived for a brief period of time, and weaved in and out of the alimentari, small delis, collecting our dinner for the evening. One evening, we bought beautifully cut soft ribbons of fresh pasta from the shop perpendicular to the Testaccio market piazza, which we dressed with the anchovies Gabi had brought from Barcelona and then sprinkled it with roasted pignoli, golden, toasted breadcrumbs and chopped red chillies. Another night, we made a tagliata di manzo - with a beautiful cut of meat I found at the butcher’s, on the corner of Via Mastro Giorgio and Via Aldo Manuzio. We ate it alongside sharp, peppery leaves of arugula and gorgeous scarlet tomatoes, almost as tiny as marbles, which Gabi had bought earlier that day from the tomato vendor in the now defunct Testaccio market.

The meal I remember the most clearly is the one we had the night before Gabi flew back to Barcelona the next day. We decided to stay out of the kitchen and instead, share plates of small savoury bites, bought from the alimentari, with bread and wine. Of course, we started at Passi to pick up soft slabs of their pizza bianca. We then moved along in the neighbourhood and grabbed some dainty hot cherry peppers stuffed with capers and tuna, which we couldn’t stop popping in our mouths from the minute we bought them. We were both craving some wobbly burrata, too, which after searching in the area, we could only find at the local grocery store’s deli counter, wrapped in a verdant, waxy leaf. Gabi and I had tried burrata for the first time at one of my beloved entoeche, Cul de Sac, the day she arrived, where we sat for three hours, feasting on sheep’s milk cheeses, salty, cured meats and courtesy of the owner’s son, Marco, a large orb of burrata. Finally, on our way home, we made a stop at the Enoteca Palombi for a bottle of red, often one suggested by the elderly, elegant owner and his wife – some sort of Supertuscan, a favourite of mine and Gabi’s back then.

Chana Masala

Upon our arrival home, even though we had decided not to cook that night, I thought I would add something warm to the mix, and the easiest dish to prepare was this chana masala. Whenever I was craving something spicy with carbs which needed to be prepared quickly, Ami made this for me. All you needed was some tomatoes, ginger, garlic and green chilies – items which you will almost always find in a Pakistani home. In Rome, I usually had the fresh tomatoes and garlic, but only a ginger paste, and I most certainly didn’t have any fresh green chillies on a regular basis, unless I had made a special trip to the market in the Piazza Vittorio. I substituted the fresh ginger with ginger paste and the green chillies with Calabrian red chili powder. We sat on my bed, plates in our hand, tearing off pieces of the pizza bianca, dipping into the clotted cream-like core of the burrata and enjoying all the sweet, milky, spicy, oily flavours which were simultaneously on our plates.

And then there was glorious, glorious dessert. Gabi’s friend from undergrad in America had moved to Italy and married an Italian who had recently founded a chocolate company called Domori. Domori chocolates hadn’t hit the market widely yet, and we got to sample all the deep, intense flavours, thanks to her friend and her husband. Even before Gabi had arrived, a large parcel containing boxes of Domori chocolates had been sent to my address. Had I known what was in the parcel, they probably would have been half-consumed by the time my friend had arrived in Rome.

So, this dish is truly ten years too late, but writing about it now reminded me of a beautiful week I spent with one of my dearest friends, eating, cooking, drinking and talking – the things we love to do with old, dear friends.

Serves 2 with a side of bread or rice
You will need a medium-sized sauce pan which has a lid

*2 medium tomatoes, blanched, skins removed and diced (If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you can make this with half a can of diced tomatoes, i.e., you will need about 200g/7oz)
*2 tbsp neutral oil (I use grape seed)
*2 cloves of garlic, minced
*1/2 tsp hot paprika
*1/2 tsp cumin powder
*1/4 tsp turmeric powder
*1 400g can of pre-cooked organic chickpeas/garbanzo beans. I use the Eden brand
*salt to taste (you will salt this based on the brand of garbanzo beans you use – some are very salty)
*1 5cm (2in)thumb ginger, julienned
*2 green thai bird chillies (or any other fresh chilli pepper of your choice. If you don’t have fresh chilli pepper, you can add 1/2 tsp of red chilli powder)
*herb of choice for adornment
*lime or lemon wedges

*Place a saucepan on medium-high heat and add oil and garlic. When the garlic begins to smell fragrant (make sure it doesn’t start to brown), add paprika, cumin powder and turmeric powder. Sauté for 1-2 minutes.
*Add can of garbanzo beans, including the liquid they are immersed in. Stir to combine.
*Add diced tomatoes, turn flame to medium-low and cover with lid for 10 minutes and allow to simmer.
*Remove lid, add salt to taste and the julienned ginger. Chop green chilies with kitchen shears straight into the saucepan. Gently stir.
*Garnish with herbs and serve with lime or lemon wedges and rice or bread.

Spice Spoon featured in Popinjay

Popinjay Shayma Saadat

Today I am featured on Popinjay’s website – have a look at the feature here!

Popinjay is a brand created by Saba Gul is an entrepreneurial venture which creates sustainable livelihoods for underprivileged women in Pakistan through their craft and design training programs.

This March, Popinjay launched their Made by Hand (#madebyhand) campaign to bring awareness and appreciation for all things handmade. They asked me if I would share one of my favourite recipes and tell their readers why it’s close to my heart. Thank you, Popinjay.

Noon Berenj – Thumbprint Rice Flour Cookies with Saffron & Rosewater for Persian Nowruz

Naan Berenj

The very joyous Nowruz – Persian New Year, is almost here and in honour of that, a group of 14 lovely Persian bloggers and I got together for a recipe round-up celebrating this vernal equinox, which will take place on Thursday, March 20th. I am honoured to be a part of this group, thanks to my paternal grandmother. As this imminent holiday approaches, out come the fragrant, musky saffron threads, gorgeous green pistachios, sweet almonds and other delicious ingredients to prepare sweet treats for sharing with friends and family members.Read More