Strawberry Rosewater Sour Cream Skillet Cake in the Persian Manner

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I don’t have time in the mornings to make a proper breakfast for myself, so on most weekdays, I will have a slice of toast, usually pumpernickel or a spelt sourdough (this bakery in Roncesvalles makes the most amazing bread, plus, they slice it for you) with a generous layer of almond or peanut butter and different jams. Gail, a good friend of mine, brought back a jar of cloudberry preserves (have you ever had them?) for me, from her trip to Sweden, which I have almost every morning on my toast. I am scared of the day that jar finishes. (This is the jar, in case any of you want to try to source it.)

On the weekends, I go crazy using my cast iron skillet. I make egg dishes like a frittata with mushrooms and Gruyère or a spiced tomato sauce omelette and even my spicy Pakistani kebabs (here is the recipe) are made in my beloved skillet. I decided to make something sweet, rather than savoury one morning, thanks to a pint of gorgeous, blood-red strawberries a dear friend, Nadia, brought back for me from her trip to Hagerman Farm in Prince Edward County. Trust me, I didn’t play around much with the image editor, this is truly how deep red the strawberries were.

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We ate most of the strawberries with a mix of whipped cream and sour cream as you can see here (Tiny Spoon is in love with strawberries). That’s how you show respect for something as beautiful as these strawberries – eat them in their most natural state, just the way they are. But then I had so many strawberries leftover, that I thought I should bake with them, but in a way that they retain their integrity, somewhat, and really stand out – a batter cake seemed like the best option. I love rosewater with strawberries and I have paired them together before, too. Rosewater is used in so many Persian desserts – its delicate fragrance elevates dishes to another level. On another note, I feel like these days, I cannot bake without buttermilk or sour cream, so I hope you have it in your part of the world. You can also use a sour yoghurt if you don’t have sour cream. This was a perfect breakfast treat on a very Sunday morning with thimbles of espressi made and downed at home.

Hope you’re having a beautiful summer, lovelies.

Strawberry Skillet Cake (1 of 1)-5

Serves 4-6
You will need a 25cm / 10in cast iron skillet or a cake pan of the same size

Ingredients:
*90g unsalted butter (room temperature) + a little extra to grease your cast iron skillet / cake pan + 1 tbsp melted butter to brush over strawberries and batter
*175g granulated sugar
*250ml sour cream + more, for serving a few dollops with the cake (I used 14% fat sour cream) You can use yoghurt if you don’t have sour cream where you live
*1 egg
*150g white flour
*1 1/2 tsp baking powder
*1/2 tsp salt
*1 tbsp rosewater (you can easily substitute with vanilla essence if you don’t have rosewater)
*16 -18 large strawberries, hulled and halved

Preparation:
*Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F
*Generously butter your cast iron skillet or cake pan (if using a cake pan which is not non-stick, line base with parchment paper)
*Place flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and gently mix to combine
*Place butter and sugar in a separate bowl (if using a hand mixer) or in a stand-mixer and cream on medium speed, till light and fluffy
*Add sour cream, egg, rosewater and continue to mix till the batter appears creamy
*Turn the mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients – flour, salt and baking powder in batches. Scrape down the sides. Do not over mix
*Transfer batter into skillet evenly (preferably, with a spatula). It will be thick. Arrange strawberries on top (cut side down)
*Brush strawberries and batter gently, with melted butter
*Place in oven for 40-45 minutes till an inserted toothpick comes out clean and the cake starts to pull in from the sides of the skillet / cake pan. Please note that the cooking time for a cake pan will be longer.
Enjoy with sour cream on the side.

Spice Spoon on CBC Radio!

Dear Lovelies – I was on CBC Radio on May 29th for two interview sessions – you can listen to the interview segments here:

Metro Morning with Matt Galloway at 7.10AM EST
Shayma, your husband is also from Pakistan. What has been the discussion in your household around this (stoning of Farzana)?
Listen to the full interview here, or  via this link under “Woman Stoned to Death”.

Ontario Morning with Wei Chen at 7.50AM EST
Shayma, do people ask you, “Were you forced to marry your husband? Was this an arranged marriage?”?
Listen to the full interview by clicking here.

 

Karachi and My Family – Life Amidst the Bombings

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A few weeks ago, I woke up a little after 6am and with my eyes half shut, I checked my iPhone, which I usually do before making my way into the kitchen for my morning caffè latte ritual. As I scrolled through my Twitter newsfeed, I saw “bomb blast Karachi”, “injured”, “daytime tragedy” “in the upscale Defence neighbourhood” “targeted attack” – all those words you don’t want to read when your husband is in Karachi, visiting our family; his parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts.  It was April 25th and there was a bomb blast somewhere, in some neighbourhood in Karachi. I called Zain immediately, and when he told me the bomb had exploded in Delhi Colony, I selfishly took a sigh of relief. My family is safe, I said to myself and jumped out of bed.

Each time a bomb goes off, or someone is abducted or mugged at gunpoint, it just becomes another anecdote about how everyday life is in Karachi. It is never reported in the news. There are hardly (if any) photos of the victims in the newspapers. There are no police reports filed. It becomes one of those stories you talk about over dinner with your friends, while dipping your naan into the caramelised, spicy, braised beef broth called nihari, a specialty of Karachi, “Did you know that Samira, her husband and children were at the traffic light at 2pm near McDonald’s and this man came, tapped on her side of the car window with the butt of a Kalashnikov and asked them to hand over their cell phones?” Your friend to the left of you, while sipping on his bootlegged-bottle of Heineken will say, “Yes, I know, they have no shame, they don’t even spare you when you are with your kids. That is why I carry a fake cell phone whenever I am driving. I keep my iPhone in my dashboard just in case some *ucker tries to mug me.”

To be mugged in Pakistan has a different meaning than getting your purse snatched on your walk home. When someone points a Kalashnikov in your face in broad daylight, it means, give that to me now, before I blow your face off.

If you visited Zain’s parents’ home on the day the bomb went off, his aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings would probably be gathered in their drawing room, with the news on the TV buzzing in the background and tea being poured into cups while my mother-in-law passes around plates of her homemade fruitcake, studded with currants and nuts from Northern Pakistan. These are the things I miss about Pakistan – the warmth of family. There would be talk of the bomb. Conversations would start off with, “Unbelievable. I was just driving past that mosque in Delhi Colony last Wednesday.” Everyone would continue to sip tea. And deep down, everyone would be relieved that they were not in the area where the bomb went off. Phone calls would be made and SMSs would be sent out, inquiring about the well-being of family, friends and colleagues. And then the conversation would turn to cricket and how awful the team is doing this season. If I was there I would harass my father-in-law for his secret recipe for chicken liver pâté. I think he makes the best pâté on the face of this earth. He serves it in a footed Bohemian crystal bowl and it is always wiped clean with some crusty bread my mother-in-law makes.

Yes, pâté is probably what I would start talking about. It is how you survive. When you live in a city where there are bomb blasts every day, week or month, in some corner of your city, you turn your thoughts elsewhere because you don’t know how to stop The Madding Crowds.

On April 25th, this bomb killed 28 people and injured 6. In a bomb blast, an injury isn’t a deep cut; it probably means that the person was maimed. The blast was reported in the media. I read cold numbers and statistics. Locations and times. No names. No photos of the departed. No photos of their relatives. It made me think of Richard Martin, that little boy from Boston. It was only one year ago that he died. He was just eight years old and supported the Boston Bruins hockey team. He died at the Boston Marathon bombings. I saw his sweet face all over the media, his grin large and real. He was 1 of 3 people who died that tragic day. Those who die in Pakistan every day get no photos published in newspapers; no one knows their name.

My best friend lost an employee in the Karachi bombing – someone who had been working in his family business for 27 years. The employee was on a motorcycle, running an official errand. He died along with 27 other people. His name was Obaidullah. I don’t know how old he was, or what he looked like. These people are faceless, if not nameless. There was no tribute to him in the news, we weren’t told how many children he had or if he had any brothers or sisters. I remember reading that Richard Martin had a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s fudgy Moose Tracks ice cream before he died. He also loved pizza, which he ate before he went to bed before the marathon took place the next day. What did Obaidullah eat, I wondered? Did he eat naan every morning for breakfast, dipped into a little saucer of ghee? Or did he have it with some leftover salan; tomato curry from the night before? And how did he drink his tea? Did he like it with milk, as all Pakistanis do?

Julius, my Cameroonian friend and colleague at the UN in Rome always used to tell me, “Shayma, don’t say it, or it will catch you,” if I spoke of some mishap or negative event which had occurred. With all the different dishes, beliefs and dialects which existed between the two countries of our birth, this superstition was one Julius and I shared.  When Julius emphatically said, “cachoo (catch you)” he would curl his hand shut for dramatic effect. We used to laugh about this. You never think it will happen to you. Or to your family. And by writing this, some will think I am tempting fate and that it will “catch me”. But it is also impossible to stay silent about it when your family lives this reality in Pakistan every single day. Over dinner at Enoteca Sociale here at home in Toronto, it is all Zain and I want to talk about. Between mouthfuls of Chef “Slotzy’s” famous steak tartare served with salt and vinegar crisps, we talk about the attempted suicide bombing outside my sister-in-law’s offices where she goes to work every morning. Zain wanted her to resign from her job – a wee sister, off to grad school anyway – but she says, and my father-in-law says, their lives have to go on. We marvel at how she still gets up and goes to work. Every Single Morning.

How dare I complain about the cold weather in Toronto?

Here is a little dish to welcome in the reluctant Spring in Toronto. In Pakistan, a vegetable which is cooked and mixed into yoghurt is often referred to as raita, but I find that when we are dealing with a thicker yoghurt dish, the term bharta is more fitting. I use squash marrow in this recipe – it is basically a sweeter and more robust type of zucchini, often found at Middle Eastern grocery stores. I ate a lot of this type of zucchini in Rome, too. I love having it with lavash or a few slices of toasted sourdough bread. Be sure to use full-fat yoghurt.

Bharta3

Serves 2 as a dip or side dish
If you want your vegetables to caramelise, you should not use a non-stick frying pan.
Ingredients:
*3+3 tbsp olive oil
*1 shallot, sliced thin
*Sea salt to taste
*⅛ tsp turmeric powder
*¼ tsp cumin powder
*¼ tsp coriander powder
*⅛ tsp red chili powder
*500g squash marrow
*1 clove garlic, minced
*250 Greek yoghurt (or any other strained, thick yoghurt)
*½ fennel bulb, sliced, tough outer skin discarded (fronds reserved)
*Pinch pul biber/Aleppo pepper or paprika for dusting on top in the end
*Bread – lavash, pita, sourdough or any other bread you love to scoop this up with

Preparation:

*Slice tough ends of the marrow and discard, then cut the marrow into half, lengthwise and then chop into half moon shapes. Set aside.
*Place a large pan (I use this one, which is 30cm / 12in) on the stove on medium-high heat and add 3 tablespoons olive oil, shallots, pinch sea salt, turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, red chili powder and sliced marrow. The marrow will become soft after 7-10 minutes. You don’t want the marrow to completely disintegrate, so don’t let it overcook.
*Turn the heat to high, add the minced garlic and let the marrow turn golden – it should look blistered and slightly charred. Make sure to flip the marrow slices so that both sides are bronzed/charred. If you want, you can add more olive oil if the marrow is sticking to the pan. Set aside and allow to cool.
*Place a medium-sized pan on medium-high heat and add the remaining 3tbsp olive oil and sliced fennel. *Saute gently for 10-15 minutes till wilted and bronze around the edges.
*Set fennel aside and allow to cool.
*Using a slotted spoon, remove the marrow from the pan and transfer to a chopping board (you don’t want to use all the excess olive oil). With kitchen shears or a knife, finely chop the marrow.
*Do the same with the fennel. Reserve two tablespoons of the fennel to add as a garnish.
*Gently combine chopped marrow and fennel into yoghurt. Adjust taste for salt.
*Adorn with the reserved fennel. Drizzle with your favourite olive oil, dust with pul biber (or paprika) and adorn with fennel fronds.
*Enjoy with lots of warm bread.

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.