Roasted Peaches with Wild Blueberries

Roasted Peaches

I don’t remember being told I did anything, “like a girl”, and if I did, I took it as a compliment, because I was the granddaughter of two very strong, intelligent matriarchs. In my home, doing something “like a girl”, meant I did something like my grandmothers or my mother – and that was always a good thing. We are three sisters and we were lucky, in a sense, that we didn’t have any brothers. We ran like girls, we ate like girls, we talked like girls, and that meant being and doing our best – there were no comparisons with the opposite sex. We were just simply, the Saadat Girls. And we did everything, “like a Saadat Girl”.

My issue, growing up in a predominantly white suburban neighbourhood of Washington, DC, was the “colour of my skin”. I did things “like a foreigner”’ or “like a Pakistani”. In other words, I did things which were “unlike an American”. Race issues aren’t only about how dark or white or green your skin is. It is about who you are, what you represent and how you are pigeon-holed into a slot you don’t necessarily want to be in. I looked visibly “white” – and to this day, people often ask me how can I be Pakistani. When I lived in Italy, some people would say, “Come mai dici di essere dal Pakistano se tu non ai la pelle oscura?” – How can you be from Pakistan, your skin isn’t dark? I didn’t take offense to this; I realised that many people are unaware that Pakistan is a country of 180 million people – so I responded, “We have blonde hair and green eyes; black hair and black eyes; dark skin and dark eyes and fair skin and brown eyes.”.

I may have looked “white”, but as a child, I didn’t spend my summer at the community pool in our suburban DC neighbourhood. I didn’t go to Easter Egg Hunts in lace-embellished white dresses and I didn’t eat chicken casseroles made with Uncle Ben’s rice at home. We celebrated Eid wearing silk tunics and glass bangles adorning our wrists; we ate basmati rice with spicy, clove-scented curries. I remember when I was in second grade, my mother made a sweet milk dumpling dish known as gulab jamun, for our school pot luck. Not one child touched this dish. I couldn’t understand why Ami didn’t make a simple vanilla bean pound cake, which she made for us at home all the time, instead of bringing this Pakistani dish of bronze-coloured “balls” to my school gathering. Kids in the class made fun of me. I was embarrassed of the food, even though I loved this dessert my mother made. I felt so sorry for her, because she had made the dish with so much love and excitement. Yet, I was not embarrassed to be Pakistani. I didn’t play on my Ouija board at night and ask the spirits why I hadn’t been born with an “American name” and American parents. I just wished that my classmates didn’t see me as being so alien; so different.

My father, who came to the United States with my mother and I from Pakistan, after getting into the World Bank’s prestigious Young Professional’s programme, always told us, “We are expats, we are not here to stay. We are not Americans.” Looking back, my father and I agree that it would not have hurt to have assimilated a little bit into what was at the time deemed as “American culture”. The minute school was out in May, we flew off to Europe for a holiday and then onwards, to Pakistan, where our “real home” was, where the driveway was lined with hot-coloured zinnias in terracotta planters, where English, Urdu and Dari was spoken interchangeably and hot days were spent sipping on cooling, mango milkshakes made with bounty from a family friend’s farm on the outskirts of Lahore.

In Washington, DC, as a child, I always remained an outsider, and the children in my school made it very clear that I did everything, “like a Pakistani”. I wonder, do any of them remember those lunch periods when they humiliated me for eating kebab (“shit”) sandwiches or when they asked me if my mother, was my “driver or maid”? Nothing wrong with being in either profession (I wouldn’t use the word “maid”), but this was said to hurt me.

Those were painful days. But as my husband, Zain, always reminds me: the beautiful and ironic thing about this is that the very things I was shunned for as a child are the things which I am so proud of today – my food, my ancestry and doing things “like a Pakistani”.

Roasted Peaches Blueberries

Today, I am friends again with some of the very same children who bullied me and made fun of my heritage and my food. They have never brought it up. I would like to think that us being friends today is their silent way of saying they are sorry. That’s what I would like to think. As the famous poet Ghalib said, “Dil ko khush rakhne ko, Ghalib, yeh khayaal achcha hai”.

I have thousands of more stories to tell you about my experiences growing up in Washington, DC and slowly, one by, one, I will share them. All I can say is that I am proud that my parents raised me the way that they did – and I hope to inculcate some of the same values in my son. I will do some things differently with my son. When he says that he wants to stay in Toronto the whole summer at the pool with his friends – that will be fine, because he can visit his grandparents in Pakistan and Washington, DC for a few weeks of the year. I will always tell him this is his home, because it is where his parents have made a new home for themselves. His mother and father’s roots may be in Pakistan, but Canada is where he was born.

I hope when I am long gone, he will continue to roast these Ontario peaches the way I did last night – which have that hint of Pakistani-spiced flavours in them – to always remind him of his mother’s – and his – heritage. I would love for him to do things a little bit, if not entirely, “like a Pakistani”.

You will need a pastry brush.

Ingredients:
*3 ripe peaches
*3 tbsps ghee, which is clarified butter. If you cannot find this, use unsalted butter
*3 tbsps brown sugar
*2 cardamom pods
*100g wild blueberries (or normal blueberries)
*Sour cream, crème fraîche or strained yoghurt, to serve

Preparation:
*Pre-heat your oven to 210C (410F)
*Remove cardamom seeds from their pods. Discard pods. Crush seeds in a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, wrap the seeds in a newspaper and crush with a rolling pin (or the base of your frying pan). Combine the cardamom seed dust with brown sugar. Set aside
*Slice peaches in half and remove the stone
*Place peaches on a baking tray (skin side down) lined with parchment paper or you can grease a baking dish and place the peaches in it
*Fill each individual depression of the peach with 1/2 tsp of ghee and then add 1/2 tsp of the brown sugar and cardamom mixture. Carefully place blueberries on top, gently nudging them into the depression
*Place in the middle rack of the oven and at the ten minute mark, lightly brush the melted ghee (from the depression) over the naked surface of the peaches and place back into the oven. Cook for another 15 minutes
*Enjoy with a dollop of sour cream, crème fraîche or strained yoghurt – or even some vanilla ice cream. Your call

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Comments

  1. I LOVE this post Shayma. With his upbringing, even if he is very rooted in Toronto, I am sure your little one will do many things “like a Pakistani”. Like his mum :)

    • Thanks for taking the time to read it, Mardi. It truly means a lot to me – especially since I know you are on holiday. I hope you and I have the opportunity to eat and cook together very soon. x S

  2. Must have been so hard to deal with this as a child! Its such a beautifully written post and I love the use of cardamom and ghee in the recipe! Thats doing it right and like a Pakistani :)) Thank you for sharing

    • Hi Aditi – Thank you for being so sweet. It was hard, indeed. Someone recently said to me, “Oh come on, Shayma, it was such a long time ago. That’s what is often said about childhood bullying. I wanted to use up the last few dollops of ghee I had, so this was just the thing to make. I had initially set out to make another roasted peach dish (a recipe of an English friend who lives in Rome), but it required egg yolks and we were all out of eggs in the kitchen :) Thanks and have a lovely summer. x S

  3. Shujala says:

    I loved reading your post and recipe!

    Your memory of your mum’s gulab janums for school (adorable!) reminded me of how my mum, much to my annoyance, used to give freshly fried samosas to our elderly Dutch neighbours each new year’s eve. Despite them politely explaining they struggled with the spice…every year!

    I think children of immigrant parents share similar experiences of wanting to assimilate and integrate in what they consider ‘home’ countries even though they might feel/eat/behave differently due to their upbringings.

    Growing up in an 80′s Netherlands, my dad was petrified that I and my younger siblings would forget how to speak Urdu, so the one strict rule he enforced was that we had to always speak Urdu at home…I’m grateful to him for this now even though my siblings and I always speak Dutch to each other!

    Like you I have found a happy medium raising my boy…unfortunately he doesn’t speak Urdu or Dutch but he’s cool being different whilst being the same as his friends :-)

    • Hi Shujala, Thank you for sharing your story with me. I read it with great interest; I am always curious to know about other people’s experiences. I am a curious cat! :) Ami used to make other Pakistani dishes, too – for our neighbours. I am not quite sure what they thought of them. I don’t think they appreciated her creativity in the kitchen at all. I think it was a good thing that your mum sent samosas to your neighbours – sharing food is such a beautiful way of sharing our culture. It was a gracious gesture on your mum’s part. I hope at some point, your neighbours came to appreciate her generosity. As for language – we also had to speak Urdu at home, and for that I will always be grateful to my parents. I grew up bi-lingual (English and Urdu), but even today, when I want to do a ‘gup-shup’ or crack a joke, I do it best in Urdu or Punjabi (my Punjabi sucks, but I try!). I really enjoyed reading your comment, please do share more of your stories with us. Love your Insty feed, too. x S

      • Shujala says:

        Aww thanks for your kind response! I normally write to you on Instagram when I’ve read your posts here so this was kind of spontaneous. As for our neighbours, my mum’s kind food gestures were appreciated and reciprocated despite the spice:-) so all worked out well! Hope you have a lovely day xx

  4. Experiences life yours have such a profoundly marked influence on the shape of a child and consequently adults emotional balance and even the thoughts that trigger so many actions. Thankfully it seems like yours shaped you for the better. I hope that people reading your posts, especially responsible parents, will remember that not all outcomes and so positive.

    Wonderfully simple, beautifully delicate, sumptuous and invitingly pretty recipe x

  5. thank you, shayma, for this lovely post. i was born and grew up in a very blue collar midwestern suburb in Michigan. my family was the only “splash of color” for miles around and my grandparents lived with us. my grandmother (god bless her) would proudly wear her colorful saris with nike tennis shoes and take walks daily around the neigborhood. she would chit chat with neighbors in her practiced english and tend to our small, lovely garden filled with brinjals, bitter gourd, and curry leaves. classmates would forever ask why my grandmother walked around wrapped in a bedsheet and why there were weird curly vegetables growing in our backyard. i wanted nothing more than to erase the brown from my skin and take Wonder bread sandwiches to school for lunch everyday. i think back on the carefully packed “tiffin box” my grandmother used to make for me, filled with lemon rice and a seperate container of curd rice with a sour and spicy dollop of lemon pickle tucked in the middle, and am ashamed of how I used to hide my lunch and only eat it as i was walking home from school. the very things that made me ashamed when i was younger (having to speak telugu at home, having to take days off of school for religious functions, having to explain repeatedly to my ignorant classmates that we did NOT live in teepees or wear feathers) are the things that my own children are so proud of when they interact with their friends at school. i used to want nothing more than to save myself from constant scrutiny and bullying by miraculously becoming “white”, and yet i am amazed at how self assured and PROUD my children are for being beautifully “brown”. my daugher even mentioned to me one time “mommy, isn’t it sad that the whole world is not indian?” when I asked her why she thought that, she replied “imagine eating nothing but lasagna, pizza, baked chicken, and casseroles every day. i couldn’t imagine not eating spicy curries, dosas, biriyanis, or paneer!” this next generation is going to be ok….i’m sure of it :) thanks for your wonderful stories, and of course, your wonderful recipes. i am such an admirer of yours!

  6. Wouldn’t it be lovely if most children (an their intolerant parents) were excited to explore the “differences” they experience when meeting someone from a culture unlike their own rather than disparage and make fun of them? Know that the insightful posts and delicious food that you share with us all can only help the world become a more open and accepting place in the future, Shayma. Thank you for that.

  7. Lovely as always. You know what, we start to appreciating our heritage, our culture, our past only when we are mature. I used to be embarrassed with my background too but now I am so proud of it. I respect my parents and I do not want to be someone else. I think what your parents did is very very common for immigrants or expats. It’s the insecurity, the unknowns and the fear of being alienated and rejected. We draw a fence around us and being parents they are more cautious. I see a Bangladeshi labmate do the same, isolating her kids from the ‘Americans’ and being brought up with ‘totally’ Bangladeshi values. I am not a mother and time now is a little different than when you were a kid but I think sometimes making the lines a little blurry and jumping off the fence to see the other side is good. It helps us to be assimilated. It’s hard to face the discrimination, be a Pakistani or an Indian or Mexican….or being any alien. I absolutely appreciate the way you are trying to bring up your son, being attached to the root but at the same time being a part of the country where he belongs.

  8. I became so emotional that I forgot to tell you that I ate sauted peaches yesterday too. I sauted them in butter (The American way :D )and had it with gelato (Italian way of course :D). Only I wish I knew that you’ll post this recipe today, I would have sauted them in ghee with a sprinkling of cardamom :)

  9. Hi Shayma,

    This is a beautiful post. I could relate to it completely, as my experience was similar. I come from a family of very strong women, so I too never felt weak being a girl, but was made to feel like an outcast as a “brown” person/Pakistani living in suburban New Jersey before the Gulf War (we then moved to the Middle East). Now I am also very proud of my heritage. But, I have to say, I do feel sad to think my daughter may not be as “Pakistani” as I feel. I know it will be OK, but it is scary to think of losing one’s culture. All you can do is try. Loved the post! x

  10. Hello Shayma,
    Just wanted to chime in and say that similar experiences are also had even with immigrants that look similar to the host country population! I have blue eyes, reddish hair, muslim, came to US with my husband and daughter from Bosnia due to the war in nineties.. living now in US for last 20 or so years, but never gave up on our culture and traditions especially for Eid and Ramadan. We did not look diferrent( not wearing hijab) but were still diferrent, and proud of it. I would send my kids to their classrooms on the second day of Eid with baklava and other sweets and their peers or teachers would not touch any of it. My kids are now telling me that, back then, they hated their lunch boxes because they were filled with bosnian home made food and they wanted mac and cheese.As a mother, I had to do what felt right and I think my kids appreciate it today! Immigrant parents have so much on their mind and raising kids in a home far away from “home” is very hard! Beautiful post Shayma, our experiences can’t certainly compare with yours but definitely hit home! It brought back good and bad memories and thanks for letting me share mine!
    Amna

  11. Wow. I am speechless, Shayma. This post could very well have been written by me. And its hard not to get so emotional reading it. I remember being livid when my mom made samosas, GULAB JAMUNS and whatnots, for a school fete and apart from a few of the Asian kids, no one even came near them. While you handled it so beautifully, I was a very difficult kid with a lot of angst against my culture and heritage and often begrudged my parents for it.

    I have been reading your blog for about a month now and relate to so much of your writing and recipes (I’m Sindhi and your Yakhni Pulao is identical to our Bugrah Chaawarn minus the chicken). This post really hit home for me and I guess I wanted to share my thoughts.

    Yours is one of the most amazing blogs I have ever come across and everytime I’m low on ideas for dinner, I come here for inspiration, but I end up leaving with so much more than just a recipe.

    Dia.

  12. Hi Shayma, I loved this post. My parents were immigrants but we spoke very little Urdu at home. I taught myself and have a very strong British accent when I speak, but I am determined my sons learn how to read and write Urdu.
    As a result I felt like I didn’t belong to any culture, I didn’t feel British and the cousins back in Pakistan made it very clear that I wasn’t Pakistani.
    Your post really struck a chord with me, thanks for sharing your memories.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I came across your blog a while ago while searching for Persian recipes and I must tell you that your writing touches my heart. My husband is Afghan and we are raising our son in the US. I worry about how he might be bullied in school by children who haven’t been taught about and exposed to other cultures. You give me hope that even if there are some emotional bruises, my son can both have pride in his roots and flourish.

  14. Kanza Adnan says:

    Hi Shayma, your work is truly inspiring! I have loved reading each and every one of your blog posts and have tried out many recipes. However, I cannot find the words to describe how lovely this particular one turned out to be.
    Even though our country, Pakistan, is most commonly known today for its affiliation with terrorism, I am glad to come across someone who is proud of their heritage; it gives me hope to know that there are still some out there who make a difference.
    I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavours. Much love, Kanza Adnan

  15. I was hooked as I read through this post, it is a beautiful thing that you honor Pakistan, its culture, its people, for not even Pakistanis do that. I have relatives abroad and they don’t feel any sense of loyalty for this land, even though they have spent half their lives here. It saddens me, but then you give me hope.
    Thank you.

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