Fruits and Nuts and Flakes and Seeds and Teenagers

I’ve realized for a few weeks that it is high time I wrote a post about food and I’d been planning one about the satisfactions of slow-cooked pork and slowly-developed friendships  (Be forewarned, I’m also planning a post about mid-life belly fat).

But ideas have a way of taking root, like seedlings, and, based on my consumption of late, and particularly this week, I feel compelled to tell you about the way I am eating now.  The comedian Gallagher once said:  “California is like a bowl of granola.  What ain’t fruits and nuts is flakes.” In addition to dried fruits, nuts and flakes (coconut flakes, that is) I’ve been eating lots of oats and seeds and therefore have been spending a lot of time in the bulk section of the grocery store.

So I think I’ll do what the smart bloggers do: write the post about slow-cooked pork and save it for a week when I’m busy or uninspired.  This week, because seeds are on my mind, in my cupboard and in my ever-expanding middle-aged belly, I’ll tell you about them instead.

In February I mentioned that I had started making granola, and not very originally linked to a recipe I found on Orangette, which was originally posted on Food 52 and which has also been mentioned by David Lebovitz.  Everyone loves Early Bird Foods granola. I make it every few weeks and it’s become Jeff’s and my favorite weekday breakfast.  I like the way making this granola makes me feel, the way it makes the house smell and the routine of it.  I like the illusion of control granola gives me, which is not how I felt about it when I ate it during the years I lived in Northern California, a flakier time in my life.

Early June in Seattle can sometimes be like November in Seattle and it was so this week.  I was seeking comfort food and remembered Shakshuka, an Israeli dish of poached eggs atop sauteed peppers, onions and tomatoes, which I had made on Easter morning.  I got the recipe from Yottam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty and shortly after that, saw a different recipe for Shakshuka from Gail Simmons in Food and Wine magazine.  Trolling around the Internet this week, I found several variations of Shakshuka, including one recipe a devotee said was head and shoulders above the rest because of the addition of Hawaj.  Though I consider myself pretty savvy about international cuisine and the ingredients of the world, I had never heard of Hawaj.  It turns out it is a Yemeni spice blend, favored by Yemeni Jews.  I had fun reading about it in Claudia Roden‘s The Book of Jewish Food and then I decided to make it so I could add it to my Shakshuka. It really did elevate the quality of the dish.  Here’s the recipe I used, though Hawaj, like most spice blends, lends itself to individual interpretation.

Jeff called, as he often does during his sloggy long commute home, to see what was going on.  There had been a fair amount of adolescent drama, which had worn me down, and I think he was surprised, after telling me about his day and traffic woes, to hear that in my head, I wasn’t in my Seattle kitchen making dinner, I was in Yemen making Hawaj (There is some precedence for this.  I survived the baby and toddler years through culinary expeditions.  You’ll be able to read about it when my book comes out). He arrived home to find me catatonically smashing coriander seeds with my mortar and pestle and wisely did not judge me for my choice of distraction.  I wish I could say that I had been as non-judgmental when I found him staring catatonically at a basketball game on TV several nights this week in response to the “energy” in our household.

Our adolescents are wearing us down.  It’s the end of the school year, daughter #2, just finishing up fifth grade, has a sentimental case of “senioritis.”  Suddenly she’s best friends with all of her classmates, who will soon scatter to different middle schools.  Even the boys are nice. There are skate parties and trampoline parties and luncheons and barbeques and the dreaded FLASH (Family Living and Sexual Health) class.

Daughter #1 has been taking end-of-year tests, sending endless texts and has recently discovered Skype.  Remember how your mother admonished you not to tie up the phone line when you were a teenager?   “You just saw your friends a half-hour ago, why do you have to call them?”  That’s how I sound when I complain about Skype and D#1′s dominance of the computer.  Apparently she, too, will be taking FLASH, the seventh grade version, and I feel for the poor teachers who have to present this material to her randy middle school peers.

Unlike Everyone Else, who seems to have migrated away from Facebook towards Pinterest, I haven’t yet succumbed, fearing yet another Internet time suck.  Instead, I keep food magazines and recipes that interest me in a pile on top of my microwave and once in a while I actually go through them.  For months this pile has included a recipe for Dukkah, an Egyptian nut and spice blend that I learned about from the wonderful food blog The Garum Factory.  If you haven’t already, you should check out the Garum Factory.  In addition to its intriguing recipes, Ken Rivard is a marvelous writer (I keep telling him he should write history books) and his wife, acclaimed chef Jody Adams, offers useful, down-to-earth techniques by sharing her own recipe trials and errors with honesty and humor.

By mid-week the intensity level in the house was really beginning to get to us (Jeff and I even resorted to using our friend D’s technique of taming the females in his household: “Everybody calm the f**k down!”  If you’ve heard of my Battle Hymn of the Jersey Mother, you’ll know that this approach particularly resonates with me).

“That’s it, I’m making Dukkah!” I vowed.

I’ve learned that asking a teenager to shell nuts or fava beans is an excellent way to, in the words of Van Morrison, get down to what is really real.  D #1 dutifully shelled pistachios for the Dukkah and we had a calm, pleasant, enlightening chat before she disappeared to Skype her friends.  Jeff came home and, once again, did not judge when he saw that I had been pretending to be in Egypt.   That night, instead of watching basketball, he and I caught up on Season 7 of Weeds.

The next morning, as I ate steel cut oats with Dukkah sprinkled on top, D #1 confronted us about the hypocrisy of us watching Weeds, especially since the night before, over Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah, we had been probing for information about the drug scene at her school  (We were saved by the trademark family sense of humor.  D #1, knowing of my own struggles to fit in as a PTA mom, could see the humor in one secretly becoming a big-time drug dealer, yet still attending PTA meetings).

Middle school.  How will I survive having two kids in middle school next year?  Luckily, so many cultures have their own blends of spices and of nuts and seeds that I should be able to spend the next few years working through my frustrations.

Mother’s little helper

In fact, I like to amuse myself by imagining that Ras-el-hanout, Zaatar, Garum masala, Paanch phoran, Muesli and even Lowry’s seasoned salt were developed by weary mothers of adolescents, much as soccer, basketball, football and petanque were developed by men desperate to get out of the house.

There is growing number of Middle Eastern comedians, who delve into careful, but spot-on humor about their cultures.  I’m sure eventually one of them will follow Gallagher’s lead and remark that the region is like a spice blend.  Take the seeds of dissent, mixed with several dashes of courage and yes, a few nuts, and sweeten them with the taste of freedom.

Related links:

Pushing the Envelope Through Stand-Up Comedy

The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour

Yes, There are Comics in Qatar

I‘ve been on a technology tear lately, building a website and formatting an E-book.  On my to-do list is an overhaul of this blog, featuring a recipe page.  Stay tuned.

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2 thoughts on “Fruits and Nuts and Flakes and Seeds and Teenagers

  1. You have my sympathies for all of the above–kids, time, watching yourself be judgmental–we’re in the advanced version of it right now (recent college graduate, hs sophomore). I do think you get to be a little more forgiving about yourself, and your kids, and think of all those wonderful spice mixes scenting the air. Belly fat, that’s a harder nut to crack, at least for me. Thanks for your kinds words about the blog. Ken

  2. Pingback: Ottolenghi and Alison (or Cooking My Way Through Menopause) | Slice of Mid-Life

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