Rebel without a cause….

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Posted by Deeba PAB

Went to drop the daughter to school this morning for the annual camping trip. They’re off for 3 days to an adventure camp in the lap of the Himalayas. A camp filled with much excitement for the 13 year olds…with promises of body surfing, night hiking, river crossing, rappelling, fish catching techniques, rowing & much more.

It's 3.30 am, time to get moving, and the argument begins once again…
1. You aren’t going to wear flip-flops & board the train?
Of course I am! We ALL are!
But, I argue, lamelessly, the platforms here are filthy.
Don’t I know? We do this every year. It’s OK. We’re ALL wearing these!
I rest my case! Peer pressure, mob mentality… whatever!
2. For heaven’s sake, does each toe nail HAVE to be a different colour?
(Fuchsia pink, sunshine yellow, lime green, orange & turquoise)
Yeah, they’re matching the flip-flops. That’s why I bought them!
‘Them’ refers to new Converse flip flops, & also to a dazzling array of nail paints.
3. Hurry we’re getting late.
Wait. I still have to paint my nails!

Change of plans over last minute telephone conversations. Multi coloured is off; black is being lavished on the pretty toes. I am about to explode….

We reach school, thankfully well in time, as we are known to be punctual folk. Meet up with a bunch of my friends, parents from the school community, and 4am seems the perfect time to air our woes. Our drift is the same, and we begin exchanging notes. The kids who’ve studied together since they were 4 years old are all thick pals. Everything is obviously decided because one look around, and you can see black painted toe nails & flip flops all across the gym.

A harried father of one of her girlfriends joins our animated conversation. “Why black, why is everything black? My daughter is a rebel. A rebel without a cause,” he says. He hit the nail on the head! Mine is too, only until this morning I didn’t have a coined phrase for her. ‘REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE’ - It does feel better putting her into a category of sorts! (Am I being mean?)

The harried man goes on to add. (They are Bengalis from Eastern India, and this is the most auspicious month for them. They gather at a community fair at this time every year to offer obeisance to their goddess). "We went to the prayer service and fair yesterday and she went dressed like ‘that’." He points to his daughter dressed in shorts, sneakers & a black tee. In India, at fairs like these, you would find people dressed, or rather overdressed, in traditional attire. He continues…"Then when we went to offer flowers to the deity, she stood far from us, refusing to join us, asking what we expected to achieve by doing 'all this'. What do you think you'll ‘get’?" He was pretty alarmed by the sign of times to come as she said she didn’t believe in ‘stuff like this’!

I got back and related this to the hub, who is on the quieter side, and pretty much reserved about his thoughts in public! He had but one comment to make, and with a smile of amused relief. "Thankfully we aren’t religious, so at least we have one less thing to argue over!"
That said, it’s not easy bringing up teens. The daughter has marked her ‘rebel’ path, and the son is beginning to show similar signs too, like an infectious disease! To those who have ‘been there, done that’, when does it get better? And to those that have yet to get ‘there’, good luck to you! This saga never ends!

This post was written by Deeba
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Vegetarian Pyramid Series - Millet

Friday, September 25, 2009

Posted by DK

Many of my Indian friends here bemoaned about lack of availability of Millet in the US of A, when I first moved here. I was surprised to hear that since I sort of remembered seeing lots of millet in the stores esp. in Health foods market. When I told them that, they informed me that they were talking about a different kind of millet altogether which was often confused with regular millet here in the stores. They told me they were talking about Indian Millet which is otherwise called as Finger Millet.


Well if you give a glance at what Wikipedia has to say, then you would know that Finger Millet is not a different Millet but is actually just a type of millet. Among the different available ones like

1. Pearl Millet
2. Foxtail millet
3. Proso millet
4. Finger millet

Indians are fans of finger millet which is otherwise and commonly knows as Finger Millet. It is treasured by the Indian population thanks to the unavailability.

Finger Millet

A recent statistics in some Food Magazine enlightened me with the fact that Millet ranks as the 6th most important grain in the world, sustaining about 1/3rd of the world's population!!!!! Quite a celebrity, Millet is!:)

Millet is Gluten Free
Hence can be consumed by the celiacs and by those with wheat allergy. You can make breads, flatbreads or just enjoy them as pilafs. Since it does not have enough gluten essential for bread making, you would have to use it in conjunction with other flours.

In India the finger millet is ground as flour and taken in the morning as porridge. They are also sprouted to make Malt, ground together with other ingredients to make Indian crepes and also made into numerous snacks and tiffin items like roti's, pakodas etc. Try it as a
1)cooked cereal,
5)souffles (yes, you heard right!),
6)pilaf or as
7)simple stuffing.

The versatility of this grain is boundless

How to cook Millet?
Millet is a bland grain having no distinct taste of its own. It adopts the flavors from the other ingredients cooked with it. Toasting it before cooking helps to enhance its taste.

For 1 cup of Millet, it takes about 2 cups of liquid and a cooking time of approximately 20-30minutes.

If you leave it along as it cooks, the texture would be similar to that of rice - fluffy! But stir constantly with some liquid added at regular intervals ( like that of Risotto), it could end up resembling mashed potatoes. A fellow blogger informed me that her Millet takes longer to cook and more water to get the fluffier texture. She uses

For 1 cup of Millet 3 cups of boiling water and simmer for approximately 30 minutes.

I think the cooking time and liquid measurement depends on the variety or specific type available in that particular locality. You can also pre-soak the millet which will reduce the cooking time to 5-10 minutes. You can soak it overnight and steam the next day for about 30 minutes or until tender too.

Millet Sprouts and Flours.
I have never sprouted the pearl millet before although I have sprouted finger millet and made flour out of it to make my morning porridge.

The Millet flour produces dry, light and v delicate baked goods. It makes great crust which is thin and buttery smooth.

If using with yeast, you would have to use other glutinous flours to get the classic rise from yeast. You can also use it as a topping for your baked goods to get that crust. Try this Stuffed Millet Bread for starters. It makes a great accompaniment to soups and a wholesome lunch!

Its one of the major foods in India and for a good reasons. It is about as high in Protein as wheat and is a mineral powerhouse. It contains niacin,vitamin B6, folic acid and bits and pieces of calcium, iron, potassium,magnesium and zinc - well enough to make it nutritious.

How to Buy and Store
Buying organic Millet at your local health stores is the best. I haven't seen them in other stores. They keep well if stored in air tight containers and stored in dry cold shelves. It would be a great idea though to refrigerate them if you have a very hot and humid weather in the place where you live. Properly stored whole millet can lasts up to 2 years. The flour goes rancid very fast- hence use it fast and store it in freezer.

This post was written by Dhivya

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bless your hands

Monday, September 21, 2009

Posted by Antonio Tahhan

note: This recipe was a favorite of mine growing up. I figured since the school year has started I would write about these spinach pies, which I'm sure was my mom's sneaky (but delicious) way of getting my brothers and I to eat our spinach. Enjoy!

If I had to pick one dish to become a vegetarian for, it would be fatayer (فطاير).

It's a strong statement, and I'm not sure whether I would actually do it, but hypothetically, if I had to choose one dish to give up meat for, that would be it. That's all I'm saying. Of course, there are meat, as well as cheese and za'atar, variations of this Middle Eastern triangle-shaped pie, but the spinach ones are my absolute favorite.

My sito is an expert at making these, and I'm not just saying that because she's my grandmother. She's good -- not only at making these pies, but at everything she cooks, really. There's a saying in Arabic, تسلم يدك (tislamou eedaik), that is used to thank a cook for preparing a delicious meal -- it literally translates to, bless your hands. My grandmother's hands have been blessed plenty of times. The truth is, she's happiest when she's cooking, and it shows in the food she prepares. It runs in her veins, and even mine, she tells me.

Fatayer is a simple dish, in theory: just dough and filling. The dough can be made with either milk or water. My grandmother tells me she makes hers with water, but that she'll sometimes use milk (or powdered milk), depending on what she has on hand. Somehow she manages to make both versions taste equally amazing. I am convinced her hands are blessed! Luckily, we live in the age of twitter and blogs and facebook, so I knew this would be a perfect question to ask tweet Anissa Helou. Chef Helou is a Mediterranean food scholar and instructor based in London, who also keeps a Mediterranean food blog. To her knowledge some cooks use milk in Syria, but no one does in Lebanon. My grandmother is Syrian, so this made sense to me.

I have a feeling there will be some tension around the red bell pepper. While the red bell pepper is not traditional, I don't think, it works on many levels - photogenically and culinarily. The specs of red in the filling add contrast to the shades of dark green spinach, while adding a subtle sweet undertone to the dish. It works. Try it, at least once, and let me know.

The filling starts with freshly chopped spinach. I used baby spinach, but that wilts down to almost nothing. In the end, any spinach will work. After you roughly chop the leaves, add salt to release the water from the spinach and let sit for 5-10 minutes, while you prepare the dough.

If you're using dry, active yeast, you don't necessarily need to make it bloom. I do this as a check to make sure that my yeast is alive and well. Simply add the yeast to warm water with a bit of sugar or honey, cover and let sit for 10-15 minutes. If it gets bubbly and foamy, it's alive, if not, you just saved yourself a lot of frustration (and cussing).

The smaller you make the dough, the prettier the fatayer will be, but the more patience you'll need. In the Middle East, these involved dishes are almost never prepared alone. The women of the family usually gather to help the host and also take that time to catch up with each other and talk about stuff I wasn't allowed to listen to as a child.

Just imagine how much quicker this would be if you had four or five pairs of hands helping you.

Once they're all formed, make sure the seams are well-sealed before they go into the oven. I like to brush the surface of mine with a little milk, or a light egg wash, just to give the crust a nice sheen after they come out of the oven.

These pies are surprisingly better the next day, at least in my opinion. You can heat them up for 7-10 seconds in the microwave, or eat them at room temperature, which is what I will usually do.

Click here for the recipe.

This post was written by Antonio Tahhan

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Immunization - Truth and Rumor

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Posted by Hilda

My families are a bunch of trivia heads, both the one I was born into and the one I am now a parent in. I think asking us trivia questions incessantly and providing interesting trivia continuously was a way for my father to instill deep curiosity about everything in us.
On occasion, my father will ask me the same question, perhaps forgetting that he has asked me it before: What would you name as the three most important discoveries for mankind? My answer has always consisted of the same first two things: 1) Fire and 2) The Printing Press. The third one is not always the same depending on the occasion, and while he agrees with me about the first two, my father is always unerring in the third one: 3) The generalization of the vaccination process by Louis Pasteur.

When I was little, I don't think there was even a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be vaccinated. In fact, I can't recall there being any issues with vaccination during my lifetime except within the last five to ten years. In that time, the rise in instances of autism in young children has led factions of people to believe that vaccines and vaccinations in general are a direct cause of the condition.
So, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question.
As the mother of a nearly six month-old baby, I'm going to be honest and begin this discussion by saying that my little girl has had her prescribed shots;  at two months, three months, four months and has just had a BCG shot which is recommended before the age of one in Europe. The vaccines that she has received so far are meant to protect her from Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough, Polio, and Pneumococcal(lung) and Meningococcal(brain) strains of influenza. The BCG is a vaccine against Tuberculosis. Further shots when she'll be thirteen months old should protect her from Measles, Mumps and Rubella. So it's obvious which side of this equation I fall under, but I'll break it down and see if it makes sense to you too.
Even before the mercury rumor, which persists to this day, the first rumor blaming vaccines was started by a group of researchers who published a study in the late 90s theorizing that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) caused autism in a study they did of 26 children (12 with autism and 14 without). Yep, you read that right, 26 children, there's no zero missing at the end of that number.  The researcher who headed the study was very vocal about publicizing the results though the study did not prove anything. However, the said same researcher was later found to have hidden a conflict of interest involving funding from potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit against a vaccine manufacturer. Ten of the thirteen researchers who had published the original study later retracted their findings. Nevertheless, the rumor that vaccines caused autism was cemented into the psyche, and as the MMR debate was being fought, a new target was found in mercury.
The most persistent rumor in the anti-vaccination campaign has been that mercury found in a chemical known as thimerosal, which was used as a preservative in some vaccines, is the cause of higher rates of autism. However, upon doing extensive reviews of such a possibility, it was found that the quantity of mercury in thimerosal, measured in nano grams per milliliter in children after vaccination, is well below the acceptable level as defined by EPA standards. I trusted the reports I read because I was trained as an environmental engineer in college so I know about measurements like nano grams per milliliter (ηg/ml) up the wazoo as I had to study air, water, and soil pollution (did you know that if you work in the United States, the air in your workplace has to be recycled 5.4 times per hour? Yes, I'm so scarred I remember OSHA standards by heart twelve years after the fact). To be specific, the amount of thimerosal measured in children after vaccination was less than half of the acceptable amount.  Unfortunately, in this day and age of electronic communication, coming on the heels of the claims about MMR, the fuse had already been lit and spread in part by the New York Times and Rolling Stone and the thimerosal rumor grew to enormous proportions.
In my mind there are several things that are more likely the cause of autism, than just something as unlikely as a simple vaccine or set of vaccines. I apologize in advance to anyone with an autistic child who may read this but I do not pretend to be an expert, I am simply going forward with what some research, experience, and logic are telling me. Autism does not describe one particular condition, rather, it is a spectrum of disorders. This is why a condition such as asperger would be said to fall within the autism spectrum of disorders. My mother has asperger, some of the symptoms being stronger than others in her particular case. My paternal uncle, who is a mathematician, also falls within the general spectrum; though which one of the exact disorders he would qualify as having I wouldn't know. What I do know, from these two people close to me and many others mostly unrelated to me, is that many of the disorders which fall under the autism spectrum umbrella have only recently been identified and categorized as such, and that the diagnosis of many of these disorders is not always evident unless a person has a severe case of that particular category. In other words, what I've gathered from people of my parent's generation and above is that as recently as my parent's generation (the '40s and '50s) they weren't aware that there was any such disorder, they were simply considered to be relatively slow, quirky or eccentric. The octogenarian mother of a man I know who is in his early 50s didn't know that he suffered from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) until he was diagnosed a few years ago. As she recanted, she had always thought that he was simply over energetic, this being his quirk compared to her three other children. To me, this translates to the steady increase in the reports of autism as actually being a function of our recent heightened awareness of its distinct categories rather than its sudden increase as a consequence of vaccination.
Moreover, autism, in severe cases, is often diagnosed in young children as early as one year old. This is right in the middle of the standard vaccination timeline and I, as a new mother, can attest that I would consider it odd if my perfectly normal-seeming child suddenly started displaying autistic behavior shortly after being vaccinated and might want to think of that as the possible cause for her sudden change in behavior. I completely understand the urge to find a concrete cause for something like this happening to one's child as the more concrete the cause, the more possible a specific treatment and/or cure might be. However, it should be considered that the urge to blame vaccination comes partly from the fact that when children are this young, vaccination is one of the only things that we as their parents can control completely since they cannot fully communicate with us yet and we have little or no control over a number of other factors in their environment such as pollution or allergens and, for that matter, many other things which surround us daily but which we've come to accept as the natural state of the 20th and 21st century life. It's important to remember that while we can control the administration of vaccines to our young children, unless we are doctors or biochemists ourselves, we don't fully understand them either, and understanding something only partially may be worse than not at all in some cases like this.
Finally, if I haven't caused you to nod off on your keyboard by now, the third and last part of this equation is the fact that some of the diseases which our generation, and now our children's generation, are routinely vaccinated against used to kill scores of infants and adults alike. Because the population of people, however small, who are not vaccinating their children is on the rise, diseases such as measles, which was considered to have been eradicated in the United States in 2000, polio and mumps are now on the rise again, with outbreaks over the last few years. I think it's hard for my generation to comprehend diseases like polio because we were vaccinated against them. We didn't have to endure them as people of our parents' generation had to. The risk of my daughter catching one of these diseases and perhaps dying from one or more of them if she were not vaccinated, is higher and more likely than her developing autism from the composition of the vaccine; particularly since the causality between vaccination and autism is not proven. So I think in the end it must be pretty clear why I'm in the vaccination camp.
I have to note the following: All children are, of course, individuals and it is important to take family history with allergies and adverse reactions into account when deciding whether or not to vaccinate a child.

I can't remember now what other answers I've given my father when it comes to the third most important discovery for mankind, but now that I have a child who is being vaccinated, I don't think I'll ever forget that that is probably the best third answer I can come up with. Perhaps that has been the point of his asking me repeatedly over the years, to see if I would come to this realization when I had children of my own. Thanks Dad.

This post was written by Hilda

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Posted by Jamie


Ah, my sweet little boys; born in France to a French (Catholic) father and an American (Jewish) mother and brought to Italy at the tender ages of 1 and 3 to spend 7 years learning to become Italian before moving back to France. Life is a dream, life is full of wonder and life is tough and confusing. Caught between all of these various worlds, struggling to juggle conflicting identities, find common cultural ground, muddling through the learning process of cultural identity, my two boys became true mini-cultural melting pots.

Children soak up language and culture like tiny sponges. They pick and choose what suits, copying friends, trying to fit in, asking questions, accepting or refusing. We struggled as well, trying to guarantee that they spoke all necessary languages, were able to slide into one culture or the other as we traveled, moved around or spent time with family, trying to give them a bit of Opera or quality cinema and good books alongside the Italian love of football (soccer) or the schoolyard passion for Ninja Turtles or Space Rangers, the teen craze for American skateboarders or bands. But how do we, those of us raising multi-cultural children (and there are more and more of us out there), how do we instill a sense of self, an identity? How do we keep our own culture alive and pass it on to the next generation? I ended up turning to what I know best: food.

Culture and cooking are as intertwined, as necessary to one another, the old saying goes, as a horse and carriage or love and marriage, and, for us foodies, as are marshmallows and hot cocoa, peanut butter and jelly, tomato and mozzarella. They are so intertwined that we can’t tell which is more necessary to the other, which came first, each one infusing the other with spice and vitality and maximizing the qualities of the other.

My father-in-law in front on his shop in the suburbs of Paris.

Culture is expressed in both what and how we eat: from ingredients to cooking method to the way it is served and how mealtimes are arranged. Most of us, whether we realize it or not, conscious gesture or not, express our culture everyday by what we prepare. An Italian or Chinese home is found on the dinner table, whether that table is found in Rome or Beijing, London or New York or Sydney. We may travel the world, move from one country to another, but one thing we all carry with us, the one aspect of our culture that generations of immigrants have kept close to their hearts, loathe to leave behind, is our cuisine and the rituals that surround it. Through our cooking, we remind the children, grandchildren and generations of family to come who we are, where we came from and, whether that culture is ethnic, religious or even political, it is how we keep our culture alive. Each time we gather around the table, this ritual, this eating together strengthens bonds between individuals, whether family or friends, as well as between generations, and we become part of a community.

Dinnertime with my family in Florida, mom, grandma, brother and sister, aunt and cousins, gathered for Michael's Bar Mitzvah.

Like most Americans, I am a mere two generations from the Old Country. I grew up straddling two cultures, two culinary worlds, sandwiched somewhere between the Steak and Potatoes and the Cabbage Soup and Pastrami, the Apple Pie and the Apple Kugel, the Hot Dogs and Cole Slaw and the Chicken Soup and honey drizzled over warm, fresh Challah. I always took these things for granted, never questioning why we ate what we ate. Yet marrying a Frenchman, a man raised on blanquette, daube and baguette smeared with Camembert, raising my own kids in a new, foreign place, I realize the enormity of the balancing act that it is, trying to keep them at home culturally while letting them discover new worlds. My sons have grown up with several cultures, sometimes in harmonious joy, sometimes clashing like warring factions. I have tried to bring something of each culture to the table, explaining origins, history, family lore as I set each dish before them. I have tried to keep the continuity of family history alive through the ceremonies and holiday meals. There is also something so comforting in re-creating and eating what is so familiar. Through all of this, I hope something has been brought home to them, I hope that they feel their roots just a little bit with each mouthful.

Sarah & Shapsa, my great-great grandparents, photograph taken in Russia before their emigration to the US in the 1890's.

You see, each time I open a cookbook and choose a recipe, each time I grab my shopping basket and head out hoping to find a particular ingredient, I think of my ancestors newly arrived on American shores trying to figure out how to cook; unusual ingredients, new-fangled cooking methods, trying to adapt Old World habits to New World offerings. Things formerly taken for granted have become rare jewels, family favorites metamorphosing into something foreign before transforming into tradition. Like those immigrants of old, I do what I can with what I have and hope that something survives.

Lamb Tagine with Prunes, Almonds and Honey is a family favorite, a wonderful dish I make all year round, yet special for the Jewish New Year, which is right around the corner. I have adopted this sweet dish as my very own for this holiday (the honey and the prunes promising a round, sweet year), creating a new family tradition, one steeped in the North Africa culture rather than my own. And it reminds my husband of his years living in Morocco, a culinary culture he fell in love with.


1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A few tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking
2 – 2 ½ lbs (1.2 kg) boneless lamb, excess fat removed and cut into large cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ tsp saffron powder or turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ lb (250 g) pitted prunes, or more as desired
Handful (about 2 oz/60 g or more) of blanched whole almonds
2 tsps ground cinnamon
3 Tbs honey

In a large, heavy-bottom pot with a lid, heat the oil and then fry the chopped onion until it starts to soften and become translucent. Add the chopped garlic and continue to fry until the onion and garlic are soft and just golden.

Add the cubes of lamb and sauté, tossing to guarantee even browning, until lightly browned all over. Add the saffron, ginger and nutmeg, salt and pepper generously.

Add enough water to cover the meat, stir well, and bring up just to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover the pot almost completely and allow to simmer for 1 hour 20 minutes. The meat should be tender. Check every now and then, adding water as needed (remember, if too much water boils away, there will be no delicious sauce! You can always thicken it up a bit at the end of the cooking.).

At the end of the 1 hour 20 minutes, add the prunes, almonds, cinnamon and the honey, stir and continue simmering for another 15 – 20 minutes. Taste and add more freshly ground black pepper to balance the sweetness, or a tad more honey if desired.

Serve over hot couscous grains.

This tagine is fabulous reheated the next day, as the sauce thickens and the flavors meld.

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This post was written by Jamie