THE PERFECTLY PERFECT BANANA BREAD

Ingredients:

1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

One cup white sugar

1/2 cup or 1/3 cup brown sugar (it can be either amount)

One stick or half cup of unsalted butter

1/3 cup oil

2 eggs at room temperature (you can put them in a bowl of tap water to bring them to room temperature)

2-3 mashed, ripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla essence

1/3 cup of milk at room temperature

1/4 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

 

Recipe:

First, oil and flour a bundt or a tube pan, and turn the oven on at 350 0r 175, depending on the kind of oven you have. Now, sift all the dry ingredients. Next, mix eggs, butter, oil and the two kinds of sugar in a bowl. Add the flour mixture, beat. Add mashed bananas and vanilla essence. Finally, add the milk and beat. If you’d like, you can also stir walnuts in the batter.  Do not beat too much as you are introducing a lot of air into the batter. Bake for about an hour. Check the bread with a tooth pick or a butter knife. If it comes out dry, you are in pretty good shape.

 

Note:

If you don’t have brown sugar, you can use extra white sugar. Brown sugar brings a richness to the flavor of the bread.

 

ASIA BIBI’S ACQUITTAL IN A LAND OF CONTRADICTIONS

I wonder how many of us remember that Salman Taseer and Mumtaz Qadri died as a result of Asia Bibi’s alleged insults towards prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was assassinated in 2011 by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri for his opposition to the blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was arrested, tried and executed for killing the person he was supposed to protect.   I am pretty sure that Asia Bibi’s acquittal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan hasn’t escaped anyone. I am also sure that even expats outside Pakistan didn’t miss the news of the riots, property damage and public unrest that followed the acquittal.  Again, I am not saying anything about the verdict itself, but in a nation of hundreds of millions of people where women and girls cannot walk safely at night, children are always in danger of getting kidnapped, citizens’ property and lives aren’t safe. Children are dying of hunger and poor sanitation. Men, women and children die of a lack of proper healthcare or negligent healthcare practices. Children are used as almost free labor all across the land, and in many situations battered and abused.  The rich/poor gap is enormous, justice isn’t doled out accordingly, and countless situations which enrage senses, exhaust minds, and leave a person drained and cold of heart at the end of the day.
It is ironic that all our love, respect, emotions, and feelings get so triggered, and bent out of shape if we even hear the rumor of a person insulting our beloved Prophet (PBUH). What about honoring the Prophet (PBUH) in deeds? How many people do we see or meet that actually try actively to follow the Sunnah of our beloved? And I don’t mean just follow any easy Sunnah. What I really mean is that how many people are actually willing to experience some measure of difficulty in trying to follow a particular Sunnah. Our streets are littered with beggars young and old. Towns and cities are exploding with populations that are illiterate, hungry and criminally inclined due to the dire situations that they are in.
Again, ironic that we don’t raise too much voice about poor people’s lives and the true worth of those lives. Tragic that flesh and blood pulsating with life isn’t prized much. Sad, that children without clothes, food or education don’t rile us ,and bring us into the streets. Honor killings don’t bring out our outrage. Minorities’ rights are trampled upon without true audible or visual protest from the same outraged and angry masses.  I can go on and on about not only the quality of life,  but also the price of life at the bottom of the barrel. However, I’ll stop right here.

STREUSEL COFFEE CAKE

STREUSEL COFFEE CAKE (allrecipes.com)

 

Butter and Flour a 9X13 inch rectangular pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 or 175, depending on the type of oven you have.

 

Cake Ingredients:

2 Eggs at room temperature

One stick butter or half cup (softened)

One 8 ounce package Philadelphia cream cheese, it can a brand other than Kraft but it should be the American style cream cheese (softened)

I and ¼ cup of sugar

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Half cup of milk at room temperature

One teaspoon almond extract

One teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Crumb Topping Ingrdients:

½ cup of flour

½ cup of sugar

½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon

¾ cup of chopped walnuts

½ stick of cold butter

 

First, sift all the dry ingredients. Few days ago,  I was watching a baking show  on a television channel. I have no clue what she was teaching, but what I did notice was that she added every dry ingredient directly to the mixing bowl.  This is a practice best avoided. Many times, if you do not sift all dry ingredients together, you will notice baking soda or powder concentrated in one area of your final baking product. What sifting does is it distributes all dry ingredients evenly. Now, cream together  butter, cream cheese, eggs (one by one) and sugar. Next, add the dry ingredients alternately with milk, starting and ending with flour. Add the two extracts, mix. Pour the batter in the pan.

Now take a ziplock bag, and  mix with all the ingredients for the crumb topping. The topping should be solid, butter should be solid too. Finally, add  or sprinkle the crumb topping on  top of the raw batter in the pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a tooth pick comes out clear. This is a recipe from the baking/cooking  site allrecipes.com.  I cannot praise this recipe enough. It’s a spectacular recipe, and always wins fans. Additionally, it is fairly easy and quick to put together.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, eggs should be put in a bowl of tap water to bring them to room temperature. If you’d like butter to be softened, put it in a bowl and keep it in a sunny window or close to the stove. I don’t like microwaving butter as it will  turn the butter to liquid, and can affect  the final product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIGHTS AND HIJABS

HIJABS, TIGHTS AND THEIR BATTLES

 

 

Her:  “These pants aren’t too tight, and they cover my legs.”

Mom: “They are not pants, they are actually tights that cannot be disguised as pants unless the viewer  is visually challenged aka blind”.

 

Her: “The shirt is knee length, and it does cover properly.”

Mom: “The shirt is barely thigh length. It cannot humanly reach your knees unless it is constructed of bubblegum material.”

 

Her: “I don’t want to wear the hijab, nobody wears it at school. Kids make fun of me. They call me towel-head, terrorist.”

Mom: “You have to wear it.  You don’t have a choice. It’s mandatory for Muslim women to cover their hair. You cannot go to school if you do not wear it.”

 

Another mom line that I absolutely do not care for goes something like this, “God will do such and such”.  Any argument along those lines is a priceless gem because it only makes your teenager dislike you, her faith and God. Talk about killing two birds with one stone, in this case three.

 

How many moms have had these dialogues or similar ones with their teenage daughters. I am pretty sure many of us have had  conversations resembling the ones above with their energetic teenagers. I really wanted to write about this particular topic because not only does this issue affect a large number of families , but if not handled correctly, it can give birth to a pattern of behavior that is harmful for everyone involved.   A friend pointed out to me that many girls will cover their heads before leaving home, but take it off at school. It is the same concept with clothing too. Girls will wear something to please mom and dad, but change at school. It is not an uncommon practice for kids living in primarily western societies.  I know I argue with my teenager about tights versus pants and other articles of clothing. However, one thing I do is that I will stop the argument at an earlier point, and let her have her way even if I find her choice in clothing distasteful. This is painful for me,  but unless her choice is absolutely unacceptable, I’ll give in. I give in because I do not want her to go to school, and put on the same offending garment without my knowledge. I have learned that I would much rather change her ideology than engage in pointless and fruitless arguments. These arguments can never be won, and  more importantly can never win their minds. I know for a fact that we cannot change a  person’s mind by verbal argument, no matter how convincing the argument is. The momentary submission is worthless, and it encourages a pattern  of deceit that the child will perfect over time. Some parents might say, “I check on my teenager at school too. I make sure that they don’t  do things behind my back.”  Again, the parent will get the teenager to do their bidding temporarily, but how long can a parent keep checking. Surely, not while they are in college, and college offers a choice of many other activities, few of them not very acceptable for  many Muslim parents.

In my opinion, the most important part of raising teenagers is to make sure their ideology matches the parents’. I am certainly not suggesting that parents should let the kids do and wear whatever their heart desires, but a give and take should be established. Talking to your teenager as a friend, and establishing a positive relationship will go a long way in building a strong and long-lasting ideology. In the end,  away from home and parents, that permanent ideology is what your child will follow.  Yes, lines must be drawn, and boundaries should be established, but please do not get hung up on hijabs, tights,  half-sleeves, sleeveless and all that jazz. All these are temporary aberrations, but if not handled correctly,  one pattern that they will surely perfect is that of deception and lies.

 

Really old  people obsess about moot points such as  coverings,  retributions and halal/haram. Intelligent people work on what’s going on inside their teenagers’ minds, and how to shape their thinking processes.  Please, please establish a comfortable relationship with them,  change their beliefs. If you are trying to change their choices by  using examples of punishments that seem worlds and ages away, you are failing them. Try and teach them that when no one is watching,  a higher being is still there. They should have  a firm grasp on the concept that even though the higher power cannot be seen but does exist,  if that’s what the parents would like for them to hang onto.

 

TO MOVE BACK OR NOT TO MOVE BACK, RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS IN AMERICA

                                     TO MOVE BACK OR NOT TO MOVE  BACK,                                   RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS IN AMERICA

For the last five years, we have been living in the Middle East, and frequently travelling to Pakistan, where I was born and raised until I was fourteen. I  enjoyed the Middle East and appreciated Pakistan, but with so much happening, the big question in our home has been whether to move back or not to move back to the United States.  I had moved to the United States with my family in the late 80’s. It was a pretty relaxing time, and modern day woes were nowhere to be found. I was a non-hijab wearing teenager in highschool, and it was easy to enjoy the U.S. People were kind, and culturally very different than Pakistan.  Allthroughout high school and college, I was a semi-practicing Muslim. I practiced certain things but avoided others.  I started covering my head in 1997 and, it felt pretty good. Finally, I felt that I had a connection with something deep. Rootlessness can sneak in if you don’t have ties anywhere.  I felt like a loose leaf blowing everywhere, but nowhere in particular. After I started wearing the hijab, I felt like I had a direction. I was still pretty liberal in my politics, but more conservative in my practices. I look back, but do not remember a harsh look or  a specific experience  that targeted my faith. However, things were changing ever so slowly even at that time. My hijab would get odd looks occasionally, and praying in a public place  would definitely get a person noticed.  Everything changed rapidly with September 11, 2001, and the world as everyone knew it, underwent phenomenal changes. Airports became scary places, and in just about every public place in America,  in numerous ways, Muslims felt the backlash of that September day. It was very tragic that many more incidents followed  9/11.  America waged war on multiple fronts, inside and outside the country. In those days, even turning on the television or reading a paper was stressful for me, and I am sure for millions of others living in Western societies. I had horns honked at me, stares directed at me while in security lines at the airport and other public places.  There were some wonderful experiences too, such as my husband’s colleagues who offered their unconditional assistance in case a need arose. The post office in Columbia, Missouri where everyone was incredibly sweet.  I hung onto my faith at that time, my scarf and kindness of my fellow Americans. It’s  a spectacularly good feeling when a stranger will be nice to you for no apparent reason.

 

However, when I compare the post 9/11 America to a pre-Trump America, I find the later to be a  much more divisive and scary place.  Even before Donald Trump came along, the climate of hate and  racial/cultural intolerance was making waves. I feel many elements exploited a variety of resentments within the public sphere to create an environment of  disharmony. In this America, it was a starightforward decision to move to Saudi Arabia in 2013. My kids were almost teenagers, and we felt that they would benefit from a worry-free atmosphere. Surpisingly, I missed America just as much as I missed Pakistan. I missed roads, people and many other small things, but again it is scary to read about incidents, events that are happening far away from you. Then you are grateful to be away from that particular situation.  Also, the political climate started looking stranger and stranger.

 

Till the election in 2016, I considered myself pretty American despite everything, and had no trouble connecting with friends  and places there. Actually, before this year’s trip, our last trip to the United States was in the Summer of 2016. Almost all magazine covers veered on the jocular and the ridiculous at the thought of a Trump presidency. Hillary Clinton was a done deal.  Then the election happened, and my sense of incredulity and sadness cannot be quantified on the morning after the elction.  The wide swath of  Repupublican red coloring America seemed to be mocking minorities, women, lgbt activists, and everyone who stood for a disadvantaged group. The sense of dread plaguing all the above mentioned groups only increased after a spectacularly dystopian picture of a country well on it’s way to ruins painted by a President Trump in his inaugural address. Hate crimes, snide victory speeches, and opinion polls pointed to a rapidly changed America.  I am an avid reader of  The Washington Post and Mother Jones. Both are fairly liberal papers with MJ being on the extreme left. Soon it became apparent that the election had freed hatred, racism, and  many elements of society felt they had permission to air their dislikes of groups unlike them. Some  groups and individuals felt  that they could act upon those negative perceptions. However, that said, I also read about large marches, sit-ins and protests held all across the United States for the rights of minorities, and it was heart warming. Still, I was afraid to go back, but we ended up visiting the States this year. This was my first trip after the election. To say I was stressed would be an understatement. When you are far away and far removed from a situation, you don’t have any idea how things  are on the ground. All you have are little snippets of information from a variety of sources, and everyone and every entity is biased in some way. People and  various news outlets all present their information according to their agenda, not precisely as it is.  So I had all this information, and I had an idea that Trump’s America would be different than the America two Summers ago.

 

I didn’t know  how I would feel walking the malls, stores in a Trumpian land, in a country that I grew up in and considered mine. I had read about rising hate crimes, and the fact that hijab wearing Muslim women are easy targets because of their head coverings. My fifteen-year-old daughter and I both cover our heads. Through out the years I had dealt with occasional slurs, horns and instances where people would make their feelings about Islam known to me. However, the positives always outweighed the negatives. There was the postal  worker in Columbia, MO who knew me, and always greeted me with a  huge smile. There were the drivers who would give right of way, even though they didn’t have to.  Then were the clerks, cashiers and other service workers who would always greet with a smile, and do their their best to provide assistance. I always felt that Americans have mastered the art of providing kindness to random strangers, and this kindness can materialize anywhere in any situation. It can be a person giving you space in a security line at the airport, in a check out line at the grocery store, or it can be a person stopping to give you car assistance in pouring rain. I have been at the receiving end of many of these random acts of kindnesses over the years, and it is one of the reasons I fell in love with America. My first experience was as a seventeen year old.  It was raining cats and dogs, my car broke down on the way to school, and a woman named Robin stopped by to provide me with help.  She helped a total stranger without asking questions, and was on her way. I never saw her agin, but I have an unending litany of stories similar to the one I shared above. Then there was my college English teacher, Timoth Allan Peeples, who was undoubtedly one of the kindest souls I knew. He was always available for tutoring, and for encouraging a nineteen-year-old freshman. I don’t remember Tim ever saying no to my endless requests for help.  I have so many more stories to share, but not enough space.

 

This time, one story that stands out is when I stayed in Horsham, Pennsylvania. I went to the local Walmart to buy things to bring back to Doha. We shop as if we are shopping for a starving third world country. After pushing my stuff laden cart to the check-out counter, I realized I had forgotten something, and told the cashier that I would go grab it quickly.  When I returned, a stranger named Tara had bagged all my groceries carefully, and there were atleast twenty bags. I was simply overcome with joy, partly because of what she had done, but also because the stock of American kindness was as full as ever. Another incident that I’ll share with my readers is when I stayed in Centerville, Ohio. I was staying with long time friends, Chanda and Naveed-ul-Haq. Chanda, despite having had surgery on her wrist, was hosting about 10-15 guests in her house.  Chanda introduced us to Bill’s Donuts that are the last word in donuts, the holy grail of donuts, the  champions of all the donuts. Everything they had was so heavenly that I wouldn’t have minded moving to Centerville to work at Bill’s Donuts. One day when we went to pick up the donuts, I voiced out loud my desire to eat a fresh donut. As we were walking out, we passed by the kitchen, and we told the young man working there. He smiled and handed us three, huge, fresh donuts that tasted more amazing than they looked.

Towards the end of my trip, I realized that America was as unique as it has always been, and nothing will change it. Kind people, selfless people, ready to put a bit of joy in a stranger’s life, willing to provide assistance where needed will always be there. They are the guardians of the American greatness, the gatekeepers of the values that make the poor, the unwanted, the persecuted populations from all across the world risk  everything, even their lives to want to make a life in this special America. I would be perfectly okay with moving back because I feel that for better or for worse, it is my country.

 

 

 

 

BETTER THAN HEAVEN BROWNIES

 

 

 

 

INGREDIENTS:

 Butter  ½ Cup

Oil  ½ Cup

Eggs  3

White Sugar  1 and ½ Cup

Brown Sugar  ½ Cup

Flour  1 and ½ Cup

Baking Powder  1 teaspoon

Baking Soda  ½ teaspoon

Salt   ½ teaspoon

Cinnamon  ½ teaspoon

Cocoa Powder  3 tablespoons

Semi-sweet Chocolate  One 4 ounce bar

Vanilla  1 teaspoon

A splash of milk

 

 

RECIPE:

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Now oil  a 13 x 9 pan, or  use a bake release spray such as Baker’s Joy or any other spray. Set the pan aside. Sift together  all the dry ingredients and set those aside as well. Now mix the butter, oil, eggs, white sugar and brown sugar. Only mix for about 30-40 seconds, do not over mix. If you you don’t have brown sugar, you can just use white sugar. In the absence of brown sugar, reduce the quantity of white  sugarto 1 and ¾ cups. Now, add the dry ingredients to the mix. Again, beat for another 30-35 seconds.  Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a dry pan over another pan of hot water over stove. First,  boil water on top of the stove. Then add the chocolate chocolate bar in another, smaller pan, and put it on top of the boiling water. Chocolate cannot be melted right on top of the stove because it will burn and turn chunky. Add the melted chocolate to the batter with a spatula, and mix with the spatula. Add vanilla and a splash of milk. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, and check the brownies with a toothpick or a pin. It should come out as semi wet. Brownies can be amazing if under baked a bit, but over baked brownies are dry and nasty.

 

OPTIONAL:

A tablespoon of fine orange peel can be added, and it is a very good fit for the chocolate. However, everyone might not like it, especially kids.

 

 

 

I Really Hate Myself, But I Cannot Help Myself

 

I haven’t written anything in a long, long time. However with Ramadaan gone, I really wanted to reboot and re-energize my blog once more. When Ramadaan came this year, it made me think about many things, but one event really stood out. As many people know that my mom suffered a stroke around mid- February, and is totally bed ridden, unable to talk or even move  her fingers. My two sisters and their families are caring for her, and are doing a very good job. I visit her every few months and every time I go, I make a new resolve before going. I promise myself that this time I will massage her hands, read Quran to her, you know the little things. The problem is, with every trip, it takes me a about a day to muster up my courage to go inside her room. I cannot reconcile the stranger on the bed making inhuman sounds that I see with the larger than life person that I knew. What I remember is a very strong personality, one that could wither a person with a single look. I remember her fasting during winter months for years,  for two-three days a week.  I remember her reading newspapers and magazines, and I remember her as thoroughly enjoying the company of others. I remember that she liked to cook, and was extremely picky about her clothes. She had such an odd personality full of contradictions, likes/dislikes and strengths. She was born and raised  in India, and had a very interesting  and idyllic childhood. She used to share some pretty spectacular memories of growing up in the pink city of Jaipur. There’s so much to remember and not enough space to write everything that I recollect.

 

I am so ashamed for not being able to go inside her room, so ashamed for not being able to fulfill the purpose of my visit, so ashamed to be scared of the barely alive person on the bed.  Instead I go outside to do shopping, sit outside the room, do really insignificant chores inside my sister’s house, and take care  of really mundane things that can be left undone. To put it bluntly, I do everything I can to avoid going inside the room to face her, a life that’s really just hanging in there by nothing more than a single breath. I don’t even know if she can be called a life. I know with certainty that she would have hated this existence. I am so bewildered and grieved by her condition. Maybe I am afraid that one day I will be like her, maybe worse than her. She has very dedicated family memebrs taking good care of her, but I feel that nobody will be there for me. I have an existence without a country or a people, and  I fear that in the end I may be in that same kind of room with a thread of my existence  and no one to even check if that thread is intact or not.

 

Finally, I had a conversation with my seventeen year old son about the kind of death I’d like to have. He only offered one perspective, and it was that he didn’t want to die of old age. However, which death is better? The gradual death from age or sickness or a sudden death from an unforeseen accident. I am very scared of dying in an airplane crash, but my mom makes me think that dying in an instant in a ball of fire and explosion might not be so bad after all.