Carrot: The Only Cake Worth Eating

I have had a long-lasting, deeply passionate affair with carrot cake ever since my taste buds were awakened to the possibility of re-packaging carrots in heavenly, moist, cake form. The contrast of textures was pleasing – the grittiness of the shredded carrot, the fluffiness of the baked cake batter, the plump raisins pierced between my teeth, and the satisfying crunchiness of walnuts, all covered with a heavenly, creamy, perfectly flavored cream cheese frosting. Frosting on the cake, literally.

As I grew older I realized that this affair needed to be kept under control, and I am happy to report that I have been successful. My husband and I are still married, and we’re still exclusive. I have not yet shacked up with a carrot sheet cake and its heavenly frosting. It also helps that my husband does not LIKE carrot cake (crazy, I know!!!), and so I have no reason to ever make it at home.
This alternately makes me sad and happy, but the time has come for carrot cake to make an appearance in our home! I was ecstatic when I found out that my mother in law has the same affection for carrots as I do. Every time she comes to visit we share our love of carrot juice and I am happy and content. (My go-to drink in the coffee shops of Amman has always been fresh carrot juice. Nothing like it. Well, except for Fresh Mint Lemonade. Kick. Ass. Good.)

So, last night, my mother in law and I conspired to bake a carrot cake and laugh at whoever didn’t want to participate in the festivities. They know not what they do. I, being the weak pushover that I am (mmmhmm) decided to also bake cookies for my chocolate-loving boys. But who cares about the cookies? So cliche!!

So bake I did! Here is the result and recipe; a lighter take on the age-old classic (i.e. no walnuts or cream cheese frosting, and much less butter), but just as enjoyable with the perfect cup of black coffee.
(Note: I use much less sugar than recipes normally do, so if you like your cake on the sweeter side, use 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in this recipe)

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She has soft, supple, perfectly tanned skin that entices my fingers to run along her flesh. Only if you look closely do you see the tiny lines created by age and exposure to sun. Delicate, perfectly placed lines that only add to her uniqueness and character, and make her all the more attractive.

Her character is what drew me to her in the first place. Unassuming, yet bold. Beautiful by any era’s standards, she seems to transcend time, creating a standard all her own. She knows when to open up, sharing her inner beauty with all, and when to withdraw, leaving us to wonder what treasures she carries in her heart.

She is my forever companion, and has been ever since the year I left the warmth of home to go out in search of an education, and later, a career. She stayed by my side, keeping me confident, telling me I was just as beautiful (and versatile!) as she. She has carried my secrets and my identity, and I will love her forever.

And now you can meet her too.

my mom's timeless clutch

She belonged to my mother and dates back to the 70s, back to days before I was born. I can just imagine the numerous chic outfits my mother wore where she was just the perfect accessory. I remember as a young girl, wanting so badly to carry her around as if I owned her. To this day, her skin has one of the most interesting textures I have ever felt with my fingertips. Every line tells a story, every snap of her buttons makes her mine again. My mother gave her to me on the day I left home to go to college, and I vowed to maintain her beauty just as well as my mother did over the years. She has traveled across Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Wherever I go, so will she. Every time I open her, the same rich smell she had so many years ago fills my nostrils and takes me back in time.

Thank you, mama, for giving me a part of you that I can keep forever. Your purse is beautiful, but will never be as beautiful as you have and always will be.

I will never forget the words you uttered when, as a confused child still learning about race and trying to understand where I fit in, I asked you about the color of our skin.
Are we White? Are we Black? All my friends at school seemed to know the answer to that question with such clarity and ease, yet I felt I was neither. Without missing a beat, you looked at me with your beautiful, big brown eyes and said with love and conviction, “You are your OWN, special, Arabic color habibti (my love), and your color is beautiful.”

All colors are beautiful. Love yours, and it will love you back.

Preschooler Car Talk – 10/27/10

Mood elevated, his little bottom twitching in his car seat. Not out of impatience, but because that’s the only way he can ‘dance’ to the music coming from the radio while strapped in oh-so-tight (I do not mess around with car seat straps. Mama means business).

This time I’m sitting in the back too, taking a break from driving, letting the Daddy take the wheel. So, I twitch in my seat as well, encouraging this rare moment of no inhibition.

“Mama LOOK!”, jabbing at the air with his finger, back and forth, back and forth, pointing towards his window.

“Whose airplane is DAT, Mama?! Zee*??”
(*Zee is my 20 year-old brother who currently has possession of a favorite Spiderman toy, which he is bringing back to its rightful owner this Thanksgiving. Needless to say, someone is a bit impatient to get his Spiderman back, and thus every airplane in the sky holds the promise of Zee coming to visit.)

Feeling playful, I say “Maybeeeee… Dora!”

Playing along, “Maybeeeeee.. Puppy*!”
*Puppy is a stuffed toy that has been his companion and soul mate ever since the day he was born. We used to be concerned that he loved Puppy more than he loves us.
Now, we just accept it.

For no reason whatsoever I say “Maybeeeeee… Obama!”

One look at his face and I knew it was Game Over. The scowl quickly replaced his smiles, and he had the you-can’t-fool-me look on his face.
“NoooooooOOOOOOOOOOOO!”, tone rising, righteousness growing.
“Um..” ????? Me, confused
Huffing and puffing, “Dere’s no White Houses heeere!!!”

Well then touche, Mr. Smarty Pants.
What you don’t know is that there also aren’t any Democrats here either, which only serves to strengthen your argument. ;)

Weekend Getaway

This past weekend, we went on a mini road trip and spent a couple of days in Moab, Utah. Before I share some of the pictures I must note some odd similarities between the region of the Middle East I come from and this, er, unique state within the US of A – Utah.

As soon as we landed here I realized the Biblical influence not only in the way of life, but in the names of people and places. There are cities named South Jordan and West Jordan, and sometimes it seems as though every other male’s name is Jordan, too.
The crowning glory of Jordan-inspired names I’ve encountered, however, is someone we met the very first week we arrived: Jordan King.
When he told me his name, I literally just stood there and stared. With my mouth open, eyebrows disappearing into my hairline, and eyes so confused I must have looked like I had momentarily lost my ability to understand the English language. He had no clue what the significance of his name (reversed) was and is in my life and the lives of my family, friends, school mates, and countrymen and women.

Also, similar to the Dead Sea, the great Salt Lake is an enclosed body of water with a high concentration of salts and minerals that eventually will disappear as long as the inflow is less than the amount of water evaporating.

I won’t go into drawing the Mormon-Muslim parallels because, well, let’s just leave that for another time.

The trip to Moab this past weekend was remarkable in many ways, firstly simply because of the amazing scenery and nature, and secondly because of how it was reminiscent of the terrain, color, and nature of the rocks in the mountainside of Petra.

And now I will stop talking and let you see for yourself!

Tooth Fairy

Just got back from the dentist, and the trip was an UTTER, mind-blowing success.
Near the end of my visit, the Dentist asked me if I’ve gotten my teeth whitened a few times before in the past, to which I promptly responded by sitting up a little bit taller, looking him straight in the eye, and triumphantly declaring, “I’ve NEVER gotten my teeth whitened. Ever.”
Dentist and Hygienist, in unison, “Really?! Those are nice teeth. And your gums look great!”
(Of course I realize that by saying this, my teeth are probably going to crumble and just drop onto my tongue without rhyme or reason, leaving me toothless AND eyebrow-less, the latter apparently being a sympton of hitting 30, at least with my genes. I should have paid more attention as my mom’s eyebrows slowly became less and less existent, but I was more focused on avoiding the silent daggers she was so skilled at shooting right at my heart from her eyes.)

Anyway, my teeth! This exclamation of genuine surprise and admiration by Mr. Dentist and Ms. Hygienist made my day. Nay, to be truthful, it made my year!
To understand the reason why this is such a big deal to me, you have to get a little bit of history and context.

I have been tooth and dentist-anxious ever since my traumatic bout with braces and lower jaw surgery (they literally broke my jaw, moved it forward, and wired me shut for about 2 months in which I was only able to eat pureed food. Gross. I’ve had people ask me whether it was a great way to lose weight and my immediate response is to burst into tears, run as far away from them and the memory of pureed chicken as I possibly can, and curl up in a corner to soothe myself back to sanity).

In addition to what comes along with standard braces treatments, I had a pin surgically implanted into the roof of my mouth and tied to various upper and lower teeth to move my teeth as needed to close my bite, because, as my orthodontist found out the hard way, my teeth (like my feet in the presence of dance music) LIKE TO MOVE!
And, I won’t go into the pain of the gum grafts I had to get done because one of my teeth decided it just didn’t like living in my lower gum anymore and so it torqued out so far that the root of the tooth became totally visible, and because all the trauma to my teeth and gums caused recession in some areas. Oh wait, I just went there anyway.

You get the picture. My teeth and I have had issues, and I’m still considering therapy. I don’t understand why they have to be so STUBBORN and DISOBEDIENT. Why do they have to oppose EVERYTHING and constantly challenge the rules?

I get it now.

This jaw and tooth trauma lasted the better part of 6 years, during which dentist visits were frequently un-pretty, and occasionally painful.
(At one point my jaw pain was so bad that my eyes glazed over, I mentally checked out and went to a better place in my head, and became unaware of anything for the next few hours until I was able to get in and see the surgeon, who promptly gave me a Valium or something that would knock out a horse in order to bring me back to life. Trust me, I’ve had a baby – without the assistance of drugs, may I add – and the jaw pain that day WAS WORSE).

Some people believe in one tooth fairy. I believe in many. The team of people who did my surgery, othodontic work, and dental work to get me to where I am today (biting into sandwiches is now a possible thing) are ALL my tooth fairy. Thank you, wherever you are.

Anyway, to celebrate today’s victory and a new phase in my toothdom, I am right now as we speak digging into a masterpiece that looks very similar to the picture below, except with double the amount of jalapenos. Awwww, yeah. Burn, baby, burn.

Winter Rhymes with Brr

Thought I was an early bird
Until I tried to run
Before 5 in the morning –
It wasn’t really fun

Topsy-turvy went my belly
As dinner was still there
My legs were total jelly
My face a vacant stare

I really am attempting
To sleep an extra blink
But rest is secondary
With dishes in the sink

The cold months are a’ comin’
The rain is pouring down
The snow, the sludge, oh joy is me
If joy came with a frown

I guess the winter’s not all bad,
This year there’s something more
A little boy, so patiently waiting
Since soon he will be Four.

Head Explosion

I spent an extra half an hour getting ready this morning.

Not because I was doing my hair.

Not because I was putting on elaborate makeup.

Not because I was getting extra squeaky clean.

No. None of those things are why it took me an extra half hour to get ready.

What was I doing, you ask?

I was blowing my nose.

For Half. An. Hour.

To be more accurate, I was blowing my brains right out of my nostrils, causing all manner of snap, crackle, and pop to happen in ways that were never meant for humans to experience. Least of all in the soft tissue surrounding the brain! My aching cranium!

I feel like I’ve been on 5 flights in succession with the biggest sinus infection in the world, and holes through my head and ears big enough to see through. See that one on top of my left eye? That was caused by the nose-blowing I did at exactly 5:47 a.m this morning. Oops, sorry, that was just my eyeball coming loose.

Ugh. Being sick is NOT fun.

Gross? Yes.
Get your flu shots. (I didn’t)

Social Networking for the Socially Awkward

Um, how are you?
I’m good, thanks.
And you? How are you?
Yeah? That’s good…

So listen, I’ll talk to you later, ok?
That’s how I sound on the telephone. I have zero ability to carry on a phone conversation unless there’s a really obvious purpose for the call or a mutually understood end-result.
Chit-chat? Doesn’t fulfill the above criteria and is considered last resort for maintaining relationships that are teetering on the edge. The thought of having to come up with interesting things to say to someone without having the use of my fingers to type them out is daunting.
So, I end up saying something I probably shouldn’t have said, with no Backspace button to cover my tracks and do it better the next time.

Not too much of a problem these days, you think, right? Typing has pretty much trumped talking, and online Social Networking is taking over the world. Right?!?!
Not so fast.
I’ve found that my issues with social awkwardness have translated pretty nicely into my online presence in the social networking sphere as well.

Here’s what I’m like on the Social Networks of the world:
How are you?
Um, good…

(Was that the right thing to do?! Or should I have pressed ‘Reply’? Oh no now this person’s going to think I’m a complete moron!
Oh look. They already do think that about me, and now everyone on fb knows it as well.)

The Decision
One of the things I’ve learned from some of my best yoga teachers and life mentors has been to learn to sit with/through discomfort.
As part of putting myself out there and learning to connect with people in meaningful ways, I’ve decided to sit with/through the discomfort of my social networking awkwardness, and keep at it.

This is not an easy thing to do for me, as discomfort causes my impatient mind to jump to other things that I could be doing instead, things I’m good at, things that don’t put me at risk of public failure.
So I physically withdraw, move away, and fidget, unable to sit through the experience, whether it’s a yoga pose or a new setting where I am expected (or expect myself) to do well.

I’ve been working on it, working on putting my best out there and not being attached to the results, but I realize that getting there will take time. It requires unlearning some of the ways I naturally react, and making a conscious decision about how I will perceive and process a situation. And that can go well or not so well depending on the day.

There’s so much to learn from people, and I’m so willing to learn it.
So I will continue to Update, continue to ‘Like’, continue to ‘RT’, and continue to write.

Lemon Poppyseed Cake

This weekend I found myself going on autopilot while doing my food shopping. Not really paying attention to what I might have at home, I picked up another one of those big bags of lemons from Costco. I’m always amazed at how quickly we go through lemons, simply as a function of Middle Eastern cooking rituals – even if you’re not flavoring your chicken with lemon, you better be using lemon to ‘clean’ that chicken before you even start thinking about how you’re going to cook it.

The process of cleaning chicken is a complicated one, involving first trimming off all the excess yuckiness (not a fan of chicken so if it has to be me cleaning the chicken that’s a lot of stuff being trimmed off), then dousing the chicken with lemon juice, generous amounts of salt, and flour. You mix them all up and allow the mixture to basically kill off any and all olfactory proof that the meat you’re handling ever came from a chicken. Wash it off with water, pat the chicken dry, then do your magic.

I digress so freaking easily these days.

Back to the lemons. So, since I had too many lemons, and very few tricks to pull out of my hat in the culinary department to impress my visiting in-laws with, I decided to whip up this pretty little thing.

Lemon Poppyseed Cake recipe (Adapted from Cooking Light’s Lemon Poppyseed Pound Cake)
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Before I Was Born

Before I was born, they looked into each others’ eyes and were overcome with pure adoration.

Before I was born, Love Story was their theme song, and it played in the background of every scene of their picture-perfect, fairy-tale love affair.
Before I was born, logic was secondary. Love made the world go round.

A proposition was made, but was immediately met with rejection. A hunger strike, torturous, painful love, and insomnia-riddled nights ensued, bringing them to the point of no return.

Then finally – families succumbed to love and there was acceptance, or at the very least, agreement. Hands were joined in a joyful, hard-earned union, and a new life began.

Now, years later, washed-out, yellowing picture prints stare back at me from the tattered pages of a bright yellow floral picture album. Pictures that give me a glimpse into who they were, and what they had.

A smile so broad it lights up the whole world, completely overshadowing the existence of anything or anyone else in the background. A hand holding a chin so lovingly it is as though that chin were made of the most fragile of porcelain, and could break with the slightest miscalculation. An embrace so filled with passion it is as though nobody in the history of the world had ever embraced before, or would ever embrace again.

In those pictures, those treasures from a past life, I see who they were – before I was born. Perhaps somewhere, some times, in spaces and moments my eyes are not witness to, they become those people again. Perhaps life has not taken it away, but has merely weathered it, making it a more durable love. A practical love. Perhaps one day I will understand and know.

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