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Post-Fast: Brand Spankin’ New

1 Feb

Its been five days since crossing the finish line on my ten-day juice fast. Since then, I’ve made radical dietary changes along with my family. Yes, it takes some bribing (and culinary tigress) to get my kids hooked on plates of green leafy vegetables, but like any seasoned mom I’ve got a doctorate in bribery and a gazillion continuing education hours in the art of negotiation. And of course, I go undercover; over the weekend I simply nodded when my daughter assumed that (“YUMMY!”) tofu was eggs. When my ten-year old asked about the seared, white chunky blocks on his salad I said (non-nonchalantly) that it was croutons, of course! From the corner of my eye I glimpsed him stealing his little brother’s “croutons.” A fourth grader sneaking tofu! Who would have thunk it?

How did I celebrate after the finish line? With friends, of course.


Nuriman, my fellow-faster, threw a girly-girl party complete with green-juice,

one of her famous salads,

and home baked kale chips. I whipped up a mango salsa for added fun.

Its been five days and I feel brand spankin’ new! Here comes the bragging part; brace yourselves! (My smarty pants are about to un-leash, ya’ll).

I wake up and instead of wishing that someone could hook me up to a sweet, smoky java-infused IV drip, I’m ready to start my day. I don’t have to commit to faux-joy in front of my dewy-eyed young’uns in the morning. Now, I’m  bright-eyed –  ready at the starting-gate, and yet unflinchingly calm. I enjoy my mornings like I did as a kid and I enjoy my kids in the morning for a change.

In the past, after my morning cup of coffee I was good to go until….until….my second cup of coffee. Now, instead of quivering, make-shift energy, I’m charting my days on natural energy! Even though I’m off the juice fast, I’m still juicing at least once a day, and mostly with carrots and green leafy vegetables. My symptoms of hypoglycemia (one of my principal motivations for going on the juice fast) have vanished. I am now able to perform supererogatory, religious fasting (no food or water from sun up to sun down), as I did last Monday, without getting the shakes, vomiting, and sharp headaches suffered in the past.

I’ve also switched to preparing meat for my family just one night a week and on those nights only chicken – no red meat or cheese. My husband is acting as a very good sport; which, if you are a modern-day Moroccan, or are married to a Moroccan, you can appreciate this switch-over even more. This is one of those moves that is making me fall in love with him all over again.

I’m off refined sugars and onto small amounts of raw honey, maple syrup and organic cane sugar for baking and sweetening my herbal tea. I’m off cartons of bargain-brand pasteurized milk and onto spoonfuls of homemade organic yogurt (with fresh berries).

I’m off flavoring my savory dishes with vats of salt and too much olive oil and onto finding creative ways to make a saneful (not sinful), whole-foods plant-based meal.

I assumed my diet was healthy. After all, I ate salads, preferably looming with salty cheeses and buried under a scattering of lip-smacking olives. I poured olive oil on anything that would stand still, plus served up lots of piping hot home cooked meals, saddled with plentiful helpings of white basmati rice. Whilst living in my insular fantasy of good health I was forgoing a lot of brightly-colored, robust fruits and vegetables.

I was lulling my sweet tooth to sleep on late-night dark chocolate bars flavored with sea salt, and anything as moist and dense as a warm brownie. I had a decadent diet that made me feel fatigued and tethered to a cycle of sugar, caffeine, and salt (my terrible trio), and I too-often confused fine eating with healthy eating. What can I say, I’m a product of a few too many Food Network shows in my college days when I was taking off my training wheels and learning to become a “good” home-cook.

Going cold turkey on that toxic trio was easily the best move of my mamahood career and a fabulous starting-gate for my Big Girl Life.

In fact, I haven’t had an ah-ha moment this sunny since my conversion to Islam the decade before last! The best part is that the solution was so self-managing and so darn easy. After the initial detox from the terrible trio, I was able to easily forego a store-bought sweet or an extra crunchy bag of potato chips. I’ve made peace and bid farewell to those fried mac n’ cheese balls at the Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, Cajun station over the Thanksgiving weekend. The Italian Market can keep her cheesesteak too (gasp!). A healthy dose of heresy  is very good for my arteries.

I simply don’t want those “treats,” anymore. In fact, I imagine them draining my energy reserves and zapping the vitamin contents of my new sun-drenched, wholesome good eats.

A little imagery and a hearty mantra go a long way to paving the way for sustainable lifestyle changes. The equation is simple – the more good you eat, the more good you want; the more crud you eat, the more crud you want. I’m following that guide and reaping the benefits.

My dear friend, Pauline, walked into my kitchen last Saturday and saw me stirring a pot of shaved soap – the makings of homemade laundry detergent. She gasped, then laughed, and cried: “I’m not sure if I like the new Danette! I liked the old Danette who used to eat fried chicken and not think twice about it.” “Don’t get too serious,” she cautioned me. I might mention – this girlfriend just got herself a brand-spankin’ new juicer to start her own juicing fast and was a special source of encouragement for me while I overcame my bad-food addiction. She watched her aunt make a stunning recovery from cancer, using as part of her alternative regime, juicing. She’s a bonafide friend, so she’s entitled to want to hold on to some relics of the old me.

Alright, Pauline, I shall try to temper my ye-haw! As for now, I’m a friggin’ zealot! I feel good and I don’t ever want to feel haggard again, if I can do something about it. I’m not burning my bra, but I am burning a TV star’s chili recipe (which involves Frito Lays and Cheddar Cheese).

That’s where I am folks. Thanks a billion for all of your support along the way. Pretty please keep your comments coming. I’m eager to hear about your own journeys, in your own ways, or ways that are similar to my ten-day, detox juice fast.

Much Love,

Danette

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Day Three: A Kale High and Diving Deep

19 Jan

I always thought I needed caffeine to stay awake all day long. That was until I discovered the kale-high; this green juice is the fountain of youth. Listen to this, on Tuesday night I went to sleep after midnight and woke up very early Wednesday morning. I enjoyed a busy day with my kids, plus a half hour work-out, and I did not get tired until close to midnight on Wednesday.

Even after the fast, this drink is going to be a daily staple, God willing. It is a must-have, especially, in the last ten days of Ramadan when fasters seek to increase ibadah(worship), most importantly throughout the night. In the past I sipped on coffee after the adthan (call to prayer), but now I hope to grab a glass of kale. Sounds funny, I know, and not something I ever would have said before starting out on this mission. Without the best nutrition, spiritual practices can be difficult to sustain, especially for mothers who have to get up early no matter how late they prayed into the night.

I am loving this juice and the taste grows on me with every sip.

I’ve learned that leafy greens are the key to targeting a host of ailments. The Juicing Bible provides recipes that address specific illnesses and stages of life.

Green leafy vegetables target water retention, depression, skin conditions, ADHD symptoms, indigestion, headaches, hypoglycemia, and is highly recommended for pregnancy, breastfeeding mothers, and menopausal women.

This was my breakfast on day one. I tossed all of it into the juicer.

It was super tasty, as you can imagine; unfortunately, the acidity in the fruit did not bode well for my stomach after last night’s cranberry fest. No matter, the kids slurped it all up and I was thrilled to see them chugging sugar free, homemade juice.

Besides all the gushing, how am I doing? I have more clarity of mind and enough energy to tire my kids out instead of the other way around. Unfortunately, I still have painful salt cravings. I dream of tearing off a piece of white, crusty french bread and sopping up the juices of my favorite mediterranean chicken dish- pre-marinated in garlic, lemon, oregano and plenty of SALT! Even though I haven’t had a Star Crunch in years, I want to eat one, or two…or three!

A dear friend of mine in Texas, who recently gave up sugar, told me that her husband brought home boxes of Girl Scout cookies. She said it best: There is a certain sweetness to beating the temptation though. Stay strong! 

I am not just giving up food that is bad for my body as well as my psychology, I am struggling to break my strong emotional attachments to things that don’t bring me any closer to As-Salam (The Giver of Peace), Al Mu’Id, (The Restorer to Life), As-Samad (The Eternally Besought), An-Nur (The Light).

Today I am so grateful for a bag of crunchy apples that my friend, and fellow homeschooler, Aasma, left on my door and on the door of my fellow faster, Nuriman. It was a special gesture that speaks to the intangible, enduring value of sisterhood, and it sweetened my broco-carrot juice sublimely.

My plan from here is to use the next seven days to strengthen my resolve further. Besides one post that I am inspired to share about a worthwhile charity, God willing, I will sign off for the rest of my juice-fasting journey. I have miles to dive deep in order to serve my ultimate purpose for the fast. My Big Girl voice is telling me to savor this time in as many joyful, quiet moments as a mother of three can manage. I look forward to recounting my experience and telling ya’ll about my Big Girl journey after the fast.

Much Love,

Danette

Day Two: I Will Survive!

18 Jan

Day two and I’m already over my vegetable grudge. That wasn’t so bad! My friend and fellow faster, Jacqueline, gave me a recipe called green juice which was featured in the film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It consist of kale, apples, celery, cucumber, lemon and ginger. I was afraid to drink it at first, it is slime green after all, but hunger got the best of me.

After two swigs of the drink I was sold. I even got a kale-stache with no hard feelings. The apples give it sweetness while the lemon and ginger make it tart. It helped me to endure the deep muscle aches that I experienced over a seven hour period – the result of toxins fleeing my body. Yeaaaah!! I finally succumbed to two Advil to cope with the aches in the afternoon. After three child labors, you’d think I could handle a little detox. Thank God, by night, the aches completely subsided.

In the early evening hours I tried a vitamin C mix, consisting of grapefruit, orange, lime, and cranberry.

It was ubber tart and refreshing.

The zing of it gave me courage to watch my family eat puttanesca sauce over a bed of steaming penne pasta, without having a fit.

I chased the drink down with a tall glass of water and a hot cup of detox herbal tea. I’ve even started cutting out the teaspoons of honey. I have to pinch myself since last week I was consuming cups of sugary, creamy coffee, and this week I’m sipping on unsweetened herbal tea. Can ya’ll believe it?! I’m impressed by my tastebuds’ ability to switch over in such a short amount of time, or at least endure with minimal whining. Someone is making du’a (prayer) for me, I can tell! Keep doing it, pretty please.

Conversations with three of my fellow-fasters is helping tremendously. Whilst in the vegetable market today I got a call from my buddy Kim. I dropped everything to talk to her, even though it required letting my daughter stand up in the cart and do a booty-shake to the store’s background music. Just chatting about our journeys gives me energy to keep going. I was there looking for coconut water that my friend Jacqeuline recommended earlier. Hearing about her success and challenges gives me strength and pause to make du’a for her along with my other fellow fasters. Calls and texts from supportive friends is also a saving grace. I am convinced that embarking on this challenge with a team is key to enduring the rough and tumble first 48 hours.

As for my husband, he’s in a little hot water right now. He thinks juice fasting is so funny; the extent of his support system is in chugging down the vegetable juice I make for him nightly. Since he is not even feigning support, it is giving me a little bit of selfish joy to watch him try to camouflage his own gag reflex.

If he makes one more joke about putting fried chicken in the juicer I am going to…going to….umm….actually, I’m not going to do anything. This juice fasting has had a surprising sedative effect on my nervous system. I am calmer and more optimistic than ever.

Can ya’ll believe that just 24-hours ago I was personifying vegetables as villains? After day two I can say that, God willing, I will survive! I am even giddy about the next eight days. I’m relieved that something as simple as dietary changes is making such a dramatic, positive shift in my feelings of well-being and in my ability to concentrate and be mindful in my daily prayers.

I still have strong cravings. I won’t bore you with the details of how I wanted to snort a bag of tater chips. Even still, the siren call of snacky food and dairy products is loosening its grip on me just a little. I expect that in the coming days my defenses will be even stronger. After the fasting period, I have plans to continue my de-tox program with a free, personalized Reboot Your Life plan.

Stay tuned ya’ll for more on my Be a Big Girl inner-make over. If you are on the same track, please be in touch. I want to hear all about it.

Much Love,

Danette

Day One: A Vegetable Grudge

17 Jan

I am writing on day one of my juice fast. I was glowing about it last week here, but I’m not glowing anymore. I crave bread and butter, salty chips, and mocha ice cream, and I discovered in just 24-hours that I don’t really like vegetables; I love the stuff that you sprinkle on vegetables – plenty of salt! This is how I want to eat vegetables.

Even better is the stuff you can smear on vegetables -butter!

I’m writing on day three of my life without coffee. Pouring a cup was always a worthy excuse to consume sugar and cream. I can’t believe how much my life has changed since last Friday, when I comfortably sat in a friend’s kitchen, mopping up a tomato and feta love story with fluffy pita bread, and digging into a heavenly omelet. It paired perfectly with my piping hot, sweet and creamy coffee.

Why did I give it all up for tepid glasses of beet, kale and spinach  juice? Come to think of it, beet, kale and spinach should never be used as adjectives to describe a beverage! Beet juice is so conniving. It looks so sprightly with its dazzling red color; it begs to be gulped. Do you know what beet juice actually taste like? A mouthful of dirt.

You may be wondering what keeps me from quitting. Well, for one, I’m stubborn and when I decide to do something like this I am compelled to finish. Another reason I keep going is because I’ve joined a Dead Poet’s Society of kindred juicers – women who have vowed to detox like me and keep the health-nut momentum going even after the fast. The foundation for my detox is to strengthen my body, and dilute my nafs (ego), in order to strengthen my resolve to Be a Big Girl. I’m making a lot of du’a (prayers) lately.

Our first meeting, the night before Day One, took place at a local buffet which serves only halal food. I haven’t been to a buffet in ages, but it seemed fitting to swear off naughty food at a naughty place.

Here is a naughty moment courtesy of my friend and mother of four. I told her I was going to post this photo online. She just smiled and said, “Go ahead,” followed by more poses. That is just one of the reasons I love her. No big girl should ever take herself  seriously at a buffet.

Isn’t that the grossest thing you’ve ever seen, and yet, it did not give me half the trauma of raw, liquified kale and beet juice?

This is my new buffet – our local fresh food market. These vegetables look so innocent. They’re not.

I prefer to loiter in the fruit section; and of course, with a juicing fast one is not allowed to consume too many of the naturally sweet fruits. I want a “Vegetables are Bullies” bumper sticker.

I had such romantic visions of purifying my body with clean vegetable juices. After day one, in all honestly, I have a vicious vegetable grudge. My fellow juice-faster and friend coached me to visualize nutrition flooding my cells with each sip, but all that responds is my gag-reflex.

I did not realize how much comfort I derived from food and coffee; indeed, how tethered I remained to meal times and rituals. This is probably one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. Others who have tried this path and conquered it tell me that everything gets better at some point in the first week. I left a pitiful voicemail on my friend’s phone just to be sure. She called me back and reassured me again, as did my brother-in-law. They say that you will even start to crave vegelicious foods. Crave raw kale? Really?! I’m dubious on the veges.

In regards to coffee, I am a believer. After just 48 hours off the caffeine I felt more calm, and slept more peacefully. I even woke up without the customary fogginess. Regrettably, though, I did suffer considerably during the initial 24-hour haze and even ended up attending a fundraising event wearing my red house shoes. I forgot to change into my black pumps on the way out the door and did not realize the mistake until well after leaving home. I was so delirious I did not go to any length to hide my fashion hiccup.

As for the juicing, here I am, chugging along – literally. I hope to fully recover from my vegetable grudge. At this point, I feel that the only antidote is a warm, buttery croissant.

Much Love,

Danette

Judge a Book by Its Cover

4 Jan

I’m somebody’s mama so when I go to the library I spend a lot of time in the children’s section. By the time we’ve had a sit down with Fancy Nancy, Harry Potter, all the kids at Magic Tree House, Pooh and Piglet, my kids are ready to go home. I have a few minutes to skim the adult section before my offspring start talking to random strangers, or my wandering ten-year old traipses upon a book which claims to inject more intimacy into your sex life. Time to GO!

In this predicament I’m a repeat offender of the sagely rule: DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER! I’ve judged oodles of books by their covers and most of the time I hit the jackpot.

By this method, three years ago, I discovered the culinary prowess of Alice Waters. My eyes caught the contrast of the cover’s mustard yellow and red with orange hues. My photo doesn’t even do justice to the loveliness of this cover’s outward form.

Because of this book I can now roast the perfect chicken and make a comforting, hot pot of carrot soup with tarragon. Her method for preparing pouring custard is divine.

I hit the jackpot again when I glimpsed a white-lettered arial font set against a deep mahogany backdrop. It read: “An Everlasting Meal,” by Tamar Adler. I quickly pulled it out and looked at its face. The subtitle read: “Cooking with Economy and Grace,” and beneath that lay a scattering of leafy greens and cream-colored turnips with sassy, upturned tails.

I slipped it into my designated library sack and headed for the check out line, my five year old daughter hop-scotched behind in my footsteps, and told me to take her to Tutti Frutti – her favorite frozen yogurt shop.

After I paid my dues at Tutti Frutti, where she ordered a giant bowl of frozen sugar topped with a splattering of pomegranate seeds and Fruity Pebbles, I went home, ordered the kids to bed, and sunk down into my reading chair.

What a beautiful book, I thought to myself, and studied its cover more closely than I had a chance to do earlier. At the very end of the front-cover was a notation that the book included a foreword by none other than Alice Waters- the author of “The Art of Simple Food,” whose cover I also judged, and by that virtue learned to roast chickens.

Hitting the jackpot is an under-statement. This book has revolutionized the way I think of ingredients, cooking tools and food preparation. This book is more than a collection of recipes, it is a book about life. Adler encourages home cooks to get the most out of a single ingredient and to use instinct to light our path. This reading paired perfectly with my resolve to Be a Big Girl.

She warns readers not to follow recipes to a fault; rather she encourages us to : ….simply pay attention, trust yourself, and decide.

She says: We’re so often told cooking is an obstacle that we miss this. When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do.

And this advice deserves to be hung on the wall:

…..there is a great dignity in allowing oneself to keep clear about what is good, and it is what I think of when I hear the term ‘good taste.’ Whether things were ever simpler than they are now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.

I’m pleased to have judged this book by its cover. It is very Big Girl material, and I will now have to purchase my own copy to refer back to every now and then.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to living a Big Girl life comes from so-called expert advice. We are bullied into detaching from the big girls who came before us. Their hard-won, simple advice is supplanted with expert “wisdom,” which teaches us to mimic rather than to live courageously and authentically. I realize it’s ironic that I would advise myself to take expert advice with caution considering the fact that to “Judge a Book by Its Cover” is total heresy to sagely scripture. I feel confident, however, that if my great-grandmother could sit down and have a nice motherly chat with me she would tell me it’s alright to judge a book by its cover- if that is what drives you to choose and if it has worked out so far so good.

To be a Big Girl, I think, we have to more often decide for ourselves, no matter the pulse and sway of expert advice. We have to decide for ourselves even if the expert bears a slew of lower case letters behind h/er name. We have to ask ourselves, What is my perspective? What does hand-me-down advice have to say on the matter? We have to give that the same or better degree of attention before considering which steps to take. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren which increased my resolve to live life authentically.

In this scene Pippi answers a shop keeper trying to peddle a freckle-remover potion:

“No, I don’t suffer from freckles,” said Pippi.

“But, my dear child, your whole face is covered with freckles!”

I know it,” said Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I love them. Good morning.”

She turned to leave, but when she got to the door she looked back and cried, “But if you should happen to get in any salve that gives people more freckles, then you can send me seven or eight jars.” 

Much Love,

Danette

Be a Big Girl

3 Jan

2012. It’s got a ring to it. It sounds a heck of a lot better than 2011. 2012 is downright musical to the ear. I trust the optimism of a melodious sounding year. In fact, I felt so darn rallied by it, that I took to the task of redesigning Collard Green Muslim. You like?

Last week I visited my cousins in the Shenandoah Valley, along with my parents and 90-year-old Georgia-grandma. What is her secret for a long life, you wonder? Corn flakes and fried chicken. She eats plenty of both. She told me stories that I already heard, but asked her to tell me again, and some stories I heard for the first time.

I never knew that her daddy died just two weeks after her wedding or that she delivered her first-born at home. I never knew that as newlyweds my grandfather mortgaged their car to be able to grow fields of watermelons in Georgia and transport all their crops to market in Florida. They grew so many watermelons that year, they saved up enough money to buy a house in Winter Garden, Florida. I had no idea that my grandmother refused to be a farmer’s wife; that she insisted on living in-town. Or that her mother, my great-grandmother, was drop dead gorgeous with jet-black hair and spent most of her life with a sack around her neck, picking cotton. Or that my grandfather had a mentally handicapped brother who he looked after, as an adult, and I didn’t know that my grandfather and all his brothers were raised by a single father.

My cousin, Andy, shared some photos with me that I will treasure always. Here is my great-grandfather Jack Goodwyne on his Georgia farm. He fathered eight children, all girls. My grandmother was the youngest.

Great Grandfather Jack Goodwyne and (unnamed) Cousin

And, here is my grandfather, John “Shorty” Mask in front of a packing house where he worked as the foreman in Winter Garden, FL.

He was sixteen years her senior. Even though they grew up just five miles from each other, on different Georgia farms, they never knew eachother. It took a citrus packing house in Florida to seal their fate.

I feel grateful to be starting the year off with a little more knowledge of the past.

As for my New Year’s Resolution, I’ve resolved to be a big girl. I’ve settled into my thirties. It’s a good time. I’m over many of the insecurities and diaper changes of my past. By now, I’ve tapped the bitter-sweet serum of my ego enough times to at least know the various subtleties on my palette. I’ve wrestled with some of my demons and lost more battles than I can count. I’ve been whipped, and wrung out, and out of breath. I’ve been too big for my britches and other times not big enough. I’ve been around the block enough times to know a friend when I see one and sniff out an enemy, both within myself and outside myself.

I often don’t know which road to choose when I’m faced with a myriad of choices; I won’t say I’m sure-footed, but I know the lay of the land better and I’m ready to be a big girl. I’m ready to sober to realities, and stop fiddling with ideas.

Death is not a perception; it’s a promise. I’m going to face it just like all of my ancestors did before me. I’m ready to be a big girl. I don’t have enough time to spill over nurturing the image of myself -making it lovely and just so. I have to nurture the true soul within me. The one that keeps on surging, paying no mind to the shackles of this bridge called life; the true me that yearns to walk through fire to return to the Creator of me. I’m ready to be a big girl. I’m ready to love myself, not merely the idea of myself. I’m ready to love other souls, not just the idea of them. I’m ready to cast off the tidy packages I used to put people in to present them to my ego so that I could play mightly with them. I’m ready to leave off making assumptions about myself, and other people, so that I can love with a salve more distilled.

Now, with my big girl self, I’ve been very busy lately. We stayed up almost to 12 midnight on New Year’s Eve. Whoo-hoo! We didn’t even have the energy to clean up before laying down to 2012.

The next day I felt like making something uppity, so I chopped up a batch of collard greens, mixed them with a handful of shallots, a lot more garlic and some accents of kale, then threw it all into my wok:

Not tired yet- I threw my collards into this bed of bow-tie pasta with a marinade of salsa verde which I whipped up:

It was deeee-licious and made me get over all the traitorous feelings from cooking my collards that way.

The collards did me good. The next day I woke up with enough energy to tackle some organizational challenges. Thanks to a facebook friend, I borrowed this idea to keep my hijabs in one tidy space:

Just looking at them in a wide array- their cacophony and brilliant colors – puts me in a cheerful mood.

That’s all for now. I look forward to writing more about my big girl life.

Much love,

Danette

‘Bald’ Peanuts

20 Jun

If you grew up in the South Eastern part of the United States, (what my daddy refers to as ‘God’s country’), you get all giddy at the sight of a pot-bellied man stirring a kettle of boiling peanuts by the road-side; if he is chewing tobacco and sporting overalls-all the better.

The kettle holds a salty, velvety, steaming tonic for the soul. I sometimes call them Collard-Green Caviar and they are pronounced, bald peanuts. The recipe is simple which I’ll share later, and involves simply: raw peanuts simmering for a few hours in salt.

My kids don’t even know they are otherwise known as boiled peanuts. They’ll ask me: “Mama, could you make us some of your bald peanuts?”

I live up North now which is fresh out of pudgy men dripping sweat over vats of peanut-gold. Instead, people above the Carolinas are stocked with road side snow-cone shacks, featuring at least thirty flavor varieties; which I reckon is some kind of consolation. They are served by high-school girls- their locks tied up in ribbons, and their neon bikini strings roped round their slender necks.  They chew large wads of gum and smile defiantly despite whiteheads erupting from chins and foreheads. I love snow-cone princess, but they are simply no match for pot-bellied entrepreneurs operating out of their mud-crusted giddy-up trucks.

Several weeks ago, my dear friend from Winter Garden, who was my friend long before Facebook announced the fact, reminded me of those roadside boiled peanut stands. As a status update, one sunny day, I dutifully reported the good fortune of spending a peaceful afternoon on the back porch with my kids, accompanied by a pitcher of sweat tea and a whole vat of bald peanuts, which I had prepared during the morning and early afternoon.

Every now and then, a mercy-laden breeze would drift from yonder over our little plot of joy- bringing with it sweet perfumes of Spring, as if to say, you made it through another cold winter, it’s all sunshine and cricket songs, picnic baskets and long days, green grass and bare feet. It’s days like that which gave inspiration to Travis Tritt’s song: It’s a Great Day to Be Alive:  You know the sun’s still shinin’ when I close my eyes; they’re some hard times in the neighborhood but why can’t every day be just as good.

He should have written about boiled peanuts instead of rice.

I thanked Allah for the decent, simple pleasures of life, which cost just a trifle, and for the good health of all of us to enjoy them. Not long after, a bright, red cardinal and his muted, dust-colored bride swept over the lawn and pecked at the earth. I imagined them feasting on their own version of bald peanuts. 

I was giddy to share my good fortune with friends, via Facebook – many scattered far and wide over time zones and even continents. My good friend from Winter Garden, made a very fitting observation. She pitied me for resorting to boiling my peanuts on my own stove when:

We can get ours from fellow redneck sitting under an umbrella with a vat of boiled peanuts on a burner on the side of the road! When I first read your status I thought, she must be in Winter Garden:)

After that comment I wanted to click my bare feet three times and wake up under the fierce rays of the Florida sun, tucked under a potent shade tree, next to a boiled peanut stand. I was feeling sorry for myself that I had to get my green peanuts at the local Asian market, put them on a conveyor belt and take the change from a five foot tall Korean woman, which is about as far away from a collard green mascot as you can get! 

You never know what you’ll miss until you look around and realize that even if you start walking toward it, barefoot, until your feet crack and bleed, you wouldn’t get near enough.  Then you miss it with a crazed lonesomeness that won’t sway to any distraction, not even a majestic, brightly colored snow cone from a woman-child who can sing all the words to a Lady Gaga song.

I didn’t even know that bald peanuts are a collard green people’s delicacy until I moved North. Do ya’ll know who told me? It was a Yankee! Can you believe?! It’s true. A dear friend, raised up North, asked me if I’d ever eaten a boiled peanut.  I thought, well, sure hasn’t everybody?! She might as well have asked me if I’d ever eaten a boiled egg. Dogone, she awakened me to the reality that boiled peanuts are the pride of collard-green civilization.

She said a friend of hers, who grew up in the south, cooked her up a batch once and she loved them! That made me so stinkin’ jealous. I wanted to be the Collard Green ambassador to have introduced her to that charming, simple dish.

So, while I sulked over my childhood friend’s bragging rights, the thought occurred to me that at least I could profit from the thrill of finding an unsuspecting Yankee, and converting her to bald peanuts.

So, the next day, I simmered another pot. I already had the perfect candidate– a friend born and bred in Pennsylvania- a convert to Islam like me, whose mama and daddy were also born and bred, and many of their relatives before that, in Pennsylvania. She isn’t just from Pennsylvania, she’s from the middle of it – rolling hills and Amish-made quilts. You don’t get more Yankee than that! I could be close to certain that she had never eaten a boiled peanut. She’s also very adventurous, gutsy and inquisitive, so I could also be near certain she would oblige my request for just one bite.

Now, she’s not Southern, so she didn’t eat one and bust out with a declaration, like: Well, I declare, that is the tastiest thing I’ve ever had in my mouth!!!! Yankees don’t substitute exclamation points for periods as readily – hooting and hollering and letting everyone on the block know that they are having a good time and won’t ya’ll come over and join us!!!!

No, Yankees are a bit more sober which requires getting to know and translate their expressions into collard-green lingo. If a Yankee simply cracks a smile and head-nods in agreement – that is the same as a slew of exclamation points.

It didn’t take my good friend long to become addicted to bald peanuts. She even made a trip to the same Asian market that week to buy a batch and boil some at home for her husband. That was my first convert. I checked it off my list of things to do before I die.

It gets even better. A few days later I was at a gathering of Muslim women and an American friend of Syrian descent gave me two thumbs up on bald peanuts. How did she know about them? Well, of course, my Yankee friend told her. Afterward, she went out and bought herself a batch to boil for her visiting uncle and the rest of her family. They were all hooked too! Another friend, who grew up in New Orleans, in a large Palestinian family, was clueless about boiled peanuts so I dispatched some to her house as well.

I was beside myself; indeed, euphoric. I’d set out to convert one person and now I had lots more. It was a bald peanut revolution. How far could this go? I thought maybe I ought to open my own peanut stand. I’d be the first collard green lady in hijab to make Yankees swoon.

The night drew on and there was yet a lonesome woman at the gathering who had never tasted a bald peanut. She is a Uyghur Muslim raised in China, fluent in several languages; including, Chinese, Turkish and English. She’s a smart cookie is what I’m trying to say, and I like her plenty; not only for the fact that she’s been informed by leading a very fascinating life, but because she doesn’t take herself or others too seriously. In fact, I took an easy liking to her which is why it was so important to me that she adore the southern pastime of munching on bald peanuts.

When it comes to bald peanuts, companionship counts. It is a dish best shared with family and close friends, who don’t require small talk or pretension. This way, you can pop the whole peanut in your mouth and expertly extract the liquid, salty gold inside with awkward contortions of your mouth; then, just spit the shell back out- covered in the sheen of your own saliva, and open it to savor the tender peanut-pearls inside.

Digging into a bowl of bald peanuts makes you want to cut past all the fluff. The joy of rolling a soft peanut shell around your mouth is like soaking in an anti-venom for stress. It makes you feel settled down and nostalgic; you don’t want to have that vibration interrupted by the kind of person who’d likely throw a hissy fit over the temporary breach of hygiene and poise required to really savor this collard-green caviar.

When I presented this friend with a cup of boiled peanuts she wowed me by picking one up like she’d done it a thousand times and popping the whole thing in her mouth! Most newbies feel obliged to feign daintiness the first time, but she leapt directly into the spirit of eating bald peanuts, which confirmed my suspicion that I have good taste in people. There could not have been a better finale to my week-long stint of converting my corner of the world to collard –green goodness. The encore was that two weeks later, my Pennsylvania-Yankee friend came over. We sat on the back porch with our kids on a rare, lazy afternoon and devoured a whole stock pot of bald peanuts. We talked about everything and nothing, which is the best conversation for such an occasion. She challenged me to try a Pennsylvania whoopee pie to savor the flavor of her own people. I am waiting for her to cook me up a batch from her mom’s recipe (wink, wink if she is reading this). 

If you’re collard green, I challenge you to out-match my conversion rate so far. On the other hand if you want to know what all the fuss is about then try cooking up a batch. Here is the recipe. It’s as simple as this:

Step 1:

Get five bulging handfuls of fresh green peanuts;

Put em’ in a tall pot and cover with water like you plan to make soup;

Throw in a ½ cup of salt to start;

Turn the fire up high and wait for them to boil.

Step 2:

After they have boiled for 20 minutes or so, turn it down to medium heat and let them continue boiling.

Go invite someone over and think about how nice it will be to enjoy your bald peanuts with that person. Don’t forget to make a pitcher of sweet tea and cool in the refrigerator.

Step 3:

Turn the heat to low and let it marinate in its own broth. The peanuts will become saltier the longer they languish in the broth and will taste their best 5-6 hours after you started cooking them in the first place. Don’t add more salt until you are ready to eat. If it is not salty enough, add enough to taste and then simmer for another ten minutes.

Step 4: (optional)

Dig up a pair of overalls, tussle your hair to look haggard, make a quick homemade sign: ‘Boiled Peanuts 4 Sale,’ then stand on the road-side next to a pick-up truck. Don’t wave folks over; infact, act like you don’t care. A real Collard-Green mascot knows that he doesn’t have to pitch a bald peanut. It’s just that good. See if you get any takers and let me know.

I double dawg dare ya!

Stupid is Not a Character Trait.

4 Feb

Looking back on some of the things I’ve done in my life, in the quest to try new things, makes me laugh and feel good that stupid is not a character trait. Most of it involves culinary gaffes. I come by it honestly; I think the gene mutation started with my mom. This particular mutation compels a girl to start living off the collard green grid.

Once, my mom decided to cook an exotic dish. She ripped out the recipe from a glossy magazine, which promised mouth-watering Thai inspired, “Peanut Chicken.” She worked on that dish for several hours one Saturday. Imagine dry chicken breasts dipped in crunchy peanut butter; that was the flavor. You can bet she didn’t follow the recipe. My mom was an original Jazzercize queen in purple warm-ups. She was always looking for ways to make something low-calorie. In the kitchen, she committed mostly heresy and this isn’t back-biting because she would be the first to fess up. She is reformed now, so there is a silver lining. Her kitchen ran in sharp contrast to her chicken-fried, Georgia, mama-in-law, and her own Southern Living-inspired, North Carolina mother, who loves to cook fancy cheese grits with gruyere. Both my grandmothers moved to Florida to marry. The only thing I don’t remember my mom toning down was our vegetables – they were always cooked in fat-back. 

That Saturday we tried to eat the, so-called, “Thai chicken,” but my sister’s gag reflux kicked in and I think my mom ordered us out of the kitchen at spatula-point. The only ingredient that could have made it possible to swallow her dish would have been a gallon of cold milk. My mom’s best friend came over and ate the chicken, instead. Looking back I know what a good friend she had; if you can find someone to eat your nasty experiments and smile, you have a true soul mate. The same goes for a husband or wife.

I’ve done some very stupid things in the kitchen. Later, I gained a dear friend from Marrakesh, who gave me many self-less cooking lessons; until then, I was at the mercy of English-language, Moroccan cookbooks. I wanted desperately to bring the flavors of my husband’s hometown to our dinner table. My very Arab husband endured many Moroccan-inspired dishes before I ever figured out how to make it taste down home. I hope all the food he digested, with a grin, counts for something on the Day of Judgment. He was a good sport. I wish back then that I would have had a resource like this – check out Christine Benlafquih’s recipes on about.com. I’ve followed many of them, verbatim, and they are delicious (and stupid-proof).

The thing about a lot of Moroccan cookbooks is that they are fusion-inspired, which is not at all helpful when you want to keep it real. It’s like a Japanese girl married to a boy from Alabama, trying to cook collard greens, by sauteing them in extra virgin olive oil, as per the cookbooks instructions. It might be a healthy choice, but that’s about all. Her husband will digest those greens like a foreign object and say, “thank you,” if he’s smart. Poor girl, she’ll know, and then she’ll be back out there, again, hustling to find the resources to capture that down-home flavor.

While I’m on the subject, even though I’m no relationship expert (just ask my very Arab husband), one secret of success for a bi-cultural marriage is acquiring a taste, or at least a fondness, for the flavors of your spouse’s hometown. That sounds easy, but it’s a work-in-progress that will consume at least the first five years of your matrimony. Once you start to share common taste buds, and you’ve toiled thick-skinned, through the jungle to accomplish that, then you will both transcend any remaining, pesky communication barriers. Shared dishes never fail to convey the most subtle affections. It is more than food; you are serving up a steaming plate of nostalgia, from which you will both become nourished. Maybe the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. My husband can testify that the same is true for a woman’s heart. He can make finger-lickin’ barbecue (beef) ribs rival any southern picnic spread. If you make those strides, together, you will combine with a quality of love and companionship that can endure life’s tidal waves, where you might have otherwise been tossed to far-apart islands, to live in the bewilderment of what might have been. I think that’s along the lines of what Robert Frost meant by, ‘The Road Less Traveled.’ 

Anyway, back to my culinary gaffes. Needing to rely strictly on recipes tended to bring out the stupid in me. I was reminded of this last Monday when my daughter’s co-op homeschool science teacher – (here is her informative and fun blog) -sent home an assignment to make rock candy using a styrofoam cup, colored sugar-water, and a wooden stick. Her instructions stated to put the liquid in a warm, dry place to form the crystals. The first time I ever tried a recipe, which instructed me to keep the contents in a warm place, it turned out very badly. 

Before I took care of young’uns all day, I had a lot of time on my hands to do stupid stuff. Yes, thank God stupid is not a character trait! My inspiration was my North Carolina grandmother’s lament ringing in my ears. In my last year of high school she’d always say to me at breakfast: “What are you going to do when you get married one day?  How are you going to survive? I hope you know you are gonna have to marry a chef if ya’ll want to survive,” and then she’d hand me my toast, maybe even bacon, and scrambled eggs. My husband worked in a kitchen when I met him, cooking food. I had to prove to myself that I was capable.

Well, one day I set out to defy all odds by making fresh bread from scratch, armed with a festive-looking cookbook from the library. Listen, folks, if you want to become a home-cook, start with something like a milk-shake. Don’t graduate yourself to making fresh bread. Read on and you’ll see why.

I went to a local mom n’ pop grocer to buy all of the necessary ingredients. It was a southern college town, and this store was a local hot spot for all sorts. There were patchouli-scented hippies in dreadlocks and long arm-pit hair, buying herbs, and carrying happy, wide-eyed babies, nestled inside homemade slings. Next, there were old ladies in Sag Harbor sweaters and blue hair, flirting with the babies, while picking up batches of fresh collard greens and fat back. Last, there was me, sporting a matronly polyester-blend head scarf- that I probably picked up at an Islamic conference somewhere from a kind brother, wearing a shalwar kameez and henna-dyed beard, heartily congratulating me on my new-found faith while throwing in a free prayer-book.

I remember wandering around those hippies and blue-haired ladies, on a mission to find this ingredient called “yeast.” Apparently, yeast was required to make fresh bread, a commodity that I had only eaten fresh as buttermilk biscuits and I’d never made them on my own; though, my dearly beloved, North Carolina, grandmother told me at least a dozen times how she’d won the County Fair’s prize for “Best Buttermilk Biscuits.” I was determined to make fresh bread the Moroccan way; they prepare it from various types of flour, then shape it into a round disc, like mountain bread. They eat it with every meal, except cous-cous. If you want to become a Moroccan cook, at some point, you are going to have to tackle bread-making.

I found myself in the last aisle; on the left were all types of flours separated into plastic bins. The customer scooped out however much they required, weighed, and then labeled it before paying at the cash register. I came upon a bin labeled, “nutritional yeast.” Oh great!, I said to myself, yeast is even nutritional. I scooped up a whole bunch of it with visions of making fresh bread every day and probably skipped to the closest cashier; I was tickled with myself at finding real live yeast.

So, I got home and thumped that cookbook on the table, then opened the page, dog-eared, for fresh bread. It said to start with preparing your yeast by mixing it with some warm milk, sugar, and water, and then wait for it to rise. I waited…and waited. I’d read almost every other recipe in the book but the yeast would not bubble up like the book said it must. Thus, began my love-hate relationship with dough that endured for seven long years. I said to myself, oh heck- forget it!, and just threw the concoction into the flour mixture I had already measured out. Next, I added the required amount of water to begin kneading. I was sweating all over at the end. Making bread is a workout. Instead of Jazzercize, my mother could have been making bread for us all those years. It did not feel at all like the book said it should feel to the touch – which is elastic, shiny and springs back easily when you poke it with your finger. No matter, I shaped it into a pseudo-circle and laid it on a square pan to rise.

An hour went by and my dough was sad-looking, and not at all like the cookbook photo, which was making me feel very jealous. I traced my finger back over the recipe and returned to the part where it said to rise the bread in a warm place. There’s the trouble, I re-assured myself, this home is too cold, though it was the middle of summer. Why don’t I turn on the shower to the hottest setting? That’ll make it real steamy. My bread just needs a warm, spa treatment, and then surely she’ll rise and I’ll cook her. Clearly, I had no concern for the cost of heating. Not long after, my husband came home to find me all dressed, yet steam is rising in a continuous flow through the bottom crack of the bathroom door.

“What are you doing?,” he asked.

“I’m making bread, duh!” 

The only thing worse than doing something stupid is being caught red-handed doing something stupid. I don’t remember whether he laughed, or hung his head, or checked my head for a fever. I was too disappointed at the un-realized dream of fresh bread to notice his reaction. I also don’t remember what we ate for dinner that night. In those days my husband cooked a lot of good grub for us, and I prepared whatever simple dishes my grandma could tutor me to cook over the phone.

After that day, I found out that yeast, to make bread, is not called nutritional yeast which is thin and flaky. It is sold as brownish granules. I’m glad I did not let stupid get in the way of my aspirations. Now, we eat fresh bread every week and I can prepare a lot more than just round, stinkin’ loaves. I could feed an army with a carton of yeast and flour, if duty called. In fact, I make so much bread, I buy flour in industrial quantities. The only tragedy is that its shape is always on the funky side – not quite Moroccan, so it’s a good thing I have my collard green roots to pull me up.

I was going to say something else on the subject of bread-making, but its 10:40 p.m. and my four-year-old daughter just got out of bed to see if I’m still breathing. I told her to go back, that “I’m off the clock,” but she won’t listen. I’ll probably only have time tomorrow during my hectic day to give this one fast proof-read over. I’ve got plenty more culinary adventures to share. I hope you will stay tuned and that my kids laugh about this one day. I want them to know that, baby, I really have come a long, very long way.