Azeri food

Where is Azerbaijan? What do you know about this country? Except for hearing the name couple of times in my life, I actually do not know a single thing about the country. From the brief read of the country, I found out that it is an oil rich country lying on the Caspian sea. Few interesting facts about this country:

  • Tea in Azerbaijan is taken with Jam as a sweetener
  • Bread is considered sacred, hence stale bread is hung up as respect and if bread is dropped on the floor its custom to kiss it.
  • They love pancakes! Savory pancakes is a popular native dish which is made with pumpkin, meat or just herbs, and made as toast on the grill.

Neighboring to Armenia, Turkey, Iran and Russia the Azerbaijani cuisine is hugely influenced by a blend of Eastern European and Middle Eastern flavours.

The national dish of Azerbaijan is Plov, a meat and rice dish seasoned with dried fruit, nuts and spices. As usual, I really enjoyed cooking with ingredients of the spice and herb family. The meat, lamb which I chose to cook with was tender and juicy through slow cooking. The spices cumin and saffron gave the dish distinct middle eastern look and taste. In addition to dried apricots I threw in few dates and raisins as well. Just to mix things up, although I kept it to a minimum to keep up the authenticity of the dish.

For the next dish I made Levengi, which is a stuffed roasted chicken dish. This was a bit tricky, as I tend to be intimidated by whole chickens. For some reason, handling a whole raw chicken makes me cringe. But, up for the challenge I think I did live up to my expectations. The chicken cooked so beautifully, vibrant with the color from leftover saffron and stuffed with lightly fried and spiced dry fruit and walnuts. The best part was the marinade juice that oozed out once it cooked, sticky and concentrated with so much flavour!

As for dessert, I attempted to make Bakhlava again. I ran out of filo pastry so for half the dish I used puff pastry. It really turned out tasting just as good. The filling was honey, cardamom, walnuts, nutmeg and cinnamon. For the sugar syrup, I added a splash of rose water. OMG, the taste was absolutely beautiful. I had a lot of thumbs up. My son devoured the bakhlava, of course without the sugar syrup. In fact, we had an episode of midnight kitchen raid where the last standing piece of bakhlava disappeared from the table. Crumbs lead to his bed.

There is so much more that I want to attempt cooking from these countries. The dishes are so beautiful and the way that they use combinations of flavours is just mouth watering. Can’t wait to do the next country on the list- Bahamas.

DSC_0169

DSC_0127

DSC_0173

DSC_0158

The Elephant in the room

For a while now, I have been tip-toeing around this particular topic.

Why tip-toe, even I wonder.

Maybe because it is about that thing that is construed as a weakness. Which can label us as hopeless pessimists. That thing that makes everyone uncomfortable. We talk about it in hush tones, afraid to be judged. That thing that you pick on to put someone down and point as an inferiority. Why? Also why not? It’s considered as something that is “not supposed” to happen to a healthy, strong and capable person.

But the big irony is that, it is also the thing that almost everyone feels at some point in their life, but some people feel it more given the circumstances.

The thing. The elephant in the room.

Can you even guess?

Yes. I’m talking about Anxiety.

and Depression.

Now that I have opened this can of worms, let me stop tip-toeing.

Not very long ago, I had a number of huge life changes happen in a short period of time. I was unable to cope with it and despite efforts to stay positive, I was just incredibly overwhelmed with a lot of negative emotions. Over time I was dwarfed by it which caused me to develop depression. In hindsight, it is not surprising that I felt like that. Continuous and large amounts of stress is not compatible with our genetic evolution. Stress, when unmanaged is disruptive to our hormones and specially neurotransmitters that deal with our mood, concentration and health. There are physical and debilitating manifestations of long term stress.

While stress by itself in short and small amounts can be a motivating factor, depression is a serious condition and can go on for a long time if not addressed. So it is important to distinguish between stress and depression. The good news is that depression is highly treatable with the right help. In my case, I was able to overcome my depression. It was not a pleasant time, nor was it easy. But it was also a time of immense growth. I had to come face to face with my own vulnerabilities and really, as I have always believed, through vulnerabilities come strength.

I had a lot of help and I asked for a lot of help. At times I was a pain in the ass I admit, but then I think I am always anyway. I had the unending patience and support from my husband, and learnt really good techniques for coping through a specialized online treatment program called mummoodbooster, targeted at women experiencing post natal depression.

During this time I learnt how to track my mood. I learnt that there are certain triggers that brought on negative emotions. I learnt that all I needed was to be aware of it, not even necessarily avoid it. I learnt to practice anti-ruminative activities such a:

  • consistent counting of blessings (instead of sheep)
  • journaling my thoughts
  • picking my battles
  • letting somethings go
  • replacing a negative thought with a positive one
  • and more importantly I learnt that I could catch a negative thought when it comes and do anything I want to it, before it spirals out of control.

The next most important thing I learnt is to redirect my rumination aka worry aka anxiety into something positive and physical. This may sound like a cliché, but for me this approach was incredibly helpful. I started with identifying five pleasant activities that I would genuinely attempt each day. “The main thing is to get your mind off your ruminations for a time so they die out and don’t have a grip on your mind,” explains it well. While I didn’t really have the mind to do it everyday, I still gave it an honest effort.

At this time I also realized the importance of a support system, someone trusted to be there in times that you need. Someone who would listen without judgement and with empathy. At times even our most loved ones do not understand and are not patient with us. And at times, it is not really their fault too. Because unless you have gone through something similar, it is really hard to understand what the other person is feeling. This is why professional help is almost always the best solution.

End of story.

Not really. I still feel sad, overwhelmed and stressed at times. I’m still human, and a mother of two now, which means a hundred times more stress and worry. But I’m better equipped to cope with it now. I am inspired by what I experienced, although it’s a mere inch of what so many people with anxiety and depression experience on a daily basis and for years on.

It is important that if you are experiencing overwhelming emotions to, Talk to someone, and ask for help. If you feel that someone you know is having a difficult time then Ask if they R OK? The link in text gives some great tips for ways to ask in a way that gets answers and how to go about helping them. It also helps you figure out if you are in a good head space to provide support for someone.

I asked and someone helped. Consistently and without judgement. And I am really OK.

Me, myself and I

I sit down to write, with a coffee (black, one sugar) and my favorite music in the background (Beyonce mix, what a cliche, I know).

My mind wanders, did I clear the pillows from my daughter’s cot before putting her in. Is my son alright, he’s been having a dry cough. What will I cook for them? I have to vacuum before they are up. I drag my mind back to the page on the laptop. I type, and I see my fingers. My nails are grown slightly. Reminds me, I have to cut the kids nails. But where is that nail cutter. It has the ability to disappear just like half of all our socks and tupperware lids, to be never seen again. I should go find it, else I may forget again. Beyonce starts singing Single Ladies. Makes me laugh at the irony. Take a deep breath, smile and focus.

I then realize, what I want to write about – How does one enjoy life as a busy mom. I know most mom’s do, but I also know that motherhood or rather parenthood is extremely exhausting and repetitive. Studies show that parenthood is also associated with a higher risk of depression. How on earth can the thing that brings us the greatest joy put us at the risk of depression?! But I know, every mom and dad will acknowledge this to be true. As for me, I didn’t plan on being a stay home mom, but here I am. I didn’t think I was equipped to be one, first of all. I am not patient, I have a quick temper and dislike the invasion of my private space and time. But yes, here I am. Practicing patience, smiling at the spilt milk on the carpet and have two kids attached to me like extra limbs.

Yet, I absolutely love being their mom. 

But enjoy? Not as often as I would like to. 

Enjoying parenthood means placing great importance on fulfilling our own personal needs and wants. I know it’s hard, and we tend to tell ourselves that we will get time for ourselves maybe in the next few years when the kids are bit older. Let me burst that bubble for you, which was burst for me by other parents. It NEVER gets any easier! It just moves from one set of challenges to another.

LOL. At myself.

So there is really no later for this, it has to be now. It is now that I need to exercise, now I need to go on a date with my husband and now that I have to read that book. 

I love this article How to Enjoy the Often Exhausting, Depressing Role of Parenthood. She talks about the importance of leisure time, both personal and with the spouse. Personal time has been linked to positive mental health by numerous studies. So make time for exercise. Laugh outrageously while watching the comedy you have long wanted to. And more importantly, pursue a hobby or project that brings happiness to you and lets you feel rejuvenated. Because, not only will it increase our mental health, it will also allow our kids to see us in a different light. An empowered parent who enjoys life.

She also highlights the importance of free play for children, where the child has freedom to explore and learn on their own. A decline in free play has been associated with increased level of negative feelings in children. So, it is justified that we take a step back from our tendency to helicopter parent or fill their day with structured and supervised activities. I remember what my grandmother used to tell us about growing 10 children. She says all they needed was empty cardboard boxes and tins to occupy their day. I think she would find me and my two baby complaints hilarious. What surprises me is that my aunts and uncles recall stories of their childhood with so much fondness and happiness. Isn’t that good enough reason to stop our guilt for not entertaining them all their waking hours, give them an old box and put our feet up?

Maybe write a blog and enjoy a cup of coffee. 

Have some quality time for ourselves.

Beyonce sings, Run the World (girls).

d9b40ffc5047567e21b299bdbcbf2319

 

 

Armenian Baklava

A Pahklava (baklava) a coffee and good company.

Is all I need somedays.

Baklava, known in Armenia as Pahklava is made with layers of Phyllo pastry. Between the sheets is generous layers of butter, and chopped up nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds and cashews. The layers are also sprinkled with honey, cinnamon and sugar.

Originally knows as a richmans dessert, this dish originated around the 8th B.C by the Assyrians. It was baked in their primitive wood ovens and enjoyed occasionally as a kings meal. While is it popular is Armenia, it is also enjoyed by the Turkish, Greek, Iranians, Azerbaijans, Turks and many other middle eastern countries. I decided to do the Armenian variant for the weeks food challenge.

How blessed are we that food is no longer just a bare necessity for some, but something that you could get creative with and pose as means of enjoyment. This is what I felt when I made this. I placed the sheets, jar of honey, bottle of cinnamon, bottle of nutmeg and cup of pistachios on the table, took a seat, turned on my favourite show for binge watching and just sat there applying butter on the sheet, while filling it with honey, spices and nuts. It is a slow job, since the layers are so thin and needs a lot of sheets. But satisfying also, the kind you may get popping a bubble wrap. Well, until I realised by babies only nap for so long, and this definitely is a timely process. 

I ended up under baking the pakhlava, in my hurry to eat it before my little ones woke up. I skipped the part where the baked pastry is dunked in sugar syrup, for obvious reasons!  Still, it was very tasty. Who can go wrong with honey and pistachios right! And I was so glad I attempted making a it! Before my daughter was born, we used to spend evenings at this beautiful cafe’ where they serve middle eastern sweets and coffee. This is how I got introduced to baklava, with sweet memories. At the time, I had always been intimidated with how complex, yet rich and and elegant it is. So to attempt making it, and coming out somewhat triumphed is definitely a victory. Also, my son really like it. I am now a guilty mom who has shamelessly introduced sweets to a child who was not really interested in it. Oh well, at least it’s made with a lot of love. 

IMG_6733IMG_6728

Austrian Pancakes

Pancakes!

There is a day dedicated to pancakes, World Pancake Day. And surely, pancakes deserve a day for itself. It is cake, in a pan, made in under 5 minutes. You can be creative with toppings, with flavor, shape and size. It can be sweet or savory. But most of all, it is an ultimate comfort food. In our house pancakes are a favorite. Even when my son was unable to say words, he still would nod his head with a huge grin when I say its pancakes today. When he is unwell and loses his appetite, its pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s the only thing he will eat.

I have a full proof recipe for pancakes that I always follow as the base. To me, the secret is mixing the eggs really well to make it fluffy before folding in other ingredients. Also, the first thing I do before making pancakes is to add couple of table spoons of vinegar to a cup of milk. Viola – Buttermilk in few minutes. Buttermilk adds to the flavor so well. Okay, so pancakes – one of our favorite food in the world. But this post is not really about pancakes, it is about my food challenge of Austria.

Looking through recipes of Austria, I came across Kaiserschmarrn, a dish that’s a dramatic twist to traditional pancakes. This is a popular and local dessert in Austria, and for me this was the perfect opportunity  to try a new variety of pancakes.

We decided to make a day out with pancakes, at the park. We took hot coffee flasks and fresh berries. This pancake is more custardy and resembles torn up french toast. I made a plum sauce to go on it, and also sprinkled with a mixture of icing sugar with cinnamon. It was the ultimate comfort food.

IMG_6684

 

 

 

Australia – food down under

Dear Australia,

I have been anxiously waiting to cook your distinctive food since I have started my global food challenge. You cannot imagine my excitement when I reached you on my list. I have always loved cooking but it is only after coming here to Australia that my interest has peaked. You have such a wide variety of food to offer to all palates, which makes you so welcoming to people from all over the world. For me your food has been a savior, amidst our adaptation to moving continents. Your ingredients and food has been a solace that I have derived warmth and comfort from. I may be over dramatic and a little bit cheesy but that’s what you have done to me.

You, being so multicultural and diverse have adopted a cuisine that is so rich and mostly based on inexpensive everyday ingredients. Although, you have still managed to maintain certain iconic Australia dishes intact and yet so modern.

I chose to cook with beef as a main dish, as meat is the core component of your cuisine. I made beef and mushroom pies, a very wholesome and filling meal that creates a homely feeling and just begs to be shared. As for the ingredients –>mushroom, beef, onions, seasoning, beef stock, tomato paste, cornflour and pastry. 8 ingredients! As simple as that, but taste is incredible.

For dessert, I made a Tim Tam cheese cake. Tim Tam biscuit is iconic to you Australia and has been around since the 1960’s. I chose the Adriano Zumbo Red velvet flavor just to kick in the Australian-ness. Was it not only beautiful, it was such a hit among friends and of course my husband and son. All thanks to having a chef as a friend who gave some really good tips for the menu as well as the cooking.

I had some friends join in, who made classic Aussie dishes as well. We had a beautiful black forest pavlova, sausage rolls, more beef pastries, cheese and spinach scrolls, fairy bread and a potato salad.

So I would like to thank you Australia. You made a wanna be cook out of me and you have given me a sense of belonging through your cuisine.

Love,

IMG_6190

DSC_0420

DSC_0419

DSC_0411

DSC_0415

DSC_0417

DSC_0418

DSC_0421

DSC_0423

Argentina

The 8th biggest country in the world, founder of the dance Tango and where Lionel Messi is from: Argentina! I am not hardcore football fan, but I have been surrounded by Messi fans and it’s always exciting to cook something from a country that I sort of am familiar with. It’s also home to the famous Diego Maradona and Che Guevara.

As for the food, Argentinians absolutely love their food and celebrate it greatly. The food is a blend of Mediterranean, greatly influenced by the Italian and Spanish cuisines. Argentina is apparently a beef country, and beef is made in a number of delicious ways. I chose to make the popular Argentinian Empanadas. And for dessert I made Alfajores with a Dulce de leche filling. All three dishes are immensely enjoyed by the Argentinians.

The Empanadas is similar to a dish we make locally called pettis, which is a pastry with a tuna filling. Instead of the tuna, Empanadas has a spicy beef filling. I had a slight disaster with this dish as I cooked the beef thoroughly on the stove before baking it, duh. Hence, a slightly dry beef filling!

Alfajores, oooooh the Alfajores! This is a version of the biscuit melting moments, which true to it’s name just melts into the mouth. It’s a very soft, delicate and crumbly biscuit that is also very rich. Words describing it makes me want to jump up, run to the kitchen and bake it. It has became my all time favorite cookie. And the best part is that I used dulce de leche as a filling. I had no idea what this is before this day. Apparently it is condensed milk slow cooked over few hours. It develops into a thick pasty condense milk with an enhanced condensed milk taste. Talk about richness! The buttery taste of the Alfajores with the condensed milky filling was just absolute heaven.

All in all, not a bad cookout as the cookies made up for everything. Cant’ wait to do Armenia!