The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.

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Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

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‘Tis the Season

Now that Thanksgiving is over, my roommate and I have been able to shamelessly deck out our apartment with Christmas decorations.  We play Christmas music constantly, put cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in everything we eat (or drink) and turn on our flashing Christmas lights in the evening.  Last night when just the Christmas lights were on and I was drinking tea by the window, I felt the same Christmas rush I used to feel for weeks leading up to the holiday when I was little.

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The only snowman you’ll see in Casablanca

Last year, I really missed the US after being gone for several months, partly because I missed my favorite foods.  However, this morning I went running by a sushi restaurant and a Mexican restaurant, and did not feel any (or very much) longing for those familiar cuisines (there are a lot of Asian restaurants in my neighborhood in Chicago!).  My secret, you ask?  Seasonal foods.  I mentioned that I’ve really been enjoying pomegranates.  Well, I’ve also been enjoying pumpkin, first in jack-o-lantern form, then in soup, and most recently in bread.  Bread!  And this morning, as I was listening to Michael Bublé’s All I Want for Christmas is You and chopping vegetables, I thought, why not put more vegetables in bread?  So now I’ve got zucchini bread and carrot bread.  And I’m feeling generous, so I’m even going to share my recipe with you.

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Zucchini on top, carrot underneath, deliciousness everywhere.

1 cup mashed pumpkin/grated zucchini/grated carrot (choose one)

1 cup flour (I used white flour because that’s all I had, and I actually substituted 1 cup of semolina in the carrot bread, which gives it a nice nutty flavor and some more texture)

1/2 cup plain yogurt

Baking powder

1 tsp salt

3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup oil

1/4 cup water (I used lemon-ginger juice instead)

1 big spoonful of ginger and of cinnamon (I like it with more spice!)

Mix together and bake for about 45 minutes, and then eat your vegetables!  I guess now you know why I’m not a food blogger…my recipes change each time I make them depending on what I have, what sounds good, and what my mood is.  Have fun experimenting!