Saturday, February 25, 2017

On Donald Trump, Crunchy Bananas and our Children... A "How To" on keeping up Spirits and Sanity

The other morning at breakfast, my four year old looked, yet again somberly, at the breakfast before her.  Despite having enthusiastically selected a hodgepodge of liberally salted hard boiled egg whites on the side of toasted hamburger buns, strawberries and vanilla yogurt and a cup of milk, she still could not bring herself to enjoy her breakfast.  Her face was wrinkled, as was mine with exasperation from yet another failed attempt at assembling a palatable breakfast for my picky eater.

This one, she is quite the philosopher.  And before I could ask her why she wasn't eating, she said: "Two Things!"  Holding up two tiny fingers.  "The smells of these foods I picked, don't go with each other! And I wish Donald Trump would magically become Hillary Clinton, and the word (world) would be GREAT again".    


Despite our best efforts to protect our children from the anxiety of these times, they are alert and picking up on the mood (and the lingo) in the world today.  And even though, both at home and at school, my children are discouraged from playing games that label some as good guys and some as bad, the culture they have experienced through cartoons, books, images around them, and hanging out with their little friends, has taught them that they live in a world of good guys vs bad guys...    And the story of Donal Trump plays like a mesmerizing episode of Pokemon cartoon, so much so that my child who refuses to remember words in Farsi as simple as Yes, No,  and Thank you, seems to remember the First and Last name of the characters and can correctly affiliate them with what they stand for, if quizzed. 

Although that morning, I humorously wrote off the Donal Trump comment,  I knew that I had to make more of an effort to tend to my kids' spirits these days.  Luckily, I was a child who has lived through a revolution, a war, and immigration, all under the tutelage of a wise grandmother and loving parents, who believed that good food and fun family time can silence the ugly sound that fear, worry, and stress makes in your mind. 

I was so grateful the next day when my friend Anne had left a kind package at our door,  which included a puzzle with a beautiful image of Hindu deity (Sri Krishna), which no doubt she had picked up on one of her museum jaunts around the US...  I was doubly grateful when both girls got super excited about the puzzle, and could identify with the similarities in the image that reminded them of old Persian drawings.  After a long week and dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, it was so nice to relax with the puzzle on Friday night, talk about the richness of Hindu culture, and what we enjoy about all the other cultures in our community....


This morning, after weeks of my 4 year old talking about a recipe that one of her beloved teachers had taught her, we finally got around to making it.  It was so simple and delicious that I wish we had made it weeks ago, and every day since.  My girl calls it Crunchy Banana and it is a ripe yellow banana shaken in a bag of Graham Cracker Crumbs (we actually used Trader Joe's Speculous Cookies which is delicious).  She did the entire process by herself, allowing her big sister a turn at pressing a cup on the cookies in the bag to finely crush them, and half of the 10 shakes of the bag necessary to cover the banana.  The first batch we made were with cut up bananas, which were delectable, but as per my older daughter needed some styling.  I think she was much more impressed with the look of the second batch which were put on a bamboo stick...  and so it was that the morning went on with more laughter and less Trump. 


Today I remember my grandmother who lived through unimaginable ordeals and came out the other side as a kind, wise, calm, and strong matriarch, who was adamant about home cooked meals and a family gathered together for tea, as The Way to goodness.
My Grandmother - 1987 Tehran, On the eve of leaving Iran to immigrate to Canada

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Good Luck Chickens!

Before we knew it, our summer came to an end and it was time for our annual Back-To-School celebration dinner.



This year we celebrated not one, but two students, ready to embark on new adventures in their lives.


The girls started the day with making lists of all that they had enjoyed and new learnings they had, during their summer vacation.  The lists were long and making it brought us so much joy and gratitude.  Later during dinner each urbangirl was proud to share with the family highlights from their list. 

I had Trivia questions on our place mats, along with a Doodle Corner, which brought some laughs and a little healthy competition.  Everyone had a chance to win prizes like a super duper cool sharpener and an elegant Peppa Pig back pack... even Mr. Urban had a chance to win a True Gentlemen's Beef Jerky!

We toasted the girls and wished them a fun and positive year ahead, learning as much as they can about this amazing world we live in and the people in it!  


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Breakfast Poetry

Some years ago when Mr. Urban and I were in Shanghai, we had the good fortune of having Muesli for breakfast, one smoggy morning at the breakfast bar of a swanky hotel.  Although the hotel had a smorgasbord of goodies laid out, we both reached for a bowl of cold-looking oatmeal gorgeously topped with fragrant stewed fruit compote and roasted nuts.

One bite and the world became a better place.  Oats soaked in a creamy milk to a perfect ratio of bite vs mush, interspersed with soft green ribbons of grated apple and plump green raisins.  The mixture was sweet, but barely so.    It was a decadent treat you get served at a getaway health spa...

In the years since, I have made it from online recipes, using Old Fashion Oats and regular milk with honey.

But with all the talk of Steel Cut Oats being the way to go, and finding some quick-cook version at our Trader Joe's, Urban Toddler and I decided to whip up a batch this week, using Vanilla Almond Milk.


Although my Urban youngsters did not have a taste for it, Mr. Urban and I indulged in a number of bowls of Muesli for breakfast this week, topped with bananas or ripe peaches or slivered almonds... I made a point of having mine wearing my white terrycloth robe, pretending that I am far away at a getaway spa....


Give it a try!

Bircher Muesli

1 cup quick cook steel cut oats
2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/2 cup green raisins
1 apple hand grated (for speed I used the mandoline but hand grating is the traditional way)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and cover overnight in the refrigerator.

To garnish, you can add honey, fresh fruits or stewed fruits depending on the season, a dash of cinnamon, and nuts to your taste.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Demand "Luxury" without a whole lot of negative baggage!



I have always loved a great smelling home.  Whether its vanilla or cinnamon that wafts through the oven vents when baking, oil diffusers with bamboo sticks that make the home smell a little bit more like heaven, or (and my personal favorite) luxury candles of all sizes and scents for each and every occasion and ambiance and room in the house, I adore them all.   I love walking into my home smelling just so, and over the years I have invested a good chunk on luxury candles from Paris and London and New York.  It has been my thing!

Until this past Winter, when quite serendipitously, a  google search led me down quite a dark path.

Let me preface by saying that we, like many families we know, are rather religious about the quality of what our family, and especially our children, eat, breath, watch and learn...  we care deeply about what nourishes their body, brain, and soul.  We research new purchases ad nauseam,  fret about the quality of the paint we apply to our walls and the glue that is holding our hardwoods down,  make a small pilgrimage to find undisputed safe fish for eating...     So you can imagine my feeling of utter
dread when I found out some months ago, that the very luxury expensive candles that I was burning in our home, usually with the the windows closed, were poisoning the air that we were breathing.

With a few clicks of my keyboard, I learned that most of the luxury candles on the market today are made from cheap materials such as paraffin wax, a petroleum by-product of crude oil - a carcinogenic (such as my personal favorite),  or soy -  which with 93% of soy production being genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides, chances are that it contains toxic compounds.   Then again, soy is not a wax, and in order to produce soy wax, the beans must be put through a rigorous chemical process of hydrogenation, with its own slew of side-effects and environmental footprint.  Another choice of wax is Palm wax, the productions of which have had devastating environmental effects on our planet.   

Worse yet, almost all of the scented candles sold today use fragrance oils, aroma oils or perfume oils, all of which are another word for a synthetically and chemically produced scent, derived mostly from petroleum products.   To top it off, candle manufacturers add other chemicals such as scent binders, color enhancers, and other interesting additive to make their candles look and feel "luxurious" to consumers.  To make your whole house smell amazing!  In short, these candles emit hazardous toxins that research shows can cause cancer, allergies, asthma, and serious damage to development of the brain, lungs, hormones, and nervous system, especially in young children.   And finally, only in recent years were the use of Lead cored-wicks banned in the US, but with no real regulation over the candle industry, its your guess whether the candles you are using have any other hazardous materials in the wick.   

After talking about this to other friends, I learned that I was not alone in my alarm.  Yet, we all love our scented candles, so I couldn't leave it alone....  through months of research I learned that Beeswax is the most naturally occurring and healthy wax for candles.  There is even research that suggests that beeswax cleans the air and helps with allergies and asthma.  But then finding clean beeswax was another eye opening journey for me.   Although its quite rare to find US certified organic beeswax, with so many beautiful and sustainable bee farms across this country, you can find an abundance of "organic" beeswax from countries with questionable certification policies.    Through consultation I found the highest grade US Beeswax, which I felt comfortable burning in my home.    And so Pure Artisan Candles were born...  

The candles are handmade in the artisanal traditions of candle making, with the purest American beeswax, and the highest quality essential oils, both of which are inherently nourishing and cleansing, with numerous health enhancing benefits. 

 The essential oils are 100% pure aromatic distillates from botanical sources, extracted through steam distilling or cold pressing.  Candles scented by essential oils do not have an overpowering aura, they don't fill up the whole house as I was used to... they perfume your home subtly and elegantly, without releasing toxins into the air you and your loved ones breath.  

Pure candles are simple, beeswax and essential oils hand-poured into a white glass container, hand-blown in India, using a 100% cotton wick. 

I am excited to let you know of my new adventure, making clean candles! I am also excited to help my children and my friends realize that All that glitters isn't Gold!!!  As consumers we need to be more vigilant and demanding about the quality of the goods we buy.  Especially expensive "Luxury" items ... Our Health & Wellness depends on it!


To healthy and well developed children and communities!

Friday, October 23, 2015

When life throws you limes...

When life throws you limes, savor them for the sake of all that is juicy and delicious!




Through this, what seems like a life long search for an easy way to a slimmer derriere, I have found a few truths that are worth sharing with select good friends.

I love finding healthy routines that are easy to adopt, yet high yielding.  One such routine that I have recently become fond of, is making a week's worth of low fat salad dressing with fresh lime juice.  This routine saves you hundreds of calories in fat, and the fresh lime juice gives your immune system an extra boost that is so necessary in these months of flu season (Flu Season: October through May).

"The health benefits of lime include weight loss, improved skin, improved digestion, relief from constipation and eye health.  It is used in treatment of scurvy, piles, peptic ulcer, respiratory disorders, gout, gums, urinary disorders, etc..."


Once you have it ready in the fridge, all you have to do is swish some over your favorite salad and go!

If you think that  it's just easier to squeeze some lemon/lime on to your salad at the time that you are making it, chances are that you will pour more oil on to your salad than having a per-proportioned dressing ready to go.  Also, with our busy lives, chances are that instead of reaching for a lemon/lime, if we don't have the pre-made dressing at hand,  we'd opt for the bottle of balsamic vinegar, which actually adds many grams of sugar to the salad.  

As in all things, to successfully add this routine to your life, you need to enjoy making it and eating it!   So have fun with it!


Lime Vinaigrette

1/2 Cup Fresh Lime Juice (include the pulp)
12 Table spoons Olive Oil
 2 Tea spoons good Dijon Mustard (optional)

 Pour in a bottle and shake before use.  Keep refrigerated.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In Praise of Pumpkins

Behold your excitement people.

It is once again that peculiar time of the year, when we photograph our children with pumpkins.



We carve out the time, drive to a (preferably organic) pumpkin farm and click away.


I must say pumpkins haven't taken this phenomenon for granted at all.  They could have very well acted all smug and lazy, as throngs of families come to admire them, pose with them, and proudly carry them out to their homes, where they sit them in a shrine for a few weeks. 


On the contrary, over the years I have found these silly old vegetables reinvent themselves into grander and more improved versions of their old selves.   It  is really beautiful to see them in all their glorious shades of orange, white and green, scattered along a vast field, hoping to catch the eye of a fervent admirer.  Hoping to be the One, while still maintaining their composure under the pressure of being hugged and poked and sat on....


I savor these beautiful moments with these two girls, who pick out pumpkins with all their hearts and focus, ignoring my shouts of  "look at mommy", "look at mommy for god's sake", "hey check out this pumpkin on mommy's head"....

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I love it when...

 
The promise of being able to meet Mr. Urban for mid-day meals and rendezvous, was on the top of my list of reasons to move from Vancouver to Silicon Valley some 12 years ago...

Pear and Prosciutto Salad

The only thing is that over the years, it has been hard to make mid-day rendezvous happen with any kind of regularity.  I won't go into details as to who's at fault, but let's just say that I am always up for making mid-day gourmet rendezvous a priority in our marriage.


When he does manage to keep our lunch date in his calendar, Mr. Urban is especially charming.  Picks amazing places to meet at.  Has an abundance of funny, touching, interesting stories to recount.  And manages to steal my heart every time. 

The Giggles; We are laughing way to hard for a quaint French restaurant!

At some point during our meals, the conversation always steers to making a move to somewhere in the middle of nowhere so we can freely meetup at midday for a long meal together... of course it has to be a "nowhere" with fine dining and gourmet finds....  but just as I become hopeful, I see that look in Mr. Urban's striking eyes, stealing side way, downward glances at his phone, strategically situated to the right of his glass and mentally drafting replies to the incoming emails.   He loves his gigs and I know that we'll never make the move to nowhere, but its always fun to daydream....

I love these moments in our life together. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hello Fall!


Having patiently been awaiting the arrival of Fall weather, we finally decided not to hold our breaths much longer, seeing as we our blessed with year round summer weather around here, and just import Fall into our home instead.

 


The girls have made s'mores kits and painted cardboard pumpkins (since if you carve real pumpkins right now in this warm weather, they will be moldy before you know it). 




A few girl friends joined me for a Fall lunch of Martha Stewart's herb crusted Salmon and Farro Salad inspired by a recipe from SOHO restaurant Charlie Bird which I happened across in the NY Times' cooking section one lucky morning.


For desert we savored a refreshing Champagne Jello topped with custard, made by my gorgeous, artistic and darling friend, R.  


Carla Bruni seems to be the sound track of Fall. 

I hope that you have also invited bits and pieces of Fall's charm into your day to make it more sepcial for you and your loved ones.

And here's a gift to you, a recipe to add to your Fall spread:

Charlie Bird Inspired Farro Salad

Ingredients
1 bag of Trader Joe's 10 min Farro, prepared as per directions on bag using chicken broth instead of water and salted to taste.  Cooled to room temperature.
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan Cheese
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil
1/2 cup julienned fresh mint
1/2 cup roasted, salted, shelled pistachios
2 cups sliced, peeled persian cucumbers
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 large avocado, cubed
4 Table Spoons (or more) of Fresh Lime Juice whisked with 4 Table Spoons (or more) of Olive Oil
Salt + Pepper

Mix all ingredients, garnish with some shaved Parmesan and mint leaves.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A little Tea will do wonders


Some days, you could be on the most beautiful white sandy beach, but walking it could still seem like an arduous grind.  

I have found that life, even when chock full of charm and blessings and abundant beauty still needs to be approached with plenty of measure.   

Years before plunging into my beloved North American lifestyle of go go go, I lived another life as a child growing up in Iran, where every afternoon would include a deliberate pause for freshly brewed tea.  



I remember the adults in the house (which seemed to consist of my mother, grandmother and an array of visiting family and friends) sitting for afternoon tea.    It was a casual affair, but when I look back I can certainly recall an unspoken ceremony to it all.  The tea was always piping hot.  Always served in the same clear short glasses atop little china saucers, on the side of a heaping bowl of sugar cubes that wouldn't easily dissolve in your mouth.   

The conversation was always leisurely, cheerful, light.  I would kneel by the coffee table, always taking far too many sugar cubes than appropriate for a such a short glass of tea, always sipping my hot tea far too eagerly and far too loudly.  And always being teasingly reminded by one of the smiley adults not to rush it. 

Later, when I traveled as an adult, I marveled to find this same ritual in France and Italy and Spain and Hawaii...  Not necessarily a tea service, but a deliberate rest smack in the middle of a busy day.  A deliberate savoring.  An Aloha spirit.



Our days are so busy these days.  Even as I observe my parents and in laws in retirement.  My children in their childhood activities.  Mr. Urban and I, busy parents, passionate in our professions, loving homemakers, sincere in our interests and hobbies... the drum beats on and we move with it.  Our insatiable verve for life, for learning, for teaching, for experiencing means we must multi-task, we must organize, we must plan.  We must listen to podcasts at 2x speed so we can take in more of a beautiful thing.  I carry 2 books in my already heavy purse in case of a moment of delay to savor a line or two...  


I recall, our Springtime and early Summertime childhood outings in Iran, in the mad rush before the arrival of the Summer heat, everyone wanted to take in as much of the outside nature as they could.  I was always puzzled when the elders, the grandmothers, the aunts, would interrupt the playing, the running, the hiking, and insist on an afternoon rest on the Persian rug, dragged out to the nature along with the rest of the picnic gear.  The afternoon time would be whiled away napping by some, and playing card games, muffled giggling, and sharing secrets by others...   It was hard to comprehend then the value of this imposed rest, and as soon as we were given the nod we would sprint off the rug to run free and collect stones and sticks...


But today, I get it more and more each day.  That to thrive, our bodies and our souls can only take all good things in moderation.
      

Weekend Afternoon Tea - Amidst play dates, birthday parties, events, and activities..


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reaping Pleasure from the Days


Some days ago I decided to sign up for a mailing list where one of my favorite authors would send me a daily note on parenting.

I have loved the anticipation of finding the name of this author in my mailbox each day.  I check for the email in the midst of the morning hustle and bustle and just seeing the email gives me a little jolt of excitement.

A little later in the day, I sit down to really take in the beautifully crafted note.  They are short.  And idyllic. 

And so far, I have been rather challenged by them to tell you the truth.    For example, the other day it asked me to set up a week of "extreme nice" where you don't tell your children anything resembling the words NO, Don't, Hurry Up, Now, WHY DID YOU... you get the drift.   I tried it for a day and my tongue has permanent tooth marks etched on it from the number of times I bit it.  I figure, a week of "extreme nice" needs to be planned for a perfect week.   One with tons of eager adult helpers at hand, preplanned fun activities abound, a weeks worth of favorite foods stocked up in the fridge, and the right weather to let your children loose outside for hours on end.    Oh, and perhaps the week should be timed for some time when you don't have a 2 year old.  Better yet, when all your children have their prefrontol coretex developed which allows them the benefit of impulse control and control over their emotional reactions...   Which I just learned that neurologists belive that to be the magic age of 25!

Another day, my beloved email asked me to come up with a list of things that I can enjoy doing for just a few minutes and get a boost of energy and sanity.  Again.  Stumped.  Perhaps it doesn't take me a few minutes to do anything that I enjoy.  I love to read slowly and devour each word in a book (some times even out loud, whispering to myself the beautiful words on the page).  Cooking, writing a blog, organizing, planning, all favorites of mine, also take longer than a few minutes.   But I was determined to find one thing the other day I could do for a quiet few minutes that would give me a rejuvenating boost. 


And so it was that the universe (or Mr. Urban), sent me the Spring catalog for SCHOOLHOUSE Electric & Supply Co. (even the title page had the words SLOWING DOWN center stage).  

"ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS, FOR ONE DAY YOU MAY LOOK BACK AND REALIZE THAT THEY WERE THE BIG THINGS...."





Sunday, June 22, 2014

Afternoon Tea in the Garden

A few weeks ago, in a completely serendipitous way, I received a gift.  I have always been the recipient of such gifts, by the way.  Goodness and kindness and random gifts find their way to me, for no good reason at all, from perfect strangers, distant acquaintances, and of course friends and family...


Anyways, a few weeks ago I was invited to a tea party at an amazing garden no less, organized by a very small group of local women (whom I did not know before this day), to honor a writer, blogger, mother, zen Buddhist monk, and a  profound and beautiful woman that I have admired for years, Karen Maezen Miller.  To keep the event intimate, the guest list was limited and  I have no idea why I was on the list of invited.  But as I said, magic finds me, and all I have to do is say "Yes" and receive gratefully.
  

The short afternoon was packed full with rejuvenation and that light soulful conversation that zen followers are so gifted at (I am not zen FYI).   Since it was a small gathering, Karen had a chance to chat privately with each guest.  When she and I had our "moment" I told her of my love and gratitude for her and the work she puts out in this world, hoping in the back of my mind that I am not creeping out a perfect stranger. 

That afternoon I was fully present in my life and myself,  and took in all the joys of this life of mine.

Mr. Urban had taken the girls for the afternoon, and when I suddenly heard their little sounds approaching from somewhere behind the lavender bushes my heart overflowed with love for the three of them. 

My girls keep thriving and touching us in amazing ways, every day as they learn or experience something new... each time they smile and choose the road of flexibility... or when they show us their sweet vulnerabilities and fears.  But you know,  more times than I care to count, I get bogged down with obsessive parental worries...   And leave it to the Zen among us to remind me that the essence of parenting and all we need to teach the ones we love (and only through example) is how to breathe, how to sit, how to open our eyes and really look at the garden around us with kindness and without judgement.


*  If you are interested in learning more about Karen, you can find her writings at  http://karenmaezenmiller.com/, or Huff post, and of course you can find any of her great books on amazon.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I smell Newness...


Persians love Hyacinths.  Their smell moves them, to somewhere beyond now... most probably to a time around a cherished childhood New Year memory.. 


Hyacinths are middle eastern natives.  And they are just as much a part of Persian New Year as Pine trees are a part of Christmas celebration.


I love the smell and look and color of Hyacinths and was thrilled to find them peaking out of every little pot in the yard a couple of weeks ago...  dozens of beautiful violet and white and pink Hyacinths....   and with the rain, you could smell them every time you stepped outside.   Mr. Urban had quietly planted them last year with the Urban Little Girl, as a surprise to come Springtime...



And this morning, as I walked towards the kitchen, there was an overwhelming smell... like someone had left the windows open all night....  every small vase and vintage milk bottle was filled...

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extra ordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore...




Sunday, February 2, 2014

A soupy kinda day...




Bless the skies.  It finally rained today!

The morning has been beautiful and the smells outside the window are refreshing.


Mr. Urban, the girls and I took a drive in the rain, listened to vintage French songs,  and marveled at the beauty around us, at these foothills, the old wooden fences for miles...  I hoped that we all remember this day, this smell, this drive, years and years from now.  Everyone was taking it in for a long time (until some of us just couldn't any more).  

Later we made our first fire of the year in the fireplace and enjoyed cups of soup that I made for the girls' weekly soup.  The soup was a new variation of the same-old but it hit the spot nicely.

Life has been chock full of newness and excitement, every day.  No matter how some days can be completely hazy from the fatigue of the flu that never leaves us or the unsteadiness that comes from lack of sleep, every day has thankfully brought its gifts.  Singing New Songs, Saying New Words, Blowing Kisses, Writing Words, the amazement that comes from the realization that you can Read, Standing on Two feet, Finding your Curiosity and then Nurturing it by examining the contents of every last closet, drawer, purse, bag, wallet, nook and cranny, Starting New Schools, Making New Friendships....  Newness and Possibilities.


I have had most days to practice balance and grace, to hold home and everything outside into my embrace and not cringe at the site of my own blunders... to say NO and hold still for the consequences, and say Yes to previously un-thought of prospects and be surprised by my own and my loved ones' limits and flexibility.... 


It's all perspective.  We can change how close or how far we stand.  I can never seem to remember that, but when I do all seems to fall right into place...

The New Same-Old Soup
1/2 cup Green Lentils
1/3 cup fast cooking Bulgur
1/2 cup White Quinoa
Organic Chicken drumsticks
Diced  Onions, Carrots and Celery
2 hand fulls of Spinach
Salt to taste

Throw the chicken, onions, carrots, celery into a cast iron pot filled with water and let it boil for 10 minutes.  Add the washed lentils and quinoa and let it cook for 25 minutes before adding the bulgur (if is is fast cooking). After 10 minutes add the Spinach on the top of soup but don't stir it into the soup.  After 5 minutes place the wilted spinach and some of the other vegetables that come to the top of the soup into the blender and blend them into a fine paste.  Throw away the drumstick.  Pour the vegetable pure back into the pot of soupy goodness.  Serve with a dash of Olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or lime to your taste.

(Note the grains should be al dente when the soup is ready and not too soft or mushy).