Do All the “Small” Things

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It’s three weeks into the new year, and I’ve settled on my three main resolutions:

  1. Keep doing all the good things you’ve been doing.

I don’t know why resolutions seem to imply that we’re doing things wrong and need to change everything about ourselves. It always feels like the beginning of the new year isn’t the time for reflection and growth that it should be, but a time for thinking about what isn’t good enough in your life. I wholeheartedly disagree with that. I’m happy with a lot of the things I’ve been working on, from being devoted to loved ones to going to the gym regularly.

So why don’t we ever stop at the new year and say, “Hey. Well done. Keep it up!” That’s definitely how I feel in a lot of areas.

2. Get a book deal.

However, there is always room for growth. And for me, one spot with huge potential for growth is my writing career. This year, I have a very clear and conrete goal to finally, finally get a book deal. Wish me luck!

3. My third resolution is also somewhat work-related, but I’m keeping that one private 🙂

But I do have sub-resolution that I’ve been having a lot of fun with lately that I really want to share, and that is to:

Do All the “Small” Things.

You know, those things. The things we often put off because we’re too busy (but could usually find time for if we really want to, plan ahead just a bit, or are more efficient).

Andie Mitchell Eating in the Middle Recipe Michelle Chahine Sinno

For example, over the last few weeks, I finally tried out a recipe from a great cookbook that’s all about balance, Eating in the Middle by Andie Mitchell. Ever since I flipped through the book last summer, I’ve wanted to try the Baked Banana Bread Doughnuts. I finally made the effort to buy the doughnut pan (and a cooling rack!), get the ingredients, and MAKE them. I’m not exaggerating when I say the whole thing took 30 minutes. It was so easy and simple, and I enjoyed them so much. These instances really make me wonder why I put off so many things… that in my mind they require effort and “time that I don’t have.” When all it takes is 30 minutes. (And it was a rainy LA day as well. Perfect).

Inspired by baking my own healthier version of doughnuts, I tried this recipe for blueberry muffins the following week. Also so easy, yummy, and satisfying.

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What I love most about baking is that you can see the exact ingredients you’re putting into things. Can someone please explain to me why so many baked goods nowadays have “soy lecithin” in them. Since when did that become a staple of baking? Just curious.

I’m also happy to report that after four and a half years of living in Los Angeles, I finally, FINALLY, took Minjay for a long walk in Griffith Park. When I first moved here, I was looking up good places to walk dogs, and I came across this collection of good trails. I’ve been to different areas of the huge park in the middle of Los Angeles, but I never got around to taking Minjay for a nature walk there. It was definitely my loss, since the collection of trails is lined with beautiful, tall trees. I had been craving more “forest-y” walks while living in LA, and it had been accessible to me all along.

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Beautiful post-rain muddy walk. Minjay loved all the fresh nature smells. You can see the dew drops on his face 🙂

In the midst of these trails is a great coffee shop called “The Trails.” (I love this review, which describes it as the place John Muir and Julia Childs would meet for lunch).

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I’ve wanted to go to Trails literally since I moved here in 2012. But I haven’t. Why? Well it does take about 30 minutes to drive there, at the right time of day (without traffic). So it does take a little bit of effort. But there have been 53 weekends a year for the past 4 years to make it happen. Why didn’t I?

A few days after getting back to Los Angeles from Lebanon, where we spent Christmas break with family and old friends, I decided I was going to start the new year by being active: I was going to take Minjay to Trails. The whole endeavor took 2 hours total, and it was wonderful (both the freshly-made food and our walk in nature). Since then, I’ve been 2 more times, and plan to go back often.

Doesn’t it always turn out that it actually takes relatively minimal effort to open up new, great things in our life? These “small” things add so much variety and happiness to each week. And yet we put them off under the pretense of busyness and a lack of time. Really, all it takes is being more proactive about how we do want to spend our time.

Morning walks with Minjay in Griffith Park.
Morning walks with Minjay in Griffith Park.

I should note here that “doing all the small things” also does include necessary chores and errands we put off. Like changing car tires when they need to be changed. We’ve been putting this off since November, and yesterday my tire finally burst. Definitely learned my lesson to do things when they need to get done– because putting them off usually means they will take twice as long to deal with in the end.

 


P.S. I love, love the photo on the top of this blog post. I took it yesterday morning in Griffith Park, after several rainy days here in Los Angeles. The photo is unaltered in any way, and was taken on my iPhone. It really was just this beautiful yesterday morning.

Q&A With Lebanese Chef Lara Ariss

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While I was in Lebanon (where I grew up) for the holidays, I met with an old family friend Lara Ariss. She just released a new cookbook, Levantine Harvest, and I wanted to get her perspective on work-life balance in Beirut, where she lives.

Make sure to scroll down for one of her delicious recipes, following the Q&A.

  • How did you decide what you wanted to do? What made you want to become a chef?

I always used to go into my mom’s kitchen and play and try recipes, and she used to let me. It was always something that I enjoyed doing. Especially when we moved to Lebanon, there was no place to play outdoors. We lived in an apartment in Beirut. There was nothing to do as a child. [Lara’s family moved to Lebanon soon after the long nearly 30-year Civil War ended. The country was devastated in all aspects]. The summer we moved to Lebanon, my mom enrolled me in a baking class for kids. I was 9 or 10. That was my first experience in the kitchen.

Later, I found Le Cordon Bleu online, and my heart was set on going there. I wanted to finish high school and go. My dad said, get your Bachelor’s degree, you never know what happens. When I finished college, he said, work a bit first. I worked in advertising— Then I couldn’t do it anymore. So I dropped everything and went to London, the summer I was 26 years old.

It was a 9-month program. While I was studying, I was also working in a kitchen in London… There was a lot of me being confused. When I moved back to Lebanon, I wanted to open something, but at the time the situation was much worse than it is now in the country. I also couldn’t get a job in a kitchen. When people saw I had a college degree, they said I was overqualified to work in a kitchen. So I went back to advertising for one year, to keep myself busy, and I had my food blog as well, Keys to My Kitchen.

After a year, I was like, “No, what am I doing here?” So I went to New York and took writing courses, and by then my blog was getting recognition. So I returned to Beirut and decided to to do this cookbook, with recipes simplified for the new generation.  I pitched it to publishers in Cyrus, Dubai and Beirut, chose one, and that’s when I started with this book.

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  • What does work-life balance mean to you?

I’m kind of struggling with it, and I have been struggling with it. Sometimes it feels like people don’t realize how much time it takes to test my recipes, to research my recipes. I was testing my cheesecake for 2 years. Sometimes people don’t realize being in the kitchen is tiring. (You know, in the past, women weren’t chefs because it’s considered labor work, like a plumber or carpenter). So sometimes, when I’ve been in the kitchen 10-12 hours, and I’m tired, people don’t get it, so it’s a bit frustrating.

Do you think work-life balance is possible?

It is possible when you are very organized, and that’s what I’m trying to do. With my cookbook, that’s what I tried to do, but sometimes it’s out of your control. During the editing phase, I shut myself off from everyone, 10 hours a day.

I do think it’s possible, but I’m still single. Honestly, some people are moms. They’re married and have kids. I don’t know how they do it.

  • What’s your biggest challenge to having a balanced life?

The strong support system that I have is living abroad. That’s the hardest part.

  • What’s one thing you wish you did differently in how you manage your time?

I cycle a lot, mostly on the weekends, and I wish I could ride my bike in the city. I wish we had bike lanes, because I think I could get from place to place much more quickly. I tried biking in Beirut twice, and I don’t know how I’m still alive. Because it’s the errands that I have to do that really slow me down, so I end up spending less time in the place I want to be, which is the kitchen.

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  • What’s your advice for someone starting a new endeavor?

It’s a bit cheesy, but you know that quote… “Get up. Dress up. Show up.” It’s really that.

Just don’t give up. You’re going to be scared, which is normal, but just do it. You end up learning and evolving so much on a personal level that it’s satisfying. Especially when you have a passion, you want to do something with it. The fear is there, but don’t give up, no matter how long it takes.

  • What are some of your favorite recipes from your book?

Do I have to pick one? [Laughs] I like my cheesecake recipe because I’m just so proud of it. I like the Rose Loukoum ice cream recipe. The cheese rolls are really good. The rocket and date salad as well. Cauliflower and chickpea soup. Kafta with tahini. Lamb shanks with bulghur and chickpeas. Kafta crumble. Pumpkin kebbeh. Falafel. Makloubeh….

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When I was flipping through Lara’s cookbook for the first time, so many recipes stood out to me. One of them I knew I had to try as soon as I returned to Los Angeles was the Seasoned Wild Mushrooms on Toast. She gave me permission to share it on this blog:

Seasoned Wild Mushrooms on Toast, from Levantine Harvest

The combination of rosemary, cinnamon and sumac gives a wonderful sweet and tangy kick to the dense flavors of wild mushrooms. You can make the mushrooms ahead of time and reheat them just before serving.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4 to 6 levantine-harvest-lara-ariss

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 300g mixed wild mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 tsp sumac
  • Olive oil, to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To serve

  • Butter, to taste
  • Sliced brown bread

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until translucent.

Add the mushrooms and toss. When the mushrooms have softened slightly, add the rosemary, cinnamon and sumac. Toss for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Butter one side of each slice of the bread. Place buttered side up on a baking tray and toast for 5 to 6 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

Divide the mushroom medley over the bread slices. Serve immediately.

 


Photographs by Natalie Naccache