Category: food


From the title of this post, I hope it is evident that I will be discussing topics that normally do not go hand in hand but are the most prominent on my mind and in my life at the moment. Settle down and buckle in, there is a long journey ahead.

Chocolate is one of the most beloved treats in the world. It is used in a wide variety of baked goods and is often sold on its own. There are a plethora of powerful, rich corporations that benefit from the production and sale of chocolate. Almost 42% of the cacao beans that are used to create chocolate and its byproducts such as cocoa butter are harvested and refined on the Ivory Coast.

I recently saw a documentary, “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” that altered the way I view my favorite sweet. It is information I cannot blind myself to and feel compelled to share here, the only real platform I have. It may not be surprising to many of you but I honestly had no clue until I watched this horrific documentary.

The chocolate industry is built on the back of trafficked children who are enslaved on cacao plantations and made to produce all of the cocoa beans that are then processed for our pleasure. The companies in question do not directly own said plantations and therefore claim no responsibility for this horrifying reality. They wash their hands of it with legal jargon and loopholes aplenty. The Ivory Coast governments do nothing – they are happy to be bringing in and sharing in the revenues which are to effect of hundreds of Billions of dollars yearly. There is no major chocolate company Not involved in this industry somehow. In short, no one cares for the children, as young as 6 years old, kidnapped and trafficked across borders into lands where they do not know the language and will never earn money. They will often die at a very young age, only to be easily replaced by another trafficked child. The price of their life and unending servitude? 230 euros. That is what they are worth. 230 euros.

At some point in your life, you have to realize that if you are privileged enough, as the vast majority of people I know are, to make decisions about where you spend money and who you spend it on, your choices matter. Every time I have purchased a candy bar in the local grocery store, I have paid for child trafficking. Every time I have given into a craving for a chocolate cake, I have paid for someone to enslave a child. Every time I have casually bought chocolate for trick-or-treaters, I have put my convenience ahead of the reality that my money is going to slave owners.

This goes against Everything I stand for. To me, freedom is the same as breathing. It is a fundamental human right. What goes on in Cote d’Ivoire is not only reprehensible in every way, it is purely inhumane.

What was most frightening of all is that I was made to understand that this is now happening in Florida in the good old US of A. Children are being trafficked in from places like Haiti to work in sugar cane fields, just so you and I can buy a bag of sugar for a few cents cheaper than we would be able to otherwise.

The entire state of things sickens me. I am sure this is not a practice limited just to the chocolate and sugar and other food industries. It only makes sense that all of the myriad of products that we use and dispose of without a second thought were made via cheap labor in substandard conditions somewhere. There were likely child laborers (such as in the diamond industry) or underpaid and exhausted adult laborers (such as in China, India, the Phillipines) involved. Everything I own is likely made on the back of someone else’s misery.

This is all very disheartening and made me feel like the worst human being. How could I pay for these corporations to continue to inflict such unacceptable conditions just so I could get things cheaply and conveniently.

The answer is that I can’t do that any longer. And maybe, one by one, if fewer and fewer people partake in the unconscientious acts of behemoth corporations, if the revenue generated falls dramatically and can be directly traced back to their unethical actions, maybe these atrocities against humanity will decrease little by little. Maybe the human consciousness will finally make an ethical decision rather than a debased and greedy one.

I, too, work for one of the largest corporations on the planet. In fact, I work for one of the most vilified sectors of industry: oil & gas. Energy companies are never held in a positive light. They are always known for bringing jobs and generating money, but they are also always known to be destroyers of the environment. In this case, I am a part of the problem. However, I think many people forget that the revenues generated by these companies are not only used to further their oil production, a large part of their revenue goes directly into taxes, which are then used to fund many many projects that bring about a lot of change. These same companies have also heavily invested in alternate energy sources and are even now funding many scientists worldwide who are doing research on things like solar power and wind energy. These alternative energy sources generate what is referred to as ‘clean’ energy.

The fact of the matter, however, is that we as humanity have always adversely affected our environment. Every advance we have made has destroyed nature a little more. Every technological advance we now enjoy was built on the back of a behemoth like an energy company. Tech companies are just as shady as their energy counterparts. The conveniences we all enjoy, such as the internet, smartphones, cars, home delivery services and so much more are all dependent on energy generation and distribution. Without these companies people hate so much, we would have none of that. The things I’ve mentioned are only the tip of the ice berg. My point here is simple: do not judge a book by its cover. I had never thought of the chocolate industry as a monster before because of their many successful marketing campaigns for longer than I have been alive. I think energy companies should borrow the PR personnel from these chocolate companies – they are very good at their jobs.

In conjunction with terrible entities such as the chocolate conglomerates mentioned above, there are terrorists. Terrorists are very much like a vast corporation: they have an objective, they have personnel, they are involved in many different lines of business worldwide, and they have funding. People are investing funds into this business of terrorism and the extremist recruits are willing worker bees. Behind it all is their ideology of hate and lack of compassion. I have said it before and I will say it again for the people who seem not to realize this: Terrorism is not an act of faith or religion. It is hate in its purest, most animal form.

I am a Muslim American and I can guarantee you no one hates ISIS more than the rest of the Muslim community. People say that we don’t speak up about it but we do, we have, and we will continue to do so. I have personally done so on many occasions. I just have no power or prominence in this world. If I had it my way, no one would hurt anyone in the name of my faith, of which the literal meaning is Peace. These extremists love to conveniently forget how sacred human life is because aggression and anger are easier.

There are many instances in the recent past of unprovoked acts of terrorism. These were not all propagated by ISIS or its sympathizers. Terrorism is, Surprise!, not unique to those claiming to be Muslims. In the interest of clarity, I do not consider anyone who goes around senselessly taking innocent lives a Muslim. They are not even close to the definition of Muslim. They are monsters in human form. If I could wish death on all of them, I would. But I digress. Back to the fact that terrorism is in fact committed by a great many people who are not Muslim, are not of Arabic or South East Asian decent, and have no ties to ISIS.

The recent and devastating shooting in Las Vegas is one such example. The many shootings that have occurred before in schools, on college campuses, in work places, and even in movie theaters are other events that should be classified as terrorism. Just because the shooters were not Muslims, this does not make them ‘disturbed individuals.’ Their actions classify them as terrorists. One such example is the case of the Springfield Church shooter in Texas. He spent a year in Navy jail following a conviction in Navy court for continual abuse of his wife and infant son. However, he was allowed to buy a gun and then used it to take 26 lives. I am not opposed to the ownership of guns by private citizens but I do think that regulations regarding who can and cannot own a weapon are in need of heavy revision. Also, I think the term terrorism itself needs a revised definition. What this shooter and others like him have done is incite fear, terror, chaos and create a huge loss in communities. This is what terrorists do, albeit with a political agenda. Mass shooter is not a good enough term for persons of this nature.

Regardless, what happened in New York City recently gave me goosebumps and had me shivering in anger and fear. I felt such outrage and hatred towards the man that claims to be ISIS. He is the reason billions like me are vilified, have been shot at, bombed, run out of their homes and made into refugees, and are being ethnically cleansed in places like Myanmar. Yes, the killing of Rohingya Muslims is so conveniently forgotten. The world has turned its back on them. Nowhere is the horror people feel about the genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany or the apartheid in South Africa. Nowhere is the sympathy expressed to the survivors of these awful events. No one weeps for the death of the Rohingya. No one even remembers the millions slaughtered when the British were forced out of India and India was split into Muslim and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian. Why? Because they don’t matter to the West.

I am terrified by the lack of empathy people have for others. I am convinced that there will come a time when my family and I will become the target of the many hate crimes already occurring in our country. The facts that I am a female, a Muslim and am not Caucasian are three strikes against me that I will have to carry forever. I have been shunned for it many times. Now, however, it is not a question of social ostracizing. It is a question of my physical well being itself. There are places like the Rothko Chapel where all are welcome but they are few and far between. Emotionally, most of the world is having to learn to cope with an extremely different reality than the one they were born into. However, there are certain groups being targeted more than others and I fear for the safety of them all. I also fear for the safety of first responders and police officers who are simply trying to do their jobs and end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I fear most for the most innocent and helpless of all – the children of this horribly unbalanced world. They are our future, but what kind of present are we handing them? What kind of options are we leaving for them to build a future in? I am afraid that the answer to those questions is vastly different depending on the race, place, and gender of the child. The socioeconomic collapses happening around the world are ensuring that the future generations are deprived of many freedoms and opportunities that I know I had as a child. Children are no longer free to run in the streets or play unsupervised. Child predators and gang violence have a large part to play in this in the more developed nations. In lesser developed nations, there are additional factors like political demonstrations, terrorist attacks, and child trafficking.

Children are abused horribly worldwide. Often, it is by the people who should be protecting them and teaching them to defend themselves. While I didn’t have the worst of any kind of child abuse, emotional and mental abuse is something I grew up with and dealt with on a daily basis. Several people I know have experienced extreme physical abuse at the hands of their parents or other authority figures. The practice is always propagated in the name of discipline and people don’t interfere because it isn’t their family and none of their business. However, from the point of view of someone who both went through a lifetime of scarring and watched others suffer the same or worse, I think that not speaking up or interfering is the same as being complicit. You are enabling the abusive behavior if you aren’t stopping it. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes physical discipline is necessary. However, there is a Big difference between discipline and abuse.

There were two new reports recently that really stuck out to me. I’m sure there are, unfortunately, hundreds of such instances every year but these are the ones I read about. One is a case where two drug addict parents neglected a 4 month old infant to the point that it lay dead in its own feces in a swing for a week before they decided to contact any authorities. They then claimed that the infant had died in the last few hours and they didn’t know how. Autopsy of the infant proved them liars. They also had an older child and I don’t even want to imagine the abuse that child has likely faced.

The second incident concerned an army officer, his wife who was the step-mother to his three children, and primarily his two older daughters. All children were beaten routinely. CPS has been called regarding the father’s abuse towards his children multiple times. There was a time when he hosed down his children, naked, in their yard in freezing weather with cold water as punishment. He made them eat cat feces and put it all over their faces another time. He also used dog shock collars and ‘switches’ on them. His wife encouraged all of this and even encouraged him to be more violent. CPS had closed his case as high risk.

First, how do you just close a case as high risk CPS? I get that you need more funding, but come on. Second, this man should have had his children taken long before they were. The man was finally arrested recently but has Still not been dishonorably discharged from the army.

What exactly are you doing Army and Navy? Please take care of your own so they don’t go off their rockers after you train them to Kill. Also, don’t hide it when they do go nuts. It doesn’t protect anyone. It just puts us all, and especially their families, at risk.

Another horrible common occurrence I keep having the displeasure to come across is animal cruelty in so many shapes and forms. Those shock collars I mentioned above are barbaric. As a proud parent of 3 cats, I cannot ever imagine abusing any of them ever. I don’t understand why people insist on having pets they cannot take care of. Some people, I’m convinced, simply have animals so they can feel in control and empowered. They hurt the poor animals just because they can. I have heard/read about instances where these animals are starved, never allowed to move from their enclosures and many times die horrible in horrible conditions. And that’s without starting on the animal farms out there. Let me tell you, those poor animals are facing some pretty stomach turning realities. I won’t link anything here. This is something I’ll let you discover in your own time. No, I’m not a vegan but I do try to eat less meat and most of it Halal – those animals have to be treated right or they won’t be Halal meat.

I am sometimes so envious of my parent’s generation. They had it all and all of the world was an adventure. There was still war and unrest and famine. But through it all, there was always Hope. I feel the world had forgotten that word for a long time. Mass media frenzies didn’t help  spread positive news, instead they furthered the culture of fear mongering, victim blaming, finger pointing and lack of exposure to anything good in the world. The beauty of the world, once so celebrated and forever captured in the classics, has been forgotten for so long. I am happy to say that devastating events like Hurricane Harvey have actually brought people closer. People are starting to Hope again and that gives me hope for the coming generations. I hope that is one thing they never lose – the ability to hope for the best while coping with the worst.

With that said, I think there are some things that really can bring a community together. Hurricane Harvey and all its destruction has brought one of the most diverse communities on the planet together, all working together to help each other. The Astros winning the World Series(!!!!!!!!) is definitely one of the most amazing things to have happened to Houston in a long time. Yes, we hosted the Super Bowl. Yes, the Houston Dynamo are also in the playoffs. But the Astros brought home the trophy baby! And I was one of those crazy people in line outside the Academy at 11 pm so that I could get a T-shirt RIGHT THEN. I didn’t get my goods and get home until almost 2 am. I, like many others, told my boss I couldn’t make it to work the next day. However, in that line, I bonded with my community a little. We all stood around hollering like crazy at any car that tooted at us and played “We are the Champions” real loud while driving by real slow. It was a party! I am so glad I got to experience that moment of community.

I was unable to attend the parade, sadly, but I definitely paraded around in my Astros gear (pun intended). Thank you Astros for giving us this win, we really needed it. Now, lets go Dynamo and maybe Rockets?

To continue in the vein of exciting events, I recently attended my very first book signing for “It Devours!” written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. With their second novel based in the Night Vale universe, the authors continued to delight readers like myself (and all the other fans packed in to Murder by the Book – excellent bookstore near Rice Village near Rice Village). The podcast is amazing (Welcome to Night Vale if you aren’t familiar with it) but so was being in the presence of the brilliant and eclectic minds that created it. The talk and the question and answer sessions were all pretty great. The moment I got to tell them I’m a big fan and get my book signed was AMAZING. I didn’t manage to get a picture but I’ll have that moment in my mind forever.

I felt the writing fire ignite within me after the Q&A session – they were just like me, working through ideas and seeing what stuck. It gave me hope that I will one day actually be able to complete my novel (wish me luck). I don’t know if anyone will ever read and enjoy it but I’m going to keep going. It’s the only thing you can do if you want to succeed.

In any case, thank  you for sticking around through this entire post. I know it was a lot of different topics but I intended for this blog to be a mono/dialogue between me and any potential readers. Feel free to post comments, disagree, praise, hate, love whatever I’ve written. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time, be safe world. Be strong. Stand in Hope Together. Ciao!

 

 

Hi y’all. Sorry for no updates recently. Quite honestly, I was struggling with a few things and wasn’t sure how to proceed. Personally, once I allow things to simmer on low heat in the melting pot that is my brain, I normally get the answer I’m looking for. My answer this time around is to talk about all the things that stood out to me on my recent adventures around Houston.

First of all, let me be perfectly clear. I am completely and unapologetically a foodie. If you are expecting a healthy food experience, please be warned. I enjoy food too much to limit myself to what is good for me. I am always in the search for my next tastebud adventure and recently I found a place that is just to my taste. I won’t go all Yelp review on you guys but I can tell y’all that this was one of the most satisfying food experiences I have had in this incredibly multicultural environment that provides us all with a huge variety of culinary experiences.

The name is Snowflake Cafe and Bakery. Unassuming but cute, as is the place itself pictured below.

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A comfortable, colorful, warm interior greets you as you enter and look around. The menu is hand written in chalk. The wall art is both unique and precious. There is an upstairs area with a pool table and a darts board. The staff are ready to help and provide any information you may need. In short, it is the perfect haven for a person like myself.

The food, however was the real star of the show. We had a variety of crepes, coffees and a sandwich. They even offer high tea, not something common to Houston. The crepes were delicious, the sandwich scrumptious and the coffee was well worth my while. Having my friend there to share the experience was the best part. And the service was superb. We stayed past closing time and they never even said a word. Absolutely adored this place and will be returning some time soon!

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Hazelnut Latte with a HEART SHAPED SPOON! Too cute!

 

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Our delicious crepes!

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My perfect sandwich and delicious latte!

My next adventure was just as flavored but wasn’t an accomplice for my taste buds. This is a recollection of a unique nature. I had the privilege of attending a musical performance that attempted to combine classical Indian music with Western classical music. The performance was in the James Turrell Skyspace at the Rice University campus. The building itself lent a singular ambience to the performance. What made it even more extraordinary was the lighting that accompanied the “In Observance of Dusk – Evening Triptych” doctoral recital of Shane Monds. I was one of the lucky last two to be allowed into the, at this point, standing space only performance and it was totally worth the hour long wait in line.

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This line was a lot longer. There were about 200 people inside and another hundred or so in line, as well as a few dozen who decided to take advantage of the grass fields outside.

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View of the Skyspace

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Musicians playing the eclectic chords as the lighting enhances the music, also allowing for a peek of the sky.

The experience was quite memorable. I lost myself in the music over and over. Though there were crossover parts I didn’t really love, there were moments where I could imagine a classical Indian dancer dancing to the music. It was definitely a great night. I can only imagine where the soon-to-be Doctor Monds will take us next!

What made both of these experiences even better was the fact that I had the company of my wonderful friends with me on both occasions. My best friend accompanied me to the cafe and my sister took me with her to the concert. Love them both!

All in all, I feel blessed to have these people in my life and the opportunity to explore such a hot pot of culture. H-town represent!

I had a really long, tough day at work today. I got home feeling like a zombie, run over and killed and then run over again for good measure. I got home ready to collapse into a grumpy mess. But a really sweet gesture from a really wonderful friend turned my night around in an instant.

I present to you my friend Monique Pham’s blog, a testament to her culinary poweress and a great place for amazing recipes! 

In my head, she is the Baking Queen, a sweet sister and an extremely thoughtful friend. Today, when I was ready for my horrible day to stretch into a horrible night, she did something incredibly sweet – she brought me a cake she had baked earlier today. And it wasn’t just any cake either. I give you the Spring Cake, as beautiful as it is delicious!

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Gorgeous spring cake, complete with chocolate,flowers and edible herbs! Noms!!!

This gorgeous creation is one in a long line of many innovative, delicious, aesthetically outstanding culinary achievements.

She has made many cakes, tarts, truffles and macaroons in the years I have had the pleasure of her company but occasionally she out does herself as evidenced below by the few I have stopped to take a picture of before diving headfirst into the bliss that is her baking.

I simply don’t enjoy anyone else’s cake as much anymore. I have good reason not to. Look at all these goodies in this screenshot from her Instagram @momobakescake. Please do show her some love if you love what you see as much as I do!

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Monique, I know this blog wasn’t written with your knowledge but I just had to tell the world how amazing you are. Thank you dear friend, you and your love of food have really brought so much light into my life. Your love and caring really makes our lives so much brighter. Thank you!

For all you foodies, order a cake or two from her. She bakes a large variety of other desserts too. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Many Houstonians may be unaware of this but Houston, and Texas in general, is the largest center for human trafficking in the States. Why am I bringing this up today? I suppose it might be because I know what it is like to be thought of as property and an investment rather than a person and a human being. 

Thankfully, I do not carry the scars of the molested and the raped and enslaved. But I know people who do. As a woman and as a human, the thought that somewhere near me at this very moment many people are being treated like cattle for sale, as though they carry no thoughts of their own, as though their lives and their stories do not matter and they exist only to please their sick masters…it makes my blood boil.

I imagine myself or my loved ones helpless, held captive, taken somewhere strange, used and abused by my jailors and their customers. I imagine the loss of hope and the embrace of the dark despair that resides in every soul as it holds tight and refuses to let mrgo, much like the horrible excuses for human beings subjecting me to that torture. I imagine being a pet, or less than a pet, kept barely alive and unaware of where I am, eventually forgetting everything from Before and forcing myself into believing I was willingly involved in this just to keep my sanity. I imagine being grateful for any morsel thrown my way. I imagine wanting death over life. I imagine giving up. 

I imagine all this and am grateful that I am not in that position. To all of you who have been through this inhumane ordeal, I do not know the scars you carry but I do know that if you were strong enough to survive it all, someday you will be strong enough not only to survive but to thrive. There are many people out there who can and do exploit others for their greed, their malice, their petty pride. On the other end of the spectrum,however, are people who cannot understand why anyone would be so horrible to another human being. They simply want to help heal. Some of them have been through what you went through or are going through. I know that it isn’t easy to accept help or trust in the words of a stranger, but the other side of humanity does exist. Some day, you will come to know that. Until then, there are places for you to go and find solace. I visited one of these locations recently and received comfort of my own.

Unimpressive from the outside, “A Second Cup” is a cafe run by volunteers who do everything from make coffee and food to clean, trying to help survivors of human trafficking with all the proceeds from sales. In addition, they help spread the word that help is out there; an entire wall is dedicated to groups that help everyone from young children to adults.

Comfort is evident in the many colors, both bright and mute, the couches and tables placed meticulously in a spacious room. Even the bathroom door has words of encouragement. Another feature that isn’t common in other cafes is that they have a fully functional shower. For those feeling threatened or those who haven recently been  rescued, this is a huge source of comfort. Knowing there is somewhere you can go and just relax after the constant hostility of survival in a brutal environment is the greatest feeling of all. 

Some of the volunteers at the cafe are survivors themselves who have gathered enough courage to help others. To top it all off, they make great coffee as evidenced in the picture below. May I say that it was delicious enough that I am still thinking about it more than a week later…

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Hazelnut Latte, yummy!

A Second Cup is tangible evidence that second chances do come around and that you can and should take advantage of them. 

Not only was the experience refreshing, it left a lasting impression on me. If any of you are ever in the Houston area, be sure and stop by Second Cup. Maybe someday, somewhere, someone else will help you with your second chance too!