Building community, then letting go

We’re about to move back to the East Coast after 2 1/2 years in Seattle. If it seems like we can’t make up our minds, you’ve got the right impression! I’m going to miss being near my family and the familiar surroundings of the Pacific Northwest so much, but I am also excited about returning east to some of our closest friends. Things I’m excited about: public transportation, beautiful springs and falls, hot summers at the beach, vibrant city life, diversity.

But there will be many things I’ll long for, like the views of Mt. Rainier, the Cascades and the Olympic mountains on a clear day; the calm of watching ocean tides crash onto the boardwalk; the views of Puget Sound as I run through my parents’ winding neighborhood down to the beach; my neighborhood’s vibrant gardens and the verdant forest all around us; Seattle’s quirkiness and politics; the city’s many great restaurants and all the Asian and Asian-inspired cuisine; my local independent bookstore and Elliott Bay Books (there are dozens more to love); The Pantry, where I have learned so much about professional kitchens and benefited from the knowledge of great chefs; our alt weeklies; all the water; sunsets at Golden Gardens; UW and its glorious campus; the fresh air; and that feeling — elusive for an immigrant — of being home.

Sigh. Now this is getting hard to write.

The great thing is, I always have an excuse to come back. I can’t wait to visit my parents and enjoy Seattle as I have over the last decade-plus — as my little vacation city (and it makes a spectacular one).

Next time I come, there will be two more awesome things about this place that I can say I help built:

B and I have been part of bringing Subcontinental Drift, a South Asian open mic group, to Seattle. We have held two sold-out events where more than a dozen artists (including B!) shared their work, including comedy, rap, musical performances, spoken word and dance. We were so blown away by the talent we found, and I am so excited that the venture is going to continue after our time here.

Subdrift

The other was a group I created and billed, unoriginally, as Seattle Desi Moms. I wanted to meet more South Asian moms who lived in the city, and I sort of took a note from Field of Dreams and decided to build it. Today, more than 60 moms are part of the group. Together we’ve used the group as an excuse to leave the kids at home, get a night out to sample some of Seattle’s great cuisine, and made friends. Yesterday, I met four new moms through the group who have just moved to Seattle, and I’m so excited that one of them will be taking it over to make sure it carries on.

Our time in Seattle made us better people. Our daughter was born here, and we became a family of four. We lived in our first house, and we’ll always associate it with our children’s earliest memories. They went to two awesome preschools that not just taught them, but offered us so much guidance as we navigated life as new parents. And, hopefully, through our efforts, we are leaving Seattle a slightly better place, too.

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Instant coffee: Patriotic and immigrant


NPR has a great story on the history of instant coffee, which was apparently a welcome novelty by WWI troops marching into battle.

The people credited with inventing it are a Japanese-American chemist who invented soluble coffee powder and a Belgian-American named George Washington who mass produced it.

After the war, the product was marketed to households as coffee you can have whenever you want. We always had a jar of Folger’s growing up, and it was the only kind of coffee in the house for my entire childhood. Seattle and Starbucks really introduced me to coffee culture in the 90s, and my obsession has grown from there.

In Pakistan, where my parents immigrated from, Nescafe instant coffee is laboriously whipped with a small amount of water before it’s added to hot milk to make a homemade version of a latte. It would be neat to hear about how other cultures have turned something as simple as instant coffee into something a little more akin to the magic of a freshly brewed cup of jo.

More from the article:

Soluble coffee was notably used on the front lines. Soldiers stirred it into hot water, gulped from tin mugs, and called it “a cup of George,” after the company’s founder — whose name was apparently familiar to at least some soldiers. In a letter from the front that Pendergrast quotes, a soldier wrote: “There is one gentlemen I am going to look up first after I get through helping whip the Kaiser, and that is George Washington, of Brooklyn, the soldiers’ friend.”

Read on.

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Writing in Seattle Mag about Punjabi pot farmers

My story on a family of Punjabi Indian immigrants who are farming (legal) marijuana in Bellingham, Washington, is featured in April’s issue of Seattle Magazine. The article is a big accomplishment for me on several ways, not the least of which is having it be published in a glossy magazine that is so well designed.

I worked as an intern at Seattle Magazine when I was in college, around the time I first began thinking of journalism as a potential career. I was introduced to newspaper writing in high school and wrote for my college paper, but it wasn’t until my time at Seattle Magazine that I got to see how a professional publication came together. I remember admiring the glossy issues and looking at the bios of the writers, wondering if maybe I’d be able to write a magazine article worthy of printing one day. Appearing in that exact magazine over a decade later feels so rewarding!

When I moved to Seattle, I also set an intention to cover more stories about the American immigrant experience, which is near and dear to my heart and speak to my personal experience. When my friend told me about the Singh family’s pot farm, I thought it so perfectly encapsulated an aspect of the American dream: Surjit Singh was a farmer in Punjab, India, but he left that behind soon after arriving in the U.S. to pursue financial gain and stability for his family. He owned a video rental store and a gas station that he turned into an Indian grocery in order to make it. But he had always loved farming, and it was the legalization of marijuana in Washington state that brought him back to his roots. What a roundabout way of achieving the American dream, and all through a still-controversial substance that he himself does not use!

It’s quite the story, and I do hope you’ll give it a read.

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A more personal article

American journalism schools teach reporters to put their own biases aside. That’s a cornerstone of how we report. We want to be open to all perspectives, weigh each side, and let the reader come to their own conclusions about what we cover.

Enter the era of fake news and Internet memes and advertorial and native advertising. Where are we headed? It’s a mystery that many of us trying to figure out. But one thing that seems evident is that there has been a shift in how readers/viewers perceive the neutrality stance that journalists hold to be sacred. Many are skeptical and believe that bias still finds its way into the news, and that pretending that it is unbiased is itself a lie. I for one think this raises some great questions for news professionals and we will be better for all the self-evaluation and rumination that we are undergoing right now.

On a personal level, I decided to take a leap of faith and try something new. After President Trump was elected, I had a lot of feelings about the divisiveness of the country, the political rhetoric about Muslims, and how me and my family fit into all of that.

I proposed to my editor at KCTS 9, the PBS affiliate in Seattle, a story about how Muslim parents are talking to their young kids about the political shift. Surely, the increase in hate crimes and mosque vandalism might be prompting concerns about playground bullying.

During the Iraq war, I remember my baby brother, then in middle school, being called a terrorist. And I also remember trying to get his vice principal to take action, and her dismissing it as the “harmless” bullying that goes on in those years of schooling. We have grown a lot in our understanding of bullying and its dangers since then, but the threat seems as real today to many parents.

My editor saw through my pitch, noting the very personal nature of the idea, and asked me to write it as a personal essay rather than simply report what others are doing. The result was an article that is a mix of my personal confessions around the topic, along with really valuable input from other parents and therapists on how to cope with the challenges of talking to young children about hate, racism and the darker sides of our society. It was particularly challenging because I am so private about my faith. It took a lot for me to admit where I stand and how I’m parenting my children, as I know that many in my community have thoughts on what is the right way to raise Muslim children. That being said, I felt so supported by the others parents I interviewed, who were open and vulnerable about their own struggles. And I have felt so supported since this article published, by my Muslim community and my community of journalists — many of whom welcomed such an open dialogue on a difficult topic.

I have several Muslim friends at esteemed news organizations such as NPR and Guardian US who covered the Trump campaign, and they too have written personal essays about what it felt like to be a Muslim in that role. I think that being so bravely honest in this era where the truth is becoming harder to sniff out is refreshing and reminds us all of our humanity — the ways in which we’re all connected and all the same. There isn’t that much that differentiates us; we just get hung up on all the differences.

Please give the piece a read, and share your thoughts.

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Desi food service dishes up nostalgia

One of my goals as a writer has been to bring together my passion for food with my interest in immigrant stories. My recent article for KCTS 9, the PBS affiliate in Seattle, did just that by highlighting a South Asian meal service that provides weekly home-cooked meals to an audience that includes many of Seattle’s recent tech transplants.

Because of companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, so many Indian and Pakistani immigrants have come to the Pacific Northwest over the last decade. It’s one of the most visible shifts that stands out to me having returned here after spending that time on the East Coast. In many cases, the tech workers are here on visas and must wait to bring family over.

Coming from a communal society like that of South Asia, the people I interviewed for this story told me it’s a real adjustment to have to do everything alone. In New Delhi, Priyanka Wadhawan, who works at Amazon, tells me she had her parents and other family nearby and that they often shared meals. She had a cook to help prep food, and she never actually learned howt o cook until coming to the U.S. Now she loves cooking simple Northwest fare like salmon, but she leaves the heavy duty, laborious work of South Asian curries to Turmeric ‘N More, and says that owner Sadia Bukhari is like her local mom. When Wadhawan had a baby, Bukhari even sent her soup spiced with herbal remedies known in South Asia to help mothers heal postpartum.

Check out the story.

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Back in the game

Trump article

KCTS 9 homepage


I took a good part of this year off to focus on raising my daughter, who was born last fall. I’ve started freelancing again, however, and I am feeling pulled back in the game now that the presidential election is over. The country voted for major, major change, and I think it’s an awakening for many of us.

I was reminded of the time I spent covering the Tea Party movement as I reflected on the Trump victory and many people’s shock that it happened. Like many people living in urban centers and the coasts, I work up Tuesday morning expecting to end the day with the country having elected its very first female president. That Donald Trump could win seemed unthinkable, and yet, many other Americans saw it coming. Why did we ignore them?

Reflecting on that led me to write a piece for KCTS 9, the Seattle-area PBS station.

I’ve received a lot of support for my words, but also a lot of anger. Some liberals believe that it is wrong to offer empathy to people who chose to back a racist or misogynist man to serve their selfish interests. They say that those same people have ignore the plight of minorities and continue to do so.

On the right, there are many college-educated, well-to-do conservatives who backed Trump even though they have not been left economically behind. They don’t believe the typecasting of Americans voting for Trump because they were so desperate is accurate, and say that they chose to back him because they see him outside of the party system, because appointing conservative Supreme Court justices will have impact way beyond four years, and because the media painted him out to be a racist megalomaniac but that he is not.

Time will help us understand what the implications of electing Trump are. I had been pretty checked out of the election, perhaps not unlike many others who were not excited by either candidate, but now I am so motivated to re-engage. I hope you are too!

And because politics isn’t everything, I am also going to revisit the food blog. I haven’t been blogging about it, but food is still my comfort and escape. I have been assisting with cooking classes at a local school, The Pantry, and am continuing to develop recipes. I’m also starting to write about food for other outlets. Stay tuned!

Lattice pie

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Berry-beet smoothie

spelt
Spe.lt is a useful tool if you’re trying to calculate calories. It has a fairly extensive database of branded and natural food products that pull up quickly as you type in the quantity and type of food you’d like to look up. What’s nice is that you can build a list, so you can input a bunch of ingredients that went into making, say, a smoothie, and it will add up the total nutrition facts. (My Fitbit app also does this, but that requires a lot more button pushing than this simple interface does.)

The image above lists the calories for two 12-oz. servings of a berry-beet smoothie I made this morning for me and B, who showed me this site. It isn’t perfect, so some things are an approximation, but the list also serves as a handy recipe in case you’re wondering how to make the smoothie. Just drop everything in a blender and give it a whirl. Note that the item listed as “plain” is actually plain yogurt. Full fat, in my case, because I love whole-fat dairy.

What are your go-to smoothies? It’s easy for me to fall back on some variant of the smoothie above, or a peanut butter-banana version I also consume often. I’d love more ideas!

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