Pancake Day

Since coming to North America, I eat buckwheat pancakes almost every other weekend. Given that it is Shrove Tuesday, the official day for pancakes and introspection, penance and confession, I decided to trade in my usual go-to for a more special recipe in light of this year’s pancake traditional edition.

This recipe is all too reminiscent of my childhood and when my mother would make the delicious South Indian dosa. While I am not making dosas by any means, I am invoking the spirit of them, with this savoury gram flour and brown rice crepe, filled with a masala potato mixture and served with my easy coconut chutney. It’s such a healing and nourishing dinner but has a real oomph for the occasion in question and beyond.

Masala Crepes

Get the full recipe over on The Quirky Princess…

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“First position please”

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We had our last ballet class of the the year over the weekend and while looking forward to some weeks off, I am also excited for next term, in the New Year. The barre is my happy place.

My first attempt at ballet was a disaster. I ended up at a clueless downtown Toronto dance studio where the quality of teaching was so poor I’d be at my chiropractor in agony every week. Then I discovered Ballet Espressivo and so much has changed since then.

Having always epitomized a ballet dancer with grace, elegance, beauty and an incredible physique, the dancer’s body is something I have always been in awe of. It’s movement to music and life is something I have coveted and even dared to dream about but never quite had.

Amateur dance is something most people find themselves doing throughout life. My first introduction to dance was in an expressive class at high school where I couldn’t touch my toes in a stretch and was made to feel quite inadequate by a teacher for my size and shape.

While her remarks didn’t deter me from dancing and choreographing Bollywood routines in the privacy of my room, it did rattle my confidence and restrain me from asking to attend dance lessons.

Years later, I became a cheerleader at university, after losing a bet with the boys and found myself enjoying it. Dancing in a group of girls was so much fun and I loved our coaches and even went on to become cheerleader of the year. Finally inspired by Shakira, I took to belly dancing.

Yet the videos on YouTube of ballet dancers taunted an unrequited dream, their ethereal moves impressed upon me an art form I craved to explore but never had the courage to try. Then earlier this year, I finally watched Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Natalie Portman’s stunning performance stole my heart.

I started to research ballet and came to learn that as well as being a beautiful art form, that the study of it could help me to strengthen my weak and aching lower back. What I needed more than anything was the internal and infinite strength of the core and this was enough to push me to finally pursue ballet.

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If there is one thing I have come to appreciate more than anything in this wonderful practice, it is a teacher who values her students and puts their wellbeing at the top of her list. That is why the hours spent at Ballet Espressivo under the instruction of Donna Greenberg, a teacher who believes in the deeper connection between art and wellness, have been the most enriching experience to my health this past year.

“When you come to class and do barre, it isn’t an escape. It’s not therapy but it is development and that development can help you through the hardest times in your life, because one has made a commitment to themselves.”

Greenberg’s style of teaching has been a progressive experience. It stems from having met a mentor early in her training, who, although strict, understood and encouraged a holistic sensibility towards learning dance and movement, one that Greenberg felt, she had a natural inclination toward. Greenberg has expanded upon that over the years in her own artistic journey.

What I find most inspiring, is her holistic approach to teaching. Greenberg gets student to work hard and try their absolute best by encouraging them to be mindful. In other forms of exercise and movement, my brain often wonders, when doing ballet, for that full hour or so I am totally focused.

You work hard; she doesn’t treat you with any less reverence than she would a professional. Just because we aren’t going to be prima ballerinas, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same respect or quality of education.

Greenberg believes strongly in adult education because there are many people who didn’t have the support or means to do it as a child and that is why she offers classes to adults specifically. There are up to three evening classes everyday, at a variety of levels as well as strengthening floor barre and a modern dance class (which is my favourite).

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If there is one thing Greenberg wants students to take away from her classes it is a love for ballet and the confidence to pursue dreams and goals. Not everyone is supposed to be a professional, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the art form.

“The beauty of ballet and dancing is that you get to express yourself, build strength and learn a discipline that helps to develop a higher sense of yourself, a better sense. Even if that is unattainable, it doesn’t matter because the benefits are there for you.”

Amongst the benefits of doing ballet, beyond the more obvious ones like, being toned and stronger, are a responsive body, improved balance and co-ordination. You can also have greater extension of limbs, more connection to how you move in general and in particular, much better posture. Greenberg feels that people with good posture look younger and more vital and I totally agree. I aspire to people who know how to carry themselves and are comfortable in their own skin.

Posture is our greatest weapon against ailments as we age. Sitting is said to be the new smoking. Learning how to use our muscles efficiently and hold ourselves correctly while we sit protects the spine (the key to our central nervous system) and can protect us from so many things later in life.

So I haven’t just learned to dance; I have also learned how to heal and not just physically but emotionally. Greenberg is an intuitive teacher and understands her students in a different capacity and you don’t get away with much in class. She sees your shoulders hiking up before they even do, an elbow dropping before you even realise it’s fallen.

Beyond that, Greenberg recognizes when we are afraid of old wounds and pushes us gently towards them, through dance, we learn to accept the parts of our bodies and selves that we don’t always want and find a way to connect to them once again. Really all we are doing is trying to mobilise our limbs and work with scar tissue, but it always feels like we doing so much more that that, going deep into those places that have suffered the hands of time.

A dancer’s body is not always about being the perfect size. It is about being strong and having a connection, knowing how to use your body efficiently not just for dancing but to move and breathe throughout your life.

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That in actual fact, a dancer’s body, is a beautiful thing to behold, because what it gives you is optimum health, wellness and awareness and it is seriously good fun, especially with Greenberg. If you are looking for something to enrich your mind, body and soul in 2015, seriously consider ballet.

Find out more: http://balletespressivo.com

– Photos by Zeeshan Safdar

Shake it up

Think pancakes are just for the weekend? Think again, shake up your morning protein routine with this quick ten minute fix. Everyone needs a treat midweek, this is perfect and of course, it’s healthy and healing, bla bla bla, you know me and my food well enough by now!

If you are always in a rush in the mornings throw them into a container with your favourite toppings and munch away for elevenses.

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Makes 6 small pancakes

A little sunflower oil for greasing
1 organic egg
Half a cup of non-dairy milk
1/2 scoop protein powder (I used Vega chocolate protein)
3tbsp of buckwheat flour
1/4tsp baking powder

Toppings: try bananas, berries, raw chocolate sauce, coconut yoghurt, homemade apple sauce, maple syrup and granola…

Grease a non-stick frying pan with some sunflower oil and get it on a medium heat so it gets nice and hot.

In your bullet or blender throw in the egg, protein powder, half a cup of milk, buckwheat flour, 1/4tsp baking soda and whizz away until it is smooth and glossy.

Cook your pancakes by pouring a little batter into the hot frying pan. Once the top has bubbled and looks set flip it over. Repeat until all the batter is used up or you have the desired number of pancakes. Which ever comes first.

Top Tip: You can prepare your batter the night before to save even more time in the morning. (Seriously though, how busy are you?)

Healing Eggs

We watched The Hundred-Foot Journey over the weekend, so I was looking forward to cooking these eggs up and sharing them with you. This recipe is a great one for colder weather. Cayenne and turmeric are some of my favourite spices to use, because of their potent healing properties. You can cook it up in a flash and start your morning well, this is how we make them back home.

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1/2tsp of coconut oil
3 eggs, beaten with a splash of almond milk
1/8tsp of cayenne pepper or more depending on your taste buds
1/8tsp turmeric or more
1 spring onion, sliced
A handful of coriander, chopped
Himalayan salt and black pepper to season

Heat oil in a pan on a medium heat.

Add spices to eggs and mix well. Once oil is hot, pour the eggs in and then throw the spring onion and coriander on top.

Let the egg set a little and then move it around with a wooden spoon. Repeat a few times until the egg is scrambled.

Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

It’s raining, it’s pouring

I love taking inspiration from the weather when it comes to cooking. Today’s downpour of cats and dogs set our taste buds in motion for kitcheri, (kedgeree’s foreign sister). The husband loves to eat this nostalgic dish when it rains and my mother would make this for us when we were feeling under the weather. In Pakistan, monsoon season often evokes certain food choices, chai and pakoras, monkey nuts and this thick lentil and rice dish delivers all the necessary delights.

There is something wonderfully therapeutic about the juxtaposition of fragrant smells from kitcheri cooking in the kitchen, rain falling outside and listening to Coke Studio’s music (which is so reminiscent of wet weather in Karachi, when we would find ourselves sipping on hot tea at Roadside Cafe listening to our favourite folk songs).

This recipe takes it’s roots from mine, both Pakistani and Manx. I borrow eggs from kedgeree and have often thought of adding a spicy homemade fishcake to encourage the memory of smoky haddock so crucial to it’s English counterpart. The dish is enveloped in my favourite healing ground spices and fresh garlic, ginger and onion so it packs punch health wise. I leave you with my recipe and a very nostalgic play list, so rainy weather need not always be miserable.

The music:

Ali Zafar: Yaar Daddi
Noori: Saari Raat
Meesha Shafi: Chori Chori
Kaavish: Nindiya Re
Shafqat Amanat Ali: Khamaaj
Noori & Saieen Zahoor: Aik Alif
Susheela Rehman: Ye Mera Deewanapan Hai
Zeb & Haniya: Kya Khayal Hai
Shankar Tucker ft. Rohini Ravada: Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo
Zeb & Haniya: Paimona

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The Kitcheri:

Serves 4-6

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp cumin
Half an onion chopped
Whole spices: three all spice, several black peppers, a few cardamon pods crushed with your fingers
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 inch piece of ginger grated
Healing spice mix: 1 scant tsp each of cayenne, ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon (mixed in a small bowl)
1/2 cup water
2 cups of red lentils washed and soaked in two cups of water (don’t drain)
1 1/2 cup of basmati rice washed and soaked in 1 cup of water (don’t drain)
2 cups organic vegetable broth
2 cups water
Himalayan pink salt to taste
Hot water (boil the kettle and let it be nearby)

To serve (optional):

One boiled egg per person
Yoghurt chutney (blend a clove of garlic, handful of chopped coriander, a tsp of honey, ground cumin and ground coriander with 1/2 cup of water, stir into a cup of yoghurt)
Mango pickle

Melt the oil with cumin seeds over a medium heat, when the seeds start to sizzle add onions and cover.

Once the onions have begun to brown slightly mix in whole spices, garlic, ginger and sauté for two minutes. Then, stir in the healing spices, 1/2 cup water, mix and cover, letting the mixture thicken for up to ten minutes.

Add lentils and rice and coat in spices.

Add broth and remaining two cups of water, raise heat and bring to a boil, season with salt, lower heat and cover for forty minutes. Stirring every ten minutes or so. Have hot water standing by incase the mixture gets dry, what you want is a mass thick wet risotto like consistency.

Serve with a sliced boiled egg, a dollop of pickle and yoghurt chutney.