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Foodie Feature: Hawa Hassan, CEO of Basbaas

Araweelo Abroad linked up with Hawa Hassan, a badass model turned successful entrepreneur. Hawa is the CEO of Basbaas, a line of Somali condiments. Basbaas is bringing Somali flavor to some of the best grocers in the country including Dean & Deluca and Whole Foods. Not only has Hawa been featured in Forbes, Epicurious, and Eater but Basbaas was also a Martha Stewart American Made 2015 nominee. We caught up with this busy CEO to talk about being an entrepreneur, the relationship between food and social justice, and how to best eat Basbaas.

IA: You moved to New York to pursue modeling. How did you end up with a Somali hot sauce line?

Hawa: I love modeling, but I’ve always known it wouldn’t last forever. Meanwhile, there are many other things important to me: My own heritage, my passion for women’s issues, a need to tell great stories. Over time, I was able to weave these diverse strands together into a single narrative, and that’s my business. Basbaas is the embodiment of all my interests and goals.

IA: The Basbaas flavors that you offer are pretty unique. What did the journey to perfecting the recipes look like?

Hawa: I wish I could say there was a single eureka moment. Like any good business idea, it took preparation, experimentation and dedication. I got friends and family involved, hosted tasting parties, kept adjusting the temperature and the seasoning, and basically played with it till it got to the right place. Then I needed to ensure that the lab could scale it to large quantities without compromise. I believe what we have now isn’t just what I personally love but also appeals to the new generation of adventurous foodies.

IA: How do you like to use your product?

Hawa: Freestyle! Basbaas is unique because you can use it in so many different ways—sautéed, as a dip, as a flavor enhancer, etc. For example, I dab it on eggs for breakfast and sauté veggies with it at dinner.

IA: What difficulties did you face in starting up Basbaas?

Hawa: Launching a business is difficult and scary, and that’s exactly how it should be. For me the toughest issue was probably achieving the balance between quality and quantity—finding the right temperature with the right mass of ingredients. It was definitely a challenge, but we did it.

IA: What has the response been to the product from both Somalis and non-Somalis?

Hawa: Our core consumer is a new kind of foodie: open to different tastes and flavors from around the world, as long as they’re organic and authentic.  In particular, there’s an entire generation of young people who use food as a passport to other cultures. That’s why the response has been so positive. Of course, the young Somalis I meet love it even more—they’re excited to see Somali cuisine in homes around the country.


IA: What does a typical day look like for you? Are you responsible for making your product every day?

Hawa: As any entrepreneur will tell you, there are no typical days. And since it’s only me for now, even with strict planning, I’m constantly running in different directions at once. Now that the recipe has been finalized and readied—it’s locally sourced and bottled, of course—I spend much of my time with sales and marketing. That means being out there every day, visiting every target outlet from small farmers’ markets to grocery store chains. I don’t believe in hard sell, but I also know every meeting is a sales opportunity, and I’m the one who needs to evangelize Basbaas.
IA: Do you have any plans to expand Basbaas?

Hawa: Absolutely. There are definitely more flavors coming, and they’ll be available in more outlets. Stay tuned.

IA: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

Hawa: I'd say that if you’re waiting for the perfect time, you’ll be waiting forever. If you’re chasing a dream, like I am, then go for it. Understand that what you’re launching is a business, not a fantasy, and so you need to stay grounded. Figure out early who in your circle is in it with you for the long haul, be prepared for tough times, and above all keep moving forward.

IA: What role do food and social justice play in your life?

Hawa: Every immigrant’s life is both universal and unique, and I’m no exception. I know how lucky I am—I came of age during a brutal war and grew up partly in a refugee camp, yet I’ve walked fashion runways and now run a boutique food business in Brooklyn. It’s vital to me to connect my business with my heritage, and to use it as a force for change. I’m already involved with several causes near and dear to my heart—including Elman Peace and Zana Africa—and in the near future I will be even more active in these initiatives.

IA: What's next for you?

Hawa: Two things in particular that are organically connected. First, keep growing the business—more stores, more flavors and yet more stores. Second, as part of my involvement in some charity projects in Somalia, I’ll be spending time there.

You can follow Hawa’s endeavors and get your Basbaas fix here.

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

 

 

Reflections on a Vegan Ramadan

by Halima Hassan

My path to veganism was not easy. I went from faux practicing to the real deal. As a former hot cheeto addict, I am glad to say the days of replacing my meals with hot cheetos are finally over. I did not discover veganism through videos or blog posts, but instead discovered veganism due to the health complications I began having. I used to hear about Somali adults complaining about the gas and ulcers they suffered from and I would chuckle when they warned me about my hot cheeto addiction. I continued to laugh at their warnings and eat however I wanted. Until one day I was not laughing anymore: I was informed by my doctor that I had an ulcer. Upon hearing this news, I asked for the best diet possible that could reverse my ulcer. The nurse in the room told me to try veganism. I felt like she was joking with me when she said veganism. It never crossed my mind that it was a legitimate option. When she said to try veganism, I thought to myself “Veganism?! Am I a goat?”

Since my 2014 ulcer incident, I’ve slowly changed my diet to become more plant based. I didn’t immediately jump into veganism but eased my way in. I decided that if being healthy meant eating like a goat, then sign me up! I first began by replacing all my drinks with water. I also cut out unhealthy foods from my diet like sweets and chips and I stopped eating fried and oily foods. Next, I put myself on an eating schedule so I would not over/undereat and could give my body time to digest. Then, I started eliminating both dairy and meat from my diet. In no time, I was a full on vegan and this lasted for 9 months. However, I found myself relapsing and this helped me realize that although I liked being vegan, I only liked it for set amounts of time. So then I decided that I would try being vegan again when Ramadan came.  

Ramadan time came quickly and I decided that I wanted to try veganism again. Ramadan is a blessed month where you can challenge yourself and go beyond the expectations you have set for yourself. I decided I was up for the Vegan during Ramadan challenge and it was also helpful that I had a game plan this time around. I decided just eating food out of a box labeled “Vegan” wasn’t enough. In order to meet my goal of having a cleaner diet, I needed to meal plan so that I could make nutritious and appetizing home cooked meals.  

During Ramadan, my suhur meals were simple. I ate oatmeal paired with different types of fruit toppings. For afuur, I tried recreating foods I used to enjoy eating with meat but instead replaced the meat with vegetables. I also always made sure to end my afuur with a cup of freshly made watermelon and peach juice and the duas my ayeeyo showered me in.

I documented the meals that I cooked up during Ramadan on my instagram. This was my way of showcasing that vegan food could be both delicious and nutritious. I meal planned by thinking of what I wanted to make that week ahead of time and then purchasing ingredients and making note of prep time for my instagram followers. Some days I made food that I was craving and sometimes I made food based of off commercials that inspired me. Vegan Ramadan was a complete success to me because of the love and support I received from people around the world telling me that I Inspired them or they recreated the meals I posted.

I was able to accomplish eating vegan for the duration of Ramadan. I truly did THAT. I also connected with Allah SWT and felt the blessings of Ramadan.  Veganism was not something I chose to do because of religion or because of some belief about animals (although I am dying to be a dog mom). I became vegan because my health gave me a wake-up call that I needed ina isla yaabo aka get my life! How could I be a grown woman and consume no vegetables throughout my day? Thanks to my vegan diet, I’ve experienced healthier skin and hair and better energy levels. Not only do I feel great on the inside thanks to my improved diet, but I also truly glow from the outside. If you take care of yourself internally, it shows externally! Although I was not initially thrilled about having an ulcer, I am thankful because without it I might not have adopted a vegan diet and gotten my life.

Tips for Potential / New Vegans

  1. Identify why you want to be a vegan. Is it for a cause? A health reason? Knowing why you’re doing something is a good first step.
  2. How long do you want to be a vegan? Is it for a season, a day, or long-term? Setting goals is a helpful guide and reminder of what you’re working towards.
  3. Where do you feel comfortable starting? I highly recommend first following a plant based diet to familiarize yourself with veggie based meals. I went from eating meat filled meals to eating only lean meat to finally eating no meat at all. Eventually if you eat less meat overtime, going without it entirely becomes more and more possible. If you’re a vegetable hater, start by drinking green smoothies masked with fruit. This way you get the nutrients from veggies but trick yourself with fruit flavor.
  4. Take it slow! Don’t feel a pressure to jump in with no practice and go vegan immediately. Start by eliminating things bit by bit. Take baby steps and remember to do things at your own pace.

 

Halima’s Homemade Black Bean Burgers:

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Veganism is viewed as limiting yourself, but never limit yourself when it comes to what you can make! My favorite go to meal was always a burger. When I became vegan, I thought my burger days were over until I realized I could be making my own vegan friendly veggie packed patties. I researched and modified different recipes to make my own flavorful burger to serve 4 people.

Ingredients:

2 cups of drained black beans

1 cup of seasoned corn

2 cups of cooked brown rice

1 diced onion

2 red peppers

½ tablespoon of ground flaxseed

3 tablespoons of water

1 cup breadcrumbs,

Seasonings

Onion powder

Garlic powder

Cumin powder

Chili powder

Salt

Pepper

*Note* Season to your own comfort levels.

Process:

  1. First, mix water and flaxseed in a small bowl.
  2. Mash the black beans in a separate bowl.
  3. Then combine breadcrumbs, cooked brown rice, seasonings, and corn in a bowl with the mashed black beans.
  4. Add flaxseed mixture in with the previously combined items.
  5. Mix all the ingredients together and form patties.
  6. If you don’t plan on eating the burgers immediately, then freeze them and cook them when you’re ready. If you’re consuming burgers immediately, fry them on each side until they are brown on both sides. Serve the burgers with your favorite toppings!

Keep up with my vegan adventures on Instagram: @xalimoos

A Sex Life, Examined.

By Anonymous

Illustration by Mekha McGuire

Illustration by Mekha McGuire

Before

Somewhere in Kenya my four year old self lays on a table. I am in a backyard and everything is lush and green. The memory of it fades in and out like a weak signal on a television screen. Familiar faces peer down at me reassuringly but confusion is buzzing in my ear. The faces hovering over tell me that it’s my big day. Upon hearing those words my confusion melts into happiness. The faces are soothing with their big smiles. I feel arms all over my body. Arms gently holding me in place at first. Suddenly, I am filled with a sense of unease and I began to struggle. The arms hold me tighter. A man with a tool is heading towards the spot between my legs. I struggle and ask what’s happening. I struggle and I struggle and I struggle. Then there is only blackness.  

After, Part I

I first realized I was a survivor of female genital mutilation when I was 17 years old. In my household, the female anatomy was almost never discussed. The only time vaginas were mentioned was in relation to menstruation or babies. I didn’t exactly have a sense of shame when it came to my vagina; it was mostly just something I pretended didn’t exist. My vagina existed only fleetingly when I was masturbating secretly and sheepishly. In my household, you didn’t ask questions about vaginas because that meant you were having sex. Like masturbation, pre-marital sex was both a grave sin and prohibited.

Most of my peers had been sexually active for years. As a virgin, my sexual education came from the stories that my friends told me about their sexual exploits. The more I heard about their experiences, the more I began to suspect that my anatomy might be different. My friends talked about their clits and which boys were good at getting them off. I was unfamiliar with this clitoris thing they kept referencing but often played along.

One day with a mirror in hand, I went in search of it between my legs. I looked closely for a long time and sat in different positions but I could not detect it. Feeling frustrated, I sought guidance from Google and relied on text message directions from my girlfriends on how to find my clitoris. Try as I did, I was never able to locate mine. I started to suspect that it did not exist. Not wanting to share my suspicions, I lied to my girlfriends about being able to find it. I lied because I wanted to keep this sneaking suspicion to myself because I felt that a lack of a clitoris made me a freak.

Another thing that made me feel suspicious about my vagina was my inability to cum whenever I masturbated. I would often be on the edge of what I later discovered was called an orgasm, and then it would just…disappear. The promise of pleasure never to be realized. It frustrated me deeply and I became convinced that I would never be able to achieve an orgasm. This was something I began to view as a personal short-coming. I had not yet connected my difficulty attaining an orgasm with my possible missing clitoris. The pieces started to come together when I overheard a conversation between my aunties about the circumcision of a girl in our community and their own reflections about being cut. I began to wonder if I also had been circumcised.

Over the next year, I began doing covert internet searches about female circumcision. I found out that it was called female genital mutilation. There were several different levels that could be done and that it was common in many parts of the world. Most people who practiced it used religion as a justification for it. As a young feminist, it was immediately clear to me that FGM was a tool to control the sexuality of women. There was no defense for it in Islam from what I had researched and there seemed to be no health benefits to it.

I began obsessively examining my vagina in order to figure out what parts were intact and what parts were missing. I wondered if I would be able to have sex and whether I would enjoy it. Nothing I found online answered these questions for me. There was nothing online about the sex lives of FGM survivors. Only tragic facts that made me wonder if I was doomed to a life of painful and unfulfilling sex.

Due to a fundamental lack of understanding of my own body, I made an appointment with a gynecologist in order to answer some of the questions I was struggling with. My doctor was a handsome young man and I immediately felt mortified that this hot doctor would be examining my vagina when nobody besides my mother had ever seen my vagina. As he began to examine me I decided to boss up and ignore my embarrassment and instead get confirmation about whether I had experienced FGM. At that point, the idea of possibly being a survivor made me upset. I had spent 17 years mostly ignoring my vagina only to suddenly find out that it might not be in the condition it was naturally supposed to be in.

During my visit, my doctor confirmed that I had experienced FGM. I calmly asked him what stage of it I had experienced. He told me that my clitoris and one of my vaginal lips were gone but that I had not been sewn up. I had a mixed reaction of relief and shock. Relief about finally having confirmation for what I had long suspected; but shock to know that I was really a survivor. I asked the doctor if I would ever be able to have sex. He told me that I would, but that I would have to find a very patient partner who would be willing to explore my pleasure with me.   

I left that doctor’s visit feeling confused. I suddenly had this huge secret that I couldn’t share with anyone. I wondered if other girls I knew had also experienced this. I knew that it was likely that most of my mother’s generation had gone through this but I wondered if any of my peers had as well. I also began to feel depressed. Who would ever want to have sex with me? I feared that a romantic partner would take one look at my vagina and run out the door. I felt hideous.  

I needed more answers about when this happened to me and why. After much thought and apprehension, I decided to ask the person who would likely have the best answers: my mother. I was intimidated by the thought of discussing this with her for the first time. When I brought the issue up, my mother seemed unsurprised by my line of questioning. She explained to me that she had it done and so had most of her female friends and family members. She explained that she thought it was a religious requirement at the time. But later, she learned that it was not a part of our religion. As a result, I am the last woman in our family to experience the procedure. Being able to finally discuss this with her made me feel less alone and I could not help but soften towards her. After all, she was a survivor too.

After, Part II

I graduated high school and went on to university. As all of my friends continued to lose their virginity, I held on to mine. I held on to it not out of a specific belief in saving my virginity for marriage but because of the terror I felt at the thought of having to explain to someone that I was an FGM survivor. I sensed that their reaction would be one of two; pity or disgust. I was interested in neither.

I had several romantic partners throughout my time in college. I never reached a level of physical intimacy with my partners because I was always afraid. This constant fear and anxiety around physical intimacy led to many sour relationships. Each partner eventually grew frustrated by the fact that I wouldn't have sex. In response to my frustrating love life, I took a long break to focus on myself. 

After a year of abstaining from dating, I finally met a partner who made me feel incredibly safe. Unlike my former partners, my new partner never pressured me to have sex. They made it very clear that it was completely my decision whether I wanted to have sex at all and that they were interested in being in a partnership with me no matter what my decision was. For the first time in my romantic life, I felt safe and loved.

With this new partnership, I contemplated physical intimacy for the first time. I went over it in my head for months. One night, I worked up the courage to have a discussion with my partner. I had never admitted to being an FGM survivor to any of my romantic partners before. I was terrified that my body would horrify my partner as soon as I told them. However, their response was nothing that I expected. They were understanding, loving and judgment free. The pity or disgust I had been expecting to be directed at me never came. The sense of relief that I felt was tremendous.

With the newfound self-confidence and sense of safety I felt, I began to explore my sexuality. I had always assumed that sex would be painful for me. But my partner was incredibly patient and kind. They paid careful attention to my body and were utterly devoted to helping me experience a type of pleasure that I had never known before: my first orgasm. I never thought I would be able to achieve an orgasm. I simply did not know enough about my own body or what parts still had feeling.

These new experiences taught me that sex could be for pleasure and not just for marriage and procreation. I became someone that I did not recognize. I loved sex! I felt safe and I felt desirable. I explored my sexuality furiously. I also had many, many orgasms. My partner also encouraged me to explore my own body and helped me realize that I could give myself orgasms. They encouraged me to pursue my pleasure unapologetically. This is a gift that I will always treasure.

Over time, my perception of myself began to change. I began to realize that nothing was wrong with me. That I was deserving of love and of pleasure. That my body did not need fixing. Ultimately, I learned that the state of my vagina didn’t define me.

Ask an Abaayo

Araweelo Abroad is proud to announce our new advice column: Ask an Abaayo. Readers are welcome to submit questions to our email inbox. For this inaugiral round we asked our friends and family to reach out to people in their circles to submit. You are free to use either your real name, a pen name, or to ask for advice anonymously. So fam, whether you’re having love problems, school issues, or an existential crisis – feel free to write ya girls and ask for advice. After all, if you can’t ask your abaayo then who can you ask?

Hi Araweelo Abroad,

Super excited that the magazine is doing this column. Love what you do pls keep it up! Anyways, I’m writing because I have this issue that I am not sure how to resolve. I graduated college this year and since graduation I have noticed that a friend that I was super close with isn’t really reaching out to me as much. I always see her out with our other friends from college but I’ve noticed that she isn’t really hitting me up like she used to. I’m hurt because we were super tight thru college and we didn’t get into a fight or anything so I’m not sure why she’s behaving like this. I am trying to figure out what to do. How do I confront her about her sus ass behavior without making it seem like I’m being extra?

 -Anisa J.

Hi Anisa,

First off, thanks so much for the kind words! We really appreciate your support. So sorry that you’re dealing with an absent friend. It’s good that you have picked up on your friend’s behavior and can recognize that her actions are hurtful. Realizing how other’s actions are impacting your feelings or mood is always an indicator that you’re in tune with yourself. A good second step might be to try reaching out to this friend and inviting her for one-on-one coffee so that you can catch up. Maybe let your friend know that you miss her and would like to know how she’s doing post-graduation. It’s unfortunate, but people who were tight while at uni together or working at the same job sometimes do grow apart after you are no longer in close proximity together on a regular basis. Growing apart is a total bummer but also a natural part of life.

If you’re still committed to being friends with your uni friend and are willing to make time for her despite how she’s been treating you, then you’ve determined that she matters to you. So, if she does take you up on your offer to get coffee maybe you can gently bring up how you’ve been feeling. Sometimes people are honestly not aware of how they’re treating those around them. By bringing this issue to her attention, you can determine whether that’s the case or whether she’s just not interested in your friendship. If she’s just being absentminded then you alerting her to how you’ve been feeling will probably lead her to try harder and to be aware of her actions going forward. Based off of her reaction at coffee, then you can determine whether you want to continue to make time for your friendship or if you should just move on. Just like romantic relationships, friendships only feel good when you both put in the effort and genuinely want to be around one another.

good luck boo,

Araweelo Abroad.


Hey AA,

I wasn’t really sure where to take this thing I’m dealing with because my friends are lowkey very judgey…Basically, I’m queer. I didn’t admit it to myself for the longest while but I've put in a lot of work to deal with my internalised crap. That’s not the issue though - I want to start dating but I’m afraid that my friends won't be accepting of it. Obviously, our community is really homophobic but the issue isn’t that my friends don’t know that I’m queer, they do. But knowing that I’m queer and then seeing me date other queer people are two different things. How do I go about this?

- Anonymous

Hello Anon,

Thanks so much for writing us. Congrats on being able to work through some of your internalized stuff and congrats on moving towards loving all of you. We’re super bummed that you’re dealing with “judgy” homies. We agree that our community is problematic and homophobic af. We are glad that you felt comfortable enough to decide that your friends should know about your queer identity. That shows some level of comfort with them at least (if we’re being posi).

While we can’t tell you exactly what to do because we’re not in your shoes, we can say that you 100% deserve to have homies that celebrate you and are down for you. If you think your friends will judge you for being queer and dating other queer folks, then it might be worth asking yourself whether it’s worth sticking around. Your queer identity is a part of who you are and it’s non-negotiable. It might be corny to say but if your friends can’t accept all of you, then they don’t deserve you. Also, remember that you should only do what you feel comfortable with and you should trust your intuition. We sincerely hope that if you do disclose to your friends that you’re ready to start dating that they are happy for you like good homies are supposed to be.

xoxo,

Araweelo Abroad.

p.s. write us back if you need to be connected to any support groups/resources! <3

 

A Gardening Guide for Budding Plant Babes

by Ifrah Ahmed

I randomly decided that I wanted to start gardening about five years ago. It was the middle of winter, and I was bored with all of my typical winter activities. I decided that I needed a new hobby to look forward to. I had no previous experience with gardening and I didn't really know anyone my age who gardened. So as all good hobbies start, I got on the internet. All winter, I read through books and internet articles about how to start your own garden. I even read kids’ books about gardening because I felt that they would probably have the simplest information. 

Now that it's been a few years, I've enjoyed several successful harvests throughout the years. I have grown tomatoes, eggplant, corn, spinach, lettuce, onions, cilantro, pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, collard greens, kale, bell peppers, strawberries, jalapenos, and so many more delicious veggies. Growing your own food changes your relationship with your food. When you grow your own food, it offers you a direct connection with what you consume. I found that I was more likely to eat vegetables and was more likely to research recipes on how to enjoy them when I grew the food myself. Also, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with growing your own food. It's resourceful and you save some money. You also get to share the literal fruits of your labor with those that you care about. 

Gardening improved my connection with nature and it improved my diet. I also found it to be a peaceful and soothing hobby that helped with my depression, anxiety, and overall mental and emotional health. Plus, I also thought of it as a political act. So many black people in the United States have complicated relationships with the food industry. Many of us don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because of economic injustice and environmental racism. The relationship gets even more complicated when you reflect on the legacies of slavery and colonialism. For so long black people in the U.S. and in Africa were forced to cultivate food but never reaped its financial benefits.

I am a young black woman and I grow what I want to save myself money, nourish my body, and to feed those around me. Most importantly, every time I am in my garden I am reminded of how much we need this earth to survive and how quickly we are ruining it. 

Tips for starting your own vegetable garden:

1. Plan: First, ask yourself what sort of space you're working with. Do you live in an apartment? A condo? A house? Is there outdoor space to garden in? If you don't have space to start a garden in the ground, think about whether you're interested in gardening in pots. If you don't have space for an outdoor garden or space for gardening in pots, is there some sort of community garden you can join? My first few years, I had space to garden outdoors in our front yard. Then, we moved across the country to a bigger city and there was no gardening space in our apartment. So, I got a lot in a community garden. Determining what sort of space you have access to is the first step in becoming a gardener babe.

2. Research: Now that you know what sort of space you're working with, the next step is to decide what you're going to grow and what tools you will need. You can determine what you will grow by reflecting on your needs. Are you gardening to save money on groceries? Are you gardening in order to have access to fresh fruits and veggies? Or are you gardening in order to be able to use fresh herbs in your cooking? Once you figure out your needs, you can plan what you will grow. For me, I wanted to save money and to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Once I decided that I was growing vegetables, I then had to do research on which vegetables I could start growing.

3. Tools/Spacing: After you decide what your needs are, you need to then figure out how much growing space you need. Are you wanting to grow vegetables that you can eat every day or are you growing enough to eat every other week? Is your garden complimenting what you already buy at the grocery store or is it going to replace what you buy at the grocery store? Once you decide how much you'll be growing, then you need to find the right tools to begin your gardening journey. If you visit any hardware store or gardening center, you should be able to find gardening tools. Sometimes some grocery stores such as Fred Meyer's also carry gardening supplies. When I started my garden I needed to buy organic compost, a shovel, a hand shovel, gardening gloves, a watering can, a watering hose, and a hand rake. Also make sure that you have a water source nearby whether it’s a hose connected to your house or to a fire hydrant. 

4. Choosing your plants: Before choosing your plants, you need to figure out which plants are appropriate for which season and which region. In my region, November through March is winter. During winter, you will not really want to plant anything in the ground. Towards the end of winter, its best to start what you'll plant in the spring from seeds that you keep indoors. Once the weather is warm enough, you can transfer these baby plants into the ground. Or, if you're not feeling like starting on your garden that early in the year, you can buy starter plants already grown for you in the spring. I tend to buy starter plants for vegetables that I find don't grow successfully indoors from seed. You can buy starter plants such as tomatoes, jalapenos, squash, eggplant, etc from your local gardening store. While I am there, I also buy seeds that I know that I will be able to grow and enjoy before the end of the warm season. I buy seeds such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and cilantro. There are many others as well. In the early spring, I grow fruits and vegetables that need a lot of summer sun such as tomatoes, eggplant, and strawberries. Once the warm weather starts slowing down or about halfway through summer, I plant cool weather autumn crops such as hearty greens, garlic, and pumpkin. It's great to plant through the warm season so that you have harvests all the way through the end of fall. Also, make sure you plant things according to how much sun they need. Some plants like partial sun, so you put them somewhere where they can get sun and shade. Some plants need sun all of the time, so you put them in the spot that stays sunniest the longest.

5. Nourishing your garden: Good soil is important for your garden. There is a reason that great soil is called black gold. Good soil is a major indicator of how well your garden will do. Before I start a new garden, I always test the soil. Especially if there wasn't a garden in that spot before. You can test the pH of your soil with a test from your local garden store. By doing this test you can figure out what sort of soil you're working with and what it might be missing. Another way that I take care of my soil is by composting. Some folks like to make their own compost. I haven't gotten to that level yet, so I just buy organic compost from the store. Compost isn't something that you have to do super often like say watering your plants, but it is something that I have found that improves my vegetable garden. Other ways to nourish your garden is giving each plant enough water and also weeding your garden. The first summer I gardened I didn't know anything about weeding and my garden transformed into a gigantic bush of mint in just a few weeks. It's important to weed out unnecessary plants from your garden because they can steal nutrients and nourishment from the plants that you are actually looking forward to. They can also easily overtake your garden.

6. Time and Harvesting: As you water, compost, and weed your garden the most difficult thing you'll deal with is time. You'll be impatient to see if anything actually grows. The coolest thing is coming back to find a vegetable waiting for you. Different vegetables also grow under different time standards. Vegetables like Zucchini, squash, and cucumber seem to grow unrecognizably big in just a short time. One day you'll have nothing and the next day you'll have a huge vegetable. Other plants take a lot longer to grow. Figuring out what grows quickly and what grows slowly is always interesting. But eventually, if your garden is healthy and the elements are in your favor you will have something to consume after a few weeks. Which brings me to my next point. What is the point of growing food if you can't share it with others? Gardening isn't fun if you can't show others what you grew. Please do make sure to share your harvest. It builds community and I swear your vegetables taste better! 

 

 

Recipe Spotlight: Soor with Stewed Collard Greens & Beef Short Ribs

This meal is a twist on the classic soor and maraq recipe. It's a fairly simple meal that will impress everyone from your hooyo to your friends into thinking that you regularly make restaurant quality meals. Soor is a childhood favorite to many Somalis. It is an instantly comforting food. Food for the soul, really. We love this recipe because it can be eaten anytime of the year. The hearty beef short ribs will delight you on any winter night, while the bright garlic flavor of the stewed collard greens make this a flavorful summer lunch option. While we're big fans of the stew that is usually served with soor, we wanted to add a lighter and greener option since the short ribs are so hearty. These collard greens are freshly picked from our garden, but store bought is also great. You'll need to start by cooking the short ribs first because they take several hours. In terms of the soor, some folks like it chunky but we prefer the silkiness of creamy soor. Adjust the soor to your preferred consistency.

Ingredients:

For the Beef Short Ribs

1 pound beef short ribs

1 decent sized chunk of ginger root/fresh ginger

6 peeled garlic cloves

Half a cup of Soy Sauce

A quarter of a large onion

Half a cup of Chili-Garlic Sauce (We prefer the Tuong Ot Toi vietnamese brand)

A quarter of a cup of olive oil

A little sea salt

A little pepper

 

Ingredients for Stewed Collard Greens

Half a bunch of Collard Greens (Optional: Sub for Spinach if you'd like)

6 cloves of peeled garlic

2 tomatoes

A little olive oil

Half a lemon

A quarter of a medium onion

1 teaspoon of sea salt

1 beef or chicken bouillon cube

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

A sprinkling of black pepper

 

Ingredients for Soor

1 cup white corn flour

1 cup water

1.5 cups milk

Some sea salt

3 ounces butter

 

Cooking the Short Ribs:

 

1. Start by peeling the garlic. Once peeled, crush the garlic in mortar and pestle.

2. Next, cut off and remove the tough outer skin of the ginger root.  Once you've done that, slice the ginger root into relatively thin slices. Add it in with the garlic and crush with mortar and pestle.

3. Take your 1 pound of short ribs and rinse them in lukewarm water. Then, pat dry with a paper towel. Generously salt and pepper both sides of each piece of meat. Let the meat rest on a plate.

4. On a cutting board, peel and dice the onion. Take out a pot and pour in the quarter cup of olive oil. Once oil heats up, add in the diced onion and cook until translucent.

5. Take your beef short ribs and throw them into the pot. Sear the meat on high heat for 1 minute. After one minute, flip over and sear the other side.

6. Once both sides are seared, turn of the stove and let the meat rest.

7. In a bowl, combine half a cup chili garlic sauce, half a cup of soy sauce, the crushed garlic, and the crushed ginger. Mix until all ingredients are combined. 

8. Pour this sauce mixture directly over the seared meat. Add in 3 to 4 cups of water. 

9. Turn the stove back on, and let the meat cook covered on medium-high heat for the next 2.5 hours. 

10. Stir the meat every so often and add water as needed. After 2.5 hours, the meat should be incredibly tender. Put on a plate and either eat as is or tear the meat with a fork and remove the fatty pieces and eat the rest. 

Note: You can also cook this in a crock-pot if you'd like. It can be cooked on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours. After I cook in a crock pot, I like to put the meat in the oven for 10 minutes so that it crisps up a little.

Cooking the Stewed Collard Greens:

1. On a cutting board, dice up a quarter of a medium sized onion.

2. Peel garlic and crush the garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle.

3. Heat up olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in onions and cook until translucent.

4. Once the onions are starting to brown a little, stir in the crushed garlic and let it lightly caramelize.

5. As garlic and onions are cooking, turn back to your cutting board and dice up the tomatoes and throw them into the saucepan.

6. As tomatoes are cooking, slice the collard greens into tiny ribbon pieces, starting from the top. Make sure to remove the bottom stems.

7. Add the bouillon cube into the garlic-onion-tomato mixture and allow it to dissolve.

8. Rinse the cut-up collard greens and throw it into the saucepan once the tomatoes have broken down a little.

9. Stir the collard greens around in the pot until the leaves fully shrink.

10. Add in sea salt and pepper as you'd prefer. Then add in cumin and red pepper flakes.

11. Add in one and a half cups of water and let collard greens simmer over medium heat until tender. Add more water as needed.

12. After the collard greens have cooked, and the leaves have grown darker, squeeze a little lemon juice over them as needed in order to brighten the flavor. There should be some liquid left in the pan with the collard greens. 

Cooking the Soor:

1. In a pot, warm up one cup water and 1.5 cups of milk.

2. As the liquids warm, throw in the 3 ounces of butter.

3. Once butter has melted in the warm milk and water mixture, turn the heat on low and start adding in the corn flour while also mixing the liquid with a whisk.

4. Once the corn flour/soor is all in the pot, turn up the heat to medium and continue to stir so as to make sure no chunks of corn flour develop.

5. Once you see the corn flour/soor thickening up, add in as much sea salt as desired.

6. Continue to stir the corn flour/soor until the consistency is that of grits. Once preferred consistency is achieved, turn off the stove.

Plating:  

1.  Immediately spoon the soor onto a plate or bowl. Spoon the collard greens and its stew liquid over the soor.

2. Once a good majority of the soor is covered in the collard green stew, place the meat on top (either shredded or whole chunks of meat are fine).

3. Enjoy with hot sauce, salad, and your loved ones. 

Around My Mother’s Mind: What is Strength for an Anxious Somali?

by sun

“You have to be strong for me, for your brothers, for everyone,” she said.

The house used to shake with our arguments. My mother and I would become enemies over my sleepless nights. I did not rebel against her out of hate. When I looked for answers to the things I was struggling with, she turned her back on me. There was always an ongoing feud about my feelings. She could not understand why I had so much to express.

I met with a therapist for the first time in 2006. My cousin accompanied me but sat next to me with a stern face. I had known her for laughing; a symbol of joy. I felt as if I had done something wrong once I saw her stern demeanor at the therapist’s office. After that experience, I never spoke to anyone about my feelings again. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and the distance between my mother and I only continued to grow.

When I cried, my mother cried back. Her confusion and disdain for emotion spread over to me. I soon took up her concerns about my priorities. I thought: If I show emotion, which is weakness, it would not only hurt her, but make it harder for her. I had to represent strength despite my insecurities telling me that I am nowhere near as strong as I could be.

I knew I had to accept every aspect of my G.A.D (generalized anxiety disorder). I decided I had to learn how to be a support system for myself. I told those closest to me that I sometimes have moments where I cannot control myself. I informed religious people in my life that I didn’t have a jinn and to stop telling me that this was a lack of imaan issue. In this period, I felt alienated and tried to ignore my anxiety and the warning signals of depression. Years of conditioning told me my feelings were not important and that my mental illness did not exist. Staying in that mindset would have been an injustice to myself.

There was just too much that came with having G.A.D. and everyone around me was as confused as I was. I lost friends and the respect of my family members as a result of my anxiety disorder. I became too scared to show concern for myself for fear that it would be interpreted as me saying “I don’t care about everyone around me,” or “my problems are worse than yours!” It was already rare for me to take a step back and focus on myself, so this only further fueled me to keep quiet. I knew that I had to go back to being my own care system.

I am still attempting to accept myself and improve my mental health. Sometimes I would think about words like shame over and over again until I would pass out in the shower due to anxiety. One time after such an attack, my mother unlocked the door with a spoon and barged in the bathroom. After this experience of her seeing me in such an anxious state, she started to show me a different side of herself. She began to abandon the old conversations around shame and weakness. After that, my mother often held me during involuntary panic attacks and pep talked me into sleeping during times where I had been awake for 72 hours. Although she was confused, she learned with me. It took time, but eventually she was able to see that I was trying my best to make her proud.

People believe a lot of myths about mental illness. Myths like panic attacks aren’t real. Myths like being distraught is a performance. Myths like sensitivity and mentally illness is a white thing.  I was taught at a young age from habiryal that a Somali woman is to be strong so she does not burden those around her. That she is supposed to support and care for others. But I don’t believe that. We need to destigmatize and discuss mental illness. Dismissing pain due to pride is a rotten habit in our community. Young people must be made to feel like they are not alone and can seek help.