equal parts refreshed and relieved

Dear Friend,

Week Two of Ramadan. The quiet is incredible. No music in stores (the ones that are open during the day, that is). No eating or drinking in public. We went to the mall the other day and looked in the food court, just because. Empty, closed, dark. In the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday.

I’m 9 days into my yoga challenge, and I’ve already found it just that – challenging. I’m doing the intermediate level, and those 30-40 minute videos have been both grueling and welcome. This is on top of my regular workout schedule, and most days, I’m there at the mat with good intentions and find the practice rewarding and resetting. But some days, I’m tired and I’ve already worked out and the last thing I want to do is focus for a period of time unless there’s a TV show or a book in front of me. If you’re not in the right frame of mind, 30-40 minutes of yoga practice can feel like torture. I remind myself that no one is pinning me to the mat; it’s not a prison. I chose to be here, I chose to do this. And, mostly, I walk away feeling equal parts refreshed and relieved which is, I suppose, the point.

What else have I been doing during Ramadan? Working reduced hours, 8am-2pm everyday. Working out. Going to the pool. Which, since it’s been hovering around 113-116 degrees, usually entails sitting in the shallow end with my book. (Currently reading: Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard. It’s incredible.) Finally catching up on The Newsroom, season two, and we restarted Big Love from the first season since my fiance has never seen it. Yoga. Writing. Reading. Eat, sleep, repeat.

And then, suddenly, it was the Fourth of July. I don’t think I would have even remembered it was pending if someone hadn’t said something about it, and suddenly my Facebook feed was filled with star spangled summer fun. It’s strange how quickly you could forget a holiday is coming up when there aren’t excessive store displays and commercials and water cooler talks to remind you. Meanwhile, it’s bordering on Hades here with nothing open and no public consumption of anything. We sort of bookmarked the holiday the way you do when it’s President’s Day and you don’t have the day off. It’s happening, and surely it means something, but it’s business as usual for you. Oh, and everything is on sale.

A couple of days before the Fourth, however, I had a change of heart and decided that there was one thing we could do to celebrate. No fireworks, no BBQs, no beach or pool parties. But I could retain one thing from when the Fourth of July meant picnics in our backyard, fireworks in downtown Annapolis, and staying up far past bedtime to trudge home in the heat and dig our forks into the blueberry pie that would be waiting at home – a post-fireworks, pre-bed Fourth of July ritual. My mom makes a mean blueberry pie, and since Ramadan says nothing about baking pies in the comfort of your own home, I decided that this would be my one homage to my home country, the land of the free and the brave. Plus, flats of blueberries were on sale at Spinney’s.

I had been told that, despite the connotation of the term ex-pat, becoming one would make me a total Yankee Doodle Dandy, a patriot like no other. I’ve long struggled with so many of the words and images synonymous with home country pride – freedom, eagles, patriotism, and even the good old Star Spangled Banner. In the last 12 or so years of political history, they became aggressive symbols whose meaning and context was altered depending on who happened to be wearing a flag pin or on whose SUV the flag decal was plastered. They suddenly had a volume that could be turned up to “deafening;” subtlety went out the window. “Freedom” became a very Machiavellian term, supposedly justifying a thousand different means to some abstract end that was supposed to make everything better for everyone and, mostly and egregiously, didn’t.

But absence makes the heart grow fonder, at least in my case. The American flag is heavy with meaning all over the world; as friend, rival, power-hungry claim-staker, meddler, savior, and a bevvy of other adjectives that shift depending on where you are, who you are, and who is in charge.

To me, at this point, it simply means home.

So, I baked a blueberry pie. And, despite our plans to not really do anything on the Fourth, we ended up at a friend’s house watching Star Wars (Episodes IV and V) and ordered delivery Chili’s. How much more American can you get between classic movies and a chain of southwestern cuisine? And that warm, blueberry pie with the vanilla ice cream was the just desert (dessert!) for deciding not to ignore a holiday despite the fact that we couldn’t celebrate it the way we normally would or the way we wanted to. In the end, deciding not to let a holiday slip into an anonymous calendar square was a good choice.

I suppose you want the recipe. Read to the end, friend. It’s not my mother’s original, but a crossbreed of about four different recipes I found online. I was pretty pleased with the results.

Much love for now and more later, Insh’Allah,

The New Glitterati

Fourth of July Blueberry Pie

(Measurements not in metric, sorry to anyone outside the US! I’m just not there yet. I’ll give you temps, though – I have a magnet on my fridge with conversions.)

CRUST

2/3 cup plus 2 TBS vegetable shortening

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

4-6 TBS icy cold water

FILLING

5 cups fresh blueberries, washed and make sure all the stems are out

3 TBS cornstarch

1/8 tsp salt

3/4 cup sugar

1 TBS lemon juice

1 TBSP butter

1/4 cup water

1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more if you want a spicier filling)

dash ground cloves

OPTIONAL (I used all of these, but you don’t have to)

full fat milk or cream (to brush the crust)

coarse sugar (sprinkle on top of crust)

lemon zest

Put shortening into a bowl, and cut in flour and salt (using 2 knives or a pastry blender). Sprinkle occasionally with icy cold water (helps keep the fat from melting so you’ll get those lovely crusty pockets in your crust). Separate into 2 balls, cover with plastic wrap, put in fridge for 45 min while you prep filling.

Preheat oven to 425 (about 220C) degrees*. Combine cornstarch, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves in a bowl. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and water, and stir. Pour over blueberries and make sure they are coated.

Take one ball of dough out of fridge, roll out on floured surface and drape into greased pie plate. press into the plate and around the edges, cutting off any excess. OPTIONAL – brush crust with milk or cream.

Take other ball of dough out, and roll out on floured surface. Pour blueberry filling into pie plate with bottom crust. Zest some lemon over the blueberry mixture before draping the top crust. Crimp the edges of the pie crust and cut off any excess. Make sure to cut some small holes in the top for steam. Brush top with milk or cream if desired. Cover the outer 3 or so inches of the pie crust with foil before putting into the oven.

Bake at 425 (about 220C) for about 30-40 min (depending on your oven). Then, remove foil, sprinkle with sugar granules if desired, and bake for another 5-10 min until crust top is brown and pie filling is bubbling at the edges. Make sure to let the pie cool before cutting it so that the filling has a chance to set.

Enjoy!

*My oven here gets very hot very quickly, so it doesn’t need to preheat for too long. I also tend to bake things for a little more than half the recommended time, checking them often, because my oven bakes quickly too. I’m not sure if it’s just my appliance or a common thing out here.

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