An Ode to Community
“Community is about much more than one person entering a space, and then another person entering the space, and so on. Community is not merely a gathering of individuals coming together. Community is an almost alchemical reaction that happens among all that we are capable of being and becoming.”
-Omid Safi, Contributing writer to On Being
Back in my days of traveling solo, I used to fancy myself a sort of lone wolf. A wandering, independent woman who enjoyed her own company and didn’t mind if people came and went, simply passing through until the next adventure. The idea of finding and settling into a community was not in the forefront of my mind back then, but it has been emerging more prominently in recent years.
I’ve been thinking more deeply about the broad definition and inherent necessity of community ever since my yoga teacher training, when our little sangha (the Sanskrit word for community) of 12 yogis bonded during the month-long intensive. I had not had that experience in a while, of spending so much consolidated time with a group of people with whom I share so many interests, passions and could talk to for hours about everything under the sun (and beyond- it is yoga after all). It felt amazing and I was shocked at how difficult it was to tear myself away when it came time to go back to my other home- Morocco. My return to life in Tangier was made bittersweet by the void left by that beautiful community who was no longer close at hand. I became desperate to find a new community in Tangier, but for me, nothing good usually comes out of desperation or trying to force anything.
After I had recovered from the initial loss of that experience paired with jet lag and that “coming-home-crash,” I began to reflect more on this idea of community, what it means to me, and perhaps how I can slowly cultivate my own . Communities come in all shapes and sizes and are there for different reasons. I am so lucky to have a close community with whom I grew up- neighbors and friends to keep in touch with and reconnect whenever I am stateside. In Morocco, however, I have several different communities. Family, work, and a small but necessary group of like-minded friends whom I can turn to when I start to feel isolated in this part of the world. What I have realized, is that community doesn’t often happen instantaneously and it doesn’t appear by shear willpower. It takes time to cultivate and grow relationships and add them together until a solid group is formed. My yoga community popped up when I had no expectations of it and often the friends I have met here in Tangier have happened in similar ways- by chance or when I am looking the other way.
No matter how or when it is formed, I now feel that having different communities around me is incredibly important in my life. Even the most independent lone wolves need a pack- people to turn to as reflections and springboards to bounce around feelings and ideas. They form that outer circle of who we are, mingling on the surface, but contributing to something deeper within us.
An Ode to Pumpkin + Cookies
In the community of bloggers and instagramers, it is that time of year when we wax on about the subtleties of weather getting cooler and days cozier, social media feeds flood with photos of orange and yellow leaves on the sidewalks (although none to be found in Morocco), and every recipe includes apples, warm spices or pumpkin. Which brings me to today, a humble little holiday that gathers together a wonderful group of like-minded (read: food-obsessed) people. It is the 2017 #VirtualPumpkinParty, hosted by the lovely Sara from Cake Over Steak, someone who has come to feel like a good friend through the magic of this blogger community. When I began blogging all the way back in college, I never could have imagined that writing about things I like to eat, random stories from my life, and a budding interest in still-life photography would grow into meeting so many amazing people from all around the world who I truly feel connected to, despite having never met most of them in person.
What better way to celebrate an online community, really, than with a plethora of pumpkin? Since I did an epic savory dish for last year’s Virtual Pumpkin Party, I decided the only way to compare was to switch it up and make something sweet + spiced. Enter these cookies. Like a cross between shortbread, Moroccan tea cookies and pumpkin pie, these little loves melt in your mouth and taste like delicious morsels of autumn. I am pretty enamored with them, to say the least. A little while back, I made traditional Moroccan halwa d’tmar (date-stuffed cookies), and these are a twist on that base recipe, with a couple of extra flavorings thrown into the dough and a whole lot of pumpkin spice goodness going on in the filling. These pumpkin, date and almond butter stuffed tea cookies are perfect both for cozy evenings curled up with a mug of tea and a good book, or to bring for an autumnal community gathering.
See what everyone else is bringing to the party! Here is where you can find a link to all of the other recipes this year. They all sound pretty amazing. You can also follow along on social media with the hashtag #virtualpumpkinparty.
Pumpkin, Date + Almond Butter Stuffed Moroccan Tea Cookies
Makes about 18-20 small cookies
- 100g (1/2 cup packed) dates
- 3 tbsp almond butter
- 3 tbsp pumpkin puree (I make my own)
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground ginger
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 cup (112g) plus 2 tbsp butter, softened
- 1/2 cup (75g) powdered sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/4 cups (190g) all-purpose flour
Begin by soaking your dates in hot water for about 5 minutes or until soft. Drain and place in a food processor with the almond butter, pumpkin and spices. Puree until mostly smooth, tasting to adjust the spices as you like. Set aside while you make the dough.
In a large bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the cinnamon, vanilla, salt and half of the flour. Mix until combined. Add the rest of the flour and begin the knead the dough with a dough hook or your hands. Knead for a couple minutes, then work another tablespoon of soft butter into the dough. Keep kneading for a couple more minutes, then add the other tablespoon. The dough will start out soft but crumb-like, but by the time you add the 2nd tbsp of butter it should start to come together and become more smooth, easier to shape and a bit oilier to touch. If the dough keeps cracking when you try to shape it into a ball, add more butter, 1 tbsp at a time.
Preheat your oven to 350ºF (175ºC) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Begin forming the cookies. Roll roughly 2 tablespoons of dough between your hands to form a small ball, then press down the center flat on your palm, using your thumb. Place 1/2 tsp- 1 tsp of filling in the center, then delicately pull the edges around the filling and carefully re-roll the ball around a bit to make it smooth. Set on the prepared tray and push down lightly on the top to flatten slightly. Repeat until all of the dough is used (I had a bit of extra filling, which by the way is a delicious toast topping or addition to oatmeal). Using a clean knife, create whatever design you like on the tops of the cookies. I went with a simple star, but you can get as creative as you want.
Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are just slightly golden brown and the tops are dry (but still soft) to touch. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before eating with a glass of tea.