One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
I’ve meant to write this post a long time ago. By that I don’t specifically refer to the babka recipe that’s waiting for you at the end of this post. Though baking and cutting the first slice of it has been one of my greatest kitchen achievements. And I’m truly excited to share more about the process later. Right now, I’d like to talk about a subject I get a lot of questions about. Why do I move so much? Is there a reason I travel as much as I do? And is it hard to change locations, adjust yourself and find new friends over and over again? Some people are fascinated by this lifestyle and wish they could see as much of the world, too. Others think it’s too unstable and exhausting. Honestly, I’d belong to the second group of people when looking at it from the outside. And that’s probably because they are right.
I’m currently sitting on a plane on my way to visit my new home. It feels like I’ve just moved to Istanbul last week but it’s already been 2 years ago that I stepped foot on its chaotic streets on a cold winter night. Before that I lived in the Netherlands for 3 years, the UK for 1 year, back in Germany for 2 years, then 1.5 years in Hong Kong and 1 year in Egypt. In between I spend a little more than half a year in Argentina and another 6 months in France as well as a whole summer in Soul. One could argue I’ve seen my fare share of the world. And yet I feel like this journey of mine is not over. Because, and that’s also part of the truth, despite all the exhaustion it gives more than it takes.
I’m an introvert by heart and an extrovert by work. By that I mean, I was born an introvert. I dreaded to look strangers in the eye, talk to people on the phone (I still do) and hated summer camp, at least for the first 24 hours until I realized all these other children just wanted to find friends, too. It probably took me the first 20 years of my life to realize that my so perceived shyness wasn’t getting me very far in life. By that time I had already traveled to the UK by myself at the tender age of 11, spend a whole year in the US with a host family and seen most parts of Europe. Though I always loved travelling I would have never ventured off by myself. It was my mum (a strong extrovert) who literally sent me off to new destinations or at least constantly encouraged me that I didn’t need to be afraid.
Those first 20 or so years were challenging. I never felt quite like I fit. During day I was too self-conscious to take part in life, to socialize, to dare, to engange. At night I would beat up myself why I wasn’t more approachable and more talkative. Why I wasn’t just asking the girl from class if she wanted to have coffee with me. Or the group of people from my student organization if I could join them for their weekend activity. I wasn’t a loner. It just took longer for me to feel comfortable around new peers and places. Eventually I would warm up and after a few weeks people looked at me baffled when I mentioned I was an introvert. Over the years I learned that being an introvert doesn’t mean that you are shy, sit in the corner for the rest of your life and never say a word to anyone. If friends or family would have to characterize me, words like hesitant, lonely, risk-averse, quiet or introvert would probably never ever come to their minds.
Once I realized that deep down in my heart I was longing for adventures, foreign places, uncomfortable situations and new friendships, I worked for it. With every time I moved to a new place, every time I met new people, every time I had to find my place in a new culture, every time I got lost in a city, I became better at overcoming this very first burden of my introversion. I reached out to people before I even knew the name of my new street. I explored every single corner of a new place right in the beginning so I wouldn’t feel too intimated whenever I had to venture outside my neighborhood. Simply put, I learned to confront my fears. And the more I did it, the less I was afraid.
It’s not that I had suddenly turned from introvert to extrovert. That was definitely not the case because social gatherings are still exhausting for me but now I know whatever comes after that, all the friendships I make, the new countries and cultures I get to discover, the knowledge I gain with every year, is so much more valuable and energising than my initial fears. And at one point I felt that I could never live a different life again. That this was what I wanted to do forever. Because “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
And part of that little introvert adventure of mine is to discover and explore new foods. Or new ways of making food. This year has definitely been a year of baking for me. I’ve really come to enjoy yeast breads and loaves. In the past I’ve had a few failure and somehow my dough never wanted to rise but this year I learned to be patient, et voila, it’s working. Today’s vegan and savory babka is yet again inspired by my travels to Israel this past spring. After my visit to the infamous Lehamim bakery in Tel Aviv where I was lucky enough to get my hands on a freshly baked Friday challah, I knew had to bake my own version at home. Now this babka is not a challah but since babka is made of the same or at least very similar dough, I used a recipe by The Spruce’s Vegan Water Challah. I simply added less sugar and used a combination of spelt and wheat flour to give it a rougher texture.
I had recently baked sweet Croation Walnut Swirl Bread and thus wanted a savory babka. The vegan sour cashew cream combined with basil and coriander gives this babka a soft, moist texture. If you want to intensify the taste I recommend to add double the amount of herbs. You could also either try to make this babka with sour cream and chives instead or sour cream and parsley and dill. Either way this is great to eat right out the oven topped with a few slices of avocado or toasted the next day with a drizzle of olive oil and flaky salt.
Savory Babka with Coriander, Basil and Sour Cashew Cream
Recipe for the dough inspired by The Spruce’s Vegan Water Challah
- Cashew Sour Cream
- 1 cup soaked cashews (soak at least 30 min in hot water or overnight in cold water)
- ½ cup water
- ½ lemon, juice
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 handful basil leaves
- 2 handful coriander leaves
- 280 ml / 1 1/4 cup water
- 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tsp coconut sugar (or any other sugar)
- 60 ml / 1/4 cup grapeseed oil or any other neutral flavored
- 150 g /2 cups spelt flour
- 150 g / 2 cups wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 tsp pure maple syrup or any other syrup or honey
- 1 1/2 tsp olive oil
- Add soaked cashews, lemon juice, salt and apple cider vinegar to blender. Gradually start adding water, first ¼ cup and more if needed to make a smooth but solid cream. You want a cheese cream like consistency, not too liquid but also not too coarse. Put in the fridge as it will thicken furthen with time.
- Start by mixing lukewarm water with sugar in a large bowl. Sprinkle with yeast. Set aside and wait for 10 min or until you see some foam on the surface. That means your yeast is activated and ready to go.
- Mix in spelt and wheat flour, oil and salt to the yeast mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon and kneading everything into a shaggy dough. Add up to 1/2 cup of flour if the dough is still very wet and sticky.
- On a lightly floured surface knead dough for 5-7 min…knead knead knead until its smooth.
- Grease the inside of the bowl with a little bit of oil.
- Form a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover with a damp kitchen towel and put it at a warm place for at least 1.5 hours, preferably 2 hours.
- Once the dough has at least doubled in size, punch the dough down.
- Lightly grease one loaf pan (26 cm / 10 inch long) or line it with parchment paper.
- Place dough on a lightly-floured surface and roll out to a rectangle and orient so a short side is facing you. The short side should be 1.5 x the length of your loaf pan.
- Spread sour cashew cream over dough to extend to the edges. Sprinkle with herbs.
- Slowly roll up dough away from you. This will get a little messy.
- Lift up rolled, filled dough and twist it gently once. Fold in half and place it into your prepared loaf pan. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 180 °C / 350 °F 30 min after the second rise started.
- Whisk together the maple syrup and oil in a small dough. Brush the top of the babka with the glazing.
- Bake for 35-45 min or until the crust is golden brown. Cool ins pan for 5-10 min before you take it out. Let it cool on the cooling rack.
- Eat the same day or the day after or freeze slices of the babka for up to one month.
- Serve with avocado, olive oil and sea salt or eat them just plain.