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Q&A: Woman Behind the Blog

Paper/Plates's Amina Elahi

paper/plates amina elahi!

You enjoy eating and reading in equal doses — just like Amina Elahi, the mastermind behind Paper/Plates. The bookworm/cook dishes about blogging, easy dinners, and what’s in store for 2013.

Name: Amina Elahi

Occupation: Freelance writer, journalist, blogger

Neighborhood: Currently Burr Ridge but moving to Streeterville next week

What do you love about your neighborhood?
This is where I came to reconnect with my family after college. It’s my home and the place where I learned most of the things that inspire me to do what I do now.

What inspired you to start Paper/Plates?
I wanted an outlet for my creative energies. I had been cooking for myself and my family for a while and reviewing books for over a year. At some point I realized my interests in literature and food allowed me to travel without leaving home. I found that too intriguing to ignore and decided I wanted to take on a project that would let me investigate, explore, and interpret places and cultures I long to visit myself.

What’s the last book you read?
My time is a little stretched right now, so I’m in the middle of Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love. The last book I completed was Peter Høeg’s The Elephant Keepers’ Children, which was so full of wonder and mystery that it kept me entertained despite all its digressions. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys precocious teenage narrators, snarky social commentary, and love.

Favorite bookstore/library/resource?
My parents’ basement. I made a resolution a few years ago to read their entire library before moving on to contemporary literature. I didn’t make it through, but I did get a solid education in English, Russian, and American classics.

What’s the last (good) thing you cooked?
I’ve become obsessed with easy pasta dishes recently. My favorite only takes 20 minutes: Boil some egg noodles. While that’s happening, saute sliced onions in butter until they caramelize. Add mushrooms, peas, and a few red pepper flakes and cook until softened. When the noodles are done, add the veggies and season with salt and pepper. Quick, easy, delicious.

The best thing I cooked all year is probably the cardamom creme brulee I was inspired to make after reading a devastating book called In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner. I will never make plain creme brulee again.

Are you a bookmark-er or a dog ear-er?
Book mark-er! I hate defacing books (I even hate cracking the spines). My favorite bookmark came from a friend. It looks like a gold lace disc on a string. People stare when I pull it out.

What authors are you most excited about?
These days, I’m trying to read books from different regions, so I’ll avoid picking up a title from a country I’ve already “visited.” I have Alexander Soderberg (The Andalucian Friend) on my radar. Still, I’m really excited to start Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

You’re cooking your best meal ever for your favorite writer. Who is he/she? What do you serve? And most importantly, do you eat off paper plates?
Settling on a favorite writer is a nearly impossible task! I’ll try. If it were possible to exhume and bring Gerald Durrell back to life, I would love to treat him to lunch in my (fictional) garden at a small bistro table for two. We would discuss My Family and Other Animals, humor, nature, life, and family. I would serve him my mom’s favorite mixed greens, strawberry, and poppy seed salad, as well as a variety of sandwiches, flavored lemonades, and, for dessert, the Shellberry cookies I created, inspired by his book. And, no, we would not eat off of paper plates. He was a naturalist! I’d pick something a little more sustainable.

Kindle: friend or foe?
Friend. I don’t subscribe to the booshiz concept that you have to pick a side in the paper versus e-books debate.

Want more? Get the scoop on a whole new class of coast-to-coast makers, doers, and dreamers.

Photo: Zainab Zafar / Courtesy of Maha Designs