Eid Mubarak, Ramadan Reflections

Ramadan has come and gone, like a plastic bag drifting through the wind. Alright – not really like that – I just wanted to take advantage of that Katy Perry lyric. It did, however, feel like a very short amount of time, as it does every year. This year, I hoped to take advantage of every day, and not feel like my month was snubbed by my own mindlessness. But no matter how diligent we are each day in Ramadan, the end creeps up on many. You might think that we’d look forward to the end of Ramadan and be happy to stop fasting, but in my experience, the opposite is true. Yes, we do get excited for Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that comes right after Ramadan has ended, when you spend the day with family and friends and get to eat. But for me personally, there’s something about coming together on a regular basis with my community to break our fasts and pray together, and taking a month to remove anything that would distract me from myself and my time to come closer to my faith. You don’t get to see the community come together as often, and the same mental/religious/other focus that comes with fasting is harder to come by. That said, Ramadan can be considered something of a reset, where you restore your body~mind~spirit~etc to its natural state…factory settings, if you will. This year I tried to avoid eating cane sugar and processed carbs for the month, and I promised a report back. So, below the final outcome.

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First question: Did I make it all the way to the end of Ramadan on my diet? Answer: a resounding Yes! And I’m not too bashful to say I’m quite proud of myself! In the days leading up to it, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go through with my challenge. But it just goes to show you that you really can do anything you set your mind to. I emphasize mind because it’s a total mind game. What is it that makes me go for the cute cupcake after lunch or croissant for (second) breakfast? Cravings are your brain telling you that you want something because “remember how good it tasted last time? And remember how good you felt?” Did my cravings go away because I was fasting and I wasn’t eating sugar? Nah. But I was forced to get creative and  come up with healthy ways to trick my brain into thinking I was having dessert. Dates, so many dates, plantain, fruit smoothies, pretty-much paleo banana bread (recipe coming soon), and more fruit. Notice a trend? Fruit came through for me in my times of need during Ramadan.

Before I started, I thought my biggest takeaway would be that life is too short to free oneself from the burdens of sugar and that I am a miserable person without it. But in fact, I learned that there are many alternatives to baked goods for those with a sweet tooth, and exercising restraint is good for the soul. Did I get sugar pangs halfway through the month while looking at the Islamic Center’s bake sales? Yes. Did it feel better to resist the urge to give into the craving? Very yes. I can’t say how my body felt this month in comparison to a month of regular eating habits, since I was dieting under special circumstances and my body was not in its normal digestive state. However, I do feel like it’s good practice to say no to your superficial desires if it’s not something you do with ease. I might institute a no-treat Tuesday or something similar as a reminder to check myself before I wreck my stomach. Walking the streets of New York City sometimes makes it harder to say no when you’re passing a cafe on one block, a doughnut bakery on the next block, and an ice cream shop down the street. I’m hoping the habits I formed during Ramadan will stay with me, and that I won’t even need the no-treat Tuesdays. I’m excited to see how it goes!

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But, you know…of course I had to celebrate my accomplishment and one of our two holidays with a big cookie from Levain Bakery! it was delicious and I felt no body malfunctions.

Thanks for following along on my annual journey through Ramadan; I feel like this was a particularly special one. Come back later for that banana bread I was talking about. And in the meantime, let me know how you curb your cravings below!

Halloween Chocolate Fire Cookies

Happy Halloween! This was the first year since 2011, when I created a deadmau5 head, that I decided to get into the holiday. This was largely in part because I had an event to go to in costume with enough advanced notice to prepare. Naturally, this event was at the rock climbing gym. Being known there for my cookie sharing, I thought it would be clever to somehow incorporate cookies into my costume, which was none other than Carmen Sandiego. If you’re not familiar, she is a video game villain of the 90’s who stole world treasures and monuments. The player’s goal was to catch her with impossible-for-10-year-old-me clues about the country she was hiding in. Her popular tagline is “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”

It was a simple costume to put together with a bit of  Amazon searching, and it had the added bonus that I shared the character’s name. But how to make it interesting? Since Carmen’s game was world travel, why not get a world map tote and fill it with country facts? Because that’s lame…so were born cookie countries! Each cookie was individually wrapped and labeled with a country, its location, population, and a fun fact. Hello, best interactive costume award…free cookies usually are a hit around there. But as it was Halloween, I thought I would switch it up to go with the trick or treatedness of the holiday. I decided to add some *cayenne pepper* to the chocolate cookies I made for the occasion. I wasn’t expecting the pepper to go over as well as it did (this is not to say I wanted people to dislike them!). It takes at least 7 seconds for the heat to kick in, so first impressions would likely be positive and without heat detection. However, to my amazement, friends and strangers were pleasantly surprised by the late kick, and I was impressed. Growing up in a West African household, I was subjected to dishes engulfed in the flames of Scotch bonnets and other healthily fiery spices, so I would say that my tolerance for heat is higher than that of the average American. After sampling the cookies, I became concerned for my climbing comrades and their palates. Turns out there was nothing to be afraid of. On top of that, the cookies passed the melt-in-your-mouth test, and people learned stuff! Just trying to keep the people fed and woke, you know?

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Committed to the craft. Countries included: Suriname, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste
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I ended up painting a tote bag since I have so many that I don’t use anyway

 

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I firmly believe that it was thanks to cinnamon that the enjoyable flavor of the cookie was not compromised
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Velvety smooth before dry ingredients (above) get added

Chocolate Fire Cookies
yields around 45 cookies

Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup Nutella
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Directions
Sift or whisk the dry ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Add the Nutella, vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Gradually at the dry ingredients until just barely incorporated, then add the chocolate chips. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Drop scant tablespoons of dough (they will spread) onto baking sheets and bake at 350° for 8-9 minutes, or until the cookies edges bounce back when you poke.

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Whether you decide to warn your subjects about your cookies packing heat or let them discover on their own, this easy dessert is a fun party trick and party treat. Enjoy the reactions and have safe festivities!