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!

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Only a Week Left? Final Ramadan Reports

Checking in to you live from the last week of #ramadiet2k17 and y’all, it’s hot! We were in the midst of a heat wave last week, which promptly followed a cold snap that I was not at all complaining about. But here we are, nearly at the home stretch. It flies by every year. Let’s finish strong!

I’m going to tell you about what I’ve been making and eating. Because of this diet where I’m avoiding simple carbs and added sugar, I get to be creative not only about my savory meals but how I stay content with some alternatively sweet treats.

One of my favorite ways to break my fast (after a date or 3) is with a smoothie. Bananas, peanut butter, frozen blueberries, almond milk. It’s easy and full of good stuff, and sometimes I even freeze it for a frozen dessert.

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A great breakfast hack I’ve been doing all month is making French toast with Ezekiel bread. This idea also comes from my friend Rebecca, healthy eating extraordinaire. I soak slices of bread in almond milk, egg, vanilla extract and cinnamon. I don’t like almond milk on its own, but when it’s being used for something like a smoothie or French toast, you can’t taste it anyway. And when I say soak, I mean it – the bread isn’t ready until you can squeeze it in the center and batter squishes out. This will take around 30 seconds. I make the batter in a shallow tupperware the night before to save time in the morning. I put peanut butter, maple syrup, and sometimes fruit on this French toast, and satisfies my sweet tooth just fine. Yes, I’ve allowed myself maple syrup as my one sweetener for the month. Frankly, this French toast kinda needs it.

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I always make sure to keep oatmeal in my suhoor (pre-dawn meal) rotation to regulate my cholesterol and stay fuller longer in the morning. Don’t be discouraged by oatmeal. There’s so much you can do with it. Add fresh fruit, honey, toasted nuts, coconut oil, nut butter, dates and other dried fruit…the possibilities are endless. Think of it as a vessel for things you like instead of just morning sludge. Get creative – I know you can do it, I promise.

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As we approach the final days of Ramadan, Muslims around the world get focused on their worship with prayer, reading the Qur’an and more. In the last ten nights is Laylatul Qadr, or the Night of Power. This is the night that the Qur’an was brought down for mankind. It is believed that this night has the strength of 1,000 months, so any good deeds (prayer and charity, for example) done on this night are considered as if they were done for 1,000 months. As you can imagine, it’s a particularly spiritual time for Muslims, and many spend longer hours at the mosque at night praying. In a week will be Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, full of food and festivities. Check back in soon to see how we throw down in NYC and some final reflections. Stay cool, friends!

#notevenwater? Dispatches from Ramadan 2017

We’re already a third of the way through Ramadan, and I’m thanking God for the mild weather in New York City thus far. When it’s hot, chugging hella water is just as important, if not more important, than what you eat for suhoor, the meal you have before dawn breaks – because you can’t eat or drink when fasting. The first thing I grab when I get up at 3 am is my big Nalgene bottle and I fill it with water, making sure to finish it before I go back to sleep. When breaking my fast, either at home or with others at the Islamic center, I have the same bottle by my side, and I’ll usually try to have another glass before I go to bed. Yes, our bodies can do amazing things under some duress, but water plays a very important role in their general functionality (think muscles – that means the brain!). So don’t stress it if you don’t have to. Stay hydrated folks, fasting and otherwise.

As far as this diet goes, I will say it’s been exciting to cook both hearty and tasty food for myself. And I was feeling great about avoiding sugar and empty carbs, appreciating life and all, until yesterday when I was arranging those jam-in-the-center sandwich cookies on a platter for the bake sale at my Islamic center and started considering a weekly cheat day for the rest of the month. But then I thought about how amazing the first cookie to hit my tongue will taste, and how impressed and content I will be with myself for my self-restraint. To make up for the lack of sugar, I’ve been eating sweet strawberries from the market straight from the pint, and popping back dates like chocolate chips. Dates are the traditional food to break one’s fast with, as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said to do so, around the 6th century. Lucky for me, dates have a lot going for them: fiber, potassium, magnesium and copper. I used to dislike dates like I dislike figs, but now I love them. Besides, when you haven’t been eating for 16 hours, there’s an extra dimension of taste once your lips touch food again.

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One dish I learned to make from my friend Rebecca is chicken and bulgur. It sounds unfortunate, but Rebecca fed it to me for dinner a couple weeks before Ramadan, and I asked for seconds. It’s super easy, filling, and good to boot. Here’s my adaptation; check Rebecca’s wellness blog for the original recipe!

 

Chicken Bulgur
Makes over 4 servings

Ingredients
3 cloves of garlic
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 lb ground chicken or other meat
Oregano, garlic powder, and other Italian seasoning to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup bulgur
24 oz pasta sauce

Heat cooking oil in a large pot and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the chicken and season with the spices/herbs, salt, and pepper. Add the bulgur once the meat has browned, a few minutes. Stir the bulgur and the pasta sauce. Season again to taste. Let simmer until the bulgur turns soft, about 10 minutes. Serve with vegetables.

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If you’re wondering why this month’s photos have some questionable lighting, recall that I cannot eat during the lovely daylight hours #nothingisstaged #reallife #realdark 😛

Come back later for more communiqués, vis-à-vis fasting in this blessed month of Ramadan!

A Day in the Life: Ramadan

We’re over halfway through, but Ramadan Kareem! For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is the holy month in the Islamic calendar of fasting and religious reflection and focus. You may not think it at first, but generally speaking, it’s something that is looked forward to every year. You fast from sun-up to sun-down for 30 days. Back in the day, before everyone moved, it was fun for me to see friends on the weekend at the mosque to break our fast together and catch up. Now that I’m constantly around good food and fewer fellow fasters (alliteration originally an accident), things are a little different. I’ve never really written about it in depth, and I thought it would be cool to take you through an average day of Carmen, fasting at Food52 – as I sit on the train home at 9:30pm. The following is somewhat of a combo of days to show different details of my last week or so. Welcome welcome…

3:07am
Did my alarm go off…? I’m certain that I turned it on for 3. Was I so out of it that I turned it off without remembering? Good thing my body figured it out (I totally missed it once). Ok, time to eat!

3:15am
Putting together suhur/sehri/sari, (depending on your language of choice) or the meal before the fast starts. Several cups of water? Check. Fiber, protein? Check! You want to be able to make it through the day, no simple carbs to get used up before the morning ends. I needed some vegetables in my life, so I made a fun salad.

Spinach, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, cheddar, sunflower seeds, blueberries, sautéed zucchini. Hahaha that’s weird right? It worked out. When I’m eating that early in the morning, I just tend to eat whatever I put in front of myself/whatever I think is a good idea at the time. Other go-tos include oatmeal and omelets.

4:00am
Back to bed. If you’re wondering why I’m eating so soon before sunrise it’s because the time we go by is kinda like the last moment before the sun starts its ascension to the horizon. So it’s well dark when I’m done.

5:30am
Get woken up by full bladder, run to bathroom.

6:30am
Wake up again for work. This part is interesting because my body gets confused as to why there’s food in the belly so early. Must use train nap as incentive to leave bed.

9:00am
Get to work. Do not pass go, do not collect $2.00 coffee or pastry.

Noon
Doing okay, keeping busy with work, sneakily packing away free-for-all food in ziplocs or tupperwares 😉 our test kitchen manager might ask if I want to pack something away before he brings it to the team kitchen.

3:00pm
Power through the slump of the day and the last few hours of work, fantasize about dinner choices, consider removing fasting-breath by brushing teeth but don’t.

7:00pm
Leave work (#startuplife), stop at Chipotle/halal food cart in anticipation for breaking my fast on the train (the time I went for Chipotle was satisfactory, but the lamb gyro tonight was somehow the best one I’d ever had ever).

8:30pm
Wade through backpack for the dates I packed in the morning to break my fast with (traditional), and the edible goods packed/collected throughout the day. Time to eat!

Goodies for home: bbq chicken, lone blueberry scone, squished galette slices, chocolate truffles. These all sound great when you’re fasting, but as soon as you begin to eat, you start reconsidering the options (example: it’s been 48 hours and I’ve yet to try the truffles).

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This day was rosemary shortbread, shortcake + berries, a jar of goat cheese caramel, and mini brownie bites.

10:00-11:00pm
Go to bed and do it all again!

After the first week I’d say Ramadan goes by pretty quickly. Before you know it, you’re on the last week and making all efforts to “cash in”, as it were, on all the extra blessings of the month before it’s gone for a year. Every (Gregorian calendar) year, Ramadan moves up a few days, with the rest of the Islamic calendar, which is lunar. This also means we’re never 100% sure of the day Ramadan starts or ends until a night or two beforehand. For me, Ramadan is not only an opportunity to reflect spiritually, but also to evaluate physically what is going into my body on a daily basis, when it’s getting there, and how. At least for a few days after Ramadan, I am far more conscious of my eating habits and I become a more mindful eater, and, hopefully, person in general.

If you’re wondering if people lose weight during Ramadan, the answer is…mostly not. If you’re not paying attention, you could easily overeat and gain weight, especially in the evening when it’s time to break the fast and you want to eat everything in sight (see-food diet). Ever heard that it’s more healthy to eat six small meals a day rather than three big meals? This concept applies here: if you’re only eating twice a day, your body will hold on to anything it can to help conserve energy, so the metabolism slows down. This also makes it harder to lose weight. But with some attention and diligence, you can continue healthy eating habits during Ramadan.

This year has been a first in many ways, from working, to being in the hot city and more, but it’s been very exciting and eye-opening. Hope you learned a little something about Ramadan/me/both; and feel free to leave a comment about your own fasting/abstaining experience or with a burning question. Until next time!

As Seen on "Unique Sweets": Z Cioccolato

     According to tvfoodmaps.com, there are actually THIRTEEN locations visited by Unique Sweets in San Francisco. This does not include the two locations that have since closed. I knew it had to be more than six…exciting that Brenda’s French Soul Food is also one of these locations, that, again, I already wrote about. Seems like I’ve made some good progress here.

     I could smell this place before I laid eyes on it. I’m serious! Sickly sweetness leading me to their door.

     Here’s a place you don’t want to go when you’re fasting. When I told the girl behind the counter that I couldn’t sample anything after grilling her with descriptions of half the flavors, she gave me a confused “ohhhkay…” response. SMH – don’t worry about it…

      You step into Z Cioccolato and become overwhelmed with the color and abundance of salt water taffy, and much more candy. But they don’t exactly stop at the candy. Z Cioccolato doubles as a toy store, with obscurely large googly eyes and classic tin lunch boxes.

     Barrels of salt water taffy take up the whole second half of the store. I don’t know many people who are into this stuff, but if you are, this is the place to find your strange and unique varieties.

     Did I mention Ghirardelli is from San Francisco?

     These guys have some odd flavors going for them, but I guess that’s how they made it to Unique Sweets. I kept it simple with White Tiger.

     White chocolate with a strip of milk chocolate in the middle, and sea salt caramel drizzled over the top.
     Yes, I did say simple. I didn’t say reasonable.

The trip reminded me where the limit of my sweet tooth will take me (I know I know, I do have limits, be they far). Glad I made it, though.