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!

The Levain Bakery Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you A. live in New York City or B. do a lot of cookie research, odds are you’ve heard of or been to Levain bakery in the upper west side of Manhattan. They are most famous for their hugeangous (walnut) chocolate chip cookies. There are countless copycat recipes online, of people trying to recreate the masterful baked good of NYC. Hearty banter about corn starch, refrigeration time, chocolate size, and flour type fill the blogosphere, and I don’t know if anyone has arrived to the real deal, $4 cookie-scone wonder.

It’s a cookie I promise

Luckily for me and some colleagues, one of our editors lives a few blocks from the 21-year old, tiny establishment and planned on making a trip for a friend’s mom in San Francisco who requested some from her east coast contacts. I asked if she would get me one too so I could try these allegedly amazing cookies for myself.

 

Large lady-hand for reference

After waiting in a 30 minute line at the time of opening, she gets into the office and hands me the bag of what looks like scones, and feels like rocks.There’s a solid thud when I put the paper bag by my laptop. I was warned that some are intimidated by the nearly half-pound cookie, but I was ready.

 

The Empire State Building of cookies

When I finally took a bite, the edges of the cookie crunched, but I could tell that a soft gooey chocolatey center was waiting. There are a couple key characteristics to these cookies. First off, the mere dimensions of the thing. Not only is it several inches wide, but it stands very tall, showing off the second important factor: its just-barely-done inside texture. Because of the size of the cookie, there’s a window in the baking where the outside gets golden brown before the inside has solidified completely. And hours later that consistency keeps, melted chocolate and all.

 

Texture game: strongest

Even though I haven’t made it very far in my cookie journey of the city, this chocolate chip cookie will easily rank in my top 5. I wouldn’t exactly aim for a Levain interpretation in my own chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I take due note in their techniques and values, and plan on standing in that 30-minute line myself some time warmer.

Take pride in your approach? Tell me what makes your chocolate chip cookies special below!