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.

carmen-ladipo_plantain_rubber-scraper-mvt

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!

carmen-ladipo_levain-cookie_rubber-scraper-mvt

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!

Advertisements

Ramadiet 2017/1438

~ Hey blog fam, it’s been a minute! I’ve been putting together my latest food endeavor – Carmen’s Cookies! Follow me on the IG and stay tuned for details coming this summer ~

Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, is quickly rolling through, which means that I’ll be monitoring what goes into my body more than normal. But this year, I’ve made a decision to take it one step further and go on a diet. Yes, the cursèd word that some say explains itself in its first three letters. My reasoning was that during Ramadan, I already strive (yes, this truly takes effort) to avoid things that give the false hope of energy and happiness, but only leave me with a sugar crash and sleepiness shortly after consumption. So in an attempt to heighten energy levels, and assess my regular eating choices, I will be removing sugar and refined/processed carbs from my diet.

I know. If you’ve read this far, then you know me, and you know this is going to be a serious challenge. But what better time to do it than the holy month of Ramadan, when I will be working on my “reflection and focus”, religious and otherwise. Every year, Ramadan creeps up on me and ever year I get stoked about the month I treat as a reset and reassessment, weeding out the negative vibes and bringing back the good ones. For example:

“Do I really need to curse out this terrible Brooklyn driver?”
“So the subway is super packed and I can’t reach my phone…it’s not that serious.”
“One more bite: good idea or nah?”
“I’m so #blessed and I’m grateful for living in a place with four seasons. This 95 degree humidity will pass…right…”

Now is as good a time as any to do a deep dive on my diet and see where I can improve. By the end of the experiment, I’m hoping I’ll have motivation to adjust some eating habits (will I survive without a cookie after lunch?) and get to know my body better.

Sooo, to make up for at least part of the month without sweets, I sprinted to some places I’ve wanted to check out for a while before my time ran out. Below are the highlights…

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetDu’s Donuts The latest fancy NYC doughnuts put themselves on the map in April, and I tried the Strawberries and Cream and, I think Grapefruit Chamomile? I honestly can’t remember. My favorite part was the attractiveness of all the doughnuts; beautifully piped lines of icing on many varieties. The doughnuts themselves were good, but Dough still ranks number one in my heart.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetI’d just happened to be walking by the small, seveeerely hyped cookie dough-scooping shop in Greenwich Village on my way to an appointment, when I noticed that there was no 3-hour long line wrapping the block. In fact, there was no line at all. I quickly attributed it to the early hour and having just opened for the day. Later, on my way back, there was still no line. Since I’m not usually in that part of the area, I figured I may as well finally see if Dō was worth these egregious NYC-trend lines. I left with a scoop of salty + sweet dough, with salted caramel and chocolate chips, at $4, and was promptly reminded of how weird I think it is to opt for raw cookie dough over fresh-baked cookies. I could not eat the small mound in one sitting, but it was not a terrible experience. 

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetBrownstone Pancake Factory I love this place as much as I love pancakes, and if my friends Rebecca and Shyla are up for it, and our amigo Tommy is also in town, I get to eat here when I visit them. As you can tell from the photo, this breakfast-all-day restaurant has more than pancakes, as I was the only one that got pancakes…I had to represent for the team. We also shared an Oreo Cake freakshake. Delicious? Yes. Fit for one? Noo.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetKith Ice Cream Not long after I moved to Brooklyn, this sneaker store by Barclays Center opened a cereal bar. Don’t ask questions; this is Brooklyn. The cereal bar also features soft serve ice cream with your choice of cereal add-ins and toppings. I meant to check it out but never got around to it. Luckily, they’ve since opened a location next to my office, and I tried it out on one of those super hot days last week…you can see my ice cream started melting as soon as I stepped outside. They whip the whole thing up DQ Blizzard-style, and the ice cream itself was very sweet. Overall, fun if overpriced spot for only the occasional visit.

Come back soon for my dispatches from the frontlines of Ramadiet 2017!

Dominique Ansel’s Digs, and the Elusive Cronut

There’s a note in my phone called “NYC Sweets”, where I add all the good/famous bakeries, ice cream shops, and doughnut cafés that I need to check out and experience as a new New Yorker. At the top of that list were the two Manhattan digs of Dominique Ansel, Cronut® extraordinaire. In all seriousness, Ansel actually registered the word and concept of the Cronut; even his hashtags have the ® symbol. It did take a couple of months, but I got myself to Dominique Ansel Kitchen, and Dominique Ansel Bakery. Why would one of the best known French pastry chefs need two establishments within a 15 minute walk of each other (I checked)? See below and you’ll know…or not.

IMG_8381 copy
Taken from the staircase seating

My first stop was DAK: the Kitchen. I flip-flopped on the order of my visits, as DAK opened in the spring, a few years after the Bakery. At DAK, the big draw is not a pastry but a concept: “Time is an ingredient”. For many of the menu items, a key process of the recipe is left until the item is ordered. For example, if you order the made-to-order chocolate mousse, you’ll be waiting on your chef to fold the chocolate ganache with the meringue and whipped cream before it gets to your staircase-seat, soft and creamy. Or if you get the 1:1 lemon yuzu butter tart, the baker will be behind the counter in the kitchen, assembling together the crust, cream and lemon zest into an equally soft beauty. The indoor seating is all along a large set of steps, with cute round cushions designating buttox-placement. If it’s well-populated, DAK may be tricky to stay in, especially if eating with a friend. In the summer, outdoor seating and an ice cream window with flavors like “gianduja with orange blossom spritz, sea salt, and hazelnut brittle” are open and bustling.

IMG_8384 copy

I got the mini matcha beignets. I see these being really great for people who don’t like their desserts being too sweet. I wish I were one of those people. On the other hand, I liked the nice kick of strong green tea flavor over the beignets, and the six that I got were a good serving size. Just don’t breathe too hard when you’re eating, unless you’re wearing an apron.

All in all, a generally cool idea being experimented with at Dominique Ansel Kitchen.

 

Next up: the OG, Dominique Ansel Bakery.

DSC_3785

I remember when I googled “cronut” five years ago, and landed on a New York Times article explaining the phenomenon of waiting in line for hours to purchase a $5 pastry in the dead of winter. I was like “nah”. Minus the pastry, all of those things sounded wrong to me. No way would I spend my day in the city standing in the cold for an overpriced dessert. But things change, people change. When I learned from friends at work that you could preorder Cronuts from the comfort of your home, I knew that having this rare creature could be done, and must be done!

DSC_3767
Path to the patio of DAB

Off I went, setting my phone alarm to 10:50 a Monday morning of August to remind me to log onto cronutpreorder.com to claim my prize. After much website traffic difficulty, all the available Cronuts for the first week of September were sold out, and I was without. But of course, I tried again the following week, and to my surprise, had no trouble reserving two Cronuts for a Sunday afternoon. Pro tip alert: this was because the Cronut flavor changes every month, and the first time I tried, the Cronut regulars(?) were ready to pounce to be the first to try the latest flavor. I now know that if you preorder a Cronut, wait to reserve one for the middle of the month, and you won’t run into trouble.

DSC_3763DSC_3752DSC_3756

DSC_3761
I could have skipped the line, but I actually waited in it to get a peek of what everyone else was waiting for (not Cronuts, ha ha).

When I finally got to skip the line and turn heads with my box of Cronuts at 2pm on Sunday, it was September, and the flavor was bergamot and Earl Grey.

DSC_3771

DSC_3778
This box, home of the cronut. Like a munchkins box but WAY COOLER

After all those years of seeing Cronuts on my Instagram feed and trying copycats (pretty good ones, in France no less), my time had come. I was embarrassingly giddy to open the box.

The bright yellow icing on top tasted strongly of the eponymous tea, and the cream filling had a subtle citrus and slightly bitter taste from the bergamot fruit. The pastry itself was crispy on the edges from the sugar coating (oh yes), and soft and chewy on the inside. So, like a croissant, but better. And this pastry is actually quite large. It barely fit in the palm of my hand.

DSC_3780DSC_3782

Turns out, the Cronut is worth the hype, and probably those $5, too, when you think about how it’s made. First off, the whole process takes three days. Once the laminated dough is made, it has to proof, then it gets fried. Then it gets filled, and then it gets topped with icing/ganache and garnish. Would I ever in a million years stand in a line wrapping around the block for it? No. But why would I, if I can buy one in advance with technology? Here’s how:

  1. On any Monday at 11am EST, go to cronutpreorder.com (note: it’s entirely possible that if you check later in the day, or even the next day, there will be some Cronuts left to order. Just make sure you’re flexible on the pickup day. AND do not order a cronut for the first week of a month, because you will likely fail).
  2. You’ll see dates two weeks from when you’re on the site for reserving up to 6 Cronuts. Select the day you want to pick them up.
  3. Choose a time you’d like to pick up your Cronuts.
  4. Purchase your Cronuts with Paypal, to which the site will redirect you.
  5. Set a reminder for yourself to pick up your Cronuts. You won’t get a reminder from Dom, and then you’ll forget 😦
  6. Swag on up to the bakery counter at your selected time to claim your prize and enjoy.

DSC_3783

 

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).

IMG_7845

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!

Munchies and Manhattan – First Post!

French Roast Dinner

Hey there! Thought I’d kick-start my new food blog with Rebecca and my particularly extravagant weekend trip to NYC last week. Arriving in the Upper West Side Wednesday after long hours of commuting, we walked to the 24-hour French-inspired, you could say, restaurant French Roast for dinner. Deciding to save some money for the rest of our stay, we shared mac&cheese appetizer with an arugula, mango & goat cheese salad. Surprisingly filling! The goat cheese came in two lumps that I think were fried? The outside was crunchy and the inside was warm. Super tasty…though requiring a little more effort to integrate with the rest of the salad.

The Hummus Place!

Hummus Place’s Homemade Lemonade with Mint
Grabbing breakfast at Hot & Crusty, we spent Thursday (successfully!) shopping in SoHo and met Rebecca’s brother, Ben, at….wait for it….The Hummus Place! Lunch here consists of a plate of warm hummus with various toppings (boiled egg for me!) and a basket of pita bread. Unless, of course, you want to spite yourself and the restaurant you’re in with an eggplant sandwich.
After lupper, we headed to the show Fuerza Bruta by Union Square. Calling it different would be a gross understatement. Headed back to Café Lalo in the Upper West Side for dessert before going back to the apartment.
Apparently not all diners are greasy or covered in chrome. The City Diner was pretty fresh and swanky…as with most things in this neck of the woods. I don’t think I’ve been to a diner without getting pancakes…but it’s fine because they were darn good – I almost finished them and everything. Overall, solid food for a solid stay in the city.
Oreo Mousse and Chocolate Lava Cake @ Cafe Lalo
The City Diner