Art For Syria: Syrian Refugee Crisis Photographs

“More than nine million Syrians have now lost their homes or fled Syria, over two thirds of them mothers and children. We are always working on or sending out containers full of humanitarian supplies and efforts. Helping us both with financial and physical donations ensures that we’ll be able to send out supplies when they’re needed, where they’re requested. Safe shelters for women with no male breadwinners and their families are ongoing efforts in bordering countries, literally ensuring Syria’s future” (NuDay Syria).

Digital high-resolution copies of each of my photographs (‘Celestial Ascension’ and ‘The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters the Heart’) can be purchased for $10.

100% of the proceeds from these two photographs will be donated directly to NuDay Syria and help to support their humanitarian efforts. If interested in purchasing my (or any of the other participating artist’s) artwork, please give your donation through the PayPal link on the Art for Syria website. Once you pay for your copy, email me at ahaq7@uic.edu to receive your copy.

May our sincere efforts improve the lives of these human beings who are going through the most unimaginable of circumstances. They need all the help that they can get from us.

Thank you for your participation and most of all, for your help.

Notes:

The quality will be optimal when printed on photographic paper (matte or glossy) and with inks of high quality. Dimensions when printed are approximately 8″ x 10″

These are the original photographs. The printable ones are slightly altered (for printing purposes)

The honor system is in usage!! I won’t know whether you donated or not… please do it for the sake of our fellow brothers and sisters in need of our donations!

Thank you!!

The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters the Heart -Rumi (ahaq7@uic.edu)

The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters the Heart (ahaq7@uic.edu)

Celestial Ascension (ahaq7@uic.edu)

Celestial Ascension : ahaq7@uic.edu

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“Forbearance” (Ode to Peshawar)

This life is a test, they say.

Our hearts are constantly being swayed.

As  we are simply, silly little human beings

With finite emotions, finite feelings.

But the pain the mother goes through

as she lays her little one down to rest

with a final goodbye, she comforts his

lifeless body as he sleeps on her chest.

How does one tell this to the mother?

That “you must be patient, you must have *sabr”.

How do you explain to the one who will never again rest

As she struggles to endure this world, bearing the markings of this test.

As I ponder upon this, I cannot help but feel lost.

We all wish to attain *Jannah, but at what cost?

Then, I close my eyes, prostrate to the ground

And remember that my heart with the One who created it, is bound.

Perhaps that is why the heart was created, to be broken and torn

So that it could instead be mended and given back to it’s Creator

May *Allah grant them sabr and *ridha to bear this pain

And to one day, live a complete life again.

Knowing that at the gates of Jannah, their children will stay

Only to reunite with their parents in the Hereafter, we pray.

The pain may never heal, but God does know best

So “verily in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest”.

                                                                    -Poem by Amna Haq

Arabic Translations

Sabr- patience

Jannah- Heaven

Ridha- contentment

Allah- God

(For more information on the Peshawar Tragedy, I wrote a previous post sharing my thoughts and feelings about it here).

January 1, 2015. 16 Days Later…

 

Hi everyone,
so today, I was supposed to post the next part of my Paris/Nutrition series, however, I will instead dedicate this post to the recent tragedy of Peshawar, Pakistan. This blog is normally devoted to health/food/nutrition (aka topics of happiness and comfort), but this is too pertinent of a subject for me not to talk about. As a warning, this is a very heavy topic but I hope that you will all read this with an open mind and an open heart. I may not have much knowledge about or expertise regarding this horrible event, but I would hope that all of us, as human beings, may be able to understand, relate to, and learn from this information.

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It is now the start of a new year.

The past one has been a very difficult one, indeed. The world has been afflicted with many calamities, most of which may be attributable to the hatred and indifference begotten from ignorance and unawareness; whether it be from the unjust deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown or the ongoing genocides occurring in Gaza, Palestine or the ones in Myanmar or the Central African Republic, there is a lot that this world needs to learn about, from the tragedies of 2014.
I do, however, want to focus on one that occurred not too long ago, a tragedy that I have been struggling to understand for a while now.

So, as the world may or may not know, on the morning of Tuesday, December 16th, the Taliban, armed with rifles and detonated explosives, brutally massacred more than 140 people in the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, at least 132 of the victims were children. Most of these individuals were congregated in the main hall for a lecture/talk when the Taliban broke into the school and began shooting and bombing right away. There are photographs and videos depicting the remnants of this horrific event; pools of blood on the ground, tiny shoes with bloodstains spattered all around the hallways, classrooms that show signs of struggle and defeat…

What reason can be used to speak for this heinous act??

No, the reason cannot be spoken for by religion, at all. There are no rational teachings, no acceptable way-of-life, no religion that would ever allow for this to occur.

No, the reason is not anti-education. Those children and their brave teachers who stood as shields to protect their students were not brutally murdered, simply for “going to school”. Nor is Malala Yousafzai’s survival and worldly impact a target for this.

Perhaps there is no reason to give at all.

I am not writing this to explain the etiology of this massacre (I do not have enough knowledge to be able to do so, anyways).

I am not writing this to give my condolences (because the victims and their families do not want nor need my sympathy).

I am writing this simply because it hurts.

As a Pakistani, this hurts me because my people are broken. The spirit of Pakistan has been crushed; the most innocent of human beings have been brutally and wrongfully taken away from this world. Their families and communities are now left to bear the heavy burden of this grief for the rest of their lives. Both, Pakistan and the world have lost an entire generation of benevolent leaders, motivators, and thinkers. The world is at a loss.

As an older sister to an 8-year old, this pains me because those mothers/sisters/grandmothers will never be able to hug and kiss and comfort their children ever again. A parent’s ultimate goal in life is to protect his/her children, to ensure that not even a hint of pain touches their little ones. Those parents never once imagined that they would be holding the bloody, lifeless bodies (some horribly and gruesomely murdered) of their little babies.
“Some of the 1,100 students at the school were lined up and slaughtered with shots to the head. Others were gunned down as they cowered under their desks, or forced to watch as their teachers were riddled with bullets.” (Source).
How do mothers feel to as they read this statement? How do those mothers in Peshawar feel to actually be living this statement? We could never imagine. Though it’s no fault of the parents, they will forever be drowning in their own regret, wishing that they hadn’t sent their children to school that day, that they could intercede during the event, wishing that they could take the bullets, in place of their children….

As a human being, this tears at my heart, because there is not enough room in there to bear the pain of this reality.

I fail to grasp, how can a fellow human life, especially of the most innocent of beings, be so wrongfully taken away? How can someone look directly into the fearful eyes of a little one and then shoot him, straight to the head? No human being could have committed this. No animal, either. Animals, at the very least, kill for the purpose of self-defense or to satiate their hunger. This could only be at the hands of monsters, creatures without an ounce of reason, sense, or humanity.

Children, killed in the midst of their classrooms, previously absorbing information, learning, contributing, will never be able to do so again. Over a hundred futures, ended. Over a hundred dreams, destroyed. An entire generation of bright, benevolent contributors, taken away from this world. After a monstrosity such as this, it becomes so easy to view the world in such a negative, hopeless light.

But perhaps it takes the most evil of acts to initiate change.

So what can we do about this?

We need to, first of all, understand that Islam is not at fault for this atrocity. No religion is. However, the sad truth is, over 140 children and their teachers were killed by terrorists in Pakistan and yet, the world remained silent. At the same time, Israeli terrorists are committing genocide in Gaza, Palestine, the world says nothing, yet again. Why has there been so much silence, especially in the western world? Why aren’t we willing to talk about this? These lives are no less important than those involved in the similarly horrifying Sandy Hook and Columbine massacres, so do the Pakistani lives not deserve the same respect and honor as the American ones?
It seems that history is repeating itself. During the Holocaust, global media stayed quiet throughout the mass killings by Germany. Even though the tragedies going on now in Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere should not be about religion, and instead about compassion and humanity, the media’s misconstrued depiction of Islam has led the world to feel utter disdain and disinterest to the sufferings in Muslim countries. Too many lives are being perished to allow for this depiction to continue. Education, thus, is the necessary tool for unity and change.

Islam is being horribly misconstrued. Both, by the media and by uneducated Muslims, who have never read the Quran nor have understood a single Hadith (these are the only two sources of Islamic teachings for Muslims). Ironically, both of these sources are being used to justify the deluded actions/desires of so-called religious groups. Just like the Pakistani Taliban, who committed the heinous acts, most of these terrorists are simply young, uneducated individuals who are brainwashed and promised of ‘paradise’ by manipulative, evil figures with personal/economical/social agendas.

But it takes a little bit of research into Islam to find out that the actions of these terrorists and the depictions portrayed by the media, do not match the tenets of Islam.

Let’s begin with terms.

The root word of Islam itself means peace. The true essence of Islam is simply about the direct relationship that a person has with their Creator; submitting to the will of Allah (Islamic term for God), while understanding that the one God is the most Compassionate, the most Forgiving, the most High.
The duties of a Muslim include being a good human being, one who is merciful, kind, and respectful to all: to animals, children, adults, elders, Muslims, and non-Muslims. It is required of every Muslim to treat non-Muslims with gentleness and compassion, and to never belittle the beliefs of another nor the deities that they worship.
Islam, the religion, has nothing to do with the people that use it to justify their own motives, whether psycho-cultural, political, economical. Those people, the religious fanatics, should be referred to as Extremists, not Muslim Extremists. And as Terrorists, not Islamic Terrorists. These terms, otherwise are oxymorons and should not be used synonymously.

Thus, in summary, in a faith where even animals deserve the best of treatment, how could the slaughter of people be a justifiable creed of Islam? In a religion where women are regarded as queens, how could the wrongful treatment of women be a tenet of this religion? A belief system, that was originally spread far and wide through compassion, morality, fairness, and choice, why then are the savage terrorists, who force their way of life upon others, associated with this same religion?

This seems to be basic knowledge that everyone should understand by now, as there are millions of Muslims living in America. But as mirrors of this kind and beautiful faith, what are we doing to change the perspective that the world has upon Islam and for those suffering all over the globe? With our many voices, why do we remain quiet? As Muslims in America, we have more power, freedom, and influence than most Muslims around the world. We have the liberty to practice our religion freely, we have the education and perspicacity to expose and correct the errors of the global media while placing our own voices into the public sphere.

Despite these powerful tools, Muslim Americans stay silent. Perhaps, we too become so absorbed in our own lives to attempt to do anything about this. Perhaps, Islamophobia inhibits us due to the possible discrimination and hatred that we might face for speaking up.

But isn’t it our duty as Muslims to bring about truth, peace, and to help those suffering in this world?
And is it not our duty as Patriotic Americans to stand up for justice and strive for equality?

We must overcome our own barriers, and most of all, us Muslims must learn to practice Islam in it’s true sense, simply by being the most giving of neighbors, the most trustworthy of co-workers, the most compassionate of friends, and the most benevolent of humanity.

Perhaps, then, will Muslims be regarded as fellow Americans. Perhaps, then, will the plights of those suffering in Muslim countries be more relevant to us all. And perhaps, if we all work together in harmony, the governments and economies of Islamic countries will one day change for the better and the young, uneducated civilians won’t have to find solace in ruthless fanatics as their educators and role models.

These are just a few words of an individual, who is, not trying to make sense of this world, (because this world is not meant to be understood) but rather, attempting to find some sort of comfort in knowing that there will be justice for the wrongs of this world and that unity, compassion, and love can be found amongst even the most different of people. Perhaps an applicable resolution for us all would be to try to understand, educate, and learn from each other; a small, albeit powerful step into creating a more humane, peaceful, and secure world.

With all of this being said….

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope and pray that this year brings happiness, peace, and prosperity to us all.

Parce Que, Je Suis une Blogueuse de Nutrition

Hello, everyone!
So a few updates:
I have recently begun my Master of Science program in Human Nutrition at a graduate school in South Carolina. Thus, I’ve been busy and, at times, overwhelmed by the course load, though I am really enjoying my courses in nutrition and dietetics. For example, I cannot express my excitement enough over being able to study the molecular structures and metabolic pathways of photosynthetic pigments (such as carotenoids and anthocyanins) and then getting to discuss and debate over their potent (in my opinion) roles in promoting health and preventing/controlling disease.With classes like Food Composition, Human Nutrition, Orientation to Dietetics and various laboratory courses, I am strengthening my problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities, studying the biochemical nature and interactions of macro and micronutrients, and gaining an educational experience centered on nutritional therapeutics, health, and wellness. Thus, I am one step closer to becoming a registered dietitian!
Another update (and the inspiration for the title of this blog post) is that recently, I had the good fortune to shadow a prominent nutritionist in Paris, France. Charlotte Debeugny, is a board-certified nutritionist and a published author and blogger with the website “Nutrition in Paris”, where she advices on the latest research findings related to health, nutrition, and wellness while also posting her musings on current foodie trends and diets (website found here). Charlotte studied Nutrition at the British College of Nutrition and Health and graduated in 2011 and now lives and practices in France.
I had actually come upon her blog while researching nutrition and dietetic programs in Paris, France (don’t ask) and was greatly impressed by her blog posts, research findings, and her publications (she most recently co-wrote and published ‘Le Régime 5/2 à la Française’, her book on intermittent fasting). I decided to send her an email, informing her that I would be in Paris for a short time period and if she would be interested in allowing me to shadow her during that time. I did not expect an answer from such an eminent authority on nutrition and diet in France and in the UK so I was shocked and pleasantly surprised, as you may expect, that she responded right away and was more than willing to allow me to observe and shadow her in a private practice/consulting-based setting
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(Guess I’ll include some pictures, to keep your attention throughout this entire post 😉 )
So finally, that Tuesday morning of September 2nd arrived (I had landed in Paris the previous day). I took the address that Charlotte gave me for the clinic location, found the nearest metro, and navigated myself over to the 17ème arrondissement of Paris. I found the clinic, was buzzed in and guided into the building by the secretary, and then to Charlotte’s office. Charlotte, a tall, stunning lady with a striking demeanor, was also very kind and sweet and made me feel right at home. We quickly jumped into conversation, before her first client of the day came in, and talked about anything and everything related to nutrition and dietetics: the dietitian’s role in medicine, research and study findings related to new food and health trends, disease prevention, the ‘French Diet’, so on and so forth.
For her practice, Charlotte works closely with doctors and other health professionals and provides individualized support and advice for her patients (or in this case, clients) , which I was able to witness firsthand. Sitting in on her consultations was actually one of my first ever real-life experiences in the field of nutrition and dietetics! Charlotte was patient, personable, highly knowledgeable, and thorough in her advising. Her clients (mostly British and a few French) were also friendly, eager for education and advice, and had no problem with me being there, sitting in on the consultations. In fact, they would even ask me for my advice and opinion over many issues!
I gained so much insight from this experience; instead of simply reading about the role and job of a dietitian or watching videos, I was able to observe firsthand for myself that the role of the dietitian most essentially functions as an Educator, Supporter, and Guider; with all of the information out there regarding health and nutrition, the dietitian acts as the ‘navigator’ in processing the right/necessary information and translating it to the layman and guiding their patient/client towards the right direction, suitable for the individual’s lifestyle and physiology. And of course, the key role of a dietitian in the field of medicine is prevention (whereas a physician’s role would be to treat the ailment); by teaching and providing the tools for the patient to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle adjustments to prevent illnesses before they begin.
A very necessary role in the field of medicine, indeed.I learned that a lot of “behind the scenes” work goes into the process, a lot of research and paperwork before and after the consultations and follow-ups on the client (for example, Charlotte keeps track of her client’s daily intake via Nutrilog and MyFitnessPal). It’s very important for the dietetics practitioner to stay updated on new health and nutrition information, to attend conferences and workshops, network with health professionals, play an active role in social media (yet another reason for my blog), and continue to volunteer as much as possible in the community.
So this is just a tiny synopsis of my experience working with Charlotte. On my last day there, I interviewed Charlotte for my blog (which shall be posted soon!), where we discussed her book (and her second one which will be coming out soon), her own experience with Intermittent fasting, new trends in the food and health industry, and much more.
I will also be doing a post regarding the French Diet (yes, that is a thing). After having lived and studied there in the past, I have gathered a few assertions regarding the French lifestyle and eating habits that we (especially Americans) can learn from.
Sooo, be on the lookout for both of these blog posts soon. Now, since I kept your attention for so long, I will leave you with some more pictures of my stay in Paris (plus, I need to empty out pictures from my overly-stuffed iPad…). Enjoy!
The Louvre, morning and night
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Attending Friday prayers at the Grande Mosquée de Paris
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Many a coffee break
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 A day well spent at the Musée d’Orsay
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 Landmarks (Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and Petit Palais in the center photo)
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  Exploring the Musée Jacquemart-André (on my birthday!)
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Dreamy scenes of Paris
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Found a late-night Farmer’s Market!
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Notice that pictures (or a discussion) of food are missing? Very observant 🙂
Well, we’ll just leave all of that for another post, shall we??

Eid Mubarak! (And Some Musings) :)

Hi, everyone!
Let’s get to today’s post without discussing my slight absence, shall we? *shifts gaze nervously*

So today’s topic will be a bit different then my normal nutrition/health related ones.

As I (as well as the billions of Muslims around the world) have just finished observing the month of Ramadan, followed by the celebration of Eid-ul Fitr yesterday (a day of festivity for Muslims, marking the end of Ramadan), I just had some musings that I wanted to share with everyone.

Me and my sisters, on Eid :)

My sisters and I, on Eid 🙂

Looking a wee bit confused (normal) ;)

Looking a wee bit disheveled (quite a normal look for me) 😉

Get Henna done. An Eid tradition

Getting Henna done. An Eid tradition

I often get questioned about my religion, especially around this time, when I observe Ramadan. I thought that it would be a good idea to answer the two questions that I get asked the most:

1. Why do I observe Ramadan (In other words, “Why the heck do you fast for 30 days?”)

2. How does one stay ‘healthy’ during this month?

To begin, I will define what exactly Ramadan is. So for those of you who may not know, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, also known as the month of fasting for Muslims, which this year, began at the end of June (28th or 29th, depending on moon sightings) and ended on the night of July 27th, when the first crescent of the new moon was sighted, followed by the celebration of Eid-ul Fitr on July 28th. (To learn more about the history and significance of this time period, click here: http://www.ramadan-islam.org/)

During this month, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking (and also from sexual activities, smoking, engaging in bad habits, foul language, etc) from dawn to sunset. We usually partake in Suhoor (the Islamic term for the pre-dawn meal) about an hour or two before the fast begins and break the fast with Iftar (the sunset meal), immediately as the sun begins to set. So for those of us living in the U.S., that made it around 16/17 hours of fasting per day. {Note: those who are ill, traveling, on medications, pregnant, etc are exempted).

To someone who might not be familiar with Ramadan, not being able to eat or drink anything (even water) during the daylight hours might sound insane, right? Especially for 30 consecutive days?
 So why do millions of Muslims, all over the world, participate in this month every single year, while still partaking in strenuous and everyday activities, such as work, school, etc?

Just a lil humor ;)

Just a lil humor 😉

Similar to a ‘New Year’s Resolution’, this is a time period that gives a person the ability to make positive changes in their life, to fix their bad habits/weaknesses, to strengthen their character, to become more disciplined, to become spiritually rejuvenated, to connect and feel a closeness to their Creator, to gain piety. This is the month when Muslims are asked to do more, to give more, to become more.

Unfortunately, most of us end up not fully appreciating and taking advantage of the benefits that this month has to offer. Most of us tend to use this time as an excuse to lounge in our pajamas all day, to watch tv, to nap, and to pretty much just waste time till 8:30 pm, while eagerly waiting to break the fast (speaking from experience, huh??). However, this takes away from the point of Ramadan completely.

There is so much more to fasting than to simply abstain from eating and drinking.

Not eating and drinking are only the physical requirements of fasting. More eminent (and difficult) are the spiritual requirements of fasting: refraining from evil thoughts, behaviors, words, while simultaneously striving to do good in this world, through acts of worship, charity, benevolent interactions with fellow humans and animals, and by understanding our purpose in this world. This is a month of self-training that, if performed correctly, should last beyond these thirty days, and hopefully, for the rest of our lives.

We are asked to hold back our anger when habitually, we feel nothing but rage, we are taught to empathize with the poor (by both sharing their hunger and by donating even more to charity during this month) when we usually ignore those individuals, and we are told to soften and purify our hearts when we normally feel nothing but detachment and coldness there (Islam puts a huge emphasis on the heart as the main source of discernment and understanding, rather than the brain).

Bottom line, life is short and time moves fast.

As human beings that could face death at any moment, Ramadan takes us out of the whirlwind that is life and allows us to focus on the next one. It allows us to be contemplative, feel humility and gratitude, and to understand and fulfill our purpose. Ramadan is no easy task, requires A LOT of discipline, willpower, and strength.  But in the end, this time period reminds us that as human beings, we have more power and control over our desires than we give ourselves credit for, that we ARE capable of accomplishing more than we think we are, that even through the most trying of times, we have a reason to remain optimistic and hopeful, and that regardless of race, religion, culture, country, we are all compassionate, caring, and good human beings. Ramadan allows us to feel grateful, take care of the hungry and poor, change our habits and lifestyles for the better, and feel a peace of mind that is often never felt during other times of the year.

To answer question #2, there are also many health benefits to fasting. In addition to the mental benefits (peace of mind, controlling anger, self-discipline, overcoming bad habits and desires, feeling contentment and gratitude, etc), there are many medical benefits as well. Fasting allows for a healing process to occur in our bodies. In this world of carcinogens, stress, and toxins galore, human beings are being bombarded with more environmental, nutritional, metabolic toxicity then ever before.Toxins get stored into our tissues and accumulate to a degree that may lead to the diseases that have become quite prevalent to this world, such as cancers, heart ailments, and diabetes. Fortunately, one way the process of detoxification can occur (which eliminates toxins from the body) is through the act of fasting, or refraining from eating or drinking, throughout the day. This way, the body is given the time and ability to remove the toxic waste and buildup more efficiently and effectively.

There are many other physiological effects of fasting such as a better control of chronic illnesses, like diabetes, arthritis, etc, while normalizing blood pressure, allowing for (healthy) weight loss to occur and allowing for a healthier lifestyle to be initiated.

During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to eat many nutritional foods such as dates, nuts, and fruit (which are all Islamic prophetic traditions http://muslimmatters.org/2014/06/22/ramadan-ready-set-go/).

And so again, the only times one cannot eat or drink anything, is from the hours of sunlight to sunset (here in SC, that has been from around 5 AM to 8:30 PM), otherwise, one can eat and drink to their heart’s content. Pun intended 😉

Some of the ways that I attempted to remain healthy and energized, in order to function and go about my day normally were by:

1. Following the prophetic tradition by eating many of the foods encouraged (dates, bananas, honey, etc)
2. Drinking as much water as I am possibly able to (from the time of breaking the fast (after Iftar) till Suhoor time
3. Drinking smoothies (example: 2 handfuls of spinach, berries, and a banana or two) for the necessary vitamins and minerals.
4. To ensure sustained energy throughout the day, making sure to consume plenty of energy-rich foods, such as grains, seeds, nuts, fruit, and my favorite, greek yogurt. I suggest a yogurt bowl, where you can throw in all of these ingredients and make a quick and easy meal for Suhoor or Iftar 🙂
5. By attempting moderation! This is the most difficult one for me, to be honest. It is easy to feel that we need to laden our bodies with TONS of food, in order to function throughout the day. However, this is not the case at all. Eating this way leads to lethargy, fatigue, and weakness instead of allowing us to remain strong and energized throughout the day. As one learns throughout this month, we don’t need to overeat to feel satisfied, full, content. A little does go a long way, indeed.

I have included this tiny (yes, tiny) synopsis of the definition and purpose of fasting for Muslims during the month of Ramadan. These are just a few reasons for why Muslims fast, physically, mentally, and spiritually during this time period. I hope all of this was helpful and that you learned a little more about Islam and Ramadan then you probably knew before. If you have any questions, ask in the comments section!

Soooo, Eid Mubarak!! Till next time 🙂

Banana-Almond Milk Smoothie (With Cocoa and Maca Powder)

 

This may just be the best thing that I have ever come up with. Ever.

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I have no idea how I came up with this recipe.
It’s a combination between a frothy, refreshing milkshake and an energizing latte. Low in calories, fat, and sugar (sweetened with natural ingredients) and chock-full of nutrients that your body needs, making it a much, much healthier and more beneficial drink than most.

Whatever it is, it’s a great alternative to high-calorie milkshakes and to overpriced Starbucks drinks.

Quite reminiscent of a chocolate-banana milkshake….

…. creamy, smooth, refreshing, delicious, chocolatey, sweet.

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In other words…

Yum.

The ingredients are very simple: almond milk, bananas, sweetener, coffee (optional), cocoa powder, and maca powder. That’s it. (Unless you count ice as being an ingredient)

I like to drink this before working out as it gives me the energy that I need without weighing me down. Or I’ll drink this when I need something sweet and chocolaty (yes, that is an adjective) as an afternoon pick-me-up or as a dessert without going overboard on the sugar.

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Warning: Nutrition lecture ahead 😉

In this recipe, I use almond milk in place of conventional, dairy milk. I am a huge fan of almond milk and have been for quite a while now. Almond milk is a great substitute for those who are lactose intolerant, have dairy or gluten-related allergies, are hesitant to drink hormone-laden/rBGH rich cow’s milk, or are simply looking for a lower-calorie source of milk.

 Yes, it takes some getting used to, but once it becomes an acquired taste, the texture of almond milk is much more pleasing (at least to me) than regular milk due to the creaminess and the subtle hint of the nutty and sweet flavor. But you can’t even taste the almond milk in this recipe!

Comparatively, almond milk has a lot less calories than cow’s milk and no saturated fat or cholesterol. It also provides plenty of  vitamins and minerals (such as calcium, potassium, vitamins A, E, D) and is heart-friendly. Though the downsides are that it has much less protein and B vitamins than cow’s milk and most importantly, store-bought almond milk is usually watered down and synthesized with food additives (carrageenan, “natural flavor”, etc), so make sure to read the label before buying! (The best option is probably to make your own almond milk…. one day, hehe) 😉

(I simply checked the back of my almond milk carton to obtain this information, I suggest you all should do the same upon buying yours.)

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The next ingredient is the banana.
Bananas are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which makes them a great addition to this smoothie (plus, bananas are just delicious). I use 2 ripe bananas, for a sweeter, creamier consistency. Make sure they are ripe with dark patches, trust me. It’s better for your taste buds and for your immune system.
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Just in case the ripe bananas aren’t sweet enough, I usually add some sort of sweetener. In this case, I used raw, unfiltered honey (compared to commercial honey, raw honey still retains the naturally-occurring enzymes and phytonutrients that are destroyed in the processed version).
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As for the superfood ingredients (though bananas and honey do qualify as superfoods), I added maca powder and cocoa powder to further boost the nutritional content of this smoothie.
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Maca powder, which is derived from the maca root that grows in the Andes mountains and has been used for centuries by Peruvians, has definitely been gaining prominence in the health world due to the many benefits that it naturally provides:

  •  known to boost stamina and provide energy with the negative side effects of caffeine
  • great source of many vitamins, minerals, and enzymes while also providing all of the essential amino acids
  • has cancer-fighting and anti-aging properties
  • most notably, maca helps to balance our hormones by regulating excess or inadequate amounts in the body
    [Source]

Taste-wise, it’s not very strong, I think it has a slight malty/sweet flavor, making a teaspoon of this stuff a great nutritional addition to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, etc.

 Maca is amazing. I need to do a post solely to praise this stuff… In fact, it is such a great energy booster, that you may as well omit coffee from your life altogether (…this hypocrite is addicted, so I’ll keep adding mine) 😉

The other superfood would be cocoa powder. No, not hot cocoa, nor dutch-processed (which are both processed versions of the real stuff), but naturally unsweetened cocoa powder, which is rich in antioxidants (quite specifically, of the flavanol family), while also providing plenty of minerals such as copper and magnesium.

But the best part about this stuff? It’s chocolate. The end.

These two ingredients completely transform this smoothie; it becomes an indulgent, satisfying drink while also packing a nutritional punch. Usually I do use Hershey’s Cocoa Natural Unsweetened, but I only had the dutch-processed version at home (whoops).

I also add a teaspoon of instant coffee granules, though this is completely option and NOT necessary at all because of the already stimulating and energizing effects of the bananas, maca powder and cocoa powder (but I’m just a coffee addict… sorry).

Alright, enough of my blabber, let’s get started on the smoothie making, shall we??

Ingredients that I use to make this smoothie

Ingredients that I use to make this smoothie

Banana-Almond Milk Smoothie (With Cocoa and Maca Powder)

Ingredients:
2 cups almond milk
2 ripe bananas
1 tsp maca powder
2-3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
espresso/ instant coffee granules (optional)
sweetener of choice (honey, stevia, agave nectar, etc)
handful of ice (approximately 1/3 cup)

Directions:
Simply place all ingredients into a blender
Cover and blend until smooth
Add more liquid and/or ice depending on thickness desired
Add more sweetener depending on sweetness of bananas

Yield:
2 Cups (16 oz.)

Clearly I love this stuff ;)

Clearly I love this stuff 😉

You guys, TRY this and thank me later. I’m serious!

Till next time!

 

 

How about some Curried Butternut Squash Soup? (A video demonstration)

Let’s talk about winter squash, shall we?

That great little pear-shaped fruit (yes, it is a fruit due to the seeds) that’s related to pumpkins.

Butternut squash. A nutrient powerhouse indeed.

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But wait–what is this funny looking, pear-shaped thing, exactly??

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This winter squash is one of the most nutrient-rich foods that you can find.

  • Full of minerals (such as potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium) {Source}
  • Rich in B-complex vitamins (like folate, vitamin B1, B2, and B6) {Source}
  • Rich in Vitamin C (essential for the immune system)
  • Great source of dietary fiber and a relatively low calorie squash (so great for weight reduction and for GI-related issues)
  • As shown from the orange-yellow color of the squash, rich in the biologically-active compound beta-carotene (also found in carrots), a powerful antioxidant to fight cancers, heart diseases, and degenerative neurological diseases {Source}
  • One of the highest sources of Vitamin A (which is converted from the beta-carotene, once inside the body), providing about 350% of daily intake. Vitamin A is essential for the maintenance of our skin,eyes, and hair {Source}

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This one was seasoned with chili powder, garam masala, and salt and then roasted.... mmmmm!

This one was seasoned with chili powder, garam masala, and salt and then roasted….butternut squash fries, mmmmm.

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I then proceeded to topping them on a bed of spinach and then sprinkled caramelized onions, butternut squash seeds, and cilantro. Simple and delicious!

In short, a serving of butternut squash will provide for you  vitamins and minerals that the body can actually absorb, in contrast to the multi-vitamins tablets and supplements that we all tend to take.

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The seeds are quite nutritious as well (protein-filled, fibrous, and vitamin-rich!). Simply season with salt (or experiment with paprika, chili powder, etc), and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes

I could continue to attempt to convince you on the benefits of eating this absolutely delicious and nutritious squash, but how about I provide you with a (video-based) recipe instead?

Recently, I have been working with my local farmers’ market, Hub City Farmers’ Market and we have been working on a cooking demonstration series for their YouTube channel called “Cooking with HCFM”. The goals are to provide easy, affordable, and nutritious recipes for our community and to encourage healthy eating and buying locally-grown produce.

So for our first recipe, we made a delicious curried butternut squash soup.

I’ll be honest, when I found out that this was our first recipe that we were going to make, I was a bit hesitant. The butternut squash, to me,  was a seemingly difficult item to work with (though I soon found out that this was not the case!) and I had never made a soup from scratch before. However, with the proper techniques (such as peeling the squash before cutting into it) and by following the directions step-by-step, it was a very simple, easy, and absolutely delicious soup to make!

This hearty soup is perfect for a cold or rainy evening. Gluten-free and only has around 100 calories per serving,
It is creamy and smooth and seasoned to perfection, using an assortment of spices, that contain even more disease-fighting antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables, as well as anti-inflammatory and metabolism-boosting effects.

So, without further ado, here is the cooking demonstration video (I’m the one in green. And uhh, try not to get distracted by the semi-motherly voice, as you learn how to make this delicious soup):

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients 

1 small butternut squash (or 2 1/2 cups), peeled, seeded and cut into cubes

3 Cups broth (vegetable or meat-based)

1/2 Small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp paprika

1/8  tsp cumin

1/2  tsp curry

4 oz cream cheese

Directions 

  1. Peel the squash (to make it easier to cut through), remove the seeds, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Chop up the onion and then mince the garlic (by squeezing the clove out of its skin and then simply slicing the clove)
  2. Add all the ingredients but the cream cheese to a stockpot and bring to a boil
  3. Reduce heat slightly and simmer till the squash is tender, about 30 minutes (fork can easily piece the flesh)
  4. Transfer content to blender in batches and add cream cheese, blend till pureed
  5. Transfer back to stockpot and heat to warm and further season if necessary

Total Time:  45 minutes

Prep:  15 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

I hope you guys try this one out. Enjoy!!