Chai-Spiced Carrot Cake with Dates and Pistachios (And Happy RD Day!)

Food🍰 Travel✈, Health and Wellness, HealthđŸ’ȘWellness, Uncategorized

Happy Registered Dietitian day!

It’s wonderful, albeit a bit surprising, that this healthcare profession gets a day of celebration. But rightfully so. Our contributions to the healthcare field have taken us into research, medicine, education, public health, leadership, politics, counseling, and beyond. We have the potential to reach and impact every single human being on this planet because food is at the base of existence and integral to the physical, mental, emotional, economic, and social wellbeing of life.

And because, well…. everyone has to eat.

But, being chronically amidst the pandemonium of food politics and the ever-changing information in nutrition and healthcare, I sometimes want to take a step back and just remember the first reason I even wanted to pursue this field.

So in this post, I’m celebrating food.

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Food is absolutely something to be celebrated. Eating is essential to life, we all know this. But I think the celebratory nature of food has been convoluted to fit into the notions of beauty, health, capitalism, contrition/guilt, etc, etc…

Quite simply, eating nurtures the body and the soul. We eat because we enjoy the tastes and textures of food on our tongues. We eat for the comfortable satisfaction that a delicious meal brings. We are reminded of happy memories and eat for the rose-tinted nostalgia.  Food is a representation of languages, cultures, and regions. Food is symbolic in religion. Food is a solace through hardships in life.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Today, I’m celebrating food through my culture.

As a Pakistani American who loves bringing these two cultures together, I bring to the table a very Euro-American dessert, carrot cake, with South Asian nuances

This carrot cake has been desified*  by adding some brewed masala (spiced) chai to the cake batter. The word “chai” means tea in Hindi/Urdu. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, it is a strong brew of tea with spices, milk, and sweetener. You’ll find that these households often drink it several times a day (like, six). 
I also made a lovely date syrup to add the rich flavor of dates to this cake. Dates are one of the primary crops in many South Asian countries and an integral culinary component by default.

The piÚce de résistance in this recipe is the garnish of pistachios, instead of almonds, walnuts, and/or pecans, which are more standard additions to carrot cake. Pistachios are also cultivated in and exported from South Asia.

So yes. These three ingredients are very desi indeed: Chai. Khajoor. Pista.

*Desified- to develop characteristics of South Asian communities like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

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My suggestions:
I used black tea leaves, of course. And for the spices, I added whole cardamom pods and a few cinnamon sticks (but this is optional since I also add cardamom and cinnamon powders to my cake batter as well). Other spices normally added to chai include star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns, etc  but I only had cardamom and cinnamon at the time.

I recommend brewing the tea for strength. Mine was super strong and yet, the taste was subtle and very much complementary to the rest of the flavors of a regular carrot cake.

For my date syrup, I boiled 2/3 cup of pitted dates over medium  heat with just enough water to cover the dates (like 1/4 to 1/2 cup water). I recommend cooling the syrup off and then blending it in a food processor or blender until smooth. Otherwise, the fibrous parts of the dates add a grainy texture to what otherwise should be a moist and soft cake. Boiling the dates and then blending them results in a gorgeous, caramel-like syrup that cannot be attained by simply blending alone (it’s all in the caramelization process between heat and sugar).

DO NOT abstain from adding the coconut to the cake batter. Be generous with it! Unless, of course, you despise coconut.

Okay, okay. Enough talk. Here’s the recipe!

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Chai-Spiced Carrot Cake with Dates and Pistachios

(First, brew the tea and allow it to steep so that it can become stronger. Then proceed with the rest of the cake.)

Brewed Chai
1/2 cup of water
2 tbsp black tea (or two black tea bags)
A few whole green cardamom pods (optional)
2 large cinnamon sticks (optional)
(Other spices such as star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns are also optional)

Bring water to a boil, add black tea, cardamom pods, and cinnamon, reduce heat to medium/low and allow to steep for a few minutes for the flavors to infuse. Strain the mixture and put the mixture aside to cool and to be used later in the cake.

Carrot Cake Batter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable/canola oil
2 cups carrots, grated
2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pitted dates
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

Boil 2/3 cup pitted dates over medium heat with just enough water to cover the dates. Cool the syrup off and then blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F. Place the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, salt) in a bowl and mix together. 

In a separate bowl, place the eggs, granulated sugar, oil, (cooled) date syrup, and the (cooled) brewed tea and mix together until emulsified. 

Pour this mixture over a large bowl of grated carrots and shredded coconut. Fold in the flour, a little at a time. 

Transfer the cake batter to a greased, baking pan. Place in the over and bake for 40 minutes. Allow cake to completely cool before adding cream cheese frosting. 

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Blend ingredients together until smooth, fluff-like texture attained. Apply to cake when completely cooled. 
Garnish cake with pistachios (lots of ’em).

Enjoy!

-Amna ❀

Amna’s Healthy and Delicious Brownies

HealthđŸ’ȘWellness

I know what you’re thinking
.
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How could these sumptuous and sinful-looking brownies possibly be healthy??

 

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Being the chocolate lover that I am, I’ve made (and eaten) my fair share of brownies. Thus, I’ve taken on the noble task of venturing out and experimenting with the most perfect dessert in existence (debatable…but on this blog it ain’t).  Enter the black bean brownie. Yes. Black beans. The dark-colored legume, normally found in savory dishes. But when you can incorporate this rich source of protein, soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals into a delicious dessert as well, then why not?? This modified  brownie recipe is a great alternative to the high fat, sugar-filled, and calorie-dense conventional brownie recipe. A favorable dessert indeed, for those looking to make healthier alternatives to their diet.

 

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I have experimented with this recipe enough to ensure that texture, tenderness, and sweetness (components of a typical brownie) aren’t compromised by the lack of flour or by the lack of high amounts of fat in these brownies. When rinsed and drained thoroughly, the flavor of the beans is completely masked. And the applesauce (with only 68 calories per 3.5 ounces) compensates for the moisture and consistency of a typical brownie while also adding more nutritional benefits (increasing the amount of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C). The walnuts provide protein, omega-3 fats, and other beneficial compounds, while adding a crunchy profile to these brownies. The chocolate chips…..well, those are just necessary. Period 😉 

The remaining ingredients work harmoniously  together to create this enjoyable dessert (and yes, all of these ingredients are imperative in this recipe, including the coffee granules and salt).

If a delicious brownie were to be in existence, with a high fiber, protein, vitamin, and mineral content, while simultaneously being lower in calories and fat, then wouldn’t you want to try it?Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup sugar (or date puree, see below*)
1/2 cup unsweetened  cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Walnuts (or other nuts of choice)

*Puree 2/3 cup pitted dates (Medjool dates, preferably) with 1/4 to 1/2 cup hot water until a thick paste is made. (Dates are high in fiber and rich in minerals (iron, copper, manganese) and add a wonderful caramel flavor to the brownies, thus, a beneficial alternative to sugar.)

Directions
1. Place all ingredients in a food processor. Cover and process until blended and smooth.
2. Transfer to a greased baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and walnuts.
3. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Yield: 1 dozen

-Amna ❀

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Falooda Recipe #TheEastStreetEats

Health and Wellness, HealthđŸ’ȘWellness, Uncategorized

Eid Mubarak, dear readers!
I know that we’ve been MIA for months; sometimes life gets in the way of quality blogging material. I’ve been finishing up my master’s degree while rotating at various hospitals in Chicago and Zanib has been busy getting married (I’m trying to convince her to blog about it)!

I don’t want to leave this blog in the dust so I will try to post shorter posts more often. Rambling/blathering is my Achilles’ heel, so brevity should allow for me to post more frequently (and keep you guys from falling asleep!).

I digress. (See? I can’t help it!)

What you see below is a filmed food demonstration. This is a new venture that I’m experimenting with and the first of many filmed food demos under the banner (hashtag, rather) of #TheEastStreetEats. If you watch the video, you’ll get a taste (pun intended) of the aesthetic that I’m going for.

So about the recipe:
Falooda is a popular dessert in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Muslims particularly enjoy it during the month of Ramadan. It’s a beautiful drink that tastes even better than it looks. But the only way I could describe it to non-desis is as an “ice cream float” with a discernible floral flavor.
Many variations exist but the common ingredients tend to be rose syrup and vermicelli noodles (both found in Indian and Arabic grocery stores), as well as chilled milk and basil or chia seeds.


Falooda Recipe #TheEastStreetEats
(Makes two servings)

1 cup milk
1 Tbsp sugar
Rose Syrup or Rooh Afza
1 cup vermicelli (sev) noodles
1 Tbsp chia seeds (soaked for at least 1 hour)
Strawberry jelly/jello (as much/little as needed)
Vanilla Ice cream
Optional: nuts (and rose petals if you want to be extra)

Directions: 
1. Boil 1 cup of milk. Once boiled, reduce heat and simmer milk for an additional 10 minutes. Add 1 tbsp sugar to the milk and then refrigerate for a few hours.
2. While milk is chilling, soak 1 tbsp of chia seeds in water for 30 min to an hour.
3. Prepare the vermicelli/sev noodles according to package instructions.
4. Once the milk has been chilled, prepare the falooda drink: layer two tall glasses with chia seeds, vermicelli/sev, and jelly/jello. Then pour the milk into the two glasses. Add the rose syrup/rooh afza to your liking. Top the drink off with ice cream and more syrup. Add nuts if desired.
Enjoy!

This video was made possible thanks to the hands and faces of my sisters and the brilliant music of Amit Trivedi (song: Monta Re from Lootera).

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Why Muslims Fast During Ramadan

Deen â˜Ș Dunya, Uncategorized

imageEdited to say:
My heart goes out for the LGBTQ+ community, the victims, and their families. It’s unfair, it’s unsafe, it’s hate.
But amidst the hatred that is so rampant in this world, amidst the injustice and abuse, I will always find comfort in knowing that there will be justice for the wrongs of this world. For me, that comfort is religion.
Right after celebrating and honoring one of the most beautiful representatives of Islam, Muhammad Ali. And right in the middle of the Holy Month of Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to become, not only better Muslims, but better human beings, this horrible incident occurred. Again, I’m praying for the families of the victims and praying that unity, compassion, and love can be found amidst this injustice and hate.
I wrote a post, sharing my thoughts and beliefs on our beautiful month of Ramadan. These are just a few words of an individual, who believes that humanity, love, equality, and religion can all be used fervently in the same sentence.

 

Reminiscing on the life and on the recent passing of Muhammad Ali has been a reminder of what it truly means to be a Muslim to me. And to be a Muslim, accordingly, is to understand and appreciate the holiest month in Islam: Ramadan.

As of this moment, there are billions of people around the world who have deprived themselves of bare necessities. Billions of people, who will not eat and drink as long as the sun is up in the sky, are observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
During this month, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking, and also from sexual activities, engaging in bad habits/addictions, foul language/behavior, etc, from dawn to sunset. Muslims 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, immediately as the sun begins to set.  (Note:  those who are ill, traveling, on medications, pregnant, etc are exempted from fasting.)

As a Muslim who had a very shaky foundation and understanding of the religion of Islam, I had spent my youth with the belief that Ramadan was simply a month-long period of starvation or some sort of “religious atonement”. Therefore, I spent year after year, experiencing Ramadan with various distorted emotions/perspectives; one year with the fear of failure, that I wouldn’t be “successful” at completing the rituals associated with Ramadan (such as the Taraweeh night prayers or being able to read the Qur’an every day). Another, with the anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to function properly at school without food/water. And still another, simply wasting/napping the day away while waiting to break my fast at 8:30 PM.  Year after year, I spent the time period completely oblivious to the actuality and beauty of Ramadan.

And as the world remembers and honors the life of Muhammad Ali, I am reminded of how he was such a beautiful representative of my faith.
As a fighter for justice, as a champion against adversity, and as a leader of the oppressed, Ali embodies the essence of and necessity for Ramadan perfectly.

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Upon his conversion to Islam and all throughout his life, Ali’s religion was held against him and even used as a source of mockery and insult; his adherence to Islam’s tenets of freedom and justice were ironically, questioned by the very country that itself boasts of “freedom and justice”. His refusal to serve in the Vietnam War on the grounds of his religious/moral beliefs cost him greatly. And yet, losing his career, his title, his popularity, meant nothing to Ali if it meant compromising his beliefs to fight in what he believed to be an unjust war. Ali’s heart remained resilience and powerful, through every adversity and test that was thrown at him, throughout his life and even up to his death. “All of his organs failed but his heart wouldn’t stop beating.” Even on his deathbed, Mohammad Ali’s heart remained strong and a true testament to his faith.

This, to me, this is exactly the point of Ramadan.

Islam puts a huge emphasis on the heart as the main source of wisdom and understanding, and equally, as the main target of pain and suffering. Muslims believe that our hearts are very much alive, not only in the physiological sense, but in a spiritual/transcendental state as well.

We believe that the heart is constantly in a state of war. Whether it’s the struggle against the self or the conflict against oppression and injustice or the fight against addiction and temptation, it is our hearts that lead us into the battle and it is our hearts that are bruised and battered and either weakened or strengthened.

Thus, in a world full of blows and punches, Ramadan is our training program for the boxing ring of life.
The one month of Ramadan trains us for the matches of the next 11 months of the year–rather, for the rest of our lives. Ramadan trains us to endure and overcome whatever punches life will throw at us.

But how does Ramadan strengthen us, how does this time period strengthen our hearts?

Not eating and drinking are only the physical requirements of fasting. More eminent (and much more difficult) are the spiritual ones. Refraining from backbiting, lies, anger, jealousy, bad habits while simultaneously striving to do good in this world, through acts of worship, charity, and benevolent interactions with fellow humans and animals, are all requirements of fasting as well.

Our fasts, as ironic as it may seem, are not to cause us hardship, but instead to grant us ease as we struggle through the trials of this life.

Ramadan is when we live the teachings of Islam and must truly practice what we preach.

As we fast, we practice patience and tolerance, as we hold back our angry retorts, especially in the face of adversity and injustice.
As we fast, we resist the urge of hurting others, through lies, gossip, and slander.
As we fast, we shift our ever-insatiable thoughts of desire, money, competition, comparison and instead focus on connecting with our Creator.
As we fast, our souls are cleansed, purified, and strengthened as we are liberated by the chains of resentment and bitterness and bruised egos and disappointment. We find peace in relying on our Creator and understanding that He will never disappoint us nor will He forsake us.
As we fast, we rid ourselves of selfishness and our worldly desires and instead focus on helping our brothers and sisters in humanity.
As we fast, we rid the heart of resentment, hurt, jealousy and instead fill it with gratitude, peace, and love.

We fast to practice Islam to its true sense:  by being the most giving of neighbors, the most trustworthy of co-workers, the most compassionate of friends, and the most benevolent of humanity.

Ramadan is no easy task, requires a lot of discipline, willpower, humility, and self-restraint.  But in the end, this time period allows us to feel grateful, be in greater control of our own desires, take care of the hungry and poor, change our habits and lifestyles for the better, find comfort in our Creator and (therefore) feel a peace of mind that is often never felt during other times of the year, and gain the discipline and strength to be resilient through life’s tests.

Now, as the world remembers Muhammad Ali’s legacy, as the world honors him as the legend that he is in the realm of sports, social justice, and civil rights, we must remember that he was also a shining representative of the teachings of Islam: of strength, of struggle, of humanity, of mercy, of solidarity, of love.

I hope that this information will be enlightening for all of us, not just for the Muslims that read these words. I hope that this will be educational; a small, albeit significant step in creating a more humane, understanding, and peaceful world for us all.

-Amna ❀

 

Art For Syria

Deen â˜Ș Dunya, Uncategorized

So a few of my photographs can be purchased and 100% of the proceeds from these two photographs will be donated directly to NuDay Syria and help to support their humanitarian efforts for the Syrian Refugee crisis, God willing. More information on a prior blogpost. This effort is still going on and the photographs are still purchasable as a part of this charity organization.

Another photograph, labeled “The Future” can be purchased on the Art For Syria website.

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The Future

This photo was not taken in Syria. But the scene is hauntingly reminiscent to the current state of Syria.

This photograph was taken in Pompeii, Italy. A city that is now a tourist site, as a reminder of the natural devastation that destroyed it centuries ago.

However, Syria is currently being destroyed. Its people are being destroyed and displaced. But not by a natural disaster. Rather, by man, war, and power.

I titled it “The Future” because there is still hope for the future. There is still hope left for Syria. There are many benevolent efforts out there that are doing all that they can to keep Syria and its people alive.

An effort such as this, using artwork to raise money and support the millions of Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance.

If interested in purchasing my (or any of the other participating artists’) artwork, please click here.

To reiterate, 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.

The first 10 people to purchase this photograph, can use the coupon forthefutureofsyria when ordering, to get free shipping.

http://www.artforsyriaproject.com/artwork/amna-haq-the-future/

-Amna ❀

 

 

Parce Que, Je Suis une Blogueuse de Nutrition

Food🍰 Travel✈
An update (and the inspiration for the title of this blog post) is that in September of 2014, 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 RĂ©gime 5/2 Ă  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 17ùme 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 MusĂ©e d’Orsay:
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Landmarks (Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and Petit Palais):
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Exploring the Musée Jacquemart-André:
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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??
{Edited by Amna from 2018: I regret to inform you all that a Paris food post never happened…. maybe if I hopefully end up in Paris again someday!}
 -Amna ❀ 

Contradictions

Celebrating the South Asian Female, Celebrating the South Asian Female 💜, Deen â˜Ș Dunya, Life ♄ Lessons, South Asian Female 💜

Masculinity and feminism.
Individual and society.
Culture and religion.

Often, these terms are used in opposition; often, as contradictions.
Masculinity and feminism, in particular, are such clashing concepts that can’t seem to co-exist peacefully.

There are so many directions that we can take this conversation. I do want to steer it toward the designated gender roles as deemed by my South Asian culture, as this is my experience and what I have been most impacted by. But if this taboo conversation can become an open dialogue amongst us brown folk, I hope this conversation can be inclusive of other gender-related issues as well, such as gender identity and LGBTQ+ rights.

It is common practice in South Asian households that as soon as a woman is of “marital age”, she must begin to transform herself. She must mold herself into the ideal wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. She must exhaust herself mentally, emotionally, physically in order to please her new family. Meanwhile, a man is not expected to change at all; no efforts at maturity, percipience, tolerance, acceptance, humility. But all of this and much, much more is expected out of a woman. What entails is often an unbalanced relationship defined by miscommunication, control/domination, ego, and therefore, mistreatment and abuse. (Source). Of course, the harsh reality of misogyny/inequality is quite obvious in countries like Pakistan and India, but these disparities absolutely exist here in the West as well. With sexual objectification, rape culture, and inequality in the workforce, as a few examples.

This poem was in part inspired by the documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. I encourage you all to watch this powerful film as well. If anything, the film asks us to reevaluate and reflect upon our identities. It is of the utmost necessity to redefine what it means to be a Man and what it means to be a Woman.

This poem is written in a series of questions. I hope you  benefit and also find it to be an invitation for an open dialogue (please feel free to disagree, agree, or add onto the conversation).

(Note: The baby in the left image is me and the girl on the right is my sister. Still, these two images [hopefully] serve their purpose: to showcase that a woman’s identity is given to her at birth. She has no choice over her own self. Rather, a woman’s identity lies at the mercy of the society that she is born into.)

 

Contradictions

If we are from the same womb, the same home
Why then must I, the woman, leave mine
while you, the man, stay in yours?

You see, you and I, we are imprisoned. Behind the bars of society.
My punishment for being a woman is to suck up the hurt and bear the pain.
Your punishment for being a man is to express it through anger.

Why are daughters raised to be actresses,
performing in roles in which we cannot be broken or human?
Why must we pretend that these wounds do not exist?
For if we let you in and allow you to see past that Perfected Outer Shell,
Would you still stay?

Why are sons raised to be callous? Raised in a culture of
“Boys will be boys” and “At least he never hit you”.
Limited in their emotional expression
and denied the right to be vulnerable and kind.

Why has society taken away women and men and replaced them with
pink, dainty flowers and blue-wearing brutes?

Why is a woman feminine only if she is soft, beautiful, and fragile?
Why is a man masculine only if he is cold, controlling, and strong?

I am told that my greatest validation in life as a woman, is in becoming a wife and a daughter-in-law.
Why am I told that this is also my test?
To stay resilient and silent through the abuse.
As if I have nowhere else to go.
As if I am disposable,
replaceable.

You are told that your greatest validation in life as a man,
is in your career, your ego, your manhood.
“Don’t cry, you’re not a girl, are you??”
Words that you’ve heard since before you could even walk.
You were raised to be strong and stone: a mountain.

Why is it that a proud father will tell his daughter that she’s like a son to him,
Whereas it would be of utmost shame for a son to be likened to a daughter?

When did women stop becoming the daughters of Khadija, Aisha, Asiya
and instead became daughters of acid, sorrow, and shame?

When did men stop becoming the sons of the Mercy upon Mankind
and instead, became sons of privilege, abuse, and flame?

So you and I, we find ourselves here,
imprisoned by etiquette and customs.
In a society of superstition.
Upon a bed of acceptance.
And I ask, once again:
If we are of the same nafs*, the same Creator, the same womb, the same home
Why then, must I leave mine, while you stay in yours?

 

Nafs- Arabic term for the self/soul/person

-Amna ❀

I Am a Woman (Poem)

Celebrating the South Asian Female, Celebrating the South Asian Female 💜, Life ♄ Lessons, South Asian Female 💜, Uncategorized

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I wrote this poem as a year-long reminder of what this month signifies to me. A life-long reminder, actually.

We all have our battles. We all have something that our hearts are attached to. From an Islamic perspective, Muslims believe that this has to do with the heart’s separation from its Creator. So our hearts are ever searching for something to fill this void, whether it’s money, or career, or status, or love.

Filling our hearts with love and acceptance, that’s something that we all want, but I believe it’s something that I and, to generalize, really all women struggle with the most.

Us  women, we know very well how to value others but we seldom know how to value ourselves. We wholeheartedly do things for others, but rarely for ourselves. We even show other people more respect than we show to ourselves. In doing so, we effervescently give others the love, honor, and acceptance that we do not know how to give to ourselves.
This only leads to a downward spiral of disappointment, loss, pain, and self-deprecation. And only further exacerbates the symptoms of this “separated heart”.

So my greatest battle has always been accepting myself.
A lot of this stems from my South Asian heritage where misogyny, male privilege, and other gender disparities have migrated to the West alongside the rest of my people.
However, some of this stems from my own personal experiences with self-acceptance and love as well.

But after years and years of struggling with the notion that I’m “not good enough”, I have finally come to the realization that when I… when we live with this mentality, when we think less of ourselves, we are denying our purpose in this world.

There’s the *Hakim (The Most Wise) who created all parts of us for a reason: our bodies, our minds, our personalities. Even our flaws were created with so much wisdom that we don’t even have the wisdom to comprehend.

Every one of us was created with precision and expertise and honor. We are all so valuable, so beloved, and so necessary for this world and for ourselves.

And you know, I’ve slowly learned to love all parts of me, even the parts that I wanted to change for the longest time. But it’s me. It’s all me and I love that. I love myself.

So this poem is an homage to….me.
To finally accepting myself as a Woman, as a Human, as a Muslim, as Me.

With these words, I wish to spread the love and honor that we don’t show ourselves too often. And through this poem, as I stand for myself, I hope to stand for all women.

I Am a Woman

I am a Woman.
My body is made of blades
and my mind, of steel.

I am Strength.
The spine that supports the weight of this world
and the womb that keeps it alive.

I am Wisdom.
I know now that time is not healing my pain, no.
Time, instead, is teaching me how to stitch those wounds
that I spent years ripping apart.

I am Love.
A manifestation of which can only be found in God Himself.
I am the proof that He is indeed “*Al Wadud”.

I am a Diver
and I will sink.
Hit rock bottom, as I have done before.
But I have found that only at the bottom is where I find pearls
and resurface with such precious gems,
rising higher than i ever have before.

I am  Beauty.
Not reminiscent of a flower, whose beauty fades with its age.
But an ever-lasting one,
as intangible as my soul.

I am a Nomad.
A product of diaspora.
I wander in search of a place to call home.
Only to find,
that home in me.

I am the Heart.
The kind that was created to be broken and torn
so that it could instead be mended
and given back to its Creator.

Today, as I speak for myself,
I speak for all Women.
I speak for Struggle. Ambition. Hope. Empathy. Life.
I am all of these. And so much more.
But most of all, I am mine.
And I am enough.
Because I am a Woman.
I hope you now know, too.
-Amna Haq

*Hakim- One of the 99 names of God in Islam,  meaning the “Most Wise” in Arabic
* Al Wadud- Another of the 99 names, meaning the Ultimate Source of Love

 

 

❀

Celebrating the South Asian Female: Samina Qureshi

Celebrating the South Asian Female, Celebrating the South Asian Female 💜, South Asian Female 💜

So one of my goals for this blog is for it to serve as a platform for the voice of the South Asian woman, for her to become more visible to the public, and for her to be able to speak on behalf of herself. One way that East Street plans to accomplish this is by celebrating the South Asian woman and focusing on her achievements, advances, and contributions to society.
Thus begins East Street’s Celebrating the South Asian Female series! 

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Samina and I at The Allis Soho House in Chicago

So we begin with quite an opener:  Samina Qureshi, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Health Coach, currently practicing in Chicago, Il. Not only is she saving the world through disease prevention and management (aka through nutrition), but together, Samina and her husband, Shadid have been able to give back to their ancestral village in Bangladesh by providing better access to health services, assistance to families, and promoting education as the key to success for children in the village.

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Not the worst of meeting places 😉

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We met in the sumptuous and cozy lounge of The Allis in Chicago, where some illuminative conversations took place; we talked about everything from the diaspora of our South Asian American generation to the quality of our food at the Allis (because, dietitians/food lovers).
Samina inspired and enlightened me so much through her own experiences, volunteer efforts, and passions. I hope you all will benefit as well.

1. Tell us a bit more about yourself
Well, I am a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and am currently working in the field of corporate wellness.  I received my B.S. in Nutritional Sciences/Dietetics from the University of Texas at Austin. After undergrad I was accepted into the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at UT Austin where I completed 1200 hours of supervised practice rotations and prepared to sit for the RD exam (the necessary requirements for accreditation as a registered dietitian).

I grew up in a town with a pretty decent sized desi (Indian, Pakistani, and/or Bangladeshi)  community where I was well immersed into culture and religion. I was raised in a very family-oriented environment.  My parents and grandparents had a significant impact in helping me become the person that I am today. My paternal grandmother moved in with my family when I was 4 years old and I remember my brother and I spending most of our childhood with her. Unfortunately, my grandmother fell ill and needed assistance with daily to day living. My brother and I would often take care of her when my parents were away. We would feed her, give her company, etc. I believe having the opportunity to take care of a family member at such a young age helped me to become a more nurturing and compassionate person. So I desired a career that would also allow me to care for people, to educate them and to help them live a better quality of life.

2. What inspired you to become a dietitian?
I always knew that I wanted to do something related to health and wellness. And I noticed people in our community were predisposed to many chronic conditions that could have been prevented or delayed by taking better care of themselves. I found that aspect of medicine/healthcare to be particularly interesting. However, back then I didn’t know that there was a medical profession such as that of a registered dietitian. I did take my first nutrition class sophomore year of college and learned, not only of the profession, but also of the many directions that one can take in this field (clinical, community, corporate, sports, etc).

During undergrad I volunteered as a research assistant for a mindful eating intervention study with the Assistant Dean of the Nursing School. The mindful eating intervention was tested on perimenopausal women to assess the effectiveness of weight gain prevention. As this group of people  tend to have an increased risk for weight gain, increasing their abdominal waist circumference, which in turn increases their risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We conducted weekly sessions where we practiced mindful eating meditation exercises, discussed general principles of weight management, and coached participants on personalized weekly goals. Since I wasn’t a nursing student and was instead studying nutrition, I was able to answer the participants’ questions related to nutrition during the sessions and help discern between the evidence-based versus the media-based nutrition information out there.
One experience that was a turning point for me was working with a war veteran in this study. She went from being fed by the military for years and years, to having to figure out how to feed herself. She had no idea how to cook or even how to buy groceries. It was basically teaching her how to live a life again after the military. This experience was eye opening for me. I didn’t know that people had such little knowledge about nutrition, even navigating through a grocery store without feeling overwhelmed and confused. Working with her specifically was a turning point and helped for me to see my purpose and solidified my career choice. I realized that there is a dire need for someone to provide evidence-based information and filter out the vast amounts of nutrition-related material out there.

3. Where do you feel the role of a dietitian lies in the field of medicine and health?
The role is crucial in prevention and management of diseases. Not only for medical nutrition therapy but for day-to-day life as well. There is nothing more important in your life than your health. Dietitians address this notion directly and work individually with their patients towards better health, especially before they’re prescribed endless medications (which only increase the cost of living). Physicians only know so much about nutritional science and education, that realm can only be fulfilled by a dietitian.
People often believe that a prescribed medication is a “magic cure” for their condition. For example, if someone is diagnosed with hypertension and their physician wants to wait a trial period to see if the medication is necessary. Often times, the person will then go home and do absolutely nothing to change their lifestyle habits. What usually ends up happening is that the physician gives them their “magic cure” for the elevated blood pressure and they keep eating the same foods and living the same sedentary life. Medication can only do so much to treat a person’s high blood pressure and not learning how to include nutritious foods or physical activity into their lifestyle can increase their chances of other chronic illnesses.
People think prescription medications are magic because they take the pills and then believe that they no longer have hypertension which is completely untrue. All it does is treat the condition, it does not get rid of it. Making long term, lifestyle changes such as making healthful food choices, exercising regularly, etc will not only treat the symptoms, but actually prevent or delay the need for medication.
That’s where the role of a dietitian is really important. People should know that they can change their fate. That a diagnosis is not a death sentence nor a reason to rely on medications as a “quick fix”. Rather, it should be a motivation to change your lifestyle habits for the better. Yes, it does take a lot of effort and time, better health isn’t something that happens overnight. Quick fixes and instant results have really been glamorized by the media; but you have you ever heard of someone waking up one day and running a marathon without any training or becoming a lawyer overnight?  It all takes discipline, time, investment and effort.

4. As a female health care provider, particularly in the field of nutrition, how do you feel about the worldwide nutrition-related epidemic that is so rampant. especially for women in male-dominated social structures?
Women are the anchors of their families and are in a unique position that allows them to influence the health of their family. Often times women do the housework, manage their children, and cook meals all while holding down a full-time job. In a fast-paced world, family meals are the perfect time for everyone to spend quality time together and reconnect. Women, especially in desi communities, should take this opportunity to get their spouses and children involved! Young children can participate by rinsing or drying produce, setting the table, or pouring water into everyone’s glasses. You can have fun with it and designate your spouse to be the official taste tester. The more time you spend communicating together as family the better! Children learn about food habits, positive or negative, at a very early age. When the whole family contributes during mealtime, kids are more likely to eat the finished product, try new food and adopt healthy habits.

5. Tell us about your efforts in the village communities of Bangladesh
Shadid’s grandfather’s legacy is something that we want to keep alive. He was able to donate a large plot of his land to his village in Bangladesh. Over time many projects have been put into place to enhance the villagers’ lives  including a primary school, high school, mosque, free clinic, and a marketplace. These projects along with many others are done solely by donation from family and friends that we hold extremely close to our hearts. Most recently, Shadid and I implemented a tutoring program, since the village is behind Dhaka’s school standards, where the top students in the village tutor their fellow students. Our goal is to empower the younger generation of villagers through education.

Forbearance: Ode To Peshawar

Deen â˜Ș Dunya, Uncategorized
One year ago, on the morning of December 16th, 2014, parents in Peshawar, Pakistan would send their children to school one last time, oblivious to the fact that they would never see their children again.

In a tragedy that can be compared to that of Sandy Hook’s and of the recent Paris attacks (and many others as well), tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Peshawar attacks, where the lives of of more than 140 people (at least 130 being children) in the Army Public School were brutally taken away by terrorists.

Last year, I had no other way to express my sorrow, except through poetry. Today, 365 days later, that pain is still as raw as it was on December 16th, 2014.

Forbearance

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”.

 

*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).