Spirituality, in the Kitchen

Intention is an integral part of Islamic practice. In the first hadith that is mentioned in Imam Nawawi’s famous compilation of 40 hadiths, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is narrated to have said: ‘Actions are only by their intentions.’

As a general rule, obligatory religious acts require a specific intention (such as what time of prayer is about to be offered) whereas voluntary religious acts can have multiple intentions. Without intending ritual prayer, one’s prayer is not valid. Likewise in some schools of thought, taking ritual ablution requires intention. When fasting in Ramadhan, one must intend to fast prior to the entrance of dawn. As for voluntary acts of worship, for example, one can intend to offer two voluntary rak’ahs of prayer to show gratitude towards Allah, for a safe & blessed day and for forgiveness. Likewise, any act in our daily lives outside of obligatory religious acts can be carried out with a multitude of meaningful intentions. Islam is not simply the five pillars. Intentions add meaning to our lives. We can eat simply to be satiated, or we can begin to eat by mindfully reciting the Basmala, with our right hand to follow the Sunnah, with thankfulness and with the intention that we will use the energy provided by this meal to carry out good. What a big difference.

As a stay-at-home mother of two, I try to be mindful of what my intentions (or goals, really) are in many decisions I take in my daily life. However, because a big portion of my daily routine is spent in the kitchen, there’s a lot of intentionality that goes on inside this small space. Intentionality can be applied to any part of your daily routine, so if the kitchen is not your primary hub, you may still apply this to other parts of your life.

I know that spending long hours everyday in the kitchen, or tidying up, raising children from the morning till the evening (and in the middle of the night), being at everyone’s service, can sometimes have you question whether you’re doing anything meaningful or not. At least I’ve been there. This seemingly never-ending house work that keeps repeating itself every time you think you’re done with a chore. I am all for getting help as needed and taking a break every now and then. However, on your day-to-day life, intentionality will keep you from the unhealthy & deceptive feeling that you’re not doing anything worthwhile.

I didn’t want to keep this post long and I feel it’s already gotten long so I am going to jump right into some actions you can implement in your cooking area! I want to just begin by mentioning wudhu (ablution; ritual purity). Only Allah knows all the merits of being in a state of wudhu and its reality, but it clearly holds an important place as per the hadith of the Prophet where he describes angels accompanying the person who goes to sleep in a state of ritual purity until he awakes. I understand the difficulty this may bring, especially for mothers who barely have time to go to the bathroom, let alone take their time to take wudhu when it’s not prayer time but I urge you to try to at least implement it for some meals, with mindfulness, that you are intending to cook with wudhu and intend for the benefits of this state to manifest in your food. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’ve been baking my family’s bread for the last few months now. Ever since I began, I try my very best to remain in a state of wudhu while feeding my sourdough starter, kneading the dough and baking the bread. I try to remain in this way when I do my other cooking, as well as while eating. Ladies who are on their moon cycle may consider taking a symbolic wudhu, with the intention of receiving the spiritual benefits of wudhu without resuming ritual acts of worship. In addition to having wudhu, I recite al-Fatiha while I stir my sourdough starter during a feed, or salawat while cooking as I remember, and when I bake a bread for a friend or cook a meal for my family, I intend for that food to bring healing, physical as well as spiritual wellbeing and give thanks for it. If you believe in spirituality, you most likely understand how our feelings and energy can have a strong impact on what they are directed at. While cooking, whether just for yourself or for others, avoid all unhealthy thoughts and feelings to the best of your ability. If you find your mind roaming to undesirable territory, try to refocus and renew your intentions. Trust me, you don’t want yourself or your loved ones to eat food that was prepared with negative energy. (Who knows what state meals might have been prepared in in restaurants!). Try to include Prophetic foods in your diet. I highly suggest Zainab Ismail if you want some ideas and inspiration on how to do just that, very easily. Learn about the sunnan of eating and implement them with the intention of following the Prophet’s way. He ﷺ did not pick certain foods or eat a certain way simply out of desire but because they are superior and better for us.

As a side note: if you feel like you can’t focus in the kitchen for the life of you, consider what state the kitchen might be in when you’re trying to make a meal. Is it unorganized, cluttered, and you don’t know where is what? Maybe that’s a good place to start!

For the stay-at-home mom… If you are in charge of your kitchen, you are actually in charge of your family’s wellbeing. Your spiritual state in this territory will impact the physical & spiritual wellbeing of your spouse, children and/or other family members. The meal cooked with love, du’a and with mindful intentions will nourish your family and so, their accomplishments within their own duties and responsibilities will be connected to the nourishment you are providing them with. That’s a big and praiseworthy role, if you ask me. So next time (and if ever) you feel down about ‘wasting’ ‘all your time’ in the kitchen, think of this.

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Sourdough Einkorn Bread

 

I hope & intend that you find benefit in this post!

 

 

My Most Frequently Used Essential Oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic substances extracted from plants most commonly by using the distillation method. A by-product of distillation is the leftover aromatic waters which we refer to as hydrosol. Hydrosols are also very valuable and can be used in a wide range of ways. They are less concentrated than essential oils and are much cheaper too. I’m not an aromatherapy expert by any means but I like to include them in my daily use, from cosmetic purposes to cleaning and healing. Personally, from time to time I will use an essential oil directly on my skin as well as internally (I will mention examples below). However, generally for the beginner, it’s best to dilute essential oils before use and it’s also best to avoid internal use unless under the guide of a professional aromatherapist.

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Copper distiller dismantled

For a general traditional guideline, below is a chart taken from the Chestnut School of Herbs’ Herbal Immersion Program. If you are interested in enrolling into either the Herbal Immersion Program, or the Herbal Medicine Making Course, shoot me a message and I will share with you a 10% discount code. In return, I also get a referral fee (win-win!). Both are beautiful courses and Juliet has truly invested so much of her experience and knowledge into it.

Traditional Dosage Chart

Carrier oil in ounces 0.5% dilution 1% 2.5% 3% 5% 10%
½ ounce

(15 ml)

1-2 drops 3 drops 7-8 drops 9 drops 15 drops 30 drops
1 ounce

(30 ml)

3 drops 6 drops 15 drops 18 drops 30 drops 60 drops
2 ounces

(60 ml)

6 drops 12 drops 30 drops 36 drops 60 drops 120 drops
4 ounces

(120 ml)

12 drops 24 drops 60 drops 72 drops 120 drops 240 drops

Before I begin, I want to just go over four hydrosols that I use frequently. I usually get all three from my mom’s apothecary. She has a copper as well as a glass distiller and collects most of the plants herself to be used in the distillation process.

  1. Damascene Rose: This is such a beautiful flower with delicate petals and a fragrant scent. It truly causes a blooming of the soul. It takes a lot of roses to produce a substantial amount of essential oil and therefore hydrosol is a great alternative to benefiting from this flower. I use it in cooking such as in basmati rice, rice pudding and other desserts, I use it to wipe my children’s faces in the morning and before bedtime and I use it to clean my face in combination with castor oil (apply castor oil first, then wipe with cotton & rose water). I also use it as a spray in hot climates to cool down.
  2. Neroli: This is another incredible flower, taken from the bitter orange tree. It is also known as Orange Blossom. Just the act of picking these little blossoms is uplifting. As is the case with Rose, it takes a lot of blossoms to produce essential oil. I use this in similar ways to Rose hydrosol, except not as much, and another way I use Neroli hydrosol is a few teaspoons into a glass of warm water. Very calming and satisfying.
  3. Thyme: This is a champion when it comes to stomach issues as well as lung infections. I usually like to dilute it with some warm water because it is very strong, albeit not an essential oil.
  4. Lemon Eucalyptus: This is not a combination of lemon and eucalyptus but a plant of its own. I use it as a spray on the body to avoid mosquito bites. I’m one of those lucky ones who aren’t savored by those annoying insects but having kids, it comes in handy. Avoid the eyes when spraying.
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Damascene Rose

As for the Essential Oils…

I have a wide range of essential oils in my kit but these are at the top of my list:

  1. Tea Tree: I’ve used tea tree in a wide range of ways including to treat yeast rash, to dry out that annoying puberty related pimple (back in the days), as well as in cleaning. In my experience, I’ve had no problems using it directly on my skin but if you tend to have sensitive skin and/or if you are a beginner, go ahead and dilute some with a carrier oil such as coconut oil which is also an anti fungal.
  2. Lavender: I like lavender in cleaning – I add a few drops into a spray bottle along with some water and vinegar and use it as an all-purpose spray. I sometimes use sage instead or in combination. I find lavender also works wonders on burns, applied directly. If you prefer to use a carrier oil to apply lavender, I would avoid using it on a burn that is recent and inflamed because oil traps in heat and you don’t want that. (Essential oils won’t have the same effect of trapping heat). Maybe you can try applying a compress to the area with lavender hydrosol or infusion instead.
  3. Eucalyptus: I use this whenever someone in the family is experiencing a respiratory tract infection. It helps especially with congestion. I will dab a couple of drops onto the sleeping pillow, or make a steam inhalation. Bring a pot of water to boil. Remove from heat and add a few drops of eucalyptus EO. Cover head with a towel and inhale the vapor but close your eyes. Be cautious not to burn yourself.
  4. Myrrh: In combination with clove bud, this was an amazing remedy for my husband’s chronically aching tooth. He never got around to going to the dentist although he tried making an appointment multiple times but after a few applications of myrrh and clove on the area, as well as some changes in the diet, he hasn’t had any recurring issues. My myrrh is from a gentleman who runs a small batch distillery and it smells truly unique and wonderful. Speaking of small batch distillery, this is a lovely article written by a dear friend who runs her own distillery and apothecary about ethical business practices.
  5. Jasmine Absolute: I just use this as perfume. A couple of dabs here and there and it’s my current go-to scent as it’s the most appealing to me at this phase of my life. I’ve used it in cream making too but, going a little off topic, lately I find I prefer to simply use oils on my skin such as rose hip seed oil. I have very dry skin in the winter and this has been very helpful. Also rosehip seed oil (and other oils like pomegranate seed oil and argan oil) are already full of properties that help and nourish the skin so I don’t see much point in going through the hassle of making cream. Currently I am using Mountain Rose Herbs’ rose hip seed oil but once I run out I will stock up from my mom’s own rose hip seed oil. Her last batch was from the rose hips from her garden, all picked by hand, cleaned out from the flesh and left to dry before extracting into oil.
  6. Sweet Marjoram: I haven’t used this in a while but I wanted to include it because it was my friend during my last pregnancy. Meditating everyday while I inhaled it, even for just 5 minutes a day, really helped me through the pregnancy. It was a time of day that I looked forward to. After giving birth, strangely, it didn’t appeal to me as much. I believe we are called to what our mind and body needs most in their own time. It was relaxing and comforting, and it eased my mind. Mine is from Eden Botanicals.
  7. Cardamom: I take a dab of this right onto my tongue as often as once a day (first on index finger then onto tongue). I find it awakens me. Cardamom is said to ‘kindle the fires of digestion, stimulate the activity of the heart, and refresh the mind.’ [Rätsch, Christian. Plants of Love, 1997, pp. 56, 134.]
  8. Helichrysum: Highly reputed for skin healing properties, I included this in my postpartum healing oil combination (in addition to Calendula and St. John’s Wort oils).

A final word on essential oils… With all due respect to big essential oil businesses, I don’t buy into ads that praise their products as THE ONLY pure essential oils out there. I don’t want to mention names but in short, I don’t stick to only one brand. I’ve used several brands before as well as essential oils from small batch distilleries but most commonly I use Mountain Rose Herbs and Eden Botanicals. As a word of caution, please do not buy cheap essential oils over Amazon and whatnot. First of all, essential oils are not cheap and secondly, essential oils bought from unidentifiable and questionable sources can be harmful to your health.

 

Disclaimer: All content in this article is intended for educational purposes. No information in this article is intended to replace professional medical advice, nor to treat or diagnose a disease. Consult your primary care provider for any concerns you have regarding your health before making any decisions.

My ‘Spice’ Rack

I wanted to share with you a list of most (if not all) of the things that go onto the rack close to the stove as well as what I use them in. This is where I stack my most frequently used spices, herbs and other ingredients. It’s not really a spice rack, and it’s not a herb rack, nor a grain rack. It’s a combination of everything rack. I have 2-3 other locations where I store other herbs that aren’t as frequently used, other grains like rice, oats and barley, and tahini, molasses, honey and the like. You get the point. Also I entertained the idea of re-organizing and tidying up the shelves before snapping a picture but decided there’s nothing to hide. It is what it is.
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So here it goes:
Top Shelf
Turmeric: I use turmeric on a daily basis in most of my cooking, in frittatas, on red meat/fish/poultry, and in vegetarian stews. It’s super medicinal, anti-inflammatory and according to some opinions, the gold out of the three gifts presented to newly-born Jesus was actually turmeric.
Rock salt: Just basic, unrefined rock salt that I use in cooking. So unrefined it has small rock residue.
Holy Basil: A type of basil highly revered for its medicinal and adaptogenic properties in India. Hence the name. Also known as Krishna. I use this to make a simple herbal infusion to drink, usually in combination with other herbs.
Hibiscus (Roselle): Strong antioxidant. Wonderful tea. I like to combine with a bit of cinnamon and ginger. Recently I tried to infuse it cold and it worked pretty well. I put a couple of tablespoons into approx. 2 cups of water. I added 1/2 tsp powdered cinnamon and 1 tsp fresh grated ginger. Infused overnight, strain and refrigerate. It was very strong so I would have to dilute it as I drank it, either with plain water or sparkling water. Give it a shot.
Lemongrass: I like a simple, plain lemongrass tea after dinner. Soothing, helps aid digestion.
Peppermint: Again, goes into making herbal tea. Digestive, uplifting, gives tea a nice flavor especially if combined with other herbs. I don’t like adding too much though and I don’t consume it very frequently mainly because I am nursing and peppermint can dry breast milk if consumed in large amounts (as well as sage and parsley).
Mint: This mint is specifically for cooking. I add it to simple courgette stew, celery stalk stew (which I haven’t made ever since moving to Istanbul because they only sell celeriac root here), or in yogurt soup.
Thyme/Wild Thyme: Goes into frittata, onto fried eggs, roasted potatoes, roasted root vegetables etc.
Smoked paprika: I love this and I am running out (ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs to US while husband was visiting his family few weeks ago). I usually use it with roasted potatoes and chicken.
Finally, in case you’re wondering what it is, garlic infusing in olive oil: At some point I had way too much garlic at home, more than I’d ever use (I rarely use garlic in cooking), so I figured I should just peel them and add olive oil and some dried rosemary sprigs and leave it to infuse. I haven’t used it yet and I can’t think of how I’d use it other than for ear infections so I’ll have to do some research and brainstorming on that one.
Middle Shelf
Cardamom: I love cardamom. I throw a few into stock, brown rice (along with astragalus root which is another frequently used ingredient in my kitchen but not included in the rack), and into rooibos tea. I also break a pod and throw the seeds into the coffee filter when I am brewing coffee in the morning. I tend to drink coffee after breakfast. I prefer plain warm water first thing in the morning, sometimes with a few drops of vinegar.
Flax seed: Goes on top of oatmeal and salads.
Cinnamon: I use cinnamon in my oatmeal, and in Moroccan inspired stews. I add some to the coffee with the cardamom too.
Black seed (Nigella sativa): Usually on top of labnah along with some olive oil.
Black pepper: Most of my cooking includes some black pepper.
Herbamare: This is an A. Vogel product that is a combination of sea salt, dehydrated vegetables and herbs. I use sparingly on some vegetarian stews and on eggs, and sometimes with yogurt.
Himalayan salt: Again, used in some cooking. I alternate between rock salt and himalayan salt.
Black lava salt: This is a sea salt from Hawaii that is infused with activated charcoal, therefore has detoxifying effect. I use it on roast vegetables and roast meat. Bought from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Cumin: In red lentil soup, mujaddara (lentil & rice dish), Moroccan inspired stews.
Sumac: In frittata, omelette and meat balls.
Red lentil: I frequently make a quick & simple red lentil soup with a combination of  carrots and onions, as well as some turmeric, cinnamon and cumin.
Bottom Shelf
Coriander seeds: I actually don’t use this so much, but it happens to be there. I sometimes use it in Indian cooking or when I marinate chicken with a combination of other spices.
Sesame seeds: If we were still eating wheat at the moment, I would be using this on Turkish börek (along with nigella seeds and flax seed) but since we are not… I just use it to crust baked fish at times or toast and add to sautéed dark leafy greens or stir-fries.
Fenugreek seeds: Simmer to make tea or sprout and eat sparingly. In my experience it really does help stimulate milk production (galactagogue).
Aniseed: Aids in digestion. I like the sweet taste it imparts to tea. Also a galactagogue.
Elderflower: In combination with peppermint, it’s a good remedy for cold. I don’t use it just during colds though and it’s a common addition to my herbal tea.
Nutmeg: Grated and added to food like minced meat, Jerusalem artichoke soup, pumpkin soup.
Red chili flakes: Goes onto soups, frittata, stir-fry, stews. Whatever that needs a kick of flavor.
Chlorella: A single celled algae, in powder form. Very strong algae flavor. This has a cracked outer cell wall to ensure better assimilation by the body. I like to add some to my salad.
Marshmallow root: In powder form, I use marshmallow root to soothe sore throat. I usually add it to honey along with some ginger and/or cinnamon and take a teaspoon few times throughout the day.
Hot chocolate mix: Roasted cacao powder, astragalus root powder, shatavari root powder. I’ll usually mix this powder with a little bit of water and milk (either cow or coconut) as it heats and use grape molasses as sweetener. I would use maple syrup too but I don’t have frequent access to that in Istanbul. I do find it in stores in Cyprus so whenever I am visiting I stock up a bottle or two. (Or from the US when visiting).
Of course these are not my only most used ingredients. I don’t have to mention olive oil, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar… We use A LOT of honey. A lot of tahini. But I had to focus on one (rather messy) location and this was it.
What are your most frequently used pantry ingredients?

Journey to Pregnancy

I didn’t have a particular issue with fertility but I wanted to share some of the things I learned ever since I got concerned with having a baby.

TMI warning in advance.

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Nearly two years ago, I conceived my first baby girl Zaynab. We had been married for a year and a half, and having been one of these women who almost always had a regular menstrual cycle, I found my cycle to change dramatically and never go back to normal right after getting married. My cycles seemed to be longer, and I just never knew how long or short each one would be anymore. No cycle was the same as the previous or next one again. Once I noticed this change, I downloaded a period calendar app to keep track. I also didn’t know anything about fertile mucus, ovulation and so on until after I got married. I thought getting pregnant was a lot easier, just join the two cells any time of the month excluding the days of menstrual flow; but no!

My husband and I weren’t living together for the first 15 months of our marriage, until I finally got my green card and was able to join him in the US. In the meanwhile, he did visit every couple of months for a few days but I still never got pregnant. I experienced three other cycles before I would conceive after my move. I got my first period shortly after the move. I do remember having menstrual camps around the second day, which was typical for me, for a few hours.

After that, I discovered a practice called bajos, which are vaginal steam baths. This practice is found in a lot of different cultures across the world, but I particularly came across an article by Dr Rosita Arvigo. Without wasting much time, I prepared a steam bath using some herbs from my garden and from my herbal apothecary. I did this first bath at the peak end of my second period. I also noticed that this second cycle and eventually third cycle were shorter than my usual cycles for the last few months, and they were also about the same in length, lasting approximately 29 days. God knows best, but I attributed that to healthier eating as I was buying more organic, wholesome foods after moving into my own home, or eating less meat, which maybe didn’t have to do with less meat in general but rather less meat that was full of hormones. I still ate dairy but only organic.

Then I did some more research on some of the practices that Dr Arvigo advocates for, and found out about Mayan Abdominal Therapy. Luckily, I found a practitioner nearby and made an appointment to see her. At our appointment, I first filled out some personal information, followed by a discussion mostly about my reproductive health, and then finally, I was taught how to perform the abdominal therapy on myself.

One thing I remember mentioning to her during the appointment was that I never notice that fertile, stretchy, egg-white, cervical mucus. She told me that having a period doesn’t necessitate successful ovulation. She also told me she felt that my uterus was a little tilted to the right. The Mayan abdominal therapy would help lift the uterus and realign it. Other benefits would be undoing tight knots in the abdominal area, and encouraging improved blood and lymph flow. The practitioner told me it’d be best if I did this therapy every day, excluding a few days before the predicted start of my cycle, and the days of menstrual flow.  So I stuck with it.

I did a second steam bath at the peak start of my third and final cycle. Sure enough, this time I didn’t experience any cramping. A few days after the end of my cycle, I felt a tiny pinch on the lower right side of my abdomen. When I went to the bathroom a little later, I noticed blood-tinted, thick clear mucus. This egg-white mucus continued for a couple of more days. I wrote my practitioner telling her about my experience, and I wondered if that pinch I felt was ovulation, followed by a little bit of ovulation spotting.

My fourth period never came and I got my positive pregnancy test on the evening of August 9th, 2015. My estimated due date was April 14th, 2016. I went into labor April 12th, and gave birth on April 14th at 2.15am.

Links:

Vaginal Steams | Forgotten Ancient Wisdom for Women’s Healing

Vaginal Steams | Alignment Monkey

Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy