Fresh basil makes this tomato soup perfect

The cool days of fall are slowly approaching, and that means pulling out the light jackets, long sleeves, and soup recipes! 

I love a nice, piping hot bowl of soup! Complete with croutons or garlic bread. Or a BLT. 

My kids love soup, too. And I’ve found a few recipes that offer plenty of taste and nutrition. 

This cream of tomato soup I adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten. 

And the best thing about this soup is the fresh basil. Go to the store and get some. You cannot substitute the flavor with some dried basil from a jar.

Ingredients:

5 medium sized tomatoes (chopped)

1 small onion (chopped)

1 small carrot (chopped) 

1 small potato (chopped)

1 clove garlic minced

2 tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp tomato paste 

1 1/2 tsp of sugar 

3 cups of broth or just water 

2 tbsp chopped fresh basil 

2 tsp heavy cream 

Ground black pepper and salt to taste
Directions:

1. Heat up oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add garlic, onion, carrot and potato. Let cook until translucent. 

2. Add tomatoes, paste, basil, broth/water, sugar, and salt/pepper. 

3. Let boil once and simmer until soft. 

4. Puree soup with immersion blender 

5. Put back in pan, add cream and let heat through.

6. Serve with croutons or garlic bread

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The more you give, the more they whine

Wait. What?

It’s true. You think you are being a stellar parent. You think up all these great ideas for taking them out. You get them the perfect toys. You set up the most awesome plans.

And yet, they find a way to ruin it all by whining about the one unpleasant part, or the flaw in one of the toys. And then it takes all the energy in you to not explode like an active volcano. Or they still resort to whining and flailing about when they don’t get what they want.

So how does that work? Giving kids a wonderful afternoon or a toy they really want – how does that backfire? Why does it backfire?

Because then kids start connecting happiness with things and places. So, for example, happiness is associated with gifts and things. And we all know it’s not possible to always give, give, give to your kids. But that’s what kids think. And that’s when you see the tantrums and the total submission as soon as you give in.

Kids should be OK without getting what they want, when they want it. It teaches them patience, control and real life.

We expect that once a child having a tantrum is given solace with the bribe of a gift, they will change that behavior, correct?

Wrong.

Now we have just created monsters who always seek that gift, and they know they will get it once they act up. So technically we have set up this vicious cycle of a child who throws a tantrum solely to get attention and gifts. Once this child gets older, it doesn’t get better – it gets worse. And if they continue this behavior until adulthood and into marriage, then there will be plenty of obstacles ahead.

Kids should be OK without getting what they want, when they want it. It teaches them patience, control and real life.

It serves our children well to have parents who set proper limits for their kids. Give kids a heads-up before leaving somewhere. Give them a timer for watching TV or using electronics. Spell out the rules in clear words so they know what to expect. Let them be prepared and somewhat in control of the situation. This will go a long way in diffusing explosions.

One-bowl chocolate chip scones

You need to save this recipe under the “pressed-for-time-and-have-guests-coming-over” file. Or under the “I’m-hungry-and-need-a-snack-pronto” file. It works both ways.

I have made these scones many times and cannot get over how easy it is to make these! I especially love that you only need one bowl to mix the ingredients, and the recipe has room for flexibility – which wins me over every time. Because we all have those days when we are out of chocolate chips, or only have 1 cup of cream. Or need to use up some raspberry jam.

This recipe, originally from Brown Eyed Baker, has been adapted just a bit, but yields the same wonderful, delicious results. (You can also halve the recipe, if you don’t want to make too many scones, or don’t have enough cream.)

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Ingredients:

Scones:

  • 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (or to your liking) chocolate chips (semisweet or dark)
  • 1.5 cups heavy cream, cold
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Optional: You can sub the chocolate chips and add cranberries, raisins, cinnamon, toffee bits, chocolate chunks, raspberry jam, etc.

Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or use a silicone baking mat. (If you don’t have one and regularly bake cookies, scones, etc – GO OUT AND BUY ONE NOW!)
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the chocolate chips. (Or cranberries, raisins, toffee bits…)
  3. Using a spoon, stir the heavy cream into the flour mixture, stirring just until ingredients are moistened. (You can add a bit of more milk if it seems to not pull together easily)
  4. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until a soft dough forms (about 2 minutes). Divide the dough into two equal balls. Working with one at a time, pat each one into an 8-inch circle and cut into triangles. Place the triangles to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.
  6. Optional: You can also drizzle with caramel sauce after they come out of the oven – IT’S THE BEST.

Ramadan through the eyes of a child

This year is FZ’s first Ramadan of fasting as a newly-minted baligha, or one who has reached the age of responsibility, according to Islam.

Even though we had her try some half-day fasts, and even full-day practice fasts, the month of Ramadan was a whole new thing altogether. Can someone ever really be prepared for the daily fasting, change in routine and lack of sleep? How could we help our daughter get ready for the holy month, full of its spiritual benefits, while not letting her get dragged down physically?

Fortunately my husband and I surrounded FZ with positive messages about the holy month of Ramadan. The days she fasted we treated her with her favorite iftaar, or meal to break the fast. And as a mother, I prepped myself with plans and activities for the month — things to keep her busy, occupied and not focusing on food.

Plus, there are lots of great resources out there for daily activities to keep kids entertained during the holy month. Here are just a few.

Tips on helping young ones reap the rewards of Shahr Ramadan

Too often as adults we let ourselves get caught up in the physical aspects of Ramadan – i.e. the hunger, thirst, fatigue, lack of energy, etc. But in reality we are actually doing a disservice to our young ones.

There are some ways on helping our young fasters turn the physical drain into spiritual growth, and thus redirecting our attention to the positive versus solely focusing on the negative.

  1. Plan a special daily activity: It doesn’t have to be big or grand. Even something as simple as going to the library, or taking a walk outside to discover a new flower or bird can recharge a fasting child. Even take your child’s help to prepare an iftaar snack or meal.
  2. Encouraging naps: Young kids who are fasting don’t usually understand the physical limitations of fasting and often get overtired doing their regular activities. Help them wind down and relax to not burn out.
  3. Getting closer to the Holy Qur’an: There are plenty of ways to help kids get more acquainted with the Holy Qur’an. See how many animals you can find mentioned among the names of chapters? Or learn about a new prophet.
  4. Focusing on prayer and dua: We can make prayers a little sweeter during the holy month of Ramadan. Help your child remember the poor, orphans, homeless, and oppressed.
  5. Volunteering and helping others: If there are any food banks or soup kitchens near you, try to spend a few hours a week and help out. Or even at the local masjid or center, have your child get involved with serving or clean up. This will help link the holy month to worthwhile activities.

Chocolate chip cookie cake

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Fresh out of the oven. Let the slicing begin!

It’s one of my best go-to dessert recipes for potlucks and get-togethers. And not only is it easy to put together, but it is oh-so flexible! On my best days this cake is loaded with peanut butter chips, mini M&Ms and chocolate chips. But since my kids don’t like peanut butter (don’t ask; I get teary-eyed just thinking of all the desserts I don’t make), I usually make this cake with plain ol’ chocolate chips or chunks.

This recipe is adapted from the one on Brown Eyed Baker and it makes a nice thick, chewy cake of chocolate chippy goodness. Mine is baked in a 9×13-inch pan so there is plenty to go around.

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Melty chocolate chips!

Ingredients:

  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 tablespoons canola/vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2-3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, M&Ms, etc, or leave it plain! Whatever your heart desires!

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×13-inch pan; set aside.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed (or your hand if you don’t have a mixer), beat the butter and sugars together until blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Turn the dough out into the prepared pan and press the dough into an even layer. Bake until the cookie cake is light golden brown and the outer edges have started to harden, 20 to 25 minutes.

How is your kid’s spiritual health?

We let our kids believe in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny and Santa Claus without a peep, but the moment we try to get them God-conscious, all hell breaks loose.

If we care so much about our kids’ physical health, why aren’t we worried about their spiritual health? Is it because we fall victim to the propaganda that all religion is bad and pure and simple brainwashing?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen far worse brainwashing done by cable cartoon channels. So we don’t mind if our kids treat every movie like an obsession (Let it go?), but we are considered “extremists” if we try to remove the focus on material things.

I have heard this more than once from family and close friends – “You’re being too strict,” “They’re just kids,” and my all-time favorite, “If you are this hard on them, they will rebel.” I don’t think teaching my kids not to waste their time is considered “extreme parenting.”

I consider my children a trust from God. These gifts the Almighty has bestowed on me, are truly blessings. I read stories of parents losing children right after childbirth, or after an unfortunate accident, or a disease and it breaks me inside. It is right then and there that I am reminded of the beautiful blessings I have, and that I shouldn’t waste them.

Everything I am doing with my kids right now while they are still young is helping build their foundations. If I give them foam and fluff to build their foundations, their futures will be just as flimsy. But if I focus on the important things, then they will have success every step of the way.

Naturally I am not talking about sitting with my young kids and teaching them the beliefs of Tawheed (monotheism), or the philosophy behind Islam, but I do teach them that it is important to follow that which matters. I make sure they understand that the most important thing in their life is to be God-conscious. I teach them to fight the whispers of Shaitan (Satan), and to always follow those role models that have/had a vision, not a cool haircut.

This doesn’t mean I don’t let my kids be kids. They enjoy their weekends, they go out for ice cream (more often than I would like), they have friends, they run outside and get fresh air…. they’re kids, after all. But they have a purpose.

Too often I hear the sad stories of parents who were the best of the best. They provided everything to their kids – all their physical needs were met and they were loved greatly. But they lacked in spiritual grounding. Yes, you will find success in many spheres in your life, God is Just after all. But if you lack a spiritual foundation, you will see it in your life. In relationships, in your personal growth, etc.

Here are 5 ways to help connect your kids to God:

  1. Gentle reminders: We like hanging short verses/sayings around the house that remind us about being God-conscious. The kids help me make them, and we remind each other as needed.
  2. Giving importance to religious traditions: Whether it is the daily prayers, or an evening Bible recitation, it is important to treat this worship with respect. We try to pray together as a family so that we are all connected through worship.
  3. Practice what you preach: When we as parents are conscious about our words and actions, then our kids will follow suit.
  4. Keeping like-minded company: We all need friends, but when you surround yourself with friends who also share your beliefs and values, your kids will feel encouraged. Not to mention, those relationships also provide much needed support to parents.
  5. Open communication: Whether it is through stories or conversations in the car, use those moments to talk about questions and concerns regarding God and religion. Your kids should feel free to ask questions, and you should give short, simple answers. Anything you don’t know, just say you don’t know and try to find out. Never lie to your kids. (For example: Santa Claus lives on the North Pole).

Imam Jafar Sadiq, one of the great-grandsons of the Holy Prophet of Islam, likened belief in God to this situation: It is nighttime, and you are on a boat among turbulent waters. It is pitch black, your boat is rocking back and forth, and you have no earthly idea where you are or what to do. You have nothing – no phone, no GPS, no flares. But suddenly from the depths of your heart there is a yearning, a hope, a prayer for salvation…. this is God.

I am not talking about a religion, per se, but on finding a spiritual anchor in our lives. Aren’t we facing rocky waters everyday? Look at our society. We have leaders who say they believe in God, yet they are hypocritical, arrogant, and selfish. And the bigger problem is we as a society are accepting of this. If we follow a religion, we are apologetic for our “traditions.” We treat religion like a backwards concept. We are “progressive” if we are far from religion, and “mindless twits” if we live by a religion.

I certainly do not want this for my children.

If we live by the rules of a religion we are mocked, but if we live by the rules of today’s fashion, we are OK. Without rules there is anarchy – wouldn’t you rather be tethered to something that has value? And this is what I will continue to teach to my kids. Those that lived with purpose are still living today – their values hold true today. With love and compassion, and through God’s help, I will continue to guide my kids toward God and His Love and Mercy. While doing so, I pray that I will become the best mother to them. And to me, that is the best way to honor this gift of motherhood.

 

A letter to my daughter

Dear Fatima Zahra – 

Just a few days ago you turned 9 years old (according to the Islamic calendar). While you were excited planning your big birthday party, I would secretly wipe tears away. 

She’s going to be 9, I kept thinking to myself. According to Islamic law, you would now be considered old enough to carry out religious obligations, like praying, fasting, hijab, etc. 

At first I kept hoping time would slow down. I still remember those days when our biggest worry was you sleeping through the night. Or giving up the paci. Or potty training.

Now when I see you washing dishes before I even get to the kitchen, or helping your siblings get juice, my heart beams with pride. How lucky we are to have you! What a beautiful blessing from Allah! We are so very proud of you. 

Sure, we have our rough days, those days we don’t agree, and your Baba and I are still trying to get a hang of it. You are, after all, our first baby. We told each other that not only did you start a new chapter  in your life on your 9th birthday, but so did we. We are grateful to Allah to have you in our lives, and we rely on Him to guide us as we raise you and your siblings the best way possible. 

I pray everyday for your success and happiness. I love your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn new things. You make me want to be a better mom. 

One day when you’re older and surfing the internet, you might come across this letter. Who knows where I’ll be and where you’ll be. But I pray you’ll be happy, fighting Shaitan and holding tight to Allah. 

My sweet child, always remember there is no power greater than Allah. He is always near to you. Remember Him in good times and bad, and be grateful to Him. There is nothing you can’t do with Him by your side. 

May you always aim to follow the footsteps of your namesake, Fatima Zahra (sa). And may the Almighty bless you with all the best of this world, and the next.

With love, 

Mama