Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Yummy For My Tummy!

I made this recipe a few nights ago on a whim because my fasting husband lacks all creativity when he is hungry. It's odd, someone who loves food and eating as much as he does, draws a complete blank when I ask him so kindly, "What would you like to eat for dinner babe?" (Yes, as my brother so appropriately teased us about, "babe" has replaced first names in our house...sometimes when I actually call him by his name, and vice versa, we both pause and let the name linger in the air nostalgically and awkwardly before moving on). He'll look at me with this blank stare, as if I just asked him why the cost of tomatoes at the grocery store cost 20 cents less this week than they did last week. One time, when I asked him on the phone, he was so silent I hung up thinking it was a dropped call. Ramadan has dulled his cravings, oddly enough, and has made 30 days of coming up with creative and satisfying meals a very tough feat!

But, I know he loves Korean food. He just salivates at the thought of Bulgogi beef. Kimchi makes his eyes glassy. The other day we drove past a Korean restaurant, and the car slowed as he gazed up at it in fascination, as though it was the Statue of Liberty, shining her light down on him. This visceral reaction to Korean food is endearing, I must admit. I know you're probably thinking why don't I indulge him and just go eat at the restaurant, let the blood flow through  his veins in excitement? Well, I will admit that my reasons are a little those restaurants with open grills like Korean restaurants commonly have, you leave smelling like cooked spicy beef. The smell intoxicates your clothes and sticks in your hair, so on the drive home the fumes coming off smell like you're still in the restaurant. Not a big deal? Yeah, well, tell that to all the women who straighten their hair...the last thing you want to happen is your recently pressed hair to get frizzy from the humidity of the food being in front of you releasing beefy steam, and your previously glossy hair to smell like cooked cow. So there.

But I digress…Glancing through Food Network magazine during my workout, I came across a recipe for Korean beef noodles and thought of my pale, thirsty husband counting down the minutes to when he can break fast (it was 8:41pm that night), and I said, "Bingo!" In hopes of bringing some life into those fasting cheeks, a Korean-inspired meal seemed like the golden ticket. 

While shopping, I couldn't find a few of the ingredients, like the cellophane noodles and the skirt steak that the original recipe called for.  So I got spaghetti instead, and bought a package of thinly sliced sirloin steaks (this particular package had 3 thin steaks. I used 2 of them for this recipe. But you can buy any cut of meat you like, just make sure you slice it into very thin strips against the grain). I didn't use shiitake mushrooms either, because my grocery store doesn't have a bulk mushroom bin and I wasn't going to drive 20 minutes to Whole Foods to spend $15 on 5 mushrooms! So if you want to, you can use shiitake mushrooms—if not, then just use a package of the pre-sliced mushrooms and save yourself the money and the headache. I added green onions just because I happened to have an absurd amount of green onions in my fridge when I bought some one day, forgetting that I already had some chillin’ at home. So I threw some into this dish.

 Oh, and one more thing: because there is more pasta in a box of spaghetti than the recipe requested, I doubled the sauce mixture and tweaked it with a few extras.

Needless to say, my "babe" loved it. I don't know if it was the hunger talking, but he had a second helping later, so I think it's a winner. And a bonus: these noodles are really good cold, too. 


1lb spaghetti 
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced 
I bunch green onions, thinly sliced to the green 
1 hot pepper (your choice) thinly sliced 
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb sirloin steak, thinly sliced against the grain (can also use flank or skirt steak, whatever you like)
1 package sliced mushrooms 
1 cup shredded carrots 
3 large handfuls of baby spinach (about 6 cups)
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup soy sauce 
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
5 dashes hot sauce, optional
10 tablespoons sesame oil (honestly, I didn’t really measure my oil, but I added a good amount. Just make sure your pan is coated when you start adding the veggies. If they start to look dry add more. If I had to guess, I'd say total was 10TB)
2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons flour 

Combine sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce and half of the minced garlic, and 3 tablespoons oil in a bowl.

Put the sliced meat in a bowl and add a couple tablespoons of the mixture to the meat while you chop your veggies. 

Cook pasta and drain when it's about a minute shy of being fully done. 

In a big wok or pot (needs to be big enough to add in the pasta later), add 3 tablespoons oil and sauté the onions with other half of the garlic, red pepper flakes, and sliced hot peppers. Let cook and get soft, about 3-5 min. Then add the meat, and cook until just cooked through. Don't overbook the meat. Because it is sliced thin, it doesn't need long...Maybe 5-7 minutes in a really hot pan. Once cooked and the onions are soft, remove all and place in a bowl to the side.

Add the other 2 tablespoons oil and add mushrooms and carrots. Season with salt & pepper. Once the mushrooms get browned and carrots soft, add the flour. This will thicken the sauce a little so it's not too runny. Cook it out for about 2 min, moving all the veggies around until you can't see any more white of the flour. Add the meat back in with all the juice. Then add the cooked pasta, and then pour the sauce all over. Be sure to mix  the sauce well before pouring, the sugar settles at bottom.
Using tongs, toss the pasta so all the goodness at the bottom gets mixed in. Let cook together for about 3 min, so that the pasta gets warm again. Then serve and enjoy! 

P.S. For those of you who don’t eat meat, you could very easily substitute chicken or shrimp in for the beef. Or just don’t eat the beef…I’m just saying…

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

'Chew' On This!

Often, one comes up with an idea, and a passion ignites behind it. Then it becomes something one just can't shake, and it shouldn't be shaken off, for that matter. That passion fuels perserverance and inspires tenacity, and it soothes the sting of rejection. Passion instills and rekindles the hope that "it" could happen. 

If you have read my previous posts, I like to use this blog space as a way to share my stories, my opinions, my issues...but I will not use this blog to brag. To do so goes against my nature, and I tend to turn my cheek in a huff to people who do brag--those individuals who always seem to one up you, although perhaps they do so unintentionally or without realizing it. But we all know those people who brag about how they ran 15 miles after you shared with them you ran 10...or, those who have a better way to make the dish you served them at dinner, which you were pretty proud of and everyone else seemed to love. Or how about the friend who can "relate" because they went through the same experience (but upped to the 100th degree) in effort to appear supportive but are really implying that you have their approval only because you share the experience. But of course, their experience is better because they did it first! Ha! 

I mention that only because I was faced with a lot of that behavior after my recent dreamlike experience on the daytime talk show, abc's The Chew. Please don't interpret this blog post as me bragging, or as me saying, " Look at me, I was on TV! Let me tell you alllll about it!" Of course I was excited about getting on the show, who wouldn't be? What would have otherwise been an average week in Columbus turned into a sudden midweek holiday to NYC for 2 days where my husband and I got to meet people we watch on TV everyday, cooking and sharing their recipes. Of course that rocks! But with this blog, I just wanted to share how my faith in having an idea and a dream and never giving up paid off, and to inspire any one who reads this to do the same.  As I had written about in my very first blog (Jan 2012), I wanted to see Ramadan finally represented on television. I've already talked about how it is extremely underrepresented on TV (in fact, not at all), and fortunately for me and all of those who share my religion, through the miracle of Facebook, my idea was accepted and pushed forward by Clinton Kelly from The Chew (and TLC's What Not To Wear). Amazingly, despite thousands of posts on his public page, Clinton noticed my suggestions and comments. I admit, I posted unabashedly on not only his page, but on the other co-hosts from the show. Although I was sometimes embarrassed that my friends could see on their page the Facebook evidence  "Mais Khourdaji posted on Clinton Kelly's (Official) page..." and could read my silly posts on his page,  I did get encouraging comments and thumbs up from them too. But Clinton actually took the idea to the producers. He pushed for me. He put the idea of featuring Ramadan on the show in the right hands, then wished me luck. That alone more than I ever hoped for, and I am so very thankful to Clinton Kelly for it. 

And it took! I got a phone call from the producer, and one week later I was on the show representing Ramadan for the first time on national television. Finally meeting Clinton after 6 months of Facebooking back and forth (and years watching him on TV!), that hug we shared on the set was so warm and poignant for me because I felt like he knew what it is to struggle, listened to his loyal fans, and he took a chance on one...and I was so grateful and appreciative. I tried not to squeeze him too hard, and if I did, I apologize! But it was just...surreal. It still brings tears to my eyes.

Am I proud of it? Absolutely! After all, Islam is the world's second largest religion after Christianity, and we are just now getting on TV? It is shocking isn't it? I only hope it's the start of Ramadan being represented every year, as Christmas, Hanukah and Easter are. I think we made a breakthrough, and I am still thrilled by how progressive the abc producers were to finally allow the country to see a glimpse of the Muslim culture that is not often seen, and in such a positive way! One word for it: Inspiring!

What made it so inspiring is that I have been working on Operation Ramadan for over a year. I had been contacting other shows nonstop since then-emailing, messaging on Facebook, making phone calls. Not a peep; that is, until Clinton and The Chew. And what was even more refreshing was that Ramadan wasn't downplayed. The producers and co-hosts were so supportive and encouraging..and better yet, they were interested. Ramadan was not muted down on the show as just a segment on middle-eastern food. Although I was cooking middle-eastern food, Ramadan is observed in non-Arab countries too. It's in China, Indonesia and throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and all of the MidEast, Western Europe...the list goes on. I am still glowing from the happiness in giving Ramadan a chance to shine and say hello to the country. Those of you who do celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Kwanza, etc., and get to regularly see your traditions represented, please don't take it for granted. Enjoy it and appreciate it, because now that Muslims were finally able to turn on the TV and feel like we are an acknowledged part of the US population, I think I speak for all those Muslims who watched, or those who have friends who observe Ramadan, it felt pretty damn cool.

In case you missed it, and you're curious to see this Ramadan debut, please click on the link below. And watch the segments Eggplant Casserole, Celebrating Ramadan, and Last Bites!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Taking consideration into consideration

I tend to leave things, I lose things all the time. And I am always running late. My mind is usually preoccupied with so many other thoughts, and that with the constant rushing and hurrying...well, it can be a frustrating combination. I get frustrated with myself, my husband will get exasperated. I will forget my purse at home and only realize it when i get to my destination. I'll leave my cell phone in the shopping cart at the grocery store, because I was texting while hurriedly pushing the cart and loading the car one handed. One particular incident, I loaded the groceries, got in the car, and was on the freeway before I realized it. I reached for my phone and boom! The image of my zebra encased cell phone chillin on the shopping cart floated into my mind. When I retrieved it, I was so embarrassed of myself that I remember sheepishly looking around to see if anyone noticed me running to the shopping cart station like a mad woman with panicked expression on my face. I had 2 texts, but of course, I didn't reveal a thing to anyone (I did confess to my husband a few days later, but I didn't feel any of that "truth will set you free" crap when he started laughing and shaking his head and finger at me).

There was an even worse cell phone incident where I Ieft it in Michigan...I live in Ohio. But we won't go there.

I leave my Camelbak water bottle at the gym more times than I can count. And those f******* are not the cheapest! I've had 6 different ones in the past 2 years. Meaning on average, I lose one every 4 months. Not the best track record. It would be more than that, but my gym doesn't have the best cleaning crew, so sometimes I'll come back dejectedly the next day to find my water bottle unexpectedly waiting for me where I absentmindedly left it. Oh the joy! This last time, I kissed the damn thing when I saw it. 

Why am I revealing these unflattering details of my personality. Well, the water bottle actually inspired this blog. Two weeks ago, I noticed that someone left their water bottle in the spin room.  I picked it up and held it my hand for a moment, and thought to myself, "What do I do when i realize I've left my water bottle?" 1) If I am already home or too far away when I realize it, I'll call the front desk and ask them to go get it for me and save it. Unfortunately, they'll put me on hold and forget about me or they tell me they'll check in 5 min and call me back. But they never do. Bottom line: they never find it. Or, 2) I'll come back to look where I left it (after i check in with the nonexistent lost & found). Again, I am unlucky. 

Allow me to make a digression here that expands upon my gripe about lost & found. About 3 years ago, I left my iPod in the cup holder of an elliptical I was using at my gym in Toledo. I was newly married, only 4 months. Now, this wasn't just any iPod. It was the surprise gift of an iPod that my amazing, loving husband gave me when we were still engaged. I was living in California, he was in Ohio, and he surprised me with a little package (who doesn't love surprise package deliveries, let alone the packages one IS expecting?!). The iPod came with its own little runner's case, he had "named" it a very sweet name so when I plugged it into my iTunes it showed up as "_________ 's iPod". And it was filled with all different kinds of songs: his favorites, my favorites, our favorites.

And the moment I realized I left it, I called immediately. I got "No...Sorrrry!" in response to my asking if anyone turned anything in. The girl supposedly went and checked the fated machine, again, no luck.  The next day, I checked in the ominous lost & found: a big blue bin that I swear contained the same green sweatshirt and workout gloves for the two years I lived in Toledo. I would know this, we checked the bin alot. After two weeks, I stopped checking the bin. The pregnant girl working her usual shift would see me walk in, and shake her head before she even checked me in. I gave up the hope that someone would turn it in. I was bitter and I felt mad at myself and guilty about losing such a special gift. 

Then about 2 months later, I don't know what possessed me to ask again, but I did. The answer was no again, but here's the kicker. The next day, I walk in, give Miss Preggers my key tab, when she says, "Oh wait!" She walks back and opens a drawer, then asks, "Is thisss your iPod?" Oh how the angels sung! There, bathed in the sunlight streaming in from the side window, glowing and beautiful, was my iPod! 

I was very composed. "What the hell? Is this some kind of joke?"
Miss Preggers hesitates for a moment, then says, "Oh no, I mean, yesterday, when you asked about it, I felt guilty."
"What do you mean you felt guilty? Did someone just turn it in?"
"No, I mean, when it was first turned in, I thought it was mine. I had one just like it that I lost too."
"Ok, but when you took it home and plugged it into your iTunes and saw that it says a different name, why wouldn't you bring it back?"
"I had given it to my brother right away to upload songs for me, and he didn't tell me until like last week that it had a weird name on it when he loaded it up. Then you asked yesterday. So I knew it  was yours and I had to give it back."

Weird name? Strike 3. 
"Alright listen here b****..."

No, no, no, I'm just kidding. I wanted to go off on her, but she's an out-of-wedlock pregnant 19-year-old (we got to know each other conversing over the damn L & F bin)...I don't know, I couldn't do it. So instead I said:
"I hope you realize that the story you just told me doesn't make any sense at all.  You let me come in here and ask you every day for two weeks and you had the nerve to tell me that you never saw an iPod, when the whole time you had taken it for yourself. I can report you to your manager and get your ass fired. But I won't, because I know that you're stupid enough to get your ass fired all by yourself." And with that, I turned on my heel and stormed off in a flurry. 

After about another month, I never saw her again. Baby? Fired? Who knows...but hence, my lack of faith in the lost and found. And that is why turning in the water bottle wasn't on the top of my options list. 

So, I thought, this person will realize it and come back to the spin room to look for their bottle. I set it down and walked out. The next day, it was still there. I had a moment of frustration, a flash of anger. Why does the cleaning service spare this water bottle, but my beautiful Camelbaks in cheerful colors get swiped in the blink of an eye. I picked it up again and walked to the trash can. It hovered over the can for a good long minute. All was quiet, expect for the sound of my agitated breathing and the wisp of the fan in the corner. 

I didn't throw it away. 

And I thought to myself, why do I even care about this water bottle anyway, why am I making an issue out of this? But my feathers were ruffled, and those of you who know me KNOW what that means when that happens! I couldn't just leave it alone. 

Three days later, it was still there. The following Monday, it was still chillin. Again, I thought to myself to throw it out. But this time, my counter argument wasn't just one of conscience and guilt (yes, I'd feel guilty even though this stupid person obviously does not miss their water bottle as much as I do mine!). But I had a flash of the word karma. No one can see me throw it out...hell, no one will even notice its missing. Why shouldn't I just fulfill my impulse and take my private revenge on the poor unassuming bottle?

Well, I never thought I was one to be superstitious or particularly spiritual in that regard. But the concept of what goes around comes around, I can jive with that. I do believe that those cheaters, the ones who always take the short cut but still end up on top, who pretend to work "hard" but instead partner up with the class nerd and get those undeserving accolades, stress-free, will one day get their due. They'll get a hard break, and look around and realize there's no one there to lend a hand. I believe in that, because my experiences have always been the hard way. I can never, ever catch a break. It's like doing calculus long-hand: I could never get my hands on a damn calculator. 

But during this inner debate over to toss or not to toss, I thought that maybe (jusssst maybe!) this good deed will go accounted for on the water-bottle-saver ledger somewhere, and I'll get the favor returned to me some time in the future. If not, well, I guess I can live with the fact that I did something nice for a stranger. 

So in that moment with the sacrificial water bottle, I thought to myself: well, no one will know, but I will. Yet again, I didn't throw the bottle away. I checked yesterday and it was gone. I don't know if the owner came back to claim it, happy and grateful to find it where he/she left it (I am pretty sure it was a she, the bottle was a rosy shade of pink, but nowadays you never know, sooo...) or if it was finally tossed or taken by someone else. But I comforted and have entertained myself with the image in my mind of that person's smile and excitement, the "Yes! It's still here!" as he/she holds the bottle up admiringly and smiles big....I have experienced it, a few times. It's a fun feeling. For me, it's usually fleeing because I'll do something stupid again to replace it. But I couldn't bring myself to steal that away from someone. In one word, my actions were considerate.

How many of us often take consideration into consideration? 

Monday, May 7, 2012

50 Shades of Women

So this is how it all went down: 

In effort to gain some inspiration for a long overdue blog posting, I was happily inspired by a girlfriend of mine who is very soon expecting her first baby. My friend suggested that I explore the debate of whether new moms should work or stay at home. Apparently, people in her workplace have been a little too forthcoming with their often contradictory advice, and naturally, she was frustrated with people offering their opinions when they actually had no business doing so. In her opinion, and I agree with her, there is no set formula for every woman, new mother or not. The choice should be made based upon what works for a woman and her family. Does work allow you to retain a part of your identity that is important to you, separate from your role as mother and/or wife, and thus by doing so, make you a happier, healthier, more balanced person? And therefore, are you a happier, healthier and more balanced mother and/or wife? Having experienced only the role as a wife thus far in my adulthood, I can already agree with that statement. Being able to hold on to something that is important to me, that makes me feel good, or something that I worked hard for, I believe can make me better at my other roles in my life—and one of the most important roles right now, my role as a wife. Why should this diminish when a baby comes into the picture? Should it, will it, and if so, why does it? I often hear from mothers, “You won’t understand until you have a baby.” I am sure this is true, but with that being said, one still cannot presume that there is a predictable formula that a working woman should follow once she has a baby, nor that her experience post-baby will be one similar to every other woman who has gone through it.

But allow me for a moment to digress onto another tangent that was again, inspired by my friend’s suggestion (incidentally, this digression will ultimately make this blog not only a topic discussion but somewhat of a book review too!). The next morning after she gave me her passionate suggestion, I saw the Newsweek magazine that came in the mail the previous day. The cover article caught my attention, “The Fantasy Life of Working Women: Why Surrender is a Feminist Dream.” Having my friend’s topic in mind, I was very curious to read it. In the article, the author Katie Roiphe describes the new trend of women in their 20s and 30s demonstrating a “current vogue for domination” in the bedroom by a man, which she states is in odd contrast in an era where women are more dominant in the workplace than ever before, more successful and college-educated. Yet Roiphe stated that a Psychology Today study revealed approximately between 30-60% of women have sadomasochistic fantasies. This is a strange irony, because as the article described, “almost 60 percent of college students…are close to surpassing men as breadwinners, with four in 10 working women now out-earning their husbands, when the majority of women under 30 are having and supporting children on their own, a moment when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.”

Interesting, isn’t? Is it unsettling or confusing, too? Or is it a trend to shrug off and smirk about? I think that is up for discussion. In her article, Roiphe referenced the new bestseller, 50 Shades of Grey. Curious, I checked it out. And as a warning to anyone who has not read it yet, beware of the X-rated material in this book. I was thrown off guard initially, yet I still managed to read all three books in the Shades of Grey trilogy in less than one week…5 days to be exact. I know—3 books, 5 days.

Meet Christian Grey, the triple S threat: sexy, successful, and sadist. Admittedly, I got tricked into falling in love with Christian Grey despite his male-dominant-woman-submissive preferences in the bedroom, and despite how his actions startled my passionate feminist views. I think it is because Christian had this vulnerable, sad, broken side to him, and because he truly loved Anastasia. So in that love for her, he looked out for her and took care of her—as the book evolved across the three books, it was no longer just about his needs, but about how he can be better and fulfill her needs. Christian was not a selfish man, he put Ana’s needs before his own, in his own, weird, sadomasochistic way. Christian Grey essentially fulfilled a common fantasy for women of the perfect man—gorgeous, tall, undeniably wealthy, spontaneous AND amazing in bed AND to top it all off…he has a sad, broken side to him that makes him in need of life-changing love through which he can heal. Why is that sad side so appealing? Perhaps it is the contrast of a man having so much power being also so very vulnerable that makes him relatable, and lovable. And for women, that paradox of powerful and vulnerable can be ridiculously sexy. He took Anastasia’s breath away. On the surface was a strong and powerful lover, who could handle everything. But deep down, he was a frightened little boy, who needed her love.

How does this tie into my friend’s frustration about the debate over whether women should work or not after having a baby? Well, I read the Roiphe’s article with her point in my mind. My friend is a successful working woman. She makes good money, has a happy marriage, lives a happy relaxed life. That being said, the article called to mind the irony behind a society where it is still looked down upon by some if the mother chooses daycare over being a stay-at-home mom, or vice-versa…some shake their head at a woman who is an educated, career woman yet chooses to stay at home with her children. In an article on, “Opinion: ‘Mommy wars’ avoid women’s real woes,” the author Barbara J. Risman describes various contradictions to the working mom debate:

 1) It is generally agreed that men and women should have equal rights, but yet it is never expected that the man should consider staying at home with the kids. In the home “workplace” the work is not truly equally shared. Why?
2) It is a known fact that parenting is tough job that requires major emotional and psychological investments. Yet, why do employers discriminate against hiring and promoting working mothers? Aren’t they the most suitable for the tough grunt work any job may bring, since they do an even tougher job at home?
 3) The lack of work policies that allow women to breast-feed in the workplace, therefore guaranteeing penalties for doing so…the U.S. is oddly behind the international trend on this point.
4) Women married to wealthy men are “allowed” to make a choice of staying home with their children—they can afford it, so the choice is theirs and whatever they choose to do is (somewhat) acceptable because as the article states, “they are doing so for the good of their children” since, if they wanted to, they could afford to put their children in day care. Yet, women who do not have the money but still choose to stay home with their children, are coined by society as “welfare mothers,” who should get a job and then are forced to put their children in most likely less than ideal day care situations. Does Risman make a good point here? Is society really that quick to judge, and so harshly and unsympathetically?

In yet another article on, entitled “Working moms happier, healthier than stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs),” my earlier point is reiterated—women who work tend to feel better about themselves, had fewer symptoms of depression, and that feeling is reflected upon their role as a mother. They felt better, and therefore were better mothers.

I brought the two issues together in this blog for the purpose of calling to attention the difficulty in categorizing women (and mothers) into appropriate and acceptable roles. Most women having babies are probably in their late 20s and early 30s. These women may choose to work and have day care to help them balance things. These women may choose to stay at home, despite having a great job that their college-education afforded them. These women may be making more money than their husbands and therefore decide to continue working, while the husband takes a job cut and stays at home with the children. These are women who value the ability to make their own decisions, without judgment or penalization from their employers. Yet, as Katie Roiphe’s article stated, these new-age, strong-willed baby boomers still may crave a little domination in the bedroom. They may want to be able to make the choice at work, but sometimes they would like to relinquish control to a sexy man who ties them up in the bedroom. Who is to say that is wrong? Who is to say that the two are incompatible?

Personally, reading 50 Shades of Grey, I found myself at times blushing 50 shades of red. I found myself bashfully turning the pages without a glance up or around me. And while reading, I would pause occasionally and wonder, “Could I do that? Would I do that, succumb to that, for the man I loved?” The thing with the Christian-Anastasia love affair is that she concedes a great deal of control, because as she justifies it in her head, it is what makes him happy and she loves to see Christian happy, especially because of his dark past. As she says herself, “Would I do it again? I can’t even pretend to put up an argument against that. Of course I would, if he asked me—as long as he didn’t hurt me and if it’s the only way to be with him. That’s the bottom line. I want to be with him.”  She later concedes that while she wants to say that it is wrong, she can’t because it is what is right for Christian. Since she loves him and wants to be with him, it cannot be really wrong for her either—she can make the sacrifice, and gain the love of a man she has fallen for head over heels. Realistically, some of the things Christian does “out of love” for her are crazy, controlling, belittling, and in Anastasia’s own word, “stalkerish.” Realistically, one has to be as innocent as Ana to be able to fall so readily in love with a man as possessive as Christian. While reading, I sometimes found myself not really liking Christian Grey and how demeaning he was at times (although you are still supposed to love him because this is a flaw in his character that slowly changes with his love for Ana). Yet, in the back of my mind, I found myself wondering if that would be sexy in real life for most women—a man that loves you so much he wants to be a part of everything you do, a man that has that much money and power that he can make those demands? He has power, and to some women, college-educated or not, that alone is sexy.

Now here’s the (long) question: Can the allure of knowing a man loves you so much that he wants to possess you in every way, be a powerful enough enticement, that you could relinquish control over many aspects of your life, because that is what the man whom you have fallen in love with wants and needs for his happiness?

In light of the stay-at-home-mommy debate, the articles and the book just highlighted to me how many important decisions and choices women constantly have to make—nothing is black and white. Nothing is as simple as choosing just because you want to, or as Christian liked to say, “Because I can.” Every woman can work if she wants to, but is that the best decision for her and her family? Every woman can choose to have children, to make a career for herself, or she may be content being a homemaker. None of those choices are, in my opinion, wrong, but will only be so if she chooses for the wrong reasons. Can we truly and honestly make the concession that a powerful man is sexy, and still reconcile that power with our right to make the important decisions regarding career and motherhood? Are the two mutually exclusive? Obviously, there is no simple answer. But perhaps that is why we have books to read about the Christian Greys and the lucky, or not-so-lucky, Anatastisa Steeles, depending on how you look at it. It is that pleasure of fantasy that makes us pick up that book, be it sadomaschoism or fighting-till-death in an arena Katniss-style. Who do we relate to more, Ana or Katniss—lovestruck romantic, or strong-willed heroine? But we should not be faulted for our fantasies, even if they contradict the choices we make in our real lives.  Who knows, maybe Hillary Clinton likes to spanked, too.

Obviously, this blog does not even come close to covering all points on this subject, despite the supersized length of this post. Women come in 50 shades of everything, there is no simple way to describe our tendencies and our preferences. So I look forward to parts 2, 3, 4, etc. of this discussion….and I’d love to hear everything and anything my readers have to say and share about it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

To Hip or Not to Hip?

The Washington Post printed an article entitled, “Black women heavier and happier with their bodies than white women, poll finds” on Monday, February 27. In it, it provides the following information:  “The poll found that although black women are heavier than their white counterparts, they report having appreciably higher levels of self-esteem. Although 41 percent of average-sized or thin white women report having high self-esteem, that figure was 66 percent among black women considered by government standards to be overweight or obese.” I have had many African-American friends over the years (and still do), and I can say from my personal experiences with them and our random discussions about our bodies, with comments here and there about things we like or dislike, that the poll does have some truth in it. It seems that black women do embrace their bodies, they take it as is, and actually like the curvy nuances and accentuations that come naturally. By naturally, I mean body parts that are not honed to angular perfection and interminably smaller and smaller proportions. As a certified gym rat, I have seen and worked out with many black women, and have inferred from either observation or from conversation, that the workout serves a few purposes: 1) for a healthy lifestyle, 2) for pleasure and stress release, and 3) to maintain but not change that healthy curve of the hips and backside. A few times, I have caught myself looking down over my shoulder to note my not-so-curvy backside and boy-figure hips, thinking ironically how I often put myself in a psychological conundrum: To hip or not to hip?

On one side, beautifully curvy women, such as Selma Hayek, Queen Latifah, and yes, Kim Kardashian are praised for just that—they look womanly, and carry those curves so well. But then you flip the page in the magazine, and you see Heidi Klum or Angelina Jolie looking impeccably thin and well contained…and you may think to yourself, “Well, she’s beautiful too! Which do I like? And which one can I try to mold my body to be like?” I cannot make a blanket statement, because perhaps not all women look at their bodies with a critical angle, or sigh heavily while saying or thinking, “I need to work on my…” Or think to themselves after an indulgent meal, “Tomorrow…diet!!!” I can say that I have said it. I have thought it.

I have had conversations with not only women, but also with men, and men and women together about bodies, body types, and what women like versus men. One of the points that come up often is that women do not dress or try to look good for men, but for other women. Other women notice a curvy bulge of a women’s stomach over her skinny jeans, or a butt that looks like it belongs in anything but skinny jeans. And women also notice when a woman that can pull off those super tight leggings and a tight tank top (as opposed to the flowy top that can disguise a week of bad eating, a very common pairing with the leggings, just an FYI). Just like we notice the girl with the LV bag who just walked in, or notice the Burberry collar of her jacket as she swings it over the back of the chair. Men, on the other hand, just notice if the woman looks good, and looks good to whatever standard that personally appeals to them. They want a woman to look feminine—to look like a woman. If this means to them hips or no hips, so be it.  Again, this is just what I’ve inferred from my friends over the years.

But my point isn’t just to call attention to that social paradox presented daily to all women. But the study got me thinking: Why do some cultures embrace curvaceous-ness and others not? In Middle-Eastern cultures, historically, the curvy woman represented a healthy, well taken care of body that is feminine and sexy. One summer when I went to visit family in Syria, with my calves strong from running and my arms purposefully toned, I was constantly having food shoved in my face by smiling, encouraging family members who couldn’t imagine that I wanted my body to hard as opposed to soft and inviting. I remember before my wedding, one of my aunts from overseas was visiting, and when I was getting my makeup done, I heard her ask aloud to whomever was there, “Her legs have muscle, does she want them like that?”

If there weren’t gyms on every corner serving as constant reminders of what we should be doing at the crack of dawn before work, on our lunch break, or after work, would we still instinctively feel the need to train our bodies? What if the back of our pants didn’t have a number indicating the size, would we care what size we really are? If there was no number system within which we fall into, where there is always a number lower (and lighter) and a number higher (and heavier), would we have that piece of cake when the craving strikes, and would we still have the urge to go on a morning run just because it feels good?

Definitely some food for thought…

Does the poll ring true? Please, I’d love to read your comments!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Call to (Email) Arms!!

In light of what I expressed in my first blog about daytime television's apparent passive-aggressive boycott of all things Ramadan, I am now looking to all of my readers to help me out. About two weeks ago, my husband and I were at our friend's house one evening, and we were talking about my first blog and the overall frustration we feel about the issue. The idea came up to get everyone and anyone to email Martha Stewart and inundate her mailbox with Ramadan emails. Despite my annoyance at not causing any notice over in Marthaland with my steady emails, I'll admit that it's very possible mine were lost amongst the multitude. Maybe one or two snarky assistants didn't like my tone and deleted them, but I think it's more likely they were never read in the first place. 

So I look to all of you who may read this blog to do me and my fellow Muslims a favor (and all the non-Muslims who will benefit from the show :)). This is a Call  to Arms to all my media warriors! Let's come together! This is the game plan:

Below is a short email written to Martha Stewart, asking her to give Ramadan a go on her show. Just cut and paste the whole thing in an email and send it off to, with my email as the contact info. A couple emails can be ignored, but surely not hundreds, right?! We have to keep in mind that this year, Ramadan will begin in midsummer, sometime in July. During the summer,  no new shows are we therefore have to try to get the show on the air either before her season ends this year, or right at the beginning of the new season in the fall. That is why we have to start immediately!

Let the emailing frenzy begin! We can make this happen, but I need all of your help to do it! To anyone who reads this, regardless of what your ethnicity, race, or religion, please take part in this campaign to get Ramadan on daytime TV. Can I get an "Amen!"? :)

Thank you to everyone who participates! Good luck!

P.S. You will most likely receive an automatic reply email from the production staff at Martha Stewart. Hopefully one of those producers will take note and actually read our emails!

Dear Martha,

I am writing to hopefully convince you to do a show on Ramadan. For all Muslims who participate in the month of fasting, it is a month of spirituality, steadfastness, dedication, unity, community and worship. It is also a month rich with delicious and unique foods, made for their nourishing, comforting qualities. So many shows on daytime TV have done whole shows or segments on various other religious holidays. Easter, Christmas, Lent, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Chinese New Year, and Kwanza have all had their chance to be highlighted and honored on your show...all except Ramadan. Ramadan is a month that affects the large population of Muslims living in the United States (not to mention globally), and I think they would all take pride in having you dedicate a segment or a show to the foods, traditions, and culture behind such a wonderful, spiritual month. I am sure not many of your viewers know much, if anything, about Ramadan. Please help myself and many others, and be the first to provide a venue with which to begin showing your viewers a very peaceful, beautiful aspect of the Muslim culture that perhaps as never been shown before on television. 

Please contact correspondence at:

Thank you so much!

Most sincerely,
Your Loyal Viewer

A few pics from Ramadan dinner at my house in 2010. There was more food in the kitchen! :)
 A closer view...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Something to talk about...

So obviously my first blog was inspired by something i am very passionate about. I feel infinitely motivated to seeing my dream of equality within the realm of day time TV come to fruition. I sometimes fall asleep with the chant, "Ramadan on Martha!" over and over in my head. With your help, my chances are even greater.

But that's not to say that my blog posts will be solely religious, political, or a combination of both (it's often hard to separate both sects of discourse). Instead, what i offer at Mssmais place is a little of everything. Many times I hear from my friends after I've regaled a story that I should write all my anecdotes down--stuff that I experience is often so unique, outrageous, hilarious, wacky, and sometimes just plain odd, that I'm told one could not "make that s*** up." The expression on my husbands face while I'm telling him about my day is often one of amusement and a hint of disbelief, and is usually followed by a shaking of his head, while muttering the words "crazy baby.." Then when my typical annoyance, frustration, anger, and whatever cocktail of all three, dissipates after my divulgence to his nonjudgmental ears, we usually laugh hysterically. 

So here, at Mssmais place, I thought I could share these stories with you as they come up. And maybe a few recipes that (ladies, listen up!) will guarantee that the trash is taken out without the second, or third, or fourth, request. Maybe even without a single request. They're that good. 

I hope you'll keep visiting me here, and that you'll find yourself chuckling as you read. I also hope I'll inspire you to think out loud and to act out loud. If something I write agrees with you, join me in saying so. If not, by all means, I want to hear it too. 

So, in short, expect the unexpected at Mssmais place! 

Let me begin with a story about something that came up this weekend. I love every opportunity to share my culture with anyone and everyone who is curious and willing to learn something new. Having just moved to a new city about 6 months ago, I have been lucky to meet some really nice people, and I have made great new friendships with some amazing women. I came up with the idea to host what I called a belly dance party, but to be even more specific, it'll hopefully be a cultural night full of Arabic music, some dance, and some Arabic food. I thought it would be a great way to introduce aspects of my culture that are not typically advertised in our media culture here in the US. Believe it or not, Arab families are not all concocting the next jihadist movement, or planning how to overtake the US government with sharia law (that'll be a topic for another blog!), but actually enjoy life with good food, good music, and great friends. My wonderful friends of course are open and excited for the girls night at my house. 

Well, I brought this up to a friend of mine over the weekend. She lives in New York, and is herself an amazing hostess. Her parties are legendary, everyone looks forward to her parties because she cooks incredible Arabic food, has a beautiful, spacious home, and is a funny, attentive, and generous hostess. I brought up my party idea to her excitedly, thinking she'd love the idea of me introducing my culture to my friends. 

Instead, to my surprise, she was 100% against it. She said that because belly dance has a stigma of bearing a likeness to stripping, and is associated with loose, promiscuous women, to host such a party in my home where I'm introducing and participating in such dance is unacceptable for an educated, successful modern woman.  My friend went on to say that she would never host such a party in her home.


But I didn't understand, and I still don't.  Why shy away from a chance to show my friends what Arabs do when we get together and have fun? We sing and dance, eat and laugh...they are just as much my friends as my Arab friends, so why not share the same with them? Help them get to know me better? The way I see it, if I can do my duty as an Arab-American and help dispel some of the misconceptions people may have about our culture, then I'll do it whole heartedly. And to do it in a way that's fun and entertaining...tell me, what is wrong with that? 

Maybe because my New York friend was born and raised in a middle eastern country, and only what we here would call a "fallen" woman would become a belly dancer, that her opinion of my party idea was uncomfortable and in bad taste. One has to keep in mind that in middle eastern countries, the majority religion is Islam. With that comes the social modesty of women that our religion embraces. Belly dancing can often be viewed as disrespectful to the values Islam projects. A performance belly dancer stands at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from a woman who wears hijab (head scarf). While a belly dancer wants to entice male temptation, a woman who wears hijab wants to protect herself from it. I can understand my friend's opinion from that standpoint. After all, perhaps most people think of as "belly dancing" is of a scantily clad voluptuous woman, wearing nothing more than a bejeweled bra and minimal skirt with long slits all the way her thighs to her hips...long, wonton hair, who is twirling her hips and wrists (holding mini-cymbals) while rolling her belly, shaking her breasts and hips like Shakira, and who has in mind to elicit the desire of every male in the room. 

Ok. Well, there are those belly dancers, of course...those that come sauntering around to "oriental" music in the occasional hooka bar or an middle eastern restaurant that caters to mostly non-Arabs, in effort to draw in people to watch and then hopefully, eat. It can be fun, if not ridiculous, particularly when she walks over to a red-faced, unassuming man and wraps one of her scarves around his neck, drawing him up out of his chair and forcing him to clap and twirl his wrists, to "dance" to that, again, "oriental" music. Those of you who have been there, can picture what I'm describing. Maybe those of you who haven't, may now want to go. 

But from this I must clarify. Belly dance, such as I've described above, is performance belly dance. Women who can do amazingly complicated motions with their bodies, while making it look fun and effortless, are trained. It is a trained art. Much as tap dancers, salsa dancers, tango dancers, etc., train and practice, as do belly dancers.  

But back in Syria, Lebanon, or Jordan, when people go out to a arabic music dance party or attend a pop Arab singer's concert, are the women wearing belly dance outfits? Nope. Are they moving their hips seductively, while simultaneously  reaching back in a sensuous back bend and twirling her wrists? Nope. But while we do move our hips and shake with the music, it's not done as performance. It's not done with the purpose to elicit the lust and desire of a male audience. It is rather the movement of one enjoying the music and expressing their pleasure in doing so.  The dance moves fit the music. It's different than American song and dance, it uses different muscles, different rhythms, but that's the beauty of it. That's the beauty of all dance. It is cultural. 

So back to my original issue: is hosting my cultural night a potentially scandalous affair, where I'll be propagating the stigma belly dance has, or will I be doing our culture a service by showing  my friends something they've never experienced before, or that they have a mysterious misconception about? And if I had referred to it as "arabic dancing" rather than "belly dancing," would it have elicited the same response from my friend, and spurred this entire discussion just the same?

If my friends leave my house with a better understanding of who I am, if I break up the fog that clouds over our culture, then in my opinion, it was success. If I can make the Arabic culture less threatening, less intimidating, and more approachable by showing the more fun, happy aspects of it, should I miss the opportunity to do so?