By Ashley May
A peek into our home on any day would reveal a simple life of moments together. Most often you’ll find us in the kitchen making a meal or perhaps at the table enjoying tea before taking a walk together. And for the most part, our walls and shelves exhibit the signs of life, love and children much the same way any other home does. A gallery of creations made by tiny hands, handmade items serving as beautiful reminders of quiet moments I’ve carved out for myself, stacks of books that inspire our hearts, and of course boots at the back door with mud on the tips–evidence of long days outside in each others company. Yet, there are times that our home shifts, taking on a rhythm that is unique to us and to the other Muslims around the world. Regardless of where we live, the same pulse runs through our worlds during these most auspicious times. You see, the festivals we hold dear to our hearts, as Muslims, walk with the rhythms of the moon, and in our home they are inspired by the beauty in nature and the seasons that carry us throughout each year.
Our holiest months and most auspicious days don’t always find themselves cushioned by the mainstream holiday seasons. We could find ourselves breaking our Ramadan fasts on mild Spring evenings or under late Summer sunsets at backyard BBQ’s; Eid al Adha may greet us on the heels of Autumn with cider donuts or perhaps we’ll wake to a grey Winter morning, dipping Eid cookies in warm milk as we prepare to head off to morning prayers. What rings loud and true, regardless of the seasons, is the fact that the world around us is most often carrying on with business as usual, while we are knee deep in observance. And so in my home, I lean on the comfort of simple, meaningful rhythms, rooted in our most valued traditions, to carry us through our festivals and celebrations each year. This approach has emerged from the wisdom of experience alone and the sort of intuition that boils up inside of one after they’ve weathered a season or two of doing too much.
As I sit here today at my desk, we’ve just closed the month of Dhul Hijjah–the twelfth and final month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is the most sacred of months marked by ten of the holiest days of the year, including hajj (or the pilgrimage to Mecca), and our biggest holiday, Eid al Adha. The month of Dhul Hijjah is a time to encourage good deeds, a time to be kind to family, friends and neighbors, and a time to exchange gifts of love and sweets to increase love between each other. All of these actions, of course, drawing us closer to the Divine. Eid al Adha, the tenth day of Dhul Hijjah, serves as a time to remember the story of prophet Abraham and his unwavering conviction, submission, and trust in God. And the way I chose to bring awareness to these values is through simple actions that leave an imprint on my children’s hearts.
While we could spend these days making crafts and filling the house with extravagant decorations, I have chosen otherwise for my family. This year we welcomed the new moon of Dhul Hijjah with a long afternoon at the beach with family, then woke up the next morning and got the vanilla sugar started. Our recipe is simple–just bury one vanilla bean, sliced down the middle, in a jar of sugar when the new moon of Dhul Hijjah comes over the horizon and don’t touch it until you’ve seen the sun set at least nine times. It’s the only proper way to ring in this special time of year in the heat of summer, of course. Then we spent just a little more time at grandma’s house playing in her garden, perhaps the whole ten days–for the act of sitting with elders and strengthening the bonds of family is filled with blessings. We recreated scenes from Mecca, hanging play silks from branches to form tents in all the colors of nature while listening to the story of prophet Abraham and the holy house, all told by heart. Bedtime stories of curious rabbits are replaced with melodious recitations of the Quran and stories from a time long ago. And once the children were fast asleep, I found moments for myself to slowly hem silk scraps, gifted to me from a sweet friend, in the colors of the moonlit sky while dhikr, or words of remembrance, played in my heart. I’ve got plans for these silks, to decorate next year’s Ramadan table, but for now they act as a bit of caregiver’s work stitched in heartfelt remembrance from Eid’s past.
On the ninth of Dhul Hijjah, and the night before the most special celebration of the year, Eid al Adha, we laughed and told stories and prepared for the festivities we would meet the next day. The next day was spent enjoying time with family and exchanging gifts and a few more days spent celebrating with grandparents. And after all of the excitement took its course, we returned home embraced by the sweet practice of making Eid cookies. We met in the kitchen to hand cream sweet, cultured butter and vanilla sugar to make the most lovely yet simple cookies to mark our most special time of year. I always tell my children that Eid isn’t just about baking sheets and sheets of cookies, it’s about spending time with family and doing good deeds, but boy they sure do make things just a little bit sweeter around here. And in the spirit of the Eid, I would like to share my recipe with you as a gift from my family to yours.
A Cookie Recipe for a Simply Sweet Eid
Whether we are celebrating the blessed month of Ramadan or embracing the beauty and rewards of the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah, you will find us in the kitchen making small preparations that lead to this simple, subtly sweet cookie. In our home we call them both Eid Sable and Eid Ka’ak. No Eid is complete without the smell of vanilla bean steeped sugar and sweet, cultured butter coming from the kitchen. The dough is delicious on its own baked into a simple cookie, perhaps pressed with the bottom of an old drinking glass or pinched between fingers–but we also stuff and accent flavors based on the cultural traditions that run through our kitchen and home. It warms my heart to be able to share this recipe with you all and I hope you’ll bake a batch or two along with us once the moon signals Eid season once again. And by all means, please do give them a try on the occasion of any celebration you hold dear in your hearts. You will not be disappointed. This recipe yields approximately four dozen cookies (more or less depending upon how you shape them).
*While no pantry is complete without a jar of homemade vanilla sugar, making a batch with the cycle of the moon, as it leads up to the Eid is a lovely practice you must try. You could use the process I shared in my reflection or simply start a batch at any time of the year. Take one organic vanilla bean and slice it down the middle to release the oils. Fill a quart jar halfway with organic sugar, tuck the vanilla bean inside, and then cover with more sugar until you fill the jar. Let it rest for about two weeks or slightly more, shaking on occasion. Then, remove the vanilla bean and there you’ve got vanilla sugar. You can steep that vanilla bean in milk for all kinds of treats such as Arroz Con Leche or a nice morning beverage of spiced milk with tea or coffee.
1 ¾ cup of whole wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
A pinch of sea salt
8 tablespoons of the best unsalted butter you can find, softened (we love to use cultured, grass fed butter as it imparts such a lovely flavor
5 – 6 tablespoons of vanilla sugar *see note above
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water
Making the Dough
- Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.
- Cream the butter and sugar either by hand or in your stand mixer. Add egg and mix more until well combined and resembles buttercream.
- Add flour mixture to creamed butter, eggs and sugar slowly and mix until combined. Press the dough together with hands until it forms a ball that releases easily from your hands without too much stickiness. Separate the ball into two. Place on two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Flatten into discs and let it rest in the fridge overnight or at least four hours.
Preparing the cookies
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set out dough to come to room temperature.
- Roll out on well floured surface until about a quarter inch thick or so. Cut dough with a 1 ½ to 2 inch round cutter and transfer to a large cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Brush the tops with egg wash and bake until golden, around 10 – 12 minutes depending on the oven. I like to rotate my cookies halfway through to make sure they bake evenly.
- Cool in the pan and then place on a wire rack to complete cooling. The cookies keep well in an airtight jar for three days or so. But trust me, they won’t last that long.