“This Year It’s Really Different.” On Celebrating Ramadan with Drive-by Grandparent Visits, Porch Drop-offs, and Lots of Cupcakes
Name: Amanda Saab
Location: Dearborn, MI
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 3. Amanda; her husband, Hussein; and their 2.5-year-old toddler, Hannah.
Avoidances: As practicing Muslims, the Saab family does not eat pork or drink alcohol.
“This month will look different for us. No family iftars, no congregational prayers, no late-night gatherings,” Amanda Saab wrote at the start of Ramadan, on April 23, wishing her Instagram followers “a blessed, healthy, and reflective month.” In her message, Amanda captured the uncertainty of celebrating the holiest month in the Muslim faith, marked by daily fasting and festive social gatherings, during a global pandemic.
Amanda is the face behind the popular food blog @AmandasPlate. She’s also a former 2015 MasterChef contestant, a civic leader in the Detroit community who helps small businesses find their footing, and a former bakery owner (who loves to share). She also started her own event series, inviting strangers over for dinner, to break bread together — it was called “Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor.” She’s the kind of person you want to be neighbors with, if not to be lucky enough to taste her famous cinnamon rolls alone.
As we near the Eid al-Fitr celebration on May 23, we spoke with Amanda about all the new (and meaningful) ways her family has celebrated Ramadan this year, including their three-hour neighborhood baked good delivery route, virtual iftars, and bittersweet car parades.
What have the past few months have looked like for your family?
I used to own and operate Butter Bear Shop, a local bakery, and actually made the decision to close it prior to COVID-19. It was almost fortuitous in a way. I was spending all my time there (as I should have!), but it was putting a strain on me and my family. Since then, I shifted into my new role helping other business owners in the city of Detroit, organizing networking events and speaker series (all online now). I love to create but I really wanted to make a bigger impact.
Now that I’m at home all the time, I’m doing a lot more cooking too! I’m making a full-on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert (because that’s what I like to do). But given now that it’s Ramadan, and my husband and I are fasting, instead we make breakfast for us and our daughter, give her leftovers for lunch, and then I’m cooking later because we’re eating later. It’s a lot of cooking. Right now, we’re obviously missing the gathering component of Ramadan too. Normally we’d be getting together with our extended family, my mom and my sisters, friends, everyone else.
Tell me more about how you typically celebrate, and what’s different this year for Ramadan.
Last year we were up all night because there was this Ramadan Suhoor Festival, here in Dearborn, MI (suhoor is our early morning, pre-dawn breakfast). We’d normally be up really late, gathering with all our friends and family. This year it’s really different — just my husband and I breaking fast together. I’m so glad I have him because I know there are so many people who are literally by themselves. We’ve been live streaming and video conferencing. People have shifted to doing all of the Ramadan activities online so I’m grateful for that.
What is Hannah making of all of this?
Our daughter, Hannah, is 2-and-a-half, so right now she thinks every minute is playtime. We’re all just spending every minute together, which is such a blessing. Hannah is my baking helper; she loves to be in the kitchen. She can recite a cupcake recipe from memory. She helps me bake and then I deliver some to my family and friends so they can enjoy some of the treats we’ve been making. Our neighbors, who are great bakers as well, have been so generous to us, bringing us treats too.
What has been the one thing you’ve baked the most during quarantine?
Definitely sourdough. There was this anxiety in the beginning of what the world was going to look like, so I was like, Man, I better reactivate my starter to use instead of yeast. In the beginning I was making them at the rate of two loaves per week (we’d share!). There’s lots of sharing in that way.
What have you been eating during the past few weeks?
For pre-dawn, we’ve been having a lot of overnight oats because they’re so quick and easy and really fill you up before you have to fast for the day. We’ve also been doing smoothie bowls, or avocado toast with guacamole. Or maybe I’ll fry up or soft-boil an egg and put it on top — that’s how it usually goes. I’ve been keeping it simple for dinner. I’ve been making my almond chicken a lot. It’s a copycat from a local restaurant when we used to live in Seattle. It reminded us of home. I think I’ve made it like four times this Ramadan. I’ve only been able to shop every two weeks, so I’m trying to keep our meals simple.
Let’s talk more about that. How have you had to change your shopping strategy? What about meal planning?
Before COVID happened, the grocery store, farmers market, and eastern market were my favorite places on earth to get recipe inspiration. But now I’ve had to learn to shop for two weeks at a time, so we’re eating different that normal. I plan our menu for two weeks including all breakfasts and snacks and then I break it down into a big master list of all items needed for every recipe. Then I check my fridge, freezer, and pantry and cross things off that I already have. Then I go to the store and it’s like a two-hour process. I come home, wipe everything down, and try to preserve my fruits and vegetables to make them last two weeks. By the end of those two weeks, we’re eating a lot less leafy greens!
What else is different about the way you’re celebrating this year?
Ramadan is a big deal; you’re inviting people over and they’re inviting you. That’s a really big part of it, culturally for us. I knew we were going to be missing that and I wanted to spread some cheer, so Hannah and Hussein helped me package up these porch care packages with little treats. We went on a three-hour delivery route to the people we love and put the treats on their porch. It was just a way for us to welcome the month in a different way but still feel festive. People were really surprised and happy.
What are your plans for Eid?
We’re still going to dress up! Normally we’d get new Eid clothes, go to the mosque, and everyone is dressed up. So we’re going to ask our neighbors to take a picture of us from afar so we can still have our Eid 2020 memory with a family photo. We’ll probably do more treat boxes, too. I’m thinking I’m going to do a cookie box to drop off to our family and friends. We did a drive-by parade of my grandparents’ house (where we’d normally be having dinner) and they were standing outside crying; it was the sweetest thing. We’ll probably do that on the Eid too just to celebrate. Hannah will get presents and I will have the biggest cup of coffee that morning — ever. I’m so excited.
And what will you do for dinner?
For Eid dinner, my family usually goes out, because it’s a day of celebration. We’ll probably do carry-out from one of our favorite restaurants. There’s definitely going to be a voting process, so we will have to see who wants vegetarian, or chicken, or pizza. I’ll have to consult with the family.
Thanks for talking, Amanda! Check out Amanda’s blog, Amanda’s Plate, where she shares all recipes both sweet and savory.
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.