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SWEET TREATS by Maryam

by Blessed Ummi

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In a beautiful saying, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “May Allah bless him who helps his child in doing good.” He was asked “How can he help him in doing good?” to which the Prophet (PBUH) answered: “That he accepts the little that he can do, he forgives whatever he cannot do, he does not overburden him, and he does not demand too much from him, for there is nothing between him and entering a dimension of disbelief other than [due to the behavior of his parents] he disobey his parents or cut ties with his kin.”

If you had been at #theeidaffair2015 a few weeks back, you might have noticed beautiful, colourful and very delicious macarons and brownies on our food spread. These were generously sponsored by Mary Hadalittleoven, a home-based baking startup owned by Maryam Shaistah! Maryam, or also affectionately known as Mary Macarons, is also a homeschooling mum to three children. An advocate of Montessori and unschooling, read about how her children inspired Maryam to pick up baking seriously and how she involves them in her baking assignments.

 

Tell us about what you’re involved with right now, in brief! 

I’m a full-time mother who does baking on the side. I get both big orders (weddings) and small ones (own consumption) every week. Alhamdulillah, we’ve been given yet another opportunity to observe Ramadhan, the month of fasting and aside from our daily ibadah, I set aside a few hours, each night, to bake for my Raya orders before performing tarawih at home.

 

Tell us about how it all started with Mary Hadalittleoven! What vision did you have for this initiative? 

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Helping out in the kitchen is how Maryam’s daughters learn. Credits: Mary Hadalittleoven

I actually stumbled into baking through parenting and community service. As with most young children, my daughters loved getting messy with all things edible (and non-edible). As a family who tries to incorporate the Montessori methodology in our everyday living, my girls were already helping me out a lot in the kitchen at that age. Truth be told, baking is not something I was born to do. I enjoy seeing my girls’ faces light up each time I allow them to help me in the kitchen. We baked cupcakes and cookies most of the time. A few months down the road, Alhamdulillah we were granted the opportunity to be part of a charity event organized by Ummi At Play, an online community of mothers and their families. It was the very first major bake project my children were involved in. Together with many other moms and their young children, we baked more than 300 cupcakes for charity. 100% of the proceeds went to Mercy Relief – Gaza Armed Conflict Fundraising 2012. Since then, my girls became even more interested in baking for others and initiated their own small-scale charity bake sale for an orphanage in Kediri, Indonesia.

Along the way, we (read ‘I’) moved on to more complicated desserts like macarons and meringues. My first macaron was given to me by an old friend, who has since moved to Malaysia to start his own cafe. I remember clearly thinking how ridiculous it was that something so small, can cost so much. Till I took my first bite. I became determined to bake them myself. And so I did. Many cracked, failed to rise, rose but fell and many more ended up looking like chocolate cookies. It took me 3 months to figure out how to bake decent looking macarons.

Through family and friends, word started to spread and I began getting more orders for different occassions, parties and gatherings. Alhamdulillah, we were given more opportunities to bond through baking more now than ever and we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. But as with every normal human being, there were good days and not so fun days. Cleaning up was a family affair but soon it proved to be quite back breaking for husband and I. As with all families, we started out without a domestic helper. We didn’t see the need for one then. But as the number of orders began to grow, we decided getting extra help around the house would free up more time for us to bond with our children and do the things I’ve always wanted to do (for myself).

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Maryam’s daughers fulfilling their baking order for cookies to raise funds for an orphanage in Kediri, Indonesia. Credits: Mary Hadalittleoven

 

So are macarons your only speciality? Which of your bakes is a must-try? 😉 

My Chocolate Cupcakes and Dark Chocolate Macarons are the most popular. I only sell what I would eat. For example, I don’t like green tea cupcakes so you won’t be seeing that on my menu:P Did I mention I love macarons? Especially Dark Chocolate ones. The chocolatey crispy outer shell giving way to soft melt in your mouth with its inner ganache filling is just too expensive for me to keep buying off the shelves. So I was determined to produce my own dark chocolate macarons.

A year into baking macarons, I upped my ante and began working on my wedding centerpiece portfolio. I try to produce macaron centrepieces that are non-traditional, (unless requested). I simply love it when I get special requests from brides who are looking for something different. I also started decorating my macarons to make them look more appealing for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

About 3 years into that, I became increasingly interested in fondant work. It took me another few months to get my fingers familiar with kneading and sculpting fondant. Then I proceeded to cake baking and now have specialty fondant cakes on my menu.

 

Robocar Poli Fondant cakes. Credits: Mary Hadalittleoven

Robocar Poli Fondant cakes. Credits: Mary Hadalittleoven

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Maryam took a few months to self-learn fondant work before she started placing them on her menu, like this delightful cake. Credits: Mary Hadalittleoven

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Beautiful custom-made orders by Mary Hadalittleoven. Credits: Mary Hadalittleoven

How has the experience been so far? Tell us about your feelings!

It has been hectic, overwhelming most times, especially since the arrival of my third child, but I love it, Alhamdulillah. Time flies really quickly and the week is usually up before I know it. It hasn’t been easy finding the time to bake and juggle baby and my older children but I am utterly grateful for the very reliable helper who helps me with most of the household chores. As a home baker, cleanliness is of utmost importance to me and I believe if Allah SWT didn’t bless me with help, I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with the cleaning.

 

We hear that you are also an advocate for unschooling and Montessori. Tell us more about how you apply this in your daily parenting and your children’s education.

My husband is an advocate of unschooling, while for me, Montessori. Together we try to marry the two ideologies and we get something that works for our family.

I stumbled upon Montessori when I came across a quote (now one of my favourite quotes) by Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method, in a parenting magazine: ‘’The child’s parents are not his makers, but his guardians’.

This holds true in Islamic parenting as well. As Muslim parents, it is our duty to protect and care for our children, to not only clothe and feed them, but to nurture them in the best way possible in order for them to grow up to be productive and confident Muslims who will, in turn, raise the next Muslim generation with Muslim values and education. We are granted children by Allah SWT’s grace only, and they are not ours to “own,” but are very much on loan until it is their time to return to Allah.

In a beautiful saying, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “May Allah bless him who helps his child in doing good.” He was asked “How can he help him in doing good?” to which the Prophet (PBUH) answered: “That he accepts the little that he can do, he forgives whatever he cannot do, he does not overburden him, and he does not demand too much from him, for there is nothing between him and entering a dimension of disbelief other than [due to the behavior of his parents] he disobey his parents or cut ties with his kin.” (Al-Kafi, vol. 6, p. 50) – islamicinsights.com

I then began reading up on the method and after many articles later, it just made so much sense to me. Their approaches to reading, writing, self-care, care for the environment, care for others, amongst many others, naturally encourage children to want to do things for themselves. When I saw that they showed lots of interest in books, and soon after, began to mouth words, found in the books we read, through memory, it seemed like the right time to introduce Montessori Phonics.

To date, Alhamdulillah, because they are already comfortable with reading, little time is spent prepping them for Primary 1. We spend more time ‘unschooling’ now that they are slightly older.

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Maryam’s daugher (middle) mingling with her new-found friends at an orphanage in Kediri, Indonesia. Credits: Mary Hadalittleoven

What are some good resources to start with? Could you point us to a direction where parents can start with if they are interested in these methodologies?

We began our Montessori journey when my 1st child was a year old. I googled and read about the different ways other moms started out and it sparked my interest. My husband was not sold but I was adamant to try and make it work with my daughter. I started out by making simple materials for her to do, like sorting out/matching spoons, pompom balls, different coloured crayons, stacking cups and blocks, etc. I remember her particular favourite DIY material was a long tissue towel roll and ping pong balls. She would spend longs periods of time just placing the ball into the roll and watching it appear at the other end. I found that amazing because I could see how focused she can be.

I also started encouraging her to embrace independence by doing simple do-able activities like chopping a banana with a butter knife, drinking from a glass cup, feeding herself, removing her own clothes before shower time, etc. The older she got and the more focused she appeared to be, the more interesting Montessori was to me.

Below are the books and websites that helped me a lot in trying to fully understand and execute the Montessori method on my children:

BOOKS

 

ARTICLES

1) What is montessori?

2) Blogs by montessori educators/homeschooling families

3) Montessori lessons guide

 

How do you cope with motherhood, a business and schooling your children? What is a typical day like?

With Allah swt in mind and a very understanding supportive husband, I remind myself daily not to get sucked into ‘busy-ness’ and that I must take it ONE day at a time. Its easy to get overwhelmed and over-schedule my time with baking orders, customers’ events, playdates, homeschool and running a household so I feel it’s crucial for my family that I stay focused on just a few things a day, instead of trying to do everything at once.

We have always wanted to homeschool our children till they decide that they wanted to give school a try but Allah swt has other plans for us. My eldest started primary 1 this year and Alhamdulillah, has enjoyed school since day 1.

When my 2 girls were younger and we were in our first year of homeschool, I began to realise that a fixed schedule doesn’t work for us (me) so we threw that out the window. We do, however, have a fixed ‘couple of things to do during the day’ routine. Certain things we did were typical, for example, spending 15 mins a day on Montessori activities, going to the zoo every Tuesday, park every other day, indoor playgrounds on cheap Mondays, swimming when Daddy comes back early from work, which is usually once during the weekday, and so on.

My eldest started Primary 1 this year and part of our routine is that she goes to school by 7.30am. Then my other children and I spend the day however we want and make it a point to be back by 1.30pm to welcome my eldest home from school. We would, in random order, do some of the things like bake, create art, read, watch documentaries on nature, play with baby, play board games, or rollerblade to the playground.

I used to handle all my bakings myself at nights, till I started getting big orders for weddings. I had to take on an assistant in the kitchen, my husband. After showing him ways to keep himself from getting burnt, a month or two later, he proved himself to be quite the ‘Sous Chef’. He makes the meanest most delicious Caramel Sauce and Buttercream and my popular Salted Caramel Cupcakes are because of my Sous Chef.

 

Learning begins anywhere, including in the kitchen.

Learning begins anywhere, including in the kitchen.

What is the best advice you would give mothers who have a similar passion like yours (baking) and want to start something?

To not give up when the going gets tough. This can be applied to everyday living. My favourite quote from SimpleHomeschool.net which I feel can be applied to everything else is:

Your responsibility, as a homeschooling parent, is simply this: to nurture, love, forgive, believe, pray for patience, deliver grace, spread the feast, feel the fear, act in courage, get up tomorrow, and do it again.

 

Mary marries together her love for baking and parenting to make it work for her family.

Mary marries together her love for baking and parenting to make it work for her family.

To honour Maryam, our Maryam Pearl Lace Dress was named after her. We also can’t help but notice how the pastel hues of the dress remind us of her delicious macarons!

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The Inspirational Ummi Project was born out of a desire to share the secret stories that mothers hold behind their everyday struggles. Mothers are known for their quiet strength, and every mother is inspirational. Blessed Ummi hopes to share more of such stories because we know that sharing makes the motherhood journey less lonely, because we know that struggle is the middle name of motherhood. Struggle can be beautiful, and struggle need not be lonely. There is much we can learn from one another. All ummis we feature will be honoured by having a collection named after her and all stories will be permanently on the web :) Just a little something we can do to leave behind a legacy of stories to empower current and future mothers, and to inspire all of us to live life to the fullest despite our own personal life journeys. 

 

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