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September 2011


All content © 2007-2011 Jama Rattigan. Please do not reproduce in any form without permission. All rights reserved.



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Jun. 2nd, 2011

choc cupcake

random cuppie-o-gram #90765456

Mosque cupcake by Rosina M/flickr.

It's been awhile since our last Cuppie-o-Gram, but this one was truly worth waiting for.

We are extremely pleased to congratulate fellow Virginia author Maha Addasi on receiving an Arab American Book Award Honorable Mention for her 2010 picture book, Time to Pray (Boyds Mills Press)!! 


This award is given each year in the categories of Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Children's/Young Adult and Poetry, and was established in 2006 by the Arab American National Museum and faculty members at the University of Toledo. Selected groups of readers consisting of respected authors, university professors, artists, and members of the AANM staff choose the winning titles. The purpose of the Award is to inspire authors, educate readers and foster a respect and understanding of the Arab American culture.

To see the full list of 2011 winners, click here.


 ♥ My review of Time to Pray, which was illustrated by Ned Gannon and translated into Arabic by Maha's mother, Nuha Albitar, is here.

♥ More Random Cuppie-o-Grams here.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

Feb. 28th, 2011

comfort and joy 2011

maha addasi lecture


Attention, Washington, D.C. area friends!

My friend and fellow Virginia author Maha Addasi will be speaking at the Library of Congress.

Her topic:

"Belly Dancers, Harems and Chadors -- Getting the Multicultural Details Right in Children's Books"           

When: Wednesday, March 9, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.

Where: African and Middle Eastern Reading Room
              Library of Congress
              LJ220, Thomas Jefferson Building
              10 1st Street, S.E.
              Washington, D.C. 20540




For more info, contact Dr. Muhannad Salhi (202) 707-3778, or

*Please allow time to clear security. Request ADA Accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (voice/TTY) or email

Dec. 13th, 2010

snowman cocoa

we have a winner!


Thanks to everyone who entered the Time to Pray Giveaway!

As the gong sounded at precisely one minute after midnight this morning, an amiable moustached gentleman dressed in striped pajamas reached into his stocking cap and drew the winning name.

The lucky person who will receive a signed copy of Time to Pray by Maha Addasi is:

WINNER HERE!Collapse )


Nov. 30th, 2010

baby reading

time to pray picture book giveaway!

Maha with Time to Pray and her first book, The White Nights of Ramadan.

Recently I attended a booksigning at my local Barnes & Noble for Maha Addasi's new picture book, Time to Pray (Boyds Mills Press, 2010).

You may remember that I featured it in a special Soup of the Day post this past summer. This is a lovely story about Yasmin, who learns how to pray while visiting her grandmother in the Middle East. It's beautifully illustrated with Ned Gannon's oil paintings, which showcase the intricate geometric patterns and earth tones of Arab architecture.

No booksigning is complete without a little chocolate!

I picked up an extra copy and had Maha sign it for one lucky alphabet soup reader! Time to Pray would make a wonderful holiday gift or a welcome donation to any school library. High quality picture books about Arab/Islamic culture are rare and in high demand by educators. Time to Pray is a wonderful introduction to Salah, the five times a day worship practiced by Muslims, and will help satisfy the curiosity of American children. The bond between Yasmin and her grandmother makes for a warm, satisfying story that's not in the least bit didactic, and it resonates on a universal level.

For a chance to win a signed copy of Time to Pray, simply leave a comment here no later than midnight (EST), Sunday, December 12th. You can also enter by emailing me: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, with "Time to Pray Giveaway" in the subject line. Extra entries for tweeting, blogging, or Facebooking (just let me know in the comments). Open to U.S. residents only.     
"Familiarizing Islamic prayer through realistic fiction makes this a fine choice for most collections." ~ School Library Journal.

"A girl's visit to her grandmother in an unnamed Middle Eastern town introduces her to her spiritual heritage in this visually arresting tale, which subtly addresses the challenges and importance of passing on faith traditions from one generation to the next." Publishers Weekly

Click here to read my Soup of the Day review, which includes spreads from the book.

♥ This post is brought to you by Fajr, the first, pre-dawn prayer of the day.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

Aug. 25th, 2010

celebration soup

soup of the day: time to pray by maha addasi and ned gannon


Today, I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to congratulate dear friend Maha Addasi on the release of her second picture book, Time to Pray (Boyds Mills Press, 2010)!

Although its official pub date is not until September 1st, I wanted to let you know about this beautiful book now, since we are in the midst of the Holy Month of Ramadan, which is being observed this year between August 11th and September 9th.

Prayer Room, King Hussein Ben Talal Mosque, Amman, Jordan (frankenschulz/flickr).

You may remember my review of Maha's first book, The White Nights of Ramadan (Boyds Mills Press, 2008). Time to Pray is the perfect companion book to White Nights. It has been illustrated with more of Ned Gannon's stunning oil paintings, and this time, there is a wonderful addition: an Arabic translation of the story by Maha's mother, Nuha Albitar!

Read more...Collapse )

May. 6th, 2009

may madness

chicken butts and other fine things

Maha Addasi and me (we both have very nice butts).

This past Sunday, I threw caution to the wind, grabbed my umbrella, and drove over to the Reston Regional Library to check out the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI New Member Welcome & Regional Get-together.

There were two very good reasons for going: writer pal, Maha Addasi (The White Nights of Ramadan), was going to be on the panel, and I was told there'd be cake.

Read more...Collapse )

Dec. 11th, 2008

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booksigning alert!

If you live in the Northern Virginia area, take note:

WHAT: Booksigning with Maha Addasi, 
           author of The White Nights of Ramadan

WHEN: Saturday, December 13, 12 - 4 p.m.

WHERE: Barnes & Noble, Fair Lakes Promenade
              (address and directions here).


Hope you'll take this opportunity to meet Maha. There's nothing more special than a signed book as a holiday gift. In case you missed my interview with Maha, click here. I also reviewed The White Nights of Ramadan here.

I'm definitely going to be there. Hope to see you!!

Sep. 23rd, 2008


we have a winner!

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read my interview with Maha Addasi last week. Loved all your great comments!

Yesterday morning, we decided to pick the winner of our book giveaway while we were having breakfast.

Some of the kitchen help busied themselves raiding the tea cupboard.


But good old Breakfast Bear started out his day reading
The White Nights of Ramadan. For the 53rd time.


Since he's such a big fan of Maha's book, it seemed logical that he should pick the winner. So, we wrote everyone's names on pieces of blue paper, and tossed them into his cereal bowl.


He loved all the names, he really did. He even wanted to eat them. So we had to compromise. If he picked one name, he would be allowed to make something yummy with it.

First, he gazed into the magic toaster.


Then, he played with some red raspberry jam (his favorite).


He worked for over an hour creating his masterpiece. When he was finally done, he wanted to eat it right away. But I convinced him to hold off awhile so I could show you what he made.


See the winner!Collapse )

Sep. 15th, 2008


SOUP'S ON: Maha Addasi in the Kitchen Interview and Book Giveaway!

Today, I am pleased and excited to welcome dear writing friend and children's author, Maha Addasi, to alphabet soup! When we first met in 2005, I never would have imagined that one day I would be interviewing her.

After all, she's the one who had a fascinating, glamorous career as a news correspondent and producer for Jordan and Dubai Television. The one who interviewed royalty and heads of state, cosmonauts, opera singers, musicians, and world-renowned scientists. The one who attended openings of Parliament, lunched in the royal palaces in Jordan, and who, once upon a time, attended the New English School in Kuwait with Queen Rania.

Maha once told me that she likes to keep busy. Since moving to the U.S. in 1998, she has shifted her focus to writing for children. And why not? She has four of her own -- two teenage girls, and two boys under the age of 10, a little posse that would decidedly challenge even the most resilient of supermoms, while at the same time providing neverending story fodder.

Just last month, Maha's first picture book, The White Nights of Ramadan, was released by Boyds Mills Press (my review is here). The "white nights" refer to three days in the middle of
Ramadan -- the full moon, and the days before and after. In Maha's native Kuwait and other countries in the Persian Gulf Region, these days mark the candy festival called Girgian, which is highly anticipated by children.


Since we're right in the middle of the holy month, it's the perfect time for Maha to tell us all about her book and share a special family recipe. She's visiting today from her home in Fairfax, Virginia, where, in her "spare" time, she's busy working on her MFA from Vermont College and building a career as an image consultant.

Welcome to alphabet soup, Maha, and congratulations once again on the publication of your first picture book! How does it feel to finally be able to call yourself a “published children’s author?” Is it what you expected?

Thank you, Jama, for this wonderful opportunity. I feel honored to be selected as an interviewee on alphabet soup.  I get to laugh every time I read it. It’s well organized, and so much fun to read.

In terms of being a published children’s author, the feeling is very special, but there is also a lot of responsibility that comes with it. For me, there’s the self-imposed pressure of wanting to produce another book and the feeling of being overwhelmed about finding a new idea. There’s also the What If factor: What if the book does not sell? What if it is not perceived well? I had not anticipated that beforehand. So I’m dealing with that along with enjoying the fact that the book is now published.

Please tell us how The White Nights of Ramadan evolved. What did you learn from this experience?

The idea of writing about Ramadan came from my own need to find a book about this month that was a fun read. I was able to find several books that captured the month of fasting very well, but they seemed very encyclopedic. I had the chance to speak at an interfaith event held at Church of the Redeemer that the Arabic school I belong to arranged with the church and Am Kolel Synagogue. We had several interactive children’s events, but when it came time to sharing a book, there were none that seemed to work for the children. 

So I decided to write my own. At the time I did not feel there was a market for this kind of book. I wrote the book in rhyme. It was a fun read, but the meter did not quite work all the way through. Several stanzas seemed forced. It sat in my folders for some time. And I continued to market other works to various publishing houses.

All illos for The White Nights of Ramadan were rendered in oil by Ned Gannon.

One day, I got a letter from Boyds Mills Press. I had sent them a story that was about a cultural event, but it ended up on someone else’s desk. The letter said that the subject did not exactly work for a picture book, but to keep them in mind for other works and to email him if I had something. Of course I panicked a little. Actually, I panicked a lot, and then I suggested a folk tale, which I had recently written. It was not what this editor was looking for.

I then said I had a story in rhyme called, "The Moon Has Been Seen," about Ramadan. The response was immediate. "Please email it to me right away." I nearly fainted. I went into emergency mode and contacted the members of my writer's group, and did some on-line critiquing and I sent it in. The reply: "It has potential, but the meter does not quite work." I tried other versions. Eventually, to add to the storyline, I included something about Girgian.

             Main character, Noor, with her two brothers, ready for Girgian

The response was, "What is Girgian?" I explained that it was a candy festival. Eventually, I attended the SCBWI conference, at which the author of these correspondences was a speaker. I got to meet Larry Rosler in person and he told me that he would like for me to try writing a story about Girgian and preferably not in rhyme. I had been living with the characters of my story for several months and it took a very short time to come up with the story in prose. It was accepted and we took it from there.

            Typical fanous (lanterns) carried by children for Girgian

Working with Larry is like living a beautiful dream. He is so very kind. I am overwhelmed by how wonderful he is in terms of expressing himself and how warm he comes across and how masterful he is as an editor. To have the opportunity to work with him and the team at Boyds Mills Press is such a great honor.

Aside from its focus on Girgian, what do you think sets your book apart from the many other children’s books about Ramadan? Were you trying to dispel any popularly-held misconceptions? If so, which ones?

My children were somewhat frustrated and wanted to be able to share books with friends that described the month of Ramadan in an incidental way, as part of a story. Most books talked about the fasting part in a somewhat didactic way, so it was not an easy read for them.

                      Maha in traditional Girgian gown

In terms of Ramadan, the fasting is a major part of it, but the reasons behind the fasting are what make it meaningful. Muslims fast to place themselves at equal footing with those less fortunate. Nothing makes you relate to someone deprived of food more than the pinching ache of hunger.

But what I wanted to show was that Ramadan is not a month of suffering, but a month that holds beautiful meanings of sharing and interacting with family and friends. Even young children plead with their parents to fast, if only for a day. It makes them proud to be able to accomplish such a feat, and it gives them a chance to get closer to family and friends.

Generally, how old are children when they begin to fast? Did you find it difficult when you first began? Is it difficult now?

Children are not required to fast until they are in their teens. However, many children start to practice at around 6 or 7. I remember fasting the last three days of Ramadan when I was 6. I had a cousin who was one year older and he started that same year, and my best friend at the time also fasted for Lent.  We all got so much attention; it was well worth it, and we felt so grown up.

             Noor and her grandfather take a charity basket to the Mosque

As an adult it is not very difficult. I think the first day was tough in some years because my biggest problem on the first day was developing headaches from caffeine withdrawal. I no longer drink caffeinated coffee, if I have coffee at all, and that made it so much easier. It is somewhat difficult for teens in schools, but they go to school fasting and take food with them, in case they have to break their fast. If they do they can make up missed days in the winter when the days are shorter.

I personally love the month, for the feelings of tranquility and peace that come with it. It’s a month that deprives you of food but fills your spiritual soul to the brim. It also makes you focus on what the important things in life are.

How did you feel when you first saw Ned Gannon's illustrations? Was his vision close to the one you had in mind? What do you think his art brings to your story?

When I first saw Ned Gannon's illustrations I loved how elaborate they were. I saw a black and white sketch first and he had captured the details so well. I have to say I absolutely loved his use of color and the effect of light and shade that seem to be his signature. I feel he captured the essence of the festival and the country and the characters superbly.

Please tell us the story behind your dedication: "To Mom and Dad, I walked and walked."

Oh, that may seem funny now, but when I was about 5, I was learning to read. I actually learned to read English before Arabic, even though I lived in Kuwait. I had to bring home books from school to practice and one of the books was called, “I Walked and Walked.” The main character walks and encounters a dog, then a cat and so on through a series of events. My dad wanted me to read the book so that I made no mistakes. So I would start: “I walked and walked and what did I see?” (All is well so far.) 

                              Maha at about age 3

Then, on the second line, I would say “I saw a bog" (instead of dog), and I would have to start the book all the way from the start. Sometimes I would mess up on the very last sentence! I have to say there were tons of tears, but my dad, a physician, told me that he wanted me to perfect the English language. “One day you’ll be better than me in language,” he said. “I learned English in medical school and that was really tough. I want you to do it now when you’re young.” Of course I still remember the book word for word to this day.

What was your childhood like? Which books did you love most?

I had a lovely childhood. My dad worked for Getty Oil Company in Kuwait and we had friends from all over the world living in this American campus. Our house was on the sea shore and I spent long hours discovering sea life and picking shells and building sand castles. The weather is very warm in Kuwait and with the exception of a few weeks in winter, walking along the beach is a year long affair.


I loved to draw and write from a very young age. I loved reading Charlotte's Web, Paddington Bear. Jack London's Call of the Wild and White Fang were my favorites and so were all the Enid Blyton books I could get my hands on. I also loved the Famous Five and Agatha Christie mysteries. But what I also enjoyed reading were books in Arabic.

There was this series called "The Green Library," that revolved around folktales and legends. They are so rich in detail and I bought the entire series as an adult and sometimes read them to capture the nostalgia of my childhood.

Why did you decide to re-craft your journalistic training into writing for children, and how does it influence your work today?

I have always enjoyed writing stories. On parents’ day my parents were often mortified to find out that our family ‘news’ was in my daily writing book in school for all to read. It was inevitable that I would end up in journalism. But turning to writing for children was much tougher than being a journalist. It took some seven years of work to re-craft my writing toward children’s writing. I enrolled in the Institute of Children’s Literature. This writing field is so immense and there is always so much more to learn.

                                    Maha's workspace at home

I have just started my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I know how much more I still have to learn. Learning to write for children well is a lifetime commitment. I find my journalistic background feeds my work every day in two ways. First, it gave me several unique experiences and perspectives to draw on, and second, it made me able to work fast. Journalistic deadlines are cut-throat. Television satellite feeds teach you the value of every nano second. I feel that I can rework my children's writing fast, if I have to.

I am so much in awe of how much you do. How do you manage to balance your writing life with your personal life?
Some weeks are very tough. Close your eyes and point to the calendar to any day and I guarantee that day was not a typical one for me. I start my day at around 4:45 a.m. I do a little reading and sometimes a little writing, but I go back to bed for another hour. It may sound strange, but in college when I had writing assignments for English class and woke up early (and went back to sleep for a little more), I was able to will my mind to think of themes and story ideas. It happened several times so I knew it was no coincidence.

                                  Maha reads to Ramzy and Samer

Balancing home life is very hard sometimes. My teen daughters are a blessing. They are very independent and help me out with my younger boys. In the summer especially, they help with babysitting. One of my daughters loves to cook and she’s really good at it, so she takes over the cooking. During the year it’s hit or miss. I try to plan ahead, but sometimes you get things from left field so you have to improvise. Usually things tend to work themselves out. Writing gets squeezed in very early or very late in the day, or both.

Picture books are still a tough sell. Any advice for those hoping to break in?

I think that if you enjoy writing picture books keep on writing them. Don't worry about the market. Write for your own personal enjoyment first, which makes for better writing, and this leads to publication. I think the key is to want to write for writing itself, versus having publication be your main focus. Also, try to constantly read as many picture books as you can. It's amazing how that can spark ideas.

What's next for you?

I sold my second fiction picture book to Boyds Mills Press, and I'm working on a third, which is a little different, because it is nonfiction.


Describe yourself in 5 words.

Always wanting to do more.

Passions besides reading and writing.

I love antique stores and yard sales; I've also recently learned to bead bracelets. I enjoy doing watercolor painting with my son, who recently started art lessons with renowned watercolor artist Lou Negri.

3 fondest wishes.

I wish for my children to all find a field of study that gives them lifelong enjoyment.
I wish to find that magic button that once pressed gives one total peace of mind.
I wish for world peace and the end of stereotyping and alienating of people and nations that choose other ways of life.

5 favorite foods.

Anything my mother cooks. I hate to brag, but my mom cooks Asian, Italian, and Mediterranean food like an expert gourmet chef. I also love seafood from my days living by the sea. Fishermen walked along the shore in front of our house with boxes filled with fish so fresh they still moved!

Please describe your favorite childhood food-related memory.

I grew up in a close-knit family of four. On weekends my dad had a ritual of getting up early to make a special breakfast dish that had hummus as its main ingredient, but which is served warm. So we would have stations. My mom would make the hummus, my dad would toast the bread (which went into the dish); my brother would mince garlic, and I would squeeze lemons.

We had a little garden so I also got to get the fresh herbs. Then the ingredients were mixed together with hot water and the dish was dressed up with pine seeds sauteed in olive oil. This breakfast dish is tangy and with green olives its flavors danced on your tongue. Of course we would have this with mint tea. The dish is called Fatet Hummus.

Please share a recipe with us, something you might prepare for Iftar (meal taken at sunset to break the fast during Ramadan).

Iftar food often starts with soup and then mostly stews and savory pastries, but the thing most associated with the month is the Ramadan desserts. I make five or six different desserts through the month. Some take a long time to make, while others have fast prep time and are just as tasty.

For instance, I make a basic bread pudding, but the moment it's done baking, I drench it with sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream. It is awesome. I also make pastries with homemade pancake-like pastry, filled with walnuts (or pecans), cinnamon and sugar, deep fried and drenched in homemade syrup. This dessert is also perfect with substitute sugar and works with store-bought puff pastry which you can bake, instead of fry.



8 slices of white bread (hand shredded into small pieces)
4 eggs, lightly whisked (or 5 egg whites)
1 12-oz can evaporated milk (you could use fat-free)
1 T sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
1 T butter cut into small pats


1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1 8-oz tub of Cool Whip

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Spray an 8" x 8" baking dish with non-stick spray.

Place bread in baking dish.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg (and raisins, if you are using them), and pour over bread in baking dish. Use a spoon to push down the bread to ensure it is soaked well with the milk mixture.

Put pats of butter on top.

Bake uncovered for 25 minutes at 325 degrees F, and for an additional 5 minutes at 400 degrees F, or until golden brown.

Remove from oven, scoop immediately into individual serving ramekins/glass bowls. Drizzle with sweetened condensed milk (to taste). Add a dollop of Cool Whip.

*Store extras covered in fridge. This pudding tastes great the second day. Just microwave for 30 seconds and add condensed milk and Cool Whip and it tastes just as fresh as on the first day.

*You could add chocolate chips and toasted pecans to this recipe over the Cool Whip, but it tastes really good plain.

 Thanks to Maha's daughters, Serena and Diana, for the lovely photos!
For more about Maha, visit her website and Live Journal blog.

To learn more about Ned Gannon, who created the beautiful oil paintings for this book, visit his website.

Boyds Mills Press website is here.

Lovely review in the Jordan Times here.

SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY: Just leave a comment here by midnight Friday (EST), September 19th, for a chance to win a signed, personalized copy of The White Nights of Ramadan!!

*Interior images posted by permission, copyright © 2008 Ned Gannon, published by Boyds Mills Press. All rights reserved.

Aug. 5th, 2008

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soup of the day: the white nights of ramadan by maha addasi

  Hip Hip Hooray!!

Today I am thrilled to congratulate Maha Addasi on the publication of her first book, The White Nights of Ramadan! This beautiful picture book is out this month from Boyds Mills Press, and I have a very special reason for celebrating.

         THE WHITE NIGHTS OF RAMADAN by Maha Addasi
           pictures by Ned Gannon (Boyds Mills Press, 2008), 
           ages 4-8, 32 pp.

Maha is a member of my critique group, and I was privileged to read early drafts of the manuscript several years ago. Now I feel like a proud godparent, since I was able to share the excitement of Maha's first sale, and see the manuscript evolve into its final form as she worked hard on revisions.

The "white nights" referred to in the title are three days in the middle of the holy month -- before, during, and after the full moon -- which coincides with a special celebration called Girgian. In countries of the Arabian Sea-Persian Gulf region, such as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, this is a festive time, when children go from house to house collecting treats, much like trick-or-treating in the U.S., but lasting for 3 consecutive nights! They carry lanterns, wear traditional clothes, and greet their neighbors with "Girgian, O Girgian," which translates as "Candy, O Candy!" 

In Maha's story, based on her own childhood experiences growing up in Kuwait, Noor and her younger brothers excitedly prepare for Girgian by decorating their treat bags, making pistachio nut brittle, and trying on their special clothes.

These activities occur alongside the traditional practices of fasting, prayer, reading of the Koran, and special alms-giving. Unlike some of the other formal, stilted treatments of this subject, The White Nights of Ramadan will show young readers that the true meaning of this observance can also be about having fun, while spending time with family, visiting neighbors, and sharing with those less fortunate.

                 Noor and her brothers discuss their plans for Girgian

The masterful oil-on-canvas paintings by Ned Gannon are a study in luminosity, with deep, rich colors that perfectly emulate the ancient, exotic setting. The opening spread shows Noor staring at the rising moon, full of anticipation. I love how Mr. Gannon extends this white light by incorporating it throughout the book. It radiates from the children's garments, the powdered sugar in the candy, the ceramic plates used for iftar (the meal taken after sunset to break the day's fast), the lanterns bobbing along with happy children in the streets -- until it becomes the full moon in the final spread, lighting the way for Noor and her grandfather as they take a charity basket to the mosque. 

Every time I turn the pages of this lovely book, I feel the spirit of happy children, and think how much of Muslim culture is probably misunderstood by many Americans. I highly recommend The White Nights of Ramadan for all children ages 4 and up, and see it as a must-have for school libraries and home schoolers. The Authors Note and Glossary will encourage further study.

For now, grab your spoons and slurp your congratulations to Maha, who will be visiting alphabet soup in September. Be sure to check back; you won't want to miss meeting this Renaissance woman!

                Today's Special: Holy Pistachio, dates optional

Check out Maha's website and blog

*Interior spread from The White Nights of Ramadan posted by permission, Copyright © 2008, Ned Gannon. All rights reserved.