I first met Yvonne Maffei when she came for an interview with Weekender. Normally those interviews are short — a quick ten minutes or so exploring the personalities behind the local events we spotlight each week.
I'd already checked out Maffei's blog, My Halal Kitchen, and was totally captivated. There are delicious-sounding recipes, great tips for keeping a green kitchen, and so much more — the woman's a font of nutritional information! But while researching Maffei I learned something else: Maffei grew up in a Puerto Rican and Italian household, and only converted to Islam in 2001, just prior to the events of 9-11.
What timing! For an American to convert to Islam at a moment when Muslims in America came under such intense scrutiny is a bold move. Of course Maffei couldn't have known what was coming, and in any event her decision was very measured. She told me her interest was lit by a trip to Morocco, after which she spent years exploring the tenets of the faith and why she wanted to leave the Catholicism of her childhood for the Islamic rituals that have shaped her adulthood.
We ended up talking for half an hour, about how her own family and friends, as well as her nascent Muslim community, reacted to her decision. To some extent she became a spokesperson for her local mosque in Ohio, someone who could help dispel some of the myths and misperceptions around Islam. But her decision also created rifts and cost her friendships.
I think you'll hear Maffei's passion and intelligence, and whatever your religious persuasion you'll no doubt relate to her motives: to find a deep and meaningful connection to the world, one Maffei thought she was lacking.
However if food is your oracle, then look no further than the recipe Maffei provides for dates stuffed with almonds and topped with creme fraiche, lemon zest and chopped pistachios. Maffei likes to break the daily fast with this treat, especially if guests are dropping by. And she recommends you accompany them with a cool glass of watermelon or guava juice.
That's one of her tips for enjoying Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. She also has things to say about staying healthy during the fast, and why frozen halal foods — available at locations from Walmart to Whole Foods — are both handy helper and badge of pride for many Muslims.