For years Eileen Fatima Subtain was known as the favourite aunt amongst children of family and friends. She’d often visit with a cake in hand usually for birthday parties.
Becoming that person helped her fulfil the missing void while her and her husband tried conceiving their first child for five years.
“We had some fertility issues so it was kind of like my outlet to nurture other people’s children and be some ways that aunty that makes all the lovely cakes for everybody; that was kind of my outlet and escape,” she said.
But baking cakes wasn’t a new self-taught skill Subtain caught hold of all of a sudden; she had been baking since she was young.
“Since I was little, I was always pictured standing on a little stool baking with my mother in the kitchen and I think it has always been engrained in me,” she said.
“I also have a very sweet tooth so I love eating sweets, so given that I want to be able to create and bake all the things I want to eat.”
The former family court executive assistant who has also relied on “chef Google” is now putting her baking repertoire to the test by starting her own business, Fatima’s Fancy Treats, and is a regular stall holder at Sydney’s Lakemba Saturday markets.
She said the reason is mainly because she needed to go back to doing something for herself, now that she is a mother of two young children – a son who is three and a daughter who is one.
“I just feel like I need to do something for myself now. I love being with them, and spending time with them but I need this outlet again.
“But I don’t rule going back to my job, although not in the near future because I don’t see it being feasible at this stage of my life with my small children, who are my priority, so having a home based business really works for me.”
Dressed in her bright pink hijab, Subtain while politely greeting potential customers at the markets as “sisters” revealed she never use to wear one, nor practice Islam. In fact growing up in England, she was an Orthodox Christian born to an English mother and an Armenian-Iranian father.
“We had Armenian food, but my father was born and raised in Iran, so there was a lot of Iranian and Armenian food influences. We also had very British food.
“A lot of the recipes were taught by my grandmother, who taught my mother, but my father was a very good cook. We had a Greek restaurant at one point, too, and we had Greek food in there, and we were such a mishmash so there were different influences of food.”
It wasn’t until university did Subtain begin exploring other religions after finding so many unanswered questions in her own faith. But she said it was never her intention to convert.
“I always felt there were questions that weren’t quite answered and I felt maybe it was something I needed to look further into. At one point I wanted to become a nun, I was just constantly searching because there was something missing in my soul. I was really just not quite sure what it was.
“When I went to university — because uni was a couple of hours away and I was living out of home for the first time — I felt like it was my first opportunity to explore and look at different religions openly.
“I always knew my father had a very strong distain against Muslims unfortunately, and I always knew but I never knew why. My best friend at school happened to be a Muslim, and I thought she’s really nice so I thought they can’t all be bad, surely there’s got to be some nice ones around.
“Just out of curiosity I started reading all the text, it just sat right, and felt really comfortable for me. As I read it made sense to me, and again it wasn’t with the intention to convert, the more I found I was agreeing, accepting and thinking ‘yeah I don’t see a problem with that, I could go along with that’, and so to me I thought was I a Christian who believes in Islam, or am I a Muslim who is a Christian.”
When Subtain finally accepted her new faith, she married her husband, who is a Pakistani Muslim. They both moved to Australia together in 2007.
With her mixture of cultures and religion, Subtain said it now reflects on how she cooks at home, with a mix of Armenian, Iranian, Pakistan, Bangladeshi, and British food.
“When I cook I try to have that variety. I hate cooking one cuisine, I can’t do it. I never grew up with chilli or spice, but now I really know how to eat spicy food. Oh my god, Bangali food, it’s way too much for me sometimes!
“I think you learn so much about the culture from the food. It’s an entrance because so many cultures use food for so many occasions, religious events, and family gatherings so it’s really lovely.”
8.38am 31 July, 2015: Certain details were removed as a respect to the privacy of Fatima.