The recipe book

May 19, 2019

It started its life as a daily planner, until my mom summoned it into her kitchen and forever changed its fate. Its pages filled up gradually over the years. Scattered in it were the time-tested recipes that became a regular feature on our kitchen table, concoctions that never seemed to work despite my mom's diligent efforts (these could easily be recognized from the big X that disgraced some of the pages), and recipes still eager to prove their worth. Torn magazine pages, handwritten paper scraps, printed pages, anything and everything with a recipe on it found a home between the original, now yellowing and battered pages. It bulged open as if it had itself overindulged in all the yummy meals.

As I browsed through it, I felt I was looking at a snapshot of our young lives. My mom tags each recipe by its owner. There were names of beloved family members (Amteh Salwa's atayef, Fado's sablés), lifelong friends and acquaintances (gâteau Badi'ah, Magda's goulash), women that drifted into our lives for a short time, like the Jeanette of Jeanette's maamoul. None of us, even my mother, has the slightest idea anymore who Jeanette was. And it is all for the better as Jeanette's recipe featured the dreaded X, a mark that forever doomed one's reputation as a recipe giver. There was the beef stroganoff from my mom's Betty Crocker's cookbook, which I happened to discover and make as a teenager once when she was on a trip and I got to play mom for a few days. That dish so impressed my dad and younger sisters, it proudly made its way to the prized recipe sanctuary.

 

I could follow the evolution of our lives, from the war times when only basic local ingredients were available, to subsequent peace times when the basket of goodies gradually expanded then exploded with eclectic finds summoned from every corner of the earth. I could also follow the evolution of our handwriting over the years as we helped transfer the recipes onto the pages, from the carefully drafted letters of a novice writer, to the "cool" convoluted twists of a teenager, to the hurried drafting of a busy adult. There was the Arabic, the French, the English, even the German, not to mention the arabiglish of my little girls ("fool, menusheh, warunab, bishamal, melfuf" on wish lists they created when they visited Teta). As I took this trip down memory lane, I savored the story of love shared through food and countless hours my mom spent patiently tending to the ingredients, transforming them into sheer happiness and comfort. The beloved recipes of the past remain the best of the present as they are infused with the cherished sounds and images of a time long gone, when our small family--my mom, my dad, my two sisters and I--shared our meals, our pains, our joys and our dreams across the tidily set kitchen table with the neatly ironed cover...

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