FOOD. The word alone makes us feel many things. Did you come from a family that celebrated its ethnicity through the food on your table? Were you raised in a home with a stay-at-home mom, dad or grand parent that made mealtime a special memory from your childhood? Was there no one, in your home, that could or would cook meals daily; leaving you hungry to start some culinary traditions of your own? Do you cook? Did you marry someone who loves to cook?
Allow me a bit of your time to share my story about food and how it became what I think of as: The Love Offering.
We were poor, when I was a little kid. Many parents in their early twenties are. My dad was a music teacher (instruments) by day, and a jazz musician at night, playing piano in some of DC’s hottest clubs, and with some of the most iconic musicians of that time:
- Dizzy Gellespie
- Billy Ex (Eckstine)
- Art Blakey
- Dexter Gordon
- Johnny Mathis
My father maintained a dual life, working days and weekend nights, while my mom raised four girls. Being a musician, an artist or anyone who contributes artistic beauty to our lives, makes barely enough to live on, much less care for a large family and yet these gifted people contribute something indescribably essential to our lives. None the less, we were poor.
My mother was, like many back in her day, first generation American from an immigrant family. Her parents were Syrian, from Safita Syria, predominately an olive growing area north of Lebanon, though her family raised goats and sheep. I am certain that is why to this day, the only cheese I eat is from the milk of either of these animals!
Our tiny little home was in a small village on the east coast in Maryland. A village known as Galesville. My mom was the only person of color in that village, except for the small African-American community that was segregated from the white folks in that little riverside village. I mention this for a reason; no one else in the community, the white community, cooked food like my mother did.
Once a month, our family would pile into the family car and drive into DC to visit family. We moved to this village from DC, leaving behind all of our relatives, something that displeased my mother immensely, especially since it didn’t take her long to realized she was being shunned by all the other white women in the village. She felt terribly alone and isolated.
While in DC, we always made a trip to the Middle Eastern Market to stock up on all the fabulous ingredients we couldn’t buy near our home: gorgeous olives, sheep or goat milk cheeses, pastry sheets, apricot sheets, flat bread, olive oil, and lots of spices, important spices for the food my mother cooked. Food my father raved over (having grown up in a Scandinavian/German home). Food he never had, before my mom, and food he would boast about and invite lots of DC friends out to our home to dine, and jam (as in jazz jam sessions!).
Sundays, in my home, were amazing! My mom would cook, people would come, and the best music ever was played (loudly), in our tiny little village home. Weekends in DC, though, were my absolute favorite culinary times. My sisters and I would get to stay with our cousins, and my mom got to hang out with all her family and friends; friends that were; Italian, Greek, Syrian, Egyptian, and Lebanese. And what do you suppose those women did when they got together? Yep, they cooked!
It wasn’t long, being the oldest, before I found the kitchen way more interesting than the children’s play areas. At first I wasn’t invited to ‘do’ anything in the kitchen with the other women, and so I sat and watched. I watched grape leaves being rolled, squash being stuffed, legumes turned into amazing dips, meat being ground and macerated along with a gazillion spices, spices that filled my nostrils in a way I have yet to forget their intoxicating aroma. (Many of these recipes can be found throughout my blog, or my cookbook).
- Kibbeh: Stuffed Lamb Meatballs
- Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves
- Baba Ghanoush: Roasted Eggplant Dip
- Cookbook: The World On My Plate
The women told stories, laughed, sang and cooked. It became my favorite happy place in all of my little girl life!
Fast Forward to my own home. A mother of four children. A single mom, for all but eight years, raising four children alone. Now, if any of you reading this, have experienced a divorce or motherhood outside of marriage, you know; IT IS DAMN DIFFICULT! I found only one solace, going through the highs and lows of those years: Food.
Food offered me an escape from the harsh realities I was living through. Food inspired me with hope. Food became the Love Offering to comfort me and give me something to do, that would take my mind away from an already long list of things that required my ‘doing’. Food. To eat it? No. Eating it was not the comfort I was in search of. Experiencing it, was.
I subscribed to several Culinary magazines, back then. When each would arrive in the mail, it was like a date with an old and dear friend. I would make certain I allowed two hours of quiet tea time, kids napping or in school time to sit and inhale each page. I tried many of the recipes, sure, but that isn’t what I enjoyed most about these magazines, it was the journey into other people’s lives, their stories, their ethnicity, their flavors, ingredients and techniques that I coveted. It gave me a momentary escape from the stress of my everyday life.
I saved and adored each and every one of those magazines; my friends, my lovers, my imaginary journeys. And then, one day, when I knew a huge move was in the foreseeable future, I knew I had to do something with my huge collection of magazines. Toss them? NO! But what? After much consideration, I knew exactly what I would do; transform them.
Each day, over the months that lie ahead, I made time daily to go through each magazine. I pulled out every photograph, every recipe, every anything that made me feel something, tell a story I wanted to remember or have ingredients I would delight in using.
Months later I had categorized all my treasures into groups: bread, meats, seafood, soups & chowder, desserts, and on and on. I bought boxes and boxes of plastic page covers, numerous large 3-ring notebooks and set out to put everything in its proper place.
Therapy. It may sound crazy but this little side escape I had started, fast became the most incredible therapy for the difficult times I was living through. I looked forward to it. It made me happy. It was an escape, and then when it was time to move; as in gather my four little-ones and everything we owned, and move, my treasures were ready to move with me! They had become my secret hiding place; My Love Offerings.
Here I am, thirty-five years later. Babies all grown and with family of their own. My life has had so many incredible adventures since then; some to far away places, and with a host of fabulously interesting people, while others have brought me right back to my current hometown, now only a few miles from that little river-side village of my childhood. Those treasures that got me through the rough years? They are right here with me to this day! Yep! Right here. The oldest page in my collection dates back to 1985, though somewhere in the large collection they are older.
Food. It isn’t what I do. Food is what I am, we all are. It’s more than, ‘you are what you eat’, it’s really about ‘eating what you are’!
Thank you for spending this time visiting my life. I would LOVE to hear stories about yours. xo