I BELIEVE IN FOOD
I believe in the importance of food and its extraordinary power to influence nearly every aspect of human life. Food is necessary not only for nourishing our bodies, but also for feeding our minds and spirits. Many of our daily rituals revolve around food preparation and consumption, and many of our social interactions take place in the kitchen while food is being prepared and around the table while food is being shared. Food, whether it is plentiful or scarce, provides a focus for community and sharing.
Each of us has memories evoked by certain foods from our childhood. Sometimes just the hint of a familiar aroma evokes these memories as vividly and as real as they were when first experienced. For me, memories triggered by food are the strongest and most moving of all. As I cook traditional foods, I am always seeking the exact balance of flavors that members of my family created many years ago. When I get it right, I am transported to an earlier time and another place. I can see my Italian grandmother’s homemade pasta, shaped in the form of little hats, laid out by the hundreds on a white sheet atop her bed to dry before a holiday dinner celebration. I can also hear my Lebanese Sito (“grandmother” in Arabic) calling us in the stairwell of our three-decker home to come upstairs for some fattoush, a summer salad with toasted pita bread, lemon, thyme, and sumac seasoning. Gatherings at the homes of my grandparents are among the happiest memories I have … and they all involve the enjoyment of food.
I believe that the preparation and sharing of food is one of the greatest expressions of love. I come from a family of cooks, both professional and non-professional. My father was a professional chef and my mother a very imaginative and talented amateur. They were cooks of very different temperaments and styles. My father was a very precise and methodical cook and cleaned up as he went. My mother was an instinctive cook who understood her ingredients and altered dishes depending on what she had available … and a hurricane in the kitchen. I learned how to cook from both of them. My mother’s constant instruction was, “Not too much, not too little. Just enough. You’ll know.” When they cooked together, my parents fought constantly. After my father died, my mother told me that cooking without the fighting was never the same.
Many of my family members have passed away, but we remember them by cooking the dishes they created for us. Although several family members are in their 80’s now, food continues to be the number one subject of conversation. Just as one meal is finished, discussion begins of what the next meal will be. I find it very comforting and reassuring that my family continues its tradition of talking about recipes and food, and of cooking and sharing food with the people we love.