Olive oil, garlic, lemon and salt. No meal was complete without some combination of those ingredients in my mother's kitchen. She could add a little zing to pretty much everything with these Mediterranean and Middle Easter staples. One of my earliest tasks in her kitchen involved peeling garlic and pulverizing it with a mortal and pestle. My mother taught me how to cook by learning how to taste. A pinch of cumin, some thyme, another dash of salt. Perfect.
Twenty-five years later, I found myself refreshingly single and not particularly interested in cooking for one every night. I lived in The Haight, in San Francisco. It's a mecca of flavorful experiences, from authentic to gourmet burritos with saffron rice, big hangover-friendly plates of home fries, eggs and bacon, some of the best Thai food I've had to date and two places to experience Middle Eastern food. Every block offers several dining options.
The owner of Blue Front Cafe, home of my favorite comfort food, would greet me in Arabic and practically knew my order by heart. Falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouleh. On cold nights I would get the lentil soup. When I'm sad, when I'm tired, this is what I ask for. These are the flavors of my childhood. To this day, when my mother asks what I want for Christmas I usually request food. Only my sisters have been able to fill that void with a comfort meal in the same way.
Mealtime has always played an important role in both of the primary cultures I grew up with. The French refuse to be rushed. A meal is to be savored. As a child we were discouraged from eating on the run, you had to sit. The Lebanese, like the Spanish, will serve small plates called a meze. Small plates keep appearing on the table until the salty dishes turn sweet and the Turkish coffee is poured. I grew up respecting where my food grew, what it took to prepare it and who I shared my meals with. I still fondly recall our Tonton André showing up with a crate of his grapes and my mother juicing them all for us girls.
My friends will attest to the fact that I love to cook. My relationship with preparing a meal of any complexity is that it is an expression of my love onto that person; whether I throw a bunch of leftover vegetables and make a stew or whether I spend hours carefully measuring, chopping, dicing and marinating, it makes little difference. I'm providing sustenance. I choose my meat and produce carefully, ever grateful for the animals, the farmers and farm-hands, the truckers and delivery people, the stock people. How food gets in my kitchen and on my table is something I don't take for granted. "Like Water For Chocolate" is still one of my favorite movies to date.
We've added a tomato plant to the growing list of herbs in our garden. We planted late and are only now starting to reap the dense, red tomatoes bursting with flavor. There's a pride that comes from nurturing and literally seeing the fruits of one's labor. I love to eat, which gets me that much more excited about growing my own food. From the earth to the table, it's a particular cycle of life that I find incredibly rewarding. My journey with food: growing, cooking, sharing and eating continues one adventurous bite at a time. Bon appetit!
Thank you for having me, Stephanie!
The House in the Clouds