People always ask me how I came to love cooking and food in general. Since I grew up in a food family and always had different, delicious, unique things to taste it comes naturally to me. Being part of a Lebanese and Syrian family meant food was always the center of our household and continues to be. Food is our love language. We entertain frequently and the meal is always central — whether it’s an Easter brunch, a Memorial Day BBQ, Birthday meze, or a Graduation blowout. The first question we get is always, “What are you serving?” For Women’s History Month, I thought I’d share a little more about the women who are often preparing the meals.
We are known far and wide for indulgent lazy meals, where the expectation is that you will sit and eat and pick for hours while laughing and sharing special times. Many of our holidays are open house so you never know who will arrive, but the crowd is always lively and arrives hungry!
In our extended family, my Mom (Audrey) and I set the menu. Then we get together over sushi and sauvignon blanc to go over execution of the plan. That may seem odd, but when working with food all the time and then having people over to eat in our home, we enjoy being served one of our favorite indulgences while planning our next fete. My daughter Cait often joins us for this stage of planning.
There is something soul satisfying about cooking with your Mom and your daughter. The very act of preparing food together and serving it to our loved ones is deeply fulfilling. Many a conversation that may have never happened is brought to the surface while beating, stirring, whisking and plating. Vacations get planned and colleges and life get spoken about all while hands are busy. Sharing a glass of wine while we all prepare a meal is precious time spent together. We may reminisce about a girls trip we have all taken or laugh about a past party we all planned. “Remember sitting in the cheese market enjoying a plate with Victoria [my niece] in Paris?” Memories are always made around food in our home.
Since we have been doing this for decades, Mom and I have our own routines. We both know our roles and what we will bring to the meal. It is a familiar dance that I wouldn’t change for the world. Cait is the sous chef: dicing, chopping, frosting and plating to keep us in motion. The kitchen smells like roasted vegetables perfumed with herbs de Provence and heady thick with extra virgin olive oil. The smell of Aleppo pepper jelly glazed salmon fills the air and my Mom’s famous fancy salad with shaved Reggiano parmesan and olive oil toasted pine nuts sits ready to be tossed and sprinkled with cranberries. Sides simmer and meats roast or are thrown on the BBQ. All the while we talk, three generations cooking together.
We have the luxury of having the rest of our households to support these events. They help to set up and break down the space as well as plan the bar and welcome guests with a drink while we finish the meal. It is the only way we could manage having 50 or 60 for a meal in Brooklyn. The teamwork allows us the luxury to enjoy the meal with everyone. Truth be told one of my favorite part of these events is clearing up the meal afterward and chatting over a final glass of wine about how it went and what to change for next time. Another set of memories in the book. Hopefully one day I will have the pleasure of sharing this with another generation!
Pictures by Vanina Feldsztein