This past Sunday was Mother’s Day (Yes, I know you all knew that. I just like stating the obvious. It’s fun.) and I had a heck of a time trying to come up with a recipe to make to commemorate a day that celebrates the inspiration for this blog – my mama.
I know I was stressing myself out, and subsequently my family, trying to come up with an idea. If I am being really honest with myself here, I guess I was so stressed because I hoped cooking the just-right dish would bring me some sort of clarity. I hoped that all those things that are supposed to align would and I’d get a chance to feel her presence in my life again. Silly, I know.
Aside from my family, not many people knew my mother. I’m not sure I’d call her shy, but she definitely was wary of strangers, I guess. She had an enormous smile and a laugh ten times bigger than that smile. You couldn’t ignore her presence and she wasn’t even trying to be noticed. She had an annoying habit of bursting into song whenever a word or a phrase or a moment reminded her of a tune. I inherited this habit, but I keep the song-bursting on the inside. You’re welcome.
She laughed as much as she yelled. She hugged as much as she pinched. She loved as much as she fought. And, she cooked the kind of food that kept me pudgy, but satisfied throughout most of my childhood.
So, maybe now you can see why it was so imperative to me to cook something that spoke to the soul of who she was as my mama and as the individual who nurtured me through food. Hey, we’re Arabs. Food was at the heart of well, our hearts. When I finally settled on making Kousa Mahshi, I had to mentally prepare myself for how long this dish would take to cook. I failed to take into consideration how hard it would be to find the staple ingredient – yellow squash.
I learned a valuable lesson on Saturday. I spent the morning getting a lovely sunburn at the Art Car Parade, and the afternoon scouring the city for squash. I went from one side of town to another and eight grocery stores later, I arrived home empty-handed. I learned how much I take for granted that things will just be there waiting to be purchased when I want or need something. I never took into account which foods are in season. I didn’t take into consideration the myriad of reasons why squash or tomatoes or meat might be in short supply. The experience was humbling. It made me wish I knew how to garden. It made me ashamed to realize that I don’t pay enough attention to where my food comes from and what I eat. My mama put a lot of effort into making sure the quality of the food we ate was the best she could find, and doing so takes a great deal of time and patience.
Making mahshi turned out to be a rather relaxing experience overall. (Yes, Dad. I know you would beg to differ.) Once Once I stopped spazzing, I found the carving of the squash and the tediousness of cutting the lamb into tiny little pieces to be kind of calming. It was the first time in ages that I was able to focus solely on the task at hand and tune out my normal, obtrusive inner dialogue. Mahshi entails carving and cutting and stuffing and boiling and waiting and it’s all worth it. It took us four hours worth of prep work and cooking to get from Point A to Point B and I loved it.
I felt like I accomplished something real and tangible. I completed a task that resulted in something that could be consumed and enjoyed and discussed. I created something that can be recreated at another time, only better and with less anxiety and more precision. Let’s hope so, at least!