Memories of Adele | Mother's Day Tribute
When my mother visited me, I invited friends for dinner. My mother’s preparations for these affairs anchored her days. First we’d go in search of the paper-thin phyllo dough, pine nuts, bulgur, sesame seeds, and grape leaves that were her staples. For a day or two my kitchen, normally filled with the New Hampshire corner-store variety of foodstuffs, was transformed into the kitchen of my youth the heady aromas of deep-frying meat and spices, the phyllo dough stretched across the countertop, the constant brewing of coffee. She would cook enough to stock my freezer for weeks. My friends exclaimed over the dishes, each served beautifully on garnished platters.She’d turn to me: “Why don ‘t you ever feature me in Yankee as a Great New England Cook?” It galled her that month after month this popular Yankee feature omitted Adele Allen.
“Mom,” I ‘d say, “you live in Florida.”
“I have ties to New England,” she ‘d point out. “You work at Yankee. And my food is much more interesting.”
She pressed me to carry a tray of her baklava to the general store down the street that said homemade chocolate-chip cookies in a case beside the cash register. She envisioned legions of local stopping by for Adele’s baklava. “It’d be pin money,” she said. The owner thought they were too exotic for his customers’ tastes.
Not long ago, more than 13 years after my mother’s death, I realized I had nearly forgotten her food. I told this to my sister. Anita had learned the food from watching my mother and grandmother, but she, too, had all but ignored our mother’s legacy. We did not give parties; our cousins have long since made their homes elsewhere. Nobody that we know speaks Arabic. My sister owns my mother’s well-worn recipe notes, the long-out-of-print cookbooks with the pages turned down. She told me to come down and we would cook.
Working beside Anita in her snug kitchen a few blocks from Harvard Square, I am clumsy and tentative. My kibbe will not hold their torpedo shape. My kibbe look like misshapen pots. My cark dough will not obey; it is thin at the end, fat in the center like a snake that has just enjoyed a meal. But thanks to my sister’s skill and patience, gradually the kitchen fills with the yeasty smell of fresh -baked cark, the stove sizzles with kibbe.
I returned home with my mother’s recipes copied in a notebook. It will take me many hours to come even remotely close to duplicating the flavors of my mother’s kitchen. I know that. And I can never duplicate the special time when family filled the house and cultures spilled together. But it is a start.
I live alone and my two sons visit for overnights. For years we have dined on pad’s spaghetti, killer burgers, and barbecued steaks. My salads come sealed in plastic bags, and my desserts come from Ben & Jeny. They have no memory of their grandmother Adele. This will be my unexpected Mother’s Day gift to her: to toil in a sunlit kitchen, and at the end of the day share kibbe and carks. No matter how they look, the flavor will be all Adele.