What I Learned Baking With My Mother

When I was a junior high school student, my mother made sure that I was actually a baked goods.

“Children are like bread,” she explains to me at the kitchen table one night as she talks about who I am and who I am. “You can choose the ingredients you want to add to your mix when you’re young. Even after the dough is up, you still have time to shape them. But once in the oven, it’s hard to do anything else.”

“You are already in the oven,” she tells me. “Now you are the only one.”

Growing up, my mother was the director of the kitchen, but she always invited me to contribute to the production of her dishes, especially during the monthly events of what we call Baking Day. .. Chocolate Chip Hazelnuts Hit the hazelnuts with a small brass hammer for cookies. Fold the yogurt and semolina powder together to make a semolina cake soaked in orange blossom syrup with sliced ​​almonds on top. Knit four elastic strands of dough into a Swiss loaf of bread. These were some of my small but essential tasks when it was time to replenish the pantry and freezer with nutrition and treats every few weeks.

By the time I wake up on such a baking day, my mother is already spinning around the kitchen in her floral cotton house dress with pockets. Her fair-skinned cheeks (she often describes as “tahini”), surrounded by jet-black pixies, overflow from her activity. The milked Earl Gray mug is almost empty, and the determined look on her face shows that my 9-year-old self is sitting upright in anticipation. She butters me the last slice of raisin bread and pours me a cup of milk with a splash of tea. Review your plan over breakfast. She examines the yellowed spiral recipe notes, flipping through pages in Arabic and pasted copies from old magazines for breathtaking steps.

Serious Meal / Christina Cross; Photo by Natalie Jabber

I see her kneading the dough vigorously with a pale, venous knuckle.This fabric is A hand-sized pizza with spinach, onions, sautéed ursi (fatayer) and manakish-filled triangular pastries, olive oil and za’atar, which my mother obtains from Palestine via a local grocery store.

Of all this, my most important task is to pay attention and absorb as she narrates each step of the process. My mother tended to turn many experiences into classrooms, but since I was a girl I learned that the kitchen is at the heart of Najat’s life school.

“Natalie, don’t forget to roast the nuts before putting them in the batter.”

“This is how to learn cooking from my grandmother Natalie.”

“Don’t forget, you are responsible, not the spatula.”

The smell of cookies, bread and roasted nuts begins to travel through the house. “Natalie, did you close the bedroom door?” Her mother inevitably asks, reminding her of her belief that the smell of the kitchen is in the kitchen.

Every time she slides something in and out of the oven, she records the time on a piece of paper that is magnetically attached to the refrigerator. Nothing is burned under her watch.

Serious meal / Christina Cross.Photo courtesy of Natalie Jabber

After hours and dozens of trays, we sit and enjoy the work of the day. She holds it gently for a moment before she says something. Her glasses slide down her nose as she spins it in front of her. When I laugh at her, she tells me she has the right to admire her creations. Sometimes I find her looking at me the same way.

When I transferred to college, I could only attend Baking Day about once a year. Ten years later, her mother moved with her and became a roommate for a while before becoming her current neighbor. When we were away, my mother’s dough metaphor evolved into something like a touchstone. “I’ve been in the oven for a while” When you need peace of mind about why you can’t stop being bothered by the details, such as writing the perfect message on your birthday card or not seeing it, tell yourself. Small stubborn oil stains from the blouse. When I met my partner in my thirties, I remembered it, and some of our habits felt unmanageable. Will he get excited about cleaning? Will I learn to be spontaneous? When I’m picking up groceries for her, I bring up her dough metaphor with my mother, and she checks her expiration date and gives her her latest product, Tell me to get the back package. every day. single. time. “You are almost croutons now,” I once joked. She didn’t object.

The other day, I wrestled with my mother’s thoughts, and of course when I was a kid the The basic time of an individual’s life. Can I still evolve over the years? As I was standing on my mother’s elbow and measuring each cup of flour, hasn’t it really changed radically?

Serious Meal / Christina Cross; Photo by Natalie Jabber

I now remember her saying, “Don’t worry.” “When I go out, I always have time to wash some eggs and add sesame seeds and jam between rounds.”

I am now about the same age as when my mother was growing up in her womb. She is 35 years old, completely baked.Just recently I understood what she was For real Sharing with her bread analogy was her personal parenting philosophy.

Throughout my childhood, she poured her story, her habits, her pain, her strength, and her joy into me (her only child), paying attention to accuracy, vitality, and attention. I folded the part. She gave me the freedom to stand up and shape in the world, knowing that she gave me all the ingredients in the pantry and all the love I brought to all the baking days. Her metaphor wasn’t about how to make and bake the dough. It was about trusting her work and then letting go.

Tonight, my mother and I sat together at the kitchen table, drank tea and ate homemade Ma’amoul. This is a semolina shortbread cookie stuffed with dates and nuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I remember how each cookie fell from a complex wooden damascene mold that pushed the dough into the dough before hitting the granite counter. I also remember how to reach out and catch each one.

Serious Meal / Christina Cross; Photo by Natalie Jabber

She made only these cookies this morning and her knuckles are swollen with arthritis. I tell her about my week, the projects I’m working on, the food I’m making, and the friends I’ve collected. She has a bite of cookie as usual, but this time she goes past it and looks on my face. At her glance I see both pride and praise flickering. She is proud of the ingredients I have given me, the adults I have achieved with her most important dough.

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