When our eldest daughter was in Middle School, she wrote an essay entitled “My Mother”. In a few swift sentences she captured my essence – my unrealistic time management, geographical challenges, everything. It was very funny. All through their lives both our daughters have been a constant, amazing delight. And from this school essay I realized that while we were watching them, they were watching us, too.
This year, on an English Sunday in May, as English daughter and husband were erecting a new roller blind in our kitchen, I unexpectedly received a beautiful bouquet of spring flowers from that same Middle School daughter now in far-away California. Oh yes, I’d forgotten. It was American Mothers’ Day. Love in the beauty of flowers, sent to warm my heart and, as is usual from either daughter, the perfect message on the card.
So I got to pondering. Could I describe my own mother? I know that to many she was Myra Scovel, author and poet, but to us she was Mom. What small evocative incident could I use to describe her essence? It wouldn’t be the fact that she took her prayer list to the hairdresser so that she could pray under the domed dryer without interruption. Or the fact that she dampened all her ironing with a flick of a wet wrist, wrapped the garments into tight bundles, and kept them in the fridge until Ironing Day. Or that she always had an addressed envelope with blank card in her handbag, so that she could write to a friend at any hint of dead time during the day.
Then, slowly seeping into the mists of memory, came two “essence-of-mother” vignettes:
Violets. When she was a student nurse, although she loved her job, she got very tired. “Sometimes I was so exhausted,” she said, “I wanted to lie down in the middle of the road, just for the rest. Once, at the end of a fatiguing day, she dropped a whole tray of sterilized thermometers onto the floor (in those days they were made of glass). The authorities took the cost of this accident out of her pay. That meant that she only had 50 cents left for the whole month. She needed toothpaste, so went out to buy some. On her way, she saw a bunch of violets in a florist’s window. Cost: 50 cents. She bought them, and “brushed my teeth with salt for the rest of the month” she said.
Sweet Peas. One morning, when we lived in India, I was sitting with Mom in the garden drinking my one-coffee-a-week, both glorying in the 30-foot-long bamboo frame packed with flowering sweet peas. The scent was breathtaking. We sat in silence taking it in, and suddenly Mom jumped up. “Come on”, she commanded. She retrieved our tin wash tub (normally used for everyone’s baths,) and started cutting the sweet peas. Add a little water at the bottom and then there was a full blanket of sweet-scenting blossoms in the tub. “Now what?” asked the practical teenager in me. “Help me carry this to the hospital,” was the answer. (The Hospital? said my inside brain.) We then walked through each ward, (you could do it in those days) giving two flowers to each patient to hold, and offering a palms-together salaam. The look on the faces was awed amazed thanks. Such a little thing, but such a massive response. I felt so honoured to be part of it all.
THAT was my mother. What about your own story about someone close to you?
Celery and Mint Khoresh
In the same week that the Diabetes Nurse banned my husband from eating anything delicious, I gained two and a half pounds by whiffing the scent of a baking cookie. This Persian stew recipe is our homage to a low(ish) calorie dish (but secretly toothsome). Market stalls and Indian shops will offer bulk vegetables, which you need for this recipe.
Here are options for meat eaters, chicken eaters, or vegetarian/vegan eaters. As usual, making it the day ahead means that the flavours can “hold hands” as they say in Persia.
1 lb (400-500 grams) lamb or beef (400 – 500 grams), OR 1 lb boneless chicken pieces (400 – 500 grams) OR 2 cans black (or mixed) beans.
4 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
5 stalks celery, stringy bits shaved off with a potato peeler, and cut into 1 inch lengths (4 cupfuls).
3 cups parsley
1 ½ cups fresh mint (or 2 tablespoons dried)
2 onions, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ – 1 teaspoon turmeric
Juice of one lime
½ teaspoon saffron threads ground and dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water.
The greens:. Wash the parsley and mint leaves, de-stem and put them in two batches in a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon oil, and finely chop, frequently stopping the machine to press the fluffed-up leaves on top down to the bottom to be processed. Don’t let the greens get too pureed, just nice and chopped Or, if you like to meditate as you chop, do it on a board with a sharp knife.
In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoons oil and slowly saute the celery, covered for 10 minutes. Then add the chopped parley and mint, and saute slowly until well-cooked, but not scorched, another 10 minutes.
In a large casserole with cover, saute the onion in 2 tablespoons oil until translucent. Add meat and garlic and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally for evenness of cooking. Add the celery mixture, salt, pepper, turmeric, lime juice and saffron water, and stir-fry another minute. Then add 2 ½ cupfuls of water and bring to boil. At this point cover the casserole and place in a moderately hot oven until meat is cooked (usually 1 hour for the lamb or beef, about 40 minutes for chicken.) Serve with rice.
Fry celery, onions, garlic and prepared greens gently and slowly until well-cooked but not scorched in 2 tablespoons oil, or less, depending on how much you used in the food processor. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, lime juice and saffron water, and stir-fry another minute. Add 2 ½ cups water, bring to boil, cover and put in a moderate oven for half an hour. Add drained rinsed beans, cover, and bake for a further 20 minutes. Serve with rice.