Picking red juicy tomatoes, and imagining Mrs Dalloway

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A short story of when I cooked for the first time. It is part of a story on how food, its taste, its smells, its colors connect us to our deepest emotions and memories as we love and face loss.

It is finally Saturday, I said to myself as I opened my eyes, and I must go to the market to buy some fresh tomatoes, that’s been decided for lunch today, and I will do it myself, I will pick them ripe and red just to my liking.  Walking back from the market, with two colors and sizes of tomatoes in my bag to compare the juices, I thought of Mrs Dalloway buying the flowers herself for her party, then remembered myself once in a time buying flowers for mine, and though not finding blue ones I wanted, returning happily with yellow baby roses, and imagining myself as Clarissa Dalloway walking in Hamra with errands to run.  And as I approach, my thoughts wandered to the color of the onions as I must cook them, and then to the color of my golden silk dress with crystals at the skirt that sparkle.  But then perhaps the onions must be cooked just slightly lighter, I thought.

Ten months before my father passed away to where gardens are bright green but flowers are blue I imagine, I lived what I called perhaps humorously a historical moment; I cooked for the first time.  True to form, I celebrated the event by lighting candles taking photos then telling friends and family about my achievement, a milestone, and happily watched the reactions.  The light moment passed, as a singularity, until the veil was removed and I saw the meaning.  

That weekend, I had asked my dad to teach me how to cook.  I wanted to make a dish my mother used to make, Bourghoul bi Banadoura or to translate, Bulgur with Tomatoes.  So he stayed with me on the phone while I watched for the first time how an onion gets cooked in oil, and how its color changes to golden then yellow brown, and how it softens and gets sweeter, and was told to stop when it turns like light transparent gold.  

When I cooked again it was a year later, and it was to reproduce this recipe from memory.  I got up one day in the deepest pains of grief, and entered my kitchen full of fear that I might have forgotten how to make it. I was holding to that moment, in its simplicity, to the recipe he taught me, like to life.  But ever so softly and calmly, a strong presence was with me in my kitchen, overwhelming in its power and love and enveloping me, from a place where it has remained with the deep voice that had become me.  And when I made it, a part of me returned to my body.

Today I make it again for lunch.  It is a simple traditional southern Lebanese dish, I hope you get to try it one day.  You can enjoy it with a slice of brown pita bread, or alone, and drizzle it with a bit of extra olive oil as I do.  Once I decorated it with hot chili paste, and that’s a nice addition if you like spicy so you mix the chili as you eat it.  Today, I have some nice sun-dried tomatoes I purchased on my way from work yesterday, as I was thinking of today's lunch, and that’s what I will decorate with.  When I make it, it is with the deep love that sustained me through the heartache of losing it all only to find out that all is still within me and rises up to reach me when I breathe deep and unafraid I reach in.

 

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(recipe of this dish can be found in blog)

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