As a fulltime working mother, I realized a long time ago that I can’t do it all. My crew wants their traditional foods mixed with newer more American dishes. Sometimes, this is a fusion of Sephardic food with American; at other times it is extremely traditional. A change in American eating habits and the trend toward healthier cooking means that the dishes prepared by my mother, which had too much beef or fat, have to be modified to meet the trend of healthy eating. So we try and modify our cooking with less beef, more vegetarian options, use olive oil instead of vegetable oil, etc. In some ways, this is actually moving back a few generations to foods my great grandmother might have prepared because they didn’t have money for beef and probably only had chicken on Friday nights for the Sabbath meal.
Since I work most of the time, I engage everyone or anyone available to help with meal preparation, cooking, serving and cleaning up. Everyone in our family cooks, or is involved in the cooking at some level. Some are helpers, even the children, while others are peelers or choppers. My son Simon is our grill expert and he makes a mean Chicken Marsala. My daughter-in-law Nicole prepares a terrific pepper steak that is literally inhaled to the last drop every time she makes it. My husband David can broil steaks and pull together a main dish, if needed. My daughter has learned to make virtually everything and has created some interesting dishes of her own. My son Abie is always interested in helping or understanding how the foods are prepared or why certain ingredients go together.
Sometimes we have to schedule making something complicated that we will freeze. It’s all hands on deck when we make more complicated foods, like kibbeh nebelsia or sachicha.
Last month I realized I was down to our last jar of zucchini relish. To make it, I need the think rind of overgrown zucchinis. When my vegetable market had them, I grabbed a bunch to make our recipe, which is enough for about three years. Everyone was in the kitchen helping. Nicole prepared the zucchini by scooping out the seeds. We peeled onions. Abie and David ran the machine to grate the zucchini and onions, while I prepared the ingredients and got the stuff together for the canning and water bath. Definitely worth it, but a lot of work, much like making tamarind paste (oot) from the tamarind leaves.
The point is that the skills my family has learned by working or helping in the kitchen has forced them to work as a team. They have to work together to get whatever delicacy or item they want. They see what goes into the making of the foods and have an appreciation of the processes. At the same time, it has given them all the confidence to try new things and to prepare meals on their own. In our house, everyone cooks, creates and serves.
I am a good cook, not great, and I know my shortcomings. I am told my food is delicious and flavorful. I must be doing something right because they keep coming back for more- LOL. My philosophy is usually practical and family style. I can be creative in the kitchen but unless I am entertaining, I leave the fancy presentation to the gourmet chefs of the expensive restaurants. For some things, like football Sunday/Monday, the viewers in my family like simple fare.