Lunch at the Elmahi household was the hour where each member of the family regrouped to touch base. My father loved this hour because he loved us. He prepared his staple dishes with great attention and care. Up until my early 20s if I missed lunch and came home late, my father would get up from the couch, walk me to the kitchen, and tell me (even if he has explained to me the same thing a million times) where to put what and how long to have it in the microwave. My father had his routines and he most certainly had his rituals. One of his rituals was reading the news on something that we back then called “Text TV”- it was the headline news available in written form on a specific channel on TV. My father frequented the Text TV perhaps five to six times a day…juuuuust in case if he missed something on the other news channels. His favorite time to read Text TV was at night…when everybody had gone to bed and he had the living room all to himself. This was his delicious moment of solitude. The silence of the house, the calm of the night, and the comfort of his spot on his couch.
Before assuming position, my father would prepare his supper at around mid-night. And he would always, always, always prepare it on a small wooden tray. Oh man…that tray. It had been with us a long time. My father loved that tray and no one ever questioned him why. This was the tray upon which my father prepared his supper for 23 years. And somehow he managed to fit all sorts of tapas and goodies on it. Some slices of hard aged cheese here, some stuffed olives over there, a small glass bowl of lobster tail seasoned with lemon and pepper, and why not the grapes….yeah a little bit of the grapes in case we might crave something fruity and a few slices of wasa crisp bread to tie the gang together. He shaped small little cities of food with this finger tips. The flotilla was ready to make its way out into the night and pops was ready to assume position on the couch.
As I got older and my curfew was extended, I would come home late at times and I knew I would catch him an hour or so before he would head to bed. It was like coming home to an after party. Silent mode though. All the lights would be switched off except for the light coming from a small night lamp on the coffee table next to dad. I would be warmly greeted and asked to join him in his kingdom. I cherish those nights. In them I heard some of his best jokes, his best stories, his confessions of how much he loved my mother, and they were hours where I actually had my dad all to myself. Those hours in the night were not just special because I had dad to myself, but because he was himself. He spoke with me as Samir and not as “pappa”- he offered me his friendship and his acknowledgement of my adulhood.
Having seen my father prepare meals all my life and many of them on that wooden tray- has been a standard that I have tried to uphold and a moment that I have tried to recreate. Unknowingly, this, among many other things, is something my father has passed on to me. To make use of small diverse things in your fridge (it helps if you are a gourmet too…those small diverse things tend to be tasty small things) and prepare a feast worthy of kings and queens of the night! I had some hot smoked salmon in the fridge which spurred me to make a hot smoked salmon terrine (recipe can be found here). I was having some friends over in the evening and decided that I wanted to reacreate the midnight foodie flotilla.
I assembled some wooden trays and decked them with fromage jewels- I put some of the cheeses that my father loved (Manchego and Gruyerre) and added some that I love (Comte and Pecorino with Truffle). The captain of the flotilla was my hot smoked salmon terrine with a side of black and orange cod roe, a simple radish salad with a topping of black truffle olive oil and chopped dill. It was fun to recreate this memory and to share it with my friends and I had my father in mind the entire time. It is interesting the things that we remember, right? the funny thing about roots and heritage is that its not just about thousand old recipes, or languages, or traditions…but it is also about these small personal rituals that you share with your family members and friends. I currently do not have any children yet but I look forward to the meals that I will prepare for them, share with them, and cook with them. And who knows….perhaps we too, will eat them on wooden trays.