Who is Alice?
In the late 1800s, when my grandmother, Dalal Hage Ganamey, whom we always called Sitto, was sent as a child to the convent school in her Lebanese mountain village of Douma, she was taken not into the classroom but into the kitchen to cook. As a result, she didn’t learn to read or write—instead, she became an incredible cook.
Alice, my mother, learned the ways of her mother, Dalal, first in Douma and then in Detroit, where the family immigrated in 1926. In 1934, Mother married my father Elias, also from Douma, who was living in southern California, thus continuing her westward migration, leaving her Detroit Arab-American community and her parents behind.
Five years later, Sitto and Jiddo, my grandfather, joined them in Los Angeles. By the time I was a child, Mother and Sitto had become renowned for their great cooking. And I had the great fortune, as the youngest of five daughters, of being their assistant. Thus began my apprenticeship in our Lebanese kitchen. My primary role as dish-dryer and table-setter expanded after I begged to roll grape leaves and cabbage rolls—waraq ‘inab and malfouf; stuff our special light-green summer squash, kousa; and pinch mamouls, Easter cookies.
Most of all, I longed to twirl the bread dough high in the air and toss it from arm to arm like Mother did. Despite my pleading, handling those huge rounds of dough was not a possibility. Mama refused to risk its inevitable fall to the floor from the arms of her ten-year old. Despite this setback, years later I decided to teach myself. At last, I have mastered a much smaller loaf of bread than the mammoth twenty-inch rounds that Mother twirled so effortlessly. Tiny, eight-inch rounds nevertheless thrill me as I spin them into the air—they store easily in the freezer and are quickly reheated, enriching our meals with hot bread and great memories. The stacks of fresh khubz marqouq wrapped in slightly dampened towels, steaming from Mama’s oven, and the incomparable smell of bread as it bakes, go straight to the essence of my being. A dab of butter and a drizzle of honey on bread hot from the oven is like paradise. This is why I, too, must bake bread.—excerpt from the introduction in Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking
Much more stories about my beloved Mother, Alice, are found in the cookbook, which is named in honor of her, and has memoir along with recipes. She passed away at the beautiful age of 96 in 2006, allah yirhama, and was very vital making jewelry until her last days. A remarkable woman, she even prepared a full spread ghadda (Lebanese lunch) for 36 people two months before her passing! An elderly Lebanese woman who contacted me about the book asked when I told her this story “And did she do the dishes, too?”! Thank God, she did not have to do the dishes for the big luncheon!
Along with my beloved Sitto Dalal, Mama’s spirit lives on through this book and her best advice to me which runs throughout the cookbook: “Dear, if you make it with love, it will be delicious!”.
Who is Linda?
Alice and Elias Sawaya’s youngest daughter, author of this book, artist, gardener, cook…please visit my website to see my artwork!