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The author and her 16 year old son.
Gilded Serpent presents...
"It IS About the Food!"
by Margo Abdo O'Dell

"It's NOT about the food, Mom," was my lament, as each holiday would loom on the horizon. My Mom would begin planning the menu months in advance, while I tried to convince her that the priority should be enjoying each other's company, not toiling in the kitchen. She would fret about where she should buy the lamb, or if the vegetables would be fresh enough, or knowing exactly how many people would be coming for dinner, or some other hostess-related issue. I would usually roll my eyes, because food preparation was the least of my interests. She would call me on the phone numerous times as she weighed the benefits of preparing one entree over another. She was oblivious to my disinterest. She enjoyed the deliberation so much that she talked over my silences.

Whether it was Grandmother or Mother preparing the meal, it was a ritual, a well-established tradition.

Great care was taken in the planning of the meal, the selection of the ingredients, the preparation of the food, and the presentation on the special white linen tablecloth. Before I was born, my Grandfather owned a small grocery store and the eleven-member family lived above it. Food selection was an intimate experience in those days; a far cry from the impersonal mega-grocery stores of today. And Mom and Grandma missed those old days. Although I was less than enthusiastic regarding the pre-holiday details, on the day of the festivities, I was a diligent helper. But I still didn't see what was right in front of me.

The matriarchs were teaching me about a cultural art from my Lebanese heritage. In those days, I would have been just as happy eating a cheeseburger. Now, I would give anything for one of their fabulous spreads of Middle Eastern delicacies.

Appreciating the talents of my elders wasn't a priority in my self-centered youthful days. If it were, I would have recognized those culinary skills as one of Mom's many creative outlets. Another of Mom's talents was her musicality. Her beautiful singing voice was accompanied by the cacophony of sounds in the kitchen. Along with the clanging of pots, the sizzling of sauteing and the pounding of garlic was a tremendous song selection ranging from English to Arabic to French lyrics. No matter what the kitchen conversation was about, she could sing a tune that somehow related to the topic.

Like too many things in life, you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone. The handwritten recipes of these two wonderful women rest in my kitchen cupboard; possessing the same significance as framed photos or favored treasures. Although my Lebanese Grandma never learned to read or write English, we made sure her recipes from the old country were not lost.

Maybe the cooking gene skips a generation here and there, because my 14-year-old son exhibits all the signs of having inherited this special flair in the kitchen. If you asked him, he would say he learned to cook for pure survival! But I suspect there is more to it. The following recipe is a family favorite and was recently prepared to perfection by this next generation chef. He loves the fact that you don't measure the spices - just add and taste, as you go - like his Grandmother and Great-Grandmother before him. Through his interest in the tastes of the Middle East, I have learned late in the game that "It IS about the food."

Lebanese Style Green Beans & Lamb

1 pound of green beans
1 pound lamb (cubed or stew meat)
1 large onion sliced into half moons
1 carrot (optional)
1 green pepper (optional)
Fresh garlic
2 cups fresh cooked tomatoes or 8 ounce can tomato sauce
Mint, allspice, and cinnamon

Brown the meat until the pink disappears while boiling 4 cups of water in a saucepan with the seasonings. Add the meat to the boiling water and turn the heat down to low. Cook the meat on low heat until done. Add and brown the garlic, onion, carrot, then add the green beans and cover. Turn heat off. Then add to the meat. The tomatoes go in 10-15 minutes before all is done.

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