"Your parents always made the BEST food!" my aunt said while weaving in and out of traffic on our way to
It was the mid-seventies and my parents lived in a beautiful "Spanish style" apartment building in
I felt like a reporter getting the goods on breaking news every time I heard one of these food stories. The characters were my parents, Debra and Steven in name and body, but somehow I didn't recognize them; these characters were the youthful, care-free counterparts, Debbie and Steve, to my now busy, children-laden parents. It was a side of my mom and dad I'd never seen before and I desperately wanted to know. Who were these people that made pasta from scratch or spent an entire Sunday cooking for friends? With every morsel of information I felt more connected to these young, exciting newlyweds, as if they were my friends and these memories were sourced from my own seat at the dinner table. There is one night in particular I could swear I was there. It was the evening my parents ventured into Middle Eastern cuisine. I think I was born with olives and lemons in my blood because there is no other flavor profile I adore more. On this particular night, young Debbie and Steve made chicken tagine with quince and almonds and homemade baklava. The sweet, astringent flavor of quince and delicate texture of long-cooked chicken filled my mouth and trickled down my throat as I imagined the dish in my mind. The table oohed and ahhed as my mother served her slightly intoxicated guests their generous helpings. A bit of sauce spilled on the floor and their kitten Rocky quickly pounced to lick it up. Even the kitty was smiling. Like a director I watched from behind the camera and took in all the smiles, laughs, smells and tastes. They may have not seen me but I certainly saw them and reveled in their unabashed delights. Hours of patiently maneuvering delicate phyllo dough and sticky honey made the baklava all the more delectable. It's thin layered, buttery sweet crunch left a party in the mouth only the tagine might have hoped to rival. And there it was. The party I knew I attend though it was held years before my birth.
Amazingly, I only heard about this particular meal a few times but there was something about the time, the place and the menu that stuck with me. Envisioning my parents as two youngsters creating a fun-filled home allowed me to break out of our parent/child relationship and relate to them under the umbrella of what we all jointly loved...food.
Though not my mother's original recipe, I recently served this dish for my brother's 21st birthday to my own table of ohhs and ahhs. It really is a crowd pleaser and not very difficult to make. All you need are some foodie friends and you are good to go.