By Sarah Khanna
I stretched, laying flat, fingers flopping around my side table in search of something to pull my hair up and away from my pillow-creased face. Happy to see some sun moving stealthily into the farthest corner, my corner of our room, I turned to find our bed empty — my husband already stirring his sweet coffee as he spoke on the phone. Popping myself off the mattress at a healthy 7:30 am, I prepared for a day filled in my mind with dog walks, deliberating ingredients and food writing.
“Uncle Hassan passed away at dawn. I’m getting dressed.”
Core trembling, I hushed my voice as I spoke to the man who shared my life, “I’ll go with you.”
Never having been to a funeral prayer or a burial, I prepared to battle the tears that came for a military man I had met six years ago; a man whose eyes beamed volumes of understanding despite his tired body, whose patriotic achievements, forgotten by the young, stood witness to his good intentions and bravery.
Although Uncle Hassan and I had shared few words and many a sincere smile throughout the home-cooked meals, burgers and ratatouille we ate together, I had never really gotten to know him outside of the stories, long and short, recanted to my listening ears; but as I sat praying for his soul, as my heart in constant sniffles merged with the Quran recited at his final place of resting, I could not have felt him to be nearer.
There are fears that arise in you during burials, those that subside and those that bury themselves deep in you, surfacing only as cracks in your face. Of all the things that preyed on my mind, going back to sleep in the Earth I walk on bothered me no longer.
Entering the wake days later, I watched as women walked in wearing their most somber faces to extend their condolences. As they sat on edge, slowly unraveling to reveal a more comfortable state, they went back to living — bejeweled hands caressing glasses of tea over a friend’s endearing stories of those who have passed, distracted minds looking into bitter cups of concentrated coffee as they contemplated a smoke, teenage girls playing a quick game of “Spot the Handbag”. I could only think that I should have known him better, that I had never asked him what dish he missed most from his mother’s kitchen, which meal he loved his wife to prepare, what he ate when he was busy fighting a war.
I was so intimidated by his war hero history that I didn’t allow myself to break the barrier of age. That is what I regret the most; but away from regrets, will I too one day turn to find an empty bed with loss sleeping next to me? Will I be lucky enough to have my close ones embrace my home as theirs, make it feel alive if only for a while until I feel slightly right again?
When I am old, will the young forget that I was once young like them and uncomfortably shy away from my veiny hands?
If I am certain of one thing, in death there is always finger food but no appetite — aniseed biscotti passed around to maintain some semblance of energy, store-bought cakes and crunchy breadsticks to break the awkward silences and moments of heartache, mugs heavy with coffee making rings on tabletops and several cans of cola, all in the hands of people dressed in black.
The only solid decision I’ve made is to earnestly get to know the people in my life that I hold back from, ones that I will grow through because nothing replaces people’s real life accounts of eras gone by, foods long forgotten and heroes of our past.
A long forgotten favorite recently learned is ‘Egga, an Egyptian dish dating back to the Ancient Egyptians who often used duck eggs instead of our common chicken egg nowadays. Beaten egg, parsley and onions with an optional diced tomato or potato are poured into a baking dish and baked in a hot oven making this an ideal family dish. These days, it’s commonly referred to as a crustless quiche, belonging to no specific country, versatile, neatly carried and easy on the stomach in times of hardship.
Crustless Broccoli-mushroom Quiche with Green Chili Salsa
5 button mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
½ a head of broccoli in florets, blanched and chopped
6 large eggs plus 6 egg yolks
½ cup of milk
¼ cup of cream
½ cup of grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for greasing
For the salsa:
10 large green chili peppers
1 medium tomato, roughly diced
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of water
½ teaspoon of sugar
½ teaspoon of cumin powder
Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Brush a mini muffin pan with oil. Place a medium-sized pan on medium heat. Sautee the mushrooms and onions until soft. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms, onions and broccoli and stir. Reserve some on the side for later. Transfer to a jug. In the muffin pan, place some cheddar cheese to line the bottoms. Pour the egg mixture until just below the rim then sprinkle on top the reserved vegetables and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes. They should puff up and turn a light shade of golden brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning them out of the pan.
For the salsa, roughly chop the green chilis, deseeding if you want to eliminate extra heat. In a food processor, combine the chopped chilis and tomatoes with the garlic. Add the water, cumin and lemon juice. Blend until desired consistency; I prefer mine on the chunkier side.