Growing up with a mom who primarily cooked vegetarian foods for all our meals, you would think I didn’t have issues with any type of vegetable, right? Wrong! For some reason, my mom just knew which vegetables I didn’t like, and made it a point to cook those dishes as much as she could on a weekly basis. (Or that’s what I thought when I was a kid..haha) When I was younger and would ask “what’s for dinner?” – she would ask me what I wanted, and after telling her, she’d say “okay, that’s great Chetna…I’m making karela (Bitter gourd) or cabbage or dare I say…CAULIFLOWER! Yuck!!!
Now, don’t get me wrong…my mom was an AMAZING cook. She just had a knack for cooking and making things just taste great! But in my innocent childhood – I just felt her overall goal in the kitchen was to make me suffer. LOL All I wanted was food that didn’t have to be soaked, boiled, or fried just to take enough of the funky taste out of it, so it could be recooked into a curry or dal/soup! I didn’t think I was asking for too much from my mom…what do you think? I must have given my folks alot of unnecessary stress when I was younger because on top of everything, I would pick out all the parsley leaves, large chunks of tomatoes and onions, any spice/seed I could visibly see, out of my food. (I feel horrible now, cause my kids do the same to me! What goes around, comes around after all!) LOL :O)
Unfortunately, my mom isn’t around anymore. You see, my mom passed away 1 year ago from breast cancer and all I think about every time I cook now, is how I just want her to be around today to make all those dishes I hated in my childhood. I would eat them all without any complaints today. And I actually love Cauliflower now, so no more issues in that area! :O)
My favorite dish of hers was this traditional curry called “Havejia” – she made it for all our special occasions and holidays. It was just potatoes and eggplant in it, but she stuffed each veggie with this delicious mix of onion, garlic, ginger, chili and her own secret blend of spices. Then she would cook it all in this really thick tomatoey gravy till it was fork tender and soaked up with all the masala you can imagine. OMG! It sounds crazy that I’m drooling over potatoes and eggplants right? But seriously – EVERYONE loved my moms Havejia around the holidays and special occasions. I would eat it with her fresh, hot rotis and home-made yogurt and officially enter the Indian food heaven! To this day, I have yet to master my moms Havejia dish. I’ve tried making it, but my mom didn’t measure anything in her recipes – which probably explains why it tasted so good. Plus, I think everything just tastes better when our moms and loved ones make the food!
Her cooking consisted of “a dash of this…a dash of that….a big spoon of this, a small spoon of that…” I used to go crazy trying to write down her recipes because she would say one measurement and then 2 minutes later, she changed it cause she wasn’t sure how much was really needed. She would say that back in her day, there were no measuring spoons or cups for cooking. It was strictly trial and error..you just stuck with what worked. (Not sure if she was making the whole thing up…but I bought it!) Haha.
Last November 2016 was our last Thanksgiving with my mom. She had Stage 4 Her 2+ breast cancer and it had spread all over her body. The strong minded, go-getter woman and amazing chef I had seen all my life was now hardly able to walk, had shaky hands, unbearable aches and pains throughout the day and unable to cook, among many other ailments. I basically spent the last 6 weeks at my moms house in Tennessee just taking care of her, hanging out with her and the nurses who came and cooking whatever she had a craving for. She loved to try different types of foods, so every morning I would ask her what she wanted for lunch/dinner and try to make it. I made Mexican enchiladas, Veggie Lo Mein, rich Panjabi style curries with heavy cream and butters, cheesecakes, traditional Gujarati foods, soups, sandwiches, etc. Even though I was literally in the kitchen all day, I didn’t mind it one bit! I even had the chance to learn how to make a few of my moms signature dishes taste better. She would sit in the kitchen and tell me what to do, or not do. Or, sometimes in typical mom mode, just tell me I was doing something entirely wrong with her recipe! LOL
Knowing that I probably wasn’t going to have my mom for Thanksgiving 2017 was hard to process, but I tried to stay positive with her and just kept talking about being together for other holidays, because that is what she believed in her heart. She was definitely in denial the end was near, so she would talk about life, traveling the world, and cooking my favorite foods – all as if she was going to be better this year. Of course, I just followed along with her because that is what kept her happy – thoughts of being alive and being able to cook again for her family and friends kept her going.
Food is such a big part of my family. It is a big part of a lot of cultures as well. It is an opportunity to sit down and bond with others in a simplistic and sincere way. The simple act of eating and/or drinking in a group of loved ones builds relationships, mends broken relationships, creates new relationships! My mom is a perfect example of this. She loved to cook and feed people. Every party, holiday, special event was filled with her famous dishes. OR, if someone was tired or having a bad day, she would pack up food for them and drop it off. She just had a servants heart – that means my mom, in my opinion, loved to love people. I hope I can instill the same type of values in my own children someday, because that is priceless!
This Thanksgiving, I don’t have my mom, but I have her memories very much alive in my head. She is the reason I cook, the reason I love food. She has taught me the importance of sharing with others. Recipes are meant for sharing, not keeping as secrets. When we cook together in my cooking classes, or just at home with loved ones, we learn about each other, our similarities, our differences, and even more about ourselves. We create bonds and strengthen relationships. Who knew, that a simple meal would have such a strong effect on people!?
My mom will be greatly missed this holiday season. She just loved cooking a big mix of different dishes and having big groups of family and friends come over and eat. I hope this holiday season, we all take the time to cherish those little moments we have each other, to thank each other for just being there, and to “share our recipes” with others and create or strengthen our friendships and family bonds.
Happy Thanksgiving from my home to yours!! :O)