Time Out's man learned never to criticise his mum's cooking
In primary school, there was a field, and around that field a wire fence, and just beyond that fence a lush and forbidden meadow of green grass and happy yellow flowers. And if you could somehow head back to 1984, you’d find there a messy throng of future Maradonas, high-schoolers on monkey bars, girls in pigtails skipping rope to obscure Arabic songs, and a very serious child sitting at the fence, yanking the occasional bunch of grass and chewing on it nonchalantly. That one’s me. Hello!
And that grass was my favourite thing to eat. Well, you don’t actually eat the grass; you chew on it until the lemony flavour disappears, spit it out and grab a new bunch.
I hung on to my simplistic palate for years. In my early teens I fed on peanuts and not much else; in my college years I favoured ketchup sandwiches; and by the time I started working (and travelling) I was a solid cheeseburger aficionado: cheese, meat, bread – hold everything else and thank you. Then in my late twenties I joined the Time Out family, and within a year I had built a mental database of cheeses, meats, oils, herbs and plenty of things I’d never before let into my stomach. Half a decade later (some three weeks ago) I caught myself eyeing a mussel and glancing over to my wife to say, ‘I’m not very keen on the coriander in this cream, and these mussels are just a bit too young to be eaten.’
The child at the fence would have ripped out a fence-pole and smacked me around the head. And while he can’t do that without some nifty space-time manipulation, my mum has no issues twisting the laws of physics – and my neck while she’s at it.
We’ve just come back from a weekend with her and, while she really is a phenomenal cook, it’s difficult to compete with the many fine-dining establishments the UAE has to offer (love you mum). We flew into Beirut too late for dinner, but all the same she’d made a light snack of kufta rolls – that’s minced meat with herbs, rolled in Arabic bread and baked in the oven, often with a spicy butter; pretty straightforward stuff. I took one bite and loved it, but five years of criticism don’t just vanish on vacations. ‘Pretty good, but maybe a bit too much butter.’
Time froze, the temperature dropped and mum’s eyes turned into barren, frozen wastelands of corpses and death: a glare so cold it could stop a raging rhino dead in its tracks. Thankfully my wife was there, and came swiftly to my rescue. ‘Don’t listen to him, Emma,’ she said to my mum. ‘He’s an idiot.’
And just like that, bent between the awesome force of the only two women in my life, I regressed into childhood. I ate the kufta rolls in silence. I ate every last one – and it was the best kufta I’d ever tasted.