Nadia is well versed when it comes to cooking in the kitchen. As a freelance food stylist and recipe developer, she is used to working with several name brand companies to bring new recipes to home cooks all over the world. As an avid home cook, she had also created a makeshift family recipe booklet that she referenced from time to time.
It wasn’t until Nadia came across Heirloom that she immediately knew she needed to convert her homemade spiral-bound book into something more meaningful. When she started the project, Nadia had a list of items she wanted to accomplish – creating a family Heirloom that could be passed down to future generations, providing her kids something they could remember her by, memorializing her family history and culture…
What she didn’t realize at the time was that this project would essentially bring her and her mother closer together. It would provide her an opportunity to learn more about her mother, not as the parent she was so used to seeing, but as a human being who had her own story to tell.
“The process was quite beautiful because it provided me with an opportunity to really deeply connect with my mom,” says Nadia. “We never really had the kind of connection where she would tell me stories because she was too busy trying to make it in this foreign land, so we never had that closeness. I got to learn a lot about her.”
Nadia started collecting recipes back in 2018, after the passing of her father. There were two main dishes that really reminded her of him – family recipes that he had never shared and ones that she would never have a chance to learn from him.
She started thinking about the recipes her mother had made for her and her siblings when they were younger, and how her own children enjoyed those same recipes today. What she didn’t want was for her children to have to experience that same recipe regret she felt.
At the onset of the pandemic, Nadia started to think about cultural identity and how strongly it tied into food and the dishes they ate. As a first generation Canadian, now raising second generation children, Nadia felt that she was starting to lose the tie to her culture and her heritage.
Her parents had migrated to Canada in the 50’s – her mother originally from Syria and her father was from Lebanon. Although Nadia had her siblings to connect with, there was still a larger part of the family that was located overseas. She decided then that this cookbook needed to be more than a compilation of only recipes. It needed to include pieces of their culture, with every recipe exploring the history and meaning of that dish.
“I didn’t want [my kids] to lose that thread – to let go of the thread that tied them to their heritage, to their culture, and to the country we came from,” says Nadia.
Although Nadia knew how to make most of the stews and recipes from her childhood, there were still some family favorite dishes she needed help with. She would invite her mother over and they would tackle a complicated recipe each week. Nadia took advantage of this time and used it to learn more about her mother.
“I would ask her questions like ‘What do you remember about this when you were younger,’ ‘Did you eat this often,’ and ‘Did your mom cook this, and what type of occasions did she make these for you?’” recalls Nadia. “It honestly brought us much closer than I've ever imagined we could be.”
Similar to her mother and her grandmother, Nadia had learned to be an intuitive cook – using her feelings and senses to know when a dish was right. However, when thinking about her children and others who may use her recipes, it was important for her to recreate the same flavors. It meant exact measurements were needed.
When her family cooks, they cook for a crowd, for a full community. Reducing the recipe down to a family of four presented some challenges, especially when she tried to explain it to her mother. Nadia would watch as her mother prepped and mixed in ingredients, and just before she would add a spice, Nadia would stop her and have her use a measuring spoon.
“It was beautiful watching her, but also frustrating because she hated [measuring],” says Nadia. “She would say to me, ‘You just add this.’ She didn’t understand why I needed measurements.”
Nadia also jokes about her mother and grandmother’s measuring cups.
“One cup to them was whatever vessel was next to them that they could use,” says Nadia [while laughing]. “It didn’t necessarily signify an actual measured cup, it was just their cup.”
Seasonings are also tricky, notes Nadia. The flavors in her recipes have been adjusted to meet her tastes, but she recognizes others may prefer more garlic, or more salt, which she includes as “salt to taste” in her directions. She hopes that the family and friends who follow her recipe instructions will learn to eventually rely on their instincts. She wants people to play with the recipes and make it part of their own.
Overall, Nadia wants to have her kids remember her in the kitchen. She loves to cook, really enjoys it, and the kitchen has really become her place.
Since they were little, Nadia has invited her boys to take part in cooking and learning their way around a kitchen. It’s an important skill she wants her boys to master as they get older. She wants them to know how to cook for themselves, but also for others.
Her kids have even been a big part of this cookbook process, from watching her prep, to helping to taste recipes, to taking over and testing a recipe from start to finish.
“I had one of my youngest sons [make] a recipe,” shares Nadia. “I stood in the kitchen with him and I wanted to see if this was easy enough for him to test it out, and he did really well.”
Nadia’s Heirloom cookbook will highlight recipes from her grandmother and mother, dishes that she grew up eating as a child that have been carried forward to her own children. The recipes are meant to feel like home, regardless of where you make them.
Each section is titled to fit her family style and digresses from the traditional chapter titles we typically see in cookbooks. “Social Brunching” will feature a variety of mezze platters, or other smaller assortments of delicious bites that can be had for breakfast, brunch, or even a midnight snack. The other sections follow the same listing style, and include “Family Gatherings” and “Tea Time.”
Additionally, each chapter will feature a little snippet about Nadia’s childhood and what these kinds of foods mean to her. Each recipe will also include a bit of the history of where the dish originated from, so that her kids, nieces, family, and friends can trace back the lineage of the food and the people.
As Nadia finalizes her Heirloom cookbook this month, she can’t help but appreciate the experience and new memories created during this process.
“This was a great opportunity, and having the kids around, too – it just really formed a beautiful opportunity for connection,” says Nadia.
Regardless of how busy life gets, she hopes that her family can always come together, reconnect and strengthen their bond over food.