As Mother Nature awakes from her winter sleep, spoiling us with colours, scents and sounds only she can provide, we celebrate Easter and life. I dearly cherish my memories of “Eid al Fush or“Eid likbir” as we call it in Lebanon meaning The Great Feast.
My memories of it go back way before the war in 1975 when we often used to spend Easter Sundays in Marjeyoun. Our eyes would be dazzled by the verdant fields dotted with poppies and daisies when approaching the Litani River. Although Viviane and I always suffered from the curves of the road snaking downhill to reach the river and then uphill towards Beaufort Castle, we looked forward to reaching the famous Boulevard (our safe haven) and our uncle’s house. My father’s driving style was not much of help; excited as he was to spend the day in his hometown, he seemed to forget about our dizziness and discomfort in the back. In retrospect I am glad he enjoyed those trips.
I can still smell the freshness of the air early in the morning and the cardamom in the coffee served upon our arrival. I can hear our excited voices reaching out at the coloured eggs, picking the strongest one to win the egg cracking contest.
Everything changed during the war, the drives to Marjeyoun were cancelled indefinitely and our “dull” Easters were spent in crowded and sometimes hot Beirut. Nevertheless, we developed an Easter ritual with time where I was responsible for colouring the eggs and decorating the house on Good Friday, and Mom and Viviane for the baking and cooking. Our father had died in 1977, Liliane had already married and left for the States. But life had to continue, somehow. I still remember the lavishly laid table at Easter lunches in our dining room in Beirut, and the smell of anise and mahlab filling the house.
And as life always continues everywhere and all the time, I still colour eggs, decorate my baskets on Good Fridays in Germany where I have been living for 30 years now. I wasn’t ready to make Kaik bi haleeb yet; I felt I couldn’t compete with my mother’s perfection. Not until she died 11 years ago did I venture into baking those delicious anise flavoured cakes.
One venture was yet to come, maamoul, an Easter specialty that my mother never made at home, as it wasn’t a Marjeyounee tradition. I loved homemade maamoul and envied people who mastered those little perfections filled with dates, walnuts or pistachios. But I knew nothing about the dough texture, had little knowledge about the ingredients and felt I would never learn how to bake those scrumptious little cookies.
Knowing me, it was a matter of time. My first attempt at making them failed big time in 2000. Discouraged, I stopped thinking of Maamoul for a few years. When the time was ripe and the idea of the book crystalized in my mind, I ventured again. With the precious guidance of my sister Liliane and after many trials I overcame this so called “maamoul phobia”. I am healed.