The Art in Hospitality: Paying Forward a Mother’s Gift…

One of the most beautiful things I learned from my parents is hospitality.

And we don’t seem to genuinely appreciate how our parents teach us these important values until we grow older. That can be said of many things when it comes down to our parents.

I consider my mother an artist in her own league, especially when it comes to cooking. She is revered among family and friends and our little communities for her extraordinary craft in the traditional Pakistani cuisine. Her cooking is just phenomenal. Not only that, like many other women around the world, she spreads her love to everyone often through her cooking, and her genuine hospitality.

At times, as a teenager and a young adult, I would cower over the idea of being in the kitchen, and having guests in our home sometimes would be slightly annoying or overwhelming. I partly attributed this to the staunch feminism I could sense pumping in my blood at such an early age of my youth, and partly from being such a moody child.

My parents have always had an open house. We have a humble home in Wisconsin, but what makes it Royal to me is the memories with my siblings and parents in which no price can be placed. Although our family has expanded and grown, the home still remains big to me. And my mother always says on a variety of occasions, “Dil me jagaa ho ne chaiye.” There must always be room in the heart.

It took me a long time to understand this, and understand what is beneath the surface value of a delicious cuisine prepared by a mother.

Sometimes I would protest that idea of being in the kitchen and “serving.” I would protest the idea of our little community parties in my mind and sometimes out loud, (although putting on the natural diplomatic face among our guests), but dreading the idea of having to clean the house and entertain guests. But my mother wouldn’t let us near the kitchen. She continues to barely ever let us in the kitchen when we come to visit. Everything she cooks would be her gift to us, to her community.  Her cooking symbolized “unity.” And whenever I visit her, I can’t stop saying “Wow” out loud after every bite of her food. It is really her way of showing how much she loves us, and how much she loves people in general. Food, my Mother’s food in particular, is a big part of our family get togethers. And when the family convenes, I think there is not a moment where we don’t find her in the kitchen preparing something for us, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or some snacks, like pakoray, samosas, and some delicious refreshing Lassi. Sometimes my Father will join her and make us one of his famous steaks or sit for hours outside preparing delicious barbeque that my mother marinated the night before. We all expect to gain at least 5-10 lbs after our home visits.

Still to this day, I can’t stand seeing her constantly standing in the kitchen, when I visit. And she sometimes gets super annoyed when I tell her to please take a moment to sit down. But then my siblings remind me that this is what she loves to do and I can’t take away her art, and her way of communicating her love for us, simply because my ideas of “feminism” doesn’t like seeing women in the kitchen 24/7.  Truthfully, I am ill-informed of what feminism actually represents if I try to stop my mother from sharing her love and her art with us.

My parents are amazing hosts. They have had some of the most amazing and memorable parties and community gatherings. And when we had our farm in Berlin, WI, long long long time ago, we would have Eid al Adha in a way that would be the talk of the town for many weeks soon after! Those gatherings are certainly implanted in the memories of me and my  brothers and sisters, but also our little Muslim community in Wisconsin, that has now grown quite a bit.

Today, with my mother’s help, I baked lamp chops for the first time. I marinated it overnight with yogurt, papaya paste, garlic and ginger paste, olive oil, yikes I forgot to add turmeric (is it too late now? I am going to see if I can add it quickly), salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and some other stuff. I chopped up a potato and a little bit of cilantro and tomato, will add more cilantro after it is done. It smells really good as it is baking. I am thinking the papaya paste might have done it justice.  This was all under my mom’s direction of course, proud to admit that, and proud to credit her.

I have limited guests because of my chronic anxiety and depression, especially the past years. (Which is the opposite of what one needs when they are suffering from these conditions). And every time I have tried to cook for others in the past several years, I had huge panic attacks, I think partly triggered due to that desire to make the perfect dishes, especially the way that my mother achieves perfection in her cooking. The depression had made me quite the hermit and quite the recluse over the years, although I long for company in my home, growing up with 5 siblings, literally a full house, always sharing sleeping space, and having consistent house guests alongside many travels to see our large extended family in Pakistan, where we would also partake in extravagant weddings and parties and gatherings at Nani and Dadi’s homes as well as my aunts and uncles.

But whenever I do have guests, I naturally seem to go out of my way to serve them. I sometimes reflect on that as I wonder why I am that way, what makes me want to desperately please them in my own home. It is partly the perfectionist in me as well to not have guests knowing that I could not perfectly accommodate them due to my focus on my PhD and knowing my panic attacks from the anxiety coming from wanting to be as perfectly hospitable as possible, needing to make sure it meets the standards my parents have set out, in which a Khwaja must demonstrate. The standards is my own making of it, really. “Value” is the proper term. I know all this inherently  comes from the values my parents imparted as they demonstrated the importance of hospitality. Despite how much I would always cringe at the notion of an “unexpected guest” as a kid, given I prefer to have things planned out ahead of time. I didn’t know at the time it may have been connected to my OCD.

Times have changed, but the notion of “hospitality” that we appropriate from our cultures and from the generations before us need not change. There are just some things that don’t need to be different.

Interestingly, I  have been also watching Downton Abbey again (it’s just such a great show and I really miss it!), and the dinner parties they had seem to have reminded me of my unique experiences with the many dinner parties in our own home, not including the classism from Downton of course. The “extravagance” of our parties could be translated into the many delicious and extraordinary dishes my mother would prepare, and the etiquette we were taught to have as children among our guests, along with the need to dress in Salwar Kamiz, sometimes fancy and new. Despite all that, these gatherings were beautiful, and my parents desire to host and please our guests was quite admirable and beautiful.

If you shall ever grace my home with your presence, know that I will not hesitate to make you comfortable and to present to you a feast, despite the probability of risking a panic attack. It is just one way of paying that “love and art” forward…And I am proud to say it is just in my blood.

This topic deserves some more reflection, so I will come back to it in the near future.

For now, I am going to enjoy these delicious lamp chops.  These really don’t appear to look as tasty but they are actually quite good, so thanks Mom…

I wish I had a different photo of a Pakistani dish to accompany this particular post. But since I made it today and since the conversation with my mother on the phone giving me directions on the cooking seemed to influence this post, I share this creation with you…

I will never be able to become a Master and Artist like my mother, but I will do my best to ensure the spirit and values and love that comes from her “Art” is paid forward… always…

with Peace and Blessings,

Elsa

Warrior KQueen

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