Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Orange Blossom. And Green Acres.

Scoop of caramel ice cream 3, Maureen AboodThere’s something important about today’s post that I feel should be revealed from the outset. At the risk of some of you hitting the “unsubscribe from these emails” button immediately, here goes:

I…am not…an animal person.

It’s not that I dislike animals, or that I’m some Zsa Zsa Gabor singing givemeparkavenue. It’s just that I’m not that special and dear sort of person who gets excited in their presence and wants nothing more than to hug and pet the doggie/cat/horse/cow/etc. It’s not that I’m afraid of them, either. Really I’m not! Even though Betsy, my roomie from Saint Mary’s, once announced to her friends when we arrived at their house and the big (scary) dog came running at me: She’s afraid of dogs!

MSU Tree, Maureen Abood

What is a cow, Maureen AboodSo it didn’t completely surprise me when my cousin sent me an ever-so-gentle and kind email last spring when I posted a photo of some gorgeous black cows grazing in the greenest of fields with a red barn backdrop up north. I referenced these cows for the milk they’d be giving us and how good it would taste from their grassy diet.

Cousin, she said. Those are not dairy cows. Those are beef cows.

I didn’t question such a definitive statement coming from a woman who is a PhD, a DVM, and Associate Dean at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Humbling, isn’t it?

Cousins at the farm, Maureen Abood

Cows in the field at MSU, Maureen Abood

Pumpkin wagon MSU, Maureen Abood

Grapes at MSU, Maureen Abood

Horticulture MSU, Maureen AboodAnd in the style of a true academic who could not be more in love with her field, Sarah invited me to get to know the university that has been in my hometown backyard all my life. We’d take a tour and see what this dairy cow business is all about.

Turns out we saw a lot A LOT more than the diary cows. There was an organic student farm (pumpkins, apples), a center for viticulture study (MSU wine! But really, Michigan wine is holding its own these days), and I’ll be darned if I didn’t meet a man, Ben, who directed me to another man, Gary, to talk about how I might cultivate wild grape leaf vine saplings that I could make available to all of you to grow your own at home (I mean it).

Horse Farm MSU, Maureen Abood

Horse Farm MSU 4, Maureen Abood

Horse Farm MSU 2, Maureen AboodWe saw horses, glorious horses, and the students who love them on their rolling farmland. The very sight of these beauties jiggered a memory in me of the horse my sitto Nabeha grew up with in Dier Mimas in Lebanon.

That horse was blue, and therefore it’s name, in Arabic, was Blue. Aunt Rita told me about this horse that her father rode around the village. I thought this had to be some kind of fantasy—a blue horse—but then Sarah asked one of the equine folks about the blue horses and the response was matter-of-fact, as though everybody knows there are blue horses (that student said they aren’t her favorite; go figure).

Soybeans, Maureen Abood

MSU farms, Maureen AboodWe picked soybeans, one of Michigan’s big crops, at their peak, just ready for harvesting. Did you know, Sarah asked, that they are brown when they are ready for harvest, not bright green as they are in summer? I’d never seen a soybean up close and personal on the farm, or anywhere really other than perfectly salted in a bowl at my favorite sushi spots.

Then, of course, there were cows. Beef cows grazing in the fields and dairy cows—the Holsteins at MSU, but there are also Jerseys and Guernseys (I’m bragging my knowledge now)—lined up in a row, ready to be milked or to give birth to a soft and lovely little calf who will grow up giving us more milk. They rarely look at you head-on, because their eyes are in the sides of their heads, so they don’t look straight out front. Oh, and as with any farm, the dairy farm, and beef farm, have an aroma (?) all their own. It’s fermented feed, it’s manure, it’s animal, and the cousin walked right through that scent like it was nothing but goodness. Which, in the end, it really is.

Dairy Cow 2, Maureen Abood

Cow tongue, Maureen AboodSarah’s font of knowledge  and excitement were unstoppable, and all of it delivered in casual conversation with the kind of broad smiles and humor and inflection that are so very familiar, and so very Abood. She showed me her favorite barn (turns out I’m not the only one who has favorite barns), gave me her favorite recipe for applesauce (it has to be chunky, never smooth; any pureed food is too reminiscent for her of something unsavory on the farm) and stopped, illegally, to pick black walnuts.

She told me how, at the tender age of 12, in the midst of difficult family time, she and her siblings headed out east to a friend’s farm, and there the animals soothed her soul. She fell in love with them and the caring for them and kept going back every year long after her siblings had maxed out on the experience, right up until she could start studying veterinary medicine herself back home at MSU. Never knew any of this about my cuzzy and the backstory of her career-path.

Sarahs favorite barn, Maureen Abood

MSU Dairy Store, Maureen Abood

Big Ten Flavors, Maureen AboodIn true field-trip style, we ended our tour at the MSU Dairy Store, where we could see all of that milk in action, made into cheese and butter and, of course, ice cream. Can’t remember the last time I ate a wonderfully gooey grilled cheese sandwich; this one, with MSU sharp cheddar? Go Green, Go White!

I’ve been hearing about our hometown ice cream forever and ever and not once had I found my way to the MSU dairy store to check it out first hand. The choices were all Big Ten-inspired concoctions, and our server directed me to one ribboned with caramel, lots of caramel, that reminded me of one of my favorite flavors to make at home (second only to mint chip), a sea salt caramel touched with orange blossom water.

Caramel base with ice bowl, Maureen Abood

Ice Cream maker, Maureen Abood

Salty Caramel Ice Cream, Maureen AboodIt hardly seems obvious that I was an MSU student myself once, for not knowing more of the story about its fields of green (MSU was the first institution of higher learning in the United States to teach scientific agriculture, in 1855…) and its animal sciences. My work was of a different sort, mastering literature way across campus in a big old red brick building each day, head down, way down, in the books.

Little did I know I’d be back one day, with my mind on stories of a different sort, stories that lure me into the kinds of places, and with kinds of people, that show me I might just be an animal person after all.

Dairy calf, Maureen Abood

Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Orange Blossom
The ultimate ice cream! This recipe is adapted from my favorite ice cream book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. My ice cream maker of choice is this one. The base is made without eggs, but uses cream cheese for flavor and texture. Making the caramel takes close attention; read more about it here. This ice cream pairs deliciously with apple pie.

Makes about 1 quart

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons cream cheese, soften
Heaping 1/4 teaspon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange blossom water

Before making the caramel for the base, prep a few items: make a slurry by mixing about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese with the salt until smooth. In a measuring cup with a spout, mix the cream with the corn syrup. Then, fill a large bowl with ice and water to use to cool down the base swiftly.

To make the caramel, place the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium high heat until the sugar is dissolved and amber in color. This takes about 5 minutes; watch closely so you can remove the pan from the heat the moment the mixture is deep amber; it can burn swiftly.

Remove the pan from the heat and, stirring constantly, slowly add about 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture. The caramel will spurt and pop. Stir until well combined, then add more cream and continue in this way, stirring and adding cream until it is all incorporated.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the milk. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and boil the mixture for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the cornstarch slurry.Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the caramel is slightly thickened, about a minute. Remove from the heat.

Whisk about 1/4 cup of the hot caramel mixture into the cream cheese mixture, whisking until there are no lumps and it is completely smooth. Add another 1/4 cup and whisk, then gradually whisk in the remaining caramel. Stir in the vanilla and orange blossom water.

Chill the base by pouring it into a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and immersing it in the large bowl of ice water until it is cold, about 30 minutes.

Pour the base into a frozen canister in the ice cream maker and spin until it is thick and creamy. Pack the ice cream in a storage container and top with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

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Lebanese Meat Pies (fatayar). The raw and the cooked.

Meat fatayar on a pan, Maureen AboodAs I have discovered in the short time I’ve been married, even among the Lebanese there are differences in the ways families make their Lebanese recipes. As my teacher in culinary school used to say: likes and dislikes have a lot to do with expectations.

Take the meat fatayar (pronounced fuh-TIE-yuh). The proper preparation of the meat was a point of difference, a point of…contention?…between my parents. The Abowds, my mother’s family, they cook the meat first. It’s a way of controlling the meaty juices by cooking them off first, so that they don’t steam open the little dough triangle’s seams. Cooking first also means you can crumble the meat properly so it doesn’t clump together when it’s baked in its dough pocket.

Dough circles, Maureen Abood

Dough with meat circles, Maureen AboodThe Aboods, no. The Aboods stuff their fatayar with seasoned raw meat, seam-opening be damned for the succulent flavor the meat’s juices impart to the dough as the fatayar bakes.

The metaphor is just too delicious to ignore: the raw and the cooked. Dad’s family puts it all out there, the love and the crazy both. It’s all raw. Mom’s family is more reserved, in a most beautiful way, in a way that suggests everything is neatly cooked, properly cooked, and no seam is going to come undone.

When my Dad was so very sick from the pancreatic cancer that took his life, among the many comforting gifts of food placed before him was a platter of fatayar. They were gorgeous, my friends, not a seam undone in their perfect triangular shapes. Dad’s eyes went big when we brought the platter in, the fatayar enticing his appetite as nothing else really had. He took a bite, and basically threw the fatayar back on the plate. They cooked the meat first, he said with his mouth full of a bite he clearly, dramatically, didn’t want to swallow. He was being funny, and we laughed, but also dead serious.

Dough with meat fatayar, Maureen Abood

Fatayar shaped, Maureen AboodRecently when I had a visit with cousin Jimmy in Arizona, the Bianco pizza (known to be the finest in the land) I was after got moved to the back burner when we arrived because it was a Sunday, and turns out they’re closed on Sunday. I was irritated, even though I knew we’d get there the next night (obsession breeds I-want-an-oompa-loompa-and-I-want-it-NOOOOOW). Who knew I’d come to thank Chris Bianco for his Sundays off? We arrived to a home-cooked dinner of coosa and crunchy homemade pickles and labneh and olives and just-in-from-Spain marcona almonds. (yes, he’s a special cuzzy). And the showstopper: Jim’s meat fatayar. Dan did a happy dance in his soul. Fatayar over pizza, any day.

The seams on those babies were locked down tight. The flavor, out of this galaxy. Tell me about the meat, I said as Dan devoured what would be an embarrassing quantity anywhere but in a Lebanese home. Jim says coarse ground meat with a little fat is key. That keeps it from clumping since you’d never cook the meat first. Then there’d be no flavor. (Jim is Abood, obviously.)

Fatayar brushed with oil, Maureen Abood

Cousin Jim and fatayar, Maureen AboodWhile I got religion with the coarse grind, raw, for the Lebanese sfeha recipe in my cookbook (can’t wait to share it with you in March!), those are open-faced and I hadn’t tried the raw in my fatayar, for fear of the pies opening up, the meat clumping. That Abowd-influnce, a mother’s influence, had reigned.

I followed Jim’s way here other than grinding the meat myself (he is such a purist). My mom tasted them and took her time chewing, as Abowds do. She didn’t throw it down, no drama. She simply said: Nothing wrong with it. Delicious.

Meat fatayar platter, Maureen Abood

Meat Fatayar
This recipe is very similar to the recipe for spinach fatayar. I’ve made some small adjustments to the dough, using a bit less water than I have in the past. If you’re not grinding the meat yourself (me either!), ask the butcher to grind it coarsely, since that’s not typically available pre-ground.

Makes about 30 fatayar

For the dough:
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil, plus more to coat the pans
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, to coat the fatayar

For the filling:
1/2 pound coarse ground beef chuck or sirloin, or lamb
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Few grinds of black pepper
1/2 cup diced sweet onion (1 small onion)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Proof the yeast by dissolving it in ¼ cup warm water with the sugar and letting it activate for about 15 minutes.

Whisk together the flour and salt in a mixer bowl or medium bowl. Create a well in the center and add the oil and proofed yeast mixture. Using a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment or by hand, slowly work the wet ingredients into the dry, adding the 1 cup and 1 tablespoon of water slowly.

Knead by hand or with the dough hook in the mixer until the dough is very soft, smooth, and tacky/sticky to the touch (but it should not leave dough on your fingers when touched).

In a clean bowl at least twice the size of the dough, lightly coat the dough and the sides of the bowl with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 90 minutes.

Make the filling by combining the meat, cinnamon, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and onion by hand—this is the easiest way to mix everything together evenly.

To fill and bake the fatayar:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush two heavy baking sheets with canola oil (fine to line them with foil first for easy cleanup).

Roll half of the dough out on a dry work surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Gently lift the dough from the edges to allow for contraction. Cut dough into 4-inch rounds. Knead together the scraps, cover with plastic, and set aside.

Fill the rounds of dough by placing a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of each round. Be careful not to let the filling touch the edges of the dough where it will be gathered together and closed. A good way to keep the filling in the center is to lower the spoon with the filling over the center of the dough (parallel to it) and use your fingers to slide the filling off the spoon and into the center of the dough circle—or just use your fingers and no spoon. Place several pine nuts on top of the filling; this method works better than adding the nuts to the filling because it’s easier to be sure each fatayar has enough nuts.

Bring three sides of the dough together in the center over the filling and pinch into a triangle. Close the dough firmly, continuing to shape the fatayar gently as you pinch the seams closed.

Place the fatayar on the baking sheets and generously brush or spray the dough with olive oil. Bake in the middle of the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Repeat the process with the other half of the dough, then with the scraps that have been kneaded together and left to rest for a few minutes before rolling out.

Fatayar freezes well in a zip lock freezer bag and can be reheated from frozen.

Serve fatayar warm or room temperature as an appetizer, or for a meal with a salad.

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Dutch Apple Pie with Rosewater

Dutch apple pie, Maureen AboodI know why you don’t make this.

That’s what my sister said when we had just put the finishing touches on a fresh fruit trifle this summer.

It’s too messy for you, she said.

Too messy? What the? I started in on how I had sawed the leg off of a 300-pound pig in culinary school, how I love to get my hands into a big mess of dough. How I this and how I that.

She didn’t buy any of it. You like precision, she said. You like things neatly arranged and, frankly, perfect.

Dutch apple rope edge, Maureen AboodI just love having siblings, a sister especially. One can learn so much about oneself, don’t you think?

It’s like your hair, she said. You have curly hair, but you feel like you can’t control it that way, so you straighten it.

Okay. True. I do love a good boar-bristle brush.

Perfect Michigan apple

Honeycrisp apples, Maureen AboodI suppose it was the way I kept describing our bowls of trifle as delicious . . . despite how homely it all looked. Homely may have been a strong word; Peg seemed offended. The trifle tasted very, very good.

I was on a plane recently with Dan and paging through one of my food magazines. He saw a photo of apple crumble, a cobbler scooped into bowls with spiced ice cream melting over the top. I thought he was sleeping until I heard: Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.

Even though I promised to make exactly that dessert when we got home, I knew it wouldn’t be a crumble or a cobbler. I do have a cobbler recipe I love, but I still, I knew this was going to be a pie. I hadn’t rolled a crust since summer (a long time around here). The urge to crimp edges could not be ignored.

Dutch apple crumbs, Maureen AboodBesides, this seemed the best way to usher in apple season. I have a strict rule about apples—a coalition more than a rule: No Apples In Summer. The juicy-fruit bearing season up here is just too short to make room for a crisp apple until the others are spent.

So maybe I do take certain inclinations a little far.

How about this: Feel free–even though I clearly don’t feel free–to turn our Dutch apple pie into a cobbler by leaving off the bottom crust. But do (here I go again) leave in the rosewater. I have found it’s the perfect way to pull out even more apple flavor. And you know how I feel about perfect.

Dutch apple crust, Maureen Abood

Dutch Apple Pie with Rosewater
Use a combination of apples to get both tartness and sweetness into the pie. I always use a couple of Granny Smith, mixed with Gala, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, or Macintosh. Read more about My Mom’s Best Pie Crust here.

For the filling:
6 cups peeled, sliced apples (from 6 – 8 apples of different varieties)
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Juice of half of a lemon
2 teaspoons rosewater

For the crust:
1 ¾ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable, canola, or other neutral oil
4 tablespoons ice water

For the streusel:
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Position a rack in the center of the oven and place a piece of foil on the bottom of the oven to catch any drips.

In a medium bowl, combine the apples with the flour, sugar, lemon juice, and rose water.

In another medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt. Slowly stir in the oil with a spoon until pea-sized crumbs form. Stir in the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time. On a damp work surface, roll out half of the dough between two sheets of waxed paper to a circle 2 inches larger than a 10-inch pie plate. Remove the top sheet of paper and invert the crust, still on the other sheet of waxed paper, over the pie plate. Ease the dough down into the plate and slowly peel the paper off. Tuck the overhang of dough under the edge of the crust to form a thick edge. If there are thin areas, cut some of the overhang from elsewhere and tuck it under the thin spot to make it thicker. Crimp the edge decoratively.

Pour the sugared apples into the crust.

Make the streusel topping by combining the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Rub the butter in with your fingers, then add the walnuts. Press the mixture into small clumps and top the pie with the streusel.

Cover the edges of the pie with a pie guard or pieces of foil, crunching the foil well so it stays in place. Lay another piece of foil lightly over the top of the pie to prevent the streusel from browning too much before the pie is done.

Bake the pie for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, removing the foil from the top toward the end of the baking time if the streusel needs more browning. The apples should be bubbling vigorously for the last 15 minutes or so of baking time. Remove the pie from the oven and cool for at least 4 hours so that the filling sets up. The pie will keep on the kitchen counter for a couple of days, loosely covered with waxed paper or foil.

Posted in Stories and Recipes | 11 Comments

Keep moving forward. Plus Watermelon Labneh Bites.

Watermelon bites with melon, Maureen AboodThe enterprise of moving—the packing, the unpacking, the where-to-put-it-all—has taken up a good amount of space in my brain the last several years. I just counted out on my fingers (because that somehow makes it so much more dramatic) that I’ve moved six times in about as many years.

As a move is happening, I daydream about people who move all of the time; my old neighbor Elaine Bowersox moved every year with her husband and family. How organized she must have been, I’ve thought, and at some point do you just stop unpacking certain things (who really needs to have that fondue set handy?), knowing they’ll be packed back up soon enough?

Watermelon cutouts, Maureen AboodLuckily, my moves have not all been massive. I figure the big ones, like moving my mother out of Wagon Wheel Lane after 40 years, the two of us doing it single-handedly, and another move, one of many in Chicago, in which I had 12 hours to exit from a condo where the most uninspired and out-of-whack months of my life had passed—those make up for the other types of moves where you can do it slowly, over time, without one big fell swoop to crush your being.

The great thing about the last few years is that my stuff (which is really just stuff…yet we have attachments…) has been boxed up in various storage units (including a mother’s basement and a sister’s garage). The liberation of that experience can’t be underestimated: I’ve been free, quite literally, to walk, or skip as the case may be, down any path I’ve seen fit (namely, to go to San Francisco and cook or head up north to write and think, for as long as the situation called for), without the weight of stuff to haul along with me.

Pot luck buffet, Maureen Abood

Little girl with pigtails, Maureen Abood

Dessert table, Maureen AboodEven though our wedding was months ago, it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that I started to reign in all of my far-flung stuff to unpack and put it to use at home with Dan and our families. Life in northern Michigan will continue to be a focal point for us and for my work, but Dan’s work is downstate, so that’s where I’ll be much of the time too (so if you notice a different kitchen-scape in my photos sometimes, that’s why!).

As I’ve anticipated this shift the last few years, I’ve wondered and worried a bit about letting go of the cozy nook I’d been curled up in at my parents’ place on Main Street up north—even as I’ve cursed moments when I know I already have, say, a set of shish-kebab skewers but have no idea which box they’re in, or where, so I have to go buy another.

Red wagon, Maureen Abood

Bikes front lawn, Maureen AboodBut downstate here, there’s a whole new world opening up. Yes, this is home, the place where I was raised. But there’s this remarkable sense for me of connecting with where I’ve been while also tapping into something entirely new. We live in a neighborhood where our mamas are blocks away, and my brother and nephew even closer than that. Every day I open the front door around 3:00 in hopes that boy will come zooming up on his bike with his posse of friends. They all call me Aunt Maureen, and I like to have something good for them to snack on at the ready.

For a girl who didn’t, for reasons she remains miffed and stunned by, have the slew of children she dreamed she’d have, you can imagine my satisfaction. Moreso: the joy.

Dessert table Alexis, Maureen Abood

Chocolate berries, Maureen AboodThings go on here like neighborhood pot-lucks where everyone is invited to come, and they do, to the home where a mom with ten kids of her own finds the time and a way to bring the people all around her together. I’ve never seen her without a big smile on her face.

And then right across the street, another dear, special neighbor threw a welcome-to-the-neighborhood gathering for me—a welcome party! Ladies of three generations came and we visited and sipped a little wine and ate creative treats from a crazy-pretty buffet while I learned where each one lives and who they are. I received little notes with phone numbers and big hugs and scented candles that all said: you’re home.

All those years of city living, and then the solitude of up north living, were so far removed from this kind of life, a life that at a certain point I figured was just not meant for me. But now that I’ve brought all of the boxes of things back together and unpacked them, and started to settle into a new rhythm for my days, I realize that what’s being pulled together is not just stuff for a move-in, but a life, and a self, for a move-forward.

Watermelon bites, Maureen Abood

Watermelon Labneh Bites
Perfect for a neighborhood gathering or a pretty buffet. The watermelon and labneh together with the cucumber make a super-pleasurable bite, and practically guilt-free!

1 small, seedless watermelon
1 cup labneh
1 pickling or Persian cucumber
Sea Salt

Cut the watermelon crosswise into slices about 1-inch thick. Use a small cutter, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches, to cut out disks from the watermelon.

Top each disk with a small dollop of labneh.

Quarter the cucumber into spears lengthwise, and cut the spears into 1/4-inch wedges. Top each dollop of labneh with a cucumber wedge.

Sprinkle the bites with sea salt just before serving (to avoid too much water coming out of the melon and the labneh). Serve the bites chilled.

Posted in Techniques | 12 Comments

Back on the porch, and our wedding

Front porch, Maureen Abood
Summers on the porch here on Main Street have always brought visitors by. From the start, my dad would wave them on up to join him on the white wicker chairs for a visit. Before they could hit the top step, he was turning to his daughters to bring out glasses of iced lemonade for everyone.

On Dan’s first visit to our place on Main Street, he’d come over from Charlevoix on the water in a big, bad cigarette boat with his brothers. I’ve always thought that boat was yellow, but Dan says no, red. They were very young, swarthy men; no doubt they sauntered through town and hung out on the docks looking at the pretty girls pass by. They didn’t leave, though, without visiting my dad, Camille. Since their own dad died unexpectedly, a young man himself just a few years before, my father had stood close by the boys and their mom and their sisters as they put their lives and their auto dealership back together in the difficult aftermath, and then for years beyond that. In other words: they were close friends. Close Lebanese friends—which means, you know, that they were cousins.

Church, Maureen Abood

Rings, SBThe brothers came up on the porch, my dad waving them over and turning to his daughters for the lemonade. Dan says it was a glass of pink lemonade that I handed him, and that I had long brown braids on either side of my 12-year-old face. He must have pulled on one of the braids and cast a certain spell, one that said: I’ll be seeing you back here somewhere down the line, and then for good.

For a lot of years (read: 30) after that, Aunt Hilda was the epicenter for us to hear, however sidelined, how the other one was doing. She and I would sit at her kitchen table and she’d fill me in on what was happening with everybody we know, from cousins to more cousins to the Shaheens (Danny is a hanoun, she’d say, like you) and the family over in Lebanon.

Parents wedding photos, SB

Moms, Maureen AboodHilda’s best friend? Dan’s mama, Louise. They shared the same towns (Flint, then Lansing), ran with all the same people, had both lost their husbands too young, and were “like that”–two fingers crossed: tight. Sisters. Cousins. Close friends. (My own mom was of course part of that circle of Lebanese lovin’ ladies too)

After Hilda passed away, Dan discovered a whole slew of missed voice messages on Louise’s phone, which they saved so she could hear Hilda’s voice whenever she wants.

Monogram hankie, Maureen Abood

Maureen, SBDown the aisle, SBRight around the time that Ruth passed away in 2009, Dan and I were in a similar state of mind. The road had been bumpy. The Path of Life had not, in many ways, been what either of us had in mind. At the funeral, I stood up and sang a tear-laden Ave Maria and Dan says he sat in his pew listening, watching, and wondering. He came up to say hello after; why I don’t remember this, I have no idea other than that I was in a fog of pain for all kinds of reasons (like this and this).

A year or so later I was in San Francisco at culinary school (a new day had dawned!). Aunt Hilda had gotten very sick, to the end-time, and I came home. We were for a good week, with Louise and Alberta and Uncle Dick and lots of others, up at the hospital holding the vigil.

Wedding flowers, Maureen AboodHazy tables, JAChampagne fountain, SBAt Hilda’s wake, the room was jammed with all of the Lebanese dressed in their handsome black, laughing and crying and laughing some more.

I was telling Aunt Rita that I was moving back to Michigan after culinary school, when I turned to see the handsomest of them all, Dan Shaheen, standing by my side. It was our first real, head-on conversation since the lemonade-visit when I was a kid.

Ladybug, SB

M and D dance, SB


Cheese tableWe nodded about Aunt Hilda (she always told him he was her favorite, and he was genuinely surprised to hear she’d said the same to me…), but then he cut to the chase: You’re coming back? When? I told him I’d be heading directly Up North, where I’d stay.

See you on the porch for a glass of lemonade, he said.

And that we did.




Maureen and Dan, SB(Happy end of summer, all. Thanks to so many of you for asking to see photos and a story of our joy. Of course there is so much more to show and tell, but here’s a taste. Despite the weather, it’s been such a beautiful season. Your recipe for a last-hurrah lovely lemonade is here. Try using summer raspberries in place of spring’s strawberries, straining the fruit mixture before stirring it into the lemonade).

**We thank Erin at Anchor Events, Bella e Dolce cakes (stay tuned for that story!), Galley Gourmet, Stephanie Baker Photography, Pontius Flowers, our priests Father Mark and Father Joe, and many more!

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