As a Coptic Orthodox Christian, my church tends to fast between 180 to 210 days. We are talking about six to seven months of fasting per year. To outsiders, this is insane and rigid. But to insiders, it’s another way to restrain the flesh so that the spirit may elevate. Long story short, as am not trying to write about the benefits of fasting here, as a Copt you get to appreciate and value the other five to six months window you are allowed to have without fasting.
Back home, after the feast liturgical service would conclude, my friends and I would gather in the church courtyard, greet one-another, and chat for a little bit before we head home so ready to devour whatever animal would be waiting on the dining table for us. The moment most Copts would be waiting for eagerly. The payoff instant longed for. “What are you eating tonight?” Someone would drop the question and a torrent of answers that would water one’s mouth would recoil. After everybody got to list their menus, here would come my turn. My heart would get overwhelmed with joy as I get ready to answer. I don’t know exactly the reason of the rushing excitement I encountered. Maybe it’s because of the breaking of the fast, after almost two months, would be finally approaching, or maybe because of the super delicious menu I would be about to roster. Steak, kofta, rice casserole, and eggs dipped in cream would be my answer.
Everyone and I mean it, literally everyone, would have their mouth wide open, move their heads forward in bewilderment, and question the last item on the menu. For the longest time, I thought that eggs dipped in cream was a pretty common dish. Actually, what a feast eve would be without it anyway! However, the more I encountered their startle, the more I realized that it’s probably my family’s very own creation that no one else knew about, and what they all take pride in. I even googled it but to no avail. You may find stuffed eggs, deviled eggs, cheesed eggs, etc. but, I bet you money, no eggs dipped in cream are to be found anywhere on the web.
And to save the readers any bafflement this might have caused, I am willing to give up the recipe, hoping my mother won’t find about it later and disown me for good.
- Put your eggs in a pan and bring it to a boiling point.
- Take the hard-boiled eggs out and cool them down using cold water.
- Peel them.
- Dip them in a deep bowl filled with heavy cream.
- Add cumin, salt, and pepper.
- Put in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Take out and let it cool down a little bit before serving.
Even though nothing is fancy about this dish, we only had it on the eves of Christmas and Easter. Probably, that’s why it has a special place in my heart. It even became more special when I knew that no one else makes it except my family. For as long as I am able to remember, this menu was non-negotiable and uncompromised. For 22 years, I used to go to church on Christmas and Easter’s eve with my mom, aunts, and cousins. After the service was over, my mom and I would run back to my grandparents’ house full of excitement towards all the goodies waiting for us. My grandma would be in the kitchen finalizing the last couple of details. While my grandpa would get the sweet, red wine from the cabinet and place it on the table. As for my dad, he would turn on the TV to watch the Christmas/Easter liturgy taking place in the main cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, and led by the Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, at the time. Quickly, my mom would change her clothes and put on the brand-new pajamas to help my grandma in the kitchen. My brother and I would put the table together and help my mom serve the food.
Eating, drinking, watching, chatting, and laughing, we would come together in one accord as a family. Nothing was fancy or special, but the warmth of getting together was all what we desired. After one sip of the homemade, super sweet, red wine, my mom would coil on the couch claiming that she was no longer able to cleanup. With no further argument, I would get the hint and clean the table all by myself. After an hour or so, trying to digest what we just ate, we would all go to bed looking forward to the next day. The feast day. My two aunts, uncles, and cousins would come to spend the day together. Another feast of food would be in the making. My mom’s cousins would stop by during the day, taking turns, to greet us for the feasts and take my grandparents’ blessings. My grandparents had a three stories house. When we used to get too crumbled, the grandkids would move to the second floor playing all kinds of games. While the adults would stay in the third-floor cooking and welcoming the visitors. Crowded, noisy, loud, and stuffy but filled with giggles, warmth, and love. That was my grandparents house. The house where I grew up in and spent the best years of my life. The house where I experienced intimacy and the literal meaning of family.
Almost two months ago, my grandma departed to heaven. On January 22nd, 2019. Exactly one day after the departure of my grandpa, nine years ago. On the 40th of her departure, my two aunts, their husbands, and children decided to commemorate her departure by opening the old house and spending one last time as a family there. Since we weren’t able to share this profound moment with them, they took videos and pictures of their gathering and sent to us. By looking at the pictures, I realized for the first time how small this house is. As a matter of fact, it is tiny. I had a flashback of the unlimited feasts, visits, number of people coming over, etc. and was astonished of how this tiny place contained all these people and functions! Is it now tiny to me because I grew older, because I see things differently, because I have been away for eight years. Or because both of my grandparents are no longer there and the love they used to receive everyone with left and took a lot of the space away with it.
It’s been eight years since my move to the States along with my immediate family. And it’s been nine years since I last spent any of the feasts in my grandparents’ house. Throughout the eight years, we have kept the same tradition. And when my mom ever wanted to add/remove any of the feast menu items, I would immediately activate my Veto right! I wanted to honor what has been handed to us and hand it in return to the coming generations as well. For eight years since our move we have kept the tradition. We have been having the same menu on Christmas and Easter’s eves: steak, kofta, rice casserole and eggs dipped in cream, except that my grandparents are no longer sitting on the table with us.
Maybe they are both gone. Maybe the house is in fact tiny. Maybe I will never get to spend neither Christmas, nor Easter like I used to again. But I know that as long as I live, I will honor their memory and the profound memories of my childhood even if it’s as simple as keeping the same feast menu.