From the kitchen door and into the magic world of delicious recipes comes a children’s book that is "fresh from the oven." This month, Miranda Beshara shared with us her favourite recipes and heart-warming stories of three inspiring women from her family.
In a journey between France, Syria, Poland and Egypt, ‘Teta and Babcia’ (Arabic and Polish for "grandma") the book time travels to explore the lives of the sweet grandmas, before they actually became grandmas, and delves into their lives as young inspiring women whose stories were passed on from one generation to the other.
“The idea for the book came four years ago from questions that Farah, my 12-year-old daughter, was asking about the origins of our family,” explained author Miranda Beshara to Ahram Online, adding that their family has a diverse cultural background, where her mother is Polish, her mother-in-law is Syrian and her great grandma is Egyptian.
“'Where do you come from' was a question that puzzled my daughter. So, I told her we should ask the grandmothers about it while on vacation in Cairo,” Beshara said. The result was a huge, detailed transcription of audio files, which evolved into the idea of documenting the family history.
It was not until Beshara spoke about it with a friend who worked in children's literature, who encouraged her to turn it into a book.
“The book is about experiences, intergenerational and multicultural and the thing in common, food became the conduit of the story. It has recipes and much more. But through such recipes we told many stories."
The book starts with the author referring to her family origins as "one big, delicious salad." Then we are introduced to Teta Aida, the Egyptian woman who grew up in Shubra, Cairo, and took care of her 10 siblings after her mom died when she was only 10. We get to read about the famous pink feathered fan she held in her hands instead of the bridal flower bouquet, as well as learn about her life and the recipe for her famous molokheya.
With Babcia Monica, we learn about an enchanting life of an adventurous Polish woman who always refrained from girls' games and loved to ski, bike and even dreamed of joining the circus. Her biggest adventure was when she moved to Egypt and married renowned director Khairy Beshara,whom she met in Poland where he was studying cinema. She used to work at a cinema ticket desk during her college years, and he was the funny guy who came to the movies on a weekly basis. We get to taste the famous tasty Pierogi dough.
With grandma Afaf, Syrian jasmine fills up the air, once we are introduced to the daughter of “shahbandar el-togar” (the head of all merchants), who studied in Damascus and married and lived in Cairo, where she continued to study music, French, and travelled. Teta Afaf would have loved to become an architect and build houses with good lighting and air flow, just like her big house in Damascus. We learn about Macdous feta’s secret ingredients. The book ends with the recipe for chocolate soufflé, a French recipe that Farah learned from her aunt Sawsan.
This very rich journey unfolds in a simple narrative that is in harmony with the visual illustrations of the book.
“I was blessed to find the artist Heba Khalifa, who is very talented. She really managed to capture the essence of the book. She came, took photos from the family archive, talked to the grandmas and researched for over a year before creating the visual aspect of the book. It has collages, paintings and photographs, items that represents the countries that these women came from.
“It is very difficult to put it in a genre, but you can say it’s a book of three journeys that takes you to Poland, Syria, Egypt and France, where Farah now lives," she said.