Celebrating The Dale’s Own ‘Force of Nature’

It was almost six years ago that I was introduced to the one who I now affectionately describe as a “force of nature”- Souad Sharabani. At the time we needed someone to help direct the kitchen at our Monday Drop-In and Souad was willing. Since then she has transformed the way we cook, convinced our community to “eat their vegetables” and become a very good friend.

Souad was born in the Middle East, has lived and travelled all over the world and now speaks five languages. When Souad is not at The Dale she is an independent radio-documentary producer who explores politics and social/cultural trends, a blogger and more recently a published cook book author (check out Scents of Memory). Souad adores her family and shares pictures and stories of them whenever she can. Her cooking is largely influenced by her travels, rich in flavour and extremely healthy. In fact, her food is so full of herbs and spices that we have dramatically cut down on everyone’s salt intake in the drop-in because the food just doesn’t need it.

When things got bleak at PNC (now The Dale) Souad remained present. I remember dreaming together about how to make things work beyond our impending homelessness. We found an alternate location for the Monday meal and Souad adjusted to cooking in a much smaller space, one where we learned to use glorified hot plates to prepare food for more people than we ever had to in our former industrial kitchen. The group of community volunteers has become a real team under Souad’s leadership. She quietly and consistently works to show them her appreciation, constantly recognizing that it is collectively their kitchen.

Souad has always been straight up with me, something I appreciate. I know when she is mad, concerned or pleased. She has endlessly listened to me. We have enjoyed homemade bread and tea at her kitchen table, walks with her beloved dogs and many a coffee with LOTS of milk.

When Souad isn’t in the kitchen, we all miss hearing her call us either ‘Angels’ or ‘Munchkins’, her colourful language and the way she dances to Motown blaring on the stereo. When Souad is in a room you can’t help but notice her dynamic presence. Six years in, we are incredibly grateful for that presence. Souad, thank you for everything: your fierce loyalty to The Dale, your friendship, your food and all the love that you show through it. Here’s to many more years.

Aroma Buffet

My Mom lives in complex continuing care at a local hospital. About a decade ago she needed to have a brain tumour removed and has called various hospitals home since then. The surgery took away much from my Mom, including her gag and cough reflex. This loss means not being able to eat food via her mouth.

Think about it: my Mom never gets to taste anything other than a bit of toothpaste. Though I feel close to this reality, I still can just not imagine.

My Mom is occasionally able to come over to our house, usually for visits that last an afternoon. She lives just a couple of blocks away from us, so she always keeps a close eye on the weather reports to see if riding in her wheelchair over will be possible vs. taking a special cab. This Saturday promised to be beautiful, so we decided it would be the day for our traditional Easter dinner of ham and scalloped potatoes.

Given that my Mom can’t eat, you might wonder why we would plan a feast that would coincide with her visit. The reason is twofold: my Mom loves to visit around a table and she loves to smell. I spent the morning cooking with this in mind. We affectionately call it creating an “aroma buffet”. Once we settle around the table I put together a plate of food that I then pass under my Mom’s nose. I always wonder if it just makes not being able to eat more difficult, but she always happily takes a deep breath.

They say that when you lose a sense the other senses are heightened. There is something incredibly moving about witnessing my Mom’s willingness to participate in meals in a different way now. I hope that her sense of smell somehow helps to compensate for her lack of taste, even if it is just a little. Though I can still take food into my mouth, I want to learn to deeply appreciate my nose. I don’t want to take being able to eat for granted.

Bring on the aroma buffets.