"I cook to connect to my grandmother, to my ancestors, to my heritage, the desert, their hands, their stories and to a culture which we were separated from."
Yasmin is the epitome of grace and beauty. “I have no strong hobbies,” she says as she whips out her homemade beauty products. Just hair and face products made with natural ingredients influenced by her Egyptian and Yemeni roots...no biggie. With a soft voice and slight accent, she tells us about her North African roots, “Egyptian and Yemeni women have a holistic and natural approach to beauty and hygiene. I find great satisfaction in finding what my body needs and making this gift for it. Over time I started making creams for other people, understanding their needs and reacting to it. All of these actions, cooking, feeding body and skin, healing, are all rituals and ceremonies of self-care, comfort and holding onto things that make me feel at home.”
Born and raised in Israel, she is half Egyptian and half Yemeni. “Everybody in Israel is an immigrant” she explains. Yasmin moved to New York about ten years ago. She talks about being an immigrant with broken English in New York and yet every sentence from her mouth is perfectly phrased and worth quoting. As two dark skinned women, we talked about the prejudice against the dark skin all over the world, about our mother's deep rooted ideals of beauty and our fight against it.
“I grew up with very little Egyptian or Yemeni culture. I guess my mother was running away from it, to assimilate. While I see myself drawn towards it”.
The more we dug to see what in her life and house is Israeli, the more we found an influence of North Africa; spices from Egypt, recipes from Yemen and stories from around the world.
Traditional, overnight breadmaking container
On a beautiful Sunday morning, I visit Yasmin at her home in Brooklyn. As I enter, I see a whole spread on the coffee table - Egyptian omelet, feta topped with scallions and mint, olives, cut grapefruit, turmeric tea and the highlight of the meal, traditional Yemeni bread called “kubaneh”.
Kubaneh is a traditional yeast bread from Yemen made overnight. It is cooked in a special aluminum container with a lid, as such it cooks with steam. It is cooked at a low temperature, overnight and eaten for Shabbat breakfast or brunch by Yemeni Jews. It is typically served with tomato dip and z'hug (Yemeni hot sauce). Yasmin describes the reason she makes it is, “[to get] connected with my ancestors, grandma, my roots, and culture.”
Handheld molds to shape fruit and nut filled cookies called Mamouls
Mamouls are traditional shortbread cookies filled with fruit or nut paste like dates, pistachios, walnuts, figs or almonds and eaten on special occasions or religious festivals. They are made of different shapes, either by hand or with molds. These molds are traditionally made of wood, but now you can find many options in plastic. There are molds of all shapes and sizes used for shaping and filling these buttery cookies. The different shapes also help identify the different fillings.
Yasmin was exposed to them through her Egyptian grandmother. “In the beginning, I was just enjoying cooking for people. I love feeding people and making festive meals, but over time I've noticed that even if I don’t have guests, I want to cook. It is an urge. I especially love baking. I cook to connect to my grandmother, to my ancestors, to my heritage, the desert, their hands, their stories and to a culture which we were separated from. It’s a healing process in which I’m getting to know myself better.”
Ethnic tile 'inspired' floor mat
PVC flooring with ancient geometric patterns
Ethnic tile inspired floor mat
A modern version of the ancient tile designs. Yasmin bought this mat in Israel to bring a piece of home into her New York apartment. A popular Israeli brand, Beija Flor takes inspiration from authentic tiles from the past and especially from special symmetric geometric patterns.
As described on their website, these patterns aim to provide harmony, balance, and inspiration. The belief that the universe was created according to a geometric plan has ancient origins. In sacred geometry, symbolism and sacred meanings are ascribed to certain shapes. The Flower of Life pattern on this mat is linked to early Egyptian culture and is considered one of the most ancient shapes.