That Small, Brown Bottle

tquinomen.jpg   Maryam spent the first eight years of her life shuttling between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. When she was nine, I married her father– her birth mom was not active in our lives– thus becoming her step-mom, and so she added the United States to her yearly route.  The wonders of the West included cats that lived in people’s houses, yard rats with bushy tails, dozens of TV channels, her first bicycle, and chocolate chip cookies.

She had never tasted real, homemade chocolate chip cookies until my mother made them for her during our second annual visit to the United States.  She adored those tawny discs of sweetness spotted  with velvet peas of chocolate, and she helped me make them in our own Riyadh kitchen later that year. One cool, January day, when she was twelve, she said, “Let’s make chocolate chip cookies today!” 

 “I’m sorry, honey I’ve got to go out. Sharon’s driver is coming for me —no  time to bake.” 

“I’ll make them myself!” She had never done so. alone.  “I can read the recipe, Mom. I can read it!” 

Maryam grew up speaking Arabic, not English. When I became her step-mom, I did not set out to teach her English. She simply listened to her father and me, and began repeating our greetings and everyday words.   Her knowledge of spoken English grew exponentially, but her reading knowledge developed at a more leisurely pace,  by picking out letters on signs, labels, doors, boxes and bottles— the same way I started reading Arabic. 

When I returned, I was relieved to smell fresh, lovely cookies. “Look, Mom!” She had just pulled them out of the oven, and hadn’t cleaned up the mess yet. I complimented  her success, and together we began cleaning the kitchen.  I noticed the soy sauce on the counter, and asked, “Oh, Sweetie, why is the soy sauce out?” 

She looked at me quizzically.  “I put it in the cookies!” 

“What?” I shrieked. 

Her face dropped. “Well, don’t you put that?  I’ve seen you!  It’s in the recipe.  Isn’t that the vanilla?” Then I understood, and laughed.

That small, brown soy sauce bottle resembled the vanilla bottle. Even the English  labels on both bottles were yellow, and the bottles sat on the same shelf.   Maryam had concentrated so hard on deciphering the recipe, letter by letter, that she forgot to read the label on the bottle.  She grabbed the bottle she thought she had seen me use.

The cookies tasted wonderful, without the slightest hint of either soy sauce or vanilla!

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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12 Responses to That Small, Brown Bottle

  1. Maryam says:

    I always loved eating chocolate chip cookies too, and i still gobble them a lot ….. 🙂

    That was so very sweet of her, Looks like a wonderful kid to me. Pass on her my love, Will you ?

  2. Umm Ibrahim says:

    LOL, that is a really cute story!

    I normally end up helping with the clear up in the kitchen after my 12 year old and 9 year old have been let loose with the cookbooks! 😯

  3. Marahm says:

    Thank you, Maryam and Umm Ibrahim, I’m glad you enjoyed the story. My little Maryam is now a grown woman with a beautiful baby boy, Hasan, who is seven months old.

    I still help her in the kitchen, and it is still a pleasure.

  4. Aysha says:

    I laughed my heart out. Its almost like: I was making silly faces in the mirror only to find out that it was a window and that someone was making the silly face back.
    Like Maryam, I have done the exact same thing, playing hero while mom is away-substituting salt for sugar, olive oil for corn oil. The results? Not so avoidable I’m afraid!

  5. Marahm says:

    LOL! Aysha, salt for sugar is an easy thing to do; how awful it must have been to discover that one! Olive oil for corn oil can sometimes be gotten away with. Once I was without corn oil, so I used olive oil to make popcorn. The result wasn’t bad, but I didn’t do that experiment again.

  6. Rainbow in the Blue Sky says:

    that’s a sweet story really nice and cute , a new type of soy cookie, my kids love cookies, they are really into choc chip ones 🙂

  7. Rainbow in the Blue Sky says:

    that’s a sweet story really nice and cute , a new type of soy cookie, my kids love cookies, they are really into choc chip ones :), i really like your style of expression and writting and ookforward to visiting this blog more.

  8. Marahm says:

    Thanks, Rainbow, yes, I hadn’t thought of that– a soy cookie! That means healthy, no?

  9. Aafke says:

    We were also always baking when kids. I always got complaints that my cookies were hard as concrete, but as they were always gone in 10 minutes I was never really bothered.

    Your story reminded me of ”Anne of Green Gables” Who also always had the most wonderful mix-ups, especially when cooking!
    Interesting that they still tasted good!

  10. Marahm says:

    Yes, Aafke, you’re right– Anne of Green Gables! What a lovely story. My girls, who were not raised in the States, loved that film series.

    I was surprised that the cookies tasted good, so now I wonder exactly how important is vanilla?

  11. Umm Ibrahim says:

    LOL, maybe II’ll try substituting soy sauce for vanilla next time I am out of vanilla! 😆

    I just noticed the I put “my 12 year old and 9 year old” in my previous comment (above), oops… my daughter had her 10th birthday 2 months ago! She wouldn’t be happy to read that!

  12. Marahm says:

    What wonderful ages, no? Especially for little girls. I wish I could have stopped the clock for awhile, a year or two before my girls hit puberty!

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