“Did you follow the recipe?” my sister asks.
“Yes, I followed the recipe,” I reply.
“Well why is it so salty?” she says and tastes it again. “And so… fishy?”
I snort a laugh. And then cry.
It’s our first Easter without Mum.
If you’re Greek, Easter is a big deal. It’s like Thanksgiving if you’re American or Christmas if you’re British: it’s all about food and family. Sure, Jesus gets a look in, but in the main, it’s more about meal times than the Messiah: almond biscuits, fluffy yellow brioche, and roasted lamb – rich, succulent, juicy lamb that makes your lips and fingers glisten. It’s soul food and it’s made to be shared with the people you love and without her, I don’t have the energy to cook. Mamma I miss you.
My Mum liked to eat. She liked it a lot. A lot, a lot. In her teens and twenties, her love of dancing hid her overindulgences. “See how thin I used to be?” she’d say pointing to the photo of her and my Dad that hangs in the lounge. “Your father could put his hands around my waist and his fingertips would touch. Touch.”
But four kids, and a love of second helpings, meant the scales never tipped in her favour again. And where there’s a large mother, you’ll find a large daughter. In fact, look back through generations of Therakelises and you will find a people whose self-restraint crumbles like feta whenever food is around.
But, if there was one thing my mum liked even more than eating, it was cooking.
My earliest memory is learning to make Dolmades with her. In Turkish Dolma means ‘stuffed thing’. She’d brush her hands down her faded lavender apron – it was always immaculately ironed. Then she’d spread out the young vine leaves on the table, careful not to tear them. They were as delicate as birds’ wings. Then I’d place a ball of rice, fresh dill, fried onion and pine nuts in the centre, and fold the leaves in around this tasty cargo.
We’d make dozens and dozens at a time and she’d pat down the top of each one with her fingertips when it was finished. Then she’d look at me as I stockpiled a few to eat later. “Ah! My little Dolma,” she’d say as she brushed my hair behind my ear. I was always a little on the greedy side, still am.
So since then, Dolma have always been my comfort food. I ate them as a child after school. As a teenager, I would devour them post-pub with a ripped bag of chips and a can of Coke. But over the last few months I can’t face them. I cannot stand the idea of making them, of going through the motions of one more thing, of pushing on with life.
I go to dry my eyes and pull out drawer after drawer searching for a tea towel, until I open one with a yellowed take-away menu in it. I start to read and the list of food is like an incantation, and I want to taste all of it: everything she ever cooked, or made for us or said she would love to eat again but never did.
I look at my sister, pick up the phone and dial the number. “Hello? I’d like to place an order. For delivery, please.”
by Clair Whitefield