Many years ago, I was lucky enough to become friends with a woman who was studying shiatsu. She was happy because she had a regular, willing body to practice techniques on, and I was happy because I received incredibly therapeutic treatments at half-price. Win-win. Over the years we became quite close, and we are still friends to this day. What I remember the most about that time was how much Harriet was there for me when my father passed away. Not only as a friend, but also, instrumentally, as a shiatsu therapist. I recall the sessions we did after Dad died so clearly. They were super emotional, as you’d expect, but also so cathartic, so cleansing, so healing. She helped me in ways that I’m still not sure she’s aware of. I don’t know if you’ve ever done proper shiatsu, but it is a truly remarkable therapy, and I would really highly recommend it.
Over the years, I’ve struggled to find someone as good at shiatsu as Harriet was. And I’ve been disappointed enough times in Dubai to essentially just give up trying there altogether. Recently however, while we were travelling, I decided to give it another go. I did a bit of research and found someone online that didn’t seem like a total charlatan and made an appointment at her home clinic. Ostensibly I was there for her to treat my lower back, but during our initial consultation the fact that my Mum had recently died came up. I knew it would – the loss of my Mum is always with me. Always. Front and centre. Perhaps in seeking out shiatsu therapy, rather than a more traditional massage, I was hoping to replicate the deep healing that had occurred during my sessions with Harriet, all those years ago. Even just a little bit. Sometimes, when you’re grieving, wishful thinking is all you’ve got. I was happy to give it a go.
It was a nice session. It was no Harriet level magic, but it was better than I’ve had in many years, and that was good enough. Something amazing did happen during the session though, and that’s why I’m rambling on about shiatsu when I really want to be talking about garlic. During the first part of the treatment, while the therapist was still feeling around my lower back and trying to figure out what the problem was, out of nowhere, she said to me, gently, “Mother and food are connected, yes?”. I nodded silently and brushed away the tear that fell onto my cheek. I understand that this comment may not be true for every mother/child relationship, but it was always true for me and my Mum.
Fun fact: when my Mum first had me, my Dad was away a lot for work, so she was basically all alone in a foreign land. She had no-one to support her, no family or friends to teach her how to look after a demanding, whiny, fat little baby. So she had to make things up as she went along. For the most part, I’d say she did a pretty good job. But because she didn’t know any better, when I was hungry, she would feed me, and then keep on feeding me, basically until I vomited. Now, I don’t want to go down the path of blaming anyone for any possible eating issues I may have had while I was growing up – that’s not my stripe. Of course I used to tease my Mum that I’ve been chubby my whole life because of her, but it’s always just been a bit of a joke between us. The fact is that my Mum’s cooking has featured enormously throughout my life. Maybe because of the force-feeding, maybe because of the wog-factor, maybe because she put all the love and commitment for her family into the food that she fed us, or maybe just because she was a really good cook. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that for me, yes, Mother and food will always be connected. They both mean sustenance, they both mean nourishment, they mean comfort and fulfilled needs. And they mean joy, and togetherness and love.
I mentioned in a previous ejo how important it is to me that I have some of my Mum’s recipes written down. It’s a way of preserving her memory, and the homely feelings that her food has always given me. I know that towards the end, cooking became less of a pleasure for her than it used to be. She mostly lived alone, eating a very spartan diet herself. But whenever David and I visited, she always wanted to cook our favourite dishes for us. Even though I knew it was an effort for her, I still made these requests because I knew that it gave her real pleasure to make them. It was something she genuinely wanted to do for me. And the resultant gathering of the whole family around the table was something that we all delighted in. After years of living away from my family, what had once been a daily routine became a very special occasion.
I’ve decided to write a series about my Mum’s food, and I’ve chosen to start with garlic. Coz Greek people love the stuff. I’ve certainly always loved it – the more garlicky, the better. I remember back in the olden days, there used to be an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t eat garlic before going out in public. I never paid that rule much kind. If people didn’t like my garlic breath, that was their problem. I didn’t give a shit. Which is lucky because my Mum’s signature tzatziki is ferociously, and famously, strong. Tzatziki, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a staple in any Greek household. It is a super fresh condiment, made from shitloads of garlic and Greek yoghurt, flecked with grated cucumber – and it’s fucking delicious served with meat, fish or even just spread on a piece of bread.
David has always enjoyed my Mum’s tzatziki enormously and she always made sure to have some in the fridge when we were coming over, just for him. It got so that after a while, he couldn’t even wait for our weekly visits to Mum’s place for his tzatziki hit, and he asked her to teach him how to make it. As you can imagine, she was absolutely delighted. He started off watching Mum make it in her kitchen, asking questions, assisting her and taking notes. He practiced and practiced at home, until he’d perfected the recipe. Over the years David’s version has evolved to (somehow???) be even more garlicky than my Mum’s (honestly, I sometimes think that David is more Greek than me!!). Anyway, if you want to try it, the original recipe is below – I’d love to know how your version works out.
1 tub plain Greek yoghurt
1 cucumber, halved
8-10 cloves garlic
Drain yogurt in a kitchen towel for a couple of hours.
Peel cucumber into strips and strain well.
Peel garlic and grate finely.
Mix all the ingredients together with a spoon until combined.
Refrigerate until ready to use.