Here I am writing another ejo about my Mum’s food, and the only thing I can think of is how much I just want my Mum back. This need permeates every cell in my body and imbues every single moment of my day. It is relentless, because while my “grief” may be gradually subsiding, my sense of loss seems to only increase. And I don’t think that the words exist that could explain this feeling to you. I am at my parent’s home in Mt. Waverley, with my sisters, stripping it bare to prepare it for auction in a few weeks. This is about as much fun as it sounds. And yet there is nowhere else I would rather be. I’m so fortunate that I’ve been able to take some extended leave from work to be here with my sisters, to sort through the stuff that we’ve accumulated as a family over the last 36 years. And boy, is it a lot of stuff. So far we’ve donated more than two dozen carloads of family belongings to charity shops, filled skips with 8 cubic metres of rubbish, given away countless bits and pieces to friends, organised for another charity to pick up several of the larger pieces of furniture, and we’ve rented a storage unit that is already filling up fast. Oh, and we have a garage full of hard rubbish that the council will (hopefully) pick up in a couple of weeks. Honestly, we may even need to get another skip. It is just mindboggling how much stuff a four bedroom house can hold.
So yes, I’m here in my home town, Melbourne. The reasons I love this city are many, but mostly I love it because of the people that live here. My sisters, my friends. Usually a trip to Melbourne is jam-packed with social engagements, fun outings, dinners, weekends away, picnics, drinks (lots of drinks). But this time I’m not here to socialise or to have fun, I am here to spend time with my sisters and to work. And (self-pity alert!) it really is hard work. Almost every single knuckle on my hands is scraped, my knee and elbow are hurting from a spectacular tumble I took in the back yard a week ago, my forearm was scratched by some mystery item and I’m debating whether I need to go and get a tetanus shot, just in case. I have a gorgeous array of bruises, in various stages of bloom and I needed first aid when I gashed my wrist trying to wrestle a toolkit from the back of my Mum’s car. A couple of days ago, I almost concussed myself when I banged my head on a wooden ledge, and my arms ache from carrying heavy boxes (who needs the gym anyway). But most of all, my heart aches because, room by room, we are systematically deleting the fragments that collectively defined not just my childhood, but my sense of identity.
The only thing that has made this process tolerable is the fact that I’m sharing it with my sisters. Together, we are working as a team to write the final chapter of the Stathopoulos family home. There are ups, and you can bet your sweet ass there are downs. But one of the things I absolutely love is that every night, after a hard day at work, the three of us gather together and eat dinner as a family. It’s such a beautiful, bonding thing for us to do and I’m so grateful for it. Dinner time was always a big deal in our family. It was a time to connect, to talk, to sometimes fight (c’mon, we’re Greek, of course there were fights) and to enjoy my Mum’s amazing cooking. I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity, while I’m here, for the three of us to get together and cook one of our favourite of Mum’s dishes – stuffed tomatoes. This recipe has been a favourite in our family for as long as I can remember – because it’s absolutely fucking delicious. I hope that some of you try cooking this at home, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as we always have.
8 ripe (but not too soft) bull-heart tomatoes
1 large brown onion, peeled
4-8 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic)
8 heaped tablespoons medium white rice (one for each tomato), plus extra for the pan
1 small bunch of parsley (stems removed), finely chopped
a few sprigs of mint leaves, finely chopped
2 large roasting potatoes, cut into eighths, lengthwise
Preheat oven to 180°C (for a fan forced oven – otherwise 200°C)
Make a horizontal cut near the top of each tomato to create a “lid”, making sure not to cut all the way through.
Using a spoon, gently scoop out the inside of each tomato, making sure to keep the skin intact. Preserve the pulp.
Place the scooped out tomatoes in a roasting pan, leaving room for potatoes and extra rice. Coarsely grate the preserved tomato pulp until it becomes juicy with no lumps.
Coarsely grate the onion (prepare to cry!!!) and add to tomato mixture.
Finely grate the garlic cloves and add to tomato mixture.
Add eight tablespoons of rice to the tomato mixture (one for each tomato). Then add extra rice (for the pan – we used an extra five tablespoons).
Add chopped parsley and mint to the tomato mixture and stir to combine the ingredients. Season to taste. Add a liberal glug of olive oil (we added about three tablespoons), and stir to combine.
Taste (the most important part of cooking any meal).
Fill each tomato cup with the tomato/rice mixture, making sure not to fill all the way to the top.
Place potatoes in pan, and season to taste. Add remainder of tomato/rice mixture into pan with the potatoes and drizzle the entire pan with olive oil. Place the roasting pan on the middle tray of the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 1½ hours or until the rice and potatoes are cooked to your liking.