Author: misschryss

Ejo #114 – My Mum’s Recipes: Tzatziki

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.

Kalí órexi.

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The ingredients.  Greek yoghurt, cucumber and shitloads of garlic.

 

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Stir, stir, stir.

 

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The finished product – best served the next day, all the better to allow the garlic to infuse, but we’ve definitely been known to devour it immediately.

 

TZATZIKI
INGREDIENTS:
1 tub plain Greek yoghurt
1 cucumber, halved
8-10 cloves garlic

METHOD:
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.

Ejo #113 – And So, This Is Ramadan

Most of my readers will already have some idea of what Ramadan is (they’d better – I write about it often enough!!!).  For those who don’t know, Ramadan is the most important month of the Islamic lunar year – a thirty day period of spiritual growth and introspection, during which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex during the hours of daylight in order to commune with their god. One of the traditions of Ramadan is, of course, the celebrated breaking of the fast – and in Dubai this tends to be a pretty lavish affair. Five star hotel restaurants put on huge spreads every single night, tables groaning under the weight of platters of Arabic and international cuisine. It’s truly a sight to behold. Though not necessarily a good sight. At least not if you are aware of the monstrous amount of food that is wasted each and every day during Ramadan.

Iftar buffets produce 500,000kgs of food waste every Ramadan in Dubai.

Apparently, in the UAE, about 500 tonnes of uneaten Iftar food gets thrown into landfill during Ramadan. That doesn’t even come close to the 400 tonnes a day wasted in neighbouring Bahrain during the holy month, but it’s still a shitload of food that gets chucked away. Which is a disgrace when there are half a million impoverished labourers in Dubai. A lot of these workers are Muslim, which means that during this year’s Ramadan they are going without food and water for fourteen hours a day, while toiling in the harsh sun.  These are the guys that should be enjoying five star buffets laden with extravagant food every night.  But they’re not.  They’re breaking their fast with whatever scraps they can afford – which is not much.  It’s enough to make you want to organise a food handout!!

Indeed it is!  So, on Friday 24th May, just before sunset, David and I joined our wonderful friend Roshni and her amazing team of volunteers at a labour camp in Sharjah to help distribute hot Iftar meals to some of these men.  Remarkably, we were able to give out 1000 meal packages consisting of dates (traditionally eaten to break the fast), water (to quench the thirst of many hours of dehydration), a delicious and nutritious chicken biryani (packed full of flavour, energy and protein), and a piece of fruit for a simple dessert.  Nothing fancy but definitely fancier than nothing.

As always I have taken lots of photos of the guys as they receive their dinner package.  The reason I do this is because sadly, the labourers of the UAE are an often unacknowledged demographic. I want to humanise them, because despite being treated like slaves, they are real people, like you and me. I want to show their dignity and uniqueness.  I want you to look into their eyes and recognise that they may have dreams and hopes and aspirations.  That they may experience irritation and depression. Joy and laughter and gratitude. That being poor in worldly possessions doesn’t make their lives any less valuable.  I hope that by looking at these pictures you can find just one face that you can connect with – because ultimately we’re all the same.  Some people are just luckier than others.

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The sun beat down hard – at 6pm it was still 37°C.

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The men lined up in an orderly fashion.  Unruliness was dealt with firmly.

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I’d like to say a very special thank you to everyone who contributed to this year’s Ramadan handout.  You are wonderful.

 

 

Ejo #112 – Dear Mum…

Sometime in mid-March I wrote a bunch of cards for friends and family around the world that would be celebrating their birthdays and anniversaries in April. One of those birthday cards was to my Mum. Sadly, I never got to give it to her. Not when she was alive, anyway. While I was enjoying a spur-of-the-moment long weekend in Tbilisi, my beautiful mother died in hospital, getting ready for emergency surgery. She’d been ill with an aortic aneurysm for a while but I guess I didn’t realise just how serious it was. Maybe she downplayed it, or maybe I just didn’t want to realise it. Whatever the case, her death hit me like a freight train.

This ejo is going to be a rambling rumination on the process of grief (mine anyway). As I said in my previous post, the last thing I feel like doing is writing and publishing my ejos, but I KNOW my Mum would have wanted me to keep doing it and so I will try. I can’t guarantee the next few will be any good, or that they’ll be about anything other than my deep love for my Mum and the profound feeling of loss I have now that she’s gone. But hey, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to.

Grief is weird, it truly is. As most of you know, this isn’t my first rodeo. Oh yeah, grief and I go way back. I lost my Dad to cancer in 2003, so I’ve been around the block as far as losing a parent goes. But the thing you need to know about grief is that it isn’t an emotion, or a feeling. Grief is actually just a process. So you can’t define how it feels. It’s different for each person, and different each time. So yes, I was familiar with grief, but I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel when my Mum died. I actually had no fucking idea how much it would hurt. Losing my second parent has been exponentially more painful. I loved my parents equally, but in the fifteen and a half years since Dad died I’ve developed a deeper emotional relationship and bond with my Mum. Plus, she’s my Mum, you know. I still cannot fully comprehend what it means to be without the woman that gave birth to me (after 36 hours of labour – sorry!), the woman who gave me life and who loved me so fiercely, and so unconditionally. I still cannot really process a world in which that is a fact. I feel lost, and the feeling is awful and lonely and devastatingly sad.

Grief is weird. Part of the weirdness is that I judge myself quite harshly about how I’m actually grieving. Sometimes I feel like I’m not sad enough. I function enough to go to work (which requires a pretty high level of functioning) and I appear fine, but on the inside I am ashamed that I’m not a blubbering mess. I am ashamed that I am even able to function. Other times, it’s all I can do to remain standing when the waves of grief hit. And they hit hard. And I bawl and wail and curl up into a little ball and I miss my Mum so desperately that it physically hurts. It’s genuinely how I feel but part of me thinks that it’s all a bit melodramatic and over the top. That I should be better by now. That other people don’t carry on like little babies when their parents die. But you know what, maybe they should. And maybe we should expect them to. Because it sucks and it’s sad, and even though time heals, it doesn’t heal linearly. It heals like a fucking mess.

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I’ve had some well-meaning people tell me to be strong. But I’ve never understood that. I’m strong the rest of the time. When my Mum dies, I’m going to be destroyed. I’m going to be confused and bewildered and emotional, and I’m going to cry myself to sleep. Every single night. And that’s OK. Because the fact that my beloved mother is dead is absolute fucking agony. I recently discovered that I was capable of sounding like an animal while crying. A wounded animal. I forgot how visceral and guttural grief can be. How your heart can physically ache, as though it’s been punched. Sometimes I cannot breathe from the pain. It’s so raw, so intense, so monstrous. My Mum was my favourite person in the world, and now there is a big empty hole in my heart and in my life, where she used to be.

Sadly, I have so many regrets. The two saddest words in the world are, “If only…”. I try not to beat myself about it but there are so many things I wish I had done, or said, or asked. I try to be gentle on myself, but it’s not always easy. Regrets are sneaky little fuckers. On the other hand, I am grateful for so many things, and I try to keep my focus on that. I am grateful that she knew how much I loved her (oh, she knew). And I’m so, so grateful that I got to spend some time with her in February. I’m grateful that my sisters were with her when she died. I’m grateful that in the last couple of years she taught me how to make some of my favourite meals. Her best recipes. I’m grateful to have a couple of her rings, which I wear every day. And I’m grateful that I brought back her pink jumper, infused with her Mum smell. She might be gone, but her essence is still here, for now. And so, a part of her is still here. With me. It’s weird to get so much pleasure from something that leaves you with so much pain but I’m grateful that my brain can be tricked into thinking she’s still alive, even for just a second. I bury my face in the soft, pink cotton, close my eyes and inhale deeply, and her scent just brings my Mum back and I am there, hugging her and smelling her, and being enveloped in her warm embrace. And then I open my eyes and the only thing I’m holding is her pink jumper.