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Food for thought
07 March 2012
In 2010 when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, which was few weeks after my Mother’s first heart attack, I decided that I needed to take serious measures to hold myself together. I kept up my usual spiritual appointments and started to see a grief councilor but nothing seemed to work for very long. On a day when I was likened to Ereshkigal (Sumerian Goddess of Death) who was impailed to the walls of Hades…
I decided to write a journal, and cook.
“Days of Dad” was the title and I used the writing and the cooking to express the devastation, pay homage to my Dad and the memories of our lives together. So I embarked on a daily exercise of planning a meal, shopping for the ingredients and spending the good part of each afternoon preparing and cooking.
I would cook a different recipe each day and write. One for everyday that he was alive.
As mother to two girls I cooked everyday but this became quite a different experience. My usual approach would be to cook one of our usual favorites or what was on special that week, but now the food became a complete expression of my state of mind that day, how I was feeling and what I was writing about. There were a lot of recipes from my childhood and nurturing foods. I felt that I became immersed into the dishes like I was trying to become invisible in the real world that I had become so paralyzed in.
The food also became like a canvas to paint a story that reflected my Dad. He was by any standard a perfectionist. He was Austrian, an engineer and so much more. Dad could do and did everything and anything. His workshop was not your average Trident benched corner of the garage but an entire building housing every tool, bit, part and machine and all perfectly arranged and in immaculate condition. These “paintings” I created were to pay tribute to his precision and detail. I would spend days preparing the stocks and reductions. Blanch, double sieve and knead. These dishes were a pure reflection of his engineering mind. I remember my Coulibiac of Salmon which was one such dish that required focus and time from pin boning, to making the brioche encasing from scratch (soooo much butter!) and performing the art of coating the fillet with creamy salmon mousse, slices of smoked salmon and then blanched English spinach leaves before cocooning it all in the yeast and butter dough. The final dish was a triumph finished with a beurreblanc sauce dotted with chives and salmon roe. The neighbours of course feasted on these dishes as well as I always made too much just for us. My kids were happy too for the exotic ingredients that were used “only on special occasions”. My youngest saying to me “I wish you would always write a cookbook Mum“. Little did she realize that I was actually opting out from my usual responsibilities to indulge in writing and cooking to mask what must certainly have been a nervous breakdown?
These days continued (with much variation) until my Father’s passing only three and half months later. At his funeral my family and I spoke in memory of him. I don’t know why but I held myself together that day and spoke in honour of him with so much pride and not one tear did I cry. (My friends were concerned that I wasn’t grieving properly). Although afterwards I did cry on many occasions I feel that maybe I had poured all my sorrow into those recipes and it helped me in some way to deal with the unbearable loss.
For me now, I dedicate my life’s work to creating the platform for others to experience the importance of cooking and sharing to engage, express and collaborate. Cooking is an exploration, an avenue for reflection and manifestation. It is so much more than just satisfying our appetites, it is also food for thought.