By Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
It is nice to sit here in the cold and think about food. Outside, the sky is all angry grey and bulbous cloud, but I am here in the warm, writing and drinking a grog that my mother made me in an attempt to stave off a sore throat.
We are all – myself included – being battered left right and centre about how to avoid packing on the pounds over Christmas, how to restrain from eating ‘empty’ calories during the holiday period, how to get ‘in shape’ come the new year…the bombardment is relentless, isn’t it?
So, let us dwell a moment, and think on food, on how wonderful it is that we can be here sat at tables of love with our friends, our families – basically, let’s get sappy and gluttonous for a second because it’s been a hard year for us all, as it always is, for none of us get through this life unscathed, do we?
It has been a while since I put pen to paper to write about putting fork to mouth. A few months back, when the skies were still bright and blue and the days seemed endless, my brother married his Turkish fiancée at the top of a hotel a few minutes away from the port of Karakoy.
My brother’s wife is a wonderful cook. We cooked together last summer, during that heatwave of 2022, in an old stone barn in rural France. It was the first time we had spent time together, just us, chopping and frying and steaming and roasting. It is good to cook with others, because it is intimate, sometimes beckoning silence, and other times requesting rowdiness and laughter. Cooking, with others, is a thing to be done with the heart held in the hand.
And so, we cooked a Turkish meal together, and she taught me how to touch the food in the way that she had been taught to touch it. We made kuru patlican dolmasi, which are stuffed rehydrated dried aubergines into which one stuffs seasoned rice made with pomegranate molasses, mint, acı biber salcasi (a rich red pepper paste), and other herbs. Patlican dolmasi are a variety of dolma, which mean ‘stuffed’, but is a term which is commonly misused in the UK to refer to yaprak sarma, which are stuffed vine leaves. Patlican dolmasi (and yaprak sarma) are some of my favourite Turkish foods, deceptively simplistic when described but quite unparalleled in their rich, homely taste.
It was the first time that I had felt close to her, to my brother’s (at the time) fiancée, and it was because of our love of food and the love we wished to share through the eating of that food by our family and loved ones. Food has always been a thing of love for my family and I, and so I am glad that my brother married someone who likes food as much as us.
It is good to be home. As much as it is stressful – all of the travel, the hoards packed into the trains, the presents, the attempts to organise meetings with everyone, the ‘what the hell are we doing for New Year’ – it is still good to be back. It is good to see fridges filled with food and pots bubbling on the stove and the wood burner glowing red and my father snoring on the sofa. It is nice to be cocooned after a year of fending for myself, a year of sleepless nights thinking on money and broken love. It is nice to sit still, just for a moment, and it is nice to be fed by my parent’s hands. How lucky I am! I hope that you, reading this, are being cocooned also, or are cocooning someone else, or are cocooning yourself, and are keeping warm and fending off the cold with stupid films and stupid board games and bottles of sweet liquor and soft ganache chocolates and long mornings and longer evenings. Even if you are alone, I hope that you are warm.
Our old cat just came into the kitchen, miaowing most forlornly. She walks slower these days, and is going blind. Her appetite has lessened significantly in the past year; where normally, she would snaffle up her dinner in a heartbeat, she now takes the best part of a day to lick her plate clean. She has, however, taken quite well to ‘cat milk’, which she was just miaowing at me for, so I took one of the purple boxes from the cupboard and poured it into her brown ceramic bowl. She lapped it up gratefully, white droplets splattering over her whiskers, and has now taken herself to her basket to sleep a while.
The New Year is not here yet, but it is coming. Strange, strange how any other two weeks in the year seem so insignificant in comparison to these two, at least here in the Western Hemisphere. Somehow, everything appears to converge at this point, and we feel that we must change everything about ourselves come the dawn of the New Year; we should commit to something new, we should stop doing this and that, we should lose weight, or get fitter, or both…the bombardment is relentless, isn’t it?
So, I tell you, here, to quieten the noise a little. Don’t look at your phone too much. Don’t look at the calories on a box of chocolates. Don’t worry about your belly, don’t worry about what’s to come, don’t worry about what has happened, just be glad that you are here, be glad at how beautiful such simple things can be, at how wonderful it is that you are warm and fed and loved.
Bad things have happened this year. Bad things will come to pass again. I am scared about the future, of course I am. I am anxious about so very many things. But I will take these brief moments, these fickle hours, to love and be loved, to eat and eat and drink and drink, and to sleep until the morning is no longer young. For, as Otto the postman in Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Sacrifice’, wisely says: ‘We live, we have our ups and downs. We hope. We wait for something. We hope, we lose hope, we move closer to death. Finally, we die, and are born again. But we remember nothing. And everything begins again, from scratch.’
Let us not wait. Let us cherish these still moments and be happy for a moment, away from the rush, the callous rushing about that we commit to for some 50 weeks of the year. Let these seconds be slow and soft, like the fur of my old cat, who is sleeping gently in her basket beside the fire.
The Carl Kruse Blog homepage is at https://www.carlkruse.com
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Hazel include How Hollywood Ate The World and A Quick Peek At London.
Carl Kruse can also be found on Soundcloud and on Medium (Carl Kruse).