For Hank

It’s such a cliche to write about my anxiety dreams, but they have always amused me and they so often concern food.   When I was pregnant I only wanted to eat smoked salmon, anything with chilli, and lots of cheese. I ate smoked salmon every week, something about the saltiness I suppose, and texture of course, smoked salmon is all about texture. One night I dreamt that someone came and stole the babies I was taking care of, ugly twin boys who looked just like W.C. Fields, with  lumpy heads as well as  those big red noses.

 I looked for them everywhere. The window was open and all that remained of the boys was the empty packaging of a side of smoked salmon and I thought, “I better hide this, because if anyone finds it they will think that I ate the babies… “

Lately I’ve been having the usual dreams, night before my thesis is due, I’m still writing it, that sort of thing, but last night I dreamt I was on the coast sharing a van or kombi with some girl, and when we woke in the morning I saw that my supervisor Alan was parked next to us.

It was very early and we were all going back to town that day.  I said to Alan, “I have real coffee, would you like a cup before you go?” He said he was in a hurry to get back and cook this big fish that he’d caught. I asked if I could see it and he said “No, don’t look at it now, come over and see it when you get back and it’s ready to cook.”

When I went to see the fish it was a  tuna, at least one hundred pounds, just like the ones mum used to clean and fillet on the back lawn. It was skinned and smothered in butter and garlic and sitting in a huge tub almost as big as a bath. Alan was leaning on the edge, very casually, with a fag hanging out of his mouth and he said, “Of course I’m going to bake it.”  I couldn’t imagine how, I was completely overawed. I knew I couldn’t cook a fish that big.

Well it’s not very hard to figure that one out. I used to dream about crustaceans, otherworld symbols, apparently. They remind me of my seafaring father. Once, when I was managing a vegetarian cafe I dreamt the place was lined with shelves of wet, struggling, angry crabs and lobsters. The owners were shocked by this spectacle, while I tried to reassure them that everything would be all right because I knew how to cook them!

I have a photo of my father; he leans against a big, white shark, casually, fag in mouth, not unlike Alan and the tuna. The dead shark is perched on the side of the boat and Dad looks very pleased with himself. The photo contains many of the symbols of my childhood:  the sea, the boat, the man, the dead fish. I was born into a family of Pisceans, our sign is the fish, our element water, our concern is death. I don’t like to kill fish, but I have observed how beautiful they are in their final struggle. My father, a Cancer, shared with the crab complete disregard for the plight of the fish. Its death gave his life meaning.

Hank1

Have I returned to the deep, sea blue of my father’s eyes and all the boats and fishy mysteries of my childhood?  Perhaps I’ll dream about him soon, or perhaps I just did. I always dream about my dead father when life seems impossible, and  he helps me, though when he was alive,  he  made life so difficult.

Of Mothers

I love this photo of my mother, taken sometime during WW2. Mum joined the Land Army and grew food for the nation. My mother was a mother of the old school, no canteen lunches for us. Breakfast at the table and a packed lunch. Most days she went to do the office work in my Dad’s fishing tackle shop. She was always home when I got back from school. She would usually be on her bed with the paper and the dog, having unpacked the shopping. When I came home she would get up and make me something to eat and then begin dinner.

Dad got home most days in time for the 6 o’clock news. When it finished we would eat. We usually had three courses. My mother didn’t really take to the industrial food products of the sixties, though she did have an ongoing fixation with packet mushroom soup. Thus we were spared instant mashed potato but I dreamed of rice-a-riso imagining it to be spicy and so much better than Mum’s soggy rice.

But I had a Jewish mother so we entertained with chopped liver and chopped herring, made from scratch, no French onion dips in our house. My parents entertained a great deal and Mum cooked everything. We had barbecues every Saturday and while my father indulged his pyromania I would set the table while Mum produced mountains of potato salad, sweet corn, pickled cucumbers. Her offerings were not “plated” in restaurant fashion, but they were delicious and bountiful.

Jewish holidays were celebrated without recourse to the Synagogue but with chicken soup and matzo balls, smoked salmon or whatever was called for. I was blessed to have a proper Jewish mother who had been raised in an orthodox community by her unorthodox mother Zena , my gloriously eccentric Nana.  My best memory of Nana’s cooking was her pot roast but she was also famous for her taiglach. Taiglach are incredibly hard biscuits which have been boiled in a thick syrup and then Nana rolled them in coconut. Only Lithuanian Jews cook them.

I have learnt to make all my mother’s Jewish dishes, the way her mother made them. I do not have her dedication though; I’ve only made gefilte fish once. I have taught my daughter to make matzo balls. She is yet to master chicken soup. We were cultural Jews and it was the food we ate, cooked with love and dedication by our long suffering brown-eyed Yiddishe Mama that led me here.