A to Z at home

Daily delicious

What is an open sandwich, I wondered? It must be something special as I never heard of it. Soon I learned that “open” means there is no second piece of bread that goes on the top. Ha! A sound of relief. That was so familiar. We had them for breakfast, lunch at a school cafeteria…

My nicest memories of sandwiches were from birthday parties when I was a kid. It would usually start with sandwiches, most often made with ham, potato salad on one corner, boiled eggs, a pickle. After that we would go and play until they called us for a cake. Now, the birthday parties are different, organized by specialists, with magicians and entertainers. I don’t think anyone makes sandwiches any more.

So, open sandwiches it was, for brunch. The Internet helped us make them Danish. Scandinavians often eat fish for any meal, so we had to include pickled herring, roe and some freshly cooked shrimp. There were other delicious condiments as well. I baked two types of rye bread to make the experience more authentic. A shot of aquavit was a good start.

Direction west

Dissolved in the crowd
of thousands of people,
moving from one side of the planet to the other,
my daughter carried a white teddy bear,
my son a small backpack.

We played cards on the plane,
read books,
washing away the 10-hour flight,
and what we left behind.

I promised a beautiful country,
a sky without threat,
a room with light and heat.

The blood kept pumping in those chambers,
aware that no one would wait at the airport,
that I had I no address to go to.

I had a debt in my pockets,
money that I needed to return
and a bundle my parents managed to scramble.
How long could it last?

We will have birthdays
with sandwiches and cakes,
I said to myself,
stepping on the wet Vancouver street,
brushing off the rain from our faces.

Challenge to cook Chinese

I love Asian food, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese… you name it. Full of spices, light and diverse – I can eat it every day. Cooking it is a different story. So many ingredients I don’t know what to do with. I am not sure I am good at trying and tasting, “feeling” what’s missing and creating a delicious combination of flavours.

A colleague of mine and a friend was my motivation to give it a try. I really liked a dish she made for one of her Chinese new year’s parties. A year later, after my repeated begging for the recipe, she gave me a Christmas gift, a package with all the ingredients I needed, with instructions. “This way, you will know what to buy next time, and what it should look like” she said, and she was right. That was the best way to make it possible for me to cook it. I loved it, but my success was not enough to make me move to another dish. A stir fry with a few drops of teriyaki on a busy day, or a jar of hot chili garlic sauce was as far as I would go.

A hot soup was always part of the main dish at my family table. When we moved to Canada, a soup was what you had on its own, or with a salad. My kids would rather skip it and get to the “real deal”. I lost the habit of having it every day, but when my cooking partner suggested hot and sour soup, I couldn’t get rid of a smile on my face. I will do it!

Caring hands

Curled into my favourite place,
that cushy armchair,
I stayed to watch TV,
as long as I could,
rebelliously disobeying
my mother’s strict rules:
a cartoon at 7:15, news at 7:30,
time for bed after that.

Clever move
to drift into the first sleep unnoticed,
knowing that there was a chance
they would not wake me up.

Comfort which I would feel instead,
my dad lifting me in his arms
and carrying softly to my room.
The smell and strength,
of safety and protection,
– all I wanted at the end of the day.

Conspiracy and deception at times,
the evenings when I would pretend
that I am fast asleep,
so that I could have those caring hands
transport me again
into the land of dreams.

Calculating his every step today,
afraid that a crack or a stone
would throw him off balance,
fragile and shrunken,
my father waits for the planes to fly again,
for the hugs to be allowed,
for me to come back and visit.

Best of Belgium

I have never been to Belgium. On every “10 most popular Belgium dishes” sites, there were mussels. I have never cooked mussels before either. Seafood is not my household staple. The only sea I was close to growing up was the Pannonian Sea, 600,000 years away. What was left was occasional carp, catfish or sturgeon swimming in the rivers.

The challenge was on! The recipe didn’t look too complicated and the preparation turned out to be true to what they promised. It was fun to see the shells opening up. The dinner was served with French fries and garlic bread. Waffles were an easy dessert.

Breaking bones

Beach to settle down to.

This is where I wanted to grow old,
close to the water,
relinquished to the sun and calmness,
where cold wind transforms
into an indistinct recollection.

To rub my bones against the sand,
sculpturing them into a perfect shape,
smoothing the sharp edges of ageing.

A pebble whose luscious roundness
is not from youth
but a body of time.

An invitation for a visitor
to carve that special word on it,
such as “Hope” or “Love,”
put it in his pocket
and carry away.

Absolutely amazing

Thanks to the long history of conquerors, I grew up in the region with reach and mixed cousins. The battles over the fertile fields around the river Danube were frequent, and the need to protect them led to building large fortifications in many cities including my home town. The construction started with the arrival of the Romans and ended in Austro-Hungarian times, under the rule of Maria Theresa (German: Maria Theresia) in 18th century. She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the Queen of Hungary. The final shape of the fortress with underground system of tunnels, having four levels, was completed in 1776 under Joseph II, Maria Theresa’s eldest son. Sixteen kilometres of the tunnels provided good protection for the solders against Turkish attacks. In addition to the maze-like military fortification, the Austro-Hungarian empire left us with their customs, language and cousin.

The second “invasion” of a very similar way of cooking and dishes happened after the World War I, with the high number of German workers who kept settling in this region from 1918 on.

Armed with this double inheritance, making a choice of an Austrian dish was not too difficult, as it was so familiar to me. More importantly, the first stop in the new A to Z journey felt like warm homecoming. That is exactly what I needed in the era of pandemic where travelling back home and the smell of my mother’s cooking is only a dream.

Alexa is alert

Alone, but still with someone listening?

Loneliness has become normal.
Maybe I just live that way.

I’ve stopped spreading my arm
across the bed, reaching.
There is no expectation.

Suddenly, a moment when the scent of you
and the spring
drifts through the cracks and fills the house.
It comes uninvited,
and grabs me, like a robber in a dark alley.

If I cry for help
in an empty apartment,
will you hear me?
Will I wake up Alexa, sending my voice
into the virtual emptiness?
Will the Big Brother
come and
hug me,
like brothers do?

If I run, will the scent follow me,
light as a feather,
heavy as memories?
My feet pounding in the hallways of
digital labyrinths of zeros and ones.

I don’t want to run.
I want the scent to catch me,
and stay with me.

I am pulling the plug.
Goodbye, Alexa.