• Cooking for an hour doesn't leave time for much else, but what it does allow for is plenty of healthy reflection. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
Yearning for the company of loved ones, Dilvin Yasa discovers a new way to keep them close.
By
Dilvin Yasa

2 Apr 2020 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 2 Apr 2020 - 3:26 PM

The afternoon began like so many do in the current landscape: with a sense of disquiet.

When will I be able to see my elderly parents again? When will I be able to hug them? When will the COVID-19 pandemic end and when will the world return to normal? The questions nipped at me, leaving their marks, as I walked into the kitchen and put a large saucepan of milk, sugar and rice on the boil – driven by a force I couldn't quite place initially.

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Continuously stirring a pot for an hour doesn't leave time for much else, but what it does allow for is plenty of healthy reflection.

Standing there with a spoon in my hand, it occurred to me that this had little to do with the act of making a dessert, it was really about searching for a different, more cast-iron way to connect with the people I love the most. By making a dish so ingrained in my memory of them, eating it becomes the culinary equivalent of feeling their arms around me.

In his novel, Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust wrote of a man who became transported on a journey through his memory after he took a single bite of a madeleine dipped in tea. I'm not claiming to be Proust of course, but studies have long shown the link between taste and memory. The connections between the olfactory system and the regions of the brain responsible for emotional and memory are so closely related that damage to parts of the brain responsible for memory can also affect one's ability to smell.

"By making a dish so ingrained in my memory of them, eating it becomes the culinary equivalent of feeling their arms around me."

In one 2014 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers not only found a direct link between taste memory and the area of the brain responsible for encoding the time and place we experienced said taste, but the taste is also associated with strong memories of being in a particular location where something good or bad occurred.

We all have such dishes. Perhaps it's your mum's meatloaf or your best friend's special recipe for spaghetti Bolognese. There's every chance you've enjoyed it so much that after nagging them relentlessly for their recipe, you've recreated it in your kitchen since, the scent, every bite, reminding you of the good times you've shared.

A DISH THAT MIGHT REKINDLE MEMORIES
Turkey meatloaf with a spicy bean stew

This is true unashamed comfort food and should be celebrated for being just that. You can make one big meatloaf and serve it in slices or I sometimes like to make mini ones and serve each sitting proudly on top of the spicy bean stew.

What if, in the absence of quality face-to-face time with your loved ones, you could simply cook their special dishes so that the mere taste of them could provide comfort with such memories. Yes, sort of like the cookery version of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Match Girl, but far less depressing?

I kick things off with my friend Nicole's famous basil and garlic chicken - a dish she first made for me when I had my daughter and I was so exhausted I almost fell asleep at her dining table. She's made it for me many times since (it's always my top request), and in recent years I've taken to making it for my daughters (that baby now 11 years old). As the familiar scent of crushed herbs fills the kitchen, I call her and we chat as it bakes in the oven. The moment fills me with such a sense of peace (the first time in a week) that I'd almost consider it witchcraft.

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Next up is my friend Belinda's potato salad. Everyone's got a version of this dish, but 40 years of eating potato salads convinces me that Belinda's is by far the best. Even the nature of making this dish – stuffing the tightly-bagged ingredients in a microwave – reminds me of her refreshing, no-nonsense attitude. The memory movie begins before I've had a single bite.

"None of these dishes are up there with the warm embrace of a loved one – nope, not even close, but it's something." 

As for my husband's suggestion that I pair this dish with Nicole's chicken, I just don't think that I could: my heart would break.

A couple of weeks into movement restrictions and my list of 'to make' memory dishes is growing longer. I'm lining up my aunt's hamur kızartması (fried dough sprinkled with sugar – the ultimate comfort food if I've ever heard one), my mum's apple pasties, and I'm even pondering my brother's famous Deb mashed potato of the 1980s back when we were kids. It's a memory that reminds me of burying myself deep in his armpit as we waited for our mother to come back from her shift work.

None of these dishes are up there with the warm embrace of a loved one – nope, not even close, but it's something. It's comfort food in every sense of the word.

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Cauliflower and broccoli mac ’n’ cheese

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