I've never been to prison, but I imagine the phone calls you make to family and friends on 'the outside' are what gets you through endless days of barbed-wire fencing, boiled dishes of mystery mush and much, much worse. Now that many of us are in a (much more comfortable) prison, aka a pandemic lockdown, it's those life-affirming phone calls that are getting me through and I've got my dad to thank for that.
To give you some context, my relationship with my father has revolved predominantly around two things: writing (he's considered an acclaimed writer in his native Turkey) and food. He's a terrific cook and lover of all foods. My earlier memories of him involve him standing next to me as I clamber on a stool to reach the stovetop to drop pasta into a boiling pot of water. "No! Always put in more than you think you'll need!," he would admonish. "If you're cooking for two, you must cater for four. Never forget this."
My more recent memories of dad consist of a rolling montage of him running out of the house - random food product in hand - to greet me as I pull into his driveway. "Try this," he says, contorting himself to poke said food product through the tiny gap of my window before I've even turned off the ignition. "Seriously dad!!" I'll shout as I try to gather my handbag while he tries to shove a sandwich in my mouth.
Every other memory between these ones are of our eyes meeting over a baking dish, saucepan, plate or bowl and seeing the way he lights up before he feeds his youngest child. You've never seen joy quite like it, and I'm just as ecstatic to be the recipient of whatever he's dishing out. In our family, food is a language that only my father and I share; our version of pig Latin that no one else can understand.
"Always put in more than you think you'll need! If you're cooking for two, you must cater for four. Never forget this."
Lockdown is a curious beast. You have nothing but time to cook and eat, but no matter how much time you spend in the kitchen, you only ever seem to want more. During the last three months that I haven't seen my parents, I have pined for the dishes only my father can make. I spend hours looking through Turkish cookbooks, but nothing compares to my dad's çerkez tavuğu, sarımsak kőfte or kŭnefe. I dream, make notes and attempt some rather disastrous experiments while dad contemplates his own misery of cooking for an audience of one. It is, he admits, an ethnic parent's nightmare.
With no idea of when we'll see each other again, the solution to help us get through lockdown came organically. Already chatting every day, we've taken our love for food and eating online and into telecommunication, spending lengthy periods talking the other through the dishes we're dreaming about, what we've eaten and what we're going to eat next. Dad talks me through the dishes with so much mouthwatering detail that gourmands would have no hesitation of spending $5.95 a minute for the pleasure of it. I mean, this is a man who has written emotional poems about the art of drinking tea and the beauty of coffee trays.
My father and I have a list of the dishes we'll enjoy when we can finally get together. We add to it endlessly (nope, we never subtract from it) so over time it's become head-of-state-level complicated. However, it's planning this meal that gets us through the long days and dark nights.
There are studies that show the act of planning a holiday can be an even happier experience than being on the actual holiday. While I've yet to see a similar study on meal planning, I'm convinced the same principle applies.
Planning our feast is getting my father and me through lockdown, but I'll tell you one thing: the next time I drive down my parents' driveway, my window will be rolled right down. I have never been more ready.