Back from our summer holiday and it was straight into mum’s kitchen. She had sent me a text before we had arrived home. “Home-made pizza Saturday night at our place you are invited.” My response was instant “me and the boys will be there!”
It really is not an invitation that you can turn down or would want to turn down. Food is at the heart of my family. Every now and again, if the zucchinis are in season and Nanna’s garden has an overgrown crop of them, if my Aunty has too many broad beans or if my Dad and cousin have stumbled across a new Mediterranean supermarket in the outer suburbs, there is always a reason to get together and cook up something.
The cooking part is often left to a select few: my Dad, Mum and my cousin’s husband. While the rest of us shift and wait, prepare the table, have a few glasses of wine or Kinnie and keep a very close eye on the oven. Saturday night was pizza night and it just may have been one of the best pizza night’s we have ever had.
When I got to mum’s the dough and the bases were almost ready. Toppings had been meticulously prepared and set out in bowls. The smell of all the fresh food and strong flavours in Mum’s kitchen was not only mouth watering, my stomach was doing somersaults in anticipation.
I think deep down my favourite’s are always to old ones. The old flavours and toppings that my parents grew up with back home in Malta. The simplicity of potato, olives, capers and a drizzle of olive oil on a base of rich tomoato doesn’t just taste good and fill my tummy. It fills my soul. A connection back to a time when I did not even exist. A time when time itself moved as slowly as the wooden cart behind the donkey being drawn down the dust filled streets. A fire ignites within, one that never really goes out, but is flamed stronger with each bite of pizza.
Some toppings mean more to some than they do to others. Toppings that were once a mother’s signature dish, a mother who is no longer with us and passed many years ago. But here in a country thousand of kilometres away and decades later she is remembered, her spirit rekindled. Almost as if through her son’s hands, her own hands are at work in the kitchen. Weaving their magic.
I can’t help but wonder if it is moments like these that we are really here for. Moments like these the ones that only matter. Gathered around my mother’s kitchen, detached from work, detached from social media, detached from the binds of responsibility. Left only with the freedom of actually talking to each other. The lightness of being around the ones you love and in turn the ones that love you just as much, or even more, back. The silver web of tradition and generation glistening as the pizza cooks.
Every one has a place here. Sitting around the kitchen bench watching the pizza makers at work. Stealing some of the ingredients when no one is watching. Dragging in the mismatched extra tables and chairs from the garage into the house so we can all sit together once the cooking is done. Eat together, drink together and just be together. My heart aches lately as I look out across that table of people. The pangs of reality as I wonder, will my frail and aging Nannu be with us the next time we sit down at this table? Will it be the same when he is not?
But then that is what makes nights like these even more important. The memories we take away with us long after the pizza is gone. The values and lessons the pizza makers try to teach us as they knead the dough, spread the sauce, fill the toppings and drizzle with the olive oil and cheese.
Sometimes I wonder if the pizza would taste as good if someone else was making it? Sometimes I think it really wouldn’t. Because something else goes into each pizza, something you cannot buy at a store or make yourself. Something that lingers silently in the room. Above the din of chatter, the kitchen drawers opening and closing, the kids screaming with laughter down the hall. I wish I could reach up my hand to touch it, grab hold and not let go.
Family. At the heart of mine is pizza. At the heart of mine is night’s gathered around my mother’s kitchen. At the heart of mine is a heart so much older than I am. Older than my mother. Older than her mother. At the heart of mine is a longevity of love that filters down and wraps around even our most simple of every day tasks. Filters down and hovers in the room on night’s like this one and fills our soul with the tempting somersaults of pizza. Fills our soul with so much more.
Would you like some?