Message in a bottle
500 words: Lost and found
I like to think that it was lost somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, plunged into that majestic body of water as my parents began their migration to a country over 24,000 times bigger than their homeland; to another island nation which lay so many miles away, nestled in the waters of a different hemisphere.I believe it was lost in the sense of being misplaced, removed from my parents’ possession temporarily, snuggled for safekeeping in the salty sea, and buoyed by the waves that licked the shores of the two diverse countries that have now formed my own heritage.It was lost, just for a while, because, like a message in a bottle thrown out in anticipation and hope and courage, that lost thing has now been found and reunited.With me.The vessel uncorked.The sentiment inside the glass confines released like a fragrant kitchen aroma, sucked in greedily by my own culturally-starved nostrils.And so, as I delicately froth my egg whites and measuredly trickle in my almond essence, my mind wanders back to the Mediterranean and the country of my parents’ birth.As I weigh out my creamy almond meal and sift my stark white confectioner’s sugar, I make a note to myself to research the age of this recipe and how it came to be made and nurtured as a bakery speciality on the island.I gently fold the ingredients together and mentally revisit the amazing little shops in the villages and how we ate these almond biscuits in Valletta at a bustling outdoor cafe with bitter coffee and sweet hot chocolate as we watched the world go by.Forming my dough into small balls, I press blanched almonds and neatly trimmed sections of red and green glacé cherries onto the tops, and wonder how my parents felt when they arrived here in the 1950s, in a land so far away from everything they had ever known, a land of pale pink devon and tasteless cheese, where tomato paste was unknown and delicatessens almost non-existent.I’d love to say that the recipe I am using has been in my family for generations, passed down from grandmother, to mother, to daughter. But I can’t.I got mine off the internet, from a site dedicated to the sharing of the food of my parents. My mother reckons my offerings are the best she’s ever tasted, even better than my paternal aunt’s, who used to pride herself on her biskuttini.I peak through the glass door of my oven, checking the colour of my creations, and I mentally add up the new recipes my lost thing has helped me rediscover: ottijiet, kwarezimal, biskuttini tal lewz morr, to name a few.And that thing that was lost and now is found is alive and well and flourishing within me, my family and my friends.It is renewing the sharing of foods that my mother remembers from her childhood.It is spurring on new culinary adventures in my humble country kitchen.It is encouraging the discussion of ingredients, the understanding of culture and the making of memories.It is responsible for the rebuilding of faith and the consolidation of love.