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Gift Exchange with Helena Pantsis

Year Two, On the second day of Christmas

I’m Not Hungry, But I Could Eat (For You)


A mouth can be broken in, as in, can be beaten into submission. If you force yourself, you can expand the size of your stomach, can make the tongue hanker for sugar daily, on the hour, can force yourself to wake in the middle of the night by the hollow gurgle of an empty gut. Like elastic, the pit of you will bounce back when removed from familiar circumstances, but in good company, the stretched thing will stay large and become larger still.


I learnt to bond with my father by teaching my appetite to grow. I took longing and blew it up like a balloon, watched its edges grace the walls of the room, rub against the brickwork and peak through the mortar. We didn’t have a mutual love of sport, he was an engineer, and I was a kid with a love for arts and creative writing. He wasn’t the type who liked to play, and I wasn’t interested in learning to bike. We weren’t united on any front. But when it came to food, I could compromise. I didn’t yet harbour thoughts of grotesque internalised fatphobia, wasn’t measuring the girth of my rounded, baby stomach. So, I decided, I could eat.


 

Recipe 1: How to be Last at the Dinner Table

Ingredients

  • the meal your mother made

  • time

  • a gluttonous appetite


1. refuse to let the mouth close

make yourself deadweight

2. fill it with earth

watch the flesh expand

3. make the mouth a scar

permanently widened

as long as he sits, so do you

4. never let the pile lessen


Through our guts we had something to talk about, our love for savoury and spicy and salty and umami, our love for consumption and sweeter things. There is endlessness in taste buds, the conversation carrying on long past the meal has passed through. The joy came in the act of eating, not in the food itself. My father wasn’t fussy, in fact had a preference for the cheaper things: Coles cheesecake, mountainous plates of cold meat and slimy gravy from the buffet table by the casino, his mother’s leftover tiropitas and strange culminations of half-Greek mutant lasagnas.


Something about being the daughter made it difficult for my father to try to connect with me, so the burden fell to me. He was used to the two sons he’d had before me, and though we weren’t much different, he looked at me differently somehow. I liked to eat, who wouldn’t? So I leant into it, the need for more. I grew round to match the shape of my father, enjoyed the comparisons between us that people would make. I lingered around him like a fly in the summer, learning to put furniture together and mount TVs onto walls to transform into him a little more every day.



 


Recipe 2: How to Be a Daughter

Ingredients

  • girlhood embodied

  • a traditional view of gender roles

  • compassion

  • hope


1. in a body, unrecognisable,

a heaviness flourishes against

the chest, like a waning summer glow

2. the novel will wear off inside

but remains an inevitable barrier

for the other. hurling ornaments

one might recognize into the fire

3. the boy can only try to see.

remove the femininity by threads

and weave it into a bridge


My grandfather called me strong for my weight, the way it began to cling to me. Dad had been a large child too, another way we were linked—my grandpa had fed him the way he did his own cat, in lieu of love, in honour of love, three times the required amount, jars of baby food consumed in minutes with the nutrients he should’ve devoured in a day. A distinct link to our Mediterranean ethnicity, a common offering in most cultures, the reception of food as affection. I think there must be some link to the poverty our migrant grandparents grew up in, that now their constantly having enough was too much, that it had to be shared. 


So it was inherited, the gluttony. Dad laughs about it now, the way he’d steal the sweets from the pantry at night. Mum used to steal olives herself. And I began to do it too when age started to climb me, my stomach large yet my ego so small. I’d hide food in boxes in my room; chocolates, chips, desserts I was sure had been forgotten. I was still a girl, growing up in a world where women are taught not to want to eat. But I needed the appetite, the only way I knew how to hold my father closer to me.


 

Recipe 3: How to Sneak Food

Ingredients

  • a chocolate bar

  • a bag of salt and vinegar chips

  • an appetite for shame

  • silent teeth


1. tuck a snack under your shirt

and keep it in the sack where

your pillow lives

2. when the night falls

and your body crumbles

let the food rest on

your tongue

3. it will slide down your

gullet, and keep you

from being hollow

until the morning


Food is an inherent element of cultural identity. For my grandparents, it’s their connection to the motherland. But not for me, or my father. What separates humans from other creatures is the emotional foundations the meal plays in our relationships to the self and others. So, for my dad, I recognise the gorging as a means of comfort. 


When he was a kid he was a victim of chastising, was beaten up for being larger and foreign in a land which, at the time, considered him a ‘wog’. The cultural link in the foods he would consume was another attack on his personhood, his Grecian background. He ate to forget, to compensate for the fact he was already large, so he might as well feel good. Though we never do, no matter how much we eat, the hollow never fills. Still, it means something to be able to sit across from my father and see him smile for a little while, for him to understand me momentarily somewhere behind the eyes.


He was never an easy person to get close to, even my mother doesn’t know him like she wishes she could. My brothers only talk to him about sports and prefer not to think of him as a person. It’s too hard to reconcile with his existence as an individual beyond a father, specifically when he’s constantly reminding us: I am your father, treat me with respect. Though he forgets so often we’re not fifteen anymore, and we want to know him differently now.


That’s why we eat. And yet he doesn’t seem to see it, because when there’s a leftover piece, or a final morsel, my father never asks me if I’d like it. Because even if I do, he says: you won’t be able to eat that. And maybe I won’t, because I’m really not that hungry, but when all’s said and done and we’re the last ones at the table I could still eat, I could still eat for you.



 

Recipe for Flaounes


Ingredients:

Filling:
  • 450 g Halloumi

  • 450 g Kefalograviera

  • 450 g Cheddar 

  • ½ cup fine semolina

  • 10 g dried yeast

  • 1 cup fresh mint

  • 10 large eggs

  • 1 cup sultanas

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 8 mahlepi seeds and 8 mastic grains (pounded together with 1 tsp sugar)


Dough
  • 600 g baker’s flour

  • 400 g plain flour

  • 1 tsp dried yeast

  • ¾ cup olive oil

  • 5 mahlepi seeds and 5 mastic grains (pounded together with 1 tsp sugar)

  • ½ tsp baking powder

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2 cups lukewarm milk


Glazing
  • 2 eggs beaten lightly

  • ¼ cup of milk

  • 1 ½ cups sesame seeds


Method
  1. Grate all cheeses.

  2. Crack 8 eggs in a bowl and beat well.

  3. Add semolina, dried yeast and the eggs to the grated cheese. Mix well.

  4. Put cheese mixture in fridge to rest overnight.

  5. (the next day)

  6. Add the remaining 2 eggs beaten, chopped mint, sultanas, baking powder, mahlepi and mastic to the filling and mix to a thick consistency. Put to the side.

  7. Sift your flours together in a bowl. Add yeast and salt and mix through.

  8. Add mastic and mahlepi and mix.

  9. Make a well in the centre and pour in oil. Use your hands to mix it through to a bread crumb consistency.

  10. Add the milk to the dough mixture bit by bit until the mixture is smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands. Make into a ball.

  11. Put oil on bench and work dough for 10 minutes until soft and pliable. Let the dough rest for 2 hours.

  12. Divide dough into six pieces, then divide those fragments into dumpling size rounds.

  13. Spread sesame seeds onto your work surface. Roll the first piece into a thin flat circle so the seeds coat the outside, then add filling to the dough.

  14. Fold the edges so a small square of filling peeks out the top. Put on a tray and cover with a towel. 

  15. Repeat until all filling and dough has been used. Brush all parcels with beaten eggs and milk to glaze.

  16. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes, then turn down to 150 degrees Celsius and cook until golden brown.



 

Ice Queen Interviews Helena Pantsis



Ice Queen: What made you submit to this Gift Exchange issue?




Helena: I've always loved the premise of Ice Queen Mag, so when I saw the opportunity to be a part of the gift exchange issue I jumped at it. It's also really fitting as I'm a real fiend for this time of year and there's nothing I love more than buying gifts for the people I love (my bank account does not support me on my endeavours).


Ice Queen: Tell me about 'I'm Not Hungry, But I Could Eat (For You)'. What made you want to showcase that?



Helena: I'm not a real big non-fiction writer, but I feel that food has shaped my life in so many ways and this piece explores that in a way I'm not so accustomed to sharing. So this piece weaves in poetry with an essay-like structure to reflect on the way I've used food to forge a bond with my dad. I think it's something people can relate to, the connection we create through our diets and the people we appease in shaping said diets. It felt like the right time to share such a story, particular in a magazine with a focus on the stomach and the various ways we encounter our meals.


Ice Queen: Tell me about the recipe you chose. What made you want to showcase that?




Helena: This is a recipe that my mum and I chopped together from memories, YouTube videos, and trial and error. It's a classic Cypriot easter bread, flaounes we call them, doughy and full of cheese—delicious! I'm very proud of my heritage as a Greek Cypriot, my grandparents having migrated to Australia where we now live. Being Cypriot is always overshadowed by my being Greek for the culture being a lot more well known, but I wanted to highlight some of the gorgeous recipes my Cypriot grandmother made for us before she passed. We never had the chance to get her exact recipe as there wasn't much in the way of written instruction for anything she created, but we've managed a pretty spot on recreation.


Ice Queen: Favorite family/personal recipe?




Helena: In terms of something more modern, there are these vegan cookies that I adore. They are so easy, so good, and definitely balance out the exorbitant amount of cheese consumed when making and eating the flaounes with their vegan ingredients. To make them doubly chocolate, I substitute half a cup of flour with cocoa powder instead.


Ice Queen: What is your relationship to food in your writing?




Helena: It's a very real relationship, so food primarily appears in my non-fiction or poetry as opposed to fiction, as I'm still struggling to find a healthy medium with who I am and what I eat. I think a lot of people can relate when I say food is something I'm still trying to see as not containing inherent good or evil values. Gluttony and overconsumption are definitely recurring themes in my writing though.


Ice Queen: What do you love about food in writing?   




Helena: Food characterises what we read in such a natural way, I feel, by telling us where we are, who we're dealing with, and providing us, often, with something comforting and tangible to cling to. I love food centred writing, they are so visceral and sensory in a way that is difficult to attain without the inclusion of cuisine.


Ice Queen: Do you bake or cook a lot, and how/when did you get into it?




Helena: I'm what I'd call a seasonal baker. I love to get my little paws on a lovely little treat, but I am both too uninspired and tired to get in the kitchen on such a constant basis. So when a celebration comes around it's a nice excuse to share sweets that have been made with love and care. I cook more often, but that's mainly because I'm still living at home and am trying to pitch in—though honestly, I can't stand cooking, and just do so to repay my mum for her decades of constant and persistent care and mothering. 


Ice Queen: What are some of your favorite literary magazines?




Helena: I'd love to shout out some local favourites of mine! Island Magazine, Aniko Press, Going Down Swinging (though as an editor here, I'm biased), Two Wolves Digest, and Takahē from just across the pond. These are only a handful, but there are so many mags out there doing such fantastic work for the community.


 

Helena Pantsis (she/they) is an editor, writer and artist from Naarm, Australia with a fond appreciation for the gritty, the dark, and the experimental. Her works have been published in Overland, Island, Meanjin, and Cordite. More can be found at hlnpnts.com.

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