Happy Birthday Ayah

27 Jul

My Ayah and meToday would have been my beloved late father’s 74th birthday. I celebrated by going to learn how to make macarons, but I was thinking of him the whole day. I miss him more than I can ever say, and yet, I feel him with me all the time. When my sister had her beautiful baby Z, both of us felt his presence, and wished we could have him with us, so he could meet his gorgeous grandchild.

Everything I do, and everything I am, is imbued with his presence, his grace, his essence.

My father was a true epicure. He took great pleasure in all the sensual aspects of life – food, and drink, cigars, and yes, women. He taught my sister and I how to eat, how to enjoy food, how to taste and refine our ideas of what was good. He took much joy from having a meal and good wine with friends and family.

Ayah was a wonderful story teller, a brilliant mind, a sensitive and clever writer. He lived life to the maximum and he passed much too young.

From the time we were young, my sister and I were brought to beautiful restaurants, and ate “like grown-ups” – encouraged to try and taste and order for ourselves. It was an education in enjoying the fine things in life. But my father also was clever about what he consumed and how. He always had fresh fruits for breakfast, always made time for exercise, and when he indulged, he always made sure there was a balance.

One of my favourite Ayah food stories was his immense enjoyment and love of plain white toast, with melting butter, sprinkled with rough grain sugar. My sister and I used to tease him about it – how someone who ate at the finest restaurants would take such sweet happiness in a simple dish. He told us that during the war, when he was a child, he lived in the kampung (rural village) in Malaysia. There were not a lot of supplies and extras. Food and luxuries were scarce. On birthdays, or for very special occasions, children were given a piece of toast, butter (margarine more likely), and sugar. To the end of his life, he felt that one of the greatest indulgences was that simple dish.

This taught me two things. First, that food did not have to be rare or fancy or expensive to be appreciated. You have to know for whom you cook, and what resonates within them. And therein lies the second lesson – food is about memory  – it is so much more than the ingredients, and really about the emotional attachment that we give to what we eat. My father could have had chocolate mousse every day, but that did not make him feel like he was giving himself something special. But a cup of tea, and toast and sugar … now that was indulgence and love, and memory. He honoured himself, and where he came from, and where he was at that moment in time, to pause, to relish, to remember.

toast and butter and sugarSo today, for Ayah, this is my dish. I miss you so much. I love you always.

  • 1 piece of toast
  • 1 tsp softened butter
  • 1 tbsp roughly granulated sugar

While the toast is still warm, spread the butter so that it melts lightly. Sprinkle on the sugar.

Eat with remembrance and love.

13 Responses to “Happy Birthday Ayah”

  1. tini zainudin July 27, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    Your Ayah sounds wonderful!I wish I had met him. Ached with familiar ‘missing’ pangs as your loss reminded me of mine!But what wonderful memories and what a blog entry! Lovely, warm and toasty! Thank you for sharing,Pia!

    • delectableblog July 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

      Thank you for your words Tini. I think you would have enjoyed him. He was special. Those missing pangs never really go away, but they become slightly sweeter, like granulated sugar, over the years. Much love, P

      • goddessmoments July 28, 2010 at 10:58 am #

        I loved reading this – thank you Pia 🙂 What a wonderful tribute to your Ayah. So intimate and soooo loving. Like Tini – memories flooding in of OUR Ayah 🙂 And how ‘roti butter gula’ (and sometimes with peanut butter) was a favourite with us too! I think one never gets ‘over’ the loss of an ayah. You just learn to live life without physically having them there. But boy do they live on in us… and our eating habits eh? 😉

      • delectableblog July 28, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

        They definitely live on in us, Shireen. And therein lies the comfort 🙂

  2. Julie Rubin July 27, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    Cheers to Ayah.

    • delectableblog July 27, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

      Thanks Jules. I know you know that missing ache. I am just glad we get to carry them with us, in memory and in laughter, as well as that ache.

  3. Paul Willoughby July 27, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    Pia, Beautiful and loving blog entry, and it is so true that sometimes it is the simplest of things that are important 🙂 Now that I know this to be a favorite of your Dad’s I’d like to suggest, Uncle Zain, that as you read your daughter’s beautiful post, you consider trying a variation of this recipe that Raya, Betsy & I indulge in and love from time to time …. spread butter on bread, sprinkle with sugar, and brown to taste in a toaster oven … Yumm! Happy Birthday!

  4. chrisoro August 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    what lovely and loving thoughts. The toast bit resonates so strongly – just a few days ago P and I were reminiscing about how our greekie grandad would have boiling hot black or wild chamomile tea with a splash of brandy, with a large slab of country bread dripping with honey and butter. It’s amazing how much the physical senses play into the comfort of memories.

    Happy Birthday to Ayah 🙂

    • delectableblog August 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

      Thank you sayang. It is amazing how the physical connects us to memory and spirit. They live on in us in all our quirks and pleasures. Its lovely how sharing these memories also extends the joy of remembrance.

  5. shamaine October 6, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    catching up on posts that i missed…you are right, there is so much emotional attachment with certain food. when we were younger, fairy toast was always a late night snack. we would eat it in the kitchen with a cup of milo or a glass of ribena.

    lovely post, Pia.


  1. Cinnamon Sugar Cookies « delectable - August 11, 2010

    […] Aug I wrote in an earlier post about my late father’s love of white buttered toaste with a sprinkle of sugar. He ate it as a […]

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