Peeling Back the Layers
Everyone told me it was a pain to make.
Tedious and time consuming.
I pulled the delicate phyllo sheets apart one by one, so elated to be learning how to make a dish that I have always loved but never attempted.
My cooking instructor was orginally from Turkey, feisty in the way I admire strong women to be and sweet like the baklava her husband raved about last week. They introduced me to new food at the Turkish Mediterranean Grill behind North Star Mall.
Lucy stands about two feet shorter than me, or that might be an exageration. Her personality is three feet larger than life. We are as mismatched as two women can be, but somehow we are exactly the same.
I brought all of the ingredients over to her beautiful home where she had the necessary cooking supplies laid out neatly on the granite counter top, including an old fashioned nut grinder I’d never seen before and a plastic mopping utensil I decided I must have.
Sometimes I’m forgetful and had forgotten she told me the dough was frozen and to be sure and get it the day before. It’s delicate. My backup plan, once I remembered, was to drive around showing property for three hours with two packages of phyllo dough and a box of butter thawing on the dashboard because I am more determined than delicate.
Forget texting at stop lights.
That is the perfect time to gently turn the dough that is cooking just under the windshield. Carefully grabbing each end of the tube, I rolled it to the colder side as I caught a little side-eye from the driver in the lane next to me.
Cautiously lifting and placing each sheet into the 9 x 13 pan, pretending to be in Martha’s kitchen, I began to spread the melted butter, making sure to get it all over.
“Don’t skimp on butter.” she instructed with her accented voice. “Some people skimp, don’t skimp.”
I tried again, adding more butter like it might have been a work of culinary art. “Oh, no! We’re going to be here all day. You are trying too hard. It’s not perfect. You slap the butter on like this,” grabbing the baster from my hands.
“Okay,” I said, letting my sloppy shine.
“Very good. That’s right. That’s the way. Just like that.”
I buttered layer after layer, after layer.
“Don’t skimp on the walnuts either. I do two layers. You can do three if you like.”
More layers. It seemed like a 100. And then it was finished. When the color was just right, we removed it from the oven and added the syrup mixture to the top.
Gene was right. It was the best baklava I’ve had in my life. It was also one of the most fun days I’ve ever had in someone’s kitchen. I can’t get enough of this woman.
Standing over a stove and stirring, you learn more than how to make simple syrup. You learn about falling in love with an Air Force captain, coming to the United States, shopping sprees and mother-in-laws.
“She taught me so many things. She was a good woman. An angel.”
It takes spending time with someone to see the depths of who they are, all those layers that make a person. They come together to make them sweet and solid, so delectable to be around. The color of friendship with people who are not the same as us is the same as knowing when the baklava is ready to come out of the oven.
It’s golden. Never skimp on it.