(by Derya Celikkol)
Rice may seem like one of the easiest things to make, but it actually takes a lot of artistry to make the perfect rice. And my mother has the expertise to make the perfect rice. When I was old enough to notice that my mom’s rice tasted considerably better than the rice I had in my friends’ homes, I asked her what made her rice so special, and she showed me as we made her perfect rice together. I still remember the agony I would feel when the rice had to “rest” for 15 minutes after it was cooked, and I had to wait in the kitchen with the heavenly aroma. When someone complimented my mother’s rice, she would shrug off a bit of her humility to say, “I really do make the perfect rice.”
My mother raised my brother and me almost by herself since my father was usually away on business while we were growing up. Being the knowledge-hungry woman that she is (which is definitely a characteristic I inherited from her), she chased all the books, seminars, and workshops for self-help, mainly to be able to raise us in the best way possible. With her kind heart and knowledge (which she still cultivates every day), she has selflessly helped so many of her friends in their trying times. I witnessed her mastering many different skills while I was growing up; it was almost as if she had multiple careers—breath therapy, managing a cafe, baking, massage therapy, reiki, interior design, and opening her own self-help center in Istanbul. It’s no wonder I am a multi-hyphenated artist today.
Being so busy with my million different jobs, I only made simple and quick dishes at home. But during the quarantine, when I've had the time to actually cook for myself, I found the Turkish rice and sehriye (short vermicelli noodles that we put in the rice) that my mother brought from Turkey when she came to visit me in New York last spring. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would be in Turkey for a childhood friend’s wedding, and I would definitely be eating my mother’s rice. But luckily, my mother, almost knowingly, had stocked the ingredients for her perfect rice in my pantry, and I hadn’t touched them for a whole year. It seemed the stars had aligned for me to make my mother’s perfect rice, just at the time I needed it most.
My mother taught me so many valuable things. I often call her advice “cheat codes,” like the ones you use in video games to get to a higher level or overcome a difficulty in a faster way. She taught me always to see things for what they are. I now know that whenever I feel stressed or sad about something, I can analyze the situation objectively without my emotional story clouding my perception, and I can make myself feel better. Thanks to her, if I get in an argument with someone, I think of her magic words: “Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?” and I realize that the fight could go on forever if both sides try to win. I often agree to disagree in these arguments and save myself from feelings of anger while trying to prove a point.
My mom made me the confident, compassionate, and strong woman I am today. Thanks to her, I can endure unemployment, uncertainty about my future, and loneliness during this strange time. Thanks to her, I am choosing to keep myself productive, see everything for what it is, not make assumptions, and stay in the moment to help me get through this pandemic with ease. And the ingredients she left for the perfect rice certainly helped. I made the perfect rice just like she did, and I try to be her perfect daughter every day.
Derya Celikkol is is an actor and production designer based in New York. She can be found at www.deryacelikkol.com.
2 c. rice
2 T. butter
3 T. olive oil
1/2 c. sehriye (vermicelli)
3 c. hot water (or broth)
Wash rice thoroughly, and let it stand in warm water for half an hour.
In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.
Add olive oil and sehriye.
Cook until the color of the sehriye changes.
Add rice and cook another 2 - 3 minutes.
Add hot water or broth and salt to taste.
Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until rice is cooked, about 15 minutes.
Take pot off heat, put a towel under the lid, cover and let stand for 15 minutes.