Feature Friday: Marta Karczewska
Old Volkswagen Transporter. Homemade Compote. Tattoos. A love affair with cosiness. Warsaw. What connects these? Marta! A vagabond and a true free spirit we’re lucky to have with us. She hosted a couple of meals, she made us laugh, we could not resist resurrecting Feature Fridays with our cooks. All the ones hungry for a good time, dive into Marta’s story, makes notes and meet Marta at her upcoming meal. All photos by Natalia Kontratkiewicz.
Marta, what makes you happy these days?
Small pleasures are my mood-lifters, definitely – listening to a funny story in a tram, a bar of my favourite hazelnut chocolate or having my hands warm. These small things resonate with me as I resonate with them. That's the core of my day, I think about all those petty moments that happen each day and what unknowns tomorrow will bring. My home is full of things I collect here and there. Some call it a weird habit, I'd just call myself a collector, one man's trash is another man's treasure. My collection and my pockets are full of things I find every day - shells, stones, leaves. There was a time when I've seen loads of thrown out chairs (old, broken, missing a leg) and I moved some of them to a more convenient location or took some with me.
You’ve just hosted 10 guests at your place. How does it actually feel before and straight after?
It's a sort of reisefieber - rush before the take-off, but it only hits me right before the meal starts. I'm not really stressed out - I'd just stick to my vision and nail it step by step. There's a bit of stubbornness as I'm always quite sure I can make it on my own. Doing shopping results in heaps of fun, the pressure rises 2 hours before the meal when I'm making the table. In the end, being relaxed actually works. The moment of truth happens when the first guest rings the doorbell and you'd just love to split yourself in two: one to stay with the guests and one to take care of the pots in the kitchen. When the last dish is finished, I embrace myself with feelings. Feelings are what the guests leave at the table. I seem to enjoy taking their place, having last bites of what's remaining at the table and just see the meal from the perspective of a guest for a while. The feeling of fulfilment accompanies me, only then, when the meal is over. That moment I notice that every single plate and fork was used is special. Living on my own, you see things differently, even the cutlery. Would you even think of washing the dishes in the bathtub?
As far as we know, you’re mainly cooking vegetarian food. All that superfoods, seitan, latest fads… cannot be found in your kitchen. Your specialities sound more traditional, maybe even old-fashioned a bit, yet still, we can almost feel that aromas coming from your kitchen through the screen. An old soul in the kitchen?
I often see that old soul in me, but I have another reason to be reluctant to the superfoods, I'm just bored with them. You can easily change the super prefix for fast, at least in Warsaw. Loads of places would serve the chia pudding and hummus - isn't it a bit monotonous? There're so many possibilities here. My bottom line is that vegetarian diet is based on veggies and fruits and these are taking a leading role when I cook. It's cool to follow trends, but I find seasonal food more appealing to me. I can create my own story with seasonal products, I can grab a momentum. For those who eat meat, I take a slightly different approach and I try to encourage them to open up and get closer to simple, tasty, veggie meals. People say how hard it is for them to cook something themselves, it'd make no sense to show them how tasty tempeh can be. There's space for that, surely, but plenty of people just find it difficult to prepare veggies themselves. Brussel sprouts can be a nightmare for some.
Well, I feel really privileged having two veggie markets within a walking distance. You can find that localness in my cooking, the remaining part is my sweet secret.
If you look into my recent meals you'll get to see the pattern. Everything is well thought - my first meal menu was based on my superstar dishes - that was my Hello! to the Eataway world. Next one, a Christmas meal had to be rooted in a particular time of the year, yet still remain original and distinct from what everyone else was cooking. Zero coincidences.
And compotes? Who drinks compotes anyway? What’s the origin of your affair?
Oh yes! Compotes made me acknowledge the potential of doing charity through food - that time someone was selling compotes to support the animal shelter. My romance with compotes started because of my grandparent's garden. There are some apple trees, redberry tree and tomatoes in my grandpa's little garden. Every year he introduces something new, that's why I keep a couple of summer days solely for cooking and making preserves. It turns out that I even spend a couple of sleepless nights to prepare all the purees, jams and compotes. Left on the shelves, they get a layer of dust, but when the autumn comes all the jarred goodness keeps me happy. I have to mention the fun I have naming my home produce. "Romantic pickles - flavoured thanks to Otis Redding tunes" or "tomatoes pureed with love" would be some of the examples of the names I give to my preserves. I'm a proper grandma whet it comes to my approach to preserves. It happened once that someone left a post-it with a note that it smelled lovely on the staircase thanks to my cooking. I still have loads of ideas to explore, starting with "home winemaking" book from my grandma's shelf.
Your No #1 favourite dish. What’s that thing that always comes out from your kitchen as grand success?
I usually share my favourite ones outside with my friends, I'm not a big fan of monotony. My two top recipes would be banana bread with nuts and red onion chutney. The banana bread is a great companion to hiking trips, while the chutney is the gift everyone welcomes warmly, so I have to really care to make enough to share.
What would be a single word that describes you in the kitchen?
Brainy - all day every day. I'm a multitasker juggling the pots on the stove and baking at once. I like to see a lot of happening around me, in a small space and in a short time. Insense, complex, spontaneous and abundant scenarios are definitely my thing.
Sweet or savoury?
Well seasoned I would say. I love intense, distinct and deep flavours with a lot of tolerance to spice. Birch-tree juice would be the exception to the rule. If I had to choose my favourite flavour, you've got my vote for umami.
Your home, I cannot omit that. Looking at the pictures you’ve shared with us some time ago, it’s the ultimate cave of cosiness. What’s your very special place in your home? Do you have a favourite thing?
For a long time, I didn't have a feeling for this place. It took me a while to settle and make it mine, 3 years in the end. I just love the fact it's a constantly evolving. I sort of slowed down now, but there was a time where my living room was redecorated once a month. Well, I guess I used every closet-sofa combination possible. That went hand in hand with the number of plants that increased rapidly, just when I got into plants. I'm even a self-taught avocado farmer, planting every seed I get. Mini-jungle, that's how my flat feels to me. The way my flat looks and feels is a result of all the trials and errors, it expresses my needs and personality. A favourite thing? Trying not to bond with things too much, I don't really have one. Even if some of these things tell a great story, they remain things. If I were to move, I'd probably grab a backpack and my dog, Budrys. That is why I got myself another home on wheels - I love multiplying spaces.
And what others find not-so-usual about your place?
I find myself thinking about it occasionally, particularly when there's some new visiting me for the very first time. My friends had this idea to record a compilation of reactions of my guests, that would be lovely. My home pretty much reflects the way I am, it doesn't necessarily feel extraordinary for me, yet still, I can spot the difference between the flats of others. All those things I collected felt into a place naturally. My strong character reflects strongly in my surroundings, I even started decorating the streets.
What’s the idea behind hosting one charity meal a month?
I just felt a tiny tiny voice in my head and that tiny voice could not find a reason not to do it. That corresponds tightly with my lifestyle. You might not now, but actually, it is pretty easy to make charity out of anything, as long as you want it. Apparently, I'm good at doing everything and anything. Being involved in various initiatives makes me feel alive. When my friend asked me if I would have been interested in cooking for 18 people at photo-workshops out of the city, I didn't think twice - what a great challenge, I thought. Shortly after, your facebook event about cooking for Brześć Kids popped up in my news feed - I was already hooked on cooking for others, so I just hosted a dinner. Cooking for 6 was a no-brainer after spending couple days in the kitchen preparing food for 18. That's how we got here, I'm carrying it on - make good things, well, always.
What’s cool about Warsaw now? A piece of advice for a lost soul.
Get on your bike - our winter isn't that rough. Then, warm your hands up in of the museums as some exhibitions are truly worth checking! Carpenter's workshops have their open hours for those eager to get their hands a bit dirty. There are loads of fairs where true treasures can be bought for a bargain.
What 2018 will be bringing to you?
That planning keeps me excited. I have plans for travelling here and there. Finally, I'll put my feet on the another side of the equator. This year kicks off with a mission to illustrate more. I feel like doing more things with some great individuals surrounding me. I want to multiply my activities, at home, but not only, 2018 will be a year of sharing my story and making more bellies happy!