Coming across a recommended blog (recommended by WordPress),I was surprised to see an image of my second novel.  The writer had read it, to pass the time, she said, and described the plot.  She then said, possibly yawning, that there was little in it to impress her.  She moved on to talk about Isabel Allende.

Well, after my initial chagrin, I thought it was at least nice to see the cover there.  But her comment nagged.  Don’t we write to make an an impression?  It felt cold to be dismissed so quickly.  A friend suggested I explore this reaction in my blog.

The writer was herself writing a novel, and wanted help.  My impulse was to help her, offer some teacherly advice, with a sense that perhaps she would be surprised, not to change her opinion of the book, but to change her opinion of me.  No mater how often we are told to separate the writer from the story, the two get entangled.

Sunday has become Monday morning.  Two cups of coffee, and Van Morrison singing “Domino”–a good start.  The sun is now lighting the houses across the street–this music makes my typing rhythm change.

We tend to want praise for work produced.  Maybe it’s akin to drawing something and running to show Mommy.  Cooking an meal and being told it was delicious.  My mother, not hearing a word from us as we ate, would often say, “This is very good.”  When I think back to that, I think she was on the right track.  False modesty is just that: false.

Moralizing at 8am.  I probably have something better to do, like get ready for the day.

tofu on the radio

A long time ago, I volunteered at Outermost Community Radio, WOMR-FM, in Provincetown.  My friend Kathy Shorr gave me her show, Monday First Light, and I rose at dawn, dragged a bunch of LP’s to the station, and played music from 6am-9am. I was very, very happy. Then, Denya LeVine suggested we do a show called Veggie Bites.  Or was it Veggie Bits?  Denya and I produced, wrote, and directed three minute segments on food.  Among other things, I learned how to splice together tape, a skill that probably has gone the way of, well, vinyl records.

One of our features was on tofu.  It was Denya who taught me to press tofu, to take a cutting board, balance it on the block of tofu, then weigh that down with a five-pound jar of beans.  Every time I press tofu, I think of Denya.

These days, the recipes I see for tofu don’t call for pressing.  Why is that?  Does anyone know?

The best tofu dish I ever had was served when I was a guest of my student John Parbst and his wife out in Long Island.  John made this tofu barbeque that was amazing.

The best tofu dish I’ve made comes straight out of Annie Sommerville’s Fields of Green cookbook, p.273.  She credits it to Tassajara.  It involves ginger, garlic, and soy.  I leave out the dry mustard–never a staple on my cupboard–and I’m sure I must leave out the sake (I haven’t made this in years) but the result, properly marinated, is utterly delicious.

Back in Provincetown, I had three cookbooks: Mosewood; Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East; and Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two.  Book One, I’m told had recipes paired with marijuana, but Book Two did not.  Mostly, I used Moosewood.  Every Saturday, we had a potluck, those of us at the Fine Arts Work Center, and mostly, we came up with variations of pasta.  Though I can’t really recall any of those potlucks now, I think they were important to our creative souls and sense of community.  Even today, I wish I had a regular potluck to attend.

I’ve cooked my way through the usual suspects in vegetarian cooking:  Julie Sahni’s exquisite  Classic Indian Vegetarian & Grain Cooking, Laurel’s Kitchen (who did not want to be Laurel,overseeing the beans in her philadendron filled, cat friendly communal kitchen?) and  The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison.  Then I discovered The Inspired Vegatarian, with inspired photographs and recipes featuring syllabubs; The Vegetarian Table: France with equally inspired photographs of, oh, fig and arugula salad and vegetable ragout; From an Italian Garden by Judith Barrett; Sicilian Vegetarian Cooking by John Penza; How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigela Lawson( which makes for heavenly bedtime reading and really good recipes); Lord Krishna’s Cuisine by Yamuna Devi, a diciple of Srila Prabhupada; Anna Pump’s scrumptious Country Weekend Entertaining and The Loaves & Fishes Cookbook.  These days, I most often consult Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day.

I still don’t eat enough vegetables or tofu.  Become addicted to vegetables, a massage therapist once suggested.  Words of wisdom to one addicted to sweets.

Another reading suggestion: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver.  It has good recipes, too.

Maybe next Tuesday, I’ll pen some thoughts on M.F.K.Fisher, Ruth Reichl, Amanda Hesser, Alice Waters, and other queens of the literary kitchen.

waiting for snow

Not until Tuesday, they forecast, and flurries at that.  But the sky outside looks like –ah, it’s changed since I last looked up, and now the blue is showing.  Wanting snow on a Sunday is akin to wanting a holiday on top of a holiday.  For me, snow frees up thinking.  Oh, what could I write with snow falling outside and a plateful of warm brownies by my side.  I read the Times online. Madison Smart Bell wrote a very good essay in the the Times about Haitian literature. I put potatoes to boil, got some curtains up, and went to yoga.  Now I watch the sky again, a moody blue, the color of school uniforms that have long faded.  There is a story called “The Cloud Maker” by a French author whose name I can’t remember–Escarpit?–about a factory that matter-of-factly produces clouds.  Well, somewhere behind this blue rests a sunset.

Chennai Now

The sky is gray today, but the sun is poking through.  I thought to create a blog would be an experiment in essays.  It’s an indulgence really. Recently, I went to India, after an absence of thirty years.  Everyone as asked, how did I find the changes?  First, Madras is no longer Madras but Chennai.  There are an awful lot of tall buildings.  Crowded storefronts now offer cell phones.  But there are also the same women and men offering young coconuts for sale, with a straw to sip the precious water.  Unlike the North, where I heard report of a young woman sporting a pair of Ugg boots with her selwar kameez, the young women here wear kurtas and jeans, selvars, saris.  The men, dhotis or pants.

Traffic is still noisy, maybe noisier.  Honking is the way to drive. Honk if you are making a turn, honk if you are passing, honk if the guy in front of you honks.  Honk at the cattle who will not get off the road on the way to Auroville.  Honk down the narrow dirt lanes to alert everyone you are coming in a car.

The beach have become trashed, but like everywhere, the further you walk away from the clusters of people, the nicer it gets.  The waves roll out, the shells are revealed, the waves roll in, the shells are hidden.  My niece spent a lot of time collecting shells, and carefully took them home in her own little “I’m on my way to Grandma’s” suitcase.

Mostly, I stayed inside, eating and catching up with family I had not seen in so long.  It was so easy, with no expectations asked of me.  I didn’t have to cook, wash dishes, clean.  I made my bed everyday, walked downstairs where my father, early riser, handed me South Indian coffee in a stainless steel tumbler.  I read the Hindu newspaper, avidly following a disgraceful trial.  After a shower, I had my first breakfast.  This was usually followed by a series of phone calls with which we would plan the day.  Then mid-morning tiffin, a full meal with something special featured: soft idilis, sweet pongols, beans and coconut curry, home food that I craved.

I’d disappear with a book, but never for long, or go visiting in the car, which could take hours. Once we doubled the normal time driving to Bangalore because of traffic.    Evening brought dinner, then tv, maybe a serial, or a concert.

One of my favorite sights:  a swami, that is a holy man in holy vestaments, taking a temple break and smoking a cigarette.

How had India changed?  More cell phones, more cars. TV sets are bigger, but so they are in the US.  Thirty years brought enormous construction, deluxe apartment houses and IT companies.  In Bangalore , I visited the summer palace of the Rajah of Mysore.  How strange it was to be led around the vacant rooms, full of photographs from the past, with shredding upholstery.  The palace itself looked weary.

Chenai is not weary.  It’s vibrant, on the move, fast.

Shopping fever caught me at the end, and I searched for things to bring back home.