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Thanksgiving with Kofta

 

Still Life with Apples  c. 1890 (110 Kb); Oil on canvas, 35.2 x 46.2 cm (13 3/4 x 18 1/8 in); The Hermitage, St. Petersburg  No. ZKP 558. Formerly collection Otto Krebs, Holzdorf http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/cezanne/sl/cezanne.sl-apples.jpg

Still Life with Apples
c. 1890 (110 Kb); Oil on canvas, 35.2 x 46.2 cm (13 3/4 x 18 1/8 in); The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
No. ZKP 558. Formerly collection Otto Krebs, Holzdorf http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/cezanne/sl/cezanne.sl-apples.jpg

A man is mowing his lawn with a power mower and noise-eliminating headphones outside. It is the day after Thanksgiving, and my sister-in-law has arrayed a counter of leftovers for lunch. She and my brother and her cousin have been cooking and baking for two days, making pie-crust, filling them with a range of nuts and fruits, stirring dals, and making parathas from sweet potatoes. Kofta was our turkey, simmering in sauce, shaped with zucchini and potato, and fragrant with fenugreek and cumin. I did the minimal, stirred coconut and cilantro into string beans cut by my father, cooked by my mother.

We feasted with extended family for hours. Our ages ranged from two to eighty-one. We were not very different from similar celebrations all over the country. There have been years when I think I  will just make a winter squash but get invited at the last minute( hosts love it if you bring champagne, I discovered one year when I was a friend of a friend.) there has been a year or two with a grilled cheese, and once with pizza with a dear friend. It is about thankful, this holiday, but it is also about the food. The abundance, the sharing.

Let me see if I can make a point of some kind. After my accident with the deer, it was good to get away almost immediately and be surrounded by family. I gave a reading, my first in Princeton, where I have visited and once lived, and a nice crowd came, despite the rain. There were cookies and there were lots of questions, both good. Because of the rain and traffic, at least two groups arrived after I answered questions. Later, my family, who attended, went out for pizza.

Not Knowing

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I saw the deer first. A buck, whose head appeared through my car window on the passenger side. I was commuting to work, pre-dawn as usual to make a 5:55 AM bus. The drive takes me an hour, and it is relatively easy, listening to music from my iPod, and flicking back and forth between high and low beams if there are other cars present. Often few cars are present for the first half going my way, until I pick out a distant pair of tail lights, but there a few cars in small bursts headed the other way.

I live in Provincetown, and work twice a week in Boston. This fall and spring, I have early morning classes, and there are really only two buses that can get me there from mid-Cape– one that leaves at 5:40, and the 5:55. I get up at four, and shower, feed the cats, and grab coffee to be behind the wheel by 4:45. It can be exhilarating, toting my thermos and bag, having work I like.

My music is a mix of Bollywood and European pop, with strains of other genres. That morning started with “Am I Blue” by Grant Green, and covered Carla Bruni and Jai Ho. By the time the two lane highway gave way to a divided highway and a lower speed limit, my mother’s favorite chant was on, a hymn to Lakshmi. It was still dark, and the moon dipped in the clouds. My mother plays this song every morning and evening, to welcome and bid adieu to the sun. I remember thinking it odd to listen to this song, randomly selected by my iPod, at this hour, and I remember thinking there must be a reason. I did not dwell on it. I felt peaceful and alert.

The buck appeared and looked at me and I looked at it, and the chant played and I began to scream because something was very, very wrong. The brown hide of the buck was in front of my car, my car was hitting the buck, and then the buck disappeared and I took a breath but the buck came back and I began to scream again. All my CDs in a tote bag, my bag, all slid from the passenger seat to the floor with the impact. I must have clung to the steering wheel, and perhaps  my seatbelt locked me in. I kept screaming, for the horror, the deer, the randomness of the violence.

I kept driving and called 911 when I reached the bus. I was told, I was lucky the deer didn’t go through the windshield. I was told, This is the time they are everywhere. I was told, it must have scared you, huh? I am. They are. I was.

I had an hour and half on the bus. The first part I just sat, and at some point my cheeks wet , and i could not bear to look at merging traffic. We passed a pond where two ducks were plunging tail up for food, but I could not take simple pleasure; I no longer felt innocent. I felt awful.  Had I been placed on this earth to kill a deer? In Indian mythology, deaths sometime occur because it was so predicted long ago.  A man kills a mating deer, and is cursed by the deer who was really a sage in disguise, to be killed during love-making.  The king refuses to make love to his wives so the wives mate with the gods to produce the Pandavas, heroes of the Mahabharata. When the king breaks down and finally makes love to one of his wives, he dies.

I retell this myth largely because I love stories.  I do not know if I killed the buck.  It most likely bounded away.  This is what I hope.  We were both so startled. I know we looked at each other in the eye.  It happened so quickly.  I think how I could have prevented it, if I had started later or earlier, if something, anything, to change the circumstances.  These are the circumstances, though, and I don’t know what other outcome could have occurred, and in not knowing, I have to accept what happened.

Marshmallow soup

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Indira Ganesan, Kale-Apple Salad and Butternut Squash Soup from The Oak on Thirteen, 2013

A pillow of marshmallow possibly spiced with nutmeg, streaked with what might have been cinnamon, sat in the middle of a white shallow bowl, and a waiter poured a purée of butternut squash to surround it. This was soup at the Oak on Thirteen, and my salad of choice was its fabled kale and apple. I asked for the candied almonds on the side, which I nevertheless happily nibbled on throughout the meal, but I admit it makes for a poor photograph. Andrew Wille the book doctor himself suggested the salad.

Boulder is about the mountains and running and bicycling, but for me it is about food. It is one of a handful of American cities not only thoroughly inviting for vegetarians but offers a level of culinary sophistication that makes me savor each meal. One day I ate maki, full of tender sweet mushroom and pickled gourd, drizzled with tamari and wasabi. I drank elixirs of fruit and vegetables, frothy cappuccino and lots of water.

Indira Ganesan, Maki at Hapi Sushi, 2013

Indira Ganesan, Maki at Hapi Sushi, 2013

I was there for a class and reading, and enjoyed the company of old friends, and new acquaintances,as well as students who were strikingly engaging, articulate, and welcoming. I bragged about my own students on the East Coast, as well as the kittens I am fostering. In the midst, my father called to tell me his brother passed away, and I sat outside the Trident Cafe, listening to details, remembering the premonition I had felt earlier in the day.  How close are happiness and tragedy, chasing one another, waiting for their turn.

My visit was over too soon. I tucked a newly purchased volume of Elizabeth Bishop’s prose, and a pack of pencils and pens I bought at a favorite store. The pencils had replaceable erasers. The farmers were setting up the market as my bus rolled past, headed to the airport.

Indira Ganesan, Splice of Mountain, 2013

Indira Ganesan, Splice of Mountain, 2013

Since Moosewood

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On a marvelous gardening blog, I recently won a cookbook by lottery and answering a question on how my cooking has changed since I first used Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook.  I wrote I shopped for organic produce, which is true, but I also shop at Farmers’ Markets.  In my town, the Farmers’ Market is under fire because they occupy a parking lot adjacent to a candy shop for five hours once a week, for about five months.  The candy shop, open year-round, in regular candy shop hours,  is across the street from another candy shop.  There are at least two more such fudge shops in town.  We only have one farmers’ market, a Saturday bounty of two or three vegetable stands; one bakery stand; an essential oils lotions and potions stand; a meat and egg stand; a fish place; an olive oil and goat cheese place; a fresh mozzarella and burrata place; and a local sea salt stand.  As the season winds down, it just a few vegetable farmers, the baker, and salt and oils.  We have one large chain grocery store in town, and three year-round small markets.  There is talk that a Whole Foods might open in a year or so, in Hyannis, which is an hour away. Right now, we have a seasonal farmer’s market in a great location in the heart of town, where you can stroll into by foot, or bike or walk to gather provisions, chat with regulars, and leave with a full and contented heart.

When I first lived on the Cape, there was only a supermarket, a natural foods store,  and a little store where I could walk to buy broccoli, carrots, and onion and potatoes.  I ate pasta nearly every night, or made grilled cheese.  With supplies imported from New Jersey, I could make a rare Indian curried dish.  I used moosewood extensively with the ingredients at hand. I was lucky to be able to buy tofu.

A farmers’ market is such a joy,and necessity.   Taste test a farm apple and a store-bought. Try an organic golden delicious. Never pass up an opportunity to try watermelon radish. Here are farmers making a livelihood of sorts, carting their goods from an hour and more away to sell fresh tomatoes, eggplant, okra, basil.  They share recipes and stories. I would not live in this town if there was not a market. I still make pasta and grilled cheese, only with better ingredients, making them so much better.

Maybe it was Lou

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Years back, I lived in a resort town by the sea, much like I do now. Whereas the town I live in now likes to sport a scruffiness and nonchalance due to its remoteness, and lonely, aching beauty in the off-season, the other town was toney, a bit more buttoned up. Instead of taffy and sex toy shops, it’s Main Street boasted a small Saks Fifth Avenue, an artisanal cheese store, and a smoothie bar inside a tiny natural foods store.

I sometimes stopped after work to buy flax oil and vitamins, and one day decided to try a smoothie. I had noticed a motorcycle parked outside, shiny and expensive, like the town. Its obvious owner was at the bar, dressed in leather, and he smiled when I joined him at the bar. I remember thinking how singles might meet at juice bars, and I thought this because this was not just a handsome man with shaggy black curls, eyes hidden by sunglasses ( in my memory, I am certain he wore mirrored sunglasses) but because he had about him an air of strength, of magnetism, something that seemed to invite you in.

His drink arrived quickly, frothy and green.

“How is it?” I asked.

Surprised at my question, he smiled again.

“It’s good for the liver,” he said, and downed the shot.

I ordered the same, as he left the store. It was my first wheat grass shot.

Outside, getting into my car, I felt a quickening of all my senses and blushed. All because of an encounter with a stranger that lasted seconds. It had been years since I felt that way.

I have tried to write about this before, in fiction, because I felt something important had happened to me.
I never saw this stranger again in my remaining years, though I often thought about him in idle moments, in daydream.

I finally read an obituary last week that revealed Lou Reed did not live far from that toney town. I never knew. So, what are the odds?

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