Category Archives: writing

on writing, rewriting, & taking notes

More Home Truths About Food

 

In fact, it wasn’t just rice and lentils and vegetables and yogurt on the table growing up.  My mom is an excellent cook.  In the early days of immigration, there were lots of parties, and lots of food.  My mom made snacks and sweets, and specialties from all over South Asia.  Home cooks, my mother and her friends knew how to cook for the family and cook to impress, and traded ingenious ways to coax delicacies using Pillsbury products and Bisquix, in addition to what could be found from a trip to the Indian grocery store, hours away.  This supplemented the foods my grandmother had prepared and paxcked in her suitcase, and later sent through friends.  Savories like dried salted mango, homemade mango pickles, ready to fry pappadum.  

My mom would use a hand held brass press to shape chickpea batter into hot oil where the complicated shapes would bubble up and solidify into preztels.  There were pounds of carrots grated into halvah: that was my job, to grate the carrots.  I helped shape  the dough to transform into sugar soaked badushas and rasagullas, though my shapes were never as good as my mom’s.   Her hands steady, the same fingers that made perfect rounds to fry into sweets also made dresses for me, and my dolls, not to mention the slipcovers and  curtains. She had a BSc in Chemistry and Biology from india,and though her life centered around the house and us, she gave us dreams to leave and circle back.

She is in her eighties now, and doesn’t cook as much as she used to, and why should she, but she did make badushas for my niece to celebrate going to college.  And I made a hot-milk vanilla cake,decorated it with rose petals and lavender, and put it on instagram.  Unlike the beauty of the photo, the cake was less than great.  I had over beaten the batter, and a rubbery streak ran through it when I finally cut into it.

Now I have eggplants sizzling in ot oil, stuffed with amixture of coconut and spice.  Sounds good, right, if you like those ingredients.  The result won’t be instagram perfect. but I’ll let you know how it turned out.  I used Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe from her beautifully illustrated World of East Vegetarian Cooking. 

And this video in Telegu uses a different recipe but fun to watch:

https://youtu.be/ZyEQPiQvUHo

My brinjal came out okay. Like anything, these things take practice. And fall is always energizing.

 

Every Day the Hummingbird

Most every day this summer, a hummingbird visits the balcony, sometimes twice, sipping from the salvias. It has a tweet that I’ve learned to distinguish. Often, after sipping, it will hover in front of the window, as if to say hello, or perhaps see if there is more food available within. this never fails to delight. The cats, though, watch without interest, which interests me. The thrum of its wings, that distinct sound of a wooden chair scraping a wooden floor, or a distint helicopter lets me know it is near. Here, it comes again.

Indira Ganesan, Hummingbird Visit, 2019

A call from the Earth who calls when we cannot or will not hear

Indira Ganesan, droplets, June 2019

Two things happened this last week that moved me considerably, the week that is that is not defined by Julian.  First, Toni Morrison passed, transitioned as Nikki Giovanni said in an interview with the BBC, and our hearts, those of us who not only adored her work, but looked to her for guidance, spilled open.  She transitioned, said Nikki Giovanni, and she is still with us.  Toni Morrison not only gave us story after story which blossomed into poetry but clearly, strongly, spoke out against, because she recognized it for what it was, and how persuasive it is, the horror of white supremacy.  

And Jorie Graham came to speak at the local arts center in Provincetown.  She spoke and read, and made the world stand still for an instant as we listened to poetry.  Like Toni Morrison, Jorie Graham looks at life in its face, and does not turn away.  She does not serve it to us neat on a plate with a platitude about how things will get better.  Her poems, incantations of sense and sensibility, are like clear drops of water steadily dripping onto a plate that we did not know needed to be filled.

Poetry moves us, and it moves us best when we forget about ourselves, and pay attention to something much bigger. I have not learned this completely, but remember, when I read, and when I write in moments of stillness, broken by a horse’s neigh, the passing truck, the invisible breath of my cat asleep on the desk.  Something tumbles down now, the cat shifts and sighs, and the horse cries again.  

Onion Rings and Macaroni Salad

Indira Ganesan, The fry, the fat, 2019

Sometimes it is cold macaroni salad and hot onion rings, swirled together with sriracha. Sometimes your flight is delayed, so you circle the airport, always choosing the wrong way and retracing your steps, and find a Wahlburgers. You have vaguely heard about it as a good place to eat at Logan airport. You pass on the impossible burger because you don’t want your food to taste like meat, because what would be the point? You are vegetarian, raised by vegetarian parents, in a family has been most likely vegetarian for centuries. You remember being excited learning about the English Cranks, as if white vegetarians gave you permission to be who you were in meat-eating America. Meat-eating America didn’t believe you could survive with meat. A skeptical pediatrician subscribed an egg a day, which you dutifully and reluctantly ate at lunch watching Dennis the Menace on TV. You never knew what My Three Sons ate, or the kids in Family Affair, but you knew enough to distrust food early on. You would spend years trying to convince your mother that hippies were vegetarian, and later learn that tofu existed, and macrobiotics, that somewhere, probably California, people ate well. so as a kid you ate sambar and rice; rasam and rice; spiced vegetables; and yogurt and rice with lemon or mango pickle. You drank water. Sometimes as a treat you got spaghetti, a grilled cheese, a tomato sandwich, or a Swanson’s TV dinner with macaroni and cheese. As a teenager, your father brought home falafel and eggplant parm, and sometimes there was pizza. You didn’t become interested in food until you began to cook, and started reading Madhur Jaffrey, and Moosewood, and the Epicurean cookbooks. Deborah Madison was introduced to you as well, and you began to love to cook for other people. You lived in the Hamptons, only you called it Long Island, and started teaching food literature, and started collecting cookbooks to read at night. Still, alone, you wound up craving grilled cheese and pizza, and realized that America indelibly  introduced your family to cheese. And you love cheese. But here you are, eating mayonnaise-drenched and deep fried food, with a ginger ale, until you get tired of eating it, and look for chocolate, and wait for your flight, which departs a few hours later.

Musical Interlude 1: Zakir Hussain & Co.

A woman rolls her suitcase over the bus station tiles. It sounds like the rhythmic tapping of the tabla. I am waiting for the bus. There goes another suitcase wheel tabla, but less percussive.

The night before, Zakir Hussain played at the Performance space at Berkelee College with his extraordinary Masters of Percussion: Eric Harland on western drums, Niladri Kumar on sitar,and a family of four of temple- robed, ash-anointed drummers from Kerala. Each took flight in solos and ensemble, with fingers flying so fast that the view was a blur. Seemingly improvised, the range was from original composition to riffs on raga, with a devilish smoke on the water snuck in. Drums sounded like sitars, sitars sounded drums, as the beat railed on against the night, against the violence of the world. Peace and diversity presented in music.