Tag Archives: food

Recovery, Reverie

The day was going to be different. Isn’t that always the case? I was going to go in to Boston for my weekly class, but because a guest writer was giving a reading, we were going to use the time after to write. News of a nor’easter came, and I woke to find the power gone. I wrote to my class to enjoy the reading without me,waxing poetic about the rain and wind, and how this was the kind of weather to birth pages of words.

But instead of clearing my desk, I noticed that the radio station where I volunteer at needed someone to cover a shift. Well I could do that, I thought, driving over. Somehow I managed to cram three hours of business donor ads into an hour, play some music, overturn a loose leaf folder which emptied its pages onto the floor. A listener called to gently correct my prunciation of an artist’s name. I managed to continue to miss cues, knock my headphones apart, suffer three coughing fits, and finally gather my raincoat to exit.

One reason I thought I’d cover a shift was because I woke in acute pain from the shingles vaccination I’d had the day before. As I write this, with mild fever , a fuzzy head, and achy body, already in bed at a quarter past seven, I wonder what fresh hell is this? Let’s roll out all those cliches. Being sick on your own is no fun. Who can you call for comfort? These days it is all texting. So you take some Advil, a teaspoon of honey because a friend of yours makes it with her bees, and wait for the morning.

How many nights do I just wait for morning? Tonight, I made a dinner out of a can of vegetable soup a friend recommended, adding some rasam powder, garlic, and mustard seed I fried in a small amount of olive oil, and several pieces of corn tortillas. I watched an episode of Doc Martin, wishing it was The British Baking Show, and finally made my way to bed.

It seems to me that I should host a dinner-making party, where every one gathers to make food for the week. Of course, it would have to be vegetarian in my kitchen, and there will be two curious cats around. And I’d have to scrub everything down to keep the dander away, and already the thought has exhausted me.

Somewhere in this essay is a cry, muted, but hovering: vaccines hurt; the immunities lower, the eyes get weepy, the body aches. I am grateful for a full belly, a warm bed. I want more, but this enough. Yesterday was different,as I listened some truly amazing music on the radio throughout the day and night in the car, went to a play, and came home to stay up until past midnight googling the play I had just seen. Tomorrow will be different. Outside, it not raining, but only the sound of wind filling the air.

A Single Woman and the Farmer’s market

 

Indira Ganesan, Bounty from a friend and the market, 2019

The problem is that everything looks so good.  And maybe if I lived in my concept of France, I could be one of those women who chooses one tomato, one cucumber, a small head of lectuce, garlic, one zucchini, and go home to make a lovely and delicious lunch for one.  I would pour a hand-made kombucha, and salute the validity of humanity, life, and food.  Instead I go and reach with my hand to grab several eggplant, add beans, add tomatoes, add kale, add and add until my bag bulges with dinner for four for a week.  And coming home, exhausted, hot and sweaty, cursing the already sky high sun, and eat a cookie, as the vegetables, packed away in the fridge, photographed in their lovely wooden bowl, languish.  Of course, France has nothing to do with it.  It is this self-care I learn again and again to make a meal for one, a meal not to show off culinary prowess borrowed from a score of cookbooks, but simply to feed and fuel myself for the day.

Over the summer, a student taught me to blend chickpeas with kale and broccoli, and make a soup that sits thick on the spoon. I ate some now, and am full.

It is lunch that undoes me, for the easiest thing is to grab two slices aof bread, dill pickle, cheese, a tomato, and call it a meal.I have written about this before, about the deliciousness of cheese sandwiches, cold or grilled. But it all that bread and cheese.   My mother used to make us sandwiches that were really salads in diguise, and sometimes I follow suit. But give me buttered toast, and I am happy.  Give me a sweetened bread and coffee and I am inspired.  Sadly, though I love the beauty of vegetables, I am not in love with them.

How do these words help anyone but me?  Maybe by writing, I can make nutrition happen, care for my body, live better.  Athletics were never interesting to me, but being exhausted is wearisome.  Murakami runs before he writes.  A number of women in New York walk in the park before gathering for coffee, and departing individually to write.  Me, I get in my car and drive, often to buy food or find a place to eat.  The work gets done, but there is so much else to be written, and read.  Here I am embarking on my nineth fall in one apartment, the longest I have ever stayed in one place.  It has taken me years to like where I live, and not miss where I am not.  Of course, the minute one starts to appreciate something, the more one is aware of how quickly it can be taken away.  To practice non-attachment, to place, food, people, to even my work, or the idea of work, that is ,writing books, might take another decade.  I write this to record.  Maybe to read without cringing a year from now.  To make a measure of this lived life.

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.

 

Quinoa Oatmeal

Sunbird Quinoa Porridge

Sunbird Quinoa Porridge

Everyone eats oatmeal differently.  I used to make mine wirh nuts and raisins, and protein powder. Then I was content just to read Galway Kinnell’s “Oatmeal” on occasion.  I am back to eating oatmeal,  but it is at a cafe where they make quinoa porridge.  It is made with coconut milk, topped with chopped dates, cashews, flecks of sea salt, lemon zest, and  pickled strawberry slices.  In the summer, the chef sometimes sprinkles lavender buds on it, or sprigs of dill.  Today, my porridge was topped by sunny flowers of what I was dill.  Small things of fortitude in these uncertain times, when anxieties settle aimlessly in the stomach.

That was written a day ago.This “today,” I am not eating porridge, but peering at the dawn through panels of curtain I will soon part.  Part means both to divide and to leave. Earlier, woken by frisky cat, I looked at the drops of stars in the night sky.  There, another day.

Whole paych–Foods

Indira Ganesan, Can't Touch That, 2014

Indira Ganesan, Can’t Touch That, 2014

(The breads above are from a local boulangerie.)

Whole Foods finally opened on the Cape, and I spent a nostalgia-filled evening there after a play in Boston. I immediately spied the familiar pineapple chunks in a tub I haven’t seen in three years, the watercress that is not yet available elsewhere nearby, the pink lady apples. Though I am partial to my local health food store, a megalith has some different stock. Gulab Jamun in a can, check. Wild yam soba, check. Cold brew coffee in a bottle, check, please. There are still details to work out, like stocking Uncle Eddie’s Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies( I mean, this is Whole Foods, right?) and getting the black sesame slaw right.

I found my happiness ratio sharply increasing aisle by aisle. Is something sprayed in the air? Is it that luxury food shopping makes one feel better than shopping for clothes? Is it akin to buying shoes? It is easier, certainly. I needn’t decide between this color or that, but toss an item in my basket and moved on. Cardamom-coconut water? Lime-jalepeno chips? Organic socks?

I spent my paycheck, and came back the next day for more.

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.

Zuke

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I was gifted with two enormous zucchini from a local gardener. When I heard I was getting two, I thought, how nice, how restrained, just a sample.  I went to pick them up, and I think they must be three pounds each, maybe four. A few days ago, I made, with now what I must now call petite zucchini, linguine from Heidi Swanson’s book, Supernatural Everyday, a cookbook I received after reading at Brookline Bookstore. It calls for wringing or squeezing water out of shredded squash, which is much easier than, say, to do with a stone. The result was delicious. Now I tempted to make her spicy zucchini bread but I must wait until midnight, when it has cooled off enough to turn on the oven.

Whenever I think about cooking at midnight, I am reminded of a poet, Pasquale Verdicchio, who taught several of us how to make Midnight Pasta, a dish so simple, and so heavenly that it needs a magic hour for its own. I had thrown a party, in San Diego, and we were all mildly stunned with drink, so that we needed the fortification of restorative pasta. To learn how to make it, you need a party, spaghetti, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes. It sounds like another pasta dish, but it isn’t.

The other day, when I couldn’t sleep, I remembered an ayurvedic recipe from John Douillard’s website, which I made, since the only party I was at was on Facebook.  It might be better mixed in a blender, so you you don’t need to spoon up the dates and almonds, but it did the trick.

I have two fans going on now. It is nearly 5:00 PM. Seven hours to go.

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