I think it’s obvious by now that I love food. I don’t love it as some people do, just to eat. I gain pleasure from eating but that’s just a sliver of the whole tart. I think about ingredients constantly. I look at photos of food on my iPad before I go to bed at night and the happiest time of the month is the very beginning when I get to browse new magazines on the shelves at work. Currently, I am taking a food worker’s test to enable me to keep working at my job. It’s boring and makes me want to press forward to the actual test but it won’t let me until I hear the computer man explain all of the rules and regs of proper food handling with retro graphics. The animated bottle of chlorine bleach with eyes is cute, I will admit….
It was hot when we were in Japan in May. To be out sightseeing and climbing up hills to temples and shrines wasn’t easy no matter how many iced soy matcha lattes with cat and moustache cup options there were there when you got back down. Why is the soy milk so creamy there? Why was matcha not making me gag? (clue: I don’t know. Japan is magic.) I still went and saw whatever I wanted to see and laid low writing postcards in my neighbourhood cute coffee shop in the afternoon when it was peak-vacation naptime in Kyoto….
Last year was my first summer getting to know our dinky charcoal smoker/grill. I used it and cursed it in equal amounts but that little capsule always came through for me. It taught me how to confidently cook outdoors and to have fun playing with fire in the process. Fire was something my sisters and I grew up around (albeit much too comfortably). My parents would burn dead leaves on odd weekends and from watching them, we learnt how to use old newspapers to build fires over just about anything. We would watch my dad cook over a cement grill at family parties and as kids, it was normal for us to know how to strike matches to light candles during many a Goa power cut.
(I wrote this three weeks ago. One can hope it’s still relevant.)
Earlier today morning on my walk I was trying to think about the one moment I could say was definitive of my 20s. With all of this nostalgia I’ve been feeling for a decade, nothing popped up right until now. Rather than “now” I mean last year. I was at the airport waiting to catch my flight back to Goa. I had just finished a memorable trip in Mumbai catching up with my friends and former work family and I was sitting in the departure lounge contemplating whether I should buy an overpriced stale samosa with watered down chutney. I felt…happy. Happy because for a brief moment in transit I could pretend I lived where my heart belongs and go home again. I was only a little meh about not getting to meet one of my work friends. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and after he moved abroad like me, there would be few chances where we would be in the same city at the same time. He was the favourite work child whom I loved to hate. Everyone we worked with read that as “domestic squabbles”, but in my mind it was more like a sibling rivalry. Maybe I was blind.
I dug out my foreign smart phone – which was dead for all phone-like purposes – to see if I could get it to connect to the airport wi-fi. I needed to have a local phone number which I had thanks to my mother’s extra phone and number she keeps around for when people like me visit. I entered my information into an electronic form and it sent me a code, which I then used to sign in and get my mind off samosas and onto WhatsApp. I sent him my first message that day using a usual “zinger” that we would send each other frequently over GChat. I typed something like “fail”, just like the good old days (but I didn’t mean it) and proceeded to tell him that he could have just been honest that he didn’t want to see me. Self-deprecation, my style. I went on to my next chat group to read the flood of messages that I hadn’t caught up on in a day or two. They were from my college friends’ group. My friend and his wife had twin girls. Nothing unusual except that the entire time they were pregnant he kept it a secret that it was going to be two babies. I said WHAT THE FUCK as quietly as one could in an airport. My fingers began to frantically type “CONGRATULATIONS” and “I could have come and seen you…why didn’t you tell me…now I’m at the airport on my way back to Goa”. As I was piecing together this surprise news I got a reply from my other friend. His mother had passed very suddenly. All of a sudden I was in the middle of a highway, traffic rushing by on either side of me. Good, bad, happy, sad, I retreated into my head and watched everything happen…being there but also being lost in a sea of emotion. Nobody around me knew the gravity of what was happening in these parallel universes except me and even I didn’t really know. All I knew is that for two people that day, everything changed.
Being 20-years-old was the start of adulthood for me. It was a time where I took big decisions on my own and saw overwhelming support from my family. I went on some of the best adventures of my life with some of my best friends, people I barely knew and my sisters. I got married(!) and a few months earlier, my grandma had died as a result of a mental illness and her medication. I got myself lots of anxiety, which I can manage most days but on others it’s the usual jaw-clenching, hair-pulling, nail-biting adventure. A lot of things I was when I was younger have started to get fine-tuned as I get older. I get excited when I am able to pinpoint how I’m still the same me even though I’ve flipped over the calendar. Life is complex. It’s bits and parts of the happy, sad overwhelming shit coming together and sweeping you over and under when you least expect it. It’s hard. It’s not going to be without a fight and on days when I can’t see beyond what I’m feeling in the present, I tell myself like the song grandma used to sing to keep our young attention, “que sera sera, whatever will be, will be”.
I prefer using homemade chicken or vegetable stock here because because because. I’m not fancy. I hoard ballooned bags of chicken stock in the freezer, that’s why. You can buy chicken stock parts at your meat vendor or grocery shop and it takes an onion, some garlic and herbs to make a stock. Same for vegetable stock; I save scraps and add it to water in a slow-cooking pot.
This is salt-as-you-go recipe. I add a little pinch each time I taste what I’m cooking. The final major salt balancing happens at the end.
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 leeks, cut in half and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces (about 3 cups)
- 1 tbsp ginger, grated
- 1 tbsp garlic, grated
- 10 fingerling or baby potatoes, rinsed and cut into 1/8 inch rounds (about 2 cups)
- A large handful of kale, ribs removes and torn into smaller pieces
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock (2 32oz cartons, if you’re using those)
- A bouquet garni* made up of 2 stalks of parsley, 1 stalk of thyme, 1 stalk of basil
- 1 cup cooked navy beans
- Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
- Pecorino Romano, lemon wedges, bread and chopped parsley, to serve
*fancy word for bouquet of herbs. You can also add the herbs to a cheesecloth and tie up the pouch (like a tea bag). It’s easier to discard.
Heat the oil in a large soup pot and add the leeks to it. Cook them down to a jammy state of being, about 7 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, potatoes, kale and turmeric and stir it all around for 2 minutes allowing the flavours to meld. About a tsp of salt here Pour in the chicken or vegetable stock and drop in the bouquet garni. Leave the soup pot a little over medium heat and let it come to a simmer. Leave it at that simmer for 25 minutes and then add the navy beans. Cook for 5 more minutes and add salt and pepper to taste. Discard the bouquet of herbs. They have done their part for the soup.
Serve with plenty of Pecorino Romano, lemon wedges, parsley and bread.
I’m very close to declaring May as “no-blog-month”. But if you know me like I know myself, I probably won’t do no a no-blog-month because I don’t know how to relax. HELP me. I was supposed to come back from Seattle today (I also went yesterday. It’s a 50 min bus ride from my house), sit on the bed and scroll my phone endlessly. Instead I planted onions and now I’m writing this. I walked at least 20 km in 2 days. I don’t know what that means in steps but it was uphill, downhill, through a park, every floor of the library, into a Salumi line, past privileged Seattle, into a P-Patch and under the ropes at Rancho Bravo Tacos in no specific order….
A woman was shopping with a girl in a cotton candy pink dress, the kind I would kill to have to wear to church as a kid. It flared and on her feet were white ballet flats. My church clothes were mostly embarrassing to myself. Hand-me-downs from my cousins, they looked fine but once I started noticing how awkward it was to be me, the clothes might as well have been a clown suit. “Mom,” she said from the cart where she sat, stretching out the one syllable, defining her main relationship, “can I have a gummy bear?”
Happy International Women’s Day (belated, I was tired yesterday. ). Lots to read about gender equality all over the world right here.
The place I work at is a food blogger’s dream. Their merchandising department is so good at their job that almost any ingredient you see in a top-hit type recipe has a place on our shelves. Even so, there is always something that we won’t sell simply because it’s not trendy enough. Kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) and chaat masala is nowhere to be seem but the haldi (turmeric) and jeera (cumin) jars always seem to empty quicker than they are filled. Whatever I can’t buy after work on Sunday forces me a little out of my comfort zone. During the store’s annual end-of-year spice cupboard restock sale (a name I just made up) last year, I took home some sumac, smoked paprika, ground ancho and chipotle pepper, red pepper flakes and powdered harissa blend, which little did I know, is like buying powdered recheado masala. It’s not the same….
If you want to know what I miss most about living in Goa let me tell you right now that cabbage is not on top of the list. I don’t know what it is about cabbage but I went through a phase where I decided I did not like it at all and that was that. I would force myself to eat it, swallowing it with water not because I had to finish what was on my plate but because I had declared myself the household’s biggest lover of vegetables. Hence my not liking cabbage was downright embarrassing to that title. So I ate it all or asked for help from Grandma, who came from a family of many where wasting food was simply not an option (Gayle had a daily problem with this and would whine off everything she wouldn’t eat to grampsi. Funny how she’s now the chef)….
We had company over last week in the form of two lovely in-laws (mine) and even though there was no blog post while they were here, there was a lot of cooking for them. I enjoyed every moment of the free time and I know you might be laughing at me calling cooking “free time”, but this is what I enjoy doing. When I write that I’m lazy and would prefer just sitting on the couch and watching TV, that is also true. The common thread running through both of my favourite pastimes is that I love having a purpose. I embrace both with vigour and a bag of cheese puffs. …
Before you go on to thinking that I’m on some political bandwagon meant to despise President Trump, I assure you I have had the same disdain for how Muslims and Sikhs have been racially profiled when Obama was President. You have never heard of people being detained at airport for having a certain suspicious-sounding name because your media has little interest in covering such stories. I get it. It’s irrelevant to you if a citizen of India is held in a room for hours with no explanation and no legal representation. It has happened to many Indians and while we’ve heard of the famous ones including actors and the former President of India (no joke), there are many, many people who will never get to complain about it to a reporter since it’s just not newsworthy. India treats citizens of Pakistan the same way at airports and vice-versa. It is a political stunt and these methods violate every human right….