Baby JFC has been a part of the Cardoso-D’Souza for a year and two months now. Before I met him, I had all sorts of grand ideas how it would go. I was supposed to surprise my family by showing up for lunch in Goa on Christmas day (they thought I was coming on the 28th). They would all be like “WHAT”, my dad would say “arey!” (a word of exclamation that means exactly what it sounds like it means) and Jacob would try to crawl-walk around in circles bringing me all his toys in excitement. Unfortunately while preparing for various arrivals, my dad was in a tragic accident and he died two weeks later. If you’re thinking “I can’t imagine how you feel”, well…yes….
I took a short break from writing this blog because after back to back summers of trying to keep up in the rat race, I wanted to stop. Ever since I moved here from India, I’ve had an endless to-do list of things I needed to accomplish so I could set the ball rolling on somewhat fitting in. Some of the tasks included making my house a refuge, another was turning my gardening hobby into something more than just a fling. Then there was the task of getting a driver’s license and cooking to teach myself what I really like to eat on a daily basis and making notes for a book I might want to write. To people who do jobs and keep pursuing creative hobbies on the side, you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you break. Breaks are necessary and allow you to come back energised, with more ideas and the ability to learn more about yourself and how you tick. Everybody needs one from time to time and since this blog is not my job, it felt easier to step back….
What I’m up to these days:
Reading Swing Time. I am a slow reader, which is to say I love to read so much that I feel depressed once the book ends. This is a real feeling….
I conceived this recipe not from anything original but rather from the way my Goan family thinks the best way to drink/eat a watermelon is. I can imagine people from around here (U>S>A) jaw hanging down to the ground watching my father sprinkle salt on a watermelon before serving it to us to eat. It’s the Indian way to take in-season fruit and vegetables and add seasonings to it. Not because they lack flavour but because after a while, you will easily tire of the same old same juice-dripping-down-your-chin-deep-burp-from-excessive-fruit-intake. The salt, chaat masala and chilli powder are the merry brigade of fruit flavour enhancers. They provide variety for your every fruit-eating experience all through the year. And in a country where there are more than one seasons for the same fruit, you need it. Trust. Even though I live in a one-summer place now, I don’t think twice about shuffling for my dabba of chaat masala. You should too.
You can make this recipe two ways: One with a blender and one without. I have you covered blenderless people. We are a team!
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’m the type of travel nerd that gets giddy when things run on time, when people stand in queues non-ironically, when there is an unashamed display of pickled food and when I see kawaii at the most unexpected places like the post office. I get excited with innovation and smitten with unusual ways of doing mundane things. It was a no-brainer that I would fall head-over-heels in love with Japan and yet, I had no idea about any of it….
(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.
Because it’s Mother’s Day in America this Sunday and because my sister is a first-time mother this year, I decided to spread my mother’s day interview wings to include not just my mama (interview 1 and 2 here) but Jane too! LUCKY YOU JANE. Pardon the lack of food (unless you’d like to see a recipe for mashed banana? Or hear about baby J drinking 40 ml of water for the first time last week? No?). I have a feeling that you’ll enjoy reading this more than any recipe I have written so far.