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.
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?”
There’s a lot of talk about self-care going around in the anthropocene. I first heard the term about 2 years ago and my initial thoughts were “what a silly idea”, “self-care as in showering?” and “how?”. I soon understood the importance in my own upside down way: There are systems in place, running as smooth as we’re not, that profit from us not having the time to take care of our well-being. Of course, I am the over-analyser so I might be completely missing the point. But am I really?…
There’s a routine at my house in Goa that was very typical of Sunday when I was growing up. I may have written about it quite a few times and I do this only because it has stuck in my head over time and distance. Hear me out again anyway: My father would go to the market in the morning and what felt like hours later, he would come back home on his bike with bags of things at his feet. He would honk for us or my mother to come help him carry everything and the two of them would go on to cleaning fish or chicken or other meat, cooking some of the vegetables and getting food ready for lunch. It seemed like they knew exactly what they were doing. There wasn’t any meal-planning. It was improvised. My mother can confirm or deny this. We were shooed out of the kitchen by my father and over time, I myself learnt only a few of the things they did to cook the meal I miss the most when Sunday comes along….