Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Borscht

I'm officially on retreat.

Well, not really officially. But that's what I call it lately when my daughter goes off with her dad for the occasional visits she has with him -- a retreat. When the divorce first happened, I was torn in two directions: on the one hand, overwhelmed with having gone from being one party in a genuinely 50/50 parenting arrangement to now being a single mom with a disappearing ex-husband, and desperately wanting him to spend time with my daughter so I could catch my breath and deal with my own emotional breakdown rather than constantly trying to stave off hers. And on the other, feeling even the few hours he spent with her once a week as an amputation, a violent tearing of her away from my body.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Icarus also flew

Henri Matisse, Icarus, 1947
I've always felt slightly guilty for my inability to be moved by poetry. I've seen it not so much as an intellectual failure -- or, maybe more precisely, not *only* as an intellectual failure -- but as an emotional failure, too. A sign that part of me is closed off to the world, hardened. I'm not sure why poetry should signal this to me more than any other of the arts, but it does. Maybe it's because I remember those times when my ex would turn to me while we were both reading in bed and read that passage from Anne Carson or Anna Akhmatova that had struck him as particularly beautiful -- I remember, that is, the look of sadness on his face when he saw my blank response, or worse when he saw my effort to connect. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Soup For C.

I'm not sure there is anything more satisfying to me than when my 10-year old daughter's friends enjoy my cooking. I love that they are adventurous enough to eat the food that I make, and I love that my daughter is so proud when they praise it. One of P's friends in particular, C., is a favored guest, both because of her enthusiasm and because she actually makes requests. I have been sending C. jars and jars of dill pickles this fall, having made way more than I could ever dream of eating, and I owe her some pickled beets -- she was the only person who ate the ones I made last fall (everyone else found them too tart) and has now requested more.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Like a Dog Chasing a Car

Every few years, I find myself in the throes of a very particular sort of entirely inappropriate crush. The thing is, I know these infatuations are impossible, unsuitable, unfitting, unseemly, unbecoming, unbefitting, improper, and generally embarrassing. Luckily, for all my failures in self-control when it comes to food, Facebook, and binge TV-watching, I am the master of self-abnegation in other aspects of life, so there's never been a question of acting on these particular excessive feelings. I'm silly, but I'm not stupid.

Sophie Calle, Suite Venitienne, 1980
6:15pm. They walk in an antique shop, "Luigi 
Bottella d'Arte", 1656 piscina di frezzeria. 
They go up a stairway. There is a tiny 
blind alley in front of the shop. I decide to 
take up watch on the corner of the alley where 
it meets the piazza. When they'll come 
down the steps, I'll see their legs 
as they appear and will back up into 
the darkness.
When I was 29, it was a near-60 year old, spectacularly unattractive man I worked with whose sense of humor was self-serving and whose voice was so rumbly it would give me headaches. When I was 35, it was an ethereal young student of mine who was young enough to be my much, much, much younger brother; he would sit in my office for hours on end with his doe eyes and his eagerness to please, wanting to discuss with me the meaning of Art -- a conversation I indulged only because of the crush, because I really couldn't care less about the topic. (I like art a lot, but I really have no interest in Art, if you know what I mean.)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thoughts While Not Arranging My Bookshelves

My two favorite methods for arranging books on bookshelves, as relayed by two of my favorite people:
  1. My friend Shuddha, who tells me that his books are organized according to their relationship to his body -- books for his brain at brain level, for his eyes at eye level, for his heart at heart level, for his stomach at stomach level, etc. all the way down. Bibliological vastu shastra.
  2. My friend Catherine, who, when she was moving from one coast to another, had three sets of boxes, labeled "books," "fragile," and "miscellaneous."
When I left job two years ago, I found myself having to move thousands of books from my office into my house. I had bought a simple, old farmhouse the year before and renovated it; it had my first-ever all-to-myself bathroom, the kitchen of my (very modest) dreams, and just enough shelf space for my cookbooks and my relatively small collection of fiction.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hands

All my dreams lately have been about holding hands.

My dreams are generally quite bizarre, but also so directly related to my desires that I feel cheated sometimes -- why don't I get the strange layerings and morphings and revisions that make other people's dreams not simply strange but actually interesting? My ex -- my first lover, tall and lanky and thin and very pale -- used to tease me early on in our relationship because I had a dream that my father had bought me Arnold Schwarzenegger. "So: tanning salon and weightlifting? Okay, I'll try it, but not sure your dad will ever approve of me." No secondary revision, we used to say, when we were feeling particularly Freudian.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inspired by Serbian Aunties

I went a bit crazy for a while, canning everything in sight at the end of summer when I could buy a bushel of tomatoes for $12 and when apples were falling off the trees. My daughter rolled her eyes when I returned from the CSA farm with ten pounds of red peppers, which took up a surprising amount of space in the car. I wanted to make ajvar -- a Baltic spread made with roasted red capsicums and sometimes eggplant, silky and unctuous -- but when I searched for recipes I was disappointed to find that all those Serbian aunties don't follow proper USDA standards for canning. I was too much of a coward to take the risk.

What I made instead was a roasted red pepper relish spiked with vinegar and chilies, with a sweet-and-sour tang. It was incredibly in-your-face when it first came off the stove, but after a week or so in the fridge it mellowed into something really flavorful and complex, with enough heat and vinegary bite to be interesting but not overwhelming.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Convalescence

I've always been fascinated, looking through the cookbooks I've brought home from India, at how many recipes are designated for particular health challenges -- makes perfect sense, of course, since so much of Indian cooking is based on aryuvedic principles.

My friend Kathryn, an accomplished cook (far more technically adept than I could ever hope to be), has been sick, and her stomach is tender. She sent out a message saying she was desperate for taste, and was looking for recipes on my blog. I told her I would post a recipe that is standard Indian fare for getting over stomach ailments -- it's mild, easy to digest, very nourishing, and restorative. I used to make it for my daughter when she was a toddler, adding in green peas and carrots -- she loved it. And of course, adults in good health love it, too, served (in Sindhi households) alongside sai bhaji and dahi (yogurt), or really any spiced vegetable dish, or perhaps just with dahi and papads.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Indian Grocer

Most Indians grow up eating the foods of their own communities, even when we're flung far across the globe. Gujaratis eat their dhoklas (steamed chickpea flour bread) and slightly sweet curries, Punjabis eat their hearty fare of parathas and saag paneer and aloo gobi, Bengalis their fish curries, Telegus from Andhra their incendiary chutneys, Keralans their coconut-based broths, Goans their pork vindaloos, and so on. My mother is Sindhi and my father Mangalorean Christian -- their native cuisines couldn't be more different. Sindhi food is a food of the north, a desert food -- lots of wheat and besan (chick pea flour) and vegetables mixed in various combinations (many dishes are designed to use whatever is available in the market, so recipes for a single dish are endlessly varied). Meat and chicken and fish -- at least in my extended family, is served quite seldom. Mangalorean food is coastal food, cooked amidst coconut palms and jungles, rich with fish and pork and black pepper and coconut, and always served with rice.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Dinner Party

This is a story that really happened; it may not have happened as I remember it, exactly, but nothing ever does, does it? So there's your caveat lictor.

When I arrived in my village a few years ago, some very nice people invited me around for dinner to introduce me to some other very nice people. I can honestly say, sadly, that other than my hosts and one other person at the dinner, I do not remember who else was there.

This may be because I actually have a terrible memory for dinner parties. I was once introduced to someone who I believed I'd never met; he was incensed, and responded to my enthusiasm at meeting him for the first time, "But Aruna, you had me to your house for dinner!" "Oh!," said I, horrified, but not remembering. "In Paris!," he said, wanting to prompt my recollection. "Oh!" said I, still horrified, but still not remembering. "SEVERAL TIMES," he (almost) screamed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sated

When I was in grad school in the early 1990s, I constantly faced well-meaning-but-actually-strangely-and-condescendingly-misguided-and-if-I-really-think-about-it-probably-a-little-racist professors (mostly random ones, not MY professors, that is) who would, within ten minutes of meeting me, tell me that I should be studying Indian art instead of French modernism. Never mind that I speak exactly zero Indian languages (but had learned French since the time I was in 4th grade). Never mind that I had taken not even one course in Indian art. The assumption was that I must have had a deep, even genetic connection to the art of the subcontinent.

I found this incredibly presumptuous, even offensive. And it certainly was borne of those things, so I stubbornly refused to even consider such a shift in my research interests. I would not be essentialized! I would not be limited by my skin color!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cooking as a Feminist

At the risk of being repetitive -- this has certainly been a theme woven through many posts on this blog -- I have a burning desire to revisit the question about what it means for me to be a feminist who writes about food.

Because it is a real question, and one that I think about a lot. It bothers me to think that I might be playing out -- embracing! -- a female stereotype by spending so much time cooking. It worries me to think that my daughter might end up identifying what I do as "mom stuff" -- a category I can already see being devalued in big and small ways in her mind, despite my best efforts. I see the way some of my older feminist friends engage with my blog -- either with an enthusiasm moderated by the assurance that "of course I never cook," or with a skepticism, even perhaps a sense of betrayal -- and I feel tremendous guilt. 

I am not complaining about this guilt, or lamenting the fact of feeling guilty. I think guilt is one of the great gifts of being human. Shame, not so much. But guilt -- it's a prompt to self-reflection. Especially, for me, when it comes to politics.




Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pizza Night

I am not a fan of pizza, particularly.

I know, I know -- practically makes me not human. I say this out loud and people look at me funny. I truly believe that my lack of pizza love was one of the major reasons my marriage broke up (that and burrito indifference). Friends have recoiled when I've revealed my lack of ardor, as if they're scared of catching my pizza apathy.

But of course while I was able to organize my life in a pizza-free fashion at one time, now that I have a ten-year old there is just no way to avoid it. Pizza is part of my existence, like Nickelodeon tween stars, top-40 radio, and The Hobbit. Resistance is futile.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interpreter of Memories: Eating Your Way Home

Hello, dear readers. I am so happy to share with you my first "official" piece of food writing -- an article that I was invited to write for a terrific magazine called Edible Hudson Valley, edited by Eric Steinman. I had the pleasure of interviewing cookbook author and celebrity chef Suvir Saran, too.

Here's the article. I urge you to check out the full issue of the magazine.

There's a recipe for Kaddu ki Subji (Hubbard Squash with Indian Spices) at the end. Try it out.


UPDATE: A commenter mentioned that s/he was having trouble with the link above. Perhaps this one will work better. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Peach Avalanche

I laugh at all the alchemists of the middle ages who thought the key to everything was finding a way to turn lead into gold when in fact the most amazing transmutation bar none is turning sunlight into peaches and tomatoes and things.

Yesterday my neighbors Amy and Chris called, inviting me over to pick from their tree. Never mind my amazement that one can grow peaches in Western Massachusetts -- thank you, global warming? -- but when I got to their yard I found a tree drooping from the weight of its crop. Heavy rains were scheduled for later in the day, and some of the delicate fruit were already suffering from the effects of the recent wetness, growing brown and soft in spots, molding right on the branches.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Magic Ingredient

I worry about you sometimes, dear readers -- that you might get intimidated by the ingredients I ask you to hunt down to make some of the recipes on this blog. There's no need for intimidation, because, really, I guarantee that almost every one of you -- whether you know it or not -- lives within an hour's drive of a grocery store that stocks much of this stuff. (Google "Asian grocery near me" and you'll be surprised at the results, not least because Google knows EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE.) And while driving an hour to gather ingredients every time you want to make an Asian meal is pretty unreasonable, going to one of those grocery stores once or twice a year and stocking up on what you need, freezing or storing in your pantry till the urge strikes, is pretty doable. Especially if having those ingredients means you can whip up something really authentic and satisfying and quick at a moment's notice.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

OMG MOM WHAT'S FOR DINNER I'M HUNGREEEEEEEE

School is starting next week. This fills me with dread. Not because it will be practically the first time in -- god, how many? thirty-seven years? -- that I don't have to be running around preparing for the first day of class, but because suddenly the completely undisciplined summer morphs into 7.15 am wake ups and preparing my daughter's lunch and making sure she's brushed her teeth and hair and then getting a healthy dinner into her at a reasonable time all while trying to, you know, work and Facebook and stuff. HOW WILL I EVEN MANAGE THIS LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE

Haha just kidding whatevs. Business as usual. My friend Laura was asking about weeknight dinners, preferably one-dishers, so I'm just posting some here. NO BIGGIE.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leap of Faith

There is nothing more satisfying, culinarily speaking, than making a perfect hard-boiled egg.

Period.

I remember my mother (an excellent cook) telling me that when she married my dad she didn't know how to boil an egg; you might remember your moms saying the same thing. It was something you said if you were a certain generation of married woman. It's a task that represents the most basic domestic skill, a seeming no-brainer, and the inability to perform it marks the unpreparedness of women for their duties as housewives and mothers. "Four out of ten girls are so ignorant about cooking they can't even boil an egg," cries a hysterical article in the Daily Mail about 8 to 15 year olds' lack of training by their mothers' sides. As if egg-boiling were the only thing that young women bring into a relationship, or as if it were the most basic foundation on which a family is built, or as if were the only food that families ate.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Grandfather, World Traveler

My maternal grandfather, Mohanlal Lala
Whenever we flew to India when I was little -- 20-plus hour flights on big 747s with enough leg room that my sister and I could make beds at our parents' feet and bathrooms big enough that we would change into fresh outfits for our arrival at the airport -- my mom would make us look out the window as we were landing in Bombay. "See those lights?" she would say. "Your grandfather made those."

My maternal grandfather, my Nana -- a man who had died far before I was born, before my parents were married, even, and at much too young an age. He was a mythic figure to me, a benevolent face staring down from a picture draped with marigold and jasmine hanging on the wall of my grandmother's house. I'd heard all the stories from my mom, my aunts, my uncle: he insisted that all his daughters -- so many daughters! -- be fully educated through college in an era where this was expected only for sons; he arranged marriages for the older sisters before he died and was an excellent judge of character; he was stern and loving both, and my mom remembers vividly the times when he praised her because they were rare and meaningful; he was a curious and inventive man who anticipated the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1950s and sketched plans for an "Ozonizer" to replace it; he was an accomplished photographer; he co-founded a well-known company called Joy Ice Cream after Independence. My Ice Cream Grandfather. That's how I thought of him.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Idiot Savant

There are a few dishes that I was *made* to cook, I think -- somehow they tickle all the right parts of my culinary imagination, and I can taste them even before I make them, and they involve all the cooking skills that I'm good at. I will honestly never really be a great cook of anything that involves incorporating egg whites into a batter without having them turn watery, or sauté delicate fish fillets so they don't fall apart, or make anything too technical that requires precise measurements and cold hands, but anything involving sturdy ingredients and deep flavors I do okay with.


Friday, August 2, 2013

The Unexpected

When I was in my twenties, after having spent some time living with my family in Bombay working at my aunt and uncle's ad agency as a copywriter, my friend Pam flew over from Canada and we went backpacking through India. We planned to stay at the hotels recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, as did every other westerner, and eat at the restaurants it recommended, too; we set a budget for our days that was beyond modest. I think we imagined we'd come back wearing our churidars and tie-dyed kurtas and chappals, with dreadlocks and the scruffy look of people who had experienced the authenticity of Indian life. Or something like that.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Essential Indian Cookbooks

Indian cooks tend to make recipes from their own communities (Gujrati, Punjabi, Sindhi, etc.), and so when I grew up I basically knew how to make what my mother (a Sindhi) and what my father (a Manglorean Christian) taught me. Indian cookbooks opened up whole new worlds, introducing me to a range of ethnic specialities that I had rarely eaten and never made myself. I've gone through vegetarian phases (very brief ones!) in my life, and many of these were crucial in that process -- no cuisine does vegetarian quite like Indian does.

Here are the books I consider essential, with a few extras thrown in for good measure.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sourpuss

The New York Times recently wrote about a new taste for sour foods that's emerging in US food culture, driven in part by new cuisines that have caught peoples' attention, a sense that sourness is a component of good health, and a backlash at "mainstream" or "suburban" American food tastes that err on the side of sweet.

The food of my mother's community, the Sindhis, is particularly tilted towards the sour (katta) side of the taste spectrum (as well as a good dose of bitter, which seems quite out of sync with the American palate). This morning, when she opened the container of plain yogurt in the fridge and complained that it was way too tart, she decided to make a kadhi (curry in the Anglicized spelling) that is familiar in India as a way to use up homemade curds (dahi) that have soured. (Indian families always have yogurt in the fridge, and eat it with almost every meal as a cooling and refreshing counterpoint to the spiciness and heaviness of the rest of the food.) The kadhi is thickened with besan (chickpea flour) to add protein.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summertime

I just cut into a ripe cantaloupe, and was near bowled over by the fragrance -- floral and sweet. It smelled of heat and promised coolness, and it slaked my thirst when I bit into it. A thoroughly successful melon experience.

I put it into the fridge so it would be cold for later, and had to move two jars of strawberry preserves to make room. I call them "preserves" but of course they're more like a runny sauce because I seem incapable of just following a damned recipe when I decide to make jam. Last summer's attempt with blueberries yielded something that solidified to a spackle-like consistency; with this summer's strawberries I erred in the other direction. Not too sweet, happily, with some lemon to make it less cloying.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Eat Like A Caveman

Paul Gauguin, Two Tahitian Women, 1899, detail.
When Paul Gauguin wanted to get away from the ills of modern life in the 1890s -- get away from the economic crash that had ruined him as a stockbroker, get away from the hectic life of the city, get away from his wife and kids and all the responsibility and drudgery and regularity that they represented, get away from a world of manners and mores that chafed his more-than-healthy ego and fueled his messiah complex -- he went as far as he could. He traveled a long distance geographically, yes -- to Tahiti, a French colony at the time, the other side of the world, quite literally -- but he traveled even further in time. He traveled to a place where he thought he could find a primitive way of life: a way of life caught in a distant past -- even a paleolithic past. The remnants of the Stone Age, millions of years after the fact. An original and natural and honest and unvarnished and savage and pure way of life, one ruled by instincts and drives rather than social pieties and hypocrisies. One that had not yet been ruined by corsets and money and art schools. To him, that's what Tahiti represented.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Inheritance


My mom took me to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was four.

I remember that it was in the basement of a community hall or church somewhere in Flin Flon, and a bit too dark. My kindergarten teacher was the group leader and weighed me when it was my turn in line. For the next week, I was excited to be following the rules -- it seemed like a game, or maybe a Very Important Responsibility. I remember playing at the house across the street with those kids who were sort of wild and whose mom once scolded me for calling her by her first name; I was offered an Oreo cookie. I immediately ran back across the street to ask my mom if I could eat it, and she said "No, that's not allowed," and threw it in the garbage before I could run back to the neighbor's house to return it. She said it with an indulgent smile, though, and a caress of my cheek. Even at that age, I could tell that not eating that Oreo made her very proud of me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Quitting

Quitting: it has such a terrible sound, no? The hard k sound at the beginning, the spit of the double t's in the middle, and the rise of the tongue to the palate at the end. It's not a pretty word.

I suppose it's not pretty in its meaning, either: it sounds like nothing so much as giving up, as abandonment, as a failure, moral or otherwise. You're not supposed to quit, you're supposed to finish. You're supposed to complete. You're supposed to persevere. To quit means to leave undone, in a way. To admit defeat. To stop what you should be doing.


I quit my career last week. Which is not to say I quit my job -- I had no (single) job to quit, not for a while. I have been the definition of the precarious worker for the past eighteen months, part of the so-called creative class who has been fooled into thinking we are living our dreams of tailoring our careers to our lives when we are, like everyone else, tailoring our lives to our careers. Just with less security, no benefits, and uncertain futures.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Unexpected Consequences

My last blog post, on the pressures contemporary foodie culture puts on women and people without endless resources, went mini (micro) viral on Twitter, apparently, and lead to my being asked to do a series of interviews (twelve!) on CBC Radio stations throughout Canada. I had to wake up at 5.30 am and did interviews straight from 6.00 am till 9.00 am. It was exhausting and nerve-wracking and fun.

Here's a recording of the interview on Ontario AM.




Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Joy of Cooking


I canned my own tomatoes last summer.

I had been thinking about doing it for a while, partly because of my worry over the use of toxic BPA in can linings, and partly because of my greediness looking at the piles of tomatoes I saw at the farm stands around my house. One day I went to one of them to buy some corn and saw the farmer was selling bushel baskets of canning tomatoes for $12. I couldn't resist.

I brought the tomatoes home, set up a pot of boiling water, and dunked them in for a minute to peel them. I took the peeled tomatoes and stuffed them into clean pint-sized glass jars that I'd sterilized in the dishwasher. I put on those wax-seal lids and screwed on the metal rings and sat them in a big pot of boiling water to "process" them. I took them out and let them rest on a kitchen towel and heard the "ping" as the seals contracted and the jars became airtight. They glowed, like rubies. So pretty.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Taking Requests

No stories today, just a few recipes -- demands from friends, really. I'm such a pushover.


Mom's Aloo Bhaji (Potatoes with Mustard Seeds and Turmeric)
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

If you don't have access to curry leaves, leave them out in step 2 and add a handful of chopped cilantro in step 4. 

4 medium-to-large Yukon Gold, red, or white (waxy) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1 TB canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
6-8 curry leaves (or substitute 2 TB chopped cilantro at the end)
1 whole, dried red chili (such as Arbol)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt
1 TB lemon or lime juice

1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil along with mustard seeds over medium-high heat. When the seeds start to pop, throw in curry leaves and chili. Add turmeric and sauté for a few seconds. Add the potatoes and 1/2 tsp salt and toss around.

3. Add 1/4 c water, turn heat to medium-low and cover. Allow to cook, stirring occasionally. Add another 1/4 c of water if the mixture gets dry before the potatoes are cooked.

4. When the potatoes are tender, taste for salt. Add lemon or lime juice along with cilantro, if using, and mix. Serve hot.

Saag Paneer (Indian Cheese with Spinach)
Serves 4 as part of an Indian meal

1 batch paneer (see first instruction)
2 bunches of spinach or 1 bunch spinach and 1 bunch mustard greens
2 TB canola oil, divided
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced or grated gingerroot
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
¼- ½ tsp red chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp salt
1 finely diced tomato, or 1 c canned diced tomato

1. Get hold of paneer: you can do one of three things to acquire paneer.
  • You can buy it at an Asian store ready made. Pat it dry with paper towels, cut it into 1/2" cubes and use it.
  • You can take ricotta cheese, put it in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl until much of the liquid drains out, and then squeeze it out in the cheesecloth by twisting and flatten it into a disk. Place on a cutting board with a plate on top, topped with a weight (like a heavy cast iron pan or something) for 10 minutes or so. Now unwrap the ricotta and you can cut it into 1/2" cubes and use it.
  • You can make your own (easy peasy): Place 2 quarts whole milk in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, add 3 TB lemon juice or white vinegar and turn the heat down to low. You'll see the milk curdle, with greenish whey separating from white curds. Empty the pot into a cheesecloth-lined colander (or use a clean tea towel) and when cool enough to handle bring the corners of the cloth together and twist tightly so that the most of the whey drains from the paneer. Lay the bundle, with the top still tightly twisted, on a cutting board you've placed in the sink, top with a plate and a weight for about 5 minutes. Now unwrap the paneer and you can cut it into 1/2" cubes and use it.
2. Optional (but nice) step: In a nonstick frying pan, heat 1 TB canola oil. When shimmering, add the cubes of paneer. Allow to sit until they form a bit of a crust, then turn. When the cubes are golden brown on two or three sides, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate. Reserve.

3. Wash greens and chop roughly. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add greens, along with 1/4-1/2 c water (start with the smaller amount) and a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until the greens are wilted but still a bright emerald. Remove to a bowl; after it's cooled for a few minutes roughly purée in a food processor.

4. Wipe out the skillet and heat 1 TB canola oil over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds; when fragrant, add onion and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic and ginger and stir. Add cumin, coriander, red chili, garam masala, and ½ tsp salt. Sauté for a few minutes. Add tomato and stir. Allow the mixture to cook at a lively simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the tomato liquid has been absorbed; this will take 5-10 minutes.


5. Add the puréed greens and allow to simmer on low heat with the spice mixture for 5 minutes until the flavors have melded. Add cubed paneer and allow to heat through, another 3-5 minutes. Taste for salt -- it will need some. If you have time to make this a bit in advance, the paneer will absorb more flavor; you can reheat it when you're ready to eat. Serve hot.


Eggplant, Tomato and Chickpea Salad with Cilantro Dressing
Serves 6

This isn't Indian, but it's got a lot of flavors that would make it ideal for a variety of meals: Latin, Indian, North African, etc. In the summer, take some of the dressing and use it to marinate 2 lbs of firm white fish (halibut, swordfish, sea bass, etc.) and grill along with the eggplant; serve alongside the salad.

1. In a blender or food processor, combine the following ingredients: 1 c cilantro leaves and stems, chopped, 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped, 4 garlic cloves, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1/4 ts cayenne (red chile) pepper, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 TB lemon juice, 3 TB olive oil.

2. Take two medium eggplants and cut into 1/2" slices. Place on a foil-lined cookie sheet, brush both sides of each slice with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place under a hot broiler until browned and softened. (If it's the season, you can do this outside on the grill.)

3. When cool enough to handle, chop eggplant into 1" pieces. In a bowl, combine with 1 c halved cherry tomatoes, 1 c cooked chick peas, cilantro mixture, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature (not cold). 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eating Like Your Great-Grandmother

The big news this week on the food-and-healthy-eating front was the release of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine proving something that's been long suspected: that a Mediterranean style of eating, rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, legumes, fish, and red wine can reduce heart attack and stroke in people at risk for those diseases. Throw in some whole grains, stinky cheese, and yogurt, and remove most red meat and sugar, and you've got a recipe for health. Not weight loss, but health -- and that's what's important, right? What fun! All the good things that I know I should be eating -- and, frankly, love eating -- are now to be consumed guilt free! And with relish! With gusto and with pleasure!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Curating Your Larder

I'm an art historian. I worked my way through grad school as a curatorial assistant at museums in New York City, and when I graduated I started teaching in a curatorial studies program. I've even tried my hand at curating art a couple of times, and I teach classes on curating as a form of framing knowledge. I know from curating, even though I've never called myself one.

Lately, though, I feel like the only person in the world who doesn't; the word has spread like a virus. It's bandied around to mean something as basic as "chosen" or "selected" or just "put together," as if those words weren't quite enough to describe the expertise with which the choosing or selecting or putting together was effected. And no longer is art the object of this attention: anything can be curated now. We hear about curated content on websites, curated collections on etsy.com, curated tumblrs of cute kitten photos, curated dinner parties. My favorite use recently was a flyer from the Whitney Museum, inviting me to "curate" my membership by ticking off one of two available choices. I am glad to know I am not nearly the only person who's come to hate the new popularity of the word; even The Atlantic hates it, enough it was included it in their list of 2012's worst words, along with "legitimate rape" and "butt-chugging": "I must say that no Internet buzzword irked me more this year than curate," explains The Atlantic Wire's Richard Lawson. "It's a reappropriated term that used to mean something good — putting lovely and interesting things in a museum! — but now denotes a technique of cobbling together preexisting web content and sharing it with readers/followers/whomever. In other words, linking to things. It's an awfully highfalutin term for something that many of us do every day, on Facebook and Twitter. Sharing links isn't some special skill or trade, but self-described curators, who rose to great power in 2012, are effectively asserting that it is."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dinner for One

I don't think I ever realized that I was supposed to consider dining alone a reason for embarrassment or -- goodness! -- humiliation; I only found this out when I read women's magazines later, after I'd already inadvertently debased myself all over the world. It never occurred to me, to be honest, that going to a restaurant without a companion or eating in front of the TV away from my family was anything out of the ordinary, anything other than an inevitability for an adult human being. I would look at the articles advising me on how to avoid looking like a complete loser (bring a book! strike up a conversation with a couple at a neighboring table! sit at the bar!) and wonder who were these people who managed to have constant companionship at mealtimes, so much so that the thought of eating alone prompted panicked anxiety? Then again, maybe I was the outlier on this issue, because to be honest the idea of striking up a conversation with strangers has always struck me as far more terrifying than the idea of looking like I have no friends.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Translation, or Conversations in the Kitchen

Malthi, offering food as is her wont.
When I was twenty-one, I went with two friends, Dave and Katrina, on a backpacking trip through Europe. Armed with our Eurail passes and security belts (passports, travellers cheques, hostel membership card, plane tickets), our Sony Walkmans with a slew of mix cassette tapes, our ridiculous backpacks filled with mattress rolls, cot sheets, and an alarmingly small amount of clothing, and most importantly our Swiss Army knives, we traipsed around the continent for four months without any particular plan. Dave, who was maybe the most competitive person I've ever met, decided there were two rules: we would live on $40 CDN a day, and we would climb every possible flight of stairs we encountered, including those at the Eiffel Tower and a variety of Gothic church spires.

It may not surprise you to know that after a month or two of constant company, we all needed a break from each other. We had landed on the Greek island of Santorini -- perhaps the most picture-perfect place I've ever been -- and after a day or two Dave and Katrina decided to leave the island in separate directions, while I insisted on staying, in part because I was kind of digging the topless bathing on the black beaches (really, sun on one's chest is an experience women don't experience so often in Canada) and I had met a cute boy on the boat who I was hoping to bump into again. I would try to make this sound more sophisticated and intriguing -- a mysterious, handsome man with whom the sparks flew -- but really there was nothing sophisticated or intriguing about me at twenty-one, and the guy looked exactly like a younger Bill Murray.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Clichés

Since I started this project almost a year ago, I have talked about it with a sort of embarrassed self-consciousness, knowing that I am probably the eleventy thousandth forty-three year old divorcée who thinks she knows her way around a kitchen and an emotional landscape and who has, as a result, started a food blog à la eat pray love. Except without the hot subaltern lover. (Adding that to the "To Do" list now.) It's not that being a cliché stops me from doing it, just that it makes me feel slightly sheepish in the aftermath. Somehow, surrounded as I am by writers and artists who are uncompromising in their originality, I feel that I should know better. That I should abandon the pretension of thinking I had anything new to say and just admit that my story -- such that it is, without any great adventures or achievements, with no great tragedies or traumas (touch wood) -- is more or less like any one else's. Why say it if it's been said before?