Monday, March 31, 2014

Science Experiment

When I first tasted preserved lemons -- probably in Paris, probably in some sort of North African restaurant -- I thought I had eaten something very, very wrong: salty, astringent, bitter, and with an intensely concentrated citrus aroma. But at the same time, off -- the flavor seemed a bit resinous, a taste I associated more with cleaning supplies than with food.

Not a real recommendation, is it?

The thing is, I couldn't stop thinking about that flavor, and how wrong it felt in my mouth but at the same time how much I seemed to crave it afterwards. So eventually I found a Middle Eastern grocery and bought a jar of them -- I think I must have been living in Berkeley by this time -- and began to experiment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Language Skills

I am always amazed when I hear people (not just chefs, but actual people -- enthusiastic home cooks) talk about the combinations of flavors they imagine in their heads, especially when it comes to Indian spices and techniques. Sometimes, it's true, my amazement is more like "oh my god gross" than "eureka!", but mostly it is admiration. I like when people think outside the (spice) box, if it results in something good to eat.

Someone told me recently about a dish he made with leeks with karela (bitter melon), which is as culture-clashy as I can imagine. Another person told me about substituting daikon for grated coconut in a South Indian curry. I didn't have a chance to taste either of these concoctions, but what struck me most hearing about them was the chutzpah -- the willingness to start throwing things together to see what works.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring has sprung, sort of

Went out into the garden yesterday -- well, what passes for a garden at my house -- to see what survived the ridiculously snowy and cold winter. There are still huge piles of snow in my yard, including a mountain of solid ice right smack-dab in front of my door that has resulted in some surprisingly hostile activity on the part of my postal carrier. (The hellebore may never recover, is all I'm saying.) The winter has seemed so endlessly long, eternal almost, and even though the days are lengthening and the air smells different, it's sometimes hard to believe that the seasons will ever change. Especially when we're still getting snow on March 22.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Raising an Irish Lass

When I was pregnant, I was curious -- the casual observer might say obsessed -- with what color my child's skin would be. Would she have my nut-brown complexion, or would she be pale like her Irish-American father? I desperately wanted her to be brown, and I admitted as much to my ex one day. He was incensed -- "why wouldn't you be as happy if she looked like me?" he demanded, and I could understand his hurt feelings. But it wasn't that I didn't want her to look like him, I said. It's just that I couldn't conceive of any creature emerging from my body who didn't look like me. 

It was a conceptual disconnect, like not being able to imagine having a boy child. A failure of imagination. I could admit as much. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Old Friends and New Tricks

As if the gods are trying to tell me something after my earlier post about how bad my memory is, who should show up at my doorstep last week but my best friend from high school, Lise, to remind me of all the things I've forgotten. Lise arrived at our school in grade 10, all Toronto sophistication, not entirely pleased to find herself plopped down in the middle of the prairies through no fault of her own. I was in awe of her -- her confidence, her seemingly constant good mood, her energy.

Our reunion consisted of 18 hours of almost constant laughter with a short interruption for sleep. We relived all the lost stories from high school -- weekend ski trips with my family, torturing my little sister, her penchant for finding boyfriends to renovate, our embarrassing crushes, her love of my mom's chicken curry, etc. We talked, too, about our divorces and our kids and the problems that come with adulthood.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Just cooking

My mind has been occupied with writing my book lately -- revisiting my old posts, making sense of them, finding new things to say. I haven't stopped cooking, but I don't have too many new words. So today I'm just posting a recipe, without too many thoughts attached.

Pan-roasted chicken with confit lemons and onions
Serves 4

This dish is actually very simple to prepare, and takes very few ingredients. Make sure you buy the best chicken you can afford (free-range, organic, locally-raised if possible) -- it'll make a difference. While the method is simple, I've explained it in some detail because it's a great technique to learn -- you can modify it endlessly. I like pan-roasted chicken because you get a unctuous sauce without giving up the crisp chicken skin.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Failures of Memory

I forget things.

I don't mean little things, like where I put my car keys -- I mean big things. Whole swaths of my life. Events and encounters that should have meant something profound to me, or that should have been lodged in my memory forever. I have no excuse -- no neurological damage to speak of, no blackout drinking binges in my past. I just... forget.

Forgetting is a terrible tendency to have when you're writing about your life, as you might imagine. Memoirists should have good memories.