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This is not Indian pizza
Apart from having one German-speaking relative and hearing the French versions of the skits on Sesame Street*, one of my earliest foreign language experiences was at a friend’s birthday party. I must’ve been around 9 or 10 years old and something was already drawing me to the few children in my, mainly white, school who were of non-European origin. Most of the time we all ate the school lunches as, back then, they were still cheaper than bringing your own and were made with real ingredients. But, on the occasions that Zahra brought her lunch from home I was fascinated. I guess we weren’t old enough for other kids to start teasing her for being different like they do in middle school because she had all these strange orange and yellow foods that she ate with what I thought at first were pancakes. Turned out they were roti. It was all very matter-of-fact to her. “You don’t eat bread at home?” I thought bread came in slices at that juncture in my life, but I was keen to try it. It tasted nothing like pancakes.
When Zahra came to school one day with a stack of small envelopes, I couldn’t wait to find out what they were for. I was one of the lucky recipients, but I managed to wait until I got home to open it. I guess it is a ‘kid thing’, to wait until one of the authority figures in your life looks at any correspondence. Since that’s what happens with report cards and field trip permission slips, why would it be any different for other mysterious envelopes?
A birthday party invitation.
I was dropped off at the address on the invitation and invited inside. While I was busy trying to decipher food smells and interpret various decorations, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t got past the front entryway. My eyes focused on an elderly woman, hair tied back in a long grey plait, right in front of me saying, “Go on. Get your shoes off so you can go and play with the other children.” A shoes-off house. I was, no doubt, wearing boots and a long dress as that was what I thought the phrase dressing up meant back then so I probably struggled a bit before I was lead to the basement stairway. I had only seen a bunch of adults rushing around by this point so I was getting pretty nervous that there weren’t even any other kids there. I sort of stalled at the top of the stairs until the woman next to me switched from Hindi to English and said, “Go down! They are all there.” What a relief it was when I got to the bottom and found that yes, in fact, they were “all there”. Actually, there were kids running amok all over the basement. I remember scanning to see if there was anyone I knew when the lights flickered and all the kids screamed.
In through a side door that I hadn’t noticed earlier entered a group of adults carrying big trays of something. I was wondering if it was going to be the bread that Zahra brought to school, but when they set it down on the tables I noticed it was pizza. Pizza?! Well, it looked and smelled, like pizza but it wasn’t round. I should set the record straight in that my parents did actually cook other real food, but pizza came frozen from the supermarket. That’s just how it was in Northville, Michigan before Dominoes had arrived on the scene. But this. They made this. By hand. Not having been on the Earth for a decade yet, this was very exotic to me. I didn’t know you could just make pizza from scratch like that. I thought it was a supermarket thing, like Twinkies. And I had certainly never had square pizza. I still remember how delicious it was.
The pizza episode was followed by more running around until, once again, the lights went out and all the kids screamed. The same group of women in their saris stood in the shadows until someone managed to get a match to light all of the candles on Zahra’s birthday cake and we all began to sing the Happy Birthday song. By the time we finished, Zahra’s grandmother was sitting next to me and she said, “Come on! The second verse!” and all the Indians in the room chimed in for the Hindi version. I felt so nervous for not knowing the words that I tried to pretend I was singing it. I’m sure my face went bright red when the grandmother said, “Oh, good girl. You know the Hindi part.”
*Whereas Sesame Street in other parts of the States would switch back and forth between Spanish and English, in Michigan they used to have French instead of Spanish supposedly because of the proximity to Quebec. I wonder if anyone else remembers this.
growing food wherever possible.
Even though my legs are embarrassingly sore today and even though our, so called, plot is only 30cms x 1 metre and even though we have as many slugs and snails outside our house as there are sheep in New Zealand, we are still going to use that tiny little hole in the cement and exploit it to the tune of two canes of sweetpeas, two canes of beans, three endive plants and a couple of lettuces. So there. Take that, concrete garden!
Flour, water, salt. It seems like a recipe would need more than this. Are my readers going to believe that this is all it takes? Perhaps I’ll add something at the end. Nothing tastes exactly the same as it does in situ, but the anticipation I feel during this meditative action of kneading certainly takes me back to a cold hillside where nothing is more welcoming than steaming, hot bread. Are three simple ingredients enough to transport my readers?
Although my eyes took a while to adjust to the darkness of the room, and I immediately had to get my layers of down off for fear of melting in the smoky warmth, I knew my husband and I had happened upon one of the best places in Darjeeling. I could just sense it. Nothing was pretentious. The walls were wooden, the floor too. Even the tables and chairs were made of wood which, of course is not very unusual, but I’m guessing they were handmade. And then, the all-encompassing wool. Wool embroidered with wool became oval-shaped, carpets on the floor. The same carpets were used as chair covers or formed into cushions in the window seat for lounging on. The draughts from the door were caught by the felted woollen blanket that was tacked up haphazardly with rusty drawing pins so that you had to open the door from the outside while simultaneously pushing through the musty curtain in order to enter. What else? Buddhas. The end wall had a thanka, the Mahayana Buddhist tapestry, which just about covered it while exchanging grain for golden threads.
As I was looking for a tissue for my, now running unstoppably, nose came the deliverance of flatbreads to our table by a woman with very old looking turquoise and amber hanging from her ears and around her neck and just about everywhere else. In her free hand was a bowl of something white.
“Do you like yak cheese? Put inside, you’ll like it.”
That we did. And we did.
The next day, while visiting a Tibetan women’s collective I spotted a woollen rug that would fit nicely in my backpack. I couldn’t take home a kind-faced Tibetan woman, or fresh bread and yak cheese, nor a smoky, wooden room but a lightweight rug would be just right. It would be a souvenir that would not only serve as a good memory for me, but also as a donation to the collective.
I carried that little rug all the way home from the Himalayas and now it’s covered in flour. The only reason I can think of for keeping my treasured rug on the floor of my kitchen rather than preserved somewhere safe is that I wanted it to be alive and used as a part of my life like it would’ve been in its ancestral home. What good is it preserved forever if I can’t look at it and enjoy it and drop flour on it? A lesson in impermanence.
My water highly treated, straight from the tap and the flour bought pre-ground from a supermarket. I don’t even know where the salt came from, perhaps the New Zealand briny.
Her water fetched from the well and boiled, flour brought up from the Indian plains on over-decorated noisy trucks threatening to tip over the edge at every turn. Himalayan salt, a very grey variety.
Flour, water, salt. Wood, wool, Buddhas. Most of the recipes I write have more details, but I don’t think I’ll add anything.
You can find another version of this story as well as the recipe here.
What follows is a story of seredipity. Two things I really miss from Japan are mioga and shiso. Actually there are more things, but for simplicity let’s just stick with these for now. And…actually, I think I need to give up on finding mioga so…OK, here’s the story.
I’ve been looking for shiso since we got back and really don’t understand why we don’t have it here since it would easily grow in our climate. I even went on an internet hunt for suppliers of rare seeds to see if I could grow my own. Happily, I did find a supplier, but before I could place an order I realised that I’m not doing very well at keeping the herbs I’ve got happy. Rather than buy more expensive seeds and probably not get round to propogating them in my current busy state, I sort of gave up for the time being.
I did, however put in a lovely courgette plant that a friend gave me only to find that the slugs enjoyed the entire plant before it could produce anything. Hurumph! I also planted some radishes, which I figured were low maintenance. Even though the slugs chomped holes in the leaves, most of the radishes were OK save the fact that we had a bit too much to-ing and fro-ing of spring weather and so they kind of bolted and got all woody. Whatever! I was determined and planted another row. Bear in mind that all of this is in an expansive plot of about 40cm by 80cm.
This time I dumped some coffee grounds on the soil which not only kept the slugs at bay (unless they were just too full to eat anymore, that is!), but cleared the way for a couple of random herb-y looking plants to pop up.
I stupidly pulled the first one up thinking it was a weed but then realised that the leaves looked a bit like a mint or lemonbalm. So I just let the other two be and didn’t get back to check on the “garden” for a week or two. But when I did I thought the shape of the leaves looked a bit familiar. Could it be? No way…could it? I pinched one of the leaves and it smelled most definitely of shiso!
How can it be that the very thing I wanted manifested itself in my own garden despite being a rarity in these parts? I’m convinced that we often try so hard, that we don’t just let the magic happen.
I’m trying hard to take this attitude to my teaching. I’ve just finished my first week of 5 and I’m completely and utterly knackered! Am I trying too hard? Am I forgetting to be in the moment? I’m going to excuse myself because the first week in any job is always about organising and settling in. But now that I’m planned up for most of the coming week, I’m going to try to take a step back and just enjoy being with the students and see what happens.
I’m also thinking that there’s a lesson here for my writing. For the past few months I’ve been intensively researching the who, what, why, where and how of writing for a living. At first, I thought of this teaching gig as one of distraction from what I’m trying to do albeit a necessary one in a monetary sense. But now I’m thinking that I’m supposed to be doing this so I can distance myself from all the research, remember another facet of my identity, and just meet people. There are living, breathing people out there! There are people who hold valuable information and connections out there! People who pop up like surprise shiso plants!
There are also ideas and inspiration out there. Things I can write about. Places, people, things, Japanese herbs! Why is it so easy to feel you are in a creative space when, really you are in a rut? All the amazing books I’ve been reading and all the cool people I’ve been talking to on the internet, and even rented DVDs are inspirational. But sometimes you need to change your vantage point for just a second in order to see things more clearly and to let the surprises pop up.
Here’s a quick way to deal with all that merriment you’ve been embibing in over that past week or two.
Quinoa porridge with almonds, Brazil nuts, dried apricots and dates
1 cup quinoa
1.5 cups water
.5 cup of milk or soymilk (Any mix of liquid is fine as long as it equals up to 2 cups. I sometimes like more milk to make it creamier.)
half a handful of slivered almonds
5 or 6 of each of the following:
dried apricots chopped
Brazil nuts chopped
Rinse the quinoa a couple of times and sort out any tiny stones.
Bring quinoa and liquid to a boil and then add the other ingredients.
Turn down the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes until all of the liquid has been absorbed.
You can tell when quinoa is ready because the little tales start to show (Yes, this is still a vegetarian recipe!)
At the table you might want to add more milk like you would with regular porridge/ oatmeal and possible some honey, agave syrup, etc. but it tends to be quite sweet naturally from the dates.
Serves one or two depending on how hungry/hungover you are.
It’s gone cold again! Time for porridge.
Originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti
Yesterday I didn’t even need my cardigan, but today it’s 12 degrees!? I hope this is the last cold spell before summer is well and truly here. I’m ready for the sunshine. I’ve even had to put the heater on again so it started off smelling of burning dust. Normally I associate that smell with the beginning of the cold days of the year, not the end. And I’ve just brewed my fifth cup of tea for the day!
Excuse the swearing, but take a look at this fantabulous pho bowl! I think I NEED this!Please click on this link to see how it works.
yanko design pho bowl
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