Thursday, September 22, 2011

Round the World Tapas Night

In honor of my to-be cookbook, and all of the cooking, recipe creating, and experimenting I was doing over the summer, I invited some friends over and cooked a round the world tapas night for ten. I had one small plate for each country I cooked in (which amounted to five courses), along with two desserts. So here they are, in order:

First Course: I started with a homemade Indian samosa with mint and tamarind chutneys. Samosas are a popular snack food in India, but are rarely made at home. When they are, they are usually smaller and shaped as seen in the picture, rather than upright like most of those seen in restaurants.

 Second Course: I made a Moroccan soup called Harira, which is one of my favorite dishes from Morocco. Harira should be delicious at the first bite, and then outstanding once the lemon is squeezed in. Served with Moroccan bread, 'Khobs,' like most food in Morocco, Harira is said to be a meal all in one, since it contains so many ingredients common in Moroccan cuisine.

Third Course: For this course, I made Paticlan, a traditional Turkish eggplant salad, which I added a lettuce cup and roasted red peppers to for color. Unfortunately, this course wasn't captured on film, but its lemony flavor provided the perfect middle dish to cleanse the pallet.

Fourth Course: My fourth course was a real peasant dish from Ethiopia called 'Ful', or lima beans. Usually eaten for breakfast, Ful isn't found in any restaurants or cookbooks, since Ethiopians consider this something to eat rather than a meal that represents their cuisine. I found out about this dish by spending the day in a aluminum-sided shack in the corner of a government office courtyard, which served as a spot to feed employees. Absolutely tiny, this little eatery was manned completely by one woman, who spent her day alternately serving customers, cooking on her charcoal stove, cleaning, and teaching me to cook. Ful is served with baguettes bought from the store, and was one of my favorite Ethiopian dishes.

 Fifth Course: My final course was the real entree of the meal, and consisted of what I call my Ultimate Thai Bite. After cooking a plethora of Thai food, I finally combined aspects of my favorite recipes, along with my own favorite flavors, to create a bite that would provide the best of Thai cuisine, all in one. The layers start with a marinated and roasted portabellini, followed by jasmine rice, a peanut encrusted chicken, and a Thai herbal salad. It is finished with a panang curry drizzle. This was my favorite dish, partly because it was a creation of my own, but also because it has a blast of flavor that will blow your socks off.

Dessert:

One of my desserts was a hardened chocolate imbedded with fresh mango and peaches. It turned out quite nice, and is a great, quick dish of my own creation which is always a hit.

 The other dessert I made was a Kefir Lime Meringue pie with a caramelized ginger-graham cracker crust. This was one of the first desserts I made in my efforts to take classic American desserts and combine them with classic international flavors, in this case Thai. This pie has four very important Thai flavors coming through: Kefir lime, ginger, lemongrass, and mint. It turned out great, and is one of my best baking recipes.



Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stir Fried Morning Glory Demonstration

My first of what I am hoping will be many cooking demonstrations, which will follow much of my process as I play with and perfect the recipes I have gathered for my cookbook.


Hope you enjoyed! I expect that as I continue, both the demonstrations and the video editing will improve. Here are the ingredients for Stir Fried Morning Glory:

30 stalks of morning glory, leaves only
5 cloves of garlic, diced fine
2-6 red birds eye chilies
2 tbsp fermented or salted soy beans
1 1/2 tsp sugar (palm or brown preferred)
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2/3 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clocks


This piece, ‘Clocks’, is about a village I went to when I was sixteen, and my brief three night return. I didn’t know that I was grieving when I begun writing, nor that doing so would allow me to accept and move on. I was so upset with myself for not engaging, and for my anger, which is so out of character for me, especially the small expressions of it towards a child. The process of writing this helped me get beyond that, and beyond the Muang Kut of six years ago. It propelled me past the past and into a future of new experience and joy.

Clocks


In the big wooden house by the river in Baan Muang Kut, the stilts in the area beneath the house where we eat all have a clock on them. They don’t move, ever; they are still as though they had found their perfect moment and don’t see the purpose in continuing to search for another.

Perhaps if you had asked me if there is any worth in this paused permanence a year ago, I would have answered firmly in the negative. But now, I’m not so sure.

When I first came to Muang Kut, I was starry-eyed, fascinated, enchanted and disheartened by my surroundings. I cried when I saw the room I'd be living in for two weeks, the number of bugs, and the bucket shower with the grime on top. 

But I was hopeful and starry-eyed and still so idealistic. I spent my days at a water-tank building site and at the school, and I felt like I was doing something good. I bonded with the kids so well; when I came back three years later, the teachers at the school remembered me as the white girl with the six year old, ‘Baan’, permanently attached to her hip or leg like a wart on a witch’s nose. And I didn’t mind. I had adored her, had photos of her framed in my room for years. I cared for her, and I was one of the favorite and best teachers at the school for the two short days I taught there.

I had always had an image in my head of returning, connection, living in this village that seemed so remote and exotic and interesting. It would make me interesting.

So I came back, with all my hopeful expectations, with less naïve idealism and wonder (the TVs, water heater, and tourists in attractions that seemed to be surrounding the village and pushing its boundaries disillusioned me a bit to how remote I really was). And I was so ready to feel it all again.

What I felt was a big resounding nothing.

Let me amend. Nothing is the wrong word. I felt things, just things far from what I wanted to feel. The first time joy and contentedness had fueled my desire to stay put. Now, bitterness and dissatisfaction filled me with frustration.

Six had been a good age for me all those years ago, but now, with a six year old in the family, living in the same house, I discovered it brought out the worst in me. I found that she didn’t need the gifts I brought, not really, but she happily opened my bag and attempted to take them as her own, seeming to not treasure them quite as I had hoped (the visions of the poor child in raggedy clothes grateful clutching her new coloring book to her chest was quickly washed away). She needed so much attention, even at six in the morning when I was sleeping. I found myself grabbing her, gripping too hard (in my mind, anyway; she didn't seem to notice), quickly turning these motions into a tickle to selfishly seek out her laughter and reassure myself that I wasn’t a monster. 

No, I thought, six wasn’t a good age for me after all. Maybe all those years ago I had been wrong; maybe I wasn’t great at connection and engagement and children. But maybe that was because I wasn’t a broken old clock.

I didn’t have the pleasure of pausing my life, staying the same person in the same place. Muang Kut and this wonderful, kind family didn’t have that luxury either. None of us got to choose to remain the same, to live the same experience over again. I didn’t come back to the same village, nor did I come back as the same person. Life, unlike those clocks, moved on. Hands rotated thousands of times. The six year old grew, the cute baby became a rambunctious child; they got a water heater with and a shower.

They were nice. Of course, they were nice, welcoming, giving. One time, they even suggested jokingly that I should hit their daughter because she was crazy, and I laughed and pretended there weren't moments when I was closer to losing my faith in myself than I ever cared to be. But our lives were no longer connected, and I didn’t feel like I was coming home, just like I was visiting, waiting, remembering happiness instead of experiencing it.

I believe everything happens the way it should. The first time I returned, I went to the school, and that little girl I adored didn’t remember me. And I was okay, really I was, but my heart hurt a little. After that, I was able to let go of that relationship, knowing that she would grow and flourish, but that the girl who had cried all the way home in my arms because I was leaving for America, was gone. So was our bond, and I could accept that maybe it was for the best. 

Everything ends eventually, but I think for me, and for most, impermanence is one of the hardest concepts to grasp and hardest realities to breathe through. When we love someone, or somewhere, or something, the idea of losing them is terrifying. We want to hold onto that thing that makes us so connected for as long as possible, and in our hearts, when we’re away we hold to it the way it was, forgetting that it, along with us, change.

So when we come back and discover that that person, or place, or thing isn’t the same anymore, or we can't connect to it like we use to, we feel as though it died. We want it back; we grieve it as it remains in front of us.

I denied this change for as long as I could, even though I knew it to be true. I had beautiful dreams of coming back to the big house by the murky brown river and staying like it was my home, teaching at the school, and having it mean something because I would mean something to this place I had once adored. The place that was one of my favorite settings on Earth, only six years ago. It is so easy to forget that a setting implies both place and time, that the locations we love are temporary.

And then I arrived, and I spent so much time being annoyed and angry, really, not because of a six year old who enjoyed acting six, but because it wasn’t the same, because my Muang Kut was gone. And I was sad for no reason, depressed, disinterested. Unwilling to engage.

I needed to move on. I full on went through the stages of grief, and it was time to accept that this place no longer held anything for me, or at least, no more than anywhere else like it.

I don’t envy those clocks covering the stilts, carefully mismatched and placed on each one. They are stalled for eternity, and will one day be tossed away, or disassembled, or perhaps, if they’re lucky, they’ll be fixed, working, rotating along to fulfill their function.

I can only suppose that my function is growth, and without it or change, there can be no joy. And so I cannot find that joy by trying to spin the handles back, or trying to freeze them. I can only find it by allowing the clocks of my life to tick forward towards those times when joy seeps into my very soul, where I find those things and people and places that make me wish I could stop the revolving of hands.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be back to Muang Kut again. I've never particularly liked the idea of a last time for anything. But the pull is gone. My anger and dissatisfaction can seep away into happy memories of a stagnant village where things don’t change, people don’t grow, and peace washes over me. And how exciting it is to know that my joy is not located halfway around the world, but in front of me, in me, where it always was to begin with. Now, I need only wait for those moments where, like the clocks on the stilts, time stands still completely and totally of it own accord.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ode to Ye Cockroach

Last night, dear cockroach
You lovingly creeped through my bathroom.

When the trash bin descended,
You scurried towards the door in wild, admirable abandon.

You paused in faux death beneath the too small crack
between the door and floor,
And I tried to kill you.

Oh ye scurrier in the night,
Towards the fridge now;
I almost have you.

For you only know terror,
My inch long, caramel-brown friend,
And you creep towards yet another of the trash bins 
so that you are outnumbered,
one to two.

I try and trap you between,
To maybe even spare you,
Offering you the ramp of my mango plate into the holy receptacle.

But alas, you dodge,
And near my bed, you meet your
Doom.

It is somewhat accidental
Since I've been told you never die.
Against the wall,
I notice you are dead because
Your legs stick and you are still.

My skin crawls as you did,
And I force you into your home,
Where you could've been alone and well,
And tie off the waste bag
Because who knows if you will arise again.

And so, ye cockroach,
That is your final, harrowing tale,
That of our meeting,
and of your 
Demise.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Walking in Rishikesh (Touch)


There isn’t much to say in terms of touch on my little walk. Unlike the busyness of Delhi, this back street next to the Ganges is pretty empty on Indian terms, and you can mostly avoid walking into people. The most noticeable things about touch are as follows.

Wind: the wind and the breeze bring the cool water with it. The Ganges comes from the mountains and snow melt-off, and thus is very cold, almost like lake water from home. Therefore, as I walk down the street, often a cool draft washes over me, a refreshing relief from the heat of the sun.

Sun: the sun beams down on bare skin, feeling like warmth and energy and making my body become covered with a fine sheen of sweat. It is not unpleasant; while being in the open areas can be hot at times, halfway through my walk the street becomes covered, and the shade feels cool compared to the intense rays that caress you the rest of the way.

Road: the road is uneven, not so much as the city where dirt, pot holes, and pavement are often interwoven as though it was designed to keep you on your toes, but just from natural wear. Mostly, the road remains a nice concrete with divots and cracks which your feet can comfortably navigate.

People: people in Rishikesh mostly manage not to run into one another, but there is the occasional brush of a Sari, a hand stretched towards you for money, and the dance which weaves you in between motorbikes, people, carts and cows, situating you out of the way of obstacles. While I do not physically touch these things (mostly) as I walk, just as you can feel an outstretched hand in front of you face with closed eyes, you can feel that these things are around you, zooming by you.

Motorbikes: as motorbikes zip by, the gusts of exhaust often fall onto your skin, air puffing into your face. It is vaguely unpleasant, but mostly a gust, like warm wind. And of course, I move quickly, feeling my body strain and jump as I get out of the way of the speeding death traps.

I tried so hard to avoid most touching on the streets of Rishikesh. The experience is so different than that of the city, where touch is often unavoidable. There is a sense of calm, almost as though your body becomes situationally in tune with surroundings through your sixth sense, as though you know the things around you and must dance around them, rather than throw yourself head first into the crowd. It taps into a different sense, one that is less physical, but equally important. One that propels you into the experience of this spiritual, buzzing, still little road.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Walking in Rishikesh (Hear)

Brief Note: I originally had a video for both this entry and the next on touch. Unfortunately, I have been unable to upload the videos anywhere. As a result (and seeing as I've been in Thailand almost a month and would like to write about that), I am going to post both without the videos, but when I return home, I will add them.


Walking in Rishikesh- Hear

When I first emerge from my somewhat quieter sanctuary, the sounds are overwhelming. Mostly, they consist of the roars of engines, the chatter of shopkeepers and families, the high voices of children, and the blaring of horns that scream on long past what I would consider I polite alert. 

After a few moments, other sounds penetrate the overwhelming and nearly constant chatter that often extends into the night. Shop keepers, stall owners, and people on the street converse in lower tones, negotiating prices and talking to one another. A man yells in English ‘ice cream’, and a beggar says something quietly with an outstretched hand, sounding like a moan. From the left come beating hammers that gave off the distinct sound of metal on metal, and the crackling buzz of a torch sauntering steel, in rhythm with a radio in Hindi, situated next to a man standing with his cart of wooden boxes. Next door, a cell phone tune rings out with Hindi music, and a cart pushes by, the wheels sounding like bells or chimes.

Somebody turns a crank on a sugarcane juice extractor, and the metal wheel moves with the grating movements I had expected from the carts. The cows’ hooves are nearly silent on the pavement, but when I listen, I can hear the slow, low clap of hooves, like hollow wood on tile. Shopkeepers flick at their goods with stripped cloth dusters, snapping and firm, and the brush of straw brooms on pavement mingle with the quiet popping of corn in a pan. 

The water doesn’t really sound, but between the wind and the river, it laps lazily at staircases. Tin bicycle bells clink lightly, and the whirling of fans fill the air with a swishing haste. 

The rickshaw horn is distinctive. Old fashioned, almost as if from some comical cartoon from a different age. It is a bit flat, loud, and almost always sounded twice. 

In the evening, the sounds changed. There is more chanting. Even (if you are in the right place) the crackling of fires that sound like wind. The barking of a dog disturbs the peace, that noisy peace that allows for the general background music of the water, the motorbikes, the bicycles, and the people. Things are only very rarely silent on this relatively calm back road. 

I have heard that Indian people who travel elsewhere either have to play something in the background when they are inside, or get tired quickly of the noiselessness elsewhere. Silence is so much louder when you become accustomed to the constant noise of a life-filled world. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Walking in Rishikesh (Smell)




The smells of my street walk vary from perfumed, to delicious, to repulsive. But there is nothing like it collectively together. The first time I came to India, I washed the entire contents of my bag before I went home, only to open it and find that everything needed to be washed again. 

They all smelled like India. 

It’s not a bad smell, just distinct. Like a mix of scented candles, exhaust, and trash, with deep fried oil and sweet smelling fruit thrown in. 

As I walked up the street, I initially passed the large drainage area in front of the yellow house, and found that a small ledge-like gutter ran around the street. 

Flowers smelled sweet, like lilacs, at first, and then dissolved into stale garbage and muck in that gutter that reeked like a dumpster. Further down the road, I was assaulted with the scent of incense, smoky and perfumed, wafting from a stall with wooden boxes on it.

Shortly forward was the metallic smells of rebar and concrete from the building being constructed, and something distinctly sweet, like lilies and honey, but unidentifiable. A pile of dirt smelled dry to me, a bit like summer, and combated with the fried food of the snack stall and shop. Further along, the breeze brought me the smell of open water, but unlike the sea, it wasn’t salty so much as fresh and crisp. Textiles smelled a bit musty, dust filling in the cracks in some shops, and from second story restaurants and cafes wafted the scent of cooking chipatis and curry.

On the other end of my walk, I dodged some cow dung, swarming with flies, and got a heavy whiff, and a motorbike screeched past, horn blaring, sending a cloud of exhaust into my face. It smelled like a mixture of metal, dirt, and fuel. It contrasted well with the sweet smells wafting from the cabbage cart, so sweet they smelled like they could be rotting. 

In the evening, there are more carts with billowing steam casting delicious scents into the street, and it always strikes me as odd when they are in conjecture with other less pleasant smells. And as I sit in the café, the odors of ghee, cooking vegetables, and fruit delight my nose, and join the mélange that makes up the specific aroma of India.




Monday, March 28, 2011

Walking in Rishikesh (Sight)


This is the first in a series of pieces I wrote about taking the same walk on a street on the outskirts of Rishikesh. Each of the four snippets focus on one of the senses (I didn't do taste, as I was not really tasting much on these walks). I hope they form a good picture of what its like to walk on this street, and that you are able to imagine yourself there as well.


Sight

When I first emerge, there is a yellow house across the small road and over the dirty manmade river for drainage. Its not so much a house as it is a two-story building with several doors facing outward, and a concrete half wall to make it an outdoor hallway. Often, monkeys hang off the concrete sides of the drainage chute or in it, and today, kids played at the end of it outside their house. I could tell they lived there not only because of their proximity, but because of the small clothes that hung across in a line and indicated the presence of children. 


As I walked into the street, I immediately saw a man in front of a large cart. Inside were clear bottles, filled up with lemon juice, and in the center was a juicing contraption. The streets were lined with small shops and these little carts, and in places, black tarps held up by thin trees covered tables with prayer beads, dark wooden boxes, and sometimes small toys. Most people without a store had either a black tarp overhead or a large umbrella to shield them from the sun that was pounding down hard, seemingly shining in from the openness of the water. 

The water stretched a block over, accessed by staircases that ran all the way into the churning abyss. On a round stretch of road, in front of a partly built building that I had watched men work on (several stories up, across from my room, I wondered what kind of safety laws were present in building code as I watched them climb the rebar), there was another small wooden box stand. I thought the things, which consisted of many typically Indian patterns and some small statues, seemed incredibly cheesy and touristy, but the people perusing the items were Indian. I was further surprised as I saw more Indian people look at the holographic pictures of Hindu gods, brightly colored with that scratchy, shiny finish common in cheap depictions like this, that I for some reason associated with children’s trading cards. A cart full of mostly green vegetables and red carrots stopped in the middle of the calmer part of this street and a woman scrutinized the produce and purchased something, then allowed the man to continue pushing the wooden cart, yelling out his presence. 

Across the way was one of the taps for water that were scattered about the city. On my walk this first day, I saw three or four sets of taps where people washed their hands or faces, or drank. At this solitary tap, a cow licked beneath the faucet for a drink. It was white and not starkly thin like some cows, but not fat at all. And I couldn’t look away as the pink tongue extended and lapped at the clear water. On my way back, the cow had sidled on and buckets were beneath the tap, but nobody seemed to mind that the cow was lapping away. The ground was worn and scattered with cow dung from the presence of so many of them, and soon the primary scene became shops with clothes hanging out front, shoes left haphazardly in entrances, and men reading newspapers or helping customers.

Some of the shops sold bangles or jewelry, and a few had prayer beads and statues of gods. The clothing shops were colorful and often had one side dedicated just to the color white. At the end of the block, past signs for restaurants and upstairs areas that had people peeking out for customers, was an area under an overpass, filled with large blue rickshaws. They were bigger than rickshaws, in reality, and closed in. They held a lot of people, and I understood that they were a form of public, communal taxi. 



I ended up walking farther and finding more shops, less dedicated to clothing, more focused on other things. I saw more taps, dodged more motorbikes, and worked my way to the end of a strip along the river and a pedestrian bridge that often heard the blaring horns of motorbikes attempting to sidle through. 

It’s hard to describe in accurate detail how each of these sights come upon you. There were tarps with women selling magnets, sitting in front of walls with postcards. There were stores that oozed out onto the road. When I passed back it became mostly a covered walkway, peeking out only onto buildings with gaps into blue. Most everywhere I looked was a postcard.

Back on the terrace, out the window of the cafe, was one distinct tree. So green against the backdrop of blue, it obstructed my vision. It stood out like someone had carved it into a masterpiece, so unaffected by the chaos of below. So vibrant like everything else.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Karhi Paneer- Cheese with Green Peppers and Masala Gravy




Cooking Time: 25-40 minutes
Serving Size: About 3 people

‘Karhi’ refers to the two handled, small pot that is used to make most main dishes in Indian cooking. This particular recipe contains a standard blended gravy, or masala, that is in many Indian dishes, with more complex and simpler variations. This dish can be made any time in the day; you simply add a bit of water to the congealed sauce as you reheat it, and it is good as fresh. I am particularly fond of this variation on cheese dishes because there are other vegetables that go along with it, but it still has the delicious masala sauce. It is particularly good when you fry the paneer. It can be eaten with any sort of bread, but the most common in Northern India is the chipati. It is also nice with rice, and you can serve it with fresh green chili, red onion, and cilantro for garnish.

Ingredients:

200 grams of paneer, or Indian cheese
2½ -3 tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 large cloves of garlic
1 tsp fresh ginger
½ green chili
2 medium white onions
1-2 tbsp water
3 small tomatoes
2 tbsp cream
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander
1½ tsp dried fenugreek
salt to taste

Procedure: 

Fry the paneer in ½-1 tablespoon of the oil, until the outsides are light brown (or leave fresh, depending on preference). Blend the garlic, green chili, one onion, and ginger together with the water in a blender or food processor until it forms a liquid. Separately, blend the tomatoes. 

In a small saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion mixture and sauté until brown, about 5-7 minutes. Pour in the tomato puree, and combine with the green pepper and remaining onion (slice both into strips). Stir for 2-3 minutes, and then add the cream and spices. Turn the heat to low and cover, cooking until the oil emerges and the pepper and onion are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Next, sprinkle in the fenugreek and put in the paneer. Cook for 2-3 minutes and remove from the heat. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Holi Gleaming, Colorful India




The most noticeable thing while seeing in India is the color. Whether you look at the buildings, the shops, the trucks, the items for sale, the clothes, or the food, everything is ridiculously colorful. Even nature seems to provide subtle hues that entrance the eyes. There are not proper words to describe them all. 

The buildings are brilliant pinks, yellows and blues. They are all different colors, some vibrant, some faded and running down into stairs that end in blue, opaque river. There is nothing like the stark contrast of trees and mountains, green and looming above, to the pink and maroon, yellow and white rectangles washing into deep cerulean, thrashing water. 

Interspersed amongst them are stalls of men selling different wares. Some are piled up on carts. Therein lies green and red vegetables and fruits, deep wooden boxes, toys, glass bottles of lemon juice, and popcorn. Bright colors entrance the eyes from shops with clothing hanging in every shade around the door and inside, so that when you pass by, you are assaulted with a range of pattern and color that confuses the mind.

In a few of the carts, often pushed to one side, are salesmen with little bags of colored powder. Bright, vibrant colors, which are rich and deep. And on one day a year, when everything else is closed, those carts become full of pink, green, blue, red, and purple little bags, while the sides of shops (made of tarp and sticks) line up squirt guns, water balloons, and compression water guns for sale. 
On this day, people drive by on mopeds, in cars, and on foot. For small amounts of money, they buy a piece of India.

And the majority of them have turned color already. Suddenly, there are green people. Pink people. Hair becomes purple and blue and people carry on as though they have not just become the most out-standing people of color anywhere, ever. 

There are three main ways people become this way, three general uses of these powders, which, when you look closer, have more variety than it first seems. The first is the dry powder, which you can throw on people, and which is easier to remove. The first day I emerged from my treatment and the holiday had begun, one of the women who is usually at the desk was sitting as normal in her perfectly composed sari. Today it was green, with gold lining, and I always envied her ability to look so poised all the time. She sat behind the computer, shoulders strait and completely focused, only her face was bright green.

The rest of the staff was equally covered in the powder, and in the center of the floor, someone had drawn a flower with the excess powder that had apparently been sacrificed in battle. 

The next day, I woke early to screaming, laughing children. I finally realized that they were playing Holi. This was a slightly wetter process. The second type of powder you combine with water, and it makes deep, opaque colors that go into buckets or water guns, and are mercilessly tossed on motor bikes, squirted at cars, and splashed all over people and the outsides of homes.

As we drove, I saw everybody playing. Courtyards, fronts of homes, and streets were covered in vibrant colors. Children and adults alike were generally multicolored, though occasionally I enjoyed just one or two hair colorings, which looked clown like and amusing on upright, classically dressed and respectable Indian men riding motorbikes. Even the cows had colors on their snouts and between their eyes.

When we got there, we mainly used the third kind of color. This kind we dumped into our hands as powder, added a bit of water to, and rubbed together to make a sticky paste, which we promptly rubbed all over someone. A favorite seemed to be to hold someone tightly and rub the hands all over their face so that the whole thing became a bright, distinct color. 

Before I exited the car, I pushed pre-made gold paste out of a tube and onto my hands in an effort to protect myself. It was good thinking. As soon as we had pulled through the rural area, where the homes seemed much older and a cow lounged outside the brick stall of the bathroom, the children reached for the door handle on my side, leaning forward to see through the windshield. I had the feeling they were equally excited for all of us, but I was thankful he had the forethought to lock the doors. 

When I emerged, I was happy for the thick gold on my hands. Anytime anyone came near me, I put them in front of me, ready to attack, and the person ran away. Quickly, however, powder and colored water were thrown, and then a bucket was dumped, and I was drenched. And blue. 



It was a lot of fun. We chased each other. We slapped at arms and faces. Someone would catch one person and hold them as everybody covered them with color. One girl had it out for me, pushing color all over my face, then promptly running away. But I got her back. She dumped buckets on me. I dumped them on her. She was restrained for me, and I wiped color all over her, and she came up behind me and got my whole face at once.

A woman lounged on a couch near the door and watched, laughing and enjoying, and some of the neighbors peered over the wall to watch, laughing along as well. One of the young men would regularly rub color all over my face, but would always say ‘Maam, Happy Holi,’ first. It was endearing. And it seemed that you had to say ‘Happy Holi’ whenever you got someone particularly badly.

At the end I was mostly blue and purple, with some green thrown in and red sprinkled on me. As we ran out of color, people started dumping buckets of water on each other, which continued in the spirit of playing Holi, but also helped clean us. The girl who had picked me out dragged me to a mirror to see my reflection. Then, in a small brick and concrete rectangle, the one we had been running in and out of for water, several of us gathered around the water pump and washed. 

It felt helpful. Someone would pump the water and hands would go under, washing faces and arms and fingers. Soap was passed around. People would crouch in front of the gush and a few of the kids would brush color out of their hair and off their backs and necks, helping remove it. The girl who got me kept splashing water on my face because I was still tinged pink.

When we got on the car, completely soaked, we saw many others driving back tinged yellow and green, or pink and purple and blue like me. As I walked back to my room, a woman washed the floor and walls of the yellow house across the street. It took me four washes to get my hair clean. Despite my scrubbing, my face looked slightly sunburned, and the skin around my nails was pinky purple. I didn’t care.

The day was colorful, not just because of the bags of powder, but because it was like India. It had been explained to me that there were only two things in this diverse country that really united the people: cricket and the festivals. That day, everyone was a friend. Food was brought, offered, served to all (offered but denied by me, unfortunately, due to my restricted diet). People laughed and played with each other, even with strangers. Nobody cared about the mess in the house or the car. Nobody seemed to care when they were drenched by a water gun firing from a rooftop vantage point. People danced and played on rooftops and streets and courtyards and they all became a million colors at once.

And while each combination, each painting on each person, was unique and beautiful or dirty or hilarious, they all came from a few colors, bought on one of those little carts. They had been melded and applied differently, but no matter how each person celebrated, they all picked the same powders from the market, and played the same game.

That day, everybody, no matter what, was more colorful than your eyes could believe. And more representative of the country where color always assaults and caresses the senses.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Pride went up in Flames


The same day I told them that I was a chef, I burned the plastic off the bottom of a microwave pot. It was my worse fear, apart from actually burning the house down: destroying the property of those who welcomed me into their home. It was pure mortification. I felt like I must come across as a spoiled girl who didn’t know how to cook. Realistically, the inside had been metal. I hadn’t thought to look at the bottom, and somehow the fact that the sides were plastic didn’t register.

As I filled up the water bottle again, I heard crackling, and I was pleased that the water was boiling so fast. And then I smelled it, and looked over, and the flames beneath the pot were bigger than they had been. I lifted the pot and saw that those flames stuck. I didn’t really know what to do. I tried to dab them out in the full sink (one of the pots inside had water in it), and then finally switched on the faucet and ran it over peeled, rolled, and burnt plastic.

I scribbled a hasty note on my way out and placed it on top, no longer in search of coffee. After that, with a few laughs, I was told to use the microwave to heat the water. How embarrassing.

I was some chef, indeed. 

Me with Mrs. Puthela, the nice lady who came home to a gooey pot in her kitchen, and had the decency to laugh it off and serve me my chipatis in it later. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cooking up a Storm

Here in Jaipur, I have just finished five days of fabulous cooking school. I will have some recipes to come soon, but in the meantime, eat with your eyes...








Saturday, March 12, 2011

Snapshots

I have made it my mission to update this as often as possible. I will be venturing into India soon, but before I do, here are a few good shots from Ethiopia.

In a huge field with thousands of people, this woman sat selling her wares for the holiday in honor of the Baptism of Jesus.

Part of the market in Dire Dawa, in the East of the country.



Traditional meal; chopped meat, half cooked, half raw.
A street in the heart of Harar, in Eastern Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Coffee

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jumping into Murky Waters




I sat on the edge and stared downward, my legs tightly closed together because every person in the water seemed to be attached to the wall, and I didn’t want anyone looking up my swimsuit.

“Its okay,” he said, “I am lifeguard.”

I didn’t know how to explain that my resistance to going into that water had nothing to do with an inability to swim. In fact, I was a good swimmer. I had been a rather slow participant on my local swim team for eight years, beginning at the tender age of four.

But his assumption was valid. The ‘Olympic size pool’, as was advertised, seemed so very empty in comparison to the cordoned off leg in the L-shaped trough. Separated by bars and painted blue instead of green, so that the water shown slightly more clearly, I did not dare venture into the shallow end. It was packed. As in you could not possibly have moved without touching someone. And this was all because no one seemed to know how to swim. A few people ventured into the green, murky depths, but most in the green zone, as I referred to it, clung safely to the edge.


No, my reasons for not entering had nothing to do with my inability to swim. It had everything to do with the fact that it was a swimming pool, and I couldn’t see the bottom. It was murky, almost like lake water, and when I finally entered, the expected leaves, sticks, and hair floated around as I did. I watched people jump off the diving boards. Clearly on a diving team somewhere, one young man did a smooth flip or two off the high board and entered seamlessly. 

Almost all the men wore the exact same swimsuit. Black or dark blue, with two red or yellow lines down the sides, and more along the lines of boxer briefs than board shorts. A few men clearly were in their underwear. I noticed that none of the swimsuits did a particularly good job at hiding their junk. How awkward.

People showered a lot. There were three or four stand-alone showers around the pool, and they were never empty. A trench ran around the pool and collected soapy water as people washed hastily both before and after they swam. People milled about the sides of the enclosure on straw mats, chairs, and blankets, and most looked like they were there for the day. I guess you had to be, when this place was basically out in the bush (okay, so when you got closer there was a village of sorts, but driving there was literally just open savannah). People licked at ice creams, which despite the lack of the beautiful creaminess of Hagaan Daaz, was refreshing and perfect in its artificiality.

Everybody had fun. When we walked over to the spring, I imagined hot submersion and couldn’t contemplate wanting to get in. Along the way were what seemed hundreds of monkeys, a river wash, and a little tin shack about four feet by four feet that I wondered what could have ever fit in. We finally got there and separated, as one part was for women and one for men.


The scene struck me more like a Moroccan bath, but with running water. Three incredibly hot, crystal clear streams flew out of pipes overhead, and the stairs that led down were concrete, and led into a murky, soapy water about calf height. I was surprised at the heat, and somewhat fascinated by the scene. 

Women surrounded me, many with bare breast, washing themselves and each other, sitting on the concrete ledge across from the stream, using a glove to exfoliate. They stood beneath the hot stream only briefly, and more often put just a bit of their body underneath, or used their hands to splash the water on themselves. My feet turned bright red. Later, Melaku would take a picture and we would laugh at the fact that it looked like I was wearing socks because my feet and lower calves were the color of boiled lobster. Right then, it felt like they were cooking. 

But I moved under the stream. I liked the feel of it pounding on me, and I liked putting my hair underneath and washing my face with it. It felt cleansing. I had been told that people believed that the spring this came from was considered holy, and that Ethiopians traveled from all around to bathe in the water and heal themselves. Even as I looked, a mother sat on the stairs with a limp child in her arms. Maybe he was sleeping, but as I stared at him, something about the lack of expression, the open mouth, the stillness as his mother brushed water tenderly over his face, made me think he was very ill. Or maybe it was just my preconception. 

I chatted with a girl in a lime green polka-dotted bikini and found out she had lived in Las Vegas. Random. I stuck my head under the rush a few times, lathered up, washed, and generally enjoyed the fascinating scene around me.

When I left I was in a good mood. A few coffees later, and one crazy ride in a truck that had been offered to us for free, I sat contentedly and watched men eat raw beef chunks, that specialty of Ethiopia that I could hardly bring myself to look at, let alone stick in my mouth. And then we were on the bus, watching the hills roll by, the huts get smaller and less permanent, and the sun disappear behind mountains and trees with flat looking heads. 


I didn’t know what the rest of this journey would bring for me. But I knew with crystal clarity as I rode the bus and watched the world fly by that somehow here, the unfamiliar had become simply normal to me. Each scene before my eyes was a postcard, or some brochure cover I would’ve drooled at back home, but now everything felt strikingly normal.

And I knew it wasn’t because the sights before me weren't spectacular. It had nothing to do with the fact that this postcard wasn’t fascinating. I felt the true spirit of travel flow through me in the realization that it was simply that my world now was full of the unfamiliar, and so it became comfortable. Or maybe not comfortable, but familiar. In fact I often was incredibly familiar with being uncomfortable. 

I often find that I critique my entire process, and that I have very high expectations about how I should travel to be good at it. I have a clear image in my mind of what I think a ‘good’ traveler is, and since I've always thought that this must be my ‘thing’ (what else would it be?), I hate when I don’t live up to that ideal. It makes me feel like I'm not as good at this as I seem to think, like maybe I can't actually handle the world around me as well as I've always thought. But as I watch the sun go down over open desert and rounded huts, I know that this is what it means to truly be a traveler; it doesn’t mean perfection. It doesn’t mean that I never desire a Starbucks coffee, or a nice comfortable bed in a hotel room with running hot water and wifi. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have the occasional harsh judgment of the craziness around me. It means that I come through it; I get back on the bus, and ride by to watch the sun set in familiar, chaotic calm. 


Friday, March 4, 2011

When Marbles Fell out of my Head: Hyena Feeding in Harar





I was glancing around surreptitiously in the dark. The street lights only worked for about a block, and so I was carefully allowing my eyes to adjust to the dimness. Pavement melded into dirt roads, but the shops remained the same. Blue, red, green, white, and yellow paint, often done half way up the side and then white the rest of the way, they were all made of mud, I thought. And light flooded from inside.

Some were just a small window of what seemed an even smaller shop, so itsy bitsy that it seemed impossible that anybody would even fit inside. Some were stores, clothes shops with sewing machines outside and in, and big wooden flat counters in front. One had a pool table with wheels where the table legs should be, so that it looked like a racecar. Women sat on the sides of the road with tarps and sheets displaying fruit, vegetables, and nuts.

Nobody else seemed to be furtively glancing around for them. I walked through a sort of archway and into more blackness, although this seemed deeper, more intense. The numbers of people thinned, and I saw lights ahead of a parked car. But it drove past, and then the darkness came again.

There was another of the little shops made of mud, miniscule, in front of a house with a dim light, and across the way I saw a dumpster and a house with a fire outside. I heard a baby cry. And they were there.
A group of men, a soldier, and them, lying about, so close. Lying about as if they were not wild, as if they were merely pets taking a quick nap. I glanced back at the dumpster and saw a head peek out comically.

Don’t be afraid, I was told, they are like dogs. The things were not much bigger than dogs, although one seemed massive. And at first I found them sort of ugly, especially when they bared their teeth, which I noticed was more an expression than an aggressive gesture. They were spotted, had rounded ears that stood up, and they didn’t look like dogs.

When they wandered close, I carefully stepped back. I didn’t want them anywhere near me, really. They were scary, like lions or something, and they were not to be around. But there wasn’t enough light. I wanted to see and go, to get away from them, but there wasn’t enough light and we needed to wait for it.


The man in the red shirt placed an old plastic straw sack for flour on the ground and encouraged me to sit. They were creeping closer to him, and somehow it seemed so much safer to stand. But sit I did. And they came closer to us, and I couldn’t handle it. He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me against him as I crouched into a ball, then put my hand against my face to shield it as I felt one of them come against my side (I found out from a picture later that he was dangling meat over my shoulder). I screamed. I asked him to get them away from me. I cried a little.

I stood up and felt like I was gasping for air. There was one singular rod of neon light in the corner, and we moved closer to it, into their territory. The man laid the sack back down, and he put a stick in his mouth, draped it with meat, and I watched powerful jaws clench and teeth remove it. He held a straw basket where he fished out more meat, hand fed them, and then laid down and let them bury their heads in the basket. He laughed loudly, maniacally, and put the basket between his knees. I was reminded of ‘laughing hyenas,’ of the Lion King and the hyena servants to the evil lion master. He petted them. He showed no fear.


By the time I plucked up the courage to kneel again on that bag, there were two giant busloads of Ethiopian students from Addis Ababa to watch, and their bus lights lit the scene so much better. I felt like a spectacle.

But I breathed. I was getting a really cool experience. And it was fun for them, to watch the white girl squirm, though I noticed they shrieked and moved away too whenever the hyenas came near them. So I kneeled. And although I closed my eyes a bit (one stepped on my foot), I managed to stay mostly still as he waved meat over my shoulder and it ate.


And then we watched again as the man in the red shirt threw caution to the wind. Ethiopian students began to go kneel next to him, taking a stick into their mouth and letting him drape meat over it. Some of the bites seemed to get sort of close, but everyone came out unscathed. It became an attraction, like a crazed version of people bolting for a turn on a mechanical bull at a drunken college party. As soon as someone had fed it, stood up, and moved, another was in place to try.

I finally plucked up the courage. When, when on Earth was I going to be back somewhere where I could feed a hyena, mouth to mouth? Shouldn’t I take advantage of this opportunity, fear be damned? I decided this was not the time to actually think things through, like consequences. Or to consider the fact that with one little snap, I could be a much larger treat.

I hoped the stick he gave me would be long, but no number of inches (I was guessing mine was about four to six inches) erased the fact that I was nose to nose, eye to eye, and mouth to mouth with a wild hyena. I squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t help it! The photograph of me feeding it is hilarious. I look like I'm in pain, but I stood and laughed. I shook slightly as we walked away, no longer glancing around for strays.

If I were to make a list of the craziest things I've done in my life, this would be on it. I don’t know what propelled me to think it was a good idea. I’ve started a list entitled “marbles that fell out of my head” to document such occasions that seem so incredibly ludicrous now that my marbles have returned to me. I hope the list continues beyond the confines of this trip, and into a life full of moments where I forget the realities of this world, and take a leap of faith into the clutches of big, furry chances.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Injera Making


 INJERA MAKING

Sorry it's been so long. This web page would literally not open in the entire country of Ethiopia. How odd! Anyway, over the next week or so I will be posting about some of the things I learned, saw, and experienced in Ethiopia. For now, here is a video showing how to make injera. Injera, like bread ('khobs') in Morocco or rice in South India, is the staple in Ethiopia, and no meal would be complete without it. Most of the time, it is presented on a plate or platter and the food is poured on top, and everyone eats from the single plate. It is also common to roll it, cut it into thirds, and allow each person to choose their own, spread it out on their plate, and use it to eat. Ethiopians use this spongy pancake as their utensil, and I've heard even sometimes as a plate!

Injera has a very distinct flavor and smell. It is unlike most staples in that it is not a neutral flavor. Prepared simply with 'ttef flour, water, and homemade yeast, injera is mixed in mass (usually in a bucket) and sealed, then aged for three days. As it ferments, it becomes more liquidated, and the result is a watery liquid dough that is poured from a gourd (or now, sometimes just a cup or more widely manufactured device) onto the hot 'mettat', or injera maker. This large pan is generally powered by electricity or wood fire, and is often the only cooking device in the kitchen apart from a single kerosene burner. And everyone has one.



Many of the patterns of pouring are quite beautiful, and the injera begins to bubble almost immediately. It is then removed with a large, round straw mat, and placed into a straw basket designed to hold injera. The taste is definitely acquired for the foreigner; while I enjoyed most Ethiopian food, this was one thing I couldn't get use to. Sour, spongy, and often soggy from delicious sauces, injera may be unusual, but it is an irreplacable part of any Ethiopian experience, and any meal.




Here is the video of injera making. We made about fifteen or twenty of these at once!


 

And after its cooked, about three to five minutes.