Hunting for Artichokes with Rose Water in my Tea

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I’d much rather be sucking on Turkish delight for breakfast with my tea; but there are shortcuts. Just started a new fashion around here; a drop of rose water in my tea in the morning. Cream no sugar thank you. As I sip my tea and write, a lone bird chirps outside my window perched on a naked tree branch. Just an ordinary but adorable bird and the moment I turned my head and discovered her; she flew off to a higher perch. May be she was looking at me as I was penning this and saw me turn my head and she ran off. Takes one to know one I guess.

It is midweek and the bird still chirps from a higher branch. Wednesday spilled onto Thursday. Tuesday turned out to be a day to update my stock portfolio; for making soup and stock although I had hoped I’d be stuffing artichokes instead. On Monday I went looking for artichokes and even took a list for ingredients for the stuffing. But there were no artichokes at Kensington Market. Instead I bought ingredients for soup and stock. The chicken stock for the stuffed artichokes soon to come.

These past few years I have missed artichoke season because I let the short season slip away giving other seemingly important things priority in the bigger scheme of things in the movie called Waiting for my Ship to Come In. But stuffing artichokes is important. Not living in or near Castroville, every spring I realize the importance of artichokes. It was disappointing not finding any at the market but rather than cry over missing artichokes which will soon arrive I spent all of Tuesday tending to stock pots; for all the recent lost years with no stuffed artichokes. Chicken stock mainly and also beef and vegetable soup which is all I have yearned for as a means of sustenance these days. And of course tea in the morning. Engrossed in skimming and stirring I forgot to eat until 4p.m. All my focus on making soup and stock and so much goes on in a kitchen in the process. Lots of bowls, pots and pans get used up in the skimming and the straining and the adding of vegetables and herbs at each stage; all to be washed and reused for the process. And in a small apartment kitchen one has to stay on top of the washing or else the tending of stock pots will come to a sudden halt. The pots tended to so they do not suddenly boil and ruin the clarity of the end result and worse; make it bitter on your tongue. The hours spent at the beginning carefully — some say tenderly, very very tenderly – skimming. ImageYou must be in the moment with your pots and exclude all other thoughts and you end up on your feet all day. The clang of the covers keeping you company as you keep opening and closing and checking on what is going on undercover. The pleasure of a good skim spooning out all that foam like in Boticelli’s Venus except Venus isn’t there; she’d scald. The terror when suddenly the pot starts to boil like the rolling sea and you hurriedly make space on your stove top to save it and remove it from the heat. Then wait for some time for the heating element to cool off and put it back on and then wait for it to come to the right level of simmer; again.

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It is not the actual time that the stock takes to be made which takes all day; it is the in between of it. The tending to so as to ensure the broth never goes over a simmer so all the scum rises to the top and the skimming to ensure every bit is removed. One skims an article or an essay; but to skim you have to perhaps have your brain on in a different way so you don’t miss the best parts. Its that kind of skimming.

“A excellent skimmer of scum”would not be an inappropriate epitaph for me. One has to skim the scum to get a fine clear broth and only stir the pot just so as to get the scum to rise without incorporating the scum into the broth which makes it murky. If the simmering is at the correct tempo which ideally is an adagietto and never at presto which would be too violent; one can harvest a small potful of scum. The surface should remind you of a patch of gently bubbling brook.Image And scum, just like cream, rises up to the top in its early stages in soft ephemeral billowy clouds of all shapes and sizes. For the scum to surface one tenderly simmers with the pot covered. The best part of skimming is when you have a wonderful foamy top reminiscent of a beer head and you spoon the luxurious foam off the top in silent glee. But as the skimming progresses they reduce to only a few bubbles on the margins of the watermark inside the pot. But one continues to gently spoon the last bubbles off till the broth is clear and free of any more rising scum. One must not forget to gently stir the pot from time to time coaxing the last scum bubbles to surface; for those of you who are not bred in the bone pot stirrers; use the back of a wooden spoon after the major scum harvest has been reaped.

For the stock I purchased a bunch of chicken carcasses from Sanagan’s at Kensington Market and they cost me less than $4.00. There was enough meat on them which I reaped to add to my soup later. Next time I am poverty stricken and need a chicken curry this is where I will go to get some chicken for cheap. There was a lot of standing around Tuesday and I am glad I finally put to use the old camping mat which travelled across a continent with me in my big road trip from Toronto to California and back over a decade ago. I’ve now slipped it under the kitchen rug where I seem to spend most of my standing hours; to cushion my feet and cradle my knees and ankles against gravity’s weight and allows me longer stand up time and the bonus of no aching feet.

I have my rose water fix and I have my foot support in place but I still have a complaint – I need more stock pots. With only one stock pot in my kitchen which is really not large enough any more now that I am back to using meat stock I needed a second and third pot for the excess of the chicken stock which takes up more space once the aromatic vegetables are added. I also had a beef broth going for soup. Every dowry must include three stock pots. One regular, one large and one to feed a village. So glad I bought that big Paderno stock put for Arjuna some years ago for his birthday or was it Christmas. The one I have is somewhat flimsy and I bought it in Chinatown more than a decade ago but it is not as solid as a Paderno but does the job. Arjuna’s Paderno, part of his dowry that gets paid in instalments once or twice a year at birthdays and Christmases, can stand in for a stew pot whereas mine will burn in a slow cooking of anything of substance. I’ve used my stock pot to cook rice in a pinch and unless one watches judiciously it can easily burn rice. So more stock pots are now on my search list at the next garage sales I will haunt this summer once the artichoke season is behind us. And then I can look forward to veal stock for demiglace.

I am rich. The freezer holds three three-cup containers of wonderful chicken broth; and an additional two in smaller sizes including a one cup size for easy use. And also a whole stock pot full of beef and chicken vegetable soup; simmered tender nourishment and wonderfully tasty. A day well invested.

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The bird outside my window has gone quiet as it is now night and a three-quarter moon looks me in the face fearlessly and the moon is going nowhere. And here I am chirping in the bird’s stead. And unlike the bird that ran off as soon as it turned its head and saw me I hope you will stay and read on just like the moon that is staying put this beautiful night. With whiskey in your water and rose water in my tea. Now where are those crazy artichokes.  But wait; it is 3:00a.m. in the morning and I think I heard the bird chirp. Thrice.  Wishing the moon good night.
*Reference to “whiskey in your water” and rose water “in my tea” is from the song: Mama Told me Not to Come by Three Dog Night; written by Randy Newman. 1970.  The original line from the lyrics: Want some whiskey in your water? Sugar in your tea?

Ham bacon and pumpkin chutney or; can you read cursive?

Growing up I never developed a taste for what was generally sold as ham in Colombo but bacon was another story entirely. On occasion my father would bring home the bacon literally; purchased frozen usually at the pharmacy on Bonjean Street around the corner from our house or from Forvil House up the road. The pharmacy sold medicines and cough syrups but also had fancy goods and in its fridge and freezer – bacon, ice cream, butter, etc.

The words “ham bacon” implied people with means. Luxury foods given they were far more expensive than regular meat or other proteins such as daal. Also their western origins added to the fancy provenance. Reference to ham or bacon was usually a strange “ham bacon” always said together. Perhaps I never was drawn to Colombo ham because my father never brought it home. Guess he too never liked it. Although bacon was not an every day occurrence at home whenever it appeared it was always a welcome treat; sometimes with eggs. Eggs; the other Colombo luxury. I remember when eggs were still fifteen cents each in Colombo. Then they went up to twenty-five cents and last I recollect was thirty-five cents and may be then I left the country. Now the cost of an egg is in rupees and probably around Rs.20 per egg.

Even at twenty-five cents Sri Lankan eggs were a luxury; but never failed to comfort. And when friends who farmed gave us trays laden with eggs when we visited them and if it was still not yet the end of the month when money was tight bacon appeared. Made me think “aah, daddy’s rich” long before I had ever come across the song. And off came the flimsy dented aluminum pan from its nail on the kitchen wall; for the eggs and bacon to be fried; and good bakery bread with butter. In those days we simply sliced bread and there was no toast. Toast was only for when you were sick and then it was made on the stove top on the same flimsy aluminum fry pan.

Bread, bacon and eggs. Sunny luxuries. Bacon from Goldi or Elephant house was standard in those days long before today’s newer brands were ever dreamed of. Today from where I am bacon is easily affordable but it does not taste like the Goldi or Elephant House bacon from the days when an egg cost twenty-five cents in Colombo or even fifteen. My father never bought ham. Not the raw ham of raw pork we today refer to as raw ham but I refer to the cooked pink ham that was the ham of yore in Colombo; and not like the charcuterie that I am fortunate to have access to in the West from prosciutto to Parma ham to Serrano ham. The main dish for breakfast was come to think of it – bread. Butter was the vehicle that made anything that went with it even better. There was Globe butter which was Australian if I remember right. Always tasted better than the Milk Board butter that came along later. This is long before Anchor butter was heard of and then god forbid; Astra margarine. And bread came fresh and wonderful from the bakery up the road long before the hard times of the Sirimavo days when bread was rationed to a quarter pound per person; and the weevils were free.

My secret treat was tomato sandwiches. Bread lots of butter and a nice tomato sambal which then got thrown between slices of bread – and I could not stop eating them. I’d take half a loaf for lunch to school and tomatoes were also a somewhat expensive item come to think of it. But somehow not as expensive as eggs or bacon.

When there was nothing to make sandwiches with I sometimes simply filled the sandwich with amma’s pumpkin chutney which she made when short eats like Chinese rolls or cutlets were made. Though it was just a chutney its tang and sweetness went well with bread and butter and it was immensely satisfying. Of course I had never heard of bread and butter pickles then but when I came across them after I moved to the west decades later I immediately thought of amma’s pumpkin chutney and how I used to come home from school and look for food; and then find some bread, butter and if Amma’s pumpkin chutney was around simply slathered some on between two slices of buttered fresh bread; to while away my mid-afternoons after school on hot Colombo days.

So to get back to ham bacon and bread; forget bacon forget ham all you need need is some of amma’s pumpkin chutney and here is the recipe written in her fair hand.

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From May Day to Labour Day – September 5, 2011

The burner drip pans are clogged with carbonized spilled over food.  Burned boilings of rice, parippu, porridge, pasta, left over from well before early August.  The liners are soaking now in hot water and detergent – to be scrubbed clean with all my might.   And after months I can see the surfaces of my counter tops. I have found a new place to make tea. On the counter that is close to the stove; leaving more space on the counter where I do the cutting and the chopping and the prepping.  The one next to the sink.  More space to do things.  More room.  Tiny change, huge impact.

It is shortly after mid-day.  But outside there is no sun.  It feels like evening already except there is no sunset because the sun is still riding high in the sky — except invisible.  The light is pallid, a curtain hiding everything we don’t want to see and do and think about.  A last chance to indulge in the dubious pleasures of procrastination.  There are no children who need new shoes, late summer jackets, pencils and pens for when school starts tomorrow.  No university fees to be paid for when the academy re-opens after its summer hiatus.  No school lunches to worry about.  Today is the third day of the last long weekend of summer.  The next long weekend is in fall at Thanksgiving.  And all I have done is stay home unwashed – and somewhat unread.  Except when I stepped out for an hour yesterday for a sanity walk Eastward on Soudan until well after Soudan morphs into Parkhurst Boulevard and onto Leaside.

I have forgotten laundry altogether.  And its stingy pleasures.  Clean clothes somewhat crisp and definitely fresh.  Folded.  The laundry better get done today.  To wear musty clothes would be a sad start for the new year.  Last night I did my delicate hand-wash items and they are hanging in the washroom and some are draped over the back of a chair in the messy place I still call my living room.  My apartment has been completely neglected since well before August started.  I must bring it back to ship shape like it was Christmas; because Thanksgiving will soon be here.  I want to have a glorious thanksgiving; better than Christmas.  The best ever Thanksgiving.  Our American neighbours give thanks in late November.  But because the leaves fall off the trees, leaving them bare, well before it happens south of here we have ours in early October.    I want this to be the richest thanksgiving ever.  Rich from everything I experienced during twenty days in August.

Every exchange and every encounter I took in to be savored – some sweet, a few bitter sweet.  I welcomed all of them.  Even that iconic barren tree in Peradeniya.  I hope someone either cuts that tree down or that tree better start bearing leaves again, fast.  A barren tree that is dead yet upright is an absurdity and should be seen by no one.  It justifies unjustifiable conduct  — like inexcusable self imposed misery, negativity.  Here in the cold North we rarely ever see bare trees as barren.  They are merely waiting for spring.  And new leaves will appear.  We wait for time to pass and for something new to begin again.  Geography and climate does affect our lives as it affects what people do to each other.  At the cusp of summer’s tarrying end and autumn’s lazy beginning something for me to think about when trying to understand those we care about. Yes trees.

Trees are curtains, covers, refuges of safe harbour; shelter.  I see no other role for them.  I look out my window to count the number of trees in near vicinity outside my apartment.  I can easily count at least twenty large trees.  Still clothed in green but as the days grow shorter they will start turning colour, likely yellow, and start to fall.  There is a word for it; that moment when a leaf detaches itself from the tree.  May be it will come back to me.  But there are hardly any birds outside, actually not  a single bird can I hear.  Birds muted.  Have they already flown south?  Before August I heard many birds outside my window and thought I was blessed with rich bird songs.  But Toronto is a cemetery even before the birds leave us when one recalls the thousand bird choir that performs all the time until well after nightfall in Colombo or Kandy.  A boistrous imposing and insistent choir  that shakes you to consciousness all the time  — and then you learn to completely blank it out.  Still, each morning when you get up thinking you are in quiet Toronto, the bird choir grabs you by your heart and ears and wakes up parts of you that you did not even know existed.  You think  a part of you is lost when you leave home and that you will have to search for it.  But the bird choir does it for you right when you land.  I want to remember their noise, their song.  Never to forget.  A ten year absence and a little heartbreak in between can blank out memories.  But not this time.  Yes trees and birds; constant companions holding me up.  Not to be misused.  But to honour.

Yes, trees and growing things.  The air here is mercifully coldish – Nuwara Eliya like – not quite chilly but the kind of weather that encourages strenuous activity.  Like raking leaves or putting gardens to bed — except that there are yet no leaves to rake, and gardens are still not quite ready for their winter slumber.  When I used to have a garden this is the time when you milk your garden for all its worth and cling to it to make it last a little longer.  To fool yourself that summer is still here.  That last tomato, the last few beans, or greedily let a few beans ripen and dry so you have seeds for spring.  You nurse the last basil to produce more fragrant leaves though the plant has turned leggy and un-tender. The worst is to think that you should bring some herbs or vegetables inside and make them last into the dead of winter.  Inviting disaster and insects.  It is strange what people do to make summer last a little longer in our lives.  Letting go of summer is always hard.  At first the realization that its over is a betrayal.

And then suddenly one day you are free of it and give up this push and pull between you and the garden, this struggle between summer and the coming of winter, and just let it all go.  You get in there and crazily pull out the dying beans, tomatoes, aubergines and whatever else is there that isn’t going to come back up in the spring –   and go on the rampage like a wild elephant.  Not stopping till everything is out of the ground and in large paper bags we use for garden waste and which the city takes out to be composted — right off the sidewalk in front of your home.  And then you are free of summer and its wildness, its lightness and fizzy pleasures and petty licenses and its untepid romances. You let go, like letting go of lost love and turn your mind to new things.  New tasks.

It was only in May that I was looking at Magnolia, Forysythia and the roses were not even in bud.  The lilacs were lush.  And now they are all gone.  Whoosh.  Like a sweet dream.  And as fall shyly walks towards you like a pretty girl to her first date, autumn’s bounty fills the fruit and vegetable shops.  Peppers, beans, squash, apples, and even tomatoes.  Ready to be pickled and stored for winter for those who pickle.  Stored like rain water in ancient wewas in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.  And just like them I want to store and hold close to me every moment from those twenty days; as if it were rain water not to be wasted.  Every drop a nourishment.

Frankfurt with its bells.  The strange pickled cheese.  My friend’s house in Colombo.  Bathing from a well when the air is warm.  Jabus jabus, godos godos.  Marine drive early in the morning on a Sunday.  Malinga’s third hat trick.  Eating mango popsicles with vanilla ice cream insides.  Drinking Lion Larger with family, with friends, with cricket.  Yes that heaven where everything else does not exist, not even heartache  – just cricket at Premadasa stadium in Maligawatte. The din of the crowd and the quiet when everyone waits for something to happen and when you think your team is in trouble. All in voices that make you feel like you never left home. Treasures. Absolute.  To hold close forever.

Elephants, over thirty of them, uninvited, across the water in Panama.  The fire dancers of Kandy Perahara.  The freedom in the streets at the end of it when the shops in the heart of Kandy are open into the wee hours and life becomes a carnival.   Traveling with three women across Sri Lanka from west to east.  The tender and courteous considerations offered.  The little and large irritations caused by me, ignored by all but most of all endured with pure grace.  Like how I’ll throw out questions but not listen to the answer.  And then ask the question again.  And to look at with an observant eye in their company the devotions offered at an eastern dewale.   The heavenly ocean waves near the sand dunes at Arugam Bay as the sun began to set.  Like love lapping at your feet, never ever to forget.  Such sweet sweet pleasures.  Most of all the light in Panama.  How it found me and kept me in its light, forever.

I came looking for me; who I had left behind long ago.  And I found her and I found much much more. To bring it all back with me here, home, to Toronto.  To witness whilst long tutored to believe that biology is no longer destiny, the desperation and devotion of purportedly barren young women offering Angapradarshanam to the Goddess Paththini.  Women rolling in the hot sand,  using only their bodies, thrice around the Goddess’ dewale.  To  come under her spell over several days while treading the hot dusty sands of the dewale with the villagers of Panama and my three women friends.

Most of all I feel marked.  Like the pottu the kapurala from the ganadewi kowil placed on my forehead, in beige and brick red — marked forever by every encounter over those days in August.  The sweet and the not so sweet.  Singing “palay wasana ran malee” in the tuk tuk in Colmbo with a friend in the afternoon.  The pleasure of my mother tongue, the way it is spoken.  The pace  and lilt of it depending on who is speaking and in what company and in which circumstances.   The civil exchanges.  The way even English is spoken; and the endearing Singlish.  There is nothing more and nothing else that can make me happy.

The bird choir.  The huge super giant mara tree on the way to Panama.  The road from Panama to Kandy with the lovely and utterly courteous and talkative Bandara.  Stopping in Bibile for indiappang breakfast in a bath kaday.  Robbed time spent with unnamed others.  Schoolboys on holidays playing cricket near where I stayed at Asgiriya a few days.  The drive with probably one of the most amazing persons in Sri Lanka; from the Airport to Colombo.  Being told by someone you love that he thinks he is going to die soon and that he can feel it and then in a few days never to hear his voice again.  These things mark one like “sel lipi”.

Day one at Barefoot with Revel Crake unable to recognize me though we played in the same band.  And running into Jean Vanheer at CRFC who remembered me as a really good singer; from the days when we all sang on the same band stand out at Pegasus Beach Hotel when I may have been twenty.  All on day one.  Well talk about finding that girl I left behind.  Finding people who remembered me from so long ago.

I don’t want this to be too long.  These are but a sprinkling of the memories I want to treasure.  You find what you look for — well mostly.  And you also find what you did not look for that will change you forever.  Even the fascinating fact that there are no sketch books that can be purchased in Kandy, never mind how hard one looks or how far one walks.  Memories, harvested one by one, leaf by leaf, like the finest tea by hand, to nourish this sterile life we live here in the West.  A hybrid of home and non-home and always alien.  Memories like tea, every drop to be savored and to feed and warm through the frigid winter that is sure to come.  Its the dread of winter and the dread of reality at summer’s end that makes this long September weekend so fraught with sadness, anxiety and expectations.  A postman told someone I know that in summer the mail they carry is minimal but come September it quadruples.

The laundry is done.  The drip pans must be scrubbed.  Vegetables have to be purchased because the children are coming for dinner before the new year starts.  Tomorrow is really the new year.  The day after labour day when the real new year starts when matters that are important that have been put away for the frivolities and short spanned dreams of summer get back on the agenda to be tended to with full force and fury.  A new year, a new life.  New goals and new changes.   A new hybrid of the past and the present, losses and gains, all blended together to live a new reality richly earned and deserved.

So I keep tidying up my apartment as if it were Christmas.  Inch by inch.  Room by room.  Table top by table top.  Shelf by shelf.  Turning it into a temple of solace.  And come thanksgiving in October — I will start a new tradition.  A form of Paththini pooja here in Toronto to say thank you for taking me under her wing — and ask her to watch over me through the long winter sure to come.  And when its cold and dark and desolate and when the sidewalks turn to slippery ice rinks and when you cannot bear to go outside — I will just close my eyes and be back in that magic light  of Panama.

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Author’s Note:  This was originally a note  by me on Facebook from September 5, 2011.

rose water blues

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the teapot on the window ledge
moon drunk
believing;
she only looked at her
unknowing;
that someone filled the teapot with port
thinking;
it was tea.

the teapot drunken
so in love with the moon
gazes skyward
not knowing;
there’s no one here
to spoonfeed
roses by the galleon
no kiss to distill
a million hindi film songs

knowing
there will be no flowers
again;
today;
and tomorrow;
the next tomorrow;
and the next;
a law of physics.

the tea pot wonders flippant
but why! she laced the cream with roses
and whipped it into a frenzy

sitting quietly spartan
bowl in hand puritanical
shriveled berries startled by the buxom plump
spooning cream
tasting kisses forever gone
in clouds of tender cream
and the tongue remembers rose water
a whole book
a safely distant love.

Renuka Mendis
February 14, 2014

Birthdays and Basketball and Hunting with my Father

When amma did her one pot chip chop slash blash magic on what thatha shot who knew how she did it except I learned from smell.  Black pepper was generously spent and gaminess was the high note that told you this was wild.  Arjuna still recalls from when he was three or four of a hunt the boys went on shooting peafowl.  “Seeya shot a peacock!” he beamed when the shooting party returned.  And then we took it home and roasted it.  The Ceylon Daily News cookbook has a recipe for roast peafowl.  Amma usually followed that on the rare times when thatha brought home mayura’s wagon shot down for dinner and other goodies.

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind around these parts.  Arjuna who worships basketball dislocated his shoulder playing and its been a worrying time; but anyone who is a parent knows what happens to the worrying.  You bury it for the time being and do what needs to be done and cheer up and stay positive and slowly burn inside.  When I got the call as dad was checking him out of emergency  “mom wouldn’t it be easier for you to come over and stay with me a few days than for me to have to go to Scarborough and stay with dad?” I dropped everything; threw some clothing into a knapsack; threw the chicken I was gonna cook in the freezer and called Diamond Taxi and wham bam I was there in fifteen minutes with leftovers from fridge.

Mom turned into full-on mom mode, made sure the lad did not miss anything foodwise and that his apartment was not gonna go to pot; slept on the couch and the first night was rough though not due to any fault of the couch which is perfectly comfortable.  It was the suppressed worry.  Sleep was hard to come by for both mother and son but love reigns and sleep was had in the wee small hours lulled by the sound of the St. Clair Street Car.  The lad has progressed well so much so that he is now barbecuing with his arm in a sling and can manage the dishes. He has good people around him and dear friends.  On day two a wonderful young man he teaches with came to do laundry with him so he did not have to lift piles of clothing to the laundromat.  On garbage night another friend came by and helped deal with putting it out.  Who needs parents with friends like this.  When I returned from a little diversion to the office on laundry evening shirts were drying on hangers everywhere ready to be ironed and more friends had arrived.   Last night at his birthday party he carried two glasses of water but in a somewhat awkward configuration.  He is in excellent spirits and is taking things in stride; forgive the pun given the basketball connotation for those in the know.  We seem to have all survived well.

So here is what happened.  He was trying to shoot the ball and someone pushed his arm and presumably he was resisting hard and at an unfortunate angle and out popped the poor poor shoulder.  I am told it was the worst pain he’d ever known and I am not even going there.  Of all days my phone was running out of juice so I had turned it off and on a rare visit with friends on the east side and the poor lad had been calling me and fortunately he found dad who came rushing down by which time they had put him to sleep to fix the shoulder.  Scary really.  And when I checked the phone later in the evening there it was. A text message saying “mom I am in hospital.”  So that’s the long and short of it and all because of basketball I guess but it was good to see that on day two he was back on the web watching basketball for hours.  So there’s resilience for you.

Last evening decorating his birthday cake I was inspired to draw a basketball court on it at the last minute which was greatly appreciated.  I even had hoops on it although without the boards as someone noticed.  We were laughing that all that the cake missed was a stick Arjuna with his arm in a sling and that there should be party favours of arm slings.  The cake went fast before most of the people had even arrived for the gathering though dear Jared got his piece because I hid a piece for him in the fridge before it all disappeared.

Arjuna grew up with no relatives because I had no one here nor did his dad and he would sometimes say “mom, my relatives are my school friends.”  Many who he grew up with since Grade 5 and more nurtured at university and from his music gigs.  Warm loving fun and bright young men and women who so clearly love him and its like a million suns shining on him when his friends are around.  Such love such treasures.  A wonderful end to a worrying week much of which was spent scurrying about making sure the lad had all he needed.

And today, being Saturday, is the first day in about a week when I’ve been at home able to do or not do what needs to be done.  There are once again piles of paper everywhere and I cannot really find anything because I do not know where anything is.   I can’t even remember when I last made a square meal around here.  When I left home for the party last night I discovered there was something like a dead chicken in the freezer which I left out to thaw not quite knowing what will come out of it.  You know how you discover stuff in frigid storage not remembering you ever putting it there.  When I rinsed it late this morning it was a bit gamey.  May be it had sat in the fridge a bit too long before I froze it but it reminded me of wild game from the days when thatha used to hunt.  These ranged from porcupines to wild birds when there were plenty to be had in the jungles.  And a memorable wild venison curry I had near Matara on the way back from Yala in my childhood.  We stopped at a bath kade in Matara town in the middle of the night looking for food and the boutique keeper offered kalae mas, wild venison with godamba roti; long long before kottu roti was ever heard of.  I can still remember its funky wild edge. I couldn’t have been older than twelve if that but I still remember like yesterday night’s dinner.

Those days a bird or a hare or anything else that was shot was skinned and or feathered and then hung for a few days; and this in the dry heat that was usually near Hambantota where thatha had a shack long before ports, airports or cricket stadiums in Galle were ever dreamed of.  Somehow the funky ripeness of today’s thawed chicken only made me think of wild game the way that amma and thatha showed me.  He shot she cooked.  Usually there was always someone around to help with the skinning.  Especially at Hambantota.  I remember one time we were at Johar mama’s ancestral home near Hambantota and thatha shot a hare and they all skinned it and hung it out, as they say to dry. This hunted flesh was never cooked fresh as if it were fish from the sea.

Amma used a lot of gammiris and onions, garlic and ginger with no real spices except for a little clove and cardamom and Ceylon cinnamon and some curry leaves and rampe.  No coconut milk and any of the usual stuff that goes into curries.  The seeming sparseness of the flavourings gave voice to the taste of wild flesh and the pepper and fragrance of the three C’s the perfect foil for gaminess.  Almost medieval but truly earthy.  Amma usually made this in an earthenware pot which added to its flavour. These animals were truly wild and lived off the forest and jungle and their flesh did not taste like the beef you bought at the Kotahena municipal market meat stall where meat hung from hooks unrefrigerated.  So how to deal with my slightly funky chicken just thawed.

The left over rosemary garlic and olive oil marinade from the lamb from the other night I felt would be a good pairing and I rubbed the well rinsed and dried chicken with it and along with some fresh ground pepper and left it out on the counter to loose some of its chill for about an hour or so – protected by the black pepper and the rosemary garlic oil.  They say that spices like pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves were so priced long ago because of their ability to mask the smell of funky meat and had preservative qualities.  The rosemary was semi dried from a batch I was drying to bottle.  Of course amma had no rosemary and no olive oil and the closest I had come to rosemary in my time growing up in Colombo was in cookbooks from the British Council Library but never to be seen in real life.  I recollect Amma used to pound garlic, ginger, black pepper, curry leaves and rampa to a rough paste in the molgaha wangediya and rub the meat with the paste before frying it up with onions and then cooking in its own juices with a little vinegar; then she’d re-fry the meat in a little coconut oil to give it a last browning.

The slightly funky edge of a piece of chicken reminded me of these halcyon days of wild birds, black pepper and when amma and thatha were at their best. If only they had been like that all the time. Then may be I wouldn’t be here, Arjuna wouldn’t have played basketball and I would not be sitting here wasting time writing about funky chickens.

Hambantota Wild Chicken by way of the Silk Road with Porcini liquor
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A whole organic chicken, 2- 2.5, lbs cut up in pieces rinsed and dried with paper towels and placed in a large mixing bowl.

1 Tablespoon dry porcini placed in a cup and covered with boiling water to soak.

Spices:
About ½ teaspoon dry red chilli flakes
1/8th teaspoon cardamom seeds
About 4 cloves
1 inch piece of ceylon cinnamon
Fresh ground black pepper – I use liberal amounts because the point of the dish is the pepper.

Rosemary oil:
Pour about ½ cup of olive oil into blender with:
2-3 cloves peeled garlic
A sprig of rosemary with the tough stalk removed
Blend and reserve.

One small-medium Onion sliced (but from top to bottom as opposed to rounds)
A few fresh curry leaves
A small piece (1/4 inch) of lemon grass (just a hint of it)
A small piece (1/4 inch) of rampe (pandan)
2 – 4 cloves of fresh garlic sliced thin and then cut into strips
A peeled knob (about 1″x1″) of fresh ginger grated (grate onto the chicken once  chicken is pan fried)

About a teaspoon of good coconut vinegar (or chinese rice wine vinegar and as a last resort regular white wine vinegar)

To gild:
about a heaping teaspoon of dijon mustard (Grey Poupon should do)
about two – four tablespoons of cold butter cut up into pieces

salt
oil

How to:
Pour a good amount of the garlic rosemary olive oil over the chicken along with a generous amount of fresh ground black pepper.  Rub it all in and cover and leave at room temperature for about an hour.  Come back in about an hour and get the rest of the ingredients ready.

Fry the chicken.  Heat about 1/3rd cup (or less) of cooking oil (or coconut oil) in a heavy- bottomed large vessel over medium high heat and when hot fry the chicken in batches so that they are browned well.  Salt the chicken pieces as it goes onto the pot for frying.  Reserve browned chicken in a separate bowl then grate the ginger onto the chicken and set aside.  Be careful when browning not to let the oil or the chicken burn because you will be using this oil as the recipe progresses.

Rinse the porcini in its own water and then slice it thin.  Reserve the liquid.

In a mortar and pestle, roughly grind up the cardamoms and cloves.

If there is insufficient oil to fry the onions add more oil and over medium heat fry all the onions.  Toss around but let it fry up till beginning to brown.   Add the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and fry for about fifteen to twenty seconds.  Add the sliced porcini, curry leaves, rampa, lemon grass and garlic with about a 1/4 teaspoon of chilli flakes and fry up so everything is fragrant and beginning to brown.  Push the onions to one side of the pan so it forms a mound.  If there is any chicken juice in the raw chicken bowl rinse with about 1/4 cup water and add to empty side of he pot and also add the porcini water being careful not to shake it so that any residue like sand stays in bottom of cup and remains there.  Bring to boil over very high heat  and then once boiled down somewhat  (about 3 – 5 minutes) there should be about 1/4 cup liquid at most.  Mix with the onions and  add the fried chicken and also rinse that bowl with about 1/4 cup water and add to pot.  Make sure there is liquid up to about half way of the chicken.

Bring to simmer over medium heat and cover and simmer on medium high for about 20 minutes.   Add the vinegar.   Carefully turn the chicken and make sure to stir the bottom so the sauce does not burn.  Do this every ten minutes or so.  After about thirty minutes taste for seasoning (salt and pepper) and adjust.  The sauce will cook down until viscous or creamy so if it is under-salted its ok because the flavours will intensify.  Once the chicken is cooked through then you can open the cover and let the sauce boil down somewhat faster and toss again to ensure the sauce is thickening and that the chicken nor the sauce burns.  You’ll have to carefully check frequently towards the end as the sauce thickens and be careful not to break the meat.

Finish the sauce:

Once the sauce has thickened to a creamy viscosity take the pot off the fire.  Pile the meat on one side of the pot and add the dijon mustard into the sauce and carefully mix in.  Then add all the butter and stir vigorously (without breaking the chicken pieces or touching them) and incorporate into the sauce.  Now fold the sauce into the chicken pieces.  (You may want to add some minced parsley, about a tablespoon at the end).

Accompaniment:

Would be perfect with some nice basmati rice or boiled new potatoes and steamed green beans.  And a nice white riesling or gewurztraminer. Or just plain ice cold water.

So wouldn’t you say I would not have cooked this today if not for an unfortunate incident on a basketball court near here.

pottu

DSCF6348pottu

in seventy-seven
the twilight spread like terror
fear blossomed like night flowers
in those sari days
when you told me
not to
wear a pottu
its not safe
they’ll mistake you for a tamil;
and i knew you loved me
but i could say balthiya unlike you
if authenticity was needed

inoculated by fear
of those who did not have the tongue
to say balthiya
a matter of the letter b or the letter v
that gave one away
a letter that stood between
safety and danger
a pottu
a letter
little things

schooled of the glory
of kissing feet of robed rogues
of false teeth
of pandered histories
in traditions’ lies
always an impostor
if only the others knew
what i saw
where false offerings were made
where flowers were wasted
for a trip
to a place unknown non existent

the southern daughter
who did not know
how safe she felt in the company
of a sinhala father with a gun
sinhala manhood
declared in strong mahaththaya language
where you win
with the tone of your voice
and the stance of your spine
always.

where some sign in objects
like a siren call
hanging a bought wesak lantern to say
don’t shoot me i am buddhist
i am sinhalese!
there are no tamils here!
and the lantern glows in the dark
a buddhist flag watches
security symbols
just in case there is another riot
just in case they see you are tamil

to carry a tamil name
to show a tamil face
a death sentence
a passport to nowhere
loss your birthright
limbo your heaven
homeless your middle name
an empty well bottomless your fear;
what you learned in seventy-seven
they branded with hot steel and blessed with gasoline
in eight-three.

buddhist compassion sold on tourist posters
the betel marked toothsome smile
is that blood or is it something else?
our famous sri lankan hospitality
spread around europe by teagirls
in saris – no pottu
and pretty pictures of sculpted rock
feeding fragile egos
had its bottom pulled from under
as seventy-seven turned to eighty-three
and we did not see –
what had been wrought in our name

the sinhala in me
carries the guilt of es-dubya-arr-dee
for burned books
for burned bodies
for tongues tied
that knew the loving fire of gasoline on skin
soon to sear
on our way to bloody hell
the same love we see in words thrown around
like sperm at a rape-fest in war
straight-spined spewed words burning gasoline-love

i carry the guilt like a cancer
to die sorry
knowing the mob got under my skin
in seventy-seven
in sari days
when my hand became suddenly too heavy
to rise to my forehead
to draw a pottu
on my naked face
we colluded
my hand and your fear

my country burns but you see no fire
the smoke of compassion’s ashes
the embers of bodies long unburied
of the sweet comforts of colombo long lost to gasoline thirty years old
lost to thugs
lost to the sinhala mob
lost to the sinhalese who watched silent
that still walk across the angry sinhala sky, dutugemunus on lumbering elephants
naming jaffna encampments ELARA!

my country burns like a million kataragama fires
of bodies stripped naked and burning coals
not to forget the terror of the raped
when you lost your brother your mother your sister your father;
your daughter;
your son;
when your places of comfort were taken like terrified virgins in war.

i am sorry
i am sorry you thought that way of me and my people
for having done this to you
that is what it felt like that week; burning in terror just before dying
running from homes in horror betrayed
i am sorry to you and to your children and their children’s children
there is no forgiveness that can ever be earned
or learned
in the face of this  arrogance as big as a stupa
compassion that ends at the garden fence
as you wander
the aisles of supermarkets
looking for curry leaves

just how hard is it
to say one little word
for a brother, a sister?

sorry.

upstream

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Upstream

this sadness that creeps up
an uphill stream
is it a mirror of humanity’s losses
the loss of rationality

when barefoot friends
are summoned by the terror state
the thought the possibility
of what may have been

the uphill stream defies gravity
exhuming  unnatural fears
undeserved losses that so easily happen
when the constable turns up at the door

not inviting you for a cup of tea and kawum
but the possibility of pain by blunt instruments
to interrogate to have even one friend disappear
never to be heard from again

yes the sky still shines blue and the pot of rice still boils
with some dark clouds
and the terrorist song is played over and over
in discordant symphonies

every flower deserves the sun
the sun that equally feeds eventually withers
but all in due course
at a natural time table an universal clock

who picks who is a candidate
for the unnatural act
who decides who is less than human
to be tethered, tied, beaten, then …..

who is putting up the parking lot?
who paved paradise?
for what?
for victoria’s secret by way of the rogue state?

and the irrational humans play the record
over and over
and you deathly silent in terror of that visit by the constable
for the non-cup of tea and a chat

the human whose emotion is cut off
having drunk the poisoned water
from the supersweet cup from hell
only hears the song out of tune

the empty kalagediya babbles
infected – not knowing its own poison
laying waste to a place
where flowers thrived eons ago if that

and the sadness flows up stream
as the tears flow like the mahaweli;
leave me alone
i am happy here with this unhappy truth

by Renuka Mendis, April 20, 2013

references:
Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell
Upstream Color directed by Shane Carruth
A recent true incident of a visit from the police to a dear friend.
Recent news from US of A.
Illustration: from the walls of Totagamuwa Raja Maha Viharaya, near Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

copyright : belongs to Blog Owner Renuka Mendis.

Curry Powder – The Movie – circa December 2010

Key to good cooking is making curry powder. The experience borders on ritual and a sensory high. The washing of the coriander gives off an earthiness which permeates your being.. like the smell of earth after a long awaited rain. Its best to give yourself an afternoon on a weekend to do this and not plan on any other work getting done; especially if you are growing too old to stand around for hours on end. You got to give the task all you’ve got. I only wish I had something larger than a coffee grinder to grind it. As mine is so tiny it takes forever to do it in batches but its worth all the tea in China.

My home smells wonderful just like when I made curry powder with my mother long ago; and it fills my soul as if I were an old house and the smell, memories.

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without fire the sooduru does not release its sweetness
without heat koththamalli does not give up its curry-ness
without grinding the cardamom does not give any fragrance
and without roasting you cannot sniff out their promise

we wait for our mothers
to come sit in our kitchens
smack dab in the middle
and sitting on your best chair

making sure that the koththamalli is roasted
till the colour of coffee she said so you smell
long awaited rain releasing the perfume of the earth
or a kalagediya releasing its earthiness to the water it holds

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Washed coriander evokes the smell of earth after the rains. And it is that which is at the heart of what we try to recreate each time we make roasted curry powder. This is the truth that is at the heart of a good Sinhala curry.

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… then you roast the cumin… they pop like little cheenapatas!

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… then the pleasure of roasted fenugreek… they dance across the pan as they turn from beige to gold to dark brown… such joy!

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… royalty arrives … in the form of the princes and princesses … cloves and cardamoms… you only need very little of this.

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the cinnamon peelers arrive … later in the procession.
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… and then the beautiful rice… roasting… till they develop little tiny pearls on their bodies… giving out their unique nutty fragrance as they roast and dance

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and finally… some coconut… which turns colour in a flash as its oil makes them burn so fast…

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and finally one last roasting with all together back in the pan… but with fresh curry leaves and rampa all cut up and a quick final roast to dry them out… only takes about 10 – 20 seconds and its all done.

DSCF2093and the ground outcomesImage

sealed for the next curry.

An afterthought:  I have not shown the fennel seeds toasting, of which you should use perhaps about one to two tablespoons at most; the less fennel the earthier the curry powder.  The more fennel it will have sweet notes.  Use it at your whim and you can develop your own subtle differences of flavour depending on the quantities  of the ingredients used.  As usual I simply eyeball it.  Such arrogance… I know.

Rampa, Sera, Karapincha

DSCF0344 – rampa, sera, karapincha – ginger, garlic, green chilli, onion, turmeric – cinnamon – essentials for Parippu.

We do things in threes. Us Sri Lankans stuck in the kitchen. Consider ginger, garlic and green chillies. Then there is rampa, sera, karapincha. Curry powder that is thunapaha. Once again thuna – three comes up. Then there are onions. At least three types – rataloonu, a kind of a smaller shallot often grown in Jaffna with sweeter and more complex notes than the French version; Bombay onion – essentially a red cooking onion but more pink than red, and loonu kola – a finer but better flavoured scallion than the dull watery version we buy in North America. Then the poetic fragrant spices – cardamom, cinnamon and cloves – the three C’s of Sri Lankan food poetry. These are the flavourings of most Sri Lankan food and always in a bath of coconut milk. I speak only from what I learned in a more or less Sinhala household while I was under my mother`s loving thumb. There are many other subtle and unsubtle differences in homes of other Sri Lankan cultural communities – consider the Tamils, the Malays, the Moors, the Burghers, and forgive me if I left others out, the kaffirs, the Veddhas and likely others that we never think of. No one taught me much about how the Veddhas or the Kaffirs cooked and that is for another day. Await “The culinary culture of Kaffirs and other Sri Lankan minorities.” But I digress.

And of these threesomes the most indispensable three sisters are rampa, sera and karapincha without which Sri Lankan food never tastes like Sri Lankan food. Fresh rampa (pandan leaves) sera (lemon grass) karapincha (curry leaves), these leaves and grasses are mother’s milk to us. They are never thought of as herbs but are simply called by their names and that is that. Globalization is well and good and we all wear our hair the same way and our skirts are of the same length and our jeans are universally tight all the same but I refuse to call rampa sera karapincha herbs. They are just rampa sera karapincha. And lemon grass does not connote the raspy knife sharp edge of a sera blade of grass nor is it a lemon tree. Thus sera it shall be from here on hence.

On the subject of Sri Lankan be it in a culinary or political sense or even within the meaning of purported heritage; I am trapped between whether I am Ceylonese or whether I was born in a mouthful of a country called Sri Lanka or indeed a Serendibean. The self banished no longer know but we carry the most powerful of the memories our mothers taught us unable to be reborn in a new skin; permanently sweet-scarred by an accident of birth and the perfume of our mothers’ kitchens; a place of survival for many of us. A dear friend calls himself Lankino. Neither colonial nor the word of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government that came up with the name – Sri Lanka – around the time period when many young men resisted in revolution and were killed by the state by the thousands. Another scar. The associations of the name to the events of those times never sat well with me. Its independence day today for the former Serendib – February 4, 1948. There is a rash of patriotic fervour on Facebook with resounding cries of “I am Sri Lankan” and the like and that troubled flag flying with hollow pride like Patachara by the river crying out for her children stolen away by the vultures. February 4th – A sad anniversary for what we did not do with our independence except for creating more problems for ourselves. Making a pariah state for ourselves. When we were Ceylon I guess everyone went around saying I am a proud Ceylonese. And then when it changed to Sri Lanka everyone became a proud Sri Lankan. Just names. The fantasy memory we all carry once we leave home self-banished, or most of us losers who do so, is of Serendib. A paradise of our formative years where the lush green and curry smells and the bird songs and the music of bajawu and genteel manners and the daily drum beat of survival and the regular sounds of wang gedi and mol gaha kept the reality hidden away from us. That is the poetry that some carry around with them lost in the wildernesses of the so called west the land of the free and the brave the true north great and free etc. And everyone who got left behind keep having their film roll changed and the camera has been taken away. And us lost fools cling to rampa, sera, karapincha when we feel that the high rise ground beneath our shorn feet slowly being pulled away and turn to pots and pans and thunapaha bottles to reorient towards the orient of our sad states. Escaping vertigo. Curry leaves the drug the continuity of generations. Why the other day when my son swung by to pick up something on the weekend he surprised me – mom, do you have any curry leaves and stuff? – The genes pining for home food. All that parippu still running in the veins through generations.

Curry leaves were hard to find outside of Sri Lanka some decades ago but if you go to any of the big Cities where there are Tamil communities, mostly Tamil refugees who left Sri Lanka during the long troubles you will find them. Sera and Rampa though is not a common ingredient in Tamil cooking and is more Sinhalese. But any big City which has a reasonable Asian populace will have Sera and Rampa if you look. I am fortunate living in Toronto where everyone and everything is here. Indeed Sera is now often found in just about any North American metropolis supermarket. Though curry leaves are still rare in the mainstream shops. What a lot of north Americans consider Sri Lankan food is mainly Tamil food which while a genre on its own is not entirely representative of Sri Lankan food. And that is another subject for another day. More pleasures and rants to come.

Just about every Sri Lankan dish will have curry leaves in it but the use of Rampa and Sera depends on whether the subject is meat, fish and several other considerations. But all three are essential for that Sri Lankan staple of life. Parippu. Learned in the every day and one of the first things one learns to cook when playing chinchoru bath as children – cooking in tiny hand thrown earthenware chatti pots on real fire hearths built outside between three side-turned bricks by children. Such adventure. Most little children growing up in Sri Lanka went up to their mothers to ask for little portions of whatever she was cooking. A little dal, some ash plantain, a piece of fish, some coconut milk and the other necessities of curries. A small fire is lit outside to do the cooking often in play houses and we built our dreams in play never to forget those first smells of coconut milk, turmeric and vegetables infused with karapincha, rampa and sera, cooking in miniature earthenware vessels – never to forget that nawum earthy smell like the kiss of rain mingling with childhood food smells sealed forever in our hearts – the benchmark of love.

Parippu or “dal” in non Sri Lankan parlance. Red maisoor dal, red lentils. Those tiny legumes bright orange mostly and quite unique unlike Depuis lentils or those other darker or less bright hued species. Where I grew up into young adulthood fast food was unknown and money was always tight despite two teachers salaries in the household. If we were home late after coming back from a family trip out of town and everyone was hungry there was no stopping by at MacDonalds or the like. And there was never enough money to splurge on what we called boutique food or kadae kaama – hoppers, string hoppers, thosa from the saivar kadae or even a rice packet with curries. The thosa shop up the road was Dharbar House across from Forvil Shop but we rarely ever got food there. Money spent on luxuries such as shop bought food could feed a family of eight and the household help for days. And Parippu took only as long as or even less than it took to cook rice easily and deliciously accompanied by fresh bought bread. Thus any money was spent on getting a few loaves of bread and a quick parippu was rustled up by my mother and the household help if one was present; and the hungry children were all fed and starvation staved off for the night. Then there was the other truth that most women knew – that home cooked food was far more tastier than that which was sold at the shops.

Parippu. My most intimate link with my mother and likely that of many others who grew up from a serendib childhood. You learn just by eating, watching, and by the sounds and smells of how my mother made parippu. In those days there was always some sand or stones in it requiring careful washing and re-washing to make sure there was no stone to be bitten on by an easily offended husband. That would be a very bad thing punishable by a beating in some households or at least a seething glare across the dining table to the shame of the cook and scaring the children. Oh the standards were so high for women of my mother’s generation. Sand or stoneless parippu or else.

DSCF0329Washing the dal…

But today life is more simple and in some aspects even sweeter for us. There are hardly any stones or sand in the dal I buy and all it takes is a good wash till the water runs clear and an easy and delicious staple is made ready for all to eat and enjoy. Wish my mother had this brand of parippu. Would have saved a lot of trouble for her. The time taken to pick out stones and other nasty things and the washing and the re-washing like panning for gold except for stones and sand. Those were the good old days. So much time was spent in the cleaning of the food rather than even the preparation of it so much so that having a cleaned up ingredient was its own reward. The actual pleasure of cooking was a bonus.

Parippu is also referred to as Dal in English. And I’ve carried in my heart Amma’s way of making dal over the decades and across oceans and through several countries. When I was home after about a decade a few years ago I was quite surprized to learn that my sister did not make dal in the same way. Her recipe had changed whereas I’d stuck to what Amma taught me likely clinging to old ways not wanting to let them go when one is far from home. The parippu that Amma made does not exist back home any more or may be it does. But it certainly exists around here and in my son’s kitchen because he has learned to make it just like his Aachi did although he hardly knew her.

Also practice and the quality of ingredients you have on a given day affects the outcome of dal. Sometimes it is a thick sauce other times it can be a watery grave oops gravy. The days when your expectations meet the outcome are the best. So it is best to practise and make dal at least once a week especially if you have many mouths to feed. And dal is still affordable here compared to meat and animal flesh and on most days of the years I do not eat any flesh.

Key things essential for parippu – Ceylon cinnamon, brown mustard seeds, cumin or fennel seeds, a whole red dried chilli or two. Its sacrilege to cook dal without umbalakada also known as maldive fish but being a vegetarian I never use it any more. I use asafoetida (hing is the Hindi word I believe and you can always get it in Indian shops) and even a little smoked paprika at the end in the temperado to make up for the absence of umbalakada which adds a smoky umami to the flavourings. But in the name of authenticity umbalakada must be used if you are not vegetarian. This is made of bonito and can be purchased in Sri Lankan shops usually in bottles and already broken into little pieces. I recently discovered that a similar but likely a more refined product is the Japanese katsobushi. But best to locate umbalakada because katsobushi does not have the heft as it is sold in very thin delicate flakes.

For most of us we can make dal with our eyes closed because its now bred in the bone. But if you want to learn to do it the way my mother taught me and if you stay with me here I will show you how. I have changed nothing except for the umbalakada substitute and the dab of butter at the end. And each time I make dal I am with my mother and I can forget most of life’s woes and burdens for a day or two. And some of the things I share here will also be a primer for other serendipitous food from that paradise that I left behind.

DSCF0332… until the water runs clear.

Parippu Recipe

You will need some basics:
Coconut milk (thick and thin). Use Maggi brand Coconut Powder sold in Most Tamil/Sri Lankan shops in North American cities. Do not use tinned coconut milk. It has a tinny taste and ruins the flavour. Of course you can make it from scratch but that is for another day.

The ratio for making coconut milk from powder:
7 tablespoons powder to 1/4 cup hot tap water and blend using a hand blender. This will produce a creamy clot free and very thick heavy coconut cream. You may or may not need all of it but if there is excess you can add it all at the end when it is called for; or use it in another dish. For other uses you may adjust amount of liquid.

Step 1 – The cooking of the dal

Maisoor Dal – 1.5 cups
Water – between 1.5 cups and 2.5 cups water (depending on the dal which may be more or less absorbent)
Ginger – Small piece peeled and sliced.
Garlic – A clove or two smashed.
Green Chilli – one or two sliced or split in two lengthwise.
Shallot – one large or two small or 1/4 small regular onion sliced.
Karapincha (Curry Leaves) – About 5 – 10 leaves or one sprig.
Sera (Lemon Grass) – About 1/4″ piece.
Rampa (Pandan) – About ½” piece
Turmeric Powder – About ½ teaspoon
Ceylon cinnamon – 1″ piece (do not use any other type of cinnamon)
Maldive fish pieces – ½ – 1/4 teaspoon (optional)
1 pinch of fenugreek seeds (optional)
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons thick coconut milk (made from powder as per directions above).
Salt to taste.

Step 2 – For the temperado:
brown mustard seeds – about ½ teaspoon (buy only from Sri Lankan shops)
cumin or fennel seeds – a pinch or two
Dry red whole chilli – one or two – broken into two
Karapincha (Curry Leaves) – About 5 – 10 leaves or one sprig.
Sera (Lemon Grass) – About 1/4″ piece.
Rampa (Pandan) – About ½” piece
Sliced shallot about a tablespoon or two.
½” Ceylon Cinnamon
About 2 – 4 tablespoons cooking oil (or ghee)
A dab of butter. optional.
A pinch of asafoetida (hing) – optional
A pinch or two of smoked paprika – optional

Gather together all the ingredients separately for Steps 1 and 2.
The idea as to quantities of flavourings (such as garlic, ginger, chillies, onion etc.) is really just to flavour the dal without overpowering it. You will see from the pictures the amount I use. To me the most importance flavour is the rampa and sera and Ceylon cinnamon – though everything listed is essential unless specified as optional.

Step 1:

Thoroughly rinse dal in water many times over till the water runs clear. Drain. Promptly add all the ingredients in stage 1, except the salt and coconut milk, into a pot not letting it fill over half way up. Ensure the liquid is at least 1/4″ – ½” over the dal. Take about two tablespoons of the coconut milk mixture and add to the pot. Idea is that at this stage the dal should have the flavour of coconut milk but just a little.

Cover and bring to near boil then reduce heat and simmer gently. Be careful not to let the dal boil over as it can happen very easily. Cook till dal is tender but don’t let it completely disintegrate. Takes about ten minutes but may vary. This is something that will come with practice. Each batch of dal is different and the quantity of water strictly depends on how much water the dal can absorb and it varies. Trick is half way through the cooking gauge how much more water it needs and if there is too much liquid then uncover give more heat to boil down the water and simmer covered the last few minutes. If there is too little add some water and do the same.

Once dal is cooked remove from fire and add salt and gently mix and taste. Its easy to over-salt dal so go very easy and the perfect amount of salt will bring out the best taste in the dal. Too much salt will kill the recipe. Add the thick coconut milk and fold in gently so you don’t mash up the soft dal; set aside.
DSCF0358the right consistency or you could let it be a little less so.

DSCF0360it can hold its own on a spoon

DSCF0361adding the thick coconut milk and then salt to taste. no need to stir or it will become too mushy. you can gently fold in the temperado.

Step 2:

In a small saucepan (ideally one with a bowl like shape so it can puddle) heat oil. Have a splatter shield handy as it will splatter. From ingredients list in Step 2, add mustard and cumin/fennel seed to the hot oil. (It will splatter so be careful and make sure to use the splatter shield). If the saucepan is too hot take it off the fire or turn off the heat. Once the mustard has popped return to high heat and add the dry chilli broken into two. It will fry up fast and now add the rest of the temperado ingredients except for the butter, hing, and smoked paprika. Once everything, especially the shallots, are nicely browned add the butter and let it melt and become fragrant and then add the hing and the paprika. In a few seconds it will all be fragrant. Promptly add the temperado to the cooked dal and bring the entire thing to a quick bubbling and immediately take off the fire. It may be somewhat hot and bubbly when you add the temperado; so have a cover at hand to cover immediately in case it is too volatile. Gently fold in the temperado once the wild bubbling has subsided so flavours are spread around. Carefully taste for salt and adjust. Ideally you will have a creamy concoction more watery than porridge but still thick. That is my favourite consistency. Some like it more liquid and you can adjust using the amount of liquid used at the boiling stage or add more lighter coconut milk at the stage when milk is added. That is the stage where you can gauge how thick or thin the parippu will turn out.

You now have parippu. Wonderful with nice crusty bread, rice, or just some warmed pita. Ideally I would serve dal with rice, a curried vegetable, pappadam, and a nice tvp vegetarian meat curry and cucumber sambal. But the options and combinations are pretty endless.

Dal and rice combined is a complete protein. And so affordable.

Notes:
The hing and smoked paprika is the substitute for the maldive fish (umbalakada).

DSCF0362Asofoeteda must be used extremely sparingly.

DSCF0363Mustard and cumin seeds.

DSCF0364Oil ready for the temperado. Careful things will splatter!

DSCF0365Karapincha, Rampe, Sera, a big secret.  They freeze well from fresh.  Cut up the sera and rampe and put in bags and freeze and take what you want straight from freezer.

DSCF0366Sri Lankan shallots versus the normal shallots – big difference as you can see.  Its preferable to use the Sri Lankan shallots especially for the temperado.  But if they are hard to find regular onions will do.  But try the difference sometime.

DSCF0368I first add the seeds, then when they pop I add the curry leaves, sera and rampe; then when they are frying add the red chilli.  Thereafter add the shallots.

DSCF0369shallots are in.

DSCF0371When everything is good and fried add the butter to gild the lily.

DSCF0372

DSCF0373Finally add the hing and smoked paprika.  You don’t have to do this if you use umbalakada which is made of fish.  I don’t use it.

DSCF0375Adding the temperado to the cooked parippu.

DSCF0377

Parippu, ready!

hope or despair?

Cinnamon Almond Oatmeal Muffins

Is baking a sign of hope or a sign of despair? We had our first sprinkling of snow in the City and last evening was very cold walking up the road to pick up some fruit and veg and some decent tea, finally. Fortunately I had two sticks of butter, the last in the fridge, and made these. They are hands down the best muffins and fool proof. As to buttermilk you can make your own. A cup of buttermilk = one tablespoon white vinegar (or lemon juice) added to whole milk to make a cup. Today’s muffins were made with 1% milk and it still worked.

Been making these amazing little cakes … yes they are muffins I know … but they are so lovely they might as well be cakes — as I was saying been making these cakes for years and they freeze great. Just take one out as you fly out the door in the morning as you step out to take over the world.

I also adjust the fruit (and nut) and flavouring components of the recipe depending on my mood and what’s around. Here are some of my favourite combinations:

To the basic recipe (thank you Epicurious - http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Oatmeal-Muffins-10077) make the following changes. I always double the recipe and come out with two dozen muffins which keep calling at me from the freezer.

Cardamom and Rosewater with Pistachio Muffins:
Replace half of fruit with rough chopped pistachios.
Add a teaspoon of rosewater (await a post on rosewater soon) with the eggs.
replace half of fruit with candied ginger roughly minced.
Top each muffin with a whole pistachio before it goes in oven.
To the flour add teaspoon of fresh powdered Ceylon cardamom (its more delicate than the big pods).
*You may want to go more rose by replacing candied ginger with a fresh rhubarb compote made with sugar and a little lime juice.

fruit and nut power

Cinnamon and Almond muffins:
To flour mix add about tablespoon of fresh powdered Ceylon Cinnamon (use an electric coffee/spice grinder).
Replace currents with half of chopped almonds and half of raisins.
*You may want to add some almond essence.

Toppings: Again toppings are optional. Tourbinado sugar; coconut flakes, more nuts, rolled oats, cashews and the sky is the limit and depending on your mood.

The combinations are endless I guess. My favourite is rosewater pistachio.

Important Tips: If fruit you add is still wet just toss them in some of the flour before they go in. Test muffins so they don’t overcook and dry out becoming un-tender. Best to take them out “as soon as” a skewer comes out dry.