Posts Tagged ‘food’

We are on the campus of Parshvanath Vindapeeth University, on Baranasi Hindu University grounds. BHU is huge, acres and acres, and park-like. Our little compound includes countless mango trees, several dogs, and families who live on site.

We have fresh mangoes at lunch and dinner. Apparently, it is either against the law, or very frowned upon, to take mangoes from the trees. (Of course, like everything else, we are allowed to pick mangoes from the trees if we like.)

Night before last, when the winds started to come, the families on campus came out with flashlights to take the mangoes that were falling from the trees.

Ashleigh has taken to bringing a few mangoes with us when we go into town–we give one to our tuk-tuk driver, or too a child. They are very well accepted.

The buildings remind me of a kind of semi-abandoned tropical hotel. Once-bright colors, peeling plaster and paint, wood expanded by heat.

This is someone’s study carrel in the library.

Me, searching for a book. Once you find the section you want, you go find the librarian, and he comes with a giant ring of silver keys to open the doors.


Here is a photo from the puja we saw on our first evening. The elements of fire, incense, bell ringing, conch-blowing, anointing, singing, and dancing are used. The crowd occasionally responds with clapping, uplifted hands, or responding.

This pink, river-side house would be my first choice if I lived in Varanasi. I love the sort of gingerbread detailing.

I continue to find great doorways and passageways to capture my imagination.

Day before yesterday, five of us started at Asi Ghat, the southernmost, and walked all along the river. In the afternoon, we came across a cricket game. We watched the the two guys took their turns at pitching and batting, which the kids loved.

As I was watching, a lovely little girl approached. I had just braided Nelda’s hair, and the little girl wanted to braid mine. She did two braids and tied them together with my barrette at the back of my head.

We passed by the Burning Place again, but didn’t go down into it. Here are stacks of wood higher up the bank, waiting to be sorted and used.


I’ve begun my research project: I’m writing a four-week curriculum for secondary schools students around cultivating self-awareness and perspective-taking, based on Jain principles. I’m also writing a teachers’ guide that will accompany, and provide additional information on Jain philosophy and resources.

We found a wonderful Western-style coffee shop in town, which has real, good coffee. It’s a nice break to go there to read, and have a real coffee, with good milk. The shop is on a second story, and so monkeys wander around the window sills outside, regarding us as we study. Yesterday they had apple pie, which was delicious. Strange to be eating warm apple pie in India, under the direct gaze of a monkey.


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So, our plan worked. Yesterday at 9:30 AM, my classmate Devon and I went back to the set of “Dance, India, Dance” and he blew them away in his audition. They asked him to arrive later in the afternoon to tape.

While he was performing, not only were we the crowd going wild, but even the band was taping him with their cellphones. Oh, he did breakdancing (two minutes’ worth!) to James Brown’s, “Sex Machine.” Awesomeness. They were also looking for a singer, so Nelda sang two songs with the band. I was not lying when I told the assistant director, “Your audience will love this!”

After Devon performed, two professional Bollywood dancers came up, with Matthew, another classmate, and the four of them had a kind of cross-cultural dance off.  So cool.

Later that day, we were treated to a private sarangi performance. Ten of us gathered with the musicians; it was splendid. After they played several songs, they asked if anyone wanted to sing– sing along, and they would provide backup with the instruments. I sang “Beulah Land.” So, so strange and otherworldly to sing a song I’ve known (and sung) since childhood, a country church song, backed by instruments with an entirely different mode and sound.

Several others sang, and we heard amazing, heart-full renditions of songs, against this new background. It was one of those sublime moments that happens in a new community– you’re listening together, feeling unexpected frissons of nostalgia and wonder, and then you literally begin to harmonize: on “Down to the River to Pray,” harmony began, next to me on either side, from across the room, and then I added my own voice.

If you think about it, spontaneous harmonizing is kind of holy, and a good metaphor for how we ought to try to move through life. You listen carefully, you appreciate with whole-heart the voices of others, and you take a brave leap to join in yourself. And you can’t force it…when it arises naturally, it is the loveliest of all, gilded even by its unexpectedness.

What could even begin to top such a day? Oh, an Indian wedding, that’s all. We learned another life lesson yesterday: Always follow fireworks. After the sarangi performance, we heard fireworks outside. Four of us decided to follow them; we found ourselves in the middle of a parade bringing the groom to the bride and reception site. Dancing, lanterns, a wildly decorated horse, and a band. Oh, we danced. And one of the relatives invited us to come along. And then, at the reception site, we were invited in and welcomed hugely.

The hospitality! Everyone we met wanted to know if we were enjoying ourselves, where we were from, and made conversation. It was like a regular wedding, I guess, except we started out being _complete strangers_ to the wedding guests. Can you imagine such a radical graciousness? An extension of the most beautiful part of your family to include bystanders and stragglers? Oh, and the food was absolutely the best I’ve had in India…


Me, Ashleigh, and Nelda in the crowd.


One of the traveling chandeliers– the wedding procession had two lines of these, one on each side of the parade. Giant, gas-lit chandeliers. I was smitten.


The entrance to the reception.


Fresh naan! There was a whole naan station; four women crouched up on a ledge, making the dough into little balls. Several men were kneading and making the dough. Another pair of men cooked them over the coals, and a last man popped the biggest air bubble when it came off the grill, and dipped it in hot butter. Oh, my. The bottoms of the naan was salty from the coals.

From the big (reality television) to the little (bursts of fire-warmed salt on my hungry tongue), yesterday was again filled with the absolutely unexpected. And I couldn’t ask for more.


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I love giving dinner parties. Dreaming about dates and reasons to party (saints’ days, old feasting days like 12th Night, anniversaries of literary things, or dogs). Thinking over menu ideas, things we have to make, the artichoke dip everyone loves, the olive spread I’ve been wanting to try.

Matt and I gave a small 12th Night Party last weekend. Seven guests, and Matt went all-out cooking. Homemade tamales (with a sweet potato and black bean filling), a kind of Georgian (the country) filled cheese bread, quesadillas, dukkah (a crushed nut and spice mixture you can eat with bread), homemade salsa and hummus, fresh bread, olives, cheeses. I made white sangria, Matt made from-scratch lemonade. Homemade shortbread (yummiest cookie dough ever) and Mexican hot chocolate for dessert.

As usual, even in a small apartment, everyone ends up in the kitchen. Or near the kitchen, standing, eating the cheese bread and getting excited for fresh tamales. Oh, we ate. And drank and laughed. A few guests remarked that this was “pastoral,” and a good time for feeling cared for, before the semester began. That is, we work so hard, and those in the ministry spend lots of energy taking care of others– it’s nice to come to a party and be feted.

Back in the box of old photographs my cousin Larry and I looked through, we found that our Grandpa had saved the menu and program from a long-ago Navy base Christmas dinner. I love the lettering and the vaguely deco-reindeer.

I’m struck by how fancy everything has gotten, in this instant-everything global community. Chicken noodle soup. Fresh frozen peas. Coffee, tea, and milk.

Once in Chicago at Christmas, as an adult, my oldest childhood friend and I were taking the escalator at the Marshall Field’s on the Magnificent Mile. Even though we were adults, we were dazzled by the displays, the immensity of it all. We remarked to each other that we were glad we’d grown up in a very small town, where things were simple and often poor– and that now as adults we could still be dazzled.

I guess I’m also glad that I grew up in a time and place when the grocery store having bell peppers (which we, strangely, called “mangoes”) was exotic, as were Jell-O jigglers. I still get dazzled by the abundance of foods at my fingertips. Isn’t it crazy, in a way, that I can read any recipe on-line or in any cookbook, and feel certain that I could make it this very night? All ingredients are within my reach.

And yet, Sunday morning, for what did I have the most intense craving? Biscuits and gravy. We were up early and went to a great diner that never closes (the best kind) and I indulged. Not as good as my Grandma’s, or my Mom’s, or even mine… but still delicious. And not the kind of thing I’d make for a dinner party, but some of the best food I know.

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Thanksgiving Graces

Graces, enumerated: big and small.

1. We could afford to rent a car. After last year’s physically uncomfortable and emotionally draining “Fook Seng” “bus,” we had been so looking forward to being comfortably enough financially to rent a car.  And, after a month of intense houseguests, just being in the car with Matt for hour after hour, to chat, share, point things out… it was wonderful.

2. My new [additional] family. I have really hit the in-law jackpot. I am constantly aware of how lucky I am– every time I read an advice column, a short story, or talk to colleagues who have crazy or onerous or overbearing or awful in laws.  I look forward to seeing them, they make me laugh, they make me feel appreciated, I feel good around them, I would be friends with my sisters-in-law even if we weren’t related, and I look forward to having relationships with Matt’s parents for many, many years.  Thanksgiving was just another joyful, fun chance to be with them all.

3. Snow in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. This little town has always felt like a pop-up storybook village to me. The ravine, the waterfalls, the gazebos and shops and Christmas lights. Walking around last weekend, snow began. I immediately got butterflies in my stomach, and felt plain giddy.

4. Enough food!  I don’t know where I get this irrational worry/fear, but I often am afraid there “won’t be enough.” Not just food, but also school supplies, money for an errand, pillows… anything you can think of that would be wanted or needed. Sometimes the fear doesn’t articulate itself, but it’s always an old sensation, twitching a little when I want things (like holidays, like family) most.  To sit down and be surrounded by more than enough… _and_ “traditional” foods (which I crave*) just felt fantastic.

5. Enough food. Maybe because I teach kids who eat two of their three meals a day, and frequently their only warm meal a day, at school, I try to be mindful about the wealth of food that surrounds me, all of the time. It’s hard to realize how much we have, but we have much.

6. I love the cranberry “sauce” that comes in a can. Turns out, I’m not the only one. Happily, on the very day of Thanksgiving, dear Matt went out in the world, and fetched us all a can. So good.

7. In a previous long-term relationship, the mother of the person I was with didn’t like the fact that I am overweight. She pretty much agonized over it. She couldn’t, for example, bear for me to eat mayonnaise in her presence. At Thanksgiving, I had my own [light] gravy, in my own silver gravy boat, at their finely set table. This Thanksgiving underscored for me once again how different this relationship is (how different I am!).

*My family doesn’t always celebrate the holidays, and when they do, it isn’t always in traditional ways. At one famous Thanksgiving meal, my Mom made Thanksgiving breakfast… all breakfast foods, with the addition of orange Jell-O turkey-shaped Jell-O jigglers. You never know how much you crave the old favorites until you’re eating Grands biscuits, cold scrambled eggs, and Jell-O jigglers.

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Frittata Queen

Around here, Matt is the Omelette King.  In fact, he even blogged as such.

My favorite omelette of his involves leftover samosa filling. We make samosas from scratch, and always have leftover filling. The next morning, he’ll make omelets with samosa filling, served with yogurt and chutneys on the side.  Bravo!

After reading about frittata, and their tasty ease, for many years, a few months ago I really got into them.  Eggs, egg beaters, and savory goodness on bottom.  Every one has turned out delicious, as countless cookbook writers, bloggers, and magazine columnists had assured me.  But– I am especially bold and willing.

Here is what was in tonight’s fritatta:

Leftover lima bean chili. I’ve been making veggie chili for years. We always use dried beans, not canned, and think (especially with red beans and chickpeas) it makes an enormous difference. Because of this, we often have stores of various beans in the freezer. We discovered recently that lima beans have a crazy amount of fibre, which makes them more appealing for our weight watchers program.  If I use Pam spray instead of olive oil to saute the veg, there isn’t any fat at all in the chili– only delicious savory veg and beans, and aromatic powerful spices. Wow!

Leftover fancy goat cheese. I don’t remember why we bought this, but I found a bit of it in the fridge, and am trying to clear it out before we go on vacation.

Leftover fat free cream cheese.  From earlier weight watchers endeavors. Only a smidge left. I don’t like to throw food away, so I microwaved the cream cheese for 17 seconds, and then creamed it with the goat cheese, a sprinkle of cumin, and a dash of cayenne.

Five eggs and 1/2 cup of eggbeaters.  Again, we’re trying to clear out the fridge and don’t like to throw away food. We had five eggs left.

One serving of blue tortilla chips.

One tiny serving of the filling for savory cajun stuffed mushrooms, from weight watchers online. The filling was in the freezer, from the last time I made the mushrooms. It’s savory and spicy, and has a similar “flavor profile” to the chili, so I put it in.

I heated the chili and mushroom filling in a pan. I added hot sauce because it was a bit dry, and then a bit of Tabasco butter Matt had made for a recipe earlier this summer. (Another smidge of leftover from the fridge.)

I put that in a pie pan, and mixed together the eggs, eggbeaters, salt and pepper, and poured eggs on top of chili mixture.  This I baked for ten minutes.

(I read a hint from someone that if you add the cheese after the first ten minutes, it doesn’t melt in, and fall into the mixture, and so it feels and looks more cheesy, and you can use less.)

Then, I stuck in the tortilla chips in a haphazard pattern around the border of the frittata.  The blue chips looked pretty against the yellow egg mixture. I put clumps of the goat cheese mixture around in the middle.

It baked for fifteen more minutes.  After pulling it out of the oven, I sprinkled some more hot sauce over the top for color and verve.

Delicious! Thrifty, healthy, and very pretty. I used up four leftovers, and had something much more exciting.

“Ave, Ovo Regina!”

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Tonight, for dinner, I ate half of a watermelon.  At Fairway, it was marketed as a “personal watermelon.”

For the past seven nights, I have been waking up in a new way. Not in a panic, and not with lasting anxiety, but with an urgent feeling of, “Something is missing!”  Sometimes, what I think is missing is Matt. I sit up, I feel his head. I can’t tell it’s him. So I lean over and smell him.  I recognize his smell, so I am satisfied, and go back to sleep.

Or, I fear that I’ve lost my wedding rings.  I get up, I dart about, maybe turn on the light, until I can see them on my dresser top or vanity table.

Last Monday night, I can’t remember what I thought was missing, but I left the bedroom, turned on the living room light, and unpacked part of my luggage.

The morning after we got the watermelon, I woke up in a panic. Matt was already up, grinding coffee. I believe I said to him, “Someone took my watermelon! Where is it??”  Confused but reassuring, he picked up the watermelon (where I had left it on the counter) and held it out, saying, “It’s right here.”

I would rather have these nightly sensations of loss than full-blown panic attacks, but I am curious about why they’re happening now, and what they might mean.  I think that the phrase “personal watermelon” has something to do with my internal possessiveness of that particular fruit item.

I love watermelon. Until this week, I’ve never purchased it for myself. It always seems to heavy to carry home, to bulky for the fridge. Whenever it’s at a party or BBQ, though, I will eat as much as possible.  I try to be covert about it, getting only three slices, for example, for my plate, but then going back throughout the evening for more slices. It’s delicious!  I have loved it forever.

My Grandpa used to grow watermelons, among other veg and fruits, on his farm.  It’s nice to eat watermelon cold, but there’s something to be said for eating it warm, hot and ripe from the sun.  The heart is the best part– before adulthood, all watermelons had seeds, and the heart is always seedless.  Sun-warmed, cracked open, the heart is red, pulpy, seedless, and so sweet.

There were rumors that “Posey County boys crack open all the watermelon they want, and only eat the hearts.”   They grew watermelon there, and that idea of excess was so appealing to me as a child. I imagined marrying a Posey County boy and eating watermelon hearts to my content, luxuriously.

One of the local towns used to have a Sweet Corn and Watermelon Festival.  In addition to rides, and a parade, and probably a pageant (I personally was 1st Runner Up in my own hometown’s Little Miss Peanut Pageant, as well as competing in a neighboring town’s Little Miss Old King Coal pageant), the festival featured all of the sweet corn and watermelon you could eat, for free.

Various tents, put up by local politicians, and the city council, and the Rotary, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, unions… all of the small town organizations had tents.  Farmers brought in huge wagons of the produce, there was live music, and the tents had paper plates, forks, butter, salt, and napkins. You could eat, and eat, and eat. Hot and cold: buttery or sweet.

When I was little, food was a huge part of how I looked forward to things.  I spent many years in Sunday school, imagining heaven. In my elementary school mind, heaven looked like this: There were many long, endlessly long tables, covered with white table cloths and beautiful silver bowls.  Delicious mashed potatoes filled each bowl. This image of comfort [food] sustained me for many a prayer and long sermon.

Looking forward to the Sweet Corn and Watermelon Festival had a similar fantastical feeling–it seemed too good to be true, and I looked forward to the watermelon all year it seemed. Plates of it. Red and super sweet. I could imagine the water running down my chin, even onto my feet.  And in a festival–it’s very nomination provoking excess–one could have exactly as much watermelon as she wanted.

I’m not a wealthy woman. I have student loans, and work three jobs, and do my best to save and budget and be thrifty. When I have an entire watermelon to myself, though, I can saw without any hyperbole at all that I feel as wealthy as a princess, as luxuriating as an empress.  I saved half of the watermelon for breakfast; half of a watermelon is nearly all I can ask of the world tonight.

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Jodut before the wedding ceremony.

I just came back from Jodut’s wedding. I was a bridesmaid (my first time!) and also made their cake.  I’ll be writing a post about the cake itself, and that whole process, with tons of photos, separately.

It was a beautiful, beautiful weekend. We spent time with Jodut’s family, and got to know Ben’s families, and Tom and Eric arrived just in time to help me wrangle the fondant.

On Friday evening, Jodut’s incredible sister-in-law Alvina did mendhi on my hands, and I sang with the aunties while Jodut had her mendhi done. (I was just learning the sounds of the Urdu words, and singing along by reading transliterated text in a song book, but Jodut’s Mom told me what the songs were about.)

Saturday, we got up very early so I could start the cake baking process. Matt helped me make the cake itself, and I made the fillings (coconut buttercream and chocolate ganache). While the cakes baked, I made the fondant–with marshmallow Fluff, so it tastes good, like candy, not like regular fondant usually tastes.  I took a brief rest in a hammock while the cakes were cooling, but then got to work torte-ing and filling them.  Finally, by seven o’clock, we had rolled out the fondant, covered each tier, and rearranged the refrigerator to house the cake for the evening. We cleaned up, returned to the hotel for a quick costume change, and headed to Jodut’s family home for the mendhi.

Tables of delicious Indian food, a pile of shoes by the door, flowers and ribbons lining the room, music, and dozens of people greeted us. I got to participate in a lovely ceremony: the groomsmen walked Ben out into the shared space under a yellow shawl–they carried it over him, and walked in front of him. Then, we bridesmaids carried small plates with candles centered in mounds of henna paste–behind us, Jodut’s Mom and aunties escorted her out to sit next to Ben, under the same yellow shawl.

Then, beginning with the oldest family member, guests stood in line to give Ben and Jodut money, and then to feed them each something sweet.  After the sweet eating, the men all went downstairs, and the dancing began. Groups of Jodut’s friends had choreographed dances to perform for her.  Unfortunately for me, it was nearly midnight, and I had been on my feet all day baking, and didn’t last long once the dancing began.

We escaped to the hotel, soon followed by Tom and Eric. We reminisced about our years as roommates, and joked, and giggled ourselves to deep sleep.

The next morning, I slept in until eight o’clock, and then Matt and I headed back to Ben’s parents’ house. I made batches of royal icing, and Matt set off to do errands: escorting Jodut to a make-up appointment and picking up a tunic for me to wear with my shalwar (the chemise I had ordered from India didn’t fit perfectly).  I decorated the cake, and Matt arrived back in time to help me load it up into the car. I changed clothes, into my dress shalwar chemise and scarf, and we followed Ben’s Dad to the ceremony site.  We were running late (I was due for bridal party photos), but luckily everyone was. I had time to assemble the three layers on the table, add some final piping, and finish the cake with fresh flowers.

The ceremony was deeply moving.  It was held outside, and the greens of the grass and blossoming trees were the perfect foil for all of the bright dresses, beading, and gold threads.  As soon as Jodut started walking down the aisle, I started to cry. I was so moved by how beautiful she looked, and how having her as a friend has influenced my life, and how happy I was for her.  I got it together until she and Ben read aloud the vows they had written: I’m mostly not a fan of self-written vows (haven’t seen it work well very often), but Jodut’s and Ben’s words were perfect. Beautiful, inspiring, and harmonious.  Jodut’s voice broke as she read, and I really started crying, then.

I looked out into the assembled group and saw Matt, and fell in love with him a little bit more. One lovely thing about weddings (and why all couples should have the right to participate in marriage ceremonies) is that those of us bearing witness are also participating in joy, and in relationship-making.  The grace of the couple, and their love, gilds us a little, too.

Eric played violin, and watching him play in the open air got me crying again. I’m apparently going to be one of those old women who always cry at weddings.  I struggled to hold it together, but was brought to near-audible sobbing when one of the readings was from _The Velveteen Rabbit._

I was so happy to stand at the end of the procession, and watch Jodut and Ben walking back towards us, beaming.

More incredible Indian food for dinner, more than you could imagine, and fantastic music.  It was so fun and gratifying to see people taking photographs of the cake, and ooohing and ahhing over it. It was peculiar, because I had spent so many hours up close to the surface of the cake, working on piping, so it was strange to see it as a whole, glowing on its own table.  After Jodut and Ben each fed one another a piece of cake, Ben fed Jodut’s parents each a bite, and then Jodut did the same for Ben’s parents. I loved the symbolism of the new couples offering something sweet to their parents, and the fact that they used my cake brought tears to my eyes (again!)

Jodut and Ben did a fantastic salsa for their first dance, and then we all joined them on the dance floor.

Once again, Matt, Tom, and Eric and I laughed our way to sleep. One of the last things I remember is singing “Kookaburra” in a round with Eric.

This afternoon, we celebrated the walina with Jodut and Ben, and their families–it’s a meal, a BBQ in this case–hosted by the married couple, as the first gesture they make as a couple–hosting their friends and loved ones.

It was a wonderful weekend. I am tired and happy, and the mendhi on my hands is fading. We just finished looking at the hundreds of photos Matt took, and have remarked to ourselves several times what a gorgeous wedding it was, and how happy we are to have been there.

Alvina at work.

The henna before it dried.

Me recessing after the ceremony.

My bouquet.

Jodut and Ben cutting their cake.

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