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Professor X got his ten minute warning five weeks ago when a GP hypothesized early COPD or emphysema based on spirometric test results. She gave him a choice; quit smoking or cart around an oxygen tank in the next five years. That amount of time doesn’t even put him at 40, so we both quit right there to her great surprise. A few weeks later – still sans cigarettes – the pulmonologist decreed a less dire prognosis of asthma. Professor X is now on a cortico-steroid inhaler and seeing great results.

I won’t regale you all with the infinite complexities of quitting. Nor will I effuse inspirational about the myriad benefits. Additionally, I do not have any advice for the best method to quit. And finally, please reserve your congratulatory statements and well-meaning platitudes. Those especially make me want to smoke, even more than a cold glass of white wine on a warm night or numismatics.

Instead, I will simply state this: everything is really salty. Whether it’s home cooking, restaurant food, or microwaved frozen from TJ’s, most things strike us as burn-your-tongue salty since we’ve quit. With this in mind, if I have ever given a precise measurement for salt in a recipe of my own, you should probably adjust it to your liking. In fact, I hope you have already. Similarly, I present this recipe for perfected puttanesca with some trepidation. Puttanesca has many salty items in it: olives, capers, anchovies. Just when I thought I had replicated the jar of manna from Carfagna’s, it is likely that the variables will need to be tweaked again.

Get Thee:

1/2 box of spaghetti or bucatini

1 tbsp olive oil

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced

2 oil-packed anchovy filets, chopped

24 oz can of plain whole plum tomatoes, roughly diced in hand*

1 tsp oregano, dried

1/2 tsp basil, dried

14 pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1 tbsp. capers

pinch of red chile flakes

1/2 tbsp butter

salt to taste

Assemble:

  1. Start your water for the pasta. Add 1/2 tbsp of salt to 6 cups of water, and set to boil over high heat. When the water is at a rolling boil, add 1/2 box of preferred pasta. I’m a Barilla girl, despite the company’s issues.
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a separate pan. Add garlic and anchovy. For the anchovy averse, please don’t leave it out. Just put on some fuckin’ pants and trust me on this. It will dissolve, leaving only an umami je ne sais quois.
  3. Add the whole plum tomatoes diced in hand*. (That does not mean that you should go using the palm of your hand as a cutting board.) Take a tomato and roughly cut off small pieces over the saute pan, minding your fingers. The juice and flesh will collect in the pan. Repeat with the rest of the tomatoes in the can. Reserve remaining liquid. Bring to a boil, and turn down heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Smash the tomato chunks with a spoon while stirring. If it’s too dry, add some of the liquid in the can. Also note: Refrain from buying diced tomatoes to save time. Due to added calcium chloride, they won’t dissolve at all. Whole tomatoes do not have this additive, and thus behave as you expect. Who knew?
  4. Add dried oregano and basil. Stir for another minute or two.
  5. Add olives, capers, and red chile flakes. Turn off heat. Stir to combine.
  6. Once pasta is done, separate 1/2 cup of cooking liquid from pot and drain the rest in a colander.
  7. Add pasta to sauce in pan. Stir. Turn heat to medium, and add 1/4 cup of cooking liquid. Stir. You’ll notice the sauce thin out a bit, then contract again. If it isn’t too thin, add a little more cooking liquid and stir. Add the bit of butter and stir until the mix bubbles a bit. I smugly avoided this step for decades despite reading about it in reliable cooking sources. Mea culpa. As fussy as it seems, it creates a nice shiny, supple sauce that covers all the pasta.
  8. Taste the pasta, and, finally, add salt as needed.

I recently met up with an old friend who just so happened to be in New Jersey at the same time as me, and the topic of words came up. Communication is his job in the Coast Guard. He wrote a sci-fi novel, and plans on turning his current blog into a collection of short stories once he retires. We’ve known each other for many incarnations, and he remembers a time when my writing was honed like a fine knife.

“I don’t know, man,” I muttered while unconsciously gnawing the callous on my left pinky between sips of bourbon. “Ever since I started playing cello, the words have slowly gone quiet. It’s mostly pictures and sounds in my head these days.”

Professor X and I have been in a constant state of travel recovery since Christmas. Perhaps the perceived extra strain is simply time passing over our meat sacks. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that getting anywhere from Corvallis, OR by plane is a massive schlep. Either way, I have the perpetual sensation of being “just back.” By the time I restock cat food and paper towels, we’re off again. In such a state, I recently decided to make cheesecake for no particular reason.

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The Cheesecake

My recipe is by no means mine. My Grandma Barbera tinkered endlessly with one from the back of a Philadelphia Cream Cheese box to get to the process currently detailed in my handwriting on a piece of 3×5 notepaper.  During that particular spring/summer, she greeted us with at least one cheesecake for our feedback every time we visited. The final two contenders were towering monuments to dairy. We each had several slices during the taste test; judging height, texture, appearance, and degrees of lemon since this should be a plain cheesecake enhanced with a touch of lemon, not a lemon cheesecake. It was such a close call that grandma retained and eventually passed down both recipes. Only one remains in my archive, but the original with both is enshrined in a frame backed by one of her old dish towels somewhere at my mom’s house. I only know that this is the one I preferred from that sunny day of familial dairy bloat.

I made The Cheesecake at least twice a year for nearly decade. A former suitor of some importance loved the dessert. When we parted ways in 2006, The Cheesecake was retired. It also didn’t help that my springform pan was at least as old as I was, and started leaking while in the oven. When I set about my task last Friday, I realized that the pan was a longtime gone. You can’t make The Cheesecake without one, so off to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

While there, I remembered that it’s baked in a bain marie; a fun tip not mentioned in the recipe, but key to The Cheesecake and a variable tested on at least one visit to grandma’s house. None of my baking pans will accommodate a 9-inch springform, so I picked up what they’re calling a “lasagna pan.” (Ed note: Who the fuck are people feeding a lasagna that big to? You could feed a small Sicilian village for a week with something that size. Sweet baby Jeebus.) Decades of jerry rigging a bain marie suddenly fell away. I beamed resplendent with thoughts of what one can do with even a modest operating budget.

Once home, vertiginous jet lag crept in. I downed a fistful of crackers with some seltzer while perusing the recipe, and was struck with a sense of omission; omission of the important details and nuances my grandmother researched that made this cheesecake “The Cheesecake.” Crunching away, I wondered why it’s been 11 years since I last made it.

Get Thee

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 stick of butter, melted

For the filling:

3 x 8 oz packs of cream cheese

1 1/4 cups sugar

6 eggs, separated

1 pint of sour cream

1/3 cup flour

2 tsp vanilla

rind of 1 lemon

juice of 1/2 lemon

Assemble:

-Preheat oven to 350 F, or 375-400 F if it’s my craptastic oven. Set cream cheese on counter to warm to room temperature.

-For crust, combine all ingredients and press 3/4 of mixture into greased pan. I didn’t see that 3/4 part until after the mix was in the pan. Honestly, it was just fine. I also wondered what the hell grandma did with the other 1/4 since she was loathe to waste food.

-In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese on low speed until soft. Gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Check the bottom of the bowl to make sure no lumps are hiding. Cream cheese in pernicious stuff.

-Beat in egg yolks, one at a time.

-Stir in sour cream, flour, vanilla, lemon rind, and juice until smooth.

-In another bowel, beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks, then fold into cream cheese mixture. The mix will expand significantly, so don’t skimp on the bowl size.

-Pour mix into prepared springform pan. Place that pan into a “lasagna pan” (11×14 rectangle) and fill with an inch or two of hot water. This is the all important bain marie step.

-Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until top is golden. Realize 10 minutes in to baking that you forgot to add the sour cream. Call mom. Post on Facebook. Receive no answers.  Eventually pass the hell out on the couch because your diurnal rhythms are hopelessly out of whack. Don’t forget to set an alarm, lest you burn the house down because you slept through a cheesecake.

-Turn off heat and allow to cool in oven for 1 hour. Contemplate whether or not you’re getting sick while chugging more seltzer.

-Remove cake, and let cool to room temperature. Remove pan collar. Chill overnight or for a minimum of 2 hours before serving. Discover that The Cheesecake is just fine, if not better, without the sour cream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another summer is on its way out. Even in Oregon, where locals continue to insist it never gets hot enough for air conditioning, I find summer’s cheery disposition has overstayed its welcome shortly after my birthday in mid-August. I crave silence, darkness, and cool.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that Professor X and I are not outdoorsy, and we don’t have a yard to maintain. I’ve imagined both scenarios though, and concluded that a person has to like summer in order to enjoy those activities. The lack of humidity here certainly helps, but, as one of my uncles is fond of saying, “I don’t stick my head in the oven and think, ‘Ah, that’s nice!'”

It could also be due to the fact that Professor X is not a vegetable eater, and finds summer fare unsubstantial. If someone serves him caprese, there better be a burger nearby. Chaat is also not a home cooking pursuit where we live. These things put a kink in what remains of my kitchen rhythm.

Aside from calling in delivery and holing up in the AC, the summer was about remembering the Midwest; where July smothers you like a hug from a menopausal aunt, and people generally take no bullshit. My mom discovered a hidden gem of a Nepalese/Tibetan restaurant in Gahanna, OH. We went directly to Himalayan Grill from the airport, and gorged on momos and khasi ko sekuwa. On that same trip, we stopped for an unplanned 24 hours in Chicago where we hit up Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston. (Thanks, United Airlines!) The roast pork with prunes on my list of cooler weather weekend projects. We also grabbed coffees, and a selection of pastries from La Boulangerie in Lakeview for the train ride north from our hotel. The El trundled through its stops, and it was all suddenly too familiar – one hand on a hanging strap, hot coffee in the other, the wish for a third so you can eat that petite tarte au citron without losing your balance.

Our landed friends are hauling in the last of their summer harvests, canning, and planting their winter crops. The gigante beans that I co-grew with a friend are a mixed result. My earth is poisoned from a long gone walnut tree, so my four plants produced one pod with two beans; not even enough to trade for a sick cow. A’s farmlet is more fertile, so she got enough for ten sick cows, maybe a healthy one. She’s moved on to an Italian cabbage called”January King.” The English consider it tastiest at the market.

I’ve got chilis to string, but the harvest Professor X and I hope to reap are more administrative. His PR visa will have some kind of outcome in the next few weeks. If the outcome is good, we can start planning other aspects of our life. The proposals he spent much of summer writing will hopefully bear fruit come winter. Needless to say, it’s been a hell of summer and our stomachs are shot.

 

 

 

 

 

Robata Grill and Ramen Noodle popped up on Corvallis’ river strip this past spring with much anticipation. Local mutterings place it within the Sada lineage, but other sources point to some guy named Steve. Its elevator pitch was ramen variations and grilled meat on sticks. It had our attention. What actually conspired across three visits proved otherwise.

Visit 1: Professor X and I were out one Thursday during the quarter, prowling for a place to eat dinner. As of parking the car, we still hadn’t decided. We noticed the lights on at Robata as we crossed Monroe, and it was settled.

The space formerly housed grumpy fish man; the only location for properly fresh fish in our fair town. The peripheral tables were half full, and a few locals hung out at the bar. I noticed a few “fuck my life” expressions as we were led to our booth. At the time, I figured it was because those parties had kids. After all, the servers seemed to be attentive and busy. We were seated next in line to a family of four, who I noticed spoke French.

Our meal unfolded uneventfully, if not better than expected since they had only been open for a week. We ordered. Food came. Waiter was attentive and a bit green, but he held it down better than his cohort. Professor X had lamb donburi, and I got Nagasaki ramen (pork broth with seafood). We split some gyoza.

Impressions from that night:

  1. The gyoza were clearly frozen together when they went in the oil, as they came out to us like a little fried raft. They were okay, but the mix lacked seasoning and the gyoza dipping sauce needed extra soy to fortify it.
  2. Professor X wolfed down his bowl of lamb donburi, and proclaimed it “pretty good.” A bowl of rice and meat rarely fails to please him.
  3. I was a little disappointed by my bowl of ramen because it had a metric shit ton of sauteed cabbage in it. Veg usually acts as low cost-point filler, but there was plenty of seafood. Why all the cabbage then? Needless to say, the broth to solid ratio was skewed in favor of the latter.
  4. And speaking of broth, it needed encouragement. It had the slick mouthfeel you’d expect from the cloudy pork variety, but lacked depth. It was just sort of salty and fatty. This is not to say it was terrible, just needs some finessing.
  5. The French couple with two young children next to us were already there when we arrived, and were just getting their appetizers when we left. I don’t know the full story, but they seemed highly pissed off.
  6. Professor X couldn’t get a spoon to save his life. He actually wandered in to the nearby server station and grabbed one without detection.

Visit 2: A and I headed out for a lunch adventure. She too was excited to hear about Robata’s arrival, but doesn’t get into “town” much outside of work. We ended up leaving because the waiter openly admitted that they wouldn’t be able to get us out in an hour. Some would take umbrage at his transparency, but we found it refreshing and happily toddled down to Cloud and Kelly’s where they also couldn’t get us out in an hour, but indicated nothing of it. Ah Corvallis.

Visit 3:  A and I headed out for a happy hour adventure with our menfolk. We envisioned sake during the initial planning stage, and A hoped for soba. Unfortunately, post-work fatigue put the kaibash on sake and they don’t do soba. A scored a seat – the exact one Professor X and I had the first time – and service seemed to be going well. Despite this, I again noted a few “fuck my life” faces among the customers. I also noticed it was primarily occupied by the 60+ crowd. This would be a red flag in other locales, but not here. They are the largest demographic in Florida’s PNW annex after all.

This time around we ordered beef donburi and variations of the make-your-own bowl; shoyu for me, miso for A, and tonkatsu for At. Professor X ordered a chicken skewer too.

Impressions:

  1. My ramen was tepid and reeked of baking soda. The broth was nearly tasteless, and didn’t have enough salt. How can you not have enough salt in shoyu broth? Shoyu practically is salt.
  2. At reported that his was more like noodles with a weird sauce than a bowl of soup. Other comments included not enough meat, store bought noodles, and his was also tepid.
  3. A straight up couldn’t finish hers and concurred with all of our observations.
  4. Professor X finished his, but mentioned that he needed to add a great deal of chili oil and shichimi to get the flavor profile popping. He agreed with At that their protein portions were stingy. However, the rice was “not bad.”
  5. Our waiter had a habit of lingering silently around the table like a puppy. Oddly enough, Rajiv still couldn’t get a spoon and wandered, yet again, into the server station without the employee’s noticing.
  6. Cabbage was blessedly absent from all the bowls, but we were given topping options. I could see it trailing off chopsticks at other tables. (Ed note: I like cabbage.)

Thankfully, A and At are not the kind of folk who blame the inviting party for bad restaurant experiences and the relationship is intact. As we wandered over to gelato, At mentioned that they could easily make better at home, and, hey! maybe we should for one of the themed cooking nights! Everyone agreed while hungrily inhaling the scent of pizza on the air.

So what to do with all this data? After a great deal of sighing and expectation managing, we’re sad to say that we won’t be back. I’ve grown incredibly fucking patient with restaurants since moving to Corvallis. We’ll overlook disproportionately long wait times, lost credit cards, forgotten drinks and appetizers, and other instances of Keystone cop bumbling if the food is even reasonably good. Unfortunately, Robata Grill and Ramen Noodle just isn’t worth it.

Side note to Sada: Sir, if Robata is indeed in your restaurant lineage, please get upstairs post-haste and box that kid’s ears. It’s an embarrassment to the quality of your izakaya joint, and all the work you’ve poured in to make it a well-oiled machine.

 

 

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Batch #1 lime pickle

I have no idea when pickling became an icon of cool. Maybe 2010? All I remember is that recipes and canning instructions were suddenly featured on every slick food site, and restaurants were serving “house” pickles. Kimchi also stormed the U.S. food scene around this time. One thing that I noted during this branch of homesteading is that South Asian pickles never made the front page. It made sense at the time because my experience with this genre was unremarkable. They were always too salty, too tart, unpleasant textures; all around too much. My least favorite Indian pickle was lime pickle. It generally tasted like spicy floor cleaner or, lordissa help me, sweet and spicy floor cleaner.

Many many moons later, I would be offered lime pickle on homemade mathri, a popular flaky biscuit particular to Rajasthan. The presented pickle was not only lime, but had taken on a shade of black during its fermentation process that otherwise indicates “Do not eat.” Professor X and Dr. Mother-in-Law assured me it was delicious. It was also the last of its kind; made by Professor X’s paternal grandmother who passed away a year or so ago and set aside for his homecoming. As culinary traditions tend to go, Dr. Mother-in-Law learned the recipe early on, but did not write it down.

From the picture above, it’s correct to assume that I liked the pickle a great deal. What I didn’t expect when I set forth to put up some pickle was how much of a commitment it would be. The recipe contained in above jars has to sit, and be turned daily, for a month before you can even consider eating it. And, it’s apparently a quick pickle (quickle?).

The breadth and depth of Indian pickle making was also unforeseen. Achar, and its rules, vary by region, state, and even household. Some do whole limes. Others do quarters. Some stuff the masalas into the fruit. Others temper the spices in oil, then add it to the mixture. Older generations prohibit menstruating women from touching the pickle jar. Newer recipes recommend sterilized Mason jars, and even putting it in the oven on the lowest setting every day to simulate sun exposure. Some swear only on earthen vessels covered with a cloth.

There is also a debate about definitions, previously encountered during an attempt to make lemon chicken in Kolkata. Ask for a lime in India, and you’ll be presented with a large, yellowish fruit with bumpy skin that smells like a lemon, but has a distinctive resiny flavor. This is nimbu.  Request a lemon, and you will receive a small, green fruit with smooth skin that also smells like a lemon. This is citron, just like the French word for “lemon,” yet it tastes only vaguely like one. Even with this in mind, searching for recipes online continued to confound with everyone calling it “nimbu achar,” but alternating between “lemon” and “lime” because U.S. markets simply don’t have either nimbu or citron. Perhaps its a matter of personal taste.

After a week of collaborative research, and a Skype call, two missing factors came to light. First, the recipe I sought was one for kala nimbu achar (black lime pickle). Not only does the mix turn black, but it has kala namak (Himalayan black salt) in it. Second, it takes at least twenty years to get to the state of savory voodoo contained in that small jar. This bit of information gave me pause as I did the math. I imagined the pickle riding alongside houseplants and cat carriers across the U.S. I saw myself and Professor X as an elderly couple, finally getting a taste of the pickle but unable to properly chew mathri with dentures or handle spicy food due to aging stomachs. I also saw it permanently camped out somewhere in the apartment; requiring care and feeding like some strange, oozy pet.

We have one more week before Batch One is done. Maybe it will be worth it, and we’ll go in for the long haul with some kala nimbu that we break out like a fine wine for my 60th birthday. Or perhaps I’ll decide, like Dr. Mother-in-Law, to stop wasting limes on fungal growths.

 

 

 

I was happily trucking along to the library during lunch hour last Monday. After a half day Friday, I felt refreshed, focused, and productive. Just as my brain said “We should do half days more often,” I felt my boot shift on rain slicked stone stairs. Next thing I know my handbag was airborne, and I was on my ass – legs askew, hat crooked, umbrella at the bottom of the staircase, rain soaking into my pantyhose. A bespectacled young man asks, “Are you okay?” All I could think to reply through the adrenaline and pain was “Well, let me straighten my hat first!”

I discovered the next morning that my ankle (and talus!) was broken.

Small avulsion fractures are treated like a bad ankle sprain. My look for the next week or so will be complimented by a walking cast; the clompy black Darth Vader type things so many Midwestern femmes with the hubris to wear heels sport come winter. I’ve been instructed to stay off it as much as possible. This is difficult because I’m a professional putterer, as well as the guardian of domestic hygiene. It’s also a challenge because the things we eat during the week are all quick recipes from my mental files.

Professor X does cook, but, like many households, he is not the cook. As of the incident, our larder was filled with ingredients from my aforementioned mental files. His mental recipes don’t include kale or asparagus, and any flesh other than chicken makes him nervous. Thankfully, he’s far more committed to keeping me horizontal than I am, so he took up the gauntlet.

Our usual routine when he cooks is that I sit in a chair at the table or otherwise make myself available for his few questions on doneness in a repertoire familiar to him. Is the chicken cooked through? Are the masalas burned? I can jump up and visually inspect the element in question, or even chip in if things spiral out of control. With this past week’s arrangement, he was on his own in a wilderness of olives, red meat, and green veg.

I initially thought that dictating “how to” would be simple enough. Take out the steak. Salt and pepper. Set water to boil for the potatoes. However, once the meal reached its critical point of coming together at the end, I found that I couldn’t give clear instructions to multitask. And, after all these years of burning bacon and parathas, our long dormant smoke detector woke up.

beeep beeep beeep beeep

“Okay now flip the steak and turn off the heat before putting some butter in the pot. Oh sorry, the potato pot, not the steak skillet.”

beeep beeep beeep beeep

“The potatoes need to go in before they cool so the butter melts and the steak should have rested enough so take it out of the skillet so it doesn’t burn”

While Professor X went to take care of the smoke alarm, I was impotent to do anything …for about 30 seconds. The professional putterer in my head commanded me to keep a stiff upper lip and rush into the fray. Dinner was falling apart! Of course it wasn’t, and I ended up soaking his pack of smokes with boiled potato water due to my new center of gravity. When Professor X returned a minute later, he sent me promptly back to the couch, where I stayed until food was served.

We have approximately one more week of this. Perhaps we should stock up on Trader Joe’s frozen lest I drive him insane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such was the advice imparted by my mother-in-law one muggy winter morning in Kolkata. We were making dosa, and it was my turn after watching her deftly apply batter to pan a few times; using nothing but the back of a small ladle to smooth out symmetrical, thin crepes. As one might imagine, I was skeptical of my abilities.

After assembling the batter – 2 parts rice to 1 part urud dal soaked in water for four hours, blitzed in the Mixy (blender), and left to ferment overnight – all you really have to do is fill the cooked crepes. However, that’s where shit gets crazy. Professor X and I tried one afternoon a while back, and ended up with something more like lumpy, torn/misshaped pancakes. Some were undercooked as well, and we ended up just eating the potato filling. One tip that we either deliberately ignored or completely missed was rubbing the heated pan with an onion wedge to prevent sticking. Another helpful hint was not to get the pan too hot. The most important one though was to spread the batter out boldy, and with pressure, in an increasingly large circular pattern. This is how you get the right diameter and right thinness.

The first dosa made with Dr. Mother-in-Law at my side had holes and was thick in the middle with burned edges. It turns out that boldy, and with pressure, does not mean dainty little circles. You cannot hesitate with dosa. The second try yielded only slightly better results. I applied more boldness and more pressure to the third, and it tore. At this point, I started thinking I should just stick with uttapam. Thankfully, the instructor was patient and encouraged my effort by  repeating the key tip – “Boldy, and with pressure.”

I wish there was a success story at the end of this tale. Unfortunately, my expert-guided dosa attempt generally failed to result in crisp carby envelopes that carry spiced potatoes, sambar, and coconut chutney to your face. My technique vacillated wildly between too timid and too bold. I did, however, discover that “boldy, and with pressure” applies to playing cello as well. Thankfully, no one will go hungry if a version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” doesn’t quite work out.

 

 

11202556_10106829381307035_6182504890439333277_nIn 48-ish hours, I should be taking off for leg one of three in a 26-hour solo flight to Kolkata; CCU for all you airport code enthusiasts. It’s okay if there is a delay on this leg. I’ve got a lengthy layover in Vancouver, BC. To say I have travel anxiety would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with flying, once in the air, and have no reservations about visiting India for the first time. However, the logistics of air travel and the alternate realities that house airplanes (a.k.a. airports) are a cesspool of darkness. So many variables that directly impact my immediate comfort are in the hands of harried, underpaid people.

Despite this, as well as the anxiety dreams of losing my passport and inexplicably getting evicted while away, I know that I’m in good hands upon arrival. My parents in-law and Professor X are waiting for me past the customs barrier. I also remind myself that, unlike the last time I went to Asia, this will not be a frantic slog led by a shrieking, delusional madwoman. I will not have to empty my bladder over a hole in a monastery rooftop big enough to send me crashing three floors to an unseemly death in a pit of excrement lest my thigh muscles give out mid-squat. I won’t be followed through tourist attractions by undercover police. (Thanks for the smoke though, Not-So-Covert Chinese Cop.) The food will be better too since we’re mostly eating in, which creates the unique opportunity to learn tips and tricks of Indian home cooking. The mysteries of dosa will be unveiled!

For those readers who may be wondering if I’ll partake of India’s extensive street food options, the short answer is “No.” All the typhoid and hepatitis A shots in the world can’t prevent the damage incurred by a few innocent pani puri from an unknown vendor. I’m adventurous, but not completely stupid. (Pro-tip: Even locals get sick from street food. Perhaps not as bad as visitors would, but sick nonetheless.) We will be visiting K.C. Das, the famous Bengali sweet shop recently featured on The Food Network. We’ll also visit restaurants of a more personal legend; all the places on which Professor X has waxed nostalgic since we met three years ago. Most notable are chicken roll, kebab, and fruit cake. You read that correctly; fruit cake like the stuff American bakeries push at Christmas. Apparently, it’s a holdover from British times.

With this then, I’ll be off-line for a while. Until next time…

 

 

 

 

I don’t acknowledge Labor Day as the end of summer, despite school starting, linen sales, and earlier sunsets. However, we’re almost to the autumnal equinox. The last of the tomato plants and chiles should be addressed, and it’s blessedly cool this morning. I also recognize that I haven’t written in some time. There are two reasons for this. First, this summer has been ridiculously busy. Second, heat impacts my ability to think clearly. We have tales to tell though, and list form will expedite things.

  1. Professor X caught the cooking bug. His skills were already solid, but he took the helm infrequently. Sometime in July, a series of conditions converged. My culinary inspiration petered out due to work and a scalding summer. We got an Amazon gift card for our wedding, with which we bought a small grinder and a carafe to fit the ancient blender I inherited from my grandmother. And oddly enough, Professor X discovered solace from work chaos in chopping, blending, and frying. He stuck to our usual repertoire of dishes for a while, but found additional inspiration when he rediscovered the cookbooks his mom gifted him for his move to the States. As it turns out, Professor X is a stellar cook; sometimes scattered – he forgets where he is in a recipe and still doesn’t trust himself to salt a dish properly – but that’s part of the adventure. I usually sit at the table with a glass of wine and read the steps to him.
  2. Professor X has become obsessed with cured meats, so much that we joke about his Plan B – salummelier. It’s like a sommelier, but with meat. It comes as news because he’s been wary of such things after a disturbing confrontation with pepperoni in 2008. Apparently the cashier told him that it needed to be cooked, when, in fact, it didn’t. Well, at least not cooked like he did at the time – fried in a pan. It was also the kind that needed to be peeled of its casing beforehand; a fact mentioned by neither the cashier nor the deli guy despite Professor X’s inquiry about the product.
  3. Confession #1: After much field work, we’ve concluded and accepted that there isn’t pastry or cake worth a good god damn in Corvallis. Sure, Fred Meyer tiramisu is tasty enough. Market of Choice’s pear tarts will do. Sugoi – the new conveyor sushi joint – had chocolate mousse cake that was competitive enough, but really? We have to go to a sushi place for decent cake? Neither of us can pin down exactly what it is about the sweets around here, only that it just isn’t happening. Corvallis folks, please don’t rise up with your opinions under the guise of being helpful. New Morning Bakery sucks. Gathering Together at the farmers market is too hit or miss. Professor X and I are city people. We want the pastry we want when we want it, and we want it sinfully based in classical baking principles. No more of this healthy version shit. I also don’t want to queue for half an hour behind every sun-wizened couple with five freckled kids only to find that everything is gone. And speaking of the farmers market…
  4. Confession #2: We’ve also admitted that, while we love the farmers market, Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. is not possible. We aren’t even human during those hours, let alone possessed of sufficient cognition to either plan the week’s menu beforehand or be able to plan on the fly. It’s a shame because the quality and prices can’t be beat, especially when considered with the other grocery options around here, but we’ve stopped feeling guilty or honestly considering a church conspiracy. We’ll get there if the mood strikes.

The same day I lost my senses and bought 15 plants with corresponding pots for a container garden, we also bought a grill. Nothing fancy. Just your standard Weber kettle, although we did consider a Japanese ceramic multi-purpose model. It’s on our list of “things for when we have our own yard.” As we walked to the checkout line, Professor X asked “You know how to do this, right? I don’t have the first idea how. We’re actually going to us it, yes?” I assured him of my grill prowess. As things go, the grill sat unused for a few months.

Corvallis is currently in the throes of a heat wave. Not just hot for Oregon, but empirically hot. I wake every morning to a little red triangle with an exclamation point in the top left corner of my phone. “Excessive heat warning,” it reads. “Fire alert,” it reminds me. Of course I’ve been more careful with my cigarette butts. However, I’ve not yet transitioned entirely to the PNW hyper-vigilant state of mind. Our A/C units have been roaring for three days straight, and I built the next week’s menu around grilling. I’m a grown ass adult who knows how to build a responsible fire.

When we tottered out to the back patio with a bowl of veggies and a plate of chapli kebab around 7:30 last night, I experienced a brief moment of panic. Professor X’s line of inquiry from our trip to Fred Meyer was rattling through my head. “Why would you build a fire when it’s 100 degrees outside?” He had a point. Why would anyone of sane mind make a hot day even hotter? How many times have I swilled more wine than necessary in reaction to the rivulets of sweat running into my collar while tending the cooking flame? How many times have I ended up too deep in my cups and hungry enough to eat charred meat? It’s been at least four years since I last confronted a charcoal grill.

Despite the self-doubt, I pressed on and Professor X observed from a safe distance. Incrementally, he approached the flame. First holding a plate. Then keeping an eye on ones that were about to burn. After I lost a patty to the fire, he took over the spatula; maneuvering around the grill as the wind shifted, scooping perpendicular to the grate at first, then parallel. As we came up the back steps, he articulated a plan to improve heat distribution and a rough sketch for tandoori style chicken to be cooked the next night.

Chapli Kebab for Grilling Converts

Get thee:

1 lb of ground beef

one yellow onion, half diced fine, other half sliced vertically

green chili, diced fine

roma tomato, diced fine

one egg

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. coriander

one lime, cut into quarters

Assemble:

1) Combine everything except the vertically sliced onions and lime quarters in a bowl. Knead with your hands until diced vegetables are evenly distributed.

2) Take up golf ball sized clumps and shape into patties. You should have about…oh hell. I don’t know how many you should have. 20? Maybe 15?

3) Grill for ~3 minutes on each side over charcoal on a sweltering hot evening. Realize that you probably should have bought a small table since there is nowhere to put the other food, grilling accessories, and drinks. Pick ants out of your wine until done. Be careful not to toss the plate into the trash while disposing of burned paratha.

4) Serve with lime wedges, vertically sliced onion, and the good batch of paratha in your notably cooler apartment since you didn’t turn on the stove. Grilled zucchini and peppers optional.

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