Friday, July 15, 2011

The Mulberry Gospel

God talks to me through plants; mostly weeds and berries. Lately mulberries are talking. Seems strange, I know, but I don’t really care if I am strange.

When I was younger, I would feel depressed and go running to try to ward it off. If I was really sad, sometimes by chance I would happen upon some blackberry bushes full of berries on the side of the road somewhere, and I would stop and they would say to me that life is dry and dusty and full of thorns, but God still loves me--- He drops little bundles of sweetness into my life just like blackberries on thornbushes. That happened a lot. It helped me get through. So lately, I have been running again, not because I am depressed, but because I want to be fit. And there is this totally amazing mulberry tree in front of my neighbor’s yard that every day has more ripe berries on it than I can eat. They’re like soft blackberries with no thorns or seeds, but with delightful little stems that pop.

Everyone’s heard of mulberries, right? Hardly anyone has eaten them. I think maybe they don’t keep well enough to sell in stores. The trees are pretty enough, but extremely messy. That’s why people who build track homes plant the fruitless kind, for shade without mess. The ground around the real kind is black with berries that didn’t get picked, and if you venture too close, your shoes are permanently stained and nastied, and then you carry that gunk to wherever you go next. If you pick and eat the berries, your fingers and teeth take on a nice purple discoloration. Stinkbugs also love mulberries. If you aren’t paying attention, and you eat a stink bug, you will suffer for it, I promise. I made a stinkbug-mulberry smoothie once, and didn’t know what the gross flavor was until my bug-savvy husband tasted it. Yes, indeed, I will never forget that smoothie. Eeeewwwww.

The neighbor that owns the tree doesn’t eat the berries; thinks they’re too messy, kind of a curse. He didn’t plant the tree, doesn’t water it, or fertilize it, or care about it---it was a volunteer that has been growing there since long before I ever considered living here.  Kids who walk by on their way to junior high pick the berries and make them into little stain bombs that they assault each other with. Older people walk by without ever looking up, just trying to keep their shoes clean. Other people go by, afraid to eat the berries, because they think maybe they’re poisonous or that maybe they’re not allowed to.

But every day I go running, I tell myself that my reward is to go to the tree and eat until I am nearly sick. Every day, there are new beautiful black mulberries that ripened overnight in order to be ready for me when I get there. If they’re ripe, they fall off in your hand when you gently touch them---just like the mercy of God, new every morning, all you have to do is take it. And just like Jesus, everybody’s heard of Him, but all some people can see of Him is religion, with its messy reasons not to go there and immature people throwing stain bombs. Or maybe they have eaten stinkbugs and sworn off mulberries altogether, thinking that sometimes it just tastes like that, and who wants to take that chance? Nope, that’s not why I love this tree. That’s just mulberry trash you’ve got to be wise about avoiding.

The love of God is sweet and kind, faithful and free and real. You’ve got to get it from Him yourself, because it isn’t for sale. Don’t get focused on the stinkbugs or the nasty mess at your feet or you will miss the incredible bounty hanging right above your head. Those berries will make me run 3 miles and smile the whole time, and not care if my fingers are stained and my teeth are too, my running shoes are wrecked, and people driving by stare at me like a freak as I stuff berries in my mouth. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” that’s what the mulberries are saying. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Things to Miss

We will be leaving Arambol soon, and I started thinking about things good and bad, here and there.

Here are some of the things that came to mind...

Things I miss
about the US
Things I don’t miss about the US
Things I will miss
about Arambol
Things I won’t miss about Arambol
·   Hot showers
·   Tools that work (Jacob)
·   My bed
·   Oma & Opa
·   US friends and family
·   Drinking water from the tap
·   Milk that comes in cartons, not baggies
·   The ability to cook easily
·   Set prices that don’t change based on the color of your skin
·   Homegrown veggies
·   Homegrown eggs and our chickens
·   Thrift stores and garage sales
·   Mexican people
·   Real Mexican food
·   Cheap but good peanut butter
·   Good bread and cheese
·   Clean meat
·   Restaurants with health codes
·   Trash collectors
·   Art supplies at a reasonable price
·   Food Josiah can eat
·   Food without preservatives
·   My washing machine
·   Fireplaces
·   Pine and cedar trees
·   The Sierras
·   A mirror that I can see my whole self in
·   Flower gardens
·   Mixing my own henna
·   Soap that’s not slimy
·   Internet that works
·   Being able to get a lot of things done
·   Trader Joe’s
·   Public libraries
·   Having a phone
·   Blenders that work
·   Freedom to go places by myself
·   Surfers
·   Bike rides
·   Backpacking
·  Mockingbirds

·      People isolated in their own houses
·      Expensive vegetables
·      Snooty, mall-loving people who are so rich and don’t even think about the rest of the world
·      Hollywood media
·      Giant SUVs
·      Rap music blaring out of people’s cars
·      Brand name fashion
·      Cars and traffic
·      Over-regulation
·      US Politics
·      No one having enough free time to just ‘be’ together
·      Few people with similar ideals
·      The cost of living
·      Being so far from the beach
·      Cold oceans
·      Tons of soy-based food
·      Junkmail
·   Pigs running free
·   Friends at every turn in the road
·   People hanging out outside all the time
·   Not a lot of TV
·   Cheesy billboards and misspelled English signs
·   Rosario yelling some unintelligible thing
·   Curry plants
·   Swimming in the warm ocean water
·   Going to the beach every day
·   Scooters
·   Royal Enfields
·   Feeling like you could do any crazy thing and no one would even look twice
·   Friends from everywhere
·   Always being warm
·   Being tan
·   Live music
·   Creativity flowing
·   Living in a circus
·   Wild parrots and kingfishers
·   Monkeys in trees
·   Samosas, Uttapam, Dosas, and Puri Bhaji
·   Talking to people from all over the world
·   Going to meditation here
·   Kids playing soccer
·   Bhindis, bangles, and saris
·   Jogging on the beach
·   Elephants
·   The sunset gathering
·   People to drum with (Jacob)
·   Chai chai chai for 5 rupees
·   Dreads and tattoos
·   Guys wearing lunghis
·   Cool clothes for cheap
·   People juggling
·   Toothless and bow-legged old people
·   Seeing construction worker women in bright saris
·   Not a lot of laws (at least not many that anyone follows)
·   Goan Catholic ladies’ dresses
·   Maria’s sweet idli
·   Colors everywhere
·   Talking about spiritual things with almost anyone
·   The quicksilver ocean at sunset
·   Never knowing who you will meet today
·   Funny things in English that non-native English speakers say
·   Coconut palms
·   Strangers who smile at you
·   Hermit crabs
·   Sand art
·   Jaya’s cooking skills
·   Geckos on our walls
·   Indian children
·   Our parrot
·   Ants in my computer
·   Ants in my bed
·   Ants in my cooking
·   Ants in the sink
·   Ants in my clothes
·   ANTS
·   Power that turns off at any random time
·   Rosario yelling some unintelligible thing
·   Burning plastic smoke choking me
·   Trash everywhere
·   The inability to cook
·   Getting ripped off
·   “Mosquito Time”
·   Horns honking
·   Gypsies trying to sell you jewelry and sarongs on the beach every five minutes
·   Beggars, because you never know who is behind their begging
·   Sewage in the street
·   My kids being covered in dirt and sand
·   The chaos of a mob of children in the dirt and sand
·   Half-naked westerners and gawking Indian men
·   Cockroaches and rats and poisonous snakes
·   The putrid smell of Rosario’s bull
·   People trying to be  ‘cool’
·   Russian people arguing
·   Seeing construction worker women, because they work so hard for so little
·   Pollution
·   Corrupt police
·   Loan sharks and mafia controlling things
·   Idol worship
·   Having to bargain for almost everything you buy
·   Techno music
·   Cigarette smoke
·   Mold
·   Rampant fear and superstition
·   Beach dogs
·   Piles of poo
·   Cesspools
·   Being called ‘madam’
·   Men peeing all over
·   The smell of rancid coconut oil
·   Speedos with thong backs on fat hairy men
·   Crows
·   Not being able to find what you need without going all over the state
·   Goan music blaring out of crappy speakers on full blast
·   Cockroaches in my bathroom towel
·   Starving, sick dogs
·   Friends that leave with your heart L

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Use Swadeshi

I wanted to make a mini cooking slideshow for you all about how ridiculously hard it is for me to cook for 20 people on a two-burner propane stove using only the three pots and one wok that we own. (An Indian wok is called a Kadai.) It is especially hard for me, since I don’t know how to cook Indian food and really, you kinda have to know that here. There are only a certain number of vegetables you can get and the meat is definitely not something you want to eat, since the animals eat sewage and the refrigeration goes out every day, sometimes for hours. So, here we go with Kadai Vegetable-Paneer!

I got a few recipes online for this dish, and I managed to mash them all together and hope to make something that sounded like it might be good. Jacob, my faithful scooter driver, drove me to the fruit stand first thing in the morning on my day to make lunch. Jacob likes to go to this fruit stand on Beach Road instead of the one that is closer to our house because they have more to choose from. On the way, we take the shortcut, which says on the wall in spray-painted graffiti, “Use Swadeshi.” Daisy, my Hindi-speaking friend tells me that the saying is from Gandhi’s time, and it means “Buy Indian-Made Products.” It’s the equivalent of a “Buy-American” bumper-sticker on a Chevy truck. Every time I turn onto the shortcut road I always read the sign and say “Use Swadeshi.” It’s the Swadeshi Shortcut.
The Swadeshi Shortcut
Once we get to the Beach Road, all the stall-owners are just opening up. The place that sells lanterns and sheets has a cow as its first customer. Not a good sign for people who are very superstitious about making sure their first customers buy something! There are lots of locals and animals walking around, I assume all the travelers are still asleep. Bozo the Breadman is up and honking and his bread basket is full.

We buy some kg of tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, green chilies, bell peppers (they call them capsicum), pomegranates, apples, chicu-fruits, oranges, and bananas. The green bananas taste better than the yellow ones, but the yellow ones you get to cut off the banana stalk yourself, which is fun. There are apples and plums from California here at this fruit stand---definitely not swadeshi-friendly items---but they are out of cauliflower; too bad since it’s supposed to be a main ingredient in this dish. Oh well, I’ll leave it out, no one will know. The total is like 300 rupees, about $6.
Then we drive down the road a bit to Om Ganesh, the local big supermarket. Don’t get too excited, the store is about 20 feet wide, and maybe 40 feet long, and stocked with old grains that have bugs. You have to take off your shoes when you go in and the floor is made of many different types of linoleum all pieced together. But they do have local-made paneer, which is why we are here. Paneer is like a cottage cheese, but it’s firmer and it comes in blocks, like tofu. I love paneer.  They are out. We have to stop by another market, it’s smaller and closer to home and called the Hop In. They have one block of paneer left over from yesterday. I’ll take it!

We get home, and the kids start doing their schoolwork and arguing, and we start chopping and dicing and mincing and peeling. This goes on for quite awhile. Then I realize that the fruit stand guy didn’t give me my green chiles. There’s only one mixed in with the green beans, and I bought at least 10. The recipe I am reading is for 2 people, so I am multiplying everything by 10, and the recipe calls for 2-3 green chiles for two people. Dang. I raid the tiny red fridge and find that my roommate Shlomy has a couple of old and withered ones left in there, which I steal. I chop them and scrape out the seeds with my fingernails, because I am invincible to spicy foods.

Saraya helps me by washing the rice. She washes all of the rice we own. We don’t have a pot big enough to cook all of this rice. So, I take some out and put it in one of the pots, and start to cook the rest. One less pot will have to be OK.

I ask Josiah to go out to the front yard and pick some curry leaves off of the curry plant. Which plant is that? The one by the Ford’s fence. Which one? Ask your sister. She, of course, tells him the wrong one, just to be a pain. Finally, after much ado, he picks me a nice handful.

I puree the onions and chiles in my lame little Bajaj blender and fry them in our kadai. I add the pretty Indian spices. I cook them awhile, then they burn, because this propane stove is like a jet engine when it’s on high. I scrape out the burned part and add the bell peppers, green beans, and carrots and cook them. Then I realize that I am really late and that lunch is supposed to start in a half an hour. I start trying to get things ready like crazy. I forgot to chop the potatoes! And they aren’t cooked! We don’t have any more burners! AHhhhh! And don’t forget the paneer!

Shlomy and Chinua decide to pop in and rescue me. Shlomy figures out how to cook the potatoes by borrowing some pots from Miriam, and Chinua decides to help me with my photojournalism for you all.

I taste the sauce. SPICY! What?!? I only added 3 chiles and I was supposed to have added at least 10. I start to realize that the first few fingers on my left hand are burning. Oh, those chiles were the real thing! So much for being invincible to pepper oil. Good thing that fruit stand guy held out on me!

Shlomy squeezes some limes in. I throw in some garam masala because one of the recipes listed it.

It’s 12:30. Time for lunch. I carry the pots one by one over the banisters and onto Cate’s roof, then down the stairs and back up to the meditation center. It’s much faster than walking around, but slightly more perilous. If I drop a pot onto our landlord’s porch, that would be bad. If I fall myself, that would be worse.

I and the pots all make it over. Whew! Tastes pretty good too. Spicy, but not too bad now that the potatoes and paneer are in there.

This happens every day here. Every day we eat a big lunch together and some poor soul has go through something like this to cook.

Dinner? That’s another story, and it’s not as pretty, so I’ll skip it.

My fingers are still on fire, but I have learned to Cook Swadeshi.

(There are more photos of my cooking experience posted on my facebook album Currylicious Cookery, if you want to see them!) 

And now, for you:
My Swadeshi Kadai Vegetable-Paneer Recipe, roughly
Serves 2 - 4

2 cups
 paneer, cubed
Half a capsicum (green bell pepper) sliced small
1 carrot, chopped
5 green beans, cut into bites
1 potato, chopped and cooked
2 large onion, chopped
2 green chillies, seeded and chopped
3-4 pods of garlic, crushed
1" piece of ginger, crushed (or 1tsp ginger garlic paste)
1 tomato, pureed
1 tbsp tomato paste (or another pureed tomato)
A few curry leaves
A generous pinch of kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
1 tsp red chilli powder
A pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp jeera (cumin) seeds
1 tsp coriander powder (I accidentally used cumin powder instead. It’s good that way.)
Some Garam masala to taste
Lemon or lime to squeeze on top
2 tsp oil
Salt to taste
Chopped coriander leaves to garnish
1.    Blend the onion along with the green chillies. Heat oil and fry this paste for 2-3 mins.
2.   Then add the chilli powder, turmeric, jeera, coriander powder and crushed ginger and garlic (or ginger garlic paste) and mix well, frying for another minute.
3.       To this, add the tomato paste and pureed tomato. Fry for 4-5 minutes until the mixture comes together and the oil begins to separate.
4.       Next add the vegetables and kasuri methi, and curry leaves, with some salt. Fry for 2-3 mins, until the bell pepper is cooked but still crunchy.
5.       Throw in some Garam Masala to taste.
6.       Finally add the cubed paneer and mix gently until well combined. Simmer for 2 mins and remove from fire. (I didn’t fry the paneer in advance for this dish)
7.       Serve with rotis, chapattis, or rice.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ah, Look at All the Lonely People

Sometimes I think something in the back of my mind but can’t fully bring it into consciousness. Then someone else says something near enough to what I am thinking that I feel like a curtain has been pulled back and I want to jump up and shout “That’s IT!” Sometimes that happens. Like today.

Yesterday I walked around Arambol, up and down the beach, looking at the travelers, trying to figure out what this scene is actually about. I noticed how after you have been here for awhile you start to recognize the same people, start to see their game. It’s kind of like living in a big party full of cool people that you don’t know (one that lasts for six months) and you have to figure out how to fit in. I thought about how my old broken heart would have felt that this was a paradise, a dream party. All these fabulously freaky people roaming around practicing exotic skills while mixing spirituality and hedonism. Just my cup of tea. I thought about how it would have been so exciting at first, how it would have piqued some hope for fulfillment, for love, that I was always looking for but never quite finding. I could almost feel that old familiar feeling, without feeling the desperation that used to accompany it.

I spent yesterday wrestling with it without having any words to bring it to the surface.

Today, my friend Rachel up and described the whole scene in a few sentences. How so many people place their hopes in this place as a kind of paradise, only to find the reality of really strong cliques, feelings of inadequacy, and constant loneliness. How it’s kinda like high school. That’s IT! I almost wanted to shout. It’s the same carrot-on-a-stick. The promise of fulfillment that rings so hollow when the party is over and you are left with nothing but the rags of your hopes, the ache of how things just didn’t turn out like you dreamed. How at the end of the day you were still left alone with yourself, with your loneliness that just keeps getting underlined.

I thought about how there are so many people here, the “in-people,” who know how to talk and act and look and perform to impress everyone they meet. How lonely they must be, to have to find their acceptance in being so perfectly cool. What happens inside when they fail, or when they meet someone better than they are? Perfection is a harsh taskmaster.

I thought about the fringe-cool-people, the people who want to be the in-people, but just don’t have the looks or the skills or the connections. How their hearts are so laden with feelings of inadequacy and rejection. How they try to find ways to compensate, to cope with their loneliness.

I thought about Jesus, and how he never picked the cool people to hang around with. How he picked the fishermen.  The fishermen here in Arambol are not travelers on vacation who are living in a party. They are poor and dirty and smelly and their life is boring. They have pockets full of fish guts and sand. They don’t wear cool clothes, they don’t know how to juggle, or philosophize, or firedance---they probably don’t even know how to swim very well. They are not the people you want to be associated with if you have a reputation to build.

But that is one of the beautiful things about Jesus, he never cares about how well crafted your image is, he only looks at your heart.

And then if you let Him, He mends the places that are broken; even the ones that are broken beyond recognition, because He’s the only one who remembers what your heart is supposed to look like. That’s the only thing that will satisfy any of us, really.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Goa Trivia

  • Ants can find any food you drop before you finish eating or cooking, and then carry it up a wall
  • Papayas grow like weeds and smell like vomit
  • Entire families can easily fit on mopeds
  • No one has bug screens on windows and yet there are thousands of bugs out
  • Cockroaches have a shrill squeak in the middle of the night
  • Fishermen catch giant sting rays and then hit them on the heads with sticks
  • Horns are for honking all the time
  • Gypsys wear bright colors and recycle plastic and trash into all kinds of things to sell
  • Coconut tree climbers climb trees by tying their feet together
  • Wake up and smell the burning plastic and melting blue tarps
  • Tobacco and formaldehyde in your toothpaste…mmm
  • Everything is no problem…as in “Oh no, I lost my baggage!” “That is no problem madam.”
  • Construction workers don’t own any tools and ask you for hammers or wrenches
  • Pigs with big udders can run like the wind
  • Marble floors and concrete walls painted in bright colors can collect mold very quickly
  • Electrical outlets in the shower are a bad idea that someone forgot to tell Indian electricians
  • News travels faster in a village than gossip on facebook
  • Monsoons can really put a damper on things
  • Sleeping on wet mattresses is a kind of torture
  • Washing clothes in a bucket makes you really not want to wash clothes
  • Delhi Belly can really cramp your style
  • Rupees are often counterfeit and Indians won’t take them if they have even the tiniest rip on the edge
  • You can cook literally hundreds of things using only onions, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes and 200 spices
  • Electricity is something that comes and goes, and comes and goes
  • A vendors’ best selling tactic is yelling at you. The louder the better.
  • Cows have the right of way
  • Gunpowder is an ingredient in some recipes (optional, I hope?)
  • Standing in line is something that has not been invented. Just rush it.
  • Toilet paper is a commodity, but you can’t flush it
  • Traffic lights do not exist; traffic lanes and laws are a suggestion not a requirement
  • If you are a vendor’s first customer of the day, you can really bargain with them since it is bad luck for them if you don’t buy anything. Don’t worry---they mark everything up 500%
  • Shaking your head back and forth does not mean no
  • Cricket is like weird baseball and Indians are fanatics about it
  • Fireworks are for any occasion, really
  • You can blast any cheesy music on repeat all day if you own a set of bad speakers
  • Wells are where old men take baths, in front of our house
  • The breadman rides his bicycle with a bread basket by twice a day honking a bozo the clown horn. Buns cost 2.5 rupees each, but he will try to get you to buy them for 4.
  • Take off your shoes when you go into any store or stall, and don’t worry if a guy is welding over the entrance, just try to dodge the falling sparks and don’t look at the light
  • Ants and other bugs float. Rocks don’t.
  • Spiders come in all sizes, including the size of your hand
  • Earth-moving equipment = guys with buckets on their heads
  • It is good to name your taxi, laundrymat, breakfast cereals, and children after your favorite god