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

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Monsoon Goodness

    Today the monsoon rains came back. They had meditation on the roof, in the sunshine, and I missed it because of dealing with kids who weren’t cooperating. After the meditation time, I came up to have lunch with everyone, and then the rains came. A few people from outside the community had come to the meditation---a girl from Germany, one from India, and one from Japan. Once the rain started, it was dumping buckets and there was no leaving the shelter of the roof without getting drenched. Saraya and Kenya decided that being drenched was good, and danced in the rain for hours with Daisy, the girl from India. Everyone found someone to chat with. We were all trapped there, and I spent all afternoon talking with the photographer girl from Japan. She said she has been to India many times, searching for spirituality, photographing travelers. This time in India, she keeps meeting people who follow Jesus and it has really been affecting her. She said she went to Catholic school in Japan and knew some Bible stories, but had no idea what Christianity was all about at its core. I tried my best to distill it for her. Then she said to me, “So, Jesus came as the sacrifice to pay for everyone, and all you have to do is believe. This is what it means. I have never understood this until now.”  She had tears in her eyes when she left.
    Yes, that is the good news; that God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life, and that God came into the world not to condemn the world but to save it. It is good news in India and in Japan and in Jerusalem and San Francisco. I am glad I could be here, blessed that I got to be the one to tell her that. Me, the one who never knows how to start conversations with strangers. I feel happy and humbled.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    So far…

    We have arrived safe in India. We live in the little Catholic grotto called Girkar Waddo of the small fishing village of Arambol, Goa. Every year at dry season this little village is overrun by foreign travelers, who rent out houses and scooters and buy chai and clothes and everything touristy on the main street. We are some of those people this year.

    Rachel says the Indian people here get a bit protective of ‘their’ foreigners (“I saw them first!”), and our Indians are named Rosario & Maria. They have 3 children and live in the back part of the house that they rent to us. The state of Goa was colonized by the Portuguese, so many of the people have Spanish sounding names even though they look totally Indian. And about half of the people here are Catholic, in a very Indian sort of way, with altars, temples, rituals, bright colors, superstitions. The houses you can rent have altars in them, which you are not allowed to touch or change, no matter how tacky they may be. These things make for a very different sort of India than the rest of the country.

    The beach is about ½ mile from our house and the water is warm with plenty of starfish and boogie boarding. There are huts and restaurant huts on the beach, with fabulous Indian food. Sanjay is the owner of the place we like to go. He let one of the loose beach dogs have puppies in his restaurant, so the kids love to go there and play with them as much as possible. The good times are plentiful.

    The trash is also plentiful, since there is no trash pick up here. Everything burnable is burned every day, and even things that shouldn’t be burned. Plastic is everywhere. Trash is everywhere. The smell of toxic smoke permeates the air, but thankfully usually happens only in the evening. Pigs and cows and dogs and rats roam around freely, eating whatever is their hearts delight.

    Every year during the rainy season (monsoon), mold takes over Arambol and everything decays. Houses have to be painted every year or they are covered in black smut. All the cushions and clothes and fabrics are mildewed. It rained for a few days when we first got here, but is now clear. Many of the locals speak some English, and all they  talk to us about is how much rain the monsoon brought this year, how crazy it is. Blue tarps and parts of tarps are hanging all over the place, hopefully to be taken down when the rain stops for good.

    Right now Saraya is at the back of the house with Nikita and Cressida, two Indian girls with whom she has made friends. They were playing hide-and-seek, but now I think they are painting her nails. The Indian girls and women here are so beautiful. One of the fisherwomen has hazel/green eyes, which is shocking with her leathery dark brown skin. I really want to get a picture of her.

    Yesterday, Jacob gave me my first scooter riding lesson. The Indian guys all laughed at me. I think I would have laughed at me too. We’ll see how I progress with that one.

    Also yesterday, Rachel and I went to Mapusa (pronounced mopsa), which is a bigger city about a half an hour away. We went to the market. It was kind of like Denio’s meets Mad Max. I don’t know what to say about it, it was just crazy. Rachel says its nothing compared to Varanasi or Delhi. I can’t even comprehend how crazy those places must be. The day before, Jacob, Chinua and Shlomy all took scooters to Mapusa. The police tried to stop them, and even grabbed Shlomy, but thankfully he got away. I guess it’s common here for the police to be thieves. They stop you if you are a foreigner and make you pay them to let go. So if they try to pull you over, you just wave, floor it, and keep going. This is India.

    The food is amazing. I mean amazing. And Josiah can eat most things here, even though he is allergic to wheat, corn, soy, and nuts. Rachel knows how to cook many incredible things and Shlomy too, so I am hoping to come back with the plethora of good recipes. Our friends here run a Christian meditation center on their roof, and after meditation time  every day we have a big meal with everyone. Not too many travelers are here yet, and the meetings haven’t started, but I know things are ramping up.

    Cate says I should start a business dreading people’s hair and make a ton of money. The Russians would go crazy for it. Maybe I will. I tried to locate some henna at the market yesterday, and found some, but it was questionable. I will have to keep looking. Living in India without henna would be quite a sad situation.

    The other night at Sanjay’s we met some travelers from Iran. They were so hospitable and fun. One of the guys was a rap singer who rapped in Farsi. He told us he spent three years in prison in Iran for his music. It is illegal there even to listen to any non-Muslim music, so he went to jail because he sings rap. They are waiting for a revolution in Iran. The girl who was with them wore a ton of makeup and a gold-sequined mini-skirt. Someone said that ‘this is what the girls in Iran are really like underneath their burkas.’ I believe it.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Goin' to Goa

    We're getting ready to go. Craziness is going to start building up.
    One of the things we wanted to do was start a blog, so here it is. Check! On to the next thing, which would be to let you all know that we are here...