The Season of Soup

One thing that I like about coming back to the States is that I get to cook. Don’t get me wrong. When I have been in Peru and Bolivia for the last 6 months, off and on, I have really enjoyed my almuerzos (lunches) in the mercados (markets) from las caseritas (the women at the markets that sell you scrumptious meals) who are eagerly trying to lure each passerby over with the menu that they shout out persistently until their food that day has been all eaten up. One walks by and smells things so delicious that I wouldn’t really dream of cooking in a place like this. It is a great way to try out new foods and a super cheap and fast option when you are constantly on the move. One of my favorite caseras almost always had a vegetarian option. Her name is Ernestina and she has the kitchen post in the corner of the downtown Urubamba market on the second floor. The first time I met her this summer we chatted like she probably chats with most tourists who stop to sit and dine at her bench…I introduced myself and told her I wanted to be back because her food was spectacular. I did go back, many times, and now I will go see her and enjoy her lunch any time I go to Urubamba.

Since I don’t have a caserita in the States, I do my own cooking. Cooking is an art and a stress reliever for me. It’s something I can also do with my mom and we greatly enjoy making things old and new. Sometimes we follow a recipe, but for a lot of dishes I just kind of make it up as I go and see what is in the season and the fridge.

So, one of my go-to “recipes” for the winter months when at 5pm it is already dark outside is a Curried __________ vegetable soup. The veggies that work well, I have found, are carrots, most any squash, and sweet potato. It’s super easy and fast, here goes:

Saute in soup pot with olive oil

1 onion

as much garlic as you can handle (normally I put in at least 4 cloves)

celery or green pepper or whatever other more bland veggie you have laying around that you need to use up (optional)

When the onions are soft you can add whatever chopped up vegetable you have chosen to be the base of your soup. Following are some examples of tried and true great options!

Dice up small (if carrots you can scrub and peel and dice), with sweet potatoes (same thing) with squash I recommend baking the squash first if you don’t want to deal with having to cut it up into small pieces while the squash fights back hard–as is its nature. Just cut it in two, scoop out the seeds, then brush some olive oil on the inside and place it on a cookie sheet and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the squash. You can always do this the day before and have in the fridge. My roommate in California always complained that she didn’t like cooking with squash because it was such a hassle, but the thing is that squash is so good, just take the time to do it right and don’t get frustrated–if you get frustrated while cooking you are doing something wrong! Take out some wine and keep at it.

I like to add curry powder, herbs, tonight I added chipotle, or something of spice to anything I make, soup included, so do what you like or try something new.

Add some of your favorite broth or water. The best veggie broth (or meat broth for that matter unless of course you want to make it yourself) I have encountered is “Better Than Bouillon.” It comes in a small glass jar that will yield quite a bit of soup all told. Check it out and be prepared to never go back to those cans, bouillon cubes, or those Tetra Pak cartons that are so horrible for the environment, again.

Let simmer until the veggies are soft but not mushy.

Blend and enjoy!

Some people may like to make it creamier with coconut milk. Another option is garnishing with your favorite seed or nut or something green like cilantro or green onion.

 

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Writing fun

I see myself as a somewhat serious, realistic (with a huge dash of idealism), and grounded person who only uses humour when necessary. That said, one of my friends and readers said I might utilize some more fun in my writing. And so, without any further ado, a couple of limericks and a silly poem for this gloomy day in January:

When we go to visit my grandparents I’m always the first to put on my shoes
Although these days the visits are full of sitting and talking the blues
But the time I spend with them regardless
No matter the conversation we harvest
I enjoy, delving up stories of the past, present, and future to peruse


My winter hobbies always experience a rekindling
in the midst of the holiday bustling and twinkling
I stay home and knit, cheery
While I watch a Spanish series
And think about all the gas and coal supplies dwindling


And this one is for my niece, Aliyah. Thanks for the time you spend with me reading fun and silly books and letting me do it in Spanglish!

This winter I wonder what makes me a sluggish, two-legged humaninstead of a squirrel scurrying across a branch in cold akin to a frozen beer can?
I sit and I eat and I wait for a treat. And then I look at my toenail.But doesn’t that make me the same as a creature with a brown, bushy tail?
“No, no, no!” says the barn owl that looks at me de reojo*“You cannot be a four-legged rodent!” he says while he perches with enojo**.   You are a human whether you like it or not,
so get on your feet and let’s see a squat.

*looking at of the corner of your eye
**displeasure

 

Tea a plenty

Shoveling the dusty-white driveway while tingly fingers thaw

I thought the Holidays were about family but that is not the all

I’m feeling a little dead inside with all the flat grey skies

The bone-chilling cold is probably part of my demise

The heaters suck the water out of your body until your skin cracks raw

Though the crackling of the fire-place as it burns is a welcoming draw

But what comforts me the most are the warm drinks that I sip

So it’s lucky that my mother–cabinet full of teas–is fully equipped

Her favorite is Celestial Seasonings, a place she frequents often to flavor all her water

Her pilgrimage out to the Colorado plains usually includes a visit to her daughter

Carting back tea boxes a plenty, she adds various teas to her collection

When she arrives back home she and her visitors have more of a selection

One tea that doesn’t make it into the cabinet is one that is made fresh–Masala Chai

The best way to make this tea is to have all ingredients in your tea supply

A combination of the following is all that you will need

Just do some testing in your kitchen and you will most likely succeed

Combine in a saucepan, boil and then simmer

Ginger root
Cinnamon sticks
Green Cardamom pods
Cloves
Pepper corns
Anise or Fennel

Add

Black tea (loose or bagged is fine)
Your favorite milk
Honey to preference

Let steep for a few more minutes and share with a friend who is adventurous.

Chai it! You’ll like it.

bas-best-masala-chai

p.s. If anyone in the continental U.S. would like to try Chai without having to experiment with different spices in the kitchen, let me know (by any means you would like) within the next week and I’ll send you a starter kit 🙂

Everything but the kitchen sink

Not really sure what to write about today. The thing is that this kind of writing challenge is for me to get out some things from my fingertips that have been here, deep down, for quite some time but first I have to brush off the dust.

So following are some musings that maybe shouldn’t grace the pages of the internet, but will, all the same.

I’m currently sitting on my bed in my grandparents’ house. I remember the first Christmas (in memory) that I spent here was in first grade. My family was back to the U.S. for furlough from Argentina and it was our first time experiencing snow and ice, this amount of cold, and everything that comes along with Christmas in the Midwestern United States. I also came back from Columbus, where my grandparents live, with a stuffed doll that I called Ginger–a present from my great-grandfather Bus.

I’m not sure what it is about but I think that the cold brings out the worst in people, but sometimes the best.

I put eggnog in my pancakes.

I don’t want to write about any of these things.

How about the feeling that you get when you are driving on the road and the wind is swirling the snow into such geometric patterns that you feel like you are at sea or smoking some kind of potent weed.

Flannel sheets are the best invention ever.

My parent’s neighbors have a wind chime as tall as their house. I hear it every morning and it is the first thing I know when I get up and the last thing that I hear when I drift off to sleep. The first time that I saw it a couple years back I was appalled that such a large wind chime would exist and it was ostentatiously placed on the tree that is directly within eyesight of my parent’s back windows, or half of the windows of the house, including “my” bedroom. The first time I saw it I simply laughed and proclaimed it ridiculous. This time that I made my visit to my parent’s house I have appreciated the deep and grounding sounds such an instrument makes in my bedding down and waking hours.

Talk is cheap, but I don’t know what else to do when I want to go deep, but it seems like there’s nothing really there to anchor me as I dive.

Yesterday in my yoga class a man was breathing loudly the whole time. At the beginning of class he started making some weird grunting noises and I realized that his partner’s mat was right next to his and I knew that I was going to be in for it. He felt himself at home, being that his partner was right there and there were only two other young women in the class (me and someone else) I’m sure he felt as though he could do whatever he wanted in terms of sounds—grunts, loud breathing, exasperated sighs, you name it. The whole while I was trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and I was trying to imagine myself calm and collected no matter what was in my presence. This is what yoga teaches and sometimes I can be really hard-pressed to really take these things to heart. People eating loudly, or more than a little bit of dirtiness in the wrong spot can turn me into an OCD individual real quick. I don’t mean the DSM-IV type, but just in general, I am pretty persnickety when it comes to certain things.

I am learning important life lessons during this small rendezvous to the Midwest. My centering point. Coming back to the fulcrum to then have the pendulum swing right or left again, depending on the wind.

A conversation during New Year’s Eve had me talking about Hoosiers, you know, those people from Indiana. I told people at the bar that one thing that I missed about “living” in California is that people there were a lot more distant, less friendly, they take their time in warming up to just about anyone. I appreciate this about Hoosiers and most Midwesterners in general. It seems as though one of my stereotypes of the Midwest is that its citizens are very conscientious about making people feel at home, they are friendly, they dive right into small talk, and they don’t skip a beat. “This makes me tired,” my best friend from high school comments, “sometimes I wish I could just not say ‘hi’ and simply be on my way.”

“You got to be in it to win it,” says a wise yet very young individual about the lottery jackpot.

And that’s all I have for today, last night rather.

image
My Grandparents kitchen sink.

Community

¡Feliz Año Nuevo a tod@s! Happy New Year! I am back (to this writing platform) and wanting to share some musings with you this month. Last year I tried to write for every day of January, and I would like do the same this year. At the very least, write more than the 15 entries I did last year.

I will eventually post something on my past semester in Bolivia and Peru (that’s a way of saying that this will happen this month). That is where I was with my two trusty co-instructors and 12 students for the last three months (plus 3 weeks in Quito, Ecuador to visit my brother and his flia in December). Now that I am in Indy at my parents house I have a chance to sit and reflect. And sitting and reflecting is much easier to do when it is below zero because there is not much else to do.

The few cards that I sent out for the New Year and the messages that I have texted, Whatsapp’ed and Messenger’ed, have included

“I wish you light, love, and courage for the new year.”

In retrospect I might change that to

“I wish you light, love, community, and courage. Ingredients of a successful approach to our current realities. Light and love to encounter the joys and challenges that life so graciously gives us and courage and community to continue this work sustainably and meaningfully. ”

This kind of recipe is one that you can make over and over again. A kind of Masala Chai that requires the combination of spices, brewing, and drinking and then the repetition of the same each time you’d like to take a sip.

Here is a poem that I wrote (through a combination of recycled and new verses) that I wrote and compiled during this past semester. I shared it while I talked to the youth and my co-instructors about my life-story. I think it’s pertinent for this time right now at the beginning of something new and at the end of a holiday season.

Community

Writing a new poem is always a challenge in its own right because it means digging up something from inside that is still unripe
Not matured
Taken from the Earth
poems are like the first crop of the season
The carrot you tentatively pull from the ground to see if it’s ready

So here goes…

Community for me is the expanse you till around you that will eventually grow fruit
if you take care of it well enough and the weather behaves.
It takes work, lots of sweat, and, sin falta, some tears.
The first community that I can remember is one that I revisit fondly in my head when I am feeling lonely

The film is a slideshow of photos caressing my innermost sensitivities
My extended family lived thousands of miles away from me when I was little and so I developed an adopted family:

Tía Milka, Tío José, and La Abuela lived right across the street.

The ginormous tree on the side of our lot spread its branches to the sky
And through which you could see Don Jose’s carefully groomed roses peeking through the slits of light
like red, pink, yellow, and white, Christmas lights

The three of us kids came over a lot.
Any time we wanted to watch TV (our house didn’t have one)
Eat something not too healthy (imagine anything fried or sweet)
Or be spoiled by Abuela’s hugs (nothing like a hug from someone whose soft rounded belly touches your body in all the right places)–
We would show up unannounced yet welcomed each time.

On rainy afternoons
We looked through the windows of our house at the drops of water
Falling from the sky
With certainty and indifference at the same time
We searched for our raincoats and made our way down the well-trodden road to our aunt and uncles’ house
Abuela would be in the kitchen making the dough
Tía Milka, dressed in an apron
With a kitchen towel draped over the apron string tied at her waist,
Serving mate [ad infinitum]
The television buzzing in the background at a volume that was almost indistinguishable from the rain that fell outside, and serving as a reminder of the world without.
“Come in, come in, kids,” tío José said with a relaxed air that mirrored the weather.
And the three of us kids entered eagerly, sitting down at the table, and telling our aunt, uncle, and abuela about how we were and the news of the neighborhood.
Tía started to heat up the oil on the burner closest the back of the stovetop
Abuela cut pieces of dough into small balls,
Ready to be rolled out into circles,
Slashed in the center with a knife so they would fry evenly.
When fried, the circles made of flour, oil, salt, and water are simply delicious
In and of themselves, but
Spreading on dulce de leche made them better still.
My mom and the tíos put homemade kumquat jam from the last harvest on top of the tortas.
And all of us ate, talked, and drank mate until our bellies nearly ached.

And so, my first loving community (from memory)
formed out of pure necessity, love, and dedication.
Then, eight years later I left this community
I felt pulled from the ground that held me steady and comfortable.

Many hugs and kisses and promises of being in touch passed between the gringos and our familia adoptada and my ears and cheeks were red with fear that my community was gone.

Many years later I visited José and Milka
La Abuela had passed peacefully in her sleep the year before
Which reminded me of the time I had shared a bed with her to watch a late-night tennis match between Gabriela Sabatini and I don’t know who else
The match didn’t come in because of bad weather so I stayed awake listening to the storm outside punctuated with the even louder snoring of La Abuela.

The next time I visited Tío José and his floppy dentures were just one more picture in the slideshow.
Tía Milka and I ate dulce de leche and mint-chocolate chip ice cream straight out of the Styrofoam one-kilo bucket and talked about everything and nothing.

Each and every time I felt community, I feel love.

And so what I wish for all of you is more community and therefore more love.

Light and courage are also pretty active ingredients in the life balance.