A peak season ingredient such as a tomato is a thing of beauty, exquisite to behold and taste. To be sure, it doesn’t hold a candle to the highly travelled shadows of their former selves that you can find in the dead of winter. That, however, matters less if you were going to add it to other ingredients, or make a sauce or a soup. With perhaps a little spice, or some well-placed sauces, even the most out-of-season ingredients become delicious elements of an ensemble dish, creating a sum of parts far more enjoyable than individual ingredients. Either on merit of pure addition, or on how it is cooked, an ingredient can go far in adding flavour to a dish of ingredients.
Indian cooks know this to be true better than most, as can be seen by the many Indian recipes that ask for a combination of ingredients. Can one reduce that list of ingredients and still make a tasty dish? Of course, but when it comes to the traditional ones, it is the combination of those exact ingredients that makes a dish taste the way you remember it. Anything else could leave you yearning for what is in your memory.
He came home to a dark flat. He paused at the threshold for a moment, straining to hear sounds of the television, of her laughter at said television, of any signs of life. He could hear the electronic wheeze of the 31-Muni opening its doors at the corner of the street. He could hear the washing machine running in the upstairs apartment. The street lamp cast long shadows through the open windows, silent and animated. There was, however, no other noise inside.
He stepped in, letting the door close behind him as he reached for his phone. He punched play on the voice-mail wondering if he had gotten her message wrong, but there was her voice telling him she’d be going home early. The past two weeks had been filled with busy days and exhausted nights for the both of them. All they had been able to do as they crawled home was stop at the small cafe on the way home. It was open late and made Vietnamese sandwiches, which they would gratefully devour standing in the kitchen at home with paper towels held under to sop up any spills. They were entirely too tired to have dishes to clean. There in that kitchen, the aroma of the smoky vegetables would help blot out some of the tiring day while the layers of avocado provided much needed comfort. At any rate, he was glad that those weeks were now behind them. Any sandwich, no matter how delicious, was tiresome after a third straight night. He preferred home-cooked food anyway, eating out only under duress or because she loved to try new places. He had been looking forward in anticipation to dinner all afternoon.
The new year has brought with it a need for cleaning. And organizing. A lot of organizing, coupled with the putting away of childish things. Well, not quite all things re-eally. That PS2 is going nowhere until it gets replaced with a PS3 someday. (Where else can you learn about Greek Mythology and hack Medusa to bits at the same time?). The problem with having a multitude of interests is that they have a way of taking over precious space and multiplying. Books seem to settle down onto available surfaces and proceed to invite their friends and relatives over to join them, then begin masquerading as surfaces themselves. Magazines try to outmatch them by throwing raucous parties that have them flopping all over everything. Guitars and cameras start showing signs of aspiring to world domination, upon the imminent conquest of our home. Then there is our music collection. We find there was a downside to being able to carry 10,000 songs in your pocket. You end up having 10,000 songs in your pocket. Finding anything in there takes a while. A possible upside? If you want your cooking of soup to be accompanied by a (fairly unhealthy to some) dose of Nirvana, you can easily do so without looking for CDs under those towering stacks of books.
Soup seems to be the obvious choice to counteract the excesses of the holiday season. The weekend that saw some fog-ridden grey days appeared to corroborate this. On the Ipod, Cobain rambled on about the friends he found in his head. Meanwhile, I moved some websites around on my screen and toppled some book towers over before I chanced upon a quaint recipe for garlic soup, requiring very little effort on my part and just as few ingredients. Entirely too prim a soup for Nirvana, but sometimes the most unlikely things work in pairing.
It is that lingering kind of cold day. Many people in the States might disagree. Forty-five degrees might be welcome to most of them right now. But it is the kind of low temperature that insidiously creeps into your bones and freezes you at the core. You can’t shake it. There is a still in the air, like someone holding their breath. Everything is grey. Even my brain has hit pause. I’ve typed and deleted several opening lines to this post…there are no words that work. Instead of the usual chaos I have to sort through, there is white noise. Maybe the paranoid strains of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s watching me” aren’t helping…. **scrambling for the remote, hitting forward**….maybe Blue’s optimistic “Make it Happen” will wake up the grey matter…or Xzhibit’s oddly stentorian “Concentrate” **…flipping through the music…passing by “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and ZZ Top, slowing down at Mos Def’s “Quiet dog” and settling on Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the silence”** ...oddly appropriate, though still not helping much. It is hard to quite make sense of this mental block.
I welcome winter and this time of year, and the season hasn’t been around long enough to make me yearn for another, just for the change. So why then, this blankness? I turn and look out the window. Down on the street, wet cars are fervently scuttling home, thinking warm thoughts. Across the street, a neighbour appears at his window. He sees me and raises the mug in his hand in a cheery greeting, then turns around and switches on his Christmas lights. I wave back and switch ours on in mute response. Little pinpricks of light shine through the dusk. Suddenly, more windows light up in the buildings around and swatches of brightness spill into the rapidly darkening evening. A wind flutters the leaves on the trees like a drawn-out sigh, and in the blink of an eye, it begins to rain. A small smattering of rain drops that form a sheer veil between me and the world outside. As if by magic, the synapses begin firing again. Thoughts return to this soup, the one I want to tell you about.
I hadn’t enjoyed a proper vacation in almost two years! The tumultuous times we live in had me keeping my nose steadily to the grindstone. Slowly but surely, the strains of life had been building up and I didn’t even know it. Then there came this opportunity for a whole week of vacation in the form of an invitation from friends in Salt Lake City. It would be great to see them, it had been a long time. There was real snow to jump into that was calling my name. But before that, there was packing. I hate packing. That coupled with life in general had me in low spirits that Tuesday morning. On the plane, my fingers wouldn’t stop beating a crazy tattoo on the airline seat. I’d left the daily grind behind but the subconscious mind wouldn’t rest or relax. It is hard to turn all your thoughts off like the flip of a switch. The brain just wouldn’t cooperate.
Then we got to Salt Lake City. It had snowed a couple of nights earlier and there it lay, a soft, white blanket covering the ground. It was a proper winter’s day; wonderfully crisp and bright, the ice crystals twinkling in the sun. There is a strange peace that reigns in the softness of it, and a hush, almost like every sound is muffled somehow. Next to the ocean, this was something else that soothed the senses.
Amey and Sanjeev have been friends even before Amey and I really knew each other. They survived college together, learned to play the guitar together, were in a band together. They have similar personalities yet each is very distinctly their own person. They argue, rib each other and criticize one another with ridiculous ease, one borne out of a long friendship that I’ll bet they never really talk about. Guys don’t do that kind of stuff. They hadn’t seen each other in almost four years. They talked, they laughed, they played guitar; two voices in harmony, sounds I haven’t heard in a long while. They did this often at one time. But life has evolved to new adventures now. A wonder of this evolution is Sanjeev and his lovely wife Vandana’s precious little baby boy. A bundle of the most beautiful smiles you ever saw. A couple of hours spent in their beautiful home, playing with this engaging little person, and the buzzing of things in my head faded away. It was like taking a deep, deep breath and letting go. The relaxation was inevitable. We drove up into the mountains in the next couple of days. The imposing snow-covered scenery was breath-taking and also an effective balm, taking away all remaining vestiges of care.