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.
It was back to work after a five-day break over Thanksgiving. Time off like that can really mess with your everyday routine. I found it hard to galvanize into any kind of action this morning. Of course, the fact that I ended yesterday with a raging attack of sinusitis didn’t help. I woke up this morning wanting to shy completely away from any sort of light. The fact that most of my job keeps me in front of a computer screen made most of today agonizing.
With the aid of alternating applications of soothing cups of hot herbal tea and medication, I managed to make it through a good part of the day. Then I had to get home, draw the curtains and tumble into bed. When I woke up, the light had already faded and the impending threat of an exploding head had receded slightly into the background. My stomach reminded me that I had missed lunch. I was ravenous, but disinclined to set foot in the kitchen. Luckily, that was when Amey got home.
The long but fairly busy weekend kept us from doing some critical grocery shopping, so all we had little in the fridge, aside from some mushrooms and a bunch of curly leaf parsley. It is days like this when I am very thankful for my obsession with spices and flavoured salts. They are more than worth their weight in gold.
With just those ingredients, Amey put together a dinner that we often have on other rushed or lean supply nights. It involved roughly chopping the aforementioned mushrooms, then massacring the whole bunch of parsley. He then minced a few cloves of garlic and was ready to cook.
The day I first had dhansak is vividly clear in my mind. I was over at my best friend’s house to work on a project and her mother invited me to stay for lunch. I remember sitting down at the table with her mom deftly filling two plates and putting them in front of us. It looked like rice and dal which made me happy. Varan bhat is pretty much a perennial favourite of mine. But the dal was more the colour of sambar and the rice seemed to be brown rice. I took a bite. I remember my taste buds being going into overload with all sorts of flavour.
I took another bite and just couldn’t stop smiling. My friend’s mom asked me if anything was wrong and I told her this was one of the most wonderful things I had eaten. I remember this thoroughly amused her because dhansak is also considered funeral food. I asked my friend in a low voice that if this was Parsi funeral food, was their celebration food so good that people died in ecstasy eating it. My poor friend laughed so hard she almost choked.
I’ve eaten dhansak many times since then, each time with just as much enthusiasm. I knew the dish well-enough that I was quite surprised when Amey told me he was sure he had eaten it but had no memory of it. It’s one of the big reasons I bought My Bombay Kitchen. I felt as a lover of all things dal, it was essential that Amey taste this gem of its kind.
One fine fall Friday six years ago (which by the way, was nothing like today. It’s raining. I love it!) I sat at my desk eating my peanut butter sandwich, my go-to this-is-what-I-pack-when-I’m-in-a-hurry lunch. It had been a rushed, busy day and I was going into a busy weekend with company coming and no time to have planned my dinner, so I thought I’d look up some recipes. I have no memory of what it was I googled that day but I do remember that in the middle of the search page was a link that led me to the first food blog I’d ever seen. And with just one click I tumbled down into a wonderful rabbit-hole, filled with the most wonderful stories, writing and recipes. I’ve been in free fall ever since.
That first food blog lead me to others. There were just so many incredible people about there, chronicling their kitchen stories along with their lunch, more than happy to tell you about the difference between chimmichurri and pesto. They spoke about home cooking or what they ate in restaurants. After that first mad connect-the-dots dash through the links on each page I identified a few well-written blogs with outstanding voices that captured my imagination. One of those was The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss.
I have early memories of going to the market with my mom with bags of gahu, wheat for atta. There was a chakki (mill) there run by two men. My mom would pass the bag of wheat over to one guy who would pour it into a large metal funnel. A few strategic taps and a drum would be on a roll and within a few minutes we had freshly milled flour. The guy at the other end would scoop the flour into bags. Occasionally puffs of flours would rise up from the pouring process, bathing the entire interior of the shop in a milk cloudy haze. Fine as the best talcum powder, I can still remember how warm those bags would be, filled as they were with the still warm flour. The machine, the process; all of it fascinated me.
While waiting with mom for the flour, I noticed other people walking up with considerably smaller bags, even tins. The contents of those tins were tossed into a much tinier machine and were ground within seconds. Mom explained this was the masala mill, used by people to make their own masalas or ground spices. Sometimes a person would walk up with a bag and walk away with scarlet-hued dusted sack. These were folks getting their very own chilli powder ground. The gold flecked ones were generally garam masala.