Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Ground Lamb Meatballs with a Saffron Sauce

” I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” Rabindranath Tagore

What a powerful truth to let in if we have the courage to be honest with ourselves. Fear holds us back from living our purpose, from hearing the voice calling us. We spend sooooo much time, so many years, stringing and unstringing, banging our heads against the same familiar and comfortable walls. But I have come in my older years to be more patient with myself, more understanding of this crazy predicament. Life, this life, our life is really really complicated. To get to the other side, we must FEEL it. We must GRIEVE it. We must ACCEPT it. We must RELEASE it. And then maybe, just maybe, the song…our song..will be sung, one note at a time.

Ingredients: 8 ounces ground lamb, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed, 1/2 teaspoon ground black cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 small red onion finely chopped, 2 large garlic cloves finely chopped, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika, 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, 4 black cardamom pods, 6 whole cloves crushed, 2 tablespoons ghee

1.Mix the lamb with salt, fennel, cumin, ginger, onion, and garlic in a bowl, Use your hands and make about 10 meatballs tightly round.

2.Heat the ghee in a medium sized skillet over medium heat and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, moving around and watching to make sure they are brown on all sides. Remove to a plate and drain off excess fat.

3.Pour 2 cups of water into a small saucepan and add the cayenne, paprika, saffron, cardamom and cloves. Bring to a boil, cook uncovered until the spices infuse the water. about 5 minutes. Set aside. This is what is known as a thin curry (and it’s amazing what just water and spices can become!)

4. Put the meatballs back in skillet they were fried in and add the spiced broth. Cook on medium high and vigorously simmer the thin curry until the lamb is barely pink, about 10 minutes. Baste the meatballs during the time to ensure they are getting cooked. Transfer to a serving bowl.

5.Continue to simmer the broth for another 8 to 10 minutes until the curry is about 1/2 cup. Pour this bright potent broth over the meatballs and serve with white basmati rice.

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Coconut Chicken with Potatoes (Batata Murghi)

“Hark to a voice that is calling, to my heart in the voice of the mind.” Sarojini Naidu

This quote strikes deep. I hear a voice calling to my heart. It is faint, it is distant, but it is absolutely present.It is calling me but for what? This answer is not yet clear. I don’t fully understand why Abby’s death has shattered my reality this deeply. Yes, we were sisters. Yes, we were connected. Yes, we knew each other’s secrets. Yes we shared our emotional life. But it’s more intricate than even all that. I have love in my life. I am not alone. Yet this grief work is so incredibly lonely subsequently causing me to examine everything and everyone. And, adding another complicated painful layer to this stew, I am caring for an ailing parent. I am tired inside. Tired of losing people. Tired of sadness, tired of being thrown off course and being forced to recalculate my route. I feel that this grief has been present with me for eons and suddenly, after finally doing the real hard nitty gritty work of not only recognizing and accessing my feelings but experiencing them, I am much more aware of that voice of heart, the one I can “hear breathing on a quiet day”, calling me to a place I have never been, a distant but approaching shore to a life where I can begin to live life on my own terms.

Ingredients: 1 can unsweetened coconut milk, 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped ginger, 2 tablespoons unsalted dry roasted peanuts, 1.5 teaspoons sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 5 large cloves of garlic, 4 to 6 green thai or other kind of chili (I used one), 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds from green or white pods, 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 chicken (about 3.5 lbs skin removed and cut into 8 pieces), 2 medium size potatoes such as russet or yukon gold cut into 1 inch cubes, 2 tablespoons of ghee, 1 medium red onion, cut in lengthwise and thinly slices, 2 tablespoons cilantro, 12 to 15 curry leaves.

1.Pour 1/2 coconut milk into a food processor along with ginger, peanuts, salt, turmeric, garlic and chilis and blend.

2. Preheat a small skillet over med high heat. Add the coriander, cardamom, and cinnamon and toast for about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate to cool and then grind. Fold these spices in with the paste above to make a marinade. Place the chicken pieces in a baking dish or plastic bag and coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

3. Make sure potatoes are dry. Heat ghee in non reactive skillet or Dutch oven and fry the potatoes until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon drain and set aside.

4.In the same pan, cook the onions until edges are brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the onions to the potatoes.

5.Arrange the chicken in the skillet and cook about 3 to 5 minutes on each side to brown. Add the potatoes, onions, remaining coconut milk, reserved marinade and simmer turning occasionally and basting for about 20 minutes or more depending on thickness of chicken until the thickest parts are no longer pink and juices run clear.

Arrange on a serving platter and skin off any excess oil that may be floating on surface. Ladle the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and enjoy eating it as much as you enjoy smelling it as it cooks!

Month of September: “660 Curries” Masala Dabba or Spice Box

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy

I have always wanted a spice box ( masala dabba) and here it is! My first one! Isn’t it beautiful? I could just stare at it all day. Spices are the backbone of Indian cuisine so I wanted to share a few things about them. According to this cookbook, in the glossary of ingredients, the author lists 35 spices and flavorings. Yes, that’s right, thirty five!! I find that extraordinary. Don’t you?? He emphasizes the importance of buying whole as much as possible and grinding them yourself. He claims that one spice can elicit different flavors depending on the technique used, such as roasting alone, roasting and grinding, soaking, adding oil, mixing, etc.

Starting out, I just went with the freshest spices I could find. I have good luck with our local co-op which offers spices in bulk. In the grocery stores it is unclear how long spices have been sitting on a shelf and freshness is crucial. Pictured above are seven spices: cayenne powder, turmeric powder, coriander seed, cumin seed, mustard seed, star anise and cinnamon sticks.

Thinking about this palette of fragrances got me thinking about oil paint palettes which led me to think of art and how very true it is that good cooking is an art. Abby was an artist. Her medium was willow, stained glass, fiber, wood, oils and pencil. I am an artist. Mine is food. The more I understand what connected us the more I realize that appreciating beauty and creating was central to our way of seeing and being in the world. We felt like family to each other because of it. And with family comes ups and downs and we certainly did have ours. It’s crazy now to let in that we lived a span of 9 years of not talking. What the hell that really was about I don’t think either one of us ever understood. We never dug deep about it for some reason which is odd because we would deep dive all the time. I guess it was like a growing spurt that we both had to do alone and it was accepted. In 2012 we reconnected coming back even stronger, closer than we had been even in our twenties, more seasoned and weathered. I never thought she would die so young and the dreams we shared for the future will never come to fruition. We had what we had and that was all. But that was no small thing.

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Fish Fillets with a Cilantro Cream Sauce

“In doing something, do it with love or never do it at all.” Mahatma Gandi

I wish I had a way to convey the aroma and flavor of this dish. It was easy to make and perfectly balanced not only in the mouth but also in the stomach. It doesn’t look like much but it is! All you do is make an herby marinade in a food processor, let it sit with the fish for an hour, then pan fry and make the sauce. It could not be easier. The hardest part was finding fresh curry leaves. I absolutely loved every bite and will be sure to make this quite often. It leaves the body feeling very nourished, like ayurvedic medicine.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup fresh curry leaves, 1 cup tightly packed cilantro, 6 small garlic cloves, 1 chile ( I used half of a jalapeno, no seeds), 1.5 teaspoon salt, 1 lb fresh cod or halibut, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup half and half, ghee or oil for frying.

Place the curry leaves, cilantro, garlic, chile and salt in a food processor and blend. Spread the marinade on the fish and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Add 2 tablespoons of ghee to a cast iron skillet and heat on medium high. Add fish and fry for about 2 minutes on each side and then remove from pan. Whisk the yogurt and half and half together until blended and add to pan and work the brown bits with the cream. I removed pan so cream would not burn. Serve the fish with the cream. I added brown basmati rice for a side and it worked very well.

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Chana Masala

“Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.” Rabindranath Tagore

660 Curries is a voluminous collection of Indian eats by Raghaven Iyer. He is an award winning teacher of the year from IACP (international association of culinary professionals) and has compiled one whopping book of appetizers, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, seafood, paneer, legume and vegetable curries. I could literally devote the entire year of grief cooking to this one book. It’s overwhelming close to a thousand pages of a multi thousands year old cuisine. A curry he explains is any dish that is covered in a sauce or gravy that is “redolent with any number of freshly ground and very fragrant spices and/or herbs.” A curry is not a spice blend made by McCormick. This cookbook was my son’s but I basically borrowed it indefinitely from him years ago and he didn’t object too much. Friday was his 34th birthday and ironically I am making this dish today to share with him. So it’s true then, in this case, that what comes around goes around.

This curry, chickpeas with a spice tomato sauce, Raghaven tells us is as common in Indian kitchens as macaroni and cheese is to kitchens all over the United States. Seemed like a sensible recipe to start with. It has been a crazy busy week at work with increased volume, decreased staff, unexpectedly losing our great tenants and just an all around rush, rush, rush. We managed to have a wonderful visit with family friends who came into town from Maryland and Oregon on Friday but other than that it is one of those times where you just can’t seem to catch your breath.

Back to beginner’s mind. Back to why I started this blog in the first place. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Hello India. The photograph below is me volunteering as a nurse in Calcutta in 2006. There I am about 250 miles from the Bangladesh border, not that far from where Abby’s second husband was born and raised. It’s strange to reflect now, that even half way around the world, our story was still connected.

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons of ghee or canola oil, 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds (1 whole and 1 ground), 2 tablespoons ginger paste, 1 tablespoon garlic paste, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon mango powder or lime juice, 1 teaspoon cayenne (I used less), 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 4 cups chickpeas, 4 tablespoons cilantro, 1.5 teaspoons coarse salt, 1/2 cup chopped red onion.

1.Heat ghee in large saucepan over medium high heat. Sprinkle in whole cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle and turn reddish brown and smell nutty about 5 to 10 seconds. Immediately lower the heat to medium and carefully stir in the ginger and garlic pastes. Stir fry until paste turns light brown about 2 minutes.

2.Stir in 1 cup water and tomato paste, coriander, mango powder or lime juice, cayenne, turmeric and ground cumin. Simmer partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates from the reddish brown sauce about 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Pour in 2 cups of water with the chickpeas and 2 tablespoons of cilantro and salt. Raise the heat to medium high and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, 15 to 18 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro and onion over the curry and serve with naan or rice.

Month of August: “Tassajara Bread Book” Recipe: Walnut Coffee Cake with Streusel topping

The month of August is rapidly coming to an end and with it the summer. This time of year for me is mixed with memories of the birth of my son, of canning peaches, of puffy white clouds in a sea of beautiful clear blueness, of cooler nights and inevitable changes to come. I am consistently in the state of longing now for the sun to stay a bit longer. It’s like an annual very personal internal clock takes over when the hot filled days and warm evenings are closing in behind us.

I had all kinds of plans this month for so many recipes that I wanted to make from this cookbook. I thought about plans and how we have so many at any given time rolling around in our minds. But then life happens and we are derailed; some come to fruition and others get put aside or forgotten. Abby and I had so many plans. We always planned things. We loved plans. We both were doers and we loved executing and sharing plans. I miss sharing mine with her and I miss hearing of hers. No one was more excited and passionate about plans than Abby. She made you feel that anything was possible. And with her, it was.

Streusel and Strudel (our tree planter nicknames)

Ingredients: Cake: 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 2.5 cups cake flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1.5 cups sour cream with 1 teaspoon vanilla stirred in. Streusel topping: 1 cup chopped walnuts, 1/2 brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 tablespoons cocoa, 2 tablespoons butter

To make the Streusel: Combine the list of ingredients and work with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

To make the coffee cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together the butter and sugar, add eggs one at at time. In a separate bowl sift the flour, soda, salt, powder. Add this to creamed mixture alternating with sour cream, making three additions and stirring well after each one. Spread half of the batter into a buttered tube pan and sprinkle with half of the streusel. Spread the rest of the batter and remaining streusel. Bake for about 45 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.

Month of August: “Tassajara Bread Book” Recipe: Apple Pancake Sam

In the pancakes and other things to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner section of the Tassajara bread book are an assortment of pancake recipes but also including biscuits, scones and coffee cakes. I have made his whole wheat pancakes and they are just about the best pancakes I ever had. He separates the yolk and whips the whites and it elicits the most light and tender pancake. I recommend it if you have his book. This apple pancake is delicious too and it reminds me very much of another recipe by Marion Cunningham except her apples are baked on the bottom and she uses cinnamon and Edward Espe Brown uses clove. I needed to make something simple today because it was a week without any moments to myself. Today I am cramming in a few hours before going back at it for another long week. This is life! But I am ever grateful for even these few quiet hours in silence.

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons butter, juice of 1 lemon, 1 apple sliced into thin wedges, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, 3 eggs, ground cloves

Preheat oven to 400F. Put butter into an 8 or 9 inch round baking pan and melt butter in oven being careful not to brown butter. Watch! Meanwhile squeeze the lemon juice over the apple slices and toss with sugar. In a mixing bowl, add milk, flour and eggs. Whisk briefly until barely together. Batter will be lumpy. Pour batter into melted butter and arrange the apples on top in a circle and add the lemon sugar liquid on top. Bake for about 25 minutes until firm and puffy. Dust with a sprinkling of clove and serve warm with maple syrup. In the summer you can substitute blueberries with apples.