Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back From India, I Think

I'm back. Sorta. When you go to the other side of the world, it takes a bit of time to readjust. It's about the clock, but it's also about life itself. I love my little home, my gardens and my cat. I love getting into my own bed at night. I love walking down the streets and looking at other people's gardens. I love the smell of clean clothes, and the feel of the cool breeze. I love the morning clouds and the afternoon sun.

And then I look at the container of Kashmiri green tea I brought back, and the green cardamom pods, (green is for tea, black is for cooking, I learned), and I'm transported back to the Himalayas. I'm whitewater rafting down the Lidder River in Pahalgham, or I'm riding a small pony up into the high meadows on a cloudy afternoon. I'm on a small, brown horse and my sister is on a larger white one. Our guide, Ishfaq is riding a third one. He is the only one of us who doesn't have a local man, holding the bridle of his horse. We pause in a vast meadow to take a few photos before climbing higher... There are gypsies who live in the mountains. They have no permanent homes. They live in tents. No computers, no hospitals, no schools. Just sheep, cows, and horses. We sat down and rested a while, listening to the wind. A Himalayan man came walking by. He lived in a small hut during the summer, several valleys away. He was walking over to where his cattle were grazing. He paused for a photo, then sat and talked to one of the men who was leading our horses. Other than the sound of their voices, we were in complete stillness. And then he got up and walked off. When I turned to look for him a couple of minutes later, he had vanished. So yes, I'm back. And I look around me in amazement at all the "stuff" we have here - our shiny cars, our movie houses, our manicured lawns and our manicured hands. I love all this stuff. And I also know that a simple cup of Kashmiri green tea with green cardamom and cinnamon will bring a smile to my lips. To make it, you put a teaspoon of tea into boiling water, break open a few green cardamom pods and add them along with a small chunk of cinnamon stick. Brew to desired strength. Strain into a teacup, add sugar, put your feet up and know that you are blessed.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Potato Salad, Fourth of July and another trip to India

It's that time of the year. I just want to go to the refrigerator, find something cool and filling, and eat it with a fork right out of the container. I'm not in the mood for fussy food. I want the basics. I'd rather eat outside on the deck than in the house. I want to be surrounded by my plants, and not care if something drops on the ground.

I think it's called summer. And I've got a case of summer going on right now. I spend all my spare time clipping the dead flowers off the roses and daisys, and then sitting down and reading. I just finished Jeanie Cheathem's autobiography "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On". An amazing life story of a woman with immense talent and determination, and what it took to create a life in music. She and her husband Jimmy have been giants in the world of jazz and blues, playing with giants such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Jimmy died last year, but Jeanie is still playing piano and singing with her Sweet Baby Blues Band.

Along with reading and gardening, summer means potato salad for me. The perfect, eat-it-out-of-the-fridge food. The perfect I'm-not-that-hungry-but-I-want-something food. Cool, filling, and a great dish to share, since it's not worth making if you're not going to make a bucket of it.

So when Mary called me and told me that our neighbor Dierdre was having a Fourth of July party at her house, I knew what I was bringing. I had made a bucket of potato salad and had enough left over for the Turkish army. This is the kind of potato salad that I learned to make from my husband. He called it German potato salad, and told me that what made it German style was the fact that you put vinegar on the potatoes while they were still warm. The main difference between this and the way he made it, was that he used to say that he didn't like "hippie style" potato salad. Translation: He didn't like the skins left on the potatoes. Well, I'm a little lazier than he was. I didn't intentionally remove the skins, but most of them did come off by themselves.
I used red potatoes, since they were on sale. I bought a red onion, and then began scouring the fridge for anything I could throw in there. A couple of scallions and some celery were left over in the drawer. Capers on the shelf. No peas. Oh well.......I had enough.

Quarter the potatoes and boil them in salted water.
Meanwhile, start chopping: scallions, celery and red onion in this case.
When the potatoes were done, I cut them into smaller pieces, threw them into a big pot, and periodically slosh on some white vinegar over the layer of potatoes. When I finished with all the potatoes, I mixed up some mayonnaise, mustard, a touch more vinegar, and a small blob of cream I had left over from something. (Who can remember?) The only reason the cream went in was because it was there. Otherwise, it's unnecessary. Mix everything together, chill and serve. It's better the next day, and probably even better the day after that.

I'm leaving on Tuesday. This trip has required more planning than I thought it would. I had to measure myself for a saree. The parents of my nephew's bride decided to make sarees for all the women who would be coming to India for this wedding. I chose peacock green for my color, and then had a neighbor help me with the measurements. So far I've packed, unpacked and re-packed twice. I'm trying to pare it down to the minimum, leaving room for something irresistible, which I'm sure I'll find in Kashmir, as well as my new saree!