It’s been nearly three weeks since I got here to my new home across the country from my beloved San Francisco. It’s not that all its digital money boom entirely obscured its charms from me with the Google busses and the wall to wall boutique donuts. It would take more than that. I love that town. I will always love that town. The way in which I remember some of the women who have come and gone. I can always recall how that one smelled so good right behind the neck like pomade and a campfire, or the other one, how she read me Raymond Chandler while I soaked in the bath. There was the first real true love who I somehow convinced, in true lesbian fashion, to stay on as my favorite abiding and loyal friend and that one who I don’t remember much about except how good she looked in those work-worn Levi’s every time she left. I always remember her leaving, which, as it turns out, is probably how the memory should go. I Hate to See You Leaving, But I Love to Watch You Go. All of those connections, like the city, are still easy in these ways to love. And with San Francisco, my favorite metropolis so far in which to live, I look forward to seeing her again, I know the exact angle of the sun going down on the bay in the Spring when I walk myself to a day game on a Wednesday clad in black and orange. I know the way the light starts to shimmy like a gown at the Oscars and the remainders of the old wood docks jut up out of the water right through the sequins. I know the way North Beach smells and which blocks off of Market used the sparkly concrete on the sidewalks so when you run over it, it hurts a little bit less at 8 miles. I love that city. But I am no longer right for city life itself and it really wore me the fuck down.
We moved to a town with a population of 711. There is no post office. No traffic light. Not one state route passes through the whole dang thing. No store and, well, no baseball stadium. But in this town, you can watch the bats come out when the sun trades places with the moon at dusk, the sky turns pink, then violet, then lazes its way to navy and finally black. It’s so dark, you look up and it’s like somebody powdered the canopy of night with sugar. A car rolls by maybe every 45 minutes. Maybe. We take the trash to the dump because no one comes to get it and the old dog can lumber around the back with me and no leash. He seems mad we waited until he was 15 to tote him out to paradise, but when the Spring comes, he won’t be mad about anything at all.
Plus, Elizabeth Warren is my Senator.
FUCK, YES to that.
I unpacked like a marine. Up before five and I just kept going until it was done. I always feel weird if the boxes are around. Since I left my home at 17 for college, I have changed domiciles 19 times. I have some ideas about what works for me. And the thing I have always known, is the kitchen comes first. Even before I really gave a shit about how I ate, something about the kitchen had to settle first. It’s where I always feel closest to some kind of connection to my foremothers. I’m not exactly sure why because Gramma Eva I don’t remember cooking very much and Nanny Bert cooked, but never seemed to love it. She loved to smoke these Parliament lights at the breakfast table with the glass top over a bagel and coffee. By the time I was six and old enough to get shipped to Jewish Grandparent Utopia on the gulf coast of Florida, she mostly seemed like she was waiting for the sun to drop from the hot sky so she could pour the Sapphire gin into a rough tumbler, squeeze in a lime, splash out some tonic and listen to the ice clink around as if Bach was conducting.
I remember my mother as a wonderful cook, but she always says I’m wrong. Meh, she says. But no matter what, we all ate together. All five of us. Every night there was a feast on the table for 5 effing people. That seems like such a feat to me when I think about it today. Keeping a house for a family, stitching them all together with brisket and clean laundry and floors so spotless, you might as well eat off of them. I remember this insane shiny wallpaper we had in the kitchen in Pittsburgh with massive cartoony flowers all on it and my mom tan from tennis, pushing her hair back from her forehead with the back of her wrist while she diced things. Something about my mom in the kitchen is the crux of what makes me feel, well, powerful.
I know. I’m as surprised about it as you are.
But that’s how it turned out. Nothing makes me feel more kick ass than inviting over a handful of favorite people and fanning out a spread of divine tastes for everyone. The more food restrictions, the better. I love a puzzle. I’ll try anything new. I like to listen to Sam Cooke, Aretha, Ray Charles and Leonard Cohen. I like cello when I cook or the sounds of a Giants game with Jon Miller calling it. I like them better when we win, but, fuck it, I’ll take any of it. And I will cook my ass off.
Anyhow, all of that to tell you, we had our first handful of incredible people over last week. In honor of our vegetarian, there was a salad, a mujadara, and a chana masala based on the Gingered Chickpeas recipe from the wonderful book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I wanted something warming and cozy and this recipe was perfect. It also happens to be good for vegetarians, vegans, plus the wheat and gluten challenged. I served it over brown basmati rice. I’m sharing my variation with you here.
Welcome Home Chana Masala
1 Large tomato. (if you don’t have one, use a small can of diced)
1 small red onion, chopped
8 lengthwise slices of peeled ginger (each 2 in. long, 1 in. wide and
1/8 in. thick) Chop 4 of the pieces coarsely, and chop 4 into matchsticks.
1 dried serrano pepper, soaked in 3/4c water, liquid reserved
8 cloves of chopped garlic
1T coriander seeds
1T cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2T sunflower oil
2t hot paprika
1/2c chopped fresh cilantro
3 cups cooked chickpeas (I cooked mine the day before with an onion)
1t garam masala
1t sea salt
1c vegetable broth
Juice of one lime. I like a big fat lime, myself.
First get your dried pepper in warm water to soak and get all puffy. While that happens, you can put your basmati rice on to cook. When the pepper is all puffy again, put it in a blender with its attending water, the tomato, onion, chopped ginger (not the matchsticks), half the garlic, coriander, cumin, salt and the cinnamon stick, busted up. Puree it all together and you should get a speckled dark red sauce.
After that, heat the sunflower oil in a pan and put in the ginger sticks. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then add the rest of the garlic. Cook for another minute. Everything should turn light brown. When that happens, pour in the sauce from the blender. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the paprika, turmeric and 1/4c of the cilantro. Let the sauce come to a simmer again and sit for 5-10 minutes.
Now you get to add your chickpeas and a cup of vegetable broth (or water). Bring the whole shebang to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered, and go stir it once in a while. Cook for about a half hour. The sauce should thicken and the chickpeas will get good and soft.
Now stir in the garam masala and the lime juice. Serve over rice with the remaining fresh cilantro used to garnish each bowl.