Currying flavour

Tuesday has become my weekly cooking day, I make something I can take into work for lunch all week. Last week Jorge made his debut processing the dough for tamales, this week it’s just me, my knives, and a ten litre stockpot. The name we give this week’s dish is “Curry,”  for the complex blend of spices I’ll be using. There is a resemblance to some Indian dishes, but this is an “a la Blake” recipe, with international influences.

I’ll be trying a new mix of vegetables this week. My last curry was a dead on Baingan Bharta, my Indian friends at work complimented the smell of the dish but wouldn’t try it, I got that “who does this white boy think he is, making Baingan Bharta?” vibe.  So this week will be my own invention, substituting some ingredients and adding others.

Here’s what you need:

1 medium red onion chopped coarsely

2 medium leeks, rinse well and chop coarsely

1 medium eggplant, cubed

2 bell peppers, one orange, one red, chopped coarsely

1 bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 pound okra, cooked (use ghee or a high temperature oil, cook until crisp)

1 pound paneer, cut in 1/2 inch cubes ( if there is no Indian market near you, substitute queso de freir)

1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

2 Bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

12 whole cloves

10 green cardamom pods, crushed

Piece of ginger about the size of your palm, diced

6 garlic cloves, pressed

1 tbsp chili powder

2.5 tbsp ground coriander

2 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp tumeric

Olive oil

You’ll want to serve with rice, I recommend Jasmati rice made with one teaspoon of cumin seed per cup of rice.

Prep your work area first. Cook the okra, chop the vegetables, cube the paneer and set out your spices as follows. In one small container place Bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom. In another small container place the ginger and garlic. In another container place the chili powder, tumeric, coriander, cumin and garam masala.

In a large stockpot, heat three tablespoons of olive oil. Add the leek, cook until tender then add the onion. Once the onion becomes translucent add the Bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. cook for about a minute.

Add the peppers, ginger and garlic, cook until the peppers soften (a few minutes). Reduce heat.

Add the chili powder, tumeric, coriander, cumin and garam masala, stir for about a minute, add the eggplant and tomatoes, stir and cover.

Light the fireplace.

Add the spinach, okra, chopped cilantro, and chickpeas, cover and simmer for half an hour, stirring every five minutes or so. Start the rice, continue simmering the curry.

Sit in front of the fire and open a beer. I chose Nostradamus tonight.

When the rice is done, turn off the heat on the curry, remove the Bay leaves and cinnamon, and add the paneer. Stir well, let sit at least five minutes.

Makes Tuesday night dinner and lunch through Sunday.

This came out a bit bland (for me), next time I’ll increase the chili powder, cumin, and garam masala by at least twenty five percent. There is a pleasant mix of textures and colours, and nutritionally it covers all the bases.

Next week? I’m thinking of roasted vegetables and a soy sauce/orange marinated tofu over cous cous, kind of a Moroccan feel, but anything could capture my imagination. Now if I can just find someone to cook for…


Fear of change

It is ever so easy to become numbed by the status quo. We complain about our lives, but do little to change them.

I once worked as an Animal Control Officer. It was a comfortable job, I loved working with animals and educating the public on living with wildlife (why did they move to the suburbs if they didn’t want raccoons in the garden?). I reported to the Chief of Police, which is to say I was largely unsupervised, spending my days roaming the ‘burbs enjoying the natural beauty just outside most people’s field of vision.

One day the Borough decided to privatize my position, contracting a private service to respond to complaints, eliminating patrols. After seven years I had grown quite comfortable with the routine, but my MS was starting to make me question the reliability of my ability to deal with the more dangerous situations. I wasn’t sure what to do next, and responded to an advertisement for job training available to unemployment recipients.  An eight week course on photocopier repair with a placement service upon completion.

Pretty much everything you need to understand about repairing photocopiers you can learn in sixty seconds. If you can’t pick it up in eight weeks you can still find employment, I knew people who had made their living in the field for twenty years and never understood the basics, struggling with each new system as if it were a new universe to be memorized piece by piece. There is room for everyone, but in my second week of the course a representative from a local photocopier corporate office spoke to the class about “the business” and briefly spoke to us individually. The next week I had a job offer from his company. When my classmates graduated I had been employed by Minolta for a month.

The change was good, I was still on my own in the field, my mind was engaged by the occasional unique problem, and the vicious snarling dogs were replaced by vicious snarling customers who were much easier to placate. I moved on to Pitney Bowes, less money and less stress, after two years with Minolta, and over fifteen years had a wonderful time exploring the refinements as photocopiers moved from analogue to digital imaging. I never looked back at Animal Control, except for a brief stint at a “shelter” a few years ago when a friend was completing extra curricular courses for her Veterinary degree.

Life is like that. Sometimes the scary unknown is the most welcoming of doors.

So I started this article to tell you about my new toy and got distracted by the introduction, but it all fits together.

A few months ago I said goodbye to a dear old friend. My Cuisinart food processor was almost thirty years old, had seen me through three wives and a girlfriend who didn’t know not to place it on top of a hot oven. Facing the move to Belgium and 220 volt appliances, I had to let go of Margo (yes, I name appliances). Then, (surprise!), I didn’t move to Belgium. I wouldn’t have replaced Margo had I known I would be staying in the land of 110 VAC, but I was pressed to adopt a new food processor.

I was planning to make Tamales, gathered the ingredients, and realized my favorite tool was missing. I have yet to name him, but I’m sure this food processor is masculine. Maybe Jorge, we’ll see how he does Tuesday when I prepare the Tamales. He appears to have an Hispanic background, and lacks the gentle curves of Margo.




It still feels odd having Black and Decker appliances in the kitchen, makes me think of carving a turkey with a circular saw.

Change is supposed to be a good thing, we get away from the familiar and expand our understanding of the universe and our place within it. I was bummed out when I left the Police Department, but it led to a successful career and a number of experiences I would have never encountered otherwise. Margo is deeply missed, we had a lot of good times together, but Jorge has additional features and appears to be up to the job of replacing my old friend.

I’m still trying to define what other things in my life I need to let go of, and whether or not they should be replaced. It is scary, but it shouldn’t be.



Old friends

I woke up this morning thinking of an old friend. I think of him from time to time, wondering how he’s doing.

I met Smith on my fortieth Birthday (not his real name, but he preferred to be called by his last name, and to be identified as male even though biologically he was female). He (she at the time) was working as a piercer on South Street in Philadelphia, I was having my tragus pierced to celebrate my birthday and some recent life changes.  I noticed his belt buckle, a Texas star, and asked if he was from Texas. He said he was from Euless, a little town between Dallas and Ft. Worth. I had a cousin living in Euless, and friends in the area, and I told him we used to call it “Useless Texas,” to which he said “Why do you think I’m here?”

I saw Smith a couple of times on South Street, when Emma had her first piercing I made sure Smith was her piercer. The shop where Emma and I purchased our wedding rings (and other items through the years) published a monthly newsletter, and it was in the newsletter I first saw Smith dressed as a man, as a participant in a “Drag King” event. When we were ready for some more piercings we found that Smith had stopped working as a piercer and was cooking at a local restaurant.

A few years later I ran into Smith in my neighborhood, he had moved to an apartment a block away from me and was cooking in Fishtown, riding his bike the six miles to work every day. I saw him often, walking his dog “Sookie,” sometimes dressed a little flamboyantly, one particular outfit stands out in my mind, yellow corduroy pants, a green shirt with a purple corduroy suit coat, big black framed round glasses, and a green Hamburg hat. He had shaved his head (which he did from time to time) and you could see the tattoos which adorned his scalp peeking out from under the Hamburg. He didn’t quite fit into the neighborhood, but Emma always made him welcome at the restaurant where she was working at 9th and Jackson, and I know the baker she lived next door to, Joe, was always friendly when we walked by his window.

I saw him last when Emma was ill, he was very kind and displayed the one feminine quality I always loved about him, a concerned look with pursed lips, a soft voice as he said “I’m so sorry” and gave me a hug. With Emma’s treatments I lost track of life in the neighborhood and missed Smith’s departure when he moved closer to work. I found him about a year after Emma died through a mutual acquaintance, we emailed a few times but our lives had gone in different directions.

Yesterday a friend at work commented on my tragus piercing, I wear a diamond there now and it gets noticed once in a while, that’s probably what has me thinking about Smith. He lives not far from a venue Lieve and I have been to a few times, maybe I’ll see him at a concert sometime; we like the same kind of music. I think he enjoyed as much as I the fact we were such friends but led such different lifestyles. Two transplanted Texans trying to make sense of these silly Northerners.

Smith made the choice to present his gender in the same sense that you might choose to wear a tie one day and a sweatshirt the next. His gender perception never came across as an issue of sexuality, in fact I know nothing about his love life, it was simply the way he saw himself. He was the best of what you would want in a human being, a strong woman and a gentle man, more simply a good person.