Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I apologise for not posting for nine days. I'm in the sprint-to-the-finish-line stage of my Burma book. Writing here feels like an easy pleasure, a welcome and unpermitted distraction you might say, so I haven't dared even think about it for more than a week. I have so much work to do! On the other hand, there's a lot done; it really feels like a book. What a great thing to be able to say that. Now I'm just obsessing about details, as always!

And with spring springing so beautifully, and slowly this year, there's lots to celebrate, even as I complain about how deep in my deadline trench I am!

Just an update about this and that: My lilies of the valley are still not quite out, so that makes them a full two weeks late. My trilliums, valiant survivors in the harsh city envirnment, have just finished. On the other hand the crab apple tree that spreads the full width of the front yard is in glorious show-offy bloom, delicately scented, like a dreamy miracle. And as I run in the mornings, these last damp and rainy days, the humidity carries the scent of blooming fruit trees, and the overcast light makes the colours pop. It's pretty psychedelic out there! The best I think is the fall of brilliant citron-yellow-green little tree-flowers from the maple trees. They carpet the dark-with-rain sidewalks in an incredible glowing blanket of colour. Yesterday at the end of the street someone had dropped a couple of pink flowers, almost magenta, onto the brilliant green. It was intense, a jolt for the eyeballs!

In the back garden my first lettuce greens are up, little green spots of hope, planted ten days ago as seeds and rained on since. It's an exciting time as I visualise the shape of the garden this year. I've been eating dandelion greens from the back, and garlic chives, stir-fried with a little turmeric and mustard seed, a great start to the day, ingesting greenness and life!

Speaking of life, this week I tried to see if I could get cooked soybeans to ferment the way it's done by the Shan and northern Thais...and it worked! It's a recipe for Shan (Tai Yai) tua nao, dried disks of fermented soybean paste. I cooked the soybeans on Saturday and by this morning they were fermented and sweet-smelling, so I added salt and ground them to a paste in the processor. The paste is delish, on its own and also when fried a little; now I have a stash in a jar in my fridge, there to play with.

Tua nao disks are available in markets in northern Thailand and Burma, but here if I want them I have to make them. Of course there are substitutes, such as fermented soybeans from China, and even miso paste, but I'm delighted to know that if someone wants to make them from scratch, it's easily doable. That's my big hurrah! for the day! I'll try shaping some disks and drying them out in a low oven (since the air is too damp right now to dry anything!) tomorrow.

I dropped by the AGO the other day (yes, I have been taking the odd break!) and saw the Inuit exhibition, a collection now donated to the gallery, of mostly modern (post 1970) pieces, but with some old too, to give context. There's a wonderfully expressive figure, standing, carved from whalebone, and some minimalist soapstone carvings, huge smooth blocks with just enough detail carved to make you see the bird or the musk-ox. They're weighty with seriousness and somehow heart-stopping. Whalebone is such an extraordinary medium, so alive and so varied in its textures. The Henry Moore pieces in a neighbouring gallery look like they too, some of them, are carved from whalebone, as if they are an extension of the Inuit work.

As the news out of Syria etc continues dramatic and troubling, I can't stop checking twitter (I use Tweetdeck, which at least simplifies and sorts the incoming) for news. The rhythm of that is of course directly opposed to my need to settle in to editing, writing the last bits of text, polishing, etc. But the alternative, to ignore what's happening, is not acceptable. It feels as if, even from this distance, we should at least be imagining and thinking about what is going on, don't you think?

Recipes, and food questions seem trivial next to political action and active suffering, but they are all part of life and all necessary, that's what I tell myself. After all, growing food and getting it on the table every day is what keeps people going, and allows them to find some self-respect when life is tough or oppressive. Or so it seems to me.

And the kitchen is a place we can all retreat to, in fact, and in our imaginations, when we're feeling squeezed. It's a place of comfort, a feeling of home, an emotional refuge too.

Maybe that's why in these last weeks I feel so tempted to flee the computer and retest recipes. Taking concrete action is often much easier than working away to shape a difficult paragraph or think through a complicated concept. And at the end of recipe testing there's food to eat, and to feed others, which feels a lot more valuable, often, than whatever ideas I manage to express on a page.

But now I'm whining. It's time to stop that!

Time instead to celebrate a lot of birthdays, R, and X, and E and D and lots more, I'm sure, whom I'm forgetting. They get to celebrate at this flowering lovely time of year, when all is promise and freshness and optimism. How lovely!


Holly Bruns said...

Oh my god, I can make my own fermented soy beans? Did you leave them sitting in their cooking water? I love your blog, by the way. And all your books.

naomi said...

It was surprisingly easy. I did what the people in northern Thailand showed me to do: cooked the beans (organic, natch) for what sseemed like -ever, and then did not drain them, covered them with a basket, and two and a half days later they were sweet-smelling and with a foam sort of. I drained them and processed them with a little water, and added salt, 1/2 teaspoon per cup of paste is the rule. One pound soybeans made 7 cups cooked, and less than that paste. Store in glass in the frig. Now I have to make the disks, and dry them.
There's my report!

naomi duguid said...

I did leave them in their water...there wasn't much water, and then drained them and kept a little water to help lubricate the grinding to a paste in a processor. One teaspoon salt per half cup of paste...and then there it is.
Let me know how it goes, if you try it. Organic soybeans can be hard to find.

Holly Bruns said...

Thanks! I'm going to give it a try this weekend.

Holly Bruns said...

Thanks! I think I'll give it a try this weekend.

naomi duguid said...

you might want to try some left in water and some drained...to compare. I meant to and then forgot.

I covered the fermenting beans loosely with a basket, to keep out debris but let in air.

Holly Bruns said...

I'll let you know how it goes.

Holly Bruns said...

I gave it a try. I did a little pile of dried on the side, but they just, well, dried up. The wet batch worked well. Last night I salted half and ground them up and I took the other half and ground with a little soy sauce and sesame oil. They're both in my fridge now, so I'll see how they taste soon. Thanks!