It's a mild Sunday night here in Toronto, the end of a great week-end. I've just come back from supper with friends, their fabulous twin boys all the entertainment a person could want, and the food delish: sticky rice and Thai beef salad, brought by other friends, and a Burmese-style roasted eggplant salad plus a nam prik num (a northern Thai salsa of grilled tomatoes, banana chiles, shallots, and garlic), made by me there. The wines were yummy, a South African white from the western Cape, and a Beaujolais with good balance, a nice surprise.
I don't expect to dine on a Sunday evening. More often it's a meal with friends here at the house, a catch-as-catch-can kind of meal. And here I am contemplating Monday on a full stomach with happy memories of good flavours in my mouth. hmm
This weekend has been a full one. I have now finished the Burma Over Time (history) section of Rivers of Flavor, and will send it in to the publisher tomorrow, together with Traveller's notes as well as the annotated Bibliography. One of the books in the bibliiography is Elephant Bill, by a Colonel Williams. I have a copy of it from my parents, the book I read as a ten or eleven year old. And I have another, from the same edition, that I bought recently from a bookseller in Chiang Mai. It's a remarkable book, for Elephant Bill started work in Burma after the first war and then became the man in charge of elephants dring the Japanese invasion in 1942 and the subsequent flight out of Burma, followed by the reconquest of Burma in 1944. In all of it he is humble, appreciative of the elephants and the people who handle them, primarily their Karen oozies, but also Burmese and Shan people. I realised a few days ago that this was probably the first book I ever read about Burma. And though it is written in a colonial context, it rises above the limitations of colonial attitudes and society.
What a great start.
Now that I am contemplating the last stages of this Burma project, I am filled with gratitude for having been able to embark on it. When I first flew into Burma in 1980, so long ago, I never dreamt that I'd be writing about food and culture some day, let alone a book about food traditions in Burma. And more recently, as I worked on other books about food and culture, I didn't think I'd be working on my own and on a book about such an intensely felt and politically and culturally complicated a subject as Burma.
There's a good chance, given the contents of the history section at the back of the book, that some bureaucrat somewhere in Burma may decide that I should not be issued a visa. The book is not due to come out until September 2012. And so I need to get at least one trip, and hopefully two, to Burma, before the axe falls...
Which brings me back to the Elephant Bill book. He talks a lot about the upper Chindwin River. And when I was in Pakkoku, up the Irrawaddy from Bagan, I met a foreigner whose friend had travelled up the Chindwin, despite government limits on where foreigners can go.
So all that means that I would love to retrace at least some of the route that Elephant Bill and his elephants took on their way to India. It's a culturally rich area that ends up in Chin State, for now off limits to foreigners. But miracles do happen, so if I can get close, maybe I'll be able to travel into Chin State...
And on other subjects: I'm still having issues with my left foot: a fallen transverse arch, new pads for my runners, and now I have started running again, but I am having pains in my ankle. As always, the compensating we do for one injury leads to other problems. I think it's time I saw a sports-medicine person. Has any one else had transverse arch problems? My new cushy running shoes, and the Birkenstock inserts I use in my shoes, have made a huge difference. So why do I still have issues running?
The hummingbirds are gone, the robins are fat, and the tomatoes and corn are ripening. I picked a ripe okra the other day, bright green and crisp, and Tashi and I ate it in mouthfuls, crunch crunch, so delicious. It was completely different, not at all the same vegetable, as the slightly rough large green ridged veg we can buy in the winter. People who don't like okra, most of them, have never tasted it at its best, at least that's my theory.
And all this talk of veg takes me back to the subject of work and my to-do list: I have some recipes to retest, and now with just the Glossary (I love doing it) and the photos to get in, I'm feeling ready to tackle these last recipes. I'll keep you posted on my progress. The steamed noodles from the Golden triangle is one I'm looking forward to; and the tapioca custard pudding is another...
Are you hungry yet?
And on the subject of recipes: There's a piece by AMy O'Connor coming out in Cooking Light magazine, the November issue (so it will be out in the third week in October), about Chiang Mai and the immersethrough session she attended last year. The magazine asked me to contribute three recipes to the piece. I sent them off ten days ago and I just heard back from them "your recipes rock!". That's always a great message to get, for any of us who write about food. But here it was especially great timing, for as this book editing starts, I find it easy to feel anxious. The reassurance of an editor's wholehearted love of some recipes (Chiang Mai and Shan food both) was a lovely uplift.