Bright blue sky, new beginnings, and also the lovely regretted end of a pleasurable interlude: that’s how things look today.
Yesterday my younger kid Tashi graduated from the University of Toronto. His college, Victoria, had its Convocation in the afternoon, preceded by lunch sandwiches and things in the quad, a walk away across Queen’s Park. Four years ago Tashi and I and Fatema were there for Dom’s grad. Now it was Tashi’s turn to be gowned and standing tall, while Dom, Fatema and I looked on.
At Convocation the Dean of Arts and Science told us that about half the graduates had reported, as they enrolled for the first time four or five years earlier, that they would be the first in their family to get a university degree. We knew some of the other graduates too, and cheered and clapped for them as well as for Tashi. For all of us in Convocation Hall there was a lot to appreciate and applaud, as two by two the grads walked up steps to the stage to shake hands with dignitaries and receive their congratulations and good wishes for whatever they might do next.
And in the evening, as had happened four years ago, our dear friend Dina took us all out to supper, this time to an odd and comfortable place called Strada 241 on Spadina south of Dundas, for Italian eats.
But in between I had my last Foods that Changed the World class to teach at the university. So back I walked across the grassed expanse of King’s College Circle, that two hours earlier had been peopled with black-gowned grads, colourfully dressed parents and friends, and the splashy medieval gowns of the senior professors, University President, et al. There were a couple of group frisbee sessions happening in the late afternoon light, all intentness and fluidity, and no hint of the formalities and solemnities of Convocation.
The classroom our continuing ed course was assigned to was in University College, an old grand building with nineteenth century tiling on the main floor and carved griffons of dark wood as newel posts at the foot of the stairs. I noticed afresh the age and imposingness of the building as I tried to imagine seeing it through the eyes of new students or of parents who had come from afar to watch the graduation and had no familiarity with the University of Toronto. These old institutions can be intimidating. And that can keep people away, which is not what we want for our society and community.
But I think it’s good that the ceremonies around Convocation are solemn and grand (with organ music ushering the graduates in, welcomes in Latin, etc). It is a big event, to graduate from university. A Bachelor’s degree is four years of your life or more, and often marks enormous changes in thinking and maturity. So it’s only right and fair that this passage through a significant portal be trumpeted and acknowledged. Hurrah to all!!
And now I’m getting to the regret. I have had such an engaging interesting time with this class over the last six weeks that I am sad to have the course over. This week I talked about coffee and then intoxicants: wine, beer, liquors, with the class. Then it was time to taste the various treats that people had brought. We agreed we’d all miss the class, that we wanted to continue our conversations and explorations. And so we discussed what a “second level” course could consist of. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. Now it’s up to me to figure out whether the School for Continuing Studies might be interested in a second food history course, and also when in the year I might be able to commit to being here for six or seven weeks running. Hmm
The treats I brought to our tasting were very simple. I promised the class I’d post a shorthand version of the what and how, so here it is:
sticky rice: white Thai-grown sticky rice mixed with a little black sticky rice to colour it and give it texture: soak together in cold water for 6 hours or as long as 18 hours, then place rice in a steamer over boiling water and steam until tender, about half an hour; turn out and cover with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out. Eat with the hands.
“salsa,” called nam prik in Thai: an improvised version that riffed off the northern Thai nam prik num. Ingredients: whole garlic cloves, about 8; about 5 unpeeled shallots or instead substitute red onion cut into two halves if you have to; chiles, several fresh whole banana chiles or three or more dried red ones if you lack fresh (I had only one fresh, so used a combo); about a pound or more large cherry tomatoes or romas or whatever you have. All the ingredients except dried red chiles need to be grilled, or else dry scorched in a heavy cast-iron pan over medium high heat. Turn them frequently to scorch all sides (I use a separate pan for the tomatoes). Turn out shallots and garlic etc when well softened and let cool a little, then lift peels off and discard, along with any tough bits. Destem the fresh chiles.
Then coarsely chop everything before food-processoring it or pounding it in a mortar. You want a coarse texture, not a puree. Add the tomatoes last. Season with salt, or a mixture of salt with a dash of fish sauce. I also included about a tablespoon of very coarsely ground black pepper.
Others brought delish homemade sweets: salted (Camargue salt) caramels; and raw cacao powder truffles with pureed goji berries, flax seed, coconut oil etc. There was also an offering of an interesting dark green and red new-to-me kind of tomato, komato, served with Guerande salt and slices of baguette. And I have left out a few things, I know…which others will remember.
I’m pleased that these endings – graduation, last class of the course, etc – lead us to think forward to what we want to do next. Life moves on, and so do our ideas and aspirations. It’s good to be pushed and stretched by the reminder that life is constantly changing. Challenges and difficulties and joys all lie just around the next corner.