Thursday, July 22, 2010


'What a beautiful clear sunny morning!' I was thinking as I set off on my bicycle today to meet a friend for breakfast. But somehow out on College Street as I was trying to set off when the light turned green, my foot slipped off the pedal, with my full weight on it, and though I managed to get it on the ground, rather than falling over, the pedal scraped and banged up my shin pretty thoroughly. I swore a little then pedalled to our meeting place, where I asked the cafe cook and owner for some ice to sooth the swelling. I already had a goose egg on my shin, as well as scrapes oozing blood. The ice worked: now an hour and a half later the goose-egg is down and all I have is a dull ache (and unsightly scrapes that will take awhile to heal).

All it takes is a moment's inattention for our luck to change, our judgement to be off-key, our fate to turn. Examples abound. A friend told me this week about her near-drowning a couple of weeks ago. The elements there were first, a decision to try swimming across a lake that was wider than she realised, and second, a weaker swimmer with her, who needed to cling on, which started them both sinking... until my friend passed out. Luckily a third person was with them, a strong swimmer, who got them both back to shore safely. It's shocking to think that they might easily have drowned. Events can turn on a hair sometimes.

Reminders like this are painful jolts: We can get hit by a bus, or drown in a lake, tomorrow, or any time. There are no guarantees. And so there's no point worrying overly about the future, though we are inclined to (see my last week's blog about over-anticipation and min-maxing). Of course we need to anticipate it and take some precautions, as a navigator steers a ship around a coming headland or shoal, but we also need to remember that since each day could be our last, we need to live in the now as much as we can, to enjoy it, and to take responsibility for ourselves and others, in the moment.

Like the rest of life, it's a balancing act. And the attentiveness we bring to it gives life edge and meaning.

I guess part of the balancing act involves being in the moment and engaged and also capable of stepping outside it and seeing context or the wider view. It's a process a little like working with a zoom lens, focussing in on the immediate and then going wide for the wide-angle view, where each element becomes smaller but their interconnectedness is more the focus.

These are July musings, in the luxury of some of the best summer weather I can remember (we could do with more rain, but we've had rain some evenings and sun in the days, so the gardens are way ahead). It's time to enjoy local tomatoes, the purple "green beans" hanging on the bean plants out in the garden (so beautiful!), the raspberries and blackberries at the market, the last of the cherries...

And as I explore the homecooking traditions of Burma, I'm engaging with fish. (In this warm weather I leave doors and window open, so there's a breeze that carries cooking smells away. The house and garden have a very tropical feel these days, seamlessly connected by soft air and greenness flowing through the house.)

This week has been full of soups, fish broth for sour soups (there's sour soup with vegetables in it at almost all lunch tables in central Burma, delicious and refreshing in the heat), for a soup with lemongrass and ginger, and for a mohinga from the Rakhine coast (where food is more chile hot, the west coast south of Bangladesh). I also messed around with a chickpea soup, cooking chickpeas (garbanzos for some of you) unsoaked and comparing that to the cooking time if they are soaked overnight. it does indeed make a difference, soaking them. It knocks an hour or more off the cooking time. And by the way, the soup is satisfying, easy to make, a keeper for sure. (It's flavored with minced shallots fried in oil, and with lemongrass etc.)

Speaking of Burma, I had a letter from a guy in Indianapolis today who is looking for Chin recipes. The Chin are one of the cutures/ethnicities that live in Burma, mostly in Chin State, in the northwest. He says there are 6,000 refugees from Burma in the Indianapolis area, among them Chin. There is even a Chin restaurant. He wanted to know if I had any Chin recipes, for he is due to cook for the refugees in a few weeks. I wrote back to say that he is in a better place than me to gather and know about Chin food. it makes me want to head to Indianapolis this fall, to eat and ask questions.

In Burma Chin State is off-limits to foreigners. My only contact with Chin people was at several Chin villages in northern Rakhine State, up river from Mrauk U.

Sorry to ramble on and on... thinking out loud. Thinking about refugees who have had to leave their homes and landscape and start afresh, with many hardships in between, is a good reminder that our short-term aches and pains, or worries, are small indeed.... And it's also a reminder of how resourceful and resiliant human beings can be when survival is the issue.

Happy summer everyone.

SUMMER FOOD: A further thought on my "classic" potato salad, described a few posts ago: Boil new potatoes and several sweet potatoes, whole and unpeeled. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them and chop into large bite-sized pieces. Steam cook or parboil some wing beans (also called asparagus beans, tua plu in Thai) or some green beans, then chop them into the potatoes. Then chop fresh herbs from the garden and stir them into an olive oil-vinegar (or lime juice) and salt (or soy sauce) dressing. I have shiso, basil, tarragon, mint, and flat-leafed parsley, all jumbled together, so that the dressed salad yields a surprise with each mouthful. And it's beautiful, with green and dark red (the shiso) herbs, orange and white potatoes, and the green of tua plu or beans... A great potluck dish, as I've said before!

1 comment:

naomi said...

A friend sent me a quick note today after she read this post:
"yikes to your poor shin
and Yes to both the sharpness of these little reminders and how small they are in the grand scheme"