Monday, August 30, 2010


In this hot humid weather, late on the last Monday in August, I can hear the voices of people outside, voices in the night. They're unaware of being overheard, all those people, I imagine. It makes an odd soundtrack, their interactions. The night is still and heavy, so even though the doors of the house are open front and back, to catch any breeze or hint of freshening air, there's not much coolness happening.

It's not easy to think in this heat, or indeed to do anything very ambitious or elaborate. Ambition just drops away. It reminds me of Ryczard Kapuscinki's book on Africa, in which he talks about how lucky northern peoples are to have cloud and cold weather as part of their year. He's writing about the enervating effects of heat and and of deprivation (inadequate food and/or shelter, etc).

I'm not complaining about this heat. In fact I'm enjoying it. But I also can be grateful that my deadlines are a little elastic and are fairly far off, so slippage, buffer days taken in heat-induced laziness and torpor, feels fine, not scary or highly risky. And when the weather gets cold and harsh this winter, we will be able to look back on this soft weighty hot night with pleasure and longing, and perhaps also a small question: was it really that hot and soft? or did I dream it?

I've been playing around with Burma recipes. A sticky rice treat, a kind of sticky rice bun filled with palm sugar and coconut and fried until golden and crispy on the outside, is my latest pride and joy.

But today I took a break from the doing and went tasting instead. I went with three friends to a small new Burmese restaurant on Bloor Street west of Dufferin. The Mohinga (classic Burmese noodle soup, that comes in various styles) was a bit of a compromise (no banana stem, the broth light on fish, etc) but still recognisable, and it was served with great care and with sparklingly fresh condiments and toppings including coriander leaves and shredded green onion. The outstanding dishes we tasted though were the thokes, or salads, a ginger salad and another, a real emblem of food in Burma, called laphet thoke. It's made of fermented tea leaves that have an enticing tart edge. They are combined with sesame seeds, peanuts, chopped shallots etc, in a distinctive and refreshing salad. Yum.

I need to find a source for fermented tea leaves, a source in North America, so readers of my Burma book, once it's out, can make this delish combo for themselves. I will ask the guy at the restaurant where he gets his, but also, all ideas or suggestions welcome...

On Sunday evening a few friends were over for casual supper. As well as two steask, eye of round (later sliced to make a simple beef salad, Thai-style), I grilled some shallots, tomatoes, and those small round pale green Thai eggplants (the size of limes, with a stem, each of them), about a dozen of them. Then I processed all the grilled veg to a coarse salsa texture in the food processor. A little salt and fish sauce was all it needed, though you could also add chiles. (I left the heat separate, in the form of the hot tart sweet chile sauce I've come to depend on, a classic from Burma. Its base is dried red chiles, and it's my staple condiment these days.) I've never seen those small green eggplants grilled, perhaps because they are mostly seeds rather than very fleshy, but they did make a great salsa, dark red and earthy. Leftovers were a pleasure on fresh rice the next day.

This post is kind of rambling and is spending more time on food than I have been doing lately here. Perhaps it's the heat, addling my brain into short thoughts without much connection?

One thing I do want to mention: I have come to realise that although I can read without reading glasses (as long as the light is good!!!), my reading is now slower because I am not seeing the print as clearly as before. It's time to admit this, to make reading glasses (cheapo's from the drugstore) part of my life, rather than ignored hangers-on in my purse. I don't like being dependent on glasses for this most basic and pleasurable thing we call reading. But I am lucky I can see, and that there are so many books I am eager to read.

Time to head for bed, for a little reading before I pass out in sleep (that lovely deep hot-weather sleep, almost drugged, it feels). Now to find my reading glasses...!...

Happy late summer everyone. And for those of you heading into a school year of packing lunches, my sympathy. It does eventually end, but not soon enough!!

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