Whether it was my father cooking my family a pot of chilli on Sundays after church or my mother cooking my family dinner on any given night, I know what it means to eat food that was cooked with love. I grew up with it. Someone close to my heart told me that once – “cooking with love”, and how it changes how you feel about what you eat. It’s stuck with me ever since. Of course, when I think of “cooking with love”, the first person that always pops into my head is my mother. She loves to cook; and she loves to cook with love. As do I.
Regarding love, there are certain people you wish you could take with you wherever you go. When I lived in Chicago, I certainly felt that way about my friends who didn’t live there, especially those on the west coast. And now that I live on the west coast, I feel that way about my Chicago friends (as well as my friends in other parts of the globe). In Chicago, I hosted many dinner parties at my home; I loved having my family and my friends over. I hadn’t done as much entertaining since moving to Sausalito until a few weeks ago, having my team and friends from the office over; and yesterday hosting one in Santa Monica at my friend Derek’s place.
After an uncharacteristically late morning waking up taking Taylor on only a short walk, I walked to the Santa Monica Farmers Market. If you’re as captivated by fresh produce as I am, then the SMFM will be heaven to you. Amidst the sea of people on a Wednesday workday, the California farmers showcased booths and booths of broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, eggplants, squash, string beans, different coloured carrots, bell peppers, garlic, ginger, herbs, etc. I was happily overwhelmed by both the colours and the smells. My favourite (by far) were all the chili peppers – especially the cayenne, which I had not seen since my days visiting my grandfather in India earlier this year – and the different varieties of tomatoes, including the heirloom, many that I had samples of, which was so tasty and juicy that I couldn’t wait to include it in my recipes that evening. (As it turned out, it literally transformed the dish.)
“The Santa Monica Farmers Markets were established by then-Mayor Ruth Yanatta-Goldway. The inaugural Santa Monica Farmers Market opened Wednesday July 11, 1981 in Santa Monica’s downtown retail district with goals of providing reasonably priced, high quality produce to the city’s population, and bringing more foot traffic into the downtown area. The Wednesday market met with instant success in its first year. Today, the Wednesday Farmers Market is widely recognized as one of the largest and most diverse grower-only CFM’s in the nation. Some nine thousands food shoppers, and many of Los Angeles’ best known chefs and restaurants, are keyed to the seasonal rhythms of the weekly Wednesday Market.” (from their website)
With the bounty from the farmers market and the chicken from Whole Foods, I went into Derek’s kitchen with a massive smile and went to work. Like painting or writing, cooking brings me to a place of such peace and serenity. Partly because it’s so task-focused, partly because it’s so improvisational, my mind closes itself to everything but the prep and the actual cooking. I love the sounds of the spices as they crackle in the oil; and I love the aroma that emanates from that even more. As I am cooking, as I was in the morning at the farmers market, I thought of my friends that would be coming over in the evening. I’m taste testing throughout the entire process, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
I cooked several things… two different kinds of traditional Kerala chicken curry (one extremely spicy, I really wanted to put the cayenne peppers to use), chicken vindaloo, two versions of raita (one extremely spicy), two different kinds of curried south Indian potatoes (again, one really spicy), fried rice with peas, and plain basmati rice. I also made a spice mixture of cayenne chili powder, garlic, curry leaves and fresh red cayenne peppers sautéed in a bit of coconut oil. Indian food truly is a delight in its dance between the spices and the vegetables and/or meat. If not done correctly, I can be too overwhelming, though with that said, the flavours that result are truly bold. The Indian food that I love is about as subtle as a punch by Mike Tyson.
After a few hours in the kitchen, Taylor and I went for a walk, excited for our guests. That night, we enjoyed good food, good wine, great conversation and the company of great friends. As I do when I awake in the morning to say a little prayer for everyone in my life that I love, I said so silently at one point in the evening. Most of them I have known for years, since childhood; and some I have not, but it feels like we’ve been friends for a lifetime. Having them over reminded me of Thanksgiving, and included friends from junior high and high school, from West Lafayette, IN and friends from Chicago and friends I met thru friends from Chicago. I am fortunate to have them in my life. They are such good people, all with such warm and giving hearts. And they have made Los Angeles my home away from home.
As our friends left, one of them told me to thank my mother for teaching me how to cook. Even when she’s not around, she is. I went to sleep that night with a huge smile.
For the Kerala chicken curry, click on this link. Below is the recipe for the potatoes.
Don’t forget to add the love for your guests as you cook!
South Indian Potatoes
(Makes two servings; and this is actually a little different from my mother’s recipe, she doesn’t add any of the optional items)
- 2 large potatoes, sliced
- 2 small onion, sliced
- 1 sprig curry leaves (optional, but totally worth it)
- 2 tsp total turmeric
- 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
- 2 tbspn coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon water
Optional (any combo of the following):
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 small cayenne peppers (Thai chillies could be substituted)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
Heat mustard seeds in the coconut oil under a medium flame. Just when it starts to crackle, add (optional garlic, curry leaves, and cayenne peppers – mix well and) one teaspoon of the turmeric (and optionally paprika and cayenne pepper powder). Add onions and mix well. Once the onions have softened (how much you want it carmelized depends upon you, the longer, the sweeter the onions will make the dish), add the potatoes. Sprinkle remaining one teaspoon of turmeric. Mix well. Add water (which should steam almost immediately), and cover. Depending upon whether you like a slightly charred potatoes or not, remove from heat either 15 minutes or 20 minutes later, making sure potatoes don’t stick to the pan. Remove from heat and transfer into a serving dish. Enjoy!
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