Ever since I can remember, I have been passionate about food. I have always loved to cook from the days with my grandmother when she taught me at 5 yrs old how to make Middle Eastern food. My favorite was spinach and meat pies and date cookies. Looking back, I can see clearly that it was always about the ritual and the love that were infused into the preparation of the food. It took much patience and discipline to roll out the dough to the same proportionate size so that they can cook evenly and look similar. Then we would delicately press the edges together into a moon shape pie. It was not easy for my little fingers to do things with such precision and gentleness; it was a practice and a labor of love. That was the key though, my grandmother’s food tasted amazing because it contained the secret ingredient – Love.
I haven’t stopped cooking since. After marrying an Italian man who I seduced through my eggplant parmigiana, (he didn’t stand a chance from his very first bite) I spent the next 2 decades perfecting my spinach risotto and pasta fagioli. I would make enormous trays of baked ziti for school functions and my son would pride himself on his mother’s cooking. He recognized the secret ingredient to my cooking at an early age. At 10 years old and always highly sensory, Greg was the first person to ever put words to it; “You can taste the love in my mom’s lasagna” he would brag. From that proclamation, love became the determining credential as to whether a meal was extraordinary or not.
And then with my 50th birthday, came a terrible gluten allergy. It appeared almost out of thin air. How could I live without Italian food? Rice pasta replaced semolina; Pizza dough became gluten-free. I even had to avoid dairy because my body confused it with gluten. All my passion for cooking was destroyed!
Then a magical thing happened, I turned to Indian Food for comfort, reluctant and cautious at first. Betrayed and rejected by Italian cuisine, I experimented.
Slowly at first, maddening after, I started having a frenzied and erotic love affair with indian cuisine! This kind of fervent and consuming love affair is unsurpassed except only by the likes of the impassioned and fiery fulfillment I experience in my yoga and meditation practice. I am in love with the spices, the ghee and the coconut milk. The red and green chilis excite me ; the cardamon pods and cumin inspire me and the coriander and ginger arouse me. This love affair has humbled me. At first it was frightening; the spices made me timid. I bought 5 Indian cook books and each dish I prepared required looking at the recipe 10 times or more each step of the way. It was like being in a foreign country and not speaking the language. I mixed up the cardamon and the coriander in my spice tin; I felt like they were strangers in my comfort zone of basil, oregano and parsley.
Then one day, I never meant for it to happen; I didn’t open the cookbook; I didn’t follow directions. Butternut squash was sauteed in ghee with fresh grated ginger and turmeric, some cumin and black pepper and cardamon were added.
The next day, green chilies, fresh ginger. cilantro and a lot of garlic made it into the Cuisinart. Then coconut milk and curry leaves accompanied the chicken.
There was a momentum to the madness. No matter what I added, the ingredients worked it out in the pot. Rigidity was replaced by creativity, cookbooks replaced by intuition; fear replaced with love. Sigh!
So how does my husband feel about this you ask? He was certainly reluctant as he is with all my new undertakings. He has moments of mourning. The boldness of the spices at times were too much. He has been known to get his extramarital fulfillment, much to my sad disbelief, from Martha Stewart. (I kid you not!) So you can imagine at first, it was too ardent for him to handle; he generously devoured the basmati rice and the mint chutney and just dabbled in the curries. But now the dishes excite him. His digestion is enlivened; his taste buds aroused. Once again I have seduced him with the secret ingredient that is prevalent and possible in any and all cuisine, love!
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