by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez / Friday, September 24, 2010
Jalebis and Garam Chai inspired by Climbing the Mango Trees for Cook the Books Club
Jaffrey's descriptions of the traditional foods of Indian....and all of the cultures and influences that made their way into it had my mouth watering and my hands bookmarking the whole way through. One of the memories that touched my soul was of school lunch. She and her friends, a mini melting pot of Muslim, Hindu and Punjabi girls who couldn't guess that fate...and a division in their own country...would divide them one day not too far in the future. When lunch period arrived, they would all grab their tiffin carriers and run to a remote section of grass, taking refuge from the heat under rows of tall shady trees. They would excitedly share their amazing, handmade lunches... tier by tier...unstacking the wonders that were nestled inside. "It was not so much the ingredients- the ingredients we used at home were not all that different, though we did use less chili powder- as the hand that put these ingredients together, and the order and timing it chose to use. That hand had a different rhythm, a different energy from my mother's, and from our own Hindu cooks from Himalayan villages. It produced a Muslim result." I instantly drifted to memories of Mexi telling me how it just tastes different when I make a sandwich than when he makes a sandwich. It tastes better coming from my hands....and I know that it actually IS about the energy of the hands that make that food.
So, I could go on and on about the parts of Jaffrey's book that spoke to me in whispers...or SCREAMED through my being, but instead, I'll just recommend that you read it for yourself. You may hear something similar...or something all together different. While I was tempted to make numerous things throughout the book, there was a memory that wouldn't leave me alone...it was as if it were my own. I'm positive it's the comfort I feel when the sky opens up and soaks the world around me...the love of a magnificent thunderstorm...the way the earth feels cleansed. Combined with with the marvel that is wind...I love to stand in it, close my eyes, and lift me chin...sniffing like an indoor cat at an open window...feeling my hair whip across my face. Although I've never experienced a monsoon, I want to that sounds horrible, but I can't help myself I somehow knew just how she must have felt when in the midst of the oppressive summer heat... "...it was a faraway smell, almost as if we were imagining it. Soon the entire sky was dark with black clouds. thunder boomed from all sides, accompanied by zigzags of lightning. The earth seemed hotter than ever. First one or two fat drops of rain fell, then more and more, until there was a deluge. Suddenly the heat broke, as if some shell encasing us had been cracked open. We all....held our faces up to the sky, and allowed ourselves to get thoroughly soaked. The monsoon season had finally arrived. We could now feast on monsoon sweets, the squiggly pretzel-shaped jalebis, dunking them in glasses of cold milk as we gazed dreamily at the downpour." At the same time I longed to step back in time and share a slice of Jaffrey's India, I also ached to get into the kitchen!
I can imagine how perfectly a cold glass of milk tasted alongside the jalebis in the heat, but I was craving another treat mentioned in the book...one that I've only ever ordered from coffee houses...or tasted from a weak, boxed blend. I definitely wanted a cup of homemade chai alongside my jalebis...
*all of the quotes listed were taken from Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey ...they were some of my favorite moments of her memoir...
Michiana-based food, drink, and travel writer with a fondness for garlic, freshly baked bread, stinky cheese, single malt Scotch, and Mexican food—who believes that immersing herself in different cultures one bite at a time is the best path to enlightenment.