Category Archives: harvest

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving Day!

November 2020

My first Thanksgiving meal was more than 38 years ago with extended family in the Bay Area. It was a magical day filled with foods I’d never tasted before. There was wild rice (not really rice!), stuffing made with bread, mounds of mashed potatoes (different from south Indian masala potatoes), savory vegetarian gravy, baked squash with a sprinkle of cinnamon, fresh rolls, green leafy vegetables with cream sauce  and loads of desserts, including pumpkin pie made by the kids in our family. It was a day filled with easy camaraderie, stories and affection.

I loved this new holiday so much that when we got married a few years later, it seemed natural to continue the celebration. The day was a perfect combination of good food, family and gratitude.

Now I was brought up on ritual and decorum. Feasts in India are based on centuries-old beliefs. You always served tangy Aviyal stew for an Onam feast or sweet and savory rice balls were mandatory on Ganesha Chaturthi.

But there was no south Indian game plan for celebrating Thanksgiving and my husband’s childhood traditions didn’t quite fit our vegetarian lifestyle.

Over the years I have cooked all kinds of food for Thanksgiving. One meal was all Indian with masala dosas, Indian flat breads and vegetable stews. Another time, it was a huge lasagna with homemade noodles and sauce.

It took time to find that perfect meal to reflect my cooking and our own rituals. My mother-in-law shared her creamed onion recipe (years later it would be modified to include a light herbaceous béchamel sauce and roasted pearl onions). I remembered mashed potatoes from my first Thanksgiving feast. I experimented with adding roasted garlic, cauliflower and even malt vinegar for that salt and vinegar flavor. I tweaked gravy recipes until I found a hearty caramelized onion gravy we all liked.

Wild rice was mandatory and included chunks of succulent roasted squash and toasted nuts.

Herb-flecked asparagus timbales with béchamel sauce and parmesan-spiked bread crumbs became a family favorite, even a son who disliked asparagus managed to eat a timbale or two.

We had to have cranberry sauce. My friend Sandra had the perfect recipe which included fresh cranberries, a whole orange and plenty of finely chopped toasted walnuts.

For dessert, along with traditional pumpkin pie, we added different baked goods such as black forest cake, apple pie, cherry pie or chocolate pecan pie with a touch of bourbon.

A funny thing happened over the years, my boys and husband loved all the foods but we discovered we liked being together even more. We found that gratitude and giving thanks was almost as satisfying as the savory appetizer or slice of tart cherry pie with vanilla ice cream.

This year we are counting our blessings over spinach crepes with roasted red pepper sauce, roasted cabbage with walnuts and lemon and wild rice with pomegranates and pistachios.

The meal will be simple and a little untraditional but the sentiment behind it will be the same.

Here’s to next year when we’ll be back to eating all the foods we love with family we cherish.

Giving thanks never goes out of style.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under Celebrations, cooking, Delicious desserts, dinner, harvest, Uncategorized

Garden meditation

August 2019

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience; everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” ~May Sarton.

Our tiny backyard garden is a year-round source of peace and produce.

Gardening is a form of meditation for my husband. He finds solace and joy in pulling weeds, preparing the soil, carefully planting the seeds, watering and nurturing the plants and then harvesting the fruits of his labor.

Harvesting cherry tomatoes or handfuls of fragrant herbs gives him immense pleasure. The fact his harvest ends up on his dinner plate makes the whole process even more satisfying.

I love fresh produce but I admit gardening is not my thing.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy our backyard oasis. In the middle of the day, when the lawnmowers and leaf blowers are finally turned off, a warm stillness settles in the garden. The neighborhood children are in school and there is a profound silence all around me.

The warm sun, chirping birds, buzzing bees and an occasional butterfly are my only companions. Some days the peace is broken when a territorial fight breaks out between the mocking birds and the aggressive Scrub Jays. These tiny guardians are fiercely protective of their space.

The bees and butterflies pay no attention to the screeching birds. Gathering nectar from golden sunflowers and purple zinnias is much more important.

As the day warms and the sun’s heat wilts the green basil and the valiant tomato vines, I settle in the shade to enjoy the peace. For me the real harvest is not the produce but the serenity of growing things.

Surrounded by verdant and lush bushes and plants, my breathing slows down. I can feel my muscles loosen and my aches and pains fading.

Northern California’s fierce heat melts away my cares and worries. As my body relaxes my mind calms down. Those annoying thoughts zapping around my brain slowly wind down.

I don’t usually call this meditation but sitting in my little green garden on a quiet weekday afternoon does feel like a moment of deep reflection. Now I understand what my husband finds so tranquil in the garden.

Recently we visited our son in his first apartment. His tiny patio is a little green oasis. I hope he discovers the restfulness of being surrounded by growing things, even if it is just one cherry tomato vine, a single pepper plant and a few herbs.

Making a place for quiet contemplation, a moment of mindfulness and meditation is essential in this busy world. I hope all of you find a minute or two to slow down and breathe deeply.

 

 

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Filed under garden, gardening, grandmother's wisdom, harmony, harvest, meditation, Mindful cooking, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, My Mother's Kitchen: A Novel With Recipes, Northern California, Personal experience, Summer, Uncategorized, vegetables

Ammalu and the Jackfruit

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February 2019

Over time a family story can become a folktale of epic proportion, a true inspiration to all who hear it. This one is about my great-aunt Ammalu.

The story begins in a sleepy little village deep in south India.  Here Ammalu and her sister Pearl grew up surrounded by countless cousins, aunts and uncles. Ammalu was the older sister, the one with a sense of adventure. She loved going on outings to visit neighbors and relatives. She had a knack for storytelling and an easy going nature. Pearl was shy and more at home in the kitchen with a flair for pastry making.

Little Ammalu was rumored to have a sweet tooth. In those days there was no candy or chocolate bars and so she indulged in what grew in her backyard from large juicy mangoes, tasty papayas to bananas in all sizes, but her favorite was the jackfruit.

The jackfruits from our family orchards were legendary in their size and flavor. It would take two men to cut down the gigantic fruit and lug it into the family courtyard. The fresh fruit would be placed on an old cotton sari and one of the men would use an enormous knife to cut into the tough skin. As the jackfruit was cut open the entire courtyard would be filled with its fruity fragrance. The milky fluid from the jackfruit would flow onto the sari and children would be held back so that they wouldn’t get any of the sticky sap on their fingers. The women would be waiting, ready to dip oily fingers into the cut fruit. The coconut oil was necessary to keep the sap from sticking onto fingers and eager hands. The tiny strands would be pushed aside to get into the thick pods of creamy yellow fruit. Each pod contained one large seed, which would be cleaned and saved for later use. The seed had a sweet nutty taste, very similar to roasted chestnuts.

The best jackfruit was sweet and juicy with a hint of tartness and a pleasing crunch. Overripe jackfruit was sometimes stringy and too sweet. Ammalu loved this unique and delicious fruit. When everyone had enough of the fresh fruit, the leftovers were cooked down with jaggery sugar and stored in crock pots. In the cool pantry, the jackfruit jam fermented into caramel-like goo with a pungent odor that was pleasant only to the true fan of jackfruit. Ammalu must have had a discerning palate because she loved eating scoops of this odoriferous jam. It was also made into special puddings.

Life in our tiny ancestral village was simple. There was not much in the way of entertainment and so everyone looked forward to visits from roaming troupes of actors. These troupes of mostly men would enact scenes from Indian myths and legends. Perhaps it was one of these actors who told Ammalu about the wonders of travel and of a special city dedicated to Lord Shiva.

This holy place was called Benares (or Varanasi or Kashi) and situated near the Bihar border in the faraway state of Uttar Pradesh. Visiting this holy city and bathing in the even holier Ganges became an obsession with Ammalu. Perhaps one of the actors or someone in the family pointed out that after visiting Benares the pilgrim would have to give up a favorite food. Ammalu knew what she would give up.

She was in her early forties when she finally had an opportunity to take her dream trip. In the years after her pilgrimage when relatives offered her a piece of fresh jackfruit, she would shake her head and say, “I just returned from Kashi,” and everyone immediately understood why she said no to her favorite snack. She died at the age of 88 and never tasted jackfruit again.

A decade or so ago my family and I visited Benares to scatter my uncle’s ashes. We found the city to be a study in contrasts. The grime and dirt didn’t deter from the city’s beauty and timeless quality. The Ganges was a lazy ribbon of water with a lot of floating debris but as I watched the orange glow of the tropical sunset, I couldn’t help feeling a deep sense of peace and calm. A holy city will do that to you. I imagined Ammalu must have experienced that same serenity as she bathed in the Ganges and vowed never to eat jackfruit again.

She would have never dreamed that her pilgrimage and personal sacrifice would inspire the next generation. Recently I decided to challenge myself by giving up sugar for a few months and great-aunt Ammalu’s uplifting story has been a marvelous example for me.

The least tangible (and material) legacy we leave behind will endure the longest. Perhaps the next generation will remember you for your kindness, your grace under pressure or your selfless love. That is a legacy worth striving for!

 

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Filed under Aunts and other relatives, Benares, Celebrations, cooking, Delicious desserts, family, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, Ganges River, harmony, harvest, Holy City, jackfruit, Lord Shiva, meatless, my mother's kitche, Personal experience, pilgrimage, remembering our ancestors, South India, Uncategorized

Shopping is Personal at the Farmers Market

NOTE: Re-sending this because the numbering was messed up in previous column.

You don’t need 10 reasons to shop at a Farmers Market

By Meera Ekkanath Klein

Want to know the tale behind your kale? Or what is the back story on that white nectarine? Well, then you need to visit your local Farmers Market because here every bit of produce has an earthy beginning or a seasonal anecdote.

Our area market is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month and it is a perfect time to visit your local market and make that important connection between food and farmer.

Shopping in south India was an intensively personal experience. We knew the farmer who grew the spinach we used in flavorful dal (lentil) dishes. Everyone knew the Egg Man (with an odd egg-shaped head) provided not only the freshest eggs, but also legal advice on the side.

While I miss shopping in my hometown market in the beautiful Nilgiris or Blue Mountains of south India, I find solace at the Davis Market. Here the personal touch is not lost, it is celebrated. Along with nutrition the melons, onions, leeks and cherries provide a dash of nostalgia.

Top Ten Reasons to shop at a local Farmers Market:

10. Taste before buying. Cheese, bread, apples, peaches and berries are there for you to taste.

9.Variety. Everything from fresh peas to tortillas is for sale. Buy an artisan loaf of crusty bread, a container of eggplant pesto or even a lemon tart. It’s all there at your local Farmers Market.

8. You get to meet the farmer. Shopping at the Farmers Market is a chatty experience.

7. Even kale tastes better if it comes from the Farmers Market. Everything is so fresh that you’ll never eat supermarket produce again.

6. You can buy a lot or just a single tomato. Choose exactly what you need.

5. Eat seasonally. This can mean a lot of broccoli in winter and lots of corn and tomatoes in the summer.

4. Yearning for days of old? The leisurely pace of shopping at a Farmers Market will satisfy the Norman Rockwell part of your soul.

3. You will never know who you will meet at the Market. A long-lost friend? An acquaintance from Little League days?

2. You will be missed if you skip a Market. If you are a regular customer, farmers take notice and will actually want to know why you didn’t come last week.

1. Forget about politics for a few hours. You may find that choosing a bunch of turnips is more important than talking about Trump or sampling some chili-lime pistachios is better than re-hashing Hillary’s emails.

So no more excuses. Visit a Farmers Market and enjoy the last of summer’s bounty.

 

THE END

 

 

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Filed under Blue Mountains, Celebrations, Davis Farmers Market, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, garden, harvest, my mother's kitche, Nilgiris, South Indian, Uncategorized

Shopping is a personal experience at your local farmers market!

NOTE: An edited version of this article appeared (August 14, 2016)in  The Sacramento Bee’s Forum Section.

Sorry to be sending this out again, but the numbering was messed up in the previous post.

You don’t need 10 reasons to shop at a Farmers Market

Want to know the tale behind your kale? Or what is the back story on that white nectarine? Well, then you need to visit your local Farmers Market because here every bit of produce has an earthy beginning or a seasonal anecdote.

Our area market is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month and it is a perfect time to visit your local market and make that important connection between food and farmer.

Shopping in south India was an intensively personal experience. We knew the farmer who grew the spinach we used in flavorful dal (lentil) dishes. Everyone knew the Egg Man (with an odd egg-shaped head) provided not only the freshest eggs, but also legal advice on the side.

While I miss shopping in my hometown market in the beautiful Nilgiris or Blue Mountains of south India, I find solace at the Davis Market. Here the personal touch is not lost, it is celebrated. Along with nutrition the melons, onions, leeks and cherries provide a dash of nostalgia.

Top Ten Reasons to shop at a local Farmers Market:

10.Taste before buying. Cheese, bread, apples, peaches and berries are there for you to taste.

9. Variety. Everything from fresh peas to tortillas is for sale. Buy an artisan loaf of crusty bread, a container of eggplant pesto or even a lemon tart. It’s all there at your local Farmers Market.

8. You get to meet the farmer. Shopping at the Farmers Market is a chatty experience.

7. Even kale tastes better if it comes from the Farmers Market. Everything is so fresh that you’ll never eat supermarket produce again.

6.  You can buy a lot or just a single tomato. Choose exactly what you need.

5. Eat seasonally. This can mean a lot of broccoli in winter and lots of corn and tomatoes in the summer.

4. Yearning for days of old? The leisurely pace of shopping at a Farmers Market will satisfy the Norman Rockwell part of your soul.

3. You will never know who you will meet at the Market. A long-lost friend? An acquaintance from Little League days.

2. You will be missed if you skip a Market. If you are a regular customer, farmers take notice and will actually want to know why you didn’t come last week.

1. Forget about politics for a few hours. You may find that choosing a bunch of turnips is more important than talking about Trump or sampling some chili-lime pistachios is better than re-hashing Hillary’s emails.

So no more excuses. Visit a Farmers Market and enjoy the last of summer’s bounty.

THE END

 

 

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Filed under Celebrations, Davis Farmers Market, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, garden, harvest, my mother's kitche, Personal experience, Shopping, South India, spring, renewal, Uncategorized

An evening of slow food

It was a party at Samantha’s house on Thursday evening when members of Slow Food Yolo gathered to listen to stories from My Mother’s Kitchen and watch a cooking demonstration.

They watched me prepare feathery light rice dumplings called idlis and Ishtu stew made of ginger, coconut milk and potatoes. There was also spicy tomato chutney and sweet milk pudding with vermicelli and cardamom. What a tasty and fun evening!

http://www.slowfoodyolo.com/

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Filed under garden, harvest, Indian food, mindfulness, Sacramento Slow Food, Slow Food USA, Slow Food Yolo, South India, Uncategorized