Scents of Memory
The following excerpts are from Scents of Memory.
I do not have a collection of cookbooks in my library, I do have a collection of memories from childhood, from travelling, from work, from the people I met or grew up with, and from incidents that I vividly remember. These memories are combinations of stories and dishes that connect with each other and I love to tell stories and to cook. In fact there is a unique connection at a very universal basic level between the food/ recipes and the stories; between receiving and giving, between biology and psychology. And as I became more comfortable in my own skin, the memories kept pouring in and my desire to cook became much stronger.
During my visit to the Jesu Ashram Hospital in Matigara India I met Mike, the chief surgeon. He was a leprosy patient at Jesu Ashram. I was completely taken by his remarkable story. A humble, illiterate man, Mike was found on the train platform, very sick, homeless, and hungry. He was brought to the hospital, by Brother Bob. After having several operations and a long period of recuperation, like all other ex-leprosy patients he stayed to live on the hospital property. These patients are the complete rejects of society and are never reintegrated back into the community.
Mike, like other ex-patients, began to help wherever he was needed. He was very curious and keen to assist in the operating room. Sister Ivana, who practically ran the whole show at Jesu Ashram, and who was also the sole nurse at the hospital, let him help first with washing instruments, and then with passing instruments during operations. At that time there was a French surgeon working at Jesu Ashram. When he saw Mike so eager to learn, the generous doctor took him under his wing and trained him until he felt confident enough to let Mike operate on his own, first with supervision, and later without supervision. A few years later, the French surgeon left Jesu Ashram and Mike replaced him as the sole surgeon in the hospital. Brother Bob and Sister Ivana told me, that if any thing happened to them, the only one they trusted was Mike.
After I watched Mike in the operating room, I followed him for awhile as he did his rounds. What struck me about this man was not just the incredible story of his transformation from a poor, illiterate, sick man into a surgeon without formal education, but how this transformation had not affected his gentle, kind, humble character. At one point he was sitting on the veranda, scraping the dried skin off a young leprosy patient’s back. He was surrounded by other patients and they were all talking and laughing together. It felt like it was a natural state; they obviously felt he was one of them. It is a remarkable story that makes all of us a little bit more humble and more reflective about the way we lead our lives and the way we are able to dismiss others.
In solidarity with Mike’s incredible achievement and exemplary character I would like to share with you a cauliflower casserole a similar dish that I had at Jesu Ashram.
This dish can be served over white rice. It feeds 6 people.
3-4 tbsp. oil
1 large onion chopped
1 bulb of garlic chopped
2 tomatoes chopped
1 bunch of parsley or coriander washed and chopped
1 small cauliflower cut into small pieces
1 sweet potato washed and sliced into cubes
2 medium sized potatoes washed and sliced into cubes
2 carrots washed and sliced
2 zucchini washed and sliced
1 cup of frozen peas
1 bag of spinach
1 can chickpeas drained
2 cubes chicken or vegetable stock
2-3 cup of water
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
1-2 tbsp. curry
4-5 tbsp. rice vinegar
1-2 tsp. pepper or 1 jalapeno pepper chopped
salt to taste
2-3 fresh limes squeezed
Marinated Raw Fish with Herbs and Lemon (Ceviche)
Any restaurant or market in Peru sells ceviche. It is a delicious white fish marinated with lemons, limes and assorted herbs. I had this dish regularly in Peru. But before I give you the recipe I want to recount the next story.
I lived for a few months in Arequipa, Peru. I was in center of town one day, and my friend noticed a sign on a storefront that read: Come in and sign up for the annual climb of Monte Blanco. Apparently people came from all over to climb this mountain. It is not Mount Everest by any stretch of the imagination, but still. My friend went in to inquire and signed himself up and convinced me to do the same.
I have to tell you something about myself. I do not do sports. I never in my life played a team sport, ran or did any other sports. I walk and that is about all the activity I do. My favourite pastime is to go for a coffee with a friend and talk. So I do not know what came over me-- I signed up, knowing I would never do it. In Arequipa, the story goes that a woman had climbed the mountain only once, 50 years earlier.
I went home, and the next morning, I noticed a few people standing with cameras outside my house. Very casually I asked, “Can I help you?” The people told me they were looking for the woman who had signed up to climb Monte Blanco. I said yes, it was me and suddenly the cameras started rolling, and questions were thrown at me. I was too embarrassed to say, I am hopeless at sport, so I started to make up stories about my skiing achievements. I opened the local newspaper the following day, and I saw my picture with the headline, “La Unica Mujer—The only woman who is going to climb this mountain is representing Canada.” That was not the end; day after day there were different stories about me. One story talked about me representing Canada in a ski competition in Europe, yet I had never even worn ski boots. I was getting nervous. I even purchased running shoes thinking they would prove I was an athlete. I did not know how to get out of climbing Monte Blanco. I was desperately trying but the media kept the pressure on with different stories. After all there was very little to do there in that small town, and there were no foreigners with the exception of one German family that had been there for over 40 years.
The night before the adventure, city officials invited the participants for official picture-taking and a dinner. At the dinner we were served ceviche, the fish dish and dry corn or chichi, which are roasted kernels that are pretty hard. I was minding my own business, eating my fish and nibbling on the kernels, thinking about how I could get out of this mess when suddenly I felt whisk of wind going through my mouth, and it was very, very painful. With my mouth closed, I tried to find out what had happened. With my tongue I could feel that my two front crowns were missing. They had fallen out and without realizing it I had chewed them with the kernels and swallowed them. If anyone has had any dental work done, you know that having an exposed nerve in your mouth is extremely painful. I tried to signal to my friend with my mouth closed to follow me outside. I was too embarrassed to say out loud, “Excuse me, I ate my teeth.”
It was an absolute disaster trying to find a dentist in the middle of the night. Luckily one of the participants in the climb who had been sitting next to me at the table noticed that I was in distress. I explained to him what had happened, and he excused himself right away and took me to the only dentist in town. We had to wake him up and drag him out of bed.
The following afternoon we were picked up in a military truck and driven to the foothill of the mountain. The idea was that we would climb all night and reach the peak at sunrise. The well-wishers, journalists and officials all came to wish us good luck and to take a few photographs. Frankly, I was in a state of shock, feeling scared but unable to run away. I felt as if I was in the ocean swimming against the waves. After a few hours of driving, we arrived to the starting point in a village.
As we started the climb, the guide warned us to stay right in the middle of the mountain path, because the ground got icy and the path dropped on both sides. At that point I said to myself, that’s it! I am not going to kill myself. I am petrified of both ice and of heights. I turned around and everyone was pushing and shoving and no one even noticed me leave. There were some kids from the village who had joined the first part of the climb and I asked them if there was anywhere I could stay the night. One of them took me to his grandmother’s home.
The home was a single room with no windows, with at least 12 or more people and a llama inside. There were people sleeping every each way and I had to be careful not to step on someone. At sunrise I heard the women getting up to prepare breakfast before leaving for the fields. They served corn and a cup of tea. I told them the whole story in my broken Spanish and they laughed uncontrollably. The grandmother noticed the media in the village and she decided to wrap my legs with paper and some cloth. She said to me, “When you go out, just pretend you broke your leg.” She of course assisted me with the lie.
With fond memories of Peru and of the people I met across that beautiful land I would like to share with you one of the dishes I had there regularly-- ceviche. I will not give you a recipe for roasted kernels for obvious reasons! This recipe will serve four to six people. Serve it on a serving plate with bread, or boiled potatoes and a salad on the side. In Peru we had it with corn. You can also serve it as an hors d’oeuvres.