Last night when the smells from my kitchen lulled me to sleep, I felt sweetly content: I had finally managed to bake the Chocolate Banana Loaf from Lindsey S. Love’s fine Chickpea Flour Does It All. The recipes in this fresh-ingredients cookbook are gluten- and dairy-free. Fortunately, none of my loved ones are gluten intolerant. However, we all feel nurtured and nourished when eating Lindsey S. Love’s food. My family regularly feasts on dishes using her delectable recipes. The Moroccan-Spiced Lentil Burgers, Mung Bean Pancakes and Caraway Spätzle are steady favorites of ours.
Complicated is my relationship with Yotam Ottolenghi, the eminent Israeli-British chef, owner of notable culinary establishments in London and author of award-winning cookbooks. Ottolenghi and I have never met and we appear to be at very different stages in life. Currently, I am a stay-at-home mom and house-wife, an occupation, which, going by the look on the faces of those with whom I share this piece of information, makes me neither capable nor accomplished. I have won no awards as a stay-at-home mom. (This is fortunate, for I associate such distinctions with the Mother’s Cross of Honor, given to women in Hitler’s Nazi Germany.) Nonetheless, there are some things that Ottolenghi and I have in common. Firstly, both of us hold advanced degrees in Comparative Literature — he a M.A. and I, a Ph.D. Plenty More is the second thing we share. He wrote it and I must have used it cooking at least 150 times in the past year.
I knew that in India cows were considered holy beings, but it was only when I read Shoba Narayan’s latest book that I understood how the relationship to these animals enriched the exchanges between humans. The Milk Lady of Bangalore tells a captivating story about Sarala, who tends to her cows in the midst of the rapidly developing, bustling capital of Karnataka state in South India. Narayan’s decision to buy raw milk from Sarala’s cows sets her on a path of unexpected discoveries about the life of urban farmers like Sarala, the bond they nurture with their animals, cultural beliefs about the wholesome qualities of cow urine and the purifying properties of cow dung. However, most importantly of all is that Narayan’s narrative reveals the ways in which two human beings who inhabit radically different worlds can share rich moments of understanding and intimacy. In an age when we rely predominantly on social media to connect and communicate with others, and even to maintain our friendships, it is both eye-opening and much needed to engage with Narayan’s thoughtful and compassionate narrative of her interactions with her milk lady.
On a walk in the woods, my dear, thoughtful neighbor recommended Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. A friend of hers, who was not really a reader, raved about the book, and my neighbor was pleased to confirm that the tip was right on. With my curiosity piqued by a piece of reading advice from a person who doesn’t easily yield to the pleasure of spending long hours with books, I rushed to the library and checked out von Bremzen’s book. Over the week-end, I couldn’t put Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking down until I flipped its very last page. It was like meeting someone new and immediately clicking with that person, wanting to find out everything about him or her, and being in awe with every single detail. Or running into a friend whom I hadn’t seen for ages and quickly recognizing how much I enjoyed their presence, cancelling my mid-afternoon obligations in the blink of an eye, and sitting down for an engrossing conversation over a delicious cup of tea and freshly baked Italian plum cake. Does this sound like an indulgence? Well, it really is the best possible kind I could think of.