Saturday, March 27, 2010

India Un-Curried

It’s 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon in Los Angeles and I am inching north on Fairfax through crazy and all-too-familiar traffic, desperately turning onto side streets in an attempt to reach my daughter’s school by 3:10 for a parent-teacher conference.

I’ve just left the test kitchen in Culver City where I teach Un-Curry cooking classes. Today was Meat Feast and my clothes smell of chicken and fenugreek, cinnamon and garlic. Even as I breathe in these aromas, heightened by my exhaustion and the heat of the sun beating down at me through the car windows, my brain is in overdrive, making multiple lists because in two days I will be getting on a plane to travel 10,000 miles to India.

Shopping lists: Mini-DV tapes, kids’ toothpaste and sunscreen for one of my best friends’ kids in Bombay, sneakers for my niece (you don’t get good kids’ shoes in India!), pine nuts (also hard to find in India, except perhaps in Kashmir?) for a dear friend who loves to make her own pesto, dark chocolate for my mother, pistachios for my mother-in-law, some gifts -- I have not yet figured out what -- for the people who are going to help on my food project.

Packing lists: clothes that will be appropriate for the heat because it is summer time in India, hat, walking shoes, cameras, sound recorder, notebooks, all the books for Dad that I collect between my trips home, the gifts for friends and family that I have somehow already managed to shop for...

To-do lists: make an order of 3 dozen sweet potato puffs for a client first thing Saturday, finish my sound recordings for my daughter so she can listen to a message a day from me while I am away, finishing updating her calendar so my husband knows which class she needs to be at when, clean the house, visit the mother of a friend who has been ill, cook dinner for friends who are coming over Saturday night...

These are just some of the things I HAVE to take care of before I leave on Monday afternoon! I am not even contemplating right now the lists of what I need to think about and do on the actual trip. Time enough for that once I am on that plane!

This is how it is every time I go to India. What’s different is that for the first time in 10 years, I am traveling there alone, leaving husband and daughter behind for four weeks. And I am traveling for work. A trip dedicated to my work. What a concept!

When I was researching my last cookbook, The Essential Marathi Cookbook some years ago, I wanted to travel through Maharashtra, interview home cooks, taste their food and record their recipes and stories. Since we live in California and my daughter was a toddler at the time, packing up and heading halfway across the world to India was not an option.

But the idea stayed with me and I would bring it up every so often, wishing I could make the trip, and just as quickly nixing it as a pipe dream. Early last February -- hard to believe it is only 6 weeks ago -- I was talking about Indian food to a documentary film maker who had just taken my cooking class and telling her how I would love to make just such a trip. She was enthusiastic. Visuals of locations there, people cooking, bazaars, unusual ingredients. It would be wonderful, she thought.

Why not take that trip to India? Why not hire a camera crew and record some interviews with my contributors, with my parents? Why not get some footage to piece together into a reel to pitch a travel-food show? Why not? Why not? What was stopping me?

For a day and a half, I let the excitement simmer and then I woke up that Sunday morning, turned to my husband and said, “You know how I’ve really wanted to make that trip? I think I should do it now.”

Without missing a beat, he answered, an astonishing and welcome answer, “Do it. I’ll support you. Do what you need to do.”

The time was right. The great thing about turning 40 is that it liberates you in many ways. One way was to make me realize that time is scarce, that there was no longer any putting off of things I really wanted to do.