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Tag: food

Cashews

Biking on a day in the mid-90’s, the water stop couldn’t come soon enough. After pulling off the road, I drank half a bottle and poured the rest down my back to cool off. John, one of our guides in Vietnam, planned water stops at places of local interest. We’d watch men mend fishing nets one day and we’d talk to a local farmer the next. Once we walked through a shady grove of latex trees. Breaks meant drinking water, finding a WC, and taking a few photographs. At this stop, young women were hulling and skinning cashews.

If I’d thought at all about how cashews were produced, I would have guessed groves grew somewhere in California and Kraft Foods operated processing plants that hulled, roasted, and packaged them. But that’s not so. We import them. Our imports primarily come from Vietnam. They’re processed, at least in part, through forced labor or under harsh conditions.

One fan under the corrugated tin roof hardly moved the air. The hullers wore masks and long sleeves because oil from the husk is caustic and burns the skin. These women might make $5 a day, according to John. He didn’t say how long the days were.

I walked back out into the mid-day sun and biked away. Pouring more water down my back didn’t make me feel cleaner.

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Lunch in Rasool Pur, India

If you are very lucky, you may someday find yourself in the boyhood home of Ajay Kumar, in the little village of Rasool Pur, India. Rasool Pur is northeast of New Delhi, on a long, hard road to Rishikesh. Ajay was raised in this home until he left for the big city. Ajay’s mother still lives on the farm, in the home built by Ajay’s dad. Ajay’s brother lives there, too, with his wife and kids. On their farm, they grow what they need for the family.

Ajay’s mother may be 65 or 70. Birthdays weren’t counted. She greeted me with a hug. I was shown a chair by the fan in their open air kitchen. We were served betha, a rich, spicy, slightly sweet masala made with pumpkin. We had fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and a potato dish. Naan appeared, hot from a fire that I never even saw as we were shown around the farm. A second piece of naan came just as we finished the first.  We drank a cold, spiced buttermilk, courtesy of the the two cows tied in the yard. Dessert was a cold cream of wheat called sojji (or sooji or suji, my notes don’t seem clear).

The meal was followed by family photos, just like in the rural Indiana town where I grew up. Then Ajay’s mother walked us to the car. I couldn’t understand one word she spoke that day, but her message was clear as she took my face in her hands, “Come back any time. You are always welcome here.”

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Best of 2011

We were married on New Year’s Eve. Each year for our anniversary, we make the dishes we consider the best of the year. Here’s this year’s menu:

sweet corn

Sweet corn is in at the farmers’ market. If there is one sign of grace shining through this summer, it may be fresh grown sweet corn from a ’59 International Harvester pickup.