Monday, August 27, 2012

The Spice of Life

I am caught in a web of cultures. This is not a scary thing. I welcome it with an open heart and a very big appetite. I have one foot in America and another in Europe. My heart is rooted in Puerto Rico while my passion is India. But where do I shop? In Italy.

Although I live in a northern Italian town where the cuisine lacks spice, I am never bored. I have learned to blend parsley, basil, sage and other traditional Italian herbs into a cuisine all my own. My Indian fiance is often asked what we eat at home. His answer? Everything.

Since I get asked for recipes quite often, I wanted to take a minute to examine my pantry. This way I can catalog a list of the spices and herbs I most commonly use to create everything from Punjabi dishes to falafel, pasta and empanadas. 

For all those Spicy Rose followers, this is for you...

My Indian dhabba (spice box) has the following:         
-mustard seeds
-cumin seeds
-red chili powder
-garam masala

My other Indian spices include:    
-coriander seeds
-cinnamon (whole and ground)
-ginger (whole and ground)
-long pepper
-star anise

The herbs in my garden are:               
-lavender (which I am babysitting for a friend)

My Puerto Rican spices include:            
-annatto seeds
-powdered garlic (which I never use but, in this case, is required to make adobo)
-powdered onion (see explanation as above)
-dried oregano
-black pepper (whole)
-bay leaves

My Asian pantry staples:                 
-soy sauce
-sesame oil
-Thai fish sauce
-red curry paste
-miso paste

All purpose herbs/seasonings/aromatics I buy often:
-lemon grass (if I'm ever lucky to find)
-kaffir lime leaves (dried)
-curry leaves (dried)
-coconut milk

Some stuff I just found while taking my last look around:
-vanilla beans
-sesame seeds
-cayenne pepper
-pink peppercorns
-pickled green chilies
-pickled red chilies
-black bean sauce
-pumpkin seeds (used in mole)
-apple cider vinegar
-balsamic vinegar
-white wine vinegar
-extra virgin olive oil
-assortment of specialty salts

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mediterranean Surprise

''You are my star.''

''What are you talking about?'' I asked, smiling at the man I have decided to spend the rest of my life with.

Our wedding is five months away. It will be a traditional Punjabi affair complete with religious rituals that involve turmeric and fresh buffalo milk. But that is far from my mind now. At this moment I am more concerned with staying afloat in the water. 

At the crack of dawn, we got in a friend's car and drove down to Monaco. It is a short day trip from our home in the hills of Piedmont. As you escape our little town,  green valleys give way to slopes with rows of grape vines - a great reminder of the many wines that grow in our region.

We focus on the road and pass tunnel after tunnel awaiting the moment we drive into Liguria, the northern Italian region that kisses the Mediterranean Sea. A small round of applause announces our descent into the seaside region. Slowly, lush mountains give way to desert-like hills replete with olive trees. I have driven this route many times before but never noticed the olive groves. I am grateful for not being at the wheel so I can feast my eyes on my surroundings. The olive trees are completely visible from the highway, their elongated oval leaves seem to embrace the branches. It is easy to imagine the farmers harvesting the olives before your eyes.

We spot the Mediterranean Sea. I take a deep breath and give thanks for the magnificent view which I never take for granted. I love the sea and miss my old apartment in Miami, which provided many fond memories of sandy feet and hot weather. But the Mediterranean waters are different. They are not the emerald or turquoise of the Miami shore. No, these waters are a dark blue and vibrant. Waves crash onto a bed of smooth dark stones. They seem to reflect the intrigue of whatever mystery lies deep below. 

I reflect upon this thought as I submerge myself in the water. It's cold but I know it is only a matter of minutes until my body adapts. In the meantime, I am talking to the Man who is warning me not to swim too far.

''Amore, the tide is strong. Please, be careful.''

My smile is a dead giveaway of my intentions to swim further out so he proceeds to join me. He deters me with a hug in the water. We take in the summer heat and allow the memory of the moment to take shape. It's our first dip in the sea together and we want to make the moment last. 

I slip away from his loving arms and swim. The water dances around my skin as I stay afloat enjoying the moment of peace and a feeling of weightlessness. Finally, everything feels good to me. This moment, where I am in life, who I am with. All I feel is love.

''Amore, come back.''

I swim back to my love who patiently waits for me as I glide through the dark blue sea. The sun is in his eyes so we face the other way towards a jetty crowded with fishermen and women in bikinis. I feel a rush of emotion, almost nervousness. But I don't know why. 

''Amore, you are my star. My queen.''

Amooooreeeee, I say while marveling at his sweetness. He finds my hands in the water and faces me.

''Amore, will you marry me?"

Oh...that was the nervousness I had tapped into. I smile and say: ''yes, Yes, YES!''

A kiss seals the deal (again). The first time he proposed to me we were on a rooftop in India. Now, the Mediterranean Sea hugs our bodies.  He has proposed many times in between. When I ask him why, he takes a minute to respond.

''Because I want to marry you again in the next life, and the life after, and the life after that...''

Minutes after the proposal

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy 50th birthday, mami!

Something I wrote on my mother's birthday, November 27:

My mother was obsessed with Princess Diana. I was only 17 years old when a fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel ended Lady D's life. That day, my mother was glued to the television. Even though the news channel repeated the same information and images every hour, my mom would not let anyone touch the remote control. She simply watched television and cried.

I am not sure why mami was fascinated by Princess Diana. They shared the same age, short blond hair, light eyes and bright smile. They had also married older men. Maybe my mom secretly wished she had also been a princess.

When I consider my mother's life, the biggest thing I see that she and her idol had in common was their belief in helping others. My mother was the most generous person I know. She incessantly collected old clothes and unused toys from friends and family to donate to our local church. When she could, she gave away food or money to others, even when she herself was in need. It is my suspicion that Princess Diana's charity work is the reason she won my mother's admiration. 

After Lady D's death, my mother rushed to buy the single that Elton John dedicated to his late friend. "Candle in the wind" is the song that I remember my mom playing over and over again. When it was released in 1997, it was renamed "Goodbye England's Rose." The name seems fitting now that I've returned from a trip to England.  

As I remember my mother's birthday today, I see her much clearer now, I understand her better. I wish she would have lived to at least half a century but these things are out of my control. Her candle may have ended long ago, but it burned mighty bright while she was still alive.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Angel Dance

My sister tells me her daughter cries at night because she misses grandma. "When is abuela coming back?" she asks between tears. My sister's heart breaks a little each time she has to explain that grandma won't be coming back at all. "But why?" 

How do you explain death to a 5 year old? How do you break a child's heart by telling them the person they love and miss so much is not coming back? How do you explain that death is final?

My niece was my mother's best friend. Every day after coming home from work, mami would have a special treat for Natty. Maybe it was a toy or candy. Or something outrageous like a pink velvet cowgirl hat. Whatever it was, mami and Natty would giggle nonstop when they were together.

Natty really brought out the inner child in my mother. I honestly feel this helped her live longer. My mother was always sick, most times not feeling well enough to even get out of bed. But when Natty was around they would play together, laugh together and get into trouble together. 

When my mother died, we told Natty that abuela had gone "with the angels." This seemed to suffice. Natty understood that angels lived in heaven. She even came up with her very own angel dance. When you asked where grandma was, Natty would flap her arms while twirling around the living room.

It's been two and a half years since mami left us. Natty was only 3 years old then. I knew that she remembered grandma but I was shocked to hear that she cries at night because she misses her. What did my sister tell her?

"When someone dies it means they are not coming back. It's ok, though. Because that person lives in our hearts." As my sister rattled on with her explanation, tears streamed down my face, neck and onto my lap. I could not stop crying. I wanted so much to be silent, to pretend everything was ok. I didn't want to hurt my sister. Miles away in Italy, there's not much I can do. I mean, I can't even hug my sister or niece. So, I not-so-quietly expressed my pain in sobs.

Yesterday, Natty turned six. I remembered the day she was born. When I arrived at the hospital, my mother was holding her. There was something different in her face, a look that was foreign to me.  She stared at Natty with a serene, loving gaze. I did not quite understand it then but I recognize it in a heartbeat now. That look was sheer love radiating from my mother's face. I know that this love lives on, wherever she may be.

I'm sure mami is touched that Natty remembers her abuela so fondly and vividly. I hope she's sending hugs from above. Who knows? Maybe mami is doing her own angel dance.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Raising my glass

The little boy who once chased me around our backyard has turned into a man. My youngest brother is now a husband. Someday he will become a father.  

Today I raise my glass to Jesus and his lovely bride Mary. They have seen the best in each other and have found fortune in their love. Where there is love, there is joy. Joy is a fruit of happiness and those who eat from its tree are blessed.

May the path of those bound by love and promise be paved with compassion, understanding, caring, respect and deep commitment.

To Mr. and Mrs. Colรณn! Salud! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seeing the light

Pain was an old friend I got used to carrying. Somehow, it always made its way into every suitcase I packed. Like a ghost, it was my silent travel companion. 

In India, it accompanied me to every temple and church. It was the cause of the tears I shed along the Arabic Sea. Instead of focusing on the dolphins floating along the Goan coast, I looked out on the horizon and nursed my broken heart.

Pain does not require a passport and thus made its way to Italy with me.  As I knelt at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, grateful I was beginning my new journey last spring, my merciless companion was busy at work.  Tears, pregnant with pain, trickled down to my bent knees as I prayed for peace and a mended soul.

Once the school year began, my concealed enemy permeated every wine and cheese tasting I was supposed to be enjoying. Much like a sensor you cannot control, my depression came and went as it pleased. Determined to beat it, I busied myself with school, new friends and more travels.

This summer, somewhere along a dusty road in the Romanian countryside, something shifted.  As I walked uphill carrying a 20 pound backpack, I stopped to take in the view. Small blueberry bushes exhibited their lush fruit. A dog barked in the distance. Morning clouds had scattered, allowing the sun to warm my skin. I thought of Mami. 

Since losing my mother two years ago I have walked a path painted in shades of grey. While there have been bursts of color along the way, depression pinned me to a shadowy corner. But that morning in Transylvania my load felt lighter as I climbed towards happiness.  

Life sometimes becomes an uphill battle but my mother taught me that you must persevere. You must do what it takes to power through. Do you know what happens along the way? You shed layers of unhappiness and before knowing it, you see the light again.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Spicy Rose Tip of the Day

Next time you enjoy papaya think twice about tossing its seeds! Papaya seeds, glistening black pearls encased in the center of the fruit, can be used to tenderize meats. This is all the work of an enzyme called "papain" that helps digest proteins. Place the seeds on a small plate and let air dry on a windowsill. When dry, place in a pepper mill and grind onto your favorite marinade.  Curious about papaya? Click here.