Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Alone in the kitchen

14 years ago, I spent Christmas in Byron Bay Australia.  I lived on a nude beach dotted with tea tree pools & coconut trees and passion fruit vines.  Pregnant, with my New Zealand husband, I spent my days on the beach, while the husband went looking for jobs, or went surfing.  I had no idea how much those days would stay with me.  It was there that I tasted ripe tropical fruit for the first time, had my first dandelion root latte, and discovered South Indian food.  I would save every bit of extra coins we had, so that I could walk into town for a dandelion latte, and on big occasions- an Indian curry.  On this day, 14 years ago, with a seed of a child within me, I sat beneath a mangrove tree and ate butter shrimp and saag with stuffed paratha.  I remember it so clearly, as it if we're just yesterday; I remember eating so slowly out of the take-out container, not wanting to waste a single morsel of the savory ginger and tomato sauce, or delicate spinach that hung loosely on the most tender pieces of cumin toasted potatoes.  I remember giving myself completely to the pleasure of that food, not knowing what would happen next, or worrying about anything ever being familiar again.

14 years have passed, and after spending many christmas's in the South Pacific, eating many curries, stir fries, and other people's left overs for christmas, I have yet to fully embrace the winter Christmas I knew as a child.  For the last 7 winters, I have shared my Christmas holiday with my staff as a gentle day off before the New Year's Day brunch service that loomed ahead.  Last year, was my first Christmas celebrated in the traditional fashion; but one that could not be repeated.

This year, my gift to myself, and to kismet, is to spend the day alone in the restaurant kitchen making stuffed parathas, butter sauce, and saag, while also cooking unfamiliar recipes from the pages of a brand new book of  Syrian recipes..  The whole empty restaurant smells of ginger, toasted cumin, and sweet onion.  My heart is warm, my children are celebrating happily with their fathers, and I am here in an apron to honor the journey that continues to flavor my life.

May all of your Christmas wishes come true,