Over the summer Teddy gradually started eating more and more solid foods. His first experience with blueberries was a gigantic success (almost as big as the stain.) His first encounter with broccoli was an equally gigantic failure. On the whole though, Kate was pleased to find that he enjoyed trying new things and usually liked them--if not the first time, then the second or third time. (He did eventually start loving even broccoli!) He at bread and cheerios and crackers like a machine; he adored any kind of fruit; even veggies were good--especially tomatoes. She felt a little bad, taking Teddy to a church potluck. He was still pretty limited by texture, and there was a veggie tray with cherry tomatoes...and over the course of the meal, she was sure that she took almost all of them for Teddy. (And all the while, felt like Kathleen Kelly would appear over her shoulder, scoop them back onto the tray, and say "That caviar is a garnish!")
With only a month or two left before their little girl appeared, Kate wanted to accomplish a couple more projects--in the kitchen this time. She had long since wanted to learn about Indian cuisine. And now she had the perfect opportunity! When a friend moved away, she gave Kate three of her Indian cookbooks, and since being back home, Kate had been diligently reading them. She studied the introductions and made an extensive list of spices to stock in her pantry. One book had a list of Indian stores in each state across America. For the state of Virginia, there was only one listed...and it just happened to be right next to her OB doctor's office!
The first time she went, she loaded up on $40 worth of spices. And she got her money's worth or more--the spices filled up two large grocery bags! The boy at the counter in the store (a family business) chatted with her and asked what she was going to make first.
pakoras with mint raita
"I don't know." Kate said, suddenly feeling self-conscious about her lack of knowledge. "Probably an appetizer, like pakoras."
The boy nodded, "Pakoras are good...so are samosas." He said the word with longing. "My mom just went out to get some more because we ran out."
That evening, true to her word, Kate fished out her recipe book and found the page for pakoras. They are a fried concoction made of chopped veggies (onion, pepper, potato, and eggplant) mixed with water, chickpea flour, and spices. Kate had already studied this recipe several times a day for the last week. Normally, she didn't even use recipes! But this was how she learned a new style...this was a satisfying way to cook: being able to make something that she would order in a restaurant. She imagined herself back in the kitchen of a cozy family restaurant and she dexterously chopped and mixed and went the extra step of making some spicy Mint Raita for dipping. Having no idea of what she was doing, she scooped a blob of the mixture into the hot oil and it instantly started sizzling and turning brown. Ha! she thought. It looks just like in the book! This is FUN! she congratulated herself with a smug smile and took a bite of the first one after she pulled it out and let it cool. Mmmm...Indian food, here we come!
one of many chicken dishes
The true delight of the evening, however, was Teddy's response. Even though the pakoras were spicy, he held his arms and legs out and waved them around in his characteristic gesture of approval (and begging for more.) Pakoras were followed by a number of chicken dishes with exotic combinations of spices that Kate would grind or roast herself. Each was delicious and wonderful, and Kate made plans to stock up on her spices before moving away.
Teddy with the pepperoni log
Another cooking milestone that Kate wanted to achieve was pizza--completely homemade pizza. Kate and Mister had a favorite restaurant in Fairfax where they always went to get the Greek Pizza. Oh, it was glorious! She must have had it at least a dozen times, and she never got tired of it. It was both inspiring and daunting. Anyone can put toppings on a bit of bread dough, Kate considered. But I want to make my crust like this. Airy, flavorful, with enough crunch and stiffness to be able to pick it up. There was nothing to do but try. When they were in Williamsburg at the beginning of July, Mrs. Mortte gave her a recipe for pizza dough--but it was a bread machine recipe. Kate used it nonetheless, she combined the ingredients using Tess Kiros's method (author of Falling Cloudberries) and found that it worked well. Week after week, every Tuesday night, Kate made pizza. She gradually learned. Each week she found something that made it a little better: letting the dough rise just so, baking at 400 to get the stiffness in the bottom of the crust, sprinkling garlic over the dough instead of mixing it into the tomato sauce, the magical chemistry between red peppers and peppe roni, and eventually she put the pepperoni partly on top of the cheese and found an extra roasted flavor that it didn't attain underneath.
Most weeks, they would have someone over to share the pizza with them. And every week, the partakers would have to pay the "Teddy tax"--a portion of crust donated to feeding the hungry...baby.
In the midst of all this eating and cooking and grocery shopping, Kate would often look around a store and marvel at the shear magnitude of available food. Canned goods, baked goods, produce, and meats, not to mention other household items. Wall to wall, products ready to make meals varied and interesting, and to make life functional, easy, and relatively clean. The same sense of wonder would come over her as she made her meal plans or sat down to eat. A typical week would include salmon, pizza, Indian, stir-fry, and soup. She had an almost endless variety and supply of spices, produce from every part of the world was available to her, and she couldn't help but be awed by the fact that, on a grad-student's funding, they could eat better than kings did in ages gone by. It was ineffably humbling.
Thank you, Lord, she prayed time and again. Thank you that we don't have to eat rice every day, meal after meal. Thank you for fruit and for meat and for spices and colors and flavors. For refrigerators to store things. For freezers to preserve things. For stoves and ovens to cook things. Thank you that you not only sustain us with food everyday, but that everyday food can bring such delight and interest. Thank you for such a strong daily reminder of how creative you are and how well you provide for us in all ways. Thank you for your variety and abundance of blessings, they truly are too numerous to count.