thu 13 nov 2008 10:25:24 witte de withstraat
if i ever see a mushmulla
it has been raining a lot for almost a week.
last night marina made dinner for us and the upstairs neighbors. we had spanakopita, tsatsiki, a salad w some of the veg her mom had sent from pomorie. and the main course was something with rice and mushrooms and spices and grape leaves -- which leaves she originally meant to wrap with, to make a bulgarian version of gevulde wijnbladeren. but then it turned out the grape leaves she could find in a local turkish deli here, were very different from the more supple ones from her uncle's vineyard in bulgaria. so instead of wrapping she layered the leaves in with the other stuff and cooked it all in a pot. it was all good stuff, and i was very grateful to have been given food. being invited to dinner is always a little miracle, like what did i do to deserve to be treated so nice?
later on, revaro came with lydia, and the discussion turned to intercultural botanical nomenclature quandaries. like, what's the english name for this weird little fruit which in bulgaria is called "mushmulla"? using the internet, and zigzagging via the latin name, they finally found a photo of said fruit, together with the english name for it. but the english name was so boring, i immediately forgot it. i resolved that in the very unlikely event that i should ever see that fruit, i will just call it a mushmulla.
then lydia and marina told us about a ritual object, which some people in bulgaria make by hand at a certain time of year. it looks almost like a tennis racket with a figure 8 shape. they decorate it with yarn and maybe ribbons. then they whack people on the back with it really hard, to wish them good health. and the harder you whack, the more health they get. i think they said it's called a "shurvatnitsa" of zoiets.
i told lydia "i see why it's hard to find the english word for that."
it reminded me of a lonely time, back in 2003, not long after i moved to holland. i think this was one of those times when pani was not around. something possessed me to try and cook dinner for some guests, out there in osdorp de aker. a nice woman in england wrote me an indian recipe to try. one of the spices i'd need was called "turmeric", a sort of yellow powder. i had no idea what turmeric was called in het nederlands. and they don't put all the botanical terms in your average handy EN-NL dictionary. so on shopping day, i bounced all over the internet for several hours until i found the name i was looking for: kurkuma.
man what an ordeal. today i've no idea why i did that -- make dinner i mean -- and it's not an experiment i'm anxious to repeat. in fact it was quite traumatic for me, even with the excel spreadsheet i'd made and taped to the fridge, in which i had painstakingly backtimed all the parallel processes -- when i should start boiling this or chopping that, with the odd 5-minute smoke break -- so that it would all be finished and served up by the appointed dinner hour. you'd think i was launching a mission to mars. i remember freaking out when the doorbell rang a few minutes early, cuz running downstairs and answering the door wasn't one of the items in my spreadsheet. i'd entered one of the durations wrong anyway, and the potatoes were way undercooked. my guests were very gracious about it, but man what a freakin disaster. even computer assisted cooking can't help me be what i'm not.
and after that, for several years i could not remember the word "turmeric". i'd ask people "what's the english name for kurkuma?"