What we do in the 512: Reunion weekend winds down

Things I’ve learned in the last 48 hours:

  • I can still handle hill repeats.
  • I still need my girlfriends.
  • Eating chaat and Gujarati has changed how I eat all food, forever, everywhere.
  • Making ragda pattice once does not make me any kind of expert on Indian cooking.
  • I might be able to convince 3-4 of my vacation ladies to order up a tiny pre-brunch tattoo early-Sunday morning.
  • I wear my grandma’s clothes. I look incredible.

Ragda pattice panic!

We’ve enjoyed a whirlwind weekend in Austin. Freezing and sweating and slipping off mossy rocks in Barton Springs. Eating fried pickles at the Lodge on Lamar Ave., dancing at nite clubs on Sixth St. and pretending we’re only just old enough to have been the other dancers’ former nannies — not their current moms. It helps. So does dim lighting. And dancing in front of neon, wall-sized American flags.

We exchanged clothes and confidences. I made ragda pattice; they made huevos rancheros. I need these women in my life: strong relationships, strong minds, strong bodies. These sustain me.

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I did not just meet them, but this is crazy. These women saw me through three kids, marriage and undergrad. And they still want to hang out with me.

As for the ragda pattice that I made on Friday night, they were proof it takes a village to feed a village and that an “Indian cooking” blog does not a chaat chef make. After packing and prepping in painstaking fashion for a ragda pattice throwdown, I committed some major tactical errors.

1. Shopping for provisions at a store that carries eight kinds of chutney but not tamarind chutney. Trying to buy ginger-garlic paste at that same store. Central Market, I love you but I’m talking to you. “Thanks” to the Central Market clerks who directed us to Taj Grocer’s.

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Nervous about Friday’s cooking commitment, I spent the day in sweat pants and, briefly, in Taj Grocer’s on Lamar Blvd.

Even with the right groceries, errors persisted. These included too much wine during food prep; getting scared of the pressure cooker; not enough chilies; renting a vacation home with knives duller than “American Idol: Season 2013”; forgetting to add the tamarind paste that had been in my carry-on through two flights. Thank gawdness I made fresh mint-coriander chutney and raita. Nobody at the table knew the paste was missing but me. Right, Sharifah?

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Edit massages the kale. I compress the cucumber.

Chaat meets BBQ: A Night at Salt Lick

Night two we took things in a totally different direction. After considerable controversy and debate we made the 45-minute drive to Driftwood, Texas for dinner at Salt Lick Barbecue. Not even the hostess’ warning of a two-hour wait could keep us serious-minded carnivores in Austin for local BBQ. The two-hour wait was more like one, the entire UCLA track & field team filed out of the restaurant — laughing and clutching leftovers — as we approached the Driftwood Vineyards that neighbor Salt Lick BBQ. Good sign, non? We had a magical time talking about college, our next college reunion, sampling local wine. 

Sitting, finally, at the picnic-style tables, we were treated to brisket, chicken and ribs. Plates of pickles and onions, a simple and slightly orange potato salad — like mashed potatoes served lukewarm and prepped with a seasoning that’s too subtle to identify but too delicious to be denied — and mayonnaise-free cole slaw whose starring ingredient is sautéed sesame seeds, and fluffy, sesame studded loaves of white bread accented the meal.

We stopped talking, but it’s not like we were gross about it. Napkins were used. A couple gals tried forks and knives. Someone said “please” before I passed them the spicy BBQ sauce.

Me, I made open-faced sandwiches: smearing the bread with spicy BBQ sauce, layering a slice of charred chicken and snappy garlic pickle atop the bread, then completing my edible creation with a sprinkling of cole slaw. Sometimes I used the doughy bread to swipe a lump of potato salad or sop up BBQ sauce. It was like Texas-style poori, and the entire experience reminded me of how fourteen years of Indian food has changed the way I eat. Not just what I eat, but the ways in which I take perfectly American ingredients and layer, alternate, sauce and sprinkle them together in ways that replicate the rich, fresh bursts of garnish that make chaat cuisine so beautiful to look at and so memorable to eat.

Texas-style poori.

Texas-style poori.

I prefer my food richly textured, and I blame the crispy, salty, golden crunch of sev noodles for this. I marveled at how beautiful they looked on a salad Friday night, their delicate golden curls flecked atop green, citrus-rubbed kale leaves. Who knew sev and kale could be so good together? Who knew a food that I can barely make has nonetheless fundamentally changed how I eat? Christmas Eve 2012 was the first time I tried a jalapeno in my pho, and I hold our November sojourn to India mostly responsible, and I’m grateful.

 Tattoo time?

I can’t promise any group ink tomorrow. But I’m certain that if the Sola neighborhood tattoo parlor had been open at 1:30 Sunday morning, a few of the college-reunion ladies would be dabbing fresh <<414>> ink with antibiotic ointment right now. As things stand at 4:08 a.m. local time, not one of us has a calf tattoo and Mikey the guy with the Depeche Mode sleeve says we should try a place on First St. at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

I wear my grandma’s clothes; I look incredible.

“Incredible” might be overstating it. Plus my new dress originated at Dallas’ Orchid Shop so, really, it could not have belonged to my late, never-met-her grandmother. Still, the dress is a 1962 vintage, was cheap and tailored nicely for a short person with narrow shoulders and is an excellent green — not as seafoamy as a shamrock shake, nor as forest-hued as kale. I like it. Macklemore ain’t the only one poppin’ tags with swagger.

Thanks to Austin, Edit, Jennifer, Jessica, Nicole, Sharifah and Megan-from-England for making this a wonderful, not-quite-over weekend. Shout out to my MIL for watching kids and my husband for finishing the weekend with them and helping me through a flight snafu. To Connie, me and Edit say “thanks.” Couldn’t have done the 5-1-2 without you!

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America the beautiful & tasteless.

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After nearly 15 years as an educated and consistent consumer of Indian food, one reason I’m now finally making the effort to make this food for myself is this: I’m tired of all the long faces. When people hear I’m married to a Desi guy, they get interested and excited. First, they get interested because they look at our kid(s), and I know they’re trying to figure out the genetic equation. This is especially true of my eldest son. I can sense the questions they’re thinking, though few people are so bold as to utter them aloud:

  • “Reddish hard, blue eyes? And he is Indian?”
  • “Blue eyes, milky-pale Wisconsin complexion? Is the Indian guy his stepdad?”

Anyway, my oldest is most like me, a three-generations filtered version of Euro-Milwaukeean: Germanpolishirish. We freckle on the shores of Lake Michigan in the summer and we attract cell-phone photographers when we vacation on the Arabian Sea.

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Then people get excited. Everyone who likes to eat wants to know someone who makes Indian food. Some questions are uttered aloud:

  • “Can you make Indian food?”
  • “Tell me you make thalis!”
  • “Who taught you how to cook Indian food?”

Anyway, I feel bad saying “no.” Plus, the older I get the more folks I meet who are making the effort to learn how to make thalis and chutneys and curries for themselves. If they’re investing the time and patience to master moong daal omelets and that delicious, breakfast-time study in contrasts known as masala dosa, then why not I?

I took my first lesson from my mother-in-law (MIL) ten years ago. We started with bhel puri, but all I remember is the tamarind chutney. Bhel is mixed with 2-3 chutneys depending on the recipe, and the deep-brown, limey, syrupy tamarind chutney is the best. My MIL made this from scratch and she spent what felt like an eternity blending, diluting, spicing and perfecting the chutney. The chutneys need to be thin enough to spread easily and liberally over the puffed-rice/chopped-potato mixture that is the foundation of bhel puri. I asked my MIL to repeat the names of the ingredients, the exact ratio of water to tamarind paste. “Little bit of this, little bit of that; Pinch of this, maybe a few drops of that; It depends on what you like,” were her stock replies. I found the flexibility of her approach exhausting and indecipherable. I quit that night.

Now, with a few shortcuts and some words of advice to you, I am back. And I brought bhel.

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