It’s 4 a.m. and I can’t sleep. This happens sometimes (and sometimes often) when too much gunk weights down my mind. But at least I am in New Mexico, with all of my belongings in one spot. After six years of accumulated dust and mold, we emptied our Oregon storage unit and brought it all home. (And I will get to that story of my attempt at a four-day, gluten-free, cross-country road trip… but first a digital camera must return from the shop, and film must be developed.)
It took a couple of weeks, a long drive north, my father-in-law’s companionship, a rental car with crappy visibility, a moving truck with crappy mileage, enormous muscle power, inordinate patience, and my husband’s dexterous driving skills to get us from California to the Cascades to the Rio Grande. Home.
Except it wasn’t “home” that we found on our arrival. We found a monstrous, hazardous mess. In the cold winter months of our absence, mice had wriggled their way into our house (heated to 50, just enough to keep the pipes intact). They invaded our kitchen, our bedroom, our offices â€” nearly every inch of living space we own. We knew, two months ago, we had “a mouse in the house.” It was evicted. We had no idea that mouse had so many friends with such pernicious tendencies. Our next-door neighbor caught upwards of 20 little vermin in her yard. Then she bought a cat.
In New Mexico, a mouse attack means more than little brown droppings to clean because these rodents can transmit the deadly hantavirus through the dust of their dried and airborne urine. So we called a professional cleaning crew. Every square foot of our house was disinfected. Every piece of clothing (yes, they sullied our dressers, too!) was bagged and laundered in hot bleach water. Every book, every chair, every shelf was wiped clean. And we’re still finding little bits of mouse evidence â€” albeit clean now, but still unwanted.
No, this house did not feel like home to me last week. We had been away (six months) far longer than we’d lived here after buying and renovating the place (a work very much still in progress). And this mouse mess? I just wanted to flee. Far, far away. In a way I did, to Jerry’s sister’s place, where we invaded her space for several nights through this ordeal.
Slowly, slowly we grow more comfortable here again as the days pass and we wake now in our bedroom to a beam of light from the east. We can see the mountains through leafless trees. I make coffee in a kitchen that radiates with sunlight. Box by box, I unwrap our old Oregon life and combine it with the pieces of our time here and abroad. We have wicked-sharp knives from Vietnam, pretty blue dishes from Cambodia, raging-hot chiles from Nagaland. We have music and art that reflects the many corners of our scattered lives.
And this, for me, is one of the greatest pleasures: to pull books from a box and place them on a shelf. This one, pictured above, is a treasure I acquired in Kolkata. Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India is a beautiful book with pictures to set your stomach rumbling with hunger â€” Malabar prawn curry, chicken pistachio korma, lamb with apricots, watermelon curry, Parsee red chicken with a vividness only possible through Kashmiri chile. I bought this cookbook at Kolkata’s Oxford Bookstore, an incredible cramped little haven of information, where people browse and read and sip tea at a cozy cafe, savoring long moments among the written word. It’s another world, off the streets of Kolkata. And Panjabi’s cookbook takes me back to a landscape so very far from the wide sky of New Mexico.
I look forward to splotching these cookbook pages with use â€” when our kitchen is fully functional again, and the counters clear of clutter. A couple of weeks ago, in California, I did manage a cabbage curry. I was drawn to the recipe’s simplicity and goodness. I give you that here (with a few minor adaptations). Like the jaew, I made this dish too hot for others at the table. The jalapenos I had on hand intensified with every bite. But this is easily avoidable. Concentrate instead on the ginger and turmeric to enliven the cabbage.
Cabbage with spices and tomato (based on Camellia Panjabi’s recipe in 50 Great Curries of India):
1 head of green cabbage, finely grated
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 large chunk of fresh ginger
hot green chile to taste
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
vegetable oil for frying
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon crushed coriander
hot red chile powder to taste
First, prepare your vegetables: grate the cabbage; chop onions, ginger, chile and tomatoes.
Heat oil in a wok. Add onion, ginger and green chile, and saute until the onion is browned.
Add cabbage, garlic, turmeric, coriander and red chile powder. Mix well and cover. Cook about 10 minutes, then add tomatoes and salt to taste. Cook until done.