Thursday, May 3, 2007

Lord, what foods these morsels be!

First, I must confess, I outright stole the title for this post from The Joy of Cooking. Growing up, Mom would read to us from TJOC at the dinner table, and we’d laugh at the authors’ descriptions of cooking methods and ingredients, and her witty tales of food history and kitchen disasters. Mom says when she was a young bride in Danville, Kentucky, Dad went off to work and left her at home with nothing to read but the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and The Joy of Cooking. This explains why she’s such a good Episcopalian and an even better cook.

And please note, when I refer to my mother as a good Episcopalian, I am suggesting she’s one who has actually read and lives by what is in the 1928 BCP. Yes, we’re orthodox and unashamedly so. It wasn’t broken. It didn’t need fixing. And it certainly didn’t need the gutting that resulted in the travesty known as the 1979 BCP.

But I digress…

Mom is a very good cook, and what she doesn’t owe to The Joy of Cooking, she owes to growing up in a large family in the south, during the late Depression and World War II. My grandfather was a farmer, a hired day laborer, and, by all accounts, a heckuva fine baseball player. My grandmother was a homemaker, which in those days meant washing laundry with a mangle, cooking on a wood-fired stove, making clothes out of feed and flour sacks, chopping wood with an axe, milking cows, plucking chickens, planting and hoeing a vegetable garden, canning produce using that same wood-fired stove and helping butcher pigs (or sewing them shut, as the situation required, but that’s another tale I’ll tell a different day).

There were seven children to feed, so cooking skills were developed early and appreciated greatly. Our own family had five children, and both Mom and Dad worked hard to support us. While we didn’t eat out often, and we ate more frequently like peasants than kings, we had plenty, and it was good.

But growing up helping in the kitchen, watching my remarkable grandmother make biscuits and hearing tales from the cookbook all fueled my own love of cooking, as well as eating. I have my own copy of the Joy now, although a later edition than my mother’s. There have been a couple more iterations since I bought my copy in 1982. Pick up a copy—there’s recipes for everything from moose muffle to beef Bourguignon and just about everything in between. Check out the laundress’ tale that accompanies the recipe for apple strudel. It’s a good read while your dessert bakes.

The Loved One is home on interval from Alaska, which means we’re eating out too much. He’s gone three weeks at a time, and then home for about ten days. When he’s home, we strive to keep the “quality” in “quality time,” and do things that bring us closer together as a couple and a small family. We had out-of-town company over the weekend, which was wonderful. I cooked some, but we also had two special occasion meals out with the large, extended, blended and generally up-ended family we’ve become. It was all mostly a wonderful time.

Last Saturday, though, just the two of us went to a new place I’d seen in Collierville called Ashiyana. Dear Daughter was home “keeping house” with Best Friend, who is not quite older enough to be an official baby-sitter, but who is a good, sensible young lady whom I can leave in charge. Billed as an “Indo-Pak” restaurant, Ayishara conjures images of warm curries, flavorful vegetable stews and tandoori chicken. I didn’t have any experience with Pakistani cuisine, but I’m usually game to try almost anything new and unusual, so long as it doesn’t involve eat body parts that normally involve vision, digestion, rumination, cogitation or elimination. Call me a weenie, but personally I thank God virtually every day that I have never been hungry enough to eat the intestines of any living creature. Or the eyeballs, brains, pancreas, etc.

(I will confess to actually liking calves’ liver, but given the junk animals are shot up with during their short and unhappy lives, I can no longer bring myself to do it, and haven’t in decades. Dear Daughter has never eaten liver, veal or offal, and will not do so, at least not on my watch.)

But back to Ayishara. It had only been open for a couple of days so they are still working out the mechanics of running a restaurant. The greeter/server was a bit overwhelmed with double-duty, but she took time to talk to us about the dishes on the menu. We ordered some dishes with which we are familiar and some we’d never had before. Palak paneer is spinach in a spicy sauce with yogurt cheese, and something I would eat everyday if I could make or get my hands on it. We had the Pakistani version of samosas, which are wrapped in phyllo. The “puff pastry” we ordered was not a sweet, but rather a sort of Middle Eastern “chicken in a biscuit,” and a delightful one at that. The pastry was buttery and melt-in-your-mouth flaky, and the spicy chicken permeated each bite. What a treat!

As it turns out, in an “Indo-Pak” restaurant “mutton;” which we took to mean “sheep,” actually means “goat.” I grew up eating lamb and still serve it a few times a year, price permitting, but I’d never had goat before. The dish was basically the same as lamb aloo, just with a different animal. I have to say, I infinitely prefer lamb to goat, but it wasn’t bad. There were some interesting bone configurations to deal with, and I don’t want to speculate on which part we were eating, but the dish was good. I don’t think I’ll be cooking it at home anytime soon, but we left the plates shiny.

1 comment:

Erin Werner Buck said...

Hey, what are you doing trying out the new restaurants in my neck of the woods before Aaron and me? I've been wanting to try out the place the second that I saw they were open, but you beat us to it!
Back in college, our closest friends were mostly Indian and Pakistani, so we've developed a taste for those foods. I'm a fan of Bangkok Alley off G'town Blvd. in Cordova. It's wonderful to have Indian food so handy - I didn't think we'd ever eat punjabi kadi with pakora or a decent curry after we graduated college.