A watched pot (turtle nest) boils in Oak Island

A volunteer waved us left as we approached the tiny runway shaped to help guide baby turtles towards the sea. During our evening walks we noticed these small runways lined with green edges, centers brushed smooth carefully made ready for turtle nests incubating in the warm July sand past 50 days.  

“They’re coming. Please walk over and behind.” The excitement of new life. A small group of people composed of “nest mothers”, volunteers, and the vacationing and local curious was hovering over the patch of sand with a square grate the size of a doormat. The patch had a small crack where the sand caved in the size of my hand. This was an indication of restlessness, cracking, and movement below. The crowd of children, adults and more volunteers grew on either side of the runway as the sun began to set. We all waited. And waited. So did the turtles. They were waiting for the sand to cool as a sign of the waning sun that would make it easier to hide from predators. As the sun dipped, they rose and boiled like small dark shadows rising out of the growing hole in the ground.

Am I seeing this? The instinct is to shed light on this miracle. But light is exactly what they are avoiding. Light disorients budding life. They turn away and go in the wrong direction. “They have been listening to the ocean this whole time, they know to move towards the sound,” a volunteer explained while encouraging us to use our “inside voices” so the turtles can hear the ocean calling them. Or is it the magnetic pull? The ocean is like the mother’s heartbeat for a human baby emerging out of a uterine water sac. The baby moves towards the light, and a turtle also moves towards the moonlight on the water. Lights on the beach confuse them, they move in the wrong direction away from the water and into the grips of a predator. The beauty of turtles rising together. This I’ve learned affords survival of the species, many are sacrificed to predators so a few can live and serve a larger commitment to life. We humans have so much to learn from these tiny dark, squiggly, directed shadows. We can stand by, watch, guide, and mostly care enough to stay out of their way and keep other humans from staying out of their way…waving them to go around or stop shining light on the fragile eyes looking for the ocean. It is a practice of humble awe. A gentle suggestion that perhaps we are not the center of all life.

Sea turtles are a protected species. The Oak Island Turtle Protection Program is on a mission to monitor and protect the sea turtles and to foster community-based conservation…basically to wave us away from trampling the turtles and to welcome us to come close without shining light and with hushed reverence. In the three weeks of living here sitting on the sand alongside the turtle runway was the first and most satisfying sense of community I have experienced. No power, monetization, or exclusivity. The simplicity of a random community of curious humans channeling and watching small shadows scurry to glistening dark waves. It was magnificent.

The turtles are protected from industrial pollution and natural predators. We are among that list of natural predators. In my efforts to learn about the region I now call home, I researched a few cookbooks available at the local library. One of the cookbooks entitled “The Beachcomber’s Handbook of Seafood Cookery” by Hugh Zachary (1969) shares a Sea Turtle Stew recipe. The author prefaces the recipe with a story about gathering eggs from the beach, a culture of turtle hunting, followed by a plea.  He writes,

“I saw a couple of huge loggerheads that had been killed, wantonly killed, on Long Beach, not for their meat, but just for the fun of killing something so large, apparently. I like turtles. I like turtles better than I like some people – namely people who would kill a big loggerhead just for the experience. Loggerhead turtles are a vanishing breed. It’s fun to go turtle hunting during a full moon in a warm month on a nice night. It’s an interesting experience to find a big turtle on her nest and watch her lay eggs and cover them with her awkward, instinctive, and utterly laborious movements. My sympathy goes out to the big beast who comes out of her natural element to try to fight the odds against the survival of her species.

Let’s don’t eat loggerheads.”

Zachary, Hugh. (1969) The Beachcomber’s Handbook of Seafood Cookery. Kingsport Press: Tennessee.

On the margins of this recipe page, the library added a note about the law protecting sea turtles.

from the Beachcomber’s Handbook of Seafood Cookery (1969)

We humans can be both predators and conservators, vicious and curious. Sitting there watching the baby turtles a representation of life itself flapping, flailing, scurrying, blind and confused, I was reminded of the choice. As food curious as I am, I am okay letting turtle meat remain a mystery. I don’t know what my line is for eating other living beings, is it endangered animals? Or like Mr. Rogers who avoided anything that had a mother? Eat flesh out of necessity or politeness? Practice a generally plant-based diet? I don’t have my own answer, let alone have one for you. All I can say is that I hope to be aware of and own my choices today. Tomorrow may be different. Last evening it felt good to be among a community of humans who chose to stand together and aside watching life emerge out of a dark small crack in the earth.

Thank you baby turtles. I hope you live a long life and return to this beach as a place of safety and care. We’ll wait for you.

For lunch today, cereal with frozen blueberries sounds refreshing.

Wishing you thoughtful eating,


Eating Through Oak Island and Southport, NC – Part 1

In preparation and eager anticipation for our move to Oak Island, North Carolina, my husband and I have been visiting the island, both on and off-season. The past week, mid-march was our third visit. The first was in last June when we fell in love with the place and bought our home. The second visit, in October, was the first time on the island as invested future residents. During these three visits, we have enjoyed a wide spectrum of tasty treats and meals.

The first lesson about Oak Island is that looks can be pleasantly and surprisingly deceiving. The unassuming appearance of a restaurant may not reflect the care and craft in the food. Like the Tardis, and my little house, things are more impressive on the inside. No unnecessary shiny, glitz, and glamor competing with the majesty of the beach, sky, and sea creatures. Oak Island accepts the beach as the main event and priority. And, it is worth the adoration.

The second lesson, for me, was that while options may be limited, most restaurants are kindly willing to explain the dish and hold an ingredient if needed. When in doubt, just ask. I did not miss pre-prepared fast food at all.

The third lesson, related to the second, is that there are so many temptations for someone watching sugar and dairy. Doughnuts, pies, cakes, and ice cream everywhere! Can’t say I mind. The honey butter with cornbread…decadent. This is a place of summer simplicity, celebration, and joy. Enjoy the cake! Especially the coconut-key-lime piecaken from Swains. Yum!

This quick post is limited to our last visit and stomach space. It also does not include the many very worthy restaurants closed for the season. Very much looking forward to continuing on this North Carolina food adventure.

So here is my incomplete list for now…with more to come…

Tranquil Harbour Restaurant – Oak Island
Cafe Koa – Southport
The Pepper Pot – Southport
The Saucy Southerner – Southport
Swains Seafood and Cut Restaurant – Oak Island
Moore Street Oyster Bar – Southport
Lil and John’s Sweet Treats – Oak Island
Southport Gourmet and Sushi – Southport
Inergy Market – Oak Island

Shortcake in Dhaka: Raymond Loewy and Culinary Metaphors in Design

This post reports on a 2012 lecture delivered at BRAC University in Dhaka, Bangladesh about “Strawberry Shortcake and Raymond Loewy’s Sears Cold Spot Super Six Refrigerator.” The invitation, content and response to the lecture practice a form of global design history that mediates cultural criteria of taste. In order to articulate design possibilities inherent in the public implications of personal preferences, the lecture hoped to generate a conversation about the relevance of design history for design practice in Bangladesh.

Method and Thesis

The lecture arose out of a larger book project that considers the role of metaphorical logic in Raymond Loewy’s 1951 autobiography, Never Leave Well Enough Alone.[1] The project offered a celebratory and cautionary reading of the autobiography and investigates the implications of his MAYA principle of palatable design for 20th Century American democracy. Using culinary references as metaphors of consumption and taste, the interpretation charts the evolution and decline of Raymond Loewy as a personification of industrial design’s superficial and substantive contributions to the American dream. In light of the eventual bankruptcy of Loewy International in 1976, his 1951 autobiography becomes a poignant self-aware and self-fulfilling statement of loss. The aim of the larger project was threefold:

  1. Offer exegetical analysis of Never Leave Well Enough Alone as an object of design mediated by Loewy’s construction of metaphors.
  2. Through a deconstructive reading of the text chart the demise of Loewy International as an inevitable culmination of Loewy’s MAYA principle.
  3. Place Loewy through his writing within a larger discussion about the material manifestation of democracy in 20th Century America.

The metaphorical, deconstructive and democratic reading of Loewy’s autobiography hoped to shed new light on American modern design and expose the public implications of our personal preferences as consumers and producers. Furthermore, the project suggested that in the post-industrial age of DIY, customization, 3D printing and user participation, articulations of emotive personal experiences and rationally deliberated public choice characterizes the democratic agency of design.

The primary goal of the class session in Dhaka was to test the pedagogical application of this metaphorical, deconstructive and democratic design history.  Specifically, I wanted to encourage design students to analyze the public and professional implications of their personal preferences as exemplified by Raymond Loewy’s autobiography. A convergence of the autobiographical, political and professional, characterizes Loewy’s successful period of production between 1930s and 1960s. Correspondingly disconnect evident in incomplete metaphors like “Swiss cheese and rye” accompany the decline of his practice. Learning from Loewy’s lesson, can designers translate their individual consumption habits into shared consumption? If we apply a metaphorical perspective to design inspiration, what directions might emerge?

Anatomy of the Class Session

Between two options on lecture topics, the BRAC University Dean of Architecture chose the option that discussed the design implications of American industrial designer Raymond Loewy’s preference for strawberry shortcake as a model for American identity and consumption habits. The other option was a lecture on William Morris and the critical relevance of the Arts and Crafts movement for Bangladesh that could re-contextualize issues of sustainability, craft, labor, materials, subjective expression and mechanical production. The dean’s choice of topic showed a preference for present relevance of disciplinary practice over historical re-interpretation. As such, the class session was motivated by an imperative to make design history directly relevant to studio practice rather than through a discussion about historical reception. The analysis of metaphors as design inspiration hoped to expose designer motivations instead of user interpretations.

I began the session by asking each student to write down a favorite food or dish (as it was the month of Ramadan, I subsequently apologized profusely for asking them to think about food at a time when many would be fasting). Not knowing the reason for writing down such a personal preference certainly left students trained towards rational responses somewhat confused. Despite their initial reluctance many did scribble down their preference.

Next, I spoke about French immigrant industrial designer Raymond Loewy’s chapter on “American Cooking” in his autobiography 1951 Never Leave Well Enough Alone. I made the argument that Loewy’s celebration of burgers and strawberry shortcake was consistent with his design aesthetic. I explained that:

Loewy invited a French friend of his for dinner in order to defend the reputation of American food. His menu consisted of cream of clams, fried chicken, corn fritters, braised endive, romaine salad and ended with strawberry shortcake.  He wrote, 

“The strawberry short cake was a dream. The old-fashioned biscuit was covered with a generous amount of ripe strawberries at the last minute to avoid sogginess. The fruit had been crushed ever so slightly and allowed to remain for an hour or so in a light syrup to which it transferred its flavor and its adorable pinkness. A restrained amount of fluffy whipped cream was placed on top. An important point: the cake as oven warmed, but the strawberries and whipped cream were cool. The contrast is pleasing.” [2]

The philosophy of simple and few ingredients, timely preparation, restrained cream and contrasting textures, I suggested, extended into his design. His Cold Spot Super Six can be interpreted to follow the same principle of the cake: Few parts, as in the few moving parts, restrained garnish as in the 3 vertical bands, contrast in texture, unity of exterior and compartments of interior etc. This retention of details, the haunting of the hausfrou aesthetic, supports his MAYA principle that his book advocates. The MAYA principle, an acronym, was a call to design with the MOST ADVANCED YET ACCEPTABLE technology. The three vertical stripes were the garnishes that made the technology of the refrigerator acceptable or palatable to American aesthetic taste.

This lesson of acceptability Loewy learned from the American housewives he criticized as being responsible for bland aesthetic and food. It was the housewives, who were the primary customers and consumers of his domestic products. He sought aesthetic balance between functionality and decorative that would make his Cold Spot Super Six so very popular (sales rose over 300%). By changing the ratio between the functional and the decorative, Loewy found the sweet spot of mid century modern American taste.

I summarized Loewy’s appreciation of strawberry shortcake in relation to his disdain for mayonnaise, I compared it to Adolf Loos’ celebration of roast beef, and finally, I connected Loewy’s ornament to function ratio evident in his refrigerator to the ratio of whip cream to shortcake.  My reading of Loewy’s culinary descriptions as metaphors for design connected the form of his refrigerator with the form of his dessert. Having charted the narrative, the relevance and the implication of Raymond Loewy’s preference for strawberry shortcake, I then asked the students to look at the food preference they wrote down. How would they translate their preference into a design aesthetic, as Loewy had?

Emergent Metaphors

The discussion that the story prompted is evidence of the critical and creative capacity of design history interpreted through cultural metaphors. In particular, the use of culinary metaphors permitted an analysis of rational relationships without privileging a particular system. For example, instead of conceptually arguing the merits of Loewy’s MAYA principle, we were able to discuss his logic of essential and ornamental dynamics.  I would like to highlight three questions that generated most dialogue related to attempts to translate cultural and culinary taste into visual taste.

1. Pizza and the Problem of Definition

When asked to share their food preferences, one student said that pizza was his favorite food. I should confess that I was expecting local dishes to be local favorites and that the preference for pizza surprised me. The student’s choice made me aware of my own simplistic cultural expectations. We asked, how would a preference for pizza translate into a local aesthetic? In trying to articulate the essential ingredients and structure of a pizza, the discussion quickly became about definitions of pizza. We identified the essential ingredients as dough, sauce and cheese. The ratio of these ingredients would determine a taste for the ornamental or the functional.  Toppings, beyond the three essential ingredients would be considered ornamental, even if meat.  We arrived at an aesthetic principle, whereby the essential and the ornamental were articulated through applied toppings over the basic ingredients of cheese, dough and sauce. This is when the logic of cheese, dough and sauce, was questioned. What if, what is understood as ‘pizza’ in Bangladesh is not consistent with what is understood as ‘pizza’ elsewhere? For example, many street vendors sell small flat dough rounds with a bit of sauce and meat, with little or no cheese, as pizza. Would that become the local articulation of a Western recipe? For people unaware of ‘Pizza Hut’ or American pizza, that would be the standard. What is the standard structure of pizza? Who decides? When does the definition of pizza fail?  Ironically, the minimal cheese version of pizza in Bangladesh, I suggested may be closer to the traditional Italian pizza. This comment raised another layer of complexity related to cultural translations of culinary recipes and by extension aesthetic criteria. We had started by talking about the proportion of essential and inessential, functional and ornamental, as a way to structure taste, yet the discussion quickly turned to the global flexibility of culinary definitions, and consequently aesthetic standards.  The problem of definitive aesthetic standards exposes an imperative towards an individual narrative of design. Depending on how a designer defines pizza, he or she can use it as a culinary recipe worthy of visual translation. The pizza metaphor allowed us to reconsider criteria of aesthetic relationships. How could we reimagine the Cold spot refrigerator through the logic of pizza, instead of strawberry shortcake? Would we allow more customizable ornamentation?

We also talked about how Loewy’s preference for burgers carried a different implication than the student’s preference for pizza. Loewy appreciated the portability, individuality of diner burgers. A pizza, although layered, is meant for collective consumption or individual slices. An aesthetic derived from a metaphor of pizza would permit, an individual and/or a collective experience, a casual but not portable experience, and a standard form with customizable options. The discussion of pizza was a proxy discussion about aesthetic structures through experiences of taste rather than stylistic conceptualizations.

2. Chicken Curry and the problem of a western meat and gravy dynamic

We also considered a cultural problem with Loewy’s identification of meat with the essential. In a Bengali context where spices determine the character of a dish, the significance of the protein content diminishes. In an attempt to apply Loewy’s logic to chicken curry our discussion faltered. Related to the question of definition, we asked, what makes a curry, the choice of protein, the method or the spices? The group agreed that the combination of spices determine the character of a curry. However without the meat, lentils or vegetables the spices would have no substance to adhere. The structure of curry seems to resist analysis into distinct components. The western criteria of layering fails when the ingredients are so inextricably codetermined that ascribing value as essential and inessential becomes impossible. There is no hierarchy of ingredients. How would such taste visually translate? How would we visually design without hierarchy but with coherent complexity? What makes a chicken curry cohesive? We considered not only the significance of multiplicity but also the increased role of process and layering of tastes. What would be a way to construct a layered and complex visual experience? Here Loewy’s promotion of simplicity through the metaphor of the strawberry shortcake failed to resonate.

3. Cardamom and the problem of qualified consumption

A third issue addressed during our discussion, concerned spices used for flavoring but not meant for consumption. For example, cardamom, tastes horrible, yet is deemed necessary for an enhanced smell.  Just as cinnamon bark or bay leaves are used extensively with the assumption that the diner will consciously not ingest these spices. How do we understand these intentional production inclusions and exclusions in consumption? This issue related to taste and use depends on local culinary convention. What may be equivalent visual conventions? A basic understanding of the use of spices is needed in order for the consumer to determine which spices are meant for direct consumption. How do we understand and design for process residue? How do we resolve the paradox of spices essential for taste but not consumption? In the Loewy logic of essential and ornamental, what would cardamom be defined as? The problem of cardamom returns us to the limits of the Loewy logic whereby design distinctions between the essential and the ornamental are culturally and locally determined.

Conclusion: Towards A Metaphorical History of Design?

These problems of interpretation, definition and application allow us to rethink design as a constructed dynamic between the practical and the symbolic, the essential and the superficial. It allowed for a shared discussion about design history and philosophy by proxy through a discussion about our personal experiences of food. My primary teaching intent was to expose the creative potential of personal narrative in design disciplines. I invoked Loewy’s autobiographical moment as a way to reinforce the professional implications of personal preferences. In doing so, I hoped students would find design potential inherent in their personal passions and choices, beyond culinary examples.

About teaching design history in Bangladesh, the lecture reminded me that local design identity is complex and not simply a matter of Western engagement or non-engagement. The students as cosmopolitan citizens of the world live multi-cultural lives where local and global influences are indistinguishable.[3] They are less interested in a quest for local identity and more interested in a search for global relevance. I suspected that if I present design principles instead of forms then possible options for applications would increase.  For example by introducing the MAYA principle in association with Loewy’s personal preferences and aesthetic criteria, instead of simply introducing Loewy and his streamline look of the Coldspot Super Six, we open interpretative possibilities beyond identifying a historical moment of stylistic evolution.

The class discussion helped me interpret my own research from an oblique and peripheral perspective. Reading Loewy in Dhaka highlighted his philosophy as premised on cultural assumptions that require critique for inspiration and qualified application. His designs were most successful when his metaphors resonated with his target audience in America. He identified his own style as contemporary American, not modern, not streamlined. He deliberately tried to merge American tradition with mechanical simplicity. As a Frenchman, cultural interpretation was a necessary condition for the development of his profession in the U.S. and the definition of his MAYA principle. Ironically, the success and failure of his design firm rested on his interpretative capacity to determine cultural acceptability.

About the use of metaphorical interpretation as a design method, I agree with John Maeda’s formulation that,

Metaphors are useful platforms for transferring a large body of existing knowledge from one context to another with minimal, often imperceptible, effort on the part of the person crossing the conceptual bridge. But metaphors are only deeply engaging if they surprise along some unexpected, positive dimension……A metaphor used as a learning shortcut for a complex design is most effective when its execution is both relevant and delightfully unexpected.[4]

Metaphors allow us to reinterpret the familiar through a change in perspective. Serving strawberry shortcake in Dhaka was an unexpected pedagogical way to introduce Raymond Loewy’s design inspiration as a provocation for students to rethink their own design motivations outside the studio. Design history can be a tool for practice only if it can lead designers back to the studio, obliquely, by orientation outside the studio. The metaphorical approach allowed us to have a design conversation about seemingly “undesigned” experiences of taste and sensation.

Similarly, In Metaphors We Live By, authors Lakoff and Johnson, argue that metaphors are a coherence of experienced connections that challenge a conceptual correspondence theory of reality.[5] The advantage of a metaphorical interpretation is at least twofold: first, it permits connections of otherwise unrelated experiences and second, metaphors allow us to focus on lived experience over conceptual abstraction through partial structuring. Lakoff and Johnson, distinguish metaphorical structuring (example: argument is war) from conceptual subcategorization (example: an argument is a conversation) and explain that metaphors allow orientation, variation, direction, emotion, and cultural mediation. Most significantly, for design, metaphorical structuring by designers allows comparisons and translations of experiences rather than concepts. According to Lakoff and Johnson,

From the experientialist perspective, metaphor is a matter of imaginative rationality. It permits an understanding of one kind of experience in terms of another, creating coherence by virtue of imposing gestalts that are structured by natural dimensions of experience. New metaphors are capable of creating new understandings and therefore, new realities.[6]

Successful new metaphors are able to resonate with others by structurally re-interpreting shared imagination and experiences. For example, Raymond Loewy’s example of burgers as a portable and layered bite of democracy was a relatable way to describe modern American living without formality.  By appealing to culinary metaphors of consumption, a designer can construct systems of coherence that shares personal experience. From Raymond Loewy we learn that the social resonance of these translated lived experiences determines, design success. We also learn the commercial and cultural limits of shared object focused experience. Particularly, as we shift towards the design of integrated experiences over the design of distinct products, the metaphor of dining experience offers clues toward constructing a narrative of tastes that encompass multi-senses and multi-cultures.  Shortcake in Dhaka facilitated a discussion about cross-cultural cooking metaphors as relevant to design practice. Furthermore, the discussion offered a post-colonial moment of reversal in perspective that challenged conventional interpretations of the MAYA principle.[7] The session practiced a metaphorical translation of experience into design motivation and made design history a tool for practice in the following ways:

First, the metaphorical interpretation framed a trans-cultural discussion about design inspiration. It allowed for a conversation about a shared experience of eating to be qualified by subjective experiences of taste. The response to the question, how could your favorite food motivate your design aimed to prompt considerations of identity, everyday practice, intentionality that shows everyday experience outside the studio as the possibility of conceptual projections in the studio.

Second, the discussion moved between gastronomic taste and visual taste and encouraged students to imagine multi-sensory experiences of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. This way design inspiration can be invoked from experiences beyond visual response.

Third, the metaphorical interpretation of Loewy’s autobiography presented living experience as a condition of design inspiration. Indeed, the students live a global condition of eating pizza and curry in Dhaka. Instead of conceptualizing design and globalization, students recognize their everyday lives as a global encounters, at the dinner table, in the streets and in the studio.

The metaphorical reading enhanced both the pedagogical and critical potential of design history. This may be a small but significant step towards articulating a multi-cultural conversation centered on diversity of experience and unity of objective materiality. It relates to current efforts towards global design history that overcomes center-periphery dynamics, a Western meta-narrative and an academic dominance of the English language. The Loewy metaphor of strawberry shortcake exposed continuities of personal and professional activities, experience and concept, consumption and production. In turn, the qualified metaphorical resonance of strawberry shortcake in Dhaka, as a discussion about the dynamics between fundamental and ornamental features, actively demonstrated cultural constructions of design connections.

In short, multi-cultural, multi-sensory and multi-dimensional experiences exposed by metaphorical interpretations of design history empower designers to construct their own “new realities.”

[1] Raymond Loewy, Never Leave Well Enough Alone. 1951. Baltimore: John Hopkins University.

[2] Raymond Loewy, Never Leave Well Enough Alone. 1951. Baltimore: John Hopkins University.

[3] Geeta Kapur, essay in Contemporary Art in Asia, 2011. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

[4] John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity. 2006. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. p. 41.

[5] Lakoff and Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. 1980. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[6] Ibid, 235. Emphasis to the phrase “Imaginative rationality” is mine.

[7] Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture. 1994. Oxford: Routledge.

Image and recipe for Strawberry Shortcake from:

Strawberry Shortcake

Scorched Paella and the Pandemic

I have the privilege of staying safe at home during this pandemic. Comfortable, well-fed and loved, I’m basking in the simplicity of making meals for my daughters. I can’t complain.

As a nerdy introvert lost in my own thoughts, my social scene has not altered much except for lunches with my trusted tiny circle of friends.


I do miss being alone with others.

You know….that moment when you feel a part of a stream of humanity, no titles, roles, names, just human. I’ve felt this connection when noticing shoes on the subway, tired heads nodding on a train commute home, standing impatiently at the checkout counter, sitting at a coffee shop glowing with lit laptop screens, waiting with anxious others at doctors offices and airports. I miss humanity.

This social isolation has taught me the value of those accidental encounters of sharing space.

I find myself saying thank-you louder when grocer loads my car and deliberately saying “hi” to people across the street when on walks.

Last night’s experimental recipe was paella in an attempt to conjure the excitement and warmth of Barcelona in my Indiana kitchen.

I scorched it.

It was cooking beautifully. The onion, garlic, parsley, tomato mixture coating the rice kernels. I added the chicken and shrimp too early. The rice wasn’t cooked yet. In order to make up for the mistake, I decided to put a lid on it. Not a good idea. I couldn’t smell the burning that was happening on the bottom.

Yikes! Thankfully, I was able to lift most of rice out of the burnt layer. No roastie-toastie rice layer for me this time. Still good, still better than edible, but less than what it could have been with patience.

The point is: I rushed.

As much as I want to spend a day at a coffee shop quietly working and writing with others, rushing it will burn my paella, my people, what I’m trying to bloom and nurture. This impulse to rush threatens so much.

As we feel the impulse to rush towards each other, are we simply rushing out of discomfort?

We are only limited, finite humans plagued with blurry farsight and muted insight. Asking the big questions of food insecurity, climate change, health care, education, political representation is too overwhelming. Opening up businesses feels like a quick solution. Will opening up businesses and exposing people to the virus kill more people, or will social starvation from isolation kill more people? Death by interaction or isolation? If we have a choice, how many of us are we willing to sacrifice in the name of a return to “normalcy.”

I don’t know.

We are all uncomfortable with the physical isolation and worried. The collapse of the economy or the collapse of humanity, are these the same?

If this were a therapy session, I would say, “Let’s sit with this for a moment.”

With the paella, I made a mistake by rushing to return the meats to the pan. I needed to accept that, instead of trying to rush the rice too. I scorched a half of my pan, saved another half. I can’t afford to scorch half of humanity, just because I miss humanity.

I know I’m rambling. Nothing makes sense. Thank you for listening.

Sending you loving thoughts out there. Missing you,


Here is the link to the paella recipe, modify as needed, just don’t rush 🙂


Bittermelons and Brownies: How to Eat Eggplant

“I liked eggplant long before Atiya ever did,” complains Amani, my eldest. In my kitchen, eggplant fuels simmering sibling jealousy over a pot of shared taste. The rivalry started when they were young with Bengali Eggplant Bhaji. Sliced eggplant fried in a combination of spices and mixed with rice delivers a simple taste though a complex textures: crispy skin, moist flavorful flesh and roasted spiced oil coated rice. Eggplant bhaji with rice introduced warm heat to otherwise mild child-fare of daal or classic chicken and potato curry. “Begun” in Bengali, literally translates to “no virtue.” Unlike the celebrated bittermelon, eggplant’s nutritional authority is sadly suspect in South Asian cultures.

Italian eggplant can be bitter. Most recipes suggest salting and draining sliced eggplant before cooking. I accepted the occasional eruption of bitterness that destroys dinner as punishment for my laziness. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often. I rarely cook eggplant for guests. The unpredictable bitterness of eggplant gives it a dangerous, naughty vegetable vibe. According to my minimal online research, eggplant can be bitter when young and female (more seeds to protect from seed eaters). This thought invites too many jokes about protective moms and bitter young females. Yes, there are boy and girl eggplants. Apparently, identifiable by the navel, a slit or long line suggests a girl eggplant and a round navel, a boy. This determination is easier said than done. Basically, you want a heavy, ripe, boy eggplant with a round belly button. Contemporary sexual connotations of the eggplant emoji, I’m told by my teenager, makes my advice extra unsavory.  I’ll leave the implications of gendered vegetables for another time. Long and lighter in color, Japanese eggplant is rarely bitter. When given a choice, or not making eggplant parmesan, I always opt for the Japanese variety. You note your risk when choosing and cooking eggplant. Like many potential bitter things, it is worth the effort.

Eggplant and mushrooms are like meat for vegetarians. These vegetables have hearty structure and absorb flavors like a sponge. Peeled, chopped and cooked, eggplant can be smooth and creamy. Thinly sliced and fried, eggplant can be light like summer squash. Sliced, in rounds, with the skin, eggplant can have structure and chew. The vegetable has moods (insert inappropriate young female joke here).  In the Food Network Chopped kitchen, eggplant is the rare actor who can play any role. 

A member of the nightshade family with cousins like the tomato and potato (all three go very well together), eggplant can make undue demands on sensitive stomachs. According to Ayurvedic tradition, eggplant aggravates both Pitta and Vata constitutions. One must be not only careful with the taste of the eggplant but also the effects. Eggplant has personality and power you may not be ready to ingest. Purple eggplant flowers are beautiful and in classic eggplant nuance, have thorns. A vegetable with such personality! No wonder my girls fight over it.


  • 1 medium eggplant or 2 Japanese Eggplant
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon flour (optional)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil

1. Slice the eggplant into ¼ inch rounds. Salt generously. Let sit and sweat for ½ hour. Rinse and let dry. If using long Japanese eggplants, skip this step. Or just risk it.

2. Make a spice mix of 1-teaspoon of each turmeric, cumin, coriander and salt, ½ teaspoon of chili. Add flour, if uncomfortable with spiced oil laden eggplant. The key is to mix the spiced oil and soft eggplant with plain white rice. The spiced eggplant oil infuses the rice. Eaten alone, this eggplant dish can feel very heavy and oily. Alternatively, adding flour will make a crispy coating. Add enough water to make a batter that clings to the eggplant slices to floured and un-floured spice mix.

3. Heat enough oil in a pan to cover the bottom. Dip each slice of eggplant in the spice mixture, encouraging the spice to cling, and shallow pan-fry each piece, over medium heat, until soft and brown. If using less oil and no flour, cover and allow steam to soften eggplant. In this case the eggplant with have a less roasted flavor.

The eggplant fried with flour in particular does not keep well. It can taste slimy once refrigerated and reheated.

If you find the eggplant bhaji bitter have an egg sandwich instead.

Like life, you eat eggplant by embracing unpredictable bitterness, absorbed atmosphere of flavors, potential indigestion, and a diversity of expression that ranges from light and creamy to dark and roasty.

Begun Bhaji with paratha

Bittermelons and Brownies: How to Eat Lentils (Daal)

Life boils over like daal. It is eventually, inevitable. You can put a wooden spoon across the top of the pot, add salt (risking chewy lentil soup) and do other tricks, regardless assume you will have to clean the stove after cooking a pot of lentils. Sometimes like a pot of boiling daal our lives spill over despite our best efforts.

The world of lentils is a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes. The health benefit of plant-based diets that includes lentils is well documented. Lentils (along with beans) can also cause uncomfortable gas. To reduce the magic of lentils to what it can do for us flattens the story. Instead I like to consider how we interact with lentils from growing, collecting, distributing, cooking and eating.

My relationship with my pot of daal is always mixed, full of suspicion and familiarity. Daal is like family, always comforting and nourishing yet sometimes boiling over, chewy and messy. The first tastes of both my daughters included mushy rice with light daal or kitchuri. Their taste palate expanded each time I added a tiny bit of vegetable or meat to the neutral rice and lentil base.

Lentils bloom when they meet water and fire. The rush of expansion makes them explode beyond their confinement. It can be both liberating and traumatic. The softening and rise of cooking lentils have a lot to teach us. Transformative events break us down, fuel our growth, make us softer, sometimes spill over, and sometimes create a mess. There is risk, and reward.

As a location in existence my pot of lentils encounter water, heat and me to become daal. Lentils are more than mere vegetable protein, nourishment for humans, in ways that our human centric mind may not fathom. Lentil transform into daal by virtue of all the things that are not lentils, not it. Lentils left alone would remain in its grain state. Everything around it not lentils in a specific combination help alter its state into a soup. A good source of fiber, lentils and legumes absorb flavors. In this way, lentils are similar to flavor absorbing eggplant with the added benefit of fiber.

Eating daal with the right hand is an art form. Learning how to eat soupy rice takes practice. The angle and speed of delivery from plate to mouth requires careful modulation. Culturally, thicker daals are served during winter months, while light lemony daals are enjoyed during the summer months. Khichuri (a dish of rice and lentils) would be served mostly during Monsoon months with fried eggplant.

This was one of my first dishes I learned to make after learning how to cook rice and fry an egg. Thank you Bhabi for teaching me to make daal and bhaji.

Rice, daal and fried eggplant. This is a good start for a Bengali meal.

Ingredients (You’ll find the proportions that suit your preference)

  • 1 cup Lentils
  • 2-3 cups Water
  • 3 Tablespoons Ghee
  • 1 teaspoon Tumeric
  • 1 Medium Onion or 3 small shallots
  • 1 clove of Garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin Seeds

1. Boil the rinsed lentils over a medium flame (red, split pea, yellow, azuki, kidney, urad etc.) until soft. Add at least double amount of water. Add more water, the bigger the bean. You want the water to cover the beans by at least an inch.

2. Once the lentils are soft, add tumeric and salt. A teaspoon of each for every cup of lentils is usually enough.

3. This where you can get as fancy or keep as simple as you like.  Saute in ghee or the oil of your choice: onion slices for a basic dal.

At this point you can also include: garlic, ginger, tomatoes, cumin seeds, garam masala, coriander leaves, dry chili peppers, bay leaves, depending on what you have and like.

You can also add coconut milk or cream for the heavier beans like kidney or adzuki to give the daal, heartiness. On the other end of the spectrum for a light summer daal you can boil and strain red or yellow lentil fibers add lemon juice, cilantro and mint for a bright broth.

Pour the flavored oil with the spices and fried onions over the soup. Mix in or leave the flavored oil and toasted spices floating above the rich soup. Enjoy with steaming rice or hot flaky bread.

Bittermelons and Brownies: How to eat a good bite (lokma)

It used to be general practice for South Asian mom’s to hand-feed their children rice until they developed the dexterity to eat on their own. I continued that practice with my own kids by mixing the various curries with their rice and shaping small sized globes of rice. When they got to be three or four, I would make the bites, the lokmas, and arrange them on their plates, for them to pick up with their right hand and pop into their mouths. As you know, there are rules to learn and practice: right hand, finger tips, no food should touch the palm. The Bengali word for the curry mixed and formed rice bite is LOKMA.  

Mixing and eating with the hand offers two advantages. First, in mixing the rice breaks down and the curries adhere to the rice. Second, each bite can be individually tailored. One bite can have added chilies, one bite can have more vegetable, another can have more meat, maybe you go adventurous and mix otherwise unmixed curries. The possibilities become limitless. By forcing the hand eating experience into fork and plate environment a lot of the flavor is lost in the name of civilization.

Eating curries and rice with a fork is immensely unsatisfying. Here’s why:

Any braised meat or vegetable dish cooked with spices (otherwise known as curry) was historically meant to be eaten with rice (or bread).  Never alone! Rice is the main dish. Everything else, including meats, merely garnish and flavor. This is why in South Asia the question asked of family and friends is “did you eat rice?” instead of “did you eat lunch or dinner?”

Rice is served at the center of the plate ready to receive the courses of bittermelon, daal, vegetable bhaji and meats. The rice, whatever it is, jasmine, basmati or brown, is the final component that softens, absorbs and most importantly FLAVORS curries.  Hence, first problem about eating with a fork is substantive. A fork-ready bite requires a higher proportion of flavoring, bhaji or curry than hand mixing. We can no longer eat enhanced spiced rice.  Instead, the fork is the instrument that converts rice into a side dish at restaurants.

Second problem is formal. We are missing the optimal flavor when eating with a fork. The mixing of curry to rice with a fork is always incomplete. It is difficult to break down the rice enough for the curry to be absorbed. Eating with my hand I can press the rice together with the curry just enough to adhere on its journey to my mouth. That moment of adherence, when the rice forms a compressed bite, is the perfect amount of curry to rice ratio.

Third problem with fork deshi (South Asian)-eating is textural.  The feel of our food is part of the pleasure. The creaminess of rezala (chicken cooked in yogurt and onions) or the bright-spiced oil of fried eggplant mixed into the soft warm rice is a part of the experience. I can feel and pick out the cardamom, cinnamon stick and bay leaves to rest and perch gently on the side of my plate. I can pick up my chili pepper or my lemon quarter to enhance any bite I choose. I can’t eat fish with a fork because I can’t pick out the bones. Fish curry with bones tastes richer than fork-friendly curries using sliced fillets. The fork compromises the taste, texture of curries and the central role of rice. 

BUT, I have to admit, eating with my hand can be messy even when allowed and not frowned upon. And worse, despite all the washing in the world some pungent curries can refuse to leave.  The turmeric and cumin can stain the fingernails. I want to eat my curry not smell like it or wear it. 

The basic revulsion of eating with hands in the West would limit me from mixing each bite for my guests. Maybe I could form bites, like sushi, to be picked up with a fork. The hand eating experience would still be lacking but perhaps the taste can be recovered a bit?

This is quite a problem. How can I get the taste of a well hand-mixed bite of Deshi food with a fork? Can I design a fork/spoon that can form little rice bites? Disappointment, not necessity must be the mother of invention. I have yet to translate that experience of composed rice bites to the American table.  This is my design, cooking and eating challenge.

Take for example my dinner tonight: Chicken and potato curry, basmati rice and roasted vegetables. I mixed and mashed it as best I could with a fork and made bites with a cookie scoop. The bites did not form as well as hand mixing would allow.

But, it does give me an idea of building a 7 course meal with these premixed rice bites. Rice with Bittermelon (bitter), Rice with Dal (salty), Rice with Vegetables, Rice with fish (Garlic), Rice with Chicken (Ginger), Rice with Beef (spicy), Rice pudding (sweet).

Lokma: A bittersweet journey in 7 bites. This will have to be my next food design experiment.

I theorize that Amani’s love of tapas was latent in her childhood plate of radiating “lokmas.” She expects satisfaction from each bite of food and her standards can be high.

Bittermelons and Brownies: How to Eat Brownies

Brownies represent the alter ego of bittermelons. Instead of embracing the bitter, brownies challenge us to endure the abundance of sweetness.  Brownies with a hint of roasted bitterness and bittermelon bhaji with a hint of roasted sweetness operate like a dynamic gastronomic yin-yang. Most taste and encounters with others happen within this range. Sweetness and bitterness, ease and effort, are encounters that asks us to notice our repulsion and attraction to things. Life happens between tastes of bittermelons and brownies, between bitter medicine and sweet poison.

I have yet to meet a person who hates brownies. Unlike bittermelon, brownies are not an acquired taste. The sweet, moist and dense brownie conquers and overcomes bitterness unlike bittermelon bhaji that celebrates it. The beloved brownie does not have the unpleasant bitterness of a thing that cleanses the human liver or the risk of a thing that boils over and requires unpleasant cleanup, like dal.  There are ways to make an experience of brownies, unpleasant. Just imagine biting into a brownie and hearing an unwelcomed crunch, maybe of an errant eggshell shard.

Broken off into small bites with hot coffee or cold milk, or spooned from a bowl, warm and draped in melting vanilla ice cream, casual or elegant, there is no wrong way to eat a brownie. A miracle food in my house, brownies are one of the few foods celebrated by all members of my chopped and blended family.  In the past, in addition to special occasion dessert, a squat tower of brownies served as the platform for birthday candles, as well as traveled, boxed, to school as birthday treats instead of cupcakes.

Brownies represent a magical definition-defying confection between cake and candy. A small square aims to deliver big taste for the elegant and casual American diner. Dense and moist enough to be picked up and bit into without an uncivilized shower of cake crumbles, brownies exist for a society on the go and perfectly represents a designed American cultural experience.   In fact, the brownie was invented as a portable dessert for the ladies meeting at Chicago’s Palmer house to discuss the Chicago World’s Fair. Today a “to-go” version of this confection at the Palmer House comes boxed and wrapped with a ribbon. The packaging also includes a brief history and the original recipe. The taste can be described as dense yet delicate, with a texture between fudge and cake that melts in your mouth. The walnuts that give the confection texture compose the top layer and are coated with a light glaze. The recipe says it’s an apricot glaze but a fruity taste is hardly noticeable.

I chose Michael Ruhlman’s,  Make Ahead Brownies recipe as a guide for Atiya’s 15th birthday brownie for two reasons:  he claims the recipe is as “easy to make as pancakes” and his recipe yields a big half sheet pan. I quickly learned that the abundant size came with other considerations. For example, an equally big bowl and muscles are needed for mixing. I tried mixing the batter in the stand mixer while pouring the melted butter. I ended up with a melted butter shower all over the countertops and floors. It was a messy unpleasant clean up.

The next time I baked these brownies, I learned my lesson and stirred the batter in my largest bowl with my very own elbow grease. This was one of the few cooking instances where technology did not enhance the experience. Beware of technological shortcuts.

The brownies are wonderful: intensely chocolaty, fudgy, dense and delicious at any temperature.

I love the simplicity of the measurements that can be easily halved by the math-challenged like me. Look to Ruhlman’s recipe for details and his introductory narrative.

Ingredients (the amounts are NOT gentle suggests)

  • 2 cups flour

I have Pillsbury brand flour, last year 2016 Gold Brand flour was recalled due to e.coli. How does e.coli get into flour? We take the neutrality of flour as a given. Consider the dangers of anything processed.

  • 2 cups cocoa powder

I was sad but not surprised to learn of chocolate’s high carbon footprint. I used Hershey cocoa power and have no idea about the environmental and social impact of their chocolate sourcing or production.

  • 1 teaspoon salt

The power of salt, like water, can easily be overlooked. It makes me think of the fairytale about a king who asked his three princesses, “How do you love me?” To his satisfaction the first answered, “Like honey, father,” and the second answered, “like sugar, father.” To his great disappointment the youngest princess answered, “like salt, father.” Years later when she served him a meal without any salt, the king understood the value of salt.

  • 8 eggs

There are so many fun books dedicated to eggs now. This recipe comes for Michael Ruhlman’s Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s most Versatile Ingredient.

  • 4 cups sugar

In addition to the notorious history of sugar production tied to slave labor, the detrimental role of sugar for human health, makes it a treat with a high cost.

  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

What a magical ingredient! Every time I open a jar, I have to take a whiff of the sweet spice.

  • 1 pound (4 sticks) of butter

How many cups of milk does it take to make a stick of butter? This is definitely a luxurious recipe. One I probably would not make in Dhaka, unless there was a super special occasion like a birthday.

  • 2 cups of chocolate chips

Chocolate chips have an odd birth after the 1938 invention of the chocolate chip cookie at the Toll House Inn by Ruth Wakefield. Legend has it that WWII soldiers from Massachusetts shared their care package cookies with their fellow soldiers and the cookie became popular on warfront and then the home front.

Mix dry ingredients. I like to add two teaspoons of espresso powder.

Mix eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add the melted butter in a small steady stream while whisking or the eggs will get scrambled. You may have to take breaks. I did.

Add dry to wet. Mix gently scraping the sides and the bottom of the bowl.

Pour batter on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

The sheet of brownie emerges from the oven, unconvincingly done, gooey and soft. The surface will still look wet and slightly cracked. The best thing to do is let it cool. If you cut into it, the chocolate will ooze. This is the HARDEST part about this recipe: waiting. After what seems like an eternity your cooled and better yet, chilled brownie will be easier to cut into squares. Eat, share and freeze for later.

The simple sweet has a complex and even bitter history that reaches back to the chocolate of the Aztecs and forward to a group of women discussing the Chicago World’s Fair to introduce America’s productive power to the world. The story of the brownie is deeper than its shallow flat form. The brownie eaten at birthdays, received in care packages, shared with friends, eaten alone in consolation becomes a part of your story. The decadent and luxurious confection between cake and candy comes at a high cost to the environment and to your health. Brownies only make sense when shared with others as a treat, in small bites of unhealthiness to celebrate the dark sweetness of living.

How to eat brownies?  Make a lot; share even more, like any guilty pleasure.

Bittermelon and Brownies: How to Eat Bittermelons

No taste assaults us more than bitterness. Unlike our mammalian instinctive attraction to sweetness, a love for bitter is learned. It used to be standard practice that every Bengali mid-day meal would begin with bittermelon. Bengali children learn to swallow bitterness, some eventually grow to enjoy it but at some point all have to learn how to endure it. “It will clean your blood,” promised adults. The magical medicinal properties were supposed to offer redemption. From the bittermelon, I learned that things have properties and abilities beyond my experience. Apparently the unpleasant properties in my mouth accompany pleasant and beneficial properties for my body. There is more to what I taste.

In addition to the narrative of healing there were also a threat of future sweetness denied.  “You must eat the bitter to enjoy the sweet,” was not an abstract lesson. Strangely both my daughters enjoy bittermelon bhaji despite my continued aversion. Perhaps the narratives had stronger hold on them or maybe they inherited a high tolerance for bitterness from their father. Beyond the cultural narrative, bittermelon remains more than a vegetable for human consumption, more than all its qualities and properties of bitter, bumpy, seedy, green, organic, domesticated, transported, cultivated, eaten etc. Bittermelon represents a location in existence, in geography, in cultural narrative. When we invite the bitter-melon into our shopping cart, cooking pot and stomach attracted by its potential healing and nourishing powers, we also invite all the other factors that made the bittermelon possible. The bittermelon and I find each other as locations of existence, worlds colliding, along with the worlds of pots, refrigeration, trucks, grocery stores, Asia, Ayurveda, markets, plastic bags, oil, spices, salt, plates, earth, rain etc.

Ingredients (all quantities are gentle suggestions)

  • 2 Bittermelons
  • 2 small red potatoes (enough to be equal the sliced bittermelon)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1-teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ -teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 3- tablespoons oil, vegetable, canola whatever you have.

1. Collect Ingredients.

You can usually find it in any Asian grocery store in the U.S. (to my surprise our local Kroger started carrying the strange vegetable among other distant geographical things). I wonder about the following questions: Doesn’t this counter the slow food local food movement? Is it wrong to eat Bitter-melon in the U.S. where it is not grown? Where does turmeric grow? Are onions and potatoes local? How are these ingredients grown? What is their history? How did people start eating bitter-melon anyway? How far is your grocery store? How are you getting there? What makes it possible for all the ingredients to be available? What makes it possible to gather all the ingredients on my counter? How many grocery trips? How many farmers, carriers, clerks, and stockers?

Or keep the seeds, your choice.

2. Slice the prickly bittermelon in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds using a spoon. Thinly slice each half. This might be a good time to use a mandolin. Massage the sliced bittermelon with a generous palm full amount of salt. Let slices sit and sweat for at least a half an hour. Then wash and rinse the sliced bittermelon with cold water, a few times. Let rest in colander and dry. The salt draws out the bitterness. This strange process can be emotionally instructive. As if, we need to draw out bitter emotions in order to wash it away. What happens when salt meets the bitter-melon? What is that relationship about? Similarly, kale, another bitter vegetable, needs to be massaged with oil in order to make edible raw. Does this make kale related to bitter-melon? This process of salting, resting, rinsing and resting (again) takes time and energy but makes the dish taste roasted and experienced instead of angry and bitter. The encounter of Lisa and the Bitter-melon requires a lot of preparation.

3. Julienne potatoes.  Keep skin on. The red potatoes hold on to their structure despite the stir-frying. Yellow or russet potatoes, although delicious, fall apart and are best saved for mashed potatoes. Neutral buttery potatoes have the magical power to temper the bitter and bulk up the dish with smooth sweetness. How does a potato grow in darkness? What is the relationship between the earth and the potato?

4. Thinly slice onion. Consider the all the things involved. Knife, cutting board, onion, hands, eyes, tears, kitchen, house, suburb etc. All these things come together in a particular way for the new thing “thin onion slices.”

5. Heat oil in a large saute pan so you don’t suffocate the vegetables. A crowded pan will make the slices steam and become soggy, instead of developing the delicious roasty bits on the edge. I too feel steamy and soggy when faced with a crowded room. Add sliced onion, turmeric, chili power and salt. Saute until your nose detects the slight roasting of the spices as they merge into the hot oil as one complex flavor.  Onions will become soft. Add a teaspoon of water if the spices begin to stick or burn.

6. Add bittermelon and potatoes. Toss and sauté on high heat until all the vegetables are coated in the spiced oil. As the vegetables begin to soften, lower heat to a simmer, place lid on pan and let the now roasted vegetables continue to soften in the steam, about 10 minutes. If the vegetables are old and dry, having traveled the world to get to your kitchen, the bhaji may need a tablespoon or two of water to help steam and soften.

7. Once vegetables soften, raise heat and fry once more without lid. This will dry and roast the now tender vegetables allowing the spiced oil to cling. Do not stir so much that the vegetable break up into a mush. The pieces of potato and bitter melon should keep their form. Restless stirring does not make things cook faster.

8. Serve with steaming hot plain white rice. This will probably feed 4-6 depending on your love of bitterness.

All this is only part of the story about when bitter-melon and I meet. As the bhaji enters my internal system it begins to remake me, as I had remade it. The mechanics of that internal world is a mystery to me. Even if someone were to explain the all the narratives of nutrition, digestion, biological structure and systems, it still would not begin to explain the existence of the grown, hollowed, sliced, salted, fried and digested vegetable. Everything has mysterious existential depth, even bitter things.

Bittermelons and Brownies – A recipe for growing Atiya

To my younger daughter Atiya, adjusting to a new chopped and blended family; I suggested four specific strategies beyond the injunction to be a strong independent woman. While Amani was born as I completed my degree in architecture where strength and uniqueness were primary virtues, Atiya was born during my graduate work in philosophy. In utero, she quietly listened to lectures on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Aristotle’s Physics and Kant’s Third Critique. Her childhood rules reflect an awareness of time, a categorical responsibility and a sense of everything having a place. Six-year-old Atiya followed these four rules:

  1. Show up on time
  2. Finish what you start
  3. Clean up after yourself
  4. Keep your hair out of your face

It was a way to help her understand the importance of presence, engagement and responsibility. These were general rules applicable to many situations that helped her understand my expectations and helped me nag less.  The fourth rule “keep hair out of your face” was a later amendment, as her hair grew longer than her patience to care for it. Atiya is one of the most punctual, hard working, responsible and bright-faced women I know.

Amani and Atiya, you are both far better versions of me. Please don’t let my recipes limit you. I write these stories and recipes to help you write your own, not to follow mine. The recipe for growing girls has served you well but now is inadequate. You have both grown beyond simple slogans or prescriptions.