Almost every Sunday, I would smell the aroma gently drifting from the kitchen. It spoke a vernacular that superseded words and would cause me to suddenly stop whatever it was I was doing in that moment. A scent that that reassured my tummy that soon, it will be satisfied with plenty of deliciousness.
That is how I felt as a girl when my mother would cook Sunday lunch. My dad would have already left for church (unable to have persuaded or pulled me from under a messy pile of pillows and blankets). I would dilly-dally in my room or putter around in the basement, carefully avoiding confrontation with the last of the weekend’s tasks or chores. My mother, like all mothers and their deep wells of intuition, knew just how to bring me round…
First, I would hear the splash and crackle of raw onions and fresh curry leaves hitting hot oil in a pan. Then the sounds of a knife making quick cuts on a chopping board. Then, the inevitable clatter of glass spice bottles being pulled out and put back into the spice cupboard. And after preparing a few more dishes and putting the rice in the cooker, there would be silence, and only the distinct mouth-watering aroma of her chicken curry, simmering away on the stove over low heat.
After my father came home, we would all gather at the lunch table. Not a trace in the kitchen that there might have been any level of bustle or commotion. The window wide open welcoming a breeze, and a beautifully set table of steaming rice, a simple vegetable curry, salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, crunchy papadum and her signature chicken curry. The colour of the gravy so beautiful, and the meat always tender. We took those meals for granted, always. And enjoyed them, always. Somehow, her lunches made the other days of the week better, and nourished our minds and bodies.
In retrospect, I can say my Sunday dill-dallying was not entirely wasteful. As I got older, I made my way to the kitchen more frequently, and with intention. I had found my element. I found passion in process, fulfillment in patience, and a sense of achievement in knowing the ingredients that formed the scents and savours we all delighted in.
Years later, I cherish those memories. And as a mother, I dip into my own well every now and again when my daughter shows a lack of interest in things or boredom gets the better of her. I make a bit of noise in the kitchen, and concoct some sweet smells. I want her to hear the speechless summon, and then to find her muse, discover her creative space. More importantly, I want the hour she spends with me in the kitchen to be fun, so that days of the week that follow are better.~
Recipes for the dishes pictured above are in the upcoming, Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves.
All images on this page ©Natasha Asselstine