Tag Archive: curry


One of the great things about being a sole chef is that, nine times out of ten, you don’t have to worry about cooking for anyone but yourself. That means you get to make what you like with ingredients you like in the amount that you like. You also get to cook things how you like them. No time to defrost the chicken? Boil it. All you have is a giant bag of frozen chicken tenderloins? Good enough if you like white meat. Want some extra curry? Go for it. Being a sole chef is like Burger King on steroids: you can have it your way, anyway you want. There are no cheeseburger limits. The kitchen is your oyster, the pan your pearl, and the fridge the gateway to possibilities.

But sometimes, admittedly, it gets a little lonely.

I’ve cooked for a lot of people since moving out. Friends, coworkers, classmates. I’ve even been known to throw down enough from-scratch alfredo or shredded taco meat for a small gathering on occasion, but more often than not, whatever is in the pot is for me and me alone. There is a fine line between selfish and solitary. Have I crossed it?

But sometimes, when soup is not enough to keep me going, I rely on people outside the four walls of my apartment. I have to. Even though I am self-reliant most of the time, the undeniable fact is that people need other people, sometimes in their highs, sometimes in their lows.  That’s why I’m glad my friends were with me in Chicago when I got the job. That’s why the minute my thesis defense is done, one of my friends is (hopefully) taking me to a bar to toast to the end of an era. But more than anything else, that’s why my friend panicked and called me when I told her I was about to break down in tears. She missed the eruption by mere minutes, but it was one of those days when all the chocolate in Hershey wasn’t going to fix a damn thing.

“It’s the thesis,” I explained. “And everything else. I’m just tired.”

It would have been mortifying to break down crying on the phone, but luckily, I had gotten that out of my system. I talked in circles for twenty minutes, mainly because it made me feel better, but partly because I was grateful. And as I walked around in my own words, I found enough solace to press onward. There are just some things that soup can’t fix. If fixing my thesis was as easy as chopping it up and throwing it in a pan with a bunch of fancy seasonings, then I would have done it ages ago. I guess a thesis is kind of like that. Word soup, made of blood, sweat, tears, and carpel tunnel.

I, of course, reciprocate this “dealing with the chatter of a very disgruntled and thesisbound graduate student” thing when the time calls for it. Some people simply need to vent about their lives to get through the day. Birds of a feather flock together, I suppose. I’ve taken phone calls for every flavor of trauma and stupidity. Parents, significant others, health issues, coworkers… you name it, and I’ve probably heard it at least once on the phone, and I don’t mind that sort of thing because, hell, I complain about what I perceive as everyday stupidity as well. It vexes me to no end that a bunch of college-educated people still haven’t learned how to use common sense. Every time someone misses a beat, I scratch my head and call people whatever expletive happens to spring to mind. When driving, I’m a little less judicious about bottling up my frustration. Things like my infamous road rage make me thankful that my friends understand I can be a jack-ass because I am ninety percent sure that not everyone would.

This soup actually started two weeks ago in a conversation. “I’m running out of ideas,” I confessed. “I can’t think of anything else to make. I’m saving my favorite for the very end because I’m not sure how well it’s going to work.”

“Make sweet potato, then.”

I confess that I have been leery of sweet potatoes ever since the first time I laid eyes on a canned yam. I don’t consider myself a picky eater, but when something looks so foreign and repulsive, like some sort of alien egg out of a sci-fi movie, even I’m a little put off by it. Irrational, yes, but so is much of what goes on around me.

Not too long ago, around the same time the soup discussion took place, my old coworker Morgan celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday. I hadn’t seen her in three months, so I decided to attend her party. On the menu was, of course, sweet potatoes, but mashed, not canned. Suddenly, I was faced with one orange mound of terror that remind me of all the other fears I had faced over the years. When I was eleven, I faced my fear of roller coasters with my best friend from childhood. A few months ago, I faced my fear of sushi with my friend Korrin and a martini in my hand. Raw fish is now something I’ve been indulging in once a week now. Sweet potatoes, of course, were no exception. Overcoming fears is a part of life, I guess, and if our friends aren’t there to do it, then how will we overcome?

Can gratitude be expressed in soup? To me, that seems like a culinary experiment worth trying just once.

Chicken and Sweet Potato Soup for the Sole
(Based roughly on this recipe)

The Penultimate Bowl

(Dedicated with gratitude to my favorite respiratory therapist… never mind that she’s the only one I know)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 chicken tenders, frozen
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp garam marsala
  • A little over a pound of sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup baby carrots, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped

Directions

  1. Saute onions in olive oil for 5 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and ginger. Saute additional 2 minutes.
  3. Add curry and garam marsala. Saute for another minute.
  4. In the interludes between steps 1 and 4, chop carrots and sweet potatoes.
  5. Add 3 cups chicken stock, chicken tenders, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Simmer for 20-3o minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender.
  6. Remove chicken tenders and shred. Let cool for about 10-20 minutes.
  7. Using a food processor that is hopefully better than mine, puree carrots and sweet potatoes.
  8. Return to pan. Add remaining cup of chicken stock and shredded chicken breast. Heat 10 minutes.
  9. Chop green onions and sprinkle over the bowl.

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“To every thing there is a season.”

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

I have a confession to make. I have lived in Michigan for twenty-one years, and I’m pretty sure I hate winter more than I hate politics. Both have nearly ruined me as a human being.

I can never be right in politics no matter how hard I try. Maybe that’s why I quit trying.

Seven years before coming to grad school, in a time when I was a budding academe, I decided to attend my final astronomy lab despite the white-out conditions we were expected to get. I watched the road vanish under threads of snow as I drove. They wound and unwound together with every passing vehicle.

The lab lasted for two hours. In that time frame, the world became an impassable blank screen. My fair-weather drive home was twenty minutes. This time, it took me an hour and a half. I cruised at the speed of twenty-five miles an hour with my teeth clenched and my arms tensely glued to the steering wheel. Every time I hit the brakes, I prayed to God that I wouldn’t skid into the intersection or get rear-ended. Every turn was a white-knuckled tango with old man winter. Four-wheel drive SUVs sped past my 1997 Plymouth Neon and cast a blanket of snow over my slow-moving car. I would have given anything to see them roll into a ditch.

Have I mentioned that my battery light was on the whole way home?

Neons have a few nasty habits, but one of the worst is corrosion on the poles of batteries. A bluish or greenish chalky substance forms around the poles and cuts current to the rest of the car but only if the car isn’t running already. For some reason, it reminds me of cocaine. It certainly cuts the car’s capability to function.

When I got home, my parents told me, “You shouldn’t have gone out in that shit, but I’m happy you’re home.”

I responded, “I didn’t really have a choice, now, did I? I had to turn in my final project or else get docked for being late.”

Our conversation is a real show of values. The way I see it, they have no sympathy for someone who (in a manner of speaking) wades through a bunch of shit to ensure success. My rebuttal says that I value success more than self-preservation.

You would think by now I had learned my lesson, but no… schoolwork comes first no matter where I go. I expect to piss a lot of people off during Spring Break because of it. Then again, they aren’t the ones with the mile-long to-do list mocking them every step of the way.

Ultimately, my season of reprieve will come when I have that fancy piece of paper in my hand, the one that says, “I did a bunch of shit while putting up with even more shit from people who don’t get it. Here’s the document saying I did so with the president’s John Hancock and the official University seal.” Until then, I will be in a perpetual season of work regardless of what it’s doing outside.

I said earlier that I hated winter, but there are things I like about it. No, it is not the damn snow or the laughing children who play in it. It is not building my upper body strength by scraping an inch of ice off of the car or earning my badge of courage by wading through an ice-encrusted campus to retrieve a graded final paper.

Winter is not just snow season.

It is asparagus season.

Suddenly, the Filet Mignon of vegetables drops in price from an average $3.00 a pound to anywhere between a dollar to a dollar and a half. Aside from the pine trees, it is the only green thing in sight, and as far as soup goes, it is far more valuable to me than a Christmas wreath… unless it were a Christmas wreath made of asparagus. Now, that would be something.

I have assigned my own significance to winter. When the snow hits the ground as it did this past Friday for practically the first time all winter, I had only one thought on my mind.

Curry.

Last year, Michigan was buried under an obscene number of snow storms. Several Tuesday evenings were buried under about nine inches of the white, powdery stuff, and unlike my first institution of higher learning, this one values the lives (and probably wallets) of its denizens. Classes were cancelled for two Wednesdays, and on one, they were delayed until noon.

I woke up at seven-thirty on the first occasion and blinked against the blue-gray stuff that would grow to a white glare as the sun continued to rise. How could the world change so much in eight hours, and how could I be so oblivious to it? Granted, I have been more oblivious to more pressing changes like current events, but the snow reminds me just how blank my days among the books really are.

What could I do to liven things up?

The answer is curry. It is practically always curry. I used what I had on-hand since the roads were impossible and cooked a double-batch. During Snowmageddon: The Sequel, I thawed out the leftovers. In both instances, I devoured a bowl of the luscious, exotically flavored concoction while working on onlines attempting to get a clue about genre analysis, which I’m still not entirely sure I understand despite what my academic record says.

This past Friday was a particularly bad day for snow because I had to trek across campus in backless heels and a dress coat. I was one of six Writing Consultants selected to workshop with students competing in the New Venture competition. “New what?” a friend of mine asked during our weekend phone conversation.

“New Venture. Business students basically pitch ideas for companies. They compete nationwide for the top prize of $30,000.”

“And you had to dress up for this?”

“Yeah… apparently, someone who went last week wore jeans and never heard the end of it.”

“Oh… was the student you worked with dressed up?”

“Well.” I’m loathe to say it. I’m loathe to even write it. “Ironically, he was wearing pajama bottoms and a hoodie.”

I feel like I was duped into wearing those backless shoes. Winter tricked me, so what better way to get back at it than to show it that I have enough control to cope with its shenanigans? I turn up the heat a few notches on Sunday morning and get to work. For the next few days, I will be enjoying curry asparagus soup in the hopes that it will discourage this season enough to stay away until I am safe at home for Spring Break, engaged in doing exactly what I would be doing if I were snowed in at Mount Pleasant.

This bowl is a minor triumph over circumstances beyond my control.

What now, winter?

The Sixth Bowl

Curried Chicken and Asparagus Soup for the Sole

(Based very VERY Roughly on Slightly Plagiarized From Inspired by This Recipe)

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken tenders, defrosted
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, separated into 1 tbsp portions
  • ½ tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp garam marsala
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Directions

A Cautionary Foreward: For those of you who have not cooked with asparagus before, the bottoms can get a little, shall we say, woodish. I’m talking “chewing on a Popsicle stick” woodish. Unless you enjoy gnawing on lumberesque substances, I would recommend breaking one stem beforehand and then chopping the very bottoms off. See pictures two and three in the slideshow for a detailed shot.

  1. Dice chicken into cubes.
  2. In 3-quart sauce pan, brown chicken in olive oil. Dice asparagus.
  3. Once chicken is browned, add garlic. Saute for additional 1-2 minutes until garlic is golden.
  4. Add butter, remaining olive oil, and flour. Mix well to make a roux.
  5. Add chicken stock to pan and whisk until roux dissolves.
  6. Add cream, lemon juice, curry, and garam marsala. Simmer 25-30 minutes until chicken is tender.
  7. Add asparagus. Cook until crisp-tender (about 10-15 minutes). Add black pepper to taste.

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I have always done my best thinking in the shower.

Perhaps it is the five years of childhood I spent swimming, throwing myself into frigid water on sixty-degree summer mornings. It could also very well be the years I spent on the boat with my parents, casting lines and catching perch or dangling my feet off the edge of the tiny white plastic platform screwed on next to the motor.

Is it a coincidence that both have ruined my otherwise perfect dental work?

I was seven, kneeling backwards on the boat. “Don’t do that,” my mother chided. “You’re going to get hurt.” But I laughed and ignored her. Just two minutes later, we hit a wave that gave my mouth an up close and personal encounter with the plexiglass edge. Tears were immediate. “Damn it, Amanda. Let me see.” She pulled back my lips, shockingly unwounded, and locked her eyes on my front tooth, one of several that were now permanent teeth. “Yep… it’s chipped.” I cried harder, not for the pain but for the loss I felt in that moment.

It was the moment I realized that unlike my dad’s chili, I wasn’t perfect.

Dad's Chili

No one can beat dad's chili. ^_^

Two years later, I was doing backstroke at a swim meet. I was in the middle of a 100 IM, getting ready to face the breast stroke. All I could think of was how much I hated it because no matter how hard I tried, I was never really frog enough to master it.

The world suddenly went black for a moment.

I must have miscounted my strokes. I had a vague recollection of being in the water, but for three seconds, I couldn’t act. I just sort of hovered there, suspended between the bottom of the pool and the surface. I was supposed to be doing something… what was it?

Oh. Breaststroke.

For my trouble, I got third place in the IM. The white ribbon reminds me of what the pool took from me that day: one tiny fragment of my leftmost eyetooth.

Neither defect is noticeable to the average person’s naked eye. Dentists, on the other hand, love to remind me of my less than perfect mouth and insist on crowning these unnoticeable scars. Each visit yields much the same conversation. “You ought to get those teeth crowned. Other than that and a little bit of crookedness, your mouth is perfect. I wish you’d get braces to straighten out those bottom teeth…”

“Look,” I interrupt. “They aren’t rotting and falling out of my head, and they don’t hurt when I eat, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re fine.”

“Well, then don’t hurt now, but one day, that’s going to cause some serious problems.”

“And one day, when I have the money to pay for cosmetic work, I’ll do something about it. For now, they’re fine.”

I never try to explain that these little defects are part of who I am.

In the middle of one recent shower, I paused in the middle of shampooing my hair as a hazy, vague sort of memory surfaced. It was the end of my Victorian literature class, and I had just waited ten minutes to discuss an assignment with a very in-demand professor. We determined to meet the following Wednesday at 12:30 to discuss it. The recollection was an image of her face, animated but somehow weary, accompanied by the words, “Be sure to send it to me beforehand. That way, our meeting goes quickly.”

It was 11:35 on Tuesday when this fact hit me. After washing the burn of shampoo out of my eyes, I swallowed my grumblings. This memory is sending me downstairs to send an e-mail when all I really want to do is go to bed.

Why not get a bowl of soup while I’m at it? I’m feeling inspired, so I need a little brain food anyway.

This shower yielded one additional worthwhile thought. Just a fistful of minutes before my memory kicked into full throttle and sent me careening off of my routine, I saw the last parallel I ever thought I’d see, and it all began with a question.

How is soup like writing?

I came up with three possibilities in the course of my mental meanderings.

They are both delicious. Given, but relative. I work with a student who loathes academic writing with every fiber of their being but who professes a great love for soup. This common ground somehow gets us through every session without stewing too much.

Good soup and good writing rely on balance. Any cook knows that one extra dash of pepper could spoil the golden equilibrium in a piping hot bowl of soup. As a sole chef, I have to gauge this on a much smaller level than I’ve been doing for the past year and a half because my typical six to eight cups of cooking liquid must be reduced to between three and four. In terms of balance, this poses unique challenges. One potato too many, one chicken finger too many, and what was a good idea in theory quickly becomes a recipe for potential failure that can only be rescued by some last-minute tweaking on my part… as is the case with good writing no matter what the genre. Creative writing is the eight-quart pot, scientific writing the three-quart pan, and literary analysis somewhere between the two. All of them are sustained (and sustain the reader) through balance.

More than all of this, however, I realize that good writing and good soup are good by mere virtue of their perpetual incompleteness. Soup and writing will never be entirely done.

I default to my curry recipe for an example despite the fact that it is not soup.

curry

Look at that delicious bowl of chicken curry goodness!

My parents came home one day from the store to find their house smelling a little like India. “What are you cooking?” my dad asked, dropping a load of grocery bags on the table.

“Curry.”

He looked at the dusting of curry on top of rice and lentils in the pan.

“You know it’s supposed to be a sauce, right?”

“It’s a work in progress,” I responded.

Before attempt number two, several months later, I took a look at a recipe on the internet just to give myself a general idea of what I was doing. My parents were on vacation camping and had left me behind to guard the house and to work my minimum wage job. My success was a private one, celebrated on with a bowl of what at the time I thought must surely be nirvana.

Since that first batch, I have gone back to it again and again. The ingredients change a little every time in proportion and variety because of the same faulty memory that made me forget about sending my professor an e-mail. Then again, how I assemble my curry also depends on what I have in the freezer and what I’m in the mood for. Maybe I want potatoes in it this time. Maybe I just want the good old classic bag of frozen mixed vegetables. Maybe that’s all I have on hand. With a wooden spoon, I write a poem for my tongue in a pan and savor each syllable with a nibble.

My curry recipe will never be complete, and neither will this piece of writing. Like my forefather Walt Whitman, who was by some comedic cosmic twist born exactly 168 years before I was, I will continually fail in my endeavors to finish a draft because it will never be finished. Once this is uploaded, I will probably find some grammatical error and insist on fixing it, or I will find some point where the transition is lacking, much like the spicy zing of my last batch of curry.

Does this mean I am doomed to forever fall short of curry perfection, and does my writing stand to suffer the same fate? I’m a Master’s student. Shouldn’t I have at least touched the realm of near completion by now? When does a draft stop being a draft? Aside from one eccentric, soup-loving graduate student’s desperate attempts to avoid fast food, when does soup stop being a prelude to the main course?

Look at the chips in my teeth. They will give you a suitable answer.