Friday, November 5, 2010

Thursday: Tony and Nepalese Sambar Soup

Another stolen from the restaurant recipe: had it years ago in Annapurna Cafe on Broadway and asked what makes it: oh, special types of lentils, sambar curry powder, vegetables (their had pieces of okra).   I hunted Toor dal (yellow lentils) somewhere on the internet, bought 4 lbs of it, only to find out later that I actually prefer sambar  made out of ordinary brown lentils mixed with red lentils; it's somehow lighter that way.  The remaining 2+ lbs of Toor dal were not good food bank donation candidates, because they require overnight soaking and the label had no cooking instructions, so they sat in my cupboard like a giant pang of conscience. Now I found a way to erase it.

I soaked and pre-cooked the whole lot the night/day before with an added extra pound of regular lentils, packed it into a big container and took it to Nickelsville on Thursday.  Richard was already waiting for me at the gate and after we exchanged greetings, he set out to look for the soup bucket .

Nickelsville container garden:  corn, herbs and more...
One thing that changed in Nickelsville from the previous time they were in U-district, is that they seem very much improved organizationally.  During my previous 5 months visiting, a  big chunk of my time was spent hunting the bucket, trying to find people to volunteer with me, find fresh food to cook with, and basically organizing the whole experience each time anew.  Back then the tent city was just starting and perhaps people didn't quite know what to expect, what is given, and what's iffy - several times I had to find various camp authorities to solve small problems, as only they seemed to know what the full set of rules were.

This time it works like a Swiss watch:  Jeremy, the food manager, is always there to help gather donated food, people seem to be aware that I'm 'the soup lady' coming twice a week, they are quite eager to take turns to volunteer in the kitchen and generally appear to have settled in their sense of community of which I'm a guest to be helped.  This year they even grew container garden, in pots and coffee cans, and moved it with them when they came back to U-district in August:  corn, tomatoes, herbs, peppers and more.  I caught a few glimpses of their evening meetings while delivering soup (the meeting is everyday at 6 pm), and even those sound awfully professional nowadays:  "those in favor say aye, those opposed say no', except I never saw such a group enthusiasm while shouting 'aye' - I don't know what they were voting for, but their joyous participation  was unparalleled to any suited people I ever heard voting.

A young man volunteered to cook with me; he told me his Laotian name, but said he prefers to go by Tony.  Tony is very gentle mannered and soft-spoken, he carried most of the bags to the gate, and there is a general sense of  appreciating everything in life about him.  He told me he moved to US with his parents when he was 8 yo, 'my parents didn't like it there, in Laos, too much fighting'.  Tony speaks with a strong accent, which indicates that he spent most of his speech-formative years talking his primary language, and not English (human speech apparatus gets 'set in stone' around the age of 14, which is why children who switch countries/languages before that age usually have no accents in their second language).

Tony said he didn't finish high school, 'I was thrown out for no good reason'; like for what? I asked...  'This other boy didn't like me, and I didn't like him, too. He was a snitch.  He was thrown out first, and he wanted me out, too,  so he snitched.  Everybody was doing what I was doing, but I was the one out'.  Tony's parents live on Beacon Hill, he also has 'two sisters who don't care about me, and two brothers, they are OK, but we don't talk much'. When it's cold he goes home and stays with his parents, he doesn't like it cold, but Nickelsville allows him to keep his tent for his returns.  And why is he residing in Nickelsville? "I thought I might try camping'.

We are in the church kitchen now, starting to prep veggies: sorting, scrubbing, asparagus must go - too slimy already. I hand Tony a vegetable peeler and ask him to do potatoes:  it doesn't go too well, as he obviously never used a peeler before.  Can I show you? While showing how to peel I realize Tony uses different motions - peels away from himself while I peel toward me - perhaps the darned thing works only one way?  If you prefer, I can peel and you can cut.  'No, no, let me try again...  Got it now'...

Tony likes the church, he looked at its corridors earlier and wondered where the altar is, asked me if I'm a member here, and what kind of church it is...  Both of us have accented English, so sometimes we misunderstand each other:  'did you say Muslim Church?'  No, no, Lutheran church, and no, I'm not a member, the church people are just very kind to let us use the kitchen....  'So very nice of them', smiles Tony.

He talks about DVR people helping him, 'and they are good to me, I need help.  It's about getting a job, getting GDR diploma... They also helped me to get alcohol treatment'.  He goes three times a week, Monday through Wednesday, for vocational and related counseling.  Sounds like you were lost for a while, Tony.  He looked at me, smiled and  said:  "Yes, I was. But now I'm in good hands, those people are helping me, and that is good'....

We chop in silence for a while: he is cutting up cabbage, I work on peppers.... 'You know, I never went back to Laos, since coming here'.  Would you like to? 'Yes, some day I would like to go back and see it, again'.   I asked for Tony's approval to reveal all those details on the blog and he said 'it's ok, you can write about it all', and I promised to print this page and give it to him in return.

One of the adorable puppies in Nickelsville
There is another change in Nickelsville: previously they were a few cats and puppies in the camp, and always a worry how to feed them; the pet food donations didn't seem regular.  Now there are about 6 or 7 cutest puppies, all leashed and very well cared for:  they have toys, lots of attention and caring and somebody told me that one local church supplies pet-chow regularly now.

When I was taking pics of the container garden a young man said 'hi', a very content black cat with a shiny fur on his shoulder.  The cat looked like this was the most comfortable place on earth for him; it looked grown up, but in fact was only 8 months old - probably spent most of its life exactly where I saw him - on the young man's shoulder.

Ah, and the sambar soup; I usually follow directions on the Sambar powder packet x whatever the amount of soup you want:
1.) Cook 500g of vegetables of your choice (mine MUST have okra, got it frozen for Nickelsville).  Keep aside.
We cooked the veggies with a few cups of rice, for extra nutritional value - real Sambar doesn't contain rice, but it's eaten with rice in Asian countries, where Sambar is not considered a soup but rather a thick, stew-like spicy condiment.
2.) Cook 75g of Toor dal in 1 ltr of water with 1 tsp vegetable oil and pinch of turmeric
3.) Add cooked vegetables, tamarind juice and salt to taste (I use chicken bouillon base for all Nickelsville soup cooking)
4.) Add 3-4 tsp of Sambar Powder.  Boil for 8-10 minutes (I don't follow that step, as I prefer to have veggies not cooked to death; heating it up a bit is usually sufficient)

When Tony and I were gathering the Sambar soup ingredients a few people volunteered to tell  how the West African Peanut soup went:  'That was so good on a rainy day..'' 'Man, that was great, and it cleaned you, totally' (it was fairly spicy hot), 'It went fast on a rainy Monday night, and we ate it all...'

Where the Weapons of Mass Destruction Are? I know where weapons of mass destruction are... Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor health care is a weapon of mass destruction. And when the government lies to the American people, that is a weapon of mass destruction.' - Dennis Kucinich

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