Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in a house across the field from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was Queen and he was King. In the autumn light, her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls. When the sky grew dark they parted with leaves in their hair.
-Nicole Krauss (The History of Love)

I love everything about the fall: the changing leaves, the crisp air, the appearance of McIntosh apples in the produce section and, most especially, the grey mornings that justify turning on the heater for a few minutes while I linger over my morning coffee. Sadly, however, due to how ridiculously busy life has recently become, there hasn’t been enough of this beloved lingering. But even if a large portion of my time is spent on campus or devoted to trying to figure out how to respond to some emails from students, there are always reasons to smile.

Here are some of mine:

1) Despite the fact that this past weekend was basically spent on campus (due to the film screening of Hamlet on Friday and the Memorial Conference we had on Saturday, both of which were, ultimately, interesting events. In fact, I would say that this conference is one of the best I’ve ever attended and truly displayed how amazing and influential a life devoted to scholarship and teaching can be), on Sunday, in between attempting to plan for my class and responding to my students’ various worries about the paper that was due on Tuesday (yep, it’s grading time again, kids!), I managed to escape to the Spice of Life festival in North Berkeley for a late lunch. As most food-related things in Berkeley are, it was both well-attended and full of yummy goodness. The two things that stuck out for me were 1) Inna Jam because who doesn’t love a good piece of toast with jam? and 2) Paul’s Paella; on a cold and foggy day, you sometimes just want spicy rice, sausage and seafood.

2) Occasionally, rather than poring over your many cookbooks to try to figure out what to do with the red lentils you decided to buy on a whim, the food blog gods will deliver a recipe that makes life easier for you. And, because you’re feeling stressed, you decide to take the path of least resistance for a change. In the case of this fantastic red lentil soup that Molly at Orangette recently blogged about, there can be no regrets. The combination of the red lentils with lemon juice and tomato paste is infinitely soothing; I’m also happy to report that, especially if combined with some good bread and cheese, this soup can last for days. The most amazing thing is that you won’t even get sick of it; like a fine wine, it seems to improve with age.

3) I’m the kind of person who thrives on snacks: almonds with chocolate chips, an apple with some peanut butter (the latter being one of my two main life sources–the other, of course, being coffee), cottage cheese (yep, gross though it may seem, I’ve always loved the stuff) with cinnamon, some Fage Greek yogurt with some fresh fruit or drizzled with honey…The list can go on and on; snacks are an integral part of my day. Recently, however, I’ve taken to having a little pre-bed snack as part of my new “let’s put the events of the day behind us” plan. This is the time when I’ll watch a show (yay for Season 4 of Friday Night Lights now being available on Netflix streaming) or read something for pleasure, while eating something that will surely put a positive touch on any day…

4) When it starts getting cooler, there are always numerous and pleasant drink options available to us. For somebody like me–somebody who is often left by the buses that fail to honor their commitment at transfer stations–this is doubly fortunate since, by the time I finally arrive home, I often feel like a human popsicle. Maybe it’s only a northern California chill, but, what can I say, I shiver easily. 🙂 In such situations, only hot chocolate–preferably with a cinnamon stick and other spices or maybe even with a dash of brandy (depending on my mood)–or something like mulled wine can really hit the spot.

5) Last but not least, I have recently found myself experimenting with Indian cooking. This is partly due to the fact that, in recent years, I’ve developed a long overdue appreciation for spicy–but not too spicy–things (small steps); the other half of my newfound love is that, through the cookbook a friend let me borrow (many thanks, C!), I’ve discovered how easy it really is to make! Honestly, all it requires is a well-stocked spice cabinet, which I’ve slowly but surely been building. Much like with soup, I love the moment when all the ingredients are assembled and simmering in the pot and the smell of spices fills the apartment…That’s the moment when the painstaking chopping of an onion, the careful measurement of 4-5 spices and the occasional last-minute dash to the local supermarket for a forgotten ingredient all pay off. If you have doubts about this, I suggest you try Jaffrey’s Chana Masala recipe. Due to the usual time crunch affecting my life these days, I’m simply sending you a link to “Smitten Kitchen”‘s take on this recipe; I promise, however, that I’ll soon be back (the weekend is looking quiet and filled with grading, which really means “procrastination”) and with two new recipes to boot!

3 thoughts on “Spice of Life

  1. ummm, hello mulled wine!!!!!! i've been dying to try a recipe. connie loves it and introduced kenji to it. if only the east and west coasts were closer… think of all the culinary adventures we could share together!

  2. It (i.e. physical proximity) would be pure magic. 🙂 And yes to mulled wine; it's sooooo tasty!! Really, these days I'm all about the cinnamon and cloves. I'm also about the fun reading; between Fables and The History of Love, I'm basically a Russian lit slacker (seriously).

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