The rosy mist of memory :: {chick pea curry}

Yesterday the weather was Roman.  The sunlight seemed more golden, the air had a whisper of dust in it, and the the crushed basil leaves in my hand didn't hurt either.  I love it when the conditions are just right so that if I shut my eyes, I can go somewhere else.  Not that I didn't want to be in my garden with the basil leaves, but that I might rather be in Rome.  The layers of history, the vivid people, the fabulous food.  In Rome, poppies grow out of rocks.  It's an impossibly magnificent place.

We took Ducky with us on our trip and he posed in front of all the big attractions.  We hope that someday Heidi will be amused by these pictures we took on her behalf.

It's nice to know that I've now reached an age where I can be in a Less Than Ideal Situation and be absolutely certain that this is something I'm going to laugh about later.  To be certain about this almost allows me to laugh about the Situation in the moment.  Almost.  The particular situation I'm thinking of now is the unfortunate hotel I booked for our stay in Rome during our we-lived-in-England-for-two-years-and-haven't-yet-been-to-the-main-continent-and-will-go-even-though-we-are-expecting-a-baby-and-it's-financially-foolish trip.  All I saw, after hours of scouring the internet for hotels, was "Vittorio Emanuele," and thinking it was that big monument with the horses on top (that you seem to always end up at no matter where you go), and thinking that this was just where we wanted to be, I booked it.  Well.  It turns out that there's also a very dodgy street, several miles away from the monument, that shares the same name.  This Vittorio fellow must have been pretty influential.

We walked for those several miles until we got there.  I was pregnant and my husband was carrying all the bags (and would have been carrying me, too, if I'd had my way).  All we'd eaten was some salami and bread on the train from Switzerland.  Tired, achy, famished, hot, and (not least of all) confused, we arrived at our hotel.  To call it a hotel is an overstatement, but they were calling it a hotel, so for the sake of consistency, I'll call it one, too.  The graffiti smeared doors had been broken into several times, it seemed, as evidenced by the big chunks that were missing and the business end of several locks that were dangling down.  Somehow the door was, in fact, locked, so we selected what we thought might be our hotel from the very large list of indiscernible door bell buttons.  The door unlatched and we entered a large entry way that smelled of minerals and worse.  Ahead of us was the kind of elevator that should have someone there to help you operate it, with cages and unmarked buttons.

Somehow we ended up where we were supposed to be, even though the alarmed look on the concierge's face, followed by a lot of bellowing in a foreign language (not of a remotely Italian persuasion), might have made one think otherwise.  We waited in the "lobby" for what seemed like ages, and what was in fact almost an hour, until the flushed concierge re-emerged and showed us to our room.

Now, in Europe, you book rooms by the number of people, so, naturally, I had booked a double room.  What we ended up in was a room with a double bed in it.  I'm not sure how they managed to fit a double bed in a room which had clearly not been intended for one, because as we opened the door, we nearly fell on top of it.  On the other side of the bed was a wall with a window (through which we could see laundry that had no business hanging on a clothesline) and under the window was a Hole.  This place wasn't a hole-in-the-wall.  It had a hole in the wall.  This was a Less Than Ideal Situation.

Nonetheless, we stayed there.  There were nightly gripes concerning the quality of the place, or lack thereof, and we felt totally robbed.  We both knew that we would look back on this, one day, and have a great laugh about it, but we certainly weren't laughing then, as we gripped our passports in our sleep.

Chick Pea Curry with Potatoes and Green Beans
When it comes to spices, buy them at an ethnic grocery.  You'll get big bags of spices for a fraction of the price, and you can keep them in your freezer so they stay nice and fresh.  I like to grind my own spices in an old coffee grinder because you really do get a better flavor out of them.  If you've only got one coffee grinder, you can easily get the spice smell out of it by pulsing a piece of soft bread a few times.
You can use any curry powder of your choosing here, but here is my recipe (adapted from Mark Bittman's hot curry powder recipe in How to Cook Everything).  Combine the following in your coffee grinder and grind til you have a nice powder: 2 small dried chilies (or the equivalent amount of red pepper flakes), 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds.  Add 1 tablespoon ground turmeric and 1 tablespoon ground ginger and pulse til mixed.  Store in a jar or a ziploc bag.
Coat the bottom of your pot or large skillet with coconut oil or any mild oil and place it over medium to medium-high heat.  While the oil is heating, chop one onion, 3 cloves of garlic, a half-thumb-sized piece of ginger, and half a chile of some kind (I've been known to keep pickled jalapenos in the fridge for emergencies), and add it to the oil when it is hot.  Stir and fry this, making sure nothing burns, while you dice two or three potatoes and trim and cut into thirds three handfuls of green beans (or use frozen peas).  When the onion is translucent and the ginger and garlic are fragrant, add one heaping soup-spoonful of curry powder.  Stir this, making sure it doesn't burn, until it is very fragrant.  After a minute or so, add half a can of tomatoes with their juice, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands as you add them.  Stir this around until the tomato juice begins to cook down.  Add your potatoes, a can of chick peas (drained and rinsed), and a can of coconut milk or chick pea can-ful of water or stock.  Turn the heat to low and partially cover your pan.  When the potatoes are almost tender, add your green beans, uncover and cook til your green beans are tender and the liquid has reduced to the desired consistency.  If you didn't use coconut milk, stir in three big spoonfuls of yogurt and continue to cook down for a minute or two.  Season to taste with salt, pepper or cayenne, and lemon juice.  Serve on top of rice, or not, garnished with yogurt (optional) and chopped cilantro (not optional for me, but it might be for you).