April 6, 2010 § 3 Comments
I’ve been cooking regularly for seven years now, but thinking of myself as a foodie and a cook came in several transformations. And it never would have started had it not been for my some-time New York roommate, Kedar Mankad, who used to make espresso in a stovetop percolator.
When I went to college in Boston and moved off-campus during my sophomore year, being far away from home and the dearth of good, affordable Indian food caused me to begin cooking for myself for the first time. My mother would email me recipes, or recite them to me over the phone, and I would recreate them faithfully, anxiously, to varying, gradually improving, levels of success. I became reasonably adept with a modest repertoire of recipes, enough to feed friends and impress girls with.
But the first time good taste fascinated me and cooking became a way forward was when we invited a Craigslister to live in our spare, fourth bedroom on the Upper West Side. Kedar was a young Gujarati-American from New Jersey. As I write his, I can see his name on my Gchat buddy list. I don’t think he knows it, but he blew my taste buds right open. He wore v-neck sweaters. He was handsome, bespectacled, and shy, but did simple and astonishing things in the kitchen, like bake cremini mushrooms for five minutes with olive oil and rosemary, or come home bearing seasonings I’d never heard of before, like smoked pimenton. He took me to Spuyten Duyvel in Williamsburg and ordered me my first Lambic. He helped me paint the kitchen purple and told me stories about the Italian nona he lived with on his year abroad. He was the one who showed me that a carbonara sauce should be mixed off the stove, that it should be silky, not like cottage cheese. He was the one who made me my first plate of orecchiette with broccoli rabe and Italian sasauge.
And it all started with coffee. Kedar owned a stovetop percolator, which he busted out only sometimes, being primarily a tea enthusiast. But I had never had coffee so strong and consistently delicious as homemade espresso, and when our lease was up and we all went our separate ways, I promptly bought one of my own. I’ve had three Bialettis since then. I’ve made morning coffee for friends and lovers and visiting guests and, mostly recently, for just myself. But however many cups I make and whatever else I end up making or not making for the rest of the day, waking up early every morning and grinding my beans and preparing the percolator has become my fundamental ritual of selfhood.
Inspired by my dedication, my friend Kathy has started making her own coffee at home before leaving for work every day, instead of buying it at Starbucks as most Thais do. Her mother remarked on this, and Kathy said, “Mrigaa even grinds her own beans.” Kathy’s mother responded, “Mrigaa likes to make her life difficult.”