Walking

We don’t walk enough. Towns are built around cars in ways you don’t even realize until you’re forced to get somewhere by not riding in one. It’s really quite silly. Suburban sprawl and endless seas of parking lots didn’t happen overnight, but they weren’t planned either.

Yesterday afternoon, after trying and failing to bum a ride with a friend to orchestra rehearsal some 1.5 miles from campus, I wound up walking. I was mildly irritated. It was going to take me about half an hour, and I had to carry my heavy backpack and viola, and it wouldn’t have taken more than ten minutes for someone to drive me. Once I got going, though, the weather was nice, and my mood markedly improved.

Two things struck me. First: how car-centric my campus is. Yes, there are crosswalks and sidewalks, but it is simply not designed with pedestrians in mind. I find this pretty ridiculous since it is a college campus and lots of people will be walking. Parking is so cheap, though, that everyone opts to drive to campus, even though traffic is pretty slow and parking lots fill up pretty early. That said, it was a beautiful clear evening, and I got to watch the sun set. We miss a lot when we’re always hurriedly driving from A to B.

Second: how nice people can be. As I was nearing my destination, two musicians driving to rehearsal saw me and pulled over to ask if I needed a ride. I thanked them both but refused. The kindness of these semi-strangers in a small town is a lovely thing, though. Even if that small town is frustratingly backwards in many other ways.

I want the best of both worlds… I want to live somewhere that is dense and walkable yet friendly. That has the culture and resources of a city with the comfortable feel of a small town. In the meantime, I’m going to try to walk to places around here whenever I can.

Gearing up

This week is “hell week” for Doña Ana Lyric Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus. Guess what? I’m playing in the pit orchestra, and it’s grand. So grand, in fact, that I’m going to share the poster with you and tell you to come to Las Cruces to see it…

Also this week? Lent begins. And thus I will be vegetarian for 40-odd days, beginning tomorrow. I am seriously considering making one exception, however… Mike and I will be visiting San Diego in March, and I would love to indulge in some fish & chips. So, we’ll see. To clarify my dietary choices a bit: I already avoid all red meat (arbitrarily defined as coming from a four-legged animal). Every Lent, I step it up a notch and abstain from all forms of meat. I’ve been doing this since… 2006, I think? Eggs and dairy still find their way to my stomach, but anything that was once a living, breathing animal is not for eating.

These two things (the opera and the going-vegetarian-for-Lent) are both prime examples of something I do because I find meaning in it. They require preparation, foresight, planning, and dedication above and beyond what I do in my default day-to-day. Sometimes things of this nature clash with other areas of my life. But when that happens, I remind myself that they are fleeting. They increase my appreciation of the world. They give me a fresh, new perspective for a time. And they are worth it.

Indian cooking adventure

Contrary to popular belief, Mike and I do cook food on a somewhat regular basis. We often divide up a recipe so that I measure and mix while Mike chops (or otherwise prepares ingredients to be measured and mixed). I do triage cleanup on the fly and Mike tackles the dishes after we eat.

Ever since we visited India last summer, we’ve been keenly interested in making anything vaguely resembling authentic Indian food. For Christmas this year, we received a couple of great Indian cookbooks, and dove right in. We figured we’d start with something we really wanted to eat, and our very first attempt at Chicken Tikka Masala was a success!

So, of course, we made it again, and doubled the recipe this time. I also decided to photograph the process and blog about it. (Thanks to David and Karen over at Twenty-Fingered Cooking for food-blogging inspiration.) The end result is darn close to what you might get in a restaurant. Not exactly the same, but most definitely recognizable, and indisputably worth eating. It does call for a few specialty ingredients, but it is 100% worth your time to make and/or find them. Trust me… I’m lazy about stuff like this. Just do it.

Chicken Tikka Masala
adapted from 660 Curries
makes about four servings, but it’s worth doubling the recipe for leftovers!

  1. Mix the following in a large bowl.
    • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (ideally full-fat)
    • 2 Tbsp ginger paste (puree ginger with water in the ratio of 8 oz. ginger to 1/2 cup water… or be lazy and buy a tube of ginger paste if you can find one)
    • 2 Tbsp garlic paste (puree garlic with water in the ratio of 50 cloves to 1/2 cup… or be lazy and (a) buy a tube of garlic paste or (b) press a few cloves of garlic)
    • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
    • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
    • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • 1/2 tsp garam masala (if I can find this spice blend in a store, so can you)
    • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  2. Cut 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts into skewer-friendly pieces. Try to find that happy medium between “I can put this on a skewer without hating my life” and “this is a ridiculously massive piece of chicken.” I’ll note that one could easily substitute extra-firm tofu, or the god of all cheeses, paneer (if you can find some).
  3. Immerse chicken in the marinade, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. While the chicken marinates, prepare the following.
    • 1 small red onion, chopped, mixed with
    • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped,
    • 1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds, and
    • 1/4 cup golden raisins (no whining – they sell these at stores, I promise)

    • 3ish tomatoes, chopped (end goal is 1 cup – some liquid OK)

    • 1/4 heavy cream, mixed with
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt,
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, and
    • 1/4 tsp garam masala (you need this twice, so go buy some already)

    • Chop another 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, for garnish.
    • Cook some basmati rice. Do it now. Don’t forget until later like I always do.
  5. Assemble the amazing crack-sauce.
    • Heat 2 Tbsp ghee (or butter, I guess) in a small saucepan.
    • Add the onion / bell pepper / almonds / golden raisins. Cook over medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes until veggies are soft with golden brown spots.
    • Add the tomatoes and stir until mixed and heated through. Remove from heat.
    • Add the cream / salt / cayenne / garam masala.
    • BLEND IT UP! Use a food processor, blender, whatever. Try not to drink the sauce straight from your blending appliance of choice. And remember that blending hot things makes blender lids explode off of blenders.
    • Transfer the sauce back to the saucepan over low heat until serving time.
  6. If you’re like me, plenty more than 30 minutes will have passed by now, so you can broil or grill the chicken. We improvised a broiling rack using a cookie sheet and a cooling rack with legs. However you do this, use a high temperature and rotate the chicken occasionally as it cooks. Also be sure it is done before you serve it on beds of rice (er, not that we would ever make this mistake).
  7. Serve and enjoy! First put rice, then chicken, then sauce, and finally cilantro garnish.