Recipe for Writing

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Over Christmas, Andrew and I spent most of our time cooking massive meals from scratch. I’ve mentioned in the past that finding the ingredients we normally use can be a challenge. Well, finding (affordable) international cuisines is also difficult, so we’ve learned to make what we crave.

When gift shopping in one of the Christmas markets, we discovered a spice seller who had a few, rare ingredients we hadn’t found in any local grocery stores, such as bunge prickly ash, which is used to make an oil that can be mixed with flour and water to make Chinese dumpling wrappers. I purchased the final spices I needed to make curry, and we embarked on a multi-day adventure of making different types of dough for a range of international dishes.

I began with a Bengali brunch of egg curry and lutchis (called pooris in Hindi — they’re a kind of fry bread). I hadn’t made lutchi in about ten years, so it took a few attempts to get them to puff the right way. Oddly, while my muscles didn’t remember exactly how thinly to roll the dough, they did remember what to do when the dough started to dry out and how to press the thin discs down in the oil to make the dough expand and fill with air once bubbles began to form.

Strudel-making was a team effort, and for the first time, I learned how to stretch dough with both hands, rather than rolling it out. The challenge? My height! I could stretch it to a certain width, and then I felt like I was wrangling an exhausted octopus that stretched and flopped in random directions.

Andrew used the bunge prickly ash to make Chinese dumplings, wrappers and all, from scratch. For one of Andrew’s Christmas gifts, I got him a flour tortilla kit from our good friends, Tracie and Wayne, of Lonestar Taco. We *really* miss Mexican food, and we can only find overpriced Old El Paso here (4 CHF for a can of refried beans? *shudder*) So! We made fresh tortillas for huevos rancheros, and for dinner, I made fresh pasta for the first time.

As we prepped and cooked and kneaded and let sit, Andrew said, “It’s amazing how you can do so many different things with the same basic ingredients.” Sure enough, while techniques varied, all of our recipes were composed of flour and water, sometimes with oil and sometimes with eggs. Some recipes called for everything to be tossed together, kneaded, and rolled out immediately, while others needed intermediate periods to rest the dough and let the gluten chains form, making the dough more elastic so it could be stretched thin enough to read a newspaper through it without tearing.

And I realized, this is just like writing. We all have the same basic tools of words and paper, although we may write by hand or with software. Some projects can be tossed together, kneaded, and rolled out immediately, while others need intermediate periods to rest the ideas and let them form subconsciously so they can be stretched and expanded. While fundamental ingredients may be the same, each piece has its own process, and, on occasion, may need a special ingredient to produce a unique flavor, like the bunge prickly ash oil for the dumplings or sunflower oil for lutchis.

I’ve included several photos below of our dough experiments. As a note, the gallery will appear as a slideshow on anindita.org and as thumbnails on LJ.

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