PERHAPS I’VE SIMPLY BEEN INFUSED with a sense of the positive mysticism of the psychedelic-drug-induced religions that were being discussed on Radio National the other day, but I’ve suddenly been awakened to the truly sensory and sensual practice of toasting and blending spices at home.
Although I have certainly ground a few curry powders and pastes in my time, I have never before employed so much mindfulness in cooking as during the making of the above garam masala. When my boyfriend and I moved into our first apartment, one of our most treasured housewarming gifts was a stocked masala dabba (an Indian stainless-steel spice container) from his mother, along with a bountiful supply of home-dried curry leaves. There is something exceedingly comforting about a pantry stocked with these warming and pungent ingredients.
I can only give voice to my sense of poetic pleasure in words as scattered and mutable as the seeds, leaves, and powders themselves.
Darkening, hospitable. Warm colours of earth. Scent intensifying as the heat builds, elements swell at once individual and fused: sinus-clearing red chilli, warm cinnamon, Christmas cloves. Coriander seeds crackle. Faint smoke rising.
Making your own curry powder is something to be done in solitude and silence, ahead of time. It’s something to build into an indulgence, a soulful treat, rather than a quick dinner-time chore. For this (and for the sake of conserving some sense of my adopted-in-love-hereditary Indian culture in daily life) I intend to lift from-scratch masala from the realm of domestic work to that of secular ritual in our home.
THERE MUST BE FEW THINGS more satisfying than mastering a new skill. Something that you thought was going to be impossible, beyond your capabilities, or simply beyond your patience. Since it’s been a holiday period — that long, wonderful thing called the university summer break — my partner Rahul and I have both been putting a little time into learning of a more everyday nature. For him, it’s been the manly pursuit of getting to grips with manual driving. For me, the feminine — the move from ‘beginner’ to ‘intermediate’ knitting. Last year, when I taught myself to crochet, there were tears of frustration, irritated jerks of the yarn, and possibly some crochet hooks tossed across the room. Then, suddenly, fluid flicks of the fingers and wrist as hot water bottles, tea cosies, and blankets appeared as if by magic in my lap. It has been much the same this time around, as I made my first ventures into knitted shaping, seams, and — horror of horrors to the uninitiated — double-pointed needles. So, today’s small pleasure is that moment when you realise you’ve finally got it!
A VERY SMALL PLEASURE gets a very small post.
White sheets, wooden pegs. A sunny summer’s morning, before the heat sets in. An Australian hoist clothesline, creaking in the quiet.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A HOARDER, of things both old and new. First, it was Barbie dolls – a jumbled collection of the beautiful, the headless, the painted and the faded, my own beloved toyshop purchases mixed with the remnants of my mother’s 1960s dolls with their ever-so-well-made clothes. Then, as I grew out of playing games and into teen dress-ups and home-making, it was vintage beads and shoe buckles, candelabras and floral tea sets, Parisian postcards and oddments of ‘shabby chic.’ Now that I have my own real home to ‘make,’ I’m hoarding yarn and craft ribbon, spice jars and jam jars, magazines and mid-century vases.
Every time I come back to my parents’ home in Adelaide, I’m reminded of where my collector’s instincts come from. The two realms of the house that are the masculine preserve of my dad – the shed and the study – are the kinds of spaces that the ‘neat freaks’ of the world would have to brace themselves to enter. Take a snapshot of the shed: drawers and drawers of hardware and tools, rakes, spades, ladders, a tottering heap of flowered armchairs, groupings of window frames and doors in peeling pastel paint, dressers and cabinets poised against walls, waiting – as they have been waiting for twenty years – for restoration.
It’s alarming, but also rather wonderful. In an age packed to the rafters with throw-away Ikea furniture, cheap electrics, and islands of landfill, it’s nice to be reminded of a way of living in which things are made well, broken items are put aside to be fixed rather than tossed, and in which personal and family histories are continued, embodied in ‘stuff.’