On Sunflowers and Banana Blossoms
Talking about food and what it means to us
Oh, hi, hi!
It’s still June, so here’s your June irregular newsletter. Hope you’re well and here we go!
I wanted to talk food, friends, and what it means to us in this pandemic this time. Why? Well, now is as good a time as any, right?
We Are All Sunflowers
Okay, promise me once all this is done, never to say ‘the new normal’ ever again. EVER. AGAIN. It’s been 15 months of this new normal. It’s not new anymore. This pandemic toddler is walking and talking now. I have been homebound and intend to stay that way, even though I’ve been vaccinated since February. The delta variant is snaking its way to us, and if it’s not the delta variant, it’ll be the epsilon one and then the phi and then the gamma and on and on…. Will it get better? I’m sure. Will we get more information? Sure. But for now, vaccinate, wear masks, and wash hands. That’s my new normal and I can hope it is that for you too.
In this new normal I’ve been spending a whole lot of time in the garden, growing, seeding, potting and all the fun things that Baba used to do. I’m Ms. Black Thumb. Everything dies in my house/garden. I kill succulents. I kill cactus. I kill palm trees. I kill drought-resistant crops. I’m good at that. Imagine my surprise when next to a cherimoya sapling, this thick stalk emerged. Every day, six more inches. And then….ta-da!
I mean—look at it! I had no one who would appreciate it around me, so I told The Dog who sniffed at it casually and with no enthusiasm. THIS is why we have newsletters, so I can share the glory with YOU. I named her Suryamukhi—the face of the sun, because, #sunflower, duh.
This is what she looks like today.
And this weekend, lo and behold, Suryamukhi made some friends!
The farmers said it’ll be a bee-attractor, and boy, is it! In 2019, the bee colonies lost were about 28% versus 37% the year before and much lower than the rate at which neonicotinoid pesticides were destroying them in 14 years. So, yes, I saved the bee population and you’re welcome!
Okay the reason for this non-story? We all need sunflowers in our lives. Some of us show up as sunflowers. Some turn up as puppies. Some as humans. In this pandemic, make sure you’re open to all of them, okay? ALL OF THEM.
Food, Farmers and Friends
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with backyard food. Food that we didn’t think was food. An urban farmer family graciously gave me banana blossoms and leaves. This took me back to Baba’s garden in Chittaranjan Park, and the curries Ma made with homegrown lau, bhindi, squash blossoms and capsicum. This week I made mocha curry with the blossoms—
…and turned them into this amazing mocha curry that I ate with rice.
Banana leaves—because of the fiber in the leaves, are great to hold moisture when cooked on high heat. I wrapped rockfish slathered with mustard-poppy paste in mustard oil and pressure cooked them. Ma used to make this with hilsa/ilish fish—it remains my sister’s favorite fish, even though Didi is icked out by handling fish or meat. I made it and gave back to the farmers which just makes it a good community-giveback in a pandemic. But that’s a different story altogether.
The farmers at Dark Nectar Collective got all this and more. The story behind this non-story? I made more farmer friends and I intend to keep doing it.
Why do I mention this? It’s because, before the pandemic, I was traveling 75% of the time. I’d travel 24 hours across the globe for a 2-hour meeting. I was George Clooney in Up in The Air—with my million miles, my carryon with tightly folded clothes, my disdain for slow-moving people at security, my TSA-pre and Global Priority and Delta Platinum status. It was important. I was doing important work. Or so I thought. 15 months later, I got to know my neighbors. I feed the farmers. I meet interesting people who grow my food. I almost have a green thumb. Bees come to hang out in my yard. The pandemic brought us grief, unimaginable grief. And then brought us surprising packages of love and joy.
Tell me what surprising good thing did you discover during the Great Pause?
Girl Gab #66
It’s been 66 Fridays I’ve worn a sari and preened on a Zoom call. My Girl Gab crew barely notices the nonsense I do, but if I didn’t, they’d notice—this is what happens when friends know you inside out. I’ve attended most of them, and if I missed them, the guilt has felt like I’d missed my Moral Science class at St. Anthony’s Girls’ Senior Secondary School. This time, I wore another Suta sari (the two sisters who are reviving Indian textile makers are fascinating entrepreneurs, check them out here) and grinned at a camera in a kitchen with no one but a sleepy Dalmatian. Yes, I’m still smiling, I’m still surviving, and 15-months later, I am a different person. As are you, I am sure, if you step back and reflect on how this all started for you.
Newsletters, Books and Such
I wanted to highlight a few books that are amazing work by South Asians. If you’re able to buy and support, please do so. If not, then borrow from libraries, or let someone else know who may be able to buy them.
- Rajiv Mohabir’s Antiman is a gender-blending memoir exploration of Indo-Guyanese culture, his heritage and his queerness as an immigrant to the United States.
- Tanzanian-born Punjabi/American educator Gayatri Sethi’s Unbelonging merges verse, memoir, and activism in her search for home.
The two newsletters that I adore reading are below. Please subscribe to them and thank you.
- Fiza Pirani’s Foreign Bodies—an reflection on storytelling and de-stigmatizing mental health as it relates to immigrants. I’ve read it from its inception and love Fiza’s work that she does on it.
- Vesna Jaksic Lowe’s Immigrant Strong—a newsletter on work by and by children of immigrants. A very simple concept and packed with so many amazing writers’ work on a regular news byte.
No Ranting This Newsletter, my 2c
I know, I know, you’ve reached the end and I haven’t raged. Nor have I ranted. What? WTH? How did that happen? Well, my dear, sometimes we need a break from rage. It isn’t effective. Nor is it healthy. I wanted to look at the positive right now because nothing was looking positive at all. When you reach the stage where nothing looks good, look again. Look again. And again. There it will be, hiding behind grief, this ray of joy, of love, of hope. Find it. Hold on to it.
Love and hugs,
Dana Newman Literary Agency
1800 Avenue of the Stars, 12th Floor
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County 90067, USA
Publisher, "Khabaar: An Immigrant Journey of Food, Memory and Family"
University of Iowa Press
119 W. Park Road, 100 Kuhl House, Iowa City IA 52242-1000