Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Three Women and a Kitchen

This will be my first time entering the kitchen of someone I don’t know very well for the Prayerful Kitchen Project. I am nervous but excited and yet unsure of what these experiences will hold. I arrive in front of a house I am hoping belongs to my hostess with gift in hand and a whole lot of hope.
My host for this day is Talat. I have met her once before when my mother arranged a dinner with Talat and her daughter. Talat and her family are Pakistani and are Muslim. I have not been to their house before and we have never visited for any period of time. Now I am about to spend the whole day with her in her kitchen. This is the visit that will let me know whether or not this Prayerful Kitchen Project actually will work.
And it does.
The first lesson I learn from Talat: Our capacity for hospitality is limitless. When I arrive I find that Talat is suffering from a pulled leg muscle and is uncomfortable from the pain. Rather than canceling our visit, she invites me into her home and spends the next 8 hours cooking with me. She has chosen an amazing menu of dishes: a heavily spiced biryani, her own recipe for sweet and sour eggplant, curried lamb, chicken 65, an Indochinese cauliflower dish, coconut chutney, dosas with potato stuffing, and more. Despite her leg pain she does not trim down our menu nor does she slow down. 
The next lesson: Hospitality is an opportunity for welcoming even more to the feast. It would have been enough, plenty, for me to cook with Talat but she knew our time together could be more. As I mentioned, Talat is a Pakistani Muslim. She has invited two friends to come and cook with us: a Baptist friend from India and a Hindu friend from India. The addition of these women makes our day in the kitchen richer. Each friend has a specialty to cook and a different perspective to offer. They share their stories of who they are and how they came to be in Georgia.
Final lesson: Hospitality is the gateway to community. By all accounts the three women in this kitchen shouldn’t be friends. Traditionally Pakistanis and Indians don’t get along. Our current culture would tell us that people from different religions shouldn’t be friends. Some would even say that “Americans” and “Muslims” shouldn’t be together. (I won’t begin to explain all the faults in that ignorant argument). Yet here we are in Talat’s kitchen, a Pakistani Muslim, an Indian Hindu, an Indian Baptist, and an American Anglo Episcopalian, all laughing and cooking.
This is the first test for my Prayerful Kitchen Project. Will it work for me to be in the kitchen of someone I don’t know as well? Will I be able to enter into this sacred space and observe and participate in the holiness and meditation of cooking with another person? Will I find what I have been hoping will be there?
Yes. And more. But I am not the determining factor for success. It is the generous heart and open arms of my host. By the time we sit to eat, Talat is exhausted and her leg has given out. But she is smiling and laughing. A community and feast has been born of her enthusiasm and welcome. Because of her I witness the very thing I have been hoping for and it almost brings me to tears: Three women in a kitchen. Three women filling the air with intoxicating aromas, the singing of laughter, the swirls and ecstatic joy of the spirit. I step back to take it all in and it almost overwhelms me. The photos will capture the scene but not the significance. This is what I came for and this is how I am blessed: together we cook, together we work, together we laugh, together we ignore and even breakdown every rule or norm that would keep us separated.

I am welcomed into the sacred space of a kitchen, not as an observer and outsider but as a friend and accomplice in creating a most amazing and delicious feast. Three women and a kitchen change the world, change my world. Three women and a kitchen remind me of the importance of friendship and hospitality, of welcoming the stranger not only to relieve the outsider but to make her part of the community. 

Talat starts sauteing the first of MANY onions used.

Our Hindu friend helps with the prep work.

It may not look like it yet, but this is the start of some delicious curried lamb!

Hand mixing dough for fresh bread.

Talat's lovely sister who was visiting from Mauritius. She shows me how to pat out the dough rounds.

Can you smell those spices? This is the start to the Biryani.

Two essential plants: A pepper plant and a curry plant. Yes. A curry plant. No, it's not where curry powder comes from. It is, however, hard to buy in Northeast Georgia and is the most important ingredient for capturing the distinct flavor of many Indian and Pakistani dishes.

It takes a brave woman to wear such a beautiful punjabi while making chicken 65!

The finished dish: chicken 65. "Delicious" doesn't begin to cover it!

Getting a picture of our hostess was nearly impossible because she never stops moving! Isn't she beautiful?

The first dosa. This is one of my favorite dishes from South India.

Our final feast!

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