Hello. It’s been a while. Past year has been a bit shit, hasn’t it?
I’ve never been good at segues. Ask anyone I’ve ever broken up with. “Where do you want to go for dinner?” “I think we should see other people.”
When I was at Sarah Lawrence, my professor, Dr. Lee Edwards proposed a field trip that was shot down by the administration. They said it was too expensive. “But you cannot study Impressionism without seeing La Bohème,” she argued. They begged to differ. She put her money where her mouth is and paid out of her own pocket to take a class full of art history students to the New York Metropolitan Opera. At intermission, she escorted us to a table laden with profiteroles, fruit, and cheese very near one of the Chagall murals. There she took out her pointer and gave a short lecture on Chagall. Eavesdropping strangers moved closer to hear better.
I will always remember Lee. Not just because she was sparklier than the chandeliers in the Met’s lobby, though she was. Or because of her legendary field trips, which they were. But because she talked me out of going to Glasgow age 19. I had been accepted to a combined writing and photography program with the Glasgow School of Art and was contemplating whether or not to go for my junior year abroad. We spent one of our conference meetings discussing it. “My concern for you is that you get depressed in New York in February. Winter in Glasgow will make you feel absolutely suicidal. Also, I don’t know why anyone who wants to write would leave Sarah Lawrence to do so.”
The first time I visited Glasgow I was 29. My husband and I went for a long weekend a few months before our first child was born. We spent the better part of a dreich Saturday in a pub called Stravaigin where the chicken curry was so delicious I ordered it twice during our 6 hour stay. This makes me smile because chicken curry is my panacea of choice when the weather is wet and cold and the sky is a soul destroying shade of slate grey. My favourite is tikka masala and though it’s probably apocryphal, some say it has its origins in Glasgow. Legend has it that a Bangladeshi chef created the dish in the 1970s in an effort to please the Scottish palate.
A good tikka masala should never be so spicy that it burns, nor should it be bland. Instead, the garlic and ginger should spark a gentle flame that gives heat to the spices and makes them smoulder. Nothing smells quite so delicious as warm spices beginning to bloom. When their fragrance fills the house, it also fills my soul and I can’t be that sad anymore. Sort of like listening to The Beatles. This week I made chicken tikka masala and naan. Right as I called my family to dinner, Lady Madonna was playing. The Beatles recorded it right before their famous journey to Rishikesh to study with guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Paul McCartney has said “The original concept was the Virgin Mary but it quickly became symbolic of every woman; the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working class women. It’s really a tribute to the mother figure, it’s a tribute to women. . . I think women are very strong, they put up with a lot of shit, they put up with the pain of having a child, of raising it, cooking for it, they are basically skivvies a lot of their lives, so I always want to pay a tribute to them.” Ten months into Coronavirus and having given birth to a baby in the middle of it whilst still having an older child to care for and educate, I’ve definitely been feeling this even with the help of my husband. Many of us have. Men and women. All I can say is find joy and comfort where you can. Mine is in the glow of my family. And this curry.
1 kg of chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
7 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 Tbsp finely grated ginger
3 tsp garam masala
4 rounded tsp turmeric powder
3 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp ground cumin
500 ml natural full-fat yoghurt
1 Tbsp sea salt flakes
2 Tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil or ghee if you prefer
1 thinly sliced yellow onion
1/3 c tomato paste
12 cardamom pods, pounded to a powder
a pinch of chilli flakes
2 x 400 g tins of crushed tomatoes
1/3 -1/2 cup double cream
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
In a medium sized bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, and cumin.
In a large bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, salt, and half of the spice mixture. Cover the remaining spice mixture and set it aside in the fridge. Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Make sure to coat every piece well. Cover it and refrigerate for about 6 hours.
Heat your oil/ghee in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sliced onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chilli flakes. Cook until the onions are soft and the tomato paste is dark. Then add the remaining spice mixture. Cook until the bottom of your saucepan starts to brown and you can smell the spices bloom.
At this point, stir in the tinned tomatoes. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer. Stir often, making sure to scrape the bottom of your pot. Reduce and thicken.
Add the cream and half of the coriander. Continue simmering.
While the curry gently bubbles away, grill or griddle your chicken until it blackens in spots but is not cooked all the way through. Then, chop your chicken into large pieces and stir them into the pot. Put a lid on top and continue simmering until the meat is thoroughly cooked, about 20 minutes to a half hour.
Serve with basmati rice and naan. Top with the remaining coriander.