“Should the fish be fried or should it be a curry?”
My cook has a very tense expression. Beside her on the kitchen counter is a plate of fresh sardines.
My mother stands still, thinking.
“Curry”, she finally decides. ” We will have it with cassava in the evening.”
“No” Rosa protests. I wonder why she even bothers. I have not seen her eat Sardines whether it is fried or in a curry.
” Fried’, Maria seconds Rosa. Now Maria’s votes counts. She is particularly fussy about how her food looks and smells.
“Then what will we have for tea?” Amma asks pointing to a basket of cassava sitting on the kitchen floor.
” Banana fritters”, I cry.
” No! We always have banana fritters!”
My cook moves away from the plate of Sardines. Into another plate she adds chilly powder, coriander powder, salt and a pinch of turmeric. Ah! smart move. If the fish is going to be fried she is going to need that.
She then busies herself grating a coconut while mother and daughters fight over the menu for the evening tea.
She then divides the grated coconut into three parts. One part she grinds in a food processor with a little water. She then squeezes the coconut in the palm of her hand. She collects the think milk into a bowl and remaining coconut she grinds again with more water, squeezing the thinner milk into a separate bowl. If the fish is going to be cooked in a curry she is going to need the thick and thin coconut milk.
Our estate helper peeps in through the kitchen window to let my mother know that he has come in for work.
“We need some tender coconuts and a bunch of bananas”, my mother tells him.
Maria and I follow our estate helper and watch from the shade of a jack fruit tree as he hugs the coconut palm and climbs right up to the top. He drops a bunch of coconuts and then once he is back on the ground he shakes them separating the tender ones from the rest.
When he ventures further into the estate disappearing into the rubber trees in search of ripe bananas we pick up the tender coconuts and walk back to the kitchen.
Back in the kitchen our cook has mixed the second part of the grated coconut with grated carrot sauteing them together.
We spent the remainder of the morning reading until Amma calls out to us for lunch. When I struggle out of my deep seated armchair, it’s like deja vu for me. Why wouldn’t be? Yesterday was the same as today, only a different kind of fish and a different book. Tomorrow will be the same, maybe no fish but definitively a different book.
This is what I love about coming home, the most critical decisions always involve the lunch menu and the most strenuous activity is saving laundry from the rain and there is always plenty of food.
Back at the lunch table neither Rosa nor Maria notice that the sardines are cooked in a curry.