Pumpkin Curry

I’ve been reading the responses to my last post here in Sri Lanka, and it’s been surprising and overwhelming. Friends I haven’t talked to in years said they were proud of me. About 30 people called me brave. But I feel like a fraud. I'm not brave. I fear that I’m avoiding how sad I really am about what happened. I start to feel ungrounded, like I am in my body but watching myself from the outside at the same time. Sometimes my mind goes totally blank. Either that, or it's buzzing with too many thoughts to manage. These are old, familiar indicators that I’m blocking out emotions, yet they're still uncomfortable and scary. If I dig really deep, if I say, “Hannah, what’s going on in there?” – that’s where I find the sadness hiding. I tuck it away because I’m afraid if I accept it, it will never, ever go away. If I accept it, I will be a victim in self-pity. My mind is trying to protect me, but there is no way to heal if I can’t feel anything.

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I used to let that blank mind own me. Instead of digging deep into myself, I focused on external things – my fitness level, my attractiveness to men, the purity of what I ate, every wrinkle and fold in the clothes I wore – believing if I got those things just right, I would finally be happy. I came to learn that getting everything just right isn’t actually possible. Slowly, I freed myself from those things, one by one.

Come to think of it – THAT was brave. Maybe bravery is something you can only see when it’s over.

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Sky, a traveler from Sydney, told me yesterday that she meditates while floating in the water. I told her I was no good at floating. “It doesn’t matter, “ she responded. “You breathe out and you sink a little, and you breathe in and you rise back up”. I tried it out this morning in the pool. The first thing that happened was, with my eyes to the sky, I saw that I was under a highway of butterflies, whizzing to and fro on important pollination business. The second thing that happened was I sunk. Just as I thought the water would overtake my head, I took a breath and rose back up. Sadness is like that.

I am doing the right thing by traveling. Seeing brand new places counterintuitively forces you to confront yourself and where you came from.

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At the early morning fish market in Negombo, swordfish are relieved of their heads and tails, covered in piles of ice, attended to by flies, and auctioned. These fish are anywhere from 100-200 pounds and go for 500 rupees per pound, or $3.25. These particular fish are going to Italy and the U.S. – finding their final resting place on our plates at $10-$20 per pound in the supermarket and much more in a restaurant. It took me 17 hours and one crying fit (my carry-on was too heavy at check-in and I was told to rearrange my meticulously packed backpack and suitcase –which was an impossible task; every item was already in the ONLY place it could fit) to get to Sri Lanka. It’s outrageous that a dead fish, and a controversial one at that, makes that long, long journey in reverse, after such humble beginnings in a heap on the market floor.

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Rohana covers two coconut plantations a day. The palm trees in the plantation are strung with rope made from coconut husks. Rohana climbs one tree, then tightropes between the subsequent trees. He taps each coconut flower with a short wooden bat to release the nectar that collects there into a jug. This nectar is called toddy and is a slightly more alcoholic alternative to beer. It tastes like warm, fermented coconut water. Seventy-five out of 250 trees in each coconut plantation are reserved for toddy tapping – the rest are used for harvesting coconuts. Rohana needs to go up into the trees every single day – he can’t take a break. If the nectar is left for more than one day, it will ferment into coconut vinegar. The nectar can also be reduced into treacle, or coconut syrup, and evaporated into jaggery (palm sugar). For more on unrefined sugars, have a look back at the sugar post!

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Here, tea pluckers (all the women) line up for their midday weighing. After they receive a sheet confirming the final weight of the morning’s harvest, they have teatime and then back to work until lunch. The leaves are off to a nearby factory where they are withered, rolled, fermented and dried. Companies like Lipton use this exact process. Every afternoon at the Lipton factory, samples of three different grinds of tea are laid out for the manager to test for quality.

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I’ve been in Sri Lanka about a week and a half and I’ve had sixty kinds of pumpkin curry. Here is the best iteration, from an Ayurvedic spice farm. They used their own curry powder mix, but you can use any mix you like, or make your own. Curry powder is always equal parts of the “four Cs and an A”: cumin, coriander, curry leaf, cinnamon, and anise.

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Pumpkin Curry

Serves 4-6

Elements

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 medium onion, sliced in rings

1 small cinnamon stick

3 cardamom pods

Handful of curry leaves

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½-inch piece ginger, minced

1 tbsp brown/green curry powder

Juice and zest of 1/2 lime

1 tsp chilli powder

Pinch saffron

Pinch sea salt

1 cup coconut milk

1 medium acorn squash (or other winter squash with edible skin), seeded and chopped into bite size pieces

Equation

Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and curry leaves.

When onion is browned, about four minutes, add garlic and ginger.

When garlic is brown, add all remaining ingredients and stir.

Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, then uncover and simmer on low heat until pumpkin is fork-tender, about 10 minutes.

Serve over rice or roti.