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Authors: Ramin Ganeshram

Stir It Up

BOOK: Stir It Up
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Stir It Up!

A Novel


For Sophie Lollie,

my best sous chef
and my shining beacon:
May you realize your dreams
in magnificent ways.



Title Page

A Note to Readers





CHAPTER FOUR: Possibilities




CHAPTER SEVEN: Competition




CHAPTER ELEVEN: Disappointment



Author’s Note


About the Author


A Note to Readers

When preparing any kind of recipe, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling food. Clean all surfaces and utensils that have come into contact with uncooked poultry, fish, or meats. Consumption of undercooked poultry, fish, or meats can result in serious illness requiring medical attention. When defrosting poultry, fish, or meats, place in a refrigerator overnight rather than leaving out at room temperature. Only prepare recipes with the help and supervision of an adult. Never handle knives or other sharp utensils without adult supervision.

Be Who You Are Bread

2 cups sharing

1 cup love

1 tablespoon essence of warmth, divided

3/4 cup comfort, for seasoning

1 cup confidence, plus extra for kneading

1. In a large bowl, sift together sharing and love.

2. Add 1 tablespoon of the essence of warmth and mix well. Stir in the comfort until combined.

3. Stir in the confidence slowly, mixing well until the mixture forms a stiff dough.

4. Turn the dough onto a clean work surface, dusted with a little extra confidence, and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, without any holes. The dough should be firm and unbreakable.

5. Put the dough back in the bowl and place in a warm, dry location to rise until double its size.

6. Remove from the bowl, knead again gently, and bake until golden brown, firm, and delicious. Be Who You Are Bread can last indefinitely in the right environment.


My heart pounds as I race around the kitchen with Deema, filling orders, trying not to get behind. It’s a race that only we can win.

“Start the
!” my father yells.

We are a jumble of bees — buzzing, bumping into each other, building something sweet and solid. Our tiny kitchen is our hive, and I feel like the busiest bee of all, working every bit of my wings to stay with the other workers — Deema and my dad. The air is thick with the smell of the different curries simmering on the stove. These spices are Deema’s perfume. Her clothing and hair and even her skin are always rich with the sweet aroma. On me, the curries take on a thick mix of sweat and baby lotion and my favorite mango shampoo. It doesn’t matter that Deema bleaches our aprons and my T-shirts in the laundry. I give my collar a sniff. Sure enough, I’m a walking curry cabinet.

The steam in our kitchen brings heat and wet to my face. There’s a sheen on my forehead and cheeks and arms. My throat is like sandpaper, but who has time for even a gulp of water with my dad at the cash register, yelling back, “Hurry, Anjali! Customers not wanting to wait!”

Deema’s hot, too, but she keeps moving. With the tail of her apron she pats the moisture from her neck each time she approaches the stove. I run my knuckles over my forehead.

I drop the
into the fryer basket, jumping back when oil splashes and burns me with its hot droplets. The balls of dough bubble in the oil, and I pull them out as they turn light golden brown.

ready!” I yell.

I manage to gulp a sip of water. Even though it’s tepid, the wet meets my throat and brings the promise of relief to my insides. My stomach is grateful for the water, but it calls to me with a sharp
I’m reminded that cooks don’t stop to eat while preparing, even though I’m hungry enough to down every bit of dough in the middle of this busy hive. But if I stop, even for a moment, I won’t be able to keep up.

“Quick, Anjali!” calls Deema. “Get more
dough from the refrigerator.”

The water in my belly sloshes and mixes with the
as I reach into the fridge to pull out a tray of ground lentils and spices with both my arms. The push of cold coming from the fridge is a relief as it quick-dries my sweaty face.

Deema is holding a knife, thumb securely on its handle — chop-chopping so fast, in a blur. She considers me for a moment. “Don’t just stand there — get those
in the oil, girl, and while they are frying get another knife.”

I follow and start in on an onion, slow at first. It doesn’t take long for the onion sting to meet my eyes and force tears. I wipe my eyes with the bottom of the apron and focus. I chop steadily until I am moving almost as fast as Deema, who taught me how to use a knife back when I was eight by embracing me from the back to help me chop-chop. I smile as I remember being enfolded in her arms, hard muscle from years of work within soft skin, hugging me, taming back the onion sting. Together, we chop, and the smell of her curry perfume mixes with my own curry and
shampoo. The knives and our hands move like twins, working fast to turn the onion into a mound of tiny white spicy pieces. “Good work,” Deema encourages.

I take up a new knife, a smaller one. “I have an idea,” I tell Deema. “One that doesn’t involve onions.”

Deema nods. “Okay, but easy does it.”

I dash over to a tray of freshly fried bakes sitting by the stove, waiting to be wrapped up with an order of salted spiced codfish or mashed pumpkin. I slit the side of each small savory bread open, working as fast as I can so the steam that puffs out of them doesn’t burn my fingers. I smooth pink guava jam over the bottom of each one, then close up the sandwich. To finish, I sprinkle superfine sugar and cinnamon on top of each. The bakes are still hot as I work. I lick my fingers to coax back the steam burns. The sugar and cinnamon melt nicely when they hit each fritter’s surface. I smile at the warm smell of the cinnamon, though my stomach is still making its noise.

I put one of my creations on a small plate and bring it over to Deema, who looks at it, then at me, and smiles. She holds a metal bowl under the table
and uses her hand to scoop the chopped onions inside. She sets aside the bowl and wipes her hand, picking up my creation with two fingers so it doesn’t get oniony. Finally, Deema takes a bite of my invention. She closes her eyes as she chews and considers the flavors.

“Anjali, this is lovely!”

Deema knows good cooking when she tastes it. But we have little time to enjoy my creativity.

Up front in the restaurant, my father is taking more orders. The place is getting packed. “Anjali, come!” he calls. “I need help wrapping the rotis.”

I untie my oil-splattered apron, grab a new one from the cubby near the register, and put it on. Customers don’t want to see me dirty while I wrap up their food.

This is a typical sort of evening for my family. Me, Dad, Deema, sometimes my mom, and usually never my brother, Anand, take turns working in our roti shop, Island Spice, in Richmond Hill, Queens, where we live along with a million other Trinidadians and Guyanese families. On a busy night like this, it feels like every one of them comes through our shop.

It’s hard work, but I love it better than anything because I get to try out my own culinary experiments whenever I want. I guess you could say that cooking is my hobby. Well, at least that’s what my parents and teachers call it. But
is a lame word. For me, food is my soul’s work. My dream is to be the youngest Food Network chef by the time I’m fifteen. That means I have two years to make it happen. I want to have my own show about Caribbean food. No one has done that yet. I’ll be the first. There’s a lot more to Caribbean cooking than jerk chicken. In Trinidad, we’ve got more kinds of food than anyone could imagine. Our main specialty is curry, and I’m ready to show that to all my viewers once I get the TV spotlight.

I’ve even got the name of my show all worked out:
Cooking with Anjali Krishnan,
The Curry Kitchen with Anjali Krishnan.

But for now my only show is
showing up
for my family in this beehive of a shop.

I’m deep in the dream of my own TV show when someone calls, “Hey, Anjali, darlin’, how you goin’?”

I look up and smile at Mr. Farrell, an old Trinidadian man who has come to the restaurant
nearly every night for his supper since his wife died a few years back.

“Hello, Mr. Farrell,” I say, smiling. “What can I get you tonight?”

“Ah … let me see.” He glances around at the trays behind the counter. “What’s good?”

“The dumplings and cassava are real nice tonight, and there’s some stew chicken,” I answer.

“Yes, that will be fine. Plenty pepper, okay?”

“Yes, sir,” I reply. “Staying with us this evening?” I really don’t have to ask. Mr. Farrell almost never does takeout. Mr. Farrell eats at one of the tables and watches people come and go, sometimes staying for a long time after he’s finished eating. Mr. Farrell likes our shop because we don’t play our music too loud and, instead of all the usual
concert posters, our walls are covered with photos of Trinidad that my dad took himself. Our customers look at the pictures for a long time while they wait for their orders. Dad’s pictures remind them of home.

BOOK: Stir It Up
4.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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