The waiter at Tusk, a very popular Middle Eastern restaurant here in Portland, set the freshly-baked bulbous loaves of pita bread and dip on our table.
“Here’s your flatbread and our Tusk hummus with peppers.”
My dad replied, “How can you call it flatbread! It’s like a balloon!!”
The waiter phoned-in a laugh, and I thought, ‘Wait! He’s funnier than that. Don’t lump him in with all the other patriarchs eating dinner with their families and making bad jokes!’
But maybe it doesn’t matter at all, because that’s exactly what was happening.
My parents come to Portland once a year. They have twice the reason now that my brother Max and his girlfriend Sharon live here. And my experience of their visit is different each time. It’s sort of a measuring stick, like tax season for every aspect of your life, where you take a solid look at your performance over the year. I used to become completely overwhelmed by their visits, but this year it felt different. I’ve been happily married for 3 years now. I have a little catering business that’s doing pretty well. I’m a regular on a local tv show where I cook the food I love. I have friends I trust and a dog and cat that I would do anything for. Life’s pretty good.
But it isn’t only me that’s changed. I think my folks are gracefully stepping into the next phase of their lives. They’re hardly old, but they’re maturing well. If I had ever felt a stirring toward childbirth, they would be jolly grandparents by now. I need to embrace the parents who make bad jokes, can’t hear over the din of a restaurant, and need to have a nap at 4:00. It’s time. They deserve it.
On their second night, we had ordered too much food— a signature move for the Tucker family in a Chinese restaurant. Our little table was gridlocked with plates, bowls, platters, and steamer baskets full of XLB soup dumplings. I was feeling a little claustrophobic with all the food and all the family and low blood sugar, so I focused on helping my dad, who was sitting next to me, to a few dumplings.
“There’s a new restaurant,” I started to say. “that opened a few blocks away from us and they serve Georgian dumplings. We went there with some frie…”
“How many?” is what I hear my dad say and that’s a strange question to interject at this point, so I just overlook it and keep talking.
“Um, well Beth and Alice hadn’t been there yet, so we…”
“How many?” he says again. And now I’m a little annoyed because it doesn’t really matter how many dumplings they serve and a little scared because I’m not ready for my dad to be this random.
“Jeez, I don’t know, like 6? So anyway, the dumplings that this place serves are Georgian, like Russian dumplings but not Eastern European dumplings. Not pierogies. They’re Georgian.”
“How many?” My dad says again, now holding his phone up to me.
“Dammit old man, what are you talking about?” He shakes his phone at me, but I can’t see a thing because my glasses are in my bag which is under my coat which is wrapped around the back of my chair. Suddenly I’m a clumsy pre-teen accidentally knocking things over on the table and hurting myself to get my stupid glasses.
But I do.
And then I see it.
He hadn’t been saying “how many.” He’d been saying pelmeni, which is the name of a Russian dumpling.
It was me who couldn’t hear beyond the din of the not-so-loud restaurant. It was me who couldn’t see the phone he was holding up without my progressive lenses. It’s me who’s showing her age. He’s sharp as a tack.
I laughed so hard I almost peed right there in XLB. Luckily, I’ve not lost control of everything. Not yet, anyway.
So thank you Mom and Pop for an incredible weekend of food and laughter and big trees and bearded dogs. It’s nice to grow old together. We love you.
And now, I bring you a recipe that has nothing to do with that story. I was going to write a little tale about a booth at Taste of Portland that I was involved with, but it was a lousy story compared to this one. I did serve one of my favorite pairings; air-fried cauliflower with curry leaf tomato chutney, and many people asked for the recipe so it’s only fair I give the people what they want.
Air-Fried Cauliflower with Curry Leaf Tomato Chutney
Curry Leaf Tomato Chutney
- 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons panch phoran (which is an Indian spice blend of equal parts ground fenugreek, nigella, mustard seed, fennel seed and cumin seed – I know this is specialty stuff, but once you cook with it you will thank me!)
- 8 curry leaves
- 1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- salt to taste
- In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Carefully add the panch phoran, the chiles, and the curry leaves (this will splatter so it’s good to have a lid handy). Saute for about a minute.
- Add the tomatoes, the sugar, and the molasses. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
- Stir in vinegar, fish out the curry leaves. Taste for seasoning and add salt as necessary.
- Serve with cauliflower.
Gluten-Free Cauliflower Batter
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup cold sparkling water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 head of cauliflower
- cooking spray
- Mix together gently. Leaving little lumps is better than overmixing this batter.
- Cut cauliflower into bite-sized pieces (I like to leave the stem long for people to hold when they dunk in the dip).
- Drag the cauliflower stalks through the batter and then place on the rack of air fryer. Spray with cooking oil and then air fry at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. I’ve only used my air-fryer so I’m not sure how the time would vary between models. It gets crunchy and delicious without getting too dark (but you should keep an eye on it).
- You can, of course, fry instead in a pot of 350 degree vegetable oil for about 2 minutes.
- Serve with curry leaf tomato chutney.
And here’s a clip of me making this sauce and cauliflower on Afternoon Live (but be warned, I got distracted and forgot to add the vinegar to the chutney at the end. Do as I write, not as I do!)