Spice – #15

July 8

1. The counter is too high in this kitchen for me to straighten my arm and use my weight to crush the ingredients of my spice paste (bumbu). I can’t put my mortar on the floor because there is no door on the kitchen and the puppies will come in.

2. When I came in she was sitting on the floor with her legs stretched out in front of her, making bumbu. The mortar was next to her. She was massaging the paste with the pestle in her right hand, her arm straight, her left hand tucked between her thighs.
I came in and sat next to her, my knees folded up, thighs against my chest, and we talked. She finished the bumbu for the vegetables and started cooking them, cleaned the mortar and collected the ingredients for the second paste: shallot, garlic, turmeric, shrimp paste, hot pepper, tomato, salt, maybe some Galangal. I took over as she cooked the veg and we kept talking.
The pestle is l-shaped, with the handle at a right angle to the crushing part. The hand movement is distinctive, a pushing and a rocking back, so different from the hitting and pulling we expect, like hoeing a row.
You macerate instead of cutting, every hot pepper seed crushed. Suartini added oil as I worked, added salt, added tomato, then added the shrimp and asked me to pound it gently so the shell would become soft.
I remember when we met, my hands were inept. In her kitchen, I found I couldn’t use a knife properly; the pestle eluded me.
One day while I watched her in the kitchen, trying to get her distinctive movements into my eyes so they would trickle down to my hands, she said – I don’t want you to break my heart. And I said – I don’t want to break your heart. But I have, over and over.

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