Eating Authors: K. Moore

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K. Moore

As I may have mentioned before, February is my month for time travel. And if I didn’t mention it before, that’s probably because either it hasn’t happened yet, or I did but you don’t recall because that version of your timeline has been erased. Time travel is like that.

If temporal paradoxes give you headaches, perhaps it’s simpler to believe that I’m setting today’s post up a couple weeks in advance because I expect (have expected? will have been expecting?) being in the hospital on this date and wanted to make sure you’d have something to read today. Yeah, let’s go with that.

In a perfect world, I’d have a very cool, time travel-related segue here to introduce you to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. Mind you, in a perfect world, I wouldn’t have gone into the hospital two weeks ago, so suck it up, buttercup, no segue for you. Which is a shame because there’s not really all that much I can tell you about K. Moore other than that she’s from Australia, and that when we met last November at the 20BooksVegas conference she plied me with imported (to me) chocolate. And yes, now you know, chocolate is a surefire way to get an invitation to be featured here.

Having already traveled the world, K. now lives in Alaska with her family and a Karelian bear dog. She writes thrillers, which is a bit of a departure from most guests here. I blame the chocolate.

Her next book, All For Mother comes out in November.

LMS: Welcome, K. Got any more chocolate? No? Okay, that’s fair. How about you tell me about your most memorable meal?

KM: In mid-2002, months after the Taliban fled Kabul, I joined a French non-governmental organization (NGO) that was supporting a mix of humanitarian programs in the country. Based in Kabul I traveled extensively across the country, and was given the opportunity to experience the hospitality and warmth of various Afghan communities — sharing a meal was key to building good will.

With the Taliban in retreat, Kabul and the surrounding provinces had a new and exciting feel. UN and NGO workers rushed around trying to understand what they could do to assist, with talk of reforms and freedoms for the people the language of the day. Sadly, this early hope has since foundered, but it was very heady days.

The influx of organizations providing aid and assistance saw the opening of cafes and restaurants to cater to the growing international community. These places were safe, behind razor-wire covered walls, and offering western fare for exorbitant prices. Alcohol could be bought on the black market, cheap Russian vodka going for USD 50 a bottle. Hashish was also readily available. While I did visit such places on occasion, the true joy was in the village, breaking bread with Afghans on their terms.

Desert Rose

On this one occasion, we were driving north from Kabul into the then heavily mined Shomali Plain for a meeting with a group of Afghans to discuss their community’s needs. The green of the Shomali in the spring was breathtaking, belying the reality of injury or death that could occur with one wrong step. Our convoy of white vehicles caused interest as we traversed the pock-marked, dusty roads.

Arriving at our intended destination, the children scampered away, chasing clucking groups of free-range hens out of the way as we parked alongside a high mud wall. They hesitantly came back, curiosity winning over their fear, to peer at the group of foreigners. My presence, the only female in the entourage, was especially interesting to them. Local women wore burqas in public, the full head to toe covering, while I — as a Western woman — could get away with a headscarf and modest clothing that covered my arms and legs.

We were ushered into the village leader’s hall, and asked to sit on cushions and wait. Earthen walls and wooden beams surrounded us, silent witnesses to much of the community’s history. Plied with both dark (Chai Siyaa) and green tea (Chai Sabz) and sugar-coated almonds, I relaxed on the floor from the journey waiting for our hosts to arrive, watching a mulberry tree sway gently through a hole in the wall. As was their custom, the men of the village didn’t want to discuss business immediately. They just talked — about the weather, the village, daily news, and only afterwards about the business at hand. My input was minimal, but when I did ask a question or raise a point, I would note the furrowed brows of the Afghan men.

Following the initial conversation, a large mat was brought out and laid before us. Before long, mounds of Afghan naan bread and a mix of local dishes were spread across it by the women; no dishes or silverware apparent.

It was a simple fare; Kabuli palaw, a national dish, rich with rice and meat and topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, and pistachios. A light coating of caramelized sugar on the rice gives it a golden-brown colour. Taking cues of our hosts, I used the naan as a spoon to scoop the communal food to my mouth.

All For Mother

The bread, though simple, was amazing, the flavours of earthen wheat chasing the rice and chunks of roasted lamb. The palaw, a lovely blend of savoury and sweet, with the delicate, sweet, flavour of fried carrots and raisins plus the caramelized sugar going well with the salty richness of the rice and meat. Almonds, pistachios and cashews offer additional texture and richness to the dish.

Sitting back on our cushions, sipping even more tea, contemplating the lines on every face, the food took on even more meaning. I realized that the village had all come together to prepare the meal, each family offering something, their honor and dignity as Afghans at stake. We were guests, and we were to be treated well even if it meant some might go without.

Looking for a bit of fresh air, I walked outside and a group of young girls whispered and giggled as they waved me over to another building. Hesitantly, I headed over, with a quick look over my shoulder to the rest of our contingent as they milled outside the hall. Stepping around a small wall, I came face to face with three women around a well. They smiled and made washing motions, handing me a well used cloth to clean my face and hands. Realizing no men were about, I took off my headscarf and used a small bucket to draw water to wash the meal’s remnants from my face.

Small hands reached out to touch my hair, rolling the sun-bleached ends between their fingers. The older ladies shooed them away, giving me an apologetic look. I remember laughing and stumbling over words in my limited Dari vocabulary to tell them it was okay. In broken English one of the older women asked me if I enjoyed lunch.

With the meeting having concluded, I smiled and quickly returned to where the vehicles were parked. Upon arriving it struck me, as always, that there had been no women in the hall. But the meal was theirs, prepared by their hands, born of care and a timeless skill that gave nourishment as well as pleasure. Here with these women, there was no thin fabric to separate us, we were the same, if but for an all too fleeting moment. In sharing the meal they prepared, they were in that hall, even if I was at first too blind to see.

Thanks, K. That’s a wistful and haunting image, those women present by the grace and skill of their hands, in the room where their presence was not permitted. I’ll be pondering that for a while.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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