Yesterday was Karina’s…

Yesterday was Karina's birthday -- happy belated birthday, K!

It's a grey morning. It's been raining, I think -- the wooden rail outside my window is wet. It'll probably clear up by lunchtime; that's been the pattern for the last week. Still, I'm glad that I managed to steal a little time for sailing on Tuesday. There are probably only a few more weeks of clear sailing weather left. David and I took out a bigger boat this time, a Hobie Holder. We weren't tripping over each other in the boat, and we didn't take on any water (though it came close a couple of times). Mostly we just calmly sailed back and forth on the lake, close-hauled when we could figure out which direction the wind was coming from (the wind is very tricky on Lake Merritt, because of the tall buildings surrounding the lake). Theoretically, you go faster on a run, but because the wind is at your back, you don't really feel it. Close-hauled, you're sailing just barely not into the wind (you can't actually sail into the wind with a sailboat -- just not possible. Your sails will start shaking back and forth (luffing) and won't catch any wind), and the breeze against your face is sharp. I want to try sailing on the Bay at some point, with a salt breeze.

Do you know the John Masefield poem?

I must down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by.

And the wheel's crack and the wind's song,
And a white sail shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face,
And a grey dawn breaking.

I've always loved that poem, even more so since they established in Star Trek that Kirk also loved it, that he thought of the Enterprise as his 'tall ship'... I often have trouble deciding what I'd do if I had a lot of money, but I think I'd definitely buy a sailboat. Just a little one...

I slept badly last night. I wasn't surprised, actually, since I fell asleep reading in bed with too many clothes on, and I was hot, tossing and turning in tangled blankets. Bad dreams -- or anxiety dreams at least. It was exam time at Mills, and even though I'd graduated, I'd mentioned to someone that people were welcome to stop by my place around teatime for a break, if they wanted. I'd only expected a few people, but tons showed up, and more and more started arriving. I started serving them leftover birthday cake, with juice and milk, 'cause that's all I had in the fridge. They were all very upset, and I was trying to be helpful, but I didn't have the answers to their problems. So I gave them more cake, on Ian's good china. I was just gearing up to set some of them to washing dishes and others to making cookies when I woke up. El thinks their problems are actually my problems, that I can't get away from even while asleep. I distrust explanations of dreams, though.

She couldn't sleep either. I, at least, got four hours of sleep -- she hadn't slept at all. This was nice for me, in that when I got up at 5 and staggered to the kitchen, she was there to set the kettle boiling, but not at all nice for her. I convinced her to take some Benadryl, and hopefully she'll be asleep soon. It was good to get a chance to talk to her, though. We had a couple of hours before the rest of the household awoke (big household right now, since Lydia is staying in the guest room this month while she looks for housing), and we caught up on each other's lives. We've both been too busy to talk much lately. Around 6:45 I started making breakfast, and soon after that, Ian and Lydia had both woken up, and El ate a little and then went to sleep. We hope.

I made hoppers for breakfast. I've never made them before -- they always intimidated me a little because they're one of those extremely traditional Sri Lankan foods that even my mother only made once in a while. The recipe I used requires some forethought too, as to do it right, you need to let the batter sit overnight. You can force it by letting it sit in a warm oven for an hour instead, and that's what I did yesterday, but it doesn't work as well. The batter than I let sit and used this morning was much better.

I'm trying to think how to explain hoppers. First, you need an odd pan to make them - a half hemisphere of iron, much more curved than a wok. You can buy them in Indian grocery stores (or they can tell you where to get one). If you buy one, you have to remember to dry it right away after you wash it, and then rub oil on the inside, or it will rust. (El reminded me of that). Once you have the pan, you rub it with an oily paper towel (or fry nonstick cooking spray on the inside), and heat it a little. Then you pour in a half cup of batter, right into the bottom. Then you pick up the pan and swirl it a bit, so that a thin layer of batter comes halfway up the sides of the pan, and the rest settles back down at the bottom. For a plain hopper, you stop there, and put a lid on the pan (any lid that fits just inside the rim is fine) and cook it for five minutes on low heat. A very slow process, as you see. To feed four people would take an hour (two hoppers a person is more than sufficient; they're substantial). It's good for lazy mornings when you can just relax and chat in between each hopper's cooking, or do dishes, or putter around the kitchen.

There are variations on the plain hopper (which is traditionally eaten plain, or with curry). For something more Americans would recognize as breakfast, you crack an egg into the center right after you swirl. It settles in and in five minutes has soft-cooked; traditionally, you'd eat it with the yolks still somewhat liquid. I'm not a big fan of liquid yolks, but it works with this dish. Kids are often really fond of a sweet hopper, where you add a quarter cup or so of sweetened coconut milk to the center after you swirl, and serve with more coconut cream. Not a low-fat meal, but yummy.

The batter is somewhat complicated, though not actually hard. Add a packet of yeast to a half cup of warm water and a quarter t. sugar. Wait ten minutes and see if it bubbles. If it doesn't, your yeast isn't active. Start over. When you have active yeast, mix together 1.5 c. flour, 1.5 c. ground rice (you can grind it in a coffee grinder if you don't have a spice grinder), and 1-2 t. salt (err on the lower side to start). Take a can of coconut milk (two cups). Pour 1.5 c. into the flour mixture. Dilute the other half cup with a half cut water and set the cup of thin coconut milk aside. Stir in yeast, blend very well, and set aside, covered, ideally overnight (or for an hour in a warm oven with the heat turned off).

When it's done rising (theoeretically it should double in bulk, but I wouldn't count on it), stir it again, stirring in half of the thin coconut milk. It should be a medium thick batter -- thin enough that when you pour it and swirl, you leave a thin layer on the sides of the pan. It's pretty easy to get the hang of after the first couple (much like crepes).

I don't know how to describe the taste of hoppers. More like injera than anything else I suppose, but not as sourdough-ish. For a seriously Sri Lankan feast, serve them with a good hot curry (fish is best), make some egg, some sweet, serve some idli and masala dosai and sambar, put out some sharp sambols and sour pickles and sweet hot chutneys, with lassi and king coconut milk to drink and fresh fruit (mango, papaya, pineapple) on the side. That breakfast will carry you through to dinner. I'm not even going to start describing dinner, or I'll get hungry again, and I just ate two hoppers, so I'm really quite full.

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