As time passes since I started a blog, I have accumulated massive lists of ideas that I’ve never touched. I’m a content hoarder of sorts. I queue up endless articles and books and videos, among other content I plan to consume and digest over time. I gather and process for understanding, or using in my classes in some way, faster than I am able to write anything substantial or constructive. I’ve never written content I wanted to write freely about as much as I’d like to. My “writing” since the last time I was a student in 2011 has been focused on personal correspondence or work. For instance, letters to friends are my favorite things to write, getting and giving counsel, processing life and just sharing stories. However I have probably written the most for work, especially now as a teacher, responding to students, writing lessons and other avenues for speaking and teaching as they come up. But even in business I sometimes wrote for days at a time. There were client emails, proposals, project specifications, marketing copy and so on. My content production, as it were, is almost entirely relegated to private, personal messages, be it either close friends or for work. Along the way I’ve amassed a huge list I just call “ideas.” Usually these are ideas for any number of kinds of projects, possible businesses, books, dissertation topics, video projects, and lastly for potential blogs. I developed the habit of writing that kind of thing down, but have been primarily focused on my life experiences and working them out privately. Two years ago I was accepted to a dissertation only PhD program, but then I switched careers and moved to a new state. Last year I came close to launching a website focused on Indian food products and cooking videos, but right as I was about to do that I changed careers and moved to Korea. These are a couple of examples.

I’ve treated blogging almost like the dump heap of my ideas. The place my idea goes, not to die, but after it dies. Therefore, not willing to accept the death of my ideas, I rarely blog. This has not been conscious for the most part, just something that happened. I write about it now because I’ve decided I want to change it. I want blogging to be a part of the earlier steps in the life cycle of my thoughts, not the postmortem of a death cycle. I have actually written many blogs, but they are all drafts or deleted. I process what I want to process, and then don’t feel like taking the risk of sharing.

I don’t know what shape this will take yet, other than using an upcoming break from work to slow my content consumption and generate some instead. For some context, at any given time I have over 200 articles saved on Facebook, hundreds of links bookmarked on Chrome, and a book reading/listening queue well over a hundred as well. This doesn’t factor in the content I consume or generate from work, even though there is a fair amount of overlap. I don’t see this as something to brag about for a few reasons. One is that I know bigger content hoarders than myself and I find my efforts unimpressive. I also think it’s a bit excessive or obsessive, and my wife would likely agree. I’m not sure why I treat information the way I do. I think it comes from being raised in a bit of a cultural cul de sac in rural Kentucky and then slowly letting my curiosity take over to the point of some kind of dominant impulse. For some reason I feel driven to write more than I have for a long time. Probably because the semester is wrapping up and I’m looking at a few weeks of some long awaited rest. I’m most likely entering a season of withdrawal from work and wanting to use the creative engines for more personal or experimental matters. Also, while I’m certainly not alone, living abroad does have an isolating affect. Perhaps a measure of isolation is what I needed to get more of my thoughts out in the open.

In my opinion, as a reluctant yet ferocious extrovert, ideas need a lab for experimentation and testing. Usually I keep that lab under lock and key with the people around me at work or close to me relationally, but now I’m going to have at least a portion of that lab a little more open.

Julienne cut onions, minced garlic, dried red chilis, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and curry leaves.

Julienne cut onions, minced garlic, dried red chilies,  cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and curry leaves.

Having no formal culinary training of any kind, the early years of my curry making were overwhelmingly haphazard. I learned how to peel and chop onions and garlic quickly, get them to soften, and then starting adding as much Indian chili powder to the dish as possible while tossing bits of salt, curry powder (which I never use now), garam masala and whatever main ingredient I was using at the time, finishing with cilantro. I love spicy food, but at the time my goal was to make it so hot that nobody else would eat it and I could have it all to myself. That ended when an Indian friend of mine who was a nutritionist told me that I would develop an ulcer in a couple of years if I didn’t stop. I figured if I was out-spicing the Indians, I had gone too far.

Over the years I made a lot more Indian friends who taught me their methods and studied a bit independently. I eventually realized that texture was important to nuances in flavor, and that there are endless layers to any given flavor profile of a curry. This meant that even cutting the onions a certain way could have a profound effect on the dish. I eventually found some of my favorite practices based on trial and error. I’m still honing it in. Even today I’m going to be experimenting with a cauliflower, carrot and chicken korma finished with the seasoning fry I’m about to explain, with the addition of some pan fried cashews. I’ve never quite done it like this before, but I think I’m on to something. It’s a combo of some things I’ve stumbled upon while making a variety of other dishes. What I want to focus on for this post is the base ingredients and process I use for a seasoning fry that has become quite central to much of my cooking.

I’ve discussed the start, with mustard seeds and turmeric. Once the mustard seeds pop, I add cumin seeds, dried red chilies, curry leaves (when I can find them), garlic (cut differently based on the dish) and onions (mostly cut julienne style, but differently based on the dish as well.) Here is the key, are you ready? CARAMELIZE IT! Let me say it again, CARAMELIZE IT! Depending on the stove quality, this process usually involves the ingredients sitting on just over medium heat for half an hour, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning. It takes serious patience. It will start to burn, you just have to feel it to know when it’s enough, feel it in your soul, don’t go grabbing handfuls of burning onions or anything. What this does is add a sweet, smokey tangy flavor to your dish. You can start your dish this way, cooking everything in one pan, or cook this fry separately to be added on top of the main dish once it is done cooking. When you cook it separately and add it on top, the caramelized exterior on the fried ingredients don’t completely mix with the rest of the dish as it would if it was cooked in from the beginning, and they become little sweet, smokey flavor bombs that you stumble upon while you eat. The sweetness comes from the caramelization because you’re essentially drawing out the sugars and burning them a bit. The smokiness is from the fact that are charring it a little. It’s a deadly combo when you factor in the already powerful spice profile of the main dish you’re adding this to.

I’ve noticed that people without well developed palates tend to hate curry for this reason. Even without the extraordinary measures I’ve taken to exploit the layers of flavor in Indian food, there is already an intensity to Indian food that the traditional Western palate isn’t accustomed to, and the surprising affect of that can cause people to think that they don’t like it. It’s similar to when someone doesn’t like a new idea at first simply because they don’t understand it. Some people have a legitimate preference opposed to Indian food, and I respect that, but they can usually articulate why with at least a novice level culinary understanding. Without that, I know that it’s just new and different for them.

So that’s my caramelized awesomeness. Try it with just onions and garlic first, and then start adding other things. You can play around with the process a lot without messing anything up and it changes the flavor a bit each way you do it.