“Emeelee I vas vunderings if I could talk vith you for a moment” said the short, Hungarian professor. Her black rimmed glasses dangled from one corner of her mouth. She pursed her wrinkled lips around them and furled her brow as though she were thinking hard, so as to communicate something telepathically to me. I felt sort of dim witted for not being able to hear her thoughts.
“Uh sure” I said. She whisked around and began to walk swiftly down the hallway. I was expected to follow, which I would have known had I been following along with her thoughts.
She walked quickly and freely for a woman her age, and I had to skip my step to keep up. I was lugging along my laptop and various books, and had not yet taken off my coat. She stopped before the door of her office and began to search her pockets for keys. For a moment, she was just a little old lady, and not the strict, accomplished chemistry professor, with a reputation for being intimidating. Her red hair was thin and flat in the back, and her scalp showed through in swirled patterns which had undoubtedly been created by her pillow. Her shoes were flat and sensible, and around her neck she wore a string of pearls. She turned the key and then turned her head to look at me over her glasses.
“Come in” she commanded. “Sit down”. Obediently I sat.
“I vas vundering if you could halp me vith my slides.” Silence.
“yes, of course” I said. Then she leaned in close and took her glasses off.
“I cannot type, you see, it is my great handicap. I have never learned. All ov my notes have been typed by the secretary and converted to overhead. I need somevone to turn them to powverpoint.”
“Sure” I said.
She pulled her pursed lips back into a smile and said,
“GOOD, I vill be taking you to lunch then, have you been to Caspian?” and she swiveled her chair, put on her glasses, and with her nose two inches from the monitor began meticulously scanning the screen for the email icon. “Yes, I was there yesterday, actually. I had the ash reshdeh”
“Ah yes” She said, “that is very good”. Still facing her computer,she looked first over, then under her glasses. She then squinted and furled her brow, as though trying to communicate telepathically now with the machine.
Her bookshelves were lined with scientific journals, which were dusty with age. The bound journal, which was once the booming metropolis of scientific information, is now a ghost town. Bright young minds no longer walk the printed lines of written word. The academic world has built a new glowing city, in front of which my professor now sat and peered into like it were a snow globe.
On the way home from school, I thought about my professor. In her career, she has isolated three of the different isomers of vitamin E, has published numerous articles in the field of antioxidants and lipid chemistry, has taught at major universities for over 30 years. Now the world that she has thrived in has moved out of the physical realm, and I wondered if she felt lonely.
Over the next few days, I began noticing how much of my life is lived online. Nobody really calls me anymore (except for my professor). I communicate with friends over facebook or text message. Emails are reserved for the more formal relationships. If I need to call a plumber, or order a movie, or buy new clothes, I just look online.
“Maybe she just doesn’t want to be a part of the new world” Catherine said, as I told Christina and her mom about my professor.
Maybe she doesn’t feel she needs to, as she has students to navigate it for her”. I thought about how before I left her office, she asked me to look on my computer and research a few things. I imagined how we would sit at the Caspian, over two steaming bowls of rich and flavorful ash, and exchange stories from our adventures in our two different homelands. The physical and the virtual meeting over a common interest in chemistry and food.
Vegetarian Ash-e reshteh (this recipe is loosely based on one from Najmieh Batmanglii, I modified it so that it would be vegetarian by substituting a mushroom broth for a beef broth. The Persian cookbooks of Najmieh Batmanglii are wonderful.)
rinse and soak overnight:
1/3 cup kidney beans
1/4 cup great northern beans
1/3 cup garbanzo beans
In a soup pot, fry:
4 small onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
a punch of salt
1 tsp turmeric
Add 12 cups of water and the soaked beans. Simmer uncovered for 45 min-1 hour, skimming the yellow foam off of the top (but try not to lose the onions!) In the meantime, add
3 packages fresh, organic mushrooms, and
1 chopped red onion
to a wide dutch oven and cover with water. add some
and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered. When the beans are cooked in the soup pot, add the strained mushroom liquid to it (about 5 cups), and
1 1/2 cups of dried lentils.
Cook uncovered for 50 min. Slice and cut into small matchsticks:
1 large red beet
and add to the pot. Add 1 cup of
chopped fresh dill
and a pinch of fenugreek
after about 15 min. add
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 lb fresh whole wheat linguini
8 cups fresh chopped spinach
cook 15 more min and add
1 tsp sherry vinegar (optional)
minced sauteed garlic, onions, turmeric, fresh mint, and a dollop of Greek yogurt.