, , , ,

When I was a child, I had a nanny who told me that if I ever swallowed fruit seeds, I would sprout trees out of my belly button. She showed me proof. She had a huge scar on her belly button, she said was from the surgery to uproot her tree.

This was a scary thought for a little girl, of course. But even as I was entering adulthood, I always made sure I never accidentally swallowed any seed of any kind. Not because I still believed in my nanny’s tall tale, but because I didn’t want to have a surgery. Needles scared me to death.

So, I never swallowed pomegranate seeds. I always sucked on the arils and spat out the seeds. Which made the eating of fresh pomegranates a chore. Which resulted in the annual piling up of dried-up pomegranates in the fruit bowl, because invariably I got tired of the sucking and the spitting. But I could never resist buying these pomegranates every time I saw them.

Like today at the market. I went there to get other things, but who can pass piles of pomegranates without a second look, and without picking them up? These are the fruits of the ancient gods and goddesses, after all. Why, Persephone survived just by eating several pomegranate seeds while being captive in the underworld.

The question now is what to do with them? I can always suck and spit, as usual. But I should do better than that. These pomegranates deserve a significant spot on the dinner table. They’ve earned it, having been around since ancient times.

Did you know they’re mentioned in the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Talmud? The ancient civilizations of China and Egypt revered them. I’m finally catching on. Here’s dinner tonight; it’s all about pomegranates.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry…

Roasted Cornish Hens in Pomegranate Sauce
2 Cornish Hens
Pomegranate Sauce (Recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds (arils) for garnish

For the marinade:
3 tbsp pomegranate juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon, grated finely (a microplane is the best tool for this)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
Salt & pepper

roasted cornish hens with pomegranates

1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large ziploc bag, and marinate hens in it for at least 2 hours.
2. Drain hens, discard marinade.
3. In a large skillet, brown hens with a little bit of olive oil. Transfer to a roasting pan.
4. Roast in a 350° F oven, for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the hens. Mine were small; they needed only 45 minutes.
5. Baste with Pomegranate Sauce that has been mixed with olive oil, during the last 15 minutes of roasting time.
6. Drizzle sauce over hens before serving. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds for garnish.

Pomegranate Sauce
1 cup pomegranate juice (fresh is best, otherwise use unsweetened bottled juice)
Juice from half a lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cardamom pods, smashed
1 cinnamon stick or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar

1. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until completely soft.
2. Add cardamom and cinnamon, stir to distribute.
3. Add lemon juice, pomegranate juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until sauce is thickened and is reduced to about 1/2 cup.  

– Use about 1 tbsp of this sauce, mixed with 1 tbsp of olive oil, to baste Cornish hens during the last 15 minutes of roasting.

– Save 2 tbsp of this sauce for the salad.

– To the rest of the sauce, add 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds. Add 1 or 2 tbsp of pan drippings to this, mix, heat briefly, then drizzle over hens before serving.

Pomegranate Tomato Salad

tomato pomegranate salad

2 cups of a mix of red & yellow cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 red onion, diced
1 small bell/sweet pepper, diced
1 small cucumber, diced
Some parsley & mint, finely chopped

For the dressing:
2 tbsp pomegranate sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Salt & pepper

Toss everything together.

Pomegranate Carrot Rice
I followed Fae’s recipe for Carrot Rice to make this. The only thing I did differently was to add toasted pistachios and pomegranate seeds. I also used pomegranate juice-infused dried cranberries.

pomegranate carrot rice

There is not going to be any sucking and spitting at the dinner table tonight. These pomegranate seeds are meant to be crunched and eaten entire.

This will be the first time I’ll swallow a pomegranate seed. Hard to tell if I will ever sprout a tree. I’m a gardener, so I know generally how long these seeds take to germinate. A pomegranate seed can very well start sprouting in my tummy right after dinner tonight. Check up on me in a week or two, to see if it’ll make its way into my belly button.


First Breath

“Get rid of it!” He said gruffly, looking at her growing waistline. He meant the baby, he didn’t want it. He already had 5 children, from 2 previous marriages. Ni was half his age when she married him, barely out of her teenage years. Her father had arranged the marriage before he died, a common practice in the village she came from. Atim had worked with her father as farm hands.

“He is a good man, Ni,” her father had told her. “Just unlucky, both wives died so young. He’ll treat you well. I’ve seen him around his mother; he treats her with respect. That’s how a man should regard his mother.”

She had nothing to say. It wasn’t her place to disobey. Besides, Atim had paid for her hand. There was a sum of money and a heifer that a mutual friend had delivered to her parents’ home. The groom-to-be should never have to do the delivery on his own, if he were to follow proper etiquette. Her father was pleased. Her mother had looked at her with tears in her eyes. Ni knew it wasn’t out of happiness, but of sorrow. Her only daughter was going to be a stepmother to 5 children.

The baby was going to be a strong boy, Ni could feel in her heart. How she longed to have someone she could love as her own, someone who would love her back unconditionally. The baby was going to be that someone. The baby who was now lost, because Atim had not wanted to have him. He had gone to the village medicine woman and came back with a bottle of rejuvenating water.

Ni woke up in the small village hospital thinking she was in her principal’s office. Then he saw Atim’s face. He looked concerned, but she wasn’t moved. Her heart had turned cold, forever. No man would ever touch it again. She refused to look at her tummy and apply the ointment the nurse had told her to do twice a day to reduce swelling and possible scarring.

Then one day, on the way to the market to buy the family’s daily food, Ni’s feet decided to keep going, past the market, past the old temple, and into the main street. She stopped only once, right in front of the post office, to catch her breath.

She settled down briefly on an iron bench, and with her mouth open, inhaled the air deeply. I can breathe, she thought, I can breathe. For the first time in 4 years, I can breathe!

She arrived at the big house where her cousin was employed as a domestic helper looking quite radiant. She simply told her cousin she needed employment to help out with the family’s financial situation. No question was asked; everybody knew life in the village was hard and often daughters and wives looked for employment away from home. She was allowed to stay for a few days, until the lady of the house asked if she would take a job in the big city.

“My sister just had a baby. She has her hands full, she could use your help.” The farther, the better, Ni thought. She was driven to the train station. A letter was written on her behalf. 5 hours later, she arrived at the yellow house with the maroon door, in the big city.

A beautiful lady peered through the window, then smiled and let her in. She read the letter while patting her baby to sleep, and started explaining what Ni’s duties were. Ni only listened partially and refused the offer for a glass of water. She couldn’t take her eyes off the baby, a boy the age of her own had he survived the rejuvenating water.

A shy little girl came and sat next to the pretty lady, and another girl, not as shy, started asking Ni to play with her. Ni had found her home. She was meant to be with these children, she was meant to care for this baby. She breathed again, this time not as deep as her first in front of that post office, this time she breathed like any normal person, like any living person. Ni started to live again.

Is the above the true story of how my nanny got her belly button scar? Of course not. It’s totally fictional, completely out of my imagination. My nanny probably did have some kind of surgery, most likely not from a tree removal.