February 24th, 9:19 PM. The wind howls outside my window. The cold moves in, but I am safe and warm.
Led Zeppelin played on the stereo of my mind. The lake drained from the valley, allowing the demon to be exposed and killed. It was easy, once I poured the boiling broth into the pan and set it into the oven. It swirled around the rice in its faint golden glory. Soon, I would eat, and the demon of hunger banished from my belly.
Perhaps it wasn't as dramatic as all that, but dinner made for some interesting reading later in the evening. I encountered the minor vexation of running out of saffron. The last little pinch in my small supply became a key part of my culinary adventures. The sight of the now-empty jar induced a sigh and a wish. Soon, perhaps, I'll procure some more. It is, after all, good, tasty, and beautiful.
The saffron I like come from Kashmir, the region shared by India, Pakistan and China. To gild this lily, it is called "Mogra Cream", which certainly sounds luxurious. The price, unfortunately, would seem to confirm that notion. Because of the price, I tend to not buy it very often, although this particular batch was a gift to me from someone I hold very dear. I suppose that is what contributed to my wistfulness to see it go.
So what does this have to do with valleys, lakes and demons? Oh, and for good measure, Led Zeppelin? Very often when I cook, part of my mind roams the aether. It freewheels through many things. I was thinking of the song "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin, it looped over and over in my head while I prepared dinner. As I dished up the food (a saffron rice pilaf with salmon and onions and celery) I also mused on the geographic area of Kashmir. I wanted to know exactly where it was and what it meant.
So I did a little research to refresh my memory and compile some new ones. It was then that I learned some of the basic myths behind the name. Legend has it the Kashmir valley was once a lake, and that lake was inhabited by a demon. A nasty bugger who tortured and devoured the locals. Along came a chap named Kashyap, who was a brahmin (and the equivalent of a saint, if I understand things correctly) and through penance managed to get the blessing of Lord Vishnu, who caused the lake to be drained. This exposed the demon and it was killed. The valley was named Kashmir in Kashyap's honor.
I didn't know any of that when I sat down to eat. Demons and saints weren't my dinner companions but I'm pretty sure I had my own version of Shangri-La right there in the bowl. All it took was Led Zeppelin and a pinch of saffron to set me on the road to Kashmir.