Madness

It feels like I’m about start leaking marbles from my ears. Can you see it? Can you see the veins against my temples starting to split at their seams? In a moment, I’ll leak and be declared insane.

You, darling reader, would be happy to know, that I have survived a meltdown. Of elephantine proportions. There is a chance I’m exaggerating, but allow me this. Saying that I have “been busy” would be an understatement. You already know that I have been in this state of busyness, for a while. But last week was it for me.

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Seriously…

It started two months ago with a small idea of reviving the “book”. Which in hindsight has proven to be a bigger task that I have ever come across, but we all know that I’m prone to biting off more than I can chew. The “book” has been on and off for the last ten years. Even before I graduated from college. Back then, it was mostly about friends and the comic heights of being a student of architecture. It then moved on to life inn Mumbai, graduate studies in Nottingham and then finally London.

I’d write pieces. Stow some away. Some I would use and put them in the blog here, mostly the ones related to food. The others would just sit quietly in the vastness of Google Drive. Right after we traveled back from our SE Asian holiday, an ad-man friend, Richard — who comes as a complete set with the sculpted beard and curled up mustache — asked me to review a short story he had written and was thinking about submitting it to a literary magazine (!!!!). As expected, the piece was brilliant. But more inspiring than anything.

“Do you think you can take it on?” I found Priya asking me, a week later. We were discussing Richard’s piece over Skype, and how I felt hungry and tempted to fire up that old Google Drive account and retrieve all my forgotten stories.

“You know where we are with the company,” she continued. I did know. I do know.

We have a Bali retreat coming up (in a week’s time!) and in my anxiety I have chewed off all my finger nails. Priya’s daily routine now includes rocking back and forth on her office chair, every morning, for two hours, imagining all organisational disasters that could possibly happen during the retreat. There’s an Egypt trip coming up in December, which adds to the frenzy. We’re about to announce our 2018 dates. The website is being pricked and prodded and torn apart by an SEO expert. The Indian banking system is a nightmare to navigate. We’re rapidly running out of money we had set aside for marketing. The affiliates’ program is about to be launched. Bloggers and influencers rule the world. Our tech guys are more scholars than executors.

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Mum’s Chicken Rice

I’ve inherited close to a ton, from my father. Like him, I’m an unnecessary level of logical. Inherently pessimistic and resourceful (which makes me one of the best people to stay close to during a zombie invasion, if you’re taking notes). I have a dimpled chin and narrow set eyes like he does, and I’m almost as awkwardly sarcastic in uncomfortable situations.

I’ve also inherited a few things from my mother. Not much, but a tad. I like to think I’m as resilient as her (my friends have informed me that I’m actually not). I might even say I have a fraction of her sense of humor and her aversion to housework. Apart from that, the most precious things I’ve inherited from her is a camel-colored wool winter coat, a very rare bracelet made of uncut diamonds and all the recipes in her repertoire.

I have to, at this point, put it out there, that my mum is no accomplished cook. She won’t be offended at this, because more often than not, when she’s asked to cook, we end up with either under-salted or over-salted food. But like many uninterested cooks out there, she has a handful of recipes that she’s brilliant with.

Chicken sandwiches, for one. You could live off my mum’s chicken sandwiches. She always makes them with marbled bread. The chicken is shredded and pummeled with salt, cracked black pepper and even more butter till it resembles handmade paper. And there’s always a smidgen of mayonnaise. On occasions I’ve supplied her with homemade mayonnaise, but she swears that the sandwiches work better with store-bought. Don’t ask.

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Lately

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Oh, don’t fret! I’m still working on the vacation posts. Yes, postS, in plural. It would be impossible — and criminal — to cover three fabulous cities in one post. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been obsessed with lately.

  • We went for Dunkirk a couple of days back and I caught myself staring lustily at the generic, and depressed-about-their-own-existence hot dogs that were being sold at the concession. That reminded me of our hot dog Christmas Feast last year, the recipes of which I haven’t shared yet. I’m not an avid collector of hot dog recipes to be honest, but I couldn’t stop craving them. So I jumped on the internet to look for a few new recipes and found this! Hot dogs! Moroccan carrot slaw! Jerusalem bagel buns! From the lovely Molly Yeh.
  • Oh and, before I forget, do yourself a favour and go watch Dunkirk. Just go. Harry Styles might just be the next Justin Timberlake, but that’s not why you should watch it.
  • Let’s face it, the Indian Censor Board is crap. Or rather, headed by crap-wits. All the scenes cut from the movie, Lipstick Under my Burkha, and the reasons they’d quoted to ban it, was recently released, and it’s only a glimpse of how crap-witted, and degenerative the censor board members are.
  • Vietnamese Caramel Chicken from David Lebovitz. I mean, the man’s a certified genius.
  • We fell in love with Bali (no idea why I never thought of going there earlier). So naturally, Priya and I are doing a Bali retreat in November! The retreat will be an immersive experience for couples and solo travelers that’ll include exploring the spiritual centers of the island, cultural performances, local handicrafts, cottage industries, plenty of beach time, water sports and of course, local food! No age bar, you can fly in from anywhere in the world, and we’ll take care of the rest. Check out the event page for more details and registration. You can also holler at me on amrita@altertrips.com and I’ll be more than happy to fill you in with details.
  • I wish I could write about eggs like Elissa Altman writes about them.
  • A great piece about being a solo female traveler in a group tour. How many times have we had to answer questions about why we choose, sometimes or at all times, to travel alone?
  • I was plugged into Youtube all day and ignored my work. Best Day of My Life by American Authors can help you to do that also.

Happy weekend, you lot!

What we eat

You know what the rains are like here. We get swept away and washed off of all our sins every season. Then we roll right out of bed, grab black umbrellas left behind by our grandfathers, go back to work and dream of khichdi.

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Khichdi with fried aubergines and cubes of potatoes coated in a poppy-seed crumb, crispy fried of course, and a large dollop of ghee on top for good measure. Khichdi, like this, or with flaked fish British-style, is something I will cook forever. I have done my research online trying to find poetry or pretty prose that might have been written on khichdi, but I have been unsuccessful so far. With fried hilsa fish, with popadoms and mango chutney or with an omelette on top. It is not a head-turner in any sense. It is not something you’d find in QP LDN’s menu for sure. But let’s be real here. As much as I enjoyed QP LDN’s food last summer, I did walk out of there still feeling a little hungry (and lighter in the pockets) and ended up gorging on a quarter-pounder form Burger King. That should tell you a lot about how we eat. And more importantly, what we eat.

A man I had dated for a very short while, had studied my Instagram feed very carefully. He said, “You really love food, don’t you..”

I do. But he wasn’t really asking a question, it was more of a self-assured whisper under his own breath, as if he was looking for clues to help him decide what to give me as a birthday gift. He then proceeded to observe, “You eat fancy!”

He didn’t last till my birthday, but I still think of that conversation.

The sausage salad

The truth is that we don’t eat fancy at all. We eat out. We visit our favorite Indo-Chinese establishments or stroll to the neighborhood burger place that has, in recent times, turned magnificent. We get biryanis home-delivered. But those meals, although scrumptious enough to swear by, are hardly ever the kind of fancy you would want the world to be envious about. Good food. Great food, even. But not fancy food.

Most of our meals are home-made. Cooked or slurried together due to lack of time. A mutton curry, the recipe of which was handed down to my mother by her mother, with fluffy white rice. A homemade vanilla cake my colleague baked for Christmas, that we had with coffee. I found myself with some cooked pork sausages yesterday. I threw them in a bowl with a 6-minute egg, day old lettuce that already had a few brown edges, and dollops of mayonnaise. I then called it a sausage salad. That’s my daily level of fancy-ness. It may be comfortable, mediocre or cherished. But it is what it is.

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We took a whirlwind tour of Bangkok, Singapore and Bali. I travel to eat — for the most part — and I was not disappointed. Big bowlfuls of kuay chap, rolled noodles with crispy pork, hokkien mee, unctuous plates of Hainanese chicken rice, nasi goreng, barbecued pork ribs, piles of seafood by the beach and cups of robust Luwak coffee with sweet coconut milk. Nothing plated, ready for Instagram. But everything made to fill an insatiable appetite for good food.

We returned to a rain-drenched waterlogged city. And within 24 hours of arrival, I was craving khichdi. A steaming plate of gooey rice and dal, to warm you up in the chill of monsoon. So we had khichdi for lunch. And a quiche for dinner.

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Radio silence. Berlin. And the problem that sparked the idea.

Do you hear that?

The radio silence that makes it seem like the blog’s gone dead?

Well, it hasn’t.

I’m coming to you from somewhere high above the Atlantic, as I fly back home. The airplane cabin is dark and quiet. The baby in 24C was crying a while back. He’s fallen asleep. I’ve just a finished a spectacularly bad meal of pack-n-seal biryani. But buckle up, this is going to be a long one.

It would be OK for you to assume that I haven’t been doing much of cooking or baking, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Barring junk-that-will-make-you-slobber-uncontrollably hot dogs and a chicken and mushroom quiche, which I will share with you shortly, I haven’t really spent much time in the kitchen this year. So far.

Remember how we discussed Altertrips over lemon cake? I did promise to share more with you and now is just as good a time as any.

Two summers ago, in 2015, we took an impromptu flight to Berlin. Just because. Fauri, my BFF from Uni (and fellow kebab-lover), was finishing up with her post-grads in Dessau and I was looking for a short break. Germany seemed like an attractive option. Unfazed by the popular consensus about the starkness of bratwurst, my family wanted to come along. And so they did.

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I don’t have to tell you how family vacations are completely different from vacations with friends. It’s the priorities that get you. Hostel vs Hotel. Sightseeing vs Eating. Eating Indian vs Eating local. Walking around all day vs Going back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta.

Luckily, my family’s made up of champs and travel-hungry people.

We booked an AirBnB, a charming two-room apartment in Barbarossastraße, with the tiniest of kitchens and a bathroom that was so narrow, you wouldn’t be able to stretch out both your arms sideways at the same time. The apartment was stacked with its neighboring units and overlooked a cozy courtyard. The coziness and the green of the courtyard was welcoming. However, it meant that neighbors could easily hear you talking if you raised your voice a couple of notches. Toddlers looked up from their playtime and quietly watched us drag our luggage to the first floor.

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On top of the Furnsehturm. Tickets Here.

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Useful pasta for benevolent purposes

There are times I wish I had grown up by the knees of an Italian nonna, learning how roll out homemade fettuccine. We’d be at it all morning, me watching and sticking my hands into the mounds of flour, she’d be scolding me between large swigs of limoncello. By a twist of fate, however, I was born to a Bengali grandmother who taught me how to balance complicated chemical equations, smelled of lavender and handed down a mutton curry recipe. It was a good deal, if you ask me.

That does mean I buy dry pasta from the supermarket and that owning a pasta maker is on the list. On the list, I said.

For a long time, pasta was my quintessential go-to meal. Those days, I’d wake up late in the afternoon and walk an often sleet-covered pavement, down to the nearest Sainsbury’s. I would then spend a whole hour eyeing the salmon fillets and logs of blood pudding, stocking up on dried pasta, chili flakes and bags of salt-n-vinegar crisps. I’d then spend another hours picking chocolate bars from new and un-heard of brands that seem to pop up every other day in England.

After trundling home with bright green bags of food, heat up a pan with oil and a pot with salted water. In the pan would go cubed salmon, garlic and chili flakes. I’d then proceed to tumble in the cooked pasta and finish off with a handful of grated parmesan. Sometimes bits of blood pudding would also end up in the pan with the salmon. But blood pudding is not something to be used regularly in pasta, let alone with something as delicate as salmon. Blood pudding is something you should stow away, to eat sauteed — with bread and lettuce when you’re alone, or scallops and mushy peas when there’s company.

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I thought I had a picture somewhere, and I did!

The problem was, not once could I ever finish an entire portion alone. The smell of salmon and cheese had the incredible power to bring my housemates out of their afternoon hibernation. University students around food is like leaving a split-skinned banana out in the backyard. With the banana, you’ll find it half-eaten by ants and bugs. With the students, you’ll find empty plates licked clean.

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32 years. And salted butterscotch.

32 years.

THIRTY TWO YEARS!

Sometimes it feels like I’m 22, bent over on rolls of tracing paper at my college drafting board, wondering when I’ll hear the roar of motorcycle engines outside, signalling the possibility of a midnight mini road-trip.

Sometimes it feels like I’m 42, bent out of shape, exhausted and wondering when they’re going to invent a bed that will be able to swallow me whole.

But I turned 32, almost a fortnight ago now.

I feel like I have to whisper it, lest it sets off people into asking me if I’m married or if I have children.

I’m not. And I don’t.

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Does it feel weird?

Yes and no.

Yes, because when I was younger, much younger, I had imagined – not in too many details – my life to be somewhat different. Maybe a little more accomplished, a little thinner. With a toddler by my knees and a one-off house in Devonshire.

No, because it has been a roller-coaster ride so far and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Accomplishments have come, gone and come again. I could be much thinner. There are no toddlers around, but there’s calm and stillness, a complete command over my own life. I don’t wake up to wet nappies, I wake up to chocolate cupcakes.

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