If you’re Italian, I suggest you turn away, because all things considered I definitely do not want you to wretch or cringe at what I’m about to share. I also do not want you to think less of me as a cook, because I’ve had enough of people thinking that every time I tell them how I once burned water while boiling it.
The last few days have gone by in a haze of confusion. A few of my recipe testers got back to me with their feedback on the dishes they’ve been testing and I have to say that I’ve been left bamboozled by some of their notes. This is no laughing matter, people. I think I will pour myself a drink tomorrow, better yet I’ll just hold the entire bottle close to my chest, and go through all of the feedback. I will report back on that.
Between recipe testing and writing and studying and attending baby showers in Texan suburbs, I have improvised upon the traditional spaghetti carbonara. It seems like me and Kumar (you guys can call him Sundaram, if you want) are preferring meals-in-a-whirl more and more, especially for the past few weeks of the new year. The mornings are quiet and cloudy, because that’s what Plano has been serving up for the last few weeks. But now and then, the sun will come out and bathe everything in bright, eye-hurting gold. Love those days. And all we want to do is walkabout outside and sit with our backs to the sun. We hardly feel like spending too much time in the kitchen. But we haven’t stopped cooking. We’ve just been finding shortcuts.
We made a fish curry that took exactly five minutes of prep. We make omelets with leftover mushrooms for breakfast and we don’t even bother to toast the bread. We learned a plain tomato pasta recipe from a friend of Kumar’s, that has sustained us multiple times over the last year and we have already made that four times in the last month. And then there were those cookies(which take less time than a pedicure, and is infinitely more pleasurable). All that is, of course, interspersed with generous doses of tonkatsu ramen from Ramen Hakata and Monta, dumpling from Sichuan Folk, and gelato from Amorino(only so we can dig into a big bowl of it while walking by the fountains in Legacy). Let’s chart it up to lack of time and convenience.
And now this carbonara. Which is not just for people out of time and non-Italians, it’s also for cooks who don’t always know what they’re doing in the kitchen.
Spaghetti Carbonara for Non-Italians
Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, and heavily altered.
Ingredients: Dried spaghetti, 2 servings worth 3-4 strips of smoky bacon 1 tbsp of minced garlic 2 tsps of red chili flakes ½ cup of chicken stock ¼ cup of cream cheese, softened to room temperature 1-inch piece of Parmesan cheese, plus more to grate over once the dish is ready Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 2 eggs, lightly beaten ¼ cup of freshly chopped parsley Extra virgin olive oil, to dress
How to: Bring a large pot of water to boil. While you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil, cook the bacon in a large non-stick or stainless steel pan until most of the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan and place on a bed of paper towels. When the pot of water starts boiling, add a generous amount of salt, add the spaghetti and cook till al dente. It’ll usually take 8 – 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in the pan in which you cooked the bacon, add garlic and chilli flakes. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, cream cheese and the piece of Parmesan. Cover and cook on medium low until the stock is reduced to almost half. Before you drain the pasta retain ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water. Chop up the cooked bacon and add it back to the pan along with the spaghetti, the pasta water, salt and pepper. Cook uncovered on high heat till most of the liquid disappears from the pan. Take the pan off the heat and add in the parsley and lightly beaten eggs. Toss the eggs with the sauce and the spaghetti quickly to prevent it from scrambling. Serve and top with grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of EVOO.
I come around here every time I think I have important news for you. This time is not much different. 2019 was here and it went by before I could even grasp the concept of its being. And that’s saying something, because I’m all about grasping vague and useless concepts. I have cookies too, by the way, so stick around.
The word niksen stands for the Dutch concept of doing nothing. Like the character of Julia Roberts in the movie Eat, Pray, Love learns about the Italian art of doing nothing, il dolce far niente. The Dutch have their version. And let’s not be too snooty here with all our international-ness, because the Bengalis have their version too — the infamous lyaadh. Or as the Punjabis might say — vella (although vella comes with the negative connotation associated with someone not doing anything just because they’re lazy). But you know what I’m talking about. It’s all the rage now, niksen. First there was hygge, the Dutch concept of coziness and adoring comfort. Now you’ll be seeing the word niksen pop up everywhere.
Anybody who’s ever lived an adult life, single or married, in complicated or uncomplicated relationships, have dipped their toes in this practice. It’s a beautiful thing. Some are bad at it, some are good at it, and then there are those that excel at it at a level that is virtually impossible for a Type-A like me to ever reach.
2019 was the year when I was surprisingly thrown into a life I had assumed I wasn’t cut-out for. Actually, I surprised myself. I very enthusiastically jumped into it knowing full well that I might have to pretend to like the stay-at-home-wife act. I was up for it. But what ensued was a lesson in the practice of niksen. A whole year of dong nothing. And guilt begone, I loved it! It’s been quite a ride.
A whole year of doing nothing. A whole year of slow brewed, fresh coffee in the mornings, pottering about in the kitchen in the afternoons, lunches on the white enamel Ikea table with Kumar everyday, spaghetti dinners on the teal area rug, in front of the telly every night. A whole year of lying on the bed, with the memory foam mattress, covered in the softest duvet, staring at the stucco ceiling that’s so typical to Texan mass housing, and ultimately spacing out. A whole year of doing nothing but running Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime in the background, while I lie languorously on the teal-colored sofa we bought from Nebraska Furniture Mart. Now that I think of it, a lot of our apartment is teal in color — the area rugs, the sofa, the baskets that hold the yoga mats, the bathroom accessories. A lot of it is grey, white and black too. Oh well.
If someone looks closer they might not agree with me, that I have been blissfully practicing niksen or il dolce far niente. I’ve been part of six art exhibitions, we’ve traveled a lot (a LOT), a few writing workshops, studies to get my Project Management certification. And then there’s THE BOOK. At this point, I’ve toiled away at THE BOOK for seven months now. Which doesn’t actually seem like a lot of time in the world of book writing. But to me it seems like an eternity. And yet, I’m here regaling you with my pro-niksen stance.
We took trips to Colorado, Washington D.C., and Virginia (and blasted Country Roads by John Denver on the stereo, while driving along the Blue Ridge mountains!!). We drove to New Orleans for a long weekend, and to Tennessee for another. Thanksgiving was spent visiting the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky with Kumar’s friends from Uni. Thanksgiving was spent eating. We’d all driven down to our shared AirBnb and we’d hauled cooked and uncooked food with us. Sandy got the turkey, I got the pork and baguette stuffing and a delectable chocolate pie. Maddy was in charge of all the booze, while Suvadip and his wife took care of all the chicken thighs that were barbecued to perfection the next day. We toured the caves a day after Thanksgiving. It rained on the third day. So naturally we started drinking from 8 am in the morning (Moscow mules and Bellinis with leftover turkey breakfast, anyone?), sat and laughed ourselves dizzy and ended the day with a horror movie.
Christmas was spent in the Grand Canyon. No, I don’t mean a town near to the Canyon. I mean we booked ourselves a cabin right within the Grand Canyon National Park and endured four days of snow, slipping and sliding (dangerously, like ignorant fools) around the rim of the canyon. Grand Canyon has been a bucket-list item of mine. One of the achievable ones, I think. Looking at photographs of it, brown and flaming red, sun-soaked and gleaming among clouds, I had imagined I’d be awestruck. Well, I wasn’t just awestruck. The Canyon was covered in snow. Inches and inches of it, pristine white powder, like someone had tipped a bucket loads of vanilla ice cream over the ridges. And I stood dumbfounded, till I realized I was crying. Yes, actually crying. Tears rolling off my eyes like I was in a movie or something. Kumar chuckled a bit, but he didn’t say anything.
We climbed and trekked to the topmost point of the South rim (after we realized that the North rim is usually closed to visitors during winter). The trail was cold and silent, the trees and rocks and ledges all sleeping under a duvet of white snow. It felt like we were trudging through the clouds, on a three feet slippery path, a 3000 million year old mountain on our left, and a 7000 feet drop on our right. At points we stood to catch our breaths and these were the times we looked out at the immensity of the structure. We stared at the canyon in silence and it watched us back in silence. There wasn’t a sound to be heard, except for the soft pitter patter of snowflakes on our windcheaters. There is a certain ancientness to the place, a majestic show of scale and endurance that made me very conscious of how insignificant I actually am in the grand scheme of things. I wanted to stay up there in the cold for hours, hallucinating about wild horses and bare-chested natives who may have run across the plateaus among the canyons a millennia ahead of my time.
After we had our fill of the Canyon, we headed to Sedona and then onto Death Valley. Death Valley. Another spot of natural history that completely silenced us and left us wanting for more. 7800 square kilometers of arid landscape, that has been appropriately named. We drove through Death Valley, using our time to do a couple of trails through mountains that look like Plasticine in a myriad of colors were fused together in a hurry and abandoned in the middle of harsh salt flats. Every mile we crossed, the landscaped transformed itself into a harsher version of itself. Salt flats led to sand dunes, to dried and mangled tree groves, to a jarringly rocky flatland through which a minuscule but pure stream of water flowed. Mountains led to more mountains and then to Ubehebe, a volcanic crater wrapped in almost black rubble.
I stood and watched all of it, while my husband insisted that I film him doing Naruto runs across the bleak landscapes.
Throughout the day we strained our eyes to see across miles and miles of baked valley. When night fell, and the skies cleared, the stars shone. They lit up the sky. Our reluctance on driving out of Death Valley was apparent. We stayed quiet on the drive back to our rented cottage outside of the National Park. The Valley is terrifying — I cannot imagine anyone being able to survive in the vast openness and desertion that it brings down upon us mere humans — and I think that’s what makes it equally striking as Grand Canyon.
All this and I can imagine you questioning why I’m declaring myself to be in a state of niksen. I mean, food wise, over the course of 2019, we’ve made pizza from scratch multiple times, we’ve attempted bread in a Dutch oven and pulled that off successfully, I’ve added two cakes, two cookies, ad at least ten other dishes to my repertoire. That doesn’t exactly seem like someone practicing niksen. But it’s the gaps that matter. The gaps in activities, the breaks that I’ve taken in between all of it — lying spread eagle on the living room floor, snoring peacefully through the afternoons, spacing out at the telly, spending scorching, sunny afternoons walking to my local Walmart and just aimlessly wandering around examining and picking up things I don’t need, eating pasta for breakfast and fried eggs for dinner, sitting out on the balcony and watching the city go by on its miles and miles of concrete-laden roads, while my neighbors wonder why this scantily-clad woman chooses to spend time out on a balcony when the temperature reads 45 °C.
It’s been fun. You should try it sometime.
Now onto the cookies. yes, its one of the two recipes I picked up over the year. It’s simple and easy and packs a punch in terms of flavor. Not purely guilt-free, because it does contain a whole stick of butter and quite a bit of sugar. But I keep telling myself that its mostly made out of oatmeal and dried cranberries (superfood!), and that’s healthy enough for me.
Oatmeal, Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cooking Classy. You’ll get about 20-24 cookies out of this mix. Recipe doubles easily.
Ingredients: 1 stick (100 grams) of butter, at room temperature 3/4 cup of light brown sugar (if you prefer a sweeter cookie, use 1 cup of sugar) 1 egg 1 tsp of vanilla extract 1 + 1/2 cups of rolled oats 3/4 cup of whole-wheat flour 1/2 tsp of salt 1/2 tsp of baking powder 1/2 cup of dried cranberries 1/2 cup of chocolate chips
How to: In a large bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together till the mix is pale and the sugar has almost dissolved. Add the egg and vanilla and whisk more. The mix will look congealed for a bit and then it’ll smooth out. In a separate bowl, add oats, flour, salt and baking powder and mix with a fork. Add these dry ingredient to the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. Add in the cranberries and chocolate chips and work those in. Rest the cookie mix in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg C. Line and grease a baking tray or two. Roll the batter into 1-inch balls with your hands. You can wet your hands with cold water in between rolling the balls to keep them grease free. Bake for 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely before removing them from the lined tray(s). Store in an air-tight container. You can also keep them in the fridge during summer months.
Actually, that is incorrect. I should say that I’ve lost a lot of connection with cooking. Or baking. A month ago, I baked two apple cakes (no photographs to show you, unfortunately), one for home and one for my in-laws to-be. They both came out tough and bone-dry. I discovered that a tad too late, while one of the cakes was already on its way to its new home, 60 kilometers away. Oh well.
Yesterday I cooked a whole vat of khichdi and another vat of dum aloo without a single grain of salt. Yikes.
We did finish our meal. But mum, at the end of her meal, scrunched up her nose and looked at me sideways. She sighed and remarked on how I might have lost my touch due to zero practice in the kitchen, in the last two years. Now that I think of it, I’m sure it has been more than just two years since I have spent proper time in the kitchen.
To be real, the last time I really got it on in the kitchen was last Christmas, when Diya and I whipped up a batch of, undoubtedly the best — yes, I’m using that word — hot dogs ever. Or rather, the best hot dogs I’ve ever had so far.
I haven’t mentioned much about my friend Diya, she who is a master of making curry with canned tuna and the official ambassador of New Places to Eat Out At, out of all my friends. She also makes a mean flourless chocolate cake, the recipe for which I have been trying to pry out of her for quite a long time.
I had anticipated that Christmas last year was going to be a quiet one. Over the last two or three years, the Christmas Day Feast that Mum and I usually throw, have fizzled out quite a bit. We still cook a substantial lunch, but not for the twenty odd people we usually cooked for years prior. So last year, when Mum was travelling, I invited Diya over and asked her to bring a pound of bacon along with her.
We’re not technically hot dog people, although I am partial to a soggy, steaming hot, processed-pork one that I usually come across at my local movie theater. In all honesty, we wanted to try making mustard aioli and shredded bacon, and we need something to carry both. In came sausages clad in molten cheese, in a bed of buttered bread lined with caramelized onions.
These are silly easy to make. I mean the onions can be cooked down with a pinch of salt and a spoonful of sugar, till they become all jammy. The bacon can be fried up and shredded by hand. The aioli can be slurried together in a bowl. The sausages can just be grilled or bunged into a greasy pan till cooked through. And then it’s just a matter of assemblage.
Loaded Hot Dogs
1 tbsp salted butter,
2 tsp white granulated sugar,
2 medium sized red onions, sliced finely,
2 tsp of apple cider vinegar,
Salt to taste
1 large egg yolk,
1 clove of garlic, finely grated,
1 tsp of chilli flakes,
1/4 tsp salt (table salt is fine, but kosher salt or sea salt will work better),
2 tsp grainy mustard (we use Bengali kashundi, which is extremely spicy and pungent),
1/2 – 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (you’ll be able to taste the oil, so choose a good-quality one),
Lemon juice, to taste
4-6 rashers of fatty bacon
4-6 hot dog sausages (pork is best, but lamb and chicken will do too)
4-6 hot dog buns, warmed and buttered
4-6 slices of cheddar cheese (the pre-made ones are fine, you can also use pepper jack)
To make quick caramelized onions, heat the butter in a non-stick pan. Add the onions and sugar when the butter starts browning (don’t let it burn!). Pile the onion strips in the center of the pan. Cover and cook on low for twenty minutes till onions are brown. Check every five minutes to note the moisture in the pan. If it looks too dry, sprinkle a teaspoon of water the edges of the onion pile. Repeat every five minutes. Add the vinegar and salt and stir them in. Cook on low heat for another twenty minutes, while repeating the moisture method above. By the end of 40-50 minutes, the onions should be a bit jammy and sticky, but not too gelatinous. Remove from heat and keep aside.
Slightly warm a stainless steel bowl. With a metal whisk, whisk together the egg yolk, garlic, chilli flakes, salt and mustard, till combined. Start pouring the olive oil from a height, in a thin stream, into this egg yolk mixture, very slowly, while whisking vigorously. There are tons o mayonnaise making methods and videos online, so check one out. You can also do this is a food processor or with an electrical whisk. Whisk the entire oil in vigorously, till it forms a creamy, pale yellow emulsion. I did this with an electrical whisk and the creamy emulsion formed after I used up about 1/2 a cup of olive oil. You may need more or less. Stir in a teaspoon of lemon juice and taste. The aioli should be tangy and garlicky. Adjust the quantity of lemon juice if necessary.
In a super hot pan (cast iron would work best), fry up the bacon rashers till crispy. you can also do this in the oven. Take out of the pan and set aside. Once cooled, use fingers to shred the bacon in rough strips.
In the same pan add the sausages and cook till done, and a toothpick inserted in one of the centers comes out with clean juices. Alternatively you can also grill the sausages. When the sausages are done, take them off the heat and layer the cheese slices one by one on top. Once the cheese has melted, you can start assembling the hot dogs.
In warmed and buttered buns, add a layer of caramelized onions, one or two sausage(s) with melted cheese on top. Top with shredded bacon and aioli.
P.S.: I realize that with my last post, I may have dropped a big bomb on your heads, along with additional, smaller bombs as well. What I’m grateful for, and love about my readers is that even if I appear out of nowhere, you are always there for me. I’ve received a few emails asking me about how everything came about and whether the man I’m marrying loves food as much as I do (he’s a food-loving hog!). I will post more on this on a later date. I promise.
Sometimes it’s not lack of time that prevents me from coming here.
Sometimes it’s just a loss for words.
One thing I was sure of, at the fag end of 2017, was that my life would remain within the set lines of the coloring book I had imagined it to be. I would be able to color within the lines with whatever color I want, and the color would never stray out to the unknown edges of the page.
I was wrong.
The eight months of 2018 have left me dizzy and out of breath. Sometimes with food and sometimes without. In fact, I came very close to saying goodbye to this space. My little haven for a life living in gluttony. A space where I have felt safe to share all the good and the bad that comes with being a displaced Bengali girl. You’ve heard me through the hum of good food and the through the disappointment of the burnt and ruined bits. So I can’t say goodbye. On the contrary, I have a distinct feeling that I might be spending more time with you in the near future.
With reference to the photograph above, you should know that I was initially here to talk about hot dogs. Not your everyday grab-on-the-go-dogs-in-soggy-bread kind. But super special ones that we made for Christmas last year. Yes, that’s how long I’ve been holding on to that recipe. You’ll have to wait for the next post for the entire story on that. But first, here are the new, newer and newest:
The first new thing that happened this year, wasn’t technically a twist of Fate, but Fate in her happy, merry way pretending to work hard. I published a book.
Yep, you read that right. My stint as a commissioned editor a couple of years ago, led me to work with a most interesting group of young writers who were looking for help to self-publish their books. And 2017 was spent editing numerous manuscripts, designing book covers, working closely with PR professionals on the nuances of book selling, and realizing the immense amount of talented writers that exist out there. What resulted was a comprehensive resource box of advice that I compiled into a book and published it in May this year. I’m more than happy to report that it’s doing rather well.
Did I ever think I’d be working…maybe I should say semi-working…in the publishing industry? No. But here we are. Besides that, I’m now on the mission to publish my fiction pieces in as many literary journals as possible, while I work on The Book. Remember, The Book? Yes? No? Oh, who knows.
Next came art. Another industry I didn’t ever think I’d have a foot in. But I find myself now standing knee-deep — both knees — in it. Out of having nothing to do but work and a serious bout of bad mental health, I turned to art. I do that though. I turn to food, art, design, literature, till I turn mad with all of them dancing off my head.
Last year, I plowed through a 100-day art challenge and sold off half of them, the proceeds from which went to relief for Syria. It wasn’t pretty, the challenge. For someone who hates seeing things through, or more accurately is totally lazy, committing to a 100-day challenge was something to write home about.
But this year art took center stage and I have a sneaky suspicion that it will be standing squarely in the center for a long time. February this year, I started taking commissions from people (I’m going to be fancy and call them “clients” or “friends” and “family”) who had followed my work through the 100-day Art for Syria Challenge.
After a quick holiday to Thailand, Bali and Singapore (that included a barrage of chicken rice, seafood barbecue, pork hotpots, babi guling and plates and plates of nasi goreng), one thing led to another, a dead Instagram account led to a busy one, commissions led to a group exhibition (!!!!!). A group exhibition led to another. And now I’ve popped off my work to International galleries and art curators for upcoming shows.
That escalated quickly. Yikes. For sure.
It was almost like walking through a surreal, time-stunted painting, earlier this month when I put up a small collection of paintings at a group show in The Birla Academy of Art & Culture — an institution I’ve had immense respect for since I was a wee kid, walking by it on my way to school. There were people who visited and then proceeded to stand and stare at my work. They even talked about it and some of them wrote about it in newspapers and pointed cameras at it and broadcasted the coverage on the telly.
Unreal. Unreal. Unreal. I kid you not, all I did was float through it, numb with the idea that my work was actually being noticed.
The coming months hold a lot of promise.
I jest. It holds fear.
For you Londoners out there, I’m on the list for ArtRooms London that’s in January, 2019. There are a couple of group shows that I’m also going to be a part of, the dates and names of which will be released later. I’m currently collaborating with a UK-based art consultant (I’m shamelessly going to boast about how they’re one of the biggest ones in the industry) in an effort to make abstract artwork by new artists more accessible to new collectors across the UK. I might just dry and shrivel up into a bean of a human with all the work. One of my followers on Instagram suggested that I should start vlogging (yeah right! I laughed out loud at that one) about my art and process and all that fancy shit on Youtube.
Can you imagine a socially anxious, untalented hack trundling through the art world and recording it at the same time for all the planet to see? No?
Neither can I.
But wouldn’t it be something if I meet you at my next show?
Well, now that I’ve rattled off every boring thing that I’ve been up to for the last year, I’m going to ask you to hold on. There’s more news. The newest of them all, actually. And this is the one that scares me most, right out of my stinky evening-walk shoes. But I’m about to dole out the band-aid rip off treatment on this one because there’s no other way of saying this:
I’m getting married.
You heard that right.
And that’s all the news for tonight folks. Let’s talk about hot dogs in the next post!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 pagefor more details and registration. You can also holler at me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be more than happy to fill you in with details.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And some news. But I will totally understand if you skip the news and scroll right down to the cake recipe.
The travel startup I started with Priya, a while back is in its final stages of conception. We’ve named it Altertrips.
You know, after the words “alternate” and “trips”. Get it?! Ha ha, LOL.
After 12 years of being an aspiring nomad, of changing jobs and countries and continents and holidays, certain acute aspects of the travel industry has started to bother me. And we’re looking to address that problem.
As we’re inching towards the launch – December, yikes – my palms are getting sweatier, my fingertips are bloody with all the nail biting, I’m hoarse after continuously yelling at my co-founder and my tech guys (I’m quite sure they’re ready to strangle me by now, but that will be a battle for another day).
I will talk to you about it soon, in another blog post.
Let’s just say for now, that it has been lesson after lesson, on life and on overcoming obstacles. We’ve been deeply humbled, overwhelmed, excited, triumphant, confused and angry at times. Sometimes all of that at the same time. And the intensity strengthens as we near, what we will call from now on, LAUNCH DATE.