New, newer, newest

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!

big beach-goers

fishing boat

So we took a road trip to the beach.

The entire trip lasted about 36 hours from start to finish. There was a big SUV full of tired architects, a big ice-box full of alcohol and a three-hour trip to Digha.

Trip to Digha

fishing boats on the beach

Digha & legs

Digha’s one of those touristy beach towns, a stone’s throw away from a big city. That automatically turns it into the destination to go to when you’re looking for a weekend retreat or a quick and budget honeymoon. The roads, if you can call them that, are lined with lodges and hotels to fit your every budgetary need. And if you’re not spoilt with choices in overnight stay, you can even talk a walk on the sandy promenades munching on batter-fried eggplants and haggling with the shopkeeper of that place that sells local jute handicrafts.

Continue reading big beach-goers

22 hours, 25 minutes

a wet day in new haven

A week before Thanksgiving last year, I packed my winter coat and a few pairs of skinny jeans, cleaned out my bank account and took a very very long flight to New York.

I would like to go on a rant at this point saying how the plans were all last-minute, how the tickets were bought overnight and how I craved adventure so much, that I spontaneously packed my bags and flew off halfway across the world in 22 hours and 25 minutes. Oh, how I wish that were true.

I did exactly that when I booked for Paris overnight during my Spring Break in 2010. But this time was different. All planned. Lists made. Proper clothing packed. Maps studied. Timings synchronized. All signs that I’m finally growing up.

Central Park

Central Park

You’ll have to forgive me though, before you go scroll through the photos and then come back and yell at me, “Where on earth are all the food photos, woman?!”

Well, I don’t have any. Or, I have two. If you count a blurry photo of a humongous piece of chocolate mousse cheesecake from Junior’s and one random photo of my first time having Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix. So, yes. If you count those two, then I have two ‘food’ photos. Go ahead, you can curse.

Continue reading 22 hours, 25 minutes

how light and turmeric-y the curry is

Some days require plain curry and warm rice. And that’s it. You don’t need jewelled bread or cream-crowned cakes.

You turn on the air conditioning, look out at the setting sun and wait for your brother to finish laying the table.

You know it’s going to be good when you see you father making his way towards the table with the TV Guide tucked under his arm. He is excited about tonight’s cricket match. He has already set up the living room for his friends. He sits at the table and immediately he and my brother start having an animated discussion about the best batting lineup in the league.

My mother draws the curtains. Its hot and way too sunny for anyone’s comfort.

And then you dig into lunch.

Its a lunch of steamed rice and yellow chicken curry. It makes you forget about weekend cupcakes and makes you wonder why you ever needed a multi-layered birthday cake.

I chat a little with my family. We talk about summer fruits. My mum says she needs a smoothie a little while later. My brother says he needs fried chicken. Who on earth needs fried chicken when its a 100 degrees outside, I chuckle out loud. But mostly we concentrate on how light and turmeric-y the curry is.

The curry in question is your typical Indian chicken curry, except that it’s softened with yogurt and doesn’t have the resonant smokiness of garam masala. It also has one of my favourite ingredients – fenugreek. I cannot tell you enough about the magic of fenugreek, seeds or leaves or ground or anything.

You know how one of the best things in the world is the sound of bacon sizzling in the pan? The sound when it hits the hot pan? And then the second best thing is the smell of sizzling bacon reaching your nostrils?

Well, cooking with fenugreek is like one of those things. It looks unassuming. Not homely like spinach or surly like kale. It’s not as sharp as rocket or versatile like basil. But it’s a small piece of heaven alright. It hits your curry and then after a few seconds you get this really strong urge to dunk your head into the boiling curry just so you can take in all of its aroma.

Instead, you raise our nose, take a loooong breath and wait for lunch.

Yellow Chicken Curry with Fenugreek

500gm chicken breast pieces, or 4 chicken breast cut up in 1-inch cubes
3/4 cup of natural yogurt
1 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
2 small onions
1 tbsp of garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp of red chili powder [more, if like us, you can handle the heat]
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
Salt, to taste
Chopped coriander leaves or parsley leaves, to garnish

In a large bowl, mix the chicken well with the yogurt. Make sure all the pieces are coated well with yogurt. Cover with cling film and rest in the refrigerator for 2-12 hours. Quarter the onions and blitz them in a blender along with a tablespoon of water, till it turns into a paste. You might need more water than a tablespoon.

Heat ghee/oil in a skillet. Add the onion, garlic and ginger in and stir on high-heat for about 3-4 minutes or till the mixture starts to turn colour. Add in the turmeric and chili and stir for a couple of minutes more. Lower the heat to medium. Add the chicken along with its yogurt-marinade and tomato puree. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or till you cut open the biggest piece of chicken and it’s all white in the center. If the curry looks too dry, add a few tablespoons of water to i and let it cook for 2 minutes more. Add the fenugreek leaves and season with salt. Stir for a minute and take it off heat. Garnish with leafage and serve with steamed rice.

lately

I like lists. They make me feel like I’m all grown-up. Even when I never seem to able to follow them to a tee or most of my wishes just stay wishes. Here’s what I’ve been loving lately.

– Breakfasting with my brother. Try the eggplant and tomato hash or the tuna and potato salad.

– Homemade ginger wine for sweltering summer days. For those who are equipped.

– Someday I want to own a community kitchen and host community dinners. Someday. So far I have this for inspiration.

– Bengalis have a particular soft corner for bone marrows. On my to-try list.

– Milk bottle measuring cups from Anthropologie. How cute are they?!

– This bag from Saskia Diez. Repeat after me. Synthetic.Paper.Bag.

– My current crush – Lillie from Butter Me Up Brooklyn.

Have a happy day people!

in need of reassurance

Let’s just talk about cake already.

More importantly this lime and yogurt cake.

Now, I’ll be honest. You cannot walk into an Indian household, throw the refrigerator door open and expect to find a leftover piece of cake or a greasy glass bowl of leftover cherry trifle. Only because Indians don’t really run to cake when they need comforting. They run to dal or khichdi, and more often than not we make do with milky cardamom-infused tea.

No Indian princess ever said, “Let them eat cake.” There was however, an Indian queen who once suggested that her courtiers be served tandoori naan for every meal, but that’s another story.

Cake, in all its glory, has always been associated with celebration. If we do find a lonesome piece loitering around inside a friend’s refrigerator, we immediately pop our heads up and ask, “Whose birthday cake is that?”

…followed by “Can I have that last piece?”

It was a little different for me and my friends though when we were all of nineteen and in college. Shreya, Fauri and I had just moved into three separate flats, in three buildings right next to each other. Each flat had two bedrooms each, a kitchen and living space and teeny-tiny bathrooms. Just enough for two people to live in. However, neither of us knew how to cook and the kitchens remained unfurnished and lonely. The counter-tops were converted into racks for rolls of paper, drawing sheets and modelling materials.

With all the heartbreaks, disappointments, all the drama of messed up love-lives flying through the air, it was getting very tedious to drag ourselves all the way to Fauri’s parents house (which was two hours away) just for a comforting dose of khichdi. As luck would have it, our favorite bakery at the time, Bread & More, opened up an outlet just on the opposite side of the road along which our flats used to be. Their black forest cake, chocolate tarts and tubs of ice-cream quickly replaced homemade khichdi. Afternoons that we had been spending drinking tea from the local tea stall, were now spent sprawled on my bedroom floor tucking into molten brownies from the bakery.

And today, I must admit that although khichdi remains my go-to comfort food, cake has occupied a special corner of my heart. The one that also houses memories of my college-life, my first kiss, angry Gujarati summers, lentil fritters and lassi. I think it has more to do with how measuring ingredients, whisking and stirring comforts me immediately, than the actual cake itself.  Its reassuring just to know that your sloppy batter will rise into a moist and fluffy cake in just a few minutes.

I had read a version of gâteau au yaourt when I was about sixteen, in a French cookbook that had accompanied my grandmother when she returned to India from London in the 1970s, and I had immediately turned down the prospect of ever baking something so plain and uninteresting. The next time I came across any version of yogurt cake was when I read Molly Wizenberg’s My Homemade Life. The cake has a very moist and delicate crumb, a faint nuttiness from the almonds, and the twang of lime. After spending the last three days in bed as a prisoner of a ghastly cold and three khichdi lunches, this cake seemed exactly what I needed for some extra-gratification.

And it was.

Lime & Yogurt Cake with a Chocolate Ganache glaze
adapted from My Homemade Life

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Juice and zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup of yogurt, well-stirred
1/2 cup of vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 cup of caster sugar
3 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.
Mix yogurt, oil, sugar and eggs in a large bowl. Sift flour, almond flour, baking powder & salt in a separate bowl and then fold it into the wet oil mixture. Add zest and juice of the limes and stir them in with a spatula.  Do not overwork the mixture.
Pour into a greased cake tin (I used one with a 9″ dia.) and bake for about 25-30 minutes or till a fork run through the center comes out clean.
Cool cake on the rack before pouring ganache on top.

For the ganache

3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup of sour cream

Heat cream and chips in a double-boiler till combined into a smooth mixture. Cool before glazing the cake.

a hair story

“These are you natural curls?”

“Yes!” I replied, while a total stranger, an Indian girl of about 20-21 years, poked at one of my curls with a finger. Her friend kept staring at my hair with wide eyes.

This is not the first time people have felt the need to tug or fluff my curls for no apparent reason. But this was the first time a stranger had done it. My mother & I were window-shopping in Westfield when I noticed them staring at me from a distance whispering urgently at each other, before they cautiously stepped in front of me and offered nervous smiles. And after paying a complement they somehow felt that it was perfectly appropriate to poke through my hair. It wasn’t that surprising considering how most of my friends had gotten their hair straightened right out of college, and had wasted no time in telling me how it was the best thing they had ever done to their hair.

“What do you use? Any special shampoo or…?”

“Oh no…just stuff from L’Oreal,” I replied. They looked at me with complete disbelief — obviously not believing a word and were pretty sure I was hiding my top-secret hair-care regime.

At their reaction, my mother smirked in amusement. And I knew why.

One constant source of despair during my otherwise highly content childhood, was my hair. I wasn’t allowed to keep long hair, since it required maintenance and serious looking-after. And my mother was absolutely sure I would not be able to commit, in spite of all my promises that I would do everything necessary to keep my hair looking beautiful.

“When you’re in college you can do whatever you want with your hair…colour it blue if you like, I don’t care…but as long as you’re in my house, you’ll keep it the way I want.” And that was her standard line for everything I objected to.

Every couple of months or so, she would literally drag me to the salon and hover over the hairdresser as she/he lopped off whatever little hair that had grown beyond the approved length. All I did, was sit and cry my eyes out. And this continued till I was 17.

When I was leaving for college, her ‘standard line’ seemed like the sweetest advice she’d ever given me. And I took it to heart. Five months into architecture school, I came home for autumn break, fitted with a pair of oversized jodhpuri pants, a T-shirt cut into half horizontally, eyes pasted over with dark make-up and a purple crop of overgrown hair.

It took my mom a whole day to get over everything, especially the fact that her well-dressed little girl had gone all sorts of crazy. It took her even more time to digest how I had cut all my silk shirts (that she had picked out for me lovingly) in half as well.

At the time, going through vodka, college seniors, drawings, building models and fried chicken seemed like the most important things in the world. And maintaining coloured hair seemed like a stupid thing to do. And anyway, I had absolutely no idea how to take care of long hair. For years all I had done was slap on coconut oil, wash it off with shampoo and run a comb through my boy-crop. And suddenly I had long locks which required my attention for more than two minutes. Who had that kind of time?

30 days of vacation, endless lectures from Mom, a high-protein diet, bottles after bottles of mayonnaise and ice-sold water worked their miracles. And I’ve stuck with all that since. Which is probably what I should have told them.