Lost connections. And loaded hot dogs.

I have lost a lot of connection with food.

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.

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Loaded Hot Dogs

Ingredients:

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)

How to:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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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!

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.

Continue reading Madness

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.

Continue reading Mum’s Chicken Rice

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.

Continue reading What we eat

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.

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

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.

Continue reading 32 years. And salted butterscotch.