Cooking with Sahana


…is fun and …..well, interesting. My 21 year old is an enthusiastic, creative and very good cook. She requests cook books for her birthday, she takes cooking lessons once in a while, she reads and tries to explain the chemical reactions that happen while ingredients mingle (I pretend I am listening, I really don’t), she checks out various recipes and then uses the salient features of several of those to make a dish. And they turn out wonderful. She wakes up excited to cook. To say that I am lucky is an understatement. I love to try different kinds of food and she obliges. Happily! Enthusiastically!

I cooked for Diwali, she helped. She wanted to cook for Thanksgiving and I volunteered to help and cook a few dishes. Our Thanksgiving is spent with our extended family where my contribution is generally a pecan pie. My sisters in law and brothers in law do the real cooking. Since we could not gather this year, we decided to cook full Thanksgiving meal just for the four of us. Sahana planned to cook turkey breast, garlic mashed potato, stuffing, brussel sprouts, homemade rolls and quiche of spinach and sundried tomatoes for the resident vegetarian. I was going to make squash casserole with walnuts and Gruyere cheese, cranberry sauce, peas, apple pie, pecan pie and a fruit pie crumble with whatever fruit was there at home. I am sad to report I slightly burned the top of the crumble.

Anyway, the point of this post is to write about my experience of cooking with Sahana. As I prepared to assemble the apple pie, and Sahana got the turkey breast out to brine, she asked, “What should we name the turkey breast?”

“Why should we name the turkey breast? We are going to consume it.” I replied.

She went ahead and named it Harvey anyway. She lovingly massaged Harvey with herb butter, gagging once in a while at touching raw meat. Harvey was then carefully placed in the fridge, uncovered.

“Shouldn’t you cover that?” I enquired, not wanting to see buttered turkey staring at me everytime I opened the fridge. No, she read that the turkey can not be covered. I did not dare contradict the chef who had been reading one recipe after another to cook this turkey.

After that, everytime she opened the fridge she asked Harvey how he was doing in there. It was slightly creepy hearing her talk to a dead bird like that. Morbid even! And comical! Everything she does in the kitchen is done with a lot of love and tenderness. So I was not overly surprised when I heard her crooning to something in the oven.

“You look so pretty, my darling.”

I asked who she was talking to.

“The quiche. It is looking so pretty.”

It did. I write this as she shooed me out of the kitchen because I was in the way. I half assembled my squash casserole. I will finish it once the very happy, very enthusiastic cook has done her cooking for today. To save her some trouble, I suggested that we buy Pepperidge farm stuffing and store made rolls. She looked at me as if I uttered blasphemy.

“Store bought?? No!”

She bought Italian bread, diced it, spiced it, baked it and made amazing homemade croutons for stuffing. Ryan and I stole quite a few of those already. Here is a photo of homemade rolls.

Home made rolls.

If you are brussel sprouts hater out there, I strongly recommend you try out this roasted brussel sprouts Sahana made with honey lime glaze with pistachios. It was perfection. I was slightly disappointed that this dish got no verbal love from its creator. It got gushing admiration from its consumer, though (me).

I enjoy cooking, sure. It relaxes me. But I certainly do not put so much love to the task. Cooking with Sahana and watching her work with love, joy and tenderness makes me smile.

This Thanksgiving is different. It is isolating and sad for many reasons. Cooking with Sahana will be a cherished memory though. 2020 Thanksgiving gave me that and I am thankful.

Thank you.


Most years around this time, I ask myself a question. If I could change my life to make it better what changes would I make? And the answer, after some deep thinking, is nothing. I really would not change anything. I am grateful for what I have received in life. I am thankful for the love I get every day, the love I get to give everyday too.

This year Thanksgiving is different for so many of us. We are choosing to celebrate alone this year so we can celebrate together next year. My family did not drive up to eat Thanksgiving meal together with mother, brothers, sisters and cousins because we love them and want to keep them safe. Looking ahead, it seems unlikely that we will get together for Christmas either this year and that is heartbreaking. We live a distance away from our loved ones and mostly see them during these holidays. The prospect of spending the holidays separately is sad no doubt but hope is in the horizon. There is the hopeful news of vaccines being developed. I believe by next year around this time majority will be vaccinated and we will be together. I am keeping the perspective that in the grand scheme of things it is a sacrifice of togetherness for one year. This sacrifice we can make. A lot is at stake if we don’t. Lives are at stake if we don’t. Way too many lives have been lost already. Many have died alone. Very few families have remained untouched by the tragedy of Covid 19 and sadly, experts say, we will lose more.

I have spent a few Thanksgiving alone as my family drove up to see the extended family. No matter if I am with family or just by myself, I take some time to reflect and give silent thanks for my mom and dad, my husband, my children, the kinship that I have created and nurtured with some wonderful souls. This year, I continue to be thankful for all that I mentioned however, I want to write about my heartfelt thanks and deep gratitude to those that I did not include in my thoughts in previous years. My deepest regards go to the medical professionals who are truly super heroes caring for the sick at huge risk to their own lives. My sincere gratitude to the scientists who are working day and night to develop vaccine to protect the vulnerable from dying. My admiration and heartfelt thanks to all those essential workers who are taking big risks to go to work each day so we can stay home. When books are written about this pandemic, I hope the heroism and courage of these women and men are acknowledged. The entire world owes a whole lot to this section of humanity who took care of the rest of us, kept us alive, kept us fed, kept us entertained.

On this day of giving thanks, I bow to the goodness in you.

There will be many empty chairs at Thanksgiving table in this country as families remember loved ones who succumbed to Covid. My heart truly hurts for those families. Millions are hurting, physically suffering and emotionally devastated. We NEED to do our part to control the spread of this virus. We owe it to each other as members of humankind. Here is to hope that this shall pass with the help of our collective efforts, our compassion for each other, our desire to do what is needed for common good and yes, sacrifice.

Leftover Queen


All of you hail the Leftover Queen a.k.a me. I claim the title, the crown and the throne. I claim all of it.

I wrote about my nonstop cooking on the Diwali weekend. If you have not read it yet, you can read it here.

Since I go overboard when I cook, I ended up with a lot of leftovers. Generally, Sean eats leftovers for weeks and he is very happy to do so. As we pack away the food in the fridge on the day I cook, I can see his mind planning his meals for the week ahead. He threatens us not to finish the dal or the paneer because he plans to eat them for another meal. The threat is not serious, only semi serious. But this time, I must have poisoned him somehow because his stomach did not feel great for a couple of days after Diwali and he did not want to exacerbate the situation by eating spicy dal makhni and creamy malai kofta. So I, who is not fond of dal makhni or malai kofta too much, had to eat the leftovers. The children, in general, rarely eat left over Indian food. They are high maintenance but thankfully I am done maintaining them. They maintain themselves quite well when it comes to meals.

After 3 days of eating leftovers to empty the fridge, I had a plan. A beautiful, bold, exquisite, earth shattering, tradition breaking plan. I thought outside the box.

This is what I did. I took out the container of malai kofta from the fridge. I follow Sanjeev Kapoor’s fool proof recipe of malai kofta. It is easy and delicious. You can look at the recipe here.

I poured the malai koftas with the gravy in my food processor and made a puree of the whole thing. Then I added 2 and a 1/2 cups of whole wheat to the puree and hit the dough button of the food processor. The liquid in the puree was not enough for a sticky dough so I added 1/3 cup of plain yogurt to the mix. I took the dough out of the food processor and kneaded by hand for about 5 to 7 minutes. When the dough formed a smooth ball, I covered it with damp cloth and went for my walk.

After the walk, I kneaded for another 3 to 4 minutes and made little balls to roll out.

The next part was easy. I rolled the dough out into rotis and cooked them on the skillet with oil spray.

The malai kofta parathas were ready.

I told myself I just transformed a leftover into a healthy meal. Whole wheat, paneer, potatoes, ok fine, a little cream in the gravy made it a tad unhealthy but it tasted good. Everything tastes good with cream and butter, sigh! As I finished cooking the last paratha, my family casually gathered around, “Whatcha making?”

Ryan was stressed about a math test so he walked around to calm his nerves and ate at least 3 parathas in the process if not more, Sahana and Sean ate a few with left over dal makhni. I ate 3 of them. They were soft and oh-so-flavorful. I decided right then that I will claim the title of Leftover Queen in my blog post. And I just did!

An hour on the streets.


I miss home!

whatmamathinks

Instead of using the very useful tool called Google search I still go old school, like arriving at a mall without checking first what time it opens. I did just that in Kolkata, when, after dragging my feet for a couple of days, I bit the bullet and went to shop for some summer kurtis for myself. I must have written before that I detest shopping with a passion. I believe it has something to do with making decisions. I have a mental block and the damage is irreparable. I found myself in front of West Side Mall in Gariahat at 10 am because I wanted to beat the shoppers but parking lot seemed unusually quiet. I asked the gentleman guarding the mall, ‘Kota e khulbe? (When will it open)’ I was there right at 10 presuming the whole world operated on US store hours. Well, I was wrong. India…

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Celebrating it all.


As I sat on my couch on a dreary evening during a raging pandemic, I made a resolution. I decided to celebrate all the festivals that came my way without appropriating any tradition or religion which my fusion family does not belong to. Since I am culturally Hindu, I was safe with celebrating Kali pujo, Diwali, bhai phota and since my partner is a practicing Catholic, we were also good with Christmas. For Bengalis, Kali pujo is a bigger celebration than Diwali, although I hear that these days Diwali is celebrated by Bengalis all over with great fervor. I like that. Celebration is hopeful. Especially during these trying times.

I decided to go all out for Kali Pujo/Diwali this year to dispel the gloom that is slowly yet surely descending on me due to the current circumstances. My “all out” consisted of lighting choddo (14 in Bengali) prodeep on the night before Kali pujo (Friday, Nov 13th), wearing a saree and cooking.

Choddo prodeep, or 14 earthen lamps, are lit to respect our 14 generations. A little background on this ritual:

Folklore in Bengal says that the spirits of ancestors come back to the household on this night and these diyas help them find their loving homes. It’s believed that our ancestors are at a proximity to us and bless us on this day. It’s a way to pay homage to choddo purush — fourteen ancestors, seven from each side of the family — requesting them to save everyone from evil spirit and ghosts. This is very typical of a lot of Hindu celebrations where we think of the departed and pray for them before we move on to the ceremonies of the current like nandimukh.

Source: https://indroyc.com/2015/11/09/todays-bhoot-chaturdashi/

I am not religious. I don’t worship goddess Kali with shlokas and flowers, however the idea she represents, that of female empowerment, has fascinated me since childhood. She is the ultimate boss lady among Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. She is simply incomparable. To celebrate her awesomeness, I decided to cook on the day of Kali pujo. I fasted too. No, not for any religious reasons. I fasted to cleanse my system so I could feast at dinner.

The menu for Kali pujo was:

Dal makhni

Doi begun (eggplant in yogurt sauce)

Malai kofta, paratha and Bangali sooji with ghee, raisins and cashew.

After cooking all day, I donned a saree, lit diyas and invited family to the table.

That was the extent of our Diwali celebration yet it energized me for the next day. We were going to celebrate bhai phota, a ritual where sisters bless their younger brothers or seek blessings from their older ones. My sweetest memories during my growing up years come from the day of bhai phota when we all got together for a day of chaos, laughter, blessings and of course, food.

I woke up early to get breakfast ready before the celebration started. Breakfast was baked French toast with apple and pecans, hash brown casserole, blueberries and bacon. I had done most of the prep work the night before, so all I truly needed to do was pop the baking dishes in the oven.

I had the phota tray ready with sandal wood paste, kajol, diya, some grass and rice for blessing.

Sahana gave phota to Ryan, Ryan touched her feet to get her blessings. We had the computer on so my parents could witness the ritual virtually. Sahana then gave phota to Sean and my father via computer. Since she was little, Sahana has broken tradition and given phota to Sean on this day. Khushi gave virtual phota to Ryan with utmost seriousness. Folks in Kolkata blew on the conch shell, the sound of which traveled through ether to shower us with good omen. We ululated on both sides of the pond. Our two sounds met somewhere in the middle and technology made it possible for us to celebrate it together. Somewhat.

By this time, I was exhausted. Yet the nervous energy within me propelled me on to make narkel diye chhola r dal (chanadal with coconut), luchi. Sahana made a potato curry to go with it. My two days worth of intense cooking was consumed within 20 minutes.

My family got into the spirit of things. Sahana was an enthusiastic participant and even the boys donned kurta pajama to support my desire to summon my childhood joy to my adult life.

For a weekend, we ignored the raging pandemic outside our little home, we ignored that I cannot go home to see my parents, Sean cannot go home to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family, we ignored the fear of us catching the virus. The celebration was a respite from the constant anxiety. Now my fridge is full to the brim. We all will eat leftovers to empty it so Sahana can store ingredients for Thanksgiving meal that she plans to cook. She has even created a spreadsheet with the dishes she will prepare or delegate. We will go from one celebration to the other. And perhaps, pretend for a while that life is how it should be.

I thought I would end the blog there. But no! I came home from work yesterday and discovered that my house elves have been busy. They transformed my plain house into magical just by bringing in a magical tree.

I will not put sugar in your yogurt drink.


We went to the city for a walk on a gorgeous fall day. It was one of those days when I give thanks to be alive and experience the cerulean sky, sweet sunlight, my loved ones near me. After walking around for a while the inevitable question arose, where do we have lunch? The consensus was a tiny Lebanese restaurant which once turned Sean and me away in the past because they were hosting a private party. They could not seat us and were profusely apologetic. Fortunately this time we were welcomed and guided to our seats outside.

The owner was a pleasant looking man with very gentle manners. He handed us our menus. Sahana and I ordered the yogurt drink ayran and our food. When the drinks came out, I took a sip and was instantly transported back home! It tasted exactly like lassi or ghol (buttermilk drink) and just how I like it, salty not sweet. The next time the gentleman came out to check on us, I mentioned how much I loved the drink. I told him I was from India and this tasted just like home. My comment seemed to make him very energized and happy.

“Oh, I am so glad you like that drink. I get nervous when people order that because they don’t anticipate the taste. When I bring it out, they drink it and then they ask me to add sugar. I say no, I am not going to add sugar. That is not how this drink should be drunk!”

This business owner refuses to sweeten the drink from his country for people here because that is not how the drink is drunk!! I related to this on so many levels. I know and accept that one should eat (drink) according to his/her tastes but I can not help but judge when Sean puts peanut butter and jelly on a daal paratha. He sees my face acknowledges the judgement, eats it anyway, and laughs.

Sean’s first encounter with a server in a restaurant in Kolkata was similar to this gentleman’s outrage. He ordered rice and roti and the server told him roti was not available. I presume there may have been some words lost in translation as well during that particular exchange of dialogue. Anyway, when food was served, Sean noticed that his companion got a roti with his order. Sean looked at it with bewilderment and asked the server, “You told me roti was not available!” The server said with a nod of his head that the dish Sean ordered was meant to be eaten with rice. Food dictatorship!

Some things just go together and you simply don’t mess around. If you do, you hurt food connoisseurs like me, like the owner of the Lebanese restaurant, like the belligerent server at the restaurant in Kolkata in 1994. You just don’t do that. You incur our wrath and disdain, if you do!

🙂

Cooking and (or) cleaning!


Friends often commented in the past, or rather when we did not live this reimagined life and Sean traveled constantly, “Oh your husband travels so much, you don’t have wet towels lying on the floor. Your house must be clean!”

No, it is not. My husband is truly the picker upper in the house. The house was cleaner when that guy stayed home for more than 2 weeks at a time. Although I should say that travel for the last 8 months has been a distant memory. Sean has not kept the house as clean as I expected him to. We all are somewhat past caring about the little things at this point. Well, he is also working all his waking hours, now that there is no “going to office”, putting in work hours at office and distancing himself from it at home. There is no boundary any more.

Well, the point of this write up is really my choice. I have the day off and the house is …not quite filthy but well on its way there. Last night I went to bed determined to dedicate today to cleaning. I woke up to a gray, gloomy, rainy day. Perfect day for cleaning, right? Wrong, if you are me. I weighed my options. Do I want to clean or do I want to make koraishuti r kochuri (pea filling stuffed fried dough)?

I procrastinated. I talked to my parents in Kolkata. I messaged some friends to chat. I discovered Sahana has used up ALL the ginger in the house. Ginger is important to make the pea filling. I checked the freezer and found a forgotten bag of peas. I have flour and powdered ginger. I have cumin powder and garam masala. Most importantly, I have the desire to put in all the work needed to make this labor intensive delicacy of Bengal. I will go to any length to avoid cleaning, work harder even in the kitchen.

I checked the dirty floor and dust laden surfaces. I introspected within – what does my inner self really want to do? My inner self chose koraishuti r kochuri. As if there was any doubt.

Here I go. Cleaning is for another day. How to make Koraishuti r kochuri? This fantastic cook, who happens to be a friend has got you covered. Here is her channel. See this particular recipe and her other recipes.

Being 50.


50 was just another number till I went to my doctor for my physical. A little special perhaps, but still more or less another number like 49 or 51. But my doctor’s ‘wit’ hit home the truth. Wow, I made it to 50! She said, “Here is the slip for getting your colonoscopy done. And your bone density scan. Happy birthday!”

What does being 50 mean to me? I thought of this as I drove home from the doctor’s office.

Memories of youth have started fading so I try to think of them often, or write them here. My futile attempt to hold on to the beautiful ones and relinquish the ones that are not so beautiful.

Being 50 is looking at the mirror thinking, “I look darn good for a 50 year old” and then looking at a photo of me thinking “Jeez, look at those bags under my eyes!.”

Being 50 means insomnia often. But there are plenty of books to read so the quiet of night and sleeplessness bother me less. The tiredness on the following day does though.

Being 50 means seeming slow to my fast moving children when it comes to technology.

Being 50 means desire to travel intensifying – post Covid, of course.

Being 50 means being sad sometimes for no apparent reason.

Being 50 means not feeling invincible anymore.

Being 50 means glimpses of my mortality and surprisingly being unafraid of the thought.

Being 50 is losing myself in my memories of childhood, youth and young romance with my handsome beau.

Being 50 means realizing that my children need me less and less.

Being 50 means being picked up and twirled around by my 15 year old son when he realizes he is close to getting in trouble. I invariably laugh. He does not dare if he IS in trouble.

Being 50 is caring more for doing my part in the world AND caring less about slights/snubs/insults.

Being 50 is also being thankful for the opportunities that I have been given.

Being 50 is being freer in thoughts.

Being 50 is being confident.

Being 50 is creaking of joints.

Being 50 is groaning a little while getting up as the knee twinges.

Being 50 is being afraid of losing loved ones.

Being 50 is shedding superficial relationships.

Being 50 is enjoying silence.

Being 50 also means starting to think of how life will be in the next phase.

Being 50 is giving thanks to be alive on a gorgeous day amidst nature.

Being 50 means finally finding my “good side” for selfie, directed by the daughter of course.

Being 50 means not quite understanding how being 50 should feel!

Blouses.


I am not showing you my bare back without reason. I promise there is a story. Many moons ago, when I was a little girl, sleeveless blouses were revolutionary and scandalous. In my middle class upbringing, the idea of women showing their bare arms or wearing the saree in a way that the midriff shows was a big taboo. So what did my gorgeous mother do, despite the hushed whispers and raised eyebrows? She bought and wore sleeveless blouses. She wore it with style and grace laughing at all the snickers and criticism.

I, however, never ventured to wear sleeveless anything because my arms were like two thin sticks growing up. Also I was timid and conformist despite my firebrand mom constantly urging me to be confident. When I wore a saree for a special occasion, I always wore blouses with “airhostess sleeves”. When we went to get blouses tailored in my childhood/youth, the tailor invariably asked if we wanted airhostess hata (sleeves). That style was adopted by the stewards of Air India, the only international government airlines of the country. The sleeves of this particular style of blouse were long, the back was severe and covered. A saree, which is 6 yards of fabric, with an airhostess style blouse, if properly donned, could cover every inch of the woman’s skin. It was all very propah, professional and may I say, severe? When I left India in the mid nineties, I came away with that one style of blouse in my head and in my suitcase. I knew no other.

Unbeknownst to me, India burst into the fashion world with its textiles, talented designers, bold cuts, fusion designs and subsequently blouses for sarees saw tremendous improvement in terms of variety and cut. I was completely unaware of all the changes, being far removed from any kind of fashion. One year, I went back home and needed to get a couple of blouses stitched. I sought the help of my fashionista cousin sister. My little cousin took me under her wings like she always has since we were children when it came to fashion. She is a gorgeous woman who really knows clothes and style. Since she was probably 4 years old she had a pronounced sense of fashion and make up which only improved with age. She was tireless in her efforts to bring me up to snuff with make up and fashion. “Didi, wear your hair this way.” “Apply the kajol that way, it will showcase your eyes better.” “Use brown liner instead of black for a natural look.”… so on and so forth. She always urged me to color my hair to hide the white that are getting prominent each day. Except last year, when I went home and she saw my silver highlights, she approved. These silver strands in black hair is the popular trend, I was told. I felt elated to finally have her approval in matter of fashion!! My reluctance to learn how to apply make up did not deter her from trying, bless her heart!

Anyway, she took me to this tailoring shop called Senorita near Hazra road in Kolkata, gave them instructions on the type of blouse she wants for me, sat in a chair and started her scrutiny. The attendant listened to her directions and called the tailor to take measurements. The tailor who walked in was a man. I gulped! A man will be taking my measurements for a short, tight-fitting blouse? After the first few seconds of unease, I relaxed. He was a professional and knew what he was doing without making me feel uncomfortable. Then I yelped! I felt his measuring tape going way down my back, seeking permission from my sister where to stop, which meant how deep the cut of the back of the blouse was going to be.

As his tape went further down my back, I exclaimed, “No, no! Not that much! That is too much exposed. Stop!”

Now, I wear short dresses, shorts and I often wore my sarees in the past to show off my midriff and flat stomach (also a thing of the past). I have no inhibitions about showing my legs so why not the back? You have to understand, someone who wore severe blouses all her life and covered every inch of her back, this deep cut was indeed scandalous. I don’t know why such inhibitions (prudery?) about showing my back while I show my bare legs with no qualms.

Both my cousin and the attendant of the shop, however, paid no heed to my protests, promising me the cut at the back was classy and just right, very fashionable and not exposing any extra flesh that does not need to be exposed. I gave in. And you see the result.