Masala kaju (cashew)


Although I met this young man at work, he quickly became more than a coworker, he became family – my adopted brother in my adopted land. What does that have to do with the photo above? I will get there. But first I must ramble, as is my habit.

One day, my friend who I mentioned above brought me a Tupperware full of roasted cashews. I ate a few and the tastebuds in my mouth did a happy dance. The nuts were so flavorful. He had fried the nuts and mixed them with Thai red chilies, lime kefir leaves, salt and the flavor was divine.

Cashews (kaju) were, and still are, expensive in India. We could afford them once in a while in small quantities and only at the beginning of the months when we were flush with new paychecks. Cashews were for rich people, peanuts belonged to us.

One of my most popular gifts that I take back home are big jars of cashew nuts from Costco. They bring smiles of joy in people’s faces. The weight of carrying a heavy jar of cashew nuts is totally worth all those smiles.

If you want to spice up your cashews, and if you have some Indian spices lying around, you can have jar full of spicy, savory cashews to snack on when hunger strikes.

Heat a tbs of vegetable oil in a large skillet.

Fry whole Kirkland jar of unsalted cashews on low heat till they attain a golden color.

Keep the fried cashews in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix 2 tsp of chaat masala, 2tsp (or less) of Kashmiri chilli powder, a tsp of garam masala, a pinch of Himalayan salt or rock salt, a pinch of citric acid.

In the same skillet where you fried the cashews, throw in a handful of dried red chilis, and once they give out a spicy smell (10 seconds) add the spice mix. Keep the heat to medium low. Mix the spices for about 15 seconds and add to the fried cashews.

Coat them well. Cool completely and store them in a jar.

Lastly, chomp away.

Sometimes I add a few raisins to a handful of spicy cashews when I snack on them.

Divine!

Homecoming game – a poem by Sahana


This is the most poetry reading I have done since my twenties. Poetry of my daughter. I couldn’t be prouder. This is another of her poems I loved.

Homecoming game

Sure, they were singing; they always sang when the band pulled out old favorites.

Stinking jackets sticky with the hot lights of the field and face paint dripping down,

Screaming “Sweet Caroline” with all the tender finesse of a feral pack of racoons.

The thudding percussion, ringing loud through bared teeth and war cries

Pulled tight collars tighter to ward out any threat of wind,

Arms and tongues loose at every play and every call,

Voices sprinkling from above over the field before the game was even over,

Hot summer rain of what was meant to be support, but left a chill in the bones, a tickle in the throat —

It always felt brand new, every home game. Always felt like the suffocation was the fun of it,

That the ritual of limp hotdogs in starched yellow buns were some tradition to be maintained,

Long lines for shitty food and wolf packs on the prowl stalking the sidelines,

Side-eyeing the team and the pep parade held aloft by their short skirts and bright bows.

The sweat of the stands pooling below the bleachers, school spirit into school swamp,

Some cigarette ash could blow them all away, and it’s not like it hadn’t been tried, once.

Tired hands on a barrel, confetti in school colors stuffed tight into the chamber,

The press of familiar weight on slumped shoulders, a voice saying “Give it here, son,

“Don’t do something you can’t take back,” and a quiet release. But the drone of the announcer

Wails on, ambulance screams at every missed tackle, at the crushing force on a field of dreams.

Hopping back on matchstick legs for a shot at the victory sign at the end of the field,

Winging hope to heaven on high, recruiters silent, stone-faced, with his dad in the stands,

Chewing on fingernails and debt dethroned, a lump in his throat. Sleep scorned eyes

Seeking out ready arms, quick prayers, a Hail Mary, for an end to an already long night,

Shade cast over the firm set of his jaw, steady breathing, quick movements.

And a quiet, suddenly, a chill falling in sooner than he knew possible.

Lights off, stands empty, field ripped up and muddy. Sure, they sang when they knew the words.

When the band, electric and flowing, hazarded the first few aching notes.

The sun was a surprise, she mused.

Not unwelcome, for the chill it banished, but a surprise still

Tired Times – a poem by Sahana


Sahana has been writing a lot during the pandemic. She shared some poems with me and gave me permission to share with the world. Here is one.

Tired Times


It’s been hard to leave my bed,

Not because I’m depressed,

But this time because emerging from the cocoon of warmth without a shell,

Kafkaesque, to protect the softest parts of me,

Means I risk getting hurt, tearing something on a sharp edge,

Loose threads being tugged away without my knowledge or consent,

By the news or the flashing screen of my phone, lighting up with notifications

That just bring me dread now, honestly, after years of craving their validation.

It’s the shit I don’t wanna see, don’t want to know how many we’ve lost,

Don’t want to feel the weight of the lives we’ve built crumbling before my eyes,

Feeling like my metamorphosis was forced into an untimely pause.

I had been blooming into something, I’m sure of it.

Something bolder, the way I had always hoped,

No chip on my shoulder, learning how to walk again,

No hand holding this time, there was no need

No pressing expectation holding me by the throat and pinning me to the wall,

Rather, gentle hopes, laying me down, soft hands holding cheeks,

Looking me in the eyes and telling me I could.

But she couldn’t stay, hope was needed in other people’s hearts and I had a home to go to.

But when my mother, father, brother, huddle outside my door and ask to be let in, I can’t speak,

The pincers in my mouth choke down any cries for help and

The weight of my body pulls me through my bed on the floor,

Devastating dreams and I want to wake up,

But I know waking means looking in the mirror.

Waking means seeing that it’s real.

It means, knowing and going through the same paces,

Wanting to live the life I had in my grasp and had taken away from me.

I pace in a liminal state, subway station, under the earth,

Waiting for the character development or even better, an eventful end.

But the dreams don’t stop and the living doesn’t either,

Almost at the break of dawn at every turn, but the sun slips back under the horizon,

So I sit with the tired times, and wait for a new morning, sometime.

There are 3 things that are good right now.


Everything seems sad at this time. If I read this blog in about 5 years, I will most likely (hopefully) be in a happier state of mind. I am writing this blog for that future ‘happy’ me. Here are some things to juggle your memory ‘future happy me’:

We are in the middle of a pandemic.

I am the only one going to work for limited hours right now, the others are going to school, working from home.

200,000 people in America died from Covid 19 thus far.

RBG died and it looks like Trump administration will fill the Supreme Court vacancy with a conservative judge.

I can not go home.

But 3 things are going well for me right now.

On the suggestion of a friend, I started watching Mandalorian on Disney plus and I love it. I go through all day with the hope of watching one episode at night with Ryan. I love seeing baby Yoda.

The second show that is now a bright spot in my life is The Call of Midwife. Each episode brings forth different characters in 1950’s England, dealing with a harsh life, childbirth, loneliness and yet the young midwives and nurses in Nonnatas house go out everyday caring for the vulnerable.

The third thing that I look forward to these days is Abir Mukherjee’s Death in the East. Sam Wyndham is in Devraha Swami’s ashram in Jatinga, Assam. He has voluntarily come here to treat his opium addiction. On his way to the Ashram he thinks he saw a man from his past, 1905 to be precise when he was a young constable involved in solving the murder of Bessie Drummond. Mukherjee has done it again.

Ps: I wrote this blog a while ago when there were 200,000 death is USA. Now we are about to cross 400,000 grim milestone. I have long finished the book I mention and also the 2 shows. Some worries remain – my anxiety for my parents, my family catching the virus, despondency for no one specific reason. However, the vaccine is being administered. Hopefully, we can get vaccinated in the coming months and all the procedures for going to Kolkata will either be lifted or at least relaxed so I can go home.

Treetop Castles – a poem by Sahana


I will share in this blog a poem written by my 21 year old daughter. We turned to our own unique ways to deal with this tumultuous period in our lives and Sahana turned back to writing. She shared a couple of poems with me as they capture moments of her childhood and I am the preserver of memories. I hope you like the poem:

Tree Top Castles

The fact of the matter was: the time was simpler.

And the sun faded everything into an even, sepia tone,

Not from film cameras, but a small, portable Nikon,

One I had begged for until it appeared, cherry red, on my birthday.

And the rest of that summer when we got to work,

I memorialized it in the best way I knew.

I took to bossing around the neighborhood kids like a pro,

Construction hat firmly in place where my mother pressed it on my forehead,

Foreman of the foremost building in the entire region,

Or at least in within the perimeter of the territory we had claimed as our own,

Biking around cul de sacs, no hands on handlebars, pedaling hard.

To the spot we chose for our lemonade stand.

We had put on a pasta dinner for our parents, raised money to fund the lemonade stand,

From the forty bucks they put in the hat, we gave half to charity, our good deed of the summer,

And spent the other twenty setting up a lemonade stand made of dreams.

Built of our own two hands and measured glasses, we got lucky

Cop cars rolling up and paying triple per cup,

One radioing his buddies and there were constant cups to pour.

We took the funds and bought nails and wood,

Deconstructing a moldy picnic table hadn’t been enough,

Not enough to touch the architectural wonder I had designed,

Three tiers, bedrooms almost, and a multilevel garage,

Designs drawn out with a careful hand between summer math packets and book reports,

Sketched in journals of elementary angst between pages of nascent poetry.

When the castle came together, months of the neighborhood kids clambering up trees,

Holding hammers and saws in unsafe ways,

Five year olds trying to keep up, dragging planks of wood from pile to pile,

We had constructed a fortress, and our last three dollars bought a cheap “KEEP OUT” sign,

Walking over with the whole crew to the hardware store that had come to know us.

We sat in the shade of the castle and poured out a jug of lemonade.

The memories hit me eleven years later when I saw the last plank fall out of place,

Rotted and unused, no girls spying on older baseball players or hide and seekers,

No pirate ships and scallywags roaming its decks in years.

I watched our treetop castle disintegrate in front of me, wisps of ash close at hand,

Thinking about how our neighborhood gang fell apart after eighth grade,

High school pressure too much to hold.

How we had been so close for so long,

Built something so beautiful,

And walked away without looking back.

Finding Langston….


Author Lesa Cline-Ransome tells us a story that incorporates not only the life of a displaced child from rural Alabama to urban Chicago during the Great Migration (I highly commend Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of the Other Suns to learn more about the Great Migration) but also so much history, art and Black heritage within a few pages of this amazing children’s fiction, Finding Langston. She tells the story in 104 short pages to be exact, and makes me feel all the ‘feels’ as I read on.

Finding Langston (The Finding Langston Trilogy): Cline-Ransome, Lesa:  9780823439607: Amazon.com: Books
Source: Google images

Langston and his father were among those 7 million African American families who migrated up north from rural areas of the Southern states of USA in search of a better life during the Great Migration. After his mother’s death, Langston’s father did not have any reason to stay in Alabama. He moved up to Chicago to work at a paper mill and send his son to school in Bronzeville, Chicago. But 11 year old Langston hated the city, longed to return back to Alabama and wanted his mama back. Friendless and lonely, in their noisy little apartment, where the heat was turned on only at landlord’s whim and one had to stand in a long line to use the bathroom, Langston was extremely unhappy. He was bullied at school because of his accent, had no friends or family to love him except his father but he had always been a mama’s boy while mama was alive. Langston and his dad barely had much conversation because mama was the glue who held the family together. So father and son, thrust together due to unfortunate circumstances, struggled to find the right rhythm in their relationship. One day, while trying to escape the bullies after school, Langston found himself in an unfamiliar neighborhood and in front of the George Cleveland Hall branch library. Despite being unsure of his welcome into the institution because of his skin color, Langston ventured into the public library where the young boy was welcomed and where the librarian opened up a whole new world for him. He discovered poetry. Poetry written by his namesake, Langston Hughes, who experienced similar loneliness when he traveled north from his southern home. And he wrote about his feelings in poetry. Langston, our protagonist, found himself and his place in the world after he discovered Langston Hughes who gave words to the feelings that our hero was feeling but had no words to express them. Langston sets Langston free.


What a beautiful book this is where through Langston’s story, the author leaves crumbs of important historical events, names of prominent Black artists and activists, the great migration and the conditions of poor workers in mid 1940’s America. The story can encourage young readers to probe further and peek into the history of this time to get a better understanding of what Langston and thousands, if not millions, of children like Langston were going through as they dealt with poverty, separation from family and displacement. 

I do not read too many children’s fiction and even if I do, I don’t write about them. I finished this book last night and wrote a short review right away. And I woke up this morning still thinking about Langston finding his purpose and sense in his turbulent life within the words of Langston Hughes. I am a lover of words. I am also in awe of the transformative power of words.

The gender of our ghost.


“I am convinced there is a ghost in our house!” Sahana proclaimed as one of our musical Christmas knick knacks on the coffee table started playing Christmas music without any assistance on our part.

We were having dinner. We all stopped chewing and looked at each other. How, on earth did that happen? After a few moments of silence, Sahana also said, “Well, I do believe there are ghosts and one lives in this house. I have felt a presence. And she likes me the least. She has smacked pies out of my hand!”

Ryan, who keeps a baseball bat with him (or a kitchen knife sometimes, much to my chagrin) when he is alone, silently looked at her for a few seconds. He said he too is a believer, his voice filled with awe and a little fear.

Then he looked up at the air on top of my head and pleaded with the ghost, “Well, you are welcome to stay. Just don’t cause us any harm.”

I said I also don’t NOT believe in ghost. There is a possibility that spirits linger but I advised the ghost to remember that only weak seek revenge, strong forgive and smart ignore so either be a strong ghost or a smart ghost but please don’t be a weak ghost and seek revenge on us.

That statement elicited a chorus of “MOM, DO NOT SAY SUCH THINGS TO THE GHOST!!! She might be provoked to harm us. What are you doing?” This outburst was followed by Ryan looking at the air on top my head again and saying, “Please forgive her. She does not know what she says. Hey Sahana, do you know if our parents killed anyone in this house when we were little?”

I happened to address the ghost as “it” which was not acceptable to my children. “Don’t dehumanize her, mom. You will make her angry!” Sahana exclaimed.

“But this ghost is not human. It is former human!” I justified.

“You called her it again”. Stop doing that. She will get offended!”

“So what pronoun should I use? And how do you know it is a she?”

“Ugh, don’t use it!! Use they/them. Keep it non binary. That is the best option. But DO NOT dehumanize the ghost by calling them ‘it’. They may seek revenge.”

“Well, then they will be a weak ghost.” I shrugged.

“MOM!!! Don’t provoke them! What are you doing?”

The deed was done, though. I had provoked them. The Christmas music thing kept on playing at interval throughout the night as I gnashed my teeth at the ghost.

Next morning my husband said, “Jeez, that thing was playing at night. Let’s turn that off!” I did not find a turn off button on it, so I handed it over for him to try.

Sahana and Ryan are convinced it is our non binary ghost playing a prank. Another Christmas prank.

The music continues to play intermittently. Our non binary resident ghost continues with a prank of their own. Time to take the batteries out of that infernal Christmas toy! And if the music still continues, we will call an exorcist. Ghost, you have been warned…..

Ryan’s perfect chocolate chip cheese cake.


I am not going to give you the recipe for Ryan’s perfect chocolate chip cheese cake because he simply looked up a recipe on the internet and followed it word by word. This blog is about Ryan in the kitchen and what all I heard – his monologues, exclamations and yes, a few expletives coming from there as he created his ‘perfect’ chocolate chip cheesecake. I was working from home that day so I tried to ignore his monologues, exclamations, hisses et all, I only yelled when I heard expletives. Ryan responded each time with, “oh sorry!”. Since I was otherwise occupied, I requested Sahana to write down his exclamations, proclamations and questions as he tried to find his way in the kitchen.

He started assembling his work of art by spreading Pam onto the cake pan with a fork! When Sahana laughingly came to me saying, “MOM!!! HAHAHA! RYAN IS SPREADING PAM ON THE CAKE PAN WITH A FORK INSTEAD OF SPRAYING!” He grumbled, “Oh, ok then! Sorry for being sanitary, guess next time I’ll just use dirt.”

Then we heard him yelling at the graham crackers to “just get IN there” as he tried to create his perfect graham cracker crust for his perfect cheesecake.

At one point, after asking for directions on how to work the food processor, he turned it on. I heard an unfamiliar noise coming from my beloved food processor in conjunction with Ryan’s yell, “NOTHING IS HAPPENING”. I jumped up from my chair and ran to rescue my machine from inexperienced and evil clutches of Ryan. He had turned on the food processor with no blade in it. 🤦🏽‍♀️

We educated him on how to insert a blade for the food processor to work. He inserted the necessary blade required to do the job, he turned on the machine and he….. JUMPED! “Man, that’s loud!” At this point, Sahana and I were laughing uncontrollably. I left him to his devices but Sahana reported that he FLINCHED every time he turned on the food processor.

After a few minutes of quiet humming, we heard, “WHERE’S THE HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM?”

“In the fridge.” Sahana, the fridge organizer replied..

He yelled back, “IT’S NOT WHERE IT ALWAYS IS!!

Sahana responded “It’s on the top shelf, you dummy!”


“oh.”

A few seconds later we heard:

“Jeez, who tightened this thing!!!” Followed by grunts and ah-oh’s.

All good things come to an end and so did our entertainment. The cheesecake went into the oven. It cooked beautifully and came out looking handsome.

The next step was to let it cool, wrap it with cling wrap and then refrigerate it. Ryan, however, had to leave for swim practice. So he gave clear instructions to his dad on the next steps and the last instruction was to “keep mom away from his perfect cheesecake.”

I had a bad baking day. My cookies came out looking ugly, I was dropping things, making a mess so I told the family I had bad energy that day. Ryan wanted none of that bad energy near his ‘perfect cheesecake.’

At the end of the day, delirious with happiness, Ryan clapped me on the shoulder which is his way of showing affection and said in his fog horn voice, “Mom, thank you!”

I thought he was thanking me for helping him in the kitchen, so I said, “You are welcome but what for?”

“For not spoiling my perfect cheesecake! For not going near it!”

Since yesterday, he has been strutting around cockily saying from time to time, “I really think I should take control of this kitchen from now on. Did you all see my perfect chocolate chip cheesecake?”

And here, friends, is perfection (according to our Ryan, of course). All I will say as I end the blog is this: the cheesecake tasted really good. 😃