Dada


I wrote this blog a while ago. Since I have not seen home for a while, this blog was particularly meaningful.

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2015/03/25/dada/

No man’s land in my reading journey


Do you know what I am talking about? It is that space when you are between books. You finished a book late at night. You perhaps cried a little at the turn of events, or laughed, or smirked at the predictable anticlimactic end of the story. No matter what your reaction was, you stayed up late to finish the book. You were invested. Now the book is done, you are sad or relieved depending on how much you loved the book but the possibilities ahead of you are endless. You lovingly look at your pile of books waiting to be cracked open on your bedside table, or you go to your bookshelves where you have library books on separate shelves and personal books on others. You peruse them lovingly, perhaps open a few to read the jackets. Which one or ones will it be? To add to the joy, it is your day off. The weather outside is frightful. There is a pandemic too. You really can not do anything, go anywhere. But you want to savor this excitement of making a choice. So instead of choosing a book right as you wake up, you cook an elaborate Indian meal for the family while listening to Hindi music of yester years. After cleaning the kitchen, you go back to the book shelf. Stroke some books lovingly. You are close to making a choice. Is it going to be Diane Setterfield, Isabel Wilkerson or Laila Lalami? No, not yet. You will extend this delicious feeling of happy possibilities and go clean the bathroom. It really needed cleaning. How about throwing in a load of laundry? It is only 2:25 in the afternoon. The rest of the afternoon and lazy winter evening stretch luxuriously ahead of you. It is a dark day so you will light up the house with Christmas lights. Plug in the lights of the Christmas tree. Now you will make your final decision. You will fold yourself up in your reading chair, and then you will lose yourself.

Sincerely trying – to find the silver lining.


All you see of her face are two beautiful eyes looking back at you. The rest of the face is covered up carefully with her dupatta. And all of her arms as well. She doesn’t wear new clothes, she doesn’t buy any jewelry or apply any make up like most twenty year olds do. She […]

Sincerely trying – to find the silver lining.

Natural oil exacts a price.


Since my visit to Morocco at the end of last year, I have transformed my beauty care regimen. My bathroom cabinet now holds only natural oils. I have become a big proponent of argan oil, so much so that I wrote a blog on it. If you are interested, you can read it:

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2020/09/27/morocco-argan-oil-and-bad-memories/

You can ignore the bad memory part. Bolstered by my success with argan oil, I delved into research and included rosehip oil as well. I use argan oil on my face after shower and rosehip oil before going to bed. It does not clog the pores and keeps the skin moist and soft. My pandemic hair has a mind of its own and is often wild and untamed. Massaging argan oil not only tames the hair, makes it soft but also relieves tension from my shoulders.

Anyway, all that I have written so far is good. You are wondering what price did natural oils exact then and when exactly is she going to stop rambling?

I was reading Sue Monk Kidd’s latest fiction The Book of Longings where a character in ancient Egypt applies clove oil behind her ears as part of her beauty regime. A light bulb went on in my head. I too want to be surrounded by the smell of cloves all day long. Why not add clove oil to my collection of natural oils? I snatched up my phone and started researching clove oil and of course Amazon delivered. The instructions said to mix a few drops of clove oil with some carrier oil like coconut oil or almond oil. I figured I had argan oil as the carrier. I was set. So the following day, I got out of my shower, poured some argan oil in my hands, mixed a few drops of clove oil in it and applied it on my face.

Now, I am not one for swearing. I don’t utter expletives since my mother ingrained in me since childhood that swearing and using bad language was a no-no. But at that moment as concentrated clove oil burned my face, I may have uttered an expletive…..or two…or maybe, more.

My face was BURNING from the clove oil. I desperately reached for soap and washed my face with cold water to get rid of the oil. But the burning sensation subsided only after splashing ice cold water for a long time. I was afraid to look at myself in the mirror fearing burnt face. No, the skin on my face was normal color, extra soft perhaps and glowing. The fact is, I grew up using cloves. It was used in our food to make rice or other dishes aromatic. We chewed it as mouth freshener. I use it now crushed within my homemade garam masala. It was used to diminish toothache when I was growing up. I know the strong taste of clove. I know clove is spicy and has quite a strong kick to it. I should have known concentrated clove oil will be strong. I did not. I paid the price for my…..for the lack of better word, stupidity.

The next morning, I ran to a natural store, bought a big bottle of sweet almond oil. I then filled a small spray bottle with almond oil, mixed a few dropper full of clove oil to create a mix of natural oils that will not only moisturize my body but surround me with the smell of cloves. I have been using the mixture successfully since. However, I have not been brave enough to try the mixture on my face yet. I think I will stay true to my two other naturals – argan and rosehip. They never exacted such a harsh price ever! They are kind and gentle. But clove oil surrounds me with an aroma I love!

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.

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.