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.

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.

Office space


As we stood side by side preparing our quick lunch in the kitchen on a work-from-home day, I casually mentioned to Sean that I will be needing the office space that night from 6:45 till 8:00 pm as I was co producing a virtual class for the library.

“Oh no!! I have a virtual cocktail meet with big donors where I am presenting and answering questions!” he exclaimed. And looked at me with I-am-so-sorry eyes.

We really don’t have an office space in our house. There is a little office room which we transferred into nursery when we moved in as I was pregnant with Ryan. After spending all his infancy, babyhood, boyhood years in that little room Ryan finally took over Sahana’s room after she went to college. Sahana beautifully rearranged Ryan’s former (tiny) room and settled in it when she came back home due to the pandemic. It has a cozy dorm room feeling to it, complete with color changing lights.

Over the years, all our ‘office’ work and school work were done on the kitchen table. We did not feel the need for an office since I work for the library system and Sean travels all around the world for his job. The little time we had after our respective jobs was spent on carting children to soccer, basketball, music, swim practices and meets. Once the pandemic hit and we pivoted to online work we realized we were in trouble and we also realized as a family that Sean is a very loud office mate.

During pandemic, I took many trainings while we waited for the library system to resume service, facilitated book club and had to meet with co workers virtually. I often found myself glaring at Sean, who also met with his colleagues virtually and rather loudly. As he gained steam and got excited about whatever they were discussing, the decibel level increased. I often glared at him and huffed off with my computer on mute to the bedroom and shut the door. More than once I was either asked by colleagues if I was on my bed and if planned on falling asleep 😃 ! After both our meetings, Sean asked, “Was I too loud? I am sorry!” The next time our meetings conflicted, he would start off with normal voice and then predictably grew louder and louder as his meeting progressed.

As months went by, Sean started bringing his office into our home. It started innocently enough! A big ring light came for his zoom meetings, then huge banners of his organization were delivered to set up as back drop. The last straw was all the photos that he had on the walls of his office came home with him one day along with the bowls he used at work and silverware. He then took a very handy desk from our main floor which held all my electronics, laptop and devices, and took it downstairs to the basement and set up a nice office space with the ring light for zoom meetings. My stuff were relegated to a small white table.

When I saw the neatly set up office space, I rubbed my hands in glee, immediately planning to usurp it whenever I had classes to teach or facilitate. My classes are generally in the evening so I figured they will not coincide with Sean’s meetings since those are primarily during day time. Win, win! Or so I thought. The first day I decided to stake my claim on his hard work, he had a cocktail meeting. Who has cocktail meeting during virtual work? What is the point of that? Sean does not even drink!

Sahana happened to be in the kitchen when we were having the conversation of our meeting conflict. She decided to be helpful and made a comment. Big mistake! I jumped on her right away.

“Can I use your room then?” I turned to her with bright eyes. She had a lovely set up for her online classes.

Although she was taken aback, she agreed and I found her room nicely cleaned, all ready for me once I got back from work. The class worked out beautifully. I did make Sean feel bad about the conflict, admittedly unfairly and he relinquished the office to me for my next class while he took phone calls from all over the world upstairs, next to the children’s bedrooms where they were trying to attend virtual classes. And he was, as usual, loud.

This morning was beautiful and Sean was talking to his colleagues over phone on our back deck. I saw that he finally met his match. A blue jay flew close by, settled on a branch near him and proceeded to tell Sean, in no uncertain terms, that s/he can beat him hands down in volume any day. Its on! Sean became louder by the minute and the blue jay kept pace. As I heard the competition between bird and human, I smiled. Situation is less than perfect in so many homes. We need to find whatever humor there is, we need to laugh, we need to give, we need to share, sometimes office space even. We need humor to get by.

Show grace, let us all show grace.

Going home…


I was talking to the lovely receptionist at my doctor’s office this morning, sharing frustrations of having loved ones far away. She is from Trinidad. Like many of us, she can not go home to see her parents. Borders are closed. We commiserated over our situations and the situations of millions around the world. Stuck. Since then I have checked Emirates website at least 3 times. The intensity of my desire to go home multiplies everyday.

Compounded with all the other worries associated with this pandemic, the feeling of being stuck and not being able to reach my ma and baba plunges me in depths of despair, robbing sleep at night. This, unfortunately, is not exclusively an immigrant problem. I was sharing my concerns with a friend at work. She lives a few streets away from her parents however she said she has not seen them as she is afraid to see her elderly parents for the fear of bringing infection to them. Another friend lost her dad during the height of pandemic and was afraid to give her mother a hug or hug other family members and friends who came to celebrate her father’s life. My husband has not been able to see his mom living in an assisted living facility in a different state. The gates to their loved ones are also closed. Although us, immigrants, have longer distances to travel to reach our family, we all share the same agony of not being able to reach/see those close to our heart.

Sometimes I fantasize my reunion with my parents. First of all, how would I feel when the plane’s wheels touch City of Joy after this horrible disease has a vaccine? How my first sighting of those beloved faces will feel like? We are not a hugging family. When we first see each other we give a perfunctory hug but we all feel that is not natural. We smile though. We smile so wide that it feels like our mouths can not stretch any more. And ma invariably puts her hand on my arm, perhaps to feel that yes, I am really there in front of her in flesh. She strokes my arm gently and in that touch I feel all her love pouring into my being. My father has a beaming smile as if his whole soul is lit up. Finally! Their child has arrived. Then we follow baba outside the relative calm interior of Dumdum airport into complete chaos, smell of dust and blast of humidity of Kolkata. We wait with our luggage talking to ma while baba texts the driver of the rented car to come pick us up. On the long drive home, we are presented with bottles of water and almost always a Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar. My favorite. I don’t eat it then, but just getting it from ma and baba fills me up with the feeling of being small again. It is hard to explain.

I am sending positive vibes to the universe. End this pandemic. End this for so many reasons but also for me, in this little corner of my world. I want to go back home. I want to go to bed in my Kolkata home, wake up completely jetlagged in the middle of the night and then sit by the window in the living room, facing east to see the morning sun rise over the coconut trees behind our 5th floor apartment.

I want to hear the first caws of crows as they convene for their morning meetings, the first whistle of local train bringing workers to the city from villages, the sound of running water as the slum across from us wakes up to a new day, the soft tinkling of glass bangles as the neighborhood women come to the municipality tap to wash dishes, wash themselves, collect water. I want to sit next to my mom and dad, drinking a cup of tea with Parle G biscuit and looking out the french window where the world is obscured by my father’s plants.

I want to feel their presence. I want be in their presence. I want to be asked that question so filled with love, which no one else ever asks me, “Aaj ki khabi?” (What do you want to eat today?)

As I write these memories down, I see the scenes in my mind’s eye. I almost smell the smells of home, almost feel the love, almost touch the other slice of my life. The slice that I leave behind when I cross the ocean each time. Almost, but not quite…

Universe, hear my prayer.

Fear of running out.


This is just a short blog about books and is written mainly for the bibliophiles out there. Tell me if you relate to what I am about to write.

That I love books and have loved them forever is no secret to those who know me. Growing up, I could be found either in one corner of the house, or on bed, completely engrossed in a book. So engrossed that when friends and family came to visit, I was reprimanded for not being social. After being chastised, I would come out to socialize but my mind would be lost in whichever world my book explored at that point. Did that happen to you? That you could not wait for people to leave so you could get back to reading?

I always, always worry about running out of books to read when we go on vacation. I pack ‘just one more book’ in my book bag, in case I read them all. I can not possibly read 5 hefty books on a 3 day vacation but I throw in a 6th book. Just in case.

I do not enjoy reading books on my tablet but on top of physical books, I borrow another 4 books on my tablet. Just in case.

The only time I do not carry physical books with me or carry just 2 is when I travel to India (I borrow books on my tablet though). There are 2 reasons for that. One, of course, is the weight that we are allowed to carry on the flight. Second, I get my fill of Bengali books when I get home. I make my annual pilgrimage to Ananda Publishers in Gariahat market to buy books of my favorite Bengali authors.

What did you hoard up on when the pandemic started? I hoarded up on books. I work at a library. When we found out that the library will be closing for 2 weeks (ha, that sounds so funny, right now), I made 2 trips to my car with bag full of books. And then I worried what if I run out of reading material in 2 weeks? Well, that 2 weeks stretched to 3 months and I did not run out of books, thanks to ebooks borrowed on Libby and Netgalley. I have become semi comfortable reading on my tablet although I still don’t love it.

Once our library opened for staff and Contactless Pick up, I found such pleasure in shelving books and like an addict, checked out piles to read. Is this an addiction? If it is, I have no desire to break out of it.

During school and university days, I gave myself a treat between studying and snuck in a few chapters of a book to free my mind from information. If you ask my mother, however, she will tell you I gave myself more treats than study hours. (So don’t go asking her). The idea that a book will be my reward after certain hours of studying was so inviting. Today, I smiled back at that memory. I needed to do research on an unpleasant subject. My dad, all of a sudden, developed a health crisis. I am far away and unable to be with him. Before I settled down to research and scare myself with all that internet will throw at me, I decided to eat a sandwich and read a few chapters of my current book before I fired up my laptop. Real life waited as I turned the pages. Sometimes I don’t like being an adult at all. I don’t want to deal with all that I have to. I hang a carrot stick, in my case, a book, in front of me to keep going. Do you ever feel that way?

With that promise of escape, real world which has pandemic in it right now, and a faraway, unwell dad on top of it, becomes bearable.