Thursday, February 25, 2010

Things You Can Do Today

Join the Blank Noise I Never Ask For It movement. It ends on the 27th but till then you can blog, tweet or take a Facebook stance.

Me, I'm putting up this photo:


Look at it, go on.

I was getting on the Metro one evening last December, tired and crabby. The train was full and the idiots who block the gate were there as usual. As I was pushing my way inside a hand came and groped at my right breast. Luckily, this time I had the presence of mind to grab the hand and start yelling. It turned out to be attached to a young college boy who was standing there with his friends, claiming he hadn't done anything. I yelled and made off in the opposite direction, unnerved by how nobody in the whole compartment stepped up if only to ask for more details.

Look at my picture. Think of how grumpy you feel on your way home from office when you're contemplating the household chores. Think of the effort it takes to shove your way into a crowded train. Now tell me exactly how I was 'asking for it'.



If you are interested in language and how it develops, especially amongst young children, go take this poll by Utbt.



Take a moment to rejoice at the fact that Uma Shankar is back. And take another moment to wonder whatever happened to the little old lady who used to beg at the corner of the road near the Metro. I gave her a rupee now and then and I don't think she ever gave me a look. One day I had Rahul with me and I gave him the coin to put in her hand and I'll never forget the look on her face as she hungrily grabbed and blessed him. I do wonder what has become of her.



Go give Dipali her daily hug. Now she needs it more than ever before.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dipali's Alu Parathas

Now, either you've had parathas made by Dipali or you haven't. It's a fair way to divide the world. (If you are wondering what alu parathas are, they are traditonal North Indian potato-stuffed flatbreads.)

I can't replicate her magic (I strongly suspect she mutters incantations under her breath as she cooks) but I find I do get very nice results following her methods. Here is what she taught me:

Ingredients:

250 gm atta (wheat flour) for 2 adults & some extra for rolling (you can use maida or all purpose flour but atta is tastier)
A cup of vegetable oil/ghee/butter
Warm water (I bung some into the microwave oven for 30 sec before I knead with it)

3 medium sized potatoes, boiled and peeled
Salt to taste
A pinch of ajwain (carom seeds)
A larger pinch of amchoor
Large pinch of garam masala
1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped green chilly
1/4 cup finely chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

*Keep the extra flour handy for rolling out parathas and also to adjust the dough in case you've added too much fat or water.

Plain curd and butter to accompany the end results.


Method:

1. Take the flour in a large bowl or plate for comfortable kneading and make a small well in the centre.

2. Pour up to 1 tbsp of oil/ghee/butter into the well and mix it well into the flour to make small breadcrumb-like balls all through.

Use half a tbsp first and add more if you want. The more fat you use, the more pliant your dough is, but dough that is too soft is a pain to roll out.


3. After the breadcrumb stage, add warm water in batches to make a soft but not sticky dough. Like with the fat, start adding small quantities until you're satisfied with the dough.

4. Knead well and set aside while you make the stuffing.

5. Mash the potatoes in a large bowl and add the spices. Mash well to form a soft, spicy potato mash. It should taste a bit more salty than you'd like, to balance the unsalted dough.

The spices listed above are optional and may be used in differing combinations. I tend to leave out the cilantro and onion since I don't care for them much myself. Likewise, unless you are a fan of ajwain (like me) you might prefer to go easy on that one. In lazier moods I've been known to just mash boiled potatoes with some oil from the surface of my jar of pickles and that tastes good too.

6. Now for the fun part. Make large, evenly sized balls from the dough. I make mine the size of large lemons.

7. Roll one ball out a bit.



8. Cup the rolled out dough in your palm and stuff it with the mashed potato. Stuff as much as you dare. If the stuffing does spill out during the rolling/frying, it only adds to the taste.


9. Bring the edges of the circle up around the mashed potatoes to form a closed little ball of stuffed dough.


10. Flatten this gently between your palms and flour both sides. Now roll this out gently.


The marbled look comes from large bits of potato. I was too lazy to make a nice, smooth mash. Tastewise it doesn't matter, but smooth mash is, naturally, easier to roll out. Unless you add chopped onions and coriander leaves to it, in which case it'll be a bit lumpy. Not a problem.

If your dough is pliant enough you should be able to roll really thin parathas. Like so.


11. I usually have a tawa (griddle) heating while I roll the first paratha out. So the ready paratha goes smoothly onto a hot tawa tempered with a little ghee.


That wee mashie thingie I'm pressing the paratha down with is sold as a potato masher. I use it to fry parathas like Dipali taught me, pressing down the edges for even cooking. You can as easily use a clean dishcloth or even the spatula.

12. I like my parathas sinful so I dribble a little ghee around the edges of the paratha and pop a wee bit more on the middle of each side. This is optional however and you can actually roast these babies entirely oil-free on a non-stick griddle. Although really, why would you want to do that?

And that's it. Smear butter over the hot parathas, dip in curd and chomp your way to happiness.

I had the dough and boiled potatoes ready at home on Tuesday morning, so I finished making and eating I think 7 of these in an hour.

The smart thing to do is
set the potatoes to boil -- knead the dough -- set dough aside and mash the potatoes -- set griddle to heat up and roll out the first paratha -- roll while the previous one fries, clean up while the last one fries!
On re-reading this post I would like to point out that I only ate 2, not all 7 of the parathas I made. But they are yummy enough for me to be able to put away 7.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Anticipation

Soumya is having a baby next month. Which, if you think about it, is a very few short weeks away.

I was the first to get married and do the mothering thing. She got married shortly after me and is now catching up on the mothering thing. Esha, of course, has been mothering her sister's kids from much before.

I think we can now officially lay claim to grownupness.

I'm extremely excited about my little nephew-t0-be, as you may imagine. Here is what I made for him:


Little green booties with green and yellow braided laces to come home in. These were surprisingly easy to knit. I'm tempted to make more, they look so adorable when finished. I no longer know which site I got the pattern from, but luckily I still have the instructions on a printout.


A little vest for his first winter. This vest, made in the pattern I posted earlier, has a few mistakes but it was fun to knit. My first stripes! Also, check out the froggie buttons.


Rahul chose those himself. I wonder when we'll all ever meet. The likelihood of us being in the same country, far less the same city, seem low for a long time to come.

Anyway, so I'm very excited about Soumya's baby, as he is currently known. When he does arrive, I shall hasten to give him some perfectly ridiculous nickname, of course.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Everything

Life seems to be moving so fast.

We got back from our trip to Delhi and Shimla in the first week of January. Another week went by meeting Nan and Maitra and trying to catch up with work and home. Then the parents and Mejopishi and A'kaku hit Cal and life became one long round of get-togethers and parties. Then Guddi got married on the 21st and that meant busy days before and after. I missed all the tatta packing but I managed to attend the aiburobhaat (went for the Saraswati puja at office afterwards all dressed up in my new earrings and a fancy saree). That was some trip. I picked Rahul up from Garfa and then took a rickshaw, an auto, a bus and shank's mare to Guddi's. Cabbed it (part-way) to office afterwards, though!

We celebrated our fourth anniversary on 22nd Jan in a fairly desultory fashion, eating dosas before a show of 3 Idiots. The movies was great fun, though and Ma babysat Rahul so all waz well.

Immediately after the wedding Rahul succumbed to his annual Big Winter Illness. It was a stomach virus this time and it left him dehydrated and very drained. He threw up everything we got down his gullet, including water. Made for some very tense days. The Siblings did not add to the joy, coming and fussing at us the way only Baba and Mejopishi can. This time they got ample support from Anindyakaku and Ma too, bah.

Rahul was ill for a whole week and more and January ended. In the middle of all this madness I never got a chance to touch the stuff I was making for Soumya's baby. When the calendar shifted to Feb I went into panic mode and started bringing my kit to office in a mad attempt to complete the stuff in time to send to her mother to carry to the US with her when she went to visit Soumya.

February has been a little slower, easier, kinder on the whole, but the bonhomie and camaraderie Vicky and I had found between us in Shimla waned.

Thus far Feb's been a month of some late nights at work, some major tantrums from the boy and unexpected forbearance from Vicky. The gas ran out twelve days ago and that's been stressful. Ma loaned me a cylinder of hers but she does need it back. I discovered that the parlour across the road from my office does lovely shampoos and the girls actually listen to the kind of cut I want. Makes a nice change. The shampoos in particular will save my life in the future, I foresee it.

We went for a lovely birthday party yesterday. Sonali's daughter Paree (as opposed to Nunu's son Avi, you understand) turned three so Sonali organised a party at the Tolly children's playground. It was a great idea and the kids seemed to love it. Snacks were restricted to popcorn and juice, which was just as well because none of the kids seemed interested in food (why eat when you can tumble off a slide, I say) ; the high tea was varied and delicious and I ate like only an office-going girl can at 6 pm. Rahul was rather psyched by the clown but he, like every other child there (including yours truly) fell violently in love with the cake. A lovely teddy bears' picnic done by Kookie Jar. The details were beautifully done, right down to the bowlful of cream by the plateful of strawberries. It's the pity they use the hard sugar-paste-y thing that's not much fun to eat. The chocolate cake underneath was delicious but that goes without saying.

Baba retires at the end of this summer. They have already vacated their flat in Madras and are living in a service apartment now. The luggage has been dispatched to Vizag and Cal. Ma is in Cal now to receive the Cal consignment which is expected on Sunday morning. In the meantime I shall be running around with the Matador guys early tomorrow morning to bring her a fridge from Patuli and cupboards from Garfa.

When I was on the phone with her over the arrangements there was a short pause and then she said, "But will you be travelling with these men, Ayesha?" And I told her that I would, because I know them and besides, I've had to get over such maidenly modesty years ago.

Makes me a trifle wistful sometimes because I used to dream of growing up and leading a sheltered life. On the other hand, I don't like people telling me what I can and cannot do so I've never been able to stay sheltered very long at any stage of my life.

I need a pedicure and some nights out with the girls. Let's see what the weekend holds.

By the way, girls, check GoGirl out. I love the idea although I'm not sure how happy I would be to cart it around.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day 2010

I got chocolates (a kind I absolutely adore, mind you) and buk-bhora bhalobasha (sweet lovin, yeah).

It's been my first gift in ten years!

Whatchuget?

Not a Grudge

Just a memory.

Vicky and I fought and he said something nasty, intending to hurt. And I suppose once he got that out, he was prepared to calm down.

But he said it and I heard myself read out other words. Words of blame nobody deserves to hear, not even me. And I turned on my heel and walked away. Leaving him cut and bleeding and in pain. The blood will clot, but my memories retain their edge. They cut the ground out from under me when I least expect them.

This is what I think: when you hurt somebody who matters to you, and I take it as given that if you love somebody you are bound to hurt them as only you can, then you need to make it your business to take it back or kiss it right or do whatever the hell it takes to make them believe it was the anger, not you. Because if you never take the trouble to do this, then such memories only strengthen their roots. They aren't grudges but they seem more destructive than a mere grudge which after all can one day be tossed away.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hostage-taking

Kids are really good at it. For starters, they keep their demands deceptively simple and seemingly affordable. For another, they are pros when it comes to bravely holding back those tears brimming in wee eyes... and if you think you can just look away and make a run for it, they cling on to whatever body part they can reach.

But let me not describe it backwards: it all starts at the door.

I worked late on Wednesday, getting home at midnight. So I left late for work on Thursday. Rahul came home, saw me on the premises, rolled around on the floor for joy (what is it with the rolling anyway?) and asked me every five minutes for the next two hours if I were going to stay with him all day. The only times he stopped asking me this were when I asked to be cuddled. Bah.

We had lunch together and he saw me get ready for office. Came up to me with this grim look on his face and told me, "Mone-y hoye tumi office jaccho na."

Taking his tone into account, that would roughly translate into, 'I don't think you're going to office, young lady.'

As I scooted round the house in my usual mad last minute round-up of handbag, wallet, keys etc. I saw he had prepared the siege. He was sitting calmly in front of the front door, all set to block both the shoe cabinet and the opening of the door. To make matters worse, he had even packed a little boxful of toys to entertain him for as long as it took.

When coaxing didn't work he was bodily picked off the floor.

Then came the wails.

In all this I hastily made my escape.

That was Thursday. On Friday morning I decided to do my half-day in the second half, so when Rahul came home, he saw me lazing around yet again.

The previous day's scene repeated itself, from the determined siege of the front door (with supplies!) to the repeated questioning to the final defiant order not to go. And I ran down the stairs and turned back to the windows for a final goodbye, hoping against hope he'd wave and be all right. Only to see a very little boy bravely blinking back tears, trying to summon a smile that wouldn't hold.

Just three years old. Asking his Babu to stay at home with him.

And I stood there on the road feeling my eyes fill up.

Who needs a career anyway.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bengali Vegetable Chops

I chanced across this excellent and authentic-tasting recipe last week. By that I mean Dolon has got the shop taste down pat and isn't that what we all want? :) I'm re-posting her instructions along with some clarifications and photographs from me because I like making dummy-proof recipes.

Ingredients

1. 2 medium potatoes
2. 2 small carrots
3. 1 medium beetroot
4. 1 tsp ginger paste
5. 3 tsp peanuts
6. 3-4 tsp bhaja masala
7. 1/2 tsp sugar
8. salt to taste
9. 4-5 tbsp besan (gram/chickpea flour)
10. 1 and 1/2 cup bread crumbs
11. 2 cups white oil (for deep frying)

Ingredients for bhaja masala
1. 2 tbsp cumin seeds .
2. 6 dry red chillies .


Method :-

1. Roast cumin seeds and dry red chillies on low heat till the jeera turns brown and chillies dark red. Do not char. Remove from heat and dry grind in a mixie chutney jar. Thhis dark brown powder can be stored for later usage in other dishes.

2. Peel and dice the vegetables into large chunks. Pressure cook on high heat for 2 whistles. Drain the water & mash the vegetables coarsely and mix 2-3 tsp bread crumbs to help it bind.

3. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a kada (wok). Fry the peanuts and drain them on some kitchen paper.

4. Now add the ginger paste, fry lightly. Add the roughly mashed vegetables, salt and sugar. Cook for 8-10 minutes on medium high heat, mashing it as you go.


5. Add bhaja masala and fried peanuts and mix. Place the mixture on a plate to cool a little.

6. Make a not too runny besan batter by adding water to the flour. A pancake batter-like consistency works for me.

7. Make little oblong chops out of the vegetable mixture using your hands. The mixture will be fairly soft so be gentle and don’t try for perfect shapes.


8. Dip each chop in besan batter, making sure you coat it all around, and place it on the plate of breadcrumbs.

9. Roll it gently in the crumbs and make sure each chop is coated all over. Place the crumbed chops carefully on a plate ready for frying.


10. Heat the oil in a kada (wok). Test for temperature by dropping a little square of bread into the oil. If it rises instantly to the top, the oil is right. I confess I picked this handy tip from some other recipe. I myself check the temperature by placing my palm over the oil but then, I do know what the correct temperature feels like. Don’t wait for the oil to be smoking hot because then the crumb coat chars. (And if your oil does overheat, fry a slice of bread in it to bring the temperature down a bit.)

11. Gently fry the chops, rolling them in the oil every few minutes to fry evenly. The chop on the left is half fried and has been rolled over to let the other side fry. The one on the right has just been dropped into the oil.

12. Drain and serve hot with ketchup, kashundi (mustard sauce) and salad. Or you could, like me, gobble them up as they were.

I made about 14 chops from this amount and they came out perfect. Crisp coats and crunchy peanuts and yummy fillings. Let me know if you give them a shot. I dined that night off these chops, salad and some bread and butter.

Oh and Dipali's tip: breadcrumbs can be made by grinding torn toast or even fresh bread in the chutney jar of the mixie. Actually, she's responsible for how well these came out, given that she made the bhaja masala for me!

Edit: You can make the veggie mash firmer and easier to mould by adding some of the breadcrumbs or even a torn piece of fresh bread for better binding.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Fine Art of Diplomacy

Rahul’s taken to gagging when we feed him something he doesn’t like. He got very good at it during his stomach infection last month and was given dire warnings to cease and desist or else.

He hasn’t tried it with me but when he went to spend the weekend with Ma on Friday, he did it again. She told me she tried to feed him “motorshoot” (matarshuti aka peas) and he gagged, scaring her.

I turned on him, ready for murder and mayhem and he decided not to whine his way out of this one. He thought for a few moments, came and stood cozeningly next to me and said (very sweetly), “Ami motorshoot khai na, ami aador khai.” (I take love, not peas.)

Seriously, what would you have done?

I grinned and hugged him. Bah.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Brain of a Grandmother

Me: Vicky, when's your birthday?

V glares at me. This is an old, old fight stemming from some slight and entirely explicable confusion over the exact date.

Ma: It's 25th September, 1976, right? What, why are you laughing?

Because, dear Mum, you are only thirty years off your grandson's birthday. Vicky, for all his sins, cannot be classed among the 25th Septembers.

You have to admit though, the woman has a one-track mind. And this is the lady who was known for her phenomenal capacity to remember every single friend and relative's birthdays and anniversaries. How the mighty have fallen.

Update: Check this post out, while on the subject. Bah.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Career vs Parenting

I've been trying to come up with a career plan for Vicky and myself that allows me to work from home once more (which is more a lifestyle plan really, of necessity) and without making any huge headways, I've managed to narrow down some goals for the next two years.

I found this Babble article on working mothers very timely. Not because I earn more than Vicky but because he outearns me by far, several times over, and I'm not happy with the way my home is being run by him. We're both stressed and compromising and I'd like to put a goal to this compromising instead of an abstract career graph advance. He's doing the best he can, which is better than any other father I've observed in the same role, so it's up to me to make the next change or at least plan it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Financial Whizkids

An old exchange between me and the Mon:

Mon: preschools are so expensive

Me: True. I don't know what they do with all that money. Sat down and worked out finances for the month, last night. Somewhat precarious but I managed to make ends meet and put some emergency cash aside. And this morning Vicky says, school fees. Which just gobbled up that emergency, bah!

Yes, I don't like spending emergency cash, not even for emergencies. Only shopping counts!

Mon: because shopping is real emergencies. everything else is fate kicking us in the backside.

Me: YES!

*looks gratefully at Mon*

I'm going to blog that, I'm afraid.

...

On this note I announce that I bought four shirts and two pairs of trousers and a corduroy skirt from the Pantaloons sale this time. Am trying to tell myself it's all work gear which I badly needed so I really oughtn't feel so guilty. And am trying not to think of the nine panties and five bras I bought at the Loveable sale just weeks ago. A girl needs clothes, you know.