Monday, December 31, 2012

Painting bowls and making curry

Curry. This word has so many meanings.

As a child I adored the beans curry that our Tam Brahm neighbour made and I loved the mustardy fish curry my Mom made. They were worlds apart. One was a dry vegetable made with finely chopped french beans and garnished with grated coconut while the other was a pungent gravy that you had to grow up eating to love it like I obsessively do. As far as I knew curry was any preparation with a gravy. For example Mangshor Jhol, one of the most classic Bengali preparations is casually referred to as mutton curry, and there isn't a whiff of coconut anywhere near it.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that among the Parsis curry is a very specific preparation involving coconut, chillies, garlic, assorted spices and of course curry leaves. As I learned more about other cuisines I discovered that the word curry was widely used to refer to a coconut based gravy among many cuisines.

Coconut. My mother is not fond of coconut at all and so it never made an appearance on our table. Strangely, coconut is not widely used in Bengali food even though it grows abundantly in Bengal. Yes, you have the Malai curry, and there is the Chhola'r Daal which must be garnished with fried slivers of coconut. Narkol'er Nadu or coconut laddoo is something every Grandma is supposed to have stashed away in a jar in her cupboard, to distribute to her adored grand children. My Grand-mom seemed to be blissfully unaware of this. So yeah, I was not very familiar with coconut.

I had never tasted coconut before I met K but it didn't take much to become a fan though! I love coconut based curries and regularly fool around with a basic recipe to make things more exciting. In fact, a few cans of coconut milk are always in stock in my pantry cupboard.

Recently there have been two significant developments in my life. The first is that we now have a cook. That obviously means I hardly cook any more. The second is that I have taken up my hobby of painting on ceramics again.

K wanted me to cook dinner and I was waiting to show off a newly painted bowl. I made one of my favourite dishes, a simple pomfret curry. Here it is in the new bowl that I painted.

Marathon Bloggers Day 17

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ekla cholo re

This iconic song by Tagore can mean different things at different times. Today I feel very alone and this song, that exhorts the listener to walk on alone if no one hears his/her call, seems to tell me to march on regardless.

Relationships change all the time. And they should, We grow and change with every passing day, our needs change, we focus on different things, our attention shifts, there can be so many reasons why we change. But change is always around, constant and dependable. Yes I know the clichĂ©, only too well it seems.

Friends have come and friends have gone. They have enriched my life for a while and once their attention has moved to something else the familiar loneliness creeps back and once again it is Ekla cholo re.  But please don't think I am depressed because I'm lonely. The loneliness is momentary. One is used to the presence of a person in one's life, one has made space for that person and once she or he's gone, there is empty space and that space is space for something new. The loneliness, unlike change, is not constant.

The EuphoRHEA page on Facebook is one of the most fulfilling things I have done in recent times and the beauty of it all is the timing. Space was created and EuphoRHEA came and filled it up.

Whether you fill your life with people or things or activities doesn't matter. Does what you fill it with give you joy? If it does, you're doing okay. Life is about finding happiness, finding joy, finding fulfilment - and there are options. Many options. Choose and let the joy come in...

I painted this today. There was space and I filled it with this :)

Marathon Bloggers Day 16

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pan Roasted Chicken with Vegetables

I love chicken but K hates it. So I usually cook chicken for myself and it works out fine because I'm usually on my own for lunch most days. One recipe I use very frequently is this one, with variations depending on what vegetables and spices I have at hand. It's a one pot dish and I often have it just as it is, with no accompanying bread.

This pan roasted chicken is very adaptable. Use different spice mixes, change the vegetable combinations, add a dash of soy sauce.. the permutations are endless.

Chicken, cut into pieces
2 large onions, sliced thickly
2 carrots, cut into batons
2 potatoes, cut into batons
6 cloves garlic, chopped
Mushrooms, sliced thick
1 large capsicum, sliced thick
Salt, pepper, bottled spice mix, olive oil

Heat oil in a large deep pan and put in the potatoes and the carrots. Let them cook a bit and then add the onions. Keep the heat at medium and let it all cook covered for about 5 mins. Add the garlic too. Throw in the mushrooms and, if you're using an entire chicken, add the leg and thigh pieces. Stir around and then let it cook for another few minutes. The mushrooms will give out a ton of water so let it dry out. Do give it the occasional stir, don't ignore it completely.

Tip in the rest of the chicken and let it all cook covered for about 10 minutes. Do go back to it an stir the pieces around so they all brown a bit. Add salt and pepper and a good generous dash of any bottled spice mix that you like. I'm very partial to a Cajun Spice mix. You can also bung in fresh herbs or dried ones and avoid the spice mix entirely. Whatever works for you. Add the sliced capsicums last and give it all a good stir.

Once the chicken is cooked you're good to go. Have it on it's own, like I do, or have it with a crisp salad and bread.

Marathon Bloggers Day 15

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


A girl is raped. Again.
There is an outcry. Again.
Everyone starts abusing men, the police, the politicians, the media. Again.
The on-line petitions start. Again.
The rape incident trends on Twitter. Again.
Facebook statuses spout endless opinions about how women are objectified. Again.
An advert shows a naked woman wearing only a bit of jewellery. Again.
Women rush to 'Like' the picture on Facebook. Again.
The cause and the rhetoric is forgotten. Again.

Marathon Bloggers Day 14

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Katy Dalal's Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter

Photo credit - Aaron Santos

Katy Dalal, my mom in law, started a catering business from home many years ago. As she tried out new dishes and cuisines her popularity grew as did her skills and knowledge in the kitchen. One of her biggest successes has been the Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter.

I started helping her with the making after K and I were married and I always found it to be one the most fun things to do with her. I like to believe it also made her happy to see me pitching in.

Piles of raisins, black currants, dried prunes and a host of other, then unfamiliar, ingredients would be cleaned  and then put in a huge plastic barrel. Then endless bottles of rum and brandy would be poured in, and K would also fling in the leftovers from random opened bottles of wine and other suitable liquor that was handy. In a week the alcohol would have to be topped up as the shrivelled fruit would be plump with the booze and would have risen way above the alcohol in the barrel. The barrel would be sealed up and forgotten till a week before Christmas.

Large quantities of juicy red winter carrots have to be grated. Along with this a mountain of apples are grated.

Fresh bread crumbs, white flour, demerara sugar, molasses, candied ginger, ground almonds, butter, freshly powdered nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, and eggs are all mixed in a huge vat. The soaking fruit is drained and then added to the mix.

The tins are buttered and lined with butter paper. Then the pudding mix is filled in, topped with a circlet of butter paper and then sealed either with a lid or with aluminium foil. The larger pudding moulds come with a lid, the smaller ones don't.

Steam the puddings for 4 hours and they are ready to be despatched. We recommend that the puddings be steamed once again for an hour before serving.

The brandy butter is a delicious accompaniment to this pudding. Blend regular salted butter with powdered sugar and a generous dash of brandy. Chill the butter till it is nice and hard.

Ma in Law would serve the pudding with a dash of drama. She would light half a cup of brandy and pour it over the pudding. We would put off the lights of course!

I have taken over the mantle of Christmas Pudding maker now. And I look forward to Christmas every year when we do a special Christmas menu and these traditional Christmas Puddings.

Photo credit - Ketan Pandit

Marathon Bloggers Day 13

Friday, December 21, 2012

Of Tom and Jerry and childhood names

I started my Facebook page showcasing the stuff I make as a hobby and before I knew it I had a couple of orders. The very first one came from a friend who I'd met on Orkut. We had done a few exhibition sales together and had fallen more or less out of touch in the last few years.

She asked me to paint a pair of coffee mugs for her. However she wanted me to paint cartoons on them - Tom and Jerry. Now cartoons, are way out of my comfort zone but I decided to take it on nevertheless.

Tom and Jerry both proved to be a pain to paint. I was painting and re painting till I was ready to give up. It took me more than an hour to get each one as close to correct as I could manage and I swear, I'm sticking to my ancient scripts and tribal motifs henceforth. No more cartoons.

There's a reason why I found these two giving me a hard time. They've been at it for many years already. Now Bengali pet names are legendary for their nonsensical and mostly retarded nature. I mean, a grown lady called Sishu, a grand uncle called 'pocha' (rotten), various mamas called Buro (old), Poka (insect), Potol (pointed gourd!, yes, really)... you get the idea.

My parents took it a level further and the sheer ridiculousness of my 'pet' name or daak naam has scarred me for life. Now, imagine a sane man and an equally sane woman, both quite heavily into literature - English and Bengali. You would think they had the entire universe of fabulous names at their feet. They did. So what brilliant name did they saddle me with? Tom.

Why? Why? I was an adorable chubby child. From which angle did I look like a Tom??!

And then there was poor Tom. Always getting hammered by Jerry.. my misery was complete...

Marathon Bloggers Day 12

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Potted meat and memories

Most of us read Enid Blyton's books when we were kids and I did too. What wonderful tales she could spin! My favourites were the more real ones with adventures and mysteries, not so much the ones with magic and fantasy. And I think the reason was the descriptions of the suppers and teas and tuck boxes and all the goodies that would star in these descriptions - Hot buttered scones, bowls of jam, meat pies, potted meat, potted shrimp and I remember, in one book it was Christmas and Cook comes in at the end of a grand meal carrying a Christmas pudding that had been flambĂ©ed with brandy!

For a kid growing up in Bombay with fairly non-adventurous parents (at least about food) most of these foods were completely alien and I guess, because it was up to me to imagine what I liked, they became even more wonderful.

A few days ago K came home with a surprise for me. He had found out that a friend's mom makes potted meat and so he requested her to make some for us. Can you imagine my delight?! Here was one of those nearly mythical foods from my childhood.. not that I'd ever tasted it or even had a clue what it was supposed to look like, but still. It was way up there on my list of things I'd like to taste in this life time.

The potted meat is made using beef mince, bacon mince, shredded bread, onions and spices and is a lovely flavourful meaty paste.

Now breakfast is yummier than usual. My favourite way to enjoy the potted meat is on toast with a slathering of cream cheese like this -

Thank you Mrs. Baptista!

Marathon Bloggers Day 11

Monday, December 17, 2012

You're my honey bunny

K yearned for a particular honey dispenser he'd seen at a friend's place when he was still in school. It was made of glass, was egg shaped and sat in a glass bowl. You had to press down a lever and the honey would pour out from the bottom. You left the lever and the honey stopped. Then you put it back in the glass bowl that was basically the stand.

I did see this famous honey dispenser at P's house many years later and I agreed, it was truly worth yearning for.

I was browsing around on Pinterest as I do a lot these days, and I chanced upon a picture of what seemed to be the very same honey dispenser, complete with a honeycomb pattern on the upper half of the egg shaped container and the lever and the bowl-stand too. I followed the link and found that it was available on Amazon!

Coincidentally my friend S was shopping online for stuff that she wanted from Amazon. She was shipping her goodies to a cousin who would be visiting later in the year. I asked S if she could also get this honey dispenser, and of course I told her why I desperately wanted it. I can rarely keep things to myself but for once I managed to keep my mouth shut and I didn't breathe a word to K.

The dispenser eventually arrived and between S and I, we organised to send it to K at his office. Well, he was thrilled, to say the least!

It doesn't take a lot of effort to make someone happy or to make a small dream come true. I found an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. It's hard deciding who's happier :)

Here it is - for my very own hunny bunny :)

Marathon Bloggers Day 10

(I'm way behind but I will catch up!)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Daddy's girl

It's 27 years today since my dad died. I was 14. Today I'm 41 and by now I should have got used to his not being around but that hasn't happened yet. I've kind of come to terms with the fact that I will probably never get used to it.

Does it take this date on the calendar for the hole that he left to become more prominent? No, not really. It's a hole I'm always aware of.

In the 80s I don't think there was much awareness about grief counselling. I wish there had been. It would have helped all of us cope with what happened. It's not that it was an unexpected blow - he'd been ill with cancer for a little more than a year. But when you're 13 years old the concept of a terminal illness doesn't really make much sense. One does understand that the ill person is going to die. But death, one has no real idea what it means.

I did understand the meaning of the word death in it's literal sense but I had no clue about the realities death would throw up. The changes it would bring about. I wasn't equipped to understand, let alone deal with it.

When dad was diagnosed with cancer and it was confirmed as terminal there was this gloom that shrouded everything. The adults got busy coping with his treatment and cancer is not easy to deal with. It's a horrible cycle of Chemotherapy and Radiation followed by sheer misery as your body fights both, the disease and the medication.

While the adults around me were dealing with the immediate I wondered what it would be like with dad dead. I was curious. Of course there wasn't anyone I could have asked or talked to, so I wondered on my own. In fact, I found the entire concept quite intriguing and wove many scenarios in my head.

He did die. And my fantasy was suddenly a reality. The guilt that hit me was quite unimaginable and I carried it with me like a hair shirt for many, many years. A few years ago I had that epiphany where I acknowledged that it was not my fault. But somewhere I still feel guilty.

Once he was gone life changed irrevocably. My mother withdrew into her own shell and we never spoke about Dad for many years. I realise today she was about the age I am right now when Dad died. She spent all her energy just functioning, trying to keep home and hearth together, ensuring there was food on the table, a home to live in and an education. I guess that was a lot for her to deal with, just getting past each day.

My brother and I were left to cope as we could.

We needed better support.

And as for Dad, I miss him every day. Now I weave scenarios of what might have been and how nice it would be to be Daddy's Girl.

Marathon Bloggers Day 9

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Many kilos ago...

Many kilos ago we were younger and more hopeful. We hadn't been there or done that. Life was waiting for us and we were waiting for life to happen.

This picture of K and me is the embodiment of that state of mind.. where our relationship was a clean slate and we hadn't marked anything much on it.

This photograph was taken in Pune at K's buddy's wedding. K and I had just abandoned singledom and were very new as a couple.  This wedding is when I met his gang of friends for the first time. I remember seamlessly fitting into his gang and many of them have since become very dear friends of my own, independent of their friendship with K.

That wedding was an exercise in insanity.. something you can achieve only when you're in your 20s. We were 8 of us squashed together in that tiny cottage in Pune. The night before the wedding there was a bachelor party organised by the bride's cousins. (We were the groom's gang). We all got totally dolled up and went off to party and guess what? It was a boys only party. Can you imagine what we did to our boys?!

To cut a long story short, we girls had to come back home but the boys had been told we would wait for them to get back so we could all go out later. In order to get back home asap, the boys got wasted at sonic speed. Actually there were only trying to finish the booze quickly so the party would be over asap.

Anyway, they were home quite soon after us. One had to be carried out of the car while K couldn't find the door to the house. Eventually we got them all into the house only to realise they were too drunk to even be yelled at! What a let down!

We were late the next morning. Of course. Hungover and not quite ready to face the world or a wedding, we set out. Half way there we realised we had no clue where the wedding was. No one had actually bothered to read the invitation card and none of them thought to bring it along either :D

It is just sheer luck that I spotted a friend at a traffic signal (also a guest at the same wedding) and he led the way. Erm.. the Best Man was with us. We made an entry that would have made Hollywood proud!

The bride was nearly in tears, the groom waiting tense outside the church, the parents all looking grim and disapproving, and then this gang of mad friends hurtle in dragging the Best Man along in an absolute photo finish.

R and G have lived happily ever after, touch wood :)

Now many kilos later K and I haven't done too badly either.

Marathon Bloggers Day 8

Friday, December 7, 2012

Doing laundry

My washing machine has conked off. While I desperately try to find someone to repair it, the pile of laundry keeps growing. The hubby has been making big bundles of clothes to give to the local dry cleaners but there are piles of clothes that need to be washed at home.

As I got back into the rhythm of soaking, rinsing, and washing, followed by the healthy squeezing out of excess water an then lining up the freshly laundered clothes to dry I was reliving life in Pune many moons ago.

Yes, I was back in the hostel and also in that wonderful little cottage that the hubby and I spent an idyllic few years deliciously living in sin... The only reason we sometimes contemplate divorce is that our life before we go married was so much simpler. Everything had a magical sheen, a fuzzy glow, an unreal perfection that we thought would last forever.

But we're talking about laundry here...

Take a large bucket, fling in some detergent and fill the bucket with hot water. Stare as the foam rises and then start soaking the clothes before the soapy foam overflows and makes the bathroom a slippery playground for fun activities that did not involve clothes.

Sorry. So, here I am today, washing clothes and travelling back in time. The soap is as slippery as it used to be but who has the time to play? But I do have those memories and I am so glad to have them. :)

Marathon Bloggers Day 7

Noodles with bacon bits and cheese

Noodles! The word takes me back to those wonderful years in Pune that I spent living in the Deccan College hostel. I was officially studying there but you know how it is.. life offers so many better options :)

One of the best things I brought back with me from those years of hostel life was a hundred ways to cook noodles. The short cut kind of course. Those days my preferred brand was Top Ramen. I found the noodles to be finer than Maggi and they didn't clump up as much.

Now, if you've ever lived in a hostel you have a fair idea how desperate one is for good food. Not lavish stuff but basic good food. Our campus had a students run mess and the food was strictly so so and on some days downright awful. No surprise there.

Since the college provided no official mess arrangement many students opted to cook their own meals in the rooms. We could use a hot plate or even set up a full fledged kitchen with a gas stove and everything! I had a wonderful hotplate with 3 temperature settings which made cooking even easier. Predictably khicree and noodles were the most frequent stars on the menu and there was no end to the innovations that these basic preparations were subjected to.

Here's one beloved recipe for noodles.

1 pack instant noodles - any flavour
2 slices Britannia cheese
fried onions
fried garlic
bacon bits
tomato sauce

Boil a cup and a half of water in a saucepan and add the sachet of noodle flavoring to it. Sprinkle the bacon bits and add the noodles at the same time. Break up the noodles if you prefer smaller strands.  Once the noodles are about half cooked add the fried onions and the fried garlic. Stir to mix and add the tomato sauce too. Once the noodles are cooked put in the two slices of cheese and stir to mix. Add a few more bacon bits  and serve hot!

 The wonderful thing about the cheese is that it makes the sauce wonderfully thick and smooth and incredibly delicious. I like the noodles to have plenty of sauce just like this.

Park yourself in a comfortable chair, find that book you're reading, put aside the world for a bit and sink into this bowl of absolute comfort.

I just did.

Marathon Bloggers Day 6

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm a a Coffee Barbarian. Sue Me.

Being a part of the foodie world these days is all about chi chi food and exotic ingredients, plating and pairing, flavour combinations and fancy gadgets. EVOO rules over regular oil, arugula wins over iceberg and if it's a tomato it's got to be heirloom. In the midst of all this bewildering mix of intimidating foods and sky high standards is there any place for the seemingly mundane or the not so pedigreed?

I love coffee. Now, before you start imagining fancy French presses or Italian espresso machines shining proudly on my kitchen counter, let me tell you I love instant coffee. I prefer it. Given a choice between the brewed stuff and my instant I'd take the instant any day. Having said that, any old instant will not do.

It has to be Nestle Sunrise. I have it in a large mug with a spoonful of CoffeeMate and 2 sachets of Splenda. I like it just so and that's the only way I like it. I have these small Tupperware canisters and I carry them with me in my purse, filled with coffee and the CoffeeMate. I have reached a point where I ask for a mug of hot water and make my own coffee even when I'm visiting friends.

Why is it that enjoying something comes with qualifying conditions? I don't give a rat's ass about Blue Mountain or Guatemalan or Kopi bloody Luwak. If you like it please do drink it and get your jollies. Just leave me alone and let me enjoy my Sunrise in peace.

I'm a coffee barbarian. Sue me.

Marathon Bloggers Day 5

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A new camera.. and a heavy dose of cowardice

It is a rare food blogger who doesn't develop a passion for photography. Nothing can make your reader drool over the food you're talking about like a good photograph. No, really, not even the best written description - a picture, a thousand words.. remember that?

So, like every other food blogger on this planet I too started to try to take nice pictures. If you were to look at the older pictures on my blog and the more recent ones you will admit that the newer ones ARE better. Practice makes everything perfect, or at least gets you closer to perfection. I'm no different and I gradually took better photographs. I must say technology also improved, phones came with better cameras, I learned how easy it was to transfer pictures and also gained a better sense of aesthetics as I took picture after picture.

My brother game me my first digital camera. Not quite a DSLR but what the hubby tells me, is a 'bridge' camera.. something between the new and the old. A Fuji Finepix S5600. The first time I really used this camera was on a holiday in Goa. That's when I first felt the stirrings of a new passion - photography.

I started blogging more seriously over the last couple of years. I also started interacting with other bloggers and as blogger meets became the rage, I even met many bloggers and today some of them are my best friends :) With the increase blogging came the need to take more and better pictures.

As my interest in photography grew the hubby and many friends started suggesting I get myself a better, more up to date camera. These days we are freer with our spending and I, like most opthers, have my share of impulsively bought expensive things that lie quite unused. This time I decided to wait till I felt I really deserved a new one. I wanted to be sure this was not a passing fancy.

I started an album on Facebook and bored my friends with my photographs :) They were all so encouraging I started believing in myself even more.

The hubby was always encouraging and let me bug him with my endless questions. Eventually we decided I needed to attend a proper class that would teach the very basics and then more.

Armed with my faithful Finepix I went for a Beginners' Photography Workshop. I came back enlightened. Suddenly, taking photographs was less of a lottery and more of an informed process. Some really lovely pictures emerged and my confidence and fascination grew.

A little more than a  month ago I suddenly felt ready for a new camera. A proper grown up camera. A DSLR. The hubby celebrated quietly and conferred with a friend who's a professional photographer and a suitable camera was selected.

The Canon versus Nikon arguments went on from all directions but since both the guys are Nikon fanatics, I got a Nikon. A Nikon D3200. OMG!

The funny thing is I'm scared of it. It's complicated, feels alien and intimidating. My beloved Finepix is like a familiar friend. It feels right. We know each other so well. I feel like I'm betraying her...

So the Nikon sits untouched while I make excuses and continue with my BFF, my Finepix.

I will use the Nikon. Just not yet. I need a little more time.

Day 4 Marathon Bloggers

On making Ghee

There are certain smells that always take you back to your childhood. Similarly there are certain things that one does to keep those very childhood memories as fresh as ever.

One of these is making ghee. My mother always made her own ghee at home. In fact, I had never tasted store bought ghee when I was a child. There was a cupboard in the kitchen in which my mother lined up her large bottles of ghee.

In those days fancy kitchen items were not available the way they are today. There was  no supermarket one could walk into to pick up a set of 20 matching pretty bottles if one fancied doing that. One had to painstaking collect the bottles that were the favoured packaging solution in those days. She had large glass bottles collected in phases. We went through Horlicks, Ovaltine, Bournvita and my mother's favourite - Nescafe. The largest size was purchased because of the beautiful bottle that the coffee came in. A squat rounded bottle with a bright orange tall plastic lid.

The kitchen cupboard invariably had an average of 4 to 6 of these beautiful big bottles brimming with home made ghee. Not only did we swim in the stuff, she generously shared the goodness with the neighbours and even sent it to Kolkata to her mother's house every time there was someone who was travelling there.

The milkman came to our house regularly to deliver full fat buffalo milk. 2 litres daily. My brother and I had to drink a glassful every morning and every evening. I think she poured it down our gullets in such copious quantities only so she could make those endless amounts of ghee!

The fresh milk would be boiled and then left to cool. You never covered the vessel or the malai wouldn't form. The fat would rise as the milk cooled and once cool enough the boiled milk was tucked away to chill in the fridge. A fat layer of cream would appear slowly and my mother would skilfully skim it off the next day and store it in an aluminium vessel. When the vessel was filled to the brim it was time to make ghee.

A large vessel would be pressed into service. She had a hand whisking gadget that had two whisking blades and a wheel with a handle on one side. I was usually made to sit and churn the malai/cream into butter. For a few times it was great fun but this soon turned into a chore and I eventually rebelled and refused to help.. as most kids are wont to do.

Once the churning was done the butter was put into a thick bottomed vessel and the ghee making began in earnest. The butter would dissolve releasing loads of water and eventually after much stirring and supervising  the golden liquid, the ghee, would begin to emerge. The whole house would be swathed in the smell of ghee.

My father got sick and he died when I was 14. As mum struggled to keep home and hearth together the ghee making process was cut short and all she did was dump the cream straight onto the heat and stir till the ghee emerged. Eventually I took over this chore. We still made ghee at home but it didn't spell security any more. The magic was gone.

After I got married I started making ghee myself in my own kitchen. Sometimes I do it the long way and sometimes I don't. But I won't buy it. I cling on to the smells, to the memories and to the wisps of that child's secure world that never will be again.

Day 3 - Marathon Bloggers

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Marathon Bloggers - an ambitious project indeed!

The Marathon Bloggers is a group of bloggers that have come together on Facebook to do an exciting blogging challenge this December. The challenge is simple - a new blog post every day from the 1st till the 31st of the month.

I saw this when my friend Aparna posted a link to her newest blog post on Facebook and mentioned that it was part of the Marathon Bloggers event. I was curious and before I knew it I had hopped on to this insane blogging bus! Now I'm a lazy blogger and not all that prolific with the blogging. Though I have many ideas for blog posts they usually just remain ideas. And here I was taking on a challenge to write a new post every day for a whole month! I must be insane.

Sometimes you know you have to take something on, not to prove anything to anyone but to show yoursellf that you can do this. I guess it was one of those moments when I knew that would not be easy but I had to take it on anyway.

So here I am. One of the many bloggers doing this Marathon Bloggers thing this December. I don't know if I can do it but there's just one way to find out isn't there?

Day 2. Marathon Bloggers.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Archaeology Day - A reunion of sorts

The hubby works with the CEMS at the Mumbai University and they are celebrating Archaeology Day this December in a bid to popularise archaeology among students and the general public. Having seen a picture of a coffee mug I had painted long ago with motifs from the Harappan script, the hubby's boss invited me to do a collection for sale on Archaeology Day. It's been many years since I picked up the paint brush and I just couldn't resist this opportunity.

Coincidentally I had also started a page on Facebook just to share the different craftsy things I have made over the years. I don't get a lot of time to do all this stuff but I love it. Embroidery, painting, making stuff, refurbishing things, if it's hand made I'm attracted to it! You can check out my page here.

It's been great fun posting pictures of the new stuff I'm painting for the Archaeology Day sale and also digging out the few old photos I have of things made long ago. The response has been exhilarating and humbling at the same time.

As I have been painting this collection I have been reaching into the past, renewing ties with books, photographs and memories of the days I studied archaeology, the excavations I participated in and people I met, my hubby being one of them :)

At the same time I'm rediscovering the joy of feeding the artistic part of my soul. Every completed piece gives me a thrill. The joy of seeing something you create in your mind's eye turn into a real object is quite special and this collection has led me back to one of my greatest passions - painting on ceramics.

Here are a few of the pieces I have done for the Archaeology Day sale at the CEMS, University of Mumbai, Kalina campus -

Prehistoric Stone tools 

Ancient Scripts

Tea mugs with assorted Harappan motifs 

Human figures from the Harappan script

Human figures and fish motifs, also from the Harappan script

Shaman - Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh

Dancing figures from Bhimbetka, a prehistoric rock art site in Madhya Pradesh

Snack plate with human figures from the Harappan script

Teacup and saucer with assorted Harappan motifs

Take up a hobby and make the time to pursue it. Do something just because you enjoy doing it. Do it for you and let it feed your soul. Happiness is in little things. A hobby is one of them.  

This post is the first in the Marathon Bloggers event for December 2012 where we're doing a blog post a day all this month.

Monday, October 22, 2012

GoodFood at Kebabs & Kurries, ITC - a singular lesson in the gap between conceptualization and execution

Good Food Magazine had organised a Good Food Day today, 21st October, at the ITC Grand Central, Parel, Mumbai. Now, the ITC restaurants rank quite high among the 5 Star hotel restaurants in my personal opinion and that made me buy a ticket to a lunch at this event. A blogger friend had been invited and I thought it would be nice to accompany her as the food would be good. I duly bought myself a ticket for Rs. 1,500 and waited for today to arrive.

Since S had opted to have lunch at Hornby's Pavillion I chose the same. Funnily, when I saw the print out of my ticket it said I was booked for lunch at the Kebabs & Kurries restaurant instead. As it turned out S and I would not be attending the same session any way because her session was fully booked. If I was to dine on my own I was quite happy to do it at Kebabs & Kurries because sumptuous food from the erstwhile royal kitchens of India rates very highly on my list.

I was booked for lunch at 1.30pm and I arrived well in time. I was told I was too early and to come back at 1 or 1.15. They looked hassled and I didn't want to bother them further so I sat in the main lobby and thanked God for smart phones and 3G connectivity so I could keep myself entertained. I went back at 1.15 and confirmed my registration. I was informed that the sessions were running a little late and I could wait in the bar, Dublin. I did. Eventually, an hour later I was finally informed that the session, the 2nd of the day, was ready to begin. I was shown to my table and I joined five other ravenous diners, waiting to be served.

We were seated at 2.35pm. Our server confirmed our preferences for vegetarian and non vegetarian and we eagerly waited for the food to begin. 3 green water goblets that looked like they were props from the Harry Potter movies were set in front of the vegetarians. I thought, ugly glasses but a nice trick to make it easy for the servers to identify veg/non veg eating guests at the table. Now anyone would have expected similar glasses in a different colour for the non vegetarian guests, right? Wrong! The rest of us were given regular clear glass water glasses. Not that it is such an earth shattering issue but one would expect them to have matching glassware at the ITC.

I will not bore you with details of how long it took for all 6 guests seated at the table to get a water glass and then have it filled with water.

The first course arrived. Jhinge ki Kurkuri. 2 phyllo cigars stuffed with spiced prawns served with a drizzle of mint chutney. There was a strong 'prawn-y' whiff as soon as I bit into the first cigar and a dominant taste of cheese. I found this amouse bouche singularly underwhelming. My bouche was not amused.

The second course was Mahi Angbin, Stuffed fish with spices and mince, cooked to perfection. It was far from perfect. Overcooked and then dehydrated because it was probably sitting for too long, I didn't eat more than the first mouthful. I was still optimistic and opted not to fill up space with something I didn't really like.

The third course was a Gosht ke Galouti kebab. Every Avadhi chef worth his salt wants to show off his skills with a Galouti. I was not impressed with this one. There was so much salt that the delicate flavours of the spices had no hope of shining through. The texture however was like silk. I was wondering why they served just a single kebab but after tasting it I was relieved that there was only one.

I was still hopeful. This is the ITC. I've had plenty of Good Food experiences at their restaurants. There will be something I like. I was sure.

The fourth course was Murgh Angara. The menu card said Salan Chillies Stuffed with chicken mince and flavoured with spices. It sounded interesting enough. When it arrived I saw a crinkly browned surface of what looked like deep fried chicken with bits of chillies peeking out from within. It seemed to me that a chicken escalope had been wrapped around the chilly filling and then shaped to look like a chilly with the stalk in place and everything. Maybe I'm wrong. I ate the smaller piece and found the surface difficult to chew though the inside was soft enough. I couldn't eat the second piece as it was too big to eat whole and I could not cut it with the knife. The surface just would not 'give'.

I must mention here that my fellow diners didn't look impressed with what they were eating and the vegetarians seemed to be even less impressed than I was.

Then came the fifth course. It was finally time for the mains and the menu looked promising. Kundan Kareli, lamb shanks stewed overnight in spices and served with warqi paratha. The lamb was served in a miniature serving bowl, one single lamb shank with a generous amount of meat on it in a fragrant and flavourful gravy. It was sublime!

Don't assume things had improved. They hadn't. Things turned distinctly peculiar. There were  no dinner plates. None arrived. So there we were, with these little bowls of lamb and gravy and parathas in a basket and no china to eat it out of. We struggled with a fork that wouldn't fit in the bowl and ate whatever we could. There was no place to park the paratha so one was permanently struggling to hold the paratha, keep the bowl steady, skewer a piece of meat on the fork without lifting the entire piece out and of course, making sure one didn't spill the entire lot onto one's lap.

I ate what I could without embarrassing myself and abandoned most of the dish.

Meanwhile the biryani, the sixth course had been plonked on the table. It looked beautiful and had the khushk parda type of dough seal across the top. I broke it open and there was a luscious aromatic Avadhi lamb biryani. I was drooling. Biryani is my most favourite preparation and I can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But even I cannot eat it out of a serving vessel. In spite of asking for dinner plates none arrived. I ate what I could because I was hungry. But I had lost interest and was so sorely disappointed with the abysmal food at the beginning and then the abysmal service that even the most delicious food would not have made a difference. In fact, it was there, right ion front of me, but 6 disappointing courses down the road I couldn't care less.

The seventh and eighth courses were desserts. I wanted to ignore both. However my wonderful dinner companions coaxed me into at least tasting each one.

The Seviyon ka Muzzaffar was interesting. Wheat vermicelli cooked to perfection with generous amount of ghee and nuts - not overtly sweet, nicely flavoured and surprisingly light considering it was supposed to have generous amount of ghee. However it was too dry to eat on its own and the copious quantity of powdered nuts only coated the back of the throat leaving one parched. A small shot of mildly sweetened milk would have been a good accompaniment.

The Paheli ke Ande -mock eggs made with milk and khoa was definitely beautifully crafted. A melon ball 'yolk' covered in a milk and khoa 'egg white' garnished with sabja seeds and a dash of falooda. I'm diabetic and so I avoid desserts and I'm therefore not going to comment on the taste, but it did look impressive.

There seemed to be something strange going on at Kebabs & Kurries vis a vis crockery and cutlery. While the flatware was not changed at all through the meal, we didn't get dinner plates even after repeated requests for the same. The pinnacle of absurdity was with the desserts. As you've read, the two desserts are quite different. The first dessert arrived with a tea spoon and the second one came without. When we asked for spoons the server actually said that we had to use the same spoon as was given with the earlier dessert! That is when one of my fellow diners lost her temper and snapped at the waiter asking him to get everyone at the table a fresh spoon NOW. For once, the server obliged.

At the end of this incredible fine dining experience one of us asked for a finger bowl. Our server looked at us in confusion and after a moment's hesitation, got the requested finger bowl. Once the rest of us had finished our meal we asked for our finger bowls. The server shrugged and that was that. It seems finger bowls were not on offer either.

I cannot write all this and not mention the fate of the vegetarians at the table. To cut a long story short their fate was worse. From what they said I gathered that two of their starters, the Subzi ki Shikampur and the Farmaishi Kebab left them quite underwhelmed. The Zafrani Paneer was nice but just that, nice. The colocasia cooked in tangy salan served with paratha was good but difficult to eat without dinner plates.

The Chulao with Sultani Daal was the piece de resistance of this meal. Described as traditionally cooked basmati rice served with an innovative yellow daal (which leaves you as ignorant of what to expect as you were before reading the description) turned out to be plain white rice with more or less plain boiled yellow daal. Of the three vegetarian guests at our table not one finished this course. They were angry and disappointed. And I was angry along with them.

The rice and the daal were each served in vaatis or small bowls, the same kind that you see lined up in your plate when you eat a Thali meal. And as you've correctly guessed, there were no dinner plates.

I'm wondering if any thought was put into the organising or execution of this event. Rs.1,500 is not small change for a single person to pay for a meal. Considering the occasion, the venue and the brands involved I expected a fine dining experience where the food, the ambience, the service, everything would be impeccable.

Here's what I got.

  1. Lunch began 1 hour late
  2. Apart from being seated at the Dublin no hospitality was extended to waiting guests. Not even a glass of water was offered. 
  3. There was no one keeping the waiting guests informed as to when they expected the second seating to begin
  4. Service was inconsistent, indifferent and shoddy. 
  5. There was one menu card at the table, not one for each guest
  6. No beverage was offered along with the lunch. Not a soft drink, not wine, nothing. 
  7. While the amouse bouches/starters were served in their own plates there were no dinner plates provided during the main course
  8. Cutlery was not changed once throughout the meal. 
  9. No finger bowls provided at the end of a meal that required guests to eat with their fingers. (remember the parathas and the balancing act with the lamb?)
  10. The food itself was badly prepared and there wasn't enough of it.
  11. No guest was offered a second helping of anything. 
  12. Not once did the server ask any guest if they needed anything
  13. Not once did anyone ask if the food was good or the guests happy/satisfied

I have never said this before after a meal at a restaurant. But today, I want my money back.