Small World, Big Connections

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Happy Vishu!  Dear reader, may the coming year be blessed and prosperous for you and your family.

April 2017

Life in the Blue Mountains, Nilgiris, of South India was much simpler during my childhood. Back then it was a small world where service was close and personal. Our milk was delivered by a young woman named Helen who’s family also grew the most beautiful and fragrant roses. (Years later we bought huge bouquets of the colorful blooms for our wedding).  The baker was a family man who made sure he gave us the freshest coconut buns. Every winter the tangerine man came to our front door with a basket filled with tiny orange fruit, juicy and tart.

Even though our town was a sprawling tourist attraction, it was like living in a small village.  After my father’s death the entire town kept a close eye on my sister and me.  The stationary store owner, Rajan, knew when we had important exams and was ready to sell us the latest in fountain pens. The Alankar Bakery owner gave us an extra cookie or raisin-studded bun and always inquired about my mother and uncle (it didn’t matter to that he had never met my uncle!).

There was an invisible grapevine that was almost as effective as Twitter!   My mother heard all the important news of the day from her bus driver on her way home from work as a school teacher.  So of course she knew right away the one day I had left our school campus during lunch hour to visit the local bazaar. Surprisingly I didn’t get in trouble but it gave me pause because I knew there were a lot of eyes on me.  Small world, big connections!

I missed those personal interactions when I moved to California more than 30 years ago but I found another village in the city of Davis. For the past 19 years I have discovered that this college town has a small-town heart.  Small world, big connections.

Case in point: Recently I participated in a community theater production and was pleasantly surprised to see the cashier from the local supermarket in the audience. After the performance she hugged me and told me she’d see me at the store soon.  Another example of small world, big connections.

Social media can fool us into thinking that we are making personal connections while seated in front of our laptop computer or smart phone, but I have found that nothing beats face-to-face interactions.

So this coming year (April 14th we celebrated Vishu or Kerala New Year) I hope you will find the joy of life in the real world, away from the small screen.

THE END

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Filed under Blue Mountains, Celebrations, community theater, cooking, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, Indian food, meatless, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, Nilgiris, Personal experience, recipes, Seven, South India, spring, renewal, Uncategorized, vegetables, world peace

Recipe? What recipe?

March 2017

Cups, teaspoons and tablespoons are the bane of my life.   Who needs measurements anyway? As I try to write down exact measurements and directions for my recipes, I find I don’t like it one bit. For this I blame my mother.  Every little cook learns by observing. It seemed to me that my mother would throw random spices in random amounts into a pot to create a tasty dish. Her recipes for family favorites were safely tucked away in her head. Nothing was ever recorded or written down.  Cooking was an art form for my mother but that doesn’t help me now as I try to re-create childhood favorites. I have to rely on my memory and my palate.

So what would have happened if I had insisted that my mother share a recipe? I imagined her poetic and cryptic answer to my question.

What Recipe?

Where is the recipe, I ask my mother

What recipe, she replies?

Just take a small onion

A pinch of hing

A hint of turmeric

A splash of golden ghee

Some diced onion and mustard seeds

A few okra

A couple of tomatoes

A handful of shredded coconut

Just a little coriander powder

A bit of cooked lentils

Two fiery peppers

Salt, pepper and tamarind

Mix, cook, and serve

The tangy smoky sauce perfect with steaming rice

How did she do it?

Give me a recipe, I plead.

What recipe, she asks?

Just add a handful…

You get the idea.

THE END

 

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Filed under cooking, dinner, food poems, Indian food, meatless, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, Nilgiris, Personal experience, poetry, recipes, South India, Uncategorized, vegetables

This Kitchen Does Not Discriminate

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Meatless Meal in Minutes

January 2017

Welcome to a new year!

Our household is a melting pot, a microcosm of America. Here East meets West in harmony (mostly).

This fusion and mingling of cultures is most evident in my cooking. My kitchen does not discriminate. Mustard seeds co-mingle with Italian pasta. Monterey Jack Cheese melts in homemade Indian Chapatti bread. Kale and eggplant simmer in coconut milk. Feta cheese adds a tangy bite to warm potato salad.

Take tonight’s dinner for example. The menu consisted of angel hair pasta with an Indian twist and cauliflower and chard tossed with toasted almond slices. The entire meal took less than 20 minutes to cook and was tasty as it was colorful. Can harmony in the kitchen translate into world peace? Perhaps not. But I like to think it is a step in the right direction and that I’m bringing people together, one plate at a time.

So here’s my recipe for world harmony!

South Indian Pasta

1 package De Cecco Angel Hair pasta, cook for barely 2 minutes and then drain and soak in cold water.

Meanwhile…

You will need:

1 large onion chopped

1 sprig curry leaf

2-4 tablespoons channa dal (Indian yellow split peas)

2-4 tablespoons coconut oil

1 can of beans, any kind, drained. I used white beans

1-2 tsp. turmeric powder

¼ cup chopped coriander leaves

1-2 tsp. Himalayan Pink Salt

Juice of one lemon

Heat a large pot, add desired amount of oil.  Warm. Add mustard seeds and allow the seeds to pop. Immediately add chopped onion, sprig of curry leaf and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add channa dal and continue cooking until the dal is brown and toasty. Stir in turmeric powder. Add beans and coriander leaves. Stir. Drain pasta and add to the pot. Sprinkle Himalayan Pink Salt. Stir. Add lemon juice. Stir and taste for salt.

Cauliflower Almandine

I head cauliflower, cut into florets

I bunch chard, rinsed and chopped roughly into pieces, stem and all

Steam the vegetables for about 5 minutes, don’t overcook.

While vegetables are steaming…heat a tablespoon of butter plus one tablespoon olive oil. Add generous half cup sliced almonds. Stir and cook the almonds until they are golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Add steamed vegetables to the almonds. Stir. Add 1 tsp. Himalayan Pink Salt. If you want you can squeeze some lemon juice over the vegetables but they taste fine without the juice.

Dinner is served. Sit in quiet peace and enjoy.

 

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Filed under Book clubs, Celebrations, cooking, dinner, harmony, Himalayan Pink Salt, Indian food, meatless, my mother's kitche, pasta, Personal experience, pots and pans, South India, Uncategorized, vegetables, world peace

A list for me, and you!

 

December 2016

I love making lists and reading them too! So here is my latest list, in no particular order.

  1. Get outside more: Dog lovers do this every day, rain or shine! Everyone can benefit from being out in the fresh air. I love walking Duke at dusk under a pink and purple sky. On a recent walk the eastern sky was lit up by the moon and the western sky was aglow with the setting sun.
  2. Be more mindful: My close-knit circle of family and friends call mindfulness by another name. They practice the art of meditation. But whatever you call it, set aside some time to be still. Practice going inward and calming the mind. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll notice the difference in your life.
  3. Eat more yogurt (if you aren’t a vegan): In south India, we finish our meal with some homemade yogurt. Yogurt or curd rice was a tasty way to get some protein and beneficial bacteria.
  4. Bring back tea time: The other day I had the joy of sharing a pot of Chai Tea with a group of friends. We munched on savory and sweet goodies and enjoyed an afternoon of camaraderie. When I was growing up in the Blue Mountains or Nilgiris of south India, my sister and I looked forward to our afternoon cup of tea and snack. Most often the snack was just leftover breakfast but once in a while we had a special treat when the cake man came to our house. His visits were rare and delicious. He carried a large tin suitcase filled with small cakes and pastries. My favorites were the tiny iced cakes, topped with the brightest, most unnatural colored icing. My sister and I could never get enough of these sweet treats, but my mother was a cautious shopper and only bought one small cake for each of us. Iced cakes are still my favorite tea time snack. Taking time to have an afternoon cup of tea forces us to slow down. Elaborate tea making and drinking ceremonies are common in many countries. I like to boil tea with a few slices of ginger root or cardamom pods. The boiled tea is mixed with fresh whole milk and served with a dash of coconut palm sugar. This spicy concoction is delicious and invigorating and as my son calls it, “dessert in a cup.”
  5. Read a book or two: When my boys were in elementary school their teachers asked them to keep a reading log and to try to read for at least 20 minutes a day. Luckily, both boys loved reading and the 20 minutes a day was an easy quota to meet. During our recent tea party we also exchanged wrapped books. It was so much fun to unwrap the gift and discover a book that you would never chose for yourself. I received one that may help me tidy up my house. If all goes well and my house is less messy, I’ll blog about it.
  6. Support a local author: Recently I attended a book signing for a local author and came away with three instant and personalized holiday gifts. Most books are under $25 and authors are thrilled to meet you and sign a copy or two. You know what they say? Make an author smile and an angel gets his/her wings. Just kidding. But it does make us happy to hear you are enjoying our work.
  7. Take part in a mini-fast: By skipping one meal you can wake up your taste buds. I had a wise relative who recommended we eat only one meal on Sundays. Studies have shown that fasting for 12-16 hours can help revive our metabolism and help the body cope with a myriad of ills. Don’t do this every day and use commonsense when fasting.
  8. Stretch: Take time for a quick (or long) stretch. This is a great way to start each day.
  9. Take a break from electronics or social media: Whenever I find that I’m spending too much time on my phone or computer, I try to schedule a “media recess.” This break can be anything from 1 hour to 24 hours and perhaps you’ll find the time to read that book or go on that walk!
  10. Your idea here: Send me some of your suggestions and perhaps there will be enough for another blog.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers!

 

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Filed under Blue Mountains, Celebrations, cooking, fasting, grandmother's wisdom, lists, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, reading, tea time, Uncategorized, yoga, stretching

A bowl of many memories (and uses)

November 2016

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It will never be a collector’s item or be coveted by antique dealers. Yet, this simple bowl holds a special place in my heart (and kitchen).

Receiving and giving stainless steel pots and pans as wedding gifts is a time-honored tradition in India. Thirty years ago, on my wedding day I received a number of pots and pans but this one with its unique design and lid stood out. It was a gift from my aunt Malathi and Uncle Bhanunny. I knew this because their names were etched on the side of the bowl.

When I decided to return to California, my mother insisted that I take this particular bowl back with me. It will be useful, she stressed. Back then I had just discovered the convenience of Pyrex and plastic and thought a stainless steel bowl was old-fashioned and frankly useless. So it was with great reluctance that I lugged it back with me. I packed it away; surely I would never find use for such a thing!

But one day, when my boys were just toddlers, I unpacked a cardboard box and found the bowl. I ran my fingers over the inscription and the names brought back a flood of memories. Mrs. Malathi and Mr. E.B. Unny. I remembered my aunt, uncle and their three beautiful daughters with affection. Perhaps I could find a use for this in my kitchen after all.

So for the past 20 odd years that bowl has become an integral part of my kitchen. I can’t imagine ever being without it.  It was the perfect size for tossing a green salad. I used it to knead homemade pizza dough. It has been used for making cakes and delectable frostings. The bowl was just the right size for whipping cream and even mashing potatoes. One year when my son wanted a soccer ball-shaped birthday cake, the bowl became a cake pan. It truly was a bowl of many uses!

So for our Thanksgiving Day feast, the bowl may be filled with roasted root vegetables but what it will really serve will be a huge helping of precious memories. My mother was right, as usual!

THE END

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Filed under Celebrations, cooking, grandmother's wisdom, Indian food, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, Personal experience, pots and pans, South Indian, Uncategorized

SEVEN opens soon

Just reminding my blog readers that the powerful and uplifting SEVEN opens in less than seven days. Rehearsals are going well and the actors are busy memorizing their lines! Tickets are just $12-15 for each show. Opening Night Gala is $15 with a champagne/dessert reception at 7:30. The October 2nd show is a fundraiser for Empower Yolo and tickets to this show are also $15. But all other shows are just $12!

SEVEN will be on stage for two weekends and just six shows. So come support local theater! Buy tickets online so that you can reserve your seat.

http://www.winterstheatre.org/

 

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New Ventures

September 2016

“My life it seems like a river with many bends. And it keeps bending all the time, this river.”

These words are uttered by Mu Sochua, a famed Cambodian activist, in a play titled Seven.

And it describes my life perfectly. I’m feeling a bit introspective these days because of some important milestones in my life. Recently my oldest son graduated from college and is financially independent and in a stable, loving relationship–every parent’s wish for their child. A birthday has come and gone meaning I’m a year older and deeper into middle age. Our 30th wedding anniversary is a few days away and brings back memories of those heady days of being a newly-wed. Where has time gone? It can be seen in the lines of my face, the white hairs glinting between my black ones and in my softening body. But it is not only my body that has changed over the years. My career has seen many bends too.

I started out wanting to be a novelist and then decided becoming a journalist was more practical. For years I worked in a busy newsroom and I loved the late-night meetings and looming deadlines. Then we decided to start a family and I wanted to be part of every moment of my baby’s life. I didn’t want to miss the first smile, the first step or his first birthday. And I didn’t. For the next few years I devoted myself to my two sons and it was rewarding, frustrating, challenging and wonderful.

Volunteering at my sons’ elementary school started a second career in a school library. So for the next few years I was part of a dynamic school community and I loved it!

Then that darn river took another turn. I had been dabbling in fiction writing and finally my novel was published! Suddenly I was busy with readings, author presentations and cooking demonstrations. For the past year I spent all my time writing everything from poetry to short stories. It has been successful and satisfying with several poems being published. A short story will appear in an anthology next year.  A second novel is well on its way.

But life keeps pushing me and I find myself on a community theater stage. From writer to actor. How did this happen?

This play is no typical drama or comedy. It is thought-provoking, emotional and uplifting.

I’m inviting all my blog readers to come see the play, not just to support me, but because it is such a powerful story about seven incredibly courageous women.

The play can be seen September 30 through October 9 at the Winters Community Center, 201 Railroad Avenue. More details about show times, ticket prices and other information can be found on the theater website: http://www.winterstheatre.org/

I would love for you to be part of this leg of my life’s journey. Who knows what the next bend in the river will bring? But you will surely read about it!

THE END.

 

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Filed under Acting, Cambodia, Cambodian activist Mu Sochua, Careers, community theater, Personal experience, Seven, Uncategorized, Winters Community Theater

Shopping is Personal at the Farmers Market

NOTE: Re-sending this because the numbering was messed up in previous column.

You don’t need 10 reasons to shop at a Farmers Market

By Meera Ekkanath Klein

Want to know the tale behind your kale? Or what is the back story on that white nectarine? Well, then you need to visit your local Farmers Market because here every bit of produce has an earthy beginning or a seasonal anecdote.

Our area market is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month and it is a perfect time to visit your local market and make that important connection between food and farmer.

Shopping in south India was an intensively personal experience. We knew the farmer who grew the spinach we used in flavorful dal (lentil) dishes. Everyone knew the Egg Man (with an odd egg-shaped head) provided not only the freshest eggs, but also legal advice on the side.

While I miss shopping in my hometown market in the beautiful Nilgiris or Blue Mountains of south India, I find solace at the Davis Market. Here the personal touch is not lost, it is celebrated. Along with nutrition the melons, onions, leeks and cherries provide a dash of nostalgia.

Top Ten Reasons to shop at a local Farmers Market:

10. Taste before buying. Cheese, bread, apples, peaches and berries are there for you to taste.

9.Variety. Everything from fresh peas to tortillas is for sale. Buy an artisan loaf of crusty bread, a container of eggplant pesto or even a lemon tart. It’s all there at your local Farmers Market.

8. You get to meet the farmer. Shopping at the Farmers Market is a chatty experience.

7. Even kale tastes better if it comes from the Farmers Market. Everything is so fresh that you’ll never eat supermarket produce again.

6. You can buy a lot or just a single tomato. Choose exactly what you need.

5. Eat seasonally. This can mean a lot of broccoli in winter and lots of corn and tomatoes in the summer.

4. Yearning for days of old? The leisurely pace of shopping at a Farmers Market will satisfy the Norman Rockwell part of your soul.

3. You will never know who you will meet at the Market. A long-lost friend? An acquaintance from Little League days?

2. You will be missed if you skip a Market. If you are a regular customer, farmers take notice and will actually want to know why you didn’t come last week.

1. Forget about politics for a few hours. You may find that choosing a bunch of turnips is more important than talking about Trump or sampling some chili-lime pistachios is better than re-hashing Hillary’s emails.

So no more excuses. Visit a Farmers Market and enjoy the last of summer’s bounty.

 

THE END

 

 

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Filed under Blue Mountains, Celebrations, Davis Farmers Market, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, garden, harvest, my mother's kitche, Nilgiris, South Indian, Uncategorized

Shopping is a personal experience at your local farmers market!

NOTE: An edited version of this article appeared (August 14, 2016)in  The Sacramento Bee’s Forum Section.

Sorry to be sending this out again, but the numbering was messed up in the previous post.

You don’t need 10 reasons to shop at a Farmers Market

Want to know the tale behind your kale? Or what is the back story on that white nectarine? Well, then you need to visit your local Farmers Market because here every bit of produce has an earthy beginning or a seasonal anecdote.

Our area market is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month and it is a perfect time to visit your local market and make that important connection between food and farmer.

Shopping in south India was an intensively personal experience. We knew the farmer who grew the spinach we used in flavorful dal (lentil) dishes. Everyone knew the Egg Man (with an odd egg-shaped head) provided not only the freshest eggs, but also legal advice on the side.

While I miss shopping in my hometown market in the beautiful Nilgiris or Blue Mountains of south India, I find solace at the Davis Market. Here the personal touch is not lost, it is celebrated. Along with nutrition the melons, onions, leeks and cherries provide a dash of nostalgia.

Top Ten Reasons to shop at a local Farmers Market:

10.Taste before buying. Cheese, bread, apples, peaches and berries are there for you to taste.

9. Variety. Everything from fresh peas to tortillas is for sale. Buy an artisan loaf of crusty bread, a container of eggplant pesto or even a lemon tart. It’s all there at your local Farmers Market.

8. You get to meet the farmer. Shopping at the Farmers Market is a chatty experience.

7. Even kale tastes better if it comes from the Farmers Market. Everything is so fresh that you’ll never eat supermarket produce again.

6.  You can buy a lot or just a single tomato. Choose exactly what you need.

5. Eat seasonally. This can mean a lot of broccoli in winter and lots of corn and tomatoes in the summer.

4. Yearning for days of old? The leisurely pace of shopping at a Farmers Market will satisfy the Norman Rockwell part of your soul.

3. You will never know who you will meet at the Market. A long-lost friend? An acquaintance from Little League days.

2. You will be missed if you skip a Market. If you are a regular customer, farmers take notice and will actually want to know why you didn’t come last week.

1. Forget about politics for a few hours. You may find that choosing a bunch of turnips is more important than talking about Trump or sampling some chili-lime pistachios is better than re-hashing Hillary’s emails.

So no more excuses. Visit a Farmers Market and enjoy the last of summer’s bounty.

THE END

 

 

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Filed under Celebrations, Davis Farmers Market, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, garden, harvest, my mother's kitche, Personal experience, Shopping, South India, spring, renewal, Uncategorized

Birthday Pudding

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July 2016

Birthday cakes were not part of my childhood celebrations.

But don’t feel too sorry for me. For birthdays, and on other special occasions, my mother prepared a creamy cardamom-spiked pudding. This addictive dessert was the perfect ending to a spicy meal.

There are many variations of the pudding but the main ingredients are rice or vermicelli, milk, sugar, ghee, cashews, raisins and cardamom. A richer version of the pudding uses expensive saffron threads, pale green pistachio nuts and tiny currants.

My mother liked the simplest version and so that is my preference too.

She used Indian vermicelli that was super thin. The vermicelli was broken up into bite size pieces and then toasted in a little bit of ghee. The scent of toasting vermicelli always brings back memories of many birthday celebrations.

Indian cooking (and other types too!) is a multi-sensory experience. My late mother-in-law never used the timer when baking her famous apple pie. She knew by the aroma when it was done and she was never wrong! When you have an instinct for cooking this is easy but for those of us who tend to forget what’s on the stove or in the oven, a timer is essential.

Birthdays meant the scent of cashews frying in golden ghee. Celebrations were never complete without the pungent and heady scent of green cardamom pods being crushed.

My mother only added the smallest amount of raisins (perhaps they were expensive) but it didn’t matter; the finished pudding was always delicious.

We enjoyed our pudding at room temperature or even warm. But if you prefer your pudding cold, feel free to chill the mixture.

You can’t place candles in this pudding, but getting older will be a little easier when you taste a bite of this creamy soothing dessert.

RECIPE

4 1/2  cups whole milk

1 cup vermicelli (Indian is best, but Italian will work too), broken into bite size pieces

1 can condensed milk

4 tablespoons ghee

1 tablespoon raisins (you can add more if you want)

4 tablespoons whole or halved raw cashew pieces

4-6 cardamom pods, peeled and then crushed in a mortar and pestle

PREP:

Bring milk to boil (TIP: Coat the pan with water before adding milk to keep from sticking). Let the milk simmer for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large saucepan and roast the vermicelli until golden brown.

Add the vermicelli to the thickened milk and cook for 6-8 minutes (depending on the kind of vermicelli).

Once the vermicelli is tender, add the condensed milk. Keep stirring and cooking for an additional 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from heat. The pudding will thicken in the fridge and as it cools. If it is too thick add a few tablespoons of warm milk before serving.

In a small sauce pan heat the remaining ghee. Add the cashew pieces and sauté until a light brown, add raisins and keep stirring until everything is golden brown. In a few minutes the raisins should get nice and plump. The kitchen will be filled with a golden nutty aroma.

Remove sauce pan from heat, add crushed cardamom and stir. Add this mixture to the cooling pudding and stir thoroughly.

Enjoy warm or cold.

Warning: Birthday candles will sink! Serves 2-4 or sometimes just one!

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Filed under Cardamom pudding, Celebrations, Delicious desserts, Indian dessert, Indian food, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, South India, Uncategorized