Category Archives: family

Ammalu and the Jackfruit

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February 2019

Over time a family story can become a folktale of epic proportion, a true inspiration to all who hear it. This one is about my great-aunt Ammalu.

The story begins in a sleepy little village deep in south India.  Here Ammalu and her sister Pearl grew up surrounded by countless cousins, aunts and uncles. Ammalu was the older sister, the one with a sense of adventure. She loved going on outings to visit neighbors and relatives. She had a knack for storytelling and an easy going nature. Pearl was shy and more at home in the kitchen with a flair for pastry making.

Little Ammalu was rumored to have a sweet tooth. In those days there was no candy or chocolate bars and so she indulged in what grew in her backyard from large juicy mangoes, tasty papayas to bananas in all sizes, but her favorite was the jackfruit.

The jackfruits from our family orchards were legendary in their size and flavor. It would take two men to cut down the gigantic fruit and lug it into the family courtyard. The fresh fruit would be placed on an old cotton sari and one of the men would use an enormous knife to cut into the tough skin. As the jackfruit was cut open the entire courtyard would be filled with its fruity fragrance. The milky fluid from the jackfruit would flow onto the sari and children would be held back so that they wouldn’t get any of the sticky sap on their fingers. The women would be waiting, ready to dip oily fingers into the cut fruit. The coconut oil was necessary to keep the sap from sticking onto fingers and eager hands. The tiny strands would be pushed aside to get into the thick pods of creamy yellow fruit. Each pod contained one large seed, which would be cleaned and saved for later use. The seed had a sweet nutty taste, very similar to roasted chestnuts.

The best jackfruit was sweet and juicy with a hint of tartness and a pleasing crunch. Overripe jackfruit was sometimes stringy and too sweet. Ammalu loved this unique and delicious fruit. When everyone had enough of the fresh fruit, the leftovers were cooked down with jaggery sugar and stored in crock pots. In the cool pantry, the jackfruit jam fermented into caramel-like goo with a pungent odor that was pleasant only to the true fan of jackfruit. Ammalu must have had a discerning palate because she loved eating scoops of this odoriferous jam. It was also made into special puddings.

Life in our tiny ancestral village was simple. There was not much in the way of entertainment and so everyone looked forward to visits from roaming troupes of actors. These troupes of mostly men would enact scenes from Indian myths and legends. Perhaps it was one of these actors who told Ammalu about the wonders of travel and of a special city dedicated to Lord Shiva.

This holy place was called Benares (or Varanasi or Kashi) and situated near the Bihar border in the faraway state of Uttar Pradesh. Visiting this holy city and bathing in the even holier Ganges became an obsession with Ammalu. Perhaps one of the actors or someone in the family pointed out that after visiting Benares the pilgrim would have to give up a favorite food. Ammalu knew what she would give up.

She was in her early forties when she finally had an opportunity to take her dream trip. In the years after her pilgrimage when relatives offered her a piece of fresh jackfruit, she would shake her head and say, “I just returned from Kashi,” and everyone immediately understood why she said no to her favorite snack. She died at the age of 88 and never tasted jackfruit again.

A decade or so ago my family and I visited Benares to scatter my uncle’s ashes. We found the city to be a study in contrasts. The grime and dirt didn’t deter from the city’s beauty and timeless quality. The Ganges was a lazy ribbon of water with a lot of floating debris but as I watched the orange glow of the tropical sunset, I couldn’t help feeling a deep sense of peace and calm. A holy city will do that to you. I imagined Ammalu must have experienced that same serenity as she bathed in the Ganges and vowed never to eat jackfruit again.

She would have never dreamed that her pilgrimage and personal sacrifice would inspire the next generation. Recently I decided to challenge myself by giving up sugar for a few months and great-aunt Ammalu’s uplifting story has been a marvelous example for me.

The least tangible (and material) legacy we leave behind will endure the longest. Perhaps the next generation will remember you for your kindness, your grace under pressure or your selfless love. That is a legacy worth striving for!

 

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Filed under Aunts and other relatives, Benares, Celebrations, cooking, Delicious desserts, family, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, Ganges River, harmony, harvest, Holy City, jackfruit, Lord Shiva, meatless, my mother's kitche, Personal experience, pilgrimage, remembering our ancestors, South India, Uncategorized

Aunty with a capital A

On Becoming an Aunt

New Year Post

Recently I had the fun pleasure of hosting my niece for her very first Thanksgiving in America. After her week-long stay, when I was dropping her off at the train station, she turned to me and said, “Thank you aunty for everything. I felt like I was royalty.”

I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t thank me. She should be grateful to the woman who taught me how to be a good aunt.

There are plenty of aunties in my life. Anyone who is from India knows we call family friends, neighbors and relatives “aunty” as a sign of respect. But I have one Aunty who stands out.  I’ve known her for most of my life (we met when I was six months old) and I’m the only person in California who has had the honor to be at her wedding day.

Even though I have known her a long time, our friendship/relationship really blossomed when I came over in the 1980s to attend college.

I was an insulated young girl (okay, maybe a little spoiled) but my Aunty C and I took to each other as if we were long-lost friends. We spent hours together.

“I’m bored, Aunty,” I would say and she would whisk me away to one of our favorite haunts– the local public library, Dillon Beach, the Goodwill store (her favorite shopping place) or somewhere for a sweet treat. One summer we discovered a hole-in-the-wall bakery that produced the most delicious fresh strawberry pies. Both of us loved these pies so much, she gladly bought the ingredients so I could try making my own pie. That is how I learned how to perfect my pie crust and work with mascarpone cheese. We ate a lot of pie that summer.

From Aunty I learned to love Southern literature and to make the perfect cup of strong tea. Together we navigated the college catalog, choosing the best classes and professors. We enjoyed our bittersweet chocolate, especially the truffles from Cocolat.

But mostly,  I learned by observing her in action and the way she interacted with people. She taught me how to give my one-pointed attention to everyone, to listen with both ears. She never boasted or dominated a conversation. Now at 97, she is still the same–kind, gentle and still humble.

So, being a good aunty is easy for me because I learned from the best!

Happy New Year to all my readers! May 2019 be filled with books, laughter and peace.

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Filed under Aunts and other relatives, family, Happy New Year! 2019, harmony, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, Nieces, Personal experience, remembering our ancestors, Shopping, South India, Strawberry pie, Uncategorized

Cooking with an open mind

 

October 2018

“You know, cooks should have open minds. Otherwise how can they learn new things?” ~Tarika K.

My niece is so smart! And she’s right too. A good cook is willing to experiment and learn. The reward of an open mind (and kitchen) is a delicious and wonderful meal or dish.

Cooking is also an opportunity to slow down and be mindful. Chatting while chopping can lead to bleeding, so be one-pointed. Give your undivided attention to the meal preparation and you will be rewarded with a tasty dish as well as a calmer mind.

I love mixing and matching cuisines and my cooking is heavily influenced by California fresh produce and my south Indian upbringing. At a recent meal I set out to impress out-of-country guests with an array of dishes that showcases produce from our Farmers Market as well as my cooking skills.

Here is one recipe that wowed the crowd and was as tasty as it was pretty.

Samosa Bites.

These Samosa Bites are a flavor explosion in your mouth. There is the buttery, flaky filo crust, the savory potato/pea filling and the two or three toppings that add that a certain type of  deliciousness. First there was a tangy sauce from Kerala called inchipully which features bits of fresh ginger in a sweet and sour tamarind sauce. Then a small drop of super spicy fresh-tasting coriander gave a hot bite to the dish. Finally the dish was finished off with some Greek yogurt, flecked with fresh mint, dill and parsley. One bite, so many sensations!

Recipe:

1 package mini Fillo pastry shells, thawed. (You can easily make these with sheets of Phyllo dough but I opted for the easier pre-made version for this recipe)

Potato filling

1 large potato, cooked, peeled and mashed lightly

½ cup frozen or fresh peas

1 small onion

¼ cup chopped red, yellow or green pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp. turmeric

A few fresh curry leaves (optional)

Salt and fresh pepper

Heat oil in a small saucepan, add mustard seeds and cover with lid. When the seeds have popped, add onions, pepper and curry leaves, if using. Sauté until vegetables are tender, about five minutes. Add cumin seeds, turmeric and stir and then add peas. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes and then add mashed potato and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Coriander Chutney

1 large bunch coriander leaves. You can use stems. Wash thoroughly

½ cup raw walnuts

½ cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut

4-5 jalapeno peppers

1 small shallot or onion, peeled and cut into quarters

½ cup or more hot water to blend

2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

Curry leaves

Use a blender or food processor and process or blend all ingredients except oil, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Heat oil in a sauce pan, add oil and mustard seeds and wait for the seeds to pop and turn grey. Add curry leaves and prepared chutney. Turn off heat and stir thoroughly. Taste for salt. It will be spicy but will mellow out when refrigerated for a couple of hours. This chutney can be made a day in advance.

Inchipully

There are many versions of this exceptional sauce. This is the simplest (and tastiest, in my opinion) version.

1 generous knob, size of large lemon, tamarind from a block of tamarind (see note)

2 cups hot water. Plus extra ½ cup

½ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine

1 green chili

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 sprig curry leaves

1 tsp. fenugreek seeds

½ tsp turmeric powder

2-6 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tsp. salt or to taste

Soak the tamarind in hot water for 15 minutes. Using your fingers crush the tamarind and extract as much pulp and juice.  Use a sieve to separate out the pulp from seeds and fiber. Use an additional half cup of water to extract as much pulp from the tamarind paste. Set aside.

Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and cover with a lid. Once the seeds have popped and turn grey, add fenugreek seeds, chopped ginger and curry leaves. Let it toast for a minute. Don’t let the seeds burn! Add tamarind water, turmeric powder, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. The sauce should be fairly thick. It will thicken more after it cools. Taste for salt and sugar and add more if needed. The sauce should be sour and sweet with a bite of fresh ginger.

Yogurt Topping

1 cup Greek Full-fat yogurt

½ tsp. salt

½ cup fresh parsley and/or mint, finely chopped. Dill can also be added

½ cup finely chopped fresh cucumber

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about a teaspoon

Stir all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Putting It All Together!

Bake Filo pastry cups according to direction. Cool. Add a generous spoonful of potato filling to the pastry cup. Now add a drop of Inchipully or Coriander Chutney or a dab of both. Finish off with a spoonful of yogurt topping. For best flavor sensation, pop the entire thing into your mouth at once. Close your eyes and savor!

 

NOTE: For best results use tamarind that comes in a block and that has no sugar or salt added. Indian and Middle Eastern stores carry this item. Of course there is always Amazon too.

 

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Filed under California cuisine, cooking, Davis Farmers Market, family, Fillo pastry cups, Fresh produce, harmony, Indian food, meatless, Mindful cooking, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, new traditions, Personal experience, recipes, Samosa, South India, Uncategorized

Duke 2009-2018

 

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March 2018

He was not a perfect dog, by any means, but he was the ideal pet for our family. He came to us as a 5-pound roly-poly puppy and clawed his way into our hearts and home. His recent death has left a gaping 88-pound hole in our collective hearts.

We knew his failings and came to love them. His quirks were many: his love of freshly grated Parmesan, his ongoing feud with the two fat raccoons who lived in the storm drain near our house, his insistence of sniffing each blade of grass for long minutes before raising his leg, his wariness of silly sounds like the crunch of a twig underfoot and his unrelenting begging for that last piece of cookie. He had habits we found endearing too. His love of wrapped presents, trips to Putah Creek, the joy of endless sunbathing in our backyard and his devotion to his many stuffed animals.

We loved Duke because he had the knack of making each member of our family feel as if he/she was the center of his universe. He gave us undivided, focused attention. He was the ultimate actor, assuming a different role when he interacted with each of us.

He was my youngest son’s playmate, his best bud and best friend. The Klein family story goes that when the boys and their dad went to pick out a puppy from a litter of Redbone Coonhounds, they all noticed the smallest one, but were leaning toward taking home one of the larger athletic puppies. Until…my son looked down and saw the small puppy sitting on his shoes. Apparently Duke picked us! How lucky we were.

Duke was my oldest son’s faithful companion, the one who took him for his first training sessions. Duke loved my son’s pickup truck almost as much as my son.  It was hard for Duke to watch my son drive off to college but he gave him a warm welcome every time he visited.

Even before we knew my son’s then-girlfriend would become his wife, Duke welcomed her into our family. He recognized goodness and beauty when he saw it. He enjoyed the long petting sessions he had with her. His final petting session with her gave him so much joy.   I’m lucky to have such a compassionate daughter-in-law.

My husband was Duke’s boss, his main man and his true “dad.” They bonded over hours and hours of walking. Every walk, even the one two days before his death, was a joy to Duke. Duke may have missed saying a final good-bye to my husband but that day they spent together was the perfect farewell.

That leaves me as his cook, chauffeur, constant companion, groomer, evening walker and general dogsbody (pun intended). For the past three years we have been together almost 24 hours a day. His wise brown eyes were always following my every move.  He sat at my feet as I wrote each day (or attempted to) and I know he is watching me right now, wondering what was on the computer screen that was making me sob so uncontrollably.

I know Duke depended on me for everything: from opening the door (a hundred times a day), to filling his water dish, to taking care of all his needs and so it made complete sense he would depend on me to make the final decision of his life. It was incredibly hard to do (especially since my husband was away), but I did because I knew Duke would want my help to ease his pain and discomfort. After all, that had been my job for the past nine years and I couldn’t quit now.

Being a word geek I, of course, turned to stories and poems to help deal with his overwhelming loss. I hope you don’t mind if I share them with you.

The first is a story from Hindu mythology about a king and his love for his dog. The other is a poem that dispelled any doubts I had about what I had to do to help him on his final journey.

So honor Duke’s memory and go show some love to your pet, eat a vegetarian (vegan) meal, hug your vet!

The Story of Yudishstra and his dog

According to the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the five Pandava brothers had finished winning back their kingdom and were now on their final journey. Yudishstra, the eldest Pandava, led the way up a mountain, followed by Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva and their common wife Draupadi. A dog also accompanied them.

Along the way, one by one the brothers and Draupadi fall down and die. Finally only Yudishstra and his dog were left and they continued to the top of the mountain where he was greeted by the god Indra. Indra welcomed him to enter his chariot to ascend to heaven. Yudishstra and his dog started to climb into the chariot but Indra stopped them, saying the dog was not welcome. But the king was adamant that the dog accompany him.

“That is impossible,” Indra said. “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.”

According to one version of this story, Yudishstra replied, “In that case, I do not want to go to heaven. The dog was my faithful companion on earth and I cannot abandon him now. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven mean nothing in comparison to the grief of losing my beloved companion.”

Even though Indra pleaded with the king, Yudishstra stood firm until the god relented.

 

The Last Battle

 If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.

 

We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.

 

I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We’ve been so close — we two — these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

 

— Unknown

 

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Filed under dog's life, dogs and pups, family, final journey, losing a pet, meatless, Personal experience, pet therapy, poetry, UCD Vet Hospital, Uncategorized

Bittersweet moments

mom pic

Photos of those watching from above. They were all missed!

 

Life moves on

July 2017

Intense joy is often tempered with deep sorrow. The occasion was my son’s wedding. The entire weekend was filled with joy. The radiant bride was more luminous than the bright sunshine and my son was particularly handsome in his casual blue jeans and cowboy boots. Relatives and friends gathered with a common purpose of celebrating their young love. The ceremony was moving with brilliant touches of humor and I wished all my family could have been there with me to share this happy day. Sitting in that hot sun, I took a minute to remember those who were no longer with us.

My mother would have loved the moment when my son draped the traditional gold “thali” chain around his new bride. She may have been a little puzzled by the country music and the delicious tiered wedding cake but she always had an ability to see what was really important. So she would have enjoyed my son’s happy grin and the joyful bride. “They love each other and that is all that matters,” she would have said. I know this because that is what she said to me 31 years ago on my wedding day in the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains.

My father would have taken great pleasure in puffing a cigar with the handsome groomsmen and perhaps sipping an ice cold beer.  The music, the food and the event site would have intrigued him.

My late mother-in-law would have been delighted to see her grandson looking so grown up and serious. She would have loved the bow ties and blue jeans. She would have exclaimed with pleasure over the bride’s gorgeous dress. She would have complimented us  on a job well done and she would have shed a few happy tears along with me.

My uncle loved animals and would have been amused to see the couple’s young puppy walk down the aisle with my younger son. His quiet wisdom, charming manner and self-deprecating humor would have attracted the attention of everyone, young and old. His blessing would have been simple and powerful, “remember men and women are meant to complete each other, not compete with each other.”

A successful marriage is based on trust and love and my uncle said it best in his succinct manner, “Put each other first,” he used to say with a gentle smile.

If my son and daughter-in-law practiced this compelling piece of advice, they will be blessed with a harmonious, loving and lasting marriage.

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Filed under bride and groom, dogs and pups, family, marriage, new traditions, Nilgiris, Personal experience, remembering our ancestors, Uncategorized, wedding advice