Category Archives: multi-cultural

Christmas Memories

December 2019

Our memory of childhood traditions is what makes holidays so special. A unique ornament or the heady aroma of baking spices or the sound of laughter can evoke joy and poignant reminders of our past.

Growing up in India we celebrated a variety of holidays: Kerala New Year (Vishu), Harvest Festival (Onam) and Festival of Lights (Deepavali), but Christmas was not one of them.  However, thanks to our neighbors my family experienced the warmth of this special day.

It was the late 1970s and we were living in the hilltop town of Coonoor in the beautiful Nilgiris or Blue Mountains of south India. Our neighbors were Christian and invited us to attend a Christmas Eve mass at the local church. At first we were a little reluctant to celebrate a holiday in a church, a place we normally just passed on our way to school. As Hindus would this be an appropriate thing to do?

After a bit of thought, my mother had the answer. She held up her right hand and spread out her fingers.

“Pretend each finger represents a religion,” she said “The thumb is Hinduism; the pointing finger is Christianity and so on.  Each finger is part of the whole, the hand. Just like the fingers are united by the hand and merge into the wrist, I believe in the end all religions come together to become part of the supreme source.”

She added, “That’s why fighting about religion never made sense to me.”

So we accepted our neighbors’ invitation to the Christmas Eve celebration. The warm glow of candles, the scent of burning incense and the sound of Christmas carols (sung in the local language) became a part of an unforgettable experience for us. Later, our neighbors shared a plate of holiday cookies. Christmas that day tasted of nutmeg-spiked crackers, fruit cake cookies with candied lemon peel and the unique Kerala rose cookies or achappams. My sister and I savored the different and exotic flavors as the church bells rang.

My taste buds and heart still sing when I think of those long ago memories. Some things you never forget.

Wishing you all a holiday season filled with unforgettable memories! See you all in 2020 with exciting publishing news.

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Filed under Achappams, Blue Mountains, Celebrations, Christmas, Christmas Cookies, Christmas Eve, church bells, family, howiholiday, Indian celebrations, Kerala cuisine, meditation, multi-cultural, Nilgiris, Personal experience, South India, South Indian, Uncategorized

A fairy tale (of sorts)

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Once upon a time there was a young girl who dreamed of adventures. She would look up at the bright blue sky imagining she was flying away in one of those rare airplanes she glimpsed from her hilltop home in the Nilgiris, the Blue Mountains of south India.

It took nearly 20 years but one day she found herself on a plane flying off to faraway California, leaving behind her mother and sister. Under the loving and watchful eyes of her uncle and aunt she thrived. She loved campus life and learning. But one day she met a boy and her life changed all over again.

He looked like he belonged on a beach with blond hair, tanned skin and bright blue eyes but he was actually from New Jersey.

With her uncle and aunt’s blessing, the young girl returned to south India and soon the young man joined her. They asked her mother if they could get married.

The mother was taken aback but quickly adjusted to the idea and soon set a date for the wedding. It was decided the ceremony would be held on September 14, the same day as Onam or the harvest festival. It was a simple ceremony in a humble home decorated with Nilgiri roses and fresh jasmine garlands.

In a real fairy tale the story would end with “happily ever after.” But this is real life and so the young couple’s life was full of ups and downs, laughter and tears, joy and sorrow but 33 years later they are still together. To paraphrase Robert Browning “Grow old with me. The best is yet to be….”

Indian Fusion

We were married 33 years ago because we wanted to but it turned out we were trend setters of a sort. Our house has been a multi-cultural, blended home for decades. Our sons are beige-brown with Indian names. We celebrate Christmas along with Vishu and Onam. So it is natural that our dinner plates reflect our diverse background. We have channa dal on pizza with mozzarella and masala dosa with kale and cheddar cheese.

This pasta dish celebrates my husband’s Italian heritage and love of pasta and my south Indian roots. Sometimes a melting pot truly is a delicious meal.

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Pesto-fused Indian Uppma

This is a very forgiving recipe. You can increase or decrease the amount of pasta and veggies. Add a cup of cooked chickpeas for extra protein. Add thyme, oregano or other fresh herbs for flavor. Use a spoonful of nutritional yeast to make it savory.

1 pound pasta, any type, use chickpea pasta for GF version

4 tablespoons ghee (or vegetable oil), divided

1 tsp. brown/black mustard seeds

2 cups diced onions, white or yellow

1 cup diced pepper, any color

1 jalapeño, diced (optional but the heat is tasty!)

1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger

¾ tsp salt, more as needed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons prepared pesto (or ½ cup chopped basil, if you don’t have pesto)

1 tomato, chopped

4 cups veggies, any type. I used broccoli, carrots and potato. Turnips, peas, corn, zucchini, asparagus and eggplants are some choices. In winter use squash, sweet potato and root veggies

Optional toppings: fresh basil, dry roasted cashews

Method:

Cook pasta according to directions, drain, reserving ½ cup water and toss with 2 tablespoons ghee.

Meanwhile, heat remaining ghee in a skillet with a top. Add mustard seeds and allow them to pop and turn grey. Immediately add chopped onions, peppers, ginger and jalapeno. Sauté for about five minutes. Add chopped veggies, tomato and salt. Cook, covered, for about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on type of vegetables, just don’t overcook the vegetables.

Remove skillet from heat, add lemon juice and pesto or basil leaves, stir to combine. Use your fingers to separate pasta (if it is sticking together) and add in small batches to the vegetable mixture, mixing thoroughly each time. Taste for salt.

For a fantastic taste sensation, serve with banana raita. Or serve with spicy tomato chutney. Or just eat it plain!

 

 

 

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Filed under bride and groom, California cuisine, Celebrations, family, Indian food, Indian Fusion, Italian-Indian fusion, multi-cultural, my mother's kitche, My Mother's Kitchen: A Novel With Recipes, Nilgiris, Northern California, pasta, Personal experience, recipes, South India, Uncategorized, vegetables