Here’s an article I recently wrote for an online women’s writing website.
Sometimes looking back, helps you move forward!
Thanks for reading and be well.
Here’s an article I recently wrote for an online women’s writing website.
Sometimes looking back, helps you move forward!
Thanks for reading and be well.
Help celebrate by my book’s release by buying one (or more) copies to give to family and friends. This book is the perfect gift for Mother’s Day or any day! It is also the perfect summer reading–tasty and satisfying like a good ice cream cone.
Seeing Ceremony, a feel-good, stand-alone sequel to the award-winning My Mother’s Kitchen: A Novel with Recipes, is all about family, love, good food and finding one’s way back home.
Author Louise Miller (author of The Late Bloomers’ Club and The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living), says this about the book, “Seeing Ceremony is a rich coming of age novel, full of myth and legend, romance, and the heady tastes and scents of India. It is a love letter to both place and family—the ingredients that make home home. Meera Klein is a natural born story teller—I felt as if I were sitting at the kitchen table as she told me this story—and Seeing Ceremony is truly a feast for ALL of the senses. A true delight.”
The book is now available on Amazon, B&N and Homeboundpublications.com. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my book and let me know what you think. If you enjoyed this book, please write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. These reviews help both the author and other readers. Links provided below.
If you are part of a book club, please consider Seeing Ceremony as your next read.
Best wishes to you and your family. Stay safe.
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” Lily Tomlin
When does a chore become a relaxation tool?
I was a little surprised when this happened to me. A couple of weeks ago, our dishwasher died and so I started doing dishes by hand.
For the first few days, I rushed through this task wanting to finish as soon as possible.
But slowly, a funny thing happened at the kitchen sink. I found myself slowing down and taking my time. The more I paid attention to the endeavor at hand, the more I found myself relaxing.
A close and wise relative of mine was always reminding me to slow down and take my time and so I thought I knew how to do this.
But now I discovered something new: Slowing down made an unpleasant chore, enjoyable and satisfying.
I found harmony in the kitchen sink and soon a pile of dirty dishes was no longer daunting.
Just don’t tell my husband because eventually I’d like a new dishwasher!
OTHER EXCITING NEWS:
May has always been a special month in our family. Twenty-eight years ago in May I became a mother and celebrated my first Mother’s Day. That first one was extra special because my mother was with me. She took care of my newborn so I could go out and get a pedicure, neck and shoulder massage and a haircut. It was one of the most unforgettable days of my life as a new mother.
On May 5, there will be another baby in our house. Before you jump to conclusions, this one is a book. Yes, my next book will come out into the world soon. I’m excited and happy to share this latest novel with all of you. The book launch video will be posted on my website and I hope you all watch it and support me by buying a book or two. This book will be the perfect Mother’s Day or any day gift for a loved one.
This photo was taken a couple of years before his death. Here Duke is enjoying the New Year display. He’s gazing into his wise brown eyes and hoping the wrapped toy is his on the far side of the table!
Has the mid-April blahs and stress got you down? Then I have a suggestion for you!
Join the millions of people from Kerala (and me) and celebrate the start of a New Year on April 14th. It is a simple ritual that will ground you and bring balance to your life. A note: While the celebration is linked to Hinduism, you don’t have to be a Hindu or even believe in God to share in this timeless ceremony.
So this is how you can get started:
On April 13th evening do the following:
You have now created Vishu Kanni or New Year display.
On the morning of the 14th, get up and before your morning coffee (yes!), wash your face. Light the candle and sit in front of your display, if possible. Look closely at the flower or sprig, the fruits and vegetables, the grains and legumes, the nice table cloth and the coins and jewelry. Look at the photographs of your loved ones.
As you gaze at the kanni, you are welcoming everything that is good into your life and future. Finally, look at your reflection in the mirror. All that is marvelous and wonderful is reflected in your eyes. Look deep into your eyes until you see the glimmer of hope and light that is in you. Invite all that is positive, prosperous and amazing into your life and into the lives of your loved ones.
You have now observed and welcomed in a new year, Kerala style. Happy Vishu 2020!
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….”
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.
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
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!
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience; everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” ~May Sarton.
Our tiny backyard garden is a year-round source of peace and produce.
Gardening is a form of meditation for my husband. He finds solace and joy in pulling weeds, preparing the soil, carefully planting the seeds, watering and nurturing the plants and then harvesting the fruits of his labor.
Harvesting cherry tomatoes or handfuls of fragrant herbs gives him immense pleasure. The fact his harvest ends up on his dinner plate makes the whole process even more satisfying.
I love fresh produce but I admit gardening is not my thing. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy our backyard oasis. In the middle of the day, when the lawnmowers and leaf blowers are finally turned off, a warm stillness settles in the garden. The neighborhood children are in school and there is a profound silence all around me.
The warm sun, chirping birds, buzzing bees and an occasional butterfly are my only companions. Some days the peace is broken when a territorial fight breaks out between the mocking birds and the aggressive Scrub Jays. These tiny guardians are fiercely protective of their space.
The bees and butterflies pay no attention to the screeching birds. Gathering nectar from golden sunflowers and purple zinnias is much more important.
As the day warms and the sun’s heat wilts the green basil and the valiant tomato vines, I settle in the shade to enjoy the peace. For me the real harvest is not the produce but the serenity of growing things.
Surrounded by verdant and lush bushes and plants, my breathing slows down. I can feel my muscles loosen and my aches and pains fading.
Northern California’s fierce heat melts away my cares and worries. As my body relaxes my mind calms down. Those annoying thoughts zapping around my brain slowly wind down.
I don’t usually call this meditation but sitting in my little green garden on a quiet weekday afternoon does feel like a moment of deep reflection. Now I understand what my husband finds so tranquil in the garden.
Recently we visited our son in his first apartment. His tiny patio is a little green oasis. I hope he discovers the restfulness of being surrounded by growing things, even if it is just one cherry tomato vine, a single pepper plant and a few herbs.
Making a place for quiet contemplation, a moment of mindfulness and meditation is essential in this busy world. I hope all of you find a minute or two to slow down and breathe deeply.
Recently instead of a birthday cake, my son requested a jar of his favorite condiment—injeepully.
For those who don’t know, injeepully is a tart and tangy combination of ginger and tamarind, and is a must-have accompaniment to holiday meals for the people of Kerala.
This condiment, a true Kerala invention, is said to bring taste buds to life. In fact, there is a saying in Malayalam (roughly translated) that even the simplest meal becomes a feast when injeepully is served.
Now this sauce is not without controversy! The name injee (ginger) and pully (tamarind) is what my mother’s family called the condiment but on my father’s side it was called pullyinjee. After all, what is in a name, especially if the ingredients are the same? Apparently a lot, if you believe my relatives.
But whatever you call it, injeepully is totally delicious and addictive. I remember my first taste of the spicy sauce which set my three-year-old tongue on fire. My father gave me a spoonful of creamy sweet cardamom pudding to dampen the heat in my mouth. So a new favorite flavor combination was born.
My son, now 27, has always had a bold palate. His favorite snack as a toddler was slices of fresh Asian pears smeared with a bit of ripe bleu cheese and topped off with a piece of raw walnut. No pretzels or Gold Fish for this kid.
Along with his favorite injeepully, I also made him fresh mango pickle. We used to call this dish “hurry-up pickle” in our family because my sister and I were always asking my mother to hurry up and finish tempering the mango so we could mix it with rice and yogurt and gobble it down.
Mango pickle is simple to prepare. Peel and dice a green (unripe) mango. Toss the mango with some red cayenne pepper and salt. Temper the pickle by heating a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and adding a teaspoon of black/brown mustard seeds. When the seeds pop and turn grey, add a sprig of fresh curry leaves and toss the mango/chili mixture in the warm oil. Hurry-up pickle is ready!
The injeepully recipe can be found in My Mother’s Kitchen: A Novel with Recipes. Or you can see my super simple easy version below.
Exciting News: Turns out the doors to My Mother’s Kitchen will once again be open. Look for news about the upcoming sequel in the coming weeks. Find out what happens to Meena and her family.
Simple Injeepully recipe: This is my version of the spicy condiment.
Use tamarind that comes in a block (available in Indian/Middle Eastern stores). Soak a generous knob, the size of a medium lemon, of tamarind in about 2 cups of hot water while you prep the ginger. Once the tamarind is soft, use your fingers to dissolve the pulp and strain the tamarind. You should have about 1½ cups or so of tamarind water. Meanwhile, peel and finely dice some ginger (about ¼ cup). Chop a green chili or two. Set aside. Heat oil in a pan, add brown/black mustard seeds and when they pop and turn grey, immediately add the diced ginger, chilies, a sprig of curry leaves and a generous spoonful of fenugreek seeds. Sauté for a minute or two and then add the tamarind water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Season with ½ to 1 tsp salt and 4-8 tablespoons of brown sugar. Other additions: Fresh or dried turmeric, a pinch of hing or asafetida.
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!
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.
“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.
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!
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.