Category Archives: Personal experience

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 taught me a thing or two (or ten)!

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My life is better because Duke was part of it.

Ten things Duke taught me:

10. Live in the moment. Seize each day and live well. Duke was the master of living in the moment. He was very mindful of everything and everyone around him

9. Napping is important. Duke loved his naps. He took short naps and then a long nap to recover from the short ones. He knew a short snooze in the middle of the day was just the thing to keep you going.

8. Routines are essential. Healthy habits are good for you and the environment. Duke loved the excitement of going out but he really was a creature of habit. He loved his bed, his backyard and his stuffed toys. He was always glad to be home.

7. Be excited about the little things in life! Duke knew how to greet the unexpected visitor (think UPS man or raccoon) as well as a loved one.

6. Be patient. Duke knew the value of patience and the patient dog always got that last crumb!

5. Exercise every day. Walk everywhere! Even when he was hurting, Duke was always ready for a walk, albeit a short one. Miss those walks so much!

4. Go outside and enjoy the fresh air. Even during the summer heat, Duke loved being outside and the best part was coming inside to cool off on the tile floor. Ah, the small things

3. Sun bathe daily, in moderation, of course! A perfect spring day or a sunny fall morning was Duke’s favorite times to be outside. Like Goldilocks he didn’t like it too warm or too cold.

2. Be one-pointed. Give your one-pointed attention to every task, whether cooking, cleaning or looking at your Facebook page! Duke gave his full attention to whatever he was doing whether sniffing a blade of grass or eating his Parmesan-laced dog food.

1. Death is part of life. This was the most important lesson Duke taught me through his own personal example. Even when he suspected the end was near, he had only affection and trust for all of us. We were his family and he was happy to be in our company. His death has left me heart-broken but I admired the way he approached the end of his life with such dignity and grace. He lived his life with honor and died with canine elegance and poise.

 

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Filed under Death, Death of a pet, dog's life, dogs and pups, Dogs are family, final journey, harmony, losing a pet, Personal experience, pet therapy, 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

My Best to you!

Scan_20171221December 2017

The past year was filled with many joyous moments! My son’s wedding in July was definitely a high point. It was wonderful to welcome his smart and beautiful wife into our family. The wedding was also a chance to renew our friendship with our relatives and make some new friends too. I also had a brief but affectionate visit with my sister. This summer I felt honored to be part of my favorite aunt’s 96th birthday celebration. Every time I see her I marvel at her grace, wisdom and amazing capacity to love. There were a few rejection letters to temper all my joy.  But there were some acceptances too. I had a short story published in an online magazine, and had several poems accepted into two different anthologies. I was also invited to become a book reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. So all in all it was a great year!

My holiday gift to you is a short story published several years ago in an anthology titled The Dog with An Old Soul. The story features my mom and her dog, two of my favorite subjects.

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Bark

Meera Klein

The black-and-white photo was old and yellowing, but I could clearly make out the proud stance of the dog and his mistress. I could barely make out the words penciled on the back of the fading photograph:  “Leela and Chuppa, 1951.” My mother and her beloved dog.

The cool mist swirled around Leela and smothered her in its wet embrace. She shivered and wrapped the woolen shawl more tightly around her slender body. The late November days in Kotagiri were chilly and dismal, nothing like the warm tropical nights she was used to. Leela’s sigh sounded loud in the gray silence as she paused to take a deep whiff of the fading jasmine blooms on the vine by the front gate. It was then she heard the sound, the tiniest whimper, which she would have missed if the world hadn’t been so silent. She reached up and unlatched the metal gate and stepped onto the patch of grass. In the dim twilight she could make out a small bundle lying on the wilted jacaranda blooms. When she looked closely, she saw it was a tiny shivering puppy. She couldn’t bear to leave it there on the side of the road. She relatched the gate and walked into the kitchen using the side entrance.

The kitchen was warm and cozy. Her mother, Ammalu, was seated on a small wooden stool in front of the hearth, stirring a pot of lentil stew. The sharp scent of cumin mingled with the wet puppy smell. Ammalu wrinkled her nose.

“What do you have there?” she asked, getting up to take a closer look at the black-and-tan bundle in Leela’s arms.

“Oh, Amma,” Leela wailed. “Look what someone dropped off at our front gate.”

The puppy seemed to know it as being inspected and opened its tiny jaws and yawned, stretching out a minuscule pink tongue.

“Not everyone has your kind heart, my daughter,” Ammalu sighed. “Remember what our neighbor Sister Mary told us?”

Leela nodded and held the puppy closer to her chest. Their nearest neighbor, an Anglo-Indian everyone called Sister Mary, lived a few miles down the road and was a feisty animal lover.

“Be warned. Villagers get rid of their unwanted pets by dropping them off at the bungalows in the middle of the night. Most of us are only too happy to take in these dogs and cats. It’s a shame, though, because not everyone wants a stray and that is the end of the poor animal,” she lamented.

This will not happen to this little one, Leela silently vowed. Mother and daughter dried the puppy and fed the hungry creature some rice gruel. Soon the little dog was curled up on a pile of rags in front of a warm hearth.

The next morning Ammalu mixed a little rice and vegetable broth in a beautiful ceramic pan decorated with deep purple flowers and urged the little puppy to eat out of the fancy bowl.

“Amma, why are you using such a nice dish for the dog?” Leela protested.

“Leela, you know I don’t like to use these tainted containers.”

The tainted containers Ammalu was referring to were part of a collection of dinnerware left behind by the previous owner. After the declaration of independence in 1947, many British decided to leave India rather than live in a country no longer ruled by Great Britain. Rather than pack up an entire household, some of them left many things behind. One such Englishman was the owner of the charming bungalow that was now Leela’s home on the outskirts of the remote hill station town of Kotagiri nestled among the famous Blue Mountains or Nilgiris.

When they moved into the charming red-tiled house in late 1948, they found the musty rooms filled with large pieces of wooden furniture. The cabinet doors were inlaid with ceramic tile in beautiful geometric patterns. An intricate carved folding screen in one of the three bedrooms provided privacy and beauty. The dining room boasted a large china buffet, complete with silver soup tureens, round and oval serving platers, big serving bowls and a tea set. The delicate moss-green tea set, made of the finest bone china, would never be used, though. Like most upper-caste Indians, Ammalu’s family was vegetarian. They had no intention of eating and drinking from vessels used by strangers and non-vegetarians.  At the first opportunity Ammalu invited friends, neighbors and acquaintances from surrounding areas to come chose from the lovely Spode plates and Wedgwood dinnerware. So the puppy happily ate off the Spode chinaware and drank from his Wedgwood saucer.

The German shepherd turned out to be the most patient of animals. He waited for Leela or Ammalu to get up each morning to let him out. He would wander around the front yard, sniffing at rosebushes and lifting his leg against the spindly poinsettia tree. He would then come back to lie on the kitchen floor, his bright blue eyes following Leela’s every movement.

“He really is the most silent dog,” a friend remarked to Leela. That was when she came up with the perfect name for her new pet, Chuppa, or “the silent one.”

She tried out the new name, calling, “Chuppa!” Immediately the puppy sat up, straight and proud. He cocked his head and looked at Leela as if waiting for a command. From then on Leela spent countless hours with the young dog, teaching him simple commands. Chuppa was an intelligent pup and wanted to please Leela. He became the young girl’s constant companion. He would greet her joyously, albeit silently, every afternoon when she returned from school. He draped his long tan-and-black body across Leela’s doorway. The pair was a common sight as they went on long walks among the tea bushes and apple and pear orchards.

One evening, when Ammalu made a teasing gesture toward Leela, pretending to hit her, Chuppa immediately sat up and stare at Ammalu and emitted a soft warning growl.

“Chuppa thinks I was going to hit you!” Ammalu exclaimed. “What a good dog. Don’t worry, Chuppa, I would never hit my girl.”

Ammalu bent down and petted the agitated pup, who settled down, his head resting on his folded paws, as if he understood Ammalu’s words.

Leela decided to teach the dog commands to make sure he would know when the threat was real and when a family member was just playing. The dog took to the lessons as if he was a sponge soaking up spilled water.

Two years later Chuppa was a full-grown German shepherd with thick black-and-tan fur and bright blue eyes. He was a familiar sight in the little village and allowed young children to pet and fuss over him. But his soft eyes were always on Leela.

A few months later, their postman, the deliverer of news and mail, had some disturbing gossip. “Did you hear about the thefts?” he asked Ammalu and Leela one afternoon. “There has been a rash of thefts in the area and residents area asked to keep their gates locked.”

That following spring Ammalu and Unny, Leela’s older brother, had to make one final trip to their ancestral village to take care of some business, and Ammalu was not happy to leave Leela.

“Don’t worry, Amma. Chuppa will keep me company at night, and during the day Mala and her husband will be here,” Leela assured her mother.

Mala and Lingam were local villagers who came to help Leela’s family with household chores. Ammalu and Unny were expected to be gone for about five days, and after giving Mala and Lingam many instructions about the household and Leela’s personal safety, they finally left.

That evening Leela made sure all the doors were locked before retiring to the living room. A fire in the hearth made the room snug and comfortable. Chuppa settled down in front of the fire and Leela curled up on the sofa with a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

“Why didn’t the dog bark?” she murmured to herself.

Chuppa glanced up with a questioning look in his blue eyes.

“Don’t mind me, Chuppa. I’m just talking about the clue in this story,” she assured her pet, who sighed and went back to staring at the golden flames.

The crackling fire was the only sound in the room and Leela found herself drifting off. Chuppa’s low growl woke her up.

“Shh…Chuppa. It’s just the fire.”

But the dog didn’t settle down; instead he stood up and looked toward the front hallway. The coarse hairs on his neck were standing up and his body was tense and alert. Leela was alarmed at the dog’s stance and got up to stand in the living room doorway. She was as tense as Chuppa and tried to hear what had disturbed the dog.

Then she heard it, the slightest grating of metal as the front gate was opened. Chuppa growled beside her. She put a hand on his head, wondering what to do.

“Is anyone home?” a woman’s voice called out from the front stoop. Leela knew whoever was there had probably seen the warm glow of the light through the living room window, even though the cloth curtains were drawn shut.

Leela took a deep breath and walked into the dark hallway. She turned on the porch light and lifted up the curtain to peer through the front window. She could make out the figure of a woman and a man standing on the porch steps. The woman raised a slim hand and knocked on the wooden door. Leela looked back at Chuppa and gestured for him to stand behind her. The dog obediently went into the hallway, where he was hidden in the shadows behind his mistress.

Even though she dreaded opening the door, Leela decided it was better than waiting for the couple to perhaps break the glass and force their way in. She pulled the door open and peered out.

“Who are you, and why are you knocking on my door at this time of the night.”

The woman laughed, a sound that was nervous and at the same time somehow threatening. “Sister, we are just poor pilgrims on our way to the temple on the hill. Can you spare us a hot drink or a few paisas?”

“I’m sorry, but my hearth is out for the night and I have no change. Perhaps you can find hospitality farther down the road.” Leela said.

“Listen here, sister,” the man snarled, pushing the woman aside. “We are not asking for a few paisa like beggars. We are demanding you hand over your necklace, earrings and anything else of value you have in the house. I don’t make idle threats.” As he spoke, he pulled out a knife, the blade glinting in the overhead porch light.

“I don’t like threats. I suggest you leave,” Leela said, trying not to sound as frightened as she felt.

The man answered by pushing the door aside and taking a step to come inside. A deep rumble from the hallway stopped him in mid-stride.

“Chuppa, come here,” Leela called out to her faithful companion, who came to stand beside her. He bared his teeth and gave out a menacing growl. The couple stared at the German shepherd.

“Now, I suggest you leave before my dog gets impatient,” Leela said to the couple.

The man hissed in anger. “A dumb animal isn’t going to stop me,” he said in a low tone as he stepped toward Leela, his knife raised.

“Chuppa, get the knife,” Leela ordered in a firm voice.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the dog leaped and grabbed the man’s hand. The knife clattered to the ground. The man yelped in surprise. Leela quickly kicked the knife out of his reach. The dog let go of the man’s hand waited for his next command.

“Good dog. Now get him,” Leela said.

Again the dog leaped and, using his full weight, brought the man down. Chuppa placed a heavy paw on the man’s chest and bared his teeth. The woman cried out, and dog looked at her with his soft eyes and pulled back his lips to show his sharp white teeth.

“Call off your dog,” the woman cried. “We meant no harm.”

The silence was broken by a murmur of voices.

“Miss Leela, are you all right?” a voice asked from the driveway. It was Lingam. He was carrying a smoky homemade torch in his hand. Behind him were several villagers.

“Lingam! I am so glad to see you,” Leela called and sighed in relief. “Chuppa caught a man who was threatening me.”

Lingam walked up to the porch steps and looked down at the figure on the ground.

“These look like the couple who have been robbing houses,” he announced. “We heard they were out tonight, and came by to check on you.  But it looks like you can take care of yourself.”  His white teeth flashed as he grinned at Leela.

“It was Chuppa who saved the day,” Leela said. “Chuppa let him go.”

The German shepherd looked down at the man and growled again before moving slowly off him. The animal went to stand beside Leela, looking up at her with adoration shining from his bright blue eyes.

Leela bent down and hugged the dog. She buried her face in his doggy fur. “Thank you, Chuppa,” she whispered.

“Woof.” Chuppa’s bark was short and soft. Leela laughed out loud. That was the one and only time Chuppa ever barked.

For years the dog was my mother’s faithful companion in Kotagiri. When he died of old age, my mother was heartbroken. Chuppa was the last pet she ever owned.,

 

 

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Filed under Blue Mountains, garden, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, new traditions, Nilgiris, Personal experience, pet therapy, Uncategorized

Bittersweet moments

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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

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 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

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