Dec 9, 2013


“Can I have the free swim shedule?” I asked the teenager manning the desk at the pool.

“A what…?” he asked, his eyebrows raised in mock confusion. I could hear the stifling of giggles from the assorted teens gathered behind him.

I tried my best to ignore the sniggers and braved on. “A shedule of the free swim? You know the timetable for days when the pool is open for us to come and practice?”

“Ah, you mean a schedule? Wait a minute,” he said, enunciating the ‘sche’ and the ‘d’ in schedule, as he dived under the desk, clearly trying to get over the laughter that was threatening to overcome him.

As I walked away with the free-swim schedule, I could hear the laughter erupting behind me. Only then it hit me that the little twerp knew all along what I was talking about. He was clearly used to our accents, what with all the desi men and women who frequented the community colleges’ swimming lessons. I am sure we could go to a private swim class and get better lessons. But we desis are cheap and the community college fee rates suited us just fine.

“I just need to learn the technique,” I overheard a paunchy guy in his 40s tell the instructor. “You know, so I don’t have to stay in the shallow end and be able to rescue my son.”

“Sir, what you are learning here is not enough for you to jump head long and rescue anyone,” she said, clearly not trusting the guy’s technique.

She had obviously no idea of the over confident Indian male species who thought they could learn to swim and rescue a drowning 5-year old just by taking twice a week, six week swim lessons at a community college. But I was FOB (as I was politely told by someone who had been living here for five years) or fresh off the boat, with barely three months in the country and was all too aware of the Indian male phenomenon.

Getting used to America was another matter. It wasn’t as big surprise as it was for some of the other desi women but it was still a mystery I was trying to unravel. The shedule – schedule was one of those incidences that made it perfectly clear to me how to pronounce certain words. It didn’t matter if I spoke good English. I also had to get the pronunciation right and get the word usage down to a pat.

“Don’t say ‘double’ 4,” Ajay, my husband of four months, told me one day after he heard me give my cell phone number to a friend.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you know how you said, 972-9double 4-6123? Just say, 972-944-6123. Here, double is usually reserved for bra sizes, as in double D, double B, etc.,” he said, obviously knowledgeable in bra jargon. That was a piece of clothing that also threw me for a loop initially, with its different sizes and the underwire. Who ever thought of the underwire bra must have been a man because these things were pokey and pinchy and not very comfortable. I longed for the days when I could go to the hosiery shop in my town and tell the guy behind the counter to give me a medium sized, cotton bra and he would produce four bras of different colors and fabric patterns. And that was that. It fitted me fine and I was done for the whole year.

Here, Ajay, told me to buy at least seven, “one for each day. I do laundry once a week and you need to get used to that routine too.” Whoever heard of once a week laundry! Next thing you know, he will tell me to grocery shop once a week and cook food for the week on weekend. And what do you know, he did! (For the record, I do not like to use more than one exclamation mark on a page, let alone a paragraph, but I thought these two notions warranted the indulgence.)

Doubling back to proper wording when giving out phone numbers, I welcomed these nuggets of information in order to avoid future backhanded giggling and general amusement of teenagers. And the thing was these teenagers were everywhere; in the shops, working behind fast food counters, in movie theaters and hanging out in the malls. They looked at you with their sullen, bored expressions and discouraged all manner of talking. Conducting a transaction was one of the pleasure of shopping back home. We could chat with the shopkeeper, haggle on the prices, and discuss the weather. It didn’t matter if you were buying grocery, vegetables, clothes or shoes.

The first time I went to Gap, I started talking to the girl behind the check- out counter.

“Hi! I am from India. I just landed a week ago and needed some new clothes,” I said.

“Un-ha. Will this be all? Did you find everything you were looking for in the store?” she asked.

“Yes, I did, thank you. I love your store. So many different cuts of jeans and I love all the colors of the T-shirts,” I said.

Thankfully, this one was too bored to giggle.

As I picked up my blue bag and walked out the store, I heard her ask the next customer the same question. I looked up at Ajay, standing outside the shop, waiting for me.

“You could have told me the counter-girl asks everyone the same question and not to bother chatting with her?” I said.

“I can’t think of everything to tell you. Use your judgment. On second thought, ask me if you are in doubt,” he said.

We both remembered the 911 incident. It still makes me laugh but he winces every time he thinks about it.

It happened the first night we landed in Dallas. Some friends of his picked us up from the airport and brought us back to his flat, which I was quickly learning was called an apartment.

It was a cold, February day when we landed here and the wind chill was in the 30s. I had experienced cold before but not this bone chilling cold.

“I thought Texas was supposed to be hot?” I asked, as I stood shivering at curbside pick-up, waiting for his friend.

“Yes, it is. In summer,” he said, warm in his wool sweater and blazer.

“Well, I am going to have to go shopping,” I said, shivering.

“I know,” he said with a sigh.

I was wearing a sateen salwar-kameez and an ill-fitting man’s leather coat that had been altered to fit my slender 5ft 2” frame. That was all I could find in my small town where my cousin had a small shop selling leather handbags and coin purses. He had procured the coat for me from his vendor but forgot to tell him it was for his cousin sister.   

We drove through highways and overpasses, passing cars of different makes and models, all gliding past on silent wheels. There was no honking, no screeching and no shouting of angry drivers and best of all there was no pollution as far as I could tell. Anyway, back at the “apartment” the heat was turned way down since Ajay had been gone for the last two weeks. In case you are wondering, he was in India, getting married to me.

His friend helped him carry the two big American Tourister suitcases up the apartment stairs and said he would come by later to pick us up for dinner. I explored the beige apartment with a galley kitchen, a small bedroom off the living room and a bathroom with a tub in it. The small kitchen seemed cozy and I longed for a hot cup of chai but with no milk in the fridge and no tea leaves, the hot beverage seemed elusive.  

“We can pick up some Statbucks on the way to the restaurant,” he said. But the thought of getting down and braving the icy cold wind for a cup of coffee was not warming enough for me. Now, if there was a chaiwalla at the corner of the block selling hot piping ginger infused chai I might be tempted to get down. But no way was I getting out of the warm car for a Starbucks. The ‘cheap’ desi in me can never justify a $3 coffee when I can whip up some instant coffee powder with milk and sugar and make a desi cappuccino at home.  

I needed to get ready for dinner. We were dinning with two of his friends at an Italian restaurant, a cuisine I knew nothing about except for pizza. I had high doubts about the authenticity of the pizza I had in India with spicy tomato sauce and broiled paneer topping. I was prepared to order a blander version of the pizza if need be but when I glanced at the menu, I didn’t recognize any thing I had eaten before.  

“She might like eggplant parmesan,” one of his friends suggested when I declared I didn’t know what to order.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t like eggplants. Instead, I smiled and nodded, eager to make a good impression.

There was a salad that came with it, all green leaves and olives. The only things I liked were the croutons and the cheese and the blue cheese dressing that came with it. I munched on those while listening to the three of them discuss green cards, work visas and the latest gossip at work. I barely touched the eggplant.

Back at the apartment, all cold and hungry and homesick, I told Ajay I wanted to call up my parents.

“Use the country code 91 then dial your town code without the zero and then your phone no,” he said, handing me the phone.

“Why don’t you do it this once? I am tired,” I said.

“I won’t be here all the time. You need to learn to do this yourself,” he said.

And that is how the 911 incident happened. I dialed 911 instead of 91, realized my mistake and hung up quick.

“What happened? Did you dial 911 instead?” he asked.

“No,” I said, trying not to sound like a simpleton who couldn’t even dial an international phone number.

What I did not know was that the operator on the other end had already picked up the phone. She dialed back our phone number and he picked up.

“Sir, we received a call from this no. Did you or anyone in your household call from this no?” she asked.

“I think my wife may have misdialed while trying to call India,” he said.

“Sir, please put your wife on the line and get off the speaker phone,” she said.

He handed me the phone, “It is for you.”

“Hello,” I said.

“Ma’am, this is the 911 operator. Are you off the speakerphone?” she asked.


“Did you just call 911? Is everything alright?”

“Yes, everything is fine,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant.

“You see, I landed here from India today afternoon and I was trying to call my parents back home. I dialed 911 instead of 91, the international code, by mistake,” I explained.

“Would you like me to send an officer to check on you?” she asked, ignoring my explanation.

“No ma’am, I am fine. There is no need to send someone,” I said, panicking now at the thought of a police officer visiting our apartment at night.

“Ok, you have a good night ma’am,” she said and hung up.

I looked around to see Ajay listening intently to the conversation.

“You dialed 911, didn’t you?” he said.

“Yes, but I hung up as soon as I realized what had happened. How was I to know the call went through?” I said.

“This is not like India. The calls go through quick and everyone has caller-id,” he said.

Five minutes after our conversation, there was a knock on the door. Ajay opened it to find a police officer standing on the doorway.

“Sir, may I speak to the lady of the house?” he said.

I went to the door as he asked Ajay to step back in the other room.

“Ma’am, did you call 911? Are you in need of assistance?” he asked bending down from his 6ft frame.

“I explained to the lady on the phone, I misdialed 911. I was trying to call India, you see and the code begins with 91, followed by the town code, minus the zero and then the home phone number.”

He looked over my head inside the apartment and saw paper buntings on the wall and some rose petals leading to the bedroom. It was his friends’ way of welcoming us back.

“You see, we came back from India today in the afternoon and his friends put all this up,” I tried to explain. I was mortified for the officer to see the blatant suggestion the rose petals were indicating. After 24 hours of air travel that involved crossing two continents and three time zones, I just wanted to curl up in the bed and sleep.

The officer seemed convinced and walked away, talking into his walkie-talkie.

Ajay came out of the room looking worried.

“Is it over?” he asked.

“Yes, I think it is fine. I told him what happened and he seemed convinced. I think these buntings and rose petals your friends put up convinced him finally,” I said.

“I guess we will have to clean it up tomorrow,” he said looking at the mess.

“I can’t believe they sent an officer down to check on me just because I misdialed,” I said, yawning.

“Yes, they will do that. I think you have had enough adventure for the day. I know I have had enough for a lifetime. Let’s go to bed,” he said.

As I climbed into bed, I realized that it was high because I was sleeping on two mattresses and covering myself with a comforter, which was just another word for a blanket which here means a thin coverall. It was cozy though and soon I was drifting off, with dreams of making hot, piping ginger chai in the morning. As soon as I figure out the electric cooktop.

Mar 15, 2013

I sugared the salt...

... and then I salted the tea. True story!
I was making dal for the kid and realized I was running low on salt. Like any normal person I have five different kinds of salts in my pantry but I use a mix of kosher and iodized table salt for day to day cooking. I replenished the salt in the container and went about my business. Read: unloaded the dishwasher, chopped some veggies and washed some dishes. By then the dal was ready except it needed some salt. So I added some and tasted. It tasted the same. So I kept adding the salt by pinches so as not to over salt. I added a pinch and tasted. No difference. I  added some more and tasted. No difference again. This went on for a few minutes and I started doubting my taste buds.
I decided to taste the salt to check if I could taste it in the raw. You get where I am going. I had added sugar to the salt dabba. Now, a sensible person would have chucked the sugar at this time which is what I was about to do. But then, I tasted the sugared salt a bit more and it just tasted sugary to me. I figured it would be ok to add it to the sugar dabba instead of wasting all that sugar.
In the evening, we all sat down around the table for left over pizza and tea. You get where I am going by now, right? The sugar in my tea was heavily salted!
And yes, I chucked the whole mix. That is my mishap in the kitchen for the week. What was your most recent kitchen mishap?

Mar 11, 2013

They all cooked in their Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up their face!

I asked and you delivered. You are the best bunch that a blogger could ask to support an event to refute an opinion stated as a fact by a slow cooker cookbook author (now say that fast!). You cooked in your Indian pressure cookers, clicked pictures of them and narrated stories and adventures you have had with them. Thank you for validating and proving that Indian pressure cookers are indeed safe and easy to use. Here is the roundup in the order I received them. If I missed any of your entrees, do let me know and I will add you promptly with my sincerest apologies.

When Soma moved to America with her husband, she couldn’t bring her pressure cooker with her. It was fortuitous too because she made friends with another girl and borrowed her pressure cooker whenever she needed to use. The lending and borrowing of pressure cooker blossomed into a lifelong friendship. And yes, she did eventually buy her own pressure cooker and recently, a spanking new Futura in which she cooked this delicious lahsuni dal.

During her courting days, Anita would visit her in-laws and help out with the Sunday morning ritual of cleaning the weekly vegetables and preparing a simple lunch that included sada varan bhaat. After marriage, she learnt that overcooking toor dal to make sada varan bhaat wasn’t frowned on South of the Vindhyas. The girl from North of the Vindhyas now overcooks her toor dal without any qualms and feeds her family this comforting meal every Sunday.

 After getting hitched, Priya’s techie man brought a 3 ltr Contura based on her specifications and she has never needed another cooker since. She says it “serves all her purposes”. She makes this Kerala potato curry in her pressure cooker all the time and so far the cooker hasn’t blown up in her face.

Siri grew up watching her mom cook in not one but sometimes two pressure cookers simultaneously. It is now an integral part of her household as well. So much so that she “literally wakes up every single morning with the sound of the whistle whooshing across the kitchen till our bedroom”. In case you are wondering, it is her mother-in-law who is using the pressure cooker in the mornings. She made a filling one-pot achari chana pulao in her 3 ltr pressure cooker.

Princy calls her prized Hawkins pressure cooker her “best pal” in the kitchen. She uses it every day, sometimes twice a day. She cooks this scrumptious and filling egg biryani when she is feeling lazy but still wants to eat something spicy and yummy.

Lata remembers her mother and grandmother using the pressure cooker since the appliance was first introduced in the market. She remembers them cooking dal for rassam and sambhar and steaming idlis and vegetables in it. She made a delicious dhal kalbeliya, a blend of three lentils pressure cooked and then sautéed with tempered onions, garlic and tomatoes.

Preeti talks about her first taste of momos (steamed dumplings) she had in Bhutan as an air force base kid. She hadn’t liked the look of them but when she tried one she couldn’t have enough. She decided to relive that memorable trip with her friends and family by steaming some momos of her own in her pressure cooker.

Growing up, Sandeepa never cared for her grandma’s famous and much in demand Gota Sheddho. A traditional meal in Bengali families the day after Saraswati Pujo, she usually swallowed a morsel of the cold dish and called it a day. Now all grown up with kids of her own, she revived the tradition with a few changes of her own. A one pot dish, she cooked the Sheddho in her pressure cooker and ate it hot with a squeeze of lime.

Manisha learnt to use the pressure cooker when she was 9 years old. She now lives in a high altitude area of 5320ft and values her two pressure cookers ever more. They are indispensable tools in her kitchen. She not only cooked a delicious whole red lentil curry (massorichiamti) in her pressure cooker but wrote an excellent post to demystify urban legends about pressure cookers not blowing up in people’s faces.

Pavani owns half a dozen pressure cookers that serve different purposes in her kitchen. She uses them to cook rice, lentils, veggies and curries. She showed her love and appreciation for her pressure cookers by making this tasty Goan Mixed Vegetable curry and jeera rice in her two Prestiges.

Shri wrote an almost poetic odeto the workhorse of the Indian kitchen and wrote down detailed directions on how to cook chickpeas and lentils using the separator pans in the pressure cookers. Check out her beautiful photographs and her post here.

Mandira owns three pressure cooker and all of them are put to good use including the small Hawkins which she uses to cook lunch for her kids. She made a nutritious moong dal with peas and carrots in her pressure cooker.

The girl who hosts A Mad Tea Party recently posted her dad's tomato-beetroot soup recipe that is strikingly similar to my mom's tomato-beetroot soup recipe. As if that was not enough, both of them pressure cook the vegetables and then puree them to make an amazingly delicious, nutritious soup that is ready with the rest of the meal. The next time you are craving some soup, make this in your pressure cooker and you will be glad you did.

This brings us to the end of the roundup which was a little shorter than I expected. My contribution in defense of the Indian pressure cooker is here and here.
I had a lot of fun visiting your blogs and reading about your experiences with the Indian pressure cooker. It is heartening to know that they are such an integral part of your kitchens. Pressure cook on.

Feb 24, 2013

Officially a desisoccermom again and some accidental chole aloo

If you are wondering what the title means, read on.  It will all be explained in the 900+ words that will follow this paragraph. If you are wondering how the accidental chole aloo are related to me being a desisoccermom, that too will be explained eventually with a recipe at the end of the post. You just have to bear through the 900+ words to get the picture.

You see, when I started this blog my son was three and had just started playing soccer. He was playing in one of those little Y leagues for boys and girls and it was a very tame affair given the kids’ ages. He enjoyed the experience of playing with other kids, kicking the ball around and generally running around. I would drive him to practice on weekdays and games on weekends in my car, not a van but a car, but it still gave me the rights to be called a desisoccermom. Born and brought up in India gave me the rights to ‘desi’ as in from des or country of birth. That, in short, is the blog naming story.

All ready for the game
Six months later, the kid had graduated to playing serious soccer which meant the practice games were more disciplined and the matches with other teams were much intense. The kids from the other teams were bigger, aggressive and driven compared to my kid who was in it just for the fun and none of the jostling and pushing. The first day of the match was on a cold winter morning. My son took one look at the opposing team players kicking ball and pushing players out of the way to score a goal and he clung to me with a pincer grip. “I don’t want to go play,” he wailed. “I am cold. I want to go home.”

The husband couldn’t stand his three and a half year old cowering in my arms. He started pacing up and down the field to work off his agitation. The coach sensed the kid’s fear and gently coaxed him to go on the field. He held his hand and ran on the field with him. It was totally against regulation but they allowed him anyways. A few minutes late the kid was back in my arms and the husband back to his pacing. The routine continued for two more weeks before I had had enough. We withdrew our boy from the team (over the phone) and I announced that we were not going back to the soccer fields till both the boys could learn to handle themselves on the field.  

Four years later, the kid said he wanted to play soccer again and promised he would behave. The husband promised to be a better sport on the field. So, I enrolled the kid in the same soccer team his best friend also plays in. The games are played indoors so hopefully the weather won’t be a mood dampener this time. We had our first practice session last week on a cold, windy evening but both the boys were a good sport. The younger one kicked the ball around, went around the cones and ran with his teammates. The older one coached him a bit and cheered him on. I walked the perimeter of the soccer field trying to keep warm.
 Warm up before the match

Two days later, the match went off smoothly as well. The kid’s team, Hawks, won 7 to 3. The kids were happy as were the parents. The kid didn’t too badly on the field even though he incurred two penalty points for his team when he touched the ball in the circle (yeah, I am talking soccer jargon already). The older boy was happy his son didn’t chicken out like four years ago. I was happy I didn’t have to handle two cranky, agitated boys. We came home exhausted and hungry.

This is where the accidental chole aloo come in. I looked in the fridge and found some cooked garbanzo beans from two days ago with a small jar of left over onion-ginger-garlic paste. Now the ginger-garlic paste was no ordinary paste. It had khus-khus (poppy seeds) and cashews in it as well as a small tomato. This was a paste leftover from a special curry I tried to make the day after V-day. It was supposed to be kaju-paneer masala, a rich, decadent dish but it ended up not so good because I over roasted the masala too much, added too much garam masala and used whole milk instead of cream to thicken the gravy. It was a masala paste made in haste, using a combination of ingredients grounded together instead of roasted and ground separately. It was not the best thing I ever made but he ate it without any fuss. I am married to a saint, I tell you.

Anyways, I had some of that raw masala paste leftover from last week’s experiment gone awry and maybe half a cup of garbanzo beans. I added some oil to the karahi and added the raw paste. The paste was sautéed on a medium-low flame for about ten minutes. I don’t care much for ground onion pastes. It tends to get bitter if you roast it too much and has the potential to burn if you take your eyes off even for a minute. It also tends to taste raw if not roasted enough. It is a delicate balance and I don’t do well with delicate. This paste was easier to work with because of the added fat from the ground khus-khus and cashews.

Once the paste was roasted to ‘just the right amount’ and the oil started releasing from the sides, I added some tomato paste and roasted some more. Then, I added the chickpeas, some peeled and chopped potatoes and a generous amount of liquid. The whole mix simmered on the stove for a few minutes till I got tired of the simmer. So, I dumped the whole mix in the 3 ltr Prestige pressure cooker and turned it off after two whistles. The resulting chole were good, just like they would be made in any Maharashtrian home, with a simple rassa (gravy) only this time the rassa had poppy seeds and cashews as an added bonus.
Here is the accidental recipe for chole aloo:

The day before you make this, soak 1 cup dry garbanzo beans (kabuli channa) in plenty of water. By plenty I mean at least 3-4 cups.
Next day, wash the garbanzo in plenty of water or transfer to a colander and let water run over the soaked beans for a few minutes. Transfer to a pressure cooker, cover the beans with water and add two teaspoons of salt and set the lid. Let the pressure build up and then lower the heat to medium. Wait for at least 3 whistles before turning the heat off.

While the beans are cooking in the pressure cooker, and much later when the pressure is subsiding, prepare the masala by grinding the following:
1 cup roughly chopped onions
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece of ginger
2 small tomatoes or add 1 tbsp of tomato paste later
1 tbsp ea of khus-khus (poppy seeds) and cashew pieces soaked in water

Now, heat a tbsp. of oil in a thick bottom karahi or wide pan of your choice. Turn the heat to med-low and add the masala paste. At this point the water in the onions and tomatoes tends to splatter the oil and the low temperature helps reduce the splatter. Of course, if you have minions to clean up after you, by all means splatter away on med-high.

Roast the masala till the oil starts to separate. Keep a close eye on the roasting masala while you peel and chop two potatoes.
My beat up but still functioning 3ltr Hawkins
Once the potatoes are chopped, soak them in some water and then pay some more attention to the roasting masala. Stir it if it looks like it is sticking to the bottom of the pan and add a little bit of water if it needs coaxing to separate from the bottom of the pan.

At this point add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp chole masala (recipe to come later) and 1/2 red chili powder.
Let the spices roast in the masala for a few minutes before adding the chopped potatoes. Add some salt to taste and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and let the potatoes cook.

Meanwhile, check if the pressure cooker has cooled down. Take the lid off carefully making sure your face is away from all the trapped steam under that lid. Check if the garbanzos are tender and then carefully tip them or use a ladle to add them to the simmering potato masala. Add some more water and let the chole-aloo simmer till the potatoes are tender and the gravy thickens.
I, of little patience, dumped the whole mix back into the pressure cooker and cooked it under pressure for two whistles. In ten minutes I had the softest garbanzo and the tenderest potatoes simmering in the delicious gravy.

We had the chole aloo that day with store bought wheat tortillas and some leftover rice. More importantly, I cooked my chole aloo in an Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face!

We had the chole aloo that day with store bought wheat tortillas and some leftover rice. More importantly, I cooked my chole aloo in an Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face!

Feb 15, 2013

An escaped fugitive, garage door malfunction and deadline extension

Yes, you read it right. This is what our week has been like so far. On Tuesday, a prisoner transfer went horribly wrong when the convict escaped from the parking lot of a Walmart about 30 miles from where we live. The police advised caution; the husband advised locked car doors and my yoga studio started locking the lobby door while we sweated in 105 degree heat and humidity inside. All the school campuses in the surrounding areas, including my kid’s, went into lockdown mode. Four days later the fugitive is still on the loose and the schools are still in lockdown.

With a fugitive running around who knows where the last thing I needed was a broken garage door but that is what happened the very next day. As I slowly backed out of my garage I heard a loud banging/ grating noise, a metal on metal crash of some kind. I had the presence of mind to brake and pull forward. I stopped the car and got out to see that top of my van had crashed into the bottom panel of the garage door which apparently had not rolled all the way back up as it is supposed to.
Being the calm and collected person that I am, I checked the rear of the car for damage. It seemed to be unharmed. Then I noticed that the garage door was off one of its rollers and bent into a V from the middle. Yeah, it was not good. At this point I called up a friend and asked her to pick me up since I was due for a seminar at the kid’s school. Then it dawned on me that I couldn’t leave the garage door open, all banged up and broken, especially with a fugitive who may or may not be looking for just such an opportunity to break into a house for food and shelter. So I told the friend to cancel the pick-up plan and instead ran over to my neighbor’s and banged on her door. At this point, I was panicking slightly. She greeted me in her bathrobe and I told her to come quick, I had an emergency.

The good neighbor that she is, she came, tightening her blue bathrobe around her, took a look at the garage door, climbed a chair to check for damage to my car roof (a couple of scratches) and declared I needed to call a repair man to get the door fixed. Which I did (thanks to Angie’slist) and two hours later a very efficient repair man parked his van in front of my house, assessed the situation and gave me a very reasonable estimate to fix the door. I agreed on the spot and he proceeded to mend the garage door. An hour later the door was fixed and I breathed easy.  
In the entire garage hullabaloo (yeah, I am using that word and sticking to it) I totally forgot to do my weekly blog post. Now that the drama around our house has cooled down, here I am with my sixth blog post of the year (I am running one blog post behind) announcing a two week extension of the “I cooked in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face”.

The reasons for the extension: One, I haven’t had a chance to write another pressure cooker post. Two, a few friends requested an extension. Three, I have received only a couple of entrees so far, mainly because I haven’t talked about the event much or maybe because the PC is blowing people’s faces more than I thought it did.

So for now, the deadline has been extended to Feb 28. Send in your entrees to jayawagle (at) and don’t forget to end the post with “I cooked (insert the name of the dish you cooked) in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face!” Also, tell me what PC you use and why. Meanwhile, check these heart warming posts by Anita and Soma 

Fugitive Update: Four days ago, the escaped fugitive was found and killed in a confrontation. I can keep my garage door open now, not that I would ever do it on purpose.

Feb 5, 2013

Racing paper boats

Last week was one of the erratic weather weeks we Texans have become used to. For those of us who grew up in a clearly demarcated climate season, it can take some getting used to pleasant 70 degree weather followed by a cold front and two days later foggy and humid weather. There is no rainy season in Tx either. The rains grace us intermittently; soak the land for a few hours or a few days and then vanish over the horizon to return at another time of its choosing. Last week, the rains started just as I picked up the kid from school and was heading back. The light drizzle quickly turned to a torrential downpour by the time I parked the car into the garage. Five minutes later, the rain was falling in steady streaks.

I was about to close the door when the kid asked, “Mamma, can I go play in the rain, pleeease?”
He was waiting patiently, beseeching me with his big, brown eyes. “Ok,” I said, “but wear your raincoat and your rain boots.” I needed to unload some groceries anyways.

“Ok, ok, ok,” he yelled as he ran off to find his rain gear. The raincoat is from last year and getting a bit small for him. His sweater sleeves poked out under the yellow raincoat’s sleeves. He jammed his feet into the black rain boots and went in search of his plastic boats.
I opened the garage door to let him splash and play on the driveway while I watched over him from the dry safety of the garage. He found a small puddle in the driveway and immediately jumped in it. “This is no fun,” he said. The water wasn’t too deep and the splash barely made it to his ankles. So off he went in search of deeper puddles. He found one in the neighbor’s yard. Their driveway slopes steeper than ours and one corner forms a tiny pool, big enough to make a splash up to his knees.
Not much of a puddle
After testing the puddle for its staying power he brought in his plastic boats and started floating them. “Can you bring my dump truck?” he asked squatting at the shore of the puddle.
“Sure,” I said. I handed him the dump truck which he immediately proceeded to fill with the water gushing down the drain. Then, he dumped all the water over the boats.

“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I am flooding the boats with water to see if they will sink.”

“Are they sinking?”
“Nah, this puddle isn’t big enough,” he said. “Can you bring me a bucket?”

“I am not bringing you a bucket and I want you to come in now,” I said to him. I was cold and wet and ready to go in the warm house.
“Five more minutes, pleeeease,” he said as the fists started to come together in the familiar, begging/ prayerful gesture.
Following the floating boat
I decided to let him play for a bit more. Watching him splash and play in the water, my thoughts wandered to my own childhood. Memories of splashing and playing in the rain with my sister and my cousins came flooding in. I don’t remember who first started the boat competition but it became standard practice for us to make paper boats and race them in the temporary gutter that formed at the side of the road every time it rained.
His boat is ahead of mine
Suddenly, I had an idea. I grabbed some papers from the junk mail and started tearing squares, folding them twice over and then folding them in triangles to make some paper boats.
“Come on kid, let’s have a boat race,” I called out to him.

And the winner is... The red boat

He was skeptical at first but once the boats started floating he was hooked. I watched my son watching intently over his boat, coaxing it to float ahead of mine and sighed contently. We stayed out, racing our paper boats, till our boats were wet and limp and couldn’t float anymore. It was a day well spent even if it was cold and wet and windy. What are your memories of rainy season as a child?

Jan 25, 2013

Chal re bhoplya tunuk, tunuk (Go pumpkin go)

In part 2 of Go Pumpkin Go Chatura had safely crossed the forest and her daughter was about to reveal to her the plan she had come up with while picking vegetables in the garden.

“Well, I saw this pumpkin growing in the corner of the yard and I thought, what if we let it grow as big as it can get. We will have to nourish it and take care of it for a few months. If we can let it grow big enough to be able to hide you inside it…” Samajh quickly finished. She looked at her husband and mother, expecting them to laugh at her idea.
To her surprise, her mother nodded her head and smiled at Samajh. “I think it just might work. We will have to figure out the finer details in the days ahead but I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to pull it off.”

As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Chatura and Samajh planned and plotted of ways to get through the jungle safely. Meanwhile, Chatura enthralled her grandkids with stories of her adventures, some true, some embellished and some imaginary. The kids couldn’t get enough of their nanima.

The mother daughter took care of the house and kept a watch over the pumpkin. They tended to it every day, nourishing it with water and fertilizing it with compost.  In a few months, their hard work harvested the biggest pumpkin the town had ever seen. It was almost three feet tall and about two feet in diameter. Chatura was a small woman and it was easy for her to fit inside the giant pumpkin. The problem was to transport the pumpkin through the forest.
Since nobody in the town was foolish or brave enough to do it Karma came up with a plan clever enough to match his wife’s. I should mention that Karma was a carpenter by profession but in his spare time he liked to invent little contraptions for the amusement of his children. The neighborhood kids were always hanging around the workshop in the hopes of catching him in his spare time. That was when he would whittle a piece of wood in the shape of a monkey, add some springs and wheels to it and viola, the little monkey would start cartwheeling on the ground.

A few days before the pumpkin was to be harvested, Karma set on building a little round cart that would fit snuggly beneath the giant gourd. He added four wheels underneath and added a few levers for Chatura to steer. The next day, the neighbors helped Samajh and Chatura hollow out the pumpkin and carve two eyes and a nose for the old woman to see and breathe. They cut a hole at the bottom, big enough for Chatura to get in.
Chatura hugged her grandkids and her daughter, said farewell to her son-in-law and sat down on the cart he had built for her. The neighbors handed her all sorts of eatables for the journey ahead. Then they lowered the pumpkin over her, taking care to align the slits over her eyes and nose. Samajh arranged some leaves and pumpkin vines around the cart to camouflage it. Then they all gently pushed the cart to the edge of the forest, whispered their goodbyes, said a silent prayer and watched as Chatura bravely steered her pumpkin cart on the rough forest path. Now it was up to Chatura to survive the one and a half day journey.

Inside the stuffy pumpkin Chatura steered the cart all the while keeping an eye out for Sher Khan. Around mid-day she thought she heard a roar but it seemed to fade away in the distance. Around two in the afternoon she decided to take a break and eat some lunch. Steering the cart was hard on her old bones and she was hungry. She deftly steered the pumpkin behind some bushes and started eating her lunch.

Suddenly, she heard rustling on the other side of the bushes.  She stopped eating and tried to stay as calm as possible. The rustling stopped and Chatura heard voices talking in earnest.

“We need to get rid of that lion,” said a raspy voice.
“But Sardar we have tried so many times. Sher Khan is cunning. He stays away from our part of the jungle,” a squeaky voice said timidly.

“Well, we will have to do something. No one comes through the jungle anymore for fear of him. We haven’t looted a single traveler in months. The last one who came through was the old woman and she didn’t have a dime on her,” Sardar said angrily.
Chatura could not believe her luck. These were the bandits who had waylaid her a few months ago. They were a rag tag bunch of village misfits and bullies who made their living robbing defenseless travelers. But they could be useful to her in escaping the predator. She decided to get their attention.

“Excuse me,” she said aloud from inside her pumpkin.

Jan 15, 2013

All things TJ

I resolved to try to write every day this year and talked about it in this post hoping if it is for the world to read I may actually stay with it. The next day after I blogged about my resolve, I promptly broke it. It had been a long day with a Sunday morning Bikram class followed by a trip to the children’s museum. The evening ended with our first visit to Trader Joe’s, the supposed mecca of foodies. I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped to be. Maybe it was all the hype and my own expectations or maybe I was just tired after trailing the kid and his friend in the museum all day (the kid’s best friends was spending the day with us, giving his parents some time to themselves). The kids behaved well enough for a grocery store that did not have any toys for them to gawk at but it still got quite tiring by the time we were done exploring aisle 2. Think the two of them wanting to use the bathroom at the same time or wanting to play tag in the parking lot.

TJ’s did try to entice me by all the chocolate covered almonds, fruits and toffees but I am proud to say I successfully refrained from buying any of the temptations. I did buy two bags of candied ginger but I consider that more medicinal and less sweet-tooth-recreational. The husband on the other hand was like a kid in a candy store. While I supervised the kiddos, he explored the alternate food world of tofu sausages, tempeh, edamame and soy protein. We came home loaded with bags of goodies including one of my new favorites, lentil-potato curls, which taste suspiciously like ganthiya, those deep fried, fat twizzler like sticks, made with besan (chickpea flour).
Chocolate orange sticks = crack!
It was dinner time by the time we were home and while I fed the kid his favorite, dosa and dal, he made good on some of TJ’s purchases. He made a delicious gyro with pita bread, TJ’s tzatziki sauce, some zucchini cakes (from Costco) and the tofu sausage. It was delicious and I was too hungry to take a photo. By the time I cleaned up, I was ready to hit the bed and not worry about breaking my resolution to write. I had succeeded in not eating any sweets, even though a delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookie was handed in my palms by a TJ associate. I took a bite and handed the rest to my kid who claimed they were better than the ones we had at home. Take that Chips Ahoy!

The important thing with resolutions though is to not give up on them. So here I am, a few days later, writing my third blog post of the month and catching up on my resolution. Today, I have a simple aloo mattar rassa for you. Aloo is Hindi for potatoes, mattar (not a typo for ‘matter’) is Hindi and Marathi for green peas and rassa is gravy, usually thin and made by roasting a paste of ginger, garlic, onions and tomatoes. In our house, usually beans or legumes and sometimes vegetables are cooked in this simple gravy with little variations of the spices used.

He never finds the taste of peas to his liking (as in comparable to the “ones we get in India”). This time, we decided to try TJ’s frozen peas. He isn’t home yet and hasn’t tasted the rassa, so the jury is still out on the taste of the peas. I will let you know if these passed the muster. For me, peas are good any which way; in pohe, in sabzi, in usal or simply sautéed with some cumin and ghee. I love my peas.

I used my itty-bitty 3 liter Prestige pressure cooker to roast the ginger-garlic-onion-tomato paste, added the chopped potatoes and the frozen peas and cooked it for one whistle. Alternatively, you could roast the masala in a heavy bottom pan, add the potatoes and peas, enough water and boil till the potatoes are cooked through and peas are tender. It will taste a little different from the cooker version but it will still be delicious.

Aloo mattar, amaranth, pumpkin sabzi and a whole wheat tortilla

Coarsely grind:
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger
4-5 sprigs of cilantro (optional)

Heat 1Tbs of oil in a 3ltr pressure cooker and add the following in the order listed:
1/2 tsp of fenugreek seeds (methidana)
1 tsp of turmeric

Add the coarsely ground onion-tomato paste. Sauté for a few minutes and add:
1 tsp of red chili powder
1 tsp of garam masala powder
1/2 tsp of cumin-coriander powder

Roast the masala with all the spices till the oil separates and the raw smell of onions and ginger-garlic turns into a fragrant aroma.

While the paste is cooking, chop 1 large potato into even pieces. Soak in a bowl of water for five minutes to get some of the starch out. Drain and keep aside.
At this point, check the frying onion-tomato paste. If you find the oil separating from the frying masala, add 1/2 cup of water and some salt.

Now, add the chopped potatoes and 1 cup of frozen peas. If you are lucky enough to get fresh ones, add those but don’t tell me about it. Add enough water or stock to cover the potatoes and peas and put the pressure cooker lid on. Set on medium heat and turn the gas off after one whistle.
Wait for the cooker to cool down before opening the lid. Serve with rotis or rice.
This is my entry for the theme 'Garnet' for the 52-week project

Oh, and by the way, I cooked the aloo mattar rassa in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face. If you are wondering what I am talking about, check out this post.   
A TJs Update: We went back to TJs last weekend, this time without the kid(s). It was a much better experience shopping at leisure, exploring all the wonderful goodies on display. I asked for suggestions on what to get at TJs on fb and was rewarded with some gems I would have missed otherwise. Manisha suggested the dried chili mango which is really good and my next favorite after the candied ginger.
Candied ginger and chili mango

She and some other friends also suggested the triple ginger cookies which the kid took a liking to. He has been eating 5-6 of them at a time but since they are really thin, I let him eat them in lieu of his two cookies allowance of Pepperidge Farm double chocolate cookies. I think it is a fair trade. I couldn’t find the rasmalai a cousin highly recommended. But the lentil potato curls were bought again and so was a ton of soy based food (not that we are turning vegan or anything. I tasted some roasted pork at Central Market yesterday and it was delicious). I was tempted to buy the chocolate biscotti but refrained from grabbing it. Overall, we realized that though small, TJs still had a lot of options to choose from and the ingredients and the quality of goods was overall superior to most of the name brand goods. We go back again in two weeks.

Jan 9, 2013

I cooked in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face!

In defense of the Indian pressure cooker
All my life I have watched my mother use her 5ltr pressure cooker to cook dal and rice. Sometimes, she cooks some eggs or potatoes on the cover of the top separator pan, successfully cooking all three at once. She uses her pressure pan to make pulaos and her 3 ltr Prestige to make delicious rassas and boil chickpeas and black-eyed peas. She used the 5ltr, without the whistle, to steam idlis and dhoklas.

My first lesson in cooking prep was washing and soaking toor dal and rice for the daily meals. The dal needed to be soaked in water after three rinses. The rice needed to be drained of water after a couple of rinses. I still remember that rule while cooking my dal and rice, though I don’t use a 5ltr cooker.

1.5ltr Hawkins
I do have three 3ltr cookers, two Prestige (one aluminum and one stainless steel), one Hawkins, a small 1.5ltr Hawkins and a Prestige pressure pan. I use one or the other at least five to six times a week. I have used them for the last 12 years and I have had occasional problems with the gasket getting loose or the pressure valve not working properly. However, I have never had any blow up in my face. I don’t know anyone, in almost 40 years of my life, who has had a pressure cooker blow up in their face. I haven’t heard of anyone whom I know or of anyone who knew anyone I know who had a pressure cooker blow up in their face.

So, I was very surprised when a cookbook author claimed on her fb page that Indian pressure cookers were unsafe and tended to blow up in people’s faces. Not sure where she got her facts from or if she knew someone who had a pressure cooker blow up in their face. But she seemed pretty certain that it was a regular occurrence and it was best to use a “modern” (read Western) pressure cooker which went through stringent regulations, like the one she used.

Now, I fully support her choice to use a “modern” pressure cooker. But I do not endorse her view stated as fact that Indian pressure cookers are unsafe and blow up in people’s faces. That is a bit of hyperbole in my opinion. India pressure cookers go through just as rigorous testing and probably more because they are such an essential part of every Indian household. Not to mention they did use to blow up in people’s faces. But that was decades ago when people were new to cookers and sometimes did not use them the correct way or got a cheap brand. I still remember that Amin Sayani TV ad, “Jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh Prestige se kaise kare inkar” (one who loves his wife will never say no to a Prestige). You know, in case the cheaper brand blew up in her face.

So, here is your assignment for the month of January. Cook something using an Indian pressure cooker. Blog about it and preferably write about your experiences with cooking with an Indian pc for the first time or the umpteenth time. You can write a funny anecdote or a story related to the Indian pressure cooker. You can even write about your preference for the brand of pressure cooker you use.

Now, for the most important part, end your blog post with the line, “I cooked the ... (above) with my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face”. Your deadline is Feb 28 or till I post the roundup. Send me a picture of the pressure cooker you used, along with your name, name of the blog and a link to your post on jayawagle (at) Remember to include a link to this post. Now go, get your Indian pressure cooker out of the cabinet and blow those whistles.

Jan 5, 2013

My resolution: less social, more blogger, better organized

I can’t believe it has already been three six days since we said good bye to 2012. Usually I don’t make resolutions at the start of the year but this time round I thought I’d give it a try. So, my goal in the New Year is to reign in my sweet tooth as best as I can, write as regularly, if not every day, as I can, get the blog on track, organize my home and limit my time on the smartphone. Hopefully, blogging about all these resolutions will take care of fulfilling them as well.

The reason I decided to start organizing my house was the recent move of our dear friends to India for two years. During their last two weeks before departure, we would pop over to their house and help them pack their belongings into a humongous shipping container. During those two weeks I realized how organized my friend had been in her house and how much stuff my house was filled with compared to hers. I shuddered at the thought of how much stuff we would have to pack up, sell or give away if we ever had to move houses. 
Since then, I have been trying to organize a little corner of the house every week. I started with the kid’s baby stuff. A lot of it I gave away to my neighbor across the street who volunteers at the battered women’s shelter. The crib and sterilizer went to a friend’s pregnant friend. The strollers and baby car seat were sold at a garage sale another neighbor was having one weekend.

The next target was the kitchen. Thankfully, there wasn’t much I needed to organize or get rid of except for an 8-place setting stoneware dinner set I had bought at a garage sale long time ago. I had it for almost four years. It sat in my cabinets, taking up precious space and collecting dust. Out it went on the dining room table to be photographed and put on one of my online community garage sales.
Yes, our community has an online fb page where you can post about stuff you want to sell or get rid of or are looking for. It is awesome and better than a physical garage sale because you don’t have to spend days corralling your unwanted items, marking prices and sitting in your driveway, haggling with strangers over a few dollar worth of stuff. The online garage sale is so much simpler. You post whatever you want to sell as you come across it and people contact you if they want it. There is minimum haggling and if I don’t sell the item in a week, I donate it.

The chaotic medicine cabinet/ candles and pooja stuff

Anyways, after the dinner set was got over with, the medicine cabinet, which is also in the kitchen, was dealt with. There wasn’t anything to sell this time but a lot of throwing away of expired medicine and taking an inventory of our first aid kit. This is what it looked like once it got all organized.
Bottom shelf: kid's medicine bin, OTC medicine from India, ointments
Middle shelf: Candles and pooja stuff, vitamins and bandaids and pain killers in the bin
Top shelf: Kid's nebulizer and accessories (needed once a year, if that)
Next up was my pantry and this took the most time. I have a decent size walk in pantry which I frequent numerous times in the day, not to mention the kid and the spouse checking in for snacks and things to munch on. I thought I had it organized well and apart from the occasional cleaning it was in pretty good shape. That was before I beheld Richa’s pantry in all its organizational glory. Now I am not the sort to give in to pantry envy but this one time I did. You s
ee, all my lentils, beans and legumes were stored in the plastic containers I had scored at the dollar store. The problem was they took up too much space on the shelves, they were plastic and worst of all they were plastic. Thinking of all that BPA leeching into my food gave me the shivers. Check out some before pictures:

I did some research, checked out pintrest, my new addiction (more on that later), and decided to invest in some awesome canning jars by Ball. Not only did they look good and come in various sizes but the canning lids were perfect to keep in the freshness and keep out the crawlies that sometimes seemed to invade my plastic containers. Here are the before and after photos of my pantry in all its organized glory.   


It took me better part of two days to clean, sort and transfer everything to the glass canisters including two trips to Ace Hardware. Yep, that is where I got the jars and get this; apparently they are the only store that carries the 64oz jars. I got about a dozen of those to store the 4lb packs of lentils and beans. The smaller, 2lb packets of flours, lentils and bulk spices went into the 32oz jars. Everything else including snacks, dry fruits and not so often used spices went into the pint and a half jars.

Oh, and if you are wondering how much this pantry makeover set me back, it was well under $100. Canning jars are surprisingly economical. If you would like some details, I will be happy to share with you. It has been a week since the makeover and so far the chaos seems contained. Will keep you updated if things get out of hand or if I make any more changes.


The sweet tooth update: Apart from munching on some candied ginger and three teaspoons of sugar in two cups of tea every day, I have managed to stay away from sugar and sugary treats. No chocolate, cookies or any other kind of sweet has been eaten. Yay! Another 51 weeks to go.

Writing regularly update: Well, I have been writing and rewriting this post everyday for the last five days, so I think this one should count for the week. Turns out it is very difficult to pen your thoughts if you take two month long breaks in between. So, here is to writing regularly even if I end up posting once a week.

Limit my smartphone usage update: I would like to say it has reduced to about two hours a day but I can’t be sure. The only way to limit is to keep it out of reach so I have been trying to leave it in the bedroom to charge or leave it in my closet, or other rooms in the house I don’t use all the time. The thing with smartphones is if it is in front of you, you automatically pick it up and check facebook and pintrest and online garage sales. If it is out of sight, tucked away in the laundry room, then you can’t pick it up and log on and before you know it you have been on it for an hour! So far, out of sight has helped cut down smartphone addiction to certain degree.  

Have you made any resolutions this year and how do you intend to keep them? I have joined the 52-weeks of 2013 project on fb to keep me on track. If you would like to join, just click on join group and a moderator will accept you pronto. While you are at it, check out Sra’s hilarious post on her resolutions which includes one, the exact opposite of mine, to spend more time on social media.

Wish me luck blogging in 2013.

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