Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering 'it will be happier'…”
Sometimes, there are years that you can’t wait to be done with. Other times, the year flies by in a blink. Thinking back a year might make you laugh out loud, smile with love or cry your heart out. The year changes, we turn a page in the calendar and hope for things to change. In recent years, through this space, I have started taking a peek back at the year past; and re-living moments that weren’t significant enough to be etched in memory forever, but momentous enough to deserve a mention. Well over a week into the year 2015, I want to recount to you some of the tiny, unforgettable moments that made up my 2014.
A trip to the Indian grocery store yesterday reminded me instantly that the month of Shravan must have begun! Back in India, the Monsoons in the month of Shravan not only brought an end to the intense heat wave in Delhi, but also ushered in the festive season. As with everything else, my unforgettable memories are those of food- starting with vendors selling litchi, jamun and Phalsa, followed by the appearance of Pheni and Ghevar in the sweet shops. And who can forget those charcoal-roasted bhutta sellers that sprang up on every corner. Sprinkled with masala and neembu, fire roasted corn cobs are the quintessential Indian street food during the monsoons.
My mom and I bought those bhuttas every evening during the rainy season. This ancient old man in a ratty turban would materialize out of nowhere when it was time. He lined a few bricks in a semicircle, and filled the middle with charcoal that he lit for fire. On top of this make-shift fire-pit, he placed a largish, semi-circular jaali. As he fanned the fire with a large woven palm-leaf pankha with his left hand, his right rang a loud, clanky brass bell. Slowly, a crowd gathered around him. Children returning from school, some with their moms in tow. Neighborhood “aunties”, just waking up from their afternoon nap and ready for a small snack and big gossip. Younger kids, fed up from being locked inside their home all morning and hankering to be taken out for some air. As he removed the silk and husk from the corn; orders rang all around him - masala, mirch-masala, extra neembu, light-roast, charred…..He gave everyone a nod, without looking up. And yet, he never made a mistake. Everyone got what they wanted. He was sold out within an hour- and he always returned the next day with more. As the rains waned, the old man disappeared again- only to return the next year.
Summer’s officially here. And, as if I still had doubts despite the weather, Baby P shows me her paper countdown chain every day after school. As of now, our wait will be over in just another 2 days. Because that is when schools officially close down for summer vacation. These last weeks of school has been busy with all the field days and Sports Days and Graduations. Pretty tiring, in my opinion. Everyday the girls have been coming back red-faced from school hankering for something cold to drink. After I had done the inexhaustible amounts of juice, lemonade, buttermilk, Aam ka panna, I gave up.
"What “something cool” do you want every day?”, I asked Anya and Baby P.
“I don’t know. Just something good”…was Baby P
“You could buy iced tea. I like that.”…was Anya.
“You are a kid; you can’t have iced tea. It has caffeine in it”….said I; to no-one in particular, glaring at them both.
“Sure I can. We have it at school at all the parties”. Anya told me.
“And daddy lets me have it when he buys it from Wawa. So I can have it too”, informed Baby P.
Bright and shiny; like the sunshine that makes them mature - lemons invade Delhi's vegetable scene at the peak of summers.
Summer mornings at home always started with a freshly squeezed lemon in a glass of warm water sweetened with honey - to cleanse the system, my mom said.
We came back from school, sweaty and hot - to be handed an ice-cold glass of Shikanji - to beat the heat.
When dad returned from work in the evenings, even sweatier than us because he chose to walk the 2km stretch from the bus stop to home, he preferred his lemonade tart and spicy - with just a hint of fresh roasted cumin seeds.
Last year, on Holi, I rambled on to you about Thandai and my quick fix of my mom's version….
Today, I want to air my rant about a snow day….
Whoever wakes up on Holi to be greeted by a good sprinkling of powdery white instead of the vibrant reds and yellows of Spring? We did, today. Officially, Holi in Philadelphia was a snow day. We even had a two-hour delay at school….Guess Holi lost it's battle to St. Patrick's Day here!!
On the bright side, we had our share of fun over the weekend. Good friends, family, food and color. It was pretty good. While I don't have any good pictures of us colored to share on a public platform, food; I definitely shall. I managed to make a small batch of gujhiya (watch this space for more on this traditional delicacy…) while my MIL whipped up a good-sized batch of besan-ki-barfi (just a teaser here, visit me again soon…. :-)) and Vade- ki -Kanji . Now I've talked to you about the Kanji that I grew up with….made with black/purple carrots... that was a Holi ritual at my parents. I loved it. The one that my MIL made, I don't recall seeing my mom make it. Don't know if the reason is personal preference, or a regional diversification…..
Summer in India, and mangoes are two sides of the same coin.
Can you envision one without the other? Summer brought with it initially the
green tart unripe kairis- which would instantly be used up to make Aam kaPanna, ambi –pudina ki chutney or
ambiyari daal. As the sun ripened into a ferocious, blistering orange so did
the mangoes. The tart turned to juicy, and the savory turned to sweet. Rather than waste an over-ripe mango, you just
made mango shake with lots of sugar in it.
Back again in my grand mother’s place, making a mango shake
was a fairly communal event. The aam-wala was a maali from the
neighboring orchard who loaded up his donkey with fruit that fell off the
trees. Often he’d just plonk himself on somebody’s verandah asking for water to
drink. Once the lady of the house came out, he’d expertly cajole the “bai” to
taste his fruit. A little sweet talk, a
lot of haggling, and a deal was made. Then
he’d call out in a loud voice letting the neighbors know how this bai approved of
his fruit, and what a deal he was giving her. More often than not, he’d
attract several more customers. A few hours later, his donkey went home a load lighter...while the aamwala got loaded up :-))
Baby P is taking an inordinate amount of interest in cooking now-a-days. First they made apple sauce and rice crispies in school. Then, not long ago, she came back with a Princess Tiana cookbook from her school library, spent a laborious one week reading all the "lecipes", asking me if we had a particular ingredient listed in the recipe or not, before deciding that we should make Jambalaya.
"It has meat in it", I said.
"No, we can make it without the meat- it will still be good".
So, I made Rajma Chawal, heaped them in a bowl and passed it off as Jambalaya.
That night at dinner, we had a face that shone with happiness because she was eating what Princess Tiana eats for dinner.
Realization hit home- hard - two days later. She come from school literally in tears.
"I did nothing when you made Princess Tiana dinner- that's not cooking!!"
"But little kids can't cook- you've got to grow up a bit..."
I was never a milk person....all my life I remember hating the white stuff, and my mom trying her hardest to make me have my pre-requisite 1 cup-a-day during the growing-up years. As far as I recall, she tried all the additives/ flavorings available in the market- which was pretty restricted at that time. We finally settled on Nescafe-flavored, unsweetened milk for my breakfast; and even that, I'd try to skimp out on, most times. My constant whine being that milk 'smelled'. All that would change during the summer months when we went to my naani's place. During my stay there, I became a milk guzzler for some reason.
One of the traits I seem to have inherited from dad is this deep-rooted need to have my family experience everything food that I've liked.....anywhere. And if I knew how easy it would be to make this Blueberry Crisp for A to taste, I'd probably have done it 2yrs. ago and rested easier.
I first ate a Blueberry Crisp almost a decade ago while I was at a official dinner, at a colleague's insistence. I was pregnant big time with my first daughter, and must have eaten more of this than he anticipated because I remember this look on his face when I finally put my fork down!!
"Your baby must have a really big sweet tooth", he'd said then....much to my embarrassment.
Despite that comment, I'd had this little niggle in my head saying that I should have A taste this lovely dessert; for he's the one with a sweet tooth.
This post has been sitting there, ready to be posted for 10 days now....just a sign of how crazy things have been this summer till now. Finally, today I get to upload it. We are 2 and half weeks ion summer vacation at this point....and the girls are thoroughly enjoying themselves....
Our first week of summer vacation went by lazily. The girls were excited to stay home; and be with their grandmother all day. They woke up late, ate all the Indian junk food that came out of their daadi's bags, and watched TV all day. Despite that, it didn't feel like summer to me. The weather's been cool, cloudy and somewhat wet. So this past week, when the TV forecasts rang out a heat wave warning; I got excited for my girls. My summer vacation list includes: lazy afternoons, grandparents AND heat!
The heat wave last week was painful. Even our poor old window air conditioner struggled to keep its cool. One of the days last week I remember I checked weather on A's iPhone, and we in Philadelphia, were hotter than our families back in Delhi.
Between trying to keep my stiches from the surgery dry to prevent itching and frequent demands of "can you make something cold to drink", I was just this close to losing it all. Which is when I was hit with a 3-way sword.
"Mommy, Anya finished off all the black juice", baby P wailed holding an empty Coke bottle.
"Can I just eat ice for dinner tonight?"; from Anya - forever looking to get out of having to eat..
"I have a headache from this heat- I think I'll lay down for a while. Do we have something cold to drink?" This was A.
I was supposed to post this piece in June. But as always; more late than ever! This is what comes of excessive planning; is my lesson to myself. I had my blog posts for June all very well organized in my head. The content, the themes, the events. And it actually went well for the first couple of weeks, and then - life happenned; figurately speaking of course! Which is all right, because now, I get to not only talk about what I read in June this year, but also what culinary inspirations came out of it!
This past Friday, while I rambled on about my backyard and flowers, I also showed you a picture and asked you to guess what was in that bottle. My friend Ila was the only one who took a guess, and she is right on. The bright red thing is indeed Kaanji: a common spring time drink in Northern India, especially Delhi. Right around Holi season in mid to late March, the vegetable vendors back in Delhi brought out some exotic looking vegetables. I especially remember Gaanth Gobi (Kohlrabi) and Kaali Gaajar; both of which my dad took quite a fancy to. Apart from using Kaali Gaajar (Purple carrots) in salads, my mom invariably made a large bottle of Kaanji that my dad loved.
Summer's over in our part of the world. And the realization hit me full force when my daughter received a welcome-back-to- school note from her class-teacher-to-be yesterday evening. School starts, summer's over. Officially! So while she spent the next hour chirping excitedly about her teacher's note, I sat with my little camera, reliving my summer. That is when I realized that I've been really tardy about updating my blog this past few months. I've been pre-ocuupied, and over-whelmed. Plus, my MIL was visiting us; and with all the weekend entertaining that we did; it didn't leave me much time for myself.