Friday, April 30, 2010

Favourite photos!

These photographs were taken by my older son, when he had escorted my parents to Gummidipoondi in April 2005.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Meethi Chhuri- A sweet knife!

Mala Maasi knew how to keep her visiting nieces entertained! She had loads of natural authority, and was a person whose good opinion held great value. Neha and Diya, however indolent in their own home, would, at their maasi's home, remain on the qui-vive. She would get them to participate in whatever she was doing, and they would be delighted at a word of praise from their aunt. They loved her cooking, which seemed richer and more varied than their mother's repertoire. Their male cousins seemed to expect interesting food, and to Neha and Diya, everything tasted better at Maasi's. Mala Maasi's mother-in-law didn't live with her, she mostly stayed with her older son, but when she was due to visit, Maasi would hide all traces of the onions she normally cooked with, as her mother-in-law was old fashioned, and would not eat in her house if she knew that 'taamsik' food was being cooked there. Her grandsons would wait for the old lady to leave so that they could have raw onions in the salad and gravies redolent with onions and ginger. Although theirs was a vegetarian household, according to their grandmother such food would be completely intolerable.
Neha and Diya would always spend a week at Mala Maasi's house every summer vacation. They were always happy to see their favourite aunt, and were very eager to share whatever was new in their lives with her. Since she had two sons of her own, and no daughters, Mala enjoyed their company and their interests. One memorable year, Diya was terribly excited
as her class teacher had brought peanut brittle to the class picnic, and had also told them how to make it. Since they hadn't had time to make it at home, they decided that they would make it with their dear Maasi.
The peanut brittle became a family project. One cousin was asked to buy a kilo of roasted peanuts from the vendor near the bus stop. The four cousins sat and shelled the roasted nuts, taking care to remove the inner red skins. The younger cousin was eating more peanuts than he was shelling, which annoyed Diya terribly. "Bhaiya, if you eat all the peanuts, how can I make chikki?"
Somehow they managed to save two cups of shelled peanuts. As it was summertime, Mala Maasi didn't have any jaggery in the house, but decided to make the brittle with sugar instead. Mala Maasi took two tablespoonfuls of ghee in a large karhai and added one cup of sugar to this. The sugar melted, and then was caramelised over a low flame. Neha and Diya, in the meantime, greased a large thaali. Once the sugar was a rich brown, Maasi quickly stirred in the peanuts and poured the mixture onto the greased thaali, and set it to cool under the fan in the dining room. Once it cooled down, maasi tried to cut it into pieces with a sharp knife. The brittle was, however, so hard, that a sharp shard flew off and cut her thumb. Neha and Diya looked at the blood oozing from their maasi's thumb with horror. Mala Maasi laughed as she ran cold water over her thumb, "Girls, today we have truly created a 'meethi chhuri', literally a sweet knife!"
They decided that breaking off bits of chikki was better than trying to cut it. It was delicious. They also learned, the next time they made it, to score it with a knife while the mixture was still hot, so that the pieces broke into proper shapes.
Maala Maasi's thumb bore a small scar for the rest of her life, but it didn't diminish her affection for her 'meethi chhuri' nieces one whit.

Peanut brittle:
2 cups roasted and skinned peanuts
1 cup sugar (Add more if you want a sweeter brittle. 1 cup is enough to bind the peanuts)
2 tablespoons ghee

Heat the ghee in a heavy karhai.
Melt the sugar into it over a low flame, till the sugar melts and turns brown.
Add the peanuts and mix well.
Pour into a greased plate and smoothen out the top with a spoon.
Allow to cool.
Break into small pieces and serve.

This post is my contribution to the Food Fiction event hosted by Aquadaze - Of Chalks and Chopsticks.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Strange Diet!

For several years past, my father has slowly stopped eating a 'normal' diet, owing to various real and perhaps imagined ailments. When he and my mother first came to stay with me in Gummidipoondi in early 2005, he was mostly partaking of a 'normal' North Indian diet, with chapatis and veggies and dals and salads. He and my mother would start the day with tea and toast, have hot milk with muesli for breakfast, some fruit for elevenses, and they would have lunch with the SRE, whose workplace was near enough for him to come home for lunch and a quick nap. Dinner was usually a vegetable with a light gravy and some curd.
After a while, Dad found that chapatis were difficult for him to chew, so we started soaking them in the dal or the vegetable gravy. His dentures were troublesome, but given his limited mobility and the distance to Chennai, he wasn't too enthusiastic about getting a new set. He also has one tooth of his own which complicates life a bit- he is uncomfortable if he removes the denture for any length of time.
We moved to Kolkata, the following summer, and my parents spent a few months in Delhi with my sister while I house-hunted (that's another story- I saw between 35-40 houses and apartments before finalising this one, which I didn't actually see before moving in, I saw its twin on the first floor) and then moved my worldly goods. Dad decided that even soaked chapatis were no fun, so he had toast dipped in his dal or sabzi or soup. The occasional home made dosas were relished, as were moong dal chillas with coriander chutney (especially made for him without chillies). Lauki (vegetable marrow) was his vegetable of choice, and that too had to have no seeds at all or very tender ones. My mother would enjoy all kinds of things, and Dad would occasionally try something a little spicy or rich, but it would usually not agree with him. The same Dad who would break off a piece of his sizzling hot green chilli for me to try, was now eating very bland and rather boring food. Dad had always been fond of good food, so it was rather painful seeing him struggle through what he thought agreed with him.
Life changed for us all with my mother's illness. Dad developed a serious lung infection, and by the time my mother had passed away, he had more or less given up on solid food. He spent weeks on liquids: fruit juice and buttermilk, the occasional cup of tea with a Marie biscuit. The doctor described him as terminally ill. Though he is immensely frail and not able to sit up without support, he's been quite lucid. I'd keep asking him what he'd like to eat, and he rarely evinced interest in anything. Years ago, when were living in Lucknow, my parents had visited us, and one of the things my father had really liked were potato cutlets with a cheese filling. So one fine day he agreed to have those. Cheese is of course not always easy to digest, but those cheese cutlets got him back on the eating track. Nowadays his diet still consists of a lot of liquids, but the staple solid foods are potato tikkis with coriander chutney, khichdi, paneer (chhena) mixed with powdered sugar, ice cream, and the occasional piece of chocolate!
The doctor is really surprised and pleased at his progress. I mix up and keep large batches of the tikki mixture and chutney, so that the day and night nurses can shallow fry them for him whenever he wants some. I often come back from my morning walk to a house redolent of fried tikkis. I have started curdling the milk for the chhena with curd- the resultant chhena is very soft, and is easier for Dad to swallow.

Alu tikkis : Six medium sized boiled potatoes
Brown bread slices: 4 small
Salt and garam masala to taste
Oil for shallow frying

Peel and mash the potatoes. Crumb the bread in the mixie masala jar. Mix thoroughly with potatoes, salt and spices. Shape into flat tikkis. Shallow fry till brown and crisp.

Coriander chutney:
One cup thoroughly washed coriander leaves
Two-three small tomatoes or a raw mango in season
(Then you can skip the amchur and lemon juice)
Asafoetida powder- a good pinch
Garam masala- a large pinch
Salt and kala namak to taste
Amchur powder
Lemon juice
Blend all ingredients in the chutney jar of your blender. Check for seasonings. For regular chutney add a green chilli or two.

Serve tikkis with chutney

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Japanese Wife

The Japanese Wife is a poem on film.
A short story has been fleshed out into a charming and beautiful tale of innocence and true love.
The film is in Bangla and English, and has subtitles, and so is not difficult for the non-Bengali to follow.
The visuals are lyrical.
The relationships have been fleshed out beautifully, with authenticity and insight.
Each member of the cast has given a stellar performance.
It is truly uplifting.
Do go and see it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Taming Boseji

Our old friend Mr.Bose has been quite well-behaved of late. It still has some quirks. It absolutely refuses to play, for example, Rashid Khan's Kabir bhajans. Any Kabir experts here, while I digress? Remember the doha,
'Bada hua to kya hua, jaise ped khajoor,
Panthi ko chhaya nahin, phal laage ati door.'

Well, Rashid Bhai has changed the 'panthi' ( traveller) to panchhi(bird), which makes no sense at all. Perhaps that's why Boseji considers this recording to be a travesty of Sant Kabir's great poetry.
Jagjit Singh has done even better- he also sings panchhi, while the sleeve notes of his CD very clearly say 'panthi'. Perhaps that's why Boseji is willing to play him!!!

By mid-November last year Boseji had started acting up again. Practically all discs were reading "Disc Error". Nothing but nothing was playable. I was planning to take it to the service centre, but kept postponing the trip. I was, however, sufficiently annoyed with all this non-cooperation and so wrapped up Boseji in an old tablecloth and kept it in a corner of the guest room. My mother gave me her little Philips CD player, which , though not a patch on Boseji in terms of sound quality, at least played all CDs. Not that we had much time for music after that- my mother had her fall, and our lives changed irrevocably.
In March I finally thought of taking Boseji for some TLC at the service centre. Since it is no longer under guarantee, I knew that it would be a relatively expensive affair, so I thought I'd just check it out once more, before taking it for servicing. After such a long holiday, Boseji actually did play, so I packed up little Mr. Philips and put it away. The minute I did that, Boseji went all prima donnish again. So for a few weeks I had Boseji and Philips fighting for space on top of the drawers. I realised that Boseji needs to perceive the presence of Philips to behave!
As of now, Boseji has the place of honour on top of the drawer, while the threatening, deterrent Philips is on a stool just below. Accessible and visible. Let's see how long this arrangement keeps Boseji behaving!

Boseji, however much I may mock you, I truly appreciate your amazing voice. Keep singing and playing for us, my friend!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Prayer for Peace

I woke up this morning with the memory of this prayer in my heart. I am often heartsick at the state of the world- one look at the newspaper headlines is enough to ruin your day, most days.
Even between loved ones, when the ego takes over, love is quashed. Peace is so fragile, but we need it now more than ever. Can we not all become 'instruments of peace'?

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen