Tag Archives: friends

Thankful for the Weirdest Things

This is not my regular Thanksgiving post, giving thanks for all my blessings, blah, blah, blah. The brainwave for this post came about when I was washing dishes – anyone who knows me knows how much I hate doing dishes. As I sunk my fingers into the dishwashing detergent (because the dish rag was dirty), my mind sped to the conversation I had with my friend earlier. She told me she was allergic to dishwashing soap and couldn’t wash dishes. The maid did not turn up and her kitchen was filled with dirty dishes.

My heart went out to my friend. I knew what that was like. My maid has not been coming since the beginning of the month. I have been doing most of the dishes and my mother-in-law has been helping. Every day I would secretly wish that the dish I was washing will be the last one to be soaped by my hands. So BAM! Right on Thanksgiving Day the Universe gave me a reason to be thankful for the very thing I hate.

I sighed and felt the detergent on my fingers as I slowly scrubbed the coffee mug. A wave of gratitude washed over me because I could wash dishes! How weird you say? Someone who hates doing the dishes is being grateful for the ability to do it. Life is weird that way. It teaches you lessons exactly when you need them.

I was telling my kids about this new found love for washing dishes and asked them what they were thankful for and my daughter said almost immediately – I am thankful that I don’t have peanut allergies or I couldn’t have peanut butter which is the most awesome thing in the world!

So what weird things are you grateful for. Share it with me and I will include it in my next blog or add it to this blog (depending on the response). Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

All I Wanted for Christmas…

My list was long and I was just waiting for the winter break to get started on it. Some things were material and some were more abstract. I wanted to cut and color my hair, get myself a sweater, go on vacation with my family, write a novel, meet up with old friends and relatives we haven’t met in a while. On my last working day before the break, I took off early from work. I didn’t feel good. Sure enough by the time I got home I was coughing and sneezing and totally miserable. The next day I felt worse but by then I had started a course of antibiotics. By Sunday I was a complete and total mess. My tummy hurt, I was coughing and bringing up mucus and I had absolutely no energy to do anything.

The first thing to be crossed off my list was meeting with an old school friend. She and her family were visiting Orlando and we had agreed to meet up on Sunday for dinner. I wasn’t up to it at all and I didn’t want to make her baby and little girl sick and ruin their trip. I crossed off going to the salon as well, when I got back after grocery shopping (we had no food in the refrigerator!) and collapsed on the bed. I didn’t care about the grey’s showing or if I had a matching sweater to wear to work. All I wanted was to be well. All I wanted was some energy to get through the day.

The weekend was gone and I was done with my course of antibiotics. The cough had subsided but the fatigue clung to my body. It took every ounce of strength to get up and fix a meal and after eating I’d go collapse on the bed leaving my husband and kids to clean the dishes and clear the table. On Monday I wanted to blog. I sat on the couch, paper and pen in front of me. I had a couple of topics that had come to me earlier but my brain was in a fog. The virus or whatever it was had sapped every cell in my body of all its strength. Every day I got up praying that I would be better. And I would be. Thinking I was back to normal I’d go about my chores only to find myself totally drained out. Write a novel? Forget about it! I couldn’t come up with a measly sentence for crying out loud!

By Wednesday I was not only physically down but also my upbeat attitude had taken a terrible beating. It hit me finally that without a sound body, everything I did in life would be impossible to do. Every thing that I had taken for granted – healthy vigor, energy, creativity, fun, laughter, work – all of it simply vanished when my health was compromised. It made me realize that good health is the greatest gift without which the rest of life’s blessings cannot be enjoyed. I also came to the humble realization that even though I believed that I was living a healthy life, taking good care of myself and not indulging in risky behavior, I had no power over disease. It could strike any time, out of no where and ravage your body, mind and spirit.

The next day I was almost back to normal. My energy levels were up. But my spirit was shaken. I felt small, mortal and completely vulnerable. I felt sorry for myself. All my plans for the winter break were now just plans that would never take shape. Since we waited for the last minute to plan our trip there were no rental cars available. So we had to be content staying home. My distress levels hit the roof until I realized there were folks out there without power. Folks who had to leave home and spend Christmas in a hotel or a friend’s home. Folks who had to spend Christmas alone because they had no family. Folks who were sick on Christmas day.

I was thankful that I was better on Christmas day and got to meet relatives from New Jersey for a fun-filled dinner. A dear friend called me late in the night, quite unexpectedly, just to lift my spirits.

I am thankful I have power and can stay home, even though a vacation is out of question. I am thankful for my beautiful family, for taking care of me and nursing me back to health. Thankful for friends who called to check on me. So in the end I didn’t get most of the stuff on my list but I did find out that I’m one lucky lady. I already had everything that really mattered. Everything that made the holidays special – family, a warm home and wonderful friends. Without that and my health (which is back to normal) none of the gifts on my list would have given me any joy at all.

I am thankful for the disease that came right around the holidays threatening to ruin it but turned out to be a beautiful lesson and a gift that I now share with you. The most important gifts in life are those that money can’t buy. They don’t come gift wrapped with a big bow on the side. They most certainly cannot be returned, exchanged or regifted. But be sure to cling on to these all year long and especially during the holidays for they make life complete and are a joy to receive. Wishing you good health, a warm home, your beautiful family & friends and lots of joy this holiday season.

My Gastronomic Adventure – Part 2

Now the U.S. is a culinary jungle all by itself and living here for more than a decade has greatly influenced my cooking. As a young bride I focused on making everyday Indian food which was easy, given that I used to help my mom a lot in the kitchen and knew most of the basic recipes. I love Chinese food and we used to eat out at Chinese restaurants quite frequently. The Chinese food you get in India is usually spiced up and modified to suit the Indian palate. When I came to the U.S. I quickly discovered that most Chinese restaurants were Americanized. I was disappointed and craved Ind0-Chinese food so much that I started making it myself – just the fried rice, noodles and cauliflower Manchurian.

Another type of food that I missed was chaat (Indian snack food or street food). To try and explain what chaat is to someone who has never tasted it is next to impossible. Maybe the closest I can get to describing it is by borrowing a word from Japanese – Umami, which is a 5th taste, a savory taste. Chaat is an explosion of salty, sweet, tangy, spicy and crunchy that takes you to food heaven. So again I had to perfect my paav bhaji, pani puri and bhel puri for whenever the chaat cravings hit me hard.

I love to bake and out here baking is big. So I spent many years trying out different cake and pie recipes and now I have a few perfect ones under my belt. Like banana nut bread, apple pie (thanks to Aunty D’souza – who bakes the most amazing desserts), key lime pie (thanks to Florida) blueberry muffin, almond cake, brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

When you are vegetarian, eating out is such a tedious task. Our go-to places are Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants. My kids simply love Italian food and given a chance they would eat pasta every day. So chef DC did it again and perfected her pasta sauces, ravioli, lasagna, frittata and even home made pizza. The fun part of making pizza is getting the kids involved. They love getting in there and getting messy and I love cooking with them. It reminds me of the time I spent cooking with my mom and also G.

I used to spend many hours watching food network and my favorite show was 30 minute meals with Rachel Ray. She was my idol and I used to race against the clock and try and make Indian food (that typically takes hours to make) in just 30 minutes. The rice cooker and pressure cooker were my best friends and I quickly mastered the art of speedy chopping. So in under an hour I would make one veggie dish, one gravy and rice. I can make a one pot sambar (many traditional cooks frown upon this method) which to me tastes just as good.

Other friends I have made out here have also shared wonderful recipes with me. Most of my neighbors in Boston were from Andhra Pradesh, India and their dishes are very tasty and very different from ours. I learnt how to make mango dal and eggplant curry from them. My good friend and neighbor shared her mushroom biriyani recipe which has been passed on to many friends and is still a favorite at my house. She is a very good cook and we used to make and share vada and payasam during festivals and also try out different recipes and share them. She inspired me to make sweets for Diwali (although the seeds were sown by G’s family and Ganga). So I’ve made Ladoos, Jalebis, Halwas and Kheer. My neighbor S started making murrukkus with me when she was between jobs and I soon found myself in the possession of a murukku press (thanks to my husband), making murukkus from scratch.

My husband likes to cook on occasion and he has whipped up some very good recipes. One of the earliest ones was a veggie sub with grilled green pepper, mushroom, onions and tomatoes and melted cheese. He makes the best rava dosas and dry coconut chutney. These days he is into making plantain chips from scratch – we just finished frying up a batch after slicing them up in our spiffy new mandoline.

So that brings me to last month’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Firstly we don’t eat turkey – me because I’m vegetarian and the rest of my family simply doesn’t like it. So we replaced the turkey with chicken wings – buffalo style. My daughter wanted mashed potatoes and my son wanted lasagna! I replaced the lasagna with mushroom ravioli because it’s a lot easier to make and for dessert we had eggless cake. I’m glad I chose a simple menu because on the day before Thanksgiving I fell sick and I secretly thanked myself for not choosing to make Indian food! I consider myself a die-hard curry eater but no other cuisine involves so much soaking, grinding, marinating, frying, sautéing, mincing and spicing like Indian cuisine. Later that evening the guilt set in and I ended up making eggplant curry.

There is something about food that not only titillates your palate but also warms your heart and soul. When you break bread with someone, share your table or your cooking with someone, an invisible bond is formed – one that lasts for a long time and one that evokes a lot of fond memories of fun, food, family and friends. Here’s to your own culinary adventure…cheers!

 

My Gastronomic Adventure – Part 1

The other day as I chatted on the phone with my good friend G, with whom I have shared many a happy meal, I was flooded with food memories. Those of you who have seen me or pictures of me, know I have this figure that belies the foodie that I am. And yet food is such a big part of my life and my relationship with people. I guess if you are born in India, food is a big part of your life. We Indians spend a long time prepping, cooking, and enjoying meals.

Right from the womb I imagine every Indian baby floats in amniotic fluid laced with spice. Once out in the world, they take in the exotic aromas wafting through the warm air. Parents can barely wait to get their toddlers accustomed to spices. If you can’t take spice you aren’t fit enough to be Indian. I laugh when I see Indian parents fret and fume when their kids push away plates of spicy curry and ask for mac and cheese.

When I was a kid growing up in India my grandma had an amazing cook, Ganga. Her caramel custard was to die for and she made the best meatball curry (back then I used to eat meat). Fish fry and chicken curry were top notch and her biryani was awesome. Her dosas were crispy and brown and her chutneys always hit the right spot. Her parathas were flaky and soft and her garlic pickle was so famous that my friend M would bug me to bring some to school every day. Well you get the picture – I grew up in the lap of culinary excellence.

My best friend G lived across the street and I was always at her house. Her parents were from Punjab/ Uttar Pradesh and the food they cooked was entirely different from what we ate. I’m drooling here just thinking about Aunty Sharma’s Aloo and Methi paratha, arvi fry and just plain simple dal. I used to hang around all day until dinnertime and then they’d ask me to join them. I’d rush to the table after quickly calling my grandma to tell her I won’t be home for dinner. Dessert was another exotic experience at the Sharma’s. Malpua, ladoo, kheer and doodhi ka halwa to name a few.

At G’s place everyone helped out in the kitchen. At my grandma’s house I was not allowed to do any chores so I really enjoyed cooking and eating together at G’s place. I think my love for cooking started here. I used to bug my Mom to make cakes and puddings and she was most indulgent. Sultana sponge cake and coconut castle puddings were my favorite. She even got a second-hand cooking range (with an oven) – sort of a rarity in India. My brother and I used to invite our friends over and my Mom would cook a feast from scratch. Sometimes I’d test out some dishes on my unsuspecting friends (like baked cauliflower and potato).

My grandma from my Mom’s side lived in Kerala and she was an excellent cook. We visited her every summer (see Summer Escapes in God’s Own Country) and she baked us cardamom cake in her electric oven. She made marvelous shrimp curry and other fresh seafood. Her sambar was out of the world and she even made chocolate for us from her cocoa tree. Her neighbor used to help her make giant vats of mysore pak for us to take home.

In school we shared lunches with our friends and I remember R used to bring the tastiest Rajma (red kidney beans) and rice. When I was in college I was the only one in my group that brought lunch from home. My other friends ate in the mess or ordered food from the canteen. At the university, my dear friend A used to bring the tastiest Bisi Bela Bath. She actually brought two boxes. One for herself and another to share with the rest of us. Years later I wheedled the recipe from her and make my own BBB these days.

G and I decided to fast every Friday when we were in college. Looking back, I think it was crazy for two girls who live, breathe and dream about food to take up fasting. But we did it all the same. We only had tea and biscuits (cookies) in the morning and then drank water for the rest of day. We broke the fast in the evening by having dinner at my place or her place. Ganga and Aunty Sharma would go all out and cook multiple dishes for us poor starved girls. It would be a regular feast that we polished off. We’d end up stuffed, lying on the bed, so happy that we’d end up giggling. Giggling to the point where our tummies hurt. This went on for sixteen weeks and then we stopped because even God has His limits!

Now you all know I moved to the U.S. 11 years ago and the food culture here has influenced me in many ways. But that is a topic for a whole other blog – Part 2 of My Gastronomic Adventure follows…until then like Julia Child says – Bon Appetit.

 

 

A Heart Full of Gratitude

It is with utmost joy that I write (and now type) this post. A long awaited dream of mine has come true. Roll back to the second post I wrote (The Work Saga –http://punctuatelife.com/2012/02/13/the-work-saga/) and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I got a job! A real job! One that pays!

It’s been less than a month but I can’t keep it from the world any longer. No it’s not a writing job. It’s not even a full time job. But it’s just what I need. Part of me was always apprehensive about going to work and leaving the kids in daycare. I’m so used to being there for them when they get back from school that it was inconceivable to me to hand that responsibility to someone else.

Yet part of me craved for a job, for independence and even the companionship of colleagues. This I partially fulfilled by doing volunteer work at the school. The volunteer work (200 something hours spent cutting and gluing, helping with centers, buying supplies) finally paid off and landed me this job.

So at this job, I get to keep the kids with me, the hours work for me and my volunteer work helped me snag this job. I’ll keep you guessing while I go over my long list of things I’m immensely grateful for in my life. It goes without saying that I’m infinitely grateful for this job. I’m blessed to have two little angels for kids. They make each waking day a joy for me. From whiny, cranky, needy babies they have grown to be solid, sound and responsible little kids. I’m in awe of these little wonders that I helped bring into the world.

I’m thankful for an awesome husband who has made my life comfortable and easy. I live an almost stress-free lifestyle thanks to him – he bears the burden of providing for the family, paying the bills, planning for the future. I know he will take care of even the tiniest detail and that we are safe and secure under his wing.

I’m thankful for my family – my parents, brother, in-laws and my adopted Grandma (Ganga). We had the good fortune of celebrating my father-in-law’s 80th birthday with him. Thank you for all your prayers, support and good wishes over the years. A special thank you to my awesome brother who keeps giving me feedback about my blog and doing a lot of PR for me.

I’m thankful for my friends who swoop down to my rescue when family cannot. Without you guys I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Your support and encouragement over the years has built my confidence, has reminded me when I have forgotten who I am and what I am capable of. A special thank you to my bosom friend N for always finding time to comfort me, praying incessantly for me and my family (like her own) and above all for believing in me when I did not believe in myself.

My dear friend S tied the knot this year and I’m so happy for her. When you have a friend you have known from the cradle, you can’t help but want her to be happy and settled (not just money-wise or career-wise but also partner-wise). So I’m thankful that she finally found her soul mate and is starting to live her happily ever after.

I’m thankful that we finally got our green card (this summer) after years of waiting. I’m also very thankful that I got to see fall colors this year after a long time. I’m thankful for good weather out here in Florida (snow is really not my thing). Thankful for food on our table. Thankful for good people in my life. Thankful for every reader (secret ones too) and subscribers. Thankful for my blog. Thankful for my pet fish. Thankful for miles and miles of beaches. Thankful for my little garden and the flowers blooming outside. Thankful for electricity and running water. Thankful for a warm and cozy home. Thankful for Mother Earth. Thankful for sunshine and rain. Thankful for laughter, good health and joy and I wish you all the same. Have a happy Thanksgiving y’all.