Tag Archives: i love mom

The Mystical Relation of Hair & Ice Cream

Why should hair be so inextricably tied to my emotions, I don’t know – but it is a fact that a good haircut can uplift me for a week, while a terrible one has left me in tears more than once.

And the reaction is instant. Serve me a bad meal and I can somehow suffer through it, making appreciative noises as I go. Take me out on the mother of all disaster dates and I will still thank you for a lovely evening and promise to keep in touch. I am the master of the easy let-down. But cut my hair (hell, just style it) in a way I don’t approve, and my reaction to it is completely physical. My face gets red, my throat chokes up, tears flood my eyes, I start breathing heavily – all symptoms, in fact, of my primitive rage. It’s always been this way, too.

When I was seven, for instance, my mother persuaded me to get a “smart crop”. Unfortunately, this turned out to be code for what you might recognize today as the Stereotypical Lesbian Crop. Imagine a really butch woman without access to a talented hairstylist. Back when I was a kid, it was the basic Modern Indian Working Woman Haircut. Short and extremely unfussy, you could probably come out looking freshly barbered on the other side of a tornado. The only people who ever complimented me on the results of that disastrous trip to the salon were my mother, the nice Chinese lady who’d followed my mother’s instructions against her better judgment, and a teacher of mine who sported that exact same boxy cut. Call me a diva but I did not appreciate looking like a middle aged schoolteacher whilst still in the second grade. I ended up throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the salon, whereupon my mother promptly ordered an emergency pedicure for herself and banished me to the reception area where I spent the next fortyfive minutes cooling my heels, seething in fury, and frightening the rest of the clientele with my panting rage while tugging fiercely at my hair in an effort to make it come out of my head a little faster.

Before you think I was some kind of special needs child – the alarmed receptionist definitely thought so – I should say that I already knew that particular effort wasn’t going to work. It was just another example of my once-ungovernable temper driving me to do things that were the outside of stupid.

But the roots of my hair-related rage go back a long way. It all started, I suppose, when my grandfather decided the time had come to get the baby fluff shaved off my head. I rewarded him by screaming like a banshee – pressing every nerve ending you possibly could in a manic depressive, I imagine. I was brought back home posthaste, victoriously bearing a full head of hair. It grew and grew, curling into loose ringlets that charmed my mother so much, she forgot I was a baby and not her doll. I was, therefore, within sight of knocking on three before she decided to get my hair cut.

I don’t know why she stuck my dad with the job though. Maybe she felt it would be a waste of money to take me with her to the ladies salon where they had things like proper lighting? Or she saw what I’d done to her poor father and just didn’t want to deal with the hassle? Maybe my dad offered like the responsible parent he is? Who knows! But I ended up accompanying my dad to the barbershop he frequented. My first memory of getting a haircut is of a smiling man with a neat beard and Daddy sitting next to me, telling me Not. To. Move. An. Inch. To this day, I can’t relax and get all chatty with a hairstylist because my entire brain is hardwired with my father’s voice telling me Not. To. Move. An. Inch. And so I won’t by God!

At the end of this tense period, where I would sit scarcely daring to breathe while Daddy sat next to me and ostensibly studied me carefully to make sure I was Not Moving An Inch (I couldn’t really tell because I couldn’t see with all the hair in my face), we’d go for a treat.

Our routine was always the same. First came the haircut. Next came the ice cream. In my memory, the barbershop is a sort of antiseptic pale green-blue; the color of a government office. The ice cream shop, on the other hand, resembles an Old West Saloon, complete with wood paneling and rustic furniture as well as a noisy air conditioner. This can’t possibly be true since nobody else remembers my description of it and I think it highly unlikely that someone would go to the trouble of building a secret Old West Saloon for Ice Cream in deepest, southiest South India for my benefit alone. The reasonable explanation is that it somehow got jumbled up with a scene from one of those Westerns my brother was addicted to, but reasonability’s a party pooper so who cares what it has to say?

As I was saying… my father used to take me to an ice cream parlor that resembled an Old West Saloon. And for some reason this was behind the main taxi stand. Because that is a perfectly logical place to build an eatery. Vanilla with carbon monoxide topping. Mmm-mm-mmmmmm!

I remember the inside of this fine establishment as a crowded and rather dingy place, which means it must have been tiny indeed given my toddler’s perspective. I’m sad to say it did not survive the years and thus I have no adult contrast to offer. I’m also pretty sure it smelled like milk in there. I’m going to think of that as a positive. Anyway, as soon as we got in the door, Daddy would head straight for the glass counter and ask me for my preference.

I was three; my nose barely reached the part where the metal ended and the glass began. I couldn’t see a thing but I did enjoy breathing on the tiny bit of cool glass that my face could reach, and looking thoughtful. Eventually, I would place my order: strawberry. And Daddy would place his: vanilla. If he was feeling adventurous, he would switch it up to chocolate but I think that only happened once or something.

I don’t even know how we decided I was a strawberry aficionado. For all I know, my dad marched in there and growled, “What do little girls like to eat?” At which point the terrified man behind the counter probably said, “Strawberry!” because it was all pink and girly and he was afraid to say he didn’t know. Voila! I liked strawberry. And since it never occurred to Daddy to pick me up and show me the various options, I didn’t even know there were more than three flavors of ice cream until I was about five, which is when I learned about the glories of the mighty pistachio.

That was the summer my second cousin came back from the United States and opened a fancy parlor that both manufactured and sold ice cream that you could order and consume curbside in the luxury of your very own car! My auntie took me there one night and introduced me to my first falooda. And my life was never the same again.

But that is to fast forward. Back in our Old West Ice Cream Parlor, we were being served ice cream. Not scoops or scones, but slabs of it. There’s a small part of me that still thinks of waffle cones as exotic because my lizard brain thinks ice cream is naturally served as slabs on cheap white porcelain plates. Good times.

We would sit there solemnly consuming our ice cream, until Daddy had scraped his plate clean and I was still sitting there with half of mine on my plate. My mother was bringing me up to share so I always asked him if he’d like some of mine. My father, meanwhile, was bringing me up to not share eatables with him so he always refused. He would then sit in silence, watching me make heroic attempts to finish the entire plate before taking pity on me when I was about three-quarters through and proposing we leave.

It was powerful magic, for an undemonstrative man and his willful daughter. And like all magic, it was contained to that moment in time. For years afterwards, as soon as I graduated to the big girls’ fancy salon, I couldn’t stand the taste of strawberry ice cream. I would go out of my way to avoid it. Every mouthful tasted like melted plastic mixed with sugar and a slightly sour aftertaste that reminded me of spoiled milk. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. I was disgusted by it. Even today, when I’ve made my peace with it, it still wouldn’t crack my top twenty flavors. I’d sooner eat blackcurrant.

These days, I tell my dad he should get a pedicure and take him out for coffee. That is our thing now – I push him to try and move an inch while he lets me order unfamiliar items off the menu. It’s a different kind of magic but one thing remains the same: we have a standing date anytime either one of us cuts our hair.


Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Personal


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What’s in a Name

6.40 for the good stuff (although it’s Rosie Perez – it’s all good stuff)

Ma: Who were you talking to?

Me: A friend.

Ma: Which one?

Me: Beth.


Me: What?

Ma: Is that her real name? I mean, are you sure?

Me (thinking): Uh-oh, somebody’s been reading about the dangers of online predators again.

Me: Yes, of course that’s her name. Why?

Ma: Well, what kind of name is “Depth?”


Posted by on November 20, 2010 in Personal, Video


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Mum’s the Word

Mum’s the Word

For the Mother’s Day that falls this Khanna-o-Rama, I talked to a filmi Maa or ten on what it’s like to mother a Bollywood hero:

Waheeda Rehman (Chandini)
I hate it when people don’t appreciate my son! He’s good-looking, rich, sensitive, we have a beautiful home and he’s so ready to commit! And now some brat he met while traveling is about to run off with his fiancé. I told him to knock that tubbola’s teeth out, but in addition to all his other qualities, he’s also honorable and he says his fiancé prefers that hypothermic drunk. He can’t even walk down stairs without stumbling! I hope she enjoys knitting him endless sweaters for the rest of her life.

Nirupa Roy (Deewar)
I wish I had problems like hers. I’m a single mom from Mumbai and my two sons just can’t get along. The elder one constantly yells at the younger one who never looks him in the face and instead just stares over his shoulder. I try not to be preferential, but it’s hard when my firstborn buys me a house and a washing machine, while the second brings me his laundry and his insecurity.

Read more tales of motherly woe here.


Posted by on May 8, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Life, Movies


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Amar Akbar Anthony

<i>Amar Akbar Anthony</i>

Balle! Balle! Bunny ears.

Vinod Khanna thinks Amar Akbar Anthony is prime remake material. I think: “Nahiiiiiiiiiin! Yeh paap hai!”.

But what if this were to happen? Retouched for the new generation?

Amar Akbar Anthony, the story of three upper middle class Mumbai stoners (just look at those mugs!) who like to dress up in drag and play in a band. Kind of like Hedwig and the Angry Inch but without the castration.

Balls! Balls! We'd like to keep 'em.

Amar is the sensitive one, who comes up with dreamy songs about girls in sundresses, cranberry Smirnoff kisses, the existential angst of 30-year-old teenagers, soulmates and other random shit that the other two think is absolutely fucking genius but only because they’ve never listened to his lyrics when they were sober. Someday they will and boy, are they gonna be mortified about their repertoire. And then Amar won’t have any friends.

Akbar is the angry one. He’s an artiste but the world won’t let him be great so in the meantime he rails about the system to all the groupies he bangs and then strums the shit out of his guitar, often in keys and to tunes that have very little to do with whatever it is that the rest of the band is playing. He doesn’t know it but his bandmates are secretly laughing about him behind his back. If they weren’t so high, they’d have been pissed and beaten him bloody but they’re way too mellow to care. He’s going to be very depressed when he finds out. He might say as many as two cruel things to his mom that day.

Anthony is the self-professed player who “knows people”. He often tells whoever didn’t ask that he’d have left these two losers a long time ago but that whiny kid Amar and that funny one Akbar really know how to draw in the chicks. He’s been there, he’s done that and one day soon he’ll go someplace and do something that’s going to get him kneecapped. And that’s if he’s lucky.

Baby boy Baabby, mole nahin to kuch nahin!

When the sinister Boom Box Bobby, an unsavory musician who hates Bollywood music, runs off with their demo tape and threatens to tell their mothers what really goes on in Akbar’s basement when his parents think he’s “practicing” unless they keep quiet, Amar, Akbar and Anthony must unite with their loved ones to fight his evil intentions.

Your butt is precious to me.

Hmm. I’d still rather have the old one, methinks.

Catch up on the all-new, all-awesome week of Khanna-0-Rama for more reasons why you shouldn’t mess with the original! Click on the badge to the right (thanks, VLoveMovies).


Posted by on May 5, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies


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Slow Bread Pudding

The bread pudding we make at our house is basically a caramel custard with bread for extra oomph (real reason: it’s a convenient way to get rid of leftover stale bread. There is a limit to the amount of breadcrumbs a person can make and consume). So if you have a creme caramel / caramel custard / flan recipe, like the one above in the video, just add the bread and you’ve got delicious bread pudding! Or else, follow these directions:

Bread Pudding for Dummies!


Milk – 1 litre or quarter gallon

Sugar – 2 cups + approx. 1/2 cup granulated sugar for caramel

Eggs – 6 + 2 yolks (optional)

Custard powder – 1 tbsp (optional – I’ve never actually used this till now but my mother keeps telling me I should)

White Bread – Half to three quarter loaf or whatever bread you have left. Mixture at end should still be liquidy so stop before the bread soaks up all the liquid. Croissants are okay (all that butter is yummy for pudding), but pass on whole wheat or multi-grain bread. You could use it, but I have no idea what that would taste like. I usually make breadcrumbs out of those. Tell me if it works out for you if that’s the only thing you have in the house.

Vanilla – 2 tsp or one pod (if you have Food Network, you know what to do: slit the pod lengthwise, use the blunt end of the knife or point and scrape along the innards and then dump both the shell and the inner scrapings into whatever mixture you’re using).

Nutmeg – 1 tsp freshly grated OR 1/2 tsp powdered (optional, increase quantity if you’re a huge fan of nutmeg. I always have fresh nutmeg and might go up to a half tsp more if I’m using a vanilla pod)

Walnuts – optional, to taste. I use “a handful”, roughly chopped.

Water – as needed.


Two pans – one should be large enough to hold the pudding mixture but small enough to fit inside the other pan. If you’re using an oven, I suggest a souffle pot placed in a lasagna pan. It works for me. But really, anything goes as long as its not nonstick. This is not a nonstick friendly recipe, so put that thought out of your head. Although the larger pot/ pan could be nonstick. It’s going to be used as a water bath so that’s all right. The main dish, i.e. the smaller pot that’s going to hold the pudding mixture, needs to be either ceramic or metal though.

If you’re using the burner method, make sure the smaller pot has a rim of some kind so the plastic cover won’t slip off.


Okay, like I said, if you have a caramel custard / creme caramel / flan recipe that you swear by, then use that. Otherwise, here’s my culinarily challenged method for a dish that sounds fearsomely complicated but really isn’t.

First decide whether you’re going to be using the oven or the burner (read directions below in the Cooking section and make up your mind) and choose your main dish accordingly. Now you need a caramel sauce to coat the bottom.

If you’re using a souffle dish, then take a small pan and pour about 1/2 cup granulated sugar into it. This is the amount I usually use, but feel free to adjust as per your liking. If you don’t have a liking, then stick to my liking for your debut effort because at least you’ll have somebody to blame when you set your kitchen on fire. Heat pan until sugar begins to burn and bubble around the edges.

IMPORTANT: Do not use a spoon to help the caramelization process. Caramel is like mortar and you’ll spend the next three hours trying to prise it off whatever spoon you used. I learned this the hard way as my mother laughed at me.

Swirl the pan instead. When the color begins to change to gold, take pan off heat for a quick second and standing well back from it, pour a little over 1/4 cup water into burning sugar. Do not be alarmed at steam and noise. Return to heat and swirl pan a few more times until sugar has completely dissolved, caramelized and color has changed to dark brown.

Pour into souffle pot and swirl mixture around so it evenly coats the bottom of pot and about one inch of the sides. Don’t worry if the result is geometrically off. Just make sure the bottom at least is completely covered. Please be careful because if you get hot caramel on your skin, you will regret it for a long time.

If you’re using the burner method, then you can melt the caramel directly in the pot you’re going to use. Same directions. Set caramel coated pot aside to cool. Crackling noises as mixture cools and hardens are absolutely normal.

Next take 2 cups of sugar (more if you have a very sweet tooth) and blitz in the blender with 6 eggs. If you’re very committed to a firm pudding and are doubtful about the staying power of a half dozen eggs, add an extra 2 yolks. Make yourself feel better about the coming heart attack by thinking of this as a French recipe (note: there is no reason to suppose this is a French recipe). Alternatively you could add a tablespoon of custard powder. You could even add the yolks and the custard powder if you’re especially greedy and/or careful.

Personally, I’ve never used custard powder and the only time I ever added the extra yolks is the one time I made this with 2% milk. We need whole fat milk for this little show, me hearties!

Speaking of which… once eggs and sugar have been blitzed into submission, either pour in the milk and give it a good blitz to combine OR if it won’t fit in your blender, pour mixture into mixing bowl, add milk and use a handheld electric whisk or the whisk attachment in your KitchenAid and combine the three. You could whisk by hand, but then you’ll be in your kitchen till the cows come home. If things get desperate as they did once in college, then pour the egg and sugar mixture into a separate bowl and combine with the milk in your blender in batches. Indian ingenuity at work!

What you have in front of you now are the beginnings of a basic custard. Add vanilla extract and freshly grated nutmeg. If you’re not using vanilla pods, feel free to blitz for a couple more seconds to show the ingredients who’s boss. Yup, it’s you!

If caramel has cooled by now, pour custard into the pot. Otherwise, set aside for the moment. Take bread slices and remove crusts. Dice the bread into one inch pieces. Dunk bread into mixture.

NOTE: What I like to do is use a big mixing bowl and a handheld electric whisk to create the custard mixture. Then I can just dump the bread into it and set it aside for ten minutes so the bread soaks up the goodness and turns into beautiful mush.

Stir in nuts if you like. You can use whatever you have or prefer but I think walnuts stand up best to the flavors of this pudding. Remember to fish out vanilla pod if you used it. Now it’s ready to cook.


Okay, so now comes the moment of truth. This is probably the most complicated part of this no fuss, make it with leftovers, recipe. I know people who make their creme caramels in Dutch ovens and pressure cookers and whatnot. I’m not one of them. I know precisely two methods of making this and they are as follows:

1. Oven: Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Boil about five cups of water. Place souffle pot containing bread and custard mixture in the middle of empty lasagna pan. Pour boiling water into lasagna pan to roughly one inch depth. More is okay (just barely, don’t push it) but less is not. It is important that the pot have a firm position in the middle of the pan, it should not float in water.

Pause to congratulate yourself on your fancy water bath. Next up: Iron Chef!

Place the whole thing in middle rack and bake for 4o mins to an hour. It depends on your oven but start checking on the status of the pudding from 30 minutes on. When the knife inserted in center comes out clean, pudding is done. Try not to splash water all over yourself when checking. That shit is no joke.

Remove souffle pot and let stand to cool. Once the pudding has cooled – and I don’t mean is just slightly warm or anything like that. I mean cooled – stick it in the fridge for at least three hours or, better still, overnight.

2. Burner: Take a plastic grocery bag or similar item large enough to completely cover the top of the pot containing the custard mixture and wash thoroughly, inside and out. If the plastic bag is too small, it might help to cut it in two. Pat dry the plastic and stretch it tightly over the mouth of the pot. Take a piece of string and tie the plastic under the rim of the pot. Yank on the plastic to make sure it covers the mouth of the pot tightly.

Now a reasonable person might ask, “But Amrita, we live in technologically advanced times. Why can’t I use tin foil or saran wrap or something similar? Why must I butcher a grocery bag like a deprived human being?” And I would tell them, “You’re right. But my mother says this is the way we do it and my mother has strange hoodoo powers that might make my kitchen explode or make me choke and die on a piece of newfangled pudding, so this is the way I make it. I don’t think she cares how you make your pudding though, so feel free to experiment and let me know how it all turns out for you.”

Now if you’re done wasting my time with your philosophical inquiries, take your large pot and fill with water about one to two inches deep. Place smaller pot with plastic covering into the middle. As with the other water bath, make sure its placed firmly at the bottom and is not floating. Remove or add water as needed. Place lid on top and turn on the burner.

Now if you have one of those insanely cool silicone covers that stick with what seems to be willpower or are doing this whole exercise in a massive steamer of some sort, then more power to you. If you’re like me and stuck in the Stone Age, then find something really heavy, like a mortar and pestle and stick it on top of the lid to weigh it down. Wait for the water to boil and steam to struggle out. Then lower the heat to simmer and leave it be for 45 minutes.

Turn off the heat after 45 minutes and let it stand until things cool down enough for you to take the smaller pot out of its steamy haven. Let it cool. This will probably take half the day. Do not remove plastic top until it’s thoroughly cooled.

Once the pudding has cooled – and I don’t mean is just slightly warm or anything like that. I mean cooled – remove the plastic covering and stick it in the fridge for at least three hours or, better still, overnight.


After refrigerating overnight, run a knife along the edges of the pudding and upend into a serving dish the way you would a jelly out of a mould. Do it carefully over a sink because the caramel will have diluted into a thin sauce and it’ll run over everything.

Enjoy! The damn thing only took you 12 hours from start to finish!

[For M – who asked but didn’t know what she was asking for! :P]


Posted by on January 8, 2010 in Life, Personal, Video


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The Savory Breakfast


When you grow up in a home where they serve sambar for breakfast, the idea of a savory start to the morning is something less than the radical idea proposed by the New York Times.

But I can appreciate how liberating it must be for someone like Mark Bittman, especially if he grew up ploughing his way through cream of wheat with a little salt thrown in every morning, to find out that people elsewhere like to begin their days in considerably more flavorful fashion.

In fact, I appreciate it so much, I feel like an ingrate. After all, back when I was growing up, I was offered some excellent early morning fare, full of flavor and nutrition, cooked without any thought as to time or convenience, and I always turned my nose up at it.

You can chalk it up to my being a nightbird if you like, but the reason why breakfast has been a relatively recent addition to my diet is because I had to leave for school at half past seven. It sounds bizarre but you simply can’t force my body to swallow food at that hour of the morning. Around nine o’clock my body is finally awake enough to keep the food down, but anything before that and my stomach stages an instant revolt.

For a while there my mother thought it might have something to do with her idlis and dosas, and so out came the cornflakes and cold milk. No go. So she tried it again with warm milk. I ran for the bathroom and refused to come out unless she removed the revolting mess from the table. On Sunday morning, Daddy sat down to our weekly breakfast of leisure and asked for the despised cornflakes – “Me too,” I piped up. “If you vomit, I won’t take care of you,” my mother threatened. I rolled my eyes at her naivete. It was Sunday, it was nearly ten in the morning, why on earth would I waste my precious day off by barfing up my guts?

Next came the toast and eggs. I didn’t even get to eat that. (Any of that: she tried them hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, sunny side up and in an omelet. Zip.) The smell alone was enough to make me gag. She simply handed me my pocket money for the day and asked me to make sure I got in a good meal at recess before shooing me out. When I came back home, she asked me what I’d like to eat for lunch – “Toast and eggs, please,” I said. “Sunny side up. I’ve been dreaming of it all day.” She pursed her lips tightly and asked the cook to take care of it.

So then she went Punjabi on me and the parathas she usually made for my lunch made their appearance on the breakfast table as well. But then – problem! She didn’t think it was good for me to eat pickle at seven in the morning and she couldn’t serve it with curd because I wouldn’t touch that stuff at any hour of the day. Harassed, she gave it to me with jam. I surprised both of us by enjoying every bite. And then I came home early from school because I’d thrown up everywhere.

She toyed with the idea of toasted sandwiches long enough to actually buy a toaster. My best friend in school had recently opened my eyes to the fact that tomatoes could actually be very yummy, especially if you mixed them up with a little red onion and cheese before toasting the whole. I excitedly shared my discovery with my mother who carefully restrained herself from tearing me limb from limb and screaming “But I Made You That and You Refused to Eat It, You Evil Devil Child!” Somebody else’s kitchen was obviously the missing spice.

In the end she decided eleven o’clock was early enough for me to eat my first proper meal of the day and stopped trying to feed me before I left for school.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Ma’s example is something of an increasing rarity these days. Not only was she a stay at home mother, she had live in help who could cope with the kitchen while she sat guard outside the bathroom, banging on the door every five minutes to make sure I would be ready on time and on my way to school. She could experiment with recipes by simply telling other people to do this and that. I can’t imagine the average mother today having either the energy or the time, much less the convenience, to come up with an elaborate breakfast on a daily basis.

Or even dads for that matter. Mine was a workaholic who worked almost around the clock and the only reason he stayed home on Sundays was because he could never get anyone else to come in on that day – even with the promise of a free lunch. But he would still find the time to fix me my early morning chocolate milk and pick me up after school so he could eat lunch with me… and the reason he could do all that was because he was considerably older when he had me and was the boss man at work so he could arrange his schedule to suit his parenting needs.

I find it simplistic when people think money equals privilege, when it’s time that is the real privilege, at least as it pertains to raising a family. Money obviously helps, but by itself it’s limited in what it can do for you – it is what it facilitates that really gives it worth. Bittman, for example, is a food writer for the New York Times. In money terms, it’s probably pretty average if not low on the totem pole, especially by Manhattan standards… but it’s a high status job that allows him to change his dietary habits around so he can eat a polenta that took 40 minutes to cook for breakfast. Maybe he made it the night before and heated it up the next morning – but it’s still a lot more work than the usual person would sign up for, isn’t it?

It’s one of the paradoxes of the slow food movement that fascinates me, especially as an Indian who has seen the clock move so radically in her own, relatively short, lifespan:

The items Bittman recommends in his article, be it the congee or the polenta, are food that the people native to the lands that inspired them have consumed for ages. And it’s food that developed organically because it was the most convenient and cheap item available. Congee for instance is a dish from the rice growing parts of Asia, and it basically involves you throwing a little rice in with a lot of water and boiling it to hell and back, adding whatever you want on top to give it flavor, drinking it starchy water and all. You could even eat it plain with nothing but a little salt: it’s the Asian version of cream of wheat.

But such food is becoming increasingly marginalized in the countries of its birth, because it’s too time consuming to allow the people who traditionally ate it to compete satisfactorily with people who usually nuke a bowl of cream of wheat for breakfast. So they buy a box of Kelloggs or Poptarts or what have you because that allows them to run out the door faster in the morning, which in turn allows them to be more competitive.

And when they’re more competitive, it’ll lead to more success, which leads to their achieving a position of privilege… where it becomes once more possible to go back to the things that they discarded to get ahead in the first place.

Everyone’s either giving an excellent imitation of a hamster on a wheel or there’s a deeper philosophical comment to be inferred here.


Posted by on February 18, 2009 in Desipundit, Life, Personal


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Nightmares and Cakes

So here’s what I learned this weekend – if you watch The Dark Knight and follow it up by gorging on a six ingredient cake of which four ingredients are eggs, cream, sugar and rum, you will then dream of Amisha Patel singing songs from Mamma Mia on a Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham set (complete with diffused lighting) before Batman saves her from the machinations of two random dudes who’re in cahoots with Dr. Evil just as she launches into a Lara Croft impersonation and swings from a chandelier to save the cast of Battlestar Galactica – and then you’ll wake up in a pool of drool with a tummy ache.


My Auntie S’s cake is meant to be eaten with extreme caution. It’s officially called The Burnt Sugar Cake and informally as “Auntie S’s cake” but I prefer what my mother calls it – the cream and sugar cake. Because that’s basically all there is in it, with a little flour to hold it all together. The directions below are written in a language called “Baking for Dummies” because that’s pretty much my level of baking. Believe me, if I could make this thing, so can you! It’s the world’s easiest cake and I’ve never ever come across a single person who didn’t love it (duh! it’s pure fat, of course everybody loves it). In fact, a little less love and I wouldn’t be sitting here right now feeling like crap. Oh well, it’s like drinking – at least I enjoyed it while it lasted.


Eggs – 4

Cream – 2 cups

Sugar – 2 cups (powdered) + 3/4 cup (granulated)

Flour – 2 cups

Baking powder – 1 level tsp

Boiling water – 1/2 cup

Dark Rum – 1/3 cup (optional but I prefer it and it burns off while baking so you don’t have to worry about kids)

Vanilla extract – 1 tsp (optional)

Walnuts / Almonds / Raisins / Cashews – a handful, roughly chopped (optional)


Beat powdered sugar and eggs in a food processor. You can use a Kitchen Aid or electric whisk but you don’t want this to be too aerated so if you have a food processor go for it. When eggs and sugar have combined (about two – three minutes), add cream (thirty seconds). Pour into mixing bowl. Sift flour and baking powder together; add a few spoons at a time to the egg and cream mixture, stirring to combine.

In a separate pan, pour the granulated sugar on high heat and let it melt. When the sugar caramelizes and turns liquid, stir a little until all the sugar is melted and the color turns dark brown. When it starts to bubble and froth, add half a cup of boiling water and turn off the heat once the mixture stops hissing. Stand back and be careful when adding the water.

Cool the caramelized sugar – and no, lukewarm is not fine – and pour into the cake batter. Add vanilla, rum and lastly any nuts or raisins as per your taste. (I like walnuts with this. It’s almost unbearably rich but yummy!) Stir gently.

Pour into buttered, floured pan (if you don’t know what that is – take a little butter in a warm, dry cake pan, swirl it around so every inside surface is coated, drain excess butter if any, and dust it lightly with flour, shaking the pan free of any excess amounts). Bake at 180 C or 350 F for 45 minutes, check every five minutes after half an hour. When top is a rich dark brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean, cake is ready.

This is not a cake that needs or wants icing but if you want to prettify it further, hold a sieve over it and sprinkle powdered sugar. You can eat it warm or do what I do – slice and chill overnight and eat it cold. Bliss.

What I particularly love about this recipe, apart from it’s sheer lack of complications, is that it’s so forgiving. As long as you have an oven, a cake pan and the ingredients at hand, you can eyeball things or use everyday kitchen utensils to measure and mix. In fact, the original recipe says things like “use a katori of sugar” and “four large tablespoons of rum” and “beat it all in a mixi”.

Heh. Mixi. Enjoy but don’t eat it all at once even if you really want to.


Posted by on July 21, 2008 in Life


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Butter & Lasagna


Weird food habits run in my family – most of them related to texture. My father, for example, won’t eat fruits of any kind except plantain that is barely ripe. He won’t eat tomatoes for the same reason and for 35 years my mother has been cooking him sambar (which he loves) and surreptitiously fishing the tomato pieces out before he sees them. Every time we hired a new cook, she’d have to go through the whole process of explaining that the tomatoes were allowed in every dish but must be cut into large size chunks so that they could easily be separated prior to serving or chopped so fine that they’d merge into the gravy. Every single one of the cooks thought she was nuts and my father nuttier but this is the kind of thing that makes me believe my parents must truly love each other – she, because she does it even though she thinks my father is being a diva; he, because he eats the dishes that he knows have been tainted with the touch of the mushy tomato.

My own No-No is curd. It’s a long story (short version: a close encounter with an itch worm in my childhood led to an even more intimate encounter with a tub full of curd and ever since then the mere smell of it turns my stomach). Ideally, I wouldn’t even have it in my house but since a tremendous amount of Indian cooking involves the darn thing (including my favorite mix of MTR Rava Idlis and a whole bunch of kebabs), I’ve managed to get over my aversion to the point where I’ll acknowledge its existence long enough to cook it into some dish. This makes my mother happy because she spent my entire childhood trying to con me into believing that curd could only be eaten as is, never to be incorporated into anything I ate, especially things that I loved to eat. My mommy loves me.

But curd is now at the center of an argument that she and I have been having for the past couple of days. I was reading this post on Cooking the Hard Way about churning your own butter and it all sounded very easy. I thought I’d try it out some time and get some fresh buttermilk in the process. I’ve been meaning to try out a new pancake recipe and this would be perfect. I mentioned as much to my mother. Big mistake.

“That’s not how you make butter,” she scoffed. “Or buttermilk.”

“But Ma, she has pictures of it!”

“Rubbish! That’s not how you make butter! I make butter all the time [note: this is true] and that’s not how I make it.”

“Well, how do you make it then?” I asked.

“You take curd and you beat it until it separates into solids and liquid. The solids you press into butter and the liquid is buttermilk.”

“Ew!” I said, grossed out. “That’s disgusting!”

“You’ve been eating it for years,” she informed me. “You didn’t think it was disgusting then.”

“Ma!” I said, shocked. My father was right after all – if the devil got into her she could make you eat horrible things and you’d never even know! “How could you?”

“Do you want to know how to make butter or not?” she asked, unrepentant. “If you do, then this is how we make it. And it’s delicious!”

So my question to all of you butter churners is: how do you make butter?

On a different note, reading Kate’s entry on lasagna brought back memories of the first time I tried making some. I didn’t make the noodles like Kate does but I have used the freshly made ones rather than the kind you get in a box and they do make a difference. It’s slight but it’s good – and I wouldn’t give myself sleepless nights if I couldn’t find any or make any. I found the recipe on Epicurious (which also gave me my favorite Carbonara recipe) and till date it’s the best one I’ve found:


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
2 tablespoons minced garlic
8 ounces lean ground beef
6 ounces spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

15 lasagna noodles (about 12 ounces)

2 15-ounce containers part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained,
squeezed dry
2 large eggs

4 3/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/4 pounds)


FOR SAUCE: Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and garlic; sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. Add beef and sausages to pan; sauté until cooked through, breaking up meat with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until flavors blend and sauce measures about 5 cups, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Cool.

FOR LASAGNA: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Drain; cover with cold water.

Combine ricotta and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Mix in spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs.

Drain pasta and pat dry. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of 13×9-inch glass baking dish. Place 5 noodles over sauce, overlapping to fit. Spread half of ricotta-spinach mixture evenly over noodles. Sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta-spinach mixture. Spoon 1 1/2 cups sauce over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover (sauce will be thick). Repeat layering with 5 noodles, remaining ricotta-spinach mixture, 2 cups mozzarella and 1 1/2 cups sauce. Arrange remaining 5 noodles over sauce. Spread remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese evenly over lasagna. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.) Cover baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake lasagna 40 minutes; uncover and bake until hot and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.


It sounds a bit complicated but your major investment is really time, which only bugs you during that last fifteen minutes when you’re waiting for it to cool and going crazy from the aroma. The thing that shocked me about this recipe was how well it came out in spite of my never having cooked Lasagna before in my life. This makes rather a lot of it but that’s ok – it keeps rather well and the sauce, which is excellent, actually tastes better on the second day. Also, you just need a salad to accompany this (or not) and you’re all set. Although wine is always a help, especially if you’re unsure of the outcome. If you don’t feel like making lasagna, then that’s cool too: pour the sauce over spaghetti. The reviews all told me to increase the sauce amounts by 50% because they were all running short and I guess that’s true if you have a real deep lasagna pan. I made mine (still do) in a normal deep dish that I had with me. It didn’t allow me to make too many layers but what I had was more than enough.

Oh, and if you’re like some of my desi friends and are constantly looking for ways to desi-fy a meal, I’d suggest you wait until you’ve made this at least once before you try to innovate – unless you know what you’re doing and are a really good cook, of course. I’m an unimaginative traditionalist so all I do is triple the crushed red pepper.


Posted by on March 17, 2008 in Life, Personal


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