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Needed: A Title

Mystery

So every few years, I end up asking people if they have, by any chance, read this book that I once stumbled across when I was about twelve. Things get a little silent and complicated when I explain that I can recall neither its name nor its author and I’m a bit hazy about the plot as well.

Hey, it’s been a while since I was twelve, alright? What do you want from me? If it helps any, I read it in one of those Reader’s Digest condensed works volumes from 1970-something. It could have been 1960-something too. I wasn’t paying attention to the publication details.

It was summer, I was bored, this book was funny, it was there. I would like to read it again. Here’s what I remember of it –

The story is set in America, in a rural town. It centers around this eccentric family that’s not too bright. There’s an ornery old patriarch who shows up occasionally to do things like refuse to sell the family farm so the town can put up something in the name of progress in its place (my brain says “hydroelectric dam” but I know that can’t be true! Shopping mall, maybe? But did they have those in the 60s and 70s? What was progress back then? That thing).

Then there’s his son, let’s call him The Cutie, who’s beefy and hunky and completely dimwitted in an interesting kind of way – you know, the kind of guy you’d sit and listen to for hours because you can’t believe what’s coming out of his mouth? But he’s also a nice guy. Which is why a psychiatrist and the schoolteacher both want a piece of him.

Those two ladies come in because of the twins. The twins are the younger siblings (?) of The Cutie. Pre-adolescents. And they’re quite sharp so they leave him puzzled.They might be fraternal or identical, I don’t remember which. They might also be his nephews/ nephew and niece. Definitely not a pair of girls though.

Things happen and the mayor or somesuch sees an opportunity to twist the arm of The Cutie and the patriarch by threatening to take the kids away because the father-son duo are clearly too stupid to take care of them. The district attorney sends a psychiatrist to evaluate the living situation and after flirting heavily with The Cutie without getting anywhere (primarily because he’s too dumb to see a come on when he sees one), she submits a report that says he hates the kids.

The schoolteacher then comes to his rescue (there’s an entertaining passage that hints at the courtroom drama to come when she asks him why he said “kidnap” when he and the psychiatrist played word association and she mentioned the twins – and he says that the twins are kids and kids take naps so he said “kid nap”. Groan). She’s dazzled by the fact that he’s so darn cute and so darn stupid and finally decides to take things into her own hands and seduces him.

Next comes a courtroom battle which, if I remember correctly, left me screaming with laughter and the presiding judge with a bad headache. Things end well with Authority being defeated by the power of good old fashioned stupidity and the judge tells them never to darken his court again.

Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about? *crossed fingers*

Update: Well, you lot were a fat lot of help! Not only haven’t any of you read anything like it, you made me wonder if I’d actually read it myself. The nerve! So an hour of intense and imaginative googling later, here’s what I found out: there is too a novel much like what I’ve described above (except for the part where I totally blanked on major plot points or otherwise messed it up) and it’s called Pioneer, Go Home!

A full eleven people have read it on Amazon and concur with my opinion of it (to wit: awesome!). You can read it too for the affordable price of $145. Ahem. If that breaks your budget, then Elvis Presley made a movie called Follow That Dream! based on it (all together now: “WTF?!”), so…

It appeared in Volume 40 of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books’ Winter collection of 1960. I’m sending out a big kiss and good thoughts to whichever clever person at RD thought it might be a good idea to publish a list of titles. Long may your tribe increase.

It was written by Richard Powell who also wrote The Philadelphian which I vaguely remember reading. It’s a lot more memorable as the Paul Newman movie The Young Philadelphians though. The other book written by Powell that I can recommend is Don Quixote, USA which was almost as funny as Pioneer, Go Home!

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22 Comments

Posted by on May 21, 2009 in Books, Personal

 

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The Ideal Indian Woman

… looks like one strange animal. Kidding! Please do not send a morcha to my house. I’ve gone fishin’.

If you’re reading this blog but usually like to read ancient Indian poetry or know something about the subject because you’re freaky like that, then this is my lucky day because i have a favor to ask.

I’ve been trying to find this poem for some time now – it describes the ideal, presumably Indian, woman thus (I paraphrase heavily):

Her eyes are those of a doe

Her nose is a parrot’s beak

Her braid is a long, black sinuous snake

And her walk is that of a elephant

I’m pretty sure my puny attempt at half-remembered translation has stripped the lines of all grace and meaning (well, read them – they sound ridiculous!) but they were beautiful in their original form and they opened my mind to a new way of thinking about the world in which we live and human beings in general. Also, Disney cartoons but that’s a different story.

Now as I remember it, it was written in Sanskrit or one of the early vernaculars (Pali or Prakrit) and in my memory at least it described the many charms of Draupadi. I could be making this up – it could well be a general guideline for women to aspire to, the same way “skinny + fair/tanned depending on culture you live in” are the general instructions for young women today.

I normally have an excellent memory for things that I like but the year we came across this was an incredibly boring year for Hindi at my school, chiefly because our teacher had developed a habit of skipping over anything in the least interesting with the words “Well, you can read this at home, can’t you?” To this day I have recurring nightmares that I’m sitting for my Hindi exams and not only have I not “read this at home” but I have mysteriously lost the ability to read Hindi at all!

What was I saying?

Ah yes – so if any of you kind people out there remember your ancient poems and this one in particular, could you please let me know who wrote it or its title? Much appreciated.

 
17 Comments

Posted by on September 19, 2008 in Books, Life, Personal

 

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Butter & Lasagna

lasagna.jpg

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:

Ingredients:

SAUCE
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

LASAGNA
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)

Preparation:

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.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on March 17, 2008 in Life, Personal

 

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