Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ramadan, Paryushana, Mahalaya and a Giveaway

No, this post has nothing to do with any religion. I am not the right person for that kind of thing. I have little knowledge about the tenets and rituals of the various religion including mine. All I want myself to have is faith, a belief to guide me through life.

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This B&W photo of Narkel Naru from a previous Durga Pujo goes to Susan's B&W Wednesday

Why I mention Ramadan or is it Ramzan, is because I have been always very impressed with the fasting, the rigors of sacrifice and self-control involved in that month of intense heat and scorch. When we were little and barely knew to spell "religion" our parents uttered the word "Ramzan" with hushed reverence. Reverence for Maulbi Saab who shut the green doors of his store the entire afternoon for he fasted and went without water in the searing heat and needed rest. For my classmate's parents who worked through the day and dealt with three kids without a morsel of food to sustain them until sunset. The whole idea of abstinence from food and water seemed huge, looming large above anything they might have done during that period. In those times, Iftar or the fast-breaking meal was less glorified and it was the fasting during Ramadan that held all the attention.

Paryushana is a word I heard only recently from here. And this after we spent years being neighbor to a Jain Aunty who made the best stuffed red chili pickles in the Universe.If you are ignorant like me, it is a Jain festival when the laity take on vows of study and fasting with a spiritual intensity similar to temporary monasticism.This is the time when the wandering monks take up residence for the monsoons and so the householders immerse themselves in an annual renewal of faith by meditation and self-control.The last day of the festival you ask for forgiveness from all living beings as I understand.

Very apt and fulfilling it seems, to come together for a purpose, to live a few days trying the body and mind to strict submissiveness, channeling thoughts for a greater purpose maybe.On the aside, two of my fellow bloggers a hiker and a yoga-er have already tried their body and mind in greater ways, and so it does not necessarily have to do anything with religion or festivals.

When I mulled over these two festivals from two very different religions it is the self-control that they profess to practice for a few days every year fascinated me. I do not come from a fasting household. My Mother does have her quota of vratas and fasts but none of them ask to go without food for the entire day or for a consecutive period of days.If I try to go 12 hours without food, my Mother thinks I have become weak.Mr.Hazare is clearly not her type.

As an adult on my own I have never practiced total abstinence from food or anything else willingly. Here we will ignore severe bouts of stomach flu when one eats Phuchka and egg roll on their Calcutta jaunt. This year I wanted to spend a few days practicing to eat one meal a day, to spend my day not thinking of food(my usual hobby) and cooking but something beyond myself.Sure sign that I am fast approaching the age for Vanaprastha.

DebiPoksho begun yesterday on Mahalaya. The Goddess is packing her last sari in the suitcase and checking to see if the door locks are working properly, after all she will be away for all five days and that husband, Shiva of hers is hardly trustworthy with such things. The countdown to her arrival has begun. It is a moment of anticipation and joy in the heart of the many Bengalis around the globe.On my part I will try to eat only one meal a day for these four days till Panchami. No one has asked me to do this, there is no set rule and I don't know why I am doing this at all. Heck, I might not be even able to do it and succumb to that bar of chocolate mid morning.

I have no intention to achieve anything but I hope this period will make me appreciate food and everything else that is easily available to me more.

Since it is that time of the year when the heart sings a tune even though there is no swaying kashful in sight or damp sheuli their face upturned waiting for me on the wet morning grass, I want to share the song with you. For you alone my Blog Readers who have always been with me all these years, I have a humble gift.

For the simple reason that I do not have enough riches (ha, ha), there can be only one winner and the winner of this Giveaway gets a choice to pick a


CorningWare SimplyLite 1-1/2-Quart Casserole with Glass and Plastic Lids (this I have and love) from here


OR a Le Creuset Stoneware 16-Ounce French Onion Soup Bowl, Kiwi (This I would love to have) from here
** This is if Amazon ships to where you live
If you do not want the above gifts and you are a winner, you will get the equivalent amount in Amazon Gift Card.

For those in India, I have a gift of a much loved book. I will send it from Flipkart so you have to be where they can ship.



Garlic And Sapphires: The Secret Life Of A Critic In Disguise(Paperback) by Ruth Reichl
If you do not want this book you will get a Flipkart e-voucher for the equivalent amount.

The winner of the giveaway also has a responsibility. He/She gets to pick a charity they support and I will contribute $50 towards that charity (given that it is valid and all). It is okay if you at least like the work of a certain charity and would like me to contribute towards it.

So to be part of this giveaway you need to do the following

1.Leave a comment on this post along with your e-mail id

2.Tell me since when  you read this blog and a charity you think does good work

Go ahead now and do your part. If you follow me on OR , you have to leave a comment right here to be considered for the Giveaway

And as they say over the Loudspeaker दुर्गा पूजा की हार्दिक शुभ कामना or দূর্গা পুজোর অনেক শুভেচ্ছা or tepid as it sounds in English Happy Durga Pujo

*** And oh yeah, No one has sponsored these gifts and all of them are paid by me because I love you so***

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Toddler Menu -- a la Frittata

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My Dad who is really bad at story telling is coerced into telling LittleSis a story.

He goes, " There was a cow who gave us milk...".

Okay I really don't know how this exciting story would have turned out but LS intervened " Cow gives you milk ? Naaaah. We get Milk from the fridge and Baba puts it there. He gets it from the grocery stores".

Does this prove "Baba is cow" ? Kind of.

The BigSis enters the picture and is apalled at her sister's lack of knowledge.

She goes, "No LS listen. The cow who lives far off gives milk. Then they put that milk in big trucks. The truck transports milk to the grocery store, blah, blah...."

LS gives her older sis an incredulous look and walks off saying "Naaaah".



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LS's Dad is telling her a bedtime story. He starts off with Ramayana. The poor guy has been trying to tell the same story for years and has never gone far. It truly is an epic when told in our house.

This time however amidst all interruptions and questions he proceeded to the part where Bharat returns to Ayodhya with Rama's sandals on his head.

LS goes "He carried sandals on his head.Ewwww, that is disgusting"



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LS went to school for all of 4 days, 3 of which she cried buckets. All 4 days we got her back in 2 hours. And then she proceeds to tell everyone who cares to listen "I went to school. I did not cry even a little bit"



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Beginning of this month we went to visit the D's sister. LS ganged up with her same age cousin and they both played together very well. They would set up their play things in corners or in closets and shoo away the older sis. It was a huge change from last year when they met for the first time in India and fought like cats & dogs.This time it was the BigSis who would come and tell us, " They are not letting me play, what do I do ?"

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Tomorrow is Mahalaya and the count down to Durga Pujo begins. We will be celebrating it far from Bong land like Sudeshna says. Also there is something coming up for you all also in a couple of days, so stay tuned and be back.

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Now to the Frittata, which is an easy breakfast for weekend or even weekday Mornings. It is both easy to make and to shove down a reluctant child's throat, upto a point that is. I do it totally on the stove top, no oven is involved. You may say that makes it an omlette, but I will stick to Frittata because that makes it a la-di-da dish to gobble up quick. And that is how the girls like it.

Cook few pieces of Broccoli florets(cut small) in the microwave.

Heat 1 tsp of Olive Oil or Butter in a small fry pan. Saute some chopped onion, cooked broccoli or what-have-you vegetables. I usually add some chopped spinach and tomatoes. Thinly chopped Bell peppers are another attractive option.

Once the vegetables are cooked I also add some pieces of bread, hand torn. Note:Bread is optional.

Meanwhile beat 2 eggs + 1/4 cup of milk in a bowl. Spike it with a salt, little Garam Masala powder and what-have-you herbs.

Once you are done sauteing the veggies and the bread pieces are just browned, spread them out and pour the beaten eggs uniformly covering the veggies. Tilt the pan around to ensure that the liquid has reached all edges. If necessary , add about 1/2 tsp of Olive Oil around the edges.
Cover the fry pan, reduce heat to low medium and let it cook. Check in between to see if the top has set, lifting the edges a little with your spatula. Sprinkle some grated cheese on top and let it melt. Serve warm.

Note: Ideally after the bottom is cooked you are supposed to transfer the pan to the oven and broil for couple of minutes. I don't do that, because  the Frittata I make for the kids is not very thick and it gets cooked pretty well on the stove top without firing up the oven. The only thing you need to be careful is not to burn the bottom of the frittata and you are all set to serving up a happy meal to the kids.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Coffee House er sei adda ta...

This post should have been written last year, but I sat on it for the longest time ever because I did not know how to write what I felt. I still don't. But what the heck I thought. It is Black & White Wednesday. And anyway what can you write about something that is as mythical as Coffee House,tucked between old bookshops, above betel-juice stained stairs on a by-lane just east off College Street.

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It is not that I had my first love there, beneath those high ceilings and dusty twirling fans.Nor did I bunk classes to discuss fall of the Soviet empire over wispy smokes of Charminar and tall, grimy glasses of cold coffee. Sitting besides those mildewed walls, I did not pen my my first poem for a Little Magazine.

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All that I really did was drop in whenever I was in the area, to eat and soak up the atmosphere. The food wasn't even good and the service austere. Yet, I would step in, fanning myself with a dupatta, my sling back loaded with books;to order a plate of chicken pakoda or a kobiraji cutlet and a cup of really bad coffee. The hum of the rich sounds around me, the smell that reverberated through the walls trapped since the 70's, the imperceptible presence of Calcutta's literati in the same uncomfortable wooden chairs as mine, fascinated me. I wanted to belong to the Coffee House crowd but never did.

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Last year after I had spent hours browsing through the book stalls spilling with books on the narrow pavements on a particularly humid day in October, I stepped into Coffee House again. The place seemed stuck in time, relying heavily on its past glory. The walls seemed to have taken a careless brush of paint and some of the wooden chairs had given way to plastic. The sign stuck on its walls was another new addition but I doubt if anyone so much as took a glance.

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Everything else including the servers with their elaborate head gears and their strict demeanor remained same. I ordered a Chicken Kobiraji for myself, D got an omlette. We sipped our cold coffee, limp and uninspiring.

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I took out my DSLR but was too shy to break the rich monotonous hum with a high pitched click and so kept it away. After a few pics with my smaller camera, we stepped out in the sun into the cool interiors of the Indica, leaving the musty yet energetic 70's in our wake.


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Calcutta Coffee House -- circa 2010


I don't know if the above picture qualifies, if it does off it goes to Susan's Black & White Wednesday.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Kumror Chakka -- Potatoes,Pumpkins and more

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5 years and I am still the same. Not really same-same but same as in my paranoia about pre-school teachers remains exactly same as when BigSis started school 5 years ago. While my faith and absolute regard has gone up for elementary school teachers my trust on pre-school teachers hovers around the bottom of the curve. Of course once I get to know them and 3 months have passed I love them like soul sisters but that takes time.

Here, I should take a breath and say, if you are a pre-school teacher, do not take this to heart, you are doing a fine job, it is me the Mother who is weird. After all I come from a lineage or rather entire culture of mothers who spent a better part of their life standing outside the gates of their kid's schools. These were people who thought it was totally cool to stand outside exam halls with pale green tender coconuts, straw et al for their hormonal, teenaged kids taking the Madhyamik.

I am not like that but might become one, who knows, genealogy is difficult to beat.

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For now I am only concerned about pre-school for the littlest one. I think it takes a lot of guts for a tiny 3 year old to go into an unknown environment even if it has dinosaurs and pint size refrigerators. For the life of me I couldn't leave her alone, so there I sat with her in class whole of her first day in school. Actually only half-day. Though I enrolled her for full day, I couldn't bear to sit around in kiddie size small chairs and play kitchen anymore. It hurt, those chairs. So around 11:30, I said enough and got her home. In my short time in the class, I managed to tell the teacher how she should handle kids, so you know what a gala time they had in the staff room on that day. I also have this weird idea wherein I tend to have more trust on pre-school teachers who are all bosom-y and slightly overweight. The kid's teacher is reed thin and hence I am all the more worried. She seemed nice though and I thought it might be impolite to suggest a diet of burger and fries to her.

Next day, it was the Dad's turn who of course dropped LS off and came back. The kid bawled and the school might just put up a "No Entry" sign, the next time they see us.

This week, I again plan to do the "sit-in-class" dharna. I have even taken half a day off.Wish me luck, well the teacher needs it actually.

The third grader started school too but she is a pro now. Of course she has much more after school work to do now and things get really hectic once I get back home. In between all this  I  eat and read and cook and made this Kumro'r Chakka last week. Oh and I also waste a lot of time catching snatches of "Rojgere Ginni" on my mint condition ETV Bangla. That deserves its own post though.

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Back to Kumro'r Chokka now. I had sweet Indian pumpkin, bright, happy, orange in my crisper. The temperature outside had just dropped from hot summer to a chill-in-the-air Fall. Pumpkin seemed most apt for such happenings. My Ma would disagree though, Kumro or Pumpkin is more of a summer or monsoon vegetable in India and has nothing to do with winter. If you don't get Indian Pumpkin where you live, you can use butternut squash instead.It should be fine.

The recipe here is how my Mother makes the kumror chakka with a phoron(tempering) of methi and hing, completely vegetarian with no onion or garlic. My Mother also adds potol to this dish and makes it a little more liquid than I do.My friend uses a phoron of Kalo Jeera/Kalonji seeds and green chili. Sometimes I have used PaanchPhoron and dry Red Chili and in that case Mustard Oil. It all depends. A little change in spices brings a whole new taste to the same dish. So find your own muse and make your own Kumro'r Chakka.


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Kumror Chakka


Soak about 1/3 cup of Kala Chana overnight. Pressure cook with salt till soft.

Indian Pumpkin ~ 1 small pie, peeled and chopped in cubes (about 2 cups) OR 1 small Butternut Squash
Potato ~ 1 large, chopped in cubes

Cut B. Squah through the center. Scoop out the seeds. Chop in large chunks. Put in a large bowl, add little water and microwave for 4 minutes. The B.squash will now be easy to peel.
With Indian Pumpkin, skip the MW. Peel and chop in small cubes, same as potatoes.

Heat White Oil in a Kadhai/Saute pan

Temper the oil with
1/2 tsp of whole methi seeds
1/4 tsp of Hing
2-3 cracked dried red chili

When the spices sputter add the cubed potatoes. Sprinkle a little turmeric and fry them light golden.

Add 1/2 tsp of Dry Roasted Cumin Powder
1/2 tsp of Dry Roasted Corriander Powder
1 tsp of grated ginger
couple of hot Indian green chlli, slit
With a sprinkle of water fry the masalas

Next goes in the pumpkin/b.squash.Saute for a minute till the masalas are mixed well with the pumpkin. Add salt to taste. If using B.squash or if pumpkin is not sweet, you might need to add a little sugar too.

Cover and cook. Usually you do not need to add water but check in between and give a good stir. Add a little water if necessary. Cook till both potatoes and the squash is done.

Add about 1/3rd cup of the cooked Kala Chana and mix well.Note: if you do not have Kala Chana, use Garbanzo or even green peas.

Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of Garam masala on top, add 1/2 tsp of ghee, switch off flame and let it sit. Garnish with grated coconut is another tip I learned from a FB fan and I am waiting to do that next.

Serve hot with Roti,Paratha or Luchi

Note: You can use different tempering for this dish like Kalonji and green chili or Paanch Phoron and dry red chili. In that case use Mustard Oil to cook this dish.

Similar Tales:

There is a different take on Kumror Chakka at IFR with garlic which I might soon try to put a spin on my age old version

There is a Kumro Chingri botti that my Ma-in-law makes which is NOT a chokka but an interesting dish with Pumpkin

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mashla Muri and Cha -- for a weekend

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Mashla Muri is the homebody, gharelu cousin of sexy Jhaalmuri. It doesn't ask much from you. Roast some puffed rice to warm and crisp, add finely chopped onion and green chili. The chili must be the fiery, hot kind. Some finely chopped cukes are most welcome. Next goes some spicy mixture or dalmut.

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While you pour the pungent mustard oil, let the tea boil to give you company when you need it most.

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With a sprinkle of chat masala and a quick toss of the muri, Mashla Muri is ready, Sit back with your cup of tea and enjoy.

Have a nice weekend.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Chotoder Chicken Stew -- Chicken Stew with Vegetables

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A couple of months back...

Me to BigSis: Have you heard of Isaac newton ? Do you know who he is ?

BigSis : Yes, yes, he is the guy who said we should wash our hands twenty times with soap and water to kill germs.

Me: ????? Don't they teach anything at your school ? Newton was a famous scientist...

BigSis: Yes, that is why he said to wash hands !!!

Me, now confused, maybe Newton said something about washing hands after all, who knows: Well, that is fine but more importantly he was the one who explained gravity, apple falling from tree... F=G..blah, blah, blah

Big Sis: Okay...

A few weeks back, little neighbor girl has come over to play.

Me, with my favorite question: Have you heard of Isaac newton ? Do you know who he is ?

Little NG: Uh, Oh
Big Sis very interested : Yes, yes, he is the guy who said we should wash our hands twenty times with soap and water to kill germs.

Me, now exasperated: Didn't I tell you that he was a famous scientist and apple falling from tree...blah, blah...gravity...blah, blah

Little NG: BM Aunty, Yes, apple will always fall down from tree, will not go up but Hand washing with soap and water really kills germs.

Now really who is this guy. Where in the Principia did Sir Newton tell us to wash our hands ? For now I am washing my hands off this and cooking up a chicken stew with loads of vegetables. You do too. A warm bowl to cool a hot mind.

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I make a chicken stew(you can make with mutton too) with loads of vegetables every week. Little S loves chicken and this stew, Big Sis at her current stage not so much chicken but still likes the broth part. Every week the vegetables change, the spices change but the stew is always there.Till about 6 months ago I would puree the vegetables like this egg curry. Now I just put everything in the pressure cooker. The aroma is divine. With a hot green chili, it makes a lovely dish even for the adults.

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There is no set recipe that I have. I go along with the flow and some week is just better than the other. The spice mix I used a couple of weeks back was different, a bit unusual and I liked it. That is the only reason I am putting the recipe here. Now tell me, what is your child's favorite everyday food ?

Hope you all had a Happy Eid and a lovely Ganesh Chaturthi.


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Chicken Stew with Vegetables

The measurements etc. are totally eyeballed, go with your instinct.

Marinate 2-2&1/2lb of whole cut up chicken (skinless with bones) with 1 tsp of Garlic Paste, 1 tsp of Ginger Paste, a little turmeric powder, salt and lime juice

Toast
1 tsp of whole Corriander Seeds
1/4 tsp of Cumin seeds
1/4 tsp of Fennel seeds
6 Cloves/Laung

Make a paste of the
above spices
4 cloves of garlic
1" piece of peeled and chopped ginger

Heat Olive Oil or butter in a Pressure cooker or a deep bottomed pan

Temper the oil with a thin 2" stick of cinnamon and 3-4 green cardamom (gently crushed in the mortar)


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Add about 1 small onion chopped fine and fry till onion turns brown on the edges. Add the masala paste and 1 chopped tomato. Fry covered till the oil is separating from the masala and the tomatoes are all mushed up.


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Add all the vegetables (potatoes, carrots, zucchini, green beans, few leaves of spinach, a beet maybe), sprinkle a little salt and saute for 2-3 minutes.

Next add the marinated chicken pieces and saute till the meat is no longer pink.

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Add enough warm water so that the meat and vegetables are fully covered. Add a fistful of fresh coriander leaves.Pressure cook for about 5 minutes at full pressure. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and lime juice. Serve as a soup or with rice.
Note: For grown ups add a couple of hot Indian Green chili for a spicy kick

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