He chopping, me stirring

It gets dark by 4 o’clock in the evening, and Venus lights up before the lampposts; she’s Chotto-ma’s favourite planet. We’re hanging between autumn and winter now, like the last leaves. Today, I ran downstairs just before the light died, to take a couple of photographs for you. I owed you autumn.

8.35 pm. D and I are sitting here listening to Mississippi John Hurt’s charred voice wafting out of a grainy recording. It’s strange how his songs can make the sun beat down on your back even on a cold night like this. “The angels laid him away. They laid him six feet under the clay”.

Dinner’s done, but there’s still some wine left in our glasses. The floorboards above us are creaking; Chotto-ma is pottering about upstairs. (So what if D left her tucked in bed an hour ago?) Her bedtime ritual, like everything else in our home, is split between D and me: Around 7 o’clock, I read her a book and sing her a song. She then goes upstairs with D. He reads her two more books – one in English, another in Bengali – before tucking her in. He then says goodnight and comes downstairs. And she untucks herself and gets on with her evening.

Downstairs, D and I get on with ours. We pour ourselves a glass of wine, cook dinner together, talk. Sometimes, we watch a movie, or read. Chotto-ma knows it’s Ma-Ba time, she’s known it for as long as she’s known anything else.

We don’t know what she does with her time, but she loves it as much as we love ours. Sometimes we hear her singing, or reading books to her dinosaurs, or talking to the planets hanging over her bed (they have distinct personalities; they also meet in orbit, marry and have baby moons). By the time we call it a night and go upstairs several hours later, she’s fast asleep in her room. She, along with six books and nine stuffed animals, all in a neighbourly heap on her bed.Β 

Tonight, our dinner was a garlicky, coconuty broth that I made up many years ago in Calcutta, in the tiny kitchen of our first rented flat in Jodhpur Park; it’s a dish that has withstood time, geography and repetition. Even in that shoebox kitchen, D would squeeze in to help me peel, chop and grate. We’ve been cooking together for so many years that it’s one smooth soup of a song. He chopping, me stirring. Me making the marinade, he smudging it on the meat. In tandem, amidst conversation, without a thought; he’s my soul-sous-chef. And tonight, as the pot bubbled and we cooked and stirred, Hurt plucked his guitar in the background and poured his sweet country soul into the broth.

Coconut & Garlic Prawn Broth

The broth, like most things from my kitchen, is done in minutes. It has the strong, punchy flavour that comes from raw garlic, and the mellow roundedness of uncooked coconut. In India, I would use fresh coconut, but here, it’s the easier-to-get dessicated version. This is also a broth I’ve cooked with chicken and lamb, instead of prawns, so take your pick.


150 gms large prawns, cleaned and peeled
1 white onion, halved, then thickly sliced, horizontally not vertically (I’m fussy about chopping)
1 tomato, chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Coconut – 1 cup freshly grated, or 1/2 cup dessicated (and yes, I keep mine in an old talc tin)
2 large cloves of garlic
1 green chilli

In a food processor, blitz the coconut, garlic and chilli – the magic paste that makes all the difference.
Heat oil in a pan, and throw in the onions. Saute till transparent, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and give it a stir. Add 2 cups of water. When it starts boiling, add salt, and the prawns. Let it bubble for a minute, then take it off the heat. The prawns should be cooked, but still tender.
Transfer to your serving dish, and stir in the coconut paste and coriander. The natural oil from the coconut should rise to the top. Serve hot with steamed rice.

16 thoughts on “He chopping, me stirring

  1. This might be just the most romantic post I read today. So sweet and full of warmth. Like Nags, I will make a veg version of this broth and will let you know how it turned out to be. Cheers to many more such moments of chopping and stirring πŸ™‚


  2. Siri, thanks so much for such a lovely note. I'd love to find out how the veg version turns out, so I'll be looking forward to post-cooking report!
    It's lovely to have you here πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks Asha, and hello πŸ™‚
    Yes, it indeed is precious time.
    And thanks for spending some of your precious time here, reading,

  4. It is amazing you have your time with your husband. Need to bring about that change in our lives too which seems to be severely missing right now. The soup looks quite yummy.

  5. Anita, we wove this time into her life when she was so little that she just grew into it. We'd really needed our couple-time in those first years of parenthood because most of the day (and night) revolved around Chotto-ma. There we were, two sleep-deprived amateurs, without any family here to give us any 'us' time. So we gave ourselves a few hours every evening.

  6. She then untucks herself and gets on with the evening….. that made me laugh so hard πŸ™‚ The little ones! We have practically the same story until the mid of it. In my story the little one sneaks out of her bedroom 10 minutes after papa leaves him there and then joins us in chopping and stirring πŸ™‚

    Love your stories mostly because I can relate to almost all of them. Keep them coming!

  7. Yes, it's that age, Prerna – for them every minute of sleep is a minute wasted. Fast forward to our age, and all you want is a lie-in πŸ™‚

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