[minute] Mouse On Plate

Chotto-ma has developed a crush on the camera; she now holds the Nikon, which is nearly as heavy as she is, in her little hands, and walks around from subject to subject. Her hands and eyes are surprising sure. (Or, I’m just being a real mother about it.)

Here’s Mousie wiping the plate clean. Styled and shot by Une Petite Photographe.

{Photograph courtesy: Chotto-ma, using the iPhone. Uploaded untweaked.}

Crisp

Things have a way of working out. When I was about seven, the ‘thing’ that needed working out was a way to scavenge together five rupees, for that was the price of the fat, square little books at the jack-of-all shop behind my school. These were abridged versions of English classics – The Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations – and they were usually the most pressing thing on my mind. This was before the Days of Pocket Money, and times were hard for seven-year-olds. Every time I finished reading one of these books, it would feel like my last. There was not a five-rupee in sight, and no possibility of a windfall. I would give up all hope, and wait for my little classics collection to asphyxiate and die. But, just as the last book prepared to take its last breath, something unexpected would happen. Either one of my Pishis (aunts) would come by for a visit, and before leaving in the evening, would tuck a five-rupee note into the palm of my hand. Or the raddiwala would come knocking, and ask to buy my old school books; for a fiver no less. And Ting! just like that, I’d have enough for the Edgar Allan Poe I’d wanted.

After my last post, after all your lovely, thoughtful messages, and after Chotto-Ma had resigned herself to nannies and childminders, something unexpected happened. Ma and Baba decided to travel to us; they arrive next month, and are going to spend the summer here till Chotto-Ma starts full-time school. Which means I now have a very happy little girl who gets to have a summer squished between grandparents, instead of at a childminder’s.

Things have a way of working out; as proved to me, years ago, by the curious ways of crispy five-rupee notes.

A few other crispy things also work out just right:

Crisp white wine under springtime sunshine.

Crisp new linen on the bed. Ma gave me these lovely bedcovers and cushions when we went to Kolkata this year. I’m loving the Indian prints; feels like home.

Crisp white paper for Chotto-ma’s drawings. Here’s a slice of Ramayan – Sita picking flowers, Ram hunting, peacock pecking, sun shining.

Crisp May mornings.

And crisp, fried okra from Bulbulma’s kitchen. Okra is one of D’s favourite vegetables, and he’s grown up with this version. I had it for the first time in his house after we started dating, and now he cooks it for me whenever we get fresh okra at the market.

D’s Crispy Okra

Ingredients

500g okra
4 tbs wholewheat brown flour (atta)
Sunflower oil
Salt
1/2 tsp red chilli powder

Cut the okra into small circular pieces.
In a bowl, mix the flour with 1 tbs of oil, salt and chilli powder. Mix in with your fingers.
Add the chopped okra and mix well.
Then add a little water at a time till is forms a sticky mix. It should be quite tight and stick to your fingers.
Heat oil in a pan for deep frying. Drop in globs of the mixture, bit at a time, into the hot oil and fry till crispy. It should only take a few minutes.
Drain on kitchen paper, and serve.

I’ll walk you around the house

Every time we move house, we swear never to do it again. But in the 12 years that we’ve been married, we’ve lived in 12 houses. Now that the brown boxes are all gone, and the floors and walls filled up with cushions, canvas and clutter, I thought I’ll walk you around the house. The photographs are from my Instagram, so some of you might have seen them. This Instagram series was inspired by this post by the lovely Jess at Sweet Amandine.

I love what Instagram can do (if its filters are used with caution). I love that it often gives the photos a medium-formatish-feel. That’s what I want from Santa – a medium format camera. Meanwhile, here are the fakers. If you’d like to find me on Instagram, I’m @piaghoshroy

And this is home.

London Twenty Twelve

The Olympics is over. London is catching up on its sleep. The colours are suddenly quieter now – no more candy-pink t-shirts and flag-wrapped shoulders.

We took a bus to Knightsbridge in the midst of the Olympics. On the bus, were four old Chinese women. And as bus rides go, this one stood out. Two of the women were as quiet as mice. And the other two were as loud as…well, as loud as old Chinese women. They made it quite clear that they weren’t related, and didn’t want to be.

One of loud little women, let’s call her Oldsmile, fussed over Chotto-Ma throughout the four-stop ride. She clucked and she chuckled, she rearranged Chotto-ma’s dress, brushed back her hair, asked her for kisses. And then, Oldsmile wrinkled up her nose and told Chotto-Ma that the other noisy Chinese woman on the bus was crazy, and that the world was a dangerous place, and great caution was required at every step. And she told her that daddies knew nothing and mummies knew everything.

Meanwhile, the other loud little woman, let’s call her Oldodd, walked up and down the bus, punching the air and screaming. Really screaming. She cursed the Olympics and scolded the driver. She hollered about how she needed to get off the bus and how the bus wouldn’t stop and how she couldn’t get to work now and why she hated everyone and how everyone could sod off. Chotto-Ma heard many words that she’d never heard before.

Life lessons on a four-stop ride. As strange as London. A bit unhinged. Very kooky. And as beautiful. Kind of like the Olympics. 

The thirteenth year

Yesterday was our 13th anniversary. D and I have been together for 16 years, and married for 13. And right about now, you’re starting to get a little worried that this is going to be that kind of post. The kind were I look back, and tell you about all the wonderful times we’ve had together. Retrace our thirteen-year journey. Then end with the recipe of a heart-shaped cake with a rosebud border.

Stay, I promise won’t. I’ll take you on another walk instead. It started with D waking me up at 6.30am on Sunday morning with a ‘Happy anniversary!’. When that failed to wake me up completely, he said ‘Breakfast at Ottolenghi!’. And, that woke me up.

We took the train to the best breakfast in London. And the day that followed kind of sums up our marriage. It was Sunday, loose-limbed and relaxed. The sky was absurdly blue. We decided to pick tube stations on a whim, then get off the trains without a plan. Surprise ourselves. Do whatever took our fancy.

It was a day that we wouldn’t change an hour of.

 ~~~

8.30am. An early morning walk through Islington when the streets were as bare as the trees. When the flower shops were just waking up for business, and the bakers were baking their breads.

9.30am. Eating the breakfast that makes Guardian lose its calm. By the chef who is a little bit worshipped. Food by Yotam Ottolenghi. And that’s Plenty said.

11.30am. A few stations and a couple of miles later, we found ourselves walking by the river in Richmond, sitting at a Bavarian cafe, and stumbling into a little courtyard market cooking fresh Morroccan food.

2 o’clock. Tapas for the tired, vino for the thirsty. Grilled chorizo and rocket. Gambas, soaked and sizzling in roasted garlic and chilli olive oil. Wilted spinach with raisins and pine nuts. Bread that reminded me of my childhood – toasted directly on fire, and burnt around the edges. Eggs with artichokes and serrano ham. And of course, patatas bravas.

4pm. Coffee by the roadside. A walk to work off that patatas. A train home. And just in time for Sherlock in ‘The Reichenbach Fall’.

A day that we wouldn’t change an hour of.

Gone fishin’

This morning, after a long, long time, maybe years, I did something that I used to do a lot of. I snuck downstairs while D and Chotto-ma were still sleeping, and sat by myself, while the sun slowly stretched and woke up. I sat on the big armchair, feet tucked under myself, with my cup of Darjeeling tea, and listened to Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby singing Gone Fishin’. It’s such a Sunday song; though I didn’t play it because it was Sunday. In fact, that song could turn any day into a Sunday. It has such a beautiful lack of purpose. Such unapologetic laziness. You must be cursing me for doing this to you on a Monday morning. For lulling you back into the weekend when you’ve got so much work waiting for you. Am I slowing you down? Well, good.

I’m going fishing. No, not literally. It’s too cold for that. But that phrase, for me, sums up an entire state of being. Fishing is never really about the fish, is it? It’s about sitting in your own company. And, while you sit with yourself and wait for nothing in particular, little thoughts come and bite on the hook in your head. Gone fishin’. Yes, I did do a bit of that this weekend.

We also went for a long drive, through early morning winter light. You know, the kind of light that circles the tops of naked, leaf-less trees in pale gold haloes. On either side of our wheels were frosty silver fields. In between the gold on top and the silver below, were red-browns of the trees. And suddenly, rows of bare branches with apples. The car drove through a Wyeth watercolour.

We stopped many times. For hot, spiced mulled wine. For a walk by the river. For a warm, buttery pub lunch. And for a Christmas tree.

When we reached home, the sky was as dark as it was when I’d woken up in the morning to sit by myself. And we were hungry again. Hungry, with cold noses, and cold fingers.

I made a warm dessert, and spooned it into three little bowls. It isn’t a ‘real’ dessert – it’s too simple, too healthy to be called that. But it’s an old favourite – and there’s nothing quite like it.

~~~

Chhana & demerara

Chhana is a cottage cheese, which is very popular in Bengal, India. It’s soft and fluffy, with a hint of lemon. Eat it warm, and sprinkled with brown sugar. You can also try chhana drizzled with honey, or maple syrup. Be generous with your sprinkles and your drizzles. That’s the only way you can turn your day into Sunday.

Ingredients

For the chhana:
2 fresh lemons, juiced
4 pints milk (semi-skimmed, or whole)

For the sweet topping:
Demerara sugar, to sprinkle liberally

1 tsp lemon zest, freshly grated

Pour milk in a pan and bring to the boil. Keep the lemon juice handy. As soon as the milk begins to rise,lower heat, and pour in half of the lemon juice. Stir. The milk will begin to curdle instantly. Keep adding a bit of lemon juice, till all the milk has curdled into cheese. You should be left with the white cheese floating in a pale green water, also called whey.

Sieve the whey away, till you’re just left with the cottage cheese. Serve the hot, soft chhana, or cottage cheese, in bowls. Sprinkle with lots of brown sugar, and a pinch of lemon zest.

Enjoy!