Continuations

I have a couple of hours before I leave for work. Chotto-ma is at school. D and I dropped her off, then came back home for a coffee before he left for work. We do that whenever I have the morning free. We drop her off, and sneak back home. I don’t know why it feels like sneaking, but it’s fantastic.

We sit on that brown sofa, our legs stretched out and crisscrossing like rivers; and as liquid. We drink our coffee and talk. Today, we also had these slivers of orangey chocolate crisps – addictive little critters – that a friend introduced us to recently. The crisps crunch between our teeth, and that’s the only sound we hear. If I open my ears wider, there’s a chik-chree-chik of a winter bird I cannot name, the ticjk-tock-ticjk-tock of a clock that’s running seven minutes late, and the sounds of our floorboards stretching like old bones. I’m in love with this quiet, with this time, this tangle of limbs.

When we were walking Chotto-ma to school earlier, something caught my eye at the window of the thrift shop we pass everyday. My feet faltered, stopped, for there behind the shop window stood the coffee table I’d been waiting years for. Angels sang. It was old, tiled, used, perfect. But the shop hadn’t opened yet, it was too early in the morning. By the time it opened I’d be at work, and the whole day would’ve passed. I knew the table wouldn’t stay that long; it was a very busy shop, business was brisk, the table was just £20. I stood there, I fretted. D walked to the back of the shop; the cleaner was opening one of the shutters, but then the cleaner wasn’t allowed to sell anything. Chotto-ma was getting late for school, I was getting late for work. And so, I walked away. I told myself that if it was meant to live with us, the table would stay. And if it wasn’t, well, it was meant for someone else to keep their coffee on.

The table waited for us. The world had passed by its gorgeous tiles, its sturdy legs, its throwaway price, and yet, no one had taken it away. And that’s the way most of our home has gathered itself over the years. Pieces, old and used, from here are there – the big armchair, the dining table, the odd chairs, the blue china cupboard which we painted and wallpapered, my desk, the footstool my feet now rest on.


Unlike new furniture, these come with stories. They have a past, they were loved and left, or passed down from those who had passed away. Adopted, orphaned wood. I like the way they bring in bits of other lives; imprints I can only guess at. I like to think of them as continuations.

Many months after we bought our dining table, while cleaning crumbs from the floor, I discovered that the table had something on its underside. A painted heart with the initials A + L next to it.

– – – –

And here’s another continuation: do you remember this? Well, it’s been sitting by the window for a while now, and I’ve watched it change from a bright yellow to a deep, dull yellow. I’ve watched it settle and sink into its own juices, skin softening, ageing. I’ve opened the lid to sniff, dipped in a finger to taste, and I can’t wait any longer.

Butter with preserved lemon, roasted cumin & coriander


Ingredients

A good salted butter
Preserved lemon peel, finely chopped (don’t use the pulp, just the peel)
2 tsp whole cumin
Fresh coriander leaves
Chilli flakes

Keep the butter outside the refrigerator to soften it.
Lightly dry-roast the cumin in a hot pan, stirring constantly. Take it off the heat and coarsely grind it with a pestle.
Mix all the ingredients together. And your butter’s ready.

You can use it on anything – spread it on toast, smear it on a grilled fish, tuck it into warm rice. It’s all good.







She lives in an Altoids box

Did you all have lots of toys when you were little? I didn’t. It was a different time, wasn’t it? At least where I was standing. Parents didn’t just go out and buy a talking doll along with their weekend grocery, nor a hopping bunny when a child did all her chores. Money was far more thoughtfully spent, and children far less, well, indulged.

I have to admit, I liked that time. I liked it even when I was in it. When you don’t have a lot of toys, you become a little more ingenious with your time. Which reminds me of a line I saw on this poster recently – Creativity is subtraction. It really is.

Till I was about nine years old, we lived in a joint family, in a large old house in Central Calcutta. I remember sitting on the terrace with my friends and making clay utensils, and dolls from scraps of cloth. We would bake the little clay dishes in the sun, and have lavish weddings for the dolls. With real food. The food was always real. And usually stolen from our respective kitchens.

D and I try to give Chotto-Ma a sense of that…lessness. She still has more than we did, but less than most. And one of her favourite toys is a little cloth girl that I made for her some time ago. Like the little cloth girls I used to make in the old terrace in the old days.

This is Zaza. She lives in an Altoids box.

To me Zaza, and her curiously strong bed, stands for the sparseness of another time. A time when I made do with what I had. And made memories that stuck in my head like multicoloured Post-its.

It’s also the way I cook best: making do with what I have. Foraging through my cupboards without a plan. Throwing things together as I jigsaw tastes in my head. Do you do that?

Butter beans & pistachio tikki

You can soak the butter beans overnight and boil them, but I had canned butter beans sitting in my cupboard. (Because sometimes you just need cans.) And then my eyes landed on a jar of pistachios.
Tikkis came about, and they were very good, so I had to share them with you.

Ingredients

These tikkis have a very interesting combination of spices, but don’t hold yourself to them. Make do with what you have. Swap butter beans with black-eyed beans, pistachios with cashew, basil with parsley. Let your cupboards take the call.

3 cups boiled/canned butter beans
1/2 cup pistachios
A handful of basil
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp sumac (if you don’t have this, add a squeeze of lemon juice for a slight tartness)
1/2 tsp coriander seeds (dry roasted in a pan)
A sprinkle of coarse black pepper
1 tbs flour (if needed)
Salt
Olive oil

In a blender, or with a mortar and pestle, coarsely ground together the pistachios, basil, roasted coriander seeds and chilli along with 2 tbs of olive oil
In a bowl, add the soft butter beans, the oil-herb-spice mix, sprinkle in the sumac/lemon juice, pepper and salt. Mix well with your hands, coarsely mashing the butter beans. Sprinkle in a tbs of flour if you need to tighten the mix a little. With your hands, form flat, round tikkis.
Heat a flat pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Pan fry the tikkis till they’re nicely browned on both sides. Enjoy!