Books On The Tiled Table #1

Our Christmas shopping is always simple. We gift each other books. We usually go to the local bookshop together, and choose for each other. We browse, discuss, eliminate, browse some more, till we have two books each. I usually have my books chosen (quietly in my head) well before we hit the shop, and am incredibly skilled at guiding D and Chotto-ma into picking those two very books for me. (It’s a special power.)

So here’s our Christmas reading-loot this year, picked up from here and there.

On the left is Chotto-ma’s:
Unnatural Creatures – Stories selected by Neil Gaiman
The Diary of a Space Traveller & Other Stories by Satyajit Ray (we had to order this online)

The middle is mine:
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

And the last is D’s (and what is his is mine, ha!):
Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole
The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino

Many of you who read the blog have asked me for book recommendations, so I thought I’d start ‘Books On The Tiled Table’, where I share what I’m reading. If you follow my Instagram, you’ll know #onthetiledtable well. (Like a friend said, my table is a celebrity.) It’s where everything, from a book to a cup of coffee, gets put down. So this is No. 1 of those posts. #booksonthetiledtable

I wish you all a very happy Christmas! Have a wonderful holiday with family and friends, with good food and much laughter, and books and warm blankets and mugs of hot chocolate. I’ll see you back in a shiny new year. Till then, love and hugs!

Don’t fuss with us

I had four pears sitting in my kitchen for a long time. Yes, I know there are only three in the photograph, but that’s because three looks better than four. Better balanced. Which is odd, given that it’s an odd number.

Anyway, these four pears sat longer in my kitchen than any pear before them. First they sat near the window, then they moved to the spot between the microwave and the toaster, and finally settled down next to the teapot. They weren’t your usual pears, and I didn’t want to eat them the usual way. They were a beautiful shade of red – something between the red of a brick wall, and the red of the dog-eared Jane Eyre that I found in the market last week. But the most wonderful thing about these four pears was that they smelled of roses. Every time I walked into the kitchen, I would take a long breath in. Four voluptuous red pears, and they made my kitchen smell of deep crimson roses.

I had to do them justice.

So I waited, and the four pears waited. Till D thought that this still-life installation was destined to die a slow death. Finally, on the fifth day, when the scent of roses was at its heaviest and sweetest, I realised that these pears were not meant to become a fancy tart. Don’t fuss with us, they said to me.

They wanted to be kept simple.

So, I poached them till they were soft and translucent, and we ate them with cream and roasted almonds. The tender, sweet flesh melted in our mouths, the roses still sealed in. We sat in silence, late in the night, with our mouths full of fruit and flower.

Poached pears, with cream and roasted almonds


4 ripe pears
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cups water
1 tsp lemon juice
A handful of almond slivers, lightly roasted
Single cream, to serve

In a saucepan, mix the water, sugar and lemon juice and bring to boil. Then lower the heat and while the syrup simmers, peel the pears. Cut them in half and slip them into the simmering syrup, and cook till the pears are tender, and look almost translucent. I cooked mine for about 25 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the pears cool down in the syrup. We ate ours while they were still warm, with cream and roasted almonds.

{midweek monochrome}

It’s one of the places to get authentic Vietnamese food in London. A tiny, unassuming cafe hidden away in the bustle of the city’s business district. We reached there at the very peak of our hunger, only to learn that it was closed on Sundays. It will have to be on my to-do list – it was recommended to me by Uyen, who runs one of the most popular Supper Clubs in London, and a very exciting Vietnamese cooking class that I must learn from some day.

{midweek monochrome}

The sky, last night, looked like one of my daughter’s paintings. Her rule is pretty simple – the more stars the better. This sky was better than better.

The whole house was quiet and dark. D and I stood at the window for a long time, looking up at the sky, and whispering. I took a photograph, even though I knew that none of the starry magic would show. It was more a photograph to remember the whispers. But when I clicked the camera, my hands shook, and here’s what I got.

I didn’t take any more, because this seemed kind of perfect. Questions in void.

{midweek monochrome} – A good middle

Today is the very end of the year. Or that’s what they tell me. But, if you consider the year gone, and the year to come, today is actually the middle. It’s right at the centre of the past year, and the future year. Of the familiar and the unfamiliar.

There’s a trail of old, used days behind me. And in front, an allowance of 365 new days to spend as I please. All I can do is try to spend them well.

I’m going to dip my toes in a few new ponds in the new year. Rough ideas, which have been skittering haphazardly in my head, are now starting to make a queue. I want to see where they go, these ideas that were born in the old year, and are standing today, in the middle, about to become something real. I like that I’m about to surprise myself again. In 2011, I surprised myself  by starting this blog.

Thank you, so very much, for reading what I write, for leaving comments, and sending emails. Through this little space, I’ve met some lovely people, and made some good friends.

I wish you all a wonderful middle today. And much happiness in the year that starts tomorrow.

{midweek monochrome}

My grandparents lived in Tezpur, a town in Assam, in a beautiful bungalow with many rooms. Their garden was always filled with the most colourful butterflies. When I was little, I would catch the small white ones, close them in a jam jar, watch them flutter about, and then open the lid and let them fly away. They were my only friends on those long, slow summer days.

One afternoon, Ma’s sharp call for lunch broke up my game. I left the jam jar on the courtyard steps, and ran inside for my meal. I forgot about the jar. I forgot about the little white butterfly still fluttering inside. When I came back, my butterfly wasn’t fluttering any more. It was as still as the afternoon.

I remember sitting on the stairs cradling the glass jar for a long, long time. And I remember, for the first time, feeling the heavy weight of responsibility about an irreversible sadness.

Empty jam jars still make me sad.


You can also find this on Susan’s wonderful blog, The Well-Seasoned Cook, for Black & White Wednesdays.