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.

A foreign fruit

When we moved to England, we moved away from all things familiar. It was a different piece of land, which grew different things. The smells in the air were more quiet. The sounds on the street were better behaved. The weather was cooler. People paler. Voices softer.

I loved the newness. My first year passed in a blur, exploring as much as I could, as quickly as I could. The first thing I did when I woke up every morning was call Ma and Baba in India, and once that was done, I didn’t miss much else.

But I miss India now. And often with a suddenness that stops me short. I could be crossing the street, when I’m hit with an intense need for an egg-chicken roll. These needs have absolutely no sense of timing.

I miss the impatient honk of a car. I miss clothes delivered by the dhobi on Sunday mornings, starched and ironed, the whites a little blue. I miss dusty window panes that you can scribble on. I miss newspapers at the door every morning. I miss haggling. I miss sitting around food, with friends. I miss the rush and the rudeness of the streets. I miss loud laughs. And colour.

Reds. Yellows. Oranges. They remind me of India. Nectarines, apricots and plums lying next to each other in the market stall remind me of India. A few years ago, fresh apricots and nectarines were as foreign to me as I was to this country. But we met halfway, the fruits and I.

Here they are, comfortable in a cold Indian broth. Stewed sweet, with cinnamon, star anise and black peppercorns. It’s the perfect end to a summer meal – sweet and cool, light and fruity.

Stone fruit stew

Ingredients

1 apricot, cubed
1 nectarine, cubed
1 plum, cubed
(There was a strawberry lying around, so I threw it in too)
1/2 cup demerara sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp crushed black peppercorns
A 2-inch stick of cinnamon
1 star anise

Mix the water and sugar and put it to boil. When it starts boiling, add the cinnamon, star anise and the whole black peppercorns.
Let the syrup reduce to half, then take it off the heat.
Add the lemon juice and the crushed peppercorns.
Then add the fruits, and cover.
When it cools completely, put it in the refrigerator.

Serve cold at the end of a meal. Or enjoy on its own.

Serves 2-3