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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Fun Parent

It is not appropriate that parents have a favorite among their children. All effort must be made to treat all of your children as equals. You must buy them similar gifts, hug them same number of times, punish them in similar ways and other exhausting details. Children on the other hand are free from these rules. There is always a favorite parent and this is declared out loud without guilt or shame. The favorite parent is commonly the one of the opposite gender - Daddy's girl , Mommy's boy and so on. But there is another factor that plays a major role especially in the younger years of a child. The phenomenon of the "fun parent"

The fun parent has fewer rules for the child, buys them food/ toys that may not be pre-approved, has a enormous repertoire of jokes, games, tricks. The fun parent conspires with the child sometimes against the other parent. The fun parent is the one who gives the kid all the lovely childhood memories.

The other parent has picked the short straw. He/She is in charge of enforcing discipline, making sure that the child eats right, studies right etc. Basically the job of the un-fun parent is to be the villain of the piece, the bad cop of the good cop, bad cop duo. The child if blessed with any introspection will look back at his/her childhood and decide " Oh yeah He/She was great. I never realized that". And after that will have a new found respect for the un-fun parent. Really, who wants that job?

So since I am a planner I had planned that when (eventually) we have children I would hoard in on the fun parent role. It should be right up my alley. My husband is a responsible, kind, soft spoken man with a subtle sense of humor. I love that but come on the kids would totally like me better. Or that was my thinking.

What changed you ask? "You are frivolous, you should be capable of carelessly endangering your child for the sake of a good time, you should be able ignore the scars that you inflict as you expose the kid to small forbidden pleasures - inappropriate jokes, sweets in the middle of the day, comic books... what happened?" - you cry (OK so maybe you don't cry but do play along).

Well the training job for a fun parent is of course the fun aunt. For one it is a lot less responsibility. A job created to hone your skills before the real game. I thought I would totally rock this job. I would buy inappropriate gifts, give the kid money, ice cream (hmmm maybe I shouldn't put all of it down because most of the parent friends are going to stop having me over). Anyway that was the plan.

But life has played a cruel joke on me. The whole responsible adult thing crept up on me and I was caught unaware. I always assumed it was the kind of ailment that only "other people" suffered from. I knew it was the death knell for my fun parent plans when I caught myself in the educational toys aisle whenever we go out to pick a gift for a child. What was worse (salt in my fresh wounds) was that my "responsible husband" was busy playing with hand puppets and remote control cars with lots of light on them. Hmph.

I did not expect to behave in this manner. I try to avoid all curse words around children and when something slips I stare at the kid in shock checking to see if I have caused any immediate damage. And babies they just scare me. Whenever I encounter a baby my reaction is one bordering reverence and fear. My husband needless to say picks them up, makes ugly faces at them, sings to them ( I married freaking Mary Poppins).

With the fun parent job slipping through my fingers my plan is to just fill my husbands head with all the horrors of what can go wrong ( poor trusting man hehehe) so that I can still be a fun parent at least in comparison.

Recipe
This is my second favorite rasam. The first being Mysore Rasam. This one is simpler and is a constant in most of quick meals - Jeera Milagu Rasam. I avoid garlic in this rasam and only do tadka with mustard and curry leaves. But that's just me.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

New Home

I moved to New Jersey eight months back. New Jersey is a much reviled place. Any mention of New Jersey has evoked strong reactions, predominantly negative among the Non Jersey istes that I know (which was of course everybody I knew before I moved here).

To begin with New jersey is a rather hard to take. The first sights/ smell that greet you as you drive away from the Newark Airport do not make the best of first impressions. The pharmaceutical companies that line the NJ turnpike, the total mess that is the local roads, the aggressive drivers who tailgate you on highway with 3 lanes and no traffic, all make for a very cold welcome. Driving in new jersey, that is a topic which has enough that can be said to make for a blog on its own.

Despite its very prickly exterior I feel more at home in New Jersey than I have in most other places ( well apart from Delhi, always back to Delhi :) ). After four years in the west coast I had developed some rather strange habits. I am polite (almost to a fault), I smile (and not a fake smile) at strangers that I make eye contact with in malls, on the street etc and in case you didn't notice I make eye contact with strangers. All habits that might have people pelting you with stones on a hot enough day even in Delhi.

I like to pretend that reason I moved here is the proximity to New York City but I wish that were true. My real reasons are not that glamorous. Life here is finally as it should be. The large Indian population, the anonymity that proximity to a large city bring you, the food, the people - I have found home again.

There are so many little things. I get my hair cut by a Gujju woman who rattles on about her her family, Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna. She switchs to Hindi whenever she does my hair and lectures me about the benefits of "tel maalish". I get Tutti Frutti ice cream by the gallon in the nearby Indian Grocery Store. And what is more no matter where you go in New Jersey there is always a nearby Indian grocery store.

And the people are so deliciously rude. No polite pleasantries, no conversations with strangers. I swear at drivers, argue with shop keepers and had more than a minor altercation with an extremely annoying 20 year at my gym ( my excuse - large amounts of Endorphins and she was reaaally annoying). Such travesties would never have been possible in Oregon.

To do the place justice it is not all pharma companies, potholes and drivers brimming with rage though that is defintely the first impression. New Jersey is also close to some beautiful places - Catskills, Poconos, the beaches in Delaware. There is of course the proximity to NYC which I suppose is nothing to scoff at. Now Oregon is beautiful, breathtaking, awe inspiring and perhaps an old delhi soul just does not belong there. It is a hard fact to come to terms with but though I miss the (quite a bit) the beauty of all things Oregon the place just did not click as much. Due justice to Oregon I am probably a lesser person for this and not vice-versa.

So the other day while I was borderline elbowing and jostling a well dressed lady while picking bindi in the local grocery store it hit me that I am very much at home here( for now).

Recipe - forgot to add this. This week was decidedly Indian.
Really enjoyed Morkuzhambu. For than I used white pumpkin. This recipe is closest to one I made. Whats up with folks adding rice flour etc in it. Not acceptable.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Shopping continued

Me : I bought 8 bags of bakery biscuits in India. They were only 250 rupees. Isn't that great?

D : 250 rupees for biscuits hmmm.. (non committal)

Me (Thinking- Oh D does not get it. I must explain more). They were Golden Bakery biscuits. They had the choicest ingredients. They melt in you mouth.

D : hmm how many biscuits were there in each packet?

Me (Thinking - Oh my god she knows the biscuits and yet she wants more details) : They were around 25- 30 biscuits in each packet.

D : Hmmmm thats one rupee per biscuit. Is that really good value?

Me getting desperate, unable to do required math in head : They had little flowers on them. And some had almonds and pista.

D seeing that I am panicking, Giving me an oppurtunity for a graceful exit : Hmm maybe I am not familiar with the quality of these biscuits. (Is now unable to resist a smile and some eye rolling)

Me : And chocolate and did I mention flowers on the biscuits. Only 250 rupees.

D : It is just a stamp type thing you know. The flowers are really easy to make.
Me dropping subject despondently.


Later that weekend
D : Oh this was a total bargain. In normal stores you get this salwar kameez for 2500 rupess but at this special outlet you can buy the same for 1500 rupees.

Me (regular shopper at the streets of Sarojini Nagar where I could buy half a wardrobe for 2500 rupees, recognizing oppurtunity for payback) : Really (with big smile)

D ( she is a quick girl) : It is a nice mall you know not some pavement store.

Me ( Thinking - Damn how does she know? Mental Note to self must dress better at next get together. But still,I have got her) : OK (bigger smile)

D : The stitches will last forever. Very good quality.

Me : Reaaaaally?

D sulking now : You can't expect me to dress in clothes that are not fashionable any more.

Me Pause for effect : Yes , Yes I think I understand
(thinking - You can't expect me to eat biscuits from any bakery. This was Golden Bakery, do you hear? Hmph)

Spent weekend at chat stores and eating out. No recipes to post.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Shopping - A Complete Sport

I have become an unenthusiastic shopper. Do not rush to any conclusions - I still recite the chants of consumerism that plague this country ( and quite honestly the world ),march to the drum beats of department store, sway to the song of the supermarkets ... well you get the picture. But the act of shopping in itself has just lost its charm for me.

Shopping some years ago in India was a total package. The first step was to assemble a bunch of your friends/ relatives all of whom had their designated competencies. There was the "Bargainer" - this person can muster a disbelieving sneer at even the rock bottom prices quoted by men with shops set up in the scorching sun under an umbrella on the pavement. This talent would have been insufficient without the ability to counter any offer with 30% of the quoted price, with complete confidence and lock and maintain eye contact with said (skinny, probably starving, father of 6, caregiver of elderly parents) shopkeeper.

Then there was the "Fashion Expert" - this was the person who could stick her hand into a pile of export surplus, button missing, fashion disasters and pick up the one great piece, the one thing that will probably make the outfit that you bought with your mother in the branded store in Khan Market seem dowdy. This person could take one look at you and immediately divine the clothes that suit you, colours that bring out your eyes/hair/skin, and make suggestions about when the item of clothing can be worn.

Such a shopping trip would not have been successful without perseverance and patience. That brings me to the "One with the Stamina". Long after your sunscreen has worn off, your feet have given up, and your Bisleri is exhausted she perseveres. It is all about the hunt for this woman and she is no quitter. With her on your side you would try that 5th dress in the 8th store until you find the one that is just right.

Though not directly contributing the success of a shopping trip there is also the "Street Food Junkie" - she would ably guide you past the many mediocre chat shops to the one that makes the perfect tangy, melt in your mouth Suji Golgappa and also the "Very pleasant/ extremely pretty girl that all shopkeepers have discounts for".

Shopping then was a complete sport. These lovely women helped elevate shopping in India to a sport/ talent/ ability on par with learning an instrument (a harmonica perhaps, probably not a violin). Shopping rightly held its place in the activities section in the Orkut profile page along with hiking, reading and learning new languages. It required skill, endurance, training and as with any sport innate talent always helped. Long hours, lots of walking, people watching, navigating huge crowds all a part of this dying sport. At the end of such a day there was a sense of accomplishment and contentment that was a mix of an hour at the gym, a successful meeting where you beat the odds with your dazzling arguments, and a dark chocolate brownie with ice cream.

The scented, polished, branded version in America that is also fast becoming the dominant option in most large Indian cities offers the best in shopping but have laid the skills I developed all those years to waste. Now I just shop online and stare at travel shows with longing.

Recipe I tried and liked.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Technicolour Dreams

Science is not of one mind when it concerns human dreams. While many scientists believe we dream in black and white, a number of them believe that though a portion of our dreams are in black and white we dream predominantly in colour. There are also those that believe that humans cannot dream in black and white at all.

The reason I know all this and other embarrassing details about dream interpretation is because I am a chronic dreamer. My day does not begin when I wake up but with the dream that I have prior to waking up. My husband is on to me now. A few mornings when I start giving my husband the evil eye before waiting for the customary half an hour he immediately demands that I spill the beans about my dream.

I am blogging about this because I have noticed a rather interesting trend in my dreams. Now I may not have had cable TV till I was 12 and did not have an email id till my engineering years but my attention span is already that of a gaming 10 year old on a sugar high with a coffee IV. My senses are continuously bombarded by everything on TV, websites - eye catching images, fast moving plots, intrigue, chases, excitement, colour, glamour, distant lands. But it is never enough what with my senses forever clamoring for more.

So of course we dream in colour!!! When I was young I dreamt about all the regular things - you know your 4th class teacher finding out that she was wrong and that much to her amazement you had grown up to be brilliant and were receiving lavish praise/ trophy from the community. Beating your brother in a running race, much to his amazement (other peoples' amazement at my feats is recurring theme hmmm).

My dreams now are far less revealing but far more interesting. I have recurring dreams of being chased. Now if this were a simple chase that would be OK. These dreams are rich in plot, colour, have glamorous women ... cough cough.... including me ( dreams in sharp comparison to cameras seem to take off 10 pounds). The spy/ evil mastermind/ assassin who is chasing me is clad in suits that would put Daniel Craigs dinner jacket to shame.

In addition to the visual treats that my dreams have become the plot is not very PG. There is frequently a silent plotter who is revealed at the end. Some of my dreams seem to be edited by an expert (cough cough), my dream the night before started with a women who had taken a plunge into the pool of a high rise 5 star hotel and then the dream in bits and pieces takes me back to the why it happened. OK so they are not going to be any awards for originality but that I dream like this is revealing not about my own psyche but about the world we live in. It seems even my dreams need special effects to get my attention. Think am going to take up some more reflective hobbies and give the movies and the Agatha Christies a break.

And so of course I had to look it up (you know you would do it too )- chase dreams represent anxiety... not that this would be a big surprise in these times. But keeping with our times, new age stress humdrum as it may be now has very good packaging.

Couple of things I thought I would try out
1. tag with Daniel Craig when I manage a mention hehehe
2. add a link to a recipe that I tried out and loved. This potato pasta cheese bake make for excellent comfort food. No gourmet chefs are going to be featuring this one in their specials but then if they did in all probability I would not have been able to make it. I would have liked to start this with a old but gold Indian dish but I had this for lunch yesterday and can't help myself.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

My Constant Friend

I should have started with this one. There has been only one constant and unwavering interest in my life. I am a flake with serious lack of commitment to any one pursuit but this is different. It has stood by my me in bad times (perhaps too much) and has been there to make my good times better and has always received my "fullest" attention. The most loyal of my friends and loves - Food. 

This blog is because considering how important food is in my life, a tribute of sorts is long overdue. It has played such a major a part in everything in my life. It was over a plate of food that I noticed how much I like my then friend, now husband. A lot of acquaintances have turned friends because they knew about the best chat shop, best dosa in town, where they serve the perfect cup of kaapi. When I know examine my list of friends I am hard pressed to come up with someone who cannot wax eloquent about food. 

My love for food like all long relationships has changed and evolved with me.. Growing up in the heart of paratha land I had no appreciation for south Indian food. All sambhars tasted the same, rasam was to be avoided completely and unless it was my mothers divine alu sabji made with sambhar podi I had no time for any of the karis. I envied all my classmates with the parathas and puris and chole and burjis. And the karmic cycle is now being completed with me trying to reproduce my mothers wonderful dishes and making long distance calls for recipes. How could I have been so ignorant? Most restaurants here serve up a half way decent nan and paneer (mughlai food from india is like pizza from italy, our export to the world outside to be made your own) but few try and succeed in capturing the subtleties of the south indian fare. The simple, pristine white, soft, delicious idli, the kootus, the chutneys, the thuvaiyals all with their own flavour, subtle, one of a kind and even (god forbid) healthy. 

When I first landed here I stayed away from all restaurants to avoid any and all traces of meat and meat like ingredients in my food. After the initial months of enthusiastic cooking and carrying dabbas to work I weakened and because visiting the distant Indian restaurant was not always an option I decided to visit one of the nearby restaurants. I was assured that Mexican food was very vegetarian friendly and so off I went. It did not go well. Refried beans came off like a poor cousin of the rajma, the Spanish rice would have tasted so much better if it had been more like paruppa sadam and the tortillas were done wrong because why would anybody make them like this when somewhere in the world people knew how to make phulkas and chapathis? Needless to say I have changed my mind since then. New Jersey has a shocking lack of good Mexican restaurants and I feel their absence dearly. 

Since my arrival here I have been compelled to give new cuisines a shot while also having the opportunity to miss so many fine options from back home. Italian, chinese, malay, thai, sushis all have a place in my heart. My one regret (this one always gets a rise out of my very vegetarian husband :) ) is that I do not eat meat and will never fully experience a world of cuisine that is beyond those shut doors ( damn my upbringing).

Sunday, 1 March 2009

ye delhi hai mere yaar

It was a Saturday night, the hubby and I had been invited to dinner with a bunch of his friends. It was a cold evening and once inside we were seated in the front of fireplace in a lovely living room. These were my husband friends so my plan was to sound charming, polite, well informed, and funny but use only very subtle, politically correct jokes ( Do I know how to do that?!!!). Well the plan was at least to do my best impression of the above.

The evening started with a glass of wine/ poison of your choice. Since the "plan" did not include rant, raves, funnies followed by my "evil laugh", or graceless dancing, ( one particular night hopping to Koi Kahe from Dil chahtha hai when parents were out of town leaps to mind) I refused all further refills. The party however continued without me. 

Dinner was served and the guys approached us with a drink in hand. They were clearly having a great time and with a certain amount of purpose in their step they sat down facing us. The conversation started pleasantly enough, music, food, restaurants, vacations, obama(what conversation does not include him) and then things took a turn. We were talking about south indians - north indians, women's rights, working women. All inflammatory topics that would have had a more unprepared me foaming in the mouth, cursing and shaking my fist in the air. But though I did venture to add my two cents worth to all the topics I stayed on course with my eye on the end of the evening when I would take my leave with my head held high.

The drift towards these more hazardous waters was not gradual (the party had most definitely gone on without me) and I realized that I was being Baited!! The purpose in their step and the glint in their eyes should have clued in me but it was a Saturday evening and the hot food, fireplace, little pretty appetizers ( I am a sucker for presentation) had mellowed me. Now that I was onto their plan for this evening's "entertainment" I gave myself a little pep talk and faced them with with renewed resolve. My pleasant face strained my facial muscles, my mouth hurt with all the teeth gritting and my neck throbbed courtesy thoughtful head bobbing. I am an adult, I couldn't be baited as a party sport, I am a calm, collected, together person .

And then it happened. One of them with a smile that betrayed his knowledge that he knew this was jackpot turned to me and said " I hate Delhi. People are so rude, it is crowded and polluted". All my resolutions went flying out the window, my knuckles unclenched, my smile melted and it was SO ON.... After all that what followed of course was the argument that they had been thirsting for all night. 

We ended the night with me a little ashamed and the rest with a poorly disguised self congratulatory grin. The evening did make me realize how much Delhi meant to me. I have lived in Delhi only for the first 17 years of my life and have never found my way back but I my heart belongs to Delhi.