Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Magic Ingredient

I worry about you sometimes, dear readers -- that you might get intimidated by the ingredients I ask you to hunt down to make some of the recipes on this blog. There's no need for intimidation, because, really, I guarantee that almost every one of you -- whether you know it or not -- lives within an hour's drive of a grocery store that stocks much of this stuff. (Google "Asian grocery near me" and you'll be surprised at the results, not least because Google knows EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE.) And while driving an hour to gather ingredients every time you want to make an Asian meal is pretty unreasonable, going to one of those grocery stores once or twice a year and stocking up on what you need, freezing or storing in your pantry till the urge strikes, is pretty doable. Especially if having those ingredients means you can whip up something really authentic and satisfying and quick at a moment's notice.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


School is starting next week. This fills me with dread. Not because it will be practically the first time in -- god, how many? thirty-seven years? -- that I don't have to be running around preparing for the first day of class, but because suddenly the completely undisciplined summer morphs into 7.15 am wake ups and preparing my daughter's lunch and making sure she's brushed her teeth and hair and then getting a healthy dinner into her at a reasonable time all while trying to, you know, work and Facebook and stuff. HOW WILL I EVEN MANAGE THIS LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE

Haha just kidding whatevs. Business as usual. My friend Laura was asking about weeknight dinners, preferably one-dishers, so I'm just posting some here. NO BIGGIE.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leap of Faith

There is nothing more satisfying, culinarily speaking, than making a perfect hard-boiled egg.


I remember my mother (an excellent cook) telling me that when she married my dad she didn't know how to boil an egg; you might remember your moms saying the same thing. It was something you said if you were a certain generation of married woman. It's a task that represents the most basic domestic skill, a seeming no-brainer, and the inability to perform it marks the unpreparedness of women for their duties as housewives and mothers. "Four out of ten girls are so ignorant about cooking they can't even boil an egg," cries a hysterical article in the Daily Mail about 8 to 15 year olds' lack of training by their mothers' sides. As if egg-boiling were the only thing that young women bring into a relationship, or as if it were the most basic foundation on which a family is built, or as if were the only food that families ate.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Grandfather, World Traveler

My maternal grandfather, Mohanlal Lala
Whenever we flew to India when I was little -- 20-plus hour flights on big 747s with enough leg room that my sister and I could make beds at our parents' feet and bathrooms big enough that we would change into fresh outfits for our arrival at the airport -- my mom would make us look out the window as we were landing in Bombay. "See those lights?" she would say. "Your grandfather made those."

My maternal grandfather, my Nana -- a man who had died far before I was born, before my parents were married, even, and at much too young an age. He was a mythic figure to me, a benevolent face staring down from a picture draped with marigold and jasmine hanging on the wall of my grandmother's house. I'd heard all the stories from my mom, my aunts, my uncle: he insisted that all his daughters -- so many daughters! -- be fully educated through college in an era where this was expected only for sons; he arranged marriages for the older sisters before he died and was an excellent judge of character; he was stern and loving both, and my mom remembers vividly the times when he praised her because they were rare and meaningful; he was a curious and inventive man who anticipated the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1950s and sketched plans for an "Ozonizer" to replace it; he was an accomplished photographer; he co-founded a well-known company called Joy Ice Cream after Independence. My Ice Cream Grandfather. That's how I thought of him.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Idiot Savant

There are a few dishes that I was *made* to cook, I think -- somehow they tickle all the right parts of my culinary imagination, and I can taste them even before I make them, and they involve all the cooking skills that I'm good at. I will honestly never really be a great cook of anything that involves incorporating egg whites into a batter without having them turn watery, or sauté delicate fish fillets so they don't fall apart, or make anything too technical that requires precise measurements and cold hands, but anything involving sturdy ingredients and deep flavors I do okay with.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Unexpected

When I was in my twenties, after having spent some time living with my family in Bombay working at my aunt and uncle's ad agency as a copywriter, my friend Pam flew over from Canada and we went backpacking through India. We planned to stay at the hotels recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, as did every other westerner, and eat at the restaurants it recommended, too; we set a budget for our days that was beyond modest. I think we imagined we'd come back wearing our churidars and tie-dyed kurtas and chappals, with dreadlocks and the scruffy look of people who had experienced the authenticity of Indian life. Or something like that.