Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thoughts While Not Arranging My Bookshelves

My two favorite methods for arranging books on bookshelves, as relayed by two of my favorite people:
  1. My friend Shuddha, who tells me that his books are organized according to their relationship to his body -- books for his brain at brain level, for his eyes at eye level, for his heart at heart level, for his stomach at stomach level, etc. all the way down. Bibliological vastu shastra.
  2. My friend Catherine, who, when she was moving from one coast to another, had three sets of boxes, labeled "books," "fragile," and "miscellaneous."
When I left job two years ago, I found myself having to move thousands of books from my office into my house. I had bought a simple, old farmhouse the year before and renovated it; it had my first-ever all-to-myself bathroom, the kitchen of my (very modest) dreams, and just enough shelf space for my cookbooks and my relatively small collection of fiction.

Monday, November 25, 2013


All my dreams lately have been about holding hands.

My dreams are generally quite bizarre, but also so directly related to my desires that I feel cheated sometimes -- why don't I get the strange layerings and morphings and revisions that make other people's dreams not simply strange but actually interesting? My ex -- my first lover, tall and lanky and thin and very pale -- used to tease me early on in our relationship because I had a dream that my father had bought me Arnold Schwarzenegger. "So: tanning salon and weightlifting? Okay, I'll try it, but not sure your dad will ever approve of me." No secondary revision, we used to say, when we were feeling particularly Freudian.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inspired by Serbian Aunties

I went a bit crazy for a while, canning everything in sight at the end of summer when I could buy a bushel of tomatoes for $12 and when apples were falling off the trees. My daughter rolled her eyes when I returned from the CSA farm with ten pounds of red peppers, which took up a surprising amount of space in the car. I wanted to make ajvar -- a Baltic spread made with roasted red capsicums and sometimes eggplant, silky and unctuous -- but when I searched for recipes I was disappointed to find that all those Serbian aunties don't follow proper USDA standards for canning. I was too much of a coward to take the risk.

What I made instead was a roasted red pepper relish spiked with vinegar and chilies, with a sweet-and-sour tang. It was incredibly in-your-face when it first came off the stove, but after a week or so in the fridge it mellowed into something really flavorful and complex, with enough heat and vinegary bite to be interesting but not overwhelming.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I've always been fascinated, looking through the cookbooks I've brought home from India, at how many recipes are designated for particular health challenges -- makes perfect sense, of course, since so much of Indian cooking is based on aryuvedic principles.

My friend Kathryn, an accomplished cook (far more technically adept than I could ever hope to be), has been sick, and her stomach is tender. She sent out a message saying she was desperate for taste, and was looking for recipes on my blog. I told her I would post a recipe that is standard Indian fare for getting over stomach ailments -- it's mild, easy to digest, very nourishing, and restorative. I used to make it for my daughter when she was a toddler, adding in green peas and carrots -- she loved it. And of course, adults in good health love it, too, served (in Sindhi households) alongside sai bhaji and dahi (yogurt), or really any spiced vegetable dish, or perhaps just with dahi and papads.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Indian Grocer

Most Indians grow up eating the foods of their own communities, even when we're flung far across the globe. Gujaratis eat their dhoklas (steamed chickpea flour bread) and slightly sweet curries, Punjabis eat their hearty fare of parathas and saag paneer and aloo gobi, Bengalis their fish curries, Telegus from Andhra their incendiary chutneys, Keralans their coconut-based broths, Goans their pork vindaloos, and so on. My mother is Sindhi and my father Mangalorean Christian -- their native cuisines couldn't be more different. Sindhi food is a food of the north, a desert food -- lots of wheat and besan (chick pea flour) and vegetables mixed in various combinations (many dishes are designed to use whatever is available in the market, so recipes for a single dish are endlessly varied). Meat and chicken and fish -- at least in my extended family, is served quite seldom. Mangalorean food is coastal food, cooked amidst coconut palms and jungles, rich with fish and pork and black pepper and coconut, and always served with rice.