Thursday 20 October 2011

Maggi Mee-Goreng

This is probably the most easy recipe (one of the most tasty too, but S doesn't care so much for it, so I make it far less often than I'd like to) to whip up. It's Maggi with a twist! The recipe here is the authentic Malay one but my mother-in-law, who first taught me this, says the Indonesians add coconut milk to the final product and that's how I make it.
Stir fry spring onions and your choice of veggies, add 1.5 cups of water and tastemaker and cook Maggi as usual. I also add chopped paneer and scrambled eggs to this mix for an additional health boost. Once all the water has been absorbed, add about a quarter cup of coconut milk and cook for a further minute on low flame until the milk is almost absorbed but not fully. You want the noodles to be somewhat wet. 
Not a good lunch-box option - Maggi forms a solid mass in the tiffin box and its difficult for the kids to eat with a fork. People also fry green chillies and garlic and other spices before adding the vegetables but that seems like too much work so I just skip that part! This recipe is best had hot and steaming on a rainy evening :)

Chinese-style noodles

I remember making Chinese-style noodles a couple of times when I had just got married and they had been quite edible. However I am not a big fan of Chinese food and so noodles haven't figured in our menu in any major way. A couple of times after moving to Gurgaon, I tried making them for the kids' lunch but I must have got the wrong kind of noodles because all I ended up was a major sticky overcooked mess which I had to throw into the bin, so inedible was it. Does anyone have any fundas on what kind of noodles I should buy for a Chinese stir-fry recipe? What I now have is something called a Rice Stick which is super-easy to cook (just soak in hot water for a few minutes) and does not get sticky in the wok. 
Heat 1 tbsp olive/veg oil in a shallow pan and stir fry veg. I throw in anything I have - cabbage, baby corn, sweet corn, peppers, beans, carrots. Add the cooked noodles, salt, pepper, chinese seasoning (I get a mixed herbs/spices box from the grocery store), soy sauce, vinegar (the latter two are optional; my kids don't enjoy the flavouring too much so I add very little) and mix well over a low flame and voila!! On ocassion I have added peanuts and scrambled eggs as well. 

I've been making these noodles a couple of times for school/work lunches and they turn out okay (well...atleast no one has complained yet ;)). If someone has a better recipe, please do share :)

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Learning to swim - II

Milestone #1: Ditching the floatation device. It happened after almost 8 classes. I could then propel myself across the breadth of the pool, face under the water, legs straight and kicking hard, hands in front, coming up twice for air. It took me a long time to get rid of the float. What finally helped was a snide comment made by dear husband during the Amritsar trip. We were watching the lovely fish in the tank, at the Golden temple. They would come till the edge of the tank, flitting in and out of the water rapidly. S said "Don't they swim like Amma?" When I glared at him, he smiled "I meant so gracefully." Snide remarks aside, I started observing their fluid movements more closely and when I was struggling to float, I would conjure up their image in my mind and think of how they just cleaved so cleanly through the water. This kind of visualization, thinking of myself as a fish instead of a large ungainly woman thrashing about in the pool (!!) really assisted me in learning how to float. 
The next challenge has been how to get across the pool without keeping my feet down on the bottom every time I came up for air. Come what may, I could not coordinate hand movements, leg-kicking and breathing all at the same time. I almost gave up after a couple of hours of fruitless work. Hunger pangs would strike me hard after a good 30 minute session! The pool closes in a couple of days and I have (kind of) managed to get across the pool very laboriously, without the hand stroke. It has been much harder than I expected and I will have to kickstart the whole process in the summer. But now I know it's do-able and my confidence has definitely improved. A major plus point if I have to exhort my risk-averse firstborn to learn swimming in a few months!

Sunday 16 October 2011

The score so far - II

More books, and here's my verdict! I re-read a couple of old favourites again over the last few weeks (they don't figure in this list), so my library reading has been correspondingly lower.
Susanna's 7 husbands - Ruskin Bond. I don't care much for Ruskin Bond really, his writing never struck a chord with me, so the only reason I picked it up was because the storyline was intriguing. Also, I haven't seen the movie and have no plans to see it but assumed the book would be more interesting (the movie having got iffy reviews). All I can say is, the original short story was quite gripping. Short and hard-hitting and left the reader wondering what exactly had happened. They should have just left it at that instead of stretching it into a novella and then a screenplay! However, since the copy I picked up had the short story, novella and screenplay all in one, it was quite good to see how a story/book was transformed into a dramatic form. 
The palace of illusions - Chitra Divakaruni. A cousin fortuitously gifted it for my birthday and I loved loved loved it! I take back what I said about the author, I still don't like any of her other books but this one was effortless and mesmerising and did a good job of capturing the many moods and shades of that enigmatic queen, Draupadi.  
The glass palace - Amitav Ghosh. Good one. I thought it dragged in places but I like stories that take in a vast panorama of people, places and events and this one fit the bill. Additionally, never having read anything about Burma before, it turned out to be a treasure-trove of information on that unhappy land. The author writes confidently and deftly which is so difficult isn't it? I'll definitely be picking up more of his books. 
Shakespeare - Bill Bryson. Once again, Bryson doesn't disappoint. Though not choc-a-bloc with his trademark humour (after all it is a serious biography of the great man of English), it still seems well-researched. Astonishingly, as Bryson points out again and again, there is very little known about Shakespeare the man and a lot of it is just conjecture and intelligent guesswork. A good book on the Bard and an easy and entertaining read. Given how little is known about Shakespeare, it's amazing Bill Bryson even managed to get as much as a slim book out of it!
I'm currently struggling...yes, struggling...with the Emperor of all maladies. I'll persevere for a few more days and if I don't make any headway, I'm returning it to the library :(

Divine Teachers and devoted students

Another PTM, and almost the only piece of feedback that Ads' class teacher gave me was that he has been making a lot of friends in class, is more outgoing and has in fact even become a little naughty after observing all the other monsters in the class :) I thought it would be unseemly to paste a smile of absolute delight on my face, but the fact is I was inwardly full of glee. My son? Naughty?? A word I have been wanting to hear for years!!!! 
At the same time, I hope the adorable naughtiness does not turn into brattiness, since there's only a fine line separating the two. Already I see him bothering his little sis a lot more than he used to, and I've had to speak to him very sternly about this kind of behaviour, a couple of times.
I also spoke to the teacher about a very annoying 'model student'-like habit of Ads. He is obsessed about homework!! He is a perfectionist when it comes to doing schoolwork well and correctly, be it writing his name and the date/subject, or drawing lines, or writing. Every piece of homework must be done as soon as he gets back from school, and I really mean as soon. He gets home, puts away his stuff, washes his hands and is all set with his books. Knowing fully well he must be very hungry, I suggest that he drinks up his milk first, maybe play a little, relax a little, even (gasp!) take a nap, and then start on his homework...but NO! It has to be done right then and there! He makes a small mistake, gets enraged while correcting it, cannot admit to me that he's really hungry and tired because he just said he wasn't....and so works himself up into a raging tantrum  ! Now I've reached the point where I ask him whether the homework is mandatory or optional! There have been many times when he mentions an assignment that I can find neither in his almanac, nor in the school intranet (where the assignments are electronically delivered to parents). When I ask him pointedly whether he really has to do it, he explains long-windedly that the concerned teacher has asked them to practice doing that thing, or said "If you like, you can ...". In other words, strictly optional! But of course the Divine Teacher has mentioned it so it must be done :(
I used to be a super-conscientious student, so I willingly take the blame here, but it is annoying. Ads teacher laughed and said "You should be happy to have a kid who stresses over homework. Mine just sit around with an xbox/ipad all day."
Yeah. We'll see how conscientious he is when he is in high school. Murphy's Law and all, right?

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Convo with a tailor

I have always loved the Phulkari work of Punjab and what better place to buy a suit of Phulkari than in Punjab? (Note 1: Suit means salwar-kameez out here in Northern India!) More importantly I wanted a typical Amritsari suit with a patiala instead of a salwar. I couldn't find any readymades in the limited shopping time that we had but plenty of unstitched suit material. When the shopowner offered to get it stitched and delivered within 3 hours at our hotel, all at the cost of 200 Rs, I jumped at it. (Note 2: In Gurgaon, stitching charges for blouses are Rs 250 minimum and I was not anxious to find out how much they would charge for a salwar kameez set).
I had an interesting convo with the tailor guy. He took all the measurements, my phone number and address and summarily tried to dismiss me from his presence :)
Me: But what is the design of the suit?
Tailor: Madam, it will be a typical punjabi suit with patiala.
Me: I want to give you the pattern of the sleeve and neck. I would like to have a slit in the side.....
Tailor (interrupting me): Madam, there is a standard design. I will stitch it that way only.
Me: But but but....(aghast at having no say in the matter)
Tailor: Madam, aap kahan se ho?
Me: Gurgaon
Tailor: Pehli baar amritsar aaye ho na?
Me: Haan
Tailor: To phir theek hai. You must wear a typical amritsari suit only. Don't give me any design. I will stitch it the right way for you. You will be very happy.
And I was. The dress fits well, the cut is nothing fancy but I get what he meant - keeping the cut simple keeps the focus on the embroidery work. I thought I'd upload a picture of the outfit here but then remembered that I don't have my camera with me this week.
As an aside, I saw some girls in Amritsar who looked like they had stepped straight out of a Yash Chopra movie - all mirrorwork suits, shimmering fluttering dupattas and all :)

16/10/11 Added the photo! Isn't the chunni lovely?

Saturday 8 October 2011


What can I say about Amritsar that hasn't been said already? Nothing much, obviously! It's got something for everyone. A plethora of delicious options for the foodie; Phulkari work, Amritsari jootis and Sikh artefacts for the shopoholic and collector; Harminder Sahib, Tarn Taran Sahib and other gurudwaras for those who prefer some religion and spirituality; and a trip to the Wagah border for those who want a raucous spectacle and tamasha.  All this packaged and available ready to serve in 1-2 days. Compact, easy and cheap!!
Having said that, it is a small town replete with history and religious significance even before the tumultous events of the Independence movement and the horrors of Partition. Jallianwala Bagh affected me very powerfully, even inspite of the milling crowds who were ogling at the bullet marks and jostling each other to peer into the well into which so many people jumped in to save themselves from the 1600 rounds of ammunition that were fired that fateful day. I was glad to find the memorial dignified and well-maintained. There is a lot of information (inscriptions and photographs), both in the actual site as well as in the small museum adjoining the site.
In stark contrast to Jallianwala Bagh, is the Wagah border "retreat" ceremony, a short 28 km drive away from Amritsar, near the border town of Attari. I was surprised to know that Lahore was only another 30 kms from the border, which made it all the more surprising that the number of Pakistani spectators were very few in number, 100 at the most, whereas there were atleast 2000 on the Indian side. First there is the onerous approach to the border gate. Unless one has a VIP pass, one has to squeeze through some horrendous traffic to get to a particular point after which you proceed about a kilometer on foot.
I held my camera high up as we were walking to capture the loooooong train (for want of a better word) that stretched ahead of us.

All that effort, to reach the gate below, and climb the stairs on each side that lead to a stadium. The lucky few got seats, while we were squashed and fighting for breath with barely enough standing room. Worse, Ads and I got separated from S and Y, and didn't even know where the other half of our family was, for the duration of the ceremony.

The crowd was simply enormous. I'm thinking we probably picked the wrong day (Dussehra break) and it would be more manageable on a non-holiday weekday. There was a master-of-ceremonies who did a great job of pumping up the crowd and getting them to clap, chant Vande mataram, Hindustan Zindabad and the like and dance to popular Bollywood (patriotic) numbers. 

While the crowd frenzy and enthusiasm was palpable, I didn't really get it. I felt I had travelled all that way in the heat and dust to stand in a humongous crowd of sweating Indians - for what? To see a lot of college girls dance to Bollywood tracks, see a few tricolours waving and scream Long Live India? While the actual beating retreat ceremony is good to watch, it takes up only a few minutes of the spectacle. I felt the whole thing was a solid waste of time and effort. You would witness the same energy and noise at any cricket match. The novelty comes from the place, the sense of history vested in Wagah, its geo-political significance. In fact, the only thing that really thrilled me was to see the fence that was the Indo-Pakistan border, the Radcliffe Line that so momentously threw countless innocent lives into upheavel. But again, I am definitely in the minority here because most people who have been to Wagah have really loved it.
The Golden temple was serene and quiet even with the constant Gurbani in the background and the throngs (again) of people. It was wondrously clean, spick and span and what I liked was that there was a lot of self-policing, in addition to the countless volunteers who were roaming around helping hapless non-pilgrims like us. Families sat around, took dips in the lake, talked, clicked snaps, watched the fish - all in an atmosphere of quiet cheerfulness and yes, devotion.
We had a rollicking cycle-rickshaw ride enroute to doing some shopping in the old city. It was one of the best ones we ever had, at top speed through labyrinthine alleys of the old city. Amritsar has a slightly different rickshaw design with no handhold or protection on the sides and very narrow seats, leaving passengers with a strange feeling of being defenceless and at risk of losing an arm or a leg to passing motorists! So the ride had an additional thrill factor :)

The highlight of any Amritsar vacay has to be the food, which surpasses all standards of yumminess. Flaky kulchas, creamy lassis (with yellow butter or cream on top), the most delectable paneer butter masala and chole are the specialities though the true foodie would sing paeans to a lot else including the jalebis, aloo tikkis, the cream chicken, matka kulfis or aam paapad. Although we had a long list of must-eat places in the city, we were limited by time (how many meals can one consume in a day?!!) and also the fact that Ads had an upset tummy and we couldn't very well stuff our faces when he was confined to roti-dal-chawal.
In sum, a truly wonderful place to visit for a short break. I know we will go back just to sample more of it's culinary Amrit.