Category: Stories & Photos

Almond-anise biscotti

“So what are your thoughts on having children?”

She tossed the question at me, quite out of the blue it seemed, sitting as we were next to an impossibly blue ocean under a cerulean sky. With no precursor, right as I was in the act of forking a piece of crispy imperial roll into my mouth, the question hung between us for a few seconds while I considered answering with with my mouth full, lest it be thought that I was stalling.

I’ve been asked the question several hundred times before. The thing is, I was not having lunch with my mother. This was lunch with a former colleague, one I’d sat right next to for two or more years and had known for about eight years before then. Sure, she belonged to my mother’s generation, but in spirit she always seemed to have more in common with my younger sister and we’d become unlikely friends. With her Ph.D in philosophy and as Director of Marketing for a major architectural company, she was dynamic, friendly and but conventional in the two years I sat next to her at work. There’d never been a mention of anything even close to this topic before, so to say I was caught unawares would have been an accurate assessment. I struggled to find gather my thoughts while distracted contemplating the tender fried radish and mushrooms currently occupying my taste buds.
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She deserves elegies

She woke up that day, happy to greet the Sunday. She was going to see her father today, and that was good. She had a quiet morning, checking in on the plant blooming in the pot. It was her first attempt at gardening and it made her smile to see the pinks flowers. She hugged her dog and told him she’d see him soon. That afternoon, she started her car and drove on to the highway. She was a normal woman on a normal weekend living a normal life, until an overtaking bus driver decided that her life was not more important than his impatience.

Kadambari and I have known each other since college, but we became friends as we kept in touch through social networks in the years since then. Our friendship grew when I began writing in this space. We both enjoyed so many of the same things. The more I got to know of her, the more I wished we’d known each other better when we shared the same physical college space. She was a beautiful person, inside and out, passionate about what she stood for and a strong cheerleader for the things she supported. She was a spirited urban planner and was working hard to resolve pedestrian issues in the city, work that is needed in the over-stressed cities of India. It was a sad twist of fate that she fell prey to a road casualty herself. She was vivacious and talented, and a loving, giving human being who deserved a life much longer than the one that was horribly snatched away from her and all those she loved and who loved her. Though we lived continents apart, I feel her loss, so I cannot begin to imagine the loss felt by her family and the rage they must feel.

There is nothing that can be said that can truly capture the loss felt in your absence, Kadu. I think of you every day and wish you were still with us. I’ll miss our discussions in this space, and seeing you pop up in all the virtual places through which we were connected, with all the interesting work you were doing and things you shared. You were someone who praised and encouraged my writing from the beginning and always urged me to write more often. You deserve elegies and I wish I was poet enough to give you that. The world was a better place with you in it. Rest in peace, my lovely friend. I hope there is much beauty and serenity where you are.

Traffic rules have been treated merely as guidelines for entirely too long in India. The statistics are staggering. Click on the links below to learn more about this.

Death of pedestrian activist turns a spotlight on Bangalore’s dangerous roads


On books and jam tarts

Books are an important part of my life, yet I rarely get the chance to talk about what I read here, unless it is food-related. Then I read a post on One Hot Stove about a list created by The Perpetual Page Turner called the A to Z Book survey. I had so much fun reading Nupur’s list, I decided to take the survey too.

Author you’ve read the most books from:
I think it’s a toss-up between P.G Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, although Enid Blyton and writer and publisher Edward Stratemeyer (specifically for his Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys series) might easily lay stake to this claim, because I read every last one available till I was about twenty.

Best Sequel Ever:
Harry Potter got more intriguing with each book. I love them all. But the king of the book sequel for me is The Lord of the Rings series. The first book is rich and textured, but The Two Towers is engrossing and fascinating and The Return of the King is epic.
The Percy Jackson series is also pretty well-woven, a wonderful blend of Greek myth and modern fiction.

Currently Reading:
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume 1 by Edward Gibbon

Drink of Choice While Reading:
If I drink when I read, I’m going to ruin my reading material. I’m absent-minded and clumsy like that. Funnily enough, I had no problem eating and reading as a child. Perhaps I lost some skills as I got older.

E-reader or Physical Book?
There is something about the smell and feel of paper that represents for me the familiar, the peaceful and the secure – in a way that my life without paper books in it would be no life at all. That said, I find myself reading quite happily off my IPad too. It was an adjustment to begin with and I still prefer paper, but the convenience can’t be beat. I always like to have something to read with me, and this way I always do, with no forethought required. Back when the e-reader was a concept, I firmly believed nothing could replace the tactile feel and evocative smells of paper. I have now come to understand that first and foremost, I like to read what I like to read. The format is secondary.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:
Frank Hardy of The Hardy Boys or Jupiter Jones from The Three Investigators.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:
I have a couple here.
Where’d you go, Bernadette?
by Maria Semple. I loved the story, the way it is told through a series of letters, the discoveries the protagonist makes about her mother, those around her, and herself. The author paints deft scenes and situations with her words. The story is droll and compelling and you will want to know how it all ends. Mysteries have always been my favourite genre. This was one out of the usual sort, punctuated with some very clever writing.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I’m glad I took a chance with this because it introduced me an author I like who has written enough, that once I was done with this book I could go find his other books. I can tell halfway through a book if I like just the book or also the author’s style and manner of story-telling. The first finding gives me a book I enjoyed, the second opens the doorway to many future books to look forward to.

Hidden Gem Book:
“The circus arrives without warning.”
From its first line, The Night Circus by Eric Morgenstern, gets your attention. The author continues on to create this story filled with magic and wonder, friendship and betrayal. The setting for the story, the enigmatic circus, becomes as critical to the narrative as the characters themselves, even overshadowing them at times. This was an enchanting read. 

Important Moment in your Reading Life:
Reading my first Enid Blyton The Enchanted Wood. I can’t remember how old I was, except that I was very little. I was rooting through my cousin’s library shelf for a picture book and found this instead. It was hardbound and had a green cover with kids and dwarves and elves on it. I was immersed in it immediately. Despite my very young age, I remember two things coming to me vividly. This was the first time I understood the reality of an author; someone who actively wrote for a living. I grasped also the fact that if I enjoyed something this author person wrote, it was very likely I would enjoy his or her other writings.

Just Finished:
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
Books on personal or party politics. Political debate involves spinning a narrative. Except this is not fantasy, it is about people, their lives and attempting to exert influence on thought by manipulating words. For the most part, such politics makes me angry. I do my best to avoid reading books that make me angry. Short articles do that anyway.

Longest Book You’ve Read:
Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. I read this because I love the Tolkien universe, but this book had none of the flow of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit which maintained a pace and tightness despite the multitude of characters that appear. This book felt stunted and fragmented to me. I forged through it, but it felt like forever. 

Major book hangover because of:
Good or bad? There have been a few. Robin Cook’s Coma. That book both fascinated and scared me. Stephen King’s It still has me irrationally wary of clowns. I also found myself thinking about Michael Crichton’s Timeline for several days after I read it. The mix of science, history and adventure was enthralling.

Number of Bookcases You Own:
Show is better than tell, no? Four bookcases full.

A friend once visited our apartment and told me her dad would love our place because: “Padhe-likhe logon ka ghar lagta hai” (It looks like educated folk who value learning live here.) It made me wonder what her parents would think when they went through the books, and found that while our collections does contain books on architecture, history, science and food, there are also the Calvin and Hobbes, Asterixes, Tintins, all my old Archie comics and all my childhood Enid Blytons. My own family continues to be flummoxed by my still-present fondness for what is considered (and often actually is) children’s literature.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:
(There are many books I have read multiple times. I do that with my favourite reads. I’m a somewhat cautious new author reader. I’m listing the three books I’ve read more often than most.)
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is one of the few autobiographies I am crazy about. The adventure that was this man’s real life is incredible. The humour of it all is in the title of the book itself and it is as absorbing to read about the animals as hilarious it is to read about the family. A must-read if you like animals, it is a great read even if you don’t. Mr. Durrell led a fascinating life and is a true example of someone born with a calling. 

The Small Bachelor by P.G Wodehouse was my introduction to this prolific writer. It is not as well-known than his famous series books on Jeeves and Wooster or Blandings Castle, but it is quintessential Wodehouse; humour and misdirection liberally sprinkled with young love, the class clashed and happy endings. All this held conveyed with some of the best usage of the English language that the world has ever known. It made me fall in love with and develop a fierce loyalty for the writings of Wodehouse.

I have read and probably own every mystery Agatha Christie wrote. They came to Baghdad is my go-to book when I need a Christie fix. No one wrote mysteries as well or as prodigiously as her. While Murder on the Orient Express is proof of this, They came to Baghdad is filled with intrigue and exotic locales, pictures so deftly woven in words that they spring to life from the page. Much as I love Poirot, Tuppence and Tommy are my favourite Christie creations.

Preferred Place To Read:
Anywhere really, as long as it is comfortable enough for me to focus on the book at hand.

Quote that inspires you from a book you’ve read:
So many. Here’s a few.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”
“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”
                                                 – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

“What state do you live in? – Denial.”
                                                – Bill Waterson, The Essential Calvin & Hobbes (1988)

Reading Regret:
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I had not read it when I started with architecture school. After being asked about having read it a number of times, I decided to see what the fuss is about. I found the author’s prose and style of writing ponderous and interrupting, not aiding the story. I think I gave up at page fifteen, making this the only book I ever gave up on. I’m older now, and I wonder if I ought to give it another try. The thing is, I’m not sure if my regret is not finishing this book, or that I ever took it up in the first place. Now I just smile, say it is on my reading list and move on to another topic before the other person can start to tell me about the guiding principles of Howard Roark.

Series You Started And Need To Finish:
The Artemis Fowl series

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:
I’m making this ten. That’s still ‘T’, right? I have too many favourites.
In addition to the books listed above under books I’ve read multiple times:
The Adventures of Sally by P.G Wodehouse
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Unapologetic Fangirl For:
I had to look up what fangirl really meant:
A rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor.
Hmm. No.

Very Excited For This Release:
I’m looking forward to find out how the Wildwood, Emerald Atlas, Lost Gate and Divergent series’ end. Can’t say I’m very excited about any, though. I think the last book I was truly excited about was the last Harry Potter book. Perhaps a little about the last of the The Immortals of Meluha after that. 

Worst Bookish Habit:
I’m guilty of starting up to three books at once. I do not recommend it.

X Marks The Spot: (Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book)
I picked a bookcase at random
Building Construction Illustrated by Francis D.K Ching

Your latest book purchase:
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):
Dune by Frank Herbert. I only recently read it.


This tart had jam

The recipe has, of course, nothing to do with my books. Except that it would be fantastic to have on hand while reading a book. It is not even from my books. I found it on David Lebovitz’s fantastic site when I found myself with a glut of jam. Reading it, I realized it was superbly easy. Even on an impatient day, I was unlikely to mess it up.

This tart has apple butter

I have made it a few times so far, with some flavour additions to the crust. Once I made it with very thick apple butter and once with traditional jam. One time I didn’t cut small discs like I was told to, just turned the dough into very thin topping. Either way, the tart held its ground and tasted divine. Just like Lebovitz says, it is a great take-out-with-you food.

This jam tart is part of a Pac-Man re-enactment

It has tremendous lasting power in your fridge. Serve it topped with your ice-cream of choice or just on its own. It will make you feel extremely accomplished as you take in the compliments of your friends and family.

Jam Tart
Adapted lightly from this recipe by David Lebovitz.
Makes one 9-inch tart

Butter – 9 tbsp, room temperature
Sugar – 1/2 cup
Egg – 1
Egg Yolk – 1
Almond/ Vanilla Extract –  a tiny splosh
AP flour – 1-1/2 cup
Cornmeal – 1/2 cup
Baking powder – 2 tsp
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Cardamom powder (optional) – 2 hefty pinches
Clove powder (optional) – 1 hefty pinch
Jam – 1-3/4 cup
Raw sugar for sprinkling over before baking

– In a bowl, mix together the flour, cormeal, baking powder and salt until combined.
– Fit your electric mixer with the paddle attachment and beat the sugar and butter together at low speed until creamed. Mix in egg, egg yolk and extract of your choice and mix further.
– Add in the dry ingredients to the wet and mix only until everything is combined ino a dough.
– Put the dough out on a lightly flour-dusted surface and cut out about a third of it.
– Taking a sheet of plastic wrap, put the 2/3 section of the dough on it and flatten it out into a rough disc. Cover over with plastic wrap.
– Roll the 1/3 portion of the dough into a 2-inch log. Cover with plastic wrap. Chill both dough section for about 20-30 minutes.
– Take the disc out of the fridge and allow it to come to just under room temperature. This will make it easier to work with. Heat your oven to about 375°F.
– Place the disc a 9-inch tart pan. Working with the heel of your hand, press the dough into the pan, the base and up the sides as evenly as possible.
– Pour in the jam and smooth over the dough base.
– Take the log out of the fridge. Slice the log into small, thin discs, then place them over the jam in small overlaps in a circular-type pattern. Sprinkle over some raw sugar on the discs.
– Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the discs turn golden brown.
Take the tart out of the oven. Allow to cool before removing from the pan. Serve the tart at room temperature.



Flowers in the garden

Indian Summer has just about made it here and while the rest of the country is preparing for fall, San Francisco is gathering her shorts and tanktops and hoping she won’t see Karl The Fog for longer bouts. The skies are azure and the ocean is a shimmering turquoise with enough golden sunshine pouring over the hills in a manner so abundant, the Mediterranean would be envious.

Our garden flourished through summer and is continuing to thrive. What with all this new-found sunshine, we’ll have basil well into October. There has been heaps of wonderful things coming out of the garden. How much we manage to grow out of just some pots is still cause for general amazement.

This year is one I’m unofficially going to call the year of flowers. The garden has been covered in them; vines and shrubs heaped with beautiful blooms. From early spring and continuing through now, the riot of colour has been phenomenal.

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Bean and Grain Salad Bar

Earlier this year, I decided to attend The Big Traveling Potluck in southern California. I knew absolutely no one else who was attending. It took place in way more sunshine than my foggy San Francisco existence can now handle. I prefer solitude in my personal life. When it comes to interacting with people I would rather have one-to-one interactions or small groups of friends. Given that even at events where I know people, I’m likely to hang out at the periphery, this endeavor did not have the makings of a good idea. It was altogether so far out of my comfort zone, I would need a map to navigate my way back. But the event itself promised to be a good one to, focused on community, learning things others have to teach and I have to learn, and sharing a few meals in the process. I thought I might try it.

Our opportunities for self-assessment go down as we get older and are often tied to our jobs or our families, with little reflection on ourselves. This, for me, was a step in a series of attempts to do something that I didn’t have to do or wasn’t pushed along to try because of the time I am at in my life. To shake things up. There was no deliberation on what I hoped to achieve from it, except that I would be committing to doing something that I would normally shy away from.

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