Friday, April 17, 2015

South Indian Vegetarian Homestyle Cooking: A Guide to Essential Spices

My new essay on the basic spices used in South Indian vegetarian cuisine includes a recipe for Potato and Onion Curry. An excerpt is below. The entire essay is on The Aerogram.

Indian cuisine is vastly diverse, not only in terms of ingredients, traditions, and techniques, but also in terms of levels of complexity — ranging from simple curries and chutneys to the biryanis that demand multiple discrete steps and hours to cook.

Most Indian home cooking, however, particularly vegetarian home cooking, boasts of a repertoire of recipes that allow one to achieve sophisticated flavors with a few basic fresh and dry spices and herbs. Those recipes and a few slightly higher on the complexity spectrum — from the South Indian kitchens of my childhood and now my own — will be the focus of this essay and the ones that follow.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Semolina Porridge: How to Make Your Upma and Eat It Too

On AntiSerious, my essay on a childhood dish I learned to hate and then learned to love as an adult. The entire essay is here: The Pagan's Progress: How To Make Your Upma and Eat It Too

Then on one of my trips back to my parents’ home, I stumbled upon the problem with my Uppittu. Or the answer to the problem. As my mom stood over her stove, her die-hard cast-iron wok held firmly in one hand with tongs and the other gripping a steel ladle trying to scrape the roasted-on bottom layer of Uppittu, a flashback occurred in an instant. That used to be my favorite part of a not-so-favorite dish. Mom carefully transferred the crisp bits onto a plate and wordlessly handed it to me. She’d remembered.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Recipes for Dips and Appetizers Inspired by Indian Condiments

My new food essay is up on The Aerogram with two recipes.

In my quest for dips that are a delicious departure from the ordinary, I decided to re-purpose a couple of types of condiments that play supporting roles in South Indian cooking — chutneys and bharthas. Bharthas are somewhat of an unknown quantity outside of desi circles, and while various types of chutneys are popular items on grocery store shelves, the many different South Indian cuisines boast of so many varieties that are still only found in home cooking.

The entire essay is here: Dips With a Twist: New Ideas for an Old Party Standby

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Evolution of an Immigrant's Thanksgiving

My essay on Thanksgivings past. 
We had left behind a culture that boasts of many festivals and rituals that bring families together. With extended families still living in close proximity, impromptu family gatherings are still the norm in our hometowns. Once we moved here we got busy with school and work calendars and we regularly lost track of those festivals (and still do), only a call from home prompting us to remember when it was too late.
The rest is at The Medium.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Sam Kean's The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

The older one, who's now 14, discovered Sam Kean first through The Disappearing Spoon and was hooked. The Violinist's Thumb followed quickly and there was no question about not pre-ordering The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons.

Here is a portion of his review of The Dueling Neurosurgeons:
The fastest and most powerful computers in the whole world cost millions of dollars to build and millions more to maintain, but a lump of tissue enclosed in bone crowning every human being can run a thousand times faster than the best machines in use today. And all it needs to survive is a good burger every now and then.
The entire review is on

If you are interested in science and science writing, Sam Kean is a writer to follow. On Twitter he's at @Sam_Kean and his website is

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Documentary: The Last Man on the Moon

Anytime I hear about a human in space, I take all of about 10 seconds to marvel at the level of technological sophistication that is necessary to accomplish space flight. The rest of the time, it's the human story that leaves me awestruck.

In fact, it's the same with any endeavor (such as climbing mountains or plumbing the depths of the ocean) that involves extreme hardship and whose demands are many: an undying commitment to the cause, a faith in science and numbers, street smarts and book smarts, an adventurous spirit, the willingness to sacrifice comfort, and the ability to stare down a fear of the unknown.

Needless to say, documentaries, books and movies that give the human angle in these journeys the treatment it deserves rank high on my favorites list.

Soon to make an entry into that list is a documentary titled The Last Man on the Moon that's already seen advance screenings in the UK. According to Universe Today,
“The Last Man on the Moon,” from UK-based Mark Stewart Productions, tells the story of Gene Cernan and his accomplishments against the backdrop of the Apollo era, when superpowers competed for dominance in space and hotshot flyboys became international heroes. With firsthand accounts from Cernan himself and his family, along with several other astronauts and NASA celebrities, it’s an emotional and intimate account of America’s last lunar voyage.
I'm hoping it'll make its way into the US sooner rather than later.


For updates, visit the documentary's Facebook page and hit 'Like'

For a trailer, visit Vimeo:


Update, June 18, 2014: I was able to find a link that I can embed in this post. So here it is!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Theater Courses for Children in Kolkata (Calcutta)

This information is from The Creative Arts' Facebook Page


Theatre Skills, Life skills, Creativity and Imagination :

The Creative Arts Theatre Workshop is dedicated to providing an atmosphere for children to explore, imagine, create and have fun through the world of theatre arts. We impart Theatre Skills like Expressions, Acting, Voice, Speech, Body Training, Rhythm, Music, Dance, Creative Writing, Poetry, Dialogue and Script Writing, Teaching various genres of Theatre and Appreciation and knowledge of other Art Forms.
Though we do enjoy entertaining with our end of the session show - the process is what we focus on.. Our goal is to instill the joy of theatre and in doing so, help to grow happy, healthy, confident kids.Since it's beginning TCA has focused on the philosophy of "Creative Drama". Creative Drama is different from traditional theatre classes in that the primary focus is the Participants NOT the performance.
Creative drama has many benefits for children. Not just the child who wants to be an actor...but for EVERY child. The mission of the Children’s Theater program is to make the theater a setting where opportunities for telling a story in words, motion and emotions can bring awareness beyond the parameters of their own home/school environment. To provide an opportunity for the children from the first grade through twelfth grades to receive the benefit that theater activities can provide. These benefits include

Life Skills:
• Learn about emotions
• Be more confident
• Work on problem solving
• Learn to relate to other people
• Speak in public
• Support positive body image
• Learn to work in a group
• Gain Self- Esteem...
• Create sensitivity to others through teamwork, co-operative interplay, and conflict resolution.
• Explore the varied facets of imagination, and individuality.

Life Values can be imparted through drama and Appreciation of social values can be learned in the play message. An ensemble of students learning to appreciate the power of drama techniques can display the respect, tolerance and patience for all ages, genders, social and ethnic backgrounds, as they work together toward a common goal.

Theatre Days

Days Time Age Group Status

Monday 4pm-5pm 8-13 yrs No Vacancy
Wednesday 3pm-4pm 5-7 yrs Fast filling
Wednesday 4pm-5pm 8-13 yrs Few seats remaining Wednesday 5pm-6pm 5-7 yrs Few seats remaining Saturday 3pm-4pm 8-13 yrs Fast filling

Creative Writing

Days Time Age Group Status

Monday 5pm-6pm 9-13 yrs Few seats remaining Saturday 4pm-5pm 9-13 yrs Few seats remaining

For ADMISSIONS call 9830775677

Friday, November 15, 2013

Easy Tomato Pickle Recipe

The recipe that accompanies the 'Food is the Tie That Binds' essay on preserving family recipes for future generations is also up on The Aerogram.
Pickling is usually a process that takes days if not weeks, but in less than a couple of hours, you could have on your hands this tomato pickle designed to delight your taste buds and impress your guests.
The entire recipe, with detailed notes, is here:

I hope you take a shot at it!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Working Out the Kinks in the Inter-Generational Recipe-Transfer Protocol

My new essay on The Aerogram:
So each time we sat down at my breakfast table I would bring out not only all our assorted notes, my computer, and pens and pe...ncils, but also my measuring cups and spoons. One day, even a golf ball ended up on the table. My mother-in-law held up her fingers for the nth time to indicate a piece of jaggery or tamarind, I forget now, and since we had decided that ‘lemon-sized’ as an indication of the required amount was just not going to cut it, we were casting about for something more standard.
Eventually, though, the golf ball too went out the window and we resorted to the cookbook mainstays — tablespoons and teaspoons — instead. We would eye-ball the amounts that seemed right, set it out on a plate and measure each ingredient with cups and spoons, and we were on our way.
The rest is here:


Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Makes Food Comfort Food?

The Aerogram published my essay on why a bowl of rice and some pickle is my comfort food.
On any other day, late night infomercials would give me company through a bedtime snack, but that day, with the occasional swish of a car whizzing past the house for company, I stood barefoot in the kitchen and polished off the entire bowl.

Not for the first time, I wondered what it was that drove me to seek this particular combination of foods in times of distress. I didn’t bother then to press for an answer, just content in the knowledge that for the moment all was right with the world.
Read the full essay on The Aerogram.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pratham Books is a Finalist in the Google Impact Challenge

I wrote a while ago about Pratham books and how refreshing it was to come across stories for children set in India, written in language that is suitable for children's reading levels, and told in rich color and visuals.
The books are categorized by age groups and are available in a few Indian languages in addition to English. For example, the Tell Me Now! Series, Khikkhil Tota (Hindi, Marathi and Kannada), a series called Primers are all recommended for 3-6 year olds. Books such as Hum Sab Prani, Paheliyaan, Out and About with Ajja (available in Hindi, English, Marathi, Kannada, Urdu and Gujarati), Wild and Wacky Animal Tales (available in Hindi, English, Marathi, Kannada, Urdu and Gujarati) are recommended for 6-9 year olds and The Quirquincho and The Fox, The Magic Powder, Ganga ki Lehrein (English, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada), a set of short stories in Hindi, Marathi and Kannada are all aimed at 10-14 year olds.

The books are printed on glossy, high-quality paper and book lengths range from about 15 pages to about 30 pages each. The color and the quality of the illustrations are excellent, as is the print. The type face is large and spaced so children can follow the words easily. The books are priced from Rs. 5 each (the Tell Me Now! Series) to about Rs. 25 each, and can be ordered online from Read India Books' website.
Now Pratham Books is up for the Google Impact Challenge (GIC) Award. From the GIC blog:
Nearly 50% of Indian 5th graders currently read at a 2nd grade level. This is due in part to a scarcity of books, and to a lack of reading material available in their language.

With a Global Impact Award, Pratham Books will provide kids with easy access to language-appropriate reading materials by building a collaborative, open platform that lets people share, translate and create children’s e-books. Over the next three years, this project will create 20,000 new e-books in a minimum of 25 languages and enable 200 million total book reads.
This is an amazing project. The joy children feel at being able to read stories in contexts that are familiar to them, in their own language, is tremendous. What could be more gratifying than watching children lose themselves in a story?

You can vote for them on the GIC website. Please do.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Amazing Resource for Research and Statistics on Indian Immigrants in the US

"The nearly 1.9 million Indian immigrants living in the United States in 2011 represented the third-largest immigrant group by country of origin, behind Mexico and China. The share of Indian immigrants among all foreign born in the United States grew from less than 0.5 percent in 1960 to almost 5 percent in 2011.


This article reports on a wide range of characteristics of Indian immigrants residing in the United States, including the population's size, geographic distribution, admission categories, and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. Data are from the US Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), the 2000 Decennial Census (as well as earlier censuses), and the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) (2012 data)."

For the rest, read this article, Indian Immigrants in the United States, by Monica Whatley and Jeanne Batalova of the Migration Policy Institute 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Life as an Immigrant in Fairfax County

Fairfax County is one of the most diverse locations in the country.
Its residents come from every continent on Earth except Antarctica. A morning walk to drop off your child at school can put you within earshot of the more than hundred different languages spoken in Fairfax County (more than a third of the population speaks a language other than English at home). The student body in Fairfax County Public Schools comes from more than 150 countries, a veritable United Nations. A leisurely drive around the county brings home the diversity of its populace in more ways than one.
But what is life like as a new immigrant?
[I]f there is one thing that defines the immigrant experience, particularly in the first few days, weeks and months in this country, it is the near-constant state of exploration and discovery — everything from the mundane question of how to turn on a shower to the infinitely more complicated problems of learning how to drive, obtain utilities connections, school admissions, drivers’ licenses, insurance policies, find doctors, find the right place of worship and build networks.
More in the first of three essays on diversity in Fairfax County and life as an immigrant in Coming to America - The First Days.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Let Children Have a Say in What They Eat

A clap of thunder, a bolt of lightning and it hit me that this was it. The answer to my prayers to help me steer clear of the trap that many parents around me seemed to be unable to extricate themselves from — one in which feeding their children healthy food turned into wars of attrition.
My post on why it's important to involve children in the kitchen and tips on how to do it appears here.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Middle School Rules

Jessica Lahey on how 'regular' rules differ from 'middle school' rules.
Middle school rules. Different from the regular rules. Elusive, slippery things I'm only beginning to master, and I have spent the past five years as a professional middle school referee.
Read the rest of her thoughtful post on her blog for pointers on dealing with the all too difficult middle school years.