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.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Even the Simplest of Things Come With Memories Attached

Seemebadhnekaayi curry with rasam rice was one of my favorite dishes as a long-braided teenager growing up in India. The squishy sweetness of the vegetable, a member of the squash family, gelled blissfully with the tangy spiciness of the rasam, a gravy-type dish usually eaten with rice.


 I turned my sights to the other vegetables on my list, left the coyote squash where I had found it after all those years and checked out of the store.

A recollection had waltzed in out of thin air, made space for itself and refused to let my mini-celebration be.

The rest is here.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

A Spoonful of Pickle Makes Life Go Down Easy

At 2am on a cold, damp weeknight, the highway that connects Washington, D.C. to its Virginia suburbs was nearly empty. I had the run of its deserted lanes as I hurtled through the darkness towards home with this single tantalizing thought on my mind – a bowl of hot rice, ghee and spicy mango pickle.

The past several days and nights had been one unending blur at work and the next few weeks didn’t promise any better. To add to my misery, none of the standard take-out places around my office in Washington, D.C. offered the one quality I sought in the dinners I was forced to eat at my desk – they were not comfort food. Not to me.
Once home, I headed straight into the kitchen to put a pot of rice on the stove – one cup of basmati rice rinsed clean and two cups of water in a small sauce pan. As soon as the water came to a boil, I turned the flame nearly all the way down and closed the pan with its tight-fitting lid. In the ten minutes it took the rice to cook, I washed up and changed, and got the pickle and ghee jars from the pantry.  

A gentle crackling from the base of the rice pot was the reassuring sound I’d been longing for, the signal that the rice was perfectly cooked, soft, plump and fluffy. I lifted the lid off, letting the steam escape and I caught a warm, moist, starchy cloud on my face.
As I breathed in, I felt the wrinkles on my forehead give way. The creases around my eyelids softened and my cheeks eased back to their original stations. I could try to describe its aroma in culinary terms, but in its swirls the steam held the rustle of mom’s sari, it held the twinkle in dad’s eye as he told us one of his jokes, it held my brother’s cackling laughter – all of which I’d left behind in India. At that moment, that aroma was home.

Too impatient to let the rice cool as it should, I scooped some up into a bowl with a wide, nearly flat spoon (known in literal translation from Kannada, my mother tongue, as the ‘rice hand’) I’d brought from India for that purpose.
Then, on top of the rice, a swirl of a teaspoon of ghee, its color and bouquet betraying its origin in butter.

Finally, my pickle of choice, the mango pickle. A couple of teaspoons did nicely for all of the rice in my bowl.
Chunks of raw mango nestled in a thick sauce of oil and pickling spices. The deep red of the chili powder (made from a special type of dried red chili prized for its intense color, called Byadgi, native to central India) combined with the rich yellow of the turmeric and powdered mustard seeds to form a tint and taste all their own.

Bright red with flecks of black. Tangy with the muted bitterness of roasted fenugreek and asafetida. Spicy with layers of heat from the chili and the mustard. Salty.
Unmistakably pickle.

I held the bowl in my left hand and – in true South Indian style – dug the fingertips of my right into the bowl, working the ghee and the pickle around and into the rice. There is a premium on serving and eating hot food in South India, and my fingers were proof of having lived up to that standard for years – they hardly felt the heat of the just-cooked rice.
That or the endorphins popping in my brain at the sight and smell of the ghee and pickle numbed my fingers.

Aided by the moistness of the ghee, rice and pickle came together in perfect union. The heat of the pickle, tempered somewhat by the ghee, and the now-warm rice blazed their way past my ravenous taste buds. Simple, starchy, buttery rice infused with the salty, spicy, sour, slightly bitter flavors of the pickle. The mango chunks, having marinated in the pickling spices for a good long time, provided sudden, crunchy bursts of intense flavor.
It was sublime.

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.

It is only recently, when dad was irretrievably lost to me, that my mind made the connection.
Memories of dad flicker in and out these days, the rumble of his guffaws, the way he would fling his towel over his shoulder, his relentless haggling with the vegetable vendor, the games he would make up for our gang of cousins and friends, his voice when he called my name. I bounce around, in my mind, through the many homes we lived in at various points during my childhood.

Some recollections, however, refuse to leave, waiting patiently until I acknowledge and examine them. One of those is of our mealtimes when we were growing up.
Dinner was the one meal during the weekday when everyone sat together. We ate on steel plates, in the kitchen, on the floor. All of the plates had raised edges so they could contain the many dishes of South Indian cuisine that had the consistency of gravy. Mine was oval in shape, my brother and parents had circular plates. Even after all these years, when I go back to mom’s home I still reach for ‘my’ plate.

My brother or I would lay out the plates in a circle on the floor with enough space in the center for the containers of rice, Rasam (a soup-like lentil and tomato dish), a vegetable curry, assorted condiments such as pickles and spice powders, ghee, and curd (yogurt).
If dad was particularly hungry, he would get started as soon as he sat down. He could never resist the temptation of hot rice, ghee and pickle. He would mix them in his plate and feed us siblings first, then mom and then himself, repeating the cycle until mom, who would still be bustling about the kitchen trying to get all the dishes on to the floor, was done. She would protest that she was busy but it fell on deaf ears. Everyone would then settle down for the second course of rice with Rasam and curry (beans, cabbage or eggplant curries were staples), ending with rice and curd or buttermilk.

Juicy family and work gossip served as an ever-present accompaniment. Dinner was a raucous affair. 

It still was, every time I traveled back to India with my own children in tow. My brother and I would promptly revert to our roles as children and there would be at least one re-enactment of our dinner ritual from our childhoods, complete with dad feeding us. Over the years, the circle on the floor grew wider and noisier with more plates and more voices. Until the loudest link in the circle was no more.
In my own home, in my own kitchen so far away in time and space from the kitchens of my childhood, my bowl of rice and pickle is my ticket, the only way I know to transport myself, in an instant, back to that circle of my childhood.

It is magic.