“The Way Things Look to Me” – Roopa Farooki

 Books  Comments Off on “The Way Things Look to Me” – Roopa Farooki
Jul 302011

I love reading books by South Asian authors so I asked my local librarian to find me more. She was not able to, as it’s a complicated search. However, when I walked over to the fiction area, “The Way Things Look to Me” by Roopa Farooki was the first book I noticed. How ironic! That is the way I’ve come across many of the books I’ve read.

Roopa’s story recounts the lives of 3 South Asian siblings who are now adults living in England. There are 2 sisters and a brother that looks after the youngest, who grapples with Autism. It was peculiar timing for me to read this story recently, as I was in the process of having my daughter evaluated for Autism. I was given the diagnosis while still reading it. I tried to compare the descriptions of what was described of the disorder with my own experience, although the comparison was between an adult fictional character and my toddler.

At first, I wasn’t sure about the flow of the book, since the voice is changed from one character to another, as we follow the character’s intertwined lives. The characters distinguished well from one another, though there could have been more description to visualize them better. I’m not certain why some information was provided later rather than earlier, such as an explanation of what had become of their parents.

Some memorable lines from the story:
“He wishes that Mum and Dad and everybody who ever meant anything to them could all be there, sitting at the table with them, having tea, holding their hands, inhabiting a world filled with those who have chosen life, with all its unfairness and lunatic irrationality, with all its endless potential for happiness and hope.”

“I have learned that you have to be courageous to live, because living can be something that is very complicated, especially if you are alone…..And I can be courageous too; I can choose life.”

Apr 272010

I spent several hours last night reading my current novel, “Secret Daughter” by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, which I finished. It was compelling and easy to read, making the time fly by. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more. I kept wondering what was going to happen next. Some parts were difficult to read, particularly the specific references to incidents at the slum community called “Dharavi” in Mumbai.

It was also difficult to read the beginning reference to female infanticide and later blatant promotion in a village of gender selection ultrasounds. The references were made more difficult as a new mother to a daughter. I pushed through the challenging and moving descriptions to discover a story about family connections, love, overcoming obstacles, and hope.

Gowda’s debut novel is impressive in its descriptions, imagery, and character development. You begin to feel you personally know the characters, sympathize with them, and rejoice with them. The novel made difficult and endearing statements about South Asian culture.

Above all, “Secret Daughter” is about the love and connection between a mother and her daughter, making it a perfect novel to read in commemoration of Mother’s Day.


Alternative Guru Deepak Chopra

 Alternative Medicine, Books  Comments Off on Alternative Guru Deepak Chopra
Apr 012010

Deepak Chopra is a superstar of alternative medicine and spirituality. He makes me more proud of being Indian! 😉 I have some of his books and appreciate his thoughts. He was on Dr. Oz recently and offered the following insightful thoughts and helpful tidbits:

-Get rid of emotional toxins

-Quiet the mind

Introduce positivity – “you can’t just expect someone to think happy thoughts and create happy molecules.”

Meditation: “Close your eyes, watch your breath, be aware of your body, don’t have expectations or worry about any noises or thoughts. Surrender yourself to the moment.”

Meditation for Kids: Start at 5 years of age for 5 minutes. Add 1 minute for each subsequent age.

Insomnia: Even when lying down and your head is full of speeding thoughts, you are getting the metabolic rest of “almost sleep.” You are 90% there even if not sleeping. You go further when watching your breath. “So the worst thing you can do is worry about sleeping because the more you will not sleep.

The best way to get the best sleep (good quality) is to make your day really interesting – to make your day dynamic, full of activity, and exercise. Then the night will follow spontaneously.”


Modified Cauliflower and Potatoes (Alloo Gobi)

 Books, Indian Cooking, Recipes  Comments Off on Modified Cauliflower and Potatoes (Alloo Gobi)
Mar 182010
Modified Alloo Gobi

Modified Alloo Gobi

Modified Alloo Gobi

Cauliflower and Potatoes Cooked with Fenugreek and Fennel Seeds (Alloo Gobi) is from “World of the East Vegetarian Cooking” by Madhur Jaffrey. I’ve had this cookbook at least 20 years and it shows my love with its pages coming out and cooking stains. I’ve lovingly tried to put all the loose pages in order whenever they fall out. The recipes in it have always worked out well and I trust the book like a classic cooking bible for Asian and middle-eastern vegetarian cooking. I admit most of the recipes I’ve tried are Indian, but would trust the ones from other countries.

I’ve made this Alloo Gobi recipe for a friend of my husband’s who loves the dish for a cooking class and for my family.

“This North Indian dish, supplemented with stuffed Parathas and Sour Lime Pickle, is put into small, brass “tiffin-carriers” and taken as lunch by thousands of school children and office workers. Rolled in the same parathas, it may be taken on picnics or long car journeys.
(serves 6)

2 lbs cauliflower (1 smallish head)
2 medium-sized boiling potatoes (about ¾ pound)
6 tblsps vegetable oil
¼ tsp whole fenugreek seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 to 2 whole dried hot red peppers
¾ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 to 1 ¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp garam masala

Discard leaves and coarse stem of cauliflower. Break head into 2-inch long flowerets. Now cut each floweret lengthwise into very slim flowerets, with the heads never wider than ½ inch. Soak in cold water for half an hour.

Peel the potatoes. Cut them into dice, about ½ x ½ x 1/3 inch. Soak in bowl of cold water for half an hour.

Drain cauliflower and potatoes and dry them in a dish towel. Heat oil in a large 12 – to – 14- inch skillet over high heat. When the oil is smoking, scatter in the fenugreek seeds, the fennel seeds, the cumin seeds, and the red peppers. Stir once and quickly add the cauliflower and the potatoes. Stir again and turn the heat to medium. Sprinkle the turmeric, coriander, salt, and pepper over the vegetables and sauté them for about 8 to 10 minutes. Now add ¼ cup water and cover immediately. Turn heat to very low and steam vegetables gently about 7 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle the garam masala over the vegetables, stir once, and serve.

My variations: add sauteed tofu and other vegetables. I made it recently with the addition of tofu and green beans that I had left-over.

Alloo Gobi Plate

Alloo Gobi Plate

I like it with a side of chappati (but a store-bought wheat tortilla would do), along with plain yogurt and Indian pickle. My son loves it as an Indian burrito, wrapped in a wheat tortilla with yogurt.


Grounding Kichadi

 Ayurveda, Books, Indian Cooking, Recipes  Comments Off on Grounding Kichadi
Mar 032010

Grounding Kichadi

Grounding Kichadi

After a trip, after sickness, or anytime some digestive comfort is desired, nothing satisfies like kichadi. Kichadi is a a simple stew of basmati rice and split mug dal. I grew up eating it with kadhi and a side of plain yogurt, since my childhood in an Indian village. It’s my favorite comfort food combo. I thought kichadi was an ordinary peasant food, like Macaroni and Cheese here. Then I started seeing it in gourmet settings. It truly is a perfect, nutritious food.

After a trip to San Diego the past weekend, I was out of sorts and craved some comfort food. My son had a stomach upset. This is the way it goes after a trip, when your diet has been off its routine. So kichadi was the answer. I followed a recipe somewhat from “The Ayurvedic Cookbook” (Morningstar, Desai). The book lists a variety of recipes to suit one’s needs and dosha. Kichadis are considered the core of Ayurvedic nutritional healing.

I modified a recipe for Digestive Kichadi” based on what I had on hand:
Preparation time: ~1 hour, serves 3-4

1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsps ghee or sunflower oil
3 bay leaves
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp oregano, dry
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh ginger root, grated (I have some in the freezer, which I grate)
1/2 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup split mung dal
4-6 cups water (I used a little less)
3 cups fresh vegetables, such as carrots, zuccini, or summer squash, diced (I used some broccoli I put in the freezer before my trip and frozen peas)

Wash the rice and beans until rinse water is clear.
Warm the ghee in a medium saucepan. Add the cumin seeds, bay, coriander and oregano. Brown slightly, until aromatic. Stir in turmeric, rice and dal. Add water, salt, and ginger. Simmer covered over medium heat until beans and rice are soft, about 1 hour (was less for me – try to make sure it doesn’t turn into a smooth porridge – which can still be tasty). Wash and dice vegetables. Add them and cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes more.

It turned out tasty. I had some plain yogurt on the side. I was only missing the Indian pickles to go with it, which would have made it perfect. I need to get to the Indian store. As an added bonus, my 1 year-old liked it, with yogurt on the side. She seems fine with Indian spices and the consistency was just right for her. It had been a while since I made it for her. She has been having rice and dal with yogurt, which is similar.

Feb 242010

As a young married adult, this dish was one of the first I made and liked. It’s from an old Tarla Dalal book: “New Indian Vegetarian Cookery.” The recipe page has mark-ups and cooking stains that are over two decades old. The page has more stains than any other page – proof that I made it the most.

“The colorful mixture of vegetables added to the rice makes this an attractive pullav to serve.”

Serves 6, Preparation time: 15 minutes, Cooking time: 40 minutes

9 oz rice
4 tbsp ghee
1/2″ cinnamon stick
2 cloves
6 oz cooked corn
1 green pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 boiled carrot, diced
1/3 pint plain natural yogurt
2 tbsp cream
1/2 tsp sugar
4 oz water

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp grated fresh or flaked coconut
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2″ cinnamon stick
2 cloves
seeds of 2 cardamoms
1″ piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 tsp poppy seeds (khus-khus)
6 red chillies


Put the rice in a sieve and wash thoroughly under cold water. Boil the rice for 15-20 minutes until it is cooked. Drain and cool.

Heat the oven to 400. Blend the ingredients for the paste in a blender or food processor with a little water. Heat half the ghee in a large pan and fry the cinnamon and cloves for 30 seconds. Add the cooked rice, corn, green pepper and carrot. Season with salt and continue frying for 1 minute.

Heat the remaining ghee in a saucepan and fry the paste for 3-4 minutes. Add the yogurt, cream and sugar. Season with salt, add the water and cook for 1 minute.

Spread half the rice mixture on a sheet of aluminum foil and spread the curry on top. Cover with the remaining rice mixture, fold over the foil and seal. Bake the parcel in the oven for about 20 minutes. Unwrap and serve hot.


Unaccustomed Earth

 Books, Cultural Confusion  Comments Off on Unaccustomed Earth
Feb 162010

I just sped through author Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, “Unaccustomed Earth.” It was hard to put down and I’ve looked forward to whatever breaks I could get to read it. I even read it Sunday night, on Valentines night, when my husband fell asleep early in front of the television. I decided to not wake him and read my book for several hours with a gin and tonic. It was a nice evening! I’ve read all her other works so far, including “Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies.”

There seems to be an underlying theme to her stories, about immigrants from India. Specifically, I’ve noticed that all the Indians are Bengali, which I assume the author to be. It’s fine to write about what you know! There are common aspects to the Bengalis that holds true of all Indians from different parts of India. Once in the states, there is a tendency to seek one’s kind. Finding any Indian is good, but finding someone that is exactly from where one is even better.

I’ve seen this tendency of specific minority groups sticking together first-hand in various cities I’ve lived in. There are even different organizations for each of the sects, not just one Indian organization, of which there is normally one. Lahiri refers to this in all her stories. The mothers find others like themselves, or try at least. There is a struggle with fitting in and rejecting the culture around them, and then eventually, some sort of truce or peace. Many of the characters go back to India – usually the first generation parents. They have “paid their dues” in the states and once the kids are out of the home, there is a calling from the motherland.

Many of their kids run the other way. Some excommunicating their roots entirely and seek out the world at large. They are tired of their global experience consisting of annual trips to Calcutta. Most second-generation Indians, or ABCD’s (American Born Confused Desis), would be able to relate to Jumpa Lahiri’s stories. We would find a little piece of ourselves in the struggles the characters face, which she paints very descriptively. We feel we know them and are saddened when they die.

I look forward to Jumpa Lahiri’s next work.

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