Digging into the past

There are very few things that I can hold up for show-and-tell when it comes to my past. Most of my memorabilia lies gathering dust in a dark cupboard about 9000 miles away. Even in that collection though, I don't have much by way of tangibles. What I do have are photographs. Photographs that were supposed to last through my lifetime, but have instead faded and come unhinged from the albums into which they were carefully pasted.

My parents' wedding, 1956

Not many people in that wedding picture are alive today and perhaps they, too, like my parents left behind rusting eyeglasses, fading pictures, and a few solitary possessions that their families hold on to.

KK Brand

When a nomadic life became ours through our calling, I took with me what I needed to sustain us for the next couple of months, at the most. A pressure cooker with its inserts was the only essential item in my suitcase. The rest I would do without or I would find suitable substitutes. If push came to shove, I would leave my pressure cooker behind, too. My memories, I knew, would go with me wherever I went. I did not need tangibles, show-and-tells.


It was only when we decided to grow some roots that I realized that I had left home with four suitcases, a pressure cooker and my memories. And, a void. I began to want to hold, to touch and to relate; more so as my child grew older, away from extended family who might have filled her in on her father's motorcycle escapades or her mother's exciting safaris, or brought to life the grandparents she never knew, including their travails and triumphs. I began to want those very things that I had shunned as unnecessary and I swore that I would bring them back with me on my next trip.


Priorities shift over time and it's a fine balance between want and need, as it was on that proverbial next trip home. There were six suitcases this time, more space that only proved to be amazingly inadequate because now every memory had not just a tangible form, but a measurable weight to go with it. Needless to say, I came back with fewer things than I wanted and a deeper void than before.

One of the blessings I brought back with me was a kitchen tool that had been gifted to my mother by my Dad's best friend. It has her name and his name engraved on it, that is how I know. Was it a wedding gift? I don't know. But what I do know is that this man was our only claim to fame for a very long time. He had worked with Kamal Amrohi in the making of the film, Pakeezah, or so the legend went. I can't find his name in any of the online references to Pakeezah but apparently his name is there in the credits. Suddenly, there is a need watch the tragedy queen Meena Kumari throw herself on her bed and lip-sync hauntingly mournful songs.


This kitchen tool is made of brass. It is heavy and becomes heavier when its cylinder is filled with dough. I can see my Dad standing by the stove, turning the handle to press the dough through the holes into hot oil. My sister and I did our share, too, as my mother could only supervise this part of the annual faraal preparation for Diwali.


My heirloom has four discs, the three pictured above and a fourth with a star-shaped hole.  It can be used to make chakliganthia and sev of varying thickness. I don't have lymphedema nor do I have arthritis but already, it is too heavy for me because of other reasons. Medha will have memories of her Dad standing by the stove, turning the handle while her mother stands close by, giving instructions.

the whole picture

There are modern versions of this tool and then there are shinier, lighter remakes but for some reason, the faraal never tastes the same. Maybe because it lacks the invisible but vital ingredient: memories.

Click: Heirloom - which one?

Oooh! Chakli, Mumma?
I hope so. Saturday morning, ok?  
I can't wait
and she was gone.

Saturday morning had other plans for us and those who depended on us. There were no Belgaum-style chaklis made this weekend for IFR: Memories, just tylenol, ibuprofen and endless bowls of soup.

Jen Ignites Boulder

Ignite is a night of presentations on a variety of topics, with a twist. Each presentation has 20 slides, that automatically advance after 15 seconds. It is a worldwide movement, and Boulder is hosting our sixth September 16th at 6pm.
Jen Y(o)u Rock! (The quality seems to have dropped after uploading to youtube - if I can figure it out, I will try and fix it. For now, enjoy Jen's talk!)
Woo hoo!
Jen Yu!
I love you!

Go tell her how much she rocked!


Remember that mantra: adding garam masala to a dish does not make it Indian? Neither does adding curry powder. Seriously.

I wonder if your world was rocked by the wave that was unleashed onto the net in the form of Indian dosas? Apparently, the recipe was from a cookbook. Great! Personally, I think the recipe should have been left there - in the cookbook, that is. Those who buy the cookbook will be far fewer than those who will now find the recipe online.

One more time: Adding curry powder to a pancake does not make it Indian. And, it certainly does not make it a dosa. There are many different types of dosas: the real deal made from fermented batter of ground urad dal and parboiled rice; instant dosas made from various flours; adais made from a spectrum of beans. There are stuffed dosas and there are spicy dosas with onions, cilantro, green chillies and even ginger. But, don't take my word for it, check out Srivalli's Dosa Mela and be totally overwhelmed.

That's not to say that I have not added onion, green chillies and cilantro to a boxed pancake mix. The first time I did that and placed the steaming result under my sleepy husband's nose:
Huh? What's this?
Eat it with the coconut chutney. Did you like it?
Yeah, but what is it?
Just eat it.

It had no name. I don't call it an Indian dosa, although uttapa - everyone not from Maharashtra, feel free to add an 'm' to make it uttapam - would have been more like it. I don't even call it a pancake. It's the result of a quest for savory breakfast food, a kind of strange east-meets-west fusion food. Blasphemy? Feel free to tell me like it is. But notice that I don't have a recipe for it on my blog. And I certainly don't call it Indian anything. Not Dosa. Not Uttapa. I don't even call it American.

So much heartburn.

Perhaps, I have the right remedy for it.

Jeera Goli

  • 2 tbsp amchur (dried mango powder)
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 5-6 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • salt to taste
  1. Toast the cumin on a griddle or a cast iron pan at medium heat, stirring frequently until it darkens. Take care that it does not burn.

    Dry toasting cumin
  2. Allow to cool and grind to a fine powder.
  3. Five ingredients
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, reserving 2 tbsp powdered sugar. Taste the mixture. If it is too tart for you, add some more powdered sugar from the sugar you set aside. Make sure you have at least 1 tbsp powdered sugar in your reserve to roll the jeera goli in.
  5. Add the lime juice and stir, bringing it together like a dough.

    Makes about 1/4 cup worth
  6. Don't be tempted to add more lime juice when it looks like it won't come together. Use your hands and bind it into a ball.
  7. Pinch off a very small amount and press it together several times until it can be formed into a ball or goli.

    So we had some fun as the sun set
  8. Toss the goli in the reserved powdered sugar and set out on a plate to dry.  Typically these should be dried in the sun but I skipped that step as the sun was setting and they dried plenty just by sitting out on the table. Thank you, dry Colorado weather.
  9. This mixture will make anywhere from 100 jeera goli to 150 jeera golis, depending on the size of your golis.
  10. Store in an air-tight container and pass it around after a rather satiating meal. Or at any other time, just because.
  • I find it easier to use my fingertips than my palm to roll the golis as they are so teeny. 
  • If you like, you could exercise quality control and ensure that the golis are all of a similar size. As you can see, I had helping hands and we decided not to bother.
  • Don't be tempted to add a lot of powdered sugar as that will override and kill the fragrance of powdered cumin. 
  • I had a huge bag of limes - to make mojitos for my Book Group on Thursday - so I did not feel like buying a lemon. Next time though, I will try it with lemon juice.
  • The golis will darken in color slightly and most of the powdered sugar coating will be absorbed into the goli as it dries.
Tangy balls of delight

Jeera goli is usually eaten as an after-dinner digestive. I eat it any time I need a quick zing to break the monotony of the day.

Perfect for the party, no?

Happy Anniversary, Anita! I promise you these jeera golis will reduce the heartburn of doing a round-up!

A Quick Update to say that I have issues with the recipe, not with the group of people or any person that participated in the challenge!

I Salute

We remember

I took this picture last year.

I drove by the Fire Station just now and they have it up again this year. I have to struggle to hold back my tears: for our friend, Jayashree, who made it out of the South Tower, through the debris of the falling towers, back home to her husband and two children. For all the others who did, too. And especially, for the families of those who didn't.

On the nines

Who can resist a post scheduled for 09:09 p.m. on 09/09/09? Not me! If I was really smart though, it would have been scheduled for 09:09 a.m. on 09/09/09. But since everyone thinks I am rather brilliant, we'll just go with the flow and ignore my overly honest, inner voice.

Dana asked me what the significance of all the nines was and if there was something special she should do today. Eat and drink, girl, cos it's the first day of the rest of your life and this date is not going to come around again in your life. Neither will 09/08/09 but let's not go there, shall we? I like dates that look like 09/09/09 - they're symmetric and very orderly; the exact opposite of me.

Nines also remind me of my Dad. He would always calculate the digital root of a number, drop the nines, and ensure that the final number was divisible by three. He was rather upset when he did not get the Volkswagen Golf with the registration number KQZ 873 but was allotted the one prior, KQZ 872. Both were blue, both were great cars but ours had a digital root of eight whereas the other guy's had nine. But, our apartment was A-3. Yay! I presume that some crazy numerologist along the way must have told him that three and nine were good numbers for him, just like the demented astrologer who told him that he would die a watery death at the age of 32. Because of this, he didn't go near a large body of water and he didn't let us either! Needless to say, I hate that astrologer who was off target by 20 years. I have no strong feelings for the numerologist except that I have this urge to start adding numbers - the street number for our house before we bought it (it's a nine! Dad would have approved!), our cars, important dates, birth dates, account numbers, you name it!

As I grow older, I look at all the baggage I carry with me and smile. Memories - of the people who molded us, from our parents to our friends to our teachers to chance occurrences on the street, even. Sometimes there is a hint of an aroma in the air that only I can smell and it propels me back in time to a memory that is so vivid, it could be real. Other times, it's a look on the face of a complete stranger. Is she... could he be... no! They're just passers-by in the walk of life but they leave me with the renewed joy of reliving an event that occurred over two to three decades ago.

Has that ever happened to you?

I'm sure it has! Have you ever taken that feeling and run with it? If it was an aroma or a flavor or even a déjà vu, have you tried to capture the essence of that feeling and tried to recreate tastes associated with it? I know I have. I hold on to it until I have to do something about it, especially if it is related to food. Sometimes just finding the right recipe is action enough, other times I have to do more. Like the time I saw a kid continue to gnaw at an already eaten cob of corn. He dipped it in some kind of sauce and sucked on the cob, over and over again. It brought back visions of a scrawny kid with thick eyeglasses sitting in a small kitchen, dipping her 2 inch share of a cob into a tangy green sauce and sucking the flavors off the cob. Over and over again. I had forgotten the distinctive, slightly garlicky taste of the palakachi amti that my Mom used to make. One that turned dinner time from being a total time-suck to an endless suck of the cob.

And, sure enough, there was soon fresh corn in the Louisville Farmers Market begging to be... er, sucked.

To be honest, the corn wasn't that great because the entire crop had almost been wiped out due to a massive hail storm in the Foothills. But, I bought it anyway because I had a memory that was itching to be recreated and I like to support our local farmers, especially when they are down.

Palak ani makkyachi Amti

Spinach and Corn Curry

  • 1 lb baby spinach leaves
  • 2 ears of corn, preferably fresh
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch asafetida
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic, julienned
  • 2 Thai green chillies or 2-3 dried red chillies
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
  • 1/2 tsp quick fix ground masala (optional) 
  • salt to taste

  1. Wash the baby spinach leaves well.

  2. Soak tamarind pulp in about 1/4 cup water, pop into the microwave for 20 seconds and mush it into a thick paste with your hands. Discard all hard fibers, shell and seeds. Use more water if you need to.

    About 1/8 cup fresh tamarind pulp
  3. Chop the corn on the cob into pieces that are about 1.5 in to 2 inches thick. About eight pieces is a good number.

    Chop with a sharp knife
  4. Heat oil in a large sauté pan.
  5. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add asafetida.
  6. Keep your splash guard handy and then add julienned garlic. Stir until garlic becomes a nice toasty brown but take care that it does not burn.
  7. If using fresh green chillies, slice them down their length. If using dried red chillies, break them into 2-3 pieces each.
  8. Add chillies, followed by turmeric powder.
  9. Add baby spinach leaves and allow them to wilt completely, stirring every so often to help the process.
  10. Add tamarind paste, quick fix ground masala, if using and salt. Cook for another 4-5 minutes.
  11. Discard chillies, if desired.
  12. Use a hand blender to make a thick purée, adding up to 1/2 cup water to bring it to a consistency you like. Or add a few ice cubes to cool the spinach quickly and take it for a whirr in your blender.
  13. Taste and adjust seasonings at this point. If it's not spicy enough, feel free to add red chilli powder.
  14. Return the pan to the stove and add the pieces of cob. Dunk them into the thick green sauce so that they absorb all the zesty flavors as the corn cooks. Do not overcook the corn.

    Send the corn for a swim
  15. Serve immediately over long-grained steamed rice with homemade yogurt and Indian pickle.
  1. I think the roots of this dish are in a patal bhaji where the masala was ground with fresh grated coconut but I think my Mom stopped using coconut because of doctor's orders - reduce saturated fats in my Dad's diet. 
  2. I've made both with and without the quick fix ground masala. Medha prefers it with the masala, while I like it without. Her Dad doesn't care, as long as he has a pile of pickled jalapeño peppers sitting on his plate.

We decided to brave the mosquitoes and have dinner on the patio. It was interesting to watch both Medha and her Dad when they were served dinner.
He picked up his spoon

  She followed suit.

After a few bites, she looked at him,  then looked at me and did exactly what that child in a small Bombay kitchen had done decades ago: she picked up the cob and sucked on it.


With that, I would like to launch IFR: Memories. A series of posts that focus on mundane happenings today that somehow manage to send me into the past. I'd love it if you would join me for more than just the ride. Delve into what defines nostalgia for you: a picture, a smell, a thought, a setting, a landscape, a deja vu. For IFR: Memories, I'm looking for tastes you haven't sampled for at least a decade or more. I would like you to:
  1. Write a poignant post that includes a recipe. Your writing is what is of  importance for this event. It needn't be a tearjerker.
  2. Some guidelines:
    • posts must be in English.
    • avoid excessive use of "..." and exclamation points.
    • proof-read your post for spelling as well as grammar.
    • avoid run-on sentences. 
    • no smileys or emoticons, please.
  3. Link to this announcement.
  4. Send me an email at indianfoodrocks (at) gmail (dot) com with the following info:
    • Your name
    • The Name of your Blog
    • The URL of your post
    • The Title of your post
  5. You can send me two entries per blog, limiting it to two entries per person.
  6. Send me a basket of mangoes Send all this to me before midnight MDT, October 15, 2009.
I will post a summary of all your entries within the following week.

Looking for a logo for this event? You could use this, if you like.

Catching up

Far be it from me to Click and Run, so instead I am updating you on all the fantastic late-summer happenings in my life. But let's get some formalities out of the way first.

My judge's entry to Click: Allium

There! That's done!

The last couple of weeks have been extremely busy. I now have a middle schooler who shows signs of more and more belligerence intelligence and humor with each passing day. I wake up earlier than usual even though middle school starts half an hour later than elementary school, just so that I can get on my bike and attempt to keep up with a bunch of kids racing each other to school.

Hey! Wait for me!

As much as I dislike downhill skiing, I love coasting downhill on a bike. I thought I was getting my daily exercise until a bike aficianado told me downhill does not count, at which 2.5 miles of my 5 mile route developed wings and dissipated. The route back home is mostly uphill and I am ready to burst several blood vessels by the time I crawl back up the slope to my home. Neighbors walking their dogs shout out terms of encouragement as they pass me by - in the same direction.

The end of summer vacation meant that I had to get off my butt and Make a Psychedelic Wish Happen. We painted Medha's room: Lemon Zest, Lime Pop, Orange Peel and Ariel's Afternoon Swim (an ocean blue). Yes, each wall a different color. Take my advice and never give in to such a wish. And if you do, ask the following questions when you're buying paint:
  1. Does this paint need a primer?
  2. Dude, does this paint need a primer?
  3. Has this paint can been through the shaker? Did you open it to confirm that it did?
  4. And seriously, man, does this paint need a primer?

If you don't ask, you might go home with unshaken paint and worse still, no primer. It could mean up to four coats of paint for reds, blues, yellows and greens.

Then make sure you:
  1. Buy one roller nap per paint color.
  2. Buy plastic disposable covers for your paint tray.
  3. Buy a thick nap (3/4in) if you have knockdown or any other type of texture on your walls, disregarding the Home Depot guy's question: What rough texture are you painting? Your deck?
  4. Buy at least one wall brush, a small brush and a foam brush. If you get one of each per color, you don't waste water washing the paint off.
  5. Also, buy paint thinner / lacquer to wash off paint residue from the naps and brushes.
  6. Buy plastic to cover your floors. If you have wood floors, it helps to get the kind that is not smooth. Yes, I've gone on a nice ride as the stepping stool I was standing on slipped all over the room. 
And, while you wait for the paint to dry between coats, store the brushes and naps in air-tight baggies. The plastic bags that breads come in are ideal. You save gallons of water this way even though you create more waste in the landfill. It's a tough balance, according to me.



The corners, my friends, were my worst nightmare. So I cocked my snoot at them and they are what they are: messy with colors bleeding into one another and parts of the orange-blue confluence only have orange primer.

But you know what? She's happy. Very happy. My back, on the other hand? Not very.

Ganesh Chaturthi this year was very low key. I did not make chavde for the birthday girl, my sister, as planned. But get this: her birthday according to the Gregorian calendar was on the same day as Ganesh Chaturthi, the day she was born according to the lunar Hindu calendar. I've asked what the chances of that are but so far, no one seems to want to take me up on figuring that out. We were treated to a handmade Ganesh at the first Boulder Balvihar of the 2009-2010 school year. The idol was made using regular sifted soil, some wood for a make-shift frame, a coconut shell, fuse beads, yarn and other readily available knick-knacks lying around the house.

Later that week, I had the finest women in the Colorado Front Range come over for an Indian Street food party. I must say this post is chockful of tips because here comes another one: it helps to know where you kept the best Kashmiri chilli powder ever because if you can't find it, you will end up using a new batch of extra spicy red chilli powder. And, you might even add it twice. Like I did.

The pav bhaji was so spicy that even after adding an equal amount of veggies and mashed potatoes to that already in the pot, it still packed quite a kick. Since this took up so much of my time, I didn't get a chance to make homemade papdi and used Tostitos Scoops instead.

As if these were not disasters enough, my bebinca - a traditional Goan dessert - failed miserably. Jen saved the dessert by arriving with chocolate macarons, lemon ice cream and Vietnamese coffee ice cream. Do you know just how lucky we are? I do.

The ladies seem to have survived the spices and have returned to leading a normal eventful life, as is the case in Boulder County. Never a dull moment.

As if I did not have enough to do, I joined a Book Group organized by our school district's Parent Engagement Network at which we will be discussing Sue Blaney's Please Stop the Rollercoaster. I don't have any set expectations or a defined outcome in mind but what I do know is that the parents in my group are some of the brightest minds around. I took espresso chocolate chip shortbread cookies and coffee to the first meeting that I had organized yesterday.

Bru that cookie!

Yes, I used Bru and they were a bounce-off-the-wall hit. If you haven't made these or eaten these, make it your project for this weekend. It's hard to stop eating them so I sent some over to my neighbors and then handed the rest to a friend who dropped by later in the evening. What are those half-spherical things in the other bowl, I hear you ask. Hold your horses! That story is next.

Marc Brownlow of Figs with Bri has been on a road trip to Zion, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. He was in Denver for a couple of days and we met for happy hour tapas at The Med in Boulder. I drove like the wind from my meeting with precise instructions on where to park sent over texts by Jen "plenty of parking on Walnut heading west." Walnut. Right. No! Left, left. Walnut is one-way along some stretches. West? Gulp! Where are the mountains? Ok, that's west. She was right! Lots of parking! That is usually my worst nightmare, after trying to figure out which direction I am going in, of course.

Rock star Jen with her pink sunglasses

Marc and Brian

Tapas: melon wrapped in bacon. Mmmmm!

Taking Cynthe's advice, I made nankatai for Marc. I made them smaller than normal so that they are easier to eat on the road. Jen said she loved them!

Life's been full and brimming over but it's been good. If all works out, there will be more delicious food in my future: dosas at Masalaa in Denver with Kitt, Dana and Jen.

Have a great long weekend, peeps!

PS Shilpa has posted the round-up for Purplicious. And, Orange you glad it's a new color!