Thursday, 21 April 2016

Celebrating the Curry Leaf Comeback!


South Indian food is a firm favourite in our house. Though we are Bengalis, our roots being in West Bengal where fish curry and rice are staple foods, we tend to think of South Indian food as our 'specials'. There is great excitement in the house when I announce there will be dosas or idlis for dinner! Though the preparation of dosas is a long process, the fermentation of the batter taking up to a couple of days, here's a version I've adapted from my French friend, Stephanie, who had made some awesome buckwheat pancakes on Pancake Day!

Buckwheat Dosa:

For the batter, I've added water and some salt to about a cup of gluten-free buckwheat flour to make a runny batter. If you want to be more adventurous, you could add a teaspoon of finely grated ginger and chopped chillies. I haven't for this one, but might try it the next time round.
Now cook the dosas exactly how you would make pancakes. I added little drops of oil onto the hot pan before pouring the batter in, and then dotted the sides with oil so it's easier to flip.

Potato or Sukhi Aloo Bhaji

This is a sure accompaniment of the dosa. Either on the side or as a filling for the dosa. Boil the potatoes, then chop. Chop onions and coriander leaves. In a pan, add a tsp of mustard seeds and curry leaves and chopped chillies to  2 -3 tsp of hot oil. When the seeds start to splutter, add the onions and fry a bit. Then add a teaspoon of turmeric and stir it around. Quickly add the chopped potatoes and coat it with the onion mixture. Add seasoning, and garnish with coriander leaves and some lemon juice if you like. Remove from pan. 

Curry leaves are/were banned in the UK recently, so when I found some in the local Indian store last week, I danced a jig. South Indian food without curry leaves is like fish and chips without vinegar. You can eat it, but it's not the same. 

So this meal was all to celebrate the return of the curry leaves!

Sambhar Daal

You will get all the ingredients in the Indian store. Boil a cup of red lentils with a tsp of turmeric, salt with 2 cups of water. Add vegetables of your choice in the daal, usually aubergine, okra, carrots, courgettes, pumpkin work well. But you can get creative. Add sambhar masala to the daal.When the daal is soft and cooked, take it aside. In a frying pan, heat some oil. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves, chillies and some grated ginger, when they splutter, tip the pan of hot oil into the sambhar daal. be careful because the hot oil will sizzle and leap out, usually in your direction! Check seasoning.

That's it then! A variation on dosa and a big success! And binge on the curry leaves while you can! Enjoy!



Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Recipes from The Normal State of Mind

Maacher Jhaal (Fish Curry)

Ingredients
1 Seabass  cut into 3-4 pieces or cod fillets
1 tsp Nigella Seeds
2 tsp  Coleman’s Mustard powder
2 tsp milk
2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 small tomato, chopped
Salt
Coriander leaves, handful, chopped
1 tsp Turmeric powder
1 -2 Green Chilli
3 tbspMustard oil (preferable) otherwise sunflower oil
 

Method:
Marinate the sardines in a tsp of turmeric, salt and some lemon juice.
Make a mustard paste with a bit of water and a pinch of salt and ¼ tsp turmeric. Keep aside.
In a heavy bottomed pan, pour 3 tbsp of mustard oil. When hot, add the nigella seeds and green chilli. Cover as it will splutter.
 
When it starts spluttering, reduce heat and add the fish. Cover. After a minute, turn on other side. Remove and keep aside. Add the chopped tomato, fry a little, then add the mustard paste, fry it a bit, add a little water. When it starts to boil, add the fish again and let it cook for a few minutes until done. Check seasoning. Add the milk to finish. Add chopped coriander leaves. Serve with rice and a wedge of lemon.

Batata Vada (Potato Cakes)


Batata Vada pic courtesy:Spiceinthecity.co
Ingredients: 2 big Maris Piper potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed.

2 cm ginger and a chilli, ground to a paste, salt to taste

2 tsp Cumin powder, ½ tsp turmeric powder, coriander leaves chopped, one small red onion chopped fine, a small green chilli, chopped fine

In a bowl, add all the ingredients, mix well, and make into golf size balls. Flatten into shape. Cool in the fridge while you make the batter.

To Be Mixed Together Into A Thin Batter (similar to pancake batter consistency):
1 cup
besan (bengal gram flour), water
1/4 tsp
chilli powder
1 tbsp
oil
a pinch
soda bi-carb. salt to taste

Heat enough oil for deep frying in a deep pan. Dip the potato rounds in the prepared batter and deep fry a few at a time on a medium flame, till they turn golden brown in colour on all the sides. Drain on absorbent paper and serve hot with chutney/ketchup of your choice or in a bap with ketchup.
 
Easy Egg Roll

Egg Roll pic courtesy: Nizam's
 
Ingredients: 2 ready to eat chapatis
2 eggs
One red onion finely sliced
1/2 cucumber finely sliced
handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
1-2 chillies finely chopped
ready cooked chicken pieces (optional)
pinch of turmeric and cumin powder (optional)

Method:
Break one egg, beat it, add salt to taste, turmeric and cumin, chopped chillies and some coriander leaves. Mix well. In a pan, add some oil, when hot, pour the egg mix, place the chapatti on top, and keep on low heat until the egg cooks. Remove from pan. Place on a plate, egg side up. Add chopped onions, cucumber, chicken, and chopped coriander. Can add a squeeze of lemon if you wish. Roll it up tight, serve hot with tomato ketchup.
My kids love this for tea, minus the chillies!
 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Extract from 'The Normal State of Mind' (Parthian)



 
Two women from Diamond Harbour district of twenty-four Parganas have committed suicide after their ‘marriage’ is shunned by families.

Moushumi stared at the television news reporter. He was standing among a crowd of villagers, shouting out the report over their chanting. The camera then zoomed on the faces of the two women’s mothers. They were wailing and beating their breasts, claiming their daughters were innocent. They had been victims of black magic. There was an inset, a rather dated photograph of the deceased, then probably in their teens, with ribbons in their hair and toothy grins.

The lovers, both from farming communities, had grown up together in their tiny village near Falta. They had secretly married each other, when their parents started looking for prospective bridegrooms, by exchanging garlands and promises in a Shiva temple. When one of the women’s fathers went ahead with wedding preparations, the two came out and confronted their parents. They were then beaten by the families. A tantric was summoned to drive away the spirits that had possessed them to take such action. An ojha was performed and one of the women was forcefully married off to an old man. Her lover immolated herself at the time of the wedding. Hearing this tragedy, the other woman escaped from her husband’s home and drowned herself in the river. She left a note for her family saying that if the two had been allowed to live together, they’d all be happy and alive.

The reporter looked straight at the camera as he finished his report. Moushumi looked away. She realised she had been so caught up with listening to the news, she hadn’t noticed her father had been watching as well. ‘Sensationalism,’ he exclaimed from behind her. ‘They will report anything in the media nowadays to get attention.’

Moushumi looked up. ‘But Baba, surely must be something genuine to report this, or why would they? They were very brave to face the world.’ She watched him for his reaction.

He sniffed and reached for his cup of tea.

‘Ma, did you hear about this?’ Her mother was juggling a spatula and a spoon while stirring the dal and frying the fish. She wiped the sweat that ran down her neck and strained to hear above the splutter of the fish sizzling in the pan.

‘Utter rot,’ her father mumbled and opened the newspaper again. ‘What is the world coming to? Chee chee. Desperate village bumpkins. How can the TV news report such filth, I fail to recognise.’

Moushumi flinched, ashamed. She was indulging in something her father found filthy. ‘It’s quite normal in the Western society. It is becoming accepted there.’

Her father glared at her but said nothing. He turned to the sports page and cursed about Mohun Bagan losing again. He was clearly not interested in continuing on the topic. ‘What were you saying, Mou?’ her mother asked, joining them in the sitting room. The air was smoky with all the deep frying.

The smell of the fish had seeped stubbornly into the mattress on the divan and the cushions and the curtains. But it was a comforting smell, not the artificial rose and lily room freshener that Moushumi had to adjust to on Saturdays in Jasmine’s flat.

Her father left the room and Moushumi decided that she could still try out her mother. ‘Two women committed suicide because their marriage was not accepted in society.’

‘Oh,’ her mother said. ‘Hindu women?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘Did they marry Muslims or what?’

‘No, Ma. They married each other. The two women married each other.’

Her mother stopped tidying the cushions and stared at her.

‘Two women? Why on earth?’

‘They said they loved each other.’

‘But how will they have children? Who will look after them?’

Moushumi felt better. At least she was curious and asking questions. At least her first reaction was not that they were filthy. ‘Does that matter? They loved each other.’

‘What fools,’ her mother replied. ‘They’ve ruined their families’ reputations. I hope they haven’t left behind any unmarried sisters, or that will be the end of the road for them.’

‘You think so?’ Her mother busied herself with putting right the newspaper.

‘Stupid naive girls, did something under the influence of filmy romance, I suppose.’

Moushumi felt betrayed. Her mother was not on her side.

How could she ever tell them if the time came? Wiping her hands on the end of her sari, her mother said,

‘Anyway, I don’t have time for all this nonsense. I still have to finish cooking lunch. How would you like your fish? Mustard sauce or tomato?’

 

***

 

‘Silly girls,’ said Jasmine, grimacing at the newspaper-cutting Moushumi thrust into her hand. ‘No brains, these villager types.’

The news of the two women had found a little space in the local newspaper. Moushumi had cut it out and kept it in her handbag. She wasn’t sure whether this was to remind her that this sort of thing was not accepted, or to reassure her that this was not her fate, yet. She had hoped that Jasmine would take up their case, get angry, and promise her that such things didn’t happen in big cities. Instead, Jasmine had just laughed about the whole situation. ‘You too, Jazz? Don’t you believe in their love? Wouldn’t you have backed them up?’

‘For what, Mou? Be sensible. You are living in a fantasy world.’ Jasmine switched on the television. The theme song of The Bold and the Beautiful filled the room. She tucked the sheet under her chin and watched idly.

‘But it is accepted in the West,’ argued Moushumi.

‘Then go and live in the West. Find yourself a lover there and make a home for yourselves. Don’t keep harping on about it and spoil my mood.’

‘But we are lovers, Jasmine.’ Moushumi shot back. ‘Like those two girls. We do the same thing, and yet you reject their bravery in wanting to live together?’

Jasmine increased the volume of the television. The air-conditioning started to whir noisily, adding to Moushumi’s distress. She wanted to shut everything off and shake Jasmine hard. Make her listen to her. Answer her questions.

‘We can’t live together, surely you know that? Or go public,’ Jasmine said finally, during a commercial break.

Moushumi nodded. She was not stupid to have such hopes.

‘Then why the entire headache?’ Jasmine asked her. ‘You will eventually have to get a man to marry you and then we could continue meeting.’

‘But, I don’t want it like that,’ Moushumi said. ‘I want to have a truthful relationship.’

‘A truthful relationship? Which world are you in, madam? Just enjoy yourself and stop complaining. You’re lucky with what you’re getting.’

There was truth in every word of what Jasmine had said.

How could they have an open relationship? What name would they give it? Moushumi thought of those two village girls. Did this kind of love mean being confined in a bedroom, once a week, having sex?

She realised she was lucky that Jasmine had another flat for them to hide in, to indulge themselves in.

What about the rest of them? Where did they go? What did they do?

‘It’s useless, Jasmine. This whole thing is a waste of time.’

Moushumi slid under the sheets and held Jasmine’s hand.

‘Why do I bother to come?’

Jasmine turned around and stared at Moushumi for a long time. Her gaze softened, and when the commercial break ended, she didn’t turn back to the television. ‘I’m so glad you do come, darling. So don’t spoil things with miserable realities. Okay, let’s get out of this place. You’ll have to tell your parents a very big lie, mind.’

Moushumi nodded. At that moment, she didn’t care very much. She would do anything for Jasmine. She clung to her, trembling, waiting for Jasmine to touch her. Soothe her nerves. They kissed quietly, and Jasmine stroked her hair, murmuring into her ear. Moushumi calmed down.

At last they were going to venture out of this flat. They were going to do something fun.
 
 
You can buy a copy of the book here:
http://amzn.to/1KGX3ge (USA), http://amzn.to/1LKyDRH (UK) or directly from the publishers here: http://bit.ly/1KGXoQd
 
 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Readings and Festivals in the June sunshine

Picture courtesy: Kalpana Bhattacharya, my mum-in-law :-)

Glorious June! Sunshine, and more of it. When I was invited to read at the Tagore Festival, under the trees, I stayed glued to the weather reports every chance I could. Would it? Wouldn't it? It was like hoping to win the lottery.

Which I did!

The sun came and smiled, and baked us nice and brown. And so my two readings went off well, not an umbrella in sight. Only sunshine and smiles!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I was introduced to the Writing Process Blog Tour by my editor, Susie Wild, who has shared her process on her blog:
http://susiewild.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/writing-process-blog-tour.html . This is a great way to connect with writers and read about their writing process and other stuff, and then you can sigh and think, "Great, I’m not the only one who’s weird, or pressed for time", or even, "Hey, I’m just as fantastic as everyone else!"

Thank you Susie, for inviting me on the tour. Here are my 4 questions:

What am I working on?

It took me seven years to complete my first novel, The Normal State of Mind. I hated this question for seven years, but now it is my favourite one! I am working on the edits and finer points of the novel, for it will be published sometime later this year! 
Polishing my reading skills in India
I was in India recently, did a book reading in Mumbai, where I read my short story from the anthology, Rarebit – New Welsh Writing. In a way, I was preparing myself for the book launch of my novel, The Normal State of Mind. It’s good to work on reading aloud, facing the audience, calming the nerves and having witty and clever answers ready to go. It all takes a lot of practise and I am working on that!
I have just had an essay, my first foray in writing non-fiction, accepted by Riptide Journal. I’m looking forward to the edits and preparing the piece for final publication.
At the same time, I write short stories obsessively. I’m just polishing off a couple to be sent off to competitions.  Once all of this is done, I’ll work on trying to impress an agent. Who knows, it may take another seven years!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

What is my genre? I’m not really sure. A lot of my writing is inspired by my own experiences: travelling, immigration, the whole Diaspora thing. I like writing about women’s issues and society. Instead of focussing on the negatives women face, I like my female characters to have some fun. I like them to be spunky, outspoken and not downtrodden, sacrificial souls.

Why do I write what I do?

There’s no answer to this one. It’s like asking, why do you eat fish curry and rice with your fingers? Is there any other way to eat it? I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pencil in my hand. I wrote ‘poetry’ in serious green ink when I was six or seven. I wrote journals and diaries detailing every moment
Barbie Girl doodles
of my angst-ridden- forever- heartbroken teens. I wrote reams of letters to my boyfriend at sea. And then I wrote reams of letters to everyone in my address book when I married and set sail with him. I am an obsessive writer and an obsessive doodler of Barbie doll type girls. They adorn my journals and pages, these women with unrealistic eyelashes and legs. I write about women. I write about life. I write about food and sex. I write about love, and country. And separation. And reunions. I write about me, disguised in the forms of my characters. Their dreams. My dreams. Their beliefs. My beliefs. They all merge into one idea. I just write to express myself. Is there any other way to do it?
How did I choose the theme for my novel, The Normal State of Mind? I had an image in my mind. Two women wading through the Mumbai floods, trying to make it to safety. I knew I had to write about them. But who were they? I knew one of them was a widow, because she was crying as she passed by her husband’s workplace. And the other? I wanted to write about someone I didn’t know much about. Someone I wanted to know well. I got friendly with a lovely girl, who’s a lesbian, when I lived in Cardiff. She was struggling with the title of ‘lesbian’. She said she was a normal person. And that stuck in my head. I wanted to write about her. And the struggles she had to face. Then I thought about homosexuality in India. How did people go through life dealing with their identities in such a conservative society? I wanted to find out more, discover more about life. The diversity of life. And the definition of normal. Who defines normal? And who is normal? Certainly not me. I want to be special, and write about special things.

How does my writing process work?

My writing process has had two distinct periods: Pre-parenthood and post. The pre period was very unproductive, and basically I was a lazy writer. Great ideas, lofty ambitions, and an abundance of time. Result: Nothing. Post-parenthood: Sleepless nights. Baby blues. Feeding. Working part time. No time to spare. Therefore an urgency to write whenever I could spare some time for it. Result: Something. Writing was ‘me time’ as I couldn’t go out and do other stuff. And I was desperate for the ‘me time’. It kept me sane. And so I wrote. And wrote and wrote. Also, the times spent nursing, rocking baby to sleep, washing bottles, changing nappies, all helped with physical labour, freeing up my mind to think up all sorts! Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t neglect my kids! But motherhood really helped me focus and be constructive and good with time management, all that I was rubbish with before.
I now have two young girls, and finding the time to write gets trickier by the day. I write sporadically, as and when I get free time. That’s usually at night when the girls are in bed. But I’ve worked out a way that I can start on an idea of a story in my mind, and work on it mentally for days before I get the opportunity to actually write it down. I have to say though, Cbeebies is a good babysitter for an hour or so and sometimes, I can write in the mornings. When I have to work on edits etc I wait for when both girls are in school/pre-school and I ignore the housework and get down to it. It is a constant battle with finding time to write and do the housework etc. My house is not the tidiest. If you do wish to call on me, please do give advance notice, I’ll push the toys behind the settee and stuff the un-ironed clothes into the wardrobe.  

But jokes apart, I read a lot, listen to the radio, the news especially and the World Service. Ideas evolve from the day-to-day happenings. I don’t drive and use to my advantage, eavesdropping on buses.  Supermarkets, airports, markets, schools: there’s a story everywhere. I listen and watch and day-dream and imagine, and roll them all up and give them a spin in my brain, let them stew/fester/boil/steam for a while, and out comes a result. A story.

It is my privilege to introduce Romy Wood, who will be on the tour next week. 

Romy Wood: Romy is a recovering secondary school teacher. She has an MA in The Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing from Cardiff University and lectures in Creative Writing for the Open University. She writes novels because they are easier to write than short stories and poems. She drinks too much Coca-cola, likes to win at Scrabble and walks the tightrope that is Bipolar Disorder.Word on the Street is her second novel.  http://romywood.co.uk/






Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The year that was 2013

2013 was a tumultuous year for me. Lots of ups and downs and hopefully, I have managed to swim against the current to reach the shores of 2014, my body and soul intact. (Please note, I can't swim in reality, and that is a resolution to rectify in the new year!)

I’d like to concentrate on my writing year, which has been very fruitful and given me reason to believe in myself as a writer. I had the brilliant news in March that finally my novel, Crossing Borders, was accepted by Parthian books for publication next year. After struggling for years to find an agent or publisher, it was funny how the book was noticed by an editor through Facebook!

I had had a short story, Growing Tomatoes, published in Planet-The Welsh Internationalist in 2012. Someone read it and commented on Facebook. It was brought to the attention of the editor of Parthian Books, Susie Wild, who approached me. It was like winning the lottery! But it goes to show that editors do look around, and word does get around, and the more you write, the more you will be read. So thank you, Susie, for envisioning a future for my book.


I had short stories published in Litro, Thick Jam, Running Out of Ink, Tears in the Fence, The Lakeview International Journal and Penguin Unplugged. Thank you all. I was duly rejected by Mslexia, once again. Sixth year running. Thank you Mslexia, I shall not give up!

I had a very interesting experience of recording my own story, 'Growing Tomatoes’, for SouthWest’s Literature Development Organisation, LiteratureWorks. The voice in the recording does not sound like me at all! Another very different project was the wonderful Stories with Pictures, where Cassandra Parkin wrote a story, The Wrong Kind of Boy, for my image, and then I wrote a story, A study of a boy with an aeroplane, for a painting by Andy Winter.


But the highlights of the year have got to be the absolute highs I got for contributing to three anthologies, all launched in December.


The first anthology, Foreign and Far Away, an anthology by Writers’ Abroad, a community of expat writers, dedicated all proceeds towards Book Aid International , which supports education, literacy and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Total money raised so far: £525.00.


Stories for Homes was another great anthology I am proud to be a part of. All proceeds from this goes to Shelter, a charity for the homeless. The editors Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood did an incredible job producing the book and marketing it. I wasn’t able to attend the launch, but I could see from the blog and the pictures, it was a huge success. The contributors to the anthology also helped out with the promotions and sales with radio interviews, news stories, blog blasts, and the sales went up to an incredible £1,500 at the launch.


Photo courtesy: http://owainpaciuszko.com/2013/12/18/stories-for-homes-paperback-launched/

And lastly, Rarebit-New Welsh Writing was launched on 21st December, National Short Story Day. I went along to Cardiff to be a part of the literary tour. It was an incredible experience, joining fellow writers on a literary walk around my favourite city, warming up against the chill with mulled wind and Christmas cheer. Rarebit is Waterstones’ book of the month for January 2014.


Photo Courtesy: Daniel Tyte http://dantyte.com/category/happenings/


With a few more short stories in the pipeline for next year and the excitement of working towards the birth of Crossing Borders, 2014 already seems ripe with promise and a lot of fun along the way.


Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Book Blast: Stories for Homes

pic courtesy: Third Force News
I've been reading books on Homelessness of late, and am proud to be a contributer to the anthology: Stories for Homes for raising awareness and donations for the Shelter Charity.

Where I come from, in India, homelessness is apparent everywhere one casts an eye. On the street where I lived, generations grew up under a railway bridge. They ate, slept, lived and reproduced in that very space for years and years.

When I moved to the UK, I was shocked to see homeless people in this land of plenty. Wasn't this the country where the government helped out with benefits, so that no one ever went hungry? But obviously I was a naive newcomer and I am now a bit more knowledgeable!

Available on Amazon.co.uk
Yes, 80,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas. And that is just the tip of the ice-berg. Homelessness is not just about not having a roof over one's head. There are related issues that come out of this tragedy: abuse, neglect, violence, hunger, vulnerability and death.

The charity, Shelter, works with the homeless and the community to rescue, spread awareness and educate people about this sad truth in society.

Stories for Homes, an anthology of short stories and poems by 63 writers and poets, was put together by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood  as a small contribution towards helping out the situation with homelessness.

Artwork by David Vallade
To buy a copy would mean all the royalties would go straight to the Shelter charity.

The book launch will be at the Bookseller- Crow on the Hill on the 13th of December. Do buy the book, spread the word on social media, and remember, this is not just for Christmas. it would make a world of difference to somebody at a very low point in their life.