It has been a mixed bag this year; from the very bad to very good. All years are like that but losing a dear friend earlier this year was a dip that was really low. Even winning Third Place in a National Architectural Design Competition, a rare enough achievement, was tinged with the knowledge that I couldn’t share the news with her, my buddy through those years of design school. We would meet only a few times a year – mostly on birthdays and anniversaries. I am not a phone person so we never had long chats on the phone either. Maybe, it was enough just knowing I could call her if I needed to. Now, I catch myself thinking about her every single day.
On the work front, it has been the busiest year for me. The coming year is poised similar. Which is as well (except that it has meant just ten blog posts, if I get this one in, for the whole year!). It means I don’t bother the son, now in his third year of college, with daily phone calls. I usually catch up with him on the weekends though he and his dad chat online more often. Presently, he is home for the holidays and has promised to not game through the nights so that we can see him at lunch and through the rest of the day.
Narthangai limes and mango ginger for pickling…from a year ago
This year I reconnected with more friends from high school. In fact, I am now back in touch with all the ones whom I was ‘best friends’ with: Neena in middle school, Indrani in high school, and Rajamma in senior high school! Some of us met last week at a reunion of sorts and promised to make an effort to stay in touch better. The city and our lifestyles don’t help though.
At the reunion there were some friends visiting from the US and the talk veered towards our different lifestyles. Some of us here like to believe that we are better off than our friends abroad. The yardstick seems to be the fact that we have access to menial help which enables us to eat fresh food while the poor expats have to eat frozen. Apparently, that is the be all and end all of quality-of-life-indicators for most Indians in India. Sour grapes, I think. How can we aspire for something when we don’t even know it is desirable?! We never stop to consider why so many of us, despite the obvious lack of affordable domestic help, still seem to prefer to eat that reheated thawed food so far away from home? Because, my dear countrymen, the rest of the stuff is very much worth the tradeoff. To have someone to cook and clean and take the dog for a walk is not what constitutes quality of life! An important indicator of the quality of life is clean environment – clean air and water, less noise and pollution, and safe places for work and play. These combined with political and civic freedoms, better educational and recreational opportunities make life worth living, and even seem to compensate for what one might lose in terms of ethnic social connectedness. Not that there is less socialising within the expat community in the US!
No place is perfect. We might as well try and be happy about the choices we have made. We don’t necessarily have to prove that we are better or worse off; it is just a choice we have made. Just like it is a choice between frozen or fresh cooked meals. No one has to eat frozen food; but we all find it convenient. Judging by the growing ready-to-eat and frozen food section in our stores, I would have to conclude that despite all the domestic help, someone sure is eating a good amount of packaged and frozen food!
My sister cooks frozen paranthas quite often. Out of curiosity, I tried the ready-to-eat mutter-paneer, and mirchi ka saalan a few months ago and agreed that they were great options for the day you were too rushed or too lazy to cook. We also concluded that my dal makni was better than the packaged dal-bukhara (ITC Kitchens)!
We all need a break sometimes. Even the maid. Even, from the maid! Yes, I am still doing fine without any extra kitchen help i.e, a maid. For instance, last night we had pav bhaji for dinner (Check Nupur’s recipe; she uses the same masala that we do!). It was good fun because everyone joined in. I went full steam on the veggie prep: potatoes, cauliflower, and peas prepped and cooked in the pressure cooker; onions, green chillies, sweet peppers, and tomatoes diced fine and then sauteed in oil. The son peeled a handful of garlic for the hot thecha (garlic+black peppercorns+red chillies) that always accompanies pav bhaji in our house. TH rinsed and chopped a mound of fresh coriander leaves (a must), peeled and mashed the boiled potatoes when they were done, and also peeled and sectioned half a giant papaya for dessert. Dinner was ready in exactly one hour including all the prep work. The son was in charge of pav – fetching it from the market, pan frying it in butter, and serving it hot. Enough was leftover for tonight’s dinner as well. Sorry, no pictures!
After a delayed start, the Delhi winter is now in full gear with the minimum temperatures in single digits. The bounty of vegetables in the market though is a sight for weary eyes; their lowered prices another reason to get to winter pickle making. Last week I finally got around to making this winter pickle again. The son and I love it and he just may decide to carry some with him this time since he is moving out of the hostel and into an apartment with some friends.
The day I made my gobhi-gajar-shalgum achaar I also had plans for the beautiful limes my mom had brought over the previous weekend. Yesterday, after they had been sitting in the colander a few days, I decided to just do it! So before heading up to the office, I made my very first batch of my MIL’s lime pickle. She’s been gone over five years but I still have a tiny bit left from her last batch. This pickle is specifically prepared to accompany Maharashtrian fasting foods and uses ingredients that are permitted during fasts. It perfectly compliments the spud-rich fasting foods – sabudana thalipeeth, sabudana khichdi (again, Nupur’s recipe matches our family recipe exactly), or upasachi batata bhaji.
Since the use of mustard seeds and peanut oil is not considered kosher during Maharashtrian fasts, this pickle uses neither. In fact it uses no oil and relies on red chillies for the spice. The addition of ginger and green chillies is not traditional but I added it because my MIL used to and I think it adds great flavour and an additional kick.
Limbache goad londche
Maharashtrian Sweetened Lime Pickle
6 large limes (about 700gms or thereabouts)
ginger, peeled and chopped into strips (about 75gms) (optional)
5 green chillies, chopped into bite size rounds (optional)
red chilli powder, 2 heaped tablespoons (or to taste)
granulated sugar, about 500 grams (2 3/4 vati)
salt, 125 grams (2/3 vati)
Wash and wipe the limes and chillies. Chop limes into small pieces. I sliced them into thirds and then chopped each slice into nine pieces. These limes are meant for pickling because they turn seedless in winter! To a clean glass jar add all the ingredients; press down with the back of a spoon if you need to to. My jar was a tad bit small to fit in everything in one go, so I kept a lime aside for later. In a couple of hours the sugar and salt had dissolved enough to create room at the top for the last lime and I could see lots of juicy brine at the bottom of the jar. After a day in the winter sun the syrup was already tasting great; that combination of lime with ginger is classic! Keep the jar in the sun everyday for a month or till the lime skin has softened. [It will ‘cook’ indoors, away from sun, as well – will just take longer.] Give the contents of the jar a good stir every other day and watch the contents transform into a pickle that is sure to please.