Saturday, 28 December 2013


And so we rest our year. I'm not one to mull over it, look back on it. No rewinds here, no resolutions. Not this year at least. I might get soppy as I get older and take you on a tear-jerking recap of the year gone. But for now, you're safe.

To me, a year is just lots of days stuck together with a collective glue; and these stuck-together-days are usually patchy. There are rushed days and slow days, used days and wasted days, great days and grim days, beautiful days and bleh days, rainy days and dry days. Patchy, mixed. Not green or blue, but turquoise. Patchy isn't plain, it's interesting. Like a watercolour where the paint have blotched into each other while you weren't looking. And in that blotchy, turquoise year, if you've woken up well most mornings, and gone to sleep in peace most nights, you've done well. And all that's left for you to do is to hug the people who've helped you wake up well and sleep in peace; hug them into the year that's about to begin. I've hugged D and I've hugged Chotto-ma, really, really tight. And I've sent three mighty hugs to my Ma and Baba and my brother. That's all that matters; the rest is just garnish on the side that nobody eats.

I just have one more hug to go. A two-armed, giant squeeze of a thank-you, no half measures, no garnish. It's for you; for coming back here to read what I write. To read me. I can't tell you how enormously grateful I am for that. And for every kind word that you leave behind. You're part of my turquoise. Consider yourself hugged into my new year.

We're starting the year in Rome. We fly tomorrow, at the break of dawn, for ten days in a lovely little rented apartment in Trastevere. I'll bring back bits of Roma, and meet you here after your year has begun. And after your food and wine have settled. I might even have something that will hurry up the settling - a lovely cup of tea, too patchy to be photogenic, but more interesting for it.

Have a wonderful, turquoise 2014, everyone. Love, hugs and home-brewed tea from me, D and Chotto-ma.

Darjeeling tea with orange, rosemary & black pepper


1 1/2 tsp loose leaf Darjeeling tea (1 tea bag if that's what you have)
3 small clementines (oranges), juiced
A generous pinch of freshly, and coarsely, ground black pepper
Fresh sprigs of rosemary

In a teapot, soak the Darjeeling tea,  one sprig of rosemary and pepper in two cups of hot water for 3 minutes. Mix in the orange juice, stir and pour into cups.
Add sugar to taste. Put a fresh sprig of rosemary into each cup to stir the sugar in.
Drink warm, or chilled. I love both.

Monday, 23 December 2013

[minute] Waiting in a basket

May, 2009. She was seven months old. I'd plonked her into the laundry basket while I finished cooking dinner so she wouldn't crawl into trouble. Or crawl between my feet while I cooked. She liked feet. Especially D's feet. She'd always crawl up on stealthy knees while he read or worked and she'd lick his toes and make him jump.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

He chopping, me stirring

It gets dark by 4 o'clock in the evening, and Venus lights up before the lampposts; she's Chotto-ma's favourite planet. We're hanging between autumn and winter now, like the last leaves. Today, I ran downstairs just before the light died, to take a couple of photographs for you. I owed you autumn.

8.35 pm. D and I are sitting here listening to Mississippi John Hurt's charred voice wafting out of a grainy recording. It's strange how his songs can make the sun beat down on your back even on a cold night like this. "The angels laid him away. They laid him six feet under the clay".

Dinner's done, but there's still some wine left in our glasses. The floorboards above us are creaking; Chotto-ma is pottering about upstairs. (So what if D left her tucked in bed an hour ago?) Her bedtime ritual, like everything else in our home, is split between D and me: Around 7 o'clock, I read her a book and sing her a song. She then goes upstairs with D. He reads her two more books - one in English, another in Bengali - before tucking her in. He then says goodnight and comes downstairs. And she untucks herself and gets on with her evening.

Downstairs, D and I get on with ours. We pour ourselves a glass of wine, cook dinner together, talk. Sometimes, we watch a movie, or read. Chotto-ma knows it's Ma-Ba time, she's known it for as long as she's known anything else.

We don't know what she does with her time, but she loves it as much as we love ours. Sometimes we hear her singing, or reading books to her dinosaurs, or talking to the planets hanging over her bed (they have distinct personalities; they also meet in orbit, marry and have baby moons). By the time we call it a night and go upstairs several hours later, she's fast asleep in her room. She, along with six books and nine stuffed animals, all in a neighbourly heap on her bed

Tonight, our dinner was a garlicky, coconuty broth that I made up many years ago in Calcutta, in the tiny kitchen of our first rented flat in Jodhpur Park; it's a dish that has withstood time, geography and repetition. Even in that shoebox kitchen, D would squeeze in to help me peel, chop and grate. We've been cooking together for so many years that it's one smooth soup of a song. He chopping, me stirring. Me making the marinade, he smudging it on the meat. In tandem, amidst conversation, without a thought; he's my soul-sous-chef. And tonight, as the pot bubbled and we cooked and stirred, Hurt plucked his guitar in the background and poured his sweet country soul into the broth.

Coconut & Garlic Prawn Broth

The broth, like most things from my kitchen, is done in minutes. It has the strong, punchy flavour that comes from raw garlic, and the mellow roundedness of uncooked coconut. In India, I would use fresh coconut, but here, it's the easier-to-get dessicated version. This is also a broth I've cooked with chicken and lamb, instead of prawns, so take your pick.


150 gms large prawns, cleaned and peeled
1 white onion, halved, then thickly sliced, horizontally not vertically (I'm fussy about chopping)
1 tomato, chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Coconut - 1 cup freshly grated, or 1/2 cup dessicated (and yes, I keep mine in an old talc tin)
2 large cloves of garlic
1 green chilli

In a food processor, blitz the coconut, garlic and chilli - the magic paste that makes all the difference.
Heat oil in a pan, and throw in the onions. Saute till transparent, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and give it a stir. Add 2 cups of water. When it starts boiling, add salt, and the prawns. Let it bubble for a minute, then take it off the heat. The prawns should be cooked, but still tender.
Transfer to your serving dish, and stir in the coconut paste and coriander. The natural oil from the coconut should rise to the top. Serve hot with steamed rice.