Monday 26 March 2012

On the bench

I’m sitting on a bench. The big green in front of me is fringed with a row of pretty townhouses. The sun’s just above my head, and on my shoulders. My shadow is thick and stout, and sitting by my feet like a good dog. It’s very quiet here today. I can hear the distant din of the children in the school playground. And I can hear the birds.

It’s strange how you can really hear the birds at the start of spring, and after the thick silence of winter. You’re always aware of their voices – in the morning, outside the window, in the park, beside the bench. In Bengali, a lot of words come from the rhythm of sounds. Daily sounds, turned into words of literature. Simple, unsophisticated; but just right. Like kichir-michir, which is the word for all the things birds say. Or fur-furé, for the lightness of a spring-summer breeze. And chup-chap, a word for quiet. Saying it makes your lips stick together in silence. 

But the birds are anything but quiet today. Like Chotto-ma, they have a lot to say. And right now, they're saying, ‘It’s springtime’. Or singing it, like in an old-time musical. With saturated colours and large flowers nodding in the breeze.

I’m really feeling the spring this year. Like I’m hearing the birds. It’s very sharp on the senses, and it’s been making me ridiculously happy. The kind of happy that also tends to make me utterly useless. All around me, the change in season seems to have spurred everyone into a squirrel-like busyness. There are people clearing out their garages and sheds, and painting their fences. Spring-cleaning. That is what the season is supposed to do to you. Spring you into action. 

Not me. I'm too happy to be busy. I can't clear the shed. There are far too many daffodils for that. And too much birdsong.

I'm sitting on the bench.

Monday 19 March 2012

Thank you.

Oh, you super, super bunch of people.

What. Can. I. Say.

You made my day, my week, with your responses to my last post. So, here's a whopping big thank you. For all your comments on the blog, your emails, your tweets, your messages on Facebook. You've pushed me full steam ahead.

My Little Handmade Business couldn't have started on a better note. And my blog and I couldn't ask for nicer faithfuls and friends. 

And just for that, I give you this chicken. Also known as The Best Chicken You'll Ever Cook.

I rarely follow recipes. And I read cookbooks more for its stories, than for its ingredients. But, years ago, I came across this chicken in a book called Cooking from Memory - A journey through Jewish food. It is a beautiful collection of stories and recipes, collected lovingly from Jews settled in different corners of the world. This recipe is for Paprikás Csirke or Chicken Paprika, one of Hungary's most popular dishes, and comes from the kitchen of Katalin Tyler. She was born in Hungary in 1924, and has had a rich, moving life. And she, like me, doesn't like to cook from recipes.

But today, I'll cook from hers. It's one that I've cooked many times, for family and friends. And it really
is the best pot of chicken you can put on the table. I've been meaning to blog this for a while, but it needed a special occasion. And then you said all those lovely things last week. So, here you go.

Also, before the chicken starts cooking, would you please look to your right? See that new Facebook button there? It's another way to spread the word about My Little Handmade Business. If you liked what you saw last week, do click on that before you leave the building. Facebook tells me that once I have 30 'likes', the world will become a better place. That flowers will bloom. Everyone will sing in tune. And the sun will shine.

Katalin's Paprikás Csirke, or The Best Chicken You'll Ever Cook

1 chicken, skinned and cut into eight pieces
3 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red capsicum, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sweet paprika powder

Wash the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute tha onion, garlic and capsicum together untill they soften. Add the chicken, salt, pepper and paprika, and stir until the chicken is browned. Lower the heat, cover the saucepan and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is soft and a sauce has formed.

Serves 4 (I usually serve it with steamed, white rice. Or rustic bread.)

And, before I set the table - Thank you, Radhika (of the stunningly gorgeous Just Homemade) for choosing me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I'm very honoured, and grinning silly. This post above might not be in sync with your utterly beautiful vegetarian cooking. But the 'thank you' on the post is very much from my heart.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

I'm on Etsy!

This blog is a changin'. All the time. I feel like it's always on the verge; some sort of an edge. The rim of a curb. And that at any time it's going to cross over, walk into a little shop on the other side of the road, and get itself a new wardrobe.

When I started the blog, it was about the food I cooked. Then, in crept the photographs I took. The poetry I read. The furniture I filled my home with. Things I sewed. Places I travelled to.

Now, it'll have to accommodate a plan.

When I finished university, and started working in advertising, it consumed my days. And then, consumed the decade that followed. A decade of writing print campaigns and commercials. The first thrills of driving past billboards with headlines I'd written. Working till dawn on pitches. Long hours of brainstorming - which can be part of a real job. I loved what I did, most of the time. But did I see myself doing that, just that and nothing else, for the rest of my life?


I wanted a little shop.

At some point. Maybe years later. A shop filled with beautiful things for the home. Things that I had designed, and created, and crafted copy for. It would have a homey little cafe tucked into one corner. With mismatched teacups. Woven rugs on the floor. And Nina Simone in the background. For as long as I can remember, I've wanted that shop. Even when I was in school, while most of my friends hunched around Linda Goodman's Love Signs, I would be behind a stack of old, foreign design magazines. Bought from the second-hand book shops in Golpark, in South Calcutta. I had a scrapbook filled with cut-outs of country kitchens, Tuscan tiles and patchwork cushions. Instead of Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

So. What now, you ask. Is there a shop? No, there's no shop with rugs on the floor. That's still as far-fetched as it was when I was a teenager with a crush on an Anglepoise lamp.

But, I've been making things, on the side. Pieces of art for the home. Handmade, hand-stitched. Appliquéd, inked.

It started on a whim, as most things do with me. And then, as I sat there every day, surrounded by fabrics and buttons and wallpapers and what have you, it began to gather force.

Peppercorns in my Pocket is going to be a little handmade business.

There. It's out. I'm committed. For now, it's is going to be a range of art for the home. And who knows, some day it might become a bag, a cushion cover, a throw.

There's nothing like making something by hand - touching textures, putting them together, creating something from scratch. There's a whiff of that far-fetched shop. There's also a lot of calm in this sitting and making. A lot of satisfaction when a piece is done. And in knowing that the work doesn't compromise my time with Chotto-ma. There's also a loud whoop whoop when a piece is sold. (Thanks Sarah, for buying the first!)

I am absolutely, completely loving it.

Peppercorns in my Pocket is now on Etsy. Yes, a different kind of 'shop'. But, it does have lots of mismatched teacups. If you're in Etsy, come and say 'Hi'.

Wish me luck.


Sunday 4 March 2012

Ishiguro, and an egg

You can call us The Flu Family. Without coughing up the gory details, let's just say, it's been a ghastly fortnight. Apparently, when your body's temperature reaches absurd new heights, you not only lose your appetite. You also lose your mind.

In the most bizarre, sleepless night I have ever spent, I found myself plagued by something very strange. A name. Stuck in my head. Floating around, repeating itself. All night. Over and over.


Ishiguro. Ishiguro. Ishiguro. Till it came to a point where I saw the letters, thin and flat, like a thing. Sitting next to me. And in front of my eyes, Kazuo Ishiguro's mugshot from the back cover of When we were orphans. I love his work, but this was a bit much. In the midst of a midnight fever and incessant bouts of coughing, there was me and D. And Ishiguro. It was the most harrowing ménage à trois.

After your body and mind have travelled through the twilight zone, there is just one thing to do. Eat an egg. Yes. Come morning, you must sit up, shake off the night, and eat an egg. Or two. Or three.

There's something very reassuring about a fried egg. The wobbly yellow in the middle. White around. The smell when it sits on the heat and crinkles around the edges. It's predictable. A good predictable. This is exactly what a fried egg looked like on Sunday mornings when I was five. And when I was fifteen.

A fried egg never lets you down.

Now, you're thinking this - what could she teach me about a fried egg that I don't know already. Keep faith, and read on. This is divinely different.

This egg has a layer of crunchy, brown sesame seeds stuck to its crinkly, fried underside. The sunny side is sprinkled with chilli flakes, drizzled with garlic olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

Fried egg with sesame seeds, garlic olive oil and chilli flakes

1 egg
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
Some chilli flakes
Sea salt

Crush the garlic into with 1 tsp olive oil. Then fish the garlic out and keep the garlic-infused oil aside to be drizzled in the end.
Heat a small round pan. I have one just the right size for frying eggs. but any small round pan will do.
Add oil, and into the hot oil, sprinkle the sesame seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to brown, gently crack an egg over it. Let the egg brown and crinkle around the edges.
Slip it onto a plate. Drizzle with the garlic oil. Sprinkle with chilli flakes and sea salt.