Friday, March 30, 2012

Baby Cooking and Maternal Instinct

When I had my child at age 34, I was completely unprepared for parenthood. A lot of parents say this, but god -- what did I imagine having a baby would be like? How could I have sat through all those parenting classes without deriving the least hint that life would change? I didn't realize what sort of schedule the baby would impose on me, so I had, while pregnant, agreed to give a lecture seven weeks after my due date; my plan was to research and write the paper after she was born, in between her feedings, while she was sleeping. No problem, right? I mean, they say about babies, don't they, that they don't really wake up till they're six weeks old, right?

Right?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mr. Smith Comes to Dinner

I started dating soon -- too soon -- after my ex and I split. There were lots of reasons for it, in retrospect, other than the sheer madness that I know is pretty typical of the post-breakup phase. I will list them very methodically here, so it seems that my insanity from those first months after my world collapsed was in fact much more rational than it looked from the outside; square brackets around the numbers will emphasize the almost scientific nature of my analysis:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tulsi's Gift

My grandmother had a maid named Tulsi, but we always called her ayah. She was hired when my mother was born, and helped raise all my aunts and uncles, and then when my cousins arrived she took care of all of us, too, when we were around.

Tulsi had a strong, sinewy body, and she was tiny -- maybe five feet tall, and slim. She had rough hands and dark skin and a shy smile and a joyful laugh. Every time we arrived in Bombay, my dad would tell her to put coconut oil in our hair, and she would scrub our scalps with her bony fingers till we winced, and then take us into the shower room and scrub our bodies till we cried. And she would hug us to her thin body, and we would get embarrassed the way children do.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I learned from my mother

My mother was a really, really smart student. When it came time to decide what to do for her university degree, she was given two options (like every smart student in India in the 1960s): engineering or medicine. No women in engineering school, but medical schools in India  had almost equal numbers of male and female students in the 1960s, so Mom went to med school. That's where she met my dad.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our Last Supper

It was January. My daughter and I had returned from a trip to my parents' house. When I came back, something had changed. Something about my husband. The house was too clean when I came home. He kept asking me to compliment him for cleaning so well. I smelled cleaning products everywhere.

There was something strange about my nightstand, too. Nothing I could name.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bhel Puri

When I lived in Bombay during the year between undergrad and grad school, I split my time between the homes of two of my aunts -- Sheila, who lived with her husband and her daughter in Bandra in a flat that looked out to the sea, and Nina, who lived with her husband and her son and her husband's parents in a Colaba high-rise. I was working for Sheila's ad agency; she was so kind to take me on as a copywriter -- I was more trouble than I was worth. I'd stay in Colaba during the week because the commute to the office was so much shorter, and drive out to Bandra on the weekends. Many of my other relatives lived in that little area, Colaba, all within walking distance. It was my neighborhood.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sindhi Curry, by way of my grandmother

My parents got married in 1967, left India for the UK, and then ended up in Canada. They had met in medical school and fallen in love; theirs was the first "love match" in my mom's family of eleven siblings. They were from different religions and communities -- mom was Hindu, her family originally from Sindh, and dad was Manglorean Christian. They left, I think, because they wanted to work in better conditions in the west, but also because they wanted to escape the fact of their coming from different worlds, so to speak.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Coffee, hold the pepper.

This is black pepper. Not just any pepper -- Tellicherry pepper, which is supposed to be some of the best in the world, grown on the Malabar Coast of India. It sparks on the tongue, a little lemony, sharp, warm. Full and robust. It was, for a long part of human history, the most expensive spice, prompting sea exploration and colonization. It was international currency. It made the world want to come to India.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cooking for Two

Much of my life with my ex-husband happened in the kitchen. Cooking together was a big part of our day; I would chop and cook, he would follow me around and clean up after me. He would stir the pots, and I would chide him for stirring too much. (Have you ever noticed that men stir pots too often?) We would chat about our days, gossip, talk about problems we were having with our writing projects, complain about colleagues.

We never had a fancy kitchen: a basic NYC, rent-stabilized pre-war kitchen; kitchens in Paris (one was long and narrow, with the sink at the end so if the person at the sink wanted to leave the room the person at the stove would have to leave the room, and one the size of a closet where I would stand in one spot and he would stand in another and we could both reach every corner of the kitchen but we couldn't actually move from the spots in which we were standing); a simple kitchen with cheap appliances in the first house we owned; a kitchen in Berkeley which was beautiful but totally dysfunctional. We prided ourselves on not needing much to turn out a great meal. From that tiny, tiny kitchen in Paris we produced an American Thanksgiving dinner with a huge turkey and all the fixings. We were wily in that kitchen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Pleasures of Touch

I've just finished a fantastic book, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. De Waal is a descendent of the great, late-19th century art collector Charles Ephrussi; he is trained as a potter. The latter is as important as the former in this tale, which traces a group of objects -- tiny Japanese carvings called netsuke -- from the time Ephrussi acquired them to the time they come into his possession.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Best Corn Chowder in the Universe

My daughter complains a lot -- she's a griper, despite how freaking awesome she can be when she's not, you know, griping. This morning, she was carping about having missed lunch in the cafeteria yesterday, because they were serving corn chowder. "I can make you corn chowder," I say, maybe a little too eagerly. My favorite soup ever.