Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Little Girl

Hi everyone! I haven't been blogging lately as we have become parents of a lovely little girl who keeps us very busy. She was born on October 18th and we have decided to name her Radhika Ann. She is the spitting image of her father. It has been quite an adjustment in lifestyle but worth it. The husband has been wonderful, feeding her, changing diapers, picking out bottles , just great. Our Christmas will be quite special this year.
I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Saadh Day

As I mentioned earlier in my blog, my husband and I are expecting our first child in October. In both American and Bengali cultures the time leading up to the birth of the baby is very exciting. One of the most recent events I experienced was called a "Saadh" which in Bengali means "wish". What happens is that the mother-to-be gets to choose whatever she wants to eat and that is prepared for her. The thought is she will not have time later to prepare and eat all the things she likes so they shower her with food and gifts now. The baby gets gifts later after it is born.

We were visited by Bengali friends this past weekend and she insisted that I have a Saadh day. When they arrived, I was gifted with a lovely silk shawl, earrings, and some very nice bath acutraiments. Sunday morning she started cooking and the lunch was delicious. We had sambar, rice, okra(very different from how I usually make it),lao(bottle shaped green gourd), cooked lao skin, kaala jamun, and eggplant. My mother-in-law is in India and feels like she is missing out on all of the preparation for the baby so she was very happy to learn that I was able to experience this day.

One valuable piece of information I learned this weekend was how to prevent stretch marks. Our friend told me when she was pregnant with her children that she was told to mix olive oil and water together and 30 minutes before you take a shower, you rub it all over your stomach and let it absorb into the skin. She did this and she had no stretch marks with either one of her pregnancies. I think that I will give it a try.

We have a little less than six weeks to go until our little one is here. It is so exciting feeling it kick and move around. We don't know what it is so it will be a surprise. Everyone has told me I look like I am carrying a girl so we shall see.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Picking the Perfect Okra

For any of you who live in the south, the Okra will be coming in soon. Those of you who live elsewhere and shop at Indian grocery stores, you are lucky enough to get okra year round. I love okra. My grandmother used to have her own garden in which she planted okra, corn, green beans, sometimes melons,lima beans, field peas and crowder peas. My favorite thing she would make would be boiled crowder peas(cooked in fat back of course) with fresh okra boiled on top. We also had great fried okra as well. Not the deep fried stuff completely coated with a batter, but sliced up and sprinkled with salt and pepper and lightly dusted with corn meal, then fried. Ahh delicious. I never learned how to fry it like that and was missing it terribly. Just like Bengali food that you cannot get in any restaurant here in the US, good southern food like grandma made is difficult to find when you eat out, especially in the north east where I live.
When my mother-in-law came to stay with us in Florida,she taught me how to make a fried okra dish that tasted very similar to my grandmother's. The first time I ate it, I thought I would cry, it was so good, easy to make, and similar in taste. I have found that the older I get, the more I want foods that I had as a child. It is a shame I never learned how to make alot of them, and my mother didn't either. Neither her or her sisters remember how my grandma fried chicken. What a shame.I would dearly love to have that recipe.
Later my mom did teach me to fry okra the way she does and my grandma did and luckily I can have it now anytime I want. It is always good to eat it with stew beef, cornbread, and cantaloupe.
When choosing okra, according to my mom, you want to pick the smaller pods because they are the most tender. In addition to that, my mother-in-law showed me a way to pick it out that is perfect every time. I am sure that those of you who shop at indian grocery stores and buy okra notice that the pointed ends are bent on alot of those pods. Well, there is a very good reason for that. When picking out okra you want to grab the okra and grasp it in a "thumbs up" manner holding the pod in your four curved fingers with the pointed end facing the ceiling. Snap the pointed end over with your thumb. If the end snaps off, it is fresh and will be very tasty. If it just bends and retracts, then don't buy it. It will be very fibrous and won't cook well.
I love both ways of cooking it and have included both recipes below.

My Grandma's Fried Okra

Okra- 1 lb. is a good place to start, but you can use however much you like.
Corn Meal- I use Martha White self rising corn meal but any finely ground corn meal will work. I always have to stock up when I go home for a visit because I can't find it in the northeast. This is great for making corn bread as well.
Vegetable Oil

Wash the okra well and cut the stems and the ends off. Cut the okra across into 1/4" slices, place them in a bowl, and coat with salt and pepper. Coat next with corn meal and mix all ingredients together well using your hands, until okra is well coated. There might be risidual corn meal in the bottom of the bowl. That is ok. What sticks to the okra will be all that you will need. It is not a thick coating.
Heat a pan on medium heat and put in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Put one piece of coated okra in the oil. When this browns, turn it over and brown the other side. If it is too brown you may have to adjust the heat down a tad. When this is completed, add all of the coated okra to the pan. Let sit for two minutes and stir occasionally. You want the coating to gradually get brown, not right away because the coating will burn,the okra will get hard on the inside,and it will taste terrible and raw. If the oil is totally absorbed, add a little more if needed. When the okra is tender, take a thin metal spatula and chop up the pieces a little bit. When it is close to being done, you will see that the corn meal coating is browned, not burnt and kind of sticks together and the okra is very tender.

My 10 year old nephew said he didn't like okra but when he was here visiting us last week from India , I made this and he really liked it alot. If that is not a testimonial, I don't know what is.

My Mother-In-Law's Aloo Bhindi Posto (Potatoes and Okra with White Poppy Seeds)

1 lb. Okra
3 Small White Potatoes* chopped in half longways,then chopped into 1/4ths longways, then cut into small 1/2" pieces across.
Vegetable Oil
Posto-White Poppy Seeds
1 teaspoon Panch Phoron- a 5 spice mixture of whole black and yellow mustard seeds,fennel seeds,cumin seeds,and mehti seeds(fenugreek).
1 Dried Red Chili, broken in half
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Water

Wash okra thoroughly and cut off stems and pointed ends. Cut okra into 2 inch pieces.
Heat pan with oil just enough to coat the bottom on medium heat.
When hot, add panch phoron and broken dried red chili, cooking until spices start to sputter. Add okra and potatoes and stir occasionally until brown.
Once okra and potatoes are brown, add salt and sugar and stir well.Take your fingers and splash the one teaspoon of water onto the okra to create slight steam.turn to medium low, cover and cook until tender. When soft, add the posto to lightly coat all pods.cover and cook until posto is slightly tinged brown and it all sticks together.

*Note: If you are already serving a potato dish with your meal, you can omit the potatoes from this recipe.

I like to serve this with dal(lentils) and any Indian bread(If we don't have that, my husband uses tortillas). A small amount of Patak's Sweet Mango Chutney is outstanding to serve with this as well.

Both these recipes are great with fresh cucumbers and sliced red onions and make great accompaniments to any meal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Odds And Ends

Hi everyone. Sorry I have not been blogging for two months but I have been feeling very under the weather. There is a very good reason for that as my husband and I are going to have a baby. We are very excited about it as well as both our families. The due date is October 16th. I have been nauseous every morning for the last 8 weeks, but am feeling much better now and will be posting more things from now on.

I have found very funny clips on youtube of a show that aired in the UK several years ago called "Goodness Gracious Me". It features a cast of mostly Indian comedians who are also the geniuses behind "The Kumars at Number 42". They do comedy skits about an obnoxious man on dates, a british guy who goes to south india to work and won't change his "complicated" name of Johnathan to something else pronouncable, parents talking about their son's grades, etc.. It is really hilarious and I have featured clips from the show below.

There are many more on you tube that are just as funny if you have a chance to look.
I find this to be a very insightful comedy show and I just love it.
There is also a comedian from canada by the name of Russell Peters. He is very funny as well.

I will be headed down south for the next two weeks to visit my mom so I may not be posting then. She doesn't have a computer but if I can use her neighbor's I may try to post something.

Enjoy the clips for now.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Fender Bender, A Hurricane, A Broken Toe, and A Moldy Apartment, ..Oh My! AKA.. Our First Year As A Married Couple.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were married in September of 2005 and immediately moved to south Florida to live. I remember the first day I arrived. It was a beautiful evening as Sarat met me at the airport and we proceeded to go to dinner. We went to a lovely place right on the beach and had a delicious meal as the wind gently caressed the lovely palms. It was exciting starting our married life together in a new place and I really was looking forward to it. You know, I always said I would never marry a guy who didn't dance.. and I did. I also said I would never live in Florida or South Carolina.. Well what can I say. Sometimes life surprises you and you do what you gotta' do, but I digress.

Anyway, anyone who remembers 2005 remembers a lil' ole hurricane named "Wilma" that banged into the south Florida coast in October. Now, before I talk about our experience, let me just preface this with I am known to have alot of weird stuff happen to me, in life, on vacation, whatever. I had a car where all the little interior gadgets(rearview mirror, gear shift button cover, window handle)started falling off, went on vacation and the handle of my very heavily packed suitcase came off in my hand, went to a museum in DC and realized I had left out tickets back in a hotel room, so we had to go all the way back to our hotel room in another district to retrieve our tickets, went to a restaurant, ordered a sandwich, and some of the luncheon meat was still wrapped in the deli paper. I bit into it and pulled it out with my teeth and my friend with me died laughing at the expression I had on my face. There are alot more incidences like this but that would constitute a whole other blog.

When we moved to Florida, we lived in a hotel for four months as it was very difficult to find an apartment. We had heard about Hurricane Wilma a week prior to it hitting our area as it came from the east and then scooted by in the ocean south of the state and then hit Mexico. It then turned and headed to the west coast and made landfall, moving east at a very fast pace. We woke up at 5:00 am to what sounded like tiles being scraped off the roof of the hotel. We were on the 5th floor of a very nice hotel and I got up to look out the window. What I saw amazed me. The hotel was an L shape and all along the other side of the L, the windows were all blown out.Coconuts from the palm trees had been blown into all of the rooms on the other side, damaging the windows. All the palm trees were being blown so hard they were bowed over touching the ground. Upon going downstairs, we saw there was a huge crowd of people staying there who had left their condos on the beach for a safer place. We had debated leaving town beforehand and ended up staying and I am glad we did. You get an idea of what a category 1-2( there was much debate as to which it was)hurricane is like and know you don't want to stick around for the next one. It was gone by 1pm that afternoon and luckily the weather became cooler because for the next 2 weeks there was no power. I have never seen anywhere that looked like a war zone, but that was it. Huge trees were toppled over from the roots through concrete and there were no working traffic lights at any intersection in town, It was very scarey. We left for Orlando and stayed there for 10 days. That was the southernmost hotel in that chain that had power, so basically my husband was the only one from his company that could work because he had power for his laptop computer. Unbelievable. Oh yes while we were in Orlando, we both had different visits to the emergency room , but I won't go into that.

Upon returning to Boca we dicovered that the storage facility where all our belongings were stored had roof damage and one of the vaults containg our belongings had water damage. We had, in the meantime, found a nice apartment to rent. On move in day, I had to go through all our boxes and get rid of moldy stuff. One of the ruined things was a chair that had belonged to my grandmother. I cried for days about that. What fun it was to open boxes and discover that all your shoes had turned a lovely shade of mold green. It was awful and one of the worst things that could have ever happened. The moving company made me itemize and price every item on claim forms that was damaged, so with a mask on, every day for a week I went through all of our belongings, bit by bit, and documented everything. Boy all that stuff sure did stink.
We kept calling the moving company and telling them that there was a potential for this apartment to acquire mold damage and they needed to do somthing about this.

Two months passed and we were scheduled to go to Kolkata in December for our wedding reception that Sarat's family was giving us. We were back in the hotel by this time because the stench of our stuff from being in the storage unit with no air conditioning for weeks was too much. A few days before we left, somebody who wasn't paying attention, hit my Honda from behind with their Toyota truck. Fun, fun, fun. In the meantime, the insurance company had ruled Wilma's damage an act of God and they weren't paying. We had argued with them to send someone to test for mold and guess what day they choose to call us to make all the arangements. Right-o the exact day we were leaving for the airport. Now we had to deal with all this from India. Luckily this situation was now being handled with someone from Sarat's company. While we were in India, A mold testing company came in and tested the place and Zowwie!, the spore count was extremely high. All of our belongings had to be removed, staged for spraying, and then were returned without boxes, so you can imagine the mess that greeted us when we went over to see it. I don't know what happened to my clothes dryer but it was dented and scratched. We still had to live in the hotel at this point. Upon our return from Kolkata I had to fly home the next morning because my dad had been admitted to the hospital and was very critical.
Four months later my father passed away and that was the hardest and most surreal thing I ever had to deal with in my life.

One good thing that did happen to us in June 2006. My mother-in-law came and stayed with us for three months. It really helped me keep my mind off of things. It was great. she showed me how to cook alot of Bengali food during that time. She got to know the owner of the Indian grocery store where I shopped as well as I did as she spoke to him in Hindi. They lived in Delhi the first eight years of my husband's life before returning to Kolkata, so she speaks Hindi pretty well. It was funny, one day we were standing in line there to check out and I was telling the owner that I had learned how to make samosas from scratch. He always liked to hear what new things I was learning to prepare. There was an American lady behind us who had this shocked look on her face and exclaimed "You MAKE them? Ma just laughed. During her stay with us,we took a glass bottom boat tour, went on an airboat ride in the Everglades which we all enjoyed, and one day we took a guided boat tour of the canals in Fort Lauderdale. I was very sorry when September came and it was time for her to return to India. She still to this day asks Sarat what I have cooked and is very pleased to hear I cook alot Bengali food for him.

In November, 2006 we were expecting guests for a few days so I proceeded to clean the house. I was vacuuming the living room and as klutzy as I am, banged my right foot into the vacuum cleaner. I just had a sock on, no shoes, and knew at that moment something was wrong. Just imagine the feeling you get when you remove the sock and see your pinky toe, in all it's glory, spread - eagled away from the foot,pointing out to the side, and not moving. For a brief moment I even considered driving myself to the emergency room as it was ony a quarter mile up the road. I called my husband at work(as he had come to expect when something had happened over the last year)to inform him of the situation. He came home and we left for the E.D. Yes it was broken, reset, and taped to the neighboring toe for six weeks. At least we were able to use a handicapped parking decal during that time which made life alot easier.

My friend Shelley who I used to travel with alot before I got married and experienced some of my goofy situations with during said travels, told me that Sarat and I had experienced more in one year as a married couple than most had in thirty years of marriage. I certainly believe that and feel we can face anything in life together.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Importance of Good Communication

One of the most important aspects of a good intercultural relationship (whether it is with friends,a spouse,family etc..) is good communication. Sometimes when there is a problem with my husband and I in that regard, it just boils down to the fact that I am a woman and he is a man and sometimes he just doesn't listen to what or how I say things. We had a whole big mixup about what he was going to wear to our friends' gurudwara wedding ceremony.I told him I packed his pants and dress shirt and later when we were speaking with Rami(the groom) in his hotel room, Sarat said he was going to wear his kurta pyjama to that portion of the wedding and I told him we didn't bring it. He seemed quite surprised replying with "Oh really?" I said "I asked you earlier what you wanted to wear and you told me your western get-up would be fine. I then looked at Delia(the bride) and said "you know, he doesn't hear half of what I say sometimes." She replied with a wry smile, "Rami is the same way, he doesn't hear what I say either." Even some of my American women friends complain about that as well. I think they call it selective hearing.
Another glitch is language. He is wired to think in Bengali and then translates it into English so sometimes what I say can get lost in translation. Sometimes I can just look at him and see the wheels turning in his brain while he is translating from Bengali to English. It is quite cute actually.

I found this hilarious example of what happens when communication between two intercultural roommates goes awry. Watch and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who the Heck is Alistaire?... How Many Names Do You Have?

Many years ago I discovered a secret about my husband(then friend)Sarat. He had more than one name. Now, I know it is not unusual for us to be given nicknames by our family and friends here in the US, and usually it is a goofy name like miss kiney, googleye, goosie,dink,scube, etc(yes some of those are mine but some are also my cousin's). You get the idea. In India it is more formal than that. Each person has a home name and also a proper name for work and school. Sarat's home name is Raju. When I first heard that I was like, Who is Raju? He then explained to me about the 2 name thing.
I then started to hear him say upon answering the phone, "This is Alistaire." Alistaire, who the heck is Alistaire? He told me he has had that very British name since he was a kid. He never could remember how he got that name and all his high school friends and those in Kolkata still to this day call him that.
It sort of reminds me of my mom's sister, my aunt Polly. We have always called her that but I was shocked many years ago to learn that that was not her real name. Her real name is Florence. My grandmother's father wanted her to be called Polly, so that is what she has always been called. My mom said she never knew that her sister's real name was Florence until she got married. So all the people where they live call her Florence and all her family and hometown friends call her Polly and my uncle adjusts accordingly. I actually worked four years in my aunt's hometown and told a coworker that knew her that we call her Polly, so after that she called her PollyFlorence. "How is PollyFlorence?" "Have you seen PollyFlorence lately?" I also adjust, like my uncle does, depending on who I am talking to about Sarat. Sometimes I call him Sarat, sometimes Raju,sometimes I'm lazy and just call him Sarat all the time no matter who I am talking to about him.
One day One of Sarat's fiends asked him to join Facebook. He made the mistake of signing up as Alistaire Das. Well those friends he made later in life saw that and asked who the heck is Alistaire Das? Alistaire Das, when did you become Alistaire Das? I have only recently learned where this name came from. When he was a very small child, his cousin lived in England and come back to Kolkata to visit and would talk about British friends of his. Sarat cried saying that he wanted friends with British names so his uncle started calling him Alistaire and has been going by that ever since.
Not only do they have two or more names, elders are called by their relationship to you in the family. It can get confusing because your husband's older brother is Dada, your husband's father's youngest brother is Chotto Kaku. Our niece and nephew call us Kaku and Kakima or Kaki. That means father's brother and father's brother's wife. Your husband's brother's wife is called Bodi. It is totally different if you are talking about his mom's family. MashiMoni is your husband's mom's youngest sister, etc... there is even a name for your MIL's older brother and his wife. It is by role in the family. Very different than what I have been used to. Amazingly enough though, I was pretty much able to keep it straight when I met all of them.
I like being called kakima. When My niece, my brother's daughter, was two years old, she couldn't say my name well so she called me HEEhee. I loved it because it was unique. My mom's sister Barbara wanted my cousin's little boy to call her Granna B but you know what he came up with instead? Only the cutest, most unique, splendid name I have ever heard in my life for a granny. He calls her "Gikey"
No matter what culture you are from, You are special to somebody and a name can define that, no matter how many you have.