These Are a Few of My Favourite Things…

Little house on the Prairie

“As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder. ”

― Leonard Cohen, Selected Poems, 1956-1968

 To the great embarassment of my family, I tend to take pictures everywhere…I stop people that I find interesting and ask them if I can photograph them. I’m grateful that I’ve never been turned away  – I don’t ever take that lightly! I’m sharing a few pics with you (because pics are a big chunk of “what-I-do!”:P ) There is no perfect beauty – that’s the master stroke of your own mind; what I find beautiful, some might find droll and likewise! After all, I have been known to take pics of ready-to-use fishing kits at a local store; who mercifully took me to be a tourist! My family is very used to hearing me say, “I see Beautiful things!”, it’s kinda lost on them now! 😀

To me, photography isn’t stopping to take a picture of something that you immediately find beautiful… you bring something more to it. You bring the sounds that interest you, the movies, the books that have kept you awake at night. The people you’ve loved- It’s all of you!  You’re probably in that moment, a participant in someone’s mortality as you capture something in their life that will never return again. I know I sound blithe, clichéd…but clichés wouldn’t be clichés if they weren’t so oft repeated and acknowledged :) There are endless summers in our lives as we relive those frozen moments again..and you can never put a price on that! :)

If you’ve never heard M. Ward, here is a fabulous song by him and one of my favourites! Why don’t you listen to it as you go through my gallery :)

 {~*PLAY*~}

[cincopa AwCAFfrmg08o]

I’ve been reading Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing again… his hard-hitting simplicity speaks to me like nothing else! He’s one of those you either love (passionately!) or  loathe (despicably!) A proper polarising brand -like Marmite..Star Wars(?), definitely Dr. Who!! ◄ Here is where I get mobbed and lynched  😀

Well, this is a small excerpt from what I’m reading – it’s a poem from which he made his legendary song.

A Thousand Kisses Deep !

You came to me this morning
And you handled me like meat.
You´d have to be a man to know
How good that feels, how sweet.
My mirror twin, my next of kin,
I´d know you in my sleep.
And who but you would take me in
A thousand kisses deep?

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat.
You see, I´m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet,
Who loved you with his frozen love
His second-hand physique –
With all he is, and all he was
A thousand kisses deep.
I’m good at love, I’m good at hate
It’s in between I freeze
I’d work it out but it’s too late
It’s been too late for years
But you look good, you really do
They love you on the street
If you were here I’d kneel for you
A thousand kisses deep

The Autumn moved across your skin
Got something in my eye
A light that doesn’t need to live
Doesn’t need to die
A riddle in the book of love
obscure and obsolete
To witness tear and time and blood
A thousand kisses deep

And I’m still working with the wine
Still dancing cheek to cheek
The band is playing Auld Lang Syne
But the heart will not retreat
I ran with Diz I sang with Ray –
I did not have their sweep –
But once or twice, they let me play
A thousand kisses deep

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
You see, I´m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet,
Who loved you with his frozen love
His second-hand physique –
With all he is and all he was
A thousand kisses deep

But you don’t need to hear me now
And every word I speak
It counts against me anyhow
A thousand kisses deep!

As I leave you today, I realise that his words speak again and fill the gaps between what I’d like to say: “Friend, when you speak this carefully, I know it’s because you don’t know what to say.” I will never, ever have words to explain Leonard Cohen! :)

In my world of  itenerant living, I’ve had to construct a portable life-one that I know I can put into a bag and house where I lay my head down next. Photography, music, poetry – not something you can lose easily. For wherever I am, they will have a place with me. :) xxx

 

 

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Spicy Tadka Dal, Steamed Rice and Mughlai Shammi Kebab!

I love garlic :)
The Two Left Spatulas Kitchen, cooking, whisk, utensils
By Kanchan Char

~Let’s start at the very beginning 😀 ~

*I would love for you to have a framework for my recipes so if you could step this way and read my small introduction into the Tales from my Two-Left-Spatulas Kitchen, it would all make a bit more sense! :) Please feel free to ask me any questions or clarify any doubts! All ingredients are readily available at most British Supermarkets, but give me a shout if you need any further instructions! Happy cooking :) xxx

Almost every State in India (and we have a fair few)- has a version of the humble lentil soup that we call Dal. In regular home meals, dal is included several times a week..well, it was in my family!  Because it’s such a versatile dish, it can be made thicker to go with naans or rotis, or quite frankly, any breaded accompaniment! (I’ve had dal with a beautifully crusty, seeded loaf) It can also be made a bit thinner in consistency to go delectfully with rice and pulao! It’s fairly common to add either a vegetable dish or a meat one alongside the staple dal and rice and that’s why today I’ve decided to share the recipe for a simple, healthy Tadka Dal, Basmati rice, and Mughlai Shammi Kebab.

~Our Everyday Tadka dal~

Tadka Dal, Basmati Rice, Mughlai Shammi Kebab, coriander, indian, curry
Tadka Dal, Basmati Rice, Mughlai Shammi Kebab!

What you’ll need:

  • One cup moong dal/spilt skinned mung lentils (yellow, the whole ones are green)
  • 1 medium size onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium size tomato, chopped
  • ½ inch ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • ¼ tsp red chili powder
  • ⅓ tsp turmeric powder
  • 3 cups water
  • salt as required
  • Thin whole green chillis (that’s the recommended  variety for all Indian recipes and are available in Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose) use as desired. We use 2 per cup of raw lentils.
The basics of Indian cooking, if you have this, you're good to go! ginger, garlic, curry leaves, coriander, chillis, cumin
The basics of Indian cooking, if you have this, you’re good to go!
The Tadka (seasoning once the dal is cooked)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4-5 garlic, chopped fine (do not use garlic paste)
  • ¼ black mustard seeds (available in the herbs and spices section at Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose)
  • Optional: 1 or 2 dried red chillis . It gives the seasoning a smokey heat…probably best left if you’re not massively into spicy food or while using dal in a healing/detoxing capacity!
  • curry leaves
  • 2 tbsp oil or ghee (if you chose oil, stick with sunflower as it’s taste is most compatible with Indian cuisine)
Instructions
  1. Add the dal, ginger, chopped onions, chillis, tomato, turmeric powder and the water to a pressure cooker or large pot. The choice of utensil slightly changes the texture of the dal, but both are equally viable options!
  2. stir well and pressure cook till the dal is cooked and soft. Two whistles on the cooker, or till you see the dal get soft enough to smash into a paste
  3. once the pressure settles down, remove the lid and stir the dal.
  4. if the dal looks too thick, then add some hot water and simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  5. add salt and keep aside

(Most experienced cooks claim that it’s in the best interests of lentils to add the salt after they’ve been cooked. There are various myths about the Why of the matter -one is that the lentils don’t break down easy if they meet salt early on in the cooking process. I have no real idea why, but have learnt to appreciate these little nuances as part of the joy of Asian cooking…Asian anything really…”why? who knows…it’s been the same way for 100’s of years!” 😀 )

Once the lentils are cooked, smash it down with a wooden spoon to the consistency you prefer. I mash half of the lot and let some remain whole, that to me, is the best texture.

mung dal, tadka dalThe dal when it’s nearly done and ready to be seasoned!
  • In a small pan, add the oil and set the flame on low, when the oil is hot (not smoking), lift off the heat and add chopped garlic and fry till garlic seems a bit caramelised, then add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dried red chilli and curry leaves You can return it to the heat, but see that none of the spices burn or the dal will taste bitter.
  • Add this to the cooked, hot dal and hear it sizzle as the tastes and aromas start to blend together! Garnish with washed ,freshly chopped coriander! (The chopped, frozen varieties work as well, so don’t fret if you don’t find a fresh bunch around! :) )

Steamed Basmati rice is made with a ratio of 1:2 . One cup rice to two cups plain water. Add a tad bit of salt and get it going on the hob till done! Don’t stir it more than once whilst half done. On finish, fork it through before serving. I sometimes put mine in the microwave for 14 minutes full power (for 1 cup)- done to perfection! For a more lavish serving, add some ghee or butter to the mix before cooking, a small dollop!

~Mughlai Shammi Kebab~

Other than the Indian subcontinent, this variety of kebab is apparently popular even as far as Iran and Azerbaijan! With subtle differences, in my opinion, this dish has made it’s way to every area that was influenced by the Mughals. My mother learnt to make this from her very close Muslim friend -Jameela aunty, and I have very fond memories of watching the both of them making it!  It’s goes great with beers and I have snapshots in my head of my parents’ cards and beer parties wrapped in the wafting smells of freshly made shammi kebabs and tandoori chicken! :)

These kebabs are a slightly labour-intensive process, but the good news is that you can make a lot in one go, and they do so well with home freezing! You’ll never be without a snack when friends pop in! :) Makes a lovely picnic when you make sandwiches with it, use pita bread, or just a regular bap! The possibilities are endless!

IMG_20140125_135931

What you’ll need :

  • 1 Cup chana dal (Bengal gram or split yellow peas), soaked in cold water for about an hour
  • 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 60g fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 1 Kg lean mince (beef or lamb)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3-4 fresh green thin chillies, roughly chopped, with seeds (available at Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose)
  • handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1Egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • Vegetable oil for shallow-frying

Traditionally, this is made with boneless meat, but I find that that without our Indian standard mixer-grinders (semi-industrial grade 😛 ), it just won’t be broken down to a pate-like consistency! ~Trust me, I have two broken food processors to show :) Mince works just as well!

 Method :

  • In a pressure cooker, add meat, drained chana dal, (lightly saute chopped onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, coriander, salt, cumin seeds and garam masala before adding to the meat),add just enough water to cover everything and cook for 20 mins! This can also be done without a pressure cooker, in which case cook till the dal is soft and mashable! The whole lot should be dry now, or continue cooking without the lid till water evaporates. Cool.
  • In a food processor, blend batches of the well stirred meat, dal and spices adding some fresh coriander leaves till it’s a fairly smooth consistency. (here is where I double check salt and spices, it’s all cooked, so you’re safe to do so!) I usually tend to add a few more chillies since we like our food flaming hot 😛 It all minces down well and the flecks of green coriander look so inviting!
Meat, shammi kebab mix, lentils, spices
Looking grim, but smelling delectable right now :)
  • Put the blended meat in a large dish and add 2 tbsp of cornflour to bind it! You may need a little more or less, I’ll leave that with you, but you should be able to form patties like this, rather effortlessly. If it’s too soft to hold, add a bit more flour or it’ll fall apart while frying.
Shammi Kebab patties, meat, lentil, spice
They should form nice, firm patties..
  • Now, in a separate bowl, beat up the one egg lightly and get the frying pan going on a medium flame with the oil enough to shallow fry. Make about 12 patties at a time and line up, this moves fast :) Take one, quickly dunk in the egg wash so it’s covered in a thin coat, remove excess by letting it drip off and drop carefully in the oil. Let it fry till brown on both sides and firm so doesn’t crack. It’s about 2 minutes/per batch .
Shallow frying the shammi kebabs
Shallow frying the shammi kebabs
  • Serve with a wedge of lime and drink of choice as a snack or make it a part of a larger meal! It’s all good 😀

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Health highlight : Because I’m also working at eating healthy home-cooked food, and very often Indian food is seen as a  greasy, rich and unhealthy option; I’d like to draw your attention to how you’ve used 2 tbsp of oil in the dal that will feed a family of four, twice! The meat is largely boiled and you’ll see that the shallow frying does not take up much oil. To go down a healthier, if slightly not-so-popular path, omit the egg wash and fry the patties off plain, that takes up a whole 2 tbsp less! The shammi kebab mix will give you roughly about 20 patties, serving a family of four over two times!

NOTE FOR FREEZING: Put patties onto a tray or large plate and freeze thoroughly before stacking and storing. If you stack them up before they’re frozen,  it’ll all become one large block of frozen kebab mix. I learned this the hard way!! 😀

(This post was featured in the Britmums February Foodie Round up! )

Enjoy! xxx

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My husband usually jokes about how though I’m not Jewish, you’ll understand me better if you were!! I grew up in a very culturally emaciated household-my parents were born into a culture that they didn’t particularly hold dear or even identify with and so they role-played; needless to say the self-consciousness rubbed off on us as well! As a Jewish saying goes- ” A Jew is his most Jewish self in the face of a Gentile”; that was largely true of us too – we were our tradition-fluid best in the face of any tradition-richness that befell us!

Woody Allen, Annie Hall, Diane Keaton, iconic film,
Diane Keaton and Woody Allen – Annie Hall

With Woody Allen’s winning the Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe being all-pervasive news, and it being accepted by none other than his Annie Hall collaborator, Diane Keaton, catapulted me back to a very significant time period in my childhood in which both had a part to play! (Watching Diane Keaton deliver her acceptance speech also cleared up the ‘Did Ralph Lauren make Annie Hall or the converse, controversy’.  I’ve come across that sartorial debacle often enough since the film entered my subconscious about whether Ruth Morley, who officially designed Annie Hall, or Lauren, the all-American, preppy designer (who walked away with the accolades), was responsible for the signature androgynous look the film toted!  Glad Keaton cleared up all that murkiness by  choosing a made-to-fit Ralph Lauren pantsuit for the ceremony! I did miss her pastel polos and boat shoes, though! My greater takeaway from the speech was a song I can teach my children and rest in the knowledge that the best of celebrities still live with bad looking nails! )

Falafels!
Israeli Falafels!

My earliest association with folklore were those of my father’s persuasion! He was a war fiction enthusiast, studied history of the two World Wars and read a whole lot about Jewish culture and religion! He was hardly what I’d call a sociable man!  I grew up hearing stories about Mottel the tailor, Tevye the Milkman and The Fiddler on the Roof. I didn’t know about the movie till decades later as for the longest time I believed that Sholom Aleichem (on whose works The Fiddler on the Roof is based), was my father’s creative construct…really, who goes through life with that name?! We had Jewish family friends, Dan and Iris- Hasidic Jews on the fringes of Hasidim who were liberal enough to befriend traditionally-fluid Indians! My entire memory of them can be crystallised in the one evening we spent at their house celebrating Rosh Hashannah… the Jewish New Year! There was such a lead up in my own little world where I scampered around telling everyone that I was going to be spending a whole evening, a whole evening with my parents’ foreign friends, and that they were making foreign food for us! My mother had told me in the typically fantasmagorical, story-telling way that parents have when they talk to their young about an impending adventure – about having Challah which was the soft-test bread in the whole world, and borscht- the pink-kest soup in the whole world, and there would be fell-apples, that mummy was learning to make fell-apples as well, so it was all going to be a whole day of being immersed in another world! It was all very Lewis Carroll, and I couldn’t wait to go down the rabbit hole!

It seems awkward now that that was really the meeting of two polarities – one family running away from tradition, the other thirsting for every last drop! In all honesty, Indians and the American Jews have enough of a cultural similarity to get along jauntily! Let me iterate that with a American Jewish joke :

It’s time for summer holidays on the East Coast of the USA, and a plane full of New York jews is heading south to Miami. After a while, a woman stands up at the front of the plane and shouts, “A doctor, I need a doctor! Is there a doctor on the plane?” There is a pause, some discussion among passengers, then a young man stands up and replies, “Excuse me madam, but I’m a doctor.””Good!” says the woman, “Come here and meet my daughter, what a nice wife she would make!”

WATCH: ->”Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as A Fiddler on the Roof!!”

Ritual Jewish Bread Challah
The Jewish Ritual Plaited Bread – Challah

 Well, the day came and I was carried throught it on the merit of sheer childish exuberance, and as the night carried on , I realised to my dismay that the metaphorical clock had struck! My late ’80’s polyester frock had gone from being my dizzy-with-delight party gown to something scratchy and non-sleepingworthy, my carriage went back to being a pumpkin, and my horses – mice!! The borscht wasn’t something I could have more than a few spoonfuls of, the smoked and brined lox (smoked salmon) and cream cheese, again- lost on my palate! The falafels, made from the best of Knorr, was a vegetarian bajji! The challah I schlepped around, slathered with butter and chewed on it’s crunchy crust as the families settled in to watch Annie Hall, which would go on to become one of my parents’ favourite films! Ethic food and children? I’d wait till they realised that the world was a large, indomitable place, not necessarily one that revolved around them! ! So I sat there, clutching my bread and winding the end of my mother’s handloom saree, still fresh with the smell of handprintable dye, around my finger, watching an absurd film where the talking never stopped.

Lox and Cream Cheese!
Lox and Cream Cheese!

Family for me has always had multifaceted meanings- some of them not entirely comforting! I’ve often noticed that when one grows up with a particular disability; physical or emotional, one seems to have a heightened sensibility of things that touch or resonate against that shifted core. By that stretch, a blind child grows with a keener sense of touch and hearing, as does a deaf one-with keener sight and smell perhaps. I for one, seem to have grown with a heightened perception of family ties. Bonds of touch, love and belonging. Those that  go deeper than blood. And of small, everyday things that change and alter those very bonds as they continue to grow together; in love or apart.

Allen’s neuroticism pierced through me in patches that night; when Annie asks him if he loves her, he says love is really too weak a word, he actually lurved her, you know,  loaved her, luffed her, two F’s!!! I learned that night that you need to love with more than just love! I also learned the way another culture saw the power of my life – Iris, the Jewish woman with a wig, who knew to read life’s signs said to me that I was born under the strength of an air sign! Air moves over the earth and the water, it controls both whilst being controlled by none. I could make any path I chose to if I used all my strength to make it! That would be my biggest argument for thinking outside the box and the need to interact with a cultural ethos different to your own. Those words changed my inner landscape! I was viewed as an entitled, hyper-irritable annoyance in my own world!  And then the talk of Dan quoting Allen’s recently said” Eighty percent of success is showing up!” A dictum that holds me well, even on mornings when I cannot wait for the peace of post-schoolruns or feel like the vilest of parents! I showed up, and in doing so, there was success!!   I heard those lines often! My parents almost always concurred on Allen, if not much else!

On a regular basis, as an Asian living in England or even just plainly as an Asian, I revisit Annie Hall and especially revel in the Easter scene -the clash of the relatively calm socio-cultural niceties of Upper East Side Manhattan and the often chaotic, rapidly-fluctuating emotional personality of Brooklyn! The similarities are glaring – clearly, we aren’t all in this together! :) In a family, a lot is unspoken, a lot is said in the high-pitched tones of conviviality …or the silence! I learned to understand a philosophy through it’s jokes!

 

Keaton aptly said whilst accepting the award on behalf of Allen, that women love to star in his films because “Woody’s women can’t be compartmentalised. “…I mean, they struggle, they love, they fall apart, they dominate, they’re funny, they’re flawed. They are, in fact, the hallmark of Woody’s work. But what’s even more remarkable is that absolutely nothing links these unforgettable characters from the fact that they came from the mind of Woody Allen. And there you have it.”
Probably the reason I love his work so much… and because “Woody’s films have been changing the way we think about life, love and the pursuit of neuroses forever”!

Leaving you with scenes from one that’s seminally touched mine…X

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