A Photo A Day…15 days or so

As I recently mentioned,  I have started a ‘a day, a photo’ project of sorts in an attempt to semi chronicle events and moments of our daily life. This is my second share, from the last 15 days!

 

 

 

It has been rather fun documenting moments,  though many of us probably do it anyways, knowingly or unknowingly. I have been doing it since our son was born and I had a good-ish cell phone. Like many and unlike some, I was doing it without the intention of publishing it on Facebook ( I had an account once!) or Instagram ( though I must admit, a few have found their way here, and I still use it) and so was and/am under no pressure to add filters. I was getting a bit tired of the ‘candid’ photos posted that clearly were not candid, ones that were heavily posed for and photos which showed only the best of the best!  I did not have such picture perfect moments to share and I had started to feel a bit low, in spite of knowing that everything and everyone was/ is not that impeccable… life is not meant to be so🙂

Thanks for stopping by and I hope we capture more ‘imperfect moments’ that make our lives perfect!

 

For a cold-ish night- Chicken & Gravy

   I am glad that Fall is here…well almost here. It is getting harder to get up in the mornings and that desire to cover myself up with another light blanket and just be cozy for a few extra minutes, is getting harder to fight. The dazzling blue sky, crisp air and that autumn smell is enticing and while it feels tricky to calculate in how many layers to dress up the little guy for school, it is a happy feeling overall. Till winter shows up.

    I have written on a similar topic before as well and you can read that here but I get this urge to write a bit more around this time of the year. You see it’s ‘Durga Pujo’ time back in Kolkata and few other parts of India and the Bengali in me still yearns for it, in spite of being in this country for a good number of years. And that longing does not go away. I get super nostalgic and reminisce till it almost hurts a bit and at the same time makes me ecstatic and sometimes, I chew off the good man’s ears with favorite memories from that time. My kids have not reached that age yet where they will understand that frenzy and since we live in a land far away, I doubt they ever will. For them the excitement of Halloween and Christmas will always be a bit more and that’s probably okay. My son does get excited though about getting dressed in Panjabi (or Kurta– the traditional attire for men in India) and going to see Goddess Durga and Her full Family, all decked up! He loves the general merriment, especially the beating of the dhaak ( a membranophone instrument from India) that is almost ethereal and one of the most awaited sounds for every Bengali around this time back in Kolkata. And that makes me happy. So, while it is quite different here physically, in my mind I keep taking short trips to past Pujos during this time. That’s the wonderful thing about weaving memories…they remain for you to enjoy and cuddle in whenever you want to.

   New Jersey nights are different from the glittery glamour of Pujo nights back home. They are quiet and offer a very different symphony. Chirps of crickets, occasional rustling of leaves, a solitary car alarm breaking the sound of silence in the neighborhood. They are colder too. The intoxicating smell of the shiuli (night-flowering jasmine) does not fill up the senses here but the reds, yellows, and oranges of the leaves sure make for a visual treat. While we do stir up Bengali delicacies during this time of the year, Fall also heralds the beginning of trying various casseroles, one pot dishes, hearty soups, ramens and similar comfort foods! And that gets me scouring the internet for inspirations and recipes and firing up the stove eventually. A couple of nights ago, I had this desire to have some chicken and gravy, something that I have somehow never made before and after going through a handful of recipes, I found one from https://thesaltymarshmallow.com/one-pan-smothered-chicken/. I made a couple of minute alterations and I will note them in red in the recipe below. It was super delicious and an instant hit even with my little guy who is a picky eater! I am sharing the recipe here and I hope you get to try it sometime and enjoy it as much as we did.

One Pan Smothered Chicken

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4
Author: Nichole

Ingredients

  • 6 Slices Bacon, Diced
  • 2 Pounds Chicken Thighs, Bone in and skin on
  • 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder
  • 2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Italian Seasoning
  • 1 Stick Butter, Divided
  • 3 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 Cup Milk

Instructions

  • Cook the diced bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. (I did not have bacon)
  • While the bacon is cooking, mix together the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a shallow bowl or dish.
  • Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels and dredge the chicken on each side into the seasoned flour until coated. Shake off any excess flour and set the flour mixture aside for later. (Also, I did not have chicken thighs and I had to use drumsticks and the cooking time was a little longer. Check for internal temperature of 165F. I had also marinated the chicken earlier with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, a little bit of chipotle mustard and a little bit of mayonnaise)
  • Once the bacon is removed from the pan, add half of the butter to the pan and allow to melt.
  • When the butter is melted, add the flour coated chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side until golden brown.
  • Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.
  • Add the remaining butter to the pan and allow it to melt.
  • Sprinkle one cup of the remaining seasoned flour to the pan and whisk for 1 minute until the butter and flour are well combined.
  • Gradually whisk in the chicken broth and milk until gravy is smooth.
  • Return the cooked chicken and bacon to the pan.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

 

   The good man made some mashed potatoes that was super smooth and yummy too. We had this with seasoned quinoa (and by seasoned I mean I had added salt, paprika and lemon-pepper powder to the water when the quinoa was cooking). We enjoyed the dinner as a family and even our 10 month old joined us in her high chair, squished some of her orange puffs and made various noises, which according to the little guy was her trying to join in the ‘grown up’ conversation we were having!

 

 

   And as I went to bed that night and drifted away to sleep, the festive nights of Kolkata seemed to be a world away, and the gentle lullaby and the humming of the pedestal fan were the only sounds breaking the lull of a sleepy house.

 

[I don’t know the name of this tree or the flower, but this look reminded me of the Shiuli phool (Bengali for flower) back in India that blossom during these autumn months and a whiff is enough to tell you that Pujo is here.]

 

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you are weaving memories that will keep you warm and snuggled, wherever you find yourself.

A simple chocolate cake

   My love for all things sweet knows no bounds and while that is not necessarily a good thing, I can’t help drooling at them, especially all things chocolaty! And while everyday can be ‘baking -something- sweet’ day, special occasions provide a ‘justifiable’ reason to do so and make me feel less guilty when I eat the lion’s share (well…almost!) of that chocolaty delight. While I am always on the lookout for such delectable desserts, every year, come November, my search intensifies for recipes of yummy cakes and cookies that I can bake during the ‘holiday season’ that also features my good man’s birthday! I try to bake a different chocolate cake every year for his birthday and while he prefers the simplest chocolate cake, I like the ones that are richer and generally involve some sort of a frosting. Last couple of years, we did the cake his way but this year, I baked him a very simple but at the same time a moist and rich chocolate cake with a delightful frosting on top and in between the layers and I have Rachel from https://thestayathomechef.com/the-most-amazing-chocolate-cake/ to thank! I was looking for something that did not require a lot of preparation and unique ingredients as I knew I would not have a lot of time for shopping, prepping and baking with a new born to take care of along with a soon-to-be four-year-old. This recipe is just that…something that you whip up with stuff from your pantry and under 40 mins…and when you are done, you will have a delectable cake and a very satisfied tummy:)

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(Please excuse the poor quality of this picture…there was a crying baby, an over eager older brother, a candle situation involving  wax that was dangerously close to ruining the cake and a bit overworked parents trying to get the house ready for  guests who were coming over soon!)

 

Here goes the recipe (from https://thestayathomechef.com/the-most-amazing-chocolate-cake/) for a truly wonderful and easy chocolate cake that I hope many of you will enjoy!

Servings: 16 Servings or 1 3 Layer Cake

Ingredients

The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake

  • butter and flour for coating and dusting the cake pan
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups butter softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese softened
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7-8 cups powdered sugar
  • about 1/4 cup milk as needed

Instructions

The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 9-inch cake rounds. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.
  • Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer using a low speed until combined.
  • Add eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat on a medium speed until smooth. This should take just a couple of minutes.
  • Divide batter among the three pans. I found that it took just over 3 cups of the batter to divide it evenly.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes and then turn out the cakes onto the racks and allow to cool completely.
  • Frost with your favorite frosting and enjoy!

Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

  • In a large bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer for best results
  • Add in cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Beat until combined.
  • Beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Add milk as necessary to make a spreadable consistency. The frosting should be very thick and will thicken even more if refrigerated.

 

Durga Pujo

   It’s that time of the year, almost. Not here in my adopted country but in my hometown of Kolkata. It is the time when the city dazzles and the people are flushed with inimitable passion and joy. It is the time when people embrace and celebrate their cultural heritage, their love for food, music, the famous Bengali “adda” (the never ending conversation usually over endless cups of tea and snacks!), become tighter as a community, strengthen old bonds while initiating new ones.  It is the time when the city lights up to welcome one and all and artistic grandeur is on display all around. Is the time when the “kashful”  (the kans grass ) adorns the muddy roads of our “grambangla” (Countryside), the intoxicating smell of the “shiuli” (the night flowering jasmine) and the “dhunuchi” (burning of coconut husk along with camphor or some other incense in an earthen pot) along with the deep thud of the “dhaak” (a drum like Bengali instrument played primarily during the Durga Pujo) fill the souls. It is all-the best-things-in-life-rolled-into-one kind of a thing!

   As someone who has not spent a single Durga Pujo in Kolkata (don’t roll your eyes!), I have not experienced much of this first hand, but am very well aware of all this. I have seen the excitement leading up to the five days of the Pujo and can easily comprehend the fervor that the actual days bring about. I have had friends tell me in detail everything that I miss during the biggest celebration that the city holds and I have seen simple bamboo structures, the “pandals” getting converted into brilliant pieces of art through the exquisite craftsmanship of a handful of people. And I have also seen the dazzling elegance of the idols of Goddess Durga and Her Children as they adorn those “pandals” for the most gratifying five days in a Bengali’s calendar. For most, not being in Kolkata during Pujo is unthinkable and not an option. For some, it is a time to escape to a different city and seek some tranquility among the hill stations or soak up the sun at the many beautiful beaches or visit historical places that have shaped our country, our people. And for some who have chosen to live in their adopted countries many miles away from the streets they could once walk blindfolded on, it is a time to draw upon cherished memories from the yesteryear and make the best of the “Weekend Pujo” that is permitted by time and space there.

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   So, what does Durga Pujo mean to me who has never been part of the electrifying milieu of Kolkata and who now lives in a land thousands of miles away? When I try to think of what is it that tugs at my heart strings at this time, I find myself overwhelmed with memories of one particular city, one white house (that later got painted to a not-so-good shade of brown/yellow-I never could tell!) and a bunch of faces many of whom are not around anymore. It is where I spent a good twenty five Durga Pujos and of which I have nothing but the fondest memories and utmost respect. The city of Jamshedpur, in the eastern part of India, is where my father grew up and where our ancestral home had been (till this year before being torn down for a hundred reasons) and it is at this place where I spent my most revered days during Pujo.

   For me, Pujo was always about finding out from Baba when our tickets to Jamshedpur were and by which train, when were all the others (the very large extended family) arriving and for how long would we be staying. It was also a bit about the mandatory Pujo shopping for new clothes and shoes:) And the day we would reach that big white house where  a bunch of smiling crazy faces would be waiting eagerly on the porch to give the loudest welcome to all those who came, it would be the beginning of the best fifteen days of that year for me. Everything that followed was blissful. From cuddles and huddles to ten people checking their hairdos and make up in front of a single mirror before “pandal hopping” ; from eating our meals at the large table where chaos ensued almost every other minute to making beds all over the house wherever a square inch of floor space was free; from being dragged out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to smell the shiuli- a smell so fragrant that it was almost intoxicating-and then pick up some for garlands that would later be strewn by the elders of the family for the purposes of worship; from frivolous squabbles to bursting out into peels of laughter over the silliest of jokes; from sitting on the front porch with people closest to my heart and sipping on the tea that was an occasional allowance during this time while our “thakur” (the cook) would fire up the “unoon”  (earthen clay stove, fired up usually by wood or coal) whose heady smell mixed with the sweet autumn breeze would fill the air; from the most ardent feeling of comfort and contentment that cannot be put into words to a serenity that the rolling hills in the distance brought-was what Durga Pujo meant to me. And though it is a very different story now many years later and thousands of miles away, in my mind Durga Pujo is still that and it has been very difficult to find an alternative that comes close.

(This is the house that holds my most precious moments…this picture was taken a few months before being torn down)

   In today’s fast paced life where we are probably connected more digitally than ever before, one can’t always head home for the Pujo. We adapt and we learn how to celebrate wherever we are. In this land far far away from the maddening crowd, Pujo is generally confined to whichever weekend (around the real Pujo dates) a particular school auditorium is available and five days of religious and social celebrations are packed into a rushed 48 hours. There is the actual ‘pujo’ (worshiping the Goddess), ‘pushpanjali’ (offering of prayer and flowers to the Goddess), ‘bhog’ (the typical Pujo lunch and dinner), cultural ‘anusthan’ (program), ‘sindoor khela’ (married women smearing vermilion on each other at the end of the celebration) and men, women and children decked in the best of clothes and jewelry gleefully soaking in every moment. We create memories that might not be able to match up to the ones we still fondly talk about in our “addas” but nonetheless they get stored in our pocketbook of memories.

   I have spent nine Pujo-s in this far away land and each has had its own flavor. the first two have been the most special where everything was more homely and the Bengali Students’ Society of Minnesota made everyone feel involved and we all lent our two cents! From the Protima (the idol) to the Pujo, it was all a labor of love and hard work  and the fun was  “nirbhejal” (unadulterated). The other Pujos have been different. They have been somewhat like showing up at the venue all dressed up, doing the customary chitchat, enjoying the ‘cultural’ part of the Pujo-listening to ‘artists from Kolkata or Mumbai’ entertaining the audience with popular songs-and reliving a slice of Pujo back home when rickety loudspeakers (before they were banned) would be blaring those out at every “pandal” and a group of children would be dancing to those while some elders would indefinitely frown at the loss of “sanskriti”.

 

     (These two pictures were not taken by me but by a dear friend from Minneapolis)

   Pujo has been different since I no longer could go to Jamshedpur (work and then marriage took me away eventually!) and I no longer try to fight the emptiness that still lingers somewhere deep down inside of me. It has now become a part of the Pujo feeling that I cherish as I proudly reminisce the moments that have shaped the person I am today. Now I dress my little one in “Punjabi’s” (traditional Indian attire for boys and men) while the good man also does his best to dust off his and off we go “Thakur dekhte” (visit the Pujos). Our boy, a little music enthusiast that he is, gets excited beyond words at the “dhaak” and even tried his hand at playing one in his own way and that has become one of my most treasured moments from Pujo here, one of those moments that assure you that celebrations can be different across continents but bits and pieces remain the same and it is up to us to be part of the merriment and keep adding pages to our personal stories:)

 

 

 

Another year rolls in

sunrise ocean city

Every sunrise holds the promise of a new day, new hopes and new memories

    Growing up, New Year’s Eve was a big deal. The New Year’s Eve special on T.V. was something I looked forward to in spite of the similar boring content year after year. In those days, you see, we weren’t allowed to watch much television( especially anything to do with the Hindi movies) and there also wasn’t much to watch anyways!  But on that day, Bollywood songs were okay-ed by Baba for me to watch and it was a big deal:)

   And then the following day- the first one of the New Year- followed a more or less similar pattern every year too. New Year greetings would be exchanged with everyone we met on the streets and everyone who called- each trying to outdo the other by shouting out the greetings as loudly as possible! I have always wondered about that. Did the loudness of the wish make it more heartfelt or since it was the beginning of a new year, people were more energetic and had the extra bounce to their steps? I am yet to figure that out! Family picnics at the zoo or at the big parks were a common affair during that time of the year and among the teenage crowd, ‘hanging out’ with friends or catching a movie was the in thing. I, however, was never allowed to participate in any such social activity and was never given a reason for that. Parents and their many irrational fear- there isn’t much that can be done about that, I guess:)

   Our family too had some rituals that had unknowingly become a part of those two days. Other than all the scrumptious food that Maa would make and the extra T.V. time or extra badminton time that we were allowed, on the first day of every year Baba would, without fail, give me a diary. He would then ask me to think about what my resolutions were going to be for that year and encourage me to start writing down the what-s, why-s and how-s of those. He firmly believed that keeping a diary (not the journal type where a 12 year old would write down about her secret crush, or about the bitter quarrel with her best friend) was going to help me be introspective and guide me in my path of self development. Profound terms for a not very ambitious 12 year old, and that too on the very first day of the year! I realize now, a tad bit late, how valuable that advice of his was, but as might be expected of a tween, I did not pay much attention to the reflective purpose of the diary. Not to disappoint him thoroughly though, I would try to come up with some ‘resolutions’ that I would then diligently write down on the crisp pages of my diary and follow Baba’s advice of keeping a daily log for the first few days. Days would then lapse into weeks and eventually it would become a once-a-month thing before I would lose all interest. This pattern would, interestingly, repeat itself again the following year, meeting its end in the exact same manner. Eventually my poor Baba gave up and I was only too relieved!

   A lot has happened between the time when I was expected to keep a diary for self reflection and now when, ironically, self reflection comes naturally. May be it’s my age or the times we live in or simply the overflow of wine on the last day of the year! 2017 has made way for 2018. Like every year, a lot has happened- both awe inspiring as well as awful- over the course of the year that we just bid adieu to. People are more divided in their opinions of almost every thing, the geopolitical scenario seems to be in a turmoil, multiple humanitarian crises are shaking the very core of our civilization, machines are putting more and more people out of work, unethical production of goods continue, carbon footprint is increasingly at an alarming rate and the poor continue to get robbed off of their basic rights and amenities. All of this is extremely unsettling. It makes people lose hope, add to the frustration and push them over the edge, tempting them to just give up. And then, when things look this dismal, we come across everyday people who find the courage to stand up for the voiceless; people who with their kindness take us by surprise, people who never back down from making the truth heard; people who with their nobility and humility make the world a better place in spite of all the negativity. They inspire us and make us hope for a better tomorrow despite all the wrongdoing, they make us joyful even when we are unsure of ourselves and they show us that we all can easily bring about positive changes in our lives, lend a helping hand and not let hatred cloud our thoughts.

 

 

   I had, possibly, started 2017 by thinking about a certain number of things that I would do differently and follow through some ‘resolutions’ (which were probably my goals for 2016 or the year before…who knows!). I can say with certainty that I remember none of those and hence have not followed any. I was a bit lazy I will admit, but I was also soaking up all the joys of watching a two year old running around and making my world light up with his many silly acts and smiles that make me pause and thank the universe for sending this bundle of energy my way 🙂 Things have remained undone and 2017 too, has ended. But then again, when I think about it, a New Year is not a broken entity- every new year that rolls in is part of a continuum that does not exist in isolation. Days are fluid, spilling into each other, following more or less similar rhythms. Birthdays and anniversaries come around, seasons follow one after the other, we add pages to our book of memories. The inexplicable madness of our daily lives also continues.

   Embracing wholeheartedness, being more mindful of people and their stories, being less negative; learning, unlearning and re-learning are some of my goals this year and I am curious to see how this unfolds. Maybe I will succumb to the temptations of gossip or vent out my frustration in a not-so-appropriate manner or maybe I will succeed at channeling my inner power to rise above pettiness and follow through…who knows! But I intend to try harder this time around than keeping a diary. I am going to let things unfold as organically as possible and the hope is to incorporate some semblance of sanity in this otherwise chaotic existence!