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.

Of light, lamps and load shedding

   The other day I was admiring some lampshades at a store and at the same time thinking about how ‘load-shedding’ (electrical outage/power cut) was fairly a regular occurrence during my early childhood and now as I am typing this, I am wondering why did that thought crop up at that moment! Anyways, I have always had a fondness for lampshades, big or small, contemporary or antique and I absolutely love candles, candle stands and good old fashioned candle holders. We currently live in an apartment with two little ones where there is not much scope for pretty lamps and shades but that doesn’t mean that I can’t admire from a distance. Lighting candles is almost out of the question too but once in a while, when I am cooking, I like to keep one lit in a corner.

   The early years of growing up,  memories of which seem to be getting clearer the more my life gets away from the city I grew up in, were part structured and part whimsical- as I suppose everyone else’s was/is. There was a set routine that we all followed from daybreak till when we hit the bed at night and even the unplanned seemed to follow a pattern at times. Unannounced guests who would be staying for days was normal and so was being reprimanded by the friendly neighbor for breaking his glass panes with a cricket ball. Life went on and we rolled with it. And ‘load shedding‘ (power cut/electrical outage) followed us around!

   Ask anyone who grew up in Calcutta during that time and they will all tell you their load-shedding stories. Be it the sweltering heat of the hot summer days or the humid evenings, load shedding was omnipresent. It could show up any time and play with all the plans that you had made- be it a post lunch siesta or watching that movie on the television you had been waiting for a while or getting ready for the wedding you had been invited to. Or finish that dreaded homework that was due the next day.

   On evenings when we would be vigorously studying (every single household with school going children in Calcutta, if not the whole of India had this in common) for the next day at school and scampering to get some homework done, it would suddenly get all dark and a collective murmur would fill the entire neighborhood- “Aabaar load shedding” (aabar means again in Bengali)! Summer evenings and nights, when it mostly struck, would find adults on the streets chatting and complaining,  kids who had finished their homework hanging around and there would be a sort of almost merriment. Mosquitoes buzzing around, a distant bark of the street dogs, the tinkle of some passer by’s bicycle provided the background score to such sultry nights. But for the likes of me and many I knew, it meant finishing that homework in the light of the candles or lanterns and cursing oneself for not having finished it on time. It used to be insanely hot  and humid and while I kept on going grudging, I remember Ma or Baba would patiently sit with me, with a handheld fan and keep me company, trying to make it less uncomfortable as I toiled in the flickering lights. And it often happened that my brother and I would go to bed and it would still be all dark. Twisting and turning from the mugginess,  we would drift in and out of sleep while also trying to be awake to hear the sudden spinning of the ceiling fan. Gradually, the fever and the fret of the world would  dissolve as Ma Baba would be there right by the bed, with those fans, trying to ease our discomfort.

   Those days of load shedding and hand fans are a matter of the distant past and now I am irked by the slightest change in the settings of the thermostat. Time changes a whole lot of things and it changes people and their perspective. As Ma Baba get older, they continue to hide their discomfort from me, lest I get worried. But unlike those nights, when load shedding made it difficult to sleep, I now am very much aware of their plight that has been shaped with old age, ailments and partial blindness. And I can no longer drift away to sleep in peace. Air conditioning fails to comfort me the way those tiring hands did.

   As I was going through my archive looking for ideas, these stared me at the face and tales from summers long gone, came rushing by.

Does this happen to you? What stirs bittersweet memories in you?

 

lamp-rosy

 

candle and decor

 

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Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely rest of the week.

Tuesday Tales-Summertime

Summer is here and it is bright and beautiful all around, even in our neighborhood. Lathered up with sun screen and donning hats and sunglasses, everyone’s ready to tackle the dazzling summer sun. After all, it’s only going to last a couple of months! It indeed calls for celebration. Barbecues, trips to the pool and the beach, running through sprinklers, backyard camping, lovely flowers wherever you look, long queues outside the local ice cream parlor, summer camps are all part of that merriment.

Growing up, summer was somewhat similar but also slightly different. It meant the much awaited summer vacation and a trip to someplace far enough to warrant my favorite mode of travel- the train. It also meant visits from some of our favorite people, extra T.V time, staying out for a little longer than usual. It meant gorging on mangoes, the most juicy and sweet kind one can probably find only in the state of Bengal and it also meant sultry afternoons sipping on the ‘ghol’ (a very light version of its famous cousin-the lassi). It also meant ‘holiday homework’ that only got started usually on the last week of the ‘holiday’ and the scramble to get it all done added to the crabby feeling triggered by the imminent opening of  school.

Back home, the hot and humid summers make the air heavy and drown everyone in sweat. The afternoons are sometimes unbearable and an eerie silence descends on the neighborhoods that is only occasionally broken by the cawing of the crow or the shrill call of the peddler trying to sell his wares. His sticky skin glistens under the glaring sun and the heat from the asphalt probably scorches his feet through the threadbare sandals. We often heard peddlers from inside the comfort of our houses, where the silence was instead broken by the rotating blades of the ceiling fan. Ma sometimes spoke about such courageous people who fought against adversities on a daily basis just to make ends meet. If our doorbell rang, Ma would buy something even if we did not really need it (these were mostly inexpensive goods as well) and would always offer the person water to drink. And there were a couple of occasions when I remember she let them rest indoors for a while till they felt ready to go back out again. Some other families in our neighborhood did the same. Summers were cool for many but scorching for most. But times were simpler back then and people looked out for each other probably more than now. Trust was implicit and that made living easier.

Summer time in Kolkata and in the eastern region of India also brought/brings the much awaited and always welcome ‘Kalbaishakhi’- the Nor’westers. Skies darken and the stillness in the air deepens. Rumbles can be heard far and wide and then the dark grey clouds open their gates to drain the earth with torrential downpour. The heady aroma from the sweltering earth, the bruised leaves dancing in the rain and the crackling thunders make everyone overlook the temporary inconvenience the Kalbaishakhi causes. I remember them with clarity and fondness and I miss them dearly too. While we do get sudden thunderstorms here as well, they fall far behind the almost royal nature of the revered Kalbaishakhis.

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This photo was taken by a pretty mediocre cell phone camera right before one such ‘Kalbaishakhi’ back in Kolkata  a few years back. The sky had turned this deep yellow and there was stillness all around.

The following photos are from neighborhood strolls and from lunch outings over the past couple of weeks- it has been beautiful all around.

 

 

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Thanks for stopping by. What are some of your favorite memories from summer?

 

Tuesday Tales

                                                               Memories -Jamshedpur

    I have been thinking about writing this particular post for some time now but it has been a bit difficult to gather my thoughts. It should not be difficult, right? We all have memories that are dear to our hearts and memories that we wish we could forget but we can’t. That’s what makes memories omnipotent…they are always there with the good, bad and the ugly. I guess I have reached that age where I look back at my childhood days with fondness, but they also come with a strange anguish, something that tugs at the strings of the heart in a manner that is not always joyful in its entirety. The joy is always accompanied by the longing- the agony of wanting to go back in time and relive moments and days that are so deeply embedded in our conscience that it toys with the current nature of reality.

   I am not very good with change…I have come to realize this. I accept change when the need arises and shape things accordingly but it takes time and while that can be good thing, it can also occasionally present itself as disconcerting. While I continue to adapt to life in this country, still learning the ropes after ten years, a part of me- the deepest part- lives thousands of miles away. The city of Kolkata and the small town of Jamshedpur are the two places that have seen me through the simple rites of childhood and through the defiance of teenage life and till today hold me in warm embrace of memories I made decades ago. And so naturally, they find prominence in any memory that I conjure up of the past to the point that the pining for the place and time gone by, hurts.

    I grew up as part of a large extended family-my father has 12 siblings- and I have always been super proud to be part of this crazy clan. I have had some of the best moments of growing up with these folks during our yearly trip to our family home in Jamshedpur and I have been fiercely protective of all that it has entailed.

   Times change. The house, a bungalow is no longer there. In its place stands a tall building that houses offices and a couple of floors have been turned into a ‘guest house’. The other bungalows in the neighborhood have all met the same fate. Families have left or have become just one more nameplate in the middle of the ten other that share the previous address of the ‘owner’, whose front yard had bougainvillea and the “champa” (Plumeria) welcoming anyone who walked through the small black gates. The big field that was the center around which the houses were lined, no longer draws children who used to be out every evening with cricket bats and balls and teams lined up for matches with rules that were tailored to suit the needs of the players. It has been fashioned into a parking lot of sorts for the cars and small trucks that the new residents and shop keepers own and small roadside stalls have opened up to cater to their chai-pani (snacks).

   I no longer can go there. My people have moved too and are now in Kolkata. Having spent 70 years of their lives in that once beautiful neighborhood, their lives have been uprooted and are now defined by and confined to a three bedroom apartment. I no longer can run up the stairs and go to the roof to smell the bel phool (a type of Jasmine) or watch the clouds float across the mountain range that could be seen at a distance. I will no longer be able to see the golden moon rise from behind the school building that stood at one end of the big field, its walls bearing the signs of the city’s political story.

   Landscape changes with time and I sometimes wonder if all of it is for the better. In the age of no cable, no colored television, no video games, no internet were we, and as an extension, life, more genuine, more palpable? Happiness comes at steeper prices now and yet, fails to satisfy at times. I also sometimes wonder if I have become too sophisticated for rustic pleasures and if my kids are ever going to know that kind of simplicity and joy.

   I long for that place, a place that no longer exists the way my heart remembers. And it aches  a bit thinking about that. But it also brings me immense joy reminiscing about that place and time and the people that made everything so unforgettable. I never somehow had a favorite uncle or aunt, but I have favorite memories with all of them and they have all nurtured, in their own ways, my growing up. I wish we all took more pictures at that time capturing moments that had us burst with laughter or cuddle under a big blanket in the front yard at night where we once had a ‘camping’ of sorts! It was honest and simple. My yearning for going back to India has not stopped and while I know that it is no longer possible, a tiny part of my heart still clings on to that hope. In this faraway land, where seasons dictate coffee flavors I reminisce and laugh on my own. I revisit the house and its rooms and think about the people that made the mundane, riveting.  I share stories with Neel who tries his best to be enthusiastic at most times! I am waiting for my kids to grow up so that I can share stories with them and through those tales, bring that place and people a little close to them.

   My memories inspire me and keep me connected to people I am many miles away from. They are part of my identity and they help me navigate where I am headed to. Memories make me who I am ( at least I would like to believe so), as they teach and guide; they let me fall back on them when need be and they also sneak up from nowhere to surprise me! They are my pathway to the future that may not have the exact idyllic scenarios from the past, but will hopefully help me shape ones that my kids will, one day, remember fondly.

 

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     “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it”- Lucy Maud Montgomery.