Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Consider the Oyster

Not being in the midst of boisterous family fun this Christmas is making me reflect on holidays past, the most recent being Thanksgiving.

A wonderful meal with friends, and before that, a quiet morning walk among the falling leaves, where we found this:

followed by a gorgeous weekend in Cape Cod

enjoying the cold, clear weather,

walks on the deserted beaches

a cosy fire, a most delicious wine,

and..... oysters.

Today, a month later, I read MFK Fisher’s ‘Consider the Oyster’.

A tiny gem of a book filled with essays contemplating the oyster, it includes recipes and thoughts on various ways to eat this strange sea creature.

While eating them raw on the half-shell is the only way I’ve tried them, it was fascinating to read about the stewed, baked and fried options, including the famous Rockefeller, about which she says, “According to the little black-and-gold booklet published for Antoine’s centennial, Oysters à la Rockefeller contain ‘such rich ingredients that the name of the Multi-Millionaire was borrowed to indicate their value.’ Some gourmets say that any oyster worthy of its species should not be toyed with and adulterated by such skullduggeries as this sauce of herbs and strange liqueurs. Others, more lenient, say that Southern oysters like Mr. Alciatore’s need some such refinement, being as they are languid and soft-tasting to the tongue…. Further north…..they like them cold, straightforward, simple, capable of spirit, but unadorned, like a Low Church service maybe or a Boston romance.”
: )

I do find it hard to choose cooked oysters over the cool, succulent raw ones that taste like the sea, but maybe, maybe…

Another interesting preparation-oysters in turkey stuffing-caught my eye, and I smiled at her description of it: “Oyster stuffing, for turkeys naturally, is as American as corn-on-the-cob or steamed coot, as far as Americans know or care. To many families it is a necessary part of Christmas dinner, so that its omission would at once connotate a sure sign of internal disintegration, as if Ma came to church in her corset-cover or Uncle Jim brought his light-o’-love to the children’s picnic.”

Well, to all those sitting down to Christmas dinner today, and showing signs of ‘internal disintegration’, I say, have a lovely Christmas and bon appétit!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas

On this eve of Christmas, I wish I was here.

New York with an old, dear friend is lovely too; if only it wasn't missing one Frenchie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Best French Toast Ever

I've seen challah before (I do live in Brookline after all), but I don't think I've ever tasted it. So, I'd expect you to have doubts when I say this is the best challah in Boston, but don't doubt Marcy. She says it's the last word in chhhhhallah (I swear that's how she taught me how to say it) and after eating it, I will believe everything she ever tells me.

I just dipped it in some eggs and milk and sauteed it in butter. I wish I could take better pictures because this was seriously the best french toast of my life.

Frenchie approved whole heartedly: it reminded him of his favourite brioche. All I can say is ..I never want any other french toast again.

Slightly sweet bread, soft and eggy, unbelievable with a Saturday morning latte and the paper. "Cheryl Ann's of Brookline", said the empty packet when I stared longingly into it. I'm revealing insider info, no doubt, but it's too good a secret to keep to myself : )

Friday, November 30, 2007

T.W. Food

About a month ago, we had the amazing experience of a chef's tasting dinner at T.W. Food. The food was inventive, surprising, and delicious. I won't spoil it for you by divulging what we ate, but I will say that it may be the closest thing Boston offers to eating in France. Did Frenchie agree? Well, he may prefer No. 9 Park, but I think the intimate dining experience and personal service by the owners at TW Food tipped my vote. This is one of only a handful of restaurants (unless it was one where we knew the owners) at which I've truly felt like a dinner guest being looked after by a delightful host.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Checkerboard cookies

Last weekend, Philippa and I spent an afternoon in her lovely kitchen drinking mulled wine, making a mess of ourselves and baking these buttery delicious cookies. These were the first cookies I'd ever baked, so I'm hoping future experiences will be less complex and require only one person!

The recipe is on Philippa's site, and basically involves making chocolate and vanilla dough and combining them together in this over-the-top way after repeated chilling sessions.

She set me up with a training video from YouTube but I think I'm still confused how this all came together.

Brilliant way to spend a wintery afternoon, with some card-making thrown in. The most productive Sunday afternoon ever. I even got to take some pictures with her fancypants camera, which was fun.

This morning, exactly a week later, I took the left-over stacked dough out of the freezer and baked the little guys for 10 mins.
Superb with some hot chai.
Thanks, Philippa!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Five Foods I Hate to Love - Part 3

3. American Chop Suey

("Chop Suey", Edward Hopper, 1929)

At least I spared you the image of this monstrous noodle dish.

How can one love a hot mess of noodles and… ketchup?
Well, maybe you have to be Indian to appreciate this one, but I do love the bed of crispy hot noodles and stir-fried veggies, topped with a tangy, sweet and sour, ketchup and soy sauce mix (and a fried egg!). The sauce softens the noodles directly below creating three distinct noodle textures: the wet, soft, ketchup-y layer, the semi-soft, drier one, and the crispy, crunchy bottom layer. Delicious, I tell you!!

A staple in every Chinese restaurant in India, this can only be a disgraced, third-degree relative of anything in China or even America. The American version served in the painting above presumably contained ground meat, and seems like a different creature altogether.

Chinese food is wildly popular in India, and mostly consists of this more-Indian-than-Chinese variety of dishes that would thoroughly confuse any Chinese or American, or, frankly, anyone who hadn’t grown up with them! Hakka noodles, veg Manchurian, chili paneer and chicken lollipops are some of the names that will bring a nostalgic smile to the face of any Indian who lives abroad. Mmm…. maybe it’s time for an Indian-Chinese potluck?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Five Foods I Hate to Love - Part 2

2. Thums Up

Taste the thunder?
Yep, that was the frighteningly accurate jingle for this cola drink that I adore. I've heard tourists describe this as a pumped-up Indian coke, but to us it was the original. Coke bought it out recently and tried to kill it, but failed.

So good, especially after a hot, spicy meal! My brother and I would have one as a special treat when we watched movies at home. At no other time (besides parties, of course) was it acceptable to drink 'soft drinks', and maybe that's why I loved it so much.

Combine this absurdly sweet, strong soda with an over-the-top James Bond film, and you get an idea of our ideal Saturday afternoon.

Beauty interlude

(Photo from Mac Cosmetics)

Just want to share this tip about the new Alexander McQueen runway inspired Mac eye pencils.

These eyeliners are stunning - beautiful jewel-toned colour (green and gold are both lovely).

The Black Karat is selling out, don't say I didn't warn you!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Five foods I hate to love - Part 1

Alright, the fashion-intermission is over (for now). Welcome back to the main show: food.

Today I’ve got something that will make you cringe and laugh and maybe feel ill. Five foods that are wrong on so many levels, but right on several other, more primal ones.

Anna tagged me for this meme (why does this word feel so new if it was coined in the year of my birth by the notorious Richard Dawkins?)
I’ll pass on this “unit of cultural information” by tagging
Philippa, and share my list with you.

1. Instant coffee

I’ll start with the #1 offender.

I realise I’ll get the least sympathy on this one. My husband, for one, has completely phased this out of my life, but I still miss it some days. The reason I love this goes WAY back. Back to summer holidays in Delhi when we were allowed one cold coffee at the end of a long day playing in the hot sun.

We spent most summers at Vijay-Uncle and Phool-aunty’s house in Bharti Nagar (walking distance of our beloved Khan Market). I don’t remember being indoors much – we spent most days playing outside, and making hot, sweaty messes of ourselves. And even though I wasn’t big enough or fast enough to make much of a mark in the games outside with my older cousins, I still earned my cold coffee when I came indoors, just like everyone else. I loved the democratic ‘all children were equal’ philosophy of my uncle and aunt, which went well beyond the cold coffee and always made us feel like we had an extra set of parents. Of course, that also meant that we were fair game for the disciplining and rules that their own children had to follow, but that was a small price to pay for being held so dear.

And the cold coffee! Cold milk, sugar and Nescafe shaken up until it frothed and foamed. I cannot describe how amazing this was. Even more so when you consider all we were allowed to drink at home was Bournvita
, a disgustingly nutritious concoction that we loathed and was always served HOT (don’t be fooled by Cadbury’s marketing – this stuff is nasty).

Coming into the cool, dark living room after being out in the Delhi sun all day, and drinking this cold, sweet drink – that’s what life was all about!

Now, I may not have convinced you yet, and that’s probably for the best. But I will tell you that my study-abroad friends in London teased me about it no end and then started drinking it every day. Right, Steph? (She christened it the 'ultra latte'.) And my roommate in Boston, the infamous N in Knyler was an early adopter too.

Don’t knock it till you try it (and wait until it’s a hot summer day before you come asking for your money back)!

Monday, October 22, 2007

LIFW - 3

These beautiful jackets from Vikram Phadnis cheered me up about Fashion Week.

(click on photos for larger images)

And these Nimita Rathod numbers with the bubbly/compressed cardboard texture were fun too.

Don't you wish she'd worn something a little more exciting herself?

(pics courtesy

Friday, October 19, 2007

LIFW - 2

Now, there is only one designer who can bring me to tears with the sheer beauty and originality of his creations, and he was not part of Lakme Fashion Week.

One of his Fall 2007 ready-to-wear gems, courtesy of

Which is why I find this Indian Fashion week design so disappointing.

Why? Why? Why? I am at a loss to explain this too-faithful imitation.
If this was the Indian equivalent of Zara or TopShop, I wouldn't be as disturbed. But as a designer showing at Fashion Week, I would hope you'd set the bar a bit higher. Even if your audience doesn't notice the lack of imagination (or doesn't care even if they do), don't you owe it to yourself and all artists to make something more than a poor woman's Dior?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Lakme India Fashion Week is in full swing in Bombay.

From what I've seen so far, there have been more misses than hits, like these disasters below:

But to be fair, people like Sabyasachi

and Narendra Kumar never disappoint.

(even if NK sometimes looks a bit derivative... Alberta Feretti and Dior anyone?)

More hits and misses to come.
(Pics courtesy,, - bear with me if some of these are from April's show - the picture sources aren't always the most scrupulous with dates).

Monday, October 8, 2007

A photographer's eye

Here I am cooking an Indian dinner for a few friends. This is such a routine event that that I won't blame you for not being excited. Except, this time it was different because we had a photographer in our midst, and the food quite honestly started to resemble a work of art.

You'll have noticed already that these photos are SO much better than my own, and it's because Philippa was among our diners. She can make a set of plastic fake-creamer thingies look like an award-winning composition, so I'll take no credit for the food looking good here.

Recipes for shrimp and gobi aloo coming up, along with reports of the 5 foods I hate to love thanks to Anna.

I'll leave you with this mouth-watering and hip-expanding snack that Michael fried up (artichokes, cheese and prosciutto).

Obscenely good.

Monday, September 24, 2007

One of the reasons books are taking so long these days

There's been a magazine explosion at our house.

Here's a lovely interior from the new Elle Decor.

I did manage to finish Gilead and Harry Potter number 4. A strange combination, but each compelling and brilliant in its own right.

Now onto some career-rethinking and food related reading.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beet anniversary

I know I said this blog is about bloomers (mad old school days) and buns (the accompanying tiffin lunches), but I warn you it is now heading straight down the road into multipurpose-online-diary-notebook mess.

Still here? Bored, aren't we?!

It's been hard to miss the 50th anniversary of On The Road, Jack Kerouac's masterpiece that I never read. I'm still stuck in Harry Potter number 4, so beet salad is my tribute to the occasion.

Kanchan came over the other day and we had beets and a fish tagine (made in the fantastic apple green tagine she and her man gifted us). Fish tagine recipe to follow.

The beet salad is so simple; there's clearly no need for a recipe.
Oven roasted beets, goat cheese, oil, vinegar and walnuts (I toast all nuts before chucking them into salads, hence the charred situation above).

Interestingly, Jack Kerouac was one of the acclaimed authors that Knopf rejected.

At least he didn't get sent this beauty:
“Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don’t think it’s worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bloomers and buns!? Ooh that does sound naughty!

Thanks to, my cherished lush-ious friends, for posting a link on their site (which btw is teetering over the Unconstitutional edge and will fall into Illegal any minute now).

People wandering over from there may be confused by the lack of fabulous party news and views on this blog.

I apologise for misleading you with the title - this blog is not as saucy as it sounds.
Mostly musings on my ridiculous (but not in a Knyler sense) school days and food in India, and anything else that strikes my promiscous fancy, like this gigantic blooming hibiscus in our front porch :P

You'll have to get your outrageous stories here.
Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Occupied: work, Vegas, you know how it is.

Buried under a pile of papers at work at the moment, and off to Vegas in a couple of days.

Will get back to cooking and writing next week.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this fun list I came across
here which was originally from Lulu's vintage.

10 Good Reasons to Choose Vintage Gifts

10. It is the ultimate eco-gift! No landfill packaging. No new use of resources or labor.
9. Craftsmanship. Vintage items were made out of high quality materials and feature unique design details.
8. History. You are buying an item that has proved to be fashionable throughout history.
7. History (part 2). It is fun to own something vintage and think of how a person from a whole other generation appreciated it as well.
6. Uniqueness. No chance of hitting the streets with a new scarf only to see three other people with the same one!
5. Supporting a small business. Instead of lining the pockets of big box stores, you can support an independent business owner.
4. Authenticity. Why buy rip-offs of old designs, when you can get the original.
3. Authenticity (part 2). Why buy something that has been "distressed" to look old when you can get something that has genuine patina.
2. Save some cash. Vintage items are often times much less expensive than new.
1. Don't participate in the mad rush to the mall. Vintage is easy to find off the beaten path.

And while I rarely gift vintage items, my family will be horrified to learn about me wearing old jewellery and clothes (and yes, even shoes!) that I didn't inherit from them, but I do love all things vintage!

My friend Elizabeth has a
lovely website selling unique vintage stuff. (Have a look - she cycles through stuff quickly so check back if there's nothing listed).

More from me next week!

(picture credit:; hopefully I'll have my own next week!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kheema (the real deal)

Now, back to food.

My family and I were always part-time meat eaters.
The pattern of meat consumption in our household was sporadic: meat was only prepared 1-3 times a week and was, therefore, a huge TREAT. Meat was served at parties, which usually happened at least once a week, and on another couple of nights depending on how bored we were with the usual ‘ghar-ka-khana’. Almost all the favourites that my brother and I lusted after were “non-veg” (as we like to call it in India). Meat also never made it into our school lunchboxes.

All this led to the rise of the “tastes better than meat” myth that my parents propagated regarding certain veg items. (I say parents, but in all honesty, it was mostly my Dad who presented us with these wild exaggerations of the power of vegetarian dishes that were doctored up with spices usually reserved for meat.) I’ll mention the top ranked offender here, and discuss the rest of these items another time – I think the thought of too many of these dishes at once would overwhelm me.

So, the ultimate outrage was when this “better than meat” myth was applied to the bizarre and inexplicable item: Nutri nuggets. Now these strange, spongy, soy based things were either cubed or minced, (the mince being only very slightly superior), and then cooked up like kheema (a most delicious minced meat dish that tastes nothing like this soy situation). This nutri nugget version frequently turned up in my lunchbox, and I can’t say I remember ANY of my friends being willing to trade on those days.

So I’ll spare you that too, and pass on a recipe for the real thing – kheema – but now you know that you can modify it as you please with any number of vegetarian options and obtain the “tastes better than meat” flavour that my Dad raved about.

This recipe is adapted from one by the amazing Madhur Jaffrey, and is very easy and quick. (It's usually wetter than in this image, but that's your personal preference too).

Kheema (30-45min)

1.5 lb minced meat (I often use turkey, but lamb or beef are richer and more authentic)
Green peas (frozen ones are what I usually use – these are added to taste, 6-7 oz)
1-2 onions (finely chopped)
6-7 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1-2 inch cube ginger (grated or shredded)
Cilantro/ coriander (fresh leaves and dried powder both)
Seasonings to taste (salt, pepper, cumin and garam masala)
1-2 Green chilies (depending on how hot you like it)
Lemon or lime juice (this is critical in my opinion or the dish tastes too meaty and will need heaps of garam masala)

1. Fry onions in medium-hot oil until lightly browned. Add garlic, fry for 1 min.
2. Add the minced meat, ginger, green chilies, dry cilantro powder, cumin.
3. Stir and fry mixture for 5 min, breaking up lumps, add some water to the mix (meat should all be covered in water, no more).
4. Cover the dish and heat on low for 20-30 min until it’s thoroughly cooked and has absorbed the flavours of the masala.
5. Add peas, fresh cilantro, lemon juice, garam masala, and salt to taste.
6. Cook until peas are ready.
7. Taste the mix and add more lemon juice or garam masala depending on your taste.

Serve with rice or parathas : )

Another kheema recipe coming with (with tamaatar as per Priya's request)

P.S. My issues with nutrinuggets seem validated when one of the first things that pops up in a google search about them is a way to make bacterial culture media from nutrinuggets - ew

Friday, August 17, 2007

Shout Out..

to all my school friends out there!

The class of 1992 has re-surfaced and it's great to be back in touch with you all.
I dedicate this photo to you : )

If you're ever in Boston, do get in touch. It would be great to meet over a coffee (or a martini) and laugh about our military-style bloomer checks!

Hugs to you all, N

P.S. I found this sweet bloomer pic here which I came across at this wonderful craft blog the dotted line.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lives of Others...

Saddened by the news that the German actor Ulrich Muehe who played the Stasi agent in Lives of Others recently passed away.

His was one of the most touching performances I've seen in the cinema. I'm sorry that he is no more.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Baingan bharta

Eggplant in any form, particularly prepared as bharta, is something most children loathe. I loathed it. My brother (who will eat anything) loathed it. Even my school bloomer pal Priya (who ate cabbage) loathed it. There was absolutely no question of trading it when it turned up like a nasty surprise in my lunchbox. Eat it I must and eat it I did but only because I worried about the questions the not-empty dabba would raise when I returned home.
I’m not sure if it was the smooth, soft texture, the brown colour, the strange seeds within it, or the unusual taste, but I think they all combined to make a singularly unappealing presentation to anyone under the age of… oh I don’t know….75? To make matters worse, my father would joke about its name “Bay-goon” (which means ‘totally and absolutely lacking value’ in Hindi) and he’d claim it had no nutritional value whatsoever.

I know that following such an introduction with a recipe for bharta may seem slightly foolish. But I include it because my feelings toward this dish, and eggplant in general, have undergone a complete transformation. Our relationship has moved well beyond this youthful hatred to a newfound love and respect. I can’t pinpoint the date, but somewhere beyond school and maybe even college, bharta began to look extremely tempting. Gone were the nitpicky observations about its plain-Jane appearance and strange consistency. I couldn’t get enough of it! I even started eating it with rotis, the way my family does, instead of my favourite rice.

Now the smokiness of the roasted eggplant, the spiciness of the garnish and the fresh taste of the green peas make it one of my favourite ghar-ka-khana dishes. And although I hear my Dad’s voice chanting Bay-goon whenever I look at an eggplant, I smile and persevere in buying and cooking it because it has a flavour that I now love and will always associate with home.

Here's how it's done (or so I've been told):

This recipe for a simple, Punjabi-style Baingan Bharta was sent to me by Darshan-aunty, who is my sister-in-law’s mother. Unlike most aunties who simply inquire about my cooking skills and the ability to feed my husband, Darshan-aunty, in the action-oriented way that she approaches many things in life, kindly sent me the recipe. This is a simple and effective recipe and can be modified easily. It turns out exactly the way I like it and can be prepared within the same hour that you’re cooking a couple of other items, like rice and dal.

Baingan Bharta:
(45min – beware my estimates for everything are not to be taken literally – but that is roughly how long it takes me, while cooking other items)

1 large eggplant
green peas (frozen ones are what I usually use)
1 onion
1-2 tomatoes (if you prefer, use 1 can of chopped tomatoes, or even omit them)
Cilantro (fresh leaves and dried powder both)
Seasonings to taste (salt, pepper, optional - red chili powder)
Green chilies (optional)

1. Cut the end of the eggplant, slice it lengthwise and place face down in a roasting pan. Roast at 350F for 20min (15-30 min- approx until the skin starts to blacken). (In India this is usually done over an open flame, but I’m too timid to venture there.)
2. While eggplants roasts, chop the onion and tomatoes (dice)
3. Heat some oil in a wok or pan, fry onions first until rosy
4. Then add tomatoes and cook the mixture until eggplant is ready (anywhere from 5-20 min works)

5. Add seasoning, green chilies, and cilantro (both) to onion-tomato mix – lower heat
6. Once eggplant skin has blackened a bit, remove from roasting pan – let it cool to room temp
7. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and add it to the pan with onion-tomato mix
8. Cook until the flesh softens and you can break it up in the pan with a wooden spoon and mix it into the onion-tomato mix.
9. Once it’s all mixed, it’s ready – you can add a squirt of lime or lemon and some fresh cilantro to garnish before serving. Yum!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Why Bloomers and Buns!?

Many of my closest friends and I attended the same school in India from the age of 4 to 15. Every single school day, year after year, from kindergarten to high school, I spent all day with the same girls. This level of continuity is astounding to many people (including my adult self), but we didn’t think much of it at the time. In fact, we didn’t stop to consider most things in our daily routine, same as most children everywhere.

As we got older (beyond the 5th grade), the strangeness and hilarity of our school experience became more and more apparent.

Here’s one example:
Our school was run by Jesuit nuns, but the student body was no more than 10% Christian. This led to such absurdities as mandatory praying for all students (Christian, yes, but also the Hindu, Muslim, atheist and Parsi students who made up our mixed classrooms). We recited the “Our Father” prayer every school day (not only in the morning, but also in the evening, just in case He hadn’t heard us all belting it out the first time).

Another classic requirement was that all students were clad in bloomers. Yep, bloomers. I know I need a photograph of these underthings because many people associate them with an extinct Victorian tradition, but believe me, they are thriving in convent schools in India.

So this brings me to…Bloomers and Buns ...NUNS!

I know this is a somewhat cryptic title, especially for a blog which is, for the most part, about home-cooked Indian food. Here I must acknowledge the contribution of my Brit cousins who introduced me (a bit late in the day) to the wonderful world of cockney rhyming slang.

So..bloomers, buns, nuns: all fantastic reminders of my school days which cover the two main subjects of the blog, home-cooked meals in a lunch box (dabba) we had at school, and memories of our crazy school days.

There are probably millions of women educated in India who had some variation of this strange and wonderful school experience.
Feel free to get in touch, share a recipe or story, correct me if you remember it differently, and enjoy!

Why the blog?

I started this blog to record recipes from my childhood – mostly home-cooked Punjabi food delivered to school in a 3-tier steel lunchbox. Our dabba-wala would bring our lunches from each of our homes on his bicycle and then take the empty boxes back every afternoon. An amazing luxury, but schools didn’t provide lunch, most households had either a parent or cook who stayed home, and it was considered healthier and cheaper to send children home-cooked lunches.

As an adult now living in the U.S., I cook several times a week, and started collecting recipes from family and friends (it’s rarely a convenient time to call India while in the midst of a dinner disaster here in Boston!).

I decided to start a blog to share these recipes with people who enjoy home-cooked Indian food. My memories of these school lunchboxes are mostly of food I’d find in my own, but we routinely traded lunch items, and some of these recipes have been contributed by my dear friends from school. Most of them are easy (if I can make them, so can you!), and not all of them are Indian (my French husband and life in Boston have greatly influenced what I eat), and I hope my photos will improve with time.