Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I love being on holiday. I get to play with my food!

For lunch today, I made a rice noodle salad, inspired from a Chinese summer salad I once had. Spring is very much here, and I felt sleepy just thinking about how hot it's going to get by the summer.

Pink noodles to the rescue!

The recipe is pretty simple, perfect for a quick summer lunch when you're too feeling lazy to cook any real food. And it's vegetarian. And vegan. And gluten-free! Here goes:

1. Boil two bunches (160 g) of rice noodles and drain them. (I used the Japanese kind because we had them lying around and they are just mmm, but you can use vermicelli or whatever you want. I will just say, though, that ordinary yellow noodles won't do the trick here. They're too eggy and have too much flavour of their own. Use rice-based noodles! And drain them!) 
2. Julienne or finely slice or grate: two nice carrots, a cucumber, a (ready) beetroot if you have one, a quarter of a raw papaya if you have one, and a tomato, if you feel fancy enough. Basically, any watery, mildly-flavoured vegetable you don't mind eating raw. 
3. In a pan, quickly stir-fry one tablespoon worth of itsy-bitsy chopped garlic and a chilli in sesame or peanut oil till the garlic starts to go clear. Take out the chilli at this point, if you don't like it hot. 
4. In a small bowl, mix: the juice of two lemons, two teaspoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon ground roasted sesame seeds or tahini, and on afterthought, a teeny tiny bit of chilli, fresh or flaked. Stir this like crazy till it forms a smooth paste. Pour in the garlic and its oil and mix again. 
5. In the largest salad bowl you have, toss the noodles with the sesame/lemon paste you just made, and throw in the finely chopped vegetables. Season it as you like with salt, roasted peanuts, teriyaki sauce (yes, I did that), chillies or pickled ginger water. 
6. Eat! 
(Makes lots. Enough for a meal for 2-3, or just salad for 4-6)

PS: You'll see I mention lots of substitutes. That's because I'm sort of a throw-it-in-as-you-go kind of cook, and I think cooking should be tailored to your tastes, since you'll be the one eating it! So use what you have on hand, in the quantities you wish to use. Seriously.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

You absolutely must watch the movie.

And listen to Heroes by David Bowie.

(Also, this and this.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Fair Weekend (aka I Was a Minor Child Celebrity)

I spent last weekend with my three loves. My mother, a zoom lens and lots of sunshine. What a beautiful way to spend a weekend!

On Saturday, we went to the Australian High Commission's spring fair, which was a lot of sparkle and shine, and where we picked up some wonderful homemade strawberry jam.

Check out the detailing on the salt and pepper shakers!

We found this butterfly at the Surajkund Crafts Mela, where we went on Sunday. Decades ago, my grandfather, then working for the Government of India, envisioned this annual confluence of craftsmen from all over India and brought it to fruition. He had a few basic ideas: there would be a theme state each year in whose honour a gate would be permanently erected. And each crafstman could come once and once only, so that the craft would continue to be represented without monopolising or overrunning the market. Today, these ideas are at the core of Crafts Mela's unique pull, and it is the largest fair of its kind in the country. I am more than proud of him.

But that's not how I remember the Surajkund Mela. To me, it is the place I was - for two days - a minor celebrity. At the opening ceremony of the mela when I was all of two and a half years old, I fell into the hotel pool. My entire (extended) family had let me out of their sight for an instant, and I used my precious freedom to walk straight into the inviting azure of the pool. Needless to say, I didn't know how to swim then. All I remember is the feeling of flailing in slow-motion in one corner of the pool, and dancing witches in pointy black hats at the other end. Someone pulled me out, and I don't ever remember being free from the eyes and ties of family ever since.

The next day wasn't quite as bad. Apparently, I just wandered off on my own, giving everyone their second panic attack in as many days and finding my way to an announcement booth, where the nice lady made an announcement and everyone found me again. I was the most wanted child there that year, and though family outings are still very much the same (with me slipping off to take a picture or three), we have mobile phones now.

(Strangely enough, as we were leaving on Sunday, the PA system piped up: "The parents of Manya, please come to the announcement booth. She is two and a half years old and has just gotten lost. The parents of Manya..."

I swear, my parents paled a bit when they heard that.)

Moving on, though. While this is an exhibition of the entire country's handicrafts, my favourite pavilion was by far the international one. It displayed some of the prettiest craft forms of the world. See for example, the thread-perfect needlework of these Pakistani hand-embroidered cases and covers on the left. Or the careful symmetry of the thin bronze sheets used in Egyptian lamps.

(Click the pictures to enlarge!)

Did I say the handicrafts had my attention? Well, that was before I saw this lady from Turkmenistan. Now, if you were to put me up on display for fourteen days, I would be pretty grumpy by the end of it, or even by the end of the first day. But despite the countless number of photos she must have posed for, this woman's smile felt so genuine, you couldn't imagine her being anything but happy to be there. I suppose if your job is just to come to India and smile at strangers for a bit, maybe it's not too bad.

[In the bottom right corner, you'll see some Turkmenistani dolls. They're tobacco-carriers made out of gourds (yes, really), and if you rattle them, you can hear the seeds inside.]

After a brief tour with enough pauses to nibble, window-shop and click pictures of beautiful women, we were whisked towards the amphitheatre, where some of the happiest and most colourful people we'd seen all morning came on, a string of rhythmic rivulets.

These kids from Namibia did a dance to show us what they meant by 'community'.

Each girl and boy in a circle took turns to come to the centre and tap dance to their own rhythm, and everyone on the outside had to pick up on this rhythm and clap along with it. If you looked carefully enough, you could tell when the person was slowing down, pacing up, or changing the time signature completely, and change your clapping pace accordingly. This way, each one of them got their own space and time to shine. Each one got encouragement. And each one got to give it to everyone else.

To me, this seems a beautiful way to express what it really means to be in a community. You are surrounded by a circle of people who both give you the space to dance to your own tune and by clapping alongside, inspire the courage in you to be your own person. Coming from a culture where individuality is traditionally suppressed (You want to be a writer, what!), it was so refreshingly heart-warming to see such a wholesome endorsement of each person's uniqueness and its contribution is to the community.

Did I say uniqueness? Check out this girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Then, this uncle came on and sang to us about being happy with whatever we had. Even if it was just a jute bag and a bunch of reeds like his own.

And then, oh my god, there were these dancers from Tajikistan. What can I possibly say?

And finally, these men monkeying around. Though they may look African -- save for the peacock feathers -- they're actually tribals from deep within the forests of Gujarat! Decades ago, their ancestors came over from Africa and settled here, though my dad was convinced we were joking when we told him that.

They entertained us for fifteen whole minutes. Kicking, pulling faces, breaking coconuts with their heads (yes, really). By the end of it, we were all ready to stick our butts out and be silly little frogs or kangaroos or whatever they were doing on stage.

After ALL this, I went to the Delhi Comic Con.

Since it was the last day, everything was either sold out or on its way, but there were still so many people there! I met a lot of old friends, and made some new ones. Like Poison Ivy here. (She still had her hair tied up and a ninjacket on at this point, obviously.)

Finally, I caught the sunset from behind some trees, and headed home.

What a weekend.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Tea and Thunderstorms (aka A Post About Friendship)

Kulhar Chai. Jaipur Lit Fest, 2013.

To me, tea is synonymous with friendship. Both exist in a myriad of forms and flavours, and each kind is perfect for a certain place and time. And both imbue you with that beautifully warming feeling that carries you through the darkest, coldest days of the year.

I've had tons of tea this winter, of course. But I've also had lots of time to connect with my friends. Some are newer than others, some wiser, and some mildly insane on their best days. But all of them are absolutely wonderful, and I am so glad to be in touch. To everyone I've met, Skyped with, written to, or had a long phone conversation with this past month: thank you for everything you bring to my life. I am so much happier, more sure of myself and on the way to better things only because of the endless and unconditional love, support, and enthusiasm you have given me. Even if you don't think you've helped or that it makes a difference that you've said hello to me... it does. I've been figuring a lot of things out for myself in terms of future goals and self-worth and other scary-sounding things recently, but to have you in my life -- especially this month -- has given me the courage to step forward and the conviction to be happy.

In that respect, it is fitting that this picture of tea was taken at the Jaipur Lit Fest last weekend. I met so many old friends there, and was overwhelmed by the amount of people I knew, and what I knew them for!

But those are stories for another day. Some time when we have a warm cuppa and some biscotti between us.