Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Dominoes

Hello, hello, ye all who're still here!

Our summer is busier, buzzier that usual this year. My parents are here, and we've been traveling around Europe with them, and my brother. And Chotto-ma has been sandwiched between all the people she loves to be sandwiched between.

Summer is looking busier on the writing front too. I've just had a story called 'DOMINOES' published in the fabulous Lunch Ticket, a journal from Antioch University, Los Angeles. And there are couple of more stories slotted for publication soon.

If you're not on my Facebook, and missed my post about 'DOMINOES', do pop in and say 'hi'. I'd love to hear from you: https://www.facebook.com/pia.ghoshroy

Or you can read the story here: http://lunchticket.org/dominoes/


Love,
P

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Make Hay

They said it was going to be sunny and warm - in April that's not to be taken lightly in this country. So on Friday, we looked up some bed-and-breakfasts, found one we liked and packed a couple of small backpacks. Early on Saturday morning, we headed northwards to Wales. 

Hay-on-Wye is a small town on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It's also known as The Town of Books, and is a place I'd wanted to visit even before we'd thought of moving to the UK. Much before I started writing fiction, or knew I’d write fiction. I wanted to come here not for the love of writing or for its famous literary festival, but simply for the books. Because the thought of a hilly little Welsh village where the streets were lined with bookshelves made me go a bit mad. Shelves of books, on the street?!



I first read about it years ago, while sitting at the ad agency where I worked in Bombay. There was an article about Hay and the annual throng of authors who flew into this speck of a place from all over the world. And about Bill Clinton (I think) calling it ‘The Woodstock of the mind’. And about Richard Booth, the man who once upon a time declared himself ‘King of Hay’ and set about putting this dot of a village on the world literary map. 

We spent hours in Richard Booth’s Bookshop the day we reached Hay. Two massive floors, and endless aisles, of books. Secondhand books and mint new books mixed together, and huge armchairs in which to read them. We walked out of the bookshop only to walk into another, and then yet another. Because the whole town is like a giant open-air library. Bookshops at every turn. And cafes. More cafes than there are streets. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is pretty much everything a town needs. Books and coffee. 

In between all the books and the many cups of coffee, we did a few other things. We hiked up the hills of Brecon and drank from mountain streams and talked to horses. At night, after dinner, we walked back to our B&B through dark fields and over little bridges curving across streams. Everything lit only by moonlight, and echoing with hoots and howls. It was thrilling. Eerie and beautiful.


We left Hay yesterday and drove back to Cambridge with our head still full of hills, and our car stacked high with books. I’ll have to share the books with you. Once I’ve unpacked, you’ll find them in the usual places: #booksonthetiledtable on my Facebook and Instagram. I'll share more photos from our trip too.

See you there :)

Love,
P xx


PS: Places to Eat & Drink in Hay - thought it might be handy to mention a few of our favourite cafes and restaurants in the town.



The Old Electric Shop - cakes and coffee in a large warehouse-y space selling everything from candles to vintage clothes.





Tomatitos - for really good tapas, and a very relaxed, friendly space.



Beer Revolution - Cuban sandwiches, pizza and an endless choice of beers.


The River Cafe - great food, with or without the canoes they hire out. A location you can't beat. A menu full of fabulous flavours.








Thursday, 9 February 2017

Mature



A few days ago, Chotto-ma and I were talking about stuff like we do, and I said something about a person being 'mature'. We might've been talking about girls traveling solo, I forget. The only thing I remember is her question:

"Ma, I know mature cheese. But what's a mature person?"

---

So, yes, we definitely got the right baby back from hospital! Also right - in a perfectly corny kind of way - is that the conversation should occur on the day I was writing this post for Baked Sandesh, which involves cheese, and I needed some anecdotal serendipity. Or is it 'serendipitous anecdote'? I don't know, both are a mouthful.

For better mouthfuls, I suggest following recipe below.



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Baked Sandesh

Chotto-ma and I baked together last afternoon. (She did all the mixing and baking - it's that easy - while I took the photographs.)

I'd shared the recipe on Facebook a while back, but I've tweaked it since. It's better in balance and texture now, and still takes all of 10 minutes to prepare.




Ingredients

500 gms ricotta (if no ricotta, homemade chhana is perfect - recipe here, from an earlier post)
1/2 cup ground almonds / almond flour
Can of condensed milk
2 pods of cardamom
2 tbsps soured cream or creme fraiche
A pinch of saffron strands
1/3 cup milk
Pistachios or almonds, coarsely chopped



In a bowl, mix ricotta, ground almonds, soured cream, and 4 tbsps of condensed milk to start with. Taste. Add more condensed, till you have the sweetness you want. 

Take cardamom seeds out of one pod, and crush to powder. Mix into ricotta. 

Put mix into baking dish. A medium-sized dish, so the mix is not too thinly spread. (Should be about 2 inches thick.) Pat even. 

Warm a bit of milk, and stir a few saffron strands in. Spoon this over the ricotta, sprinkle with chopped pistachios or almonds, and bake in oven at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes or till lightly browned.

It might be wobbly when you take it out, but will set as it cools. Serve slightly warm, or at room-temperature.

 Enjoy!








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PS. If you don't follow my Facebook goings-on, and missed the big news (!!) click here.


You can read my Facebook post with the judge's comment, which is gloriously generous, here.

Love,

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Tuscan Tables

Our end-of-the-year was going to be nothing much. We were expecting to be at home looking out at fairly grey weather through Christmas and New Year's Day. But my friend Katja Meier who’s a bit of a magician (apart from being a wonderful writer and storyteller, an olive grower, a mother...and just a beautiful person!) waved her magic wand, and whisked us to the Tuscan hills.




Well, she asked if we’d like to stay in a house that sat in the middle of a vineyard overlooking a valley in the little village of Cinigiano. (What?) The house belonged to Katja’s friends, and we  could have it to ourselves for the holidays in exchange for looking after their dog and cat while their owners visited family in Naples during the holidays. 'What?' - this time from Chotto-ma, who would pay to look after pets.

This was as good as magic.

So we packed our bags and flew to Perugia, from where we drove to Cinigiano. Katja, who did not trust the car’s navigator to find the house (and quite rightly so!) met us at the village square to guide us there. She didn’t just guide us there, but thinking of every little detail, armed us with a big bag of groceries to see us though the first few meals.


...





The Place

We caught our first glimpse of the house as our car curved down towards its cypress-lined graveled driveway. To grab at cliches, it was a postcard of Tuscany come to life, only better. The row of cypress led us to a beautiful stone house that sits on top of a hill, looking down on a valley where the sun sets. The sun was setting when we arrived, and in all our travels, we have never seen the sun set as it did here. It was operatic, a fiery theatre of colour. We stood in awe till the chill of the evening air walked us inside. In the house, the fire was lit, there was a  bottle of wine and a note to welcome us in, and Chotto-ma was given a very excited greeting by Tobia the dog and Titiana the cat.







The note was from the very generous Basile family (Giovan Battiste, his wife Illaria and their two boys) who’d left us their beautiful family-home to end the year in, and the wine was from the Basile vineyard, which we could see rolling down in acres from the glass-covered walls of the living-room.


The Time

The days that followed were many hills away from ordinary. We watched the clouds come down to cover the valley below us every morning, and the stars - a chaos of stars - blanket the sky every night. We spent the occasional afternoon strolling around Cinigiano, excited by its hidden alleys, old doors, and the shelves of its local alimentari.



We took Tobia for walks, with Titiana following behind. D and Chotto-ma brought in firewood every morning to get the fire started and warm the house. We spent time with friends - in the village bar, on the beach, in their warm, big-hearted homes.





The People

It’s always the people that make a place and time special.

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t I know that it would bring many wonderful friendships my way. Words can connect people separated by geography, and forge a map of its very own. So that when you finally meet and sit around a table and share food and thoughts, you feel you’ve known each other a long time. Katja, is one such person. She’s the author of the soon-to-be-out ‘Across the Big Blue Sea', a candid and thought-provoking memoir about her work in an Italian refugee home for Nigerian women. It's a book about a large and difficult issue, but woven with her wonderful sense of humour. I had the privilege of reading the manuscript sometime last year, and discovering a very different side to Tuscany, a more complex side that the silent rolling countryside of postcards speak nothing of. And this time I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with the person behind the book, and our families had the chance to get to know each other over raclette dinners in Katja's beautiful home and chats in their olive grove.



During our stay in Tuscany, I also had the pleasure of spending time with Raffaella Cova, who some of you may know as the lady behind ‘Lunch with Raffaella’. Like me, she spent many years in advertising, before moving on to explore other things. In her case, food and cooking. And cooking in a house that is right out of a fairytale - a wonky old stone-cottage that sits on the edge of a forest inhabited by foxes, wild boars and bears. A house filled with paintings and books. And a wheelbarrow outside piled with wood and a roaring fire to grill meat on. We ate outside under a canopy of vines through which the sun streamed in.


So it wasn’t the grey December we’d been expecting to spend. Instead, we had Chotto-ma collecting shells on the beach in a pair of shorts, we had blue skies, and the warmth of good people.



My Indian Table in Tuscany

If you follow my goings-on in Facebook, you know about the Big Indian Dinner I cooked for a house full of Tuscan friends. It’s was a wonderful evening. And there’s nothing quite like introducing people to real Indian food, and wiping away every memory they had of over-spiced Chicken Masalas and flavourless vegetables, all covered in thick non-committal gravies. And there’s nothing like sharing in their pleasure of eating home-cooked Indian food, and their surprise that the natural flavour of ingredients are not smothered with every spice in the cupboard.



The menu that evening (which I also shared on Facebook) ended with a dessert that is the easiest, quickest Bengali sweet-dish that you can make - Baked Sandesh. A serving of this is always followed by friends asking for the recipe, so I thought I’d share it on the blog. However, in Tuscany, I forgot all about taking proper photos (except the one below), so I’ll post it as soon as I’ve cooked another batch in the coming week.


Till then, I'll leave you with the many Tuscan tables we started our year with :)

Love,
P



Sunday, 18 December 2016

Books On The Tiled Table #1

Our Christmas shopping is always simple. We gift each other books. We usually go to the local bookshop together, and choose for each other. We browse, discuss, eliminate, browse some more, till we have two books each. I usually have my books chosen (quietly in my head) well before we hit the shop, and am incredibly skilled at guiding D and Chotto-ma into picking those two very books for me. (It's a special power.)

So here's our Christmas reading-loot this year, picked up from here and there.

On the left is Chotto-ma's:
Unnatural Creatures - Stories selected by Neil Gaiman
The Diary of a Space Traveller & Other Stories by Satyajit Ray (we had to order this online)

The middle is mine:
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

And the last is D's (and what is his is mine, ha!):
Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole
The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino



Many of you who read the blog have asked me for book recommendations, so I thought I'd start 'Books On The Tiled Table', where I share what I'm reading. If you follow my Instagram, you'll know #onthetiledtable well. (Like a friend said, my table is a celebrity.) It's where everything, from a book to a cup of coffee, gets put down. So this is No. 1 of those posts. #booksonthetiledtable

I wish you all a very happy Christmas! Have a wonderful holiday with family and friends, with good food and much laughter, and books and warm blankets and mugs of hot chocolate. I'll see you back in a shiny new year. Till then, love and hugs!


Friday, 25 November 2016

The Art of Autumn



Autumn in Cambridge is like a Monet gone mad. Trees and earth and river move around you, and through you, in swirls. You walk into this breathing artwork every day. Nothing is static.


The leaves float down from tress brushing your arms, the river curves, light sieves in through cracks. The bird-man throws his grains in an arc making the gulls swoop down and up. A cocker spaniel runs after a ball. Next to you, moorhens plough ripples in the water. Cyclists peddle by.

And you walk on. You take everything in, you take nothing in.

...

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

A Postcard from Chotto-Ma

We have a ritual. Whenever we travel, we bring back a postcard on which the little girl writes a few words to go with the picture on the other side. Yesterday, I found the postcard we'd bought in Paris, and gave it to her. I asked her to go downstairs and write something while I finished some chores. It could be anything I said - a poem, a thought, a fact - but it had to fit into her postcard.

When I came back downstairs, she was standing there hiding the postcard behind her. She'd written a poem, she said, but that it wasn't any good. She stood there with all the doubts of anyone who'd ever written anything, and shut her eyes tight when I coaxed the postcard out of her fingers and began to read.

I'm sorry, but I'll have to make you read it too, and drag you through my proud-Ma moment. Because her words surprised me, and made me smile for the rest of the day, and made me squish her many times. Thinking that she'd written something lovely and yet stood there so unsure. That she'd chosen every word and every comma with such care. That there were marks where she'd rubbed out a sentence and replaced it with another. (Three times, she later told me.) And that she'd thought all this with her little 8-year-old head.



 ...
PS: November 20, 2016
This was accepted for publication by SmokeLong Quarterly, so we now have a little published writer in the house (!) http://www.smokelong.com/fridge-flash-a-fox-in-paris/