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?"

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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 recent Big News (!!)


Yes, this happened :) 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.

...

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Know you

I notice how the rhythm of this blog keeps changing as my life does. Now that I'm trying to edge a bit more time towards my fiction, while trying to work and live a life and get silly with Chotto-ma, I find less time to write to you. Okay, ramble to you. I miss that. (You better miss it too!)

Blogs have their limitations, don't they? You get to know me better than I do you. But, if you've been on any length of this journey with me, it'd be nice to change that.

I closed the Peppercorns Facebook page a couple of years ago. But my personal Facebook is there, and these days it seems easier to connect with people there, in little bursts, when I don't quite find the time to write longer posts. So if you've been reading what I write, and following this blog, please come along and find me on Facebook if you're on it. It's where I share bits of goings-on, in a fairly selfie-free, non-opinionated space. Haha. (No, really.)

Of course, you can add me as a friend, or click 'Follow', depending on the boundaries of your privacy. But hopefully, it'll let me get to know you outside of this blog, where it's me doing most of the talking!

Also: We just got back from Paris, and since I haven't had the time to sit down and put Paris into words, I'm doing Paris in photographs on FB in small daily doses.

You'll find it, and me, linked here.

Come say 'hi'!


Sending you crunchy autumn leaves and hugs,
Pia







Sunday, 16 October 2016

Wildling

One day, after an early morning walk by the river, I came back home with this photograph, and the unexpected urge to write a poem. I did write the poem, and today, it was published by Strands Publishers, making my grey and wet Sunday feel all bright and sunny. It's incidentally my first publication in India, which makes it even more special.

The poem is called 'Wildling', and it's there below the two feisty swans, and online at http://strandspublishers.weebly.com/lit-sphere/wildling

I hope you enjoy it, this piece of my river.


Wildling


Morning has broken
                 
open, bleeding into the river.

The streetlamps are still on.

Two swans float up in unhurried hunger

for bread I do not have.

Twenty-two huddle farther up the river

asleep, their necks wrung

into their wings. A lull

of white feathers on which water does not stick.

Their river is always dry.

It is land.



My river runs by me

reflecting runners, dreams and detritus.

A life of moorings and unmoorings,

a mirror of semi-truths -

where the light of a dog-pissed streetlamp

looks like flecks of real gold.

I stand still, very still. Watching

my body ripple and quiver like a wildling.

A swan passes by and I shatter into pixels.

But I can wait, I have nowhere I need to be.

The waters will calm, I will patch together again.




...





(Please feel free to share the link on social media, or just with the person sitting next to you - Strands is a wonderful independent publisher, and really deserves the support.)

Friday, 7 October 2016

Eight

To Chotto-ma:

You turned eight today. So I'm sitting here trying to draw you a phoenix because I know it'll make you squeal with joy.

As you grow older, I find myself less willing to write about you. Not about the books you love and the rocks you collect, but about the person you are. Your thoughts, your heart, the way you look at the world - the things that really matter, the things that make you the very unique eight-year-old you are. So if you're reading the blog some day, when you're as old as me, and see the silences here, know that I'm keeping you to myself. I'm keeping you to yourself.

When we decide to leave our phones and cameras at home for the day, and then suddenly find ourselves living a moment - like you picking wildflowers in the sunset - and I wish I could take a photograph, you remind me of what I'd once told you, "Ma, we can take a photo with our memory."

So that's what we're doing, Ba and I. We're taking photos in the privacy of our memories. And telling you, every day, with words and squishes and the occasional phoenix, how much we love you.

You make us believe in magic.