Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy day!

I am having a banner day today!

When I woke up I had emails from several friends, including, rather coincidentally, one that I had dreamed about the night before.

Also, I am doing no cooking or laundry today. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy cooking, even with my limited tools/cooking options in our apartment here, but still. An all day break is delightful! We won't discuss the laundry, which is never enjoyable (though the clean clothes/sheets/towels certainly are).

So the kids and I met Robert and a friend for lunch, which was delicious. We also saw the kids' favorite stray dog while we wereout, and, even more thrillingly, got mail! There was a stuffed bat from Bat Conservation International for Liel (she donated some of her Hanukkah money to them), and a package of DVDs for the kids from a friend of mine in Ohio. And she sent me a surprise skein of yarn, too! Really, the mail was full of win. As soon as we got home from lunch the kids watched one of their new movies, and I knitted on a sweater sleeve.

The sweater sleeve doesn't exactly count as what's awesome about today, but last night I finished the first sleeve on this cardigan and I'm quite pleased with the cuff design I chose. So I'm still glowing with that triumph as well.

Now the kids and I are about to have tea, and in a couple of hours Robert will come home with dosa. Our current dosa dinner order contains the following: plain dosa, onion dosa, set dosa, and masala dosa.   Oh wait, I am doing a little cooking today after all- just making some gingered green beans to go along with our pile of dosa. But it's so little I can hardly count that, plus the kids will want to help me prep the green beans, which is both helpful and cute. So more win!

Plus, a few weeks ago I downloaded the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes for my kindle, and have been slowing working my way through them. Robert and I are both huge fans of the BBC series Sherlock, and it had been years since I'd read any of the originals-- plus they were free. I'm really enjoying them! I like seeing how the ones that have been turned into TV episodes have been changed and modernized (I had no idea that A Study in Scarlet was full of anti-Mormon sentiment!), and it's fun to read ones I don't remember, or never read as well. I am perpetually amused by the casual way Holmes' cocaine use is narrated. It's rather shocking to the modern reader! My favorite bit so far is when, at the end of The Sign of the Four, Watson remarks that he has got a wife out of the case, and the police inspector got the acclaim. What remains for Holmes, he asks?

"'For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine-bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it."

Anyway, with a little luck we'll be heading to a temple we've never visited tomorrow, so stay tuned :)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Today in the shower I mentally compiled a small list of things I've noticed here that have reminded me that I'm not in Kansas (or, more accurately, New York) anymore.

The first was the shower (and now you can see how banal some of my post ideas are!). Our showers have no shower curtains, nor any place to hang one. They also have no meaningful separation between the shower area and the rest of the bathroom. The result of this is that any time one of us takes a shower the entire bathroom gets wet. The floor is a huge puddle, the toilet is wet, the walls are wet...and then they stay wet for several hours. It's annoying, because then if you go in the bathroom your feet get wet. And if you're clumsy, like me, walking with wet feet in your tiled apartment results in you falling and bruising your knees, ass, and dignity. So anyway, I started wondering today: do Indians (or other people who are used to this style of shower/bathroom arrangement) end up with soaking wet bathrooms every time they shower? Or do they learn to shower in a neater manner?

Thinking about showering and being neat and clean reminded me that I've never yet seen anyone here sweating. I mean, obviously (nearly) all people sweat, but even people doing manual labor, or the men walking around campus in wool sweaters and vests look dry as a bone. When I mentioned this to Robert he pointed out that it's winter here, and for those born and raised in this climate probably not really hot at all. He probably has a point, but I'm now convinced I'm the sweatiest woman on the IISc campus, largely by dint of being the only sweaty woman. And I'm not even particularly sweaty! But really, nothing says "attractive" like tall, tattooed and slightly sweaty, right?

Um, right? Never mind, don't answer that.

And finally, I bring you...well, I'm not even sure what to call it. The head bobble?

Virtually all Indians I've interacted with make this really interesting movement with their heads. I've never seen anything like it before, and I am totally unable to imitate it. It's sort of a cross between the way snake charmers move their heads in movies (the only place I've ever seen a snake charmer) and the head movement of a bobble head doll. I think it means something like "OK" or "I'm listening to you", but I'm not positive of that! The first person I saw do it was a waiter. We gave him our order and he bobbled his head and left. We had no idea what it meant- especially because to our eyes it looks more like "no" than "yes" (and not really much like either). Were we going to get what we ordered? We did, but that didn't really clear up my confusion about what exactly it was indicating. Especially because sometimes people I haven't even spoken to will bobble their heads at me! Often the guards at the gates to the institute will do so, for instance, when I nod my head or wave at them as the kids and I pass by. So I suppose it could also mean "I acknowledge your presence" as well. At any rate, it's yet another little mystery of India, and a daily reminder that I am getting to live in a country that is totally new to me, and that brings new information, surprises and questions every day :)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Republic Day

January 26 is Republic Day here in India. It commemorates the day in 1950 that the Indian constitution went into effect, and India officially became a republic. I didn't know this until today, when we went to lunch at Prakruthi and discovered this lovely shrine to the three men who played the most important roles in creating the moden nation of India: Nehru, Gandhi, and Ambedkar.

That's a flag pole in the middle there. I couldn't fit the flag and the shrine in the same frame! There was also a lovely India flag made of flowers on the ground in front of the shrine.

When we arrived at Prakruthi I was distracted and did not notice the shrine or flag right away. In fact, I only noticed them when I stepped on the flag. Yep. It was the most embarrassing thing I've done in the nearly two months we've been here! Thankfully the lunch crowd hand't arrived yet, and the only person who saw me was one of the dish collectors. They're never particularly cheerful or friendly, but I sure felt like he was giving me the evil eye! And I couldn't really blame him. I quickly pushed the out of place flowers back and slunk away.

The out of places leaves in the green stripe are totally not my fault though. A security guard stepped on the flag after I did, which made me feel slightly less idiotic. The rest of the time we were there I didn't see anyone else step on it, though I did see several small children carefully avoiding it. Yeah, I'm still pretty hangdog! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pictures from our week

Here are some pictures of the things we've been up to this week :)

I took an artistic picture of my fruit bowl, sitting on the otherwise useless induction cooker.

Zion noticed this cool black and white butterfly on campus.

We saw some "cows in outfits" (as the kids called them).

We went to a really exclusive park ;)

We had several lunches at our favorite (and always crowded) restaurant (spot Robert in the background!).

Liel finished Fluffy's new dress, and made her a necklace and a circlet besides.

And I finished this shawl, and took a blurry picture of it with my iPhone.

I hope your week was colorful and fantastic as well!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not me!

Yesterday the kids and I were playing cards when a noxious odor assailed me. "Ugh!", I gasped. "Who farted?"

"Not me!", said both kids, loudly, unconvincingly, and unsurprisingly.

"Well, one of you did", I said, trying to breath through my mouth. "Say excuse me!"

"It wasn't me!", Liel shouted indignantly as she ran out of the room. She wasn't running from the stench, though. She was running away so that she wouldn't have to face the possibility of saying "excuse me", something which she utterly detests. In fact, she hates it so much that she will often try to bargain with Zion, telling him that she'll say "excuse me" if he does, even when she is clearly the guilty party. Sometimes it even works.

In this case, however, I suspected Zion, and said so. Apparently that made it safe for Liel to come back, and she had something to say.

"Mommy", said she, staring at me with wide, serious eyes. "I know it was Zion who farted. And how I know that is because I've noticed that when I fart it makes a noise." She made a kind of duck bill shape with her hand and opened and closed it, glancing at me to see how this clearly novel information might affect my assessment of farting guilt. I was trying desperately not to laugh, and since I didn't trust myself to open my mouth I just pressed my lips together and nodded.

Liel took this for tacit approval. "It makes a noise, mommy. And since I didn't hear any noises", she concluded triumphantly, "I know it wasn't me!"

Zion, apparently realizing that he was caught in logic trap, grumbled a very grudging, "Excuse me", and, with the matter settled, I rushed off to giggle in the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was a kid I wanted to be an egyptologist. I was clearly a super geeky 8 year old, and had been reading about ancient Egypt and various early 20th century archeological expeditions that had taken place there and I was hooked. Of course I had no sense of how to actually go about becoming an egyptologist, and I don't recall ever asking anyone how I might do that. Eventually I settled on the ever so much more practical career path of Religious Studies ;) And thus ended my dreams of becoming an egyptologist.

My daughter, only slightly younger than I when I dreamed of reading hieroglyphics and digging up treasure in the desert, wants to work with bats. Specifically she wants care for and rehabilitate injured bats, and to work on eradicating major disease threats to bat populations, such as white-nose syndrome (which hopefully will have been dealt with by the time she's ready for such a career!). She plans to move to Austin, TX and work for Bat Conservation International.

Being the kind of parents who like to give advice whether our child has asked for it or not, Robert and I usually take the opportunity to discuss the kinds of schooling she might need if she wants to achieve her goal whenever the topic comes up.

So the other day, as we were walking down the main road on campus after lunch and Liel was declaring her intent to help bats, we talked about science education, bachelors degrees and masters degrees, biology and zoology, research specialities and sub-fields.

"When I grow up", Liel said, nodding, "I want to help save bats! So I will need to get a degree in biology or zoology-- whichever-- and a basket."

A basket?

Yes, a basket. So that she can safely transport injured baby bats. Naturally they'll be wrapped in blankets, like these guys.

She says she knows where she'll get the blankets from: I'll knit them. And she's pretty sure she'll be able to find a good basket when she needs one.

I know a lot may change for her in the next 15-20 years, but if my little bat goes to work in bat conservation someday, you better believe I'll be buying her a basket, knitting her blankets, and grinning like crazy. I know she probably won't need those things, but who can resist a girl who's career goals include baby bats and a basket??

Wild campus in the big city

Before we moved to Bangalore, people who had been here said, upon learning that we'd be living on the IISc campus, "Oh, it's a lovely campus! Very green and wild". That sounded pretty nice to me, but I wasn't really sure how wild a college campus in a city of nearly 7 million could be.

The answer, it turns out, is surprisingly so! First of all, the IISc campus actually has woods on it- green space accessible only by foot. These areas are truly lovely, and often remote enough from the world outside the walls that even the constant honking of car horns can't be heard, which makes them very peaceful as well.

The campus is also home to a huge number of different plants and animals. Since nearly all of them are unfamiliar to us, we bought two gorgeous books at the campus bookstore so that we could learn about the organisms that share this space with us.

The first book, Secret Lives, is about the animals on campus. If you've ever met my children or read my blog you'll know why we bought that one first! It was written by a woman who did her PhD here at IISc, and she took all the pictures (which are spectacular) as well. We learned that the birds we'd been seeing everywhere were black-tailed kites, that the monkeys on our road were bonneted macaques, that there were mongooses living at the air field, and many other things besides. We've been using Secret Lives as a kind of field guide to the campus as we tromp around looking for different animals.

The second book we just bought yesterday. We'd have bought it sooner, but as these books are so huge and full of amazing photographs they're a bit pricey, and we kept forgetting to bring enough cash when we were over by the bookstore. It's called Indian Institute of Science Campus: A Botanist's Delight, and I can tell it's going to be great for helping us learn to identify plants around here! We've already figured out what some of the ones we were most curious about are, and the kids love flipping through it and telling me where different plants are found, what family they belong to, when they flower, and if we'll be here when they do. They are going to be the backbone of our homeschooling science curriculum for the rest of the time we're here in India!

In addition to being fantastic science resources for us, the books have sparked the kids' imaginations as well.

For instance, there are some really beautiful flowers in the botany book called blood flowers. They're pretty cool looking-- like big pink puffballs-- and Zion was quite taken with them. The information section on them said that they grow at the Director's Bungalow.

We pass by the Director's Bungalow nearly every day. It is the only building we see regularly that is totally gated and has a guard to determine who is allowed entry. It also has has a "No horns" sign right outside it, which the kids approve of. In short, the Director's Bungalow is rather mysterious and interesting to them, and now they know it to be the one place on campus where blood flowers grow, which upped its cool factor even further. They wondered how the photographer got access to this gated fortress. Did he have permission to come on any time and take pictures? Or did he see the blood flowers, and ask to come in for that one event?

A little while after reading about the blood flowers Zion told me a story about a second, largely unseen, IISc that co-exists in the same space as the one that we live in. This other IISc is for animals. He tells me that the director of the animal IISc is barred forest owl, and lives in a bungalow in the best tree in the forst at Jubliee Park. All of the animals have jobs, and the animals with the most education, who are also  kind and hardworking, have the highest positions, such as director and registrar. There was a brief sibling squabble about bats, because Zion assigned them to be night path finders, which Liel felt was not a very important job. But she cheered up when the director invited a short nosed fruit bat and a yellow wattled lap wing to tea at his bungalow, which goes to show how much good will you can buy with some chai and a snack.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Kids' art

Yesterday Liel decided to draw me a picture of her and me as rotund bats. We are flying up in the air enjoying a snack of lemonade and ice cream that magically float in front of us, while below, two human helpers bring us more treats (the one fully in the picture has hot chocolate and cupcakes, while the one entering on the right has limeade). Man, wouldn't it be nice if you could have your food and drink float in front of you at just the right height?? I'm also particularly fond of the stars on the mother bat's tummy!

Not to be outdone, Zion drew me a picture as well. Anyone want to guess what this is a picture of?

I know I'm biased, but I think it's rather excellent!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Some things I learned this week

1. Capsicum masala is delicious.

2. Masala potato chips are not particularly delicious.

3. Knitting with laceweight silk yarn doesn't suck. At all.

4. Jubilee Park has lots of paths that lead to dead ends.

5. Even in India I sometimes need Robert to warm up my side of the bed before I get in it.

Baby, it's cold out there!

I'm a little hesitant to write this post, because as a southern Californian I know all about what it's like when people from colder climates scoff at your wimpy weather disposition. But I can't help it; I've never seen anything quite like the Bangalorean response to "cold"!

The weather in Bangalore is generally excellent. It's said to have some of the best weather in all of India, and is known as "India's air conditioner" because it is said that even in the summer it cools off enough at night that people here have to sleep with a blanket. I'm somewhat skeptical of this, but I'll report back in April and let you know!

Anyway, the weather while we've been here has been gorgeous. There have been a few slightly cooler days, it's true, but they were still warm enough that I, the consummate southern California girl, was comfortable in jeans, a t-shirt, and sandals. However, it's abundantly clear that even my definition of cold does not match that of Bangalore!

For instance, on the cooler days we see babies and toddlers bundled up in balaclavas, like this one that we saw having lunch at Prakruthi the other day.

The temperature that day was 80 degrees. We also saw several adults in earmuffs, though we were sadly unable to get a picture of that.

Today was another cool day, at 77 degrees, and apparently a temperature that low means bringing out the big guns. Prakruthi had placed several space heaters around the service stations to ensure that their staff were kept warm while they worked.

Another coolish day we saw an old man who had a scarf wrapped around his head and looked like he might be a sadhu (not because of the scarf of course, as that was presumably there to ward off the chill). "Namaste", he said, inclining his head at us.

Then his eyes fell on Liel and he smiled and reached out and touched her head. "Namaste, baby", he said, bending over her slightly and smiling even more. "Namaste baby!"

Friday, January 18, 2013


Yesterday both my sister in law and a friend posted a link to an article about the history of Caucasian women and tattoos on my Facebook wall. I was pleased that they thought of me when they read the article, but it was also somewhat bittersweet, because here in Bangalore, for the first time, I find myself making a conscious effort to cover up my tattoos.

One of the things that I found particularly interesting about the brief article (basically a review of a longer book that I've wanted to read for some time), was the fact that in American culture tattooed women have historically been viewed in a very voyeuristic, passive-object-of-the-active (read: male)-gaze way. The first known American woman with tattoos, Olive Oatman, became a celebrity simply on account of having them. Many subsequent tattooed women became circus attractions (or were tattooed in order to become circus attractions), some, such as Betty Broadbent, entered beauty contests, while others showed their tattoos "recreationally" (which I assume means that they were not paid to do so). Yet in each case the women were essentially objects to be viewed, whether with admiration or disgust, by others.

In my experience, things haven't changed much, though it surprised the hell out of me when I found that out. My first tattoo is on my back, so not generally visible when I'm out in public. My second tattoo, on my arm, is very visible, and I was shocked to discover that having a visible tattoo made me, in some ways, public property. Strangers approached me everywhere-- at the post office, the grocery store, on hiking trails and in parking lots. They followed me in department stores, and shouted at me across the street. The fact that my tattoo was writing in another language contributed hugely to this, as nearly everyone wanted to know what it said. They were virtually all friendly, but I was unnerved by the attention. My tattoo was for me, and I simply had not anticipated that so many people would want to talk to me about it. It felt invasive, and eventually I had that tattoo, which I loved dearly, partially covered over in order to obscure the letters and, I hoped, stop the constant attention and questions that came up whenever I bared my arms.

And it did help. Now you have to be close to me to realized that I have writing on my arm, and that has cut the number of stranger inquiries I receive by about 80%. My tattoo was no longer stressful for me.

Over the past two years I've had both my arms tattooed to the elbows, and one leg tattooed part way up my calf. I still don't receive anywhere near the number of comments and inquiries I did when I had the just the one tattoo on my arm. I don't know if that's because none of my newer tattoos are words, because tattoos have become even more common in the US in the ensuing decade, because New Yorkers are less likely to talk to strangers on the streets than Californians, because I'm older and grumpier looking, or a combination of all of them, but I'm glad of it. I don't mind my tattoos generating some attention (and at this point it would be naive of me to expect that they wouldn't), but I disliked feeling like I was always on display.

Here in Bangalore, things are a bit different. Even with my tattoos covered I stand out. I'm as tall or taller than most men, I'm very light skinned, and I have my two light skinned children with me everywhere I go. And I've noticed that when my arms are uncovered, people, especially men, stare at me even more. And by stare, I don't mean a passing glance...I mean that they stare at me until they pass me, and then they stare until they can't crane their necks any further.  And even though I understand why, I don't much like it. So I've found myself wearing 3/4 and elbow length sleeves, or a shawl, whenever I go out. I'm not totally comfortable with this, either. It reduces the staring, yes, but at what cost? My choices, and the choices of other tattooed people, won't ever become normalized if we cover our tattoos in situations where they might be perceived as unusual or unprofessional. On the other hand, even without my tattoos I am not normal here, and maybe I have enough to be getting on with without the added weirdness of my half blue arms. I'm not sure.

Right now elbow length sleeves are perfectly comfortable, but in a month or two it will become very hot, and I really dislike having my shoulders covered in very hot weather. So I suppose I'll see where I am on the issue when it becomes too hot to be comfortable with my tattoos covered. Maybe I'll decide that the extra staring is worth it for me to be a bit more comfortable. Or maybe not. If I do uncover my arms at least I'll be in good company: I'll have the whole history of the tattooed-woman-as-circus-freak behind me. Because while tattoos have become increasingly common, we as a culture (and cultures) still believe that if individuals make choices about their bodies that might draw more attention to them they must want that attention, and therefore they have no right to complain when they receive it. I disagree. But I also know that it goes with the territory, and I hope that when the hot weather comes I feel ready to face the additional stares.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What the kids have been up to

I've tried to teach the kids to knit several times, and it hasn't really taken with either of them. I think the manual dexterity required is a bit beyond them, although I know that kids their age (and younger) certainly can learn to knit. And they both can manage, but it is slow and difficult and not their favorite thing. So shortly before we moved to Bangalore I decided to try crochet instead. I'd actually learned to crochet before I learned to knit myself, but at this point I've forgotten pretty much everything except making a chain and single crochet. Still, I figured that was enough to be getting on with.

Zion wasn't much interested but Liel was, mostly because she had gotten a crochet jewelry kit for her birthday and already knew how to make a chain, and enjoyed doing so. She decided to start out with a hat, and worked on it a bit before we left. It was much easier going for her than knitting!

Once in India I realized, as her hat failed to grow, that I'd actually forgotten how to single crochet too. So we frogged her work and I used the handy internet to re-learn that stitch and teach her. After that things progressed much faster! But Liel had lost interest in a hat and wanted to make a skirt for Fluffy instead. Over time she decided that the skirt should be a dress.

The dress isn't finished yet, but as of today Fluffy is the proud owner of a hand crocheted skirt! I realized it would be easy to put ruffles at the bottom, and Liel was delighted with the suggestion (and, she told me, proud that I thought she could handle something like ruffles).

Doesn't Fluffy look fantastic? 

And aren't the ruffles an excellent touch?

Liel has big plans for the rest of the dress, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, Zion been pondering the age-old riddle from Alice in Wonderland: Why is a raven like a writing desk? This morning he told me that he thought he knew.

"Well mama, ravens usually know lots of things, especially stories. So if you sat at a writing desk and wrote a lot of stories and things, and then put everything you wrote into the desk, then the desk would know lots of stories and things, and then it would be like a raven."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Rather inexplicably, my post that includes the recipe for rice cooker colcannon is the most popular blog post I've written in months, or possibly ever. While that still makes it supremely un-popular by any big blog standards, it has has more than four times the page views of my other posts! Either there are (were?) a lot of people out there wanting to make colcannon in their rice cookers or, um, well, honestly I can't imagine why anyone would read that post otherwise! I mean, really.

Anyway, a few days ago I made colcannon for dinner for the entire family. And while Robert didn't love it, he didn't hate it either (yes, I'm totally overlooking the fact that Robert will eat just about anything with little to no complaint. Shhhhh). After dinner I teased him about being the only part-Irish guy who hates potatoes, and the kids wanted to know why that was funny. So we explained about the Irish and potatoes, and one of the kids asked how that applied to Robert.

"Well", said Robert, "My grandfather was Irish. So I'm part Irish, and so are you guys".

"Oh", said Zion, and then he went back to whatever he was doing.

But Liel?

"So what?!?!", she said crossly. "Why does it matter that we're part Irish? I don't care."

"Um, OK", I said. "But you don't have to be angry about it! It's just a fact."

"Besides, some people think that it is important", Robert said. "Some people are very proud of being Irish."

"Well I don't!", said Liel, scowling. "To me that's as important as skin color is to a bat!"

The mind of a child. Who can fathom it?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Yarn shopping in Bangalore

Today I bought yarn! Silk yarn. Gorgeous yarn.

My friend B grew up in Mangalore, went to college in Bangalore, and now lives in the US. We met on Ravelry, so we share a love of knitting and yarn! She is in town visiting family, and we arranged to go yarn shopping today. India doesn't produce a lot of natural fiber yarns for resale, and this store is rather special and beloved of knitters for their high quality pure silk yarns.

B's brother lives in the complete opposite side of Bangalore from me, but luckily for me the yarn store is on my side of town. I felt a bit badly that she had to travel all the way to me though, because it's a long way! It took her nearly 90 minutes to get here. Eeeep. It only took us 10 minutes in an auto rickshaw to get to the yarn store though. It was my first auto ride! Thank goodness B was there though, as the store proved rather difficult to find, requiring 3 phone calls (one between the owner and the driver) and, once we got close, a moped escort. I was very grateful to have a native Kannada speaker with me, let me tell you. I think there's about a zero percent chance I'd have gotten to the place on my own.

Silkindian is a family business, and they mainly sell wholesale for export. They don't have a proper shop, but if you arrange with them you can come in their office in a residential apartment building, and buy from whatever stock they have on hand (they'll also custom dye yarn for you, but you have to buy a kilo of the same color to make it cost effective for them). It was so much fun! My only regret was that a majority of their stock was multi-colored yarn, which isn't great for lace knitting as it obscures the pattern. Since I had three custom shawl orders I was buying for I needed solid color yarn! Luckily I was able to get everything I needed- a teal color for Mel, dark blue for Julie, and purple for Becka. They didn't actually have the purple out, but when I asked they found some for me (and bonus: it was already wound!). Phew! I couldn't bear to disappoint Becka. We've been friends our entire lives, and she really appreciates hand made items (and does amazing sewing work herself!). Of course, she's about the easiest person to please in terms of color that I know, so I'm sure I could have found something that suited her, but I was really glad I could get her first choice. She is going to look stunning in this shade of purple!

I also got a gorgeous peridot green skein of yarn with no particular purpose in mind (I just couldn't leave it behind!) and at the last minute two skeins of multicolored yarn. They are dark blue, light blue, and teal and I'd been trying to figure out what I could possibly make with them. It occurred to me I could make a gorgeous lightweight pullover with them, but I wasn't sure I was up to handwashing a silk sweater, so I finally put them down with regret. Then we found out that that particular base (which I loved- super soft and not slippery!) was actually cheaper than the others. "Oh", said B. "Well, at that price how can you say no??". What could I do? I was a sitting duck! I fell for her logic immediately (it was, after all, impeccable) and bought that yarn too.

After that B and I took an auto back to campus, and met Robert and the kids for lunch. I was sad I didn't get more time to hang out with her, but it was an excellent day and an immensely satisfying yarn shopping experience!

Now I'm super eager to get started on some of these custom shawls!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rice Cooker Recipe: Ropa Vieja

There used to be this place in our village in New York that served really amazing ropa vieja. But then the owner skipped town and the restaurant closed. It turned out he was deeply in debt, and apparently he just couldn't keep up, or figure out anything else to do. And so I decided I should learn to make my own ropa vieja, to fill the void in my heart (and stomach).

Ropa vieja (literally "old clothes") is a shredded beef dish of deliciousness and Cuban origin. I made it probably 4-5 times myself, trying different recipes and not being entirely satisfied with any of them. For one thing, they were rather a lot of work, and for another, they just weren't as yummy as I wanted them to be. So I more or less resigned myself to a ropa vieja-less world.

But then Big Basket had organic bell peppers in their produce section. I bought them without any particular plan, but just because Liel likes peppers and we could all use the variety in our diet. I had a vague idea that I might cook some of the water buffalo with them and some tomatoes. And suddenly I realized: ropa vieja!

If ever there were a test for making ropa vieja on the fly, this would be it. Armed only with my trusty rice cooker, 1/2 a kilo of water buffalo, and the seasonings in my very poorly stocked Indian kitchen, I set to work.

Five hours later I had pure deliciousness. The kids said it was the best thing I'd cooked in India. They begged me to make it again. They didn't need to though; it was so good I would have made it again even if they hadn't asked!

Rice Cooker Ropa Vieja

-1 lb of water buffalo (or, if you can get it, beef!). Mine was cubed. Anything but ground would work.
- 1 large onion, sliced
- tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- two bell peppers, sliced
- tomato paste mixed with water to make tomato sauce. Or, just use tomato sauce if you have it!
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3tsp cumin
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1/2- 1 tsp pepper
- water
- splash of apple cider vinegar

(Note: this is by no means a traditional recipe. I'm missing all kinds of things that are commonly included. But it tastes great, and more importantly, it still tastes like ropa vieja. So I'm counting it!)

Put some oil in the bottom of your rice cooker. Layer the sliced onions on top of it, and then the bell peppers. Cover those with the buffalo (or beef), and the chopped tomatoes. Sprinkle the garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper on top, and then pour over the tomato saucey stuff. Add enough water to come partway up the side of the rice cooker (but don't cover the tomatoes), and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Turn your rice cooker on. Once again I used my patented "turn it to cook/turn it to warm" technique to try to approximate a lower cooking temperature, but if you have a fancy rice cooker you won't have to do that.

I did have to add more water once or twice, and I stirred it a couple of times. I let it cook for about 5 hours, and served it on rice. And at the risk of repeating myself too frequently: It was full of win!

Friday, January 11, 2013

2 downs, 1 up, one middling

It's all about food, of course.

The downs are as follows: 1. matta rice flakes are not a cold breakfast cereal, despite being listed in the cold breakfast cereal section at Big Basket. Furthermore, they do not taste good, even when you mix them with sweet things. 2. The coconut oil I bought tastes like ass. Smokey ass. Not rancid, just totally, utterly disgusting. It made the matta rice flakes look like yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

Not that I make short work of a yellow cake with chocolate frosting or anything. Nope.

Anyway, the matta rice flakes are only a mild disappointment, but I'm bummed about the coconut oil. I use coconut oil as a moisturizer for my face and body, and was hoping I could keep doing so here, but unless I can find a much better coconut oil that's not happening. And honestly, the moisturizer choices, while abundant, leave something to be desired, because so many of the offerings are skin whiteners. I knew before coming here that skin whiteners were popular, but I still wasn't prepared for how popular. Kwality Big Bazaar, though quite small in size, stocks a wide selection of them. Big Basket lists approximately 150 lotions and moisturizers on their site, and 75 of those are whitening products. I know that still leaves me 75 to choose from, but most (all?) of them have ingredients I choose to avoid. So compromise it will be! But no lightening lotions. I'd scare people.

The middling (because I'm going from bad to good here, despite the order in the title) was the pre-made paneer butter masala I bought the other day. I decided the kids and I would try it out for lunch today, because it was marked as "mild", and therefore, I hoped, suitable for Liel.

Well, sort of.

First of all, it was not mild in the way Americans would define that word. But I'm in India, so of course that makes sense! But I've bought "hot" salsas at home that couldn't even come close to this stuff in terms of spice. Just sayin'.

So I put some rice in a bowl for the girl, and added a little bit of sauce. I'd say it was about a 4:1 rice: sauce ratio. Too spicy. So I brought her some plain yogurt to cool it off, and she put in about twice as much yogurt as there was masala sauce. But then she could eat it, at least! I think the channa masala I bought, and which is labeled as being "medium" spicy, will have to be eaten on a day when I have something else cooked for Liel, cause there's no way that's happening.

And the good? Well, I'm making ropa vieja! In my rice cooker! With water buffalo!

OK that last one might not really call for an exclamation mark. But it smells super yummy, so keep your fingers crossed that it will be, because not good water buffalo ropa vieja would make me a sad panda indeed.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Today we went to the neighborhood that borders the far side (from us) of the IISc: Malleswaram. Malleswaram was settled in the late 1890s, and today is considered a rather tranquil, middle class neighborhood. It has one of the oldest existing markets in Bangalore, dating back about a century, and lots of temples and shops. Best of all it's only a 3.5 km walk from our front door!

We left home around 10am and headed for a part of the neighborhood where a lot of the temples are located. Since it was our first trip there we went to the first temple we came to, the Sri Kaadu Mallikarjunaswamy Temple. There isn't a lot of information that I can find about this temple, but apparently it was built in 1669 after a shivalingam was discovered on the spot, so Shiva is the primary deity associated with the temple (though not the only one).

Here's the temple from across the road.

Before we went in we took off our shoes and left them with one of the many shoe-minders, and bought some offering flowers from this lovely  woman.

There weren't a lot of people in the temple. I mean, there were probably close to 100 other folks there, but the space was large enough that it didn't seem crowded, especially with everyone walking around. People seemed to be very devoted and religious. Everyone we saw was praying, bowing, kneeling, and making offerings. Most of the statues were small and unattended, but there was a priest with a statue of what I guess might be Shiva under a lot of flowers. The priest took people's offerings (food, flowers, money, etc) and placed them around the statue. Then he would remove some older ones and give them to devotees along with a blessing.

There was a cow or bull statue that was pretty popular as well.

 Virtually all of the signs in and around the temple were in Kannada, but this useful one about the nature of life was in English.

I particularly like "Life is an adventure: Date it"! I have no idea what that means.

The temple next door, the Sai Baba temple, was crazy, amazingly crowded. The line to get in stretched down the street, so we decided to skip it, and to see the Ganesha temple down the street another day too. Instead we walked back up the hill and headed to the Karnataka Crafts Council's shop. Nearly everything we bought there was a gift, so I can't say much ;) But the kids bought some things that they're really excited about! Liel got a wooden box with a bunny carved on the lid, and a clay necklace and earrings set, and Zion got a little Hanuman statue. We were kind of low on rupees so we didn't buy all the gifts we might like, but we definitely plan to return to both the shop and the neighborhood, so that was OK.

It was nearing lunch time at that point, so we headed back to campus. On the way I noticed that a lot of houses had devotional tiles set in the garden walls, like this one of a baby Ganesha and his parents.

We also saw a sign for a homeopathic doctor!

Oh Positive homeopathy, I like the way you think!

 There's also temple literally right outside that particular gate of the IISc. I'm not sure who's temple it is, but it has some great icons on it.

Unfortunately they're really high up and therefore difficult to photograph :)

So that was our day! It was pretty much perfect-- gorgeous weather, nice neighborhood, beautiful temples, gift purchasing, and a tasty lunch. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mostly, it's just life

Today I had a day that could've taken place almost anywhere. The kids and I spent the day at home, waiting for two different deliveries. We had groceries coming between 430-7pm, and water coming at some point during the day. Hopefully. The water delivery situation here is sketchy at best, unfortunately. We were told to notify the woman at the front desk the day before we needed a new jug delivered, and for a couple weeks that worked well. Lately though the water delivery guys seem to be coming more sporadically, and it's sometimes taken up to 3 days to get our water. It sucks when that happens, because although the UV purifying pen we brought makes the tap water safe to drink, it doesn't change the taste. And let me tell you, the tap water here tastes pretty damn awful- like it rolled off of Satan's boots, you might say. I hold my breath while I drink it! But sometimes the water really does come the next day, so all we can do is order our water and hope. At any rate, here's how I spent my day while we waited.

I woke up, called the kids in, and read them a couple chapters of Harry Potter while we snuggled in bed. Then I made tea, checked my email, and listened to Robert and Zion work on fractions. It was hard not to listen, because Zion was shouting and carrying on about them.

After Robert left for work I finished the fraction assignment with Zion, and Liel worked on the crochet skirt she's making for Fluffy. I saw that my friend Julie was online, so I chatted with her a bit. She's an amazing woman and a homeschooling mom, the only among my close friends. We had a great talk and she made some excellent suggestions for helping the kids to develop more "stick-to-it-iveness". Both Zion and Liel are perfectionists, and tend to give up very quickly if they can't do something perfectly the first time they try, asserting that they'll "never get it". I'm not sure where they got this idea, as Robert and I have certainly never disparaged any of their efforts, and always encouraged them to try, to practice, and to try again. Julie tells me this attitude is particularly common among the kids of high achieving adults, since the kids see people in their daily lives who can do many things with ease, and even if their parents tell them this competence is the product of years of work they have a difficult time grasping that concept, since they didn't witness it. And of course my kids spend more time around adults than other kids do, so they spend more time around people who appear more competent than they are. We'd already been working on praising the effort and work the kids put in rather than the end result, but after my chat with Julie I talked to Zion about what we'd discussed while I made lunch (green beans sauteed with garlic and ginger, to go along with the leftover chicken and rice from last night's dinner). He was pretending to be a little French Bulldog, and helping me snap the green beans, but he listened attentively. We talked about the work and practice that had gone into his math that morning, and how the math had become easier as he'd practiced it. We talked about the value of work and practice, and about how he didn't see the years of work that we and other adults had put in to become good at the things we're good at. He definitely got what I was saying...hopefully he'll remember! But if not, I'll be there to remind him.

After lunch, which was delicious I must say, Liel did some math of her own, and then the kids started playing a game with their stuffed gibbons. That quickly devolved into a fight, which led to them both writing lines (a favorite form of discipline for me- they dislike it enough to try to avoid it, but if they do end up writing lines they practice their handwriting!). While they were still writing those lines they started a new fight, so they got more lines. Then my "convenient dog" as Zion is calling himself, sang a song about the dosa that daddy is bringing home for dinner, and asked if they could each play a game of Archon. Since they had done some work, and since I wanted to write a blog post, I quickly agreed.

While they were playing I typed, checked the laundry drying on the deck, and weighed and measured a full vitamin D bottle so that I could calculate postage on the package I want my mom to send me. I looked at pictures of my cousin's new chickens, and looked into digital cameras, since we need to replace ours that was lost en route to Germany.

After that we all did some reading. I'm reading The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, Liel is reading Through the Looking Glass, and Zion is reading The Fellowship of the Rings. I miss real books, but I also love our kindles so, so much. The ability to store so many books on one little device?? Invaluable for us on this adventure.

Did I say adventure? Because mostly our adventures are of the every day sort. Right now we're living our lives in India, and that comes with it's own set of charms, discoveries and frustrations. But India (and more specifically, Bangalore) is our daily reality, and consequently, our adventures tend towards the mundane, like the titillating suspense of wondering if the water will arrive today, or buying bathmats at an open air shack on the main road in our neighborhood. The guy there sells linens by weight, and we walked around what was essentially a small warehouse with dirt floors and a tin roof, picked out what we wanted had the weighed, and paid. Not something I've ever done in New York!  But I like that India is becoming our new normal, that our life here is settling into a routine. I don't for a minute think that I've got the hang of India yet, but I feel like I'm making progress, and that pleases me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In which we consider going to McDonald's, and are thwarted by our children of good taste and high moral standards

Two days ago I realized that I was really starting to miss some foods from home. The food here is delicious, yes, but there are already things that I miss. I was a bit dismayed by this, to be honest…we've only been here a little over a month! I wasn't expecting to crack so soon.

But there is a McDonald's about a 5 minute walk from us.

Now I am not a McDonald's fan, not at all. In fact, I'm a fairly vocal critic. I've been to a McDonald's once in the past 7 years, and that was when we were new to Nyack and our dinner burned and I had to get food for the kids right NOW. I've never been to a McD's in another country, though I hear it's worthwhile in a kitschy Americana kind of way. And I do like kitschy Americana.

Also, as I said, I am food homesick. So we decided to kill two birds with one stone and go to McDonald's for lunch when we went out to buy bathmats, since the two stores are very close to one another. I told the kids about our plan the night before and Zion said doubtfully, "McDonalds? But don't they suck? And don't they have really crappy food full of bad stuff that they keep cooked and then microwave when you order it?"

"Um, yes", I said, "but they also have American food that I'm missing, like hamburgers. But not with beef- just chicken. But still, burgers".

Zion was pretty mollified by that and announced that as long as it was meat on bread with ketchup he'd eat it. And I spent a fun 15 minutes reading Robert the McDonald's India menu, which includes items such as a "Chicken Maharaja Mac", a "McAloo Tikka" and a "McSpicy Paneer".

But by this morning I was feeling less intrigued and more embarrassed. And as the time for our departure drew closer the kids began to complain.

"I don't think I've ever even BEEN to McDonald's", said Liel, in a tone that made it perfectly clear that she'd like to continue this arrangement.

"Can't we have lunch on campus?", Zion asked. "Mama, I don't want to eat unhealthy food that isn't even very good. We could do our errands and then have a late lunch somewhere else. I don't want McDonald's, even if I do miss food from home".

Amazingly, Liel seemed to agree, which surprised me slightly since the spice level of every Indian restaurant we've been to has kept her from eating 95% of the menu. She must really have it out for McDonald's, I thought, if she'd rather keep eating the same 3 things she can tolerate rather than go there. Apparently they were really listening when we explained our anti-fast food stance to them!

So a change of plans was quickly arranged. We decided to go buy bathmats immediately, drop them off at home, and head off to an early lunch on campus so that Robert wouldn't be late for his interview.  Done and done, and no unhealthy, bad food or American corporate hegemony and colonialism…for now.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Rice cooker recipe: Eating their heritage

I've probably told you this story at least twice before (and if I haven't, Robert has) so I'll keep it short and sweet here. I first met Robert's mom after he and I had been dating for a year (she lives in Chicagoland and we lived in Santa Barbara, and that was the first time we were in the same state). One afternoon, while Robert was in class, she and I were sitting around our living room chatting and she asked me about my ethnic background. It's quite varied and I ended the litany by saying, "So X, and Y, and then pretty much most of Europe...except for Ireland. I'm not Irish at all".

"Well", said Robert's mother, whose maiden name was Donohue, "Your kids will be".

Anyway, the dinner I made tonight for my kids, who are indeed part Irish, was Colcannon. I'd never made it nor eaten it before, but I had potatoes and cabbage in the fridge so it seemed like a good idea.

Rice Cooker Colcannon

- Potatoes, cooked
- Cabbage, shredded
- Onion, minced
- Butter
- Milk
- Salt
- Pepper

(There aren't quantities given because as far as I can tell, you don't need them. I used roughly equal amounts of cabbage and potato (two smallish potatoes, half of a smallish cabbage) and one small onion. I did the rest to taste.)

First you need to cook the potatoes. If you live in one-rice-cooker land you can cut them into chunks, cover with water, and cook until they're soft. Drain them in a colander and leave them until you need them.

Next, heat oil in your rice cooker, and saute the onions until they're just slightly browned. Add the cabbage and a bit of water, and saute/simmer until the cabbage is soft, but not overcooked. Toss the potatoes in and squash them up until you have something that looks like mashed potatoes with cabbage, or in other words: colcannon. Add milk, butter, salt and pepper to taste, and eat!

If you're wondering why I made this for my kids, and not my entire family, well...I managed to marry a part-Irish guy who doesn't like potatoes! Since he wasn't home for dinner tonight it seemed like a good time to try colcannon out.  And I snarfed it down. It was damn tasty.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Hobbit and the Hero's Journey

My friend Meg is reading The Hobbit to her son (one of Zion's good friends) and is at the very end of the story. So she asked him what he thought Bilbo had learned on his adventure. Her son's response? "That no matter what, he can't wait to be back home in his hobbit hole and have two breakfasts."

This struck me as adorable, at least partially true, and interesting. If someone asked me what I thought Bilbo had learned on his adventure, I'd say that he learned that he was smarter, braver, and more capable than he thought. That he learned that he could rely on himself, be a good a leader, do unexpected things and enrich his life by taking risks and doing things that were out of the ordinary.

Frankly, that's a pretty boring response.

So this morning I asked Zion what he thought Bilbo had learned on his adventure. Now my boy loves to hold forth on nearly any topic, but a question about The Hobbit was really thrilling. He paced around the room, speaking at an increasingly loud volume for at least 10 minutes. At that point Robert left to get coffee from the guy downstairs and Zion rushed off to join him. Here is what Zion took home from Bilbo's heroic journey.

- He learned that not all adventures end badly, and you can still go home and live in your comfortable hobbit hole.

- He learned that you can come home from adventures with a lot of treasure. For instance, Bilbo brought back a lot of gold and silver, a very nice coat of mail, and an enchanted sword. Really it was a dagger, but it was sword sized for a hobbit.

- He learned that if you go on adventures you can find new allies. Bilbo made friends with Beorn, Elrond, the king of Mirkwood, the eagles of the Misty Mountains, and Dain son of Nain. So you can make new friends on adventures.

- He learned that he was not normal. In the beginning he thought he was just a plain, normal old person. He learned that he wasn't who he thought he was. For some people he was something of a hero. He was the one who found out about Smaug's weak spot. He rescued his friends from prison.

A few surprises

Two unusual things happened to us today. First of all, as we were walking to lunch, a young couple ahead of us glanced at us, and then slowed their pace so that we caught up with them. As we were passing them by the man said, "Excuse me, sir?" Robert turned around and the man said, "Picture?"

"Sure!" said Robert, reaching for the camera the guy was holding.

"No, no", said the man, and his girlfriend came and stood next to Robert and Zion, then motioned me and Liel over to stand by her. They wanted a picture of her with us. Two pictures, actually, as the guy took one with each of their phones. Then they said thank you, gave us big smiles and we went on our way.

"Daddy", Zion said in a loud stage whisper when we were about 5 feet from the couple, "What was that all about??"

"Well...", said Robert, "I guess maybe they wanted a picture of us because we're a non-Indian family on campus?"

It was without a doubt one of the more unusual experiences I've had so far! And it surprised me, because Bangalore is a big, cosmopolitan city. There are a fair number of foreigners here, even in our old, out of the way neighborhood. OK, there aren't a lot in our area, but there are a few...and the IISc campus hosts scholars from around the world. We see another white person ever day or two.

I've been asked a few times whether I/we get (or would get) stared at much here. The answer is generally no. Again, white folks aren't unusual enough to cause most Bangaloreans to look twice! But there are a few things about us that do cause some stares: Robert's and my tattoos, Robert's beard (he's even had a guy passing by on a motorcycle shout, "Nice beard!" at him), and the kids. While white adults aren't particularly unusual, we've seen white kids (other than our own of course) only once since being here. I'm sure this is a product of our area, and that if we lived closer to the more downtown parts of Bangalore, or close to the ex-pat colonies, we'd see more of them. But out here they're pretty thin on the ground.

So while we'll probably never know why that couple wanted a picture of us, my guess is that it had to do with the kids, and the fact that we're here as a family. I'm only ruling out our unusual looks because my tattoos were covered, and they still wanted me and Liel in the picture!

Anyway, after that we went on to lunch. While Liel and I were waiting for Robert and Zion to bring over the food, I saw one of the bus ladies feed a stray dog a partially eaten partoa from a plate she'd cleared. The dog must not have been very hungry, because she ignored it. Two other men were watching the lady as she tried to feed the dog, and when she noticed this she said something to them and all three of them laughed. Then a fourth man got up from his table, came over and patted the dog, who wagged her tail and wiggled with delight. The man started to leave the cafe, and the dog followed. He stopped, spoke to her, and then returned to the cafe. A minute later he sat down with a newly purchased packet of butter cookies, which he proceeded to feed to the dog. She seemed to like these better than the parota, because she ate the entire packet. Then the man got up and left, and the dog picked up the abandoned partoa and trotted off with it in her mouth.

There are loads of stray dogs on campus (and in Bangalore in general) but I've never seen anyone feed them before. But what was particularly charming was the way the man spoke to the dog. I like to think he told her that she couldn't come with him, but he'd buy her some cookies before he left.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sick, again

Oh India. I've been sicker here than I've been at any point in my life! One of my kids' teachers at Jewish Farm School told me that he spent 3 months in India and was sick the entire time. I found that rather shocking, and figured he must not have the most vigorous immune system, or have been particularly careful. Now I'm less certain. Thankfully I'm not experiencing that level of illness, but I have been sick for half the time we've been here, and with diseases I rarely (or never) have had before.


Sinus infection.

Stomach bug (whatever the hell that is).

Remember a few days ago when I posted about Zion throwing up? Well, I can't say I've got the exact same thing, but I've got the exact same thing. I don't remember the last time I had this much upset in my digestive tract-- probably as a child, if ever. It woke me up yesterday morning, kept me (and Robert) awake last night, and after fewer than 48 hours my virtually non-existent food intake caused my husband to note, with some alarm, that I "look really thin". I know that might sound like a compliment to some folks, but believe me, it's not!

I've traveled in the developing world off and on since I was a kid. Which thing are safe for my pampered tummy to eat and drink are second nature to me, and I'd hoped this would keep me well, or mostly well, in India. So far hasn't! I guess the germs and bugs here really are that different from those I'm used to. I ran across a book of travel essays the other day called India Bites you Somehow. And last night as I lay awake in bed I thought: Yes. Yes it does.

Not that I plan to stay sick, or to keep getting sick (or at least not as frequently)! I just gotta learn a few new immune tricks is all.

Rice cooker recipe: Shabbos lentils

This recipe is my family's favorite of the many dals I've made up since we landed here in Bangalore. I've named it Shabbos Lentils because, well, I like to make it for shabbos because it's so delicious! If you're lucky enough to have a stove, or two rice cookers, you can make rice at the same time that you're cooking the dal. Otherwise you can do it like I do and cook the dal, transfer it to a big pot, clean the rice cooker and cook the rice. This method takes longer (of course) but is great in a pinch, or for tiny and/or minimalist kitchens!


-3/4 c lentils. Any type you like will work great, though cooking times will vary.
-1 tsp each of turmeric, cumin, and corriander
- 1-2" of fresh ginger, minced (or as close as you can get it)
- 4-5 cloves of fresh garlic, minced (same)
- vegetables, if you want them
- 3 fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 2 T tomato paste
- 2- 4 T butter
- cilantro
- some type of milk or cream
- salt


Heat the oil in your rice cooker. Add the garlic and ginger and saute briefly. Add the spices and saute while you chop the veggies (if you using). I particularly like cauliflower and carrots in this dal, but it's good plain too.

When everything is nice and fragrant, add the veggies (if using- but not the tomatoes!) and lentils. Cover with water by an inch or so, and cook until the veggies and lentils are tender.

Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, butter, cilantro and salt to taste. Continue to cook until the tomatoes look the way you want them too. Add milk or cream (non-dairy milks work great here too) and you're done!

Friday, January 4, 2013


My rice cooker is my least in my Bangalore kitchen! So I decided that he needed a name, and that that name was Raj.

I've used Raj to cook rice, of course, but also to boil water for tea, cook stew, make 8 different types of dal, and bake apples.

Yes, bake apples. In a rice cooker.

I noticed that most of the fruit sellers in our neighborhood have a lot of apples for sale right now. At first I eschewed the apples, assuming that they were imports. I still think a number of them probably are, but I've learned that India does have apple growing regions, and so I bought some local(ish) apples a few days ago. My original plan had been to make applesauce from them, but then it occurred to me that baked apples, with their quantities of butter and sugar, were even tastier. So I fired Raj up and did a trial run!

First I cored as many apples as I could fit into Raj. He's rather petite, so it wasn't too many. Luckily I had some really tiny apples in my batch, so I could fill in the spaces pretty well.

Then I made a paste of butter, sugar, and cinnamon and put some into each apple.

I added a little water to the bottom, and let them cook for about 30-40 minutes.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The classics

My boy started reading The Lord of the Rings two days ago! He announced his intention to start them the other night after dinner and I almost said, "Are you sure? They're really long and the pace of the action can be glacially slow sometimes", but luckily my brain kicked in and stopped me before the words got to my mouth. And even more luckily, Robert said, "Cool. Sound good, bud". And that was that. Zion started reading the next day.

Now Zion is not new to Tolkien's universe. When he was 3 1/2 years old we read him The Hobbit for the first time. I don't know how much of it he took in, but he sat still through the whole book and seemed to enjoy it. In the intervening 5 years we've read him The Hobbit at least a dozen times, and he completely adores it, as do Robert and I.

(Liel is a different matter, however. She does not like The Hobbit, and her objection is rooted in the rather unfortunate fact that there are no female characters in the entire book. It's a deplorable situation, but, I have to say, not one that's ever stopped me from loving the story, or from feeling myself to be a part of it somehow. I'll probably write another post on this at some point, but for now I mostly just want to note Liel's well-founded (though certainly not new!) criticism.)

At any rate, Zion's love for Tolkien's work always brings my paternal grandmother (and other members of my dad's family, like my aunt and uncle) to mind. Kay loved words. She loved books, she loved stories, and she loved Tolkien. My dad recalls her first reading The Hobbit to him when he was 5 years old, shortly after it was published. Tolkien's works are classics on that side of the family; but more than that they are a shared language: narratives and images that we all use and relate to.

My mother's family, though they are voracious readers, does not give a shit about Tolkien as far as I know. I don't believe I've ever heard any of them even so much as mention his books. It's funny how the shared vocabulary of my dad's clan doesn't even exist in my mom's.

However, my mom did read Tolkien to my brother and me, first The Hobbit, and then the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have a lot of fond memories of sitting on the couch in the evenings listening to her read them. A lot of memories because it takes a long-ass time to get through them all! See: glacial pacing. Ahem.

But I feel really pleased with Zion's decision to start the trilogy. It can be slow yes, and boring at times, and though it does have a few female characters they're still not exactly thick on the ground. But I still love the story, and even more than that I love that Zion is now the fourth generation of his family to find a home in Tolkien's words. And they mean something to him! I know I shouldn't be surprised- he's a bright kid- but I was thrilled when he told me today that as the Ring's power over Bilbo grew, he felt like butter spread over too much bread. "Mama", he said, making a circle with his index finger and his thumb, "if you have this much butter, that's enough for one piece of bread. But if you try to spread it over 8 pieces, then the butter is very thin on all of them. And that's how Bilbo felt, because the Ring was starting to turn him into a shadowy wraith thing".

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Sort of a mixed day so far today. My third Big Basket order was delivered, which was mostly good. Having ordered from them a few times I am still a big fan, but I've noticed that they list things as "in stock" that are not. There are items I've tried to buy 3 weeks in a row that are consistently listed as in stock, but which are not in stock. It's not a big deal-- certainly not enough to deter me from ordering-- but I'm thinking maybe there are a few items on their site that need to have their status changed. Their customer service is lovely however. When my zucchinis arrived too bruised and battered to use they immediately gave me a credit for my next order. Anyway I got nearly all of my order today, including a HUGE bunch of organic basil, so I'm content. I think I'll use the basil to make basil chicken! And then, if it's any good, I'll post a recipe.

I also cast on a new cardigan today, out of a pretty, brassy colored yarn. I'm still trying to dream up a way to make it exciting, but maybe a few plain sweaters are what I need. I'm not sure the color will look anything but awful on me, but since I sell or trade most of my knitting anyway I'm not too worried about that.

The down side of the day is that shortly before lunch Zion started complaining about how hungry he was. I basically ignored this (just said placating things like, "OK honey. I'm cooking lunch, it'll be ready soon".) because, hey, he's an 8 1/2 year old kid. Of course he's hungry!

As I was putting rice and lentils into bowls he started saying that his throat hurt. So I gave him some water and told him to eat up. About halfway through his lunch he threw up. Luckily I had a bowl handy, so clean up, at least, was a breeze (ha- I sound like a commercial for some cleaning product! A gross commercial, involving vomit). After that I felt vaguely guilty that I hadn't taken his complaints more seriously, and he went and lay down on my bed and played a game of Archon.

He seems to be feeling much better at this point, so I'm feeding him slowly and giving both kids some schoolwork. Apparently puking only gets you a day off if you don't feel better afterwards!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Snack lunch and a green shawl

Happy New Years! I hope your New Years Eve was all that you hoped, and that 2013 is beautiful for all of us.

The Center for Contemporary Studies hosted a New Years "snack lunch" today. We weren't sure what that meant, but guessed it was probably a light lunch, which proved to be correct. There were two cakes, a kind of sweet that is apparently famous in Karnataka (but which I did not catch the name of), pongal (a kind of savory rice porridge), samosas, a few chutneys and a salad. I was really sad we couldn't eat the salad! We're a month in and salad is pretty much at the top of my "foods I miss" list. But I digress.

I got to meet a lot of people at the Center, and everyone was so incredibly kind and friendly! There were even a couple of other kids there-- a 14 year old boy and an 8 year old girl. They came into Robert's office while Zion and Liel were in there taking turns spinning on the chair. Liel hid under the desk and wouldn't come out until Zion came to tell me about it and I came in. At that point she'd been under there a while; Zion told me the kids had come in twice and one of their mothers had come to take pictures. Nice. So Liel and I had a talk about how her shyness (which is almost exclusively an excuse at this point) does not extend to being rude or making other people feel badly. I was totally mortified to think that she HID when other kids came in! That kind of behavior is one thing for a 2 or 3 year old, but something else entirely at her age. At any rate, she came out and we went and she introduced herself to the other girl. They didn't end up playing together, but the girl and Zion raced around the library for a bit, trying not to be seen. Zion said this was difficult because he was wearing a blue shirt and the girl had on an orange dress and orange bangles so they were both bright and loud. Who they were trying not be seen by remained an open question, but I hadn't seen them at it so I was able to tell them they'd been successful.

And on this New Years Day I got to wear the emerald green shawl I completed a couple of days ago. I adore this color so, so much. Sadly, I don't think I can ever get more! Wollmeise calls experimental shades, or shades that are accidents "guinea pigs" and this skein was a guinea pig green. It makes me very happy...and calm. Even winding this yarn was a joy, and to be honest, yarn winding isn't usually my favorite. But I was happy just to watch this color pass through my hands as I wound it into a ball.

This first picture shows the pattern best, but the other show the color better :)