Saturday, February 23, 2013


I have a new food love, and its name is dosa.

Dosa are these amazing pancake/crepe things made from a rice and black lentil batter that's been fermented. They taste sort of like an amazing, buttery, crispy sourdough pancake. If you get a plain dosa it comes with sambar (a saucy vegetable stew) and coconut chutney. Masala dosa comes stuffed with yummy spiced potatoes and a red chile paste (apparently this is largely a Bangalore thing- the red chile paste, not the masala dosa!), and sambar and chutney. Set dosa, which are particularly popular here in Karnataka, are pretty much just like pancakes in texture (ie not thin and crispy on one side), come with chutney and a different vegetable stew, flavored with turmeric and no tomatoes. Onion dosa come loaded with sweet purple onions, and yes, chutney and veg stew.

I'd had dosa before coming here to Bangalore, though not often. My favorite Indian restaurant in Harvard Square served them at their Sunday brunch, but the line was long, and I often just skipped them. Honestly, the dosa I've had in the US have been fine, but not great. Not the kind of dosa you might find yourself dreaming of at night. Not that I know anything about that, mind.

But when we got here and I had dosa in India my whole perspective changed (side note: it also sort of changed about spicy food. Now I just accept that my mouth will be burning to some degree while I'm eating, and that when I'm done I'll have some curd or plain rice and it will go away). I love and adore dosa. I think I'd eat them every day if I could. In fact, I'm going to have dosa for dinner tonight, and then again for breakfast in the morning before we fly to Kochi. I'm giddy at at the thought of having dosa two meals in a row!

What I am not giddy about is returning to the land of sub-par dosa. It has become abundantly clear to me that I'm going to have to learn to make dosa upon our return, and quickly. My friend Tiju recommended that I buy a dosa pan before we leave, but what I'm more concerned about is a grinder. Traditional dosa are made by soaking or parboiling rice and urad dal and then grinding them into a smooth batter. I've started reading up on this a bit, and the consensus seems to be that the only American appliance that might be up to the job is a Vitamix. I know folks who swear by theirs, so I might go that route, but those suckers are $300-400, and while I can't put a price tag on my devotion to dosa, $300 would buy you one heck of a dosa around here.

Actually, once I typed that I had to do the math. $300 would buy you 1000 plain dosa or 820 masala or set dosa at our favorite place. I wonder how long it would take me to make and eat 1000 dosa? Not in a food race kind of way, just in the course of normal life. Hmmm.

If you have tips, recipes, or recommendations for making dosa, I'm all ears! It really is one of the best foods in the entire world. My friend Aaron says they're kind of like buttery Indian burritos, and I think the comparison is apt, especially since burritos are another of my all time favorite foods. In fact, I'm generally a fan of foods that are their own (edible) containers. So helpful and delicious. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Little things

Sometimes it's the little things that make you happy. Like the other day when we came out of our apartment building and saw a monkey with a pink sheet on the wall across the street. I have no idea where the monkey found the sheet, but  it was sure having a good time with it.

First it examined its prize a bit.

Then it tried it on.

And finally, it tasted it to see if the sheet was good to eat.

The monkey was still chewing on the sheet when we left, but has since abandoned it, so I'm guessing that it did not find the sheet to be particularly delicious.

Another thing that makes us all happy is seeing our favorite stray campus dog. We've named him Prakruthi, because, as I've mentioned, he hangs out at our favorite restaurant of the same name. Zion is particularly fond of him, and asked us to take some pictures of him and Prakruthi when we saw him relaxing in the shade a few days ago.

Robert was taking pictures of them too, which is why Zion is looking in the other direction with particularly wide eyes. Trying not to blink and all. And as you can see, the dog is looking in that direction too-- clearly boy and dog have bonded ;)

Actually, last night Zion suggested that it would be really nice if we could take Prakruthi home with us when we go back to New York. Sigh!

And finally, no post about the happiness of little things would be complete without a picture of our local Happiness Station!

Oh Coke, bringing happiness wherever you go!

(The white sign with a Coke bottle on it is advertising a 200ml bottle of Coke for Rs 8-- about 15 cents.  The green sign above it says that Prakruthi will accept all outdoor catering jobs at reasonable rates. I can barely express how much I wish we could bring them back with us!)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's not me, it's you

As I was tucking Liel into bed tonight, I noticed that she didn't look too happy.

"What's up, sweetheart?", I asked.

"Nothing, mommy. I'm just tired and annoyed."

"Oh", I said. "Well, I'll just give you your goodnight kiss."

"No!", she said, "I don't want you to go, mommy! I want you to be with me!"

"Ok", I said, sitting down and feeling secretly pleased that my presence was so comforting and desirable. I gave her a kiss on the forehead. "You know I love you always, even when you're tired and annoyed."

"You don't understand", Liel said, looking up at me, "I'm annoyed at you."

Happy Valentine's Day!

When I was a kid my mom used to bake these huge (think: head sized) cookies for us for Valentine's day. They were chocolate chip, and she'd decorate them with frosting. We didn't have a lot of sweets in our house, and I loved those cookies! They were so decadent and pretty.

When I was in college my grandmother used to send me chocolates from a local chocolatier called Trufflehounds. She sent them to me when I was in grad school too, right up until she moved to a different part of the state and wasn't local to them anymore. One day when we were visiting my parents Robert and I stopped into the shop and bought a few things. They recognized my name from our credit card, and all the years they'd spent shipping chocolates to me all over the US. It was a really sweet (hahah) lesson in dealing with small businesses! And every year since then Robert has had chocolates from there shipped to me (us) for Valentine's Day.

Well, every year but this one. I don't think the chocolates would survive the trip to India in good condition, if you're even allowed to ship chocolates to India. I miss them though! Trufflehounds makes some damn fine chocolate. But I digress.

Last night Robert and I made Valentines for the kids.

Yes, yes. I know. You're overwhelmed by our amazing artistic abilities and fine photo-taking skills! It's normal. We get that reaction all the time.

Actually, we do. From the kids. They loved their Valentines. And since I couldn't bake them gigantic, head sized cookies, we taped a little bar of Cadbury's chocolate into their cards. Again: total delight. They've been slowly eating them, square by square. And they offered to share with us. There are only 8 squares per bar (these are really pretty small chocolate bars)! I feel overwhelmed by the generosity of my children, and also a bit sorry that I've deprived them of chocolate for so long. This is literally the first chocolate either of them have had in 3 months. Did I mention total delight??

Of course the kids made Valentines for each other and for us too. Liel drew herself and Zion as owls on his card.

And drew him a picture besides. That's a bat and a phoenix having cake together.

Zion drew Liel as a unicorn, and himself as a phoenix.

He made one card for me and Robert. It's truly romantic, as you can see- it has a mummy! And a monkey with a sword!

And here are the cards Liel made for us. She and Robert as dragons, she and I as bats.

So, there's my beautiful Valentine's Day! I feel so incredibly blessed (even without Trufflehounds). I hope yours is gorgeous and love filled as well. Know that I'm sending you love!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bathing suits

I didn't pack a bathing suit in when we came to Bangalore. The city is nowhere near the ocean, and although there is a pool on the IISc campus (currently out of order), women don't tend to wear bathing suits in public in India, so I figured I wouldn't need one.

However, we're going to Kochi, in Kerala, in a couple of weeks. The hotel we're staying in has a pool, and I'm told that the pools in western hotel chains are totally bathing suit wearing territory. And I know the kids will want to swim, and since Robert will be busy with conference activities most pool duties will fall to me.

So to sum up: I needed a bathing suit.

First I checked the usual online shops- Flipkart, Snapdeal, Jabong, etc. They either didn't sell bathing suits or had only a couple of pretty awful options. So I googled and discovered that bathing suits (and lingerie) are definitely somewhat illicit. I mean there are shops that sell them, certainly, but they take pains to assure potential customers that they ship in discreet packaging, lest anyone know that you've just bought a bathing suit. Or a bra.

At any rate, I found a shop called Pretty Secrets (see?) that had bathing suit options that looked pretty good and I placed an order.

The package arrived today (instead of yesterday, as the tracking had indicated all day yesterday, sigh. But that's FedEx's fault), and I was rather shocked by its size. This is 2 bathing suits! Note the pencil and water bottle for scale.

True to their word, the outside package was indeed "discreet". Inside, however, I found this:

"It's like all wrapped up like a birthday present!", I squealed. I have to admit I was rather charmed. I wish all the things that I order came in pretty wrapping paper and with a bow! How cool would that be? And it got better-- there was a card, too!

Awwww. A Valentine's Day card in silver ink! Seriously, I know it's all marketing, but these guys have done a bang-up job. Wrapping paper? Ribbons?? Hand written cards??? Pure awesome.

(In case you're wondering, the bathing suits are just fine. I wish the one with boy shorts didn't squeeze my hip fat so much, but I don't suppose that can be avoided. Damn near everything squeezes my hip fat. And at two suits for Rs 1750 (after the sign up discount), I can't complain!)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Indus Valley Civilization, by Zion

(The kids are working their way through a book on Indian history that I bought them. This is the first installment in reports they'll be writing to summarize what they've read.)

The Indus Valley civilization was made up of a bunch of big cities. The Indus Valley Civilization was around 2500 BCE. The Indus Valley civilization was in Northern India. Alexander Cunningham discovered the Indus Valley Civilization. The Indus Valley Civilization was also called the Harappan Civilization. The Indus Valley civilization was so big that it streched into present day Pakistan. It covered 1.3 million sq km. It was also called the Harrapan Civilization because the first cite discovered was Harappa. The roads were at right angles to each other in a grid pattern. Each house had a draning sistym conected to underground pippes. This syctam was so exalent because the poop and pee being flushed away did no smell good but because the pipes were under ground so nobody had to smell it. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Another sweater

My knitting pace has slowed in the past weeks. The shawl I'm currently working on is challenging enough that I can only work on it after the kids have gone to bed so that I can give it my full attention. I need another mindless project to go at the same time, and I'm thinking about knitting another sweater based on the same model as this one: top down, round yoked, simple. I'm pretty sure this color isn't the most flattering on me, but I like it anyway. It's outside my comfort zone for sure!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Errands and Education

Today was an errand day in our neighborhood. First we walked about 1km to Maha Bazaar, home of our favorite candied fennel seeds. We bought out their stock (600g), and wished there were more. I don't know why, but other brands of fennel seeds we've tried have been entirely unsatisfactory. But the Maha Bazaar house brand rocks! Sadly, we did not see any cows, even though we're well into "cows in the street" territory in that part of the neighborhood.

After that we went to Fabinida so Robert could buy a shirt. I have mixed feelings about Fabindia, truth be told. They have a better selection of ethnic wear for men and kids than most place, but their prices are high, and their women's clothing is kind of boring. But, Robert got a nice shirt, so that was good.

Our next stop was Kwality Big Bazaar, to buy almonds. The almonds that we've had from Maha Bazaar and Big Basket aren't as good! And have I complained about the price of almonds lately?? Toasted, salted almonds are $20/lb. Raw ones are less, we paid $10 today for 15oz. Up until we found this particular brand, the kids refused to eat the raw ones, so I guess I'm grateful. If we didn't have such a paucity of quick, healthy snacks they can eat in these parts I wouldn't buy almonds in such quantity, but as it stands...I do. They are by far the most expensive consumable we buy, and that includes alcohol and chicken. Crazy, huh?

I also bought some Himalaya face products while we were at Kwality (the "we"in this case was me and Liel, as Zion and Robert had scurried off to Cane Crush for a parota as soon as I mentioned that I needed a couple things). Nothing fancy- just a walnut scrub and some face cream that claims to have anti-wrinkle properties. India has been tough on my skin. I don't know if it's the different water, the increased air pollution, or what, but I'm hoping this stuff might be a slight improvement.

Then we came home and had tea. I'm making chicken with green beans and red peppers for dinner, and Zion just announced that he finished The Two Towers! Which reminds me of this New York Times opinion piece I read yesterday about boys and school. The basic information wasn't new to me (I've read some on this subject before...), though it was interesting to see the unconscious biases that teachers often held. However, what particularly caught my attention was the comment about how Canada, the UK and Australia are working to make school more boy-friendly in part by giving them more reading options. Reading options that include science fiction and fantasy. And I thought about my 8 year old reading Tolkien, and thought, yeah. If he'd been going to school, and if that school dictated what sorts of books he was to read for schoolwork and homework, I kind of doubt he'd be the amazing and voracious reader that it he is (at least, maybe not yet). Homeschooling ain't always easy. There are struggles over getting work done, frustrations in teaching and the constant worry that I'm missing something, shortchanging them in some way. As with parenting in general, homeschooling doesn't come with an instruction manual! But sometimes, for a moment, the sun breaks through the clouds and I can see a bit more clearly, and I think, "yes! Well, at least I'm doing that part right!" And I had one of those moments thinking about Zion and the complete freedom he has in his reading choices. I think he'd have become an amazing and committed reader under most circumstances, because my boy loves words and stories, but I think that by allowing him to choose what he wants to read he's grown as a reader faster than I would have dreamed possible. And more than that, he owns his reading. Reading Tolkien is a challenge for him, and he rarely reads more than a chapter at a time. But he keeps going back to it, unprompted, because he wants to read it. He chose it. He knows he can do it, and he knows its worth the struggle.

This is my hope and my goal in homeschooling my kids: that they will own their education and their learning. That it will not be something that is done to them, or even for them, but something that is done by them, because the world is interesting, amazing, magnificent, complex, and bewildering and they want to be in the thick of it.

Trying to navigate this as a mama, teacher, and guide is kind of a leap of faith, and I'm so grateful for the little moments of clarity like the one I had today.

And also for the fennel seeds. Of course. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013


On Sundays, Prakruthi is relatively quiet and uncrowded. It's pleasant to sit in the shade, sipping coffee, eating piles of delicious food and people watching.

Or dog watching. We've named that stray dog we saw being fed cookies a while back "Prakruthi". We've spotted him hanging around the patio pretty often, and there seem to be a few people that he's especially fond of, and will run up to, tail wagging, as soon as he sees them. Naturally, these people all feed him cookies. Most of them do it surreptitiously, under the table, but the kids and I usually spot them because we're constantly on the look out for that dog.

Anyway, we decided a while back that we'd go to Prakruthi for lunch every Sunday. This may not sound particularly thrilling, given that we eat there 5-6 times a week, but trust me. We all love our Sundays there (the kids, it must be admitted, are particularly attached to them because we buy them a sweet on Sunday), and I know I'm going to miss them like crazy when we're back in New York.

Today as we were leaving we saw something new: monkeys at Prakruthi. The kids were particularly charmed by the baby one eating off a plate someone had left. Naturally I took pictures.

Then a much bigger monkey, with either cuts or sores on it face started walking in our direction, so we got out of there sharpish. Early on in our stay here we were warned that monkeys with sores on their faces care a disease that has a 100% fatality rate in humans, so we take that pretty seriously.

We had a lovely walk home through Jubilee Gardens. Eventually the kids walked off ahead of us to talk about Archon (a video game they're currently obsessed with). They looked so cute I could hardly stand it.

And when we got home, Liel drew me a picture of a Yellow Wattled Lapwing mama and baby. The mama is holding a jewel in her claws. These birds live on campus, and she's been reading about them in our zoology of the IISc campus book. We haven't seen any yet, but hopefully we will. Anyway if you follow the link above you can see what these birds look like. I think her ability to re-create what she sees is improving!

Re-create and improve. Liel's birds are delightfully plump and stubby-legged!

Friday, February 1, 2013

More Malleswaram

We went back to Malleswaram today. There are loads more temples we wanted to visit, and more shopping to do! I'm sure we'll be back again. Not only is it a totally charming neighborhood, there are still at least two more temples we want to see! And one of them has magical water from a mysterious sources, sort of like Lourdes. Clearly a must see. But we didn't see it today...instead we saw other exciting things.

Our morning started of with an auto rickshaw ride to 2nd Temple Street. It was a first for Robert and the kids, and Zion and Liel loved it. In fact, Zion has declared ricks to be his favorite form of ground transportation.

Here are my boys in the rickshaw.

And Liel and me.

Our original plan had been to go to the doomed Malleswaram market, and then visit a temple or two. Instead we found ourselves with 4 gorgeous temples right in front of us...and the market a few blocks away. So we went first to this amazing structure that we thought, from my memory of the map, was the Ganesha temple.

It wasn't. It was an alternate entrence to the same temple we'd gone to the last time we were in Malleswaram! We did get to see its prettier side this time, as well as some lovely gardens and a big lot of nagas.

After that we decided to check out the Lakshmi temple. We completely missed the sign saying no pictures, and were immediately scolded when I took this picture of a silver crusted Hanuman. So, no pictures of the goddess or the rest of the temple, I'm afraid.

We went into the main shrine to see the icon of Lakshmi. It was amazing-- loads more gorgeous silver! And, it turned out we were right in time for one of the main pujas. So we got in line with our offering flowers (and by the way, I totally remembered how to say "ten" in Kannada from our last temple outing! Which turned out to be useful because the flower seller spoke no English was relieved when I was able to tell Robert how much to pay). There was one line for men and one for women. We split up, stood on our respective sides...and the we waited. And waited. Priests moved in and out of the area, more people got in the line, and it got hotter and hotter. Finally the ritual began. I was too ignorant to know much of what was going on, but we put our flowers in the offering basket, one priest rang a silver bell loudly and continuously, and another priest chanted in Sanskrit. Liel and I also got dots of vermillion on our foreheads. Apparently these are a must for women, but not men.

Here's Liel with her dot afterwards, refusing to smile. I don't know why she looks so miserable!

Maybe she was still recovering from the heat in the temple. Remember how I wrote about how I've yet to see an Indian sweating? Well, we were up close to the shrine, with probably 2 dozen other people, all Indian. The only ones sweating were the four of us and one Indian man that Robert noticed. My 7 year old daughter apparently sweats more than most grown men around here!

We were in the temple for about 45 minutes, so after that we decided to go find Malleswaram Market. It's primarily a produce and flower market, and it smelled amazing! It smelled cool and green from the shade and the vegetables, and sweet from the jasmine and the incense. It is the best smelling place I've been in in Bangalore! And quite beautiful.

We bought a coconut. I'm not sure how we're going to open it; the current plan involves putting it in a bag and bashing it on the concrete outside our door.

As we continued walking in the neighborhood, we saw lots of lovely, simple mandalas on the ground, like this one.

We also saw a new sari shop (as yet unopened) getting some sort of religious blessing. They had a full on fire going and everything! It looked very cool.

So, that was our day! Afterwards we walked back to campus, had some delicious food, and chatted with a couple of friends we ran into. One of them gave us a great lead on a particular gift we've been looking for, which was extra pleasing.

And when I got home and looked in the mirror while I was washing my hands I saw the vermillion on my forehead, and having completely forgotten about it thought, "Oh my G-d! Why am I bleeding out of my head??" Luckily it all came back pretty quickly ;)