A brief pause…

It has been more than a month since my last post. The decision was to take a break from this attempt of mine at blogging, while I tried to figure out what the purpose of this was, the direction I wanted this to take going forward. While I do not want to attach a ‘this’ or ‘that’ label to this space that I have come to love dearly, I would prefer if it had an outline at least. The work on that seems to be an ongoing on!

The world is a different place than what it was a month ago. We are witnessing something magnificently powerful at the moment, with a worldwide cry for solidarity tearing through ceilings that needed to come down long ago and a pandemic is wrecking havoc through our civilization. People and their resilience are being tested to the limits and while hope seems to elude us at times, it also encourages us to be our best and how can one not respond to that call. As an eternally optimist soul, I believe and have to keep believing that this shall end and shall end for good.

I hope to be back more often! Till then, here are some photos I took while I was away and it feels so good to be able to share these with you. I also have so much catching up to do, going through your blogs and I can’t wait to start! A month’s break was good and though I had wanted it to be longer, I hadn’t realized that I would be really missing this community this much:)

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe, be kind.

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge: Something Good

Sandy has a wonderful prompt for us this week at Friendly Friday Photo Challenge . We could all definitely seek out moments of happiness, of gratitude,  of beauty, of humanity, of the good in the middle of these not only scary times but time where our collective consciousness will need to win over vested interests and bigotry that shamelessly continues its parade.

NJ has been one of the hardest hits areas in the US and as of yesterday the number of positive cases stands at a terrifying 92,000+. Grocery shopping is an ordeal and storing  that in a safe manner a bigger one. Our son keeps asking why he does not go to school anymore and why are the parks closed. He knows that we are in lockdown because of something terrible called Coronavirus, the gravity of terms he does not fully comprehend. But he understands and has been enormously patient but being a 5 year old, he does have his little moments from being cooped up in the apartment. The almost incessant rain and freeze warnings do not let us enjoy the ‘ spring’ outside. But we have been learning to be with and work around each other’s quirks and needs and we are definitely spending a lot more ‘together’ time (obviously!).

 

As I was thinking about what to post for this week, I thought about moments that have been pivotal this past month to our family and these are the ones that stood out. Our little girl is a confident ‘walker’ now and while that has made it easier for her to get into a lot more mischief and as a result increase my mini panic attacks, it is an absolute delight to watch her.

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Brother sister duo are also learning to be there with and to be there FOR each other much more and this moment caught my eye the other day where both were in their own little world, seemingly oblivious of everything else. Such moments are what has made sense of the tough times we all are part of. The little boy is growing up fast and takes his role of a big brother and a soon to be Kindergarten-er very seriously and that is hilarious to watch at times. In his conversations with his sister he often brings up how big he has gotten that he will be starting Kindergarten from September and going to school in the big kids’ yellow bus. He is excited for sure. And my heart beats fast thinking about how better the world would be and how safe would it be for kids to be going back to school in a few months. But I choose to keep aside that worry for a later time.

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Conversations about the pandemic and how it is impacting people all over the world and how those on the frontline are doing their very best to keep others safe, is a staple of households everywhere. And kids are smarter and kinder than we give them credit for. The little guy drew these as  a ‘ thank you note’. He also set up his grocery store where he took orders over the phone and then delivered produce to people in need. All a child’s play, but this gives me hope that the next generation maybe will be kinder and smarter and will know better.

 

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We love to cook in our home and that has definitely been a huge stress buster. On some Fridays, we dress up and as our son puts it- ‘pretend -go -out- to- eat’. Little moments of joy have made isolation less tiring. And we love music too. Every evening we make sure to sing and play the guitar and sometimes drums and whatever song we sing, “Life goes on’ by the Beatles remains constant!

 

 

My home country of India is in lockdown and has been so for quite a few weeks now. But it plans to lift the lockdown soon and without adequate testing and infrastructure in place, I shudder to think what might happen if ‘it’ spreads. Our parents and many family members are old, each with underlying conditions and I am scared to think anything beyond ‘what if this spreads’. My parents have been spending time at home more than usual and one of the things they have been doing is going through family albums and as we call each other everyday, I get to hear stories associated with special photos. And I absolutely love it. It has been a lot more this last week and my brother keeps sending me some of the old photos from the albums and this one is a favorite for so many reasons. I will not go into all the personal stories here. This is a picture of my mother with me and I am about 3 weeks old here. She is a first time mom in this picture and when I look at her looking  at me, I see the same love in her eyes today as she sees her grandkids over video calls. She is almost blind now and with whatever little is left, she takes in all that she can of their little faces and big smiles. She hurts inside, I know,  but she does not show it for a moment. She lives life thanking her God for all the blessings showered on her and her family and I know not how she does that. This is a picture that speaks to me of selfless love that a parent showers on her kids at all times, under all circumstances. Age and distance do not hold much power over a mother’s love.

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Spring has sprung ( I really hate this cliche but end up using it more than I am willing to acknowledge!) and while rain has tampered with these fragile blossoms, I was still able to take a few photos, though all with my cell phone.

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Thank you Sandy for your wonderful thought for this week. These have been some of the highlights of the past month and while personal, I am sure many around the world are reveling in such moments big  and small, writing their own stories while also discovering those which have already been written, may be a little forgotten.

 

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and celebrate the little moments.

Time for Spring… well, almost

My husband and I moved to New Jersey  from Minneapolis about nine years ago and it took us a while to be fond of the place. There was a bit of a shock involved, to be honest, in the beginning. Everything from highways to alleys, store fronts to gas stations made us go ‘ What’!! And let’s not talk about the way people drove here that included the dreaded and shameful ‘honk’. Reeling from the pain of leaving, what I still think of as, ‘the best group of people one can possibly know’ ( at least was so in our case) in Minneapolis, it took us a bit of time to really like it here.

Anyways, it has been nine years since and in spite of the things that we still sort of roll our eyes at,  it has become home. Our kids were born here and from two poor grad students we have grown into responsible adults ( hopefully) and all of that has happened in this place that is frowned down upon by most of the rest of the country. But it’s okay. This place, like any other, grows on you and you learn to navigate that which maybe unflattering.

But one thing that we still have not gotten used to, and hence cannot bring ourselves to like, is the weather and its fluctuations that are sure to drive one a tiny bit crazy. It could be 81 degrees Fahrenheit today and 42 tomorrow and 65 the next day. And what is supposed to be Spring, should be known as the ‘rainy season’ like we have back in India. There is no confusion that way. We knew, when growing up, that June-August or early September was the rainy season and we went about our lives accordingly. But here what is ‘advertised’ as Spring- that tempts you to start packing your mittens and hats, makes you look forward to that cherry blossom viewing you have been planning for a while or your simple yearning to turn that heater off- is actually a very heavy rainy season and all your plans go for a toss. It rains a whole lot and that is a blessing, I understand. But the dampness and gloom and grey skies can toy with the spirits at times! The cherry blossoms take a hit too.  The last couple of years, they were exceptionally short lived because of the torrential downpour. This year looks to be following a similar path.

Under the stay-at-home order, we rarely go out even for groceries. And the rain and cold do not allow for much of a walk around the neighborhood as well. But a few days back, we had a warm spring day and it was beautiful and we went out.  Sights of spring greeted us. As I clicked some pictures, I could not help but think when will the world heal.

(Some of these photos I have already shared but here they are all together.)

 

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Peeking out.

 

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Poor shot but spring-y nonetheless.

 

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A whole lot of green

 

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It was Holi as well around that time and some kids had braved the cold to splash around a little color:)

 

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This little guy could hardly contain his excitement at being able to run around.

 

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The tiny buds were almost ready to blossom and what a sight that would be-the pink against the cloudless blue sky.

 

 

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Some are always ahead of others.

 

 

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The Spring rain!

 

Thanks for stopping by. How are you welcoming spring? Or those getting ready to welcome Fall, how are you ushering it in? Times are different now but it keeps moving even so. Wherever you are and whoever you are with, and be it spring or autumn, hope you get to collect moments, big or small, that fill your heart and help you hold on a little longer.

Monday Motivation

Sufi Saying-
“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.

At the first gate, ask yourself: ‘Is it TRUE’?

At the second gate ask: ‘Is it NECESSARY’?

At the third gate ask: ‘Is it KIND’?”

 

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Thanks for stopping by.

Monday Motivation

How often do we seek extraordinary moments of happiness and in trying to achieve  ‘perfect’ moments take extrinsic steps? Such moments, we perhaps don’t realize at many times, cannot be created or chased after. It is upto us to recognize that those are within us and around us. In the humdrum of daily life, challenges are many and we often find ourselves striving to gain back our mental space and the peace from negative energy,  untruthful people, deceiving situations. It takes a lot to alienate ourselves from all the chaos outside and an even greater effort to fight the war that rages inside.

Be still. Be calm. Be true. Be grateful. Be conscious.  It may take time but slowly we are certain to attain a clarity, that will help us acknowledge that in spite of all that has gone wrong or all that is going wrong, blessings are in abundance. Our mental space will no longer be for anyone to toy with and we will not give anyone the power to disrespect us, to make us think less of ourselves.

We will have arrived. It is easier said than done but at the same time it is within our reach to practice peace, practice humility, practice rising above pettiness, practice mindfulness.

 

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Thank you for stopping by. I am grateful for you and what you help me learn.

Cook,Eat, Repeat: Revisiting Japan through food- Ramen

A couple of years to turning forty, I often find myself thinking about regrets that I may or may not have. And while there certainly are things that could have gone better or slightly differently, I don’t have much to complain about. But one thing that I really regret is not having a good camera during my stay in Japan (and not buying one as well) and on top of that, losing more than 95% of whatever photos I had to a case of ‘laptop in the bathtub’ 🤦🏾‍♀️ Before you start wondering…I was working on an assignment  that was nearing its deadline, sitting on the edge of this deep bathtub, while soaking my feet  when a moment of carelessness resulted in a soaking laptop. It was near the end of my stay as well and so I lost most of the photos and a few other stored documents in that mishap. I still cannot believe that I was, to put it as frankly as possible, dumb enough to do that. But that’s what happens when you take the laptop to the bathroom and later question your reasoning!

I haven’t visited many countries yet and so I cannot say with absolute certainty but from whatever I have seen  of Japan and the experiences I gathered during the time I lived there, I can say with a good amount of confidence that it is one of the most beautiful places one could ever visit. And it’s beauty does not merely lie in its mountains and seas, the coming and going of the seasons, the traditional homes, the perfectly landscaped gardens, beautiful castles that are spread throughout the country…it transcends this physical part and seeps into the way of life there. There is a feeling of serenity and contentment in the beauty that enraptures one when in Japan -be it through the mesmerizing Sakura, the sight of women clad in kimonos, in the discipline that they exhibit in their daily routine, in the juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, in their sense of aesthetics that ranges from how they dress to how their dining table is laid out to the placing of the hashi (chopsticks) to the way they say itadakimasu (I humbly receive – a phrase they say right before eating)…the list can be endless. I feel deeply honored to have had the opportunity to work there for two years and immerse myself in the culture and cuisine with the help and love of people I was fortunate to have crossed paths with.

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I fell in love with Japanese food pretty easily and have never  not liked anything that I had except for Ikura (salmon roe) and natto (fermented soybeans), with the latter being a bit too out of my comfort zone! I have made meals with and shared those with my colleagues, my students, amazing neighbors and every time the experience has been rewarding, to say the least. A name that stands out from all the wonderful people who I made memories with is Chikako Yasunaga- a woman who embraced me with open arms and heart and showered me with her kindness and love and called me her fourth child (she has three kids)! I never know how to describe her as I feel any words I use would not do justice to capturing her true essence and the wonderful human being she is. The day before I left Kobe, she came to meet me and obviously brought me food! When we said goodbye, she hugged me tightly and said ‘Chatterjee, daisuki desu‘ (I like/love ‘Chatterjee’- my last name), I suddenly realized I was leaving family there who I probably would not be able to see again and that thought was heart wrenching. I also remember crying a lot after she left. I have watched her cook and cooked with her, shared innumerable meals with her family and I owe a lot of my love for Japanese food to her and so not mentioning her here would be dishonoring her.

Arigatou Sensei.

 

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Yasunaga sensei with her husband (another wonderful person, a professor of law by profession) in Naples! We still send each other little life updates and it is just as easy talking to her over the phone with her broken English and my very rusty Japanese (that she had made me conversational in during my stay in Kobe!) as it was 12 years back!

 

 

So, for this month’s first recipe I am sharing a pretty simple recipe of Ramen that both my husband and I love and is a staple in our home during the winter months! It reminds me not only of Yasunaga sensei’s kitchen but also of my amazing neighbor Tom, who was a ramen enthusiast and we often explored various ramen places in our neighborhood! Those made for some great conversations, long walks and some wonderful food!

This is a version that we make at home and is not an absolute authentic Japanese one, in terms of the way some ingredients have been modified. It is a version that suits us best and also does not deviate a lot from traditional methods of making it. It tastes pretty good too!

HOW TO MAKE

Ingredients

  • Ramen noodles – 2 packages (store bought) Only the noodles will be used
  • Ginger- Thinly sliced , about 3-4 tsps
  • Garlic- Grated, 2 tsps
  • Onion- Thinly Sliced, 1 medium
  • Lemongrass- 1 stalk
  • Shitake Mushrooms- Sliced, 1 cup (I prefer to cut but you may want to keep them whole)
  • Carrots- Cut into matchsticks , 1 cup
  • Scallions- Chopped, 1/2cup
  • Eggs- Hard Boiled 1 or 2 (Typically the egg should not be hard boiled but should have a runny yolk. However, this time I boiled the eggs till they were absolutely well done. The runny yolk does taste delicious though;)
  • Chicken Tenders -6 or Thinly sliced chicken breasts – 3 (Again, typically Pork Belly is used for Ramen or any other cut of pork but I never have that when I feel like making Ramen and so we always have made it with chicken!)
  • Chicken or Vegetable Broth- About 4 cups
  • Water- 2 cups (or as needed)
  • Miso soup powder- 2 packets (store bought) [ Miso paste is traditionally used in making ramen but I have never tried that simply because I have not been able to buy it and so I buy miso soup powder packets. But I do intend to use miso paste in my next attempt and for that I am hoping I will remember to buy it before hand;)]
  • Mirin- About 1/4 cup
  • Soy Sauce- 2 tsps
  • Sesame Oil- 1-2 tsps
  • Salt- as needed
  • Sugar- 2-3 tsps
  • Sriracha- Optional ( I do not use it but my husband does and it adds a slight zing to the ramen)

 

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Method

  • In a cooking pot that is deep enough, heat the oil on medium low flame.
  • Add the ginger and onions and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add the garlic. Keep stirring. Add the mushrooms and stir for a couple of more minutes. Add salt and stir again.
  • Add the soy sauce and mirin and about 1 tsp of sugar.Stir.
  • Add the broth and the stalk of the lemon grass and let the whole thing boil for about 10-15 minutes on low flame. The broth will be infused with all the flavors in your pot and letting a ramen broth simmer for long is key to making it savory. Check for seasoning and add salt and/or sugar as you prefer.
  • In a separate bowl, add the miso powder and make miso soup according to the instructions on the package. Once done, add that to the pot.

 

 

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  • Meanwhile, in a separate pan, prepare the ramen noodles according to package instructions…do not use any powdered stuff that may be inside. We just need the noodles. Once softened, add it to the boiling broth and let the whole thing simmer for an additional 2-3minutes.
  • While your broth is simmering, put the chicken in a 350F oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes or till the internal temperature reaches 165F. (You can bake the chicken either right before starting the broth or simultaneously or after the broth is ready…your choice! ) I marinate the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, a bit of lemon pepper powder, chilli flakes and 1/2 tsp of mayonnaise…it keeps the chicken wonderfully moist. Once done, slice it and keep it aside.

I was in a hurry and I cut the chicken really sloppy…please excuse that!

 

  • Check for seasonings in the broth. I like my ramen broth to be ginger heavy, so if needed I often add some extra ginger (just smash it with the back of the knife and let the broth absorb the flavor for a couple of minutes. Be careful to take that chunk out before serving just like the lemongrass stalk!).
  • If you are using Sriracha, stir that in now.
  • In your ramen bowl, pour the desired quantity of broth and add the chicken, carrots, eggs and scallions (I forgot to add in my bowl!).
  • Slurp! (Did you know that in Japan slurping on the ramen and broth is actually not frowned upon even when eating in a restaurant? It is, in fact, taken as a sign of compliment to the chef! I found this out when I had ramen for the first time, back in 2006!)

 

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Gochisosama deshita!

(For the unnitiated, the Japanese end every meal by saying this – it is a way of showing their appreciation for the food they just had and also for the person who cooked…it means “thank you for the meal or that was delicious”)

What is your take on Japanese food?Are you a fan or do you stick to sushi only when it comes to this cuisine? Do you cook Japanese food at home? Which ones?  Is there a favorite restaurant you go to? What is your favorite Japanese food? What about sake? Have you visited Japan? Do you have stories to share? I am eager to hear your association with this country and its food, both of which I have come to love dearly! Please share anything that you want to in the comment section or write your own post and share your story, photos, recipes….anything that you can think of! It will be wonderful to read:)

Here’s how to participate:

  • Create your own post with your recipe, photos, story anything that you might want to share, representing this month’s theme
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or leave a link in the comment section
  • Join whenever you can!

 

Thank you for stopping by.