Just when I thought that food memoirs are getting one-dimensional (read as boring), I stumbled upon Sandeepa's new book which she penned based on her childhood memories of being a bong. In her introduction page she says - "This is my story, but it might well be yours and may be even yours". That's so true to its every word.
Just like her, I used to call my mother and ask "What was for lunch today, Ma?" while I was re-heating my left over pasta from previous day. "Oh, I didn't really cook much today, lunch was simple", my mom used to say (just like Sandeepa's) which usually included most of my favorites and by the time our phone call ended, I found my stomach growling like a leopard and cursing myself on my decision to stay in a far away country. There are numerous such instances all along the book where I chuckled as that's exactly what happened with me too, at some point of my life while in US. :-)
Giving a good glimpse of her life in New York and expertly comparing with the charming place where she spent her childhood (Bengal) with her parents, Sandeepa evokes such humour & wit that you really feel that she is like your best friend narrating her life story to you. What's more striking (which sadly missing from many Indian works) is the choice of words she uses to describe a scene. For example - swirled with cream-cheese clouds, its (Kanchenjunga's) peak gleaming like gold in the first rays of the sun. Doesn't it instantly transport you the peak of a snow-capped mountain? Yes, the book is filled with such beautiful prose. It warms the cockles of my heart to read such good stories from someone who knows how to effectively describe a scene, any scene.
Now, I have two good-to-haves though which would have made this book much better. Firstly, a recipe index at the end of the book with exact page numbers. That's needed especially when you want to quickly glance through a recipe instead of remembering the page number or bookmarking it. Secondly, a few photographs may be? The cover page and the back page had such colorful food photographs that I wanted more.
Today, for this post I chose two recipes from the book which are perfect for the current monsoons. We had these delicious eggplant fritters with corainder chutney, chatting away while the rain was pelting down on the roof on one cool Sunday evening.
..and I am making them again, today!
I wanted to know more about Sandeepa, the face behind this gorgeous book who spent two whole years writing it while managing two kids, a full time job and a blog. Here is a small Q & A I did with her. Thanks so much S for patiently answering them all.
1. Tell us a little about what went through your mind while writing your new cook book, what motivated you to write it?
Honestly, after a few years of blogging and reader feedback, I had this fledgling dream to write a book one day. But I didn't want to write a traditional cookbook. I wanted to write a food narrative where food complements the narration. However, I had no idea how to bring my idea to fruition. I had no idea of the publishing world. In a vague attempt, I put together a proposal (which was rather lamely written) and sent it to a literary agency in India whose e-mail I had got off the net. I wasn't even sure what I was doing. Of course they politely rejected it. I thought my dream would never come true.
Several months down the line, I got an e-mail from an editor with Harper Collins India. She used to read my blog. "Do you want to write a book based on your blog?" she asked. Was that even a question? That we both wanted a food narrative with recipes instead of a traditional cookbook sealed the deal.
2. What is your first food memory?
I think it is the chhanar dalna, the sweetish paneer dish which I would eat at lunch with rice even in school until second grade.
3. Do you have any favorite music which you tend to listen while cooking?
I wish. No, my daily cooking gets done amidst cacophony, complaints and shows like Curious George in the background. We have an open plan kitchen, breakfast area and family room so the oldest might be doing her homework on the kitchen island, the little one watching something in the family room or playing and me cooking amidst this. However I do like cooking more involved dishes when there is calm and then I do it later at night. But by then forget to put on music
4. What is that one dish you will never touch or cook?
Though I am a non-vegetarian, I cannot take myself to cook things like crab. But I cannot say, I will never touch or cook it. Things change.
5. What is your favorite food moment while writing the book? Could you share with us what is your favorite chapter from the book & why?
Favorite chapter from the book is about my Dida, my maternal grandmother. As I have said, she is no longer with us physically and I miss her. She would have been very happy to hear that I wrote a book. Writing about her legacy, I felt I was doing a wee bit justice to all those years she fed gorgeous food to me and my cousins.
6. If you had a dream party where you can bring in just two other people, whom would you invite? [family not included ;-)]
I am not a very party kind of person and I would rather not go to one where my friends and family are not invited. If it was a stranger's party, I would better go alone so that there would be no proof of any faux pas that I am sure to commit.
7. Do you have a pet peeve in a restaurant?
I always think what the other person is having is better, tastier and much worthy of consumption than mine.
8. Its raining outside. How does that make you feel and what do you cook for yourself?
If it is pouring, I will take some deep fried pakori with a steaming cup of chai but would prefer someone else to make it.
9. If a sudden surge of friends turn up at your house and if you have just 15 mins to put up something on the table, What do you do?
Err order take out ? Or if they insist on home food and my refrigerator is empty of cooked food, it will have to be rice, mashed potatoes, a dal with a wedge of lime. Maybe some scrambled eggs on the side. Pasta with garlic and lots of Parmesan would be another option
10. What would be your last meal on earth?
Last meal as in I am dying, taking a rocket to outer space or the end of the World ? In the first case maybe nothing, second one some rice and aloo posto but don't know if NASA has restrictions and the last one -- let's clear the fridge, why waste food.
This is Recipes 39 & 40 added to 2013 Recipe Archive. Check out the rest of the recipes too.
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