Life's vagaries explained through football, food, travel and canines.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Stitch In Time, Thus Enshrined

Found at ginger anyhow are embroidered SMS. 20 in all.

They are poignant and perfect and it's not only the content, but the time stamp is usually what gets me.

I would venture to say that the vast majority of us have sent, received, and (gulp) archived a few of these babies.

It almost makes me want to high tail it to Jo-Ann fabrics and buy some DMC black and Aida--C'mon you cross stitch nerds, you know what I'm talking about.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tell Your Mommy You Want Umami

Where have I been lately? Well, in a nutshell: the US and Vietnam were two recent stops for me, but I think my paucity of posts can be attributed to much of my time being spent reading every scrap of reporting on the Democratic primary race. That meant a lot of Internet and a lot of TV.

But back to more important things than politics. While in NYC, I did some last minute shopping at Gourmet Garage. It was, you know, an hour before I was leaving for the airport. Eminent departure + Family = Beyotchy Churlishness--well we all know there a few things that stop that: 1) food shopping, 2) food making and 3) food consuming.

I picked up a few prime purchases at GG among them Maldon sea salt (truly magnificent, not even snooty fleur de sel--you can see why they taxed salt back in the day), olive oil from Provence with herbes de provence in it (even putting it over Kraft Mac and Cheese transports you to some ethereal planet of bliss) and truffle oil.

Now, recently there was an NYT article about how truffle oil is not the strained liquid from marinading the fungus, but actually a chemical concoction made to smell and taste like the genuine article. Apparently they have isolated the truffle compound down to a molecular and replicable level. But does that mean it's not good?

Nope, because truffle oil over ANYTHING I am convinced will make you drool for it. I seem to have stumbled on some crazy umami or fifth taste switch that I can't now stop. Take truffle fries for instance--I actually contemplated aloud to N the other day a possible purchase of McD french fries just to shake them up with a tablespoon of the stuff. Or cold pizza---two dots on a slice of cold pizza. Enough to make me lose my mind.

Umami is actually the chemical compound glutamate naturally present in a variety of foods--real parmigiano reggiano, fish sauce, ketchup, soy and a lot of Japanese foods like kombu, bonito, and oh so meatily delicious mushrooms hence our usage of the Japanese word for it. Kind of like tsunami :-(.

Anyway! Umami ingredients are like insurance policies, super subs, not generally the flashy striker but indispensible on the bench. Sure it would be nice to have say, Cristiano Ronaldo all the damn time, but in a pinch Ole Gunnar Skolskaer really makes a difference. Thus with umami. Put a parmesan rind or maybe some fish sauce in your next pot of homemade stock and get back to me.

Also the map is courtesy of the UMAMI Information Center. I live in the world's umami epicenter, non?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Railei: Four Times in Four Years

Railei kind of makes you feel like you have been holding your breath your whole life and only now do you think to exhale.

I don't think I will ever get used to seeing the bay cradled by towering karsts at each end, especially at night, when there is something truly magical about those dark columns. I'm certainly not the only one who feels this way, but there is something about the place that encourages a sense of intimacy.

I had first been there in 2004 after the J and S wedding and was shocked and stunned by the beauty. All the New Yorkers were--call it Thai sensory overload. We just sat on the porch at Baan Deborah with mouths open. I dropped my city girl thing (a jacket at least at all times!) and even boarded a plane all gritty with sand and a bikini underneath my clothes. The Jedi mind trick was complete. I was moving to Thailand.

Next time around, S, the rock-climbing rocket scientist and I had the best time I have ever had, with anyone, anyplace, anyhow. This time we perched at Baan Wolfgang and made friends and influenced people. She came off the plane in the middle of the night from India and I apologized for making her get right back on a plane, but promised that I was taking her to the best place in the world. We saw some debris left at that time--mostly broken pieces of longtail boat from the tsunami the year before. Thanks to B and C who sent us off from Bangkok with necessary provisions.

Rainy season, 2006, N and I go there and arrive at night--the longtail slips silently into the Andaman and no boatman in sight. We are confident that we could drive a boat if we had to when he swings aboard. So frightening and romantic in equal measure! Shack up in Baan Solly and read and listen to music and swim in fits of spontaneous happiness. Wake up in the middle of the night to watch Italy win the World Cup. A brilliant trip.

2007--a bleak year with no Railei.

2008--Our travel group needed to have one last trip before dear friends moved from Bangkok, but thankfully only to Singapore. Railei Beach Club was a no brainer. This trip included a solo swim for me where small schools of golden minnows arched out of the water in the trail of a receding wave washing me with a spontaneous wave of joy. Not something I experience every day, but commonplace in Railei.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Laos In Translation

I was in Vientiane, Laos, last week doing some reporting. And through the beer bottles and bureaucrats' ballet, I didn't quite feel that I was getting a true picture of what the place was really like. Though inertia will always find a true north and the next day along with a driver, my cameraman and a Lonely Planet Laos, we wandered aimlessly looking for people or a pulse.

It certainly seemed at times I was trying to conjure something that didn't exist--which is generally frowned upon for a reporter to do. But in fact, I just needed to readjust my own pace--Laos is certainly not speeding up for you. And a few phone calls later, I was standing in a kitchen learning how to make laab plaa and then eating my way through a delicious lunch. The next day was even more languid, it's the heat, it's the purple sticky rice, it's the BeerLao. All of this makes Laos sort of an anti-India but with the same result--you adapt to it and not the other way around. I had a really great time. I found the people lovely and they were nice enough to smile at my inadequate Thai.

I also had the singular experience of feeding footage via satellite from Laos TV--this is a very expensive process that gets pictures there instantly. It can be stressful and seem like 15 years rather than 15 minutes. At Laos TV, all was dark and no one, like a Brooklyn neighborhood, knew nuthin'. There was however a huge replica Eiffel Tower which served no purpose that I could see. I later learned that it was a gift from the Vietnamese. Odd.

I was beginning to stress--the whole place was feeling a little bit Dharma Initiative...with car seats in the foyer for chairs and everything a creaking rusty dusty brown. Pong and I were shown to a room--a graveyard of junked equipment carpeted with dust and I staged whispered "This is the shittiest place I have even been."

Honestly, though I should expect facilities to be like this after being in the region for this long. It all worked out in the end, but I don't think I will ever forget the set up. Cables running out the window to a satt truck parked outside--the dish on the ground and a oversized BeerLao umbrella set up to protect from showers. We could have set up a table underneath and enjoyed an aperitif! A hearty cheers to the engineers, Mr William and Mr Khankheo. Khob choi. Pics below for the non believers among ye...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Casa de Sanyal

I spent the last weekend with my parents in our family home in New Alipore, Calcutta. My grandfather built this house in the 1950s when the area was a new suburb of the city (and sparkling clean, I am assured.) Previously, my family lived in the heart of the city, but most memories were made in the sprawling three story structure on Block F with an adjacent annex building for the family business above a two car garage.

Recently my parents have renovated the ground floor and refurbished the apartment with paint and repairs. The overhaul helps many of the period features to shine through--the high ceilings and moldings and other architectural details.

Many of the motifs, such as the geometric shapes on the door, reflect the Art Deco sensibility that continued on in India well after its heyday in the West. And I can't help but love the "S" entwined in the window grates which speak to me of dependability, dynasty and ownership.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dream Puffs

Happy New Year. I cannot claim anything but laziness with regards to this blog and yet, of course, there have been many things I have wanted to share.

N and I went to India in November and tackled my family's home city of Calcutta (it's not a place one can tackle really--it pulverizes you instantly), the picturesque little town of Darjeeling where my father spent happy school days, and further afield. Needless to say, culinary delights were plentiful and for the record, we never ate anything bad, perhaps just slightly dumbed down for the unaccustomed palate, but that can't be such a sin, now can it?

I had rhapsodized at length to N about a certain pan Indian snack food holy grail known regionally by differing names, but the pitfalls of tracking down and rapidly consuming the pani puri/ gol guppa/ phuchka are many for those of us who have desi blood, but lack the helpful flora in our guts to tackle this street food icon.

But to give credit where credit is due, NRI moms have made these at home and ... Ah the tableau of the Indian diaspora with groups of children clad in Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger turn their noses up at the recreated street food of our mothers' Calcutta youths in a sanitized suburban kitchens with its light almond colored counters stretching out for miles. Quick, someone page Jhumpa Lahiri!

Let's get down to brass tacks. Miniature puris or bread rounds are fried stiff-- almost fossilized--they must be able to hold their shape, travel and withstand finger poking. Am guessing that there is more wheat flour in the dough than the traditional half atta and half moida of our lucchis but I would have to verify with HQ. And HQ, while they will give up their recipes and explain their techniques, gets a quiet chuckle when they think about your ass trying to make any of it. Anyway that's the first component--the Indian equivalent of silver dollar pancakes.

Second is the mash--spiced mashed potatoes laced with chili and coriander, perhaps onion, definitely cumin. You take a little bread and poke a whole in it and stuff some mash inside.

This is the part that requires deftness and agility: I admit stuffing the whole thing in your mouth at this point would taste good but Indian food, let's face it, is all about upping the ante. And upping it some more. Hence the small dish of tamarind water as the finishing touch: spoon some liquid which will be partially absorbed by the potato but quickly start to compromise the structural integrity of the fried bread shell and the whole package will need to be shoved quickly in the mouth.

The ensuing crunchy, sour, sharp, hot, soft amalgam is enough to bring tears to the eyes. The good kind. Luckily a serving is about 5- 8. Note kindly: the above photo taken at Haldiram's in Calcutta features a hygenically sealed packet of phuchkas and an extra dish of something I guess was coriander water. I know it's heresy not to eat them on the roadside, but my readers know that what I lack in Indian authenticity, I make up for in other ways. Satire and spot on impersonations, perhaps?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Free Burma!