My Indian Reading List

Somehow I’ve managed to collect several Indian novels {otherwise known as Ladki-Lit} over the past few months.  I have been so busy that I haven’t had time to actually read these books.  I keep staring at them on my nightstand and think, “Maybe I’ll get to bed early tonight and have time to read a few chapters.”  Of course that never seems to happen!  Anyway, in case you’re interested, here are the books I’ll {hopefully} be reading soon{ish}…
A Golden Age (P.S.) • Tahmima Anam
Corner Shop • Roopa Farooki
No Deadline For Love • Manasi Vaidya
Ever read any of these?  Stay tuned for my take on them and also a giveaway or two!

Easy Butter Paneer Masala Recipe

What do you do when you need to cook dinner and you have nothing fresh in the house?  This recipe came about on just such an occasion. We were having last-minute company for dinner and I had nothing… I dug around in my pantry and found a carton of Organic Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup, a can of diced tomatoes, and then I found the very last onion in the house… and of course I always have Indian spices on hand.  This is the recipe that came out of that near-disaster (almost an “order pizza night”).  I give you…”Easy Butter Paneer Masala.”
Much to my surprise this tasted good (even to my Indian husband and our Indian friends)! We like the flavor that the soup base gives to the dish.  Feel free to add more of the soup (it comes in larger cartons as well) depending on how much “gravy” you like. I usually make Indian food from scratch, and stick to a tried and true recipe, but this turned out really well & I’ve made it several times since.  Of course the second time I made it, I couldn’t remember what I had done the first time I made it…
So let me know if you give it a try.  How about you, ever come up with a great recipe to get yourself out of a bind?  If so, are you able to recreate those truly inspired recipes a second time? Or do you prefer to stick to those faithful old family recipes?
Easy Butter Paneer Masala
  ● 3 tbsp ghee
  ● 8-10 oz. Paneer (Indian cheese), cubed
  ● 1 tsp. onion seeds
  ● 1 tsp. jeera seeds
  ● 1 large onion, diced
  ● 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  ● 1 stick of cinnamon
  ● 1 green chili, split in half
  ● 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  ● 16 oz of organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup
  ● salt and pepper to taste
  ● 1 tbsp flour, mixed with warm water to thicken curry
  ● 1/4 cup fresh cream
  ● 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
Melt the ghee, add in the onion, onion seeds and jeera seeds.  Add onions and cook until onions are translucent.  Add in the diced tomatoes.  Stir in cinnamon stick & ginger garlic paste and green chili.  Add paneer – stir until paneer starts to brown.  Add in roasted red pepper and tomato soup.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow to reduce a bit.  Mix in the flour and water paste and stir until thickened.   Stir in the cream and garnish with cilantro just before serving.  Serve over rice or with naan or chapatti.

Modeling: the new family business

You might remember that my mother-in-law has done some modeling work in the past. While were visiting India recently, the photographer that she works with stopped by the house… he was looking for some kids and a grandmother to model for his shoot the following day.  He took one look at Miss A and her two older cousins and offered them the job.

We actually debated on whether or not they should do it.  We thought it would be fun, but we only had a limited number of days with family and this photo shoot would take the whole day!  We finally decided to let them do it, not because of the money they would get paid, but because the photographer agreed to take a formal family photo for us.  Getting a nice “frame-worthy” family photo was on my list of priorities while we were in India, so this was a great opportunity – getting a professional photographer to do it for free?  Sign me up!!

I was curious to see how an Indian photo shoot would be.  I am a graphic designer and have worked for a couple of different magazines in North America, so I have seen my fair share of photo shoots.  We had to drive over an hour to get to the location.  The photo shoot was to advertise new apartments that are for sale. I was very impressed with how the shoot was handled.  There were many assistants, an older man who was playing the role of the grandfather, my MIL who was the grandmother, and two other children who were models, in addition to Miss A and her two older cousins.  Miss A was the youngest by far!  The photographer had a list of shots he wanted to get… they included the kids playing and posing on the bed in the bedroom (pictured above), a birthday scene, a balcony scene with the grandparents, a shopping scene (pictured at left) and some outdoor shots.  He kept things moving very quickly so there was very little “down time.”  The photographer’s assistants had all of the props well organized.  They also provided lunch for the whole crew.

Miss A wasn’t in all of the scenes, because of her age, but they used her as the one who cut the cake for the birthday scene,  she did well until they started spraying foam confetti EVERYWHERE  and the photographer was shouting “Give me MORE!” (referring to the confetti).  It scared Miss A so badly, she burst into tears… although he kept shooting!  After she recovered from that, she got to sit in the shopping cart – where they got some cute shots of her.  All together it was a fun day!

I was also very impressed with the apartment complex we were shooting.  This is beautiful new construction and very high-end living!  They have a grocery store at the bottom, which you can see is stocked very well.  The grounds were also beautiful.  I could live there for sure!  Too bad we didn’t get a discount on an apartment for doing the photo shoot!

Since I’m sure you’re wondering….the kids got paid Rs. 2500 each (around $55) and the adults got paid Rs. 5000 (around $110).  Not too bad, I suppose?  It was Miss A’s first paycheck – in Rupees!  And I got my family photo – which I LOVE and can’t wait to pick out the perfect frame, I already have the perfect spot reserved on my wall!

*The photos above are not the professional photos, these were snapped with my iPhone while I observed the shoot.  The family photo is the one provided to us by the photographer.  Please do not copy or reproduce any of the images posted on this blog.

International Celebrities

Surprise, Surprise!  While we were in India on our recent trip we woke up one fine morning to THIS in the morning issue of The Hindu newspaper!  Actually my mother-in-law woke ME up at 6 in the morning to show it to me!  I know it was breaking news and all, but I could have waited another hour or so to see it…
We had attended a deaf rally the day before.  (Although we almost didn’t make it, the three of us were traveling to the rally with a cousin’s family and we had a flat tire on the way there!)  My MIL works as an English teacher at a local deaf college, and they were thrilled to have our whole family attend the “International Day of the Deaf” rally.  I suppose we were the “International” part, which is why our picture showed up the next day.  I have to say it isn’t the most flattering picture, because they stopped us and asked us to smile and show the sign for “I Love You,” but they had us facing directly into the sun, so I was squinting!  
We had a good laugh, especially because they cut my husband out of the pic, and only his hand is visible.  When Miss A saw it, we asked her who was in the pic, and she said her name and pointed to herself, then she said “Momma” and pointed to me, then she said “Da-da” and pointed to my husband’s hand!  At which point, everyone cracked up.    
We also showed up in a local Telugu paper, they were kinder, because all three of us were there, although in their photo my husband was in the middle of Miss A and myself.  
What do you think, were we “news worthy” or just a spectacle?!  (I tend to think the latter…)

Gift ideas for Children with Indian Heritage

With the holidays coming up I thought it might be nice to put together some gift ideas for little ones, especially gifts that have some sort of connection to India, without having to hop on the next plane to India… I’d love to hear any ideas you have to add to this list!

Girl and Boy from India Paper Dolls
Namaste Boy & Girl T-shirt Designs
Hearts for Hearts Girls – Nahji from India and Chai Time with Nahji: Sari Outfit & Tea Set
Ticket To Ride India: Expansion Pack (preorder) and be sure to get the original game to go with it Ticket To Ride (This is the best game ever – we love it!)
Henna Tattoos (stocking stuffer?!)
A ghagra choli/lehnga for American Girl Dolls (I was an American Girl fan growing up, sadly they don’t have an Indian American girl yet, this is the next best thing, I guess!  They do have Sonali, but she seems to be sold out.)

Who am I kidding, I’m going to put a couple of these things on my list!  How about you, any ideas to add for the kids (and the big kids!)?

Indian Street Food: Enjoying Fresh Coconut

Miss A had a fabulous time in India!  It was still pretty hot while we were there.  To get some relief from the heat, and to keep hydrated we stopped several times for fresh coconut water right on the street.  If you’ve never experienced this before, you pay around Rs. 12 (depending on the location!) for the lady to use a machete to whack the top off of a young coconut.  Then she inserts a straw.  You drink all the coconut water and then give it back to the lady.  She will then use the machete to whack the coconut in half lengthwise.  Then she will use some of the shell to loosen the meat of the coconut from both halves.  She’ll put all the meat into one half of the coconut and give it back to you to eat the tasty young coconut meat.

Try not to think too hard about this – just go with the flow.  Of course her cart and machete aren’t sterilized.  Of course she didn’t use hand sanitizer to sanitize her hands before handling the coconut or the straws (which have been laying there in the open air all day long).  Of course her hands touch the meat of the coconut when she’s scooping it out for you.  But hey, you don’t get the chance to do this every day back home, right?  We’re pretty relaxed and happily enjoyed it and Miss A did too.  No tummy trouble for us.  I hope you’ll be just as lucky if you get the chance!

By the way…
Coconuts are an amazing food.  All parts of the coconut are so healthy for you from the coconut water (the latest health fad in the US), to the coconut meat, to coconut oil.  If you google just about any ailment and “coconut oil” you’ll come up with claims that coconut oil can heal the problem.  Seriously.  There must be some truth to it!

How about you? Have you tried any street food in India?  Are you nervous about it or do you just close your eyes and go with it?  Ever heard about the health benefits of coconuts?  Do tell!

Recap, Lessons and Tips Traveling in India

We’re home!  We had a month-long holiday and visited 4 different countries including India, France, Belgium & The Netherlands.  There is so much to catch up on!

Here’s a start:

  • We toured through 6 different cities in India with 12 family members.  Even with tons of advance planning, it was a logistical nightmare!  Husband and his older brother were both stressing to keep everything flowing smoothly.
  • Miss A was the center of attention, since it was the first time she was meeting most of our Indian family.
  • We were stopped by random people so they could take photos of Miss A.  She especially got lots of attention when she was riding in her red baby carrier backpack (pictured above). 
  • We highly recommend a baby carrier as opposed to a stroller when traveling to India.  Much more convenient.
  • We had mostly good health while traveling.  Miss A came down with something the morning we left for India.  She ran a fever for a couple of days and had a cough and runny nose, but it took care of itself within a few days and she was perfectly fine the rest of the trip.
  • Jet-lag – we knew what to expect for ourselves, but this is the first time we’ve traveled this far with a baby.  She was up from 2am – 6am several nights in a row that first week.  Wow that was ROUGH!  Then she would fall asleep in the late afternoon and the cycle would repeat itself.  Finally I made a rule that she was not allowed to sleep after 6 pm.  That did the trick. 
  • When we returned home we had reverse jet-lag.  It took almost 2 weeks to get Miss A back on a “normal” schedule.  We always find that jet-lag hits us harder on the way home.
  • Baby sippy cups: before reaching my Mother-in-law’s house, we spent a week traveling through India.  I was worried how I would safely clean Miss A’s cups. Every place we stayed had an electric tea kettle.  After washing with soap and a bottle brush (that I had brought from home), I just popped all the pieces of her cups inside and boiled for a few minutes. Worked like a charm.  But I sure was glad to get home to my dishwasher! (Well that and I let the maids take over a few times once we reached MIL’s house)
  • Milk for the baby: She’s been drinking whole milk for a while now, although at home we drink raw milk (more on that later!), but in India, especially while traveling, we used the shelf stable milk, called “tetra-packs.”  It is very different from what she’s used to, but she did ok.  Every time we got in the car, she would say “MILK.” So we carried it with us everywhere!
  • Carseat: No carseat for Miss A for almost one whole month!  MIL recently sold her car, because she really didn’t need it for just one person, so we were in taxis most of our time overseas.  Carseats aren’t the norm in India, and in fact, when you are sometimes cramming more people in a car than there are seats, it would be considered very “wasteful” to have an entire seat just for a baby!  She got used to me holding her while we were in the car, but she didn’t complain once we got home, which I was a little concerned about.  
  • My PIO card practically paid for itself… I got into all the tourist attractions for the Indian rate.  Example: Taj Mahal – ticket price for foreigners is Rs. 750, and for Indians it is Rs. 20!  Brilliant!
  • Things in India don’t cost what they used to!  We were constantly reminded of that fact.  My husband has lived in North America for over 6 years now, and our last trip to India was in 2007. Big difference.  We were most surprised at hotel prices and taxi prices (although we had been warned!)
  • When you have been hearing Hindi for 3.5 weeks straight, you will forget all the French you ever knew upon landing in Paris.  You will freeze when trying to think of how to say the number “4” and your Indian husband will upstage you (because he already knows like 5 languages, so what’s one more???) and he will proceed to order all the croissants and charm the socks off of the French people. (True story!)
  • We travelled “light” only 5 suitcases going there and 7 coming home.  Never. Ever. Again.
  • We had to catch 3 trains to get from Paris to Amsterdam.  7 suitcases. 2 backpacks. 1 baby.  Never. Ever. Again. 
  • Contrary to popular belief we did not pay excess baggage for our international flights.
  • However, when traveling domestic inside of India it would have been cheaper to buy Miss A a seat than pay for excess baggage. 
  • When your brother-in-law is a high ranking officer in the Indian Army, he can summon “men” to come and collect the excess baggage and deposit it at the final destination, saving tons of money on excess baggage.
  • Forget taking toys – an iPad does wonders to keep a baby entertained on long flights!
  • Next time we go to India, we’ll probably have baby #2, but we are taking only what we can carry in our hands or on our backs.  I am determined that next time we will travel light!
How about you?  Any recent trips to India or plans to go in the near future?  Any advice you would give someone traveling to a “Desi” country?  Special tips on traveling with a baby or small children?
I would love to hear your input!
Want to see a few photos from our recent trip?  Click here to view my Flickr photostream.

DesiLink Blog Ring – Are you in the Loop??

Did you know there are now 48 blogs 61 blogs that are a part of the desi-link blog ring?  I had no idea that there were so many intercultural desi relationship blogs out there!  I also have about 13 blogs 20 blogs that are still pending for one reason or another.  That’s over 60 blogs 80 blogs!  I have to admit I have a hard time keeping up-to-date with everyone, but wanted to say a big “thank-you” to everyone who has joined.  Keep spreading the word & keep updating your blogs!

If you want more info about joining the desi-link blog ring check this post.  To browse all the blogs in the ring – simply follow the banner in the sidebar of my blog.  Or for a master list – click here.

Book Review: The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

So, I was in a bargain shop the other day and was glancing through the books, when a bright book cover caught my eye.  I thought to myself, “Hey, that looks kind of Indian!”  I dug a little deeper (not an easy thing to do when you have a baby hanging on for dear life in one hand and balancing a purse on the other shoulder!)  Anyway, I found the book and flipped it over to check it out… sure enough the book jacket promised that it would be a tale of arranged marriages set smack in the middle of India.  The book was deeply discounted, which was too tempting, I took the risk and brought it home with me.

It didn’t sit on my shelf too long, I started reading it that night after Miss A went to bed.  It did not take long for me to get sucked into the plot.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is first in a light and fun series by Farahad Zama.  It is set in modern day India and tells the story of Mr. Ali, a newly retired man with too much time on his hands.  It is witty and funny at times and the characters are well developed.  Mr. Ali, a Muslim, decides to start a marriage bureau from his front verranda. He soon finds success and has more business than he can handle alone. Enter Aruna, a sweet Hindu girl with amazing organizational abilities, who becomes very valuable to Mr. & Mrs. Ali and the bureau.  Farahad Zama weaves in several characters who become customers of the marriage bureau.  Add in a tale of forbidden love and Mr. & Mrs. Ali’s own son who is a political activist (against their wishes) and lots of Indian culture, and you get a plot that makes for very entertaining reading!

What marks the sign of a good book?  I didn’t want to put it down, but at the same time I didn’t want it to end!  Thank goodness Mr. Zama has planned ahead and written 3 more installments in the series.  Although I found the first book in the series at a discount shop by chance, I’m planning to order the next installments in the series from Amazon – I want to find out what happens next!

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

1. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People (2009)

The Many Conditions of Love

2. The Many Conditions of Love (2009)

3. Not All Marriages are Made in Heaven (2010)

4. The Road to Happiness  (coming later in 2011)

India Trip Preparation: Indian Visas & PIO Card – Check!

Our India trip planning is in full swing!  I think planning and looking forward to a big trip is half the fun!  Although, everyone knows nothing ever goes according to plan… Interestingly enough, we have had several friends and family interested in coming along with us to India.  At this point it looks like my parents and aunt will be joining us for part of the trip (they won’t be able to stay as long as we will).  So one things that is of utmost importance is for everyone to secure a visa to enter India.

As I mentioned earlier, we applied for a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) Card for our baby, Miss A. When we got it back in the mail, I was surprised that it wasn’t a card or even stamped in her passport like a visa – but it looks just like a mini passport.  The cover is a lighter color than regular Indian passports, and there are only a few pages inside, but it looks just like a passport.  It is valid for 15 years. I’m sure she’ll just LOVE the cute little baby photo when she’s….oh, say 13 years old!

I am also planning to apply for my PIO card (I’m eligible since my husband is an Indian citizen).  My current visa expires this year, so I may as well go ahead and get the PIO before they decide to change the rules or something!  It is more expensive than a regular tourist visa, but because there is a chance we will move back to India at some point, it makes sense for me to go ahead and get it now.  Check out this post if you are interested in learning more about PIO cards.

My family applied for 10 year tourist visas – they decided they might want to come to India again in the next 10 years (they’ve already been once before – but just had 6 month visas at that time).  We learned the hard way don’t take for granted that you will get the visa duration that you apply for – my aunt and mom got 10 year visas, but my dad was only give a 6 month visa.  You never know what you will get.  Its too bad he will have to go through the whole application process again for the next trip.

Next step… buy tickets!  We’re hoping to splurge a little and have a fun layover for a few days somewhere in Europe on the way back.  We’re thinking Paris – can anyone say “Oh-la-la?”