Seen, Intouchables, EoW and Prometheus

You start with missing one week of writing and before you know it, its been four months. To be fair to myself, two of the last four months I was hugely pregnant, quite unwell and extremely uncomfortable. Then of course I had the baby; my second one, for those who might not know. Olivia turned 10 weeks old on the 9th and Mia is now 28 months old.
With two kids now I’ve quickly realised that I'm not going to have the time or the luxury – and time is a luxury – to write the way I used to. However, I shall stop procrastinating and be thankful to my girls for being good babies and letting me have some time do other things along with my mommy duties. Here’s what I’ve been up to (somewhat).


Recipe: JB's Dhal (red lentils)

Update: This dish is an entry for the LiveSTRONG With A Taste of Yellow concept. Started by Barbara Harris as a way of supporting the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Most people I know have at least two food items they hate with all their heart (or stomachs) and will only eat them intravenously, if they were unconscious. When friends tell me about their hate-foods, it’s usually goes back to their childhood and involves some form of force-feeding story. For some, it’s been a case of having mothers who were really adventurous in the kitchen… with disastrous results.
One friend hates spinach because her boarding school chef made spinach for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another cannot stand beet root because his grandmother forced him to drink beet root juice – and soup and even eat beet root dessert – each time he visited her (that’s four times a week. Another refuses to eat pumpkin because she finds its Hindi (kaddu) and Bengali (kumdo) names offensive! While I don’t really understand that, I do remember my father scolding us by saying, “You bloody kaddu!”

Partner refuses to eat sultanas/raisins because his mom packed it in his school lunch. “Poor boy hates it because of me,” she now rues. He also cannot stand gherkin[1] but refuses to tell me why. As for me, I cannot stand any form of small fish; whether as anchovies or fried like they do in Bengal. Firstly, it’s the smell and secondly it’s the taste. I also cannot eat Hilsa (ilish) – and this is Bengali blasphemy, most worship the fish – because I don’t like its skin.

Once upon a time, I also hated daal. It was more to do with having to eat the daal before I could eat the meat – and I love my meat – than hating daal per se. Thankfully, as I have grown up, I have also grown to love my daal.

It was only after I started living alone that I truly realised how much I enjoyed the simple dish. In fact daal was the first dish I ever cooked… I used less water, cooked in an open saucepan and the whole thing was burnt. I used to stay in a working women’s hostel that time (2000) and it was the hostel’s warden who took pity on me and told me the basics.

Over the years, I’ve come up with my own style of cooking daal and now that I am so far away from home, it is my favourite comfort food. Here’s how I do it.


Petrificus Totalus

I was wiping down the fridge yesterday (hate cleaning the fridge, why can't we have self-cleaning fridges? Also, I'm an author, surely authors don't have to clean fridges?) when I noticed this A4 sheet stuck to the side with a magnet.  It had a list of dates, neatly demarcated into trimesters, then weeks, week-by-week. It was the list I'd made when I'd first found I was pregnant again (mid Jan). In the time it took for my eyes to scroll down to July 31, I was in full blown panic.

I'm still panicking. I am 32 weeks pregnant. How did that happen?


Make a confession, win fab prize

Many thanks to ibnlive.com for running a rather fun contest. All YOU have to do is make a confession and win a prize.
Here's where you go:

Confessionally Yours Contest


Deboned and loving it

That first time. The momentous instance when your cherry is popped a woman is deflowered and a man deboned. How many fantasies built around it, how many books written, how many movies made! The movies for some reason are mostly comedies and almost always about men. Virginal men are funny. Virginal women coveted if only to be conquered (conquested?)

Much is written about virginal women holding on to their hymens virginity till they meet the Right One. Conveniently, the Right One is always devirginated and a great lover. Or so we are told. Though how does a woman with no prior experience know he's really *that* good is never explained.


Project Bookshelf

I have been naughty. I am supposed to clean the house, or start at least. And a huge part of that cleaning up is sorting out our books and shelves. But. Every time I think of house-cleaning I come up with some interesting avenues/ideas to explore. So.

This particular non-cleaning idea/avenue is called Project Bookshelf (because everything is a project these days). Here are what the bookshelves look like in my house (when not tidied!) I'd love to see your shelves, whether posted here or on your blogs. Please leave a link.

If for nothing else than to make me feel nice that there are other humans with cluttered shelves. :) Here go the shelves...


The Bookadda interview

Thanks to Bookadda.com for interviewing me. The questions were fun and interesting and I did enjoy answering them. The highlight of the interview? Reiterating that I do believe in "Get them by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow." ;)

And oh yes, another few days and my first novel, Confessionally Yours, should be in book stores. If you don't want to wait for the stores, you can order at uread.com or bookadda.com or Flipkart.

Here goes the bookadda.com interview: "Bookadda caught up with the debut author about the release, what she thinks about Indian men and how blogging is different from writing a novel."

PS: 1. If anyone actually sees the book at a store, I'd be much grateful if you could mail the picture to me. Since I am in Melbourne and the book's releasing in India, I won't otherwise get the chance to see it physically placed in a store. Sheepish asking that but hec, this is my first novel!
2. Also, assuming people will read the book and might consider reviewing it, good or bad, if you review the book or know someone who has, please leave the link here (comments) or mail me.


Will Mamta Sharma please shut up?

Book update: Confessionally Yours, my first novel, should be out in book stores soon. In the meanwhile, you're most welcome to preorder with uread.com

I was recently asked by Outlook magazine (ie one of their journo's) to contribute 500 words on how Indian urban women are unsafe and how India is becoming a nation of voyeurs. Below is the original piece that was submitted to Outlook.


Utter crap

I am so extremely exhausted. This is a time I should be celebrating -- second baby in a couple of months, first novel out in another week or so. But I can't because my life's been taken over by shit.

Three weeks now, diarrhoea refuses to go. Last week I had a sudden bout of unstoppable puking that landed me in bed for four days straight. I couldn't move without vomitting...and if I was moving, it was to go vomit more or to have a shit. Now the pukemonster has gone -- regular tablets are keeping it at bay -- but the runnies have taken over my life. Nothing sticks, not even water.

I'm having hydralyte (electrolytes) but I'm very worried about the baby. I've got another 10 weeks to go and in the last two and a half months the baby needs more nutrients. The stool's all green now because doctor says my body is simply passing out all nutrients. (Baby moving fine, heartbeat fine, but what if something's trickling past the placenta?)

So tired of this crap (literally). Doctor cannot figure out what's wrong. Nothing in pathology report, nothing in ultrasounds. Anyone had anything similar? What should I eat? I am scared of food and water now... And I really want to cry, I hate being ill. I've got so many deadlines -- interviews and articles to write and I just don't have the energy. Help someone. Please :(


Beat those bastards

India is NOT shining. Hosting F1 races and flashy IPL is not making us global icons, it makes us look like morons. So flashy, yet so trashy?


Confessionally Yours

My first ever novel -- Confessionally Yours -- published by Penguin (India), coming to a book store near you. Very soon. 
Oh wow. Oh well. 
What do you think?


Recipe: JB's butter chicken

Now I've loved butter chicken for as long as I've loved chicken. But I've had two problems with the restaurant butter chicken -- whether in India or in Melbourne -- I've had. 1) It always leaves me feeling really bloated 2) all the ghee/butter and cream gives me nasty gas.
Forced by my gastronomic disabilities -- love butter chicken, don't want to fart (!) -- I experimented... successfully. Now there are at least five different ways of making butter chicken and a basic e-search will give you those recipes. After trying most of them, this is a version of the butter chicken I've come up with.
What's so special about it? It uses roughly 2 tablespoons of oil, has the authentic taste and does not use any milk products -- butter, cream or yoghurt -- in it. I can hear the puritans yelling, "That's not butter chicken." But hey, try my version, you won't regret it. However, I cannot call it completely fat-free since the cashew nut paste is somewhat fatty. But bloody tasty. :)

JB special Butter Chicken
Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 20 minutes (includes marination)
Cooking time: 30 minutes, on low heat, covered
Try this with: Steamed rice, bread or roti/ chapati


For marinade:
Breast or thigh fillets 500 g (cut into cubes)
Salt 1 TSP, heaped
Chilli powder 1 TSP
Ginger paste 1/2 TSP
Garlic paste 1/2 TSP
Vegetable/Canola oil 1 TSP (of 2 TBS)
Turmeric powder 1 TSP, heaped
Coriander powder 1 TSP, heaped
For the sauce:
Onions 2 medium or 1 large, blended
Tomatoes 2-3 medium, blended
Ginger paste 1/2 TSP
Garlic paste 1/2 TSP
Coriander powder 1/2 TSP
Turmeric 1/2 TSP
Fresh coriander 2 TBS, blended
Tomato ketchup 1 TBS
Cashew nuts 100 gms, blended
Water (if needed)


Recipe: Ghugni

This dish used to be a Thursday ‘fast’ special. Papa used to (still does) fast on Thursdays, which means he skipped breakfast and a proper lunch. Mamma used to make ghoogni for him and we joined in as well. I think most families from Bengal and Bihar – neighbouring states, they have a lot of food and cooking in common – have fond memories of ghoogni.
The other day a college mate in New York – we were ‘speaking’ after nearly eight years! – mentioned reading my post on sandwiches in Australia. I had mentioned the ghoogni in passing in that post. “I wanted you to know this,” she said and proceeded to tell me that reading the post reminded her how much she loved ghooghni. She had called her mom back in India for the recipe and has since made the dish a number of times. I was quite touched. Ghoogni in New York and now ghoogni in Melbourne. Hah, culinary conquests I say!

Ghoogni/ ghugni (Sautéed green peas salad with Bengali five spices)
Serves: 2
Cooked on: Low heat
Accompanimen: A dash of lime juice along with a steaming cup of tea or soup!
Try this with: Soft, white bread or puris

INGREDIENTSVegetable/canola/olive oil: 1 TBS
Peas: 2 cups, fresh or frozen (thawed)
Onion: 1 big, finely chopped
Ginger: 1 TBS, skin removed and finely grated
Tomato: 2 medium, finely diced
Fennel: 2 TSP (optional)
Red chilli ground: 1 TSP (optional)
Dry mango powder/ amchoor: ½ TSP (optional) OR
Sugar: 1 TSP
Salt: to taste
Black pepper: 1 TSP
Garam masala: 1 TSP (optional)
Lemon juice: 1 TBS (optional)


The fairest (vulva) of 'em all

I haven't waxed my arms in over 4 months. I usually shave my legs (haven't for weeks now) and I go with whatever is convenient for the underarms. The hair on my head is trimmed when the ends become ratty and for any other hair I might have -- nostrils for instance -- that's none of your bloody business.

Why exactly I'm talking hair, I'll get to in a bit.


Palak paneer

They say that if you were force-fed spinach as a child, you probably wouldn't like it as an adult. Despite the force-feeding though, spinach is another vegetable -- like pumpkin -- I've started enjoying and appreciating more as an adult. Palak paneer* is one of my favourite dishes, easy to cook and very easy on the stomach as well. For those who are weight conscious, it couldn't get better than this dish: Lots of green, cheese that doesn't make you feel guilty. For moms who find it hard to feed anything remotely leafy to their kids, this is a good option since they don't see the leaves in this dish and it's very creamy, which I'm told kids like.
(*Palak = spinach; paneer = Indian cottage cheese)

Like most Indian recipes, there are different ways to make palak paneer. Since most of those recipes involve frying the paneer and adding cream, I don't really enjoy them. I've also found that in the popular recipes, the spinach base can turn out to be bitter. Even if this sounds like blowing my own trumpet, I enjoy making and eating my version of palak paneer the best.

I use very little oil (1 TBS), don't fry the paneer and have found that my spinach base is much creamier -- without using any cream -- than the other versions on the net. Try it, you'll like it.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Try this with: Bread or rice
Cottage cheese/ ricotta/tofu 300-500 gms
Spinach leaves 160-200 gms (I use baby/English spinach, works just as fine as the big-leafed variety found in India)
Garlic 4 cloves
Cloves 2-3
Cardamom 1
Black peppercorns 4 (optional)
Bay leaves 2
Onion 1 large, finely chopped
Ginger 1", grated
Salt to taste
Oil 1 TBS


  1. Cut the paneer into small cubes, cover with a wet cloth and keep aside.
  2. Spinach gravy base: Put the washed spinach leaves, garlic, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns in a deep saucepan (with lid). Fill with just enough water to cover the spinach, put the lid on and cook the spinach for 15-20 minutes. Once done, drain the leaves and spices in a colander/sieve, keep the water aside and allow it to cool slightly. Blend the spinach leaves (with garlic and spices) in a blender to form a smooth paste. Your spinach gravy base is ready.
  3. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Once its hot, add the bay leaves and saute for a minute.
  4. Add onions and grated ginger and fry till onions are golden. (If you are not using onion, saute the grated ginger for a minute, taking care not to burn it)
  5. Add 1 TSP (heaped) salt, mix well and add the spinach paste. The paste could be thick, add about 1/2-1 cup of the spinach water that you've kept aside earlier.
  6. Mix well and cook, on high heat, stirring intermittently, till the gravy boils. (For those who like it spicy, you can add chilli powder.)
  7. Once spinach paste boils, reduce heat, add the paneer/ricotta/tofu, gently mix it in and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste to see if it needs salt and add (or not) accordingly.
Your palak paneer is ready. You can garnish it with a teaspoon of cream or butter. Wasn't that simple? Try the dish and let me know if you like it.

It's imperative that you wash spinach and all leafy vegetables very thoroughly. There's often mud and insects hiding between the leaves. A good way to wash leafy greens is to soak them in enough water and let them sit for 10-15 minutes. This way the mud and dirt washes off the leaves and settles at the bottom of your washing bowl/bucket. Gently pull out the leaves, throw the dirty water and rinse the leaves again in running water.


Pretty as a pav

The pavlova is the biggest reason why Australians and New Zealanders get into a strife with each other (along with who has more sheep). Neither can decide where the pav was first made.


Happy Mother's Day

My favourite person!
So how was Mother’s Day for all you mums out there? I got a bunch of hand-picked flowers – Mia picked them from Nanna’s garden with Nanna’s help – and I didn’t have to do any housework or cooking (because poor Nan did everything and cooked us some great meals!)
While I’m asking about the mums, hope the dads didn’t have too much of a hard time either. I’m mentioning the dads because sometimes I think we – the world in general and mothers/wives in particular – give the dads a hard time about not pulling their weight when it comes to child rearing. I know I’ve done my fair share of finger pointing, tantrum throwing and complaining about having to do it all alone. (not always true!)




Tasmania trip in April
And while I've been gone, Blogger has a new format. Oh well, what with all the changes in my life, I'm sure I will thrive with this one too. I looked around my house before sitting down to type and realised there are a number of things that need doing. That's been one of the Most Important Learnings for me as a stay-at-home-writer-mum-housewife: There are always things that will need doing. And that will be procrastinated.



Stir-fry beef with snow peas

This is the first of many tried-tasted, non-Indian recipes I'll be putting up. As mentioned earlier, when a recipe is from another source, it shall be duly credited. The recipe given below is from one of my favourite cookbooks, Charmaine Solomon’s ‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’. I use the 1978 version, though later republished versions are now available in the market.

(Beef with snow peas)
Serves: 2-4
Cooked on: Stir-fried on high heat
Accompaniment: Red wine
Try this with: Egg noodles

Rump steak 500 g
Light soy sauce[1] 2 TBS
Salt ½ TSP
Chinese mushrooms 6, dried
Snow peas[2]/ flat matar 250 g
Oil 3 TBS
Spring onions 4, cut into 1” length
Chinese wine or dry sherry 1 TBS
Sugar ½ TSP
Beef stock ½ CUP
Cornflour 3 TSP
Cold water 1 TBS

  1. Cut the lean meat into fine shreds. Sprinkle with soy and salt, mix and marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Trim the stems off the mushrooms and slice the caps into thin strips.
  3. String snow peas and blanch for 2 minutes in lightly salted boiling water.
  4. Heat 2 TBS oil in a wok; once the oil is very hot, add beef/meat and stir fry over high heat until the meat changes colour. Remove to a dish and wipe out the wok.
  5. Heat remaining 1 TBS oil, add mushrooms and spring onions; fry 1 minute.
  6. Add wine/sherry, sugar and stock. Bring to boil, add cornflour blended smoothly with cold water, stir until it clears and thickens.
  7. Return beef/meat and snow peas to wok, stir and heat through and serve immediately with rice or noodles.
  1. For those who do not eat beef, substitute with pork, lamb or chicken. Vegetarians can skip the meat completely and use more mushrooms or tofu. With any meat – particularly beef or lamb – trim off excess fat; the recipe uses lean meat.
  2. The last time I checked, most Indian stores have dark soy sauce[3]. Since I was also lazy and preliminary searches yielded only dark soy; I used 1 tablespoon diluted with water. Strict chefs will tell you that my Chinese dish therefore, was a fraud. It was still very tasty.
  3. Most ingredients – Chinese wine, Chinese mushrooms (shiitake[4] mushrooms, pronounced see-ta-kay) – can be found at specialty food stores. I used fresh shitake mushrooms in the grocery store, dried ones work equally well. In case you don’t find shiitake mushrooms, use large sized button mushrooms or canned oyster mushrooms. Be warned though that the texture of all mushrooms are very different and might affect how the dish tastes. The shiitake has a beautiful, spongy texture, while the button mushrooms are more brittle.
  4. For dry shiitake mushrooms: Soak them in hot water for 30 minutes to soften them.
  5. Snow peas are your regular peas/matar, except that the pod is still very flat and the seeds (peas) are not mature yet. Since in India, the best, fresh peas are found in winter; you can substitute snow peas with regular snap peas (matar with the pod).
  6. Substitute chicken stock – Nestle/Maggi cubes work too – instead of beef stock.
  7. Always dissolve the cornflour – there should be no lumps – in cold water.
  8. Cooking egg noodles: These days, egg noodles are available at most local green grocers and come in pre-packaged bundles. Till I read Charmaine Solomon’s tip, I always overcooked the noodles. Charmaine suggests soaking the bundles in hot water (10 minutes) to allow the strands to separate and cook evenly. The noodles should be cooked immediately after softening. To avoid the water from boiling over, add a teaspoon of oil. Once the water boils, fine noodles should be cooked for 2-3 minutes, wide noodles 3-4 minutes. She adds, “Once cooked, drain noodles immediately in a large colander/ sieve and cold, then run cold water through the noodles to rinse off excess starch and cool the noodles so they don’t continue to cook in their own heat. Drain thoroughly. To reheat, pour boiling water through noodles in a colander.”
Other than the substitutes mentioned above – not suggested by Charmaine – I’ve followed Charmaine’s exact recipe.

Charmaine Solomon
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (April 15, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0804837570
ISBN-13: 978-0804837576

REFERENCES:[1] Light soy sauce: Lighter in color, and also sweeter than dark soy sauce.[2] Snow peas: They are most used in stir fry dishes associated with American Chinese cuisine but less used in China.[3] Ching’s Secret Dark Soy Sauce: This Indian-style soy sauce is made from a mixture of soya beans, chillies, sugar and water, which is then fermented.[4] Shiitake mushrooms
*Pics taken from other websites/blogs are linked to those websites/blogs.


JB's lamb curry

Serves: 4
Cooked on: Covered on low heat, 1 hour 30 minutes or till lamb is very tender
Accompaniment: Raita or fresh cucumber-onion salad with a dash of fresh lime
Try this with: Roti or naan 
Lamb steak: 900 gm, with some fat, cut into small cubes
Mustard oil/ ghee/ vegetable oil: 3 TBS
Onions: 2 large, finely chopped
Tomatoes: 4 medium, pureed
Coriander: 4-5 TBS, washed and finely chopped
Bay leaves: 3
Big cardamom: 2, slightly crushed
Whole black pepper: 5
Fenugreek seeds: ½ TSP
Whole red chilli: 1-2
Garlic paste: 2 TSP
Ginger paste: 1 TSP
White vinegar: 2 TBS
Coriander ground: 2 TSP, heaped
Turmeric ground: 1 TSP, heaped
Cumin ground: 1 TSP, heaped
Garam masala: 1 TSP, heaped
Red chilli ground: 2 TSP, heaped
Salt: to taste
Water: 1-2 cups, as desired


Not so different

It’s no secret that I enjoy reading fantasy novels. Whenever there’s a discussion about books, someone always pipes in with “Oh JB likes fantasy, dragons and such.” Sometimes that sentence is followed with an eye-roll, most often a wink. Perhaps an admonition that someone my age really should not be reading fantasy. I’ve been labeled an only-fantasy reader.
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