04 December 2009

Dah-ling I Love You, Give Me Park Avenue

This Thanksgiving weekend, we went to New York City for three days. I've never been there before, but V has been and loved it. Now that we live only 4 hours away, there's no excuse for us not to go there and enjoy the things that the city has to offer!

The trip was pretty last-minute, so we didn't get tickets to any shows or anything. We had dinner in Little Italy one night, and at Bar Boulud the next (one of Daniel Boulud's restaurants) where I had a celebrity sighting that only a public radio nerd like me would be thrilled over: we saw Garrison Keillor with his family getting a table at the same restaurant!

We visited the Statue of Liberty:

Ate chestnuts roasted on an open fire (from a street vendor):

Looked at the beautiful Christmas decorations:

And went to Times Square to meet V's cousin-brother (note the Incredible India billboards you can just barely see in the background):

We also bought some Christmas gifts from interesting vendors in Chinatown; I got an expensive lipstick at Saks Fifth Avenue; braved the crowds at Tiffany's; became masters of the NYC subway system; went to the little India area in Jackson Heights for pani puri, paan, and cheap pashmina stoles; and walked around just generally enjoying the city. On Saturday night after dinner we met one of my friends at a very cool little bar near Chinatown where we drank absinthe in a cave-like room lit only by candles.

On the way home we visited V's cousin-sister and her family and had a wonderful lunch and chat with them. From their house in Jersey City, you can see the entire city of New York stretched out in front of you and the Statue of Liberty in the foreground, and as I looked at it I was kicking myself for never having been to NYC before. It was a wonderful weekend and an incredible city, and I can't wait to go back!

02 December 2009

Procrastination, That's My Function

Oh my God, you guys. I'm sure that by now you've seen how bad I am about keeping up with my blog. Now it's December and I haven't even started Christmas shopping yet. That's why this year I was really interested to learn about Snapgifts.com, a website that one of my blogger friends, Cagey, told me about (all right, it was her husband's idea!). You can get giftcards for a ton of different restaurants and shops, all in one place. In that way you can knock out most of your gift-giving list! I'm always looking for the easy way out...especially this year when we've got a lot of other stuff going on and taking up our time.

In other news, we went to NYC for Thanksgiving weekend and had a blast (the high point was my celebrity sighting: Garrison Keillor. Yes, I'm a nerd). I took some pictures (not of Keillor--I did't want to be That Fan, and I've met him a few times before already), but true to form, haven't had time to upload them yet. The Christmas decorations in the city were so incredible, I was able to put aside my usual "Don't jump the gun on Christmas!! It's not even Advent yet!!" objections and just enjoy them. I'll get them up soon!

23 November 2009

The Newest Amreekan!

Last Thursday, V became a US citizen! It all happened so fast. We went to USCIS expecting that he'd just be taking the civics test and we'd have an interview and be given an appointment for the oath in several weeks, but after V passed the test, the interview officer told him to come back that afternoon to swear the citizenship oath.

It was a slow day, and only 10 other people were being sworn in. I had to sit at the back of the room to watch V and the others raise their right hands and swear the oath. The officer played a video of the national anthem, a welcome speech from President Obama, and a video of the song, "Proud to Be An American." That's a song I've never particularly liked (it became connected in my mind with wars I don't agree with), but I was surprised to shed a tear or two as I watched.

I asked V how he feels now that he's an American citizen and not an Indian citizen. He said he doesn't feel any different--and that a passport or a political designation doesn't change who he is. Furthermore, V can get an OCI ("Overseas Citizen of India") card and have the best of both worlds. Sensible, as always!

15 November 2009

A New Side of My Husband

Now that we're homeowners, I'm seeing a completely new side of my husband.

For the past several years, we've just been living in grad student mode in an apartment, spending most of our time watching movies, going out to eat, going shopping (V's obsessions are watches and shirts), going out with friends, etc. I've always thought of my husband as a "metrosexual," cerebral, intellectual kind of guy--not a do-it-yourselfer at all!

Now that we own our own home, my husband still wants to go shopping. But now, we're going shopping at Home Depot. Instead of ties, shirts, and shoes, we're buying tools, supplies, paint, and bags of concrete. Every time I think we've gotten what we need from the hardware store, there's something else that I didn't think of.

And furniture. We've been living for the past 4 3/4 years with used furniture and various random pieces of art and decor that we've collected. Now we're spending hours out of every day trying to find the perfect contemporary-style furniture, at the best possible price, bargaining down to avoid paying shipping, etc. It's been three weeks and we've managed to buy a dining set and an area rug.

Heating and water--forget it. In our rented apartment, we ran the heat and water as much as we wanted. But now that we're paying for it, V. is all about turning the heat completely off at night and when we're gone, no matter how cold it gets (low 60s!! Acckkkk!). I guess I should have expected this, after all the Marwari jokes he makes.

We've been together for almost 5 years now, and it's only since we've bought our own home that I've seen this side of my husband. I might get impatient with the never-ending jaunts to Home Depot, but I'm also enjoying seeing V. in a completely new light!

All that aside, we're both really enjoying settling into our own home. It's a place that we can grow into. We have room for Mummy to have her own space when she comes to stay; we have room for one or two babies to have their own rooms when the time comes; we have room to entertain or to cuddle up just the two of us. I'd have to say that the day we bought our house was one of the happiest days of my life.

21 October 2009

Just the Two of Us

I didn't write about Diwali before now because I had been feeling really sad about it this year. Last year at this time, we were in Delhi, celebrating with my husband's family. I could hardly believe that a whole year has gone by since we were there lighting diyas with Mummy, playing with patake with the kids, eating incredible food and puris at every meal, and visiting the mandir. This year, living in our little temporary apartment and not having many friends in the area yet, and then missing all the local celebrations for one reason or another, felt so depressing.

Then I pulled myself out of the doldrums and decided to make it nice, even if it was just me and V. I went to the Indian grocery near my office and bought a big box of Haldiram's kaju burfi (my husband's favorite sweet), a smaller box of laddoos to share at the office, and three small clay diyas (99 cents each--that's how much we paid for 50 of them in Delhi last year!). We got the ingredients to make pakoras and chai since it was cold and rainy. I thought about getting flowers to use the petals to make a rangoli, but they were too expensive to tear up like that (what--am I becoming a Marwari like my husband?? Hehe...) so we just got a small bouquet and put it in a vase.

Sharing the laddoos at the office with the others in my department was fun and helped to set the mood.

On the day of Diwali, V. and I waited until nightfall, then set things up for a small pooja. We put the burfi, some incense, and the flowers near our little Mahavir Bhagwan, and made a plate with rice grains, red powder, and the three diyas which we filled with oil and lit. We sang a few songs, did aarti, shared some burfi, and then set the diyas in the windows of the apartment before making our pakoras and chai.

The next morning we got up early, dressed up, and went to the mandir where there was a Jain Diwali celebration. We did aarti again and received blessings and prasad before going home again.

V and I both agreed that Diwali was actually really special this year, even though it was just the two of us. The light of the diyas reminded us of our family in India who were celebrating too. Even though we only had three diyas, their light seemed to be a part of the larger celebration back in Delhi, and it felt pretty magical (if I can be so corny).

We both hope that next year at this time, we'll be celebrating with family again! But now we know that being just the two of us is pretty wonderful too.

29 September 2009

OMG OMG What Have We Done--Oh Wait, This is Really Cool!

Yes, "Oh my God, what have we done" was running through my head like a mantra for the first several days after I got up to our temporary apartment in the Washington DC suburbs.

The commute. My new job. The cost of living. Time to buy a new car. Time to buy a house! Holy crap, our lives are suddenly moving at warp speed! I have to admit I was gripped with panic for a good 7-10 days.

But then the good stuff started to become clear: we live within a few short miles of my grandparents and can drop in for a home-cooked meal any time. My uncles and their wives and kids are also just a few miles away. The commute's not really THAT bad (WAMU, the NPR station that I listen to in the car, helps). There is a huge, cheap Indian grocery store right near my work! We found an Indian restaurant nearby that also sells sweets, and makes chai that tastes so much like Mummy's that tears came to my eyes as soon as I tasted it. My job is really fun, and I'm busy all day with very little down time. The other night, we went to see Dil Bole Hadippa in a theater instead of having to wait for DVD!

We also found a house (the mortgage, OMG OMG) and will be moving in right around Diwali time (very auspicious!). V became Dr. Jain a couple of weeks ago, and he can start his new job this week now that his security clearance has come through.

So--although life has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks, we're enjoying the changes. This small-town girl is adjusting to life in a metro, and V is enjoying getting back to a more fast-paced life too. I hope after I can adjust some more to my new schedule, I'll be able to post more regularly--readers, hold me to it (thanks for the push to post today, Ramit).

21 August 2009

Busiest! Summer! Ever!

...and not for fun reasons, either. We've been insanely busy because V is finishing up his PhD, and we've been making Big Life Decisions like where he should take a job, where we should live, etc.

After that Big Life Decision was made, it was time for me to find a job too--probably the toughest thing I've had to do in a long time. I submitted resumes to more than 80 different companies before I finally got any response at all. Finding a job became a job in itself, but I'm pleased to say that I finally got one, a proposal writing job at a high-tech company. I start on the 31st!

So, the last few weeks have been a flurry of packing and planning, all taking place at the same time that V has been writing his dissertation. I'm his live-in editor and document formatter, and now that I've been through the ordeal of helping him with his I'm really glad I stopped at the Master's!

Next Sunday, we move into our temporary apartment in...the Washington, DC suburbs!! Yay! Land of free museums, great cultural events, restaurants, and theaters that actually play Bollywood movies at the same time that they come out in India! Whether we'll have time to enjoy all of that once we're in the job/commute hamsterwheel is another issue altogether.

For now, I'm savoring the last sweet moments of high summer in Appalachia, spending time with friends, reading books from the university library (while I still have access to it), and using up what we've got left in the fridge, pantry, and freezer so we don't have to throw it out or move it. I'll miss living here, but we're both excited about the adventures ahead.

20 July 2009

Cooking Class: "Indian Street Food"

Last week V and I taught another Indian cooking class at the local gourmet store. It's always a treat to teach there because the store has a top-of-the-line Viking kitchen and the people who sign up are always really interested in having a good time and learning about Indian vegetarian food.

We do a theme each time, and this time we had the theme "Indian Street Food." Since it's summer I thought chaat and snack dishes would be fun. The menu included masala peanuts (a favorite bar snack with beers/whiskey from V's undergrad days at Delhi College of Engineering), aloo ki tikki, cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney, pav bhaji (the famous street food of Mumbai) and plain sweet lassi.

Masala Peanuts

1 tbs oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1-2 minced serrano chiles
1 3/4 cups (3 roma) tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups unsalted roasted peanuts (or salted, just taste before adding any more salt)
2-3 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp red chile powder (or to taste)
salt, to taste
juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 cup chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion and chiles. Cook for a few minutes until the onion becomes lightly golden. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes or until they become soft. Add the peanuts, and stir until they are heated through. Add chaat masala, chile powder, and salt; stir. Turn off heat and add lime juice and cilantro; taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve warm.

Aloo ki tikki

6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup peas, mashed up
1 ½ tbs ginger-garlic paste
1 green chili, minced
Cilantro, chopped
1-2 tsp red chile powder (to taste)
Kosher salt, to taste

3 – 4 tbsp bread crumbs

3 tbs cornstarch
2 tsp garam masala
Oil for cooking

Garnishes: red chile powder, chopped cilantro, or crushed cashews

Mix the potatoes with the other ingredients (except for the oil). If possible, set aside to cool (tikkis seem to stay more firm if the mixture is chilled).

Pick up some of the potato mixture and make a ball, then flatten it into a round disk, about 3 inches across and ½ inch thick.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high heat, add some oil. Put the patties into the skillet and cook them until they are golden-brown on each side. If you like, you can then take a metal spatula (or another thin spatula) and split the patties to cook them on the inside too, so they are thin and crispy (this is optional).

To serve: cooked, un-split tikkis can be eaten on a bun like a burger (this is what you get at McDonald’s in India: it’s called the McTikki Burger). Or, you can serve them street-food style: place some of the split, crispy tikkis on a plate and drizzle with thinned out yogurt, cilantro chutney, and tamarind chutney. Sprinkle with a little bit of crushed cashews, red chile powder to taste, and chopped cilantro if you like.

Dhania chutney (Cilantro Chutney, adapted from Manjula's Kitchen)

1 bunch of cilantro
½ cup mint leaves
2 green chiles, chopped roughly
1 tbs ginger, chopped roughly
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 pinch asafetida
1 tsp sugar
3 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp oil (optional)

In a food processor or blender, blend up the chiles, ginger, cumin seeds, asafetida, sugar, lemon juice, and oil.
Add the cilantro (you can use part of the stems too, if they are tender) and the mint leaves. If it is not blending smoothly, add a couple tbs of water.
Taste and adjust seasoning/lemon juice.

Imli ki chutney (tamarind chutney)

5 oz. tamarind paste
5 oz. Jaggery (date palm sugar), or a mix of 2 parts brown sugar and one part molasses
3/4 teaspoon black salt
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder, or to taste
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
5 dates or ½ cup raisins, finely chopped
salt to taste
2 cups water

Put all ingredients into a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until it is smooth and thickened, about 20 minutes. You can store it in the fridge, covered, for several weeks.

Pav Bhaji

2 tbs oil
1 tbs whole cumin seed
1 large onion or three small onions, chopped
3 green chiles, minced
1 tbs ginger-garlic paste
14 ounces tomato puree
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp khatai (mango powder)
1 tsp or to taste red chile powder
2 tsp salt or to taste
1 tbs garam masala
1 tbs pav bhaji masala
3 medium potatoes, cubed and cooked (we do it in the microwave)
2 carrots, finely diced
1/2 head cabbage, diced
1/2 head cauliflower, chopped small
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup peas

To serve:
Soft dinner rolls
garnish: chopped raw onion, chopped cilantro, butter, lime juice, pav bhaji masala

Heat the oil on medium, then add the cumin seeds and onion. Saute until the onion becomes soft and translucent; add the green chile and stir. Add the ginger-garlic paste and stir for another minute or two. Add the spices (turmeric, red chile, salt, garam masala, khatai, pav bhaji masala) and stir for a minute. Add the tomato and stir to blend. Add the cabbage and cauliflower and stir to coat in the tomato mixture. Pour in enough water to barely cover and bring to a simmer. Add the rest of the vegetables (except peas) and more water if needed. Cover the pan and simmer until the vegetables are very soft and the mixture has thickened, 30-45 minutes. When vegetables are soft, remove the pot from the heat and carefully mash them with a potato masher. Add the peas and return to the heat. Add a little more water if you like, and continue to simmer until it is the consistency you like (we like it kind of thick).

Take some soft dinner rolls and cut them in half crosswise. Toast them in a pan with butter. Serve the bhaji in bowls topped with more pav bhaji masala to taste, chopped raw onion, cilantro, a pat of butter, and a squeeze of lime juice. You can use pieces of the bread to pick up the bhaji, or you can make little sandwiches with the bhaji and pav.

15 June 2009

Love, Hate, and Poha

Today Sharell wrote about 5 Indian foods she loves and hates. She mentioned hating Indian breakfasts because it seems strange to her to eat chapatis, curry, or other "dinner" foods at the beginning of the day. So, I suggested poha, which is one of our favorite breakfasts--recipe to follow.

Five Indian foods I love:
1. Paranthas, either made by Mummy or from Parantha Wali Gali in Chandni Chowk.
2. Raj Kachori from Haldiram's: a big crunchy kachori filled with aloo, chickpeas, yogurt, chutneys, pomegranate seeds, and other things. It's a taste explosion and I think I would be willing to pay 50 bucks to have one right now.
3. Gajjar ka halwa, sweet and delicious carrot pudding.
4. Vegetable pakoras (from my husband's hand).
5. Pau bhaji, a wonderful mixed vegetable subjee served with soft buttered rolls.

Five Indian foods I hate (and this is hard, because I don't hate much!)
1. These black chickpeas that my husband loves as a snack.
2. Murmure--I've never liked Rice Krispies very much, and this is just a spicy non-milk version.
3. Kheer: well, I don't really hate it, but I don't like it enough to seek it out either. It's too plain tasting.
4. This sort of lotus thing that tastes like water chestnuts--I'm not sure what it's called. Again, it has a plain taste that is hard to choke down.
5. Anything with too much black salt flavor. A tiny pinch is fine, but if it's the main flavor I can't stand it. Haldiram makes a sort of cornflake snack that tastes overwhelmingly of black salt, bleh.

I'm pretty lucky that since I grew up eating such spicy food, and I already had an adventurous palate, that I've loved almost everything I've tasted in India or that we've made here. My husband jokes that I should have been born there.

Now, for Sharell, my poha recipe/method (I never really measure when I make it, so I hope the proportions are right):


1 tbs oil
1/3 cup raw peanuts
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
About 4 cups of thin (NOT thick) poha (beaten rice flakes)
1 tsp or so of turmeric
1 chopped onion
1-2 minced green chiles
1 tsp red chile powder (or to taste)
lime juice, to taste
chopped cilantro for garnish
sugar, if desired

In a large skillet, heat the oil, then add the peanuts and cook, stirring, until they get toasted.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, pour the poha and add the turmeric. Pour over enough water to moisten evenly but not make it soggy, mixing it with your hand or with a big spoon to evenly moisten and mix in the turmeric.

Add mustard seeds, then onions to skillet, and stir-fry until the onions become tender and translucent. Add the chopped chiles and stir.

Pour in the moistened poha and continue to stir. Add the salt, red chile, and a few dashes of lime juice. Stir until it's heated through; taste and adjust seasonings. Add cilantro. Serve hot with sugar if you like--I like sugar, but V doesn't.

12 June 2009

Happy Loving Day!

Happy Loving Day, y'all! Time to take a moment and be thankful that the brave Mildred Loving and her husband Richard fought all the way to the Supreme Court to make interracial marriage legal in all states. It's easy to forget that not all that long ago, marriages like hers--or like mine--were actually illegal in many states.

Happy Loving Day!

10 May 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, to Mummy, and to all my friends who are lucky enough to be moms! For your enjoyment, here is a picture of Mummy and me with my "babies," Mellors and Criseyde. Ungrateful kitties, they didn't do anything for me for Mother's Day, except demand their breakfast at a very early hour this morning!

Every time we talk to Mummy on the phone, she asks about the kitties. She became fast friends with them when she stayed with us, and misses them a lot now that she is back home in India!

20 April 2009

Aloo methi parathas and methi ki chutney

This is a match made in heaven. Piping hot, crispy parathas stuffed with potato and fenugreek, served with a tangy, sweet, and spicy fenugreek seed chutney. Mummy made this for us several times while she was here, and I finally got her to teach me to make them and let me measure the ingredients as we went along.

Aloo Methi Parathas

3 large potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and microwaved in a covered dish or boiled until well cooked.
3 serrano chiles, minced fine
1/2 cup dried methi (fenugreek) leaves
2 tsp red chile powder
3 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
3 cups atta

Mash up the potatoes with the chiles, methi, and spices until well combined and very smooth. If the mixture is not smooth, it will cause the paranthas to tear.

Place 3 cups atta in a large bowl. Make a dough of the atta with at least 1 1/2 cups water (more or less) to make a springy dough that is not too dry or wet. Put a little extra atta to one side in the bowl.

Pinch off large walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into a round ball in your hands. Drop it into the dry atta to cover all sides, then place on a smooth surface for rolling (such as a marble chakla or a clean countertop) and flatten a bit. Roll it out to a 4-inch round. Take a heaping tablespoon of potato mixture and place it in the middle of the round, then bring the sides up around it and pinch together to make a ball. Smooth it out a little by rolling gently between your hands. Drop it into the dry atta again, then flatten a bit on the rolling surface and roll it out into a 7-inch round, picking it up and turning it or flipping it as you go so that it doesn't become stuck to the surface. If it starts to get sticky in between you can pick it up and put it into the dry atta again.

Place the parantha in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cook it on one side and flip when it starts to get golden-brown, 1 minute or so. Brush it with a little ghee or oil as the other side cooks. Flip it again to cook the other side, and brush with ghee or oil again. You can press it a bit with a spatula as it cooks. It is ready when it's golden brown and crispy on both sides. Serve hot with methi chutney, or with curries or other dishes. They taste the best as soon as they have been cooked, but if you want you can cook a pile of them and keep them warm on a plate in the oven (they won't stay as crispy this way).

Methi ki chutney

1/2 cup methi (fenugreek) seeds
2/3 cup golden raisins
10 small dried red chiles
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 tsp khatai
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp red chile powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1 cup sugar

Put seeds in a small pressure cooker or saucepan, and cover with water. Heat over high heat until the cooker steams, then turn to medium for about 5 minutes. Turn to low for 5 minutes or so. Release steam and open pot. Drain and rinse the seeds at least 4 times to get rid of the bitterness. The seeds should be starting to become soft. Return the seeds to the cooker and cover with more water. Add the spices and the sugar, and replace the top on the cooker and heat over high heat until it steams, then turning down to medium for a few minutes, then low for a couple minutes. Release steam and open the pot. Taste the chutney and adjust seasoning/sugar if necessary. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until the chutney is the desired consistency--usually a bit thick and syrupy, but not dry.

I'm ba-ack!

I haven't been gone, just haven't had time to write. The main thing that has happened since last I wrote is that Mummy went back to India at the end of March. That was really hard--she became part of our household, and made our house more of a home by her presence. We both miss her a lot now that she's back in India. A couple more posts to come today, if I have time...

19 February 2009

Answering Questions

I've had the flu for the past several days, so the blog post about stuffed shimla mirch that I have been planning has fallen by the wayside. However, answering questions about my relationship doesn't take as much energy, so that's what I'm doing today. I got the idea from Gorigirl. If you like the idea and do it yourself on your own blog, link back here. Otherwise you could do it in the comments here.

What are your middle names?
V doesn't have a middle name, since oftentimes middle names aren't given to Indian kids. I don't know why, it seems a little sad! Plus, it seems like with a first name and a middle name, each parent would get some input on naming their babies. I know that we plan to give our own kids a Hindi first name and a western middle name.

I don't want to tell my own middle name here. Although it's a perfectly beautiful name in English, and was the name of my mom’s favorite teacher from the sixth grade, it has a particularly unfortunate meaning in Hindi. It’s so bad that my husband and I don’t want to reveal it to anyone else in his family.

How long have you been together?
Since January 2005. Time flies when you’re having fun!

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
A few days. We met one night, talked on the phone a little bit, and then went out on a date.

Who asked whom out?
V asked me out.

How old are each of you?
We’re in our late 20s. Our birthdays are only three days apart, so we always celebrate our birthdays together.

Whose siblings do you see the most?
We see my sister the most, since she lives nearby and V’s sisters unfortunately live on the other side of the world from us. We talk to his sisters on the phone every few days though.

Which situation is the hardest on you as a couple?
Money issues, but those are improving as my career becomes more established and V finishes grad school.

Did you go to the same school?
We both went to Virginia Tech for grad school: me for my master’s in English, V for his PhD in chemical engineering.

Are you from the same home town?
As Gorigirl said in her post, “Hahahahahahaha! No.” I think V is probably from the most complete and utter opposite place possible (New Delhi) from the tiny little Southwest Virginia redneck/hippie town where I grew up.

Who is smarter?
I don’t know if that’s a fair question. When it comes to language, literature, or history, then I would be. But in math, science, or logic, V is smarter. He’s also much better with money and practical things than I am. Edited to add: Oh, who the hell am I kidding: he's a CHEMICAL ENGINEER. Gaaah!

Who is the most sensitive?
I am. I cry at the drop of a hat and always have.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
El Rodeo, the local Mexican restaurant. I’ve trained V to say in Spanish “quiero salsa mas picante” because the salsa they usually give tastes like plain tomatoes to our palates (used as we are to incredibly spicy food), and the busboys who bring the chips and salsa usually don’t speak English.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
India—Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, McLeodganj.

Who has the worst temper?
V has the worst temper, but I like it that with him you know where you stand. No passive-aggressiveness, which I hate.

Who does the cooking?
We both do the cooking, 50/50 Indian and western. I make breakfast every day. Cooking is one of our hobbies together, and we have taught Indian cooking classes at the local gourmet store several times.

Who is the neat-freak?
I’m more of a neat freak, but without much extra time or energy after working all week to actually follow through on my neat-freakiness. I keep the house to an acceptable standard of cleanliness but I dream of the day I can hire someone to come in and help once every week or two.

Who is more stubborn?
V is more stubborn, but we’re both true Tauruses.

Who hogs the bed?
The cats hog the bed. I cuddle up to be close to poor V, who gets gradually pushed closer and closer to the edge of the bed as the night goes on.

Who wakes up earlier?
I wake up earlier, because I like to go jogging or do yoga in the mornings before getting ready for work. Then I make coffee and breakfast for both of us. I have a feeling these halcyon days of leisurely mornings won’t last much longer after V gets his PhD and a regular job.

Where was your first date?

We met with friends to go dancing at a now-closed nightclub. But I think our first “date” date as a couple was to go see the Audubon Quartet perform at Tech, and then for coffee at Starbucks.

Who is more jealous?
Neither of us has any reason to be jealous.

How long did it take to get serious?

We got serious within several weeks. “Dating” just isn’t done so much in Indian culture, and once V knew that he wanted to be serious with me that’s what he did. He’s a very decisive man.

Who eats more?
V eats more. I think it would be pretty weird if I ate more than him! He prefers rotis instead of rice with dinner and can eat three times as many as I can.

Who does the laundry?
I do the laundry. Chores for us tend to fall (except for cooking and shopping, which we do together) along traditional gender lines. That’s all right with me, since with my master’s in English and his PhD in chemical engineering, we’ll never split our salaries evenly either.

Who’s better with the computer?

V is better with the computer. I know enough to do my job at work and to do email or web surfing in my free time.

Who drives when you are together?

V usually drives, although in snow or ice I feel more comfortable driving. I learned to drive in snowy or icy conditions in my teens, so I know how to avoid skids or getting stuck without having to think about it or get nervous.

27 January 2009

The Visa Odyssey

Before we went to India, I mentioned our issues with getting my MIL a visa interview appointment (getting one seemed like finding hens’ teeth!). Obviously, since she came back with us, everything worked out—but I thought I’d describe our experience since it may be of some use to someone. For myself, it was a fascinating experience, being put through the wringer of US government bureaucracy and seeing things from both sides: the American and the Indian perspective.

First of all, it’s not that easy to simply apply to sponsor a family member’s visitor visa. We spent many months preparing as thoroughly as we possibly could because we didn’t want anything to go wrong and for the application fee to be wasted. The absolute best resource for us as we prepared was a website called ImmiHelp. There are information pages, lists of what you might need, and forums where you can ask questions.

The scariest thing ahead of time was that everything that we read and heard indicated that it is next to impossible for a widow who owns very little property, has no job, and whose children are all married (and only son is in the US). That’s because the government considers that she would be more likely to come here and not go back at the end of her allowed stay.

We had to save up enough money in the bank to prove that we could support her; get letters from our employers proving that we actually have jobs; copies of tax returns for the past couple years; write invitation letters to her and letters to the consulate explaining the reason for her visit and why she would go back to India after her trip; get an invitation letter from the university for V’s PhD graduation; copies of our passports, birth certificates, etc. Mummy had to get proof of all her property and basically everything she owns; photos of her with her kids and grandkids in India (to prove that she has a reason to go back); and her own passport and other documents. All the materials we gathered together filled one big folder. We organized everything with tabs so that in the interview, Mummy would be able to turn to the correct item when the interview officer asked for it without making them impatient.

The process for getting a visa interview requires that you fill out a form at the embassy’s website and get an interview time online. Since we have faster and more available internet here, we took turns at all times of the day and night—for literally months—to get an interview time. Only a few interview slots are released at a time, and they go within seconds because there are so many other people who are trying to get appointments. It was even harder because we wanted a Hindi interview, not an English one, and those are in very high demand.

Finally it was coming close to the time when we were going to be going to India ourselves. We planned to bring Mummy back with us on our way back so that she wouldn’t have to fly alone to the US on her first trip here. We got more and more frantic about getting a Hindi interview, and finally I threw up my hands and started looking for English interviews instead. Mummy had been taking English tutoring anyway, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped that she’d be able to speak and understand it well enough to get through the interview. I was starting to lose hope of getting even an English interview when one day there was one available! My heart almost pounded out of my chest, I was so excited.

With Mummy’s interview appointment papers in hand, we were off to India! For many days before her appointment, we quizzed her with all the possible questions the interview officer might ask. We did drills in finding certain documents fast enough when we asked for them. We coached her to smile, be confident, and make sure to give our cover letter, the graduation invitation, and the email of support from our congressman’s office first thing before anything else. Still, we were very nervous about her chances of getting the visa.

The morning of the interview we all got up early and had breakfast and called a driver to take us to the embassy. Mummy dressed very carefully in a beautiful ecru sari with floral embroidery and her best pearl jewelry. We planned to take her to the gate and sit and wait for her until she was done. My husband told me to bring my US passport, just in case, so I did.

That was the best piece of luck of the whole day, I think. As Mummy was waiting in the very long line just to get inside the embassy, I decided to see if I’d be allowed to use the embassy ladies’ room. With my US passport, I was able to go right on in with no waiting and then come back out afterward. This was encouraging—we didn’t know that it would be that easy for me to go in too. So we asked at the window and it turned out that since I am a US citizen, I was allowed to accompany Mummy in to the embassy. Very sternly, the attendant at the window said, “yes, but you can’t go into her interview!” Well, then, that’s better than nothing, I thought.

So into the embassy Mummy and I went. It was extremely busy and crowded with very long lines. I decided that it would be better and less tiring for her if she could sit down while I stood in line for her. So first I stood in the line for fingerprinting for about an hour, calling her over when it was her turn. As we waited, I decided to ask if any Hindi translators were available—but no such luck. I kept giving Mummy little pep talks and trying to keep her from getting too nervous. Of course as the only white person standing in line, I attracted a certain amount of attention, but I’m pretty used to that by now so I made myself comfortable for the long wait.

Next we had to go stand in the incredibly long line to wait to be called to the interview window. This part was pretty fun for me: first of all, I was able to watch people as they went up for their interviews, and listen in to see how things went. There were only two windows open out of the 14 or so that were actually there. It looked like most people were getting their visas, which made me feel a little better. Another thing that was fun about the wait was the atmosphere: everyone was a bit nervous, but with a jolly sort of camaraderie too. Sort of like, “here we all are in this horribly long line, but we’ll make the best of it together and chat with each other and make it fun.” I met a few friendly people in line, some of whom had more experience with these interviews, and so I was able to talk about our situation with them and get their tips or advice. We also watched the people who went to the interview window and speculated about what they were doing right or wrong, or whether they’d get their visas or not. For entertainment, there was also a large screen TV next to the line showing the India-Australia cricket test match that was going on at that time. I probably saw the Saif Ali Khan / Shah Rukh Khan “I miss you so much it hurts” cell phone commercial 20 times (I love that commercial though, dork that I am). Every once in a while, Mummy would get up from her seat and see how things were coming along, and I’d tell her to go and rest because the wait would still be more than an hour.

Another interview window opened up during this time. It was window number 13. My line mates and I saw that the woman giving interviews at that window wasn’t as friendly, and seemed to be rejecting more people than at the other windows. As I got closer to the front, I prayed that I would not have to go to window 13. There were two other interview officers, and we saw that they could speak Hindi pretty well, so that was an encouraging thing to see in case Mummy got too nervous. One guy in line with me told me that I should just go up to the window with Mummy, even though I’d been told that I couldn’t do that, just to see what would happen. “What’s the worst they can do, tell you no?” So I decided to do that when it was our turn. We got to the front, and my line mates and I wished each other good luck. The best thing was that window 13 closed before it was our turn—whew, unlucky 13 was not our number!

Our turn came. I walked confidently up to the window with Mummy, where a girl about my age was to conduct the interview. She smiled at me and asked “are you here to translate, or are you just here for moral support?” My heart raced—I’d be allowed to stay during the interview!! I told her that I was just there for moral support, and showed her my passport and told her how I was related to Mummy. Then we got down to business.

Mummy slid her application form and passport through the slot in the window, and then she showed the officer the cover letter we’d written, the graduation invitation, and our congressman’s email of support. The first thing the officer said when she saw the invitation was “oh, Virginia Tech—Go Hokies!!” The last thing I expected to find all the way around the world was another Hokie!! But it turned out that she had actually been born and raised in a county not far from Virginia Tech and also not far from where I was born and raised. What luck—it was an immediate rapport-builder.

Then she got down to asking the questions to Mummy. At first I tried to just stay quiet and give moral support, but Mummy was starting to get flustered. She accidentally answered the question about “do you have any other kids” by saying “no” when in fact she has three other kids. I decided to jump in and help. I reminded Mummy of the answers when she was flustered, and then I started to answer some of the questions myself when it seemed like that would make things easier. The interview officer started to ask me questions too, such as where I work, what I do, what my husband does, etc.

The questions she asked (that I can remember) were:

1. Where will you be staying in the US?
2. How long do you plan to stay there?
3. How will you pay for your trip?
4. How many other children do you have besides your son?
5. Where do they live?
6. What do they do?
7. What is your marital status?
8. How long has it been since your husband died?
9. What does your son do? Does he work anywhere else besides being a student?
10. What does your daughter in law do?

Once or twice the interview officer left the window with the documents and then came back. On the last time she did this, she came back and said, “Congratulations, your passport with the visa will be delivered to your home address.” Just like that! We got our papers back, and I started to jump up and down and squeal and hug Mummy! Everyone else in the waiting area probably thought I was pagal (nuts). We were so happy! We went outside in a daze, and I ran down the sidewalk to my husband and didi, whooping that we did it! We did it! I was so happy that I gave all the change and smaller bills in my purse to some small children on the sidewalk.

When the visa came, it was for a 10-year multiple entry visa. How thrilling! It’s definitely true that much of our success was pure luck, but we were also so well-prepared that it made things much easier. It’s been so nice having Mummy here for a long visit, and it’s great to know that she’ll also be able to come back any time she wants in the next 10 years.

15 January 2009

A Delhi Must-Eat

I've been to India twice now, and one must-visit place tops my list of must-eat foods while in India: Paranthawali Gali, in Chandni Chowk, for hot and fresh paranthas! Chandni Chowk is the bustling and crowded old part of the city, with winding maze-like lanes and galis. The shopping can't be missed--my favorite are the jewelry and sari shops.

On this past trip, we went to Chandni Chowk on a mission to find a piece of jewelry for me and a sari for Mummy. Then we went for dinner to Paranthawali Gali to a famous parantha stall where you can get one of the most incredible meals for only about .50 USD!

Here is the menu:

My former Hindi teacher, Raag, will be so proud of me, because I can read the whole thing. Just a few, starting from the top, include paranthas stuffed with aloo (potato), dal (lentil), methi (fenugreek), gobi (cauliflower), mooli (radish), matter (pea), etc. I love the mooli and gobi ones best, but the chilli ones were a pleasant new discovery on this trip. V likes the paneer and the chilli ones best.

When you sit down in the tiny dining area you tell them what kind you want, and then you get a plate of accompaniments (included in the price). You can get fresh lassi brought from a stall in the same gali. Here's what came on the plate:

There's cilantro chutney, aloo subjee, banana chutney, and pumpkin subjee. Meanwhile, out in front of the shop, the hot hot paranthas are made to order. They are stuffed and rolled out:

and then cooked with plenty of ghee:

and then brought piping-hot to your table. Wah! So good, you can't imagine until you go there.

08 January 2009

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Yesterday was the second anniversary of our Indian wedding! Time sure flies when you're having fun. Since Mummy is with us, the first thing we did in the morning was to touch her feet and take her blessings. The day felt extra-special because we had her with us!

To celebrate, we made pakoras and had champagne that night (Mummy even had a tiny glass!). Making pakoras is a cooperative effort for V and me. I prepare the veggies and batter, and he does the frying (I am skittish of hot oil, so he's the designated fryer in our family). It's so fun to hang out in the kitchen together making them that that's what I requested that we do for our anniversary.

Making pakoras is easy! I prefer the kind with individual veggies, rather than chopped veggies in blobs as you see at restaurants. My favorite kinds are mushroom and onion, but you can use your imagination and whatever veggies take your fancy.


2 cups besan
1 cup water
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp red chile or to taste
2 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 tsp khatai
1-2 tsp chaat masala
1 minced green chile
vegetables of your choice:
sliced onions
pieces of potato
pieces of green bell pepper
jalapeno chiles, halved lengthwise
small mushrooms, halved if desired
squares of bread

Whisk the dry ingredients together and add the chile. Add the water a little at a time and stir to make a batter that is of the right thickness. It should be thick enough to coat the veggies, and not too runny. Put vegetables into the batter and fry over medium heat until golden brown and crispy. Serve with ketchup or spicy ketchup (like Maggi brand).