July 19, 2011

N.B.–I’ll be continuing the “absolutely nothing to do with food” portion of the blog by posting a second essay on Friday.  Hope you’ll come back then to take a look!  In the meantime, food.

I love books, viscerally, powerfully.  I love their physical presence on the bookshelves in our house (they are the one material good I never feel guilty buying), I love their smell, their heft, their deckled edges.  I love to sit in a favorite chair and read, for hours, unaware of the time that has passed.  I love the feeling of being inside the world of a book, so suspended and captivated that you mourn the loss of it when you are done, daydream about characters for days afterward.

There are texts that feel, to me, like old friends—some I have to keep myself from re-reading over and over, just to delay the gratification I know will come when I finally give in.  Some are so tangibly connected to a certain point in my life that I feel grateful to have them as witnesses.  Books have taught me as much or more as anything else; they rescued me as a socially awkward middle school girl, and then again as a wistful high schooler with no romantic prospects of her own, and yet again as a young woman grieving the loss of her father.   I guess it’s no surprise that I became an English teacher, where I have the privilege of watching students “click” with a book, its magic and power and relevance becoming real to them.

I go through phases with my personal reading—lots of plays, followed by lots of memoir, followed by lot of young adult novels, then lots of poems, with a detour into historical fiction.  At the moment, Jill and I are relishing audio books.  We started with Faulkner’s A Light in August as a way to pass time on our summer road trip, and because it seemed fitting to have his words bookend our trip to Oxford, Mississippi, his hometown.  But it’s been weeks since we finished that novel and started another, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and I think we’re hooked.  We find ourselves listening all during the day: whenever we are driving somewhere together, when one of us is cooking dinner, when the other one of us is cleaning up kitchen, and even staying up until midnight some nights because neither of us could bear to stop.

I’m still entranced by paper books, too, and my summer reading pile, though cut down quite a bit, remains stacked with (more) Faulkner, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, which I’ve somehow managed to have never read, Alice Munro’s most recent short stories, and The Unwritten, recommended by a friend, which I suspect may start me on a serious comic book phase.

My mother, voracious reader in her own right, once told me, “If you love to read, you’ll never be bored.”  As kids in India, she and her brother used to beg reading material from their neighbors: old books, newspapers, the backs of food cartons, anything.  What we gain when we read is a pleasure and a knowledge no one can ever take away from us.

I suspect many of you out there are book nerds like me.  What are you reading this summer?

ALOO TIKKI (potato cakes)

These little guys are absurdly easy to make, but never fail to impress.  They work well as an appetizer, because you can make the cakes smaller, cook them ahead of time, and keep them warm in a low oven.  You can also make larger tikki and serve them with a green salad for lunch.  If you’re looking to add some protein, you can top the cakes with some keema.

The chutneys seen here are homemade, tamarind and cilantro.  You can buy jarred versions, of course, but both are quite simple to make on your own—it’s just a matter of picking up the right ingredients.  Bonus points for these chutneys?  You can freeze any extra for your future enjoyment.


2 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed
½ cup diced red onion
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt (more to taste)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
vegetable oil, for the pan

optional— ½ cup cooked channa dal or ½ cup corn kernels

Boil the potatoes until they are very tender.  Pour into a colander, rinse with cold water and leave until they are cool enough to peel.  Peel, then mash with your hands, breaking up any clumps of potato.

Add the remaining ingredients and hand-mix to combine.  Use your hands to form patties by pressing together the mixture with your palms.  The cakes will be a bit delicate, but they will firm up when you cook them.  If you’re having trouble making the tikki, squeeze in a little lemon or lime juice to bring the mixture together.

Heat the vegetable oil over medium in a nonstick (very important!) skillet or cast-iron pan.  Once the oil is quite warm, place two to three tikki in the pan, being careful not to crowd.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until brown on each side, using a flexible spatula to flip.  Serve immediately with chutneys, or keep warm until ready to eat.


  1. thanks for the recipe, it looks delicious. have been following your blog for a while now and really like it, thought i should tell you that. not reading anything at the moment except for the university stuff ( lots of exams and presentations), but will go to scotland this saturday and am looking forward very much to finding new authors&books. have a good summer. best from faraway berlin, anja

    Comment by anja — July 19, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  2. to date, have read: Cutting for Stone (incredible read!), Bossypants (good for poolside), Coming Back (the most recent in my 20 year mystery series by Marcia Mueller), and am currently working on The American Plague — about the Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis in 1878 (is that southern enough for you?)

    Comment by Lee — July 19, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

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