DIWALI 2017

Diwali always seems to come at the right time; I suppose this says something about the wisdom of ancient religious calendars and living in sync with the cycles of the moon. Initially, Diwali felt “early” to me this year–at least in part due to the unseasonably warm weather of Houston’s mid-October–the holiday did its job as always, serving as a point of reflection and an opportunity to regroup and start again.

For some time, I’ve gone back-and-forth about the viability of this blog; I post so infrequently these days, my life very different from when I began this project in 2009.

I am a parent now, of course.  And for the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been intently focused on a book project, which will come to fruition next year.  I still cook a lot, but the nature of that cooking has changed–gone are the days of elaborate, “just for the heck of it” recipes that require a trip to the specialty store for ingredients. Instead, I am all about the weekly meal plans, prepping weeknight dinners in advance, stocking the freezer with casserole, pastas, or enchiladas whenever I can. Most of my writing isn’t about food anymore.

At the same time, I know that many of my friends and acquaintances come to the blog to search for recipes, which makes me grin.  In truth, I often cook out of my archives, too; I don’t want this site to go anywhere.  I plan to maintain it, just not to update it anymore.  This will be my last post.

I’m proud of this blog and forever grateful for all of the doors it opened for me, especially the connections and friendships I made because of it.  But the time has come for something new, for transitioning into the next thing, scary and exciting as that is. I’ve got the very beginnings of a new website, which I intend to use as a platform to share not-necessarily-food-related writing and provide updates about the work I’m doing, including my new book and the occasional writing course. I’ll be posting about the first course in the coming week, so, if you’re interested, you can sign up for my mailing list here.

Like most changes, this one feels bittersweet. I can’t help but think about my students, seniors all on the precipice of major transitions, edgy with the thrill and the fear contained therein. It’s easy for me to speak to them about the importance of risk, the necessity of moving outside of a comfort zone–but it’s humbling and essential for me to stand inside this space and be viscerally reminded of what that feels like.

Thank you all, for being here and for reading.  I’ll miss this little blog.

***

DIWALI 2017

 

Wouldn’t seem right unless I shared a few of the most popular recipes from this year’s festivities:

Naan pizzas – I buy mini-naans at Costco and use them as crust. Since they’re small, I can cook them in batches on a baking sheet and serve them warm.  They are crazy-popular, and this year, I made two variations:

Butternut squash & chicken: in lieu of “sauce,” I mashed up Indian-style sweet-and-sour butternut squash, then layered it with shredded mozzarella and handfuls of diced chicken which I’d made ahead using leftovers from this recipe. Once the pizzas came out of the oven, I showered them with fresh, chopped cilantro.

Saag paneer: having cooked the greens and paneer separately, I used the saag as “sauce,” topped with shredded mozzarella and also a few cubes of paneer.  Once these came out of the oven, they got a drizzle of cilantro chutney.

Even though this party was basically a happy hour situation, I still decided to make four desserts, because of course I did:

Chai snickerdoodles – I skipped the frosting, which seemed like a bit much.  I’d do it again, because these were delightful and disappeared quickly!

Mango tartlets – phyllo shells have become my fancy-dessert- secret-weapon.  I’ve filled them in the past with Tartine’s lemon cream, this key lime curd, and this time, with Smitten Kitchen’s mango curd. Find the phyllo shells in the freezer section at the grocery store, crisp them up in the oven, then fill them with something delicious.  People will rave, guaranteed.

Pear galette – Stella Parks has never, ever steered me wrong (if you enjoy baking, you should buy her new book!) and this recipe is no exception. It was so good that I’m planning to make it again for Thanksgiving.

Saffron pistachio financiers – while these tasted great, they were a pain to remove from the pans after baking, so I’ll use liners next time.

PAST DIWALI POSTS:

2016, 2015, 2013*, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

*We skipped a year because a bunch of our friends got married all at once!  (It was the best possible reason.)

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WEARY EYES & LONGING HEARTS

It’s sort of an awful time of year to read blogs.

DSC_1856-001

Holiday perfection pressure only emphasizes the performative nature of what we bloggers do—curate and arrange the pretty parts of our lives and share them with you in an aesthetically pleasing format.  Here are all of the things you should be baking!  Here are all of the things you should do to avoid gaining weight this season!  Here are all of the holiday traditions you should be cultivating with your kids!  Here are all of the things you should buy for the people in your life to demonstrate your love for them!  Here are all of the books you should have read this year, the photos you should have organized and turned into scrapbooks, the goals you should have met, and on and on and on.  Keep Christmas in your heart but be sure to look good while doing it.

I’ve had several conversations with good friends in the last week or so about attempting to remain balanced and focused this time of year.  In addition to the general cultural pressure to “do” the holidays a certain way, this time of year often brings work-related stress (hi, I should totally be grading right now) and family-related stress (and by “stress,” I mean “drama”), but for those of us who want the holidays to mean something, it can be tricky to figure out just what that is or looks like.  Even—or especially—for those who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, as the fulfillment of a promise, it can be hard to hold sight of the center.  For an excellent meditation on this, I highly recommend this thoughtful New York Times commentary from Arthur C. Brooks.  We have a “healthy hunger for nonattachment,” Brooks writes, smartly diagnosing the malaise that many of us feel this time of year.

Shiv picked a book off of his shelf tonight—a pop-up book about animal habitats that was originally mine—and I noticed for the first time my name and “Christmas 1989” written on the front page, in my dad’s handwriting.  It nearly took my breath.  The “most wonderful time of year” is also the time when many of us miss what we miss the most.   

Advent leaves room for these sets of conflicted feelings, which is one of the things I appreciate about it the most (to be fair, I also really love the decorations and the singing.  I really, really love the singing.)  Hymns sung during this season speak of weary eyes and longing hearts, and there’s no shortage of those these days.  To echo what I wrote last week about resisting the easy, lazy, convenient, but inevitably inaccurate answer, I want to say that just because I’m not writing about being angry doesn’t mean I’m not angry anymore.  I am learning, I think, that anger is a lot like grief; you have to give up on the idea that it’s going to go away, that you are ever going to solve it.  Instead, you learn to make room for it in your life, to let it change you, which is what I am trying to do.

I am also trying to be mindful about what I actually want to do when it comes to Christmas and festivities and food and celebrations and presents, versus what I feel like I ought to do.  Shiv helped me make some treats this weekend, which we have and will continue to gift to various special people in his/our life.  We have friends coming over in a few days to help us decorate our tree, and  I’m planning to repeat a very boozy and successful eggnog experiment from last year.  I ordered a ham for Christmas, and I’m thinking about doing a leek bread pudding alongside, but Shiv doesn’t have any special Christmas pajamas or even Christmas outfits (gasp!), and there’s no wreath on our front door, and we haven’t put the stockings out yet, but you know what?  Baby Jesus gonna get born without any help from me.

lights | Blue Jean Gourmet

HOLIDAY LINKS:

I made a big batch of this kumquat marmalade a few weeks ago when our neighbors offered to let us harvest their backyard tree; I’m including jars of it in the gift bags we’re giving Shiv’s teachers.

Also going in those gift bags are these not-much-to-look-at but crazy-delicious walnut shortbread cookies from Mario Batali.  My friend Peggy’s husband, Doug, brings these to events all the time and they always disappear quickly.

These burnt-sugar espresso shortbreads that Tim posted at Lottie & Doof are totally worth the trouble.  I also want to try the beautiful rosewater shortbread cookies that Heidi posted on 101 Cookbooks.  Are you sensing a theme?  I really love shortbread.  

This is the crazy-good eggnog we served last year.  This is a Pinterest board with every cookie I’ve ever posted, plus a few other fun homemade gift-able-things like Chex Mix and homemade Irish cream.

Last but not least, to set the record straight, I did make turkey pot pie last week; I just didn’t write about it.  I used this recipe, tweaking it a little bit (white wine instead of sherry, fresh onions & carrots instead of frozen), and it was delicious.  I love anything with a biscuit crust, and this recipe would work just as well with chicken.

Wishing y’all some merry mixed in with everything else.  xoxo—Nishta

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DIWALI 2013

Last Saturday, I threw my seventh Diwali party.

Diwali 2013 | Blue Jean Gourmet

 Actually, it would be completely inaccurate for me to say that I threw this party and imply that I did it by myself.  Hardly.  One of the things I have finally learned is that not only can I not do everything by myself, it’s much more fun to let incredible people in my life help.

And so, friend-of-a-friend Laura designed the most perfect invitations, out-of-town friend Rebecca not only drove with her husband from San Antonio for the party, but also brought custom-made food labels that matched the invitations perfectly, Megan & Maconda made the house and backyard tables look exquisite with vintage glass, floating candles, and the loveliest arrangements of pink flowers, Greg & Sharon handled plates and napkins, finding the loveliest designs, and tied sparklers into bundles for the gift bags, and continued the tradition of being the deliverers of my last-minute “Oh crap I forgot this!” items.

Diwali 2013 Shiva collage | Blue Jean Gourmet

 My mom cooked a full half of the food served, wowing everyone with her chicken tikka masala and stuffed eggplant (yes, I promise to blog about those soon!), looked like a million bucks in the deep purple sari she wore, and charmed everyone who met her for the first time.  Diwali marks the one-year anniversary of her living here in Texas, just 1.96 miles away from our house, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to say that.  Jill, loving spouse of shocking efficiency, rendered the back yard a twinkling retreat, perfect for the day’s fall temperatures, helped clean the house, wrangle our child, and served as always-gracious host to the almost-forty people who walked through our door.

For his part, Shiv romped, flirted, played ball (pictured here with Rebecca’s husband, Aaron), and pointed up at airplanes passing overhead (his latest thing).  He had a blast, and I hope everyone else did, too.

Diwali 2013: Shiv & Aaron | Blue Jean Gourmet

 When I threw my first Diwali party, I didn’t think too much about why I was doing it or what I was hoping to get out of it; I had just lost my dad, and throwing the party seemed a way to honor him and the rituals of my youth, plus it gave me a project, something to do, which is helpful when you are grieving.  Since then, though, I’ve thought (along with Jill) more deliberately about the intention behind the tradition we’ve created.

Our hope is to create something magical, to render our home a sacred space, one in which strangers can meet and connect, feel and share joy, and leave well fed not just in stomach but in soul.  To me, Diwali is, in its essence, an affirmation of the belief that love is the strongest force in the universe; that, no matter how hopeless things seem, human goodness will always triumph.  And each year, the people who we are lucky enough to have in our lives show up at our house and serve as living proof of that belief.

Diwali 2013 collage | Blue Jean Gourmet

 Diwali celebrations, previously: 2012, 2011, 2010, & 2009.

MENU NOTES:

We billed this year’s gathering as an open house/happy hour, so we had plenty of beer, wine, & cocktails on hand.  The two cocktails I served—Lucky Dogs & Cider Sidecars—proved to be incredibly popular and were easy to prep ahead of time.

For food, we had: the aforementioned chicken tikka masala & stuffed eggplants from my mom, a sev puri station that included sprouted mung beans (also a hit, also done by mom), some tamarind-glazed lamb meatballs that I made, roasted chickpeas, a cucumber/onion/tomato salad, carrot achar (pickle), onion pakoras (fried by—you guessed it!  my amazing mother) served with tomato chutney, and saag paneer pizza, which was the hands-down runaway hit of the night.

Here’s how I did them, step by step  (I was able to fit 3 “pizzas” per baking sheet & work in batches):

1.  Garlic naan (Storebought from Whole Foods—I’m not THAT crazy!)

2.  Homemade saag slathered on top (I made mine in the slow cooker overnight, which helped it thicken, keeping it from being too watery.)

3.  Generous handfuls of pre-shredded mozzarella (don’t use fresh mozz, it’s too watery)

4.  Cubes of homemade paneer sprinkled on top.

5.  Into a very hot oven–500°–to get the cheese all melty, and then a few minutes under the broiler to brown everything.

6.  A good slather of homemade cilantro chutney after the pizzas came out of the oven.

7.  Cool slightly, cut into wedges, & serve hot.

(No pictures, they disappeared too quickly!)

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BIRTHDAY, THE FIRST

Dear Shiv,

Today, it’s your birthday: your first one. Today we celebrate one year of you, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days of a whole different and magical world for all of us who know you. Your arrival, as your Gigi puts it, was “a total game-changer.”

Shiv, months one-four

This time last year, we sat in a hospital room with your Mama D, who was heavy in her pregnancy with you, tired, and ready. We spent much of the day waiting nervously on the sidelines, trying to comfort her while also wondering to ourselves how things would work. There is a lot of waiting involved in a birth, as it turns out, but it is not exactly idle wait time during which one can read a magazine or book. Nor is it really suited to conversation, because so much in those moments is uncertain; this thing that’s about to happen, it’s going to make everything different; it’s going to alter the color of your universe, but you don’t know how yet, so you don’t know what to say about it or in what ways to prepare.

Then, all of a sudden, you were making your entrance—sailing out into the world, a squalling, curly-headed thing and we were there to see it.

We thought you were going to be a girl; that’s what the ultrasounds had told us. We were blessed to have the chance to be there for the last one, to stand in the room and hear your heartbeat, see your floating image on the screen, as seemingly unreal as pictures from the moon. Your Mama D was so generous with us, handed over the rolled-up print-out for us to tack to the fridge, the computerized “It’s a Girl!” supervising our readying of the house and our life for you.

It didn’t matter to us one way or another, your gender. We had told your adoption agency that we were happy to be the parents of any child, and we meant that. So when you arrived, our little boy, the adjustment was easy, a matter of rolling words off of our tongues—We have a son—but also yielded a slightly frantic conversation that night, on the way home from the hospital, to figure out what we were going to call you.

Shiv, months five-eight

We only had a girl name picked out: Jaya, my middle name, which I’ve always loved. But boy names had us stumped. We knew that your middle name would be Carroll, Gigi’s last name, and that you and I would share a last name, Mehra. For a little while, I thought about naming you after my father—your nanaji, whom you never got to meet. He died almost exactly six years before you were born, and though I am going to continue to do my best to make him present in your life, it will never not ache in my heart, his absence in your life.

Though he was a great man—generous, hardworking, unfailingly optimistic—and would have made a fine namesake, we ultimately decided not to call you “Subhash.” It’s a difficult name to pronounce and spell, and difficult, too, to carry the weight of someone else’s name and still find a way to make it your own.

Instead, we thought, we could give you your grandfather’s initials: SCM. That, then, meant we were looking for an Indian boy’s name that started with an “S.” I hate to admit that the origins of your name were so un-glamorous, but we literally consulted the internet and started scrolling through names on a website; your Gigi at the computer, me on the phone with your Nani. Then, as fate would have it, they both suggested the same name to me, at the same time: What about Shiv?

My friend Lisa recently wrote a beautiful essay about Shiva, the Hindu deity after whom you are named. I am including it here because she captures so powerfully what we hoped to give you when naming you after him; Shiva is a god of contradictions, both a warrior and a dancer, creator and destroyer, powerful and tender at the same time. To give you his name is to give you the belief that you, that all of us, are beings with great capacity—the capacity to experience conflicting emotions simultaneously, to tackle life with strength and grace, to be with difference without judging or fearing it.

As the great American poet, Walt Whitman, a favorite of your Aunt Coco and Uncle Dave, said: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large—I contain multitudes.”

Shiv, months nine-twelve

You, my son, already contain multitudes. You are the product of three mothers: one who birthed you, two who are raising you. You are Louisiana-Tennessee-India-Texas. You are black, white, and brown. You are gentle, loving, fierce, and wild. You were born into a society that is at once more free and just as flawed as it’s ever been. You are part of a family that represents a new America, a family that most people champion but many resist.

Here’s something that I want you to know, for whenever you read this letter and for always—your birth mother did not “give you away” or “give you up.” What your Mama D did was just the opposite; she gave you to us. If she gave up anything, it was her own desire, her own aching, irrational side that struggled, mightily, to let you go. In the forty-eight hours we spent with her and you at the hospital, all at once a strange kind of family, she was brave, gracious, and unbelievably strong. She brought you into this world and placed you into our arms so that we could give you the kind of life that she wanted for you, but could not provide. It was the most unselfish, truly loving act I’ve ever witnessed, and don’t you dare ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

There’s no way for me to know what you will have encountered by the time you read this letter—that’s part of the breathtaking experience of this thing called “parenting,” which as far as I can tell is like steering a ship into near-total darkness—but my hope is that you are living open to the world, hungry for experience and knowledge, quick to comfort those in need, and eager to listen and observe.

Don’t forget to eat some vegetables, read lots of books, and carry joy and gratitude in your heart.

I love you,
Mama

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THIS IS WHAT A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE

We went to Oregon, to take the little boy on his first plane ride, and to see our dear, dear friends Courtney and John.  Traveling between Portland, Eugene, and Pacific City and reveling in the northwest’s spring and the company of folks we love so much did my soul much good.  I wish I had taken more pictures, of crocuses, daffodils, cherry blossoms, of all the good meals and the glorious shelves at Powell’s, of every texture, from the charming, windswept ocean-side to the snow-capped peak of Mt. Hood, but I was too busy soaking it all in to stop.

Oregon 2013

There was cooking and much good talk, and there was the ocean, and a baby who learned how to crawl (!).  There were long hours reading in a sunny chair, and there was lots of coffee and an overly-ambitious puzzle, and absolutely no schoolwork of any kind.  There were sunset walks and big breakfasts and naps and dyed eggs for Easter.  And then there was a very exciting email informing us that we had secured a court appointment with a San Antonio judge who was gay-and-lesbian friendly and willing to finalize our adoption.

So, just a few days after flying home, we drove to the Bexar County Courthouse and stood in the judge’s chambers on a Friday morning and became Shiv’s legal parents for ever and ever, raising our right hands and promising to love and care for our son for the rest of our lives.  It was the very first time our relationship has ever been acknowledged in any legal way.

adoption day

Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, I will say that up to that point, we had encountered some resistance and difficulty in securing legal status for our family. While we are lucky that our state does not ban same-sex adoption outright (as some do), it does not necessarily make it easy, either.  Ultimately, thankfully, with the help of our wonderful lawyer and the assistance of our adoption agency, it is all said and done.

I grew up with a set of fairly gentle circumstances when it came to the impact of my sexuality on my daily life.  Yes, I’ve been called a “dyke.”  No, I could not bring my girlfriend to my senior prom.  Yes, my parents and I fought for many years, and I struggled with my identity and my sense of comfort in my own skin.  But compared to what most before me—and some after me—have lived (or not lived) through, I know how tremendously lucky I am.

This adoption was really the first time I have felt the limits of what is available to me as an American in a same-sex relationship.  Sure, I knew the laundry list of inequalities on paper: no federal protection against job discrimination, no legal status for partners as next-of-kin, inability to file taxes as a couple, inability to collect a partner’s Social Security, inability to take FMLA for a partner, and on and on.  But that was abstract, on paper—annoying, but distant—things we had to work around.

But now that I have stood in a room with my love, with our son, and have tasted a sample of what many people take for granted every day—the ability to stand in front of a legal authority and show all of your cards, to not have to hide your personhood, your commitment, your love, or your family—it is no longer abstract.  It’s my life, and the reality my son will grow up into.  Jill and I are now legally related to Shiv, and it is my deep hope and intention that, before too long, he will be able to witness the moment when she and I stand in another courtroom and become legally related to each other as well.

Oregon sunset

 

DIWALI 2012

Diwali is about hope and joy, the promise that light will always find its way in, no matter how dark and lonely the corner.  But the true magic of Diwali comes, I think, as so many magical things do, in the form of love; it is our loving of each other, truly and fiercely that forces the light into the cracks.

We celebrated Diwali on Sunday at brunch, friends and loved ones gathered in a house filled with candles, too much food, and a baby who loves to chew on fingers.

If there is one thing I can always feel sure of, no matter how many other things in my life feel confusing or uncertain, it is the mandate of loving the people in my life: fully, joyfully, without abandon.  I know I can never go wrong doing that.

“Love is not consolation.  It is light.” (Fredrich Nietzsche)

Diwali Celebrations, previously: 2011, 2010, & 2009.

2012 Diwali Brunch Menu:

beverages
chai
Bloody Marys
mimosas made with pomegranate juice or mango nectar
Meyer lemonade made with rosemary simple syrup

snacks
roasted chickpeas (spiced with this fabulous blend)
hand pies, some stuffed with saag, others with keema
cilantro & tamarind chutneys

meal
saffron yogurt with fruit & seeds
coconut muffins
vegetable biryani (I added paneer)
eggs poached in Indian-style tomato sauce (a riff off of shakshuka)
Indian-style potatoes & fresh puris (both made by my mom)
chai-pistachio cake
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A DAY AT THE FARM

On Good Friday last week, Jill and I celebrated the start of my break by driving about an hour outside the city to visit Blue Heron Farm, home to some of the most ridiculously adorable baby goats on Earth.


I’m not going to lie—ridiculously adorable baby goats were a large portion of our motivation to visit the farm in the first place.  Those of us who follow Lisa Seger, self-proclaimed “boss lady” of the farm, on Twitter have been privy to a parade of baby goat pictures all spring as the mama goats have given birth; I must also confess to having purchased a Blue Heron Farm calendar for 2012 which proudly hangs from our refrigerator and brings much cuteness to our kitchen.

In person, baby goats are as cute, or—dare I say it?—even cuter than they are in photographs; they also make an almost painfully sweet bleating noise that could melt even the coldest heart.  But there was much more to our morning at the farm than just cooing over baby goats.

Blue Heron Farm is a small, family-run dairy farm; born in 2006, the farm has, in the last few years, become known in the Houston food scene for the fantastic chevre, feta, & cajeta (goat’s milk caramel) they sell at local Farmers Markets. For city kids like me, whose main exposure to farm life came through Charlotte’s Web, to walk around the very place and see the very goats that produced food you have consumed is a special thing (though it shouldn’t be so rare or unusual).

There’s a lot of talk these days about “honest food” and connecting with where food comes from, how it’s made, and what’s “natural.”  And as Lisa and her husband Christian toured us around their farm, it became clear that this is what that looks like.  Every decision they make goes through a three-part filter: Is it good for the long-term health of the animals?, Is it good for the long-term health of the land?, and Does it allow the farm to make enough money to keep farming?  Their commitment to their animals and their principles was apparent, and inspiring.

It’s all too easy to veer into self-righteous territory when talking about food these days; that, to me, defeats the point.  But as we toured, one of the things that was the most powerful for me was watching the kids in the group interact with the farm.  They tried their hand at milking Lucinda the goat, sampled cheese (and by sampled, I mean “devoured”), and greeted the whey-fed pigs who will, after living a pretty sweet life, become various pork products sold at Revival Market here in town.  The kids, and all of us in the group, saw food in process.  Someone has to make it, grow it, process it, harvest it, slaughter it, clean it, care for it, bring it to market, sell it to us—and I am appreciative of those folks who, like Lisa and Christian at Blue Heron Farm, do so in the most thoughtful and non-mysterious way they can.

No specific recipe for today, though I have two really great spring dishes coming up later in the week!  In the meantime, check out my “Recipes I Recommend” board on Pinterest, or click over to one of the fine food blogs on the BJG blogroll.

P.S. – For a good read, click over to Jill’s piece on foraging, published today in the Houston Chronicle.  Short version of the story?  You probably have weeds in your yard right now that pack more nutritional punch than spinach.  Who knew?

MERRY CHRISTMAS, Y’ALL

So this is Christmas—just cold enough to justify a fire, the apple tart & pecan pie both done, Jill in the kitchen working on her deviled eggs, apple cider to be warmed soon on the stove.  Presents under the tree, my father-in-law smelling like his good cologne.  Peace on Earth, good will to men.

One of my friends will spend tonight in a room in the ICU of a pediatric hospital, she and her husband’s first Christmas with their baby girl.  Another friend sits with her mother as she recovers from emergency cardiac surgery.  Someone newly divorced, someone newly widowed.  Many friends for whom this Christmas is their first as a married couple; others look ahead to next year being baby’s first Christmas.

There’s no such thing as a perfect Christmas—it is, as the universe turns, simply another day, during which both wonderful and crappy things happen.  Whether the meets our expectations or it doesn’t, whether it’s what we would choose if we had our own way or not, there is simply this Christmas, exactly as it is and as it’s not.

I want to be here, now—to watch Jill interact with her father, who will be ninety next year, and her mother, whose short-term memory is practically nonexistent these days.  To remember the way we laughed so hard at dinner last night, when Jill’s mother delivered a dead-pan line for the ages; to record the stories that Jill’s daddy tells, like no one can tell a story, from his long career in law enforcement or his young adulthood during the Great Depression.

Every time something threatens to drive me or Jill crazy—because, let’s admit, the family we love drives us crazy—I tell myself “We are going to miss this.  Someday, we will miss exactly this.”

I’m going to go be in my Christmas now.  To all of you, no matter what this day does or doesn’t mean to you, and how close it does or doesn’t look to what you had hoped, I wish you tidings of comfort and joy, gratitude and peace.

DIWALI PARTY 2011

Below is the toast I delivered in our living room Saturday night during our fifth annual Diwali party.  We were blessed to have many of our closest friends with us—some of whom drove many hours to be here!—and beautiful weather in the backyard.  The gratitude Jill and I feel this year extends to all of you who read this blog and have offered us your love and support.  Thank you for letting us share with you and allowing us to be a part of your lives.  much love, Nishta

As many of you already know, I started throwing these Diwali parties after my dad died.  With my grief came a strong desire to connect to my heritage, both spiritually and in the kitchen, and ultimately, I just wanted to throw the kind of party that my dad would love being at.  I’m proud to say I think I’ve accomplished that goal.

This year, Diwali has an especially potent meaning for me and Jill.  You may know some of the mythology behind Diwali—one of the root myths is about the god Rama returning to his hometown after long years away in exile.  The villagers lit his pathway home with oil lamps, hence the name “Festival of Lights.”

Diwali is a celebration of victory—Rama’s mythological triumph over the forces of evil, but also the metaphorical victories that take place inside each human spirit.  Since last year’s Diwali party, Jill successfully fought cancer and that is one victory we are keen to celebrate tonight.  But even beyond that, I think the victory that we have been made most aware of in the last year is the victory of human goodness.

I cannot begin to really do justice to the ways we were cared for in this last year, by all of you in this room and so many others.  We got really clear about just how powerful love is.  There’s a verse in the eighth chapter of Song of Solomon, which I read from at my friend Kristen’s wedding this summer—“Set me as a seal upon thy heart, for love is stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave.”  Love IS stronger than death, and life is very, very good.  Thank you all for being here tonight, and for being in our lives.  Together, let’s toast L’Chaim, to life—

Diwali 2011 Menu
(Please let me know if you’d like me to blog about any recipes that aren’t linked!)

snacks:

roasted chickpeas (this time seasoned with cumin, salt, & a little cayenne)
keema hand pies
vegetarian hand pies
grilled halloumi cheese
sliced radishes & cucumbers with Indian black salt

dinner:

winter vegetable sambar
grilled eggplant bharta
lamb koftas with rice
saag with homemade paneer
paranthas made by my mom!

dessert:

Alice Medrich’s seed cookies
homemade masala chai

drinks:

beer—Allagash White, Dogfish head Indian Brown, SKA Modus Hoperandi, Brooklyn Lager, Lefthand Milk Stout

wine—Guardian Peak Syrah, SA Prüm Essence Riesling, various sparkling

(we had nonalcoholic drinks, too!)

I have to say, this year’s party was easier than ever to plan thanks to my Diwali Pinterest board.  If you’re not already using Pinterest, I highly recommend it as a fine method for culling visual ideas and inspiration, not to mention collaborating on projects and events; if you’re already on Pinterest, please find me so I can follow you back!

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ON THE OREGON TRAIL

No recipe today, but hopefully you won’t mind too much, since I wanted to share some pictures from our recent trip to Oregon.  As you know, Jill has been ardently pursuing photography of late, and this was her first time to travel with her new camera (a Nikon D3100, for those of you who are interested in these kinds of things).  Biased as I am, I think she’s getting pretty good at this:

Neither of us had ever been to Oregon before, and it’s as beautiful as everyone says.  We spent a cool, drizzly day in Portland doing very Portlandesque things: drinking Stumptown coffee, browsing at Powell’s Books (I spent the whole time drooling over cookbooks, of course), window shopping, and feasting at Pok Pok.


In Eugene, where our friends John and Courtney (and their awesome dog Matilda) live, we toured the University of Oregon campus, where there is a cemetery for Ye Olde Pioneers, visited the vibrant Saturday market, ate fantastic pizza at the Pizza Research Institute, and drank outside on the patio at the Ninkasi Brewing Company.

Most spectacular of all, though, was the day we spent exploring the landscape outside the city.  The leaves in the forest had just begun to turn; verdant greens were interrupted by patches of yellow, orange, and some hints of red.  We had the trail mostly to ourselves, with just the sound of the waterfalls and the easy talk of close friends.

Heading out to the coast, we chose a hike out of the guidebook that dropped us of at the top of a giant sand dune.  A sand dune in the middle of a pine forest, I mean!  We were dazzled.  After an exuberant run down the sand, we trekked to the forest to get to the spare, windy, and completely deserted coast.  It was an afternoon I will never, ever forget.

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