It’s all in the crunch

celery Oma, my mom, watched me chop celery.

“So nice,’ she sighed.

“What is?” I asked.

“The celery,” she said, “ makes a nice koch-koch noise when you cut it. So fresh.”

I shrugged. “It’s just celery.”

“You should see the celery we get in India,”  Oma said,  “thin and stringy, like lizard tails. Everything is so healthy in America. The people with big, white teeth saying “have a nice day.” Even the garbage man who drives the truck with the crab claw to lift your bin, smiles and waves. And do you know what that carpet cleaner man said to me yesterday?”

“No, what?”

“He said ‘take care’. Take care.”

I looked at her, puzzled. “He finished his work and he was leaving. So?”

Oma shook her head. “You are not understanding me. He did not say bye-bye. He did not say ta-ta. He said take care. Now isn’t that nice?”

I snorted. “That doesn’t mean a thing, Oma. It’s like saying bye-bye or ta-ta. That’s just how they speak here.”

“Not at all,” Oma retorted. “Take care is what you’d say to your old auntie or grandmother. It shows love and concern for an elderly person. I thought it was very nice of him to say “take care,” but then the poor fellow was in such a hurry, he forgot to drink his tea.”

“That’s the other thing I want to tell you,” I said, “don’t go serving tea and Marie biscuits to workers. They don’t have time to drink tea and chat about their family. Also I overheard you ask him all kinds of personal questions. You don’t ask “are you married?”, “how many children do you have” etc. He must have thought you were being terribly nosy.”

“What’s so wrong? In India, the garbage man, the driver, the newspaper man– whoever comes to my house are given tea. I know all about their families and everything. The driver’s mother-in-law has a goiter on her neck–-”

“People don’t talk about their mother-in-law’s goiter in America. Everybody’ s in a big hurry. Time is money.”

Oma threw up her hands. “Too much hurry, hurry here. You have everything. Big house. Machine for this, machine for that. Small, small gadgets that go peep-peep, ting-ting. You have blacktooth and blueberry, i-ping and you-pong, but what’s the use? Nobody has any time! Why? You don’t even have to get out of your car to open your garage door. If Rekha, my maid saw that garage door open by itself, she would think it was a ghost and run screaming for her life.”

I laughed. It was true. Automatic garage doors are still uncommon in India.

“The other day, your dear husband forgot where he parked his car in the mall,” continued Oma. ” Now, what will you do, I asked.  Don’t worry, Oma, he said, I will call the car and it will answer me. “Hey car?”, he called, just like that, and the car honked back and even winked its lights. Imagine a car answering a human? In India even humans don’t answer humans. Too much noise.”

“He’s pulling your leg, Oma. He must have pressed the car key in his pocket.”

Too pretty to eat
Too pretty to eat

Oma ignored me and waved at the fruit bowl sitting on the countertop. “Look at all this nice fruit and nobody to eat it. No time, No time. Hurry, hurry, hurry.”

“Why don’t you eat some?”

“How much can I eat by myself? Too many different things to eat in this house, I get confused. I sit down to cut an apple and you say eat the grapes. Then your husband says, eat the melon, eat this, eat that. Before you know it everything gets moldy and you have to throw it all away. Then back we go again to Costco and load up another shopping cart the size of a rickshaw with more fruit.”

“That reminds me there are strawberries in the fridge. Don’t forget to eat those.”

“I know. I took them out of the box and looked at them.”

“What? Have they spoiled already?”

“No, no, the opposite. They are too beautiful to eat just now. I just like to look at them. I will eat them when they get a little soft.”

“What is the point in getting you fresh strawberries, then?

Oma admiring her rose garden.  This photo was taken when she was much younger.
Oma admiring her flowers. This photo was taken when she was much younger.

“Feasting is for the eyes as well as the stomach. I have never seen such big, perfect strawberries in my life. I just want to admire them for a while. They are God’s miracle.”

Man’s miracle is more like it. I hate to disillusion you but those strawberries must be full of the steroids, hormones or whatever junk they put in them.”

“What is steroids?”

“Something that makes you look healthy when you are not.”

“How can you look healthy if you are not healthy? Sickly people you can always tell. They are thin and malnourished. They have no energy. They look like the lizard-tail celery.”

“Here the sick people look like the strawberries, the healthy ones are thin and stringy like your lizard-tail celery.”

“That makes no sense,” Oma frowned. “I hate to say this, but America has made you into a very cranky person. All the time, this is not right, that is not good, grumble, grumble, never happy with anything. You should hear yourself sometime. Crease marks are appearing on your forehead. It is not very becoming.”

“I am just telling you the facts,” I said, glancing at the clock. I pulled off my apron and grabbed the car keys. “I must run to the post office. I’ll be back. Why don’t you eat some strawberries?”

“Alright”

“And ….” I turned and waved, “take care!”

NOTE (updated 19th June, 2013) Sadly, the following year, Oma departed for her orchard in the sky. These are my fond recollections from her last visit to the US and our lively conversations in my kitchen. Oma was eighty when she died. 

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Shona Patel’s debut novel “Teatime for the Firefly” (Harlequin/Mira) slated for release  October 1, 2013 is currently available on pre-order (with guaranteed delivery by 24th September) from major retailers in several countries. You can read the Synopsis and First Chapter here.

The Living Bridges of Meghalaya

Meghalaya (translated means “abode of the clouds”) is the land of my birth. Back then Meghalaya was a part of Assam, today it is an independent state. It is the wettest place on earth! Watch this remarkable documentary about the Living Bridges designed by the indigenous people of Meghalaya.

Tea Eggs

Beautiful tea eggs: Courtesy  The Steamy Kitchen
Beautiful tea eggs: Courtesy The Steamy Kitchen

Sometimes I have to do different things to loosen my mind when I’m stuck with my writing. Cooking helps, twanging the guitar too (I’m a hopeless guitarist BTW) or  experimenting with something curious and fun.

Boiling the egg with a tea bag and garam masala!
Boiling the egg with a tea bag and garam masala!

Today I am making a tea egg. I first heard about this Chinese  snack from my niece, who is a doctor: and no, she’s not Chinese. So I boil an egg with a tea bag, crack it lightly all around with a wooden spoon and boil it some more, then let it steep for a bit. They recommend keeping the egg in the tea juices overnight but I was too impatient and peeled it while it was still hot. Here is what I got. Not as pretty as the ones above but that’s what happens when you rush a tea boiled egg, right?

The shelled egg (I peeled it too soon)
The shelled egg (I peeled it too soon). The crack marks are very faint.

Then to add to the silliness I threw in some garam masala (instead of the Chinese 5 Spice) and it was an odd tasting egg indeed. So the garam masala tea egg together with a slice of toast and tea was my little breakfast this morning. Ho!

Some people may not know this but I used to be an Egg Artist once. So the tea and egg experiment is right up my alley. Below are some samples of the egg art I used to dabble in. They were exhibited in galleries and museums and I even got a bunch of awards for them. The eggs are porcelain shells (extreeeemly delicate) made from molds of real eggs. My art guru and mentor Anitra Watley Allen taught me to make egg molds out of plaster. I even made a  humongous Godzilla egg mold which was so big and unwieldy, my engineering hubby had to fashion a winch to tip it over to drain out the liquid clay. Sadly I can’t find the photos of the Godzilla egg mold – this was back in the late 90’s.

Sgraffito egg art.JPG
My porcelain egg art with sgraffito etched decorations
More porcelain egg art from my award-winning Coral Collection
More porcelain egg art from my award-winning Coral Collection

There is a funny story I must share. The Godzilla egg mold was made out of a man made clay prototype (about 3.5 ft tall) fashioned by a potter on a wheel. Using this prototype, I built a giant plaster mold which was used to make multiple Godzilla eggs. The day I went to pick it up the giant clay egg from the potter’s studio (he was not  home at the time and had left the back door unlocked for me) I realized I had not bought a box to bring the egg home in. Since I could not have it rolling around in the trunk, I decided to strap it down to the passenger seat with the seat belt. Rather ingenious I thought, little realizing I looked like a wacko driving down the freeway with Humpty Dumpty strapped beside me. And guess what – an eighteen wheeler  pulled up alongside and the driver glanced down and he must have got the shock of his life because swerved off his lane and got tooted at by a bunch of angry drivers! Bwahahah! Anyway I made it  home with the Godzilla egg in one piece. The next day I called up the Kohler Company (the same guys who make sinks and toilets – very art-friendly people BTW, check out their terrific Kohler Art Program) and got the lab guy to walk me through making a giant plaster mold for the Godzilla egg. My Godzilla Art Eggs won me the Best of Show at the AZ Clay Ceramics show. So it all ended well.

Have an egggggcellent day dear friends. Stay curious, have fun. Cheers!