Most of all I think the food I cook reflects my sense of adventure, my willingness to try (almost) anything, my love for novelty and variety, and I fondly hope, creativity and innovation, although those last two might be derived from my cooking. Over the years it – my cooking – has also come to reflect my peregrine nature, as I’ve picked up knowledge about ingredients, cooking techniques and tastes from different parts of world. A recent example that comes to mind is the use of shiso (shisu?) aka sesame leaves – which I’ve only really seen used in Korean and Japanese food – as an ingredient in tadka (finishing a dish with a couple of teaspoons of oil heated with spiced and herbs) for daal.

It’s strange that I can’t think of more to write here.. at least about the main topic at hand. After all, the subject matter of the prompt (from a later chapter in Deutsch’s book) touches on the two things I write about the most: myself and food. So why then have I drawn a blank after that first paragraph, which flowed quite naturally from my finger-tips? Maybe because at some level my cooking is an expression in and of itself. It just is, the way I just am. Writing about the relationship between the two feels like the way I’d imagine cooking for a restaurant would feel like. It takes the joy out of the act, imposing rules and forcing into boxes, what is for me a flight of fancy – whatever I fancy – using the ingredients I can find in the fridge, freezer or pantry cupboard. A long-ago creation I was reminded of last weekend when I visited New Haven and the kitchen I created it in, was a low-&-slow baked Swedish meatballs (from IKEA) in a Kashmiri-inspired gravy of yogurt, ginger, fennel powder spiked with red chilli (cayenne) powder… And another memory that just sparked was of a salad  I conceted while visiting my friends Shomik and Renu during their stint in China, in response to their request for something that was not Chinese: Norwegian pickled herring dressed with Indian mustard oil and fresh cucumbers.

I suppose these reminisces also bring to light another way in which my cooking reflects who I am.. my being a people’s person, for so often the food I have cooked has been for more than just myself. I like to cook for others, an audience if you will, though not always as a demo. but then don’t most people?

Okay.. the verdict is in.. bored enough to get distracted to look at other things, I better put this post to bed and potential readers out of their misery.

The structure of the Korean academic calendar being as it was, in cycles of 4 months on and 2 months off, I didn’t treat myself to many (read any) term-time getaways as I did with such frequency while in Egypt (both in and out of the country) though summer and winter breaks are another story. In fact, a short trip to Hong Kong in October, 2013 during the Chuseok holiday was the first time since my arrival to the country in 2011 that I went anywhere during the term. But I seem to have made up for it my last semester (Spring 2014) there as evidenced by the weekend jaunt to Bo-seong of the green tea fame, and a  mid-term week flight to Bali for 5 days in April where I met up with Anthony Osiris & parents, and a Buddha’s birthday venture into Vietnam in early May. The latter two are the references in the title. Details may follow in future posts or my food blog but here’s a collage/montage of photos from the trips:

Our villa grounds in Sanur

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Spongy purple flotsam

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Viet-lodge & views

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Cruising at sunset

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The place I most associate with a semipatetic (as compared to outright peripatetic?) childhood is Chandigarh having lived there from when I was 5-1/2, and the home (and the bedroom as a subset) within this city would be the upstairs of 85, Sector 16, where we lived in three separate installments as I wound my way through childhood into my late teens. The bedroom in question, was not really a bedroom in the conventional sense of the word, but it was the space where my bed was as well as a small Godrej almira, that exists to this day in my parents home in Bangalore. Talk about indestructible furniture! I remember a Rudolf-like sticker of a reindeer or deer that I pasted on the door of said almira, remnants of which linger even now.

To give one a sense of space of my bedroom that wasn’t really a bedroom, it was part of a long, covered veranda area (at least that’s what I’d be prone to think it was) at one of which there was a door that led into the Master bedroom. The other end – was not really an end – consisted of indentations separating it from another like-sized space (my brother’s room) which then had a door to a wrap-around terrace, which on warm summer nights also served as the family bedroom come to think of it. The bed lay lengthwise against the inside wall, which not a full wall but separated from the living room by a mesh window. I can remember going to bed at night listening to the strains of music from BBC (nightly news I think it must have been) that my father would listen to every night, sucking on a little oval-shaped tablet of edible Vitamin C, trying in vain to make it last, but almost always giving in to the desire to also bite down on it. On nights when I was ill with tonsilitis or other infections that left me with a hacking cough (something I never outgrew I’m afraid) Daddy (the title of Appa became more frequent only as I got older) would dose me with a combination of warm water, brandy and honey. I would go out like a light, which might be the reason my parents swore by it’s curative effects. Occasionally another concoction – to my child’s tongue even yummier – of honey, raisins and ginger would also be given – our version of the spoonful of sugar that could make the medicine go down, not that I was a fussy child in that regard.

Funny where starting to write this trip down memory lane has taken me. I have actually been composing versions of this exercise ever since I read the prompt – only in my head mind – but each time has pulled up different memories and the cold-remedies were part of none of those mental versions. And it’s also funny how something else I had thought I would write about has not yet made her appearance. This her would be my doll, a beautiful 2.5-3 foot doll that Dad brought home for me from Italy – Naples seems to ring a bell – on his summer visit when I was 6 or 7. She had golden hair, blue eyes, and the cutest white shoes and socks ever. Her dress was a marvel to behold, white netting with panels of deep green satin, a green which in retrospect would have also made for a beautiful eye colour except for the fact that the eyes were, as I said, blue. Oddly enough, I neither named the doll – though I have had others, stuffed toys, well into my adulthood or at least the Tolkein-invented tweens, which I have named: A Canadian goodbye gift named Beaver Dom for obvious-to-some-of-us reasons, a bear who was spontaneously named Nantucket and a monkey called Choga for no real reasons I can thing of except that they seemed to fit…

But back to the doll and the room of my childhood. She didn’t have a name, but her presence was all important. For someone who has generally been careless of possessions – I have a vague memory of giving away a rather beautiful bottle of perfume resembling a Disney Castle much to my mother’s dismay (at the time neither of knew I was anosmic – lacking a sense of smell – that revelation was more than a decade in the future then) – I was very possessive of my nameless doll. I remember kicking up quite the fuss when my parents wanted me to give her to a young (much younger cousin) when I was well past the age of paying any real attention to her. I still regret that I didn’t keep her… I think said cousin tore her lovely golden locks off .. though one of the photo albums [my father was a prolific photographer when we were young] surely has a photo. Maybe the next time I visit my parents, I’ll scan her and put her here.

The Godrej almira as I said, is still with us. But as memories of the stickers return, I think the reindeer might have been stuck on my parents larger his-and-her-unit, which also remains in their possession. Like I said, indestructible metallic furniture. Mine had/has a toothpaste add I think where two kids are sitting on a tube made to look like an airplane. I have a memory of procuring that sticker along with my friend Dolly (a real person not a doll and in no way resembling my doll either) at an event which was likely something to do with dental hygiene. Easy enough to check the accuracy of these memories, just look for the residual sticker marks on the almiras…

To those who might be interested, the title of this and other posts are part, the whole or spin-offs of the prompts from Writing from the Senses which I’m using in an my experimental my-year-of-blogging-a la-Laura Deutsch experiment. I’m not sure if the prompts from the book serve as an aid to good writing, but certainly they are keys to unlocking memories from so long ago. Things I haven’t consciously thought about for years and years, suddenly came back to me as I was writing. There are other memories as well though I don’t have time to write about them.

I wonder what that room/space looks like today. The home is still owned by the family of the people from whom we rented it and who lived downstairs from us, so maybe I’ll go and check it out the next time I visit Chandigarh. Which ought to be much easier now that I live but a few hours away. I also wonder what kind of writing that visit will prompt! If and when it does,  I daresay it will show up as a sequel on this site. And on that note (imagine the fading strains of the BBC radio tune) Good night.

egg selfie

My dear Cherry Dumpling (to use oft-exchanged endearment in lieu of your real name),

Do you remember this photograph? I actually went looking for it today and despite it being some dozen years and two computers ago I found it! It was exactly where I thought it would be and even though I’d forgotten the name of the website I’d uploaded it on, a quick web search yielded the name. From there on in it was easy…

Anyway the reason I went looking for it, was a reaction to another photograph, more recent though even that’s nearly 2 summers old too, which I found on my phone.  There’s still another layer to this narrative.. the reason I was even looking for photos on my phone is related to a new year’s resolution I made after reading the first chapter of an interesting book full of writing exercises and prompts based on the senses! The first exercise was to find an old photograph and write to one of the people in it,  based on the prompt that is the title of this blog post: In this picture you were… The idea is to see what memories visual stimuli can evoke.

In the photograph/s that prompted the search for this one we were making funny faces at the camera sitting by a fountain in some square in Leon, France. It took me on a trip down memory lane to the numerous faces we’ve made in numerous places over the years. Of all the selfies we’ve taken though, this one remains my favorite because it was so clever! There we were, window-shopping Easter weekend in 2002 – can’t be sure if we were in Lucern or Bern since we visited both that weekend but I think it’s Bern – and our reflection in the egg-shaped mirror inspired you. This photo was take long before “selfies” were popular and it is the most natural composition, a photo of a reflection, Even the camera is in the photo though not too obvious. What I also like about it, and what makes it so appropriate for this write-up, is the slightly hazy edges of our images, much like a memory.. blurred but still very much there and alive.

So what were you (we) doing that long ago day? Gadding about enjoying spring, Easter, and all that. I remember talking to you a few days prior from Heidelberg and you asked if I wanted to come over and help you paint Easter eggs. So I took the train over. We never painted eggs or indeed anything else that time, though painting too had been an activity we’ve engaged in even further back in time. A Christmas break in Dusseldorf, armed with lipsticks rather than paints. And though that may be a story for another post, it too has it’s place here as a snapshot of a memory of good times we’ve had in all the years we’ve known each other since Edmonton, Alberta. More often than not you’ve been the person proffering hospitality though a few times (too few) I’ve had the chance to return the favor.

This letter is my toast to all our zany, nutty and egg-sactly perfect times .. may we brew many more in the years to come. Much love

     Neeraja

It may not be the year of the dragon – in fact it’s not.. I just checked and it’s going to be the year of the sheep/ram – but it has entered, or rather I have entered it, 2015 that is. And one of the things I was greeted with just a few days ago, was a “your year in blogging” from the administrators of this site. And I’d had to sheepishly (ha that was a coincidence) admit that my blogging record wasn’t so good, with just 2 posts to my credit. It was better than the year previous perhaps when there was just one, or 2012 when were none. Nonetheless given my original prolific writings, blogging really has dwindled in the years since I moved to Korea.

A quick this year in review, tells me that travel-wise I did well. I managed three actual vacations! The blogged-about green tea land Bo-seong in Korea in early April, Bali later than same month, and Vietnam (Hanoi and Halong Bay) in May. Then there was the big move in July from Korea to India which was announced, and a frenzy of non-stop work ever since. I finished the year in the US, the main reason to undertake a fellowship at the APS in Philly, which is proving to be a lot of fun and I do enjoy that city. In my short time here (not quite a month) I’ve managed an X-mas trip to Asheville, North Carolina, which was completely new territory, to visit Belle and Allen, and rang in New Year in NYC or rather overlooking the NYC skyline from Shraddha’s lovely Long Island City apartment with Dhananjay & Rishika.

Achievements wise, 2014 proved successful or at least signified the beginning of what I hope will be successes in my career. I moved from Korea to India to the brand new Ashoka on a promotion (at least on paper), got this fellowship which brings me to Philly, and fellowship itself feeds into a book project for which I got a contract! Here’s hoping 2015 takes me ahead on journeys begun in this part year.

One of the things I found in the deliciously evocatively named “Malaprops” in Asheville was a book called Writing from the Senses by Laura Deutsch. According to the subtitle it has 59 exercises “to ignite creativity and revitalize your writing.” I thought I’d do a Julie-and-Julia-esque year with this book trying out it’s exercises. I think that an exercise a week would not be too much to do even when I have other things afoot. Just a paragraph ought to do right? It’s good discipline. I’m not sure if I will blog them all here, but I’ll offer up some of the contributions now and then .. this is a NY resolution that I hope I’m able to keep. The only real one I’m making this year.

And with that, here’s wishing everyone who reads this a warm and wonderful 2015.

Or is about to. As so many friends wrote in when I last made a similar announcement in January 2011, that fact that I’m moving may not surprise anyone who knows me. Nor will the fact that true to type, everything happened suddenly and rapidly. But the destination might be a surprise to many for after traipsing around the world for nearly 30 years (I left in 1986) this peregrine is coming to roost a mere 4 hours from the one place in in the world that was a stable home for more than a decade of my life. The actual place is called Kundli and it’s near Sonepat in Haryana, on oft-traveled road between Delhi and Chandigarh. But basically I’m going to be in Delhi! The new job is at a brand new liberal arts school called Ashoka University. My new job title will be associate professor (that’s right.. finally 8.5 years after I took up my first job in Eau Claire, I’ve managed a promotion!) of history of science. And that might well be the first time there’s been a job with the history of science written into it’s title in India. I’m excited naturally, but also approach this job with some trepidation because of the enormous changes it represents for me. More details on everything soon but for now wanted to at least announce the news.

A few weekends ago, I embarked on my first, out-of-Seoul trip within Korea (and I’ve only been here 3 years!!!). It took some research and planning, but thanks to the efforts of a food-tour company called Ong’o here in Seoul, and my trusty TA I was able to identify a destination and arrange a weekend getaway.

The place I chose was Boseong (보정 as it’s spelt in Hanguel I think) a place I first read about on the Ong’o website as one of their remote destinations. Green-tea fields, green-tea snacks and most-intriguingly, green-tea infused hot baths sounded interesting so after a few false starts and missed opportunities, I finally was able to make it over an early April weekend.

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I couldn’t have timed it better… it was serene and clean – a nice change from the concrete-and Chinese-blowover generated pollution that has besieged Seoul this year. Boseong being well south of here (it’s due south all the way at the end of the peninsula/island actually) spring came earlier here than in Seoul (which also seems to have had an earlier-than usual spring). So even though it was only early April all the blossoms were in full bloom with nary a leaf to be seen on the fruit trees, although as the pictures show the hills were alive with the growth of green tea. Here’s my favorite flowery moment, from a walk in the woods although this tree was outside said woods:

Boseong blossoms

녹차 (Green tea) was very much in evidence wherever one went. Not only to drink and in fields atop hillsides etc. but also everywhere else. Most of us are familiar with Green tea ice-cream I think (and here I had it softy-style for a lunch-time snack), but also green tea-infused salt, noodles, toothpaste, a variety of beauty products, candy, jellies, and even cooking oil, By the end of the trip I’d purchased a fair number of things to take back with me… the foodie in me could not resist the salt and noodles naturally, and I also got some of the oil (edible variety) and a jar of massage cream, which my massage-therapist has already used on me once (It felt good on my post-Bali sunburnt skin but that’s another story). What was surprising was the lack of more green-tea based food items in the region. Given that pickling in Korea is such a big deal, I was sure I was going to sea some sort of Kimchi featuring 녹차 but nope! Not a whiff of the stuff except in drinks. Since I’ve actually eaten green tea  before – in a fermented form in a special salad at Burmese restaurants (will post recipe in food blog by and by) – I was quite surprised to not find it in the fermentation capital of the world. The food in the region was quite yummy despite the absence of 녹차 except in it’s liquid form. Here’s a picture of just the Ban chan (반찬 – Korean side dishes) at my first meal in Boseong (All this just for me!)

Boseong banchan

My hand-down favorite were some clams in their shells, though lots of other things were good too. As I found out later this region is generally well-known for its 반찬.

I stayed at two different places while there (1 night each) and should mention them both. The first place was named predictably enough.. the Nokcha Resort, and is probably the more beautiful of the two places. See for yourself at their website. Lovely cabins and individual rooms, and beautiful wooden furniture.  Walking from my room to their reception/convenience store area gave me the feeling of an Indian dak-bungalow. The downside was it’s remoteness from any eating places, and their own less-than meagre supplies for a real meal. They have barbeque facilities, which I heard other guests make use of, but I just got a package of spicy Korean soup and made do in my room. Days seem longer here and I basked in the setting sun and enjoyed green tea and used the internet.. they didn’t have their own connection (something unusual in Korea) but my iPhone’s hotspot worked beautifully and I was able to get my work done in beautiful surroundings. A place to revisit with friends and food supplies!

This resort seems to be attached to a national-park like facility where one can hike (or simply walk) amid green tea plantations (see pics above) and get in a bamboo-forest and yew forests as well. I wandered around for an hour or so having left my bags at a store down at the base (Koreans in my experience are very honest in matters of possessions) where, upon my return I purchased some goodies – salt etc – and had my ice-cream before heading down to the beach town for my green-tea hot bath experience…

Before I get to details of that however, I should get in a few words about my second hotel, Golmangtae. I’ve reviewed that rather more extensively in tripadvisor (will post link when it goes live) and so will only say that it was the more interesting of the two places to stay. More individual character for sure.

The experiential highlight of the trip was my visit to the green tea jimjilbang (찜질방 – Korean spa/bath house). Now I’d heard about the bath-houses when I’d first arrived in Korea 3 years ago, but had only recently had my first (and until Boseong, only) visit to one. But the Seoul place I’d visited was a low-key local place and certainly not the elaborate experience that was the Yulpo Haesu Nokchatang. A multi-storey (5, 6.. or thereabouts) building, where I paid 6,000 KRW at the ground floor to enter the facilities. I left my bags (all except my handbag and purse) at the reception and made my way to the 2nd floor. Even one visit had more or less prepared me. I stripped down to nothing and after putting my purse and clothes in the locker, entered the steamy rooms for my green tea sauna experience. There must have been about 5 pool of varying sizes, temperatures and colors of water. The different colors were due to the different amounts of tea in the water. By far the most popular (read populated) one was a large tub with 1.5 sides against huge windows overlooking the sea with a dark greeny-brown water with bubbles (jacuzzi style) emanating from the center. Women sat in clusters some sipping tea or just chatting. For the most part I was left to my own devices. A surreptitious lick of my lips after one dunking told me that basically I was braising my self in a tea-infused brine. Another equally large pool with lighter-colored water had fewer people in it at any give time. Much fewer people and I learned why after a brief dip. That tub was way way hotter. Other pools which may or or may not have had tea were cooler. Besides the showers there were also the troughs where women sat scrubbing each others backs. One friendly old lady who had attempted to strike up a conversation with me while in the pool offered by gesture to scrub me but I smiled and declined preferring to continue soaking.Besides, in one corner of this area were the tables for the professional scrubs and massages by the lacy bra-&-panty clad ajumahs. Well, I went for the whole nine yards and was scrubbed and pinched within an inch of my life by two women mind you (that might have been because they were curious as hell about this non-Korean non-white anomaly in their midst) and finally treated to some warm oil massage before being dispatched to the showers. No in-door photography obviously but here’s a couple of photos of the place itself and of the view that I had from my briny window, though of course this one was taken from the parking lot  just before I boarded my taxi and headed back to Boseong’s green, leafy bosom.

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~Bye now, until my next post~

 croptop

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