Julie and Julia

Lately no book has been able to hold my attention after a few pages. When I sit to read I’m reminded of the hundred other unfinished tasks that tear me away from the book in hand. Instead, I resort to magazines and anthologies which are less-demanding of my attention and time. I also listen to audio-books when I drive. When the audio-book “Julie & Julia”, written and narrated by Julie Powell, presented itself to me I gladly picked it up. I have watched the movie by the same name a few times and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. I sort of knew what to expect from the audio version. Well, I was wrong.

If you haven’t watched the movie yet, this is the gist of the story; In a swirl of chaos- a dead-end secretarial job, a tiny apartment in Queens, inability to conceive and a sad frame of mind- Julie is drowning. A battered old book, “Mastering the art of French cooking” written by the acclaimed chef “Julia Child”, that she casually  picks up from her mother’s shelf literally saves her life . That year she sets herself up for a gargantuan task of cooking all the 524 recipes mentioned in the book in 365 days; And blog about the whole experience.

As she plows through the recipes, one at a time, or sometimes juggling 2 or 3 at the same time, she suffers meltdowns. This is where I thought the movie was altered to make the character playing the author a bit more likeable. Because the actual Julie hurls profane words like she is playing squash at you. You better not read or listen to this book if you’re the goody two shoes type. It might make you detest the movie too.

But I loved it and found myself laughing at her mishaps! What do I say about the pleasure of listening to a good audio-book while running errands or waiting for the husband outside his office for about 20 minutes to pick him up after work! Nothing feels annoying then, except, maybe when I have to pause every few minutes to entertain my girl strapped to her car-seat.

Even though most recipes required meat and Vermouth as their ingredients, being a vegetarian and hardly a wine-drinker, I found myself drooling over the description of the author’s cooking. Was it the mention of sticks of butter in every recipe or the author’s breezy voice (I thought the French names of the meals she prepared like Potage Parmentier  or Boeuf Bourguignon rolling off her mouth sounded sexy!) that made this such a delicious listen I’m not sure.

What also made this book special was listening to her talk about her husband, Eric. He is helpful, doting, encouraging and ready to take whatever crap his wife throws at him when having her innumerable breakdowns. In short, just like my husband, Prasad. Right now he is trying to feed Medha her dinner so I can finish this post in peace. I think I’ll just buy the audio-book as a keep-sake of my attempts at blogging and my husband’s constant support.

Power to Read

With the Power to Read!

Medha is elated to possess her own library card. It is in her name and helps her access books and the children’s-room computers. We are yet to see what those computers hold but I’m told they have educational games and other knowledge-enhancing programs for kids. I think she’ll love it; she has already sort of mastered the use of our ASUS Epad.

A card wont make her an independent reader just yet. I will still have to read her a box full of board books myself for the 2 straight hours that we are at the library (I can’t fathom her capacity for reading or her love towards books at the tender age of 2!). Yet, it is still poignant, this transfer of power as I see it, like I’ve bestowed her with a credit card. Actually she uses it as one, trying to swipe it through ATM machines or at the check-out counter of stores. Whatever, I hope we put it to good use.

I have one more news to share. To take my love of the library a step further, I have begun volunteering there. It isn’t much; I just shelve the books in the alphabetical order of the author names or as per Dewey Decimal System in some cases. But it is something. It helps me show my gratitude to the library and meet some really interesting and friendly people. So shelve I will, until, maybe, I find a real job…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico (part 2)

(Continued from part 1)

My Visa interview that lasted less than 10 minutes took forever to happen. The guards at the gate did not permit my phone or my handbag, so I carried in a few dollars, a stack of documents and Medha as I entered the premises of the US Consulate. As time dragged on and my little girl started feeling hungry, I tried desperately to force a $20 bill through the vending machine. It accepted only pesos. Watching me struggle with that unyielding machine, a kind Mexican worker dug through her pocket and handed me a few pesos to buy a pack of crackers. God bless her, that kept Medha going for the 4 hours we killed waiting for our turn.

Finally the visa was approved. We decided to give the consulate some time to process my new visa before walking towards the DHL courier service a few blocks down, hoping to collect my passport. I was asked for a waybill number about which I had no clue. But I nudged the front desk operator to look for my package. She obliged and came out empty-handed. On an average, she told me, reluctantly, it takes about 6 days for the Visa processing. She asked me to check in after a couple of days. We were planning to be out of Mexico that day; so the news came as a shock. To avoid slipping into depression we decided to make the best use of the time dealt to us.

Up and down the streets we strolled, once again, watching kids display their skill at leaping off the wall of an old building; biting kernels off corn roasted by a street-side vendor; and simply comparing and contrasting the populace of the 2 neighboring countries. As long as Prasad was by my side I felt like a junior ranger excitedly exploring a new terrain. The moment he was compelled to head back home on an urgent business I began my descent into an area I hate to be – the feeling of helplessness and despair.

To avoid trouble I decided to remain bound to my room. With no human contact other than a kid who was running out of ideas and toys to play with, everything began to look sinister. Where once I saw families and couples buzzing about the streets, I began seeing notorious-looking men. The friendly porter who had always seen me with my husband began looking suspicious after he enquired where my husband was. Even a slight knock on the adjacent door left my heart racing. Every few minutes I refreshed my web account with the US consulate to check the status of my passport. It remained unchanged: “There is no information on your DHL waybill number”.

The prospect of getting ready and going down for breakfast exhausted me as I sat moping. Medha scattered bits and pieces of play-doh all across the carpet and broke into a song to entertain me every time my tears threatened to erupt. That provided some respite from gloom.

I had to do something before my fear of unknown could drive me insane. I shut my laptop, freshened up and went down with Medha who was super-excited to be out. My decision to brave up was already having a positive effect on me. After eating something to keep starvation at bay I decided to head to the mall. We spent a couple of hours at the play area and took the train ride up and down the mall. Feeling refreshed, I decided to take a cab back to the hotel. With considerably better English than most Nogalans I had met, the driver asked me where I was from and what I was in Nogales for. We talked about the train of vehicles waiting to enter the US near the border. As he dropped us he took less-than-the-agreed-upon fare and blessed my Chiquita (pretty little girl).

I returned to my room to a call from my husband congratulating me on the arrival of my passport. I could believe neither my ears nor my tears that were gushing down even though what I heard had a happy note to it. When I checked my account there was the waybill number I’d been waiting for. We rushed out, took a cab to the DHL and returned with my passport, beaming. I hurriedly packed my bags and checked out of the hotel. With Medha in tow I walked up towards the border where my identification was verified and my entry approved. I could finally go back home!

The first thing I did was to march up a steep ascent towards a Burger King where I ordered a meal of Veggie Burger with Fries. As I sat sharing a big bowl of Chocolate Brownie Sundae with my daughter I looked out of the window at the tallest building across the steel border- The Hotel Fray Marcos. Someday I would go there again, that is, when I cease looking back at my time in Nogales with fear.

Mexico (part 1)

I looked through the window of my hotel room down at the tall steel-piling border; it traversed up and down the hill, separating me from everything familiar. I felt smaller and heavier as a sinking feeling swept over me: I was alone with my baby in a country where I didn’t belong and knew only a smattering of words in the local language.

A few days earlier, my husband and I with Medha, our 2 yr. old, had driven down a 60 mile from Tucson into the border town of Nogales in Mexico. Our Green Cards were going to be filed. But before that I needed to exit the country and re-enter with a new US visa that reflected the few corrections my passport needed before the filing.

We chose Mexico instead of Canada because of its proximity to Tucson. My Visa interview was going to take place the next day at the US Consulate. I tried convincing myself that Nogales wasn’t exactly under the US travel-warning list but the images of Narcotics-related violence in parts of Mexico flooded my brain. As we rounded a corner, just before the end of the US freeway, I felt a veil had been lifted to reveal a painting with hills densely occupied by homes in all shades of fluorescence. It appeared chaotic, unlike the deserted and creepy image I had in mind. That’s when I began looking forward to the adventure beyond the border.

We parked our car in the US and crossed the International border on foot. Entering the crowded streets of a foreign country without having to go through a baggage or document inspection was a pleasant surprise. Taxi drivers swarmed us and  in their broken English asked where we were headed. One man almost dragged my husband towards his taxi. There was no choice but to climb into his smoke-smelling confines after haggling over the fare. He drove us straight to the Applicant Service center where I had to be finger-printed and photographed before my interview. Later we took a cab to the Hotel Fray Marcos De Niza. It nestled right by the border; Being the tallest building in the block, it stood like a beacon of hope. It even staffed the friendliest of employees. Since almost everyone there knew conversational English we didn’t feel we had strayed far from home. We booked a room for a single night not knowing that we’d have to extend our stay.

That day we decided to explore the neighborhood. We walked on the cobblestoned pavement, Medha toddling between us. Jewelry, decorative metalwork and beautiful pottery crowded the tiny stores and sometimes spilled onto the pavement and the owners beckoned us to buy their ware. Street-side vendors sold tacos, tortillas, fresh vegetables and other colorful concoctions that we did not dare try. After a bit of negotiating in gestures and whatever Spanish we could muster we bought souvenirs of our trip, handmade bead jewelry, reminders of our multi-hued experience in Mexico.

When we looked around for food we realized, as we have on other trips, traveling and a pure plant-based diet don’t get along so well. Our extensive search did result in a few eateries that offered some kind of vegetarian food. So, for the rest of our time in Nogales, daily, I had a bowl of frosted flakes and milk at the hotel, a mid-morning cappuccino at the Oxxo supermarket, a large salad at Salat haus in the mall for lunch and a dinner of asparagus soup and cheese sandwich back at the hotel. In the evenings, we found it safe to eat by the window of our hotel while the parade of Policia scoured the nearly-empty streets in their monstrous F150s. Some cops toted their AK47s and appeared ghost-like in black masks as they stood vigilant on the backs of their trucks.

(to be continued…)

Explore. Dream. Discover

Here’s something I try to remind myself often, not just before a trip, even as I live my everyday life –

“Any trip can be fraught with disappointment: Expectations are always high and anything can go wrong. Here are a few suggestions for both the first-time and inveterate travelers: More important than packing a bag full of money, pack a bag full of patience and curiosity, allow yourself- encourage yourself- to be side-tracked and to get lost. There’s no such thing as a bad trip, just good travel stories to tell back home. Always travel with a smile and remember that you are the one with the strange customs visiting someone else’s country. Relying on the kindness of strangers isn’t naive- there are good people wherever you go. And finally the more time you spend coming to understand the ways of others, the more you’ll understand yourself. The journey abroad reflects the one within- the most foreign and unmapped landscape of them all, the ultimate terra incognita.”

– Patricia Schultz, ” 1000 places to see before you die”

A family afFARE.

Gone are the days when holiday nights meant a moonlit walk down the University Boulevard or dinner at a chic Italian restaurant. Our family is in deep slumber even before it is 10 in the night. Now you might think I’m complaining but, really, I’m not. They are replaced with something even better, cheaper and less chaotic: pizza nights watching a movie with the help of our home-projector or something even more fun: The whole family cooking and then eating the fruits of our labor.

And why is that better? Lets see-

Manasa + Cooking= Dinner

Prasad + Cooking= A delicious Dinner

But,

The whole family + Cooking= Delicious Dinner + a messy kitchen + FUN

Our Little Helper
Prasad, the Master Chef.

Last night, together, we prepared a Vegetable Pad Thai, one of our favorite dishes from Pei – Wei, a Thai restaurant. We found the recipe here (the recipe calls for eggs but you need not use them. We didn’t.). Medha got cracking the peanuts and Prasad did the cooking. I did my squirrel’s share of work clicking pictures of the master and his helper at work and of course of the dish itself. The dish, my mouth waters at the thought of it,  was fantastic (I know the adjective sounds lame, but it WAS fantastic!)!

Tofu and Veggies in a simmering sauce.

Vegetable Pad Thai and a glass of Pinot Grigio. A restaurant experience right at home.

Well, there was a lot of clean-up for me to do afterwards, but it didn’t matter. There was good music, great food and a fun family time.