Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time to Get Serious About Bengali Cooking

Aarti on the boti above - a traditional Indian knife used for cutting vegetables, fruits and fish. The user puts their foot on the wood plank and pushes the item into the knife. Aarti swears by it for its precision and won't use any other knife.

It is hard to believe that we have been in Kolkata for over 17 months now. The time has gone by so quickly. Sicily was 14 months when she arrived, so she has now been in India longer than she has lived in the U.S. During our time in India is when she really began to develop her palette for real food.

A couple of days ago I put a big bowl of rice and a bowl of dahl on the table with some small empanada-type pastries ("puffs" for English slang here). Sicily proceeded to put a huge amount of rice on her plate, make a hole in the middle and then start to spoon dahl into the hole. She then ate the entire plate. It was at that point that I realized, we really need to learn how to make the regular food we have been eating.

My current plan is to hang out with Krishna in the kitchen and write down what she is doing when she cooks a dish. She cooks everything from memory and is the kind of cook that - adds a little more of this or that - so it is going to be interesting. I also decided to get Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivalsas a primer and hopefully make a visit soon to College Street to see if there are any other English cookbooks around. More to come...

Sicily having lunch with her adopted Bengali family in the kitchen

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why We Love Our Car, the Ambassador

Soon after we arrived in Kolkata, I posted about how we decided to wait on buying a car before we arrived, in Waiting and Deciding on a Car. We are happy that we did wait, since we ended up buying a 1994 Ambassador from an outgoing officer.

We had our eye on an Ambassador, since they are all over Kolkata and remind me of images from the Beatles' trip to India in 1968 (archived photos of course).

Before we took ownership, we once rode in the car as guests and the clutch fell out. We all got out, pushed the car to the side and walked home (luckily we weren't that far from home). A couple days later the car was back in service. Most people in the U.S. would question the sanity of buying a car after that experience, but is showed us that 1. Ambassadors are very easy to get repaired in Kolkata and 2. they are very cheap to get repaired in Kolkata. They also ride like a tank.

Well, our back axle broke a couple of weeks ago, and we got a glimpse into why they are easy to maintain. (Only Peter was in the car and he was unharmed since you can rarely go over 20 miles per hour when driving here.)

Back axle removed

Where the axle should have been

The broken part on top, bottom part is in normal condition for comparison

Part went into this thingy

That went into this thingy

Along with this thingy

I apologize for being a bit technical in my descriptions, but I hope it is clear that a multi-million dollar computer was not needed for the repair. And the best part of all:

Time to service: about one week
Cost to tow: $16 USD
Cost of parts: $22 USD
Cost of labor: $44 USD

We will certainly miss our Ambassador.

Update: We had requests for a shot of the engine and our driver, so here they are:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Afternoon on the Maidan

The Maidan in Kolkata is often compared to Central Park in New York City, it is a very large park in the city that provides respite from the concrete and crowds. It is also a popular Sunday hangout for cricket players and families, as well as an everyday spot for goats, their herders and vendors capturing visitors to the Victoria Memorial.

It was such a beautiful day in Kolkata, low 70s and sunny, that we decided to head out to the Maidan. Below are photos from our walk. Enjoy!

Walking down the street to the Maidan

Three common sights on the Maidan across from Victoria Memorial: goats, chat vendors and cricketers.

Families gravitate towards other areas to picnic and play games

The drivers of our chariot ride

A vendor takes a break

A small statue watches over the entrance to a home

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tracking Santa's Visit to Kolkata

Sicily fully grasped the concept of Santa this year, so we used NORAD's Santa Tracker to watch his progress until she went to bed. What a great tool to teach geography, although I am pretty sure she wasn't paying attention to my one minute lecture on how we live on a spherical planet called Earth. We were happy to see that he took a picture of his time in Kolkata.

Since we were in the U.S. for Thanksgiving, Sicily visited an American Santa while we were there. We stood in line, she had 15 seconds with him and then blanked out when he asked her what she wanted.

This is a sharp contrast to our visit with an Indian Santa a week ago. Santa was escorted by four body guards through a rowdy crowd of kids to take his place on stage. The crowd of kids then all rushed the stage to meet Santa. Santa gleefully shook hands, talked and danced on stage with the kids before he was escorted out.

Here is a picture of Santa I was able to take after the crowd moved on to a doughnut eating game. Looks like the Indian Santa had a much better time.

The multiple, different Santas confused Sicily a bit but she seems to grasp that Santa can have multiple incarnations in order to spread joy across the world. Much like the many different forms of Durga we experienced during Durga Puja.

Here is a picture of kids during the doughnut eating game. I need to find out where they got those great looking doughnuts!