Sunday, July 20, 2008

aloo mutter

By commentator request, I present Melanie's mother-in-law's recipe for aloo mutter. Or rather, my transliteration of her recipe: she doesn't measure ingredients, and she used unlabeled spices that we had to decipher the English names for. I'm cooking it right now, so we'll see if I got a reasonable approximation.

First, buy a food processor. They're tiny, they're easy to clean, and they're at Long's for $14.00. I went a little nuts on that part of the recipe and kinda pureed the onions -- hey, I've never processed food before. It's fun!

You also need a pressure cooker. I already had one ($10 on sale at Macy's, thank you very much) thanks to Melanie.

I know you're supposed to list ingredients in the order they're used, but I think a different logical grouping works better for this recipe.


1 bag frozen peas
2 chopped yellow potatoes
2 tomatoes
1 yellow onion
about the same amount ginger root
1/2 jalapeno pepper (or not)
5 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro

2 t cumin seeds
5 cardamom seeds
5 whole cloves
1 t curry
1 1/2 t tumeric
2 t coriander powder
2 t cumin powder

1 C water
3 T canola oil
1/2 - 1 t salt


Chop all this, then put in food processor until finely diced:
1 yellow onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper (or not)
5 cloves garlic
1/4 - 1/2 C ginger root

Put in the pressure cooker (no lid) until seeds pop a little:
3 T canola oil
2 t cumin seeds
5 cardamom seeds

5 whole cloves, and the onion mix. Cook until onions are translucent.

2 tomatoes, then puree in food processor. Add to onion mix.

1/2 t salt
1 t curry
1 1/2 t tumeric
2 t coriander powder
2 t cumin powder

Stir, then add:
1 c water
1 bag frozen peas
2 chopped yellow potatoes

Stir, put the top on the pressure cooker, and then cook on med heat for 20 minutes.
Add fresh cilantro to serve. (About a 1 bunch, but whatever looks right to you.)

I googled for aloo mutter recipes, and apparently no two are alike. But this one is easy and delicious and vegan, so there's really no need to look further. One subversive thing I did was to add garbanzo beans in order to make it a main dish instead of a side dish. (More protein.)

Postscript: Just ate my first rendition for dinner. A few glitches in the execution, but it was yummy.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

kuch kuch hota hai

This time I'm evading the censors by writing about a film that already exists in DVD format rather than as just an idea in my friend's mom's head.

I hadn't yet graduated to looking at the names of the films (they're in Hindi anyway, so why bother?) or keeping track of the actors and directors (um, I don't do that for American films, I'm not about to start with people who don't even appear in the Enquirer). So I spent about a half hour trying to understand the Hindi lyrics to the film's mesmerizing theme song. I finally went to the song index in order to replay the song, and found, to my surprise, that the lyrics I was looking for were the song's title. I then googled the song's title and found -- hey, coincidence! -- the song was named after the film. Huh.

All right, so now I plan to look at the film titles first thing. For now, I can't get Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (translated as Something's Happening) out of my mind. There's a line spoken by Inara in Firefly, when she's describing the city she grew up in. "Pictures can't capture it." Corny as it sounds, that's how I feel about Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I can't describe its charm; you have to see it.

Frivolous stuff first: OMG this movie is so sexy.

The lead, Shahrukh Khan (I can't help myself, he's been in two out of the three Bollywoods I've watched, I had to learn his name) meets two women in college. They both fall in love with him (sorta like half of India and, as of last week, me). He's best friends with one, falls in love with the other. So they dance around the Scottish countryside of all places (and no, the movie isn't set there) singing the aforementioned song. (The "something" that is happening is that they're all hot for each other.)

The thing is, when they sing the title lyrics, they each have a different way of shivering with excitement. Shahrukh has this rugged vulnerability about him, all dimples and smiles and bashful turns of the head. And I'll just fail at describing the exotic dance moves that had me reeling.

Okay, next: Saris! (Yes, we're still on "sexy.") At one point, Sharukh wins a one-on-one basketball challenge against Kajol by secretly yanking at her sari to make it come undone. Then, when he high-fives her after the win, he grins and yanks it again.

What woman is immune to that kind of assertive expert sex play? Seriously, I'm surprised the population of India hasn't overtaken that of China if this is how they do sex. But the sari scene that really got to me was when the wind caught Kajol 's scarf, and Shahrukh tried to avert his eyes from her bare belly.

Changing the subject from sex for a moment, this film was yet another tender mix of the funny and sad; yet another rumination on the nature of love. In the West, we just fall in love, we don't think about what love is. In Bollywood, people dance around and sing and philosophize about it.

Stuff I noticed, in no particular order:

Okay, I know India is a sexist society. I know that. But that sexism totally doesn't come across in Bollywood (and by "Bollywood," I mean the three movies I've seen). Women are equals; in school, in parenthood, in work, in education, in marriage. In this particular film, they can even be tomboys.

At one point in the film, Shahrukh says that his father taught him to bow to only three women. (Only three? In the US, we can't even nominate one for president.) They are his mother, his wife, and the goddess Durga. Imagine an American man talking about bowing to his mom, let alone God in feminine form.

And another thing. Men get to dress in pretty colors and dance down the aisle at their weddings. None of this stodgy wearing black and standing around waiting for the bride. I love that splash of femininity in a masculine body -- androgyny is so sexy. Shahrukh, who is not exactly my type, totally grew on me with all his flirtatious mannerisms.

But today I heard about Hrithik Roshan, so my loyalties may soon be divided.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

bollywood chef

Last week, after auto-salivating over the delicious scents Melanie's Indian mother-in-law was creating in the kitchen, I hatched a plot for international, inter-generational, cross canine/infant bonding.

There were obstacles to overcome -- whereas I was always encouraging Sequoia to sneak a lick at Leela's toes, Mrs. Chandra was ever-vigilant for signs of any developing dingo/baby scenarios. My idea was to remove both baby and dog from the mix, and ask her to teach me to cook.

Melanie not only approved my plan, she immediately got busy implementing it. Mrs. Chandra was sitting at the dining room table with her head bent over some papers when we launched our attack. After being made aware of our intentions, she informed us that she'd be cooking dinner in 5 minutes and that I was welcome to watch.

I wandered into the kitchen, where tiny bowls of pre-chopped onions, garlic, and ginger were set out on the counter. This was going to be so, so cooking show. When Mrs. Chandra came in, I asked her about the papers she had been working on. Pay dirt: a Bollywood screenplay.

I was dimly aware that Vikram's mom was somehow involved in Bollywood films, but I didn't know she wrote screenplays. I asked her to tell me the plot while she cooked. Most people, when confronted with that kind of challenge, would mumble a few disclaimers and try (unsuccessfully, if I'm involved) to change the subject. But Vikram's mom rocked on.

She started with the star-crossed lovers... [plot description removed by censors] ... and that's where I say, "and that's the end?" Mrs. Chandra suppressed a laugh, shook her head, and said, "No, that's not the end." Then she spent the next 45 minutes weaving an incredibly complex and rich story, complete with dialogue, while at the same time concocting a delicious aloo mutter dinner. I alternated, "What's the English name of that spice?" with "And then what happened?"

Melanie later told me that Bollywood movies are three hours long. Which explains all the plot twists. The nature of the plot twists, however, was something you almost can't find in American film. Everything hinged on conversations. And not just conversations in which new information is revealed. Characters expounded upon different ways of looking at the same thing.

[Some more really interesting plot description removed by censors -- this is oh, so WWII foreign correspondent and all that.] ... and believe me, when Mrs. Chandra looked up from her pressure cooker, gazed into my eyes, and recited that line...well, there wasn't a dry eye in the kitchen.

Several dozen subplots later, and I'm fascinated by how romantic love and familial love are presented -- not as warring factions, but as extensions of each other. In the West, our parents couldn't be more annoying or expendable. In Bollywood, all kinds of love are different shades and expressions of the same thing. This makes the Romeo and Juliet plot far more interesting. For us, the lovers have no internal conflict -- their whole problem consists of climbing the trellis without getting caught. But Bollywood aches with anguishing dilemmas. Way, way more fun.

After Bollywood Chef, I did two things:
1. Decided that a reality cooking show in which contestants are required to tell a story as they prepare a dish is the best idea ever.
2. Rented some Bollywood movies.

I had nothing to go on but the Netflix 5-star ratings, so my first film was a hip, trendy comedy. Again with the thousand subplots, the "let's look at this situation another way" conversations, the importance of family...this time combined with the latest fashions and a bizarre take on U.S. culture. (Apparently, we're defined in large part by our black gospel music.)

It was great, and then suddenly it turned ugly. The hero is dying (heart trouble! again!) and gets the heroine to marry some other dude (what's with the "arranged love is always deeper" thing?) and suddenly everything is somber. We're fast-forwarded 20 years to listen to the heroine reminisce with her little sister about the dead guy. The upshot is that you always remember your first love. But the last lines are something about how most people become best friends with the person they marry, and how she was lucky enough to marry her best friend.

I'm so totally a proponent of arranged marriage now. Wendy had to remind me about the bride-burning thing.

This is an aside, but there was a great narrative technique in the film that I'm having trouble making sense of. At one point, the girl is talking to a friend about how much she loves the first guy. He's still alive at this point. The camera pans, and we see him in the background, listening. He's not actually there -- it was sort of, "if he could hear this, here's how he would react." Completely unnecessary, because we already know he's in love with her and has decided to find her a husband who has more than 27 minutes left to live.

And was an effective technique. It heightened the pathos of the scene. Here they are, both in love, but divided. If only they could express their love to each other! I'm a total sap for romantic stuff, but what freaked me out is how fast I understood the grammar. I've never even seen an effect anything like that, and it would be laughed out of Western films. And yet I got it immediately, no translation needed . How can something so crazy work so well?

Not sure how many 3-hour musicals it will take before I want to hire a hitman to blow up every Bollywood studio. But for now, I'm all about that tragi-comic passion.

Friday, July 11, 2008

two mile map

My friend Eve emailed me instead of posting a comment because she's either unreasonably shy or lazy. Whatever, she needs to deal. She said:


Oops, wait, no that was a copy/paste from work. She actually said:

Your last post made me think of this:

Forty percent of urban driving is for trips that are under two miles. Easy bike-riding distance. If we can make biking safer and more pleasant, like it is in Amsterdam, we can seriously cut down on our dependence on foreign oil.

I thought she was linking to some boring article that would take 6 pages to say what she said in 2 sentences. But no! Eve's too cool to link to anything that dull! In reality, it's a site that will map a two-mile circumference from your zip code, so you can magically see all the places you can easily bike or walk to.

I absolutely love this. Wendy and I are always talking about how misleadingly small Berkeley is. Wendy's infamous for driving "totaled" cars that quite often need to be pushed or towed to their destination. So she's an expert on the AAA 5-mile tow limit, which is almost impossible to exceed in Berkeley and North Oakland.

My friend Daan, who's all into triathlons and water polo and stuff, told me he had friends who trained for a marathon each Saturday. They had big trouble finding the requisite 13 miles or more to run. So on Saturdays, he'd see them all over town and on the trails, and even taking breaks at cafes...they popped up everywhere.

Amazing to think that people used to do nothing but walk here. I sometimes wish we could simulate our environment as it was pre-1849. When I'm in Temescal, I often think about the native Americans who were steam bathing there before Europeans showed up and set up the slightly unsavory Hot Tubs of Berkeley.

Anyway, this whole thing has inspired me to get a beater bike and see if Sequoia can successfully run alongside. Okay, maybe not "this whole thing" -- in particular, Michael inspired me when he said, "You should get a beater bike and see if Sequoia..."

I haven't owned a bike since my last one was stolen years ago. Fun fact: that happened after a party I went to in SF, where a friend of mine met her husband. Last week I was at her house, celebrating her husband's birthday, and ran into a guy I had met at that same party and briefly dated what seems like eons ago. He's still biking everywhere (and restoring creeks, and being in general an asset to society) -- and seeing him reminded me of how much I used to love cycling.

Clearly, the universe is telling me I need a Schwinn.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

gallons per mile

My friend Kevin sent me this link at bunnie's blog all about how replacing an inefficient car with a slightly less inefficient one is much more efficient than replacing an efficient car with an even more efficient one. (You gotta stop and read the entry, but for a better explanation of the usefulness of "gallons per mile," see Science Daily.)

He or she (not sure who bunnie is) does a bunch of math and produces a graph and everything, until you're bamboozled into thinking that bunnie is way more wise than anyone you've ever met. I was about to hand over all my worldly goods to the bunnie god until I read:

"There are some important policy implications of this. Relatively small MPG improvements in the most gas-hungry vehicles pay off greater than larger improvements in already efficient cars (hence, it does make sense to offer tax breaks for modest improvements in SUVs versus tax breaks for hybrids, which typically replace already gas-efficient sedans)."


I'm going to skip right over what hybrids "typically replace," despite the fact that bunnie doesn't bother to back up this statement. The whole concept of "replacing" a car only makes sense from the perspective of an individual owner, not from the point of view of the car. (Gettin' all Einsteinian on you there.)

A car has the same lifespan -- for example, about 30 years -- whether it's owned by one or one hundred people. So if someone replaces an SUV, that SUV is still out there, polluting at large, under the auspices of a different driver. Public policy (unless it's really radical and calls for the destruction of existing cars) can't control the old car you're "replacing." But the new car you buy will hang around for about 30 years, too. So do you encourage people to buy a new, slightly less inefficient SUV? Or a new, more efficient hybrid?

The answer depends on what people's buying patterns are. Gas mileage and price are two considerations, but there are lots of others: safety, size, utility, looks, penis size or lack thereof... so a price adjustment (via a tax break) has to outweigh a bunch of unrelated concerns.

For example, I could drive a bike if it weren't for my dog. But all that communing with nature we do requires copious CO2 emissions. If I were to buy a new car, I'd get the most fuel-efficient one I could afford that I could stuff my dog into. Are we still talking about tax breaks? Or are we now talking about how wide (or narrow) the selection of fuel-efficient cars is?

SUV drivers are always talking about things like safety, having a car mass that can outsmash your car mass, seeing over the less important cars, fitting their over-privileged IVF children into the back, and finding time to vote Republican. So it's true that science has yet to discover the tax break that would get them to switch over to a Prius.

Does that mean we should offer them a tax break for a slightly less obnoxious SUV? Or does it mean that we should offer a tax break for whatever level of fuel efficiency we want hanging around for the next 30 years, and let the car manufacturers figure out how to design that level into an SUV? (Maybe "let" is too passive a verb -- manufacturers can be offered incentives as well.)

If you really can't make the gas guzzlers much more efficient, then sure, maybe tax breaks are the way to go. Making that incentive hinge on which car you're replacing is a preposterous complicated paperwork mess, rife with opportunities to cheat. And only relevant if we want to make sure to encourage the people of the future to keep exchanging up, so that the gas guzzlers are slowly deprecated over time. (Due to consumer pressure on manufacturers to keep turning out more efficient, tax-break worthy cars -- so that each year the whole fleet is slightly better than the previous year.)

But you could make the amount of the tax break dependent on the fuel efficiency of the new car. For example, you could offer a tax break on SUV A (that gets 30 miles a gallon), a smaller one on SUV B (that gets 15 miles a gallon), and none on SUV C (that gets 10 miles a gallon).

Although...if buyers were educated that buying B instead of C saves them about 350 gallons a year, do we really need the tax breaks? Seems like all we'd need to do is point out that SUV B also comes with a Homer Simpson-sized beverage holder.