Paint Nite with Mommy

1st Aug, 2015

IMG_0944A painting is but a journey through the painter’s soul! Mommy’s is unfettered; bold and stormy. The husband’s is strong and clean with neat  strokes and well defined spaces. How perfect everything looks! See that tiny star in his inky blue sky. Incongruous with the time of the day; like a little speck of randomness in his otherwise correct world – that’s me! 🙂

Mine own painting is very fluid. The colours flow freely into each other. The stars scattered across the sky add a touch of whimsical, that is often associated with me.

IMG_0942Our Paint Nite was really an afternoon filled with fun, laughter and lots of colour. At one point we almost turned back because of all the traffic on the road, thinking we’ll never make it in time. We reached late, but were able to catch up quite easily. Very soon, we were very glad we didn’t give up before we even started.  It was the husband and mommy’s first time. Mommy ended up with a van Gogh while the husband’s painting looks like  a Henri Rousseau!

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Smorgasburg

August 2015

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..because they said we need our daily quota of fruits

Way before summer is official here, street food markets mushroom around the city. Some of them are farmers’ markets selling fresh produce and freshly prepared foods, others are dedicated food bazaars. This year I’ve so far eaten at Broadway Bites at the little park outside the PATH station at Herald Square, Mad Sq. Eats at Union Park right outside office and at the Smorgasburg –  the mini version at South Seaport and the full version at the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

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This was our first visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Another first in the city! (just saying) I didn’t know it then, but I know now how the park uses natural eco-systems, in addition to grey infrastructure to protect itself from the damaging effects of flooding. What used to be Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront, was revamped by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as the ultimate sustainable park, with  natural and grey infrastructure working together to keep the park alive. The hills of the park are constructed from stone recycled from a nearby tunnel-digging project. The park has a vast underground water storage system that captures storm water  for irrigation purposes. The rushes planted along the shore act as wave breakers and slow down the water. The water is also slowed down by the vestigial remains of  the park’s industrial origins.Great care has been taken in the selection of trees. The salt water tolerant endemic species selected withstood the influx of saltwater due to the storm surge from superstorm Sandy. Generations to come with look at this park with awe and wonder, like we look at the Basilica Cistern  and the ruins of Mohenjo-daro today.

SmorgasburgSmorgasburg was much smaller than we expected. I got there by lunch time, but the husband got there much later, around closing time. One thing to keep in mind is, most stalls do not accept cards. There is an ATM at the location, but it is best to carry cash.  The place was smaller than I expected, but it still had a plethora of options. The number of vegetarian and vegan options is unbelievable.  While waiting for the husband I tried some West African Fare at Woezo – delicious. The line for Ramen Burger kept growing like a snake’s tail. With so many tastes to explore, who wants to be stuck in line! Besides, I had tried it at the mini Smorgasburg at South Seaport. It is very… interesting. If like me you think this is a ramen patty between buns you are in for a fun surprise. It’s a burger patty sandwiched between ramen buns. Ramen buns = two thick round unbroken cakes of Maggi magic masala. Doing my best to stretch my meagre cash reserves till the husband gets here,  I walked around the bazaar almost twice before zeroing in on MofoGO – mashed plantain in a bowl.  Monkey food? It’s pretty good. Just as I am about to give up and head home, the husband saunters in and asks, “So what’s good?”  “Did you get cash?” After hunting for the ATM all over the place, we found it right at the entrance. He tries a few GoaTacos and some terrible Greek food. The menacing grey rain clouds decided to roll over from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and without a warning break loose. We grabbed two push-sicles – popsicles on a push stick and ran for cover. The raindrops were the size of marbles and cold as ice. Once the rain dragons had had their little laugh they relented, and allowed us to go home.

La Dolce Vita

July 12, 2015

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Photo Courtesy – Siddharth Subramaniam

After *watching Djokovic lift the champions cup in Wimbledon, we headed out to bike,boat, barbeque and do all those things that sweet summer is made for.

DSC_0907The plan was to head out to Wampus Pond and we followed the plan. Wampus pond is a small water body, with an even smaller picnic area. Given the relative obscurity of the place, there were not too many people besides us. We modified one of the two blackend grill cum fire pits with 2 two logs from the boot of our car. How we came to have wood in our car is a long story, most of which can be read here. While the rest of our band of merry men (and a women) went about getting the barbeque going, I spread out our picnic mat under a beautiful shady tree and settled in with a book and a glass of wine.

DSC_0945This time we were trying a Mediterranean marinade recipe I came across on the internet and modified to my own convenience. The recipe goes like this – chop up the veggies and put them in a zip lock bag. Make a paste of Morrocan kefta rub, olive oil and chopped parsley. Add the paste to the ziplock containing the veggies and toss well.  Let the vegetables marinate for an hour or two. The husband used the same marinade for his salmon. The green flecks of chopped parsley add a visual pop to the skewers. Since different vegetables grill at different speeds, when you put a medley of vegetables on the same skewer, it is nearly impossible to get it done to perfection. My solution – grill all the veggies in a basket and make the skewers later. This is not a perfect solution. I have now realized that vegetables take much longer to grill that I had earlier anticipated. Meat – chicken particularly , gets done much faster. The best way to go about it would probably be par cooking/roasting the vegetables in advance, so you don’t have to wait endlessly for your food, or attack half done vegetables like a ravenous cave-woman.

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Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran

Wampus pond offers row boats for rent. We missed taking the last boat out by 5 minutes. Not one to give up easily, Mr.SS convinced the young man at the rentals to let us have a boat, promising him that we would bring it back in time. SM and I took  the first go at rowing. Ten minutes later, we had managed to make it out of the water lilies, but much to the consternation of the merry men we were making full moons on the surface of the pond.  Mr.SS went next. As the gentlemen fought and figured  how to stop going around in circles, SM and I swung our legs over the sides and relished the cool water lapping our feet.

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Once on dry land, Mr. SS manfully struck a few poses for my camera, while I belted out instructions “One foot on the tree” ” Shoulder up” ” Great!” ” Now pretend to walk towards me..”

DSC_0982After our little photo session- or perhaps before, I forget, the others grab their bicycles and take them for a spin. I am content to lie under the green canopy and immerse myself into the world where summer lasts decades and winter, generations.

* We watched it on the telly

**La Dolce Vita – a life of indolence and self-indulgence

At the Feet of Lady Liberty

June 27, 2015

“Where liberty is, there is my country.” -Benjamin Franklin

For all our time in NYC, we have never landed on Liberty Island and climbed the Statue of Liberty. We usually take or send everyone who visits on a ferry around the Statue. I have always been under the impression that it would be frightfully expensive to go on the statue and that even if you were willing to pay the price, you had to book months in advance. Tickets to the crown have to be booked at least three months in advance, but tickets to the pedestal are easily available. It costs only $25 for pedestal access and $28 to be able to go all the way to the crown. This includes the ferry ride to and from Liberty Island and you can board the ferry from either Battery Park, NYC or Liberty State Park, NJ. You could even do what we did, Take the boat to Liberty Island from Battery Park and come back to Liberty State Park or vice-versa.

As the statue grows from a speck in the distance to a majestic lady holding up a torch, our fellow travelers flock to the sides of the boat to take pictures. I wonder what thoughts crossed  the minds of immigrants coming across the seas in search of a better life when they set first their eyes on this epitome of the American ideals of freedom and liberty. People oppressed and terrorized in their own lands, forced to flee to save their families and souls; doctors and merchants, once rich and respected in their own country, now faced with the prospect of snaking drains in a foreign land to make ends meet; seasick and weary passengers, at the end of a long harrowing journey. Did joy course through their veins? Was there a surge of relief? Or were they overcome with *hiraeth.

IMG_0600The immigrants may have been greeted by hope and apprehension; we were welcomed by light rain, gusty winds and mangled corpses of broken umbrellas discarded in despair. Self.Self-guided tours of the island and the statue are available for free. Make sure you grab one. I accidentally got a kiddie one; honestly it gave the same information as the adult guides (which everyone else in the group got) but was less ponderous. We had tickets to the pedestal. To get to the pedestal, we had to climb around two hundred stairs or so. To get to the crown, there are another two hundred steps, on a narrow winding staircase. If you think you are even mildly claustrophobic, this is clearly not your thing. There is an elevator in the lobby that takes you to the pedestal level only, but we were shooed right past it. At one point Jan and I even considered going back down and telling them we were pregnant, to be allowed to use the elevator. The thought that the elevator might be out of service and we would have to climb all back, quickly dissuaded us.

Statue of LibertyWhile being on the statue offers a great view of Manhattan skyline, the tour boats that take you around the statue do that too. Plus, those boats offer a fantastic photo op with the grande dame. This reminds me of our boat excursion with Rups and Aamer. Rups, Aamer and I had the perfect spot for a picture, but the husband was stuck behind a tourist and unable to get to us. Much to the hapless husband’s embarrassment and the unsuspecting tourist’s amusement, Rups exclaimed exasperatedly, “Just say excuse me, and come!”

*hiraeth – hireath

T-Drunk – A Chinese Experience in NYC

January 2015

A cup of tea is a cup of peace. - Tea Master, Soshitsu Sen XV

A cup of tea is a cup of peace.
– Tea Master, Soshitsu Sen XV

I caught up with Sameer and his lovely wife Jen over tea recently. It was their suggestion that we go to tea drunk – a tea house in East Village (NYC). We are shown our table and asked to pick a pet for the table from a variety of ceramic animals displayed on a little ledge. We picked a tortoise or a turtle, I can’t really tell. We choose our poison from the six or seven page menu, both sides printed and place our order.

While we waited on our tea, a quick search on Google showed us that tea originated in China, where it is called Cha. It was traded with Europe, and was popularized in Britain by the Spanish Princess Catherine, bride of the English King, Henry VIII. Sameer and I  exclaim in unison, “This must be the same princess who got Bombay as her dowry! ”

I can hear my 7th grade history teacher’s indignant voice in my head ” Can you imagine children, Spanish gave the British our Bombay as dowry!” First giving dowry, and on top of that one set of foreigners giving away Indian land to another! If *Miss Pinto had her way (and a **TARDIS)  all parties involved would thrown in jail and flogged.

Our tea arrives. The hostess does a little ceremony. An uncle of mine once told mum and me that the Chinese don’t just boil their tea the way we Indians do. They first brew it, then they swirl it and toss it out. That is called the first wash.  They then add some more water and brew it, swish and throw again. The tea is brewed for the third time and this third wash is finally considered fit for consumption. It’s almost an art. Sure enough, our hostess pours the first wash over our pet. The second wash though, she pours into our cups. (See video on our Instagram account)

Sameer demonstrates the British style of drinking tea - pinky finger out.

Sameer demonstrates the British style of drinking tea – pinky finger out.

Sameer and Jen tell me that the owner of this tea house backpacks alone through China to get the teas. We confirm this with our hostess. It’s true; the owner travels to China once a year to buy tea straight from the farmers, often backpacking to areas which not accessible by motor vehicles. Somewhere in this story, I had simply assumed the owner was a man, but it turns out the owner is a woman. I guess it goes to show how deeply gender roles are ingrained in our subconscious.

The British started tea cultivation in India as climatic conditions were favourable for tea growing. While tea gained popularity, Princess Catherine did not share its happy fate. Before she married Henry, she was married to his brother Arthur who died shortly afterwards. She was then engaged to Henry, who at that time was too young to marry. By the time Henry came of age, his father Henry VII was not as keen on a Spanish alliance, but was not averse to keeping the dowry. While she waited in the wings, her dowry was re-negotiated. It was only after Henry VII died, did she finally get married to Henry VIII. She bore Henry six children, but all of them died except their daughter, Mary (later Mary I). Her marriage began to fail. Henry had an affair with her lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn, and desperate for a male heir,tried to get their marriage annulled so that he could marry his mistress. Catherine refused to give in and fought for her own rights and the rights of her daughter. You go Princess!

When Anne became pregnant with the King’s child, the couple secretly got married. Henry then passed the Act of Supremacy, declaring that he was the head of the English church.  He appointed Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, who in return annulled his marriage to Catherine. Poor Catherine was forced to leave the court and was also denied access to her child. (Sad as it is, I’m sure Miss Pinto would call it karma.)

When we finished our pot of tea, the hostess came over and poured some more water over the same leaves. There is no limit to how long you can stay here drinking tea. Chinese often brew the same leaves over and over, all day long. We decided to stop at three or four pots.With each fresh brew, we could tell the tea was getting lighter. Some people say tea leaves can be read to tell your future, but our brew brought back beautiful memories from the past.

Tea Drunk also sells teas. They have a second location in Beijing. They are steep on the pocket, but like I pointed out earlier, there is no limit to the amount of time you can spend in their tea house or number of cuppas you can drink. Get a pao/ounce and spend the afternoon. If only they had a little garden at the back!

* When we were in school all women teachers were addressed as Miss. This was not an indication of their marital status.

**TARDIS – The TARDIS