The Hot Pot Blog

November 30, 2012

India Instagrammed

At Lodi_MG_2863November 29, 2012

One nice thing about living overseas is that, by the time Christmas rolls around, we’ve already been done with all of the card-writing, present-sending and party-throwing for nearly a month—which leaves plenty of time to simply relax and enjoy the holidays when they finally do arrive.

The downside to all this, of course, is that the last few weeks of November and first week of December are just plain nutty.

I usually like to get out with my camera and go somewhere new at least once a week, I also usually like to sleep.  In a couple weeks I’ll get back to doing both, but for now here are a few of the things keeping us busy…

Holiday cards

Planning a menu for a “Cocktails and Cookies” party

Forgetting to return library books

Haggling for a Christmas tree at the local nursery (When I showed the neighbor kids our Christmas tree, they said “Where?” and then “Not uh!”  Its a work in progress.)

Jorbagh nursery

Crossing roundabouts at rush hour to go jogging around Nehru Park with my fearless friend, our kids, and our wonky jogging strollers.

Cooking approximately 18 servings of bolognese sauce

Doing a presentation in front of 300 middle school students (arguably the most terrifying thing I’ve done since…well, since I was in middle school)

Watching Will say “Da Da” and mean it for the first time.

Buying and hanging Christmas lights

Christmas Lights_MG_2883November 29, 2012

Realizing that Will is now tall enough and coordinated enough to use a stool to get into the drawer in the kitchen where I hide keys, markers and other assorted baby crack.

Writing and editing

Trying to convince Will to go back to bed at 12am

Trying to convince Will to go back to bed at 2am

Trying to convince WIll to go back to bed at 4am

Organizing a Lodhi Garden play-date

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Wondering when Will’s new teeth will finally come through so we can sleep again

Finding a web designer for Conserve

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Reading our ABC book approximately 112 times

Christmas shopping

Making Will get into the Christmas spirit

Will with headband

Mailing Christmas packages

Practicing walking up and down the stairs 73 times

Frying some amazing leek fritters from the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook

Cooking some very delicious mushroom bourguignon from the SK cookbook

Making our way through 3 gates, 4 security checkpoints, one jam-packed ticketing area and a 20 minute hike to enter the India International Trade Fair with Will, my friend and her delicious 2-month old baby girl.


Imagine the World Expo, except with only Indian food, multiple stages for puppet shows, multi-story exhibits dedicated to each State and approximately 40,000 of your new best friends crammed into less than a square kilometer of space.  There were giant Durgas, lots of shopping, some incredibly creepily realistic life-sized manequins and lots and lots of requests for photos with the baby, the toddler and the tired-looking foreign ladies silly enough to take their kids to the IITF on the last day, at 4pm in the afternoon.

I can’t wait to go back next year!

IITF 2012

fake people
Those aren’t real people…

How was your week? What did you do?

November 27, 2012

A School in the Middle of Nowhere

factory and school site_MG_2657November 22, 2012

Wow, I think, at least temporarily, I have quite a few more readers now than I did when I posted last week.

For those of you who are new around here, welcome!  My name is Dani and I write on Hot Pot about my life, my kid, my kitchen and my little sojourns around Delhi and the world.  Owing to the fact that it’s my husband’s work that keeps us overseas, I try not to write about him or his job too much on this blog, but you should know that he is here and he is wonderful.

Some days I share photos from famous tourist sites, some days all I post are photos of my kid and what I’m eating for dinner.  Some days I write long narratives about parenthood and other days its all about how to thrive as a foreigner living abroad.  As many times as I’ve tried to get this blog on a focused, one-subject track, it never seems to work, but I hope that, amidst all of the different topics I cover, the unifying you’ll always be able to find a little something to relate to.  If you do, please feel free to leave a comment, or several.  I learn so much from the information, experiences and memories that commenters take the time to share.  It may take me a few days to reply, but I will nearly always do so eventually.

In addition to writing this blog, I also occasionally update another site where I share the sorts of subject-matter thought pieces that just don’t quite fit in with the baby stories and bread recipes.  As I alluded to in my last post, I took a drive last Friday to a factory an hour outside of New Delhi and I’ve shared a few thoughts from that visit over on my other site (which, yes, is badly in need of some additional updates).

I’ll be back over here on Hot Pot later this week for some mamahood talk about my experience leaving Will at home to go do the factory site visit (spoiler alert: we both cried) and hopefully a few pictures from a few other outings we have planned for this week.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you around here again soon!

November 23, 2012


Will and food_MG_2561November 18, 2012

I took Will to Lodhi Garden earlier this week-one of my favorite places in New Delhi–to enjoy the beautiful, breezy weather we are having right now.  The idea was that he could run around the old tombs and mosques and chase birds while I tried out the 85mm prime lens that I never seem to have on my camera.

Turns out there is a reason its never on my camera.  The distance the 85mm puts  between me and the person I’m trying to shoot is just a bit too much ground to cover in the event of my subject suddenly running out of the frame to go chase a pack of stray dogs.

Will and foodIMG_2549November 18, 2012

One of the more endearing things one will notice when coming to India are the shallow bowls of water, piles of grain and occasional strands of marigolds and jasmine left in the gnarly nests of tree roots that bust up sidewalks and the foundations of city walls all over town.  Often its the security guards and street sweepers who see to it that every monkey, every pigeon, every mangy flea-bitten wild dog stays fed and watered even on the hottest days.  Let it be said that I don’t  particularly like any of these animals very much and that I’d rather more regard showed for malnourished people than malnourished animals, but I suppose I can appreciate the spirit behind this heartwarming little custom.

Those dogs though!  The transition from subdued puppy-dog to ferocious, potentially rabies-infecting canine can be incredibly, dangerously, abrupt.  Unfortunately, it’s tough to effectively convey that message to a toddler though, especially when they all look so harmless during their early morning siestas.

Will and foodIMG_2546November 18, 2012

We celebrated Thanksgiving here yesterday with a big feast and all of the traditional fixings–or at least most of them.  I balked (I’m punny!) at spending $100 on a turkey here so we made roast chicken and seared langoustines (or India’s equivalent thereof) instead.  Chris dreamed up the langoustines preparation all by himself so I have no qualms about saying they were the best part of the entire meal.

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Our lack of turkey caused me no end of culinary insecurity though and so in my waffling between inviting dozens of people and inviting no one, I ended up cooking for ten and serving five.  We had: spicy peanut brittle, homemade walnut and blue cheese sourdough, green beans in a caramelized onion, cranberry and walnut sauce, sweet potato pudding with a homemade gingersnap streusel, mushroom, bacon and sourdough stuffing, molasses-spiked Parker Rolls, roast chicken with gravy, langoustines in a Thai chili garlic butter sauce, brown butter mashed potatoes, cranberry orange ginger relish and a cabbage, cucumber and dill vinegar slaw that never even made it to the table.  For dessert there was pumpkin cheesecake tart a la the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook and my favorite Orangette “Winning Hearts and Minds” chocolate cake with homemade almond ice cream on the side.

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I’m feeling especially thankful for delicious leftovers right now, because I’m not cooking again until next Thursday if I can help it.

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Finally, after we finished up the dishes at 9:30 last night and after Will woke me up at 4:30 am  this morning,  I took a little trip today out to an industrial park an hour’s drive outside New Delhi today to visit a very special factory…

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More to come over the coming weeks!

November 21, 2012

Where the Guys Give Roses

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2588November 19, 2012

This is a bit of a sleep-deprived post so apologies for any strange errors or abrupt transitions…busy week to share hopefully soon.

The sunrise in Delhi is something worth getting up early for. It’s winter now in Northern India and the sun rises after 6:30 and seems to stop and hang half-way up the horizon. It takes up so much space in the sky that it’s hard to believe its the same sun with which I’ve risen my whole life.  It shimmers in an arresting shade of reddish-gold and makes everything the light touches appears washed in a hazy, soft pink glow.

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November 17, 2012

The Tempting Resting Place of Routine

Diwali Trip_MG_2334November 09, 2012
The view from the top of Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand. Speaking of being a tourist, we seem to be on a quite pathetic “one cultural site per visit” schedule when it comes to Bangkok. Which should probably tell you something. Whether it’s that we’re horrible tourists or that the food in Bangkok is just THAT good, I’m not sure.

There’s a wall we drive by on our way to INA market. Underneath a new flyover, the wall is slowly decaying, becoming less and less wall and more and more a bit player gradually taking on a larger role in the piles of rubble and refuse beyond, once hidden from view.

At one point in the wall, there is a near perfect circle missing–a person-sized opening a few feet between the top and the bottom of the wall. It looks like the sort of thing that might exist in a jailbreak scene of a movie–if a screenwriter could only ever achieve the suspension of disbelief required to think no one would notice a man-sized hole in a stone wall.

Every time we drive pass–at least once a week–I think to myself that I should get out of the car and stop to take pictures of that hole in the wall and then, just as quickly, I tell myself “next time.” Today Will is too tired, I’m too tired, there is a dinner to be made and emails to be answered waiting for us at home.

After 3 months in Delhi, I’ve reached a level of familiarity and comfort with our surroundings that makes it so tempting to forget how very little of this city.

The beautiful thing about those first few months in a new place is that everything counts as an adventure. Going to the grocery store is exciting, visiting the market is an adventure, even shopping for a bag of pipe-cleaners counts as an legitimately cultural outing because it’s all new and it’s all educational.

But it is so easy to confuse comfort with knowledge and experience with exploration. It’s so easy to find a few favorite haunts around the city and then let myself get comfortable, let go of the sense of urgency to explore and drink in as many sights, sounds and as much understanding as I possibly can from this place. Once the memories of that first night in a strange bed and the mountains of moving boxes fade, I forget just how quickly the time will fly before we’re back in boxes with the promise of another strange bed waiting for us in another new, strange place.

There’s a tricky balance to satisfying both the daily obligations of real life and the potentially once-in-a-lifetime adventures we have when we don’t worry about the traffic, get out the door and try something new.

We’re here a lot longer than the backpackers who pass through Delhi in the thousands at this time of year–and we certainly come with a lot more baggage–but those things are deceiving. As I’ve written before, being here longer doesn’t necessarily mean we understand or appreciate this city any better than they do. Staying for longer than the average tourist doesn’t count for much if we spend the majority of our time here at the same half a dozen places we’ve been frequenting since almost the day we arrived.

I’m a creature of habit, specifically the maybe next time” habit, but I’m trying to change. I have dinners to make, bills to pay, closets to tidy and a toddler to take to the park, of course. But there’s also that hole in the wall on the way to INA, among many other things, still waiting to be photographed–and there is only two years this time around to do it.

November 15, 2012

Eating our Way Through Bangkok

Diwali Trip_MG_2292November 08, 2012

It helps to visit a new city in the company of friends who live there.  Even better?  When those friends harbor an obsession with food that rivals one’s own.  The hungry farangs over at Ma La with a Fork (they promise some new posts coming soon) are those people.  They are the kind of people with whom we can have conversations about how nice it would be to live in the same place…so that we could buy a pig together and make our own charcuterie and bacon.  Their food is so legendary that people fight over whose turn it is to snag one of the coveted 10 slots at their Sunday night supper club table.

And if it weren’t enough that they know their way around their own kitchen, it seems they know their way around every other delicious kitchen in Bangkok as well.  Be forewarned: this is a very long, very appetite-inducing post.

Diwali Trip_MG_2247November 08, 2012

We started our culinary tour of Bangkok with a stop for Polo Chicken for lunch, located just up the street and around the corner from the US Embassy.  There are several restaurants called Polo Chicken and I don’t have an exact address, but it’s the second chicken restaurant on the left hand side of the street.  If it smells like fried chicken and it’s packed, you are probably at the right place.  For an exact location, I believe the restaurant is featured in this foodie guide available at bookstores in Bangkok.  The fried chicken was a revelation-crispy and garlic-y on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside, but I think the papaya salad was my favorite dish on the table.

Diwali Trip_MG_2238November 08, 2012

Diwali Trip_MG_2250November 08, 2012
This photo turned out far better in my head than in reality–darn low-light graininess!

From Polo Chicken we went off in search of a Thai iced tea–a sugary, creamy pick-me-up perfect for reinvigorating the sweaty, harassed parents of a toddler hell-bent on launching himself into all nearby water fountains and busy intersections.

Diwali Trip_MG_2276November 08, 2012

We were nothing if not determined to live and eat well in Bangkok, so when our friends suggested drinks before dinner at The Alchemist, a a nice quiet little place with outdoor seating off of Sukhumvit behind the left side of Soi 11, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.  As it turned out, three out of the four adults shared drinks while Will chased an alley cat and I chased Will.

Diwali TripIMG_2283November 08, 2012

We followed drinks up with dinner at Soul Food, a few sky train stops away.  If I had to recommend one restaurant in Bangkok, it would be this one.  The menu is made up of simple, clean, fresh rifts on homestyle, Thai comfort food.  The rice is organic and fair-trade, the meat is cage-free and most of the produce comes directly from small farms located in the north of Thailand.  In addition to the food, Soul Food is known for its cocktails: fun, inventive east-meets-west concoctions good to the very last drop.  I don’t normally drink, but “The Exile”, a vodka-based drink loaded with fresh lemon grass and kaffir lime was too good to pass up.

For dinner we had smokey banana flowers, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, morning glory, curry, shrimp satay and I don’t even know what else.  All I know is that it was one of the best, most exciting meals I’ve had in a long time.

I was a little too busy stuffing my face and trying to keep Will out of my drink to get any good pictures in the low light.  Above though is a portion of the banana flower salad.  Pictures cannot convey how fantastic this dish was.

For anyone wondering how Will fared on our big night out let me say this: that Soul Food shrimp satay must be damn good.  Will took my portion and never gave it back, but in return he stood quietly on my lap for 30 minutes straight.  That shrimp, combined with a portion of sticky rice and a well-timed order of orange juice, kept Will preoccupied enough for me to taste a few bites of everything in between picking rice up off the floor and trying to keep Will out of my cocktail.

After dinner, we crossed Sukhumvit to visit the famous street food strip on Soi 38 and our friends’ favorite mango and sticky rice vendor.  Before I knew it, Ashley had ordered two portions of Thailand’s most famous dessert.   The first portion we shared on the corner of Soi 38 while I struggled to keep an extraordinarily-over-tired Will from running into oncoming traffic.  The second portion they thoughtfully sent home with us.  While Chris gave Will a bath, I stood at the bathroom counter trying not to eat the entire second portion of mango sticky rice by myself.  It’s amazing how much easier it is to eat too much when I don’t have Will in my lap.

Diwali Trip_MG_2414November 10, 2012

Day two in Bangkok I ran out for a bowl of breakfast noodles before we headed over to Wat Arun (pictures coming soon).  Afterwards we took a ferry across the river and met up with our friends again to eat at yet another great little place over by Democracy Monument.  In a pleasantly un-airconditioned, semi-outdoor dining space, we feasted on crab, fried fish and mango salad, coconut sorbet, a stunning best-we’ve-ever-had plate of mussels, and a version of miang kham  so delicious that I polished off the entire dish almost all by myself.  The place was laid-back and relaxed, decidedly un-touristy, and staffed by army of doting waitresses so eager to take Will and waltz him around the room–if only he would have let them.  If you’re looking for great food a little off the beaten path that’s kid-friendly, this would be a great place to check out.

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The Miang Kham

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Ashley and Chris are so used to Phil and I whipping out our cameras at every meal that by now they just automatically wait together for us to finish clicking away before diving in.

Saturday night we went for sushi and Japanese atYaki Ten over on Luang Suan Road.  Their famous spicy tuna roll was delicious  as was nearly everything else–though admittedly, after spending nearly 3 years now in landlocked countries, we are perhaps not the best judges of good seafood anymore.  As much as I would have loved to stay to try everything on the table, Will was ready to head home after one round of edamame.  I bribed him with a few ice cubes, quickly tried a few bites of sushi and then took Will for a long, but pleasant, walk back to the hotel while Chris and our friends stayed on to finish up all of the food as well as a deep and interesting conversation about the future of China.

Diwali Trip_MG_2363November 09, 2012
Food on sticks!  Always a great option.

I’ll be honest, carrying a squirmy toddler around  town when its 95 degrees and there is no where for him to get down to walk or run, trying to get through meals without breaking any glasses or upending any dishes onto the floor is not always easy.  It also happens to be a fantastic way to ruin a brand new white t-shirt.   As much fun as we had walking around town, trying out restaurants and food stalls, my favorite day of our Bangkok trip, hands down, was our last day in town.  After a quick morning stop at a park near Chattachak Market, we spent our last day in Bangkok simply hangning out in our friends’ kitchen, cooking, playing cards and watching Will run around trying to impress his Uncle Phil and Auntie Ashley.

Diwali Trip_MG_2426November 10, 2012
A delectable coconut custard topped with green onions and doufu and wrapped in a delicate, fried, dosa-like shell. They were sweet, they were savory, they were addictive.

The boys went out and bought street food for lunch and then played cribbage and tended to the baby back ribs on the grill for the rest of the afternoon.  Us girl stayed home and talked careers and babies and, of course, food while we watched Will pretend to polish all of the furniture in the room with his blankie.  After Will finally passed out on a mattress in the living room, Ashley gave me a ride on the back of their motorcycle for a quick trip to the grocery store.  For the record, Chris was convinced I would somehow fall off the back end of the bike, but I didn’t.

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The ribs that night were insane, the salad dressing was a revelation and there might be no better company to be had than old friends in a new place sharing a meal.

Diwali Trip_MG_2444November 10, 2012

We flew back to Delhi the next day with stomachs stretched and suitcase overflowing with gifts of Thai snacks and Japanese whiskey.  Three days of foodie tourism with a toddler in a busy, traffic-jammed city was magnificently tiring, but it was also delicious and fun and totally worthwhile.  And can I mention again, delicious?

We’re working on doing our Delhi food research now, hoping against hope to be as great of foodie hosts as our friends were for us in Bangkok.

November 13, 2012

Happy Diwali!

Diwali 2012_MG_2528November 12, 2012

We did not do Diwali right this year.

We rolled back into town last night a bit too late to go out and catch any of the festivities. I did not go out and buy the lights or the Rangoli kit I had hoped to or go take photos at all of the markets I wanted to.

Our teething and travel-worn toddler seemed desperately in need of a quiet day at home today, so this morning Chris slept in while Will restored our home to it’s natural state of disorder and chaos. For my part, I stayed in my pajamas and helped make blueberry pancakes. Afterwards we taught will how to rock out to Journey.

In the afternoon, after Will’s nap, we headed over to Nehru park to meet some neighbors and friends for a late afternoon walk. The evening light was beautiful as we walked through fields of flowers and side-stepped dozens of couples making out on park benches and men trying to sell us bags of chips and bottled water. India may be an incredibly conservative country when it comes to all manners dealing with sex, but something about public park benches and historic ruins seems to bring out the amorous in the most seemingly chaste of couples.

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The top of the stone pyramid on which Will and Chris are standing was actually about 15 feet high. We kept trying to convince Will to crawl up on one of the shorter ones nearby but he would have none of it.

While I would have loved to drive around town all day checking out the markets and the holiday hustle and bustle, Will was certainly happier that we stayed home. And after he went to bed, I did slip out the front door with my camera and run down the street to find out where all of the fireworks were coming from.

Diwali 2012_MG_2521November 12, 2012

Everywhere, as it turns out. They were coming from everywhere. A large extended family was shooting off fireworks in the street opposite the high compound wall in front of our house. Around the corner, a few kids were lighting fireworks in an empty can and kicking embers into passing cars. I followed a trail of lights down another street towards the mini slum next to the school and watched as hundreds of kids-many underdressed in the cool night air-giddily threw round after round of cheap fireworks onto the ground and watched them explode. I stayed for a few minutes just taking in the scene until a few boys started chucking fireworks at my head. That seemed as good a cue as any that it was time to head home.

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The problem with cheap fireworks is that, while no fireworks are safe, the cheapest ones have an alarming tendency to explode without warning–and in all directions at once. As I ran around shooting for a few minutes I realized what a chicken I was, staying as far away as I could without missing a shot while kids as young as 6 ran around with lit fireworks held just an arms-length away from their skinny torsos. At least I could stay far away. Having lived through a Chinese New Year celebration last year, its terrifying to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of fireworks all being lit at the time, in every direction, within the space of just a few dense city blocks. While it would be neat to see the celebrations going on all over town here in New Delhi tonight, I’ll admit a part of me is very grateful to know that we can go to bed in a few hours and hopefully get some sleep.

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A rare family photo courtesy of this lovely lady whose finally back in Delhi.

November 12, 2012

Diwali Eve

Stuck in traffic on the way home from the airport, I managed just this quick phone photo of the Diwali preparations going on all over town right now.

Tomorrow is the biggest day of Diwali, the Indian Festival of lights and this year it falls the day after Veteran’s Day so we took advantage of the duo of holidays to get away to Bangkok, Thailand for a few days.  We went to see friends and get our fill of noodles and some non-chicken, non-lentil protein, if you know what I mean:

We forgot our trusty Ergo baby carrier at home so Will rode around in a luggage cart we borrowed from the airport for the weekend.

That’s not true.  Will attempted to climb out of the luggage cart a mere 10 seconds after this photo.  Instead, we carried Will around Bangkok the old-fashioned way, proclaiming all the while that hauling our 20 pound toddler around in heat and humidity completely justified 5+ meals a day and my need to stop for Thai iced coffees every few blocks.

Bangkok was lovely, I’ll write more about it later this week but for now, it suffices to say that we spent the entire weekend hanging out with two of our favorite salt-of-the-earth, why-don’t-we-all-live-in-the-same-place-anymore good friends who took us on a fantastic culinary tour of Bangkok.  We ate…and ate…and ate.  And then when we could eat no more, our friends had us over for one of their famous “Sunday Suppers,” and sent us home to Delhi with surprise bags and bags of Thai goodies which we are now attempting to ration until we can travel back for another fix.

Chris and I have a theory that, when we can swing it, it’s always good to come back from a vacation with a day to spare before it’s time to go back to the office.  Vacations, especially with kids, are rarely totally relaxing and so it’s nice to have a day to sleep in a little, do the laundry, get some groceries and just recharge before its back to the daily grind.  Tomorrow we’re going to get out and try to catch some of the Diwali festivities but hopefully I’ll also get a few minutes to go through some of my (meager) Bangkok photos (too busy eating!) and respond to some more of the wonderful comments you all left on my last post–more coming on that topic soon as well.

How was your weekend?  What did you do?

November 7, 2012


Camera phone picture by one of my old Ashoka colleagues who we got to visit with yesterday at Khan Market!

1) I’ve been trying to meet up with an old friend of mine from Delhi for weeks now and we finally managed a coffee date at Khan Market yesterday. It was fantastic to see her. Isn’t it always good when you see people after a long time and you can just see their happiness radiating out of their face? We had so much fun catching up and I had a funny moment walking into the cafe to meet her.

5 years ago, I came to Delhi for 24 hours with a roommate of mine from Chennai. I remembered that we stopped at a cafe somewhere during our quick trip, but I never remembered where—until I walked into the Turtle Cafe to meet my friend on Tuesday. We sat on the exact same balcony that I sat on with my roommate almost exactly 5 years ago. If you had told me then that I’d be back to that exact same cafe ever again–let alone living in Delhi with a husband and a 15 month old son I would have never believed you. Funny how life works out.

2) I’m working on a piece right now about stay at home mothers and how and why they re-enter the work force, whether its employment concerns, financial need or a desire for professional or intellectual fulfillment. It’s a topic I’m personally very interested in but the piece is not ready to publish yet because it needs quite a few more viewpoints and perspectives. So I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject–be it your own real-life scenario, your best-case scenario or what you think your future will hold. Are you a stay-at-home Mama who feels irrationally unproductive because you aren’t in an office or pursuing some sort of intellectual/professional goal? If you’re an office or working-for-a-paycheck Mama, do you think you would be completely happy staying home instead or would you really, really miss going to work? Or perhaps are you a stay-at-home parent who feels guilty for not feeling guilty about staying home? Or maybe you are actually perfectly content with your life and, in that case, let’s hear how you got there.

3) In other news, Will stripped off all of his clothes today and ran around the house naked for awhile. He looked so cute that it was 45 minutes before I could bring myself to get him dressed again. He also tried my oatmeal for breakfast this morning and liked it. Will is an agonizingly disinterested eater and you all know how I feel about my oatmeal, so I don’t know if I’ve had a prouder parenting moment yet than when he lapped up his portion and gestured for more.

4) Chris came home from work today, the day when many Embassies held special Election Day events and told me a story relayed to him by one of his friends at another Embassy in another part of the world. He said that the Embassy there hosted a “mock election” for local people to experience what voting in an American election is like. As the participants from the community were casting their votes, a locally employed staff person came up to Chris’ friend clutching a ballot. She asked him if it would be alright if she and her colleagues also cast votes in the mock election. “Of course!” he told her and behind her a group of other local staff cheered and beamed. They told him afterwards that it meant so much to them to be able to cast a vote–any vote–that they didn’t even care that it was for a mock election for a president in a different country.

I’m happy Obama won the election last night but I’m more grateful still to be an American and to live in a country where I have both the right to vote and the right to share my political views however I see fit. People get upset over endless political ads on TV and ugly rants on Facebook. To them, I say, how wonderful that we have these ads and these rants. How wonderful it is to be a citizen of a country in which we all get to have opinions and share them without fear of violent retribution. There are too many places around the world where people support their political parties not with t-shirts and posters but with knives and clubs–if they are allowed to express political opinions at all. There are some countries which never have and never will hold elections for political representatives. There are others that are “democratic” in name only. There are still others in which people hold their breath on election night waiting not to find out if their guy won, but to find out instead if their leader will peacefully transfer power or perhaps even start a civil war. How lucky us Americans in comparison!

November 4, 2012

Shankar Market, Old Delhi and the Weekend

Old Delhi_MG_2172November 03, 2012

Saturday night Chris’ dad left for the airport to catch a plane back to America.  We are alone in our house for the first time in over two months.

We were only in India for 10 days before Chris’ parents arrived and while it is always wonderful to have them around, there is a certain peace to knowing that I have a month’s reprieve before I have to start cooking dinner for four or more adults every night again and brewing 12 cups of coffee at 5:30 every morning.  Both Chris’ mom and dad will be back in December, but for now it’s just us.

Saturday, while Chris’ dad packed, we ran over to Connaught for Chris to visit a “bespoke tailoring” shop while I had plans to scour Shankar market in search of velcro.  Turns out, the market didn’t need much scouring.  Our first stop was a ribbon store and, at 30 rupees a yard, buying velcro in Delhi turned out to be just about the easiest and cheapest non-food purchase I’ve made since we got here.

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In the alleyway behind the ribbon store, we caught a glimpse of two men manning giant vats bubbling over in shades of turquoise and hot pink, dying lace.  They poured powdered dyes into the bubbling pots, checked the color against a piece of lace taped to a bright white piece of paper, and then adjusted the mix time and time again.  Watching them, it occurred to me what a specialized skill it must be to get the colors to turn out exactly the same, batch after batch, without any written formulas, recipes or measuring utensils.

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Last fall I spent many incredibly sleep-deprived hours holding infant Will while he napped.  For the first 4 months of his life I couldn’t put him down.  I didn’t have the free hands necessary to cook or write, nor the functioning brain cells to do much else productive and so–enter Pinterest.  The thing about Pinterest is that it is sometimes too inspiring, too full of felted and crafty goodness–so much so that it makes a person do crazy things.  Like request a glue gun and a stack of “fall-colored” felt for Christmas to make an “autumnal wreath,” in spite of a rather serious lack of timeliness, craftiness, and hand-eye coordination.

Which brings us back to the velcro from Shankar Market.  1 year later, I finally made that darn Thanksgiving-y wreath.  I McGiver’ed a wreath base out of some old packing materials and duct-taped them into a vaguely circular shape.  Then I alternated wrapping yarn, tangling yarn, and muttering strings of expletives for an hour while Will napped.  Then I burned myself with a glue gun a dozen times trying to make felt flowers and finally  (finally!) I velcro-ed my autumnal felt nightmare onto my wreath base.

I used velcro instead of the glue gun for the last step on the theory that velcro would allow me to switch out the embellishments seasonally–potentially accommodating a whole year’s worth of holidays with just one wreath (I am nothing if not efficiency-minded).  Of course that presupposes I’m capable of summoning up the motivation to see this felted grand plan through to the end.   As I explained to Chris’ sister the other day, I’m only crafty until I reach the half-way mark in a project–at which point I usually say “screw it! good enough!” and slap the rest together with all of the precision and focus of a drunken monkey eating pixie sticks.

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Moving on.  Sunday morning, our first morning without house guests, we were sorely tempted to sleep in and slovenly lounge around the house all day, but we had made a 7am date for a walk through Old Delhi with a couple of friends.  So we slammed some cold coffee, doused Will in bug spray and away we went to the old Muslim quarter.

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We stopped for some chole bhatura and watched as the vendor’s son scooped the puffy balls of fried dough out of the boiling oil and onto a plate with a dish of stewed chickpeas for us.  We drank chai and watched men receive early morning street-side shaves and hair cuts and people scrubbing clothes on the pavement and ironing trousers with antique coal-powered irons. There were delivery men pulled towering stacks of shoes and fabrics on pull-carts and and bicycle rickshaw drivers offering their goods and services every few steps.

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The air was thick with fog and smoke but the scenery was interesting and the people mostly friendly, as usual.  Afterwards, for a bit of unintended dramatic contrast, and to satisfy a serious breakfast craving, we headed over to the Imperial Hotel for the fastest all-you-can-eat breakfast we’ve ever had.  It was a bit of a gamble taking a couple of overtired babies out for breakfast after our morning in Old Delhi, but we all managed to eat and down 2 cups of coffee each before the kids let us know it was time to leave.

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I had hoped to get some nice shots during our walk, but my camera was acting a bit wonky and sluggish and my SD chips kept failing.  Also, and I hate to admit this, but I’ve got a bit of camera envy.  I’m just a hobbyist with a lot to learn, but it was eye-opening today to listen to the machine-gun cadence of our friends’ camera shutters firing over and over while I watched my shots blur out of focus waiting for my own shutter to close on just one frame.  I’ve tried every combination of ISO, aperture and shutter speed possible to try and get both the speed I need and the clarity I would like, but the inherent, fleeting “capture-the-moment-before-it-before-it’s-over” nature of taking photos on the street simply seems to require a bit more from my camera than it will probably ever be able to deliver.  Oh well.  Photography is just a hobby for me and there is still lots of life left in my little Rebel.

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Leaves for wrapping paan, a mild-narcotic made from betel nuts and spices that is sold by street vendors everywhere in India.

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Fabrics for what looks to be stoles and dupettas drying after their turn in the dye buckets.

How was your weekend?  What did you do?

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