My Indian In-Laws are Here!

When a family grows, it usually happens gradually, by one or two people at a time. Maybe it gains a child or a set of in-laws. Under normal circumstances, the family has time to prepare and understand most of the challenges that will come along with the new addition. They buy the things they will need, they arrange the living space, and they mentally prepare for their lifestyle to change. Obviously, there will always be unexpected issues that arise and unforeseen things that need to be adjusted.

The point is that most people don’t wake up one day with five new family members all at once in their house for the very first time.

Most of my husband’s immediate family is here for a visit with us. This includes his parents, one of his sisters, and her husband and son. They are all from India, but the sister and her family currently live in Dubai. Our house went from being evenly divided between Indian and American to having a strong Indian majority.

Luckily, my husband and I have been preparing for this visit for quite a while. We’ve planned our approaches for navigating many cultural differences and methods for how to accommodate this number of people in our two-bedroom house. We’ve even tried to collect some magazines and brochures for the adults and some activities and toys for the child. We’ve also made our master suite a kind of getaway for ourselves when, not if, we need some quiet, alone time.

Our visitors have been here for a week so far and I am just now able to sit down to write about it all. It has all been kind of a blur of cooking, cleaning, organizing, talking, translating, laughing, crying, then cooking and cleaning some more.

One thing that has happened so far is that for a split second, I forgot I was sitting at my dining table in my own home. We were all seven sitting around our dining table eating and everyone else was speaking Bengali. I was listening, trying to pick out some of the words I know, while thinking that I wanted a second helping of the pulao. I wondered for a split second if these people would mind if I ate some more of their food, since I was a guest in their house. I momentarily forgot that it was at my house and I had even cooked the pulao!

I am gathering more of my thoughts and plan on writing some honest posts about what it is like for me, an American, to host all these Indians. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, and we’ll definitely talk about the food!

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My Favorite Indian Foods

If you have ever tried Indian food, you notices that it has some major differences from American food. It is usually served with rice that the serving of each dish is mixed with to the right consistency. It generally has a higher number of spices, more liquid (gravy) in dishes, and generally a larger number of individual dishes are served per meal. Also, Indians at home tend to use their hand to eat and dishes are served in the order based on which dish has the least complex flavors to the dish that has the most complex flavors. It’s all very interesting to me and the food is some of the best I’ve ever had.

Side note: Indian food has become my absolute favorite type of food. As you know, we cook Indian/Bengali food at home about 75% of the time, which is strange for someone who had never even tried Indian food prior to the last couple of years of college. Eating Indian food, specifically the homemade type, usually prepared with less oil than in restaurants, has really awakened my taste buds, helped regulate my digestive system, and made me love food even more. These days, if I go a few days with no Indian food, my body craves it like nothing else. Something about the spices makes me feel so good! It is no wonder that ancient cultures have used spices not only for their taste, but also their medicinal qualities. I am the luckiest girl to be married to an Bengali man who enjoys cooking with me.

I want to share a list of my favorite Indian/Bengali foods/dishes I’ve had so far. And if this list makes you hungry, go to your nearest Indian restaurant for lunch!

#1: Dal (Lentils)

There are so many types of dal in Indian cuisine. I had never really had a dish that was primarily dal here in the US. I had eaten dishes where some dal was thrown in, like in soups, but they never were the main character in the dish. We cook dal at home very regularly, mostly moong and masoor varieties. Something about those little beans packed with healthy things makes such a satisfying dish. B even says that dal is what they eat when they are feeling sick, much like we here eat chicken noodle soup or something like that. My favorite way of cooking and eating dal is very simple with toasted cumin seeds, turmeric, and salt. I also like it when vegetables have been boiled with the dal and when other types of dal are used. It is such a flavorful, comforting dish that has many options when choosing how to prepare it.

#2: Ma’s Cucumber & Potato Curry

This is a strange sounding dish to us Americans. We tend to think that cucumber can only be eaten raw. We imagine that if you try to cook cucumber that it will be terribly watery and unpleasant to eat. But let me tell you, this is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. B cooks this dish according to a recipe his mom gave him and I think he probably cooks it really close to what it would taste like when Ma makes it. This dish manages to keep the freshness and bright “green” flavor of the cucumber and combines it with the comfort of potatoes and fragrant spices. It is amazing.

#3: Aloo Methi

We just had this dish a couple nights ago. Aloo is potato. Methi is this fragrant plant that has small oval shaped leaves. I can’t remember if there is an English name for it… But it has a slightly smoky, earthy flavor in addition to it’s green, fresh flavor which makes for a very tasty combination. We boil the potatoes (but you can add other vegetables), add the spices from Ma’s recipe, then throw in the methi leaves almost at the end. Once they are wilted, the dish is ready to eat. It usually disappears pretty quickly in our house.

#4: Samosas

Ah, samosas. These are usually not a dish that is made at home because they are a little complicated. These babies are similar to the fried pies served here in the US, but with much more complex and spicy fillings. They are also shaped like pyramids almost. The best ones we get around here come from the Indian grocery store. We love the Indian grocery here! It always smells so wonderful when you step in and they serve freshly fried samosas and sometimes biryani and sweets. Their samosas are filled with a potato and green pea mixture, fried fresh to a golden crisp, with the flakiest of flaky crusts. Every time we go there, we at least order four. Oh, and they are only a dollar!

#5: Shondesh

This is another strange sounding dish to us Americans. Shondesh is a famous Bengali dessert that is made from paneer, which is like a homemade ricotta or farmers cheese. It is very simple to make at home and I have made it a few different times. Basically you boil milk, add lemon juice to separate the curds from the whey, strain the now paneer/chana, rinse the lemon flavor from the chana, press to remove excess moisture, then add your sweetener of choice and cardamom powder, knead, cook, shape into bite sized pieces, and finally chill. It sounds like a complicated process, but it goes much quicker than it sounds like. Once chilled, these morsels are sweet, creamy, chewy, and very satisfying. It only takes about two of these until your sweet tooth is satisfied. Yum.

#6: Ma’s Fried Eggplant

I must admit that I have so far been unable to re-create this dish to be close to as tasty as Ma’s. Also, I was never a fan of eggplant until I started having it in Indian/Bengali dishes. Nowadays it is one of my favorite veggie dishes. I can’t tell you how Ma cooks her’s, but I can tell you how tasty it is. There are pretty thick slices of eggplant, with spices and turmeric rubbed generously on both sides, the slices are then fried/sauteed, most likely in mustard oil until they are cooked through, but somehow they maintain their structure and integrity of shape. These slices are packed with flavor and comfort. When mixed with rice, they are lovely. And they are lovely when eaten with roti/flat bread. I will look forward to having these next time we visit India.

#7: Okra & Potato Curry

This dish we also had very recently, and that will also sound strange to at least us Southerners who like to eat okra only if it’s battered and fried. Okra and potato curry is another comforting dish that is pretty simple, but so satisfying. We cook this at home when the okra looks especially good at the grocery store. We chop the okra and potatoes, garlic, and green chilies. If you want the okra to keep its round shape, stir-fry the potatoes for a bit first, then add the okra. Fry, stirring continuously until they begin to soften. Add salt and turmeric (and any other spices you want, we just keep this one simple), then add a little water, cover and boil until cooked through. This is good served with rice or bread. As long as your okra dish is not too oily, it will be very tasty.

As I typed this, I realized that these dishes are not necessarily listed in any particular order. I guess it just depends on the mood I’m in as to which is my favorite. If you have been too afraid to try Indian food, please consider it. You could be missing out on something you would love and your body could thank you for. Step out of your comfort zone, ask your Indian friends to share a dish with you; they would probably be proud to share some of their rich, spicy heritage with you!

P.S. Spellcheck did NOT like these non-English words, ya’ll.

6 Benefits of “Inter-” Relationships

What are “inter-” relationships? To me they are interracial, intercultural, international, interfaith, and interesting. I am an advocate for these relationships.

There are very many types of relationships out there, but I’m just going to write about seven benefits I see in being in an “inter-” one.

Background Info:

B and I are from different countries, we have different skin tones, we grew up speaking different languages, we have a significant age gap, and we grew up with different faith traditions. There are more differences between us, but let’s just go with these for now. With so many obvious differences, how do we make it work? That is probably a question many of our family members and friends want to ask us, but don’t feel comfortable enough to ask (at least not yet… ).

Benefit #1: The Food

If you know me, you know how much I enjoy food. It wasn’t really hard for me to choose this benefit as the number one, honestly. I hope that’s not a bad thing… For me, a flavorful, hearty meal with good company can make any bad day better.

If you are in an “inter-” relationship, you probably already know what I’m talking about. You have the food from your specific family, region, country, etc., and your significant other has his. We get to pick the very best, cream of the crop recipes to cook at home and enjoy. We get to introduce new ingredients, spices, and techniques to each other anytime. It keeps things interesting in the kitchen. This may only apply to couples that enjoy cooking and eating together, but I absolutely see the food as a benefit.

Benefit #2: Personal Growth

This may seem vague, but I see personal growth as a major benefit of being in an “inter-” relationship. When I am forced to look at my culture, habits, and ideals from an objective point of view, like when I am explaining them to someone unfamiliar with them, I can see them much more clearly. I can look at some of the things I do automatically without really considering them and see that they need to be evaluated. I can finally start to realize the reasons why I am the person I am. I can look outside myself and see the areas that I need to improve on as a human being. I can see that some of my American/western habits and mindsets need to be re-thought. (And that some of them are perfectly fine, thank you very much…)

Benefit #3: Always Things to Talk About

When B and I are together, there is rarely a dull moment. We come from such different backgrounds that there are many many topics of conversation where we can compare and contrast our experiences. For example, our childhoods were very different. The demographics of the areas we grew up in have drastic differences. We enjoy listening to each others random stories about growing up. It’s fun to try and imagine what it would be like for me if I was in the environment he grew up in.

No offense to all of you people who are married to people just like you, but I think your conversation topics have got to be more limited than ours. Yeah, I said it. I think if a couple grew up in similar areas, with similar lifestyles, it must get super boring eventually. I think that those couple run out of things to talk about way way sooner than couples in “inter-” relationships. Maybe that’s why so many of those couples always feel the need to be out “doing” something, visiting places, or rushing to have kids. Maybe they ran out of things to talk about and didn’t know what to do next… Sorry, not sorry.

Benefit #4: More Holidays and Festivals

When you are in an “inter-” relationship, you have some amazing options in life. Every culture has its holidays and festivals that help make it unique. B and I can choose to celebrate the holidays and festivals that actually mean something to us. We have the opportunity to bring the best traditions from our individual lives, leave the ones that don’t mean anything to us personally, and create new combinations that mean the most to us. This freedom surprisingly has helped us connect more to our respective cultures and traditions.

Benefit #5: Interesting Wardrobe Additions

Since I am an American married to an Indian, I’ve gotten to know the world’s most multifunctional garment, the sari. B has been introduced to the world of camouflage and cowboy boots, interestingly enough. Being with someone from a different part of the world allows you to embrace some ethnic objects that you would not have been exposed to otherwise. I wear saris every now and then and B always appreciates my efforts to help remind him of home. Wearing saris helps me to be mindful of B’s mother and other family members and I try my best to send good thoughts their way. I feel like I’m a little more connected with them when I wear my saris. Last time B and I were with my parents, my dad half jokingly mentioned wanting to get B in a pair of overalls.

Benefit #6: Much Bigger Comfort Zones

This probably is the most valuable benefit for me. (It’s hard to choose though.) As a direct result of being in a “inter-” relationship, I am a much more comfortable person. I have become much more comfortable with myself and who I am as an individual. This is because in order to clearly communicate my wants, feelings, etc. with my partner who is very different from me, I have to really get in touch with the real core of myself. I have to also become comfortable with B’s culture and where his thoughts and feelings come from. I’m not saying that I’m perfect at it, but I’m at least much more inclined, when faced with a conflict, to try and understand where it comes from rather than feel frustrated or run from it.

Also, being in an “inter-” marriage has lovingly nudged our respective family members to increase the size of their comfort zones, in varying degrees. My family has embraced B and understands that our life as a couple is and will always be different from what my life was “pre-B”. B’s family embraced me when I was visiting them and continues to embrace me as their daughter-in-law when we talk.

Throughout our dating and so far in our marriage, we have addressed many of these differences and will likely do so forever. The different cultures we grew up in have helped make us who we are and will always be significant parts of us as individuals. We’ve matured enough in life to accept our pasts and not try and run from them or hide them.

Together, B and I have grown so so much over the last 2.5-3 years of knowing each other. I personally am very interested to see where our “inter-” life takes us.

Cheers, ya’ll!

How We Adventure

When someone says the word “adventure”, most people would probably think it means going somewhere new and doing some exciting, and perhaps dangerous, activities you maybe thought you would never do. I believe that everyone has their own personal definition of an adventure. For some people, an adventure could be traveling to a new country or going skydiving. For others, it could be simply going for a walk in their city and exploring the sights.

I think it’s better to look at life as a daily adventure. In my experience, looking at it this way helps to keep things more interesting. Also, if you can allow yourself to go through your day with a sense of adventure, it’s a completely different mindset than looking at your day as something to just make it through. If you look at it as an adventure, you approach every day with a certain level of curiosity and open-mindedness you probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

I like the idea of adventure so much that it was in one of the “taglines” we used at our wedding. “A short stroll can lead to a big adventure” was the quote that I felt captured the essence of our dating/engagement/wedding story. To anyone who doesn’t know us personally, our “relationship timeline” may have seemed much too fast. Some people thought everything happened too quickly, but we knew what we wanted and went for it. I saw our short time of being together before getting married as the short stroll that was leading to a big adventure. I knew it was leading to a big adventure for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I knew simply being married would be an adventure in itself. I also knew we would be traveling together to India to meet B’s parents and I had never even flown in an airplane! I knew I was getting myself into an adventure and wanted other people to understand that I was not stepping off the cliff into this adventurous life blindly. Being married to someone from a completely different culture is a huge adventure not to be taken lightly or by those who are faint at heart!

We went on our trip to Dubai and India when we had been married for about 5 months, had a blast, and settled back into everyday life when we got back. Since then we have been working on having the best marriage that we can. We look at other couples we know and scrutinize what we can see of their relationships. We try to see what works in marriages and what doesn’t. We gather information and inspiration on how to continuously work at making our relationship the best that we can. One thing that is continually important to us is adventure, but not always in the sense that one might think.

An example of how we adventure on a regular basis is cooking together. We cook a large majority of our dinners at home because we both enjoy home cooked food, it saves money, and we always know what goes into our meals. We almost always decide together what the evening’s dinner menu will be and plan our entree, side dish/dishes, and maybe a dessert. We usually split the work of the chopping and cooking, taking into consideration who is best at or most comfortable with each task.

For example, I DO NOT want to touch raw meat under almost any circumstance if it can be avoided without much inconvenience. I just don’t like it. Fortunately for me, my husband does not mind it. When we are having some kind of meat for dinner, he is usually the one that cleans it, trims off any unwanted meaty bits, and cooks that dish. I am so glad it works out this way! I prefer to take care of the veggie dishes while he cooks the meat dish. Another reason this system works out well for us is that we have two, sometime three different dishes cooking at once so it ends up taking less time than if we were to cook each dish one at a time. This division of labor is our normal cooking routine. But things get crazy on the weekends! …

During the working days, we usually have some type of chicken or egg dish as our protein and a rotation of a few different vegetable side dishes. But our way of adventuring without spending a lot of money or without the stress of planning a short getaway, is cooking a slightly fancier dinner on weekends. Many people may not think of this as an adventure, but that just means that you are a snob who can’t enjoy the simple things in life! Just kidding! …Kinda.

B and I are food lovers. We both enjoy trying new recipes and types of food. If either of us is having a bad day, a good meal is almost guaranteed to make us feel better. There is a chance that our love language is food. The problem with always wanting to try new recipes is that if they go wrong, you still have to eat dinner that night. And when we’ve worked all day and just spent our limited evening time cooking a dish that didn’t work out so well, it’s hard to be motivated to cook a whole new dinner. Granted, most of our new recipes don’t turn out so bad, but the main idea is the same. Our solution to this “problem” is to save our new and adventurous recipes/ingredients for the weekends.

What we like to do is decide what we want to try. It could be recipe that’s new, one that may take a longer time to cook than we can afford on a weeknight, one with an ingredient we aren’t very familiar with, or one with an ingredient that may be too fancy for everyday meals. We wind down after the week/escape from reality by spending more quality time together in the kitchen creating a better/fancier meal to enjoy. We may stay up a little later than normal on a Friday night because of it, but when we don’t have to worry about getting enough sleep to go to work the next morning, it’s a fun time.

This type of adventure is one any couple can go on from the comfort of their home and their local grocery store. The time spent being creative as a team is priceless to us. Working together towards our goal of having a nice, home cooked meal that spices the routine up a bit after a week of being on our own separate schedules helps us focus on our relationship and the start of our weekend “us time”. So next time you feel the need to spice up your relationship, try a new recipe, literally!

Our Latest Food Fusion

Kalo Jeera Goat Cheese

As you know, my husband and I like to cook a variety of foods at home. We like to experiment with different types of cuisine and to mix things up a bit. Our latest food fusion combines two really great items into one really really great item.

Item Number One: I think my favorite Indian spice is kalo jeera, also known as kalonji or black cumin. I especially love this little black seed in vegetable dishes.

Item Number Two: One thing we have been eating in our salads recently is goat cheese. We’ve had it plain with no other flavors added and we’ve had it with garlic and herbs.

The idea to mix up the two things came about this week when we were shopping for groceries and decided that plain, unflavored goat cheese was a better bargain than buying the pre-flavored kind. We could buy twice as much cheese for the same price if we chose the plain one and we could split up the cheese and make our own flavor combinations. We like to be creative in the kitchen and we also have a pretty well stocked spice cabinet (which I love!).

When we made it home with all our groceries, it was goat cheese flavor time. We really enjoyed the garlic and herb flavored one we had before, so on one half of the package I recreated that flavor without the garlic because we usually make a garlic and lemon dressing for our salads. I thought this goat cheese could live without it.

For the second half, I wanted to use something a little more Indian inspired. I thought about all the wonderful spices in our cabinet and decided to try kalo jeera. I tasted one of the seeds without frying it and realized the flavor is much better after being fried. So I heated up a little bit of mustard oil, fried my kalo jeera, drained the excess oil, and added the kalo jeera to my goat cheese. After mixing and adding a small bit of freshly ground black pepper, it was perfect! I wrapped up both flavors of goat cheese so they could set up in the fridge.

After a couple of days of letting the flavors really sink into the cheese, we tried the kalo jeera one on our salad last night. It was so good! The combination of the kalo jeera and goat cheese was on point. And since the kalo jeera are small seeds, some get stuck in your teeth and become the gift that keeps on giving! 🙂