Clearly, the pictures above are of the same person. With just a few years in between the time that they were taken. What I'm not going to post (so that we may remain on speaking terms), is the picture of a time in-between. As most children do, my daughter went through a phase where she didn't look, or feel like herself. Where she only saw what was reflected back from the mirror, along with a hundred other imagined things.
The picture on the right was taken this past weekend, at her Senior prom. All the myriad details of dress shopping, getting her nails done, finding the perfect pair of shoes led to this one perfect moment, where her laugh is open, uncontained, and full of joy. Joy in knowing that not only did she look good, but felt good. Because she was with a group of people that she cares about. Because we had five of the girls come over to our house, and they did each others' hair and make-up while sharing stories and anticipation. Because although this was her last prom, and hence bittersweet, she had arrived at this point, intact and thriving.
The childhood laugh is in the moment, the one on the right was earned. Earned by being hurt, but moving on anyway. By realizing that you work hard to get what you want. That friends are extremely important, but your family is fundamental to your well-being. By losing loved ones, and honoring them by loving life.
My hope, as she is getting ready to graduate is this: that she can add another picture, taken thirty years from now, with laugh lines forming parentheses on either side of her face, eyes lined and crinkled at the corners with the same laugh, and a whole lot of living in-between.
Because the more things change, the more we want of the same.
If you follow our blog posts, and have read this one before you-say-farmer-we-say-market.html, you could possibly begin to understand the excitement, preparation and anticipation that went into our first day of the Midtown Farmer's Market.
After only three hours of sleep, and obsessively checking lists to make sure that we weren't leaving anything behind, we set off in our caravan of the minivan carrying Penny, followed by the SUV carrying all the baked goods and product for sale. We shall not speak of the minivan brakes overheating, necessitating an unscheduled stop, nor of the panic of getting there and getting set up on time. What I will tell you is that the day was glorious: a tad on the warm side, but perfect for market. From the variety of fresh vegetables and fruit to the hand-sewn aprons, and all the local honey, breads and various goods for sale, I'm not ashamed to say that I shed a tear over the sheer perfection of the day.
And we took in everything: the adorable, polite little twins whose eyes lit up when offered samples. The elderly beagle with the mournful eyes. The gregarious gentleman who announced himself a connoisseur, and bought two jars immediately upon sampling Rosalind, our raspberry-rose jam. The lovely family who just moved to Raleigh a month ago with their two little ones. The scruffy little dog who did a fine job keeping the area around our cart clean by vacuuming up every crumb. The older gentleman who said that the chocolate chess pie reminded him of his grandmother, long gone from this earth.
And then, the next week was even better. We got to see some faces from the previous week, and meet a whole lot of new folks. And we sold out! Every blueberry muffin with lemon glaze, every slice of pie, every lemon bar, and almost every jar of jam. All we had left were five oatmeal craisin cookies, which we were happy to share with our neighboring vendors. And in return, got the most tender, flavorful early spring lettuce from Nourishing Acres. Honey from the Pleasant Bee. A thumbs up of thanks from another vendor who was too busy enjoying the cookie to say anything. I'm going to get all Southern and say, "we LOVE this y'all"! And can't wait to come back every week.
You can come find us from 8:00 a.m. until noon every Saturday - we'll be the ones with the cookie samples and smiles.
The 'fellow' in question was my oldest maternal uncle, and this past month marked a year that he has been gone. His last name was Jolly, and kindness, love and wit shone from his eyes as well as his through his actions. As fate would have it, at the beginning of this year one of my aunts passed, followed by her husband a mere two weeks later. The loss of three Jollys within a year has left a wide, gaping hole in our family's fabric. The Jolly family embodied hospitality and an inclusiveness of people the likes of which we will probably never see again.
It was extraordinary: people would come for a meal, and stay for a month. Every hurting, sad, temporarily lost child has, at one point or another, taken refuge in the Jolly household for months even when their families were just one city over. We still marvel at the capacity of a two room apartment to expand and accommodate as many people as it did. How my aunts managed to feed three meals to as many as fifteen people on a daily basis out of a kitchen that is smaller than most closets still baffles me.
But what I remember most is the joy. So much laughter that we ended up with aching sides most days. Silly games and pointless arguments. Bollywood music both new and classic demanded choreographed dances that the older cousins taught, and we younger cousins obliged. Beautiful, clear voices singing as often as they could. It was magical. Sometimes I think that it's just the hazy shimmer of a lost time that lends that sheen to my memories. And then I talk to another cousin, or the friend of a cousin thrice-removed, and we all remember it the same way, because that is how it was.
Which means that it is possible to have limited resources, and still spread unlimited joy. What it looks like to be so completely free of judgement that the five children who had the unbelievable good fortune to be raised in that home are the most loving, generous, kind-hearted and joyful people I know. We all, in some way, carry the Jolly legacy because we were impacted by it, and loved unconditionally. With Jolly Good Jams, we hope that you will spread a little joy, a little love and a little hope of your own each day. We could all use some of that, especially right now.
So asked a song that was sung by a band with the folksy name of 'A Lovin' Spoonful'. If you're familiar with it, you're probably humming the tune in your head right now. The lyrics are sweet, and conjure up images of a girl in bell bottoms with her center-parted hair swinging down to her hips, ubiquitous daisy tucked behind one ear.
But it is March, and whether you believe in it or not, there is a little magic in the air. And not just because of the funny little green man at the end of the rainbow, who should rightly have a beer keg next to him instead of a pot of gold, given the manner in which St. Patrick's Day is celebrated.
For me the magic is in the promise the air holds. Winter is almost definitely past, and thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures a couple of weeks ago, the dogwoods are blooming. The sight that makes me the happiest, though is when the forsythia bursts forth in riotous bloom. Whether because it's yellow, or because it seems to bloom overnight, catching sight of forsythia against the blue sky lifts my spirits immediately.
I, of course, also deal with magic of a different kind each day. For what is baking but alchemy - a little bit of chemistry, and a whole lot of magic - that transforms ordinary ingredients into luscious and decadent desserts?
Then, there is magic of a different sort. Of watching children who just yesterday were missing teeth and chasing butterflies, and now are getting ready to chase their dreams. Some of them across state lines, and some halfway across the world. Where does it come from, this confidence, this yearning to leave and explore? Maybe it's just a wish, but I like to think it comes from sitting in our laps, with a bear tucked under their arm, eyes wide as we read them fairytales of lands far, far away. Of brave boys and girls who survived turbulent seas and fierce dragons so they could reach the shore and fulfill their destiny.
But, there is such a thing as 'mama magic' in our home, with which I would 'lock' the doors and windows of my daughter's room each night by sprinkling imaginary fairy dust. And that mama magic will surely keep them close, and keep them coming back when they can. Or maybe it's just my chocolate chip cookies that will bring them home . Either way, I'll take it.
My red bicycle saved me. It took me to book fairs so I could buy books, which were frowned upon in my house because anything fictional was considered a waste of time. They were also not available anywhere else, as we didn't have the luxury of public lending libraries.
As a nine year old who was fascinated with all the books written by Enid Blyton, I wanted to inhabit the world she described - where little girls and boys gathered under weeping willows for picnics provided by their beautiful mums - picnics that consisted of enormous slices of chocolate cake, warm scones accompanied by sweet berries and clotted cream, washed down with tall glasses of lemonade. I learned how to dream because of those books, to dream of a world beyond mine, which, beautiful as it was with swaying palm trees and fragrant mangoes, did not, in my childish opinion, compare to visions of rolling hills, blue skies, and cake. Oh, that chocolate cake that inhabited most of my fantasies.
Since I couldn't reasonably expect that sort of cake from the modest and irregularly found bakeries in my hometown, the only logical thing was to make my own. There was, of course, the slight problem of how. Not that I was incapable, in my self-assured little mind, but how, and from where, could I procure the ingredients? Not to mention, we didn't even own an oven, nor did I have access to any recipes. This was, after all, South India thirty seven years ago. Our grocery stores existed on tiny street corners. Vegetables were sold door-to-door from hand-carts pushed by the farmers who grew them, fresh every day. The milkman brought the cow to your front door, so she could be milked in front of you, into a tall brass container you provided, so you could see it was fresh, and free from contamination. Most grocery stores had no refrigeration, hence could not sell cream.
Thank goodness for my red bicycle. It took me to a traveling book fair, from where I purchased my first recipe book, with my own allowance. All these years later, you can still see my childish handwriting marking the book as mine, and the penciled price at the top right hand corner - it cost Rs. 47.00, which is less than ten American cents.
My bicycle also allowed me access to stores farther than walking distance, and I began to hunt down the ingredients I would need. I begged for an oven, and was told that one would be purchased IF it was proven that I could indeed bake. A neighbor was kind enough to lend me hers in the meantime.
That bicycle gave me wings, and eventually led me here - to a country where I can walk into almost any store, and be overwhelmed by the choices offered. To a land that's indeed rich - with it's melting pot of cultures, farmer's markets, resources and people. I've come across a few bad apples, but time and again have had reason to believe in the good. Where I found love, the kind that lasts, and was blessed with our daughters. And as my eldest prepares to fly the nest, I wish for her her own version of a red bicycle, no matter where she goes.
I didn't start with chocolate cake of course, but I outlined it - marked it in ink that was red at that time, as IMPORTANT. That it was my goal, and I would work up to it. I did, and with the patina that time lends, it is the best chocolate cake in my memory.
The younger me had a vision of myself: in a gingham apron and bandana to tame my unruly hair, I would be handing out sweet treats and smiles to folks young and old under a cerulean sky. Chickens would be clucking nearby, there would be a profusion of sunflowers, and hay bales always featured in the background. The temperature would be hovering around 68 degrees, and everyone was happy. Rather an unlikely vision for someone from a bustling coastal city in South India, wouldn't you say?
But, my ideal vision of America was never Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue, but more Main Street. The descriptions of small town America always charmed me, with the corner bakery and high school homecoming.
Fast forward at least twenty five years, and at least parts of my vision are about to come true - we have been approved as a vendor at the North Hills Farmers Market! To say that I'm excited and overjoyed would be stating it mildly. Beginning April 14th, you will get to see us, (and Penny!) every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until noon, dispensing both smiles and cookies (and pies, and bonbons, and muffins, and cinnamon rolls).
I can't guarantee the weather, or the cerulean sky. And heaven help us if there are chickens running everywhere. But yes, I'll be wearing the bandana and apron. And the sweet treats taste better than the ones in my imagination.
My knight in shining armour drives a minivan. Willingly.
Even though we are past the stage where he needs the automatic sliding doors because he is carrying a sleeping baby, and we no longer require twenty-three (I exaggerate, but only slightly) cup holders for sippy cups and our daughter's rock collection. At an age where some men are trying to reclaim their youth by trading up to the sports car and investing in hair plugs, my husband just bought a minivan. For Penelope, and by extension, for me.
It began with an idea I started kicking around, of being able to sell our cookies and baked goods to our customers - in person, not just impersonally, online. After all, that's what I miss the most about not having a brick-and-mortar location is people interaction. The widened eyes when they take that first bite, sticky chocolate on a child's face, and the older generation patting my hand and telling me that the pie crust is just like their mama used to make.
So, we decided to build a cart. Not just any cart, but one that looks and feels like an extension of us, our home kitchen where we make all the desserts from scratch. And my engineer husband went to work. First, a list of my must-haves. Then, a hand-drawn design. Our daughters weighed in on the aesthetic. And I got excited. Very, very excited. Until, inevitably, we clashed. His superbly engineered design was impractical for me. My suggestions for cutting corners to speed up the process went against his every belief in retaining the strength and integrity of the cart.
But, like everything else we have done in this life we've built together, Penelope was created as the slightly imperfect but very loved collaboration of both our minds and hands. In order to transport Penelope (Penny for short) to various events and venues, only a minivan would work. And so my husband bought one as his daily driver, to accommodate Penny.
Love is expressed in many, many forms: flowers, chocolate, balloons and teddy bears. But for me, love is a minivan in our driveway, and Penny in the garage.
As an Adjunct Professor in the Hospitality Department of the local community college, I teach a Basic Culinary class to various groups of students.
Recently, one such class consisted of high functioning special needs teenagers and young adults who dove into the class with great enthusiasm. Everyone that is, except 'Sabrina'. Gentle prodding, enthusiastic encouragement, mild challenges - nothing got her up and out of her chair - until it was time to eat the fruits of our labor. She was always the first one up, waiting with her plate. The contents of which she usually proceeded to consume faster than anyone else, and then she was back for more. Fondly christened as the 'food pusher' by one of my previous employees, anyone who knows me will understand just how glad it made my heart that Sabrina enjoyed the food that we prepared so much.
On our final day of class, I asked each student to name, in turn, what specific techniques they had learned during their time there. 'Dicing'! 'how to mince garlic!', 'bechamel'! were some of the answers called out in rapid-fire succession. When it was Sabrina's turn, at first she wouldn't speak. Then, slowly, she said "how to boil water". I asked her to repeat herself, to make sure that I had heard right. Turns out, she meant exactly what she said. Nobody had told her that water needed to be boiled before pasta was added to it in order to cook properly. Unsurprisingly, macaroni and cheese and the pasta with marinara sauce that we had cooked were the two dishes she said she had most enjoyed.
And I was reminded again why I love teaching people how to cook. It doesn't have to be fancy, and it doesn't have to be complicated. All you have to do is learn how to boil water first.
We don't know happiness without sadness, they say. Highs don't mean as much unless you've experienced lows. Success followed by failure is sweet, indeed.
And so it goes with love. The loss of someone doesn't hurt as much if you didn't love them. We have been struck mute by the recent number of losses in our family, and several young, tragic losses in our community. As each one brings a fresh wave of grief and disbelief, there is also the rush of memories associated with the person. Good, bad, tender and humorous, I find myself welcoming them all. Each memory anchors our loved ones to us, and knowing that there will never be another opportunity to make any more memories with them makes me want to hoard them. But, sharing those memories honors the ones we've lost, and makes them live on - for us, for the next generation, and the ones following.
I'd like to raise a glass to the uncle who embodied kindness, love and wisdom unlike anyone else I have ever known.
The aunt whose physical beauty was no match for the light and strength she carried inside.
Another aunt whose crinkly-eyed smile and pure love made me believe that I was a better person than I thought myself to be.
The uncle whose wicked sense of humor was mostly restrained behind his military bearing, but shone through in his eyes.
The young man who truly felt like a son.
Experiencing loss, I've found, makes love all the sweeter. And for that, I'm deeply grateful.
"Dot or feather?" This is what I was asked one time when I said I was Indian. It made me laugh reflexively, but I got to thinking about it later. Did I look Native American? Did the person asking not look past my dark hair, eyes and brown skin to see the very obvious differences in my features? Did they not want to think, and put the burden of differentiating on me? Was I overthinking this?
I've been mistaken for being South American, Italian, Iranian, and Israeli. And I quite enjoy it. I've always said that Central Casting would love me, since I could play so many different nationalities. I don't like being pegged as one thing, and would like to think that I could find a sense of belonging anywhere in this big, wide, beautiful, scarred and ravaged world.
My husband, however, is very American. Caucasian, from California. For the first Thanksgiving meal that I cooked for him, I was very tempted to make a Tandoori turkey. Mix it up a little, fuse our cultures. He was having none of it - he is a traditionalist, especially when it comes to food, and holiday food at that. His grandma, mother and aunts are fantastic cooks, and I had big shoes to fill.
I am thrilled beyond measure that this year, we will have family visiting from India for Thanksgiving. For twenty one years, I've wanted to share this holiday that is all about food, and lots of it, with my Punjabi family who think about food most of their waking moments.
So this year, the meal I cook will be all-American as always, but there will be room on the table for lovingly prepared dishes that are coming all the way from India. And my husband can say that he, perhaps unlike most Americans, had Thanksgiving with the Indians.
Wife, mother, baker, jam maker, hug dispenser, reader.