2013 At a Glance

As 2013 was winding down, I asked myself “Did the year go by fast or slow?” In trying to answer this simple question, I decided to jot down some thoughts which touched me, affected me or meant something to me in 2013.

I published my first book – a memoir about the journey of a small-town Indian immigrant woman from her childhood in an unknown town of India named Hindustan Cables Limited to the here and now. This ought to have been a very happy moment for me, but I was ambivalent. On one hand, I was thrilled and proud to have traveled this unknown path of ‘writing a memoir’ rarely traveled by other Indian immigrant women before. On the other hand, I was nervous and apprehensive about the reactions of people around me precisely for the reason I felt proud of myself.  The Indian immigrant community is a fairly private community, and it is incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to talk about our failures and pains (the memoir had a few of them) openly. So I did not expect anyone to read, let alone buy the book. However, many of my friends surprised me by buying several copies of the book and distributing it to other people, an act of unconditional love and kindness.

I took a long-awaited trip to India with my daughter after I became a single mother more than a year ago. Single motherhood was an unknown and terrifying concept to my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My mother did not have the courage to share her pain with any of her sisters until I landed in India this summer. I spent every minute of my ten-day trip shopping, dining, visiting family members, and even visiting my engineering college for the first time since I graduated two decades ago. At the airport, my parents gave me a teary farewell, but I knew they were more peaceful and courageous than when I first landed there.

Oishi started teaching math to the inner-city kids at Trenton this September as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project. She teaches 5th and 6th graders at Urban Promise in a church setting. What started out mostly as a project for Oishi is morphing into a passion for teaching math. She had always enjoyed peer-tutoring or solving puzzles with my friends. But I see and hear a different Oishi when she shares her teaching stories with me. A more mature, responsible and passionate person. Hopefully, this is the beginning of something new and lasting in her life.

Now that Oishi is a junior in high school , we started visiting colleges. Every college visit was a mini-vacation for us when we got up early in the morning, ate breakfast outside, listened to the admissions officers talking the best about their colleges, participated in a tour given by an enthusiastic college student and finally wondering “Is this college right for us?” During these trips, I was acutely aware of the diminishing number of days Oishi will be home before she heads out to college and there were tears – both from joy of watching her grow into this smart, compassionate young lady and from the sadness of not being able to see her almost every day when she goes off to college.

Amidst all these, I heard about great losses in our community – kids losing both their parents one month apart and parents losing their child in car accident. The impacts of losses are amplified in small immigrant communities presumably because we do not have extended family support. But I witnessed an extremely compassionate community who came together during these trying times and offered unprecedented help to the affected family members. The message of hope was delivered when we least expected it.

Last but definitely not the least, I learned Thai cooking from a Thai chef. More than learning, I enjoyed cooking Thai food for 40 people in my home.  Thai Basil chicken, Cauliflower green curry, Pad Thai, Pineapple fried rice and Tom Yum Goong soup were a few of the dishes served to the guests. I will leave the readers with the thought of the wonderful aroma of Thai food augmented by lime leaves, basil leaves, Galangal and Lemongrass!

What better way to end a year than a beautiful, thoughtful and loving gift from Oishi. She collected Swagbucks Rewards points to get an Amazon gift card, which she used to get a turquoise jewelry set.

In the end, I declared that 2013 sped past me. While I learnt and grew throughout, I still have much more to learn and accomplish and eagerly look forward to a new year.

HOPE ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE in 2014 and beyond… – Oishi and Sharmistha

Sharmistha’s Book

Turquoise jewelry from Oishi
Turquoise jewelry from Oishi

Pad-Thai again…

This Independence Day was memorable to Oishi and me not just because we saw the beautiful fireworks at Thompson park of Monroe township but also since we had a fabulous dinner with Pad-Thai in the same park (Fireworks and Pad-Thai). Kind and wonderful, Chef Phensri cooked a special veg Pad-Thai for Oishi even when she knew Oishi was the only customer asking for the vegetarian version of the dish. While Chef Phensri was cooking for Oishi, I found out that she teaches Thai cooking in Old Bridge. I got her number and enrolled in her class for an October session.

I had tried my hand at Thai cooking, specifically Pad-Thai, using YouTube and other cooking sites, only to be prove that it is probably not my forte. But when Chef Phensri cooked in front of me at the Thompson Park, it seemed easy, and I decided to give Thai cooking one last chance.

On the first Saturday of October, I and another student named, Tom, gathered around in Chef Phensri’s cozy kitchen. We cooked the famous Tom Yum Goong soup with lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, chicken and veggies. The heavenly aroma made it irresistible, and we devoured it in a few minutes. Pad-Thai was the next item to be cooked. I noticed that Chef Phensri soaked the noodles in water and never boiled them. She also mixed the sauce ahead of time with the right ingredients in perfect proportions instead of pouring the sauce ingredients from the bottles while cooking. These were the two major differences from my recipe, and I thought, “Can it really make such a big difference?” It did. The end result was delicious, yet the method was simple and easy to follow. We also cooked basil chicken, chicken green curry and fried rice. I could only eat a spoonful of each recipe. But Chef Phensri, the kind woman that she is, packed my food in boxes for dinner.

Since then, I have tried all the recipes I cooked on that day including some more, and each time Oishi has said, “This is the best dinner I have ever had!” Wanting to push the envelope a little further, I decided to cook Thai food for around 40 people I have invited for Oish’s 16th birthday in December. I guess I will have to write another post with comments from my guests!

A special thanks to Chef Phensri of Fantastic-Thai.

Sharmistha’s Book

Thai Cooking certificate

Fireworks and Pad Thai

Since Oishi likes to see fireworks, I researched 4th of July fireworks in the nearby towns and found Monroe to be a pragmatic choice; it was not too far from home and Oishi liked the activities – sand art, pony ride and petting zoo. Oishi was also excited about eating out, while I tried to hide my dearth of enthusiasm for eating french fries and hot dogs . I was not despondent but not elated either.

I parked my car in the event parking lot of Thompson Park and unexpectedly and excitedly found myself standing in a bus queue to be transported to the actual event site. It reminded me of my visit to Disney World, where tram cars took us from the parking lot to the park entrance. I thought, “This is a good start. But what about food? Maybe, just maybe, they will have some spicy Asian food…”

In the hot summer afternoon, when the mercury touched 90°F and above, we got down from the bus in front of a large picnic area with clean picnic tables spread out on luscious green grass underneath big trees. I told Oishi, “This looks shady and cool. We will eat here.” We spotted a lake little far away and an artificial beach in front of the lake where a DJ and a group of people, adults included, were entertaining a crowd of people on a gallery around the beach, while a lake breeze tried its best to keep everyone cool. Oishi said, “Mama, this is awesome!”

Being food lovers, we turned our attention towards the food stalls. Oishi’s choice was limited because she became a vegetarian more than a year ago. We saw funnel cakes and french fries, even spicy french fries, and decided to go for the spicy french fries. No sooner had we started walking towards the spicy french fries stall than Oishi looked at me with enlarged eyes and said, “Oh my god, mama, they have Thai food here!” We dashed to the stall, only to find that there were no vegetarian options. Crestfallen, we began leaving the stall, when the chef, who was cooking a few feet away, approached us and offered to make vegetable Pad-Thai for Oishi. Pad Thai is Thai flat rice noodles made with egg, vegetables, peanuts, and soy sauce. It is scrumptious. We were ecstatic and thankful toward the chef. I ordered chicken Pad Thai and Oishi ordered the vegetarian version of the same. To top it off, I found out that the chef teaches Thai cooking class in Spotswood, NJ. I took her card and decided to take her class in the fall.

There was no petting zoo or pony ride due to the heat, but there was sand art. Oishi filled a little monkey with layers of hot pink, red, dark blue, orange,  pink, aqua, yellow and purple sand.

After all of that, it was finally time for what we came for. We sat in the gallery and watched the burst of colors illuminate the night sky, while songs like ‘God Bless America’ played in the background.

After the fireworks, when I just started to reminisce about the wonderful day, Oishi asked “Mama, can we have a funnel cake now?” So we bought a cake to share at home before we called it a night.


Sharmistha’s Book

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