Tag Archives: photography

Spiritual Sundays

7 Apr

The Boy and I, by virtue of living in crunchy granola California, have turned increasingly spiritual and high-minded. Afloat on an ocean of good intentions and noblesse, we invite you to share this beautiful, light-radiant journey with us as we experience it each Sunday:

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Our first act of worship feeds the soul (and other assorted body parts). Gently-poached eggs rest calmly upon a pair of perfect crabcakes, drizzled with hollandaise and a smidgen of paprika. Completing the holy trinity is a side of herbed potatoes that can be best described as divine. The benediction virtually spills out of us and far in the distance, angels tune their harps.

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Consider it your fabulous fortune that you are about to be enlightened: Did you know Zoroastrians in India worship 3 grades of fire at 2 different kinds of fire temples? Agyaris, temples of the lesser fire, are places of worship where the fire consists of only 11 different varieties (from the homes of artisans, farmers, soldiers and civil servants, priests, etc.) Atash Behrams, temples of the greater fire, house a perenially-burning entity (as does an Agyari) that is the combination of 16 unique fires. Why am I sharing this today? Because the picture above is our version of an Agyari. Prostrating before Tiffany-blue platters and paying homage to lemon-print cushions, the Boy and I worship Our Lady of Immaculate Homesteads.

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Our next pilgrimage takes us to this vibrant green wood, a good indication of afterlife beauty. The hum of humanity falls away, and all at once, we are enveloped in A Great Calm. Here, we rest on this bench and ponder Questions of Significance. Like whether we should have ordered one pancake less that morning. Or whether almonds should be coated in dark chocolate or caramel. If our stomachs weren’t that loaded, we would feel our souls levitate.

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Turning our attention to more earthly pursuits, we gaze upon the wonder of this valley. Deer watch us from a distance, and so pious are we that not once do we discuss the venison cutlets at the Rendezvous in Pondicherry. Somewhere beyond those purple-hazed mountains lies an abbey that I would run into after trilling about hills and music and my heart wanting to sing every song it hears.

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At the entrance of our favorite forest, we take a moment to breathe. Heady from the oxygen-and-pine-needles high, we resemble whirling dervishes, spinning our sins away. Our veneration, friends, is about to get intense.

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The forest floor greets us, an emerald ocean of universal compassion, swathing us in its cool, unjudging love. It is the natural equivalent of the Hugging Amma, and we demonstrate obeisance by furiously capturing it for posterity. This is one deity that must grace our humble home.

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Presently, we chance upon a stream, and proceed to wash away our sins by wiggling toes and splashing each other’s sinful faces. Did you know we need to wash before we enter the inner sanctum of an Agyari or Atash Behram? For every cleanliness-obsessed Parsi, there are three rules on how to scrub behind the ears. Heaven seems just around the bend, as we are tempted to float on our backs and sail away to a parallel plane, where our spirit guides dole out personalized M&Ms in silvery gauze gift bags.

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But then, gentle reader, we chance upon this. And our wretched spirits soar to the tops of these cloud-cossetted trees, awed by this magical Land of Wishing Trees, and never mind the mixed Blyton references, have you ever seen a 5’9″ woman this dwarfed??? Even as our bodies shrink and our souls expand, we whisper gratitude into the ether and thank the universe for landing us plonk in the middle of this paradise.  Newly awash in this unique redwood incense, we turn homeward, blessed for being able to choose our definition of spirituality, and for this, the best of Sundays.

 

Under the Redwood Trees

5 Feb

There is no feeling in the world comparable to standing on a forest floor, surrounded by redwood trees as they quietly, mightily graze the sky. It wasn’t a feeling I was familiar with when we first moved to Northern California 3 years ago. An acutely urban creature, I am completely at ease amidst concrete and glass towers, maddening traffic, and the ceaseless buzz of humanity that characterizes metropolitan cities. Be it New York, Philadelphia, Boston, L.A., Paris, Washington D.C., Miami, London, Seattle, San Francisco, or my own Bombay, I have felt a sense of comfort in city air. I have never known nor craved the outdoors, or wanted a home with a sprawling garden like some folks dream of. The streets were to get to places. Who aimlessly rambled outside their home when there was so much fun to be had with indoor pursuits? So when I first walked into a redwood state park 40 minutes from our home, a never-before hush descended on me.

There, in patches of sunlight that struggled through dense treetops, I experienced an exquisite sense of aloneness. Not to be confused with loneliness, no, just a feeling of being the only human in that cool, scented universe, being watched by companionable flora and the creatures that call it home.

Occasionally, there were others who passed by respectfully, with a nod and genial smile, their sneakers crunching along the path, babies on their front or bottles of water on their hip. Then, I was alone again.

The silence pressed in on my eardrums. It is amazing how deafening a lack of sound can be. There was, quite literally, nothing. I strained to catch a distant chopper. I recognized the sound of my breath. And all the while, I was dwarfed by these magnificent natural marvels that have stood guard for several centuries.

I touched their tannin-tinted bark. Imagined what they have witnessed. Has their environment changed so much in the last 500 years? Some trunks lay horizontal, their gnarled roots exposed. Others formed a ring around their Mother Tree, a mammoth entity worthy of awe. A carpet of ferns sprawled around them, gleaming emerald-gold in the slanting light. Embarrassedly, I hugged one of the slimmer trees, my arms wrapped around its solid girth. Bloody Californian, I mocked myself inwardly. But there was wisdom in soaking up their energy, and I was conscious of doing just that as I loitered, no particular plan in mind, no agenda, just a wish to be.

Deeper in the woods is a river. Jumping across stones, I stripped my socks off and wiggled toes in an icy stream. I’ll never be Huck Finn, it’s true, but for someone for whom taking off footwear outside the home is a Parsi version of haraam, you’ve got to concede it was a beginning!

The sun traveled, ruling a cloudless sky. Such welcome warmth in its friendly rays! I inhaled the pungent, heady scent of our ancient friends one last time, then turned and walked toward ‘civilization’. And this worshipper of all things urban knew an unexplored part of her had awoken.

~

I leave you with pictures from an afternoon jaunt to Land of Medicine Buddha and the ‘Enchanted Forest’ in the Santa Cruz mountains, and hope you experience the peace I did. Click on any picture you wish to view larger.

[Credits: Instagram on my Google Nexus phone, and the charming Land of Medicine Buddha.]

Happy Hausfrau Series: Key Lime Tart

11 Jul

Greetings from the home of the happy hausfrau! Don those aprons and follow me into the kitchen, chop chop.

Remember my aunt who hung out with Freddy Mercury in her late childhood/early teens/whocareswhen,shegottohangoutwithFreddieEffingMercury? Yup, that one. Not only did she shoot the breeze with an international rockstar, she is one herself–in an arena lit up with the warm, flattering lights of two microwaves, one stove and an oven. And on our visit to her gorgeous home last year (where the chocolate-and-steel-blue bedclothes matched the bathroom linen and I was in color-coordinated heaven), she fed us a zesty tart for dessert one night, made from the key limes in her garden. Not only were we fed multiple helpings of dhansak, kebabs, assorted side dishes, dessert, chocolate, and 75 things for breakfast the next morning, she bade us goodbye with a bag of those precious key limes and a quick and easy recipe to churn out the good stuff. So this recipe comes to you all the way from San Diego. Oh the places I trudge to for you guys!

First, let’s get our Border Patrol ready. And pardon the poor picture quality. The resident photographer decided to go for a walk at the precise moment I was baking. (Which goddess had a gazillion hands, by the way? Indian mythology is not my strong suit.)

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Back row, left to right: Tony tart-shell (readymade, from good old Safeway’s freezer section, and pulled out to room temperature 20 minutes before bake time), Daniela sour cream (whose yankified name is Daisy), and Miguelita the namkeen item commonly known as salt.

Front row, left to right: 3 limes called Lupita (key limes are ideal, but any other type will do, including lemons), our good old eedas three, and a can of Sweet Caroline, I mean condensed milk. Sorry, I have a Neil Diamond hangover.

Invisible (and also optional): A sprig of mint leaves for garnishing.

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Pre-heat the oven at 350 degrees before you begin to assemble the ingredients. Oooooooh, there’s a GHOST IN MY KITCHEN!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust kidding! It’s called a camera flash. :mrgreen:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext up, break a leg. I mean an egg. Then, repeat twice until all 3 Humpties are floating on a serene ocean of whites.

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Ready for the bidaai? Hold your tissues, now! Separate the yolks and the whites to background cries of “Nahiiiiiiiiiiiiin!” from the dulhan-ki-maa. Does that really happen, by the way, all the sobbing? Parsi brides are only too happy to run off into the night and get down to business.

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Next up, let me tell you a wee story: a few months ago, the Boy baked me a brownie cake. It was delicious, and as we ate the whole thing with fork and hammer, he may or may not have mentioned that our whisk’s motor burned out during his enthusiastic endeavor, and I had the pleasure of discovering it mid-bake. So to make up for that little episode of intentional forgetfulness, he surprise-ordered me a replacement. With a heavier motor this time. IN PINK! How much do I love this man.

Stop standin’ around, y’all! I haven’t all day, ya know. Git to work!

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Beat them eggs. I can’t even go all Paula Deen on you guys now. ‘Tis not appropriate.

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Sigh. Stand back and watch magic happen as the cascading condensed milk folds creamily into the frothy eggs and Carlos Santana’s ‘Maria Maria’ plays in my head:

Tartina, Tartinaaaaaaa……….!

She reminds me of a key lime story

Growing up in San Diego

She’s livin’ the life just like a Parsi star!

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Now comes the hard part. Zesting the limes.  It ain’t over ’til the fat lady grates. This step can be done at any point in the process. Sometimes I do it right at the beginning, and at other times halfway through. Us hausfraus need variety, you know.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat is the zest of two limes. Guess who got lazy and ‘improvised’. Wait, are you guys looking at ME?? 😯

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Juice the limes. If you squeeze all 3 like the recipe suggests, you should have half a cup.

“Juice, Rahul, juice?” Name that retarded movie. Or stand in the rain in a wet saree and pretend you love a stuttering ham, whichever’s easier.

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Add the zest of 3 limes, the half cup of lime juice (thanks for the catch, Alice!), two tablespoons of sour cream, and a pinch of salt to the egg-condensed milk mixture.

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Blend for about 1 minute. Not blend in, which is entirely different. I’m so glad we had this English lesson.

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Pour the mixture into the tart shell. It will look like this. And yes, the blended mixture looks lighter in color, so don’t worry you’ve done something wrong. (What’s that? You don’t worry? It’s just me then? 😦 Sigh.)

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And the dish should look like this. If you’ve used the finger-to-mouth technique I shared with you in this post. This step is optional.

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Pop the tart into the oven in its baking tray. You may want to put another baking sheet under it for ease of operation and in case of spills. I usually do. Set the temperature to 350 and the timer to 24:30. Why 24:30? Because I said so. Man, I love the dictatorial control I have over your pie destiny right now. :mrgreen:

A word on the oven settings: each oven is different, so you may want to bake for approximately 17 minutes and then check for doneness and add minutes accordingly. The crust should look like its sallow Brit limbs spent a couple hours at the beach.

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Pull the tart out of the oven when done. The lime mousse consistency should be somewhat firm, but not immovable. Which is an excellent parenting strategy as well, but ignore me.

Let your child tart cool for approximately 30 minutes and then stick it into the refrigerator. 2 to 3 hours is recommended, overnight is ideal.

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Pull it out of the refrigerator right before serving and stick a sprig of mint in the middle as a garnish.

In an act of poetic justice, I served this tart 2 weekends ago to my aunt’s son and daughter-in-law, right after a meal of….you guessed it, dhansak. 😀

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Enjoy, my friends. And don’t forget to tell me if you liked it!

Happy Hausfrau Series: Lagan-nu-Custard

14 Jan

Greetings from the home of the happy hausfrau! Don those aprons and follow me into the kitchen, chop chop.

Starting November and lasting all the way through February is the season for Parsi weddings and navjotes. The highlight of these events that host anywhere between several hundred to a few thousand guests, is the sit-down, four-course meal, served on banana leaves and rounded off with our recipe for today–lagan-nu-custard, which simply means ‘wedding custard’. A Parsi wedding is a not-too-frequent occurrence, and many a gourmand attempts to wheedle an invite, openly citing the cuisine as their reason for doing so. Now, whether you’re invited or not, you can make authentic lagan-nu-custard in your own kitchen!

First, the colony of characters:

colony ni gang

Starting from the left, top row: Mr. Makhania, Coomi Condensed Milk, Darabshaw Doodhwala, Vinifer Vanillawali, Safed Khansaab

Starting from left, bottom row: Ms. Skinny Badaam, Messrs. Edulji Eeda, Eski Elchee, Jerbai Jaiphal

Sigh. You need their passport names, don’t you?

Oh alright.

Here we go:  Butter (just enough to grease the baking dish), condensed milk, full fat milk (you can even use low-fat, like I did)-half gallon/1.89 liters, vanilla essence, white sugar, sliced almonds and/or pistachios, 5 eggs, powdered cardamom, powdered nutmeg.

Now, pour the milk into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Like so:

dairy queen

Switch/ pull off the heat.  Next, open the can of condensed milk and get down on your knees.

Coomi

For what we are about to receive

Let us be truly grateful.

And for what we are about to do

Turn the world momentarily blind.

Cue finger-to-lid-to-mouth technique.

Pretend you didn’t just read that.

Continue.

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Turn off/remove from the heat and pour Coomi in. I once had a neighbor with that name. She married a man from Herzegovina and adopted his unpronounceable last name. Don’t you love how I’m so generous with other people’s lives?

Moving on….

soogar

Dunk 300 gms of soogar into the saucepan.

Soogar is swit and I’m a twit.

Give it all a big stir and turn the heat on. You can pretend you’re Gloria Estefan while doing this next step.

stir the heat around

Turn it up, turn it up, not upside down

Turn it up, turn it up, not upside down

Stir the heat around

Got to make the custard

Stir it round and round

Love to stir it

Love to stir it….

*waits for you to finish waggling rear end*

Now mi amigos, if the milk is slightly thicker and ivory in color, pull it off the stove and let it cool. And get to work greasing a baking dish with a stick of butter.

buttah

Like so. Ignore the chef’s desperate need for a manicure. She’s like this only.

Next, whack each of the eeda into a bowl….

edulji eedaVegetarians don’t look!!! Oops. Too late. 😳

5There were five in the bed

And the little one said

Move over, roll over!

And then there were four in the bed.

You can take the teacher out of school, but you canna take the school out of the teacher, no ma’am!

whack! biff! thwack!Beat the eggs and beat ’em good.

Once frothy, pour into the cooled milk (or the milk into the egg dish, whichever is larger)…

pour

And add the final touches to your piece de resistance…

viniferVanilla essence, 1 tsp. That hand model should be sued.

Eski

Powdered cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon.  Or edited out of the frame.

jerbai

Powdered nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon. Or made to wear gloves.

box

Whew!

Now get rowdy and beat it all up again.

dhishoom

If you’re OCD like someone I know, shudder at the splatter.

If you aren’t, proceed to the next step.

almonds

Add sliced/slivered almonds to the mixture and pour it all into a baking dish.

unbakedEet veel luke like thees.

Then, get ready to say your goodbyes.

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There, there. Here’s a hanky. It’ll be back soon. In 45 minutes, to be precise. All golden brown and tanned at 350 degrees.

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And voila! Cool and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Serve cold the next day.

And remember, before your guests gather to devour, call out a resounding “JAMVA CHALO JI!!”

Enjoy. 😀

(Pictures courtesy the Happy Hausfrau’s direct beneficiary, a.k.a. the resident photographer, a.k.a. the Boy)

Feliz Navidad

25 Dec

This Christmas, we wish for peace.

In our hearts, homes, on the streets, in villages and cities, where all creatures dwell, and especially in places of conflict all over the planet.

Peace of mind, peace with our bodies, and the spirit of peace between us.

Merry Christmas, good people of the blog.  Here are some glimpses of our season so far.

[Credits: The Boy and his Pentax K5 DSLR (except Picture 1)]

Documentary Review: Family Album

24 Sep

I am delighted to have made Chabi Ghosh’s acquaintance. She died in 2008, at the age of 91, unaware of my existence, never having met nor heard of me. How then, do I know she played the piano, was part of her college basketball team after delivering 2 girls, and had a naughty sense of humor that belied her nonagenarian-ness? For this and other stories, portrayed with simplicity and charming reserve, I have Nishtha Jain’s ‘Family Album’ to thank.

A documentary that I watched yesterday as part of the San Francisco South Asian Film Festival, Family Album generously allows the intersection of photographs, memory and cross-generational stories rather than forcing their paths to collide, and what struck me long after I had finished watching, was how little the filmmaker injected herself or her agenda onto the frames, letting the subjects speak for their own histories. And that is precisely what photographs become, irrespective of what we wish them to be—chroniclers of history, crystallized pieces of time that hold individual yet shared versions of stories that become the truth, regardless of the fleeting reality of the moment.

Taking us back to Calcutta’s old families and ancient baris (and reducing me to a quivering mess at the sight of all that achingly beautiful history), Jain introduces the viewer to clans that traces their kinship back to 38 generations, interviews multiple generations of the same family, facilitates their reminiscing ever so gently and occasionally, and asks very relevant questions.  Do we become our photographic memories? How do frozen frames elicit stories, how do we hold on to and pass on these stories, and in becoming the repositories of familial myths, how do we perpetuate stories? With one brief view of a family tree that abruptly ends after records of double-digit generations, the camera silently contemplates the white sheet of paper and we feel the story seeping away.

You guys know I’m a sucker for history. The confluence of time, architecture and the human narrative intrigues me. But what you may not know is that photography holds a terribly special place in my heart, given that I was born to my first teacher of this beautiful art form and am married to someone who continues my education in the field. For this and the reasons listed above, ‘Family Album’, a companion piece of City of Photos, struck a deep, resonant chord, but even without the personal context, is a delicate and valuable contribution to the world of documentaries. Catch it if you can lay your hands on it sometime. I reckon you won’t forget Chabi Ghosh in a hurry.

~~~

Updated to add: I wrote to the director, sharing this review with her, and here is her response:

Dear OJ,

Thanks for taking out the time and sharing your thoughts about Family Album. A lovely review. Reading it means a lot to me as I couldn’t be there in SF to present my film.
Yes, Chobi Ghosh is so endearing and unforgettable. I loved her spirit. She was about 90 when we were shooting, she had a clear photographic memory of things from her distant past but her present memory was very short. She wouldn’t remember things we had talked about a few minutes ago. In a way she was in a happy state. She was a great storyteller, there are many more stories in the footage. Unfortunately I couldn’t put everything in the film.
You can buy the DVD of City of Photos by making a payment on www.paypal.com to raintreefilms@gmail.com. It costs USD 40 plus shipping cost USD 5. This DVD is for home use only.
Warmly,
Nishtha

Happy Hausfrau Series: Papeta-par-Eedu

6 Sep

Greetings from the home of the happy hausfrau! Don those aprons and follow me into the kitchen, chop chop.

By popular demand (yours) and a need for a taste of home (mine), today we’re making a quick, easy Parsi dish called ‘Papeta-par-eedu’. Say it with me now: puh-pay-taa  pur  ee-doo. In English, eggs on potatoes.

The eedu to my community is a member of the family. Would you eat breakfast without them? Would you not wait for them to join you at dinner? Part nutritious, part delicious and the stuff of Parsi legend, we break an eedu on top of practically anything: tomatoes, spinach, potato straws, wafers (yes, wafer-par-eedu exists), fried bananas, you get the picture. In case you don’t, know that we even break eggs in the immediate vicinity of new cars and newlyweds. No, I will not tell you what newlywed-par-eedu tastes like .

Without further ado, the cast of characters:

Clockwise, from left: Cooking oil, ginger-garlic paste, salt, coriander that doesn’t look like it just attended someone’s funeral, a medium-sized onion, 3 large papeta, cooked ahead of time for 3 and a half minutes in the microwave, 2 green chillies, 3 eeda (plural of eedu)

Next up, splash a little oil into a frying pan. And say “Hey, slick chick!”. The oil and pan will both thank you and then squabble about who that compliment was for.  Leave them to it and get busy chopping your onion and chillies. Remember my gallant knight from this post? He’s back to the rescue.

Toss the onions (and chillies–minorities aren’t invisible, we have feelings too) into the nicely heated oil and saute until half cooked. Why half? Because picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost.

Halfway through the half-cooking, (of course that makes sense), the twin sisters of superstardom, Ginger and Garlic, make an entrance in a teaspoon, slithering among the chanting crowds, blowing air-kisses to their translucent fans. Salt brings up the rear, carrying their make-up bags.

Let them mingle with the hoi polloi. You, minion, have work to do. Remember the 3 musketeers?

Hello, Peeluddin.

I say po-tay-toh, you say poh-tah-toe…………..po-tay-toh, poh-tah-toe…………..just peel the whole thing off. And please tell me you’ve heard that song. Don’t crush a retro girl’s heart.

Slice them poh-tah-toes into rounds not more than 1/4 inch thick. If I were smart like my Mummy, I’d slice them thinner and let them cook in the pan itself. But no, I must be rebellious and Subvert Societal Slicing Standards. Thank you for bearing with my alliteration allergy.

Add the slices to the pan, gently coating them with the onion mixture, and let them discuss stock market prices for 5 minutes or until cooked, whichever is sooner. This is supposed to be quick and easy, remember?

Next, flatten out the potato-onion blend to form a base, covering the entire bottom of the pan. This is important, our friend Eedu needs back-up. Then crack the eggs onto this base and marvel at the golden orb of perfection that is each eedu.

See what I mean? Sprinkle salt on top of the eggs, both yolks and whites. And then, I get to use my 2 favorite phrases:

1) Put a lid on it

2) Make it sizzzzzle, baby

Let the lid steam up. And control your anxiety about not being able to see what’s going on. Do you keep an eye on your kids all the time?

Teachers leave them eggs alone. (Name that song.) (Okay fine, so I modified it.) (A little.)

Depending on whether you like your yolks firm or runny, keep the lid on longer or shorter by 2 to 3 minutes. Once the egg whites start congealing like peace flags, you’ll know that is a Sign and the war is over.

Remember our pal coriander? Now’s a good time to lop her head off and sprinkle her onto the rapidly-forming eggs. I’d share a picture, except the dork who took it accidentally deleted it from her folder. The fools I have to deal with.

Put the lid back on for another 90 seconds. When you’re good and ready, no rush now, food and stoves have no scientific correlation to burning, yank the pan off the heat and let it cool a wee bit. [This PSA in the interest of your safety comes from Lady Burns.]

Carve a big slice of papeta-par-eedu, put it on a plate (or a baking tray or banana leaf, whatever floats your boat) and serve with rotlis (the Parsi word for roti/chappatis/unleavened bread) and a dollop of gaajar-meva-nu achaar (carrot-raisin pickle, served at Parsi weddings).  Like so:

You know when people talk about “ghar ka khaana” and I frequently catch myself saying “Not my ghar!” in my head? This is it. My comfort food. Warm, soothing, with simple flavors and memories of a childhood lived in a 100-year-old home.

Dig in. But not before you say “Jumjoji”, the Parsi equivalent of ‘bon appetit’.