Sunday, July 13, 2014

Art with India Ink

Three years ago, I bought a whole set of Dr. Martin's India ink from Blick Art. I loved the vibrant colors but could not quite figure out how to use them in art. While some colors degraded eventually, many were still stable waiting to inspire me.

Recently, while doing a special project and looking for fresh ideas, I  decided to give these inks another try. It ended up being a delightful experiment with surprising discoveries. What I discovered was the India ink is permanent and not very blendable with other colors. But used individually, they produce very vibrant and intense effects. Below are a sample of my experiments.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lunch Box

A couple of months ago I saw this lovely unbollywood Indian movie called 'Lunchbox'. In the movie lunchbox is used as a plot device to explore themes of love and longing and is set in present day Mumbai. South Indians call it "Tiffin Carrier" and the movie evoked nostalgic memories of my mother packing more than one tiffin carrier with food for our long trains trips from Delhi to Chennai. Back then, we rarely ate food made outside of home and on long journeys, except for coffee, all the food was made at home and carried in these big tiffin boxes. Food spoilage was minimized by only making those foods that could withstand two days of train travel. 

In those days, Every South Indian household had such a tiffin carrier and my mother gave me one when I got married. I brought it all the way to the US and even used it the first few years when we took long road trips. After awhile I stopped using the tall one but ended up with several smaller ones, that I now use to take lunch to work. Somehow, I never took to using plastic containers. 

Here is my collection. I am kind of proud of it.

If you look closely you will find my initials inscribed on the side

Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Green Banana Chips

The green bananas from the Indian store have been languishing in the refrigerator since last Saturday. The idea of making the same old curry was kind of boring. So, I decided to throw dietary caution to the wind and decided to make chips out of them. It was a hot and sticky day with the temperatures in the 80s and it seemed totally appropriate to spend one's time toiling over a hot stove! It did not take long to make them, yet, by the time I was done, my shirt was clinging to my back. But the chips came out crisp and tasty.

What you will need:

1. Green bananas (the ones I used are the Indian variety and are small in size. You can also use the long green plantains).

2. Any oil that has a high smoking point, such as Corn oil or Canola oil
3. Peeler and a slicer
4. Salt and crushed red pepper to taste


A. Wash and peel the skin of the bananas.
B. Slice them thinly.

C. Wipe off the moisture from the slices with paper towels.

D. Heat oil in deep frying pan, Test the temperature of the oil by dropping a slice and if it comes up sizzling, then the oil is ready for frying. Add a handful of slices into the hot oil.

E. Remove the chips from the pan when they turn golden brown. Drain them on a paper towel.

F. Sprinkle salt and red pepper and shake the chips to coat evenly.

If you store them in a ziploc bag, these chips will stay fresh and crisp for several days.

Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mapping the Sacred Using Street Photography: Kilpauk, Chennai

This is my repost for Seth Apter's Buried Treasures 2014. This is a cool project that Seth Apter, the mixed media artist, does every year on his blog The Altered Page. This is his fourth year of doing and what a lovely thing it is. If we can take the time, Seth's project takes us the wonderful world of artists blog across the internet. What a trip! Do see it for yourself.

It started as a simple project: to take  photos of the dozens of temples that dotted the area.  It is hard to miss them. Almost one per street. Almost all of them dedicated to Amman (mother goddess) and Ganesha and in various stages of growth. Even as you are pondering why so many, your eye catches something else. The almost equivalent proliferation of churches, little and big.  The juxtaposition of Amman (Mother Goddess) temple and Velankanni  shrine (Our Lady of Healing).  When did this happen? Then you remember Raji, the maid servant in your mother’s house, a Hindu woman  whose son had married a Christian, announcing she has become a Christian; the Sunday morning tent revivals, blaring mikes and the traffic jams. Then you realize that  the trade liberalization that welcomed the McDonalds, the Gap and other mncs, has also let in the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists and other evangelists.  Consumption followed by salvation. On the sacred geography of Kilpauk  (as in other parts of Chennai), the temples and the churches are no longer just  material evidence of Chennai’s religious pluralism but contested turfs for the hearts and souls of Chennai’s  low caste poor. You begin to wonder: is free trade finally accomplishing what two hundred years of direct British control could not?

The  photos and the text are the property of Indira Govindan. Please do not copy or reproduce any of the materials without my permission. Thanks for visiting.

Twithout my permission.
¨The  photos and the text are the property of Indira Govindan. Please do not copy or reproduce any of the materials without my permission.¨It 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Colorful Curry

The other day at the Indian store I spotted capsicum (bell pepper) in four colors: green, red, yellow and orange. Since they were all priced the same, I could not resist buying one of each. The very idea of creating. a curry in a mix of colors made cooking suddenly exciting. And the beauty of it was that the colors added their own special flavor to a simple curry. Here is how I made the curry

Medium sized Bell pepper, one each in green, red, yellow and orange
Red onion, oen
Fresh ginger, a small piece
Raw peanuts, 10-20
Small cooking potatoes (not baking) 3 or 4 
Olive oil, 1-2 tablespoon
Spices (optional): chili powder, turmeric, garam masala to taste
A sprig of coriander or mint

1. Cook potatoes to softness. Peal the skin and cut into small cubes.
2. Chop onions and peppers into small chunks. Thinly slice the ginger. Crush the peanuts coarsely either in a spice mill or in a pestle and mortar.
3. In a skillet, heat oil and add the peanuts. Roast till they turn golden. Add ginger and the onions, Cook till the onions turn translucent.

4. Add the peppers, salt and other spices. Cook till the peppers turn soft but still retaining their color and shape. 
5. Add the potato chunks and mix them all together with a spatula.

6. Remove from heat. garnish with coriander or mint.

Serve with roti or naan.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Coconut Rice

Rice is the staple diet of South Indians and the South Indian cuisine is replete with mouth-watering variety of rice dishes, ranging from gravies and sauces that can be mixed into plain cooked rice to one-pot dishes like pongal, coconut rice, lemon rice, tamarind rice, curd rice, sesame seed rice, to mention just a few. The Tamil festivals of Pongal and Aadi Perukku are celebrations of the versatility of this grain and the rich cuisine it has spawned.

Among the several one pot rice dishes, coconut rice and lemon rice are the easiest and foolproof dishes to make. The ingredients for the two dishes are also commonly available now-a-days. Interestingly, after years of bad press coconut is also making a comeback as a good for you natural food. I make coconut rice often. I made it today and as I was making it I decided to take photos of the preparation and post it here. Below is the recipe for coconut rice.

What you will need: (see 2nd photo above)
(based on your taste and preferences, you can add more or less of the ingredients below)

long grain rice, 1 cup
grated coconut, fresh or dried, 2 tablespoons
coconut oil (can be substituted with any other oil) 1 tablespoon
salt to taste
black mustard seeds, a pinch (optional)
urad dal, 1/2 teaspoon (optional) 
chana dal, 1/2 teaspoon (optional)
one red chile (optional)
cashew or peanuts (optional)
asafoetida, a pinch (optional); asofoetida promotes digestion

1. Rinse the rice in cold water several times to remove as much starch as possible. The cooked rice has to be loose and fluffy to get the right texture for a tasty coconut rice. Cook the rice according to instructions. However, if the instructions call for 1:2 ratio of rice to water, reduce the amount of water to 1 1/2.

2. Transfer the cooked rice onto a baking dish and let it completely cool.

3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet. If you are not planning to use any of the optional ingredients, simply roast the coconut in the oil till it turns golden brown. Add the roasted coconut to the rice. Add the desired amount of salt.

4. Blend the rice, salt and coconut with a spatula. You are done!

5. If you want to add any or all of the optional ingredients, this is the order in which you would proceed:

(All the roasting should be done in low heat)
a. Heat oil in a skillet and add the asafoetida
b. Add the mustard and let it pop
c. Add urad and chana dal and roast them till they turn gold brown
d. Add and roast the nuts till they turn golden
e. Add the chile
f. Add the coconut flakes and roast till they turn gold brown
(for reference, see the third photo)
g. Follow steps 3 and 4 above to finish the dish.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Repurposed Burlap

Growing up in India, burlap was a familiar object to me. Everything from rice to coal came packaged in large burlap sacs. After the rice or coal was used up, my mother would use the sacs as dry mops. The habit of reusing burlap has stayed with me even after I moved to the US. The basmati rice I buy come packaged in burlap bags. For a while, I have been reusing these burlap rice bags to make journal covers like the ones shown here.

After I make these covers, I am often left with remnants. Not wanting to throw these remnants away, I thought I could re-purpose them into coasters. It turned out to very well and I liked them so much I made several. They are extremely easy to make and except for some precise measuring, they require minimum sewing skills.

For this project, I re-purposed burlap rice bags. You can also buy burlap from craft stores like Michael's. It is inexpensive especially if you use a coupon. To make the coasters sturdy, I layered the burlap with a thick interfacing like Pellon Peltex and felt. You can get Peltex from fabric stores like JoAnn's and the felt I used was an inexpensive one from Michael's.

What you need to do is to decide the size of your coaster. If you want a 4" square coaster, then you cut 4" square piece of burlap, interfacing and felt each. (In a square, each side is equal, here each side is 4".)

Stack the three pieces one above the other with each side perfectly aligned. Sew them together using a zigzag stitch. You are done! It is really that easy:)

Thanks for visiting.