Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blogging Hiatus

The March Break is almost upon us so I am taking a short break from posting on this blog. Will be back in a couple of weeks.

I will continue to visit your blogs as often as I can (no, you can't keep me away!) :)

Take care everyone and see you soon!!!

update: Since many of you liked the little kitty thought I'd tell you more about him...he's Nyago from Japan and a sleepy little tabbycat. Like "Hello Kitty", he is also a "Sanrio" character.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Mistress of Spices (2005)

India is a land of myths, magic and tradition. When immigrants from India come to the West they often lose these traditions. This is a story about what happens when such traditions are lost.”

So states Paul Mayeda Berges,Gurinder Chada (Of "Bend it Like Bekham" fame) and Deepak Nayar's film, "Mistress of Spices" staring Aiswarya Rai, Dylan Mcdermott and Anupam Kher.

(Watch the trailer here)

The story in a nutshell:

(Aiswarya Rai) has the gift of clairvoyance and has had it from childhood. Due to a strange twist in fate she ends up with a mystical cult for girls only where she is taught that spices contain magic and can be used to heal people physically and emotionally. As a young woman, she is sent to Oakland, California to open a spice shop but is gravely instructed that the spices will work their magic on her patients only as long as Tilo follows three rules:

She has to respect and listen to the spices, never leaving them alone for a single moment (in other words, she is bound to her spice shop)

She must never touch anyone or allow them to touch her.

And finally, she must NEVER use any of the spice magic to fuel her own desires.

(The spice shop with its spices. The spices were perhaps the only characters in the movie worth raving about!)

Flouting one or all of these rules would diminish her healing power with the spices. As a result of all these conditions, Tilo is a sad recluse, letting love and life go by her until one day she falls in love with an American customer (Dylan McDermott) and the spices go completely ballistic on her. ( Just for that I think the book/movie should have been renamed "The Slave of Spices" or "The Spice Who Loved Me" with apologies to Trupti ofcourse!).

Anyhow, Tilo knows that the spices will never let her know any happiness with "The American", but she is so tired of being lonely and unloved that she decides she will allow herself just one night with this man and then return to the spices forever -(whoa, that poor guy is being used and he doesn't even realise it!). Guess Tilo subscribed to the philosophy that it is better to love (read make love) and lose than to not have loved at all.

(no chemistry whatsoever)

The movie is based on Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's book of the same name which I remember reading 10 years ago. I really can't comment on the book because the only part that stayed with me was some of the descriptions of the spices which she wrote in that magical realism style that I enjoyed so much.

I thought the movie, while very average in the acting and script departments, did have some nice cinematography (the cinematographer is Santosh Sivan of "Dil Se" fame). The spice shop with its beautiful, exotic spices and colours engages the senses and Aiswarya Rai is as beautiful as ever, a little boring maybe, but beautiful nonetheless, however, despite the "Spice" in the title, please don't expect any...this movie is as bland as milk. Aiswarya and McDermott have absolutely no chemistry between them. I was expecting so much more from this cross cultural romance!

(Tilo readying herself for her one night of passion)

The movie helped renew my interest in our Indian home remedies, but I will tell you it made me view my spice cabinet with great trepidition - everytime I open it now, I half expect the fenugreek to burst into song "I, fenugreek who renders the body sweet again, ready for loving", or for the red chillies (considered in the spice world to warn of danger) to throw me some dire warning circling above my head like a hawk croaking "I, Chilli, was born of agni, god of fire. I dripped from his fingertips to bring taste to this bland earth"
(all pictures courtesy Hindustan Times)

Would I recommend the movie? Nah, don't waste your time. This year will probably have me watching more cinema than reading books, so why don't you nominate a movie that in your opinion should win the "waste of time" award, it will help me get to the good movies faster! :)

Quick Update: For those of us that love movies having to do with food/cooking/foreign cuisine etc., Wu Wei has a nice recommendation. It's a Greek movie titled "Politiki Kouzina" or "A Touch of Spice" in English. I plan on renting the DVD if Blockbusters has it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Joy's Non- Fiction Five Challenge

Well, finally, here's my selection of non-fiction titles for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge which runs from May-September. I have 10 titles here but I need to get them down to five. Not sure how I am going to do that, it was hard enough whittling them down to 10! :)

Clicking on the picture will take you to the Amazon review of the book.

(thanks, beenzzz)

(thanks, Radha)

(thanks Laura)

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Recipe of Love: An Ethiopian Cookbook

Addis Ababa Restaurant
1184 Queen Street West

I didn't get any reading done this weekend which is very unusual for me. Friday evening to Sunday was jam-packed with things to do and it was difficult to make time for a book.

One of the highlights of our weekend was the trip to our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto, "Addis Ababa". We love going there because from the time you enter its doors it feels like you've entered a different world. I love the subtle fragrance of the frankencense that greets us as we enter and the soft African music humming in the background. The walls are covered with gorgeous African art, with each piece telling its own story. Aster Ketsela Belayneh, the owner of this 15-year old establishment greets each guest personally and chats a little while we decide if we want guava, mango or some other exotic juice. I tell her I enjoy some of the spicier Ethiopian dishes because it rests well on my Indian palate and that I just wish I knew how to cook them. To my good luck, she has recently published her own recipe book,
"The Recipe of Love: An Ethiopian Cookbook" and I grab the opportunity to take one home.

As usual my family and I opt for the
"gebata" or the communal platter with a chicken, beef, lamb and vegetable dish served on "injera", sour dough crepes if you like, which you break off and use to scoop the delicacies into your mouth. The delicacies include the "Dora Wet" (chicken) and the spiced chilli pepper that gives this dish its distinctive flavor is itself a mixture of 11 various spices making for a richly savory and fiery hot dish - my taste buds are on fire, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Our beef dish was called "Ye Tibs Wet' - it's a fiery red dish, again, with berbere spieces, ginger-garlic, nutmeg, cardamom and spiced butter. Along with the meats come a whole host of vegetable dishes - my favorite is the "Keyseir Bedinich" or Beet and Potato Stew with onion, garlic, and ginger, there also the delectable "Gommen Wet" - collard greens with a ginger-garlic mixture. My daughters loved the "Yekik Alicha Wet" (boiled yellow split peas in a mild savory sauce) .

After the dinner I ordered coffee while the kids ordered "Muz Bemar" or fried banana with honey topped with roasted sesame seeds (YUM). Be warned, the "Bunna" or coffee can take a while to arrive because it is roasted and brewed only after the order is placed. I love the coffee roasting ceremony where Aster brings the roasted coffee beans to our table and we breathe deeply enjoying the aroma. When the coffee arrives with Nat, Aster's charming son, it comes in clay pot with a lit resin (probably frankencense) in a clay burner. I savor every drop of the wonderful beverage.

The gracious and beautiful Aster with Moi

My daughters and I with Aster - note the precious cookbook in my hand!

For more information on Aster's cookbook (and sample recipes) please visit her site and here's a tiny review of the book from NOW Magazine.

I love the cookbook because its recipes are really easy to prepare and also, it has nice glossy pictures which makes it easy for you to see what your dish might look like. Also, it has some wonderful information on Ethiopian culture, history, cuisine and philosophy. Finally, in this month of Cupid, who can resist a cook with the title "Recipe of Love"? I couldn't! :)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

International Readings Harbourfront Centre 07 Feb

An Invitation

Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games
Neil Smith, Bang Crunch
Colm Tóíbin, Mothers and Sons

Two-time Commonwealth Prize winner Vikram Chandra reads from Sacred Games, the story of a notorious Hindu gangster and a police inspector whose lives unfold and intersect with cataclysmic consequences; Canada's Neil Smith debuts his first collection of short stories, Bang Crunch, where the title story zeroes in on a girl whose age expands and contracts like the universe; and Ireland's Colm Tóíbin reads from his new collection, Mothers and Sons, a beautifully written meditation on the dramas surrounding this elemental relationship.

All readings begin at 7:30 pm
Brigantine Room, York Quay Centre
235 Queens Quay West

Tickets are $8, free for members and students with valid ID
Box Office | 416.973.4000

What a special treat it was to attend these three readings yesterday! As I entered the Brigantine Room at the York Quay Centre, I was greeted by some wonderful Hindi music playing over the loudspeakers. It was hard to identify the songs initially because people had already settled into their seats and were talking to each other animatedly, but soon I realized they were playing Bollywood tunes and the knowledge of that both surprised and pleased me. I thought the venue was nicely was contemporary and had the appearance of an amateur theatre. I thought it provided a nice intimate setting for the readings.

The first reader was two-time Commonwealth Writers Prize-winner Vikram Chandra.
With his cute boyish looks he was definitely easy on the eyes. He had a black jacket (definitely a sherwani of some kind) over a white shirt. He seemed very composed and got straight to the point reading three different (longish) passages from his tome of a book "Sacred Games".

I have skimmed the book and was very curious to see how a 928-page book with a strange foreign setting (Bombay), hundreds of Hindi terms and phrases sprinkled through the book and about 30 odd characters (all with hard-to-pronounce Indian names) would go down with a western audience, but judging by the copies being bought at the end of the reading, I would say he's got another bestseller on his hands. I had a dog-eared copy (given to me by Anocturne who has also written a fabulous review of the book) and I took it up to him to sign which he graciously did. He remarked that he was happy to see it so well thumbed through! :)

Next up was Montreal authorNeil Smith. His offering was a selection of Short Stories titled "Bang Crunch"which has received rave reviews from critics. I have to say I was completely blown away by his reading. He totally engaged the audience and has a huge sense of humor to boot. Best of all, he's friendly! During intermission, he was the only one of the three writers to mingle with the audience, signing books and chatting with everyone. I was most impressed and kicked myself for not buying his book. Remember his name, I predict he is going to do very well as a writer.

Last, but certainly not least, was Ireland's Colm Toibin ( of "The Master" fame). He was reading from his new collection of short stories titled "Mother and Sons". He was a very engaging reader, too, and I was delighted to be able to exchange a few words with him as he signed my copy. I am about halfway through the book and I recommend it very highly. Toibin's beautifully-observed stories all of which are based in contemporary Ireland, will truly touch a chord.

A thank you to Random House for making it possible for me to attend the readings!

(Pic of Vikram Chandra at the book launch in India courtesy hinduonnet
Other pictures, courtesy Random House Canada)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Completed the Winter Classics Challenge!

Hooray for me, I have completed the Winter Classics Challenge

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Here are short write-ups for the last two:

Some Prefer Nettles by Tanizaki Jun'ichiro

Interesting story of a young Japanese married couple who grow out of love with each other and instead of the usual tears, accusations or stony silences, they sit down and decide they need to get a divorce. Not too shocking today maybe, but when you consider this book was written in the 1920's in a country known to be rigidly traditional, it is. The wife goes on to take a lover with the knowledge and approval of the husband who feels no passion whatsoever for her.

Although separation has been spoken about,neither husband nor wife seem to want to do anything concrete about it. At first they claim they are still together for appearances sake and for the sake of the son they had together. But as time goes by, the reader senses that they are, both of them, procrastinating about making the divorce final. What one doesn't get is why. Do they fear the unknown? Is it just apathy? Passiveness? This theme of indecision runs through the entire book, which made for very strange (I would hesitate to use the word, disturbing) reading.

While there is nothing outstanding in this story or in the writing, I would say there are some rather nice side stories of kabuki dances, puppet shows, clove-scented baths,love suicides of Chikamatsu and other aspects of Japanese culture.

I guess this was just a mediocre read for me. I realize I just haven't learned to appreciate or understand Japanese literature the way it should be appreciated, oh, Nessie, do help me!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Listened to this on audio and it was gripping! I really cannot afford to give anything away for fear it will spoil your experience of the book. I'll just say it makes the suggestion that we all possess the dual natures of good and evil within us, as well as the underlying suggestion that evil is potentially more powerful than good.Though it was written in 1886, the language isn't that old fashioned. THis is an immensely enjoyable read or listen!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Publishers: Parragon Publishing, U.K.

Text: Unabridged


Illustrations: June Goulding

First Published: 1865

This Edition: 2006

I just finished reading the very weird, but extremely wonderful "Alice in Wonderland" and its sequel, "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll for booklogged's "Winter Classics Challenge". My edition includes an unabridged text and is published by Parragon Publishing in the UK, with illustrations by June Goulding. I think "Alice In Wonderland" is one of those books that must always be accompanied by illustrations or pictures, because, as Alice herself said: "And what is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?"

I have always maintained that everyone should read "Alice in Wonderland" atleast twice in the their lives, once as a kid to enjoy the nonsensical tale with its wonderful characters,poems and jokes and once as an adult to enjoy the satire, the puns and the cultural references. Having said that however, I wonder if kids are still reading "Alice in Wonderland" today?

I'm sure almost everyone here has read Alice in Wonderland,but to refresh the memory, here's a tiny synposis:

Alice, a little girl with bright blonde hair and a blue dress with a white apron, is sitting with her sister who is reading a book. Having nothing to do she pursues a White Rabbit (wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch) passing by down a rabbit hole. She falls a long, long way and lands in Wonderland. Whilst there, she experiences a host of puzzling changes and meets some very strange characters who guide her through Wonderland:

(Alice plays crouquet with the Red Queen on the most curious croquet-ground ever)

The Cheshire Cat, who is always grinning and vanishing and reappearing mysteriously.To say a person looks like a Cheshire Cat is to say that he or she is grinning from ear to ear, looking mysterious and feeling quite pleased with himself or herself.

The Mad Hatter, The March Hare, and the sleepy Dormouse whom Alice joins uninvited at a Tea Party. They make her dizzy with their riddles, their conversations filled with puns and other delicious nonsense. Carroll did not invent the term "Mad Hatter", it was already in existence. Truth is, Hatters really did go mad. The chemicals used in hat-making included mercurous nitrate which caused mercury poisoning. Victims developed hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms. In the case of our Hatter, time has stopped working for him so he is always on tea time!

The curmedgeonly, but wise, Caterpillar who smokes a hookah and gives Alice the valuable gift of the mushroom (one side making her bigger, and the other making her small), which gives her control of her size in Wonderland.

The Queen of Hearts who when crossed in any way, screams "Off with his head!" or "Off with her head!"!!!

The Mock Turtle, a very melancholy character. The Mock Turtle is always crying, and he and the Gryphon tells stories loaded with puns.

In Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel, written by Carroll seven years later, Alice wonders what life must look like through a mirror and is able to climb through it to find a world in reverse. Interestingly, Alice's adventures in "Through the Looking Glass" are like a game of chess, in which she starts as a white pawn and finally comes out a queen "in the eighth square" where she gives a very mad dinner party in honour of the event.

Some of the well known characters from the sequel include:

Alice with Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tweedledum and Tweedledee: The two brothers that Alice meets in the forest. They are pictured as fat twins who are identical in speech, attitude, and appearance. Today Tweedledum and Dee have come to mean two people who are so alike they are indistinguishable.

"Don't you think you'd be much safer down on the ground?" Alice went on.."That wallk is so very narrow".

Humpty Dumpty: Yes, the same guy from the Mother Goose nursery rhyme. He and Alice have a wonderful discussion about semantics, also, Humpty Dumpty claims to be able to interpret all kinds of poetry.

The White Knight: is the kindliest of Alice's guides and advisers, indeed the truest hero of her story; and it is their encounter, we are told, that she will always remember most clearly. Some experts say that Lewis Carroll meant for the White Knight to be him.

Alice and the kindly White Knight

Through the years, critics and psychologists believing the work to have many levels of interpretation, have dissected "Alice in Wonderland" in a quest to decipher its hidden, deeper meanings. However, as a result, this work is now surrounded by so much mystery and hoopla that it is a difficult book to traverse on one's own, without the aid of interpreters. I found myself constantly referring to the Alice page on Wikipedia. It's a useful guide on the plot summary, the character allusions and for the interpretation of the songs and poetry.

However, if you just want to read it as a tale of inspired nonsense, go ahead, suspend disbelief and enjoy it. I guarantee it will make you laugh and if you don't, well, "Off with your heads!'