Calcutta sketches – my grandaunt

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What’s this art about? Here’s one of my quick under-an-hour sketch that I made of my grandaunt. Well, the time taken for sketching was shorter because she was watching TV and unable to stay still for long. The flouncy pillow behind her adds to her cute feminity. Psst…little added info on her : she loves wearing lipstick everyday!

What did she say when she saw herself?..

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Nothing. She just gave a genuine pleased smile, which made me happy. Here she is holding a big plate of sun dried cauliflowers which she is preparing to make pickles of, a big favorite in the family.

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Steaming hot cauliflowers, anyone?!

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A belated Christmas Lunch

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Here is the table laid out by my mother in law for a belated Christmas lunch. Some of the family members were busy with prior commitments, so the Christmas dinner had to be kept pending by 2 days this Christmas this year. But of course, no Christmas is complete without a family get together so the opportunity for a belated Christmas lunch was an excuse to continue on with the season’s festivities! 🙂

Isn’t the table looking gorgeous?? My in laws are particular about presentation and there always has to be a colour theme going. For this Christmas lunch, my mother in law chose white / silver and blue. She has a big presentation collection for other special meals too. The tiny cruet set (salt and pepper glass pots) are something I have been hunting around for here in France a long while, and somehow never been successful to have a set like hers. She says her is a Christophle set, and though I don’t want something as expensive, I’d be happy with any glass set, but I wish to have a miniature set just like hers!

Being French, of course, a lot of attention and detail is given into the courses and choice of foods. An aperitif of various choices were served, and the following 3 choices formed the appetisers too : grilled bread topped with fish roe, and some others with cheese; a really delectable appetiser that was edible spoons filled with onion jam and topped with foie gras. The onion jam is no ordinary supermarket jam, it’s ‘artisanal’, and the taste explodes in the mouth especially coupled with the foie gras. The third choice is a pamplemousse (grapefruit) with skewers stuck around it containing cherry tomatoes and bits of jambon.

 

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Don’t they all look fantastic? I hope someday I can be even half the lovely hostess that my mother in law is! Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of the main course. I hope my words can do justice to what it was, despite the absence of a photo. The main meal was a very traditional meal, it is the Magret de Canard, a  special and superior form of duck breast meat, which has plenty of fat around the meat. (It is actually the same duck that is reared for foie gras). The duck breast is seared in the pan and cooked in it’s own fat that gives the meat a heavenly flavour. The meat should be seared for only 10 mins and then should be allowed to rest for 20 mins or even more before it is served. (It is important for the meat to relax). My Mother in law cooked the meat along with it’s accompaniments, almonds and chestnuts.

For desserts, here is a slight variation to the traditional Yule Log. This one is not made with chocolate but with sponge cake filled with the cream of chestnuts. Yummy, very!! The other dessert prepared is also a very traditional French dessert : Strawberry Charlotte.Image

 

As usual, the meals at my inlaws satisfies my appetite both for beauty and presentation, and my hunger of the meal itself. The relaxed conversation that follows allows us to unwind and savour every moment spent in the company of family. French meals can be quite long, so the lunch that started at 12.30pm, can end at after 4pm with the last sips of espresso and chocolates that follow. Thinking about my Indian family, such a long winded meal would be unthought of. Meals would have to be perfunctory to make way for the siesta to follow in the afternoon! 🙂

“Women were not meant to live en masse”

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I think this old photo of my aunt along with her guitar group of the days gone by somehow fit this particular extract from a lovely book called “One Pair of Feet”, written in the ’40’s by Monica Dickens. This paragraph has kind of stuck to my head ever since I read them, she writes so wonderfully!

“Women were not meant to live en masse – except in harems. They inflate the importance of their own little center of activity until it eclipses the rest of the world. Men manage to pigeon-hole their life : work, domesticity, romance relaxation, but a woman’s life is usually untidy as her desk. She either fails ever to concentrate on one thing at a time, or else fills one pigeonhole so full that it overflows into the others.”

I haven’t yet finished her book, and I am in no hurry to do so, the book is so enjoyable! I am trying to read it as slow as possible to savour all the lines! 🙂

There’s my aunt, right in the front center!

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That Silent Ward..

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There is a ward in the hospital (of Dubai, United Arab Emirates) that I visit everyday that is calm and quiet. No patient who is talking to his neighbour, or calling the nurse to bring him something to drink, or a patient asking for assistance to get up. In this particular ward, every single day is a chilling quietness, a silence that is broken sometimes by the wheezing noise of difficult breathing through a tracheostomy tube.

The first time that I’d stepped into the ward and I absorbed in the surroundings, I immediately realised it was different than the other wards I’d been to. There was an absence of medical staff vigilance that is ever so present in the other wards. I understood too that this has to be the saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

All of the patients in this room are suffering from varying degrees of brain injuries or stroke. They live in a vegetative state. They cannot move or communicate in any way. Why do I visit this ward? I have someone precious and close to me who has been living here the past 7 months. My grief is still too fresh so I will have to name the person X. I don’t think I can talk much about X as yet.

I know the case histories of most of the patients thanks to the chatty nurses. Due to the inability of the patients to speak, one never knows what are their thoughts, if any that goes through their minds. How much do they understand of what’s happened to them? Do they feel pain? If so where and how can we help? Everyday I look probingly into the eyes of X, struggling to ask ‘ Tell me if I am hurting you when I give you your physiotherapy exercises? What can I do to make you feel better?’. I try not to feel hopeless.

There is one Chinese patient and I know his condition has either improved or he’s not so far gone. He follows me with his eyes. Like the other patients he has difficulty breathing with his tracheo tube. There is no Chinese staff who can comfort him and talk to him. I feel so bad for him. Except for X and one more patient, the rest of the other patients have been abandoned by their families. There is one patient who used to be a successful banker and had his stroke at the age of 40. It’s been 2 years he’s in the hospital and I haven’t seen any of his family members coming in to see him. I know the reason to avoid the hospital has all to do with money. He has wonderful long lashes and sometimes I see him staring into space as though he is deep in thought.

Everyday that I enter this ward, I realise I cannot ever complain about anything in my life. Health is indeed the most important thing to a person. When I look at X and the other patients, I know they are suffering somehow, every single day, every single waking moment.

Some French Nostalgia and a curious French entrée

ImageYesterday, hubby and me had driven 150-something kilometer towards Orléans, located south of Paris. We were going to meet his grandmother, who would be turning a hundred years old ( Wow!! I know!) this October. As my husband explained, she wasn’t feeling too good lately and before we were to leave for our upcoming long vacations, we should be going to see her and say hello.

So it was with a little bit of a sombre mood that we embarked on our long drive to Orleans. Along the way, we stopped to lunch at the popular chain of restaurants called ‘Courtepaille’. We have eaten here a few times, but I guess I always somehow omitted trying out this particular entrée. When I saw it in the menu, I knew I had to try it out and wondered why I hadn’t tried it before! Ok, so it’s a long name for the entrée, here goes : Faisselle de fromage blanc, avec ciboulettes, échalottes et crême fraîche.

So, it’s basically a form of soft white runny cheese, served along with finely chopped ciboulette and shallots, and heavy fresh cream. The idea, as my husband explained to me, was to actually take your desired helpings of the accompaniments and mix it with the cheese and eat it. This sounded exotic to me! I tried it and it was heavenly!! Here’s another pic with the cheese I scooped onto a piece of bread. Doesn’t it look delish??!

ImageAfter our lunch, we made our way towards Grandmummy’s place. We reached her room and well, I was surprised because she was in no way showing any signs of being sick, but sprightly as ever, chatting coherently and laughing with a few other relatives. I must say, there’s something to the French longevity. Grandmother managed a farm all her life, and her diet has mostly been a lot of wine, high calory food with dollops of cream and butter, red meats, and plenty of desserts and other sweet things! Inspite of such a diet that would easily cripple many other nationalities, the French thrive and live long lives based on this diet!

Here’s a pic of Grandma on her day of wedding, many many years ago, 1934 actually! She looks beautiful!

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