This month we're cooking the books with "Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India" by well-known Indian cookbook authoress AND award-winning actress Madhur Jaffrey.
"Well-known, you say? Well how come I haven't heard of her then, 'eh?"
Oh, sorry, you must have missed the TWENTY-SIX Indian cookbooks, three novels and an Autobiography that she wrote.
"Patooey, I don't read cookbooks, I only follow someone prestigious whom I've seen (on Food Network, ahem *cough*) or watched in action".
Ah, yes, that would have been hard given this James Beard winner also ACTED in a number of Merchant and Ivory blockbusters, had the lead role in the movie "Cotton Mary" and performed in Theatre and TV in England , India and the US. Oh, and I forgot about that part she had in "Law and Order" .
"Law and Order - oh! Was she that Psychiatrist chick! Now I know her!!!"
Despite the pedigree, I frankly have never researched or used a Madhur Jeffrey recipe. Why? Because I'm the one in italics above. Duh.
So I picked up this book on a whim from the library one hot September afternoon two years ago.
"Two years ago? Cheat! This was the Book of the Month selection THIS mon..."
Ah..patience, mon ami...
This book lays out a privileged childhood in a well-to-do and aristocratic family in Old Delhi. Jaffrey's family clearly were part of the creme de la creme of society, and had strong rapport with powerful political figures in pre-partition India.
While we are allowed a glimpse into her patriarchal family, and their splendid hill-station vacations with an army of servants, it is her description of the food that she grew up with and that she encountered that makes this book worthwhile. I feel Jaffrey's true strength shines whenever she encroached the subject of food as evidenced by the numerous times I ran to the kitchen starving after reading another mesmerizing account of fried breads sopping up juicy meats and curries!
The biography part of the book sadly, falls short. She tries to explain some of the relations in the family, like one particular over-bearing uncle and her unhealthy sister, which was enthralling for me, but she chooses to abruptly end the book with no form of closure or any idea of how the rest of her family fared. She also reveals very little of herself post-childhood.
The redeeming grace in the book is a large collection of Indian recipes at the end.
And as I read this book, September 13th 2008 rolled around, and with it, Hurricane Ike which landed in our town with the ferocity of a Category Two storm. It was the third costliest hurricane to hit the USA and caused the largest evacuation in our neck of the woods.
Did we evacuate? No.
We woke up to fallen debris, trees uprooted and electricity poles down. Our house was intact, but we had no power. The library that I took this book out from was destroyed, its books lay strewn as a soggy mess.
So. What does one do when they have no electricity and a book that obviously doesn't need to be returned in a hurry?
One sits down, and starts writing out all the recipes in this book into one's journal. Nice and neatly because we have all the time in the world. No TV. No Phone.
One then waits for the electricity to come back on. It does not, so one returns to writing more of the recipes. Albeit a little messier, because this whole no electricity thing isn't as romantic and great as it was first cut out to be. It's getting HOT in here. No A/C.
Day 8. Our street is the last to get power back, because, OF COURSE (!) the worst electrical damage occured in the line that our street uses. At this point, recipe notation and chicken scratch handwriting starts to reflect the demented state of mind of recipe-copier who starts chasing public utility vehicles when they turn into her street. It's bat crazy time at home now and the hand-writing below shows it. But I still kept writing...
So on that note, I will NEVER forget this book, because I had it with me for a good couple of months (side note, library is back in operation now) and I used it to provide some much needed distraction in that crazy time.
This also serves as proof that in the event of some natural disaster or alien attack or World War, I am NOT the person to be with, because I will be the one to do something left brain like, say, I don't know, SCRAPBOOKING whilst everyone else is running for cover or building generators from car engines.
To complete the review, I chose to make the Spicy Caulifower Bake - Cheese Vali Gobi.