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NYT Bestselling Author. Reluctant master of packing light. Lover of beautiful shoes & spicy food. Lapsed ballerina. Cook. Book junkie.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


I can’t believe it’s already June 1. Time might be flying, but the world is still giving me a headache, so I’m happy to distract myself by sharing some good things for the month…


A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth 

My friends Sachin and Kalpana introduced me to this book, and I fell in love with it from page one. So let’s just get this out of the way: Yes, it’s long. Very long. As in more than a thousand pages. When it was published it was (and still may be) the longest single volume novel in English. I read fast, so I consider this a good thing. Set in post-Raj India, the book tells the story of Lata, whose mother is bent on finding her daughter a suitable boy to marry. Translation: a Hindu of the right caste. Lata, an enlightened university student, has other ideas.  

Seth weaves a family epic full of gorgeous details of Indian culture as well as the tensions between Hindu and Muslim factions. His characters are endlessly fascinating and his prose is sleek. This is not a gritty story, which so far as I am concerned makes it all the more worthy of recommendation. Some people criticize Seth for not including more of the seedy parts of urban life, but that is not what this book is about. Frankly, there’s enough of that in the real world; I’m happy to escape into something else. While you won’t be disappointed by giving this a chance, you will be surprised how quickly you breeze through it. Andrew Davies is currently adapting the novel for the BBC. I’m sure it will be fantastic, but read the book before you watch!


The Hundred Foot Journey

OK, so I never would have expected to find a film that combines these three things I love: Indian food, the south of France, and Helen Mirren.

After their restaurant in Mumbai is destroyed in a fire that took the life of their mother, the Kadam family moves to London. Their house, directly beneath the flight path to Heathrow, leaves more than a little to be desired, and Papa Kadam (played by the magnificent Om Puri) decides it’s time to go somewhere else. They head for the Continent, where his eldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal, explains to an immigration officer why he left the UK: “I found in England that the vegetables, they had no soul; no life.”

How can you NOT like a movie with that line?

The Kadams end up in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where Papa buys a vacant building he decides will be the perfect location for the family’s new restaurant. His children try in vain to dissuade him, insisting the French don’t eat ethnic food. Meanwhile, he draws the ire of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) who runs the one star Michelin restaurant across the street. She’s horrified by her new neighbors, and a battle between them ensues.

This is a wonderful film, charming, funny, and touching without being overly sentimental. I loved it. Be warned, however. It will make you hungry.


Murgh Jalfrazie (Chicken with Stir-Fried Spices)

As I’m on a bit of an Indian kick here, I’m sharing my favorite recipe for chicken jalfrazie, which comes from Mridula Baljekar’s fabulous cookbook, Curry: Fire and Spice. I could eat this pretty much every single day. You’ll want to check out Baljekar’s website (http://mridula.co.uk), where you can find this and many more of his recipes, but I highly suggest buying the book. First, because authors need to eat, too, and second because you won’t want to miss any of his dishes!

  • 700g/1lb 9oz boneless and skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 5 tbsps sunflower, rapeseed or plain olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsps garlic puree
  • 2 tsps ginger puree
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsps ground coriander
  • ½-1 tsp chilli powder
  • 150g/5oz canned tomato with the juice
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 small or half a large sweet red pepper, cut into 2.5cm/1-inch cubes
  • 1 small or half a large green pepper, cut into 2.5cm/1-inch cubes
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Put the chicken in a non-metallic bowl and rub in the lemon juice and half the salt. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat four tablespoons of the oil in a heavy based medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion. Fry, stirring regularly, for 8-9 minutes or until lightly browned, reducing the heat half way through. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli powder and cook for 1 minute. Add a splash of water and stir-fry for another minute or so. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until the tomatoes reduce to a paste-like consistency and the oil separates from the spice paste.

Add the chicken, increase the heat slightly and cook, stirring until chicken is opaque. Add 150ml/5 fl oz warm water, bring it to the boil, cover the pan and simmer for 25 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small pan or wok over a low heat. Add the garlic and sauté until browned, and add the peppers. Increase the heat to medium, stir-fry for 2 minutes and add the garam masala. Stir and fold the contents into the cooked chicken. Remove from the heat and serve with rice or Indian bread.