We’re less than 1 week away from the launch of My Mother’s Kitchen by Meera Ekkanath Klein. We can’t think of a more delicious way to kick off our autumn season.
My Mother’s Kitchen is now available for pre-order in our bookstore. If you order, we will ship your book within 24 hours! But if you find you can’t wait, preview chapter 6 below and get a yummy Chickpea Snack recipe!
Chapter 6: Going to the Temple
“Long ago, when the world was young and gods and goddess roamed the land, Lord Ganesha with his elephant face liked to visit the local temple and taste all the sweets that were served. He especially liked the round rice balls flavored with brown sugar and fresh coconut. One night he ate too many rice balls. His stomach was so huge that it made him walk unsteadily. He was toddling home under the full moon when he heard snickering and laughter. He looked up at the dark sky and saw the pale orange face of the full moon. The moon was laughing at him and his big stomach. Ganesha became angry and without thinking he pulled out his ivory tusk and threw it at the laughing face of the full moon. The light of the moon disappeared and world turned dark. Finally, all the other gods and goddesses came to Lord Ganesha and begged him to bring back the moon. He refused at first, but after everyone kept pleading with him, he finally relented. But he allowed the moon to come back in full glory only one day a month. And that is why the moon gets small and grows bigger every month.”
—the story of Ganesha as told by Ayah
For the past few weeks my mother has not been feeling well, but I know it’s not serious when I hear Ayah teasing her.
“You must be missing your second Saturday husband,” she laughs. “Are you still thinking of him from his last visit?”
I couldn’t hear my mother’s reply, but whatever it is, it has Ayah laughing uproariously.
“What’s so funny, Ayah?” I ask, running into the room. “Tell me so I can laugh too.”
Ayah dabs her eyes with the end of her sari, “Well, little one, your mother is…”
She is rudely interrupted by my mother, “Meenakutty, I’m not feeling too well. I thought it might be a good idea to go to the Ganesha temple and do a little pooja ceremony.”
“What’s wrong with you, Amma?”
“Nothing, a little pooja won’t fix. Be a good girl. Go take your bath and put on a nice skirt so we can go to the temple.”
I hear Ayah snickering. I want to hear what the two women are discussing, but my mother waits until I leave before speaking again. A few hours later, Ayah is ready for the outing, dressed in one of my mother’s old silk saris. Her hair is slicked back with coconut oil and even her nose ring is sparkling. My mother has dark circles under her eyes, but her face is radiant with an inner glow. She looks even more beautiful than usual in her dark blue and gold sari. Her gold necklace reflects the pale December sunlight and lights up her face in its glow. Her gold bangles jangle on her arms as she fusses with her sari pleats.
Today Kashi is also coming with us.
“Little mother, the taxi is just leaving the village. Would you like to go in it to the temple?” Kashi asks. She is dressed in a red and yellow silk sari that rustles as she walks. “The driver said he will charge us only for one way, if we want to take the bus back.”
“Kashi, the car is a good idea. I’m not sure I can sit in a bouncing bus,” my mother replies.
I step closer to her and slip my hand in hers. She looks down at me.” It’s all right Meena, my stomach is upset and I’ll drink some ginger tea before we go. I’ll be fine.”
The taxi is a black and yellow Ambassador car. The driver, Babu, is a young man with curly hair and twinkling eyes. He keeps the old car in good condition and the inside smells of incense and leather polish. The shiny seats squeak as I shift my bottom across it.
“Meena, you sit in the middle, next to Babu and your mother can sit next to you in the front,” Ayah says. She gets in the back seat with Kashi.
Since I am too short to see over the dashboard, I look at the little pictures and photographs Babu had pasted all over the front dash of the car. There are colorful pictures of several gods and goddess, including one of the elephant-headed god Ganesha who is supposed to bring good luck. The pictures are smeared with golden sandal wood paste and draped with small garlands of fresh flowers. One of the photographs is a black and white picture of a smiling old lady with no teeth. Babu notices me staring at the photograph.
“That is my mother who passed away a year ago,” he says, touching the photograph with a respectful gesture. “She sits right there and looks after me when I’m driving, especially in the rain or at night.”
As soon as we are all settled in the car, Babu turns on the engine and after a bit of coughing and sputtering, the old car comes to life with a bang. We are on our way to the temple.
I notice that my mother holds a cotton handkerchief to her mouth. Every time the car drives over a rough patch on the road, she raises the cloth to her nose.
“What’s in the kerchief, Amma?” I ask.
“Just a slice of lemon,” she says, “The smell of the lemon helps settle my stomach.”
I promise myself that I will walk seven times around the Ganesha temple if my mother feels better soon. I don’t like to see her so pale and tired.
The Ganesha temple sits on a high hill in the town of Mahagiri and is about thirty minutes from our house. When we arrive at the hilltop temple, Babu stops the car in front of the temple entrance and goes around to open the door for my mother and Ayah.
“Little mother, I’ll go park the car in the shade. When you are done, just come out and wait for me here, and I’ll bring the car.”
We make our way up the twenty-four granite steps. At the top I wait for Kashi, my mother and Ayah to catch up to me. Our first stop is at the slipper stall where we take off our slippers and sandals. We hand them over to a tired-looking lady behind the counter. She gives us a little piece of paper with numbers on it.
“I’ll keep the receipt,” Ayah says. “We need it to get our slippers back.”
She puts the slip of paper in a cloth bag that hangs from the waistband of her sari. I take my mother’s hand and we walk down the narrow street in our bare feet. I step over some dark looking liquid and a pile of rotting fruit. I wrinkle my nose at the smell of fresh cow dung. The narrow lane leading up to the temple is not paved. During the rainy season the street is a mud puddle, but today the dirt is packed down hard to form a clean surface. I don’t like walking down the street in my bare feet, but no one is allowed to wear shoes on temple grounds.
The passageway is usually a busy place especially on special holidays, but today we are able to move freely. All along the narrow pathway, there are many little shops and vendors selling everything from clothes to flowers. The flower shops have huge piles of roses, marigolds and jasmine blossoms. Men, women and even children sit in the stalls and string the blooms into long colorful garlands. I watch a man’s fingers magically transform a few bright orange marigolds and fragrant holy basil leaves into a garland beautiful enough for a god or goddess. A little girl painstakingly threads creamy jasmine blossoms on a string to make a garland that looks like a strand of pearls.
There are other vendors hawking fresh coconuts, bunches of yellow bananas and bundles of sweet-smelling incense. Another shop is selling calendars with colorful pictures of Lord Ganesha. There are several shops selling photographs of the elephant god. A young girl with a wicker basket balanced on her head stops my mother.
“Please mistress, buy some lucky charms,” she says pointing to a pile of saffron yellow and black threads. “This will ward off the evil eye and keep you safe.”
She holds up a delicate string bracelet. I tug on my mother’s silk sari. “Please Amma, can I get a charm?”
“Really, Meena, you don’t need anything to keep you safe.” She frowns at me and then looks from my pleading face to the hopeful eyes of the young girl. “All right, we’ll get you one. But remember all this won’t keep you safe if you don’t listen or behave.”
“I promise to behave Amma,” I say, jumping up and down in excitement. The girl gives my mother a yellow and black thread bracelet. My mother ties the charm on my right hand.
“Wear it in good health, little sister,” the girl says with a smile.
Ayah stops at a stall to buy a coconut, some bananas and garlands of fresh marigolds and jasmine.
“Please Amma, give us alms and be blessed,” an old man pleads with us. He is so bent over and thin that his ribs and backbones seemed to poke out of his skin.
My mother slips him a coin and we make our way to the temple. The iron gates stand open. I can hear the chanting of priests and smell of the oil-burning lamps. The temple consists of a large open outer courtyard with a huge stone sanctuary in the center dedicated to Ganesha. Along the outer courtyard, there are small shrines, each dedicated to different gods and goddesses including Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. Before entering to the main shrine, we make our way around the courtyard, paying homage to each small shrine and statue. The air is thick with the smell of sweet incense, fresh flowers, cow dung and people. I stop to look at a beautiful and colorful statue of lord Muruga, Ganesha’s brother. Muruga is seated on a peacock and the tail feathers of the bird are painted in bright blue and green. I watch as an old lady pays respect to the statue by bowing down and touching her forehead to the ground in front of the shrine. Her lips are moving in silent prayer and her hands are folded together. She finishes her prayers and places a coin in the strongbox that is next to the statue.
I follow my mother and Ayah around the courtyard. We enter the main shrine and stand behind the steel railings. I peer from under the railing into the narrow doorway of the sanctuary. My eyes adjust to the dimness of the sanctuary and I can make out a gleaming shape of Ganesha, with its huge belly, draped in bright orange silks. The god’s many shiny necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry reflect the light of the lamps. The oil lamps flicker and cast shadows on the god and the young priest who stands inside the inner sanctum. The priest wears the traditional white dhoti cloth around his waist and a holy thread is draped on his bare chest. His hair is tied back into a small, neat knot. He has holy ash marks on his chest, forearms and forehead. He holds a platter of fruit, flowers and a bit of burning camphor. His eyes are closed and his lips move in prayer. We wait for the priest to finish chanting and ring the temple bell hanging from the ceiling. The melodious note echoes in the stone temple and everyone shouts out, “Om Ganesha! Om Ganesha!”
The priest steps out of the sanctuary and hands out bits of fruit and flowers to everyone. He stops and smiles at me and places his hand on my forehead in a gesture of blessing.
“Little one, your prayers will be answered today,” he says in a soft voice.
I look up at him and say, “I want my mother to feel better and I want a baby sister.”
“Well, you are not asking for much are you, little one?” he smiles.
He tucks a jasmine blossom behind my right ear and again blesses me.
My mother drops some coins in the priest’s platter and accepts a small banana from him. Ayah gives the priest the coconut, bananas and flowers as an offering to the temple. The priest takes the gifts and goes back inside and closes the doors of the shrine. It will open after the priest performs another “pooja” or service.
People wander back to the courtyard. It is close to mid-day and is starting to get warm. Families with children sit on the ledge surrounding the courtyard, enjoying the bananas and other fruit.
“Amma, can we get some chickpeas?” I ask.
The temple sells small paper cones of chickpea snacks. Tiny chickpeas are cooked in salty water and then flavored with bits of onion and coconut. I love the salty taste of the peas and could devour handfuls of the snack.
“Meena let me go sit down and rest a bit. You and Ayah can buy chickpeas,” my mother says.
Ayah and I walk to a small stall at the corner of the courtyard. We buy several paper cones filled with the chickpea snacks. We join Kashi and my mother on a stone ledge. I dangle my legs over the ledge and happily munch on the treat.
I finish the last of the salty snack and sigh in satisfaction at the savory food. We stop at the public tap and wash our greasy hands in the cold water. I cup my hands and drink handfuls of the refreshing water. We make our way to the slipper stall. Ayah pulls out the wrinkled receipt and carefully smoothes it out before handing it to the lady behind the counter. We pay her and put on our slippers. We climb down the giant stone steps to the main road. Babu has pulled the car next to the stone steps and is wiping down his taxi. He puts away the red cloth and opens the doors.
I lean my head against my mother’s shoulder and smack my lips, savoring the nutty taste of the chickpea snack in my mouth.
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans or chick peas.
(If using canned beans, drain and rinse them.)
1 small onion, red or white, minced
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh black pepper to taste.
Preparation: Heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid. Add mustard seeds and cover pan. The mustard seeds will pop and turn grey. As soon as the popping slows down, add onions. Let the onions soften (3-4 minutes). Add cooked garbanzo beans, salt and coconut. Stir until the beans are well coated with the onions and coconut. Turn off heat. Stir in the fresh lime juice and black pepper.
Serve with rice, Indian flat bread or just by itself for a healthy snack.
A Novel with Recipes by Meera Ekkanath Klein
Release Date: October 14, 2014
When you pre-order through the Homebound Publications bookstore we will ship your order a full 2 weeks in advance of the release date. Orders will start shipping October 1, 2014!
Pre-Order Now | List Price: $17.95 | Visit Bookstore»
About the Book: My Mother’s Kitchen is an enchanting place filled with promise, change and good food. If the weathered walls of this magical room could talk they would tell the story of Meena and her childhood life. Each chapter is a slice in her young life and depicts her spunk and youthful spirit. A visit to the local Fruit and Flower Show becomes an adventure as told by Meena. Her distress at finding out about her aunt’s dark secret or her joy of making a new friend are all told in her naïve, yet pure voice. Her mother is a central character in her life and it is no wonder that the kitchen is a special place of healing and rejuvenation, not only for Meena but for other characters like Kashi and Ayah.