Life in the Tornado Alley

Well, the last 96 hours have been nothing short of being edgy. After all, my life credits being made into a best seller or even a blockbuster. So my life turns out be over incidental in almost all aspects. Life in the Tornado Alley? How is it? How overwhelming or exciting is it???? Well, the one word answer would be : Adventurous. 

Adventures do have their dangers and not to forget all the thrills. But I guess, after having met death in the eye once, then the fear of death decreases a lot. And death has been kind to me, not once, but a few times,and all the encounters are quite fresh in my memory. From my car being fired at,  by Maoists in war torn Lalgarh, or having a truck hit my car on the EM Bypass in Kolkata, yes, I survived it all. All in one piece. All these misadventures prepared me well, for life in the Tornado Alley. 

Wikipedia defines Tornado Alley as the location where the strongest tornadoes occur most frequently and was first coined by Jennifer L. Wiley in 1904. The core of Tornado Alley consists of the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern South Dakota , and the Colorado Eastern Plains. And Kansas is one of the states in the Alley, which usually receives a record breaking number of tornadoes. 

When I reconnected with my teenage love, after almost a decade, the first thing he told me that he was currently based in Kansas City. That rang two bells in my head, as I continued the cross continental chatter. Firstly, the Tornado Alley, and secondly my Mashi. My Mashi had made Kansas City her home for many many years, so that came as a reassurance to me. The conversations carried on, and renewed love affair led to marriage this time. The Visa officer at the American Consulate in Kolkata, reminded me of the Wizard of OZ, on hearing that I was headed to Kansas. The Tornado connect had begun. 

I had heard stories of how the sirens go on before the tornado is about to strike nay area, done enough of reading, and felt I was prepared if I had to make a dash for the basement. This Summer began with a bang. It was Tornado time, after being a no show almost for the last few years. We were on a call to Kolkata, when the first round of sirens started going on, on Sunday night. Deb casually mentioned to me, that probably it means a tornado is headed our way. We had not taken it too seriously, but decided to cue  up to the developments in the idiot box. 

When it was alerts all across, with specific timings of when it was supposed to hit our neighborhood, then I guess we realised how serious  the situation was. It was almost 10.30 pm, and the tornado was supposed to strike our neighborhood in exactly an hour. A mad rush almost. Packing a few essentials, and the valuables in two back packs, along with our laptops. Giving the pajamas a miss for denims and jackets, we headed off. One is supposed to wear thicker clothes and covered shoes, while taking shelter in a basement, to save oneself from the flying debris. No we didnt go to the basement. Guess we are super smart. We went off to one of Deb's colleague's apartments, nearby, and thought of spending time in their basement. It was a crazy adrenaline rush. We stood at the entrance of the basement, waiting to run inside, if we felt we were being struck. Now that I look back, it was really a foolish thing to do. Luckily, the tornado changed its course, and spared us, just ten minutes before the scheduled touchdown. 

We were saved for the day. But the people in Joplin, Missouri, were not that lucky. The very same Tornado ripped across the town, and all thats left of the town, looks like a large garbage dump.  7000 Houses have been razed to the ground, 1600 people are still unaccounted for, and 122 people are confirmed dead. Yes, its the very same Tornado which we were not taking seriously, had created havoc in a town close by. To think, the same could have happened to us. 

Monday was seemingly a calm day, but it came with the warning that Tuesday was on Tornado Watch, from 9 pm to 2 am. This time around we were better prepared and took the warning seriously. The images from Joplin were too fresh in our minds, and the thought that it could have happened to us, kept haunting us. Bags were packed with essentials and valuable, clothes kept ready, and we were glued to the television and internet alerts, come Tuesday evening.Oklahoma City, this time bore the brunt and yet again Kansas  was spared. It was just a crazy thunderstorm for us. finally we breathed a sigh of relief when the watch was lifted at around 2.15 am.  

Wednesday was  a bright and sunny day, and Deb had left for work. Suddenly I got a call from him, that our neighbourhood was under Tornado Alert for the next few hours. Wasnt the weather supposed to be clear today?! Within minutes the sirens started off all across. The weather forecasters on television again gave a detailed timeline of tornadic activity, and advised people to head to their nearby shelter. This time I was alone. Gathered up my guts, along with the bags, dressed appropiately, and headed to the basement. Half of the apartment was already downstairs, and the second half joined us soon. From 70 year olds, to infants,we were all togther, huddled in one room, far away from the glass windows. Phone lines were getting jammed, Deb tried his best to communicate throughout. Then someone reported a touchdown just around three miles away from our apartment. It was quite shocking.But the tornado was not strong enough, so could not go further. Spent almost two hours at the basement with a motley group of people. From bible recitations, to crying babies, to barking pooches, it was a crazy time. Just when it cleared out for us, Deb said, they had been evacuated to the basement of their office, the tornado was now headed their way. It was the worst of tense moments. But luckily we were saved again,although there were six reported touchdowns in Kansas City.This time it was Sedalia, in Missouri which bore the worst brunt, as the Tornado had finally gained momentum when it reached there. Pictures of massive destruction flooded the eyes again.

So every morning when we wake up in the Tornado Alley, we really dont know whats going to happen during the rest of the day. Thunderstorms forming super cells, leading to tornadoes are the order of the day for the next month at least. And this is an annual phenomena. So living life in the Tornado Alley is after one of the biggest adventures.   


" Gourmet Indian Cooking in Minutes," Monisha Bharadwaj/Journospeak Project:

It took me quite long to recreate another one of Monisha's recipes for my version of the Julie/Julia Project. And this time around, I opted for something simple: Eggs. Julie Powell had taken quite long to perfect Julia Child's version  of Poached Eggs. So why not , even I try to hone my egg cooking skills.

Monisha called it Baida Curry, and I call it Dim er Jhol(Simple Egg Curry). I can confess that egg curries are not my forte, so I seek inspiration everywhere, be it books, blogs, or even calling up my Mom, for her versions of Dim er Jhol. This time around I decided to cook up Monisha's simple listing on egg curry, but just added a change to it. Rather than adding simple hard boiled  eggs to the thick and rich gravy, I decided to add a dash of colour to them. Just to add a lil bit of pop to the dish. Added a trick I had seen my thamma(grandma) do very often when she whipped up her version of a delicious egg curry. Also amped up the spice quotient a bit, as a dash of spice makes it a bit more appealing to the Dasgupta  palate.


The inspiration: " Gourmet Indian Cooking in Minutes," Monisha Bharadwaj

Canola Oil
Cumin seeds: 1 1/2 tbsp
Onions: 1 large: chopped
Ginger-Garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Tomato paste: of 1 tomato
Turmeric: 1 tsp
Chilli Powder: 1 tsp
Garam Masala: 1 tsp
Salt, to taste
Eggs: 7: hardboiled
Milk or cream: 3 tbsp
Handful of Cilantro: chopped
Potatoes: 3: cut into quarters


Peel the hardboiled eggs and the potatoes, and coat them with a dash of turmeric powder, salt and red chilli powder. Fry them in hot oil, to get the right dash of colour. Skip this step if you wanna opt for Monisha's style of simple hardboiled eggs cut in half, to be dunked in the gravy. Keep the eggs aside.

Add cumin seeds to hot oil in  the pan. As soon as they darken, add the chopped onion, and cook to soften.

Add in the ginger garlic paste and the tomato paste, and stir. Add the spices and salt. Blend well, until mushy. Add in the potatoes and let them cook.

Gentle place the eggs in the gravy, and cover and cook for around 10 minutes. Do a final taste test.

Pour the milk or cream in the pan, which helps to bring together all the ingredients in a burst of flavour and taste. Heat through and serve, sprinkled with chopped cilantro.

Bon appetit.


Puerto Rico in 6 days

Caribbeans, well, it comes to my mind o so often these days, with the weather here in Kansas being so dark and gloomy. My heart yearns for the sun, the sand, and the surf, and the endless hours spent in just lazing around. Puerto Rico shall always remain special to me, for it was simply magic which unfolded in the Caribbean archipelago. Not to forget the drunken revelries, and the picturesque locales, the crazy rides or the super yummy food. For the uninitiated, Puerto Rico is a beautiful archipelago, nestled in the Caribbean Sea, which has an abundance of sexy beaches, and awesome mountains and rain forests. Not to forget the famous Puerto Rican Rum.To cut the long story short, Paradise.

Walking down memory lane: reliving the moments:

Pit stop: San Juan: Day 1: 
The capital city of Puerto Rico, greeted us, oh so, graciously in the wee hours of the night. The only problem, by the time we managed to reach our hotel, the local eateries had already shut down. Not to forget the bad food we bit into, at Miami Airport. The trip started with, sleeping with an uber empty stomach for both of us. Guess, the first hungry night on the archipelago is the rationale, for the way we dug into all the exotic food for the rest of the trip. The entire first day was literally in transit, from Kansas City to Chicago, from Chicago to Miami, and From Miami to San Juan. It almost felt as if we were going to India. Dog tired.

Guavate: Day 2:
Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern swear by it. Guavate, located just south of San Juan in the mountains, is well known for its Lechon(roast pork). Its a small village which boasts of lechoneras(roadside eateries), specialising in roasting a whole hog right in front of your eyes. And you get to decide which cut of meat you want, and its cut, right there, from the freshly roasted pig, on the spit. Its a gastronomical delight just to queue up in those small roadside cafeterias, to order your cut of meat. The episodes of Bizarre Foods and No Reservations had gathered rave reviews, and once we reached the place, we realised that all the reviews about Guavate were worth it. Words are simply not enough to describe the experience, as you dig into your choice of roast pork, with live music being played for you, and u can step up and start shaking your leg, whenever you feel like, not to forget sipping into the rum all along. The drive up the mountains to reach the lechoneras is quiet scenic and quite a winding one. So exercising caution while driving these narrow roads and finding parking near the busiest lechonera, is a concern.

San Juan: Day 2: 
Known as the walled city, San Juan is any history lover's absolute delight. The city has so much stacked up in its bylanes and all its castles.The Spanish forts were our first choice, and parking the car, and walking around seemed the best option to explore the  old city. San Cristobal Fort and Castillo Del Morro located within a few miles of each other, were designed to protect the entrance to the old city, and San Juan Bay, from the enemies.

After all that walking around in the city, our appetities were reaching the roof. And having decided to gorge on nothing else other than the Puerto Rican staple- Mofongos, meant a long wait for a dinner table.  Be it the skirt steak version , or the crustacean delight, plantain was never so tasty. The only regret was that we missed out on managing a seat at the restaurant where the famous Pina Colada was invented.

Island of Culebra: Day 3: 
The ideal combination of  pure white sand and azure blue waters is the Island of Culebra, located just off the mainland  of Puerto Rico. From being a pirate refuge for years, to a US naval base, Culebra had seen it all. Managing last minute tickets on the public ferry, to braving sea sickness throughout the journey, every bit of it, was worth it, once we laid our eyes on Playa Flamenco in Culebra. Picturesque is probably an understatement for describing Flamenco beach. No wonder its regarded as one of Top 5 beaches of the world. Lazy hours on the beach, romping around in the waves, discovering an abandoned tank half submerged in the sand, to digging onto sword fish kebabs and endless pinacoladas, it was one memorable day. Beach experience at its superb best. Be it South Beach in Miami, or Havelock in Andaman and Nicobars, not one can stand in competition to the magic of Playa Flamenco.

It happened to be our anniversary, which called for a special dinner. So Iron Chef Hector Crespo whipped up a  red snapper and lobster mofongo, for us, at his restaurant in San Juan. Paired with Sangria, it was truly a celebration.And since we were in the land of the pirates, we decided to set the mood right.

Bacardi Factory: Day 4: 
The day started off with a breakfast at one of the oldest restaurants on the island, La Bombonera. And the experience was really an old world one. And then it was time to get a bit high spirited. When you are in the rum capital of the world, a visit to the biggest rum distillery in the world is a must do. Bacardi in all its glory! Cheers. !

Bio-luminescent Bay at the Island of Vieques: Day 4: 
 A choppy  catamaran ride to the Island of Vieques. Yes, the very same island where Captain Jack Sparrow went on the hunt for the fountain of eternal youth, in the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean. A small boat took us to the Bio-luminescent Bay on a moonless night. It was darkness all round, and when the fishes swam past us, in the waters, it was as if it was a moving lantern in the water. The mystery lights in the water are created by micro-organisms who thrive in these waters. The best part was when we jumped into the water, in the dead of the night, and it was if as if we were all lit up as we moved ourselves in the bay. Our camera could not capture the magical moments, so taking the liberty of borrowing a few shots from fellow travelers. Truly, a wonder of the world.

Ponce: Day 5: 
The fifth day was by far the day when we were not quite lucky. We visited the quaint town of Ponce, but realised that the day was a holiday in that part of the island. Parque De Bombas was one of the most famous buildings of the island, which literally translated to the Park for the Pumps. Now  transformed in to a museum, the building located centrally the town, housed the  major fire station for years. However the drive to the Arecibo Observatory or the Camuy De Caverns was all in vain, as the doors to the public were closed on that very day.

San Juan: Day 6: 
The final day, when we had our flight in the late afternoon. Decided to embark on a walking tour to explore the lanes and bylanes for one last time.San Juan Gate, Raices Monument, the haunted El Convento Hotel, the oldest Church in the US, it was a crash course in Puerto Rican history.  One  last sampling of Puerto Rican cuisine sealed the deal. Finally it was time for the long long flight back to good old Kansas City. A trip highly cherished, a trip truly memorable.


Prawn Pulao-Jhinga Pulao

"Gourmet Indian cooking in Minutes," Monisha Bharadwaj/Journospeak Project: 

Yes, you guessed it right. Its my own version of the Julie-Julia Project. Julie Powell recreated Julia Child's recipes from one of her famous books, in 365 days. I do not plan to follow Julia to the T, but in spirit almost. On a whim, I had picked up a  few books on Indian cooking from the local library. In fact, I was amazed at the wide selection of Indian cookery books they had in a library in mid west US.  Most of the books were typical, called for too many ingredients,and too lenghty procedures, so in short not too practical. 

And then there was the inspiration: Monisha Bharadwaj's,'Gourmet Indian Cooking in Minutes.' The cover had a picture of a squash dish, and what caught my eye, was the abundance of 'panch phoron' in the dish. That was an instant appeal to my Bong sensibilities. Soaked myself into the book and told myself, why not a shortened or an improvised Julie/Julia Project of my own. So I called it the "Gourmet Indian Cooking in Minutes," Monisha Bharadwaj/Journospeak Project:Ambitious, pretty ambitous. Given the fact that I have only recreated one of the 140 recipes. 

What I really liked about Monisha's book was the way she had improvised and simplified the cooking procedures. The Recipes did not scream out for exotic ingredients. Its not that its difficult to procure the exotic ingredients, but in a cook book whats often needed are ideas to ease out everyday dinners and lunches. We all know what is good for parties and get togethers. Chicken B

Where do I start from, well how about a one dish meal, something which would not need too many sides. Zeroed in on the Jhinga Pulao/ Prawn Pulao. Another reason why I chose this particular dish were again the ingredients. The name Pulao, and I had thought would have some heavy spices, like garam masala, but what this dish boasted of, was coriander leaf/cilantro paste, and tomato ketchup. Yes, you heard it right, tomato ketchup. I really wanted to see how this Pulao would turn out to be. So thought of making it earlier in the day, because if it failed, I would have time to cook up a back up. So made some chicken liver curry as a back up, for if the Pulao didnt click, I would just have to steam some rice.  


Canola Oil
Cumin seeds: 2 tsp
Onion: 1 large: chopped
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Green chiilies: 2: slit
Prawn: 1/3 cup
Basmati rice: 1 cup, washed and drained.
Ground cilantro/coriander leaf: 4tbsp
Tomato Ketchup: 1/4 cup
Salt, to taste
Handful of Cilantro/coriander leaf: chopped 
Hot Water: 2 cups

Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan, and fry the cumin seeds. 

As they darken, add the onion, and let soften. Add the ginger garlic paste and the chillies. 

Add the prawns and stir.

Tip in the ground cilantro. 

Blend and add the ketchup, salt, and half the chopped cilantro. Mix. 

Add in the rice and fry for around 2-3 minutes. 

While Monisha's recipe called for the Pulao to be cooked on the stove, my first experience was not that great. Hence the second time, I made it, I did the last bit of cooking in the microwave, which ensured that the rice was not over cooked and mushy. if you have a rice cooker, you can also use it. So transfer the contents to a large microwave-able bowl. 

Add in 2 cups of boiling water and Microwave the contents for around 15-20 minutes, until the rice is fluffy and tender, but not mushy. 

Run a fork through the rice to loosen it, and serve with the remaining cilantro sprinkled on top. 

Bon appetit! 



Lemon Pepper Shrimp-Pork Hakka Noodles

Culinary Joint Venture: 

Bongs and Chinese food have an almost age old connect. Chilli Chicken and Hakka Noodles being all time favorites. Be it the special eating out during Durga Pujo, or a lunch grabbed with the girls during a shopping spree, or even a dine in at China Town, Chinese foood has almost a soul calling with the Boing broood. So no wonder there are days, when I have a craving for Chinese food,and everything else seems bland and boring. 

I had thawed Tilapia filets to be cooked in shorshey bata(mustard sauce) for dinner, before going out for the jog-walk session. It was supposed to be a typical Bong dinner. However by the time, I got back from my 4.5 mile session, I had a very familiar craving: a craving for Kolkata style Chinese food. That was a pang which could not be satisfied by ordering  a take out from the neighbourhood Chinese eatery. It was a distinct taste. The chinese breakfast at Central Avenue, or the sweet and sour pork from Jimmy's Kitchen, in Park Circus, or the huge spread in China Town, the mind was on a trip down the Chinese culinary lanes of Kolkata.
Lemon Pepper Shrimp-Pork Hakka Noodles
 It was just a  few days earlier, that I had come across a fellow blogger's post on Pork Hakka Noodles. I had loved the way, the cooking directions were doled out. It somehow sounded to me, that it was that Kolkattan taste, which my heart was longing for. So the tilapia went back to the freezer, and out came the pasta. I had run out of egg noddles, hence used angel hair pasta for my version of Pork Hakka Noodles. And Deb's suggestion to whip up Lemon Pepper Shrimp seemed like the ideal combo. Where was all the tiredness after the uphill walking we had been into. It was almost as if someone had given us a shot of extra strong energy drink. It was gonna be a Chinese dinner. 

Lemon Pepper Shrimp:    
courtesy: Deb 

Lemon pepper Shrimp
Shrimp: 250-300gm
Soy Sauce: 3/4 cup
Minced Ginger: 2 tbsp
Minced Garlic: 2 tbsp
Canola Oil
Corn Starch
Chopped cabbage:  handful
Capsicum/Bell pepper: cut into thin slivers
Lemon juice: 3-4 tsp

Saute the minced ginger garlic in canola oil. Dont let the garlic burn.

Then add 3/4 cup of soy sauce to the ginger garlic mixture. Mix well.
Blend two teaspoon of corn starch in half a cup of water, and add it to the sauce pan where you have the ginger and garlic, along with 2 tsp of lemon juice.
Season with salt and 2 tsp of pepper. Keep the sauce aside.
Dredge the shrimps lightly in corn flour and salt. Saute in a pan, until reddish brown in colour. Keep the shrimp aside.
Saute the chopped cabbage and capsicum slivers in canola oil, with salt and pepper. Ensure that the veggies retain the crunch. take them out of the pan.
Toss the fried shrimps in the pan along with the sauce, and some lemon juice. Cook it till the sauce sticks to the pan.
Do a taste test.
Turn off the heat.Garnish with the veggies.

Pork Hakka Noodles: 
Recipe courtesy:
Pork Hakka Noodles


Bacon: thick cut bacon in 3 slices: chopped
Sausages: 4-6: cut into rounds
Egg Noddles/ Angel Hair pasta: 400 gm: Boiled al dente with a dash of canola oil added to the boiling water.
Egg: 3: scrambled
Canola Oil
Cabbage: chopped: a handful
Mushrooms: chopped
Capsicum/Bell Pepper: cut into slivers
Chopped Ginger: 2 tbsp
Chopped Garlic: 1 tbsp
Soy Sauce: 1/4 cup
Chilli-Gralic sauce/Chilli Sauce: 1/5cup(or lesser according to heat preferences)
Pepper: 1 tbsp
Ajini no moto: 1 tsp
Salt: To taste
Vinegar: 1 tablespoon
Pork Hakka Noodles

Saute the meat in canola oil in a large pan, till the pan gets a fair share of bacon grease. 
Add in the minced garlic and minced ginger. Saute for sometime more, ensuring that they dont get burnt. 
Add in the sauces to the oil, and mix well.Cook the meat well, as it tends to take some time.
Move the meat to a side of the pan. add in the boiled noodles to the other side of the pan, add a dash of salt and a tbsp of pepper and a tsp of ajinomoto on the noddles. Mix well. 
Mix in the noodles, meat and the veggies. The veggies should retain their crunch, so do not over cook them. Do a taste test, and add in some more sauces, if it tastes too bland. 
Add 1 tbsp of vinegar to dissolve the seasonings better. 
Lastly mix in the scrambled eggs before serving. 

So next time you are craving for Kolkata style Chinese food, you know what to whip up. Bon appetit!