I’m a California girl, born and raised near the beaches of Santa Cruz and now living in downtown San Jose.
Growing up in Santa Cruz was like living in a world unto itself, with people all like yourself, and very little influence from the cities just over the hill. Quaint, quiet and beautiful.
During high school, my curiosity for Indian things began, surprisingly, from my aunt, who is a practicing Buddhist. She brought me to a local Tibetan Buddhist center in town called Land of Medicine Buddha. I was intrigued! I loved all the culture and rituals and how welcoming everyone was. I spent more and more time at the Buddhist Center, I eventually adopted Buddhism, made many new friends and when I was sixteen, decided to adopt vegetarianism.
I had always had a bit of a “thing” for all things Indian. There was only one Indian restaurant in Santa Cruz when I was growing up and I loved it so much I only went there on special occasions hoping I would never get tired of it! I loved the spicy intense flavors, the color and was enthralled by the “differentness” of it all.
Little did I know I would one day be immersed in the very culture I admired from afar.
After high school, I went “away” to college…”away” being only a six hour drive to Chico State University, but it was the farthest I’d been from home. At the time this felt like I had gone to a new world, and in a sense, I did. It was a world I didn’t relate to, and I became lonely and missed home tremendously. Then everything changed.
In my second year, when I was moving into an upstairs apartment in a large complex filled with college students, I unexpectedly met the love of my life. While carrying boxes up the stairs I bumped into a tall, dark and very handsome man who asked me where I was from.
He was Indian and had come from Bombay to get his master’s degree. He was different from anyone I had met before; worldly, and smart. I soon learned he was the life of the party and it didn’t take long before we fell in love.
Not only did I fall in love with this wonderful man, but I fell in love with his beautiful, colorful and exotic culture.
Two and a half years later, we were married. We had a wedding in Santa Cruz with 25 members of my family and closest friends.
As hubby and I adjusted to married life together, I learned the truth behind the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. Food is definitely Hubby’s favorite thing in the world. So as any newlywed bride would do, I tried cooking him a glorious meal in the hopes of impressing.
It took me three and half hours to make him broccoli and tofu with some store-bought Indian spices I didn’t even know how to pronounce. I was so proud and couldn’t wait for him to taste it. It was only years later that he finally revealed how odd of a dish it was and how he had to force himself to eat every bite. Yet Hubby put on a great show for me at the time. Ah, the things we do for love.
As much as I appreciated his willingness to scarf it down just to avoid hurting my feelings, I wanted to learn to cook this great food. I wanted to wow my husband with his favorite childhood dishes. I wanted to bring him memories of back home.
But where do I start? How do I start?! Cooking Indian food felt so complex and intimidating. How could I ever get my own cooking to taste that great?
With trial and a lot of error, I slowly began learning to cook the basics. My first few dishes were simple and they were all taught to me by Hubby: Indian style scrambled eggs, cauliflower and potatoes, vegetable rice, kidney beans…
I watched him make every dish with the exact same ingredients and the exact same process, only changing what vegetable he put in the pot.
I began to think quietly to myself, “either Indian food must be really simple, or my husband doesn’t actually know how to cook“. I soon found out it was the latter.
At the time, he knew more than me so I watched and followed, allowing him to do the majority of the cooking, or at least having him look over my shoulder with instructions. Secretively (or maybe not so secretively) I realized I needed to get some expert instruction.
Enter: my Mother-in law…we call her “Mummy-ji“.
The day came for my first trip to India.
A year and a half after our American wedding…or what I now call “our first wedding”, we were finally able to get to India.
After an exhausting twenty-four hour flight we arrived in Bombay at three o’clock in the morning.
Hubby’s whole family was up to see us arrive and they all welcomed me with open arms. It felt like I had always been a member of the family. We had chai and biscuits while Hubby and his parents chatted away in Punjabi until finally no one could bear to stay up any longer.
Our month long visit began with a full-blown Indian wedding with over 450 people. It was overwhelming and exciting all at once. We sat on a huge stage which was blanketed in colorful fabric and sparkling decorations. Two red velvet thrones where placed center stage where we sat for all to see.
It was certainly a different experience than my little American wedding.
I had never traveled anywhere significant before, even hardly in the US, and now here I was, flying to the other side of the world, sitting on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I was marrying into a family with different traditions and customs, even a different language. I had never been more excited in all my life.
We stayed in India for a whole month and during our time there I got a crash-course in Indian cooking. Mummy-ji cooked all of Hubby’s favorites: Saag, which is spinach in a cream sauce; chole, a tangy garbanzo bean dish, buttery lentil soup called dal makhani, spicy mixed vegetables, salty cucumber salad with lemon juice, homemade flat breads called chapatis… It went on and on and she made it ALL!
I could see Hubby was in food heaven.
Mummy-ji is an amazing cook and I wanted to learn to make everything like her. So I video taped her.
We spent hours in the kitchen together, me perched right over her shoulder with my camera and her talking away.
She gave all the instructions in Punjabi, laughing continuously at the fact that I couldn’t understand a word she said. Hubby was there from time to time to translate but not much. Later on, he helped me put in subtitles to the videos so I could understand her instructions. I’ve now got a pretty extensive Punjabi vocabulary of all things to do with the kitchen.
The day we got back, I started right away learning to make Hubby’s favorites.
Now, years later and though I can only speak a little bit of Punjabi, I sure can whip up a good dinner and dessert.
Surprisingly, cooking was never a favorite activity of mine. I always found it more of a chore. But Indian food became a window into the culture. As I learned to create better and better dishes, it became a fun and creative outlet, as well as a way for me to connect to the Indian community I was coming to know at home and throughout our travels.
I kept wondering, “why don’t they try making it at home if they love it so much?”
“Oh it’s too complicated.” one friend said.
A: Not if you know a few basics!
“I could never cook that!”
A: If I can, I know you can too.
“I don’t have time.”
A: Did you know it averages an hour to order delivery or takeout and 2 hours to go out for dinner?
I realize anything you don’t know how to do seems complicated. I remember how intimidating Indian cooking seemed to me at first. But it’s actually a lot simpler than you think. You just have to learn a few of the Indian basics. Then you have a cooking “tool box” you can draw from to make a variety of dishes.
When I was first learning, I loved watching Mummy-ji’s videos but soon wanted to try something new and different. There were dishes I loved from the restaurants we frequented that were not in Mummy-ji’s video library, so I searched for cooking videos online and Indian cookbooks from my local library. A lot of the Indian cookbooks and cooking shows were probably great for Indian cooks who were familiar with the ingredients and some of the basics, but they were still too much for me.
Now when our friends ask us to recommend a good Indian restaurant, Hubby always jumps in and says “Colleen’s Kitchen“.
That’s where the idea for this blog came from. As an American who has fallen in love with Indian food and successfully learned to cook it, I want to show others how approachable Indian food can be. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You don’t have to have Indian food only at a restaurant. You can make it in your own home and it will be healthier and fresher and a lot more fun!
My blog is about sharing Hubby’s and my adventures together and my love of Indian culture and the many new situations I find myself in.
You’ll see great Indian recipes with authentic taste. You’ll find stories of when I first met Hubby, meeting his family for the first time and the time he met mine. You’ll read about our American wedding and our Indian wedding, the trials and tribulations of trying to learn a new language and a new culture, adjusting to married life together, moving into our first home and the many more endless adventures that has become our life together. There are also the American recipes that intersect with childhood memories and stories; such as learning to cook from my talented mother and her boundless energy that continues to inspire me.
This is an ongoing story of my adventures of learning about a whole new culture and way of life.
It’s also a story of Hubby’s adventures meeting my own family and learning our way of doing things. From the first time I made him pancakes, his experience of our family Thanksgiving dinner, to his first time meeting my family or finally learning to like pizza.
Meeting Hubby has changed my whole life, in our years together, it has been a whirlwind of adventures. Everyday, I can’t wait to experience something new, from traveling the world and meeting new people, to simply discovering something new on the stove.
When I am not cooking and blogging, I am singing around the bay area. I sing in the a cappella band, Prime Time. When not booked at a gig, I sing with jam bands, where musicians show up and are put on stage together having never played together before. It’s great fun and a great way to meet new people.
Thank you for visiting my site and enjoying the stories, recipes and pictures.
It is my hope that you too may be inspired to try Indian cooking in your own home.
Got questions about Indian cooking or culture? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or use the Contact Me form to send me an email.
Thanks again for visiting. Hope to meet you in the comments around the blog.