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Pardon the multiple postings for today but I decided to update my book club news, since I haven’t posted anything on that topic since May’s THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS.

For June, I picked a heavier book – based on subject, not weight – BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS by Pulitzer winning author and journalist, Katherine Boo.

As you all may have figured out, I like to make each book club a mini party – with themed decorations and food. And, since this book is set in India, I had a field day! A quick trip to a local Indian store provided the treats. I also got the exact biscuits that were mentioned in the book. Luckily for me, they also happen to be some of my favorites!

We had a great discussion of this very painful-to-think-about subject. As some of you may know, Behind The Beautful Forevers is the result of three years that journalist Katherine Boo spent talking to some of the inhabitants of a horrific slum in Mumbai. The book is powerful, written as a very readable narrative, and will leave you thinking of the brutal topics for a very long time. I still haven’t decided what my take-away from this book is. I’ve vacillated between feelings of inspiration and hopelessness. On the one hand, despite the horrific conditions (living on open sewage, having to fight for everything they can) the inhabitants still feel a sense of hope and ambition, have dreams of a better life, celebrate birthdays, and even smile from time to time. Now, isn’t that a great testament to the resilience of the human spirit? On the other hand, at every step, they are also torn down by their own jealous neighbors, have to battle corruption and brutal authorities, and for every step forward, are hurled maybe five steps back. And that’s where my hopelessness comes in from this book: it all seems arbitrary, who succeeds and who fails. Hard work and honor are not always rewarded. And the biggest obstacle to these poor people was not the rampant TB, starvation, or floods – it was the brutality of other men.
I look forward to seeing how these ideas simmer and stew in my mind – because as hard as thinking about subjects like this is, I think it’s worse not to think about them at all.

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As a South Indian, I grew up eating lots and lots of upma – a dry, often savory, porridge-like preparation made using rava (semolina.) It’s a common breakfast food – very versatile and filling! I guess you could call it South Indian comfort food!

I like eating it any time of the day, though. Today, I made it for dinner, with some salmon curry and dal. And of course, a meal like this deserves a sweet finish! So for dessert, fresh sweet mango with non-dairy coconut ice-cream!

BASIC UPMA RECIPE:
This is the basic recipe, to which you can add your choice of veggies, nuts, coconut, dried fruit etc. Anything goes! If you like it, add it!

INGREDIENTS:
1 cup rava (semolina)
2 cups water
1 onion
1 green chili
1 red chili
3 or 4 tsp ghee (or vegetable oil if vegan)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp urad dal
3 or 4 curry leaves

METHOD:
1. Dry roast the rava until it is hot and set aside
2. Heat the ghee and add the dal, chilis, and curry leaves. Sauté until the dal has turned golden brown.
3. Add the chopped onions and ginger and continue sautéing until the onions turn transparent.
4. Add the water and slowly add the rava, while stirring. Once all the water is absorbed, cover and cook on low for 7-8 minutes – stirring periodically.

And that’s it, guys! Simple and yummy!!

You can serve it on its own or with veggies, dal, or curry. You can also leave out the savory elements (chilis and onions etc) and make a sweeter dish. I’ve had it served to me for breakfast with sugar and a banana that you mash into the upma. Also very yummy!!