Tuesday, February 28, 2006

She's baaaack!

I'm back from all the craziness, and recovering quite nicely, thank you. The 20-person cooking stint turned out to be a 16-person stint, and I had an absolutely excellent helper. I never do these things solo (sorry if I made it sound as if I did). There's always someone to come along behind me cleaning up my messes, setting the tables and clearing them, running the dishwasher, running to the store for forgotten or newly-needed items, etc.

For years, my assistant has nearly always been my friend Terri, who is mellow and funny and really prefers to be in the assisting role, but who can take over cooking a dish if needed. She wasn't available this time. Instead, a woman named Claudette (yep, French roots!) whom I'd met some years ago volunteered to assist, even though her husband had just had hernia surgery and needed some level of help at home. And she was fabulous! This gal's the local version of the Energizer bunny, so fast that I was in awe. We really clicked as a team. It was touching to hear that helping me in the kitchen reminded me of when she was a child helping her mother. And no, I'm not old enough to be her mother, in fact she's got a few years on me. But it was nice to know that she was truly enjoying the time she spent helping. I expect we'll work together again from time to time, and I look forward to that. I never thought I'd be as happy with anyone as I always have been with pal Terri, so it's really delightful to find this wonderful teammate!

So, the meals got made, the snacks got served, the kitchen got cleaned, and everyone left happy. A number of the guests asked for recipes, asked about how I learned to cook, made sweet comments about the quality of the food. One couple runs a B&B and said I could come cook for their inn any time. That's exactly the atmosphere I'm shooting for at these events, so that made me happy.

Sunday was very busy, church in the morning with a quick bite to eat at a local truckstop (but think "local diner," this food is great!) and then an afternoon of writing up the shopping list for the cooking class Monday night. The Huz had to clear our driveway of over a foot of powdery snow. It's a big driveway, and he opted to do it with a shovel instead of the snowblower because the snow was so powdery, he wasn't sure the snowblower would throw it very far. It took him a couple of hours. Then I was off to do the shopping for the class, stowed everything in the class kitchen, and then headed off for a couple of hours of play rehearsal. Whew! End of day.

Monday, I worked on my teaching plan, made a chocolate cream pie so there would be one all firmed up and ready to eat at the end of the class, and got out all my cooking equipment that I wanted to take to the class. By 4:00 I was out the door, needing to stop & pick up an item that wasn't available at the first store Sunday. Got to the class kitchen by 4:40, and my awesome friend and assistant Ruth was there already! She wasn't due till 5:30. With the extra help, we were mighty dang organized for the class!

By 6:20, class participants were filtering in, washing their hands, signing their forms, picking up the recipe sheets and feedback forms, and we started the class nearly on time at 6:35. With Ruth and me, we were twelve. It was a most congenial group of adult food lovers. We had a retired Air Force guy, a middle school music teacher, a couple of lawyers, a stay-at-home mom, a mom with 3 part-time jobs, and a few others whose occupations, sadly, I didn't have time to inquire about. They all pitched in and helped with the chopping and the stirring and the searing. The theme was "Mardi Gras", and we made a honey pecan pie first, got it into the oven and then into the fridge so it could be eaten that night. Then we started the chicken gumbo, and while various activities were going on around that we made the killer corn bread. We nibbled on that while we finished the gumbo. Lastly, we still had time so we made a chocolate cream pie. Then we all sat down together with some bottled water and the fruits (meats, vegetables) of our labors. It was a perfectly lovely time! The participants all got to take home the leftovers, of which there were many. And I got to bring home the as-yet-unset chocolate pie for my tall skinny fast-metabolizing Huz. Home by 10:00. Much happiness all around.

And then .... sleeeeep!!! One more night of it, and I should be back to human again. Yeah!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I'm afraid my little guy is beginning to show his age a bit. He's sleeping more these days. He's so contented to curl up and tuck his nose under his tail like a little fox, or to assume what The Huz calls his "arrow" position, and drift off to dreamland, complete with little arfs and whoofs signalling days of glory and battles supreme. He's a very snuggly dog, loving to sleep on or near me, content to receive a little tummy rub and then drift off to sleep. He's not as surefooted as he used to be on our bare wood floors. And I think I might be noticing the first signs of cataracts in his sweet brown eyes.

But he still wakes up delightedly when I call him to chase squirrels and anything else that runs away from him. I call him The World's Softest Predator ... not that he ever catches his prey. But his efforts have definitely reduced the numbers of those pesky chattery red squirrels under our feeders.

I can't bear to think that someday he won't be with us. It's the bargain we must accept if we join our lives with our canine companions. It's a hard bargain.

See a previous picture of Simba

With tears, this is my Weekend Dog Blogging entry.
You are Lucy!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

putanesca, anyone?

... or is that puttanesca?

I'm looking for a great chicken putanesca recipe (my old Spanish training comes out ... no double t's!) for a large benefit dinner in April. Do you make it? Do you love it? Do you think it's OK to serve a meal to large numbers of people that includes greek olives, anchovies, and red pepper flakes? Am I MAD???

Monday, February 20, 2006

I've done it again ...

I've overscheduled myself. In my defense, I had no possible way to know when I committed to all these things that they would all land in this little section of my calendar. What things, you may ask? Thanks for asking; I've been wanting to whine!
  1. Cooking for a group of 20(!) for four days the end of this week, in a small kitchen with no commercial equipment and marginal ergonomics, a dining room barely able to contain that number, with only part-time help, in a town 75 miles north of here.
  2. Cooking as much as possible for said group in advance of going there.
  3. Practicing for a play for a murder mystery dinner benefit scheduled for early April.
  4. Learning lines for said play.
  5. Acquiring a disco outfit for said play.
  6. Contriving and learning a dance routine for said play.
  7. Chairing a heap big meeting (ugh!) Wednesday with the building contractor for our church construction project. I chair the committee, keep the notes and follow up on most of the items.
  8. Meeting tomorrow with said contractor and interior design committee at local building supply company to view furnishings, wood trim, window styles, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
  9. Teaching a cooking class next Monday night
  10. Shopping for said cooking class
And did you notice I didn't mention anything about work, which includes building a web-based progress tracker for one client as a preliminary to a fairly large project for them, designing and building a website for a local friend with a real estate rental company, investigating the plausibility of offering a class on a hot new technology, exploring the early stages of another website for another local friend, and learning said hot new technology to apply to said websites?

Isn't that just depressing? But, this too shall pass! So, I'm ducking out of any more postings this week, and will be back middle of next week with, I'm sure, stories and/or pictures and/or recipes. And will look forward to hearing the same from you!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Sleep, blissful sleep

Can't a guy get a little shuteye around here without someone stickin' a camera in his face?

Ah, the heck with it. I'm goin' to sleep anyway.

Normally, I'd submit this as an entry for Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's, but she's a bit under the weather and may not be producing it this weekend. Best wishes for quick wellness, Sweetnicks!

See a previous picture of Simba

[Added later in the day ... ] Hey, dog lovers! Weekend Dog Blogging is on, over at Something So Clever this week while Sweetnicks recuperates from gall bladder surgery. Rumor has it she'll be back online soon. Meantime, head on over to SSC to see lots of cute dog pics, and/or send your own contribution to somethingsoclever AT hotmail DOT com.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A (very) little tourism in India

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a kind shopkeeper, Rajiv, was giving us a ride back to our hotel when he learned we had had no time for sightseeing on our trip. He very kindly drove us around for about half an hour to show us the sights below.

India Gate was originally called the All India War Memorial in memory of the Indian soldiers who died during the Afghan and World Wars. The names of 85,000 Indian Army Soldiers who died during the wars are inscribed on the walls of the structure. Below the arch is the memorial to the Unknown Soldier. An eternal flame called Amar Jawan Jyoti is an eternal flame (it runs on gas) that was lit in 1971 to honour the soldiers.

It sits on a broad boulevard reminiscent of roads in European capitols. This is no coincidence; this entire area was laid out by the British during their colonial rule. Before visiting Delhi, I wasn't sure whether to call the city "Delhi" or "New Delhi." I was thinking maybe it used to be called "New Delhi" by the British, but "Delhi" by the Indians. What I learned on this trip is that "New Delhi" is the section of Delhi that was built in the European manner during the colonial period. Aha! That makes perfect sense.

This huge statue wasn't far from our hotel, and we passed it several times in our travels about the city. I'm afraid this picture doesn't begin to do justice to this magnificent piece of artwork. The Ghandi memorial is a huge statue in bronze commemorating Gandhi's march to the sea to protest the salt tax in 1931. You can see much better photos of it here.

Finally, no trip to India would be complete without a chance to see the little monkeys running around loose. We spotted them atop the Parliament building first, but because of security concerns cars aren't allowed to stop in the street in front of the buildings, so I wasn't able to snap any pictures. So Rajiv took us along a thoroughfare through a relatively "natural" area where the monkeys run loose and tourists buy food to (illegally) feed them.

As you can see, they're not the cutest monkeys on the planet ... but they're monkeys! Loose! It's really fun to see. Check out the babies. You gotta love 'em. Or maybe you don't. Their mothers do.

Well, that was about the extent of our purposeful sightseeing. Even though we did see lots of sights, they weren't the monuments or the temples that you would normally expect to go see during a trip to India. We're hoping to do those on a later trip. For this one, the most important sight was little Hope Aradhana.

When I have time, I'm planning to do one last post containing just miscellaneous stuff seen around on the streets, some pics of some folks we met, etc. And I expect that will be the last post about our fabulous trip to India. So, until then ... TTFN!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Weekend Dog Blogging

Cute doggies with curly ears don't have to look at the camera, if they don't want to. Even if you make kissy noises with your mouth and call their name brightly and promise not to use the flash. Cute doggies with curly ears don't have to do anything they don't want to.

See a previous picture of Simba

Attention Dog Lovers! It's time for Weekend Dog Blogging!
To see more fun dog photos and discover yummy new food blogs, head over to
Sweetnicks on Sunday night for the complete roundup. We'd love to have you join us. Just post your pup and e-mail the permalink to sweetnicksplace AT aol DOT com.

Career choice: check!

Every Thursday morning, way too early in the morning, I have a meeting with my church's construction committee. We're charged with overseeing what is for us a major building project, over $2 million in the first phase, to roughly triple the size of our church facility. I chair the committee, and as part of that role I record the meeting notes.

Recently, I've taken to going to a local, locally owned diner fter each meeting to have breakfast by myself. I'm learning how to do sudoku puzzles, and it takes me roughly the same amount of time to eat my breakfast and work one puzzle, with perhaps an extra cup of coffee if the puzzle is one of the more difficult ones. It's a most enjoyable tradition!

This past week, after my breakfast, it didn't make sense to go home afterward because I had a meeting in town before too long. I decided to go to Panera to use their wi-fi while writing up the notes from the meeting. It seems like a terribly shi-shi, Gen X thing to do, but that's probably just because I'm so far from Gen X I have no clue!

So, I took a table along the wall near an outlet, in case one should become necessary. A young woman was at the next table, and the one behind her soon became empty, I noticed, as I worked on getting past the Panera "Hi, here you are at Panera, please be considerate of others when we're busy, and OK now you can click here to get on the network" page (Hint to Panera: ever heard of Firefox? And why would that not work when Netscape does??)

Soon a pleasant-looking, professionally dressed 40ish man came in with his laptop and took the vacant table behind the young woman. I wasn't paying much attention, but I was facing that direction and did hear him making small talk with her (she sitting with her back to him and trying to be nice about wanting to be left alone).

When he mentioned that his screen dims so much when on battery power that he can barely see it, I looked up. He had a Dell. I have a Dell. She had an Apple. So of course she was wouldn't be of any assistance.

It had taken me a while to figure that out about my Dell, too, because the fix isn't in a control panel or anywhere in XP, it's on your keyboard in a Dell-specific configuration. The blue "Fn" key can be used to directly access a variety of system settings, with corresponding blue icons on the keys. Screen brightness is controlled by using the Fn key and the up or down arrows. If you look carefully, the blue brightness icons are on those keys ... but who looks carefully at their keyboard? Or reads the user manual?

So I called the guy over, asked him if he has a Fn key on his keyboard, and showed him the trick.

He was elated. "Wow!" he said. "You should do consulting!"

Of course, I do, but it didn't seem important to tell him that.

Back to his table he goes. Tries it. Yep, it works, by golly. "Thanks!" he said. "Really, you should go in the business!"

I had to smile at that one. "I am in the business," I said.

"IT?!?!" he asked, animatedly.


It's been a long time since the IT world has been dominated by men. I started doing IT work back in those days, and in a way I kind of miss seeing the surprise of people who discovered how goldurn competent I am in something they thought was a "guy" kind of career.

So I don't think his surprise was necessarily based on any foolish, "Women aren't usually competent at computers" nonsense. I think he was just expressing enthusiasm and amazement at his luck finding someone in Panera to help him with his problem.

At least, I hope that's what it was. Because, even though I kind of miss that sort of surprise, it really is a better world without it, and all that it implies.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Smooth, dark chocolate

Back in the day, I worked as a bartender in a hotel in Bloomington, Illinois. I was working the night shift one night, starting at around 4:00 to get the bar set up. Now, Bloomington is a twin city with Normal (yes, that's really the town's name, and there's a good reason for it, which you can find here.) Normal is home to Illinois State University, a fairly large public college.

As I was setting up the bar, cutting lemons, making simple syrup, inventorying this and that, a couple of black guys came in and sat way down at the end of the bar, near the door. I went down to offer them a drink. As I was making their order at the station nearest them, I heard one of them excitedly talking about a new Mercedes he had found for sale somewhere in the area. It was chocolate brown. It seemed like guy number one was trying to convince guy number two to buy the Mercedes.

Now, my friends, this was in the day. I looked up from my work, smiled, and said, "Ooo, chocolate brown. My favorite color!"

Guy number two grinned, grabbed my hand as I set down the drinks, kissed it, and asked, "Am I the right shade, darlin'?"

"You'll do, you'll do, " I said, or something friendly like that, and then went back to work at the other end of the bar.

The guys eventually left, and left me a very nice tip, I might add. (Considering how many years ago it was, it must have been a nice one for me to still remember it!)

Later, when other customers and employees came in, I learned that George Benson was in town for a concert at ISU. And I realized just who had kissed my hand. I was a huge Benson fan. I could never have flirted with him like that if I'd known who he was. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that I did not wash my hand for two days.

Dark chocolate. He kissed my hand. How smooth is that?

And now for a not-so-smooth transition ... I'm not a rabid chocolate fan. I tend more toward lemon desserts, creamy or sugary things like creme brulee, lemon bars, strawberry shortcake, etc. When I do indulge in chocolate, I like it dark, soft, and very, very smooth. A delicious truffle wins out over a bag of Hershey's whatever every time. It also wins out over most Belgian chocolates (sorry, Belgian lovers!) like Godiva, which I find too waxy for my taste. I want my teeth to sink through the chocolate, not squeak through it.

I found a recipe for this heavenly chocolate dessert in, of all places, A Taste of Home magazine. Now, I don't mean to be a snob about A Taste of Home. I've gotten many good recipes out of it. It specializes in recipes with not too many ingredients, most of which you can probably find in your cabinets. What's not to like about that?

But this recipe is special, a little highbrow. Not your run-of-the-mill AToH recipe, to my mind. It's essentially a flourless chocolate cake, with a crust of crunchy chocolate wafer crumbs and a frosting that is a perfect third component. This dessert deserves a better description than I can give it. I can only say, "Try it, you'll like it!"

It's especially wonderful to serve when you don't want to be baking at the last minute, because it should be made the day before and refrigerated, then frosted just before serving.

So, without further ado, here's "my" Velvet Chocolate Dessert:

Cake Frosting
1½ c chocolate wafer crumbs ½ cbutter, softened
2 T sugar 3 c confectioner's sugar
¼ c butter, melted (no substitutes) 3 T baking cocoa
2 c semisweet chocolate chips (12 oz) 3 to 4 T milk
6 egg yolks

1¾ c whipping cream

1 tsp vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a small bowl, combine wafer crumbs and sugar; stir in melted butter.
  • Press onto the bottom and 1-½ inch up sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan.
  • Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
  • In a microwave or heavy saucepan, melt chocolate chips; stir until smooth. Cool.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, cream and vanilla; beat well.
  • Gradually stir a third of the cream mixture into melted chocolate until blended.
  • Gradually stir in remaining cream mixture.
  • Pour into crust.
  • Place pan on a baking sheet.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until center is almost set.
  • Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.
  • Refrigerate overnight.


  • In a mixing bowl, cream butter.
  • Combine confectioners' sugar and coca; add to butter with enough milk to achieve frosting consistency.
  • Pipe into center of dessert.
  • Refrigerate leftovers.
This is my entry in the weekly Get Your Just Desserts event. Head on over there Sunday to see what else is there to be seen! Better yet, send in a recipe and be seen yourself!

Just desserts!

If you're a food blogger, you might want to check out the WebSorceress Cooks site for her weekly Get Your Just Desserts event. Submit a dessert by Sunday to be included in the roundup. I'm going to rear back, wind up, and let 'er rip with my killer Velvet Chocolate Dessert. It will be worth a trip to her website just for that one, I promise!!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

C'mon! Check it out!

Hey, guys, I know there are more of you out there than went & left a comment at my Guest Blogging post at Chef Michele's. Puh-lease leave a comment! Or she might never invite me back!!! Pretty please with sugar on top? [All dignity lost in service of vying for popularity. Reminds me of high school.]

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Indonesian Ginger Chicken

In a previous post elegantly entitled "Haallpppp!" I mentioned an upcoming potluck to which people were bringing interesting side dishes, and I needed to find a neutral but not boring main dish to serve alongside the Arabian cabbage rolls and tabbouleh. I decided to make The Barefoot Contessa's Indonesian Ginger Chicken. A combination of soy, honey, and spices adds a delectable flavor to plain chicken, which is served plain, with no sauce. It comes from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and the only things I changed were to use skinless dark meat (legs and thighs) rather than a whole chicken, and to marinate for only about 5 hours. The overnight marinade was a bit strong for my taste.

So, without further ado, here's the scoop:

1 cup honey
¾ cup soy sauce (she doesn't specify a type; I used a dark Chinese one purchased at our local Eastern foods market)
¼ cup minced garlic (8 to 12 cloves)
½ cup peeled and grated fresh ginger root
2 chickens (3½ pounds each), quartered, with backs removed

Cook the honey, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger root in a small saucepan over low heat until the honey is melted. Arrange the chicken in a large, shallow baking pan, skin side down, and pour on the sauce.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator (shorter times work OK too). (Picture at right is of uncooked chicken.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for ½ hour. Uncover the pan, turn the chicken skin side up, and raise the temperature to 375 degrees. Continue baking for 30 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh and the sauce is a rich dark brown.

I made the garnish by cutting some ginger slices into tulip shapes (or at least as best I could!). The flower stems and leaves are made from scallion greens, sliced lengthwise very thinly and immersed in ice water. The cold water makes them curl up nicely!

NOTE 9/1/06
In the past day, my hit counter has exploded with people searching for the recipe for Indonesian Ginger Chicken. If you came here looking for that recipe, will you leave me a note and tell me what's sparking the sudden interest? Was it featured on TV recently?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hope changes before our very eyes

The lethargic, dull-eyed girl from day 1 began changing rapidly, day by day.


The head housekeeper helped us feed Hope her first morning with us. Can you believe how beautiful the clothes are? This is a work outfit!

Hope and her Aunt PatL

Baby toys, nuh-uh. Just about anything else is fun, though!

sweet sleepy girl ...

First smile. She's discovered mirrors.


Gaining independence ... first time separated from mommy by even an inch

Snuggly girl


Fun! With a little bread on the side ...

... but
don't put me in that Snugli, mommy!


Our little rug expert weighs in.

The Hope of India story

I realize up to now my posts about the trip to India have consisted mostly of discussions of looking out windows and shopping. Of course, the whole point of the trip, and what we spent most of our time on, was picking up Hope from the orphanage, falling in love with her, and learning all about this new little person in our midst. The tricky thing about blogging about all that is my desire to both respect her privacy and protect her from those who love children in an unwholesome way. So, there are cute little shots of her sleeping and bathing and playing that simply won't appear on this website.

But here are some shots of the stunning moment when this little child was introduced to us, at her orphanage in Pune. I'll just put as many of the pictures up here as I can, with a minimum of commentary.


The first pictures

exhausted and confused

Meenal, our social worker, and the wife of the manager of the orphanage. Because we picked up Hope on a Saturday, the manager himself was not available.

Accoutrements for the ceremony

Our first car ride

Leaning into the stroke

... to be continued ...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

It's been a busy weekend. We went to a lecture and had a late dinner out Friday night. Saturday night was dinner and "cahds" with friends. The dinner was delicious ... skillet lasagna, home-made rolls, and tira misu, to which I contributed a lemony caesar salad (Ok, the lemony part was unintentional) with homemade croutons. I do so love homemade croutons. I don't need the excuse of a salad to eat them, and in fact did have some after dinner as a hand snack. Which alerted me to the fact that if I brought them home they would be sitting around inviting my attentions, so I left them with the friends. What good friends, to save me from temptation like that!

I come from a card-playing family, but the Huz doesn't, so we rarely ever get together with friends for cards. When we go to Iowa to see my extended family at Thanksgiving, we have a tradition of two generations of "the girls" getting together that Friday night for euchre and hearts. It is such a blast!! I really miss that around-the-table, just-us-and-the-cards, hanging-out time. So last night was absolute balm to my card-parched soul. And it didn't hurt that Lady Luck was smiling on me last night! :o)

And tonight we have a group coming over for a potluck at our house. I'm making The Barefoot Contessa's Indonesian chicken, of the "Lauren Bacall gets grumpy when we're out of our Indonesian Chicken" fame. If it turns out well, I'll blog it tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Also, I am pleased and delighted and excited to announce that tomorrow (Monday) I will be featured as the guest blogger at Chef Michele's Adventures! Chef Michele is "a 33 year old mother of 3 striving to keep our family food budget under control while still enjoying the tasty things in life." Her site features a variety of recipes and tips, with an emphasis on frugal meals. Please go check out my posting over at her site, and leave her a message saying "Hey!" while you're there!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Wet whirling Simba

Simba finds the new rug an energetically acceptable bath towel.

See a previous picture of Simba

Attention Dog Lovers! It's time for Weekend Dog Blogging!
To see more fun dog photos and discover yummy new food blogs, head over to
Sweetnicks on Sunday night for the complete roundup. We'd love to have you join us. Just post your pup and e-mail the permalink to somethingsoclever01 AT gmail DOT com.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

When in India, buy rugs!

One more belated entry in my India saga ...

I arrived in India with one major goal, beyond the obvious ones of picking up little Hope to bring her home, and just generally to see a bit of the country. I really felt it would be foolish to travel all the way to India and not take advantage of the opportunity to purchase one of these precious, durable, beautiful treasures so much more cheaply than is possible here at home, even though a large rug over there still constitutes a major purchase ... at least for our budget!

During our time in Delhi, we made several trips trying to find the shop that Nanette remembered from her previous trip. Unfortunately, we never did, but we did come upon a wonderful shop run or subsidized --- I wasn't totally clear --- by the Indian government to benefit the various craftspeople throughout the country. Actually, we came across several, but the one in this story is where I ended up purchasing several 3' x 5' rugs for Christmas presents. They cost more than I would normally spend for a Christmas present, but again, I refer you to paragraph 1!

The concierge at our hotel is friends with a man who manages one of these stores, known as Cottage Industries stores. The friend, Rajiv, actually came to the hotel to drive us to the store. It was near the end of our trip, and we still hadn't found the right place to buy carpets, and we were wondering if we would go home disappointed. By then we had little Hope with us, who was beginning to twig to the fact that every time we left home in a car we were going shopping. So far, she hadn't quite gotten in the spirit of things; in fact, she was beginning to act the same way Simba does when he realizes the car trip is going to end up at the vet's. So, we didn't have unlimited time to hang out and schmooze in the stores.

Rajiv, bless him, took us straight to the carpets and turned us over to Sajjad, a young married man with a brand new son at home. "Home" is the Indian section of Kashmir. Evidently, there's not much industry there (as can be imagined, considering its uncertain political future and the number of tanks and machine guns in the area), so he has had to come to Delhi to earn a living. Nonetheless, he has a wonderful cheerful spirit about him, and we grew quite fond of him over the hour or so we spent at the store.

The process goes something like this:

"What size carpets are you looking for, madam?" (Yes, they called me madam)

"3 x 5"

"We have some lovely carpets in that size, madam, but are you sure you wouldn't care for this carpet since they are so inexpensive?"

"No, these are gifts, and I wouldn't care to give them a large carpet as I'm not sure where they will have space for the carpet. Just 3 by 5, please."

"Yes, madam. First we would like to show you how Kashmiri carpets are made. Will you come sit over here?"

I'm sure I could have moved them straight to the sales process, but I was very interested to hear how human beings could possibly produce such perfect, beautiful, sturdy carpets by hand. I knew that the back of the carpet would be a perfect replica of the front, but how the heck do they do that??

So, here's what I heard about how carpets are made.

Kashmiri rugs are held to be among the finest in the world. 95% of the rugs sold in India are made in Kashmir. The people there are renowned the world over for their skill, and the climate provides the perfect humidity for rug making. This rug came from the Indian side of Kashmir. Fortunately, the recent earthquake in Pakistan did not affect the people there.

Following are some pictures that depict how a rug is created using these ancient methods.

When a pattern is created, it is hand-drawn on several large sheets of paper, which are then laminated and used over & over. Creation of a new pattern takes five to eight years. Each family makes carpets from only one or two patterns, right down through the generations. Thus, a person who is knowledgeable about hand-made carpets in India can see the carpet and know immediately the names of the family who made it.

The pattern is then translated into these sheets of code, which can only be read by trained carpet makers. Sajjad, the salesperson who assisted me in buying your rug, tells me it's similar to computer code, and can be read as "light blue, two knots."

Here's a picture of Sajjad demonstrating how one person of the carpet making team is responsible for reading the code to those who are tying the yarns.

This is a miniature replica of a loom. Notice the pieces of paper hanging on the left of the loom; these are the code sheets for the carpet. The loom is always worked perpendicular to the floor, unlike some other weaving looms, which are usually held parallel to the floor. There are two sets of coarse twine that form the base for the rug, which you can see running vertically on the loom. One set of twine forms the bottom of the rug, the other forms the top. In the next picture, you'll see why.

The back of a Kashmiri rug is a perfect image of the front, without the nap of the fibers. This is accomplished by wrapping the yarn first around a top piece of twine and then around the corresponding bottom piece of twine, then bringing the loose end to the front. Click the picture to get a closer look at how this works. Notice the raggedly trimmed yarns in the most recently tied couple of rows.

These are the tools used in making a rug. The one on the left is a sort of machete, with the cutting edge on the interior of the curve. It is used to cut each yarn as it is tied. The one on the right is a sort of comb that is used to press the recently tied yarns tightly down against previous rows. The shears are used to cut the yarns evenly so the rug has a smooth, even surface.

By the time the rug is complete, it has been hanging on the loom for months or even years.After the edges are finished and fringes added, it is taken down from the loom and put through several clear water washes. For protection from moths, one of the rinses has some onion paste added to it.

That's the process!

I’m told that these rugs can be expected to last for generations. Heavy furniture does them no harm: when you remove the furniture, you’ll see the imprint for a week or two, but after a couple of weeks the fibers will have sprung right back. These carpets actually improve from being walked on, because doing so releases the lanolin in the wool. They can be cleaned by shaking them or vacuuming them. If they need to be washed just sprinkle some cool water on them and use a brush. If they need spot cleaning, just cut a lemon in half and rub it over the stain. The dyes are reputed to be colorfast and should not run. But you can also take them to a reputable carpet cleaner who is experienced in working with “oriental” rugs.

After we were oriented to the rugmaking process, we went through a great session of having two other men in the store bringing out carpet after carpet for our review, as we sat drinking tea and shaking our heads "no" or "maybe". The no's were pulled aside and thrown in a great heap. The maybes were accumulated until we had 6 or 8 of them, and then they would ask us to eliminate a few. Onto the heap they went. Finally, we ended up with the 4 carpets, which were sewn into amazingly compact burlap bags and labeled so I could remember which was which. I carried these home on the plane with me. (The larger one that I bought for my home was shipped, and came within 3 weeks of purchase.)

So, here are pictures of the ones I ended up purchasing.

As I waited for the rugs to be wrapped, I spent some time talking with Sajjad. His pride in his country, Kashmir, is so evident. He told me that before it became a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, it was a tourist destination, famous for a hotel that floated on one of the clear cold lakes in the mountains. There are beautiful mountain lakes, and his house is on one of them. He misses his wife and son, of course, and showed me pictures of them. And, to my delight, he insisted that if T and I ever come back to India, he would be delighted to have us come stay with him and his family, using their house as a base to explore his beloved country. How kind is that? These people are so hospitable. We don't even know the meaning of the word, compared to them.

The final, delightful event took place as Rajiv was driving us back to the hotel. The shop was some distance away, so we were discussing his life and family. He, too, lives away from his family, but December is part of their two-month school vacation period, so his wife and two children had come to live with him in his cramped quarters. He expressed a wish that he could invite us to his home, but it is just impossible. Again, I marveled at the hospitality of these people. Delhi is very expensive to live in, and he is finding it hard.

He asked whether we had seen any of the sights. We said that our time had been circumscribed by our need to do bureaucratic details for Hope's visa, and that we were leaving the day after next and would probably have to reserve sightseeing for another trip. Without another word, he took us out of the way to go see some of the more splendid sights of Delhi, the government buildings and the arch commemorating World War I. I will post pictures of those sites later, this post is already too long! When Nanette pointed out the little monkeys on top of the government buildings, he asked if we would like to see some close up. I immediately said, "Oh yes!" without considering that Hope was getting fussy in the back seat. Oops. I apologized to Nan later. Anyway, he took us to a drive-through open area where tourists were (illegally) feeding the monkeys, before finally depositing us at our hotel.

I love the Indian people. They are so giving, so kind. I'm sure they have all the character flaws that all of the rest of us do ... after all, they're human! ... but it surely is a wonderful place to visit.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Grab the chainsaw and get to rippin'!! More fun than an iguana in a bucketful of sloppy bananas!!