DIWALI 2009

Late Friday afternoon, we had to say goodbye to our sweet old girl.

us & our old lady

All things considered, our Lucky Dog lived up to her name.  She didn’t have to suffer through a prolonged illness or regular trips to the vet.  The two people who love her most were right there with her when she died.  LD enjoyed an incredibly high quality of life right up until the very end, something we don’t take for granted.

But I’m still walking around like a zombie in her absence.  Having an old dog, you try to prepare yourself for the inevitable.  But as with any loss, I’ve found you can’t really understand what it will be like until you are there.  Our whole family life revolved around that dog—coming home to let her out, feeding her, changing her diapers, baking her dog bones, rubbing her belly.  She was my first pet, Jill’s faithful hunting partner, and a source of much joy and comfort to both of us.

Needless to say, we came home Friday to a very hollow house.  A very hollow house that had been, up to that point, in the throes of preparation for a very large party the following night.

collage

During each of the four autumns since my father died, I’ve thrown a party to celebrate the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali.  My first was a small graduate school gathering in my tiny apartment in Tucson—I kept my mom on culinary consultation via cell phone and somehow managed to coax my tiny stovetop into making large pots of rice pudding (kheer) and my father’s favorite kidney bean stew (rajma).  Jill came into town and poured drinks for everyone.  My fellow writers wrapped the patio in lights, brought candles, decorated my sidewalk with chalk drawings.  We stayed up late that night, sitting on the floor of my apartment, the conversation intimate, warm.

Since then, the logistics have expanded considerably but my intentions haven’t changed.  I seek to honor my father, remember him, commemorate him, make him proud.  As with all of my cooking endeavors, I work to earn my place next to my mother and every other kitchen goddess/hostess/Southern gentlewoman I watched growing up, gracious, willful, relentless.  I like the hard work that comes with feeding forty-five people intricate food you made from scratch.  I revel in the ache and feeling that I have squared myself firmly inside my heritage (albeit with a few first-generation twists).

This year, Jill and I considered, for maybe thirty seconds, calling off the party.  But I don’t think it was ever really an option in either of our minds.  What better time to have a house-full of people we love?  Not to mention, what on EARTH would we have done with all of the food I had already made?

diwali food 2

So, the show went on, as the show must do, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best one yet.  You know those occasions when you can feel a place hum with love and good will?  It was one of those.  We saw the smiling faces of some of our favorite people, hugged them, fed them good food, and felt grateful for our life, with everything in it.

I’m humbled by two things right now:

  • The beings I love, love, love with all my might and heart and soul and body, will die someday and I can’t control when or how.  When they are gone, it will hurt irreparably.
  • There are some truly incredible beings in my life.

Take, for example, Leslie, a friend from high school who now sells the loveliest stationery on Etsy and transformed my vague idea for an invitation into this striking card:

diwali-invite

My creative librarian colleague Heather, who manufactured the most beautiful cardstock-and-vellum labels for all of the evening’s food:

diwali-heather label

Or our dear friends Courtney and her husband John, who showed up at our house on Friday night with bags of Thai food and these votive-holders, which they crafted out of baby food jars, copper wire, and the loveliest quotes about light.  I think they’re going to become a permanent fixture in our window:

diwali-candles

My college roommate and talented artist Rebecca swathed the tables in sun colors, rose petals, flowers, and even incorporated pictures of our sweet girl at the last minute:

diwali-LD on table

I could go on and on—indomitable photographer Sonya, whose good work you see all over this post, my beloved Jill, who cleaned our house from top to bottom, wrapped the fence in lights, and set out all of the rental tables and chairs, and the kind-hearted Meg of Maker’s Table, who served as our wine consultant, recommending wonderful bottles  in my price range that would pair nicely with the evening’s spicy food.

Speaking of food, we set out quite a spread, if I may say so myself:

For appetizers, we had:

  • Indian fruit salad with mango, pineapple, pomegranate, & star fruit
  • Bhel Puri, a build-your-own Indian street food featuring spicy potatoes atop a bed of crunchy chick-pea flour snacks, onion, cilantro, & one or both of tamarind and coriander chutneys
  • grilled Halloumi cheese atop mini-pitas with mango chutney and onion relish

Dinner:

  • Lamb Koftas (spicy meatballs in a tomato/sour cream gravy)
  • Saag Paneer (greens with homemade cheese)
  • Channa Masala (North Indian-style chickpea stew)
  • Sweet potatoes & green beans with mustard seeds
  • Basmati rice pilaf
  • Achar (cauliflower, carrot, & jalapeño pickle)
  • Raita (homemade yogurt with grated cucumber & salt)
  • Naan (which I purchased and I did NOT make!)

For dessert, I made Indian-style chai and served up little bowls of Suji Halwa, a kind of porridge made with cream-of-wheat, butter, cardamom, & nuts.  Sounds a little strange, but it’s delicious.

I’m afraid I don’t have all of the recipes ready to post for you here—I cooked in enormous quantities and Sonya wasn’t always around to document the process.  I plan to re-run some of these items and measure more closely next time, so if there are any dishes you are particularly interested in having a recipe for, please let me know.

In the meantime, though I don’t have photographic evidence of it, I did concoct a cocktail which we served at the start of the party.  This drink was a HIT—we went through several pitchers of it before moving onto wine & beer with dinner.

A little bit exotic and very easy to make, this guava concoction paired well with the strong Indian food flavors that were being served; I suspect it would also work well with other Asian cuisines or Mexican food.  If you’ve never had guava nectar, try it!  It has a slightly puckery, but also sweet flavor, distinctive and likeable.

I think I’m going to christen them Lucky Dogs.

collage3

LUCKY DOGS (Guava Cocktails)

This recipe makes a pitcher’s worth, but you could easily adjust it for a smaller batch.  Find guava nectar in the International Foods aisle of your grocery store, either in the Mexican or Indian section.  Nectar can also be found in specialty stores of the same type.

4 cups guava nectar*

2 bottles ginger beer* (I love Reed’s)

1 cup vodka (want to try substituting gin—if any of ya’ll do, let me know how it goes!)

juice of 4 limes

Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher, stir with a large spoon.  Would look lovely garnished with a spring of mint and/or wedge of lime.  You know, if you weren’t serving 45 people all at once.

* Chill these ahead of time or serve the cocktail over ice.

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23 responses to “DIWALI 2009

  1. Wow. What a party! I dare say it was a Texas sized celebration. Everything looks absolutely lovely and delicious. I’m so impressed!

    You have my deepest sympathies for the absence of Lucky Dog- that is such a hard awful thing to go through. Hang in there.

  2. My heart is breaking …… sorry about your pooch. You gave her a beautiful life!

  3. Agh… I’m so sorry about your Lucky Dog. I could cry just reading about her death.

    But your party looks so gorgeous. What a lovely tribute to a lovely dog. And, of course, to your father’s memory.

    If it didn’t smack so much of cultural tourism, I would celebrate Diwali too! Of course, I’d just be copying this gorgeous party, too.

    Much love to you and yours as you adjust to the dog-shaped absence in your home. Time will help.

  4. oh nishta, i’m sending y’all big, big hugs. i’m so sorry for your loss. it’s amazing how these crazy creatures become like family, and it’s so very difficult to let go. thinking of you and sending lots of love your way!

    on a happier note, great party! i nominate an indian cooking party as a theme for our next sms alumnae reunion :)

  5. Nishta, I am so sorry for your loss…and so proud that you guys went on with the party, honoring LD in a way.

    Thank you for featuring the invites too :)

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  7. Lucky Dog was there in spirit & was getting some treats of her own in heaven. I know just how you feel right now, although I don’t know what I would’ve done w/o Daisy when we lost Bailey. I know my house will never be w/o a pet for very long.

    Wish I could’ve experienced your Diwali party for myself – I’m sure it was amazing. I’m going to a friend’s belated party later this month. Can’t wait!

  8. It was a great party. We – and everyone – had a wonderful time. And you honored your dad and LD beautifully.
    And thanks for the cocktail recipe. I must have drank at least one of those pitchers myself!

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  11. I love the way you turned your time of sadness into a time of love and warm fellowship. That’s what we all need to remind us of the truly important things in life. And with all that great food …!

  12. So sorry to hear about your dog. I cannot even imagine how I would feel and what I would do if any of my dogs passed away!

    Also, you host a great party! Your parents would be proud! I would have loved to be invited. haha! Happy Diwali!

  13. Sad news, sorry to hear it. Every time my little ones beg to give the dogs treats I always think of you and yours.

    PS When you are up for it I would love to know how to make Suji Halwa. Sounds fantastic!

  14. I have to say this is one of my favorite posts I’ve read so far on your blog. It made me tear up a bit! Thank you for sharing. It looks like it was a beautiful Diwali.

    • bluejeangourmet

      Thank you so much to everyone for your kind words & support. We’d love to have all of you at Diwali next year! (especially you, Steve, I think Jill’s dead-set on having you here.)

      Lee, hellrissy–how lovely to have you two “show up” here. thank you for reading & for taking the time to comment.

      Cheryl–you’ve got it. I’ll work on a precise recipe & more photos.

  15. I am SO sorry about Lucky Dog. Loss is difficult, for certain, but it also looks like you & Jill made the right decision to celebrate Diwali the way you did. And WOW! I am so impressed! What a gorgeous celebration! This post was a real treat to read because of its pain as well its joy — it’s a very authentic post (I don’t mean to sound sterile there – I just mean it is really touching because it is sharing the realities of sorrow and joy, both, at the same time). Can’t really have one without the other, can we.

    • bluejeangourmet

      Thank you, Karin. you didn’t sound sterile at all–I really appreciate your comment. glad to know the real-ness came through for you. and you’re right, I think we’ve got to have both.

  16. Once again, even a few days removed, I’d like to express my sadness again over the loss of your pup.
    Also, I made a pitcher of LuckyDogs for some friends this weekend, and I can tell you, they were a HUGE hit. I raised a glass, in my head, to you. :)

    Also, mostly because you asked, I vote to have the lamb koftas recipe posted. So again, I can want to bathe in it. Like I do with most authentic Indian food. sigh. :)

    • bluejeangourmet

      yay! thanks for toasting with Lucky Dogs, Joh–I love that image. glad to know the cocktails were a hit!

      and given the many requests I’ve made of you (speaking of which, have I missed the fried pickles or are they yet forthcoming?)…I am certainly happy to honor this one from you. it may take me a few weeks, but lamb koftas will be delivered! in fact, I think I shall go eat the last of the leftovers now so I’ll be forced to make more soon. the best part? my mom saw the pictures and said my gravy was exactly the right color!

  17. first, my sympathies for the lost of your dog. I know from my own dog, it isn’t easy….
    Lovely way of commemorating your father, colorful and happy. Only health and happiness

    • bluejeangourmet

      Topper–excellent question! thanks for pointing that out. It’s the same for the Buffalo Grilled Shrimp, between 1 1/2 – 2 lb shrimp and I’ve corrected it in the post.

      Joh–I’m going to have to try kale chips AND The Perks of Being a Wallflower. are you a wallflower? never would have pegged that.

      Sarah–yes it’s amazing what a distinct thing it is to lose a pet. guess I’m part of that club now…thank you for your sympathy & for visiting!

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