Of a lovely little community in New York State and our budgets!

There’s a bunch of us parents – all of us at about the same stage in life – in our thirties for the most part, parents of small, growing families, one or two little kids each, just-paid-the-down-payment-on-a-house-and-are-neck-deep-in-debt with no money to spare stage of life! We may be in the EMI trap but we do manage to have a lot of fun in life – growing kids do that to you- provide a load of laughter and busy-ness that is the stuff of much happiness!

We exchange notes on how to save the extra rupee by doing something else, birthday parties are entirely home-grown, with all food served being made at home except for maybe chips and Coke (in the days when Coke and Pepsi were not bad words!), dinners and picnics were usually pot luck affairs with everyone pitching in with a dish, with the entertainment and booze!

Money is short – all the time but life was long, very long – on the happiness quotient! The kids are obviously aware that they can’t always have everything they want and sharing toys, clothes, books – is the order of the day but are quite happy about it – it is normal and it is so with every other kid they know almost! The words they’ve heard most frequently from us parents is, “We can’t afford this just now!” A was for afford, B for budget, C for cash in our households!

We’ve just bought our first apartment and are desperately trying to make ends meet – along with at least five other couples – close friends we know in the same stage of life! Obviously the little pitchers that listen in occasionally to adult conversations have long handles and we are sometimes surprised by the things they say.

We are at a bookstore to pick out a gift for a little boy – a friend’s son and bump into the friend at the store also there to pick up a gift for my little one, whose birthday is also round the corner.

“So glad to catch you here, Kanch,” says Tara (mother of the little boy). “You can help choose your birthday gift.” She then shows Kanch a couple of things she’s picked up for her to choose from. “Do you like either of these or would you like to choose something else?”

Kanch looks up at her with concern (she must been about five years old) and asks, completely innocently, “I like it, auntie, but are you sure you can afford it?!”

I make embarrassed noises of explanation but my friend is not the mother of two for nothing – she laughs it off and approves highly – of a thoughtful kid who’s so worried about her budget!

Today, staying in a B & B in upstate New York, at the home of a lovely couple, Jo and Julia, with a cherubic toddler Elson, whose home seems to welcome everyone, where a neighbour drops in to cook a vegan meal for all of us and other neighbours drop in to share the meal, I am transported back to twenty years ago and how our lives were then… feeling energised by the community feeling – have a most wonderful evening and end up learning an awesome new Indian dish (no kidding!) from Matt, America-born and bred but with a real feeling for Indian food!

So here’s Matt’s creation – a completely made-over palak paneer in the form of…


  • Tofu – 4 – 5 cups – cut into 1 cm cubes, immersed in warm salted water for about 15 minutes, drained and rinsed. Set aside
  • Yellow onions – large- 2 – sliced
  • Garlic flakes – 6-7
  • Ginger – 1 ” piece – chopped
  • Tomatoes – 1 cup – chopped or half a can
  • Kale – 2 generous cups
  • Spinach – 1 cup
  • Basil – a few leaves
  • Orange zest (kumquat) – 2 sq cm
  • Green capsicum – 1 – chunked
  • Broccoli – 1 cup
  • Coconut milk – 1 can / 200 ml
  • Cayenne pepper – 1 tsp
  • Cumin – 2 tsp
  • Garam masala – 2 tsp
  • Salt
  • Oil – 3 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1 tsp

Saute the onions and garlic in the oil till really well caramelised. Add the tomatoes and cook till softened.

Add the capsicum, cumin, mustard, basil, orange zest and coconut milk . Cover and cook for 6-7 minutes.

Blanch the greens – kale and spinach and broccoli. Add to mix.

Pulse the whole mixture with a hand blender till roughly pureed. Return to pan, add garam masala, salt and tofu. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes till the flavours infuse into the tofu.

The orange zest brings a most unusual zing to the whole dish. Add a couple of green chilies for heat if you like – at the tomato stage.

Serve with brown rice.

And oh yes, invite the neighbours in for added zing and zest!