I have started writing my second book.
Well. Maybe "started" is a bit strong. I have written two paragraphs, the first of which begins with "oh shit".
This one is going to be an international bestseller.
I blame a life devoid of any form of creative reading whatsoever. Last month's Vogue at the hairdresser and tweeted articles do not count. How can anyone write if they are not absorbing the fine printed words of others?
In my former child-free, girl-about-town avatar, I found the words just rolled off the tip of my tongue after a glass of wine. Now I simply roll off the sofa with exhaustion after a glass of wine. So I went and stood in a bookshop to feel inspired.
Bad idea. All those beautiful books. So little time. Yada, yada, yada. Cue: total intimidation and utter frustration. I would need to start smaller.
I transported myself to the front of our new bookshelf at home. Scanning the shelves of recently arranged books, I settled on one written by a journalist, fellow blogger and friend Ann Mah. She sent me an unproofed copy of her debut novel Kitchen Chinese about the same time as I was launching Miss Masala. I promised to read it at the time. But reading at leisure proved impossible at the time.
I dusted it off and plunged right in. Thrilled to finally get a chance to read it. Selfishly hoping it would inspire something.
Now I am no book review expert or anything. Centred around a return to the homeland theme, this had all the promise of an Amy Tan novel, oft referenced by the author too. It was far from. Racy, fun and filled with food descriptions from around China that made the jaw ache and stomach grumble with hunger. If I could have eaten the pages, I would have.
I have no idea how the book did. Whether it made any money. The two questions I get asked the whole time about mine. I do have an idea about how Ann must have felt when she saw it on a bookshelf, read about it, good and bad, in the media. And I felt a warm glow of pride that I know her and we once shared a cupcake in hazy London sunshine.
And that, I guess, is what makes it all so worthwhile. This post is dedicated to the three things I share with Ann: blogs, books and bowls of steaming rice. A simple Vegetable Pulao, speckled with the goodness of vegetables in spluttered whole spices, is the simplest and yet most delicious way to dress up plain old Basmati. Never ever use the starchy, easy cook variety for this and go wild with variations!
Now for paragraph three of book 2. Wish me luck. I will need it.
Place the rice in a sieve and wash under a cold tap until the water runs clear. Make sure you stir it around the sieve with your fingers to wash all the debris off it. Leave it to drain in the sieve. Peel and chop the carrots into little pieces, drain and rinse the can of sweetcorn and wash the fersh peas, if using.
Meanwhile, bring the ghee to heat on high in a large pot. When it is hot, toss in the whole spices, and as they start to sizzle, mix in the carrots. Toss them around for about two minutes until you see them taking colour, and then mix in the drained rice. Saute the rice for another minute, while it turns to a darker shade of white.
Then pour in 3.5 cups of hot water to the pot, and bring it to boil. When it start bubbling, gently stir in the sweetcorn and peas with a fork, add a teaspoon of salt, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes until the rice is cooked.
The golden crisp base on the pulao is a sign of perfection! Make sure you eat it piping hot straightaway but it can also be reheated in a microwave with a few drops of water. The trick is to not stir the rice at all while cooking.
For a change, you could add a teaspoon of cumin to the hot oil along with the other spices, or add chopped little pieces of cauliflower or green beans along with the carrots. The world is your pulao, really!