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Our first vacation together was to Brazil, to attend the wedding of Rohit’s college friend, Margaret. Traveling to foreign countries is always an adventure. In this case, the adventure began even before our trip, when we went to the Brazilian Consulate in SF to get our visas.

  1. Yes, US citizens, you do actually need a visa to go to Brazil. The US makes Brazilians get a visa to come to the US, so Brazil would like to return the favor. The rules seem to change from time to time, so be sure to always read the Consulate’s website.
  2. There is a short but very important list of rules for getting the Brazilian visa. You need a passport photo, and the fee must be paid ONLY with a postal service money order. This means you need to go to the post office and get this. No cash, checks, or credit card will be accepted. You fill out the application online and then PRINT it out and bring it with you, along with information about when and how you’re arriving into Brazil, and when and how you’re leaving Brazil.
  3. When we went back in 2009, the Consulate was accepting visa application only from 9am-12pm. You took a number and then sat there and waited…and waited…and waited. People lined up outside the door starting before 8am! Now it looks like you have to make an appointment online. Do not show up without an appointment.
  4. They take a long time to process the visa. When we went, it was two weeks! And there is no expedited process or fee you can pay to make it go faster. There were several people who showed up there and said their flight was the next day! They were SOL. The Brazilians are very fun in Brazil (see the rest of this entry), BUT they are not messing around at their US Consulates. They have no pity or sympathy for our ignorance. So plan ahead.

Rohit had found us a super cheap flight to Rio, but it left out of LAX and stopped over in Atlanta for 12 hours. Luckily, we have friends in both cities, so we started our vacation with an afternoon at the Santa Monica pier.

Then we took a redeye to Atlanta and spent a lovely day catching up with old friends.  

All this vacation bliss was almost ruined by Delta’s ineptness. They had somehow cancelled part of our crazy itinerary, and almost couldn’t get us seats together. Overall, the experience was bad enough that we decided never to fly Delta again.

But finally, we were in Rio!

Brasil: July 2009

Pegboard Potrack

Supplies

  • Pegboard
  • 8 oz. Sample size jar of paint (optional) for pegboard, diluted with equal part water
  • Set of pegboard hooks
  • 4 wood pieces for frame
  • Drill
  • 2″ screws + drywall anchors if you are not putting into studs

1. Measure your wall space and buy a 3/16″ or 1/4″ pegboard that will fit the wall. You can also have the pegboard cut to size. We used a standard 24″ x 48″, 3/16″ white pegboard, which fit perfectly on our wall.

2. You can also paint the pegboard. Rohit saw no reason to do this, as it did contribute in any way to the functionality of the pegboard. But I thought it looked much nicer painted, and also provided a bright pop of color for the kitchen. I already had a sample size jar of Behr’s Spicy Cayenne, which was more than enough for this. When I poured the paint into my paint tray, I diluted it with an equal amount of water. You can just eyeball this. The paint needs to be really thin so that it does not drop into and clog the pegboard holes.

Just lay the pegboard down on top of a large trash bag, somewhere you can leave it for a couple of days. It took about 6 to 8 coats of paint for the color to get as bright as I wanted. Since the paint needed to dry an hour between each coat, I did this over two days. It took just 5-10 minutes to paint each coat and then I would go do other things while it dried, come back in and hour and paint again, etc. until done.

3. You will also need 4 pieces of wood to form a frame on which to hang the pegboard. Along with extra support for the weight of the pots and pans, this will provide sufficient space between the board and the wall to insert the pegboard hooks. You will only need about 1/2″ to 3/4″ clearance between the wall and the pegboard, so that’s about how thick the wood for your frame needs to be.

We bought one 12 ft. (long) x 1.5 in. (wide) x 11/16 in. (thick) wood board like this, and had it cut it into four smaller pieces. Most stores will be able to do this for you, but you’ll need to do a little bit of high school algebra here.

For our pegboard, we cut the 12 ft board into two 48″ long pieces (for the top and bottom) and two 21″ pieces (for the sides). Note that the side pieces are 21″ and NOT 24″. That’s because our wood board was 1.5″ thick, so when laid flat, the top and bottom pieces already provided 1.5″ + 1.5″ = 3″ length for the sides. So subtract that out and 24″ – 3″ = 21″ for the sides.

When the frame was assembled, and the pieces placed together, then the whole thing measured 24″ x 48″, the same size as the pegboard itself.

You could also paint the outer edges of the frame itself, either the same color as the pegboard, or a contrast color. I didn’t have the time to do this, but I tell myself that I might go back and do it one of these days.

4. If you are a little more obsessed with aesthetics, like I am, lay the pegboard over the frame at this point, on the floor. Take a pencil and through the holes pegboard, mark the place where each of the corner holes and the middle holes of the pegboard would be, on the wood frame. There should be 8 holes totals: 1 in each corner, and one directly in the middle of each of the four sides.

5. Now you can drill the frame into the wall. It is best to locate studs onto which you can drill at least some part of the frame. We have not yet been able to find a truly accurate stud finder, so it was a frustrating time using the cheap  stud finder we picked up at the hardware store and then manually testing the spot with a nail. In new houses, the studs should be spaced about 18″ apart horizontally, and run the full vertical length of the wall. In an old house like ours, they can apparently be anywhere!

If you can’t find studs, or they are not where you need them, you can use drywall anchors instead. Now just drill in the frame, as securely as you want. As you can see, we went a little overboard. Also, make sure that the screw is completely flush or even a little embedded into the wood. You don’t want it sticking out even a little.

If you marked the pegboard holes according to Step 4, AVOID those areas when drilling the frame into the wall. Place the screw for the frame just far enough away from the marked pegboard hole so that there’s room for another screw next to it.

6. Next, drill the pegboard onto the frame. Place a screw through each of the four corner holes and the four middle holes of each side. I thought this placement gave it a very clean look, and made the screws more unobtrusive. Because of the width of the frame underneath, you will lose an equivalent space around the edges, where the pegboard hooks cannot be inserted.

7. Finally, hang up the pegboard hooks. You can pick up a pack at any hardware store and then buy extras as needed. You can move the hooks around until you achieve the optimal placement for all your pots and pans, and their lids.

P.S. Julia Child apparently outlined all her pots and pans with black marker, so that she knew exactly where to put them back.

The very first novel I started writing, way back in my freshman year of college, still remains unfinished. It’s a romance novel, set during the Regency era in England. For those who are unaware of the immense world of romance novels, the Regency is the time period in which Jane Austen wrote, and remains a very popular setting for romance novels. I am convinced I must finish this novel in order to really begin a career as a writer. Even this blog is an experiment in getting the writing juices flowing so I can finally finish this thing.

I’ll post chapters from time to time, and you can judge for yourself whether it’s even worth finishing!

Chapter One

Madras, India, November 1813

The arrival of a lone Englishman caused an immediate stir down the Third Cross Street of Wallajah High Road. He strolled slowly down the street, glancing neither left or right, up or down. It was only a few minutes past sunrise.

The women of the neighborhood paused for a collective instant as they washed and swept smooth the dark packed earth in front of their doorways. In synchronized movement, their sidelong glances swiveled from the Englishman to the gray stone verandah of a graceful house at the other end of the street.

The elongated windows of the house were shuttered. Two white wicker chairs were set out between the carved stone pillars of the verandah. A young woman already occupied one of the chairs. Her long black braid of hair and deep blue sari gleamed gently in the growing light.

Anjuli sat so still that she looked etched from the same stone as the pillars. The morning sun warmed her bare feet. The last echoes of the dawn adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, dewed the air to the west with lingering music. From the south came the faint peal of temple bells, as if in answer.

Her neighbors filled their hands with white rice powder and clicked their tongues against their teeth in silent speculation. The women bent to draw kolams—intricate geometric patterns comprised of dots and curving loops—on the smooth dark earth in front of their doorways. It always pleased Anjuli that this Hindu ritual accompanied the Muslim prayers every morning. The combination of the two different traditions evoked a profound sense of harmony in her.

Anjuli eased her grip on the wicker chair. He had come, she thought. He had come. Even the most observant onlooker would not have known how frantically Anjuli’s heart beat against her breast, a wild bird trying to fly from its cage.

Outwardly, she looked cool and composed, a slim, straight-backed young woman with dark, deep-set eyes under delicately arched brows. Yet hers was not a face intended by its creator to be serious or mysterious. Not with such shining eyes and soft cheeks, dimples dancing right against the edges of a full, wide mouth and a dainty nose that tilted ever so slightly up at the end. It was a face made for mischief and merry laughter. But it showed little evidence of either.

Anjuli smoothed the letter in her lap. His surprisingly elegant handwriting sprawled so boldly across the page it had nearly worn through the thick paper. She traced the words with her fingers. The letter started with casual pleasantries and a long apology for the delay in corresponding. The most important sentences took up little space on the page: I will return in a few days. Be ready. We leave for England on the next ship.

Anjuli told herself she had no intention of leaving. Nearly three months had passed since her father’s death. Nearly three months since the night at Fort St. George when her life changed forever. Since the night she had met her Englishman.

Her Englishman. She still called him that whenever she thought of him. She even dreamt most nights of how he had held her while she cried. He had smelled like soap and sandalwood and something wild.

He must be insane. She could not leave her home, her country, her entire way of life to follow him to a place she would be even less welcome than she was here. What had happened that night had been necessary, she would not deny it now. She had agreed for her father’s sake. And her Englishman had agreed, she assumed, because he owed her father his life.

She had expected nothing from him. But he had surprised her with his kindness. Just a little careless kindness, the same as that one might show a stranger’s child or pet. It had been enough to make her pour her heart out into his lap. And he had left her the next morning. How could he even imagine she would go anywhere with him now?

He was dangerous, her Englishman. She could not trust herself alone with him. She had already shamed herself once. She would not be so foolish a second time. Not while the only world she had ever known watched her with such relentless eyes. She would hear what he had to say in full view of the street outside.

One way to combat the intense scrutiny she endured every day was to live as transparently as possible. So she had learned to be as clear as water, as still as glass. But these past few months had proved very hard. There were a great many whispers about her father’s death. There were a great many questions about why she still stayed.

Her brother had reappeared only to perform the funeral rites and cremate their father. He gave her nothing but careless smiles and false reassurances before he disappeared again. It did not cause her too much surprise or pain. He had been with some army or the other nearly her whole life. Anjuli thought of him as a summer storm, neither predictable nor reliable but always welcome.

She had struggled to maintain her household and live on alone, though she was a half-caste, half-Indian, half-English, fatherless, brotherless, unprotected, perhaps unwanted. It became harder and harder for her to wake up every morning, to eat, to endure the sneers of her detractors and accept the sympathy of her well-wishers with the same cool composure. It was pride, only stubborn pride that kept her from despair—a solemn promise shouted from somewhere deep inside her that no one would break her with pity or hate. But bit by bit she had worn down, until it took all her strength just to hold her head up every day and put one foot in front of the other to walk.

Her Englishman’s letter arrived in the midst of her troubles. And much to her shame, Anjuli could not deny a certain amount of relief as well as horror at the thought of it. Temptation as well as fear. She armored herself against such feelings by dressing traditionally. The blue silk sari was one of her favorites. Its heavy double weave, with the length woven in one color and the width in another, gleamed the pure blue of the morning sky from one angle and the shifting turquoise of the sea from the other. A thick thread of gold border banded the hem and flashed in the sun.

She had even worn her best jewelry, complete with glittering gold bangles and silver anklets studded with tinkling bells. She had tucked a chain of fresh jasmine buds into her hair, just at the nape of her neck. She had placed a small dot of vermillion powder between her brows.

Dressed like this, she could fool the old Brahmin matriarchs at the temple. They smiled at each other with pleasure when they saw her. One of them commented on the richness of her fair coloring. Another remarked favorably on the sweetness of her demeanor. Like the goddess Lakshmi herself, they agreed, and fought jokingly over who had first claim to her as a prospective daughter-in-law. Until that is, someone whispered to them about her birth. In the end, no matter how you looked or acted, people only cared about what you were not.

And she was not just a Brahmin girl or an English girl. She was both. So she was neither.

She did not need the old women at the temple to remind her of this. It was a lesson she had learned quite young and at a very high price.

*     *     *     *

It was the first and last time Anjuli saw her mother in a dress. And the first and last time Anjuli herself wore one. Her mother dressed her very carefully in a pink dress with three rows of lace flounces at the hem and puff sleeves embellished with real seed pearls. Anjuli was even allowed to wear her hair in loose curls, with a matching pink ribbon.

At first the party was lovely. Everyone there seemed excited to see Anjuli’s mother. Numerous grand ladies and several jolly gentlemen with giant moustaches pinched Anjuli’s cheeks, admired her pink dress and exclaimed over her vivid coloring.

Then a tall lady with a haughty face and cruel eyes arrived. She stared at Anjuli’s mother for a long moment before she began moving through the room, smiling and whispering. The smile had sharp edges. A cascade of murmurs and raised eyebrows followed.

“An Indian!”

“But the little girl looks so charming. Who would ever have thought?”

“My dear, I knew there was something sly about it. All those black curls on the little girl.”

“Did she really think no one would find out?”

At the time, Anjuli did not understand the full meaning of those words. She only knew, with a sensitive child’s empathic instincts, that the tall lady meant harm and the party had turned dangerous. Everyone still smiled and nodded. But Anjuli now gripped her mother’s skirt with a strange, protective fear.

Tears filled her mother’s green eyes, making them glitter like jewels. She held Anjuli’s hand so tightly it hurt. They left the party shortly after. No one said goodbye to them.

They were caught in a torrential downpour on the way home. The rain masked her mother’s tears. It destroyed Anjuli’s curls.

“This will be our secret, Juli,” her mother said, hugging her. “It was very silly of me to go. We shan’t tell your father or brother. Men would never understand. A woman sometimes wants to wear a pretty dress and take her little girl out to be admired.”

A few days later, both Anjuli and her mother contracted scarlet fever. Anjuli survived. Her mother did not. She never told their secret to anyone. She had never told anything to anyone.  Except to her Englishman.

*     *     *     *

The sound of the gate latch flung Anjuli out of her reverie. She took a deep breath to steady herself. From a distance he looked like any other Englishman in his buff-colored pantaloons, cutaway black coat and soft leather boots. Except that even from a distance she felt the vibrant pull of the energy he exuded. It rippled out from him to blur the edges of her vision.

She watched with dazed eyes as he swung open the heavy iron gates. He stepped around the kolam in front of her threshold, careful not to disturb the rice powder design. So he had learned something of their traditions in these past few months. The sharp eyes of her neighbors would not miss this show of respect. Maybe it would help leaven the inevitable gossip about his visit with some kindness.

As he circled closer, Anjuli saw he had changed in other ways too. Englishmen usually turned the color of boiled beets under the Indian sun. Only her Englishman glowed a golden brown. The sun had burnished his thick, pale hair to a rich bronze. Even his eyes, a cool blue-gray like steel in her memory, glinted now with golden sparks. Like silver and gold melted together.

Why had he returned?

“Anjuli.”

His voice remained the same, low and resonant, with greater emphasis on consonants than vowels. And full of such warmth and appeal that her name sounded like a benediction. Just so might a returning sailor, after years at sea, have said: “Home.”

Anjuli shivered despite the combined heat of his voice and the morning sun. She kept her eyes fixed just over his shoulder, so she would not have to look at him directly. In a smooth movement that masked the slight trembling of her legs, she stood and dropped his letter behind her, onto the chair.

The silken folds of her sari whispered down around her. The delicate material clung to her from the growing humidity. The thin blouse she wore under it bared her midriff. She had never found that a source of discomfort until she felt his eyes flicker over the exposed curve of her waist.

She kept her own eyes riveted on the courtyard behind him. But she did not need to look at him to know what he was thinking. From the moment she met him she had sensed his emotions as if she inhabited them. Or as if they possessed her.

He was happy to see her. He was even—admiring. But he was also very determined. Every inch of his long body was rigid with purpose. Even the faint white line of an old scar that slashed across his left eyebrow stretched taut and inflexible. He could be no more than a handful of years older than her own one and twenty. Yet he had a veneer of hardness and discipline that bespoke an entirely different lifetime.

“Francis,” she said at last, forcing his eyes to move up to her face.

It was the first time she had ever used his name. It was not a symbol of intimacy, she told herself. In India, one addressed only one’s equals or inferiors in age or rank or class by their given names. He had used hers. She would show him she was no less than he.

But her defiant greeting only seemed to make him relax. His mouth crinkled up at its sculpted edges. His metal colored eyes suddenly glittered more gold than steel. He put out a hand in belated greeting. She shifted her eyes to it, struck anew by its unexpected beauty, strong and lean, with long fingers and well-groomed nails. She had turned her face into it and cried her heart out not so long ago. What an unexpected friend he had proved, even if only for one night.

She extended her own hand to clasp his before she remembered the watching eyes of her neighbors. The sudden movement caused a long gold chain around her neck, hidden carefully under the layers of her sari, to sway gently. A flat gold pendant stamped with the symbols of her family deity and a bulky ring marked with a coat of arms, chimed against each other. Her mangalsutra—her wedding pendant in accordance with the Hindu rituals, and her wedding ring—to mark the completion of the Church of England ceremony.

His palm burned against hers. Francis. Her Englishman. Her husband.

I’ve always needed more cabinet space than most kitchens have. Even when I wasn’t cooking much, I didn’t like hunting through cupboards for pots and pans that were all jumbled together deep inside.

And after our move, it seemed somehow that my old studio had more cabinet space than our bigger condo! But the kitchen was pretty much the only room that we had determined did NOT need any work. Even the muted gray paint was perfect. So what to do?

Enter Julia Child, and the online universe. Julia, it seems, had the same problem. In her case, it was clearly a more serious one. She and her husband solved it in a most efficient way. They covered an entire wall with a pegboard and hung up all her pots and pans! Instant increase in storage space, along with easy access and visibility.

Apparently, you can view Julia’s pegboard potrack at the Smithsonian Museum.

Inspired by it, and this post on Design Sponge, we decided to make our own.  The blogosphere didn’t have any step by step instructions for newbies like us, so we blundered along, thanks to the very useful comments on the thread. Painting the pegboard also helped to add a bright pop of color to the cool gray-green tones of the kitchen.

Here it is a little brighter, and a little more in perspective:

Due to the shape of the kitchen, and the placement of doorways, it’s hard to get a photo of the whole room, but I will do that later (when it’s cleaner)!

If you want to make your own pegboard potrack a la Julia, you can follow our step by step instructions in the DIY section.

Next up for the kitchen: figuring out what to do with that big blank wall to the left of the potrack. There used to be a swinging door there, connecting the kitchen to what is now our bedroom, but once upon a time was probably a formal dining room.

We closed off the swinging door as part of the renovations, and now have a big blank wall. Eventually we will also move the shelf in front of that wall, as soon as I figure out where to put all those pantry type items. Current ideas under consideration: paint it with magnetic paint or white board paint, or cover it with homasote and turn it into a bulletin board. Feel free to let us know what you think!

After six months of squeezing into my studio apartment in Russian Hill, we moved to our very own condo in SoMa. It’s an old house with beautiful bones and lots of space, but it needed some updating.

We started moving in July 2011, and almost three months later…we are still moving in! It is getting transformed slowly, room by room. It’s amazing what some new paint and a few updates can do. It’s even more amazing how much time it can take! Along the way, we discovered the extensive and exhaustive world of DIY home improvement blogs, and stand in awe of all the things people have done themselves.

Since we are newbies to this whole thing, we didn’t tackle doing our own tiling or anything structural. But we did exhaustive research on IKEA hacks, painting and shelf building. Next up will be wallpaper hanging, reupholstering and maybe even some furniture building. Stay tuned!

Rohit’s a convert to veganism who loves sandwiches, fake meat and desserts. I am a life-long vegetarian Tam-Brahm who needs rice, eats mango pickle with dessert, and has a weakness for salty cheeses (feta and pecorino, I’m talking about you!).

Since food is a serious passion for us, we have managed to develop a small but growing repertoire of dishes that we can enjoy together. Laugh along with our attempts to master the chemistry of vegan baking, develop actual recipes for rasam, sambar, and channa masala, and create a family cookbook.