Tag Archives: family

What I think about when I think about being brown

I mentioned in my last post about how this referendum is making me feel like the country  I was born and brought up in doesn’t really want me here.

But that got me to thinking about all the brilliant things about being an immigrant (or child of) and I thought, hell, let’s write a list. Because I’m bloody pleased that I’m a child of immigrants, and I’m (often – not always) bloody proud to call myself British and here are some reasons why the combination of my two cultures is actually a really good thing.

Something to rebel against

I did not have a bad childhood. Far from it, I had a great childhood. But I can only say that now with the benefits of hindsight. Ooh, I was a nightmare child. I mean, probably no worse than most teenagers, but I always felt the need to push against my heritage by way of rebellion, from wearing Doc Martens with saris to becoming vegetarian just to be stubborn (I get that my people generally are vegetarian what with the holy cow and all but the first gen Lankan contingent were committed meat eaters so being a vegetarian did not make them think I was pious and worthy and instead, it simply highlighted my brattishness). Also, weird shit like dressing me up in a sari and inviting all the locals over to gawp at me when I started my period (not even lying – see photo below) didn’t help me feel like being an immigrant was something to enjoy. My white friends just got given a box of feminine hygiene products and left to get on with it – I had a priest, pouring milk over my head, then getting dressed up like a 10 year old child bride in a sari with (fake) diamonds dripping off me and all of the Lankans in the extended family come over to watch the spectacle of me bleeding. Where are they now, eh? Maybe I should revisit this fun time once a month – they can watch me yell at the husband, cry and binge watch TV whilst eating all the Minstrels, I’m sure I could do that in a sari too.

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So this is me, aged 10 with my ma and pa, on the day they dressed me up as a little bride to celebrate my monthly chum. I am not sure why I’m green, when my folks are definitely brown. Let’s go with embarrassment?

So yeah, whilst I love the mad insane lot of them, being a child of immigrants gave me something to rebel against that helped me develop my personality (I have maintained the brattish behaviour throughout my life) when actually, all things considered, I had a very lovely childhood (and I wish I’d appreciated it more then).

(Swearing in)many languages. 

My mum likes to tell a story about the time when I was in a Sri Lankan shop with her best mate who told me to put something down so I called her a litany of swearwords in Tamil. I was 35. Not really, I was like 10. Possibly not dressed like above (more likely to be in some sort of batwing and legwarmer – it was the 80s, after all. Admittedly I still love a batwing).

Oh, they laughed and were mortified all at the same time. Mortified because the only reason I’d know such filthy language was because my mum had used them on me in times of ultimate brattery. Your fault, mother. But in all honesty, more than swearing, I love the Tinglish of my people – you get them in a room and the words flow in all the languages and make a beautiful cacophony of sounds. It’s just great to be able to understand go to India or Sri Lanka or Wembley or Tooting and understand  people talking around you (not all the people, obviously, there’s a lot of languages there)

A naturally built in community

So I have many communities. Friends, colleagues, the people you see when you get the same train every day, I would say the gym/yoga/running club but that’d be a lie. But you get the drift. But what  I love/loathe more than anything is being able to spot a Sri Lankan Tamil at 100 paces. We have a ‘look’ you see. Depending on who I’m with (mostly my dad, really) you’ll then get the whole ‘which village are you from’ conversation – and invariably, you’ll find out that their mother’s second cousin, twice removed’s husband’s sister’s dog was walked by your cousin’s second wife’s sister’s neighbour. And you’ll be like, whoa, small world. But outside of those almost family members, there’s always all the actual aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins as well as the family by heritage (mum and dad’s friends mostly) who turn up to the opening of an envelope. They’re ace. Annoying as all sin, but ace to know they’re there. It’s difficult to be alone when you’ve got a whole race that could potentially have walked your grandparent’s dog (not a euphemism) back in the home lands.

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Some of my fam making merry and a couple pretending not to know us. We’re that cool.

F(orce)feed Me

I have no idea if this is because they didn’t have much back in the home country (I don’t know that this is true for I’ve been force fed there too), but fuck me, we love to feed people. I get anxious if someone just pops in for a visit if I don’t at least have a bag of Doritos to forcefeed down their throats. Honestly, there’s a generosity of feeding that I blame entirely for my inability to fit my fat ass into anything gorgeous and ethereal and elegant, and instead has given me the delightful dumpy figure I endure today. But in all seriousness, I love that I can pop in to my cousin’s to drop off a bowl and be there hours later, eating all the mutton rolls – it shows such generosity of spirit (and food) and makes you feel part of a family. It’s also considered rude to visit someone without eating something. Honestly, I’m just realising why I’m fat.

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Mutton rolls, fish patties. Actually licking the screen right now.

Saris and shalwars

So as I’ve mentioned (once or twice) I am short and rotund. It’s OK, one day I’ll come to terms with this. But the best thing about that is saris specifically are made for short rotund people like me – you get a blouse made to measure to your specific requirements and then acres of beautiful fabric, folded and draped over your womanly curves to make you look as though you have actual womanly curves rather than gigantic sofa cushions stuffed in clingfilm (thanks skinny jeans and lying magazines). Similarly – having a day where you just want to eat all the food and nap on the sofa – throw on a shalwar kameez. Drawstring pants and baggy tops can still look elegant if a cousin pops over to drop something off/get fed till they explode. And being a child of immigrants means that you’ve got all those outfit choices at the back of your wardrobe along with all the clothes of your adopted country too. It’s superficial, sure, but it makes me happy.

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See? Womanly curves, not lumpy lardy bits (sorry about insane face – whodathunk I was excited about getting hitched?)

 

The opportunities

I should probably say here that had I been born and brought up in Sri Lanka, I may be a step closer to the ‘castle/sprog/Indian version of Dior’ dream I had at 11. But having known my parents for like 40 years now, I don’t know that would be strictly true, but it might have been. I may have been less brattish after all. I grew up here, I got educated, I went to university, I lived on my own, I met my own husband (rather than one being chosen for me). I never felt like the world wasn’t mine for the taking – everything was available to me. Sure, I get that some people don’t have that, but going back to my first point, part of my rebellion was to ensure that I could go out and grab the world, and I never felt like I should be held back (and god help anyone who tried to).

 

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve realised that not much is simply down to the fact that my folks moved here in the 60s and are brown. These things: generosity of spirit, community, support, multiculturalism, saris; are there for the taking for anyone at all – we’re one big melting pot of cultures and classes and that’s a bloody brilliant thing in my book. But some people don’t like it. And that makes me sad. So my request for all my tens of followers is that you go out and learn something about your own culture or one you want to be part of and you’ll soon see, that we’re all more similar than you think.

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Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes (for the best 6 year old ever)

It was my beautiful nephew’s birthday last week – he turned six. He’s always been utterly awesome, very funny, a bit cheeky, loves trains, planes and automobiles. In fact, when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said an iPhone6 or a Lamborghini. I did not get him either of those things, heck if I could afford a new car, I’d be getting one for me not for him. However, I did amuse myself by buying him a wind up car from Tiger and scribbling out its name and writing in Lamborghini. I am a comedy genius.

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Anyway, as per Rixy’s birthday where I made all the red velvet cupcakes in the world, my sister asked if I could make some cupcakes for his birthday. When I asked Praveen what type of cupcakes he wanted, he said chocolate brownies and chocolate chips and chocolate chocolate. So I made carrot cakes. Not really. Obviously. My sister had ordered some Star Wars themed cake toppers so we put those on top.

I had the day off on Friday and my dear friend Clare came over to help me make cupcakes. To be fair, she came round on the promise of wine, but we also managed to make 24 cupcakes and decorate them, before we got too tipsy. And then we got really drunk and found ourselves talking to strangers with lovely dogs in the street and doing jigsaws and all sorts (admittedly, very suburban middle aged all sorts but still, fun was had)

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Here’s the recipe. We screwed up the icing a little by putting in the cream whilst the chocolate was still hot so if you’re using this recipe, let the chocolate cool a bit. Or cook the chocolate and the cream together, I think that may be the best option.

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Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes (this recipe makes 14, I reckon…) 

  • 200g butter
  • 200g light muscovado
  • 200g 70% chocolate
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 100g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 4 and line a muffin tin with cases.

Melt together the sugar, chocolate and butter, once smooth and glossy, set aside to cool. Beat together the eggs, salt and vanilla extract.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Once the chocolate mix has cooled, beat in the eggs and then pour the mix over the flour, stirring constantly. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the milk chocolate chips and beat in.

Spoon into the muffin cases until 3/4 full and then place into the oven for 20-25 minutes. Test with a skewer, and by bounce – don’t forget, the chocolate chips will be melty so don’t overcook your cakes if your skewer doesn’t come out clean.

Leave aside to cool whilst you make your icing.

Melt 200g plain chocolate (70%) with 100ml double cream using a bain marie. Once all melted, take off the heat and add 50g sifted icing sugar. Beat till it’s all incorporated, then spread over the top of each cupcake.

Put on your toppers and serve. Delicious.

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Clare was very proud of her ROYGBIV cupcake case placement, so I had to share at least one photo of them empty.







Two months of good times…

After last year, I made a commitment to myself to celebrate the small stuff more and not get bogged down in ‘woe is me’ and it seems to be working.

So here’s all the awesomes that have happened in 2015 and the things I have to look forward to in March…

Starting at the very beginning, the wino and I completed a 1,000 piece jigsaw which we started on New Year’s Eve. Got to admit, I did wonder about what had happened to us (for the last few years we’ve either thrown amazing parties or gone and stayed in beautiful country cottages for the festivities) but staying in, eating nice food, drinking pink champagne and doing a jigsaw with the love of my life was exactly what I needed! And it meant that I could be a good daughter for the first time in about 30 years and take my dad to the temple on New Year’s Day. Oh yeah, already winning at 2015.

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I know I’ve hardly said anything about it at all, but I also went on a fantastic holiday in January. You can read all about it, if you’re so inclined, but what was particularly awesome about that trip, other than it being utterly gorgeous, were the wonderful friends we made whilst sitting by pools and drinking gin.

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I’ve had a lot of fun days out with fabulous friends in London – all day drinking (twice) in Soho (and food obviously – ramen at Bone Daddies, pizza from Pizza Pilgrims, brunch at Balans), lunches in Granary Square (and playing in the fountains obviously), a day out at Borough market, brunch at Riding House Cafe and drinking a lot of gin on one day.

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There’s been a lot of quality family time too – my cousin came over from Canada for a spell to visit his mum. We celebrated his birthday this week at a delicious local Sri Lankan restaurant, which was only mildly ruined by the “Greatest Hits of the 1980s-2000s… on pan pipes” CD they insisted upon playing.

I took my darling niece and nephew on a half term day out which included Big Hero 6, Wagamama and Shaketastic. They are too cute for actual words. And we had neon sugar pancakes on pancake day.

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I have started to build up my work portfolio and feeling confident that I may actually be able to afford to get my hair cut and nails done soon. Because, whilst looking like a crazed mountain woman is fine when you’re working from home in your pyjamas, people in actual offices don’t seem to appreciate the wild eyed insane look. Lord knows why.

I had a midweek daytime trip to Ikea (actually not hell on earth then, if you can do it) and have finally got around to framing some of the prints that have lived in tubes for years and bought some lovely new plant pots and succulents to give me something else to look at whilst I work my day away.

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And coming up in March – I’m hosting a gigantic dinner party, my dear friend turns 40 so most of the rest of the month is celebrating him (not nearly enough time to do him justice, quite frankly), I’ve got a couple of friends coming to stay and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes up to surprise me.

Life is looking a lovely shade of pink at the moment – there’s been some downs too, but what’s the point in reminding yourself of those? It’s all about onwards and upwards and putting a smile on. And getting a haircut.

What do you have to be grateful for so far this year? And what’s coming up to put a smile on your face? I’d love to hear about it.

x

My food youth

My parents came to Britain from Sri Lanka in the 1960s and for as long as I can remember, my family has been made up of those related by shared ancestry and those who are as close as blood relatives simply due to the fact that their surnames have a lot of letters and cause no end of fun when you’re spelling them for the 17th time to a call centre employee who inevitably asks “oooh, how long did it take you to learn that then?” And then they ask you to pronounce it, to which my standard response is ‘how it’s spelled, obviously’. Because that’s just it.

Anyway.

Because of this large and sprawling family unit, food and feeding people has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Weekends in Peterborough meant all the Sri Lankan families within my home town getting together at one person’s house, bringing a dish each, shoving all the children into a TV room upstairs whilst the women gossiped and the men folk drank whisky and solved all the problems “back home”.

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Wherever these dinners took place, the format was always the same.

The grown ups would be of similar ages, brought together by a shared heritage.  Within each family unit, there’d be at least one kid each, usually two. My sister was often the oldest, I was often the youngest. As there’s only four years between us, as grown ups that’s hardly anything, but as kids it was a lifetime apart.

The kids would always get shoved into a room together to ‘play’. If we were lucky, the house we were in would have a TV in a bedroom so we could all watch something together – Blind Date or Noel’s House Party (TV in the 1980s left a lot to be desired) and not have to play but if we did have to play something, it inevitably ended in tears for someone.

You’d be given a bowl of crisps or peanuts, a bottle of Coke or Fanta and left to get on with it. When dinner was ready, you’d be called downstairs and because no one had a table big enough for us all to fit around, we’d sit on the stairs because it’s weird to eat a plateful of curry in a bedroom, right? Whilst there were always variants, the basic meal was always the same – rice, a few vegetable curries, always paripu (dhal) and at least one meat curry – and if the meat curry was perceived to be too hot, one of the aunties would have roasted some chicken with milder spices ‘for the children’.

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Desserts were also much the same every time: someone would have made a traditional Sri Lankan pudding – wattalapan was the worst (like a sludge coloured, spiced baked caramel pudding – I realise this doesn’t sound that weird, but my god it was disgusting). Or biscuit pudding – Marie biscuits soaked in milk, layered with chocolate mousse (actually not bad). Or pineapple fluff – sickly sweet and weirdly pink. The best of all dessert options was if someone had bought a Vienetta for the kids because it was the 1980s and that was the best dessert ever.

Whilst those regular gatherings stopped for me after I moved to London for university, it’s still incredibly lovely when the whole clan gets together for meals or events. The men’s conversation hasn’t changed – still solving the problems of the world, and the women continue to cook and feed us all. And I’m often still considered one of the kids – refreshing when you’re too old to shop at Forever 21…

For the last few months, I’ve been looking to do something that nourishes my soul and I’ve realised that cooking and entertaining is ingrained in me and energises me. I love to gather together groups of people I love and feed them until they are close to exploding, then forcing another small morsel down their throats. In a nice way. So that’s what I’m going to do. But more on that later.

Reasons to be thankful. 1, 2, 3.

I’ve been doing a lot of complaining and bitching and moaning this year. In fairness, it has been a crappy arse of a year.

However, on Sunday, I officially entered the last year of my 30s and for the last month I’ve been on gardening leave, so it’s been a long period of reflection and contemplation. A little like Lizzie in The Walking Dead, I’ve been looking at the flowers (thankfully, I don’t have a Carol in my life though) and I’ve realised I’ve got a bucketload of things to be utterly grateful for. So here they are in no particular order.

  • My family (immediate and extended). They are an utter bunch of weirdos but I wouldn’t change ’em
  • Mr Wino (aka the husband). Slightly less of a weirdo than the above, but still peculiar in his own special and indeed fabulous way
  • Forever buddies/chums/gangs of awesome. Yes, sometimes they drive you insane, yes sometimes they let you down but let’s be honest, you’ve done the same to them. Ultimately these people are your brothers and sisters and whilst they may take a bullet for you, they’re just as likely to laugh at you when you fall over. Perfection
  • Rekindling old friendships and forging new ones
  • Autumn. Living in a world where seasons exist is something to be stupidly grateful for, particularly in Autumn when the skies are blue and the clouds are fluffy and there’s dew on the grass and a nip in the air
  • The Supermoon. This summer’s supermoon was incredible, watching it rise and glide across the skies above my garden was a treat
  • Discovering far flung places. We’re so lucky to live in a time where it’s affordable to jump on a plane and in a few hours, experience something so utterly different to the world we live in and learn from that. Or just to go shopping.
  • The internet. If you can’t jump on a plane, you can still learn about the world at the click of a button or a well worded search. And you can buy clothes and look at pictures of cats/food/clouds/doge or watch videos of animals doing ridiculous things. What else do you need?
  • Books. I’ve had a Kindle for a number of years, but I’ve recently rediscovered the joys of actual physical books. I’m in awe of people who can craft words into beautiful phrases that make your heart sing with joy
  • Being a woman. This is a short list, so I’m not going to go in depth here, but being a woman is fucking awesome for reasons that I’ll explain in a future post. I’m sure you all agree with me anyway
  • Being a woman of colour. As a woman of colour, fast approaching 40 who felt like there was nothing out there that spoke to her as a teen, I’ve been inspired by the likes of The Aerogram and Brown Girl magazine for giving young Asian women today a voice and hopefully helping them realise they’re not alone
  • Having a roof above my head and food to eat. Obviously.
  • My cat. She’s got a number of curious quirks and strange habits due to being abused (we assume) but there’s nothing that makes you feel more loved than when she miaows at you until you feed her. And then ignores you.
  • Being frivolous. Often it’s wise to ignore the voices in your head that tell you that a beanie with a veil is utterly nonsense. If it’s going to make you happy and you’re not going to starve yourself for a month to afford it, buy it. We all deserve a treat now and again.

I’m sure there’s more but I’m leaving it there for now for fear of becoming one of those list people who can only write in bullet-ed form. Which is a distinct possibility.

What are you grateful for? Let’s fill this page with joy and wondrousness. And until then, here are some pictures of my ridiculous cat. It is the internet, after all.

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