happens when a lawyer-turned-storyteller moves from the south of India to
Hanover, New Hampshire? Well, if you’re DailyUV blogger Priyanka, one of the
ways you cope with the new experience of our profoundly cold winters is by
Priyanka has always enjoyed cooking, and as she explored the fertile grounds of the graduate creative writing program at Dartmouth College, the practice of storytelling-while-cooking grew into an obsession. Thus, her blog, Passive Aggressive Kitchen, which [rolls eyes, shakes head) can’t believe I don’t get it.
First of all, I must know what’s so passive aggressive about your kitchen? Does your frying pan like to spit sizzling oil at you? Does your spice rack whisper insults about your seasoning choices? What’s going on there?
Oh, I have enough battle scars to show that the frying pan has a vendetta against me. But the name is actually about the one I cook with. I started cooking with my friend, Nihal, back when we were neighbors at the graduate housing. Both of us are from South India, but from different states and hence follow different methods/techniques/ingredients for cooking a dish. We argue about it all the time.
“You don’t put jaggery in that!”
“Is that really how you’d cook rasam?”
“Kannadiga food is too sweet!”
His roommate would actually come down and say, “Let’s see what’s cooking in the Passive Aggressive Kitchen.” As much as we argued, though, we made amazing food and learnt so much together. This is truly where my cooking and baking started. I mean, I learnt how to cook as a kid, but the obsession started only about two years ago.
So when it came to naming my kitchen, it was obvious. Passive Aggressive Kitchen.
Your bio says you’re “a lawyer turned storyteller turned obsessive cook.” Speaking of storytelling, tell us yours? How did you find your way to the Upper Valley?
I love telling this story! So, after I finished law school, I started working with a firm in Bangalore doing mainly corporate work. I loved the work and didn’t even mind the late nights and weekends, but after three years I burned out, quit, and started looking in a new direction: books and children. I joined this fun startup in my hometown, Madras, as a storyteller and travelled the country. We’d establish libraries in schools and get kids interested in books by telling stories—not all the way to the end, mind you. Just enough to get them curious and pick up the book. This is where I started writing, first for the papers, then stories for the workbooks, and then next thing you know, books. It is one of the best jobs I’ve had.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t travel as much as the job wanted me to, so I moved on to a toy exploration company. Every month, they had a themed box designed for kids to learn about the theme and improve their motor skills by playing games and reading stories. The company’s mascot was a smart octopus, and every month, he and his friends—the monkey, elephant, and toucan—would go on an adventure or discover something related to the theme. This was my job; I wrote the content for them. It was there that I got the idea of getting a Master’s degree. One of my bosses was a Tuck alum and when he started talking about Hanover, I knew this is where I wanted to come.
I fell in love the minute I landed and didn’t want to leave even when I graduated. So, I set up shop here. On cold Winter days, I question the sanity of my choice, but there is nothing I don’t love about the Upper Valley.
What are the South Indian dishes that most make you think of home?
Dosas! Whenever I stay with my folks, I wake up to the smell of these crispy crepes and my mom would serve it with a chili-jaggery pickle to die for. But, it’s not just the one dish, you know. There is the egg puff from local bakeries, biryani from my favorite restaurant, chicken curry from a roadside cart, it’s the smallest things. Sometimes my friends and I talk about what we miss most about home and I look up recipes to see if I can recreate them. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. Bringing a piece of home to people who are far away from it.
Recently, I made a box of South Indian sweets called Mysore pak for one of my clients to give to her Indian friend for the holidays, and I heard that it reminded that person of what her mom used to make! I live for days like this!
So…dosa and mysore pak recipes are coming soon, right?
Recipes for both are coming up soon! I'm so excited to have a chance to share Indian dishes with the UV.
Dial up the heat with Priyanka's recipe for Indian favorite, Chicken Dum Biryani.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve found about American cuisine?
The portions! Two years in and I still find myself doggy-bagging most of my dinner.
I hear you’ve made a cookbook! Is that true? How can we get our hands on it?
I did! It’s called A Bit of Spice and A Lot More Lime, and it’s a little more than a cookbook, actually. I got the idea when I wrote an essay for class about summer vacations at my grandmother’s house, all the food that she cooked, and how she’d make all us cousins sit down in a circle and feed us while telling stories of kings and queens. So for my graduate thesis, I wrote a collection of essays about cooking and eating with the people closest to me, and it includes stories such as how I ruined my parents’ Valentine’s Day by volunteering to cook and one about how every member in my family is still trying very hard to recreate my grandmother’s rasam (a tomato based stew.) There are recipes for appetizers, main course, and dessert.
Right now, the only copy is in the Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth, but if all goes right, it should be available to the public sometime soon.
Don’t be so passive aggressive. Subscribe to Priyanka’s blog!