Saturday, 18 October 2014

Popeye Chicken Curry

A couple of months ago, when I decided to move from Boston to Berkeley, I had to figure out what to do with my books. There was a Delia Smith book on baking, a copy of Jamie Oliver in America, Ken Hom's Chinese and then some. I also had a few dry economics and statistics textbooks with which I was not on terms as friendly.

I ended up packing the whole lot in an empty Amazon box and shipping it to Berkeley through USPS a couple of weeks before I flew out of Boston. Shipping with USPS turned out to be very cheap. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, it was suspiciously cheap.

I arrived in Berkeley a few weeks later. The delivery date for my shipment, however, arrived and passed by with no sign of my package. To be honest, I expected some delay. I'd paid too little to expect more. So I waited patiently, tracking the package online, noticing that it seemed to have taken a fancy to the sorting facility in New Jersey, staying there well over a couple of weeks.

A month or so later, I realized that I was unlikely to ever be reunited with my books. When I registered my protest with USPS, Paula in Customer Service had me fill up an online form with details of my lost books. By this time, the textbooks had reduced to a hazy memory. Not so with my cook books. I remembered their glossy hardbound covers, the recipes - those that I had tried, and those that I hoped to - that graced their pages and the photographs that I had spent too many hours drooling over. I could have spent a few pages describing these intricacies, but I was constrained by the small white space on USPS' online form. I fitted in every last detail that I could, and reserved the brevity for my textbooks. I think I put down "economics and statistics textbooks" or something thereabouts. A little too generic perhaps, I now realize.

For a time, I continued to hold on to a slender sliver of hope. Every time I entered my apartment building, my eyes wandered to the space where brown cardboard boxes registering my neighbours' avid online consumerism are left behind for pick up, searching for signs of my missing package with its handwritten, homemade address label, and scratched out Amazon delivery sticker.

It has now been close to six months since I lugged my books to the USPS office to have them shipped. I had all but forgotten about my lost books when I received a package from USPS' Mail Recovery Service in Atlanta. Inside the brown envelope was a shiny new copy of "Introduction to Statistics and Econometrics" by Takeshi Amemiya.

It is a book I have never seen, and never owned.

It was heartening to know that someone in Atlanta was shuffling about in a giant room of lost things, trying to match object to owner, even if imperfectly. But I was also sorry that someone else, somewhere in the U.S., is waiting in vain for a lost book on econometrics.

Popeye Chicken Curry


To Grind

2 tomatoes

1 large bunch spinach

a fistful of coriander leaves

1/4-1/2 cup water


1.5 pounds chicken

1/4 cup yoghurt

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chilli powder

2 tsp dijon mustard

salt to taste


1 tsp fennel seeds/sauf

2 dried red chillies

5 cloves of garlic grated

1 inch piece ginger grated

1 tbsp garam masala

2 tsp tomato paste


chopped coriander for garnish

Marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes, preferably a few hours or overnight.

Grind spinach and tomato with all other ingredients to be ground. Set aside. (I microwaved the spinach for a minute or so just to get them to wilt before grinding - mainly so they'd fit into the food processor's work bowl).

Heat oil. Add fennel seeds, red chillies, and stir until fragrant, avoiding high heat so as not to burn them. Next add in the grated ginger and garlic and fry until the raw smell disappears. Finally add tomato paste and garam masala. Stir for 1-2 minutes on medium flame.

Now add the ground spinach and tomato mix and cook down on medium heat until the gravy thickens. This should take around 7-10 minutes. Now add the chicken. Cover and cook on medium heat until done. Check for seasoning, garnish with chopped coriander and serve.

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