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For the love of Mustard

You either love it or hate it… The smell could make you go into raptures. The taste will leave you longing for more. It’s the rather strong sensory experience called mustard. Or as they say in France, ‘moutarde’.

While the western palette might be used to the slightly blander version of the French mustard, the Bengali version is definitely stronger and more potent. One can liken it to the ‘wasabi’ taste as a comparison. Good mustard should get into your nose and leave with you a feeling of sheer (culinary) pleasure.

Widely used in Bengali (and Assamese) cuisine, mustard gives a fresh and unmistakable intense flavor to dishes. Teamed with fish—it’s what we Bengalis and Assamese folk crave as our comfort food.

The cheery blue and white interiors of the restaurant, as we walk in, are a bit Mediterranean, but we’re assured we’re in the right place as the sign says ‘Mustard‘. The fare is Bengali and French. Might sound a bit surprising at first. But then, they are both cuisines which are centered around many ‘courses’ and they do have a common ingredient—mustard.

Located in Sangolda, Mustard is the handiwork of Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh who decided to give shape to their shared passion for food, after years in the hospitality and retail space. The chefs responsible for the mouthwatering delicacies are Pritha Sen, a renowned chef and food historian who curated the Bengali menu and Gregory Bazire, who lends his expertise to the Continental side of the food, bringing some of his favorites and also innovating with some of his own creations.

I am looking forward to my Bengali meal a bit more. Being an Assamese it is quite close to my own cuisine and good fish is something which makes never ceases to make me content. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of fresh fish, cooked well. I still remember my dad going to extreme lengths to get us good fish and then all of us going into raptures about it—and the feeling sustained pretty much through the entire day. In fact, my mom cooks up quite a fish curry, so I have naturally high standards when it comes to fish dishes.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. My friend, who accompanies me to the Mustard is a vegetarian and I tell her that I’m going to rely on her for that side of the meal since I’m more eager to taste the fish.

We talk to chef, Abhimanyu Sen, who suggests we try out smaller portions so we can taste a wider range of dishes and we’re only to happy to oblige.

My drink to set off the evening meal is Singapore Sling. My friend settles for a ‘lemu sherbet‘ (lemon juice) though my personal preference is the ‘aam porar sherbet‘, a refreshing and cooling drink made with slow roasted green mangoes in their skin and gently spiced with roasted cumin and black salt. The only reason I keep away today is because I want to make more space for the food.

Amongst the appetisers, there’s a variety to choose from both menus.

My friend tries the vegetable chop to begin with and I dig in. The Bengalis have adopted the common croquet and made it into a celebrated chop. It’s made from mashed potatoes and crumb-fried, and seasoned with fennel and ginger and is a favorite snack for any time of the day. I think we have a tendency to turn anything into a chop, but then no one’s complaining. This one is just right and sets off the mood for the rest of the food to follow.

From the French menu, we order the three layer veg millefeuille, light and crunchy pastry with vegetables in a delicious sauce and with just the right amount of cheese.

I am happy with my smoked fish, chunky with a tomato base with a hint of mustard. This fish dish, I read on the menu, was born about the steamers that plied the waters of the Padma river in undivided Bengal. It is marinated in mild flavors and smoked the traditional way with puffed rice, jaggery and husk. All I can say is that it’s a good way to start the meal.

I also taste the shammi kebab—finely minced mutton ground to a paste and then flavored with spices and filings. A delight to the tongue and senses as you bite in and enjoy the sharp taste. Dip it with a tangy yoghurt. For the lack of a better word—yummy!

I am torn about the main course, but naturally. So many things that I want to taste. Sadly, this is just one meal and there’s only that much my poor stomach can manage in a meal. Though I’m always surprised by how much!

Since I’d already tried the fish starter, I skip fish for my main course. I know, quelle horreur! But I would suggest any fish lover to try the rui maacher shorshay jhaal—it’s a preparation with mustard gravy and nigella seeds and is another staple in the Bengali cuisine. I would definitely try it next time I visit.

Rui Maacher Shorshay – I need to try this the next time! Image courtesy: Mustard

The channa dal was we order is light and sweetish, little low on salt and I must admit I’ve had better. The aloo postho (poppy seeds) lacked a bit of zing but since this is one dish both of us have eaten a lot of, maybe our standards are higher.

I mustn’t forget the main condiment of the meal of course—the mustard prepared in-house. It’s well-made and just right in terms of it’s level of intensity. The French version was delicious too.

What I am really looking forward to with much anticipation (like a true Assamese) is the luchi with kasho mangsho. Luchi is a puffed fried bread and rules supreme in Bengali (and Assamese) cuisine. Any time you want a snack or are visiting a relative or friends—be prepared to be tempted by this delicious (but calorific) snack. With a thick onion base, the mangsho (lamb) is particularly flavorful and tasty. It is cooked in mustard oil, infused with with cardamon, clove and cinammon, reputed to be Bengal’s best known meat curry, so don’t miss it. This is one dish which is usually eaten at celebrations and festive occasions. This didn’t disappoint as I downed a couple of the fluffy luchis along with this heavy, but satisfying dish.

The kosha mangsho, one of Bengal’s flagship dishes. Image courtesy: Mustard

Chef Abhimanyu chats with us a bit about the traditional Bengali meal. Beginning with a shukto (appetiser), veggies, meat dish and then end with a chutney, and a kheer based dessert. He has worked at several restaurants in Calcutta and Mumbai before moving to Goa, which he says he’s enjoying currently.

But here’s a bit on the French side too. And yes—we’re still eating…

For the main, my friend tries the tortellini pasta (more Italian then French), with pumpkin, zuchini and mushroom and served in a Girdiniera sauce, which is quite flavorful and delicious. The pesto aranccini (which we didn’t try) also sounded rather tempting—fried risotto rice balls with gooey mozzarella cheese cores inside and pesto coulis outside. What’s not to like about it, I’d say?

Ratatouille is definitely a very French dish. And I have mine with sea bass. The fish is cooked separately and has a crunchy exterior. It’s served in a tangy tomato based curry, with lots of vegetables. I do remember lessons on trying to pronounce this dish when learning French (many years ago) but I haven’t had the opportunity to taste it much. So I must admit that I didn’t have a strong reference point. In which case I usually ask myself, would I come back for it? And the answer is no. I’d probably opt for something else.

We have no room for dessert, of course by now. But like my good husband often says: “There’s always room for dessert!”
So we settle for a crème brulee, which is a happy ending to a very long and taste infused meal.

I must say though that the Bengali dishes stood out much more than the French ones. It might also be because of my natural inclination towards this particular cuisine.

But one thing I have to mention is that when you’re looking for a different taste while in Goa, try out Mustard for a bit of a refreshing experience. Your taste buds definitely won’t regret it and you’ll go back wanting more…

Two happy foodies with Chef Abhimanyu.

Address:
House no 78 Mae de Deus Vaddo,
CHOGM Road, Sangolda, Goa-403511
+(91) 9823436120
savour@mustardgoa.in

Hours: 11 a.m to 11 p.m.
Open 7 days

Budget: Around Rs 2000-Rs 2500 for 2 people with alcohol

(Note: This was on an invite by Mustard restaurant. All opinions expressed about the food are mine).

Image credits: Unless otherwise mentioned below the image, all other images are taken by me. The cover/feature image is also courtesy, Mustard.

Mammoth Lakes Adventure: The Walk

This picture pretty much sums up the challenge that lay ahead of us.

The swim was done and I had survived the biking – it was now time for the final leg.

A couple of days ago, on the way to Mammoth Lakes, we took Tioga Road that goes past Tuolomne Meadows and then reaches the top of Tioga Pass. From there, we descend towards Lee Vining.

This is the same road that we’re going to be walking. Except in the opposite direction. So I’d already had a glimpse of what I’d signed up for. When I estimated the number of hours when I signed up for the event, I thought 4 hours. On day 3, I wasn’t so sure.

I had survived the swim and the bike ride. And walking or running after biking is always the toughest for me. I was glad I wasn’t doing it all in the same day. (At least, not yet!).

The Tioga Pass Run/Walk is advertised as 12.4 miles and “one hill”. The walk/run had 3,162 feet of elevation gain in 12.4 miles: Tioga Pass is at 9,945 feet above sea level and Lee Vining is located at 6,781 ft.

The weather is cool when we start, and we’re about a mile in before we’re all warmed up. After a slight uphill, there are around 2 miles, where the terrain flattens out. I try to warm up my legs by attempting a brisk walk on this stretch.

Enjoying a slightly less steep portion of the road, early on in the day.

Enjoying a slightly less steep portion of the road, early on in the day.

After mile 3, the uphill climb starts. My pace begins to get labored.

We have some shade thankfully. Anytime I look up, I see the road snaking up.

Mile 3-6 is where the fun starts. I mean the pain.

What is it about running/walking that attracts so many people I think?

At around 8:30 am, one hour into our walk, the runners are already crossing us. I see around 3 lean, mean monsters powering up the slope! They’re probably aiming to finish under 2 hours. I will be happy if I can complete this mammoth attempt in double that time.

At this point, I’m not feeling too optimistic. My legs are tired. Though I’m not a very fast climber, I usually find a good rhythm I can maintain for a few hours when hiking. Not today.

At mile 6, I also start developing a blister around the ankle (just at the point where I’d had my surgery a few years ago). I knew that would be a problem and the only thing I could do is try and ignore it.

Difficult though, considering the fact that it chafes every time I put my foot forward.

Two women (they must have been in their 50s/60s) see my discomfort at mile 6 and realize I’m in need of some encouragement. One of them shares her salty treats which I gobble up. And then the other gives me a handful of peanut M&Ms, which I also munch on greedily. You meet some amazing people on the road. They are really sweet and talk to me for nearly 5-10 minutes and then set off. I am really inspired by their steady pace through the walk.

I knew it was going to be a long struggle ahead. But I’d finished 1/2 the distance and mentally, I had to tell myself that I need to continue for another two hours. I try not thinking about the steeper sections where my pace would drop even more. I continue, with the husband keeping step behind me. Without him for company, I would have definitely taken a ride back downhill.

I struggle with everything after this point – the painful blister, legs with no energy in them (I could feel that terrible empty sensation of having nothing) and the altitude. We are at 9000 feet at this point and have 500+ feet of climbing left.

At 9000 feet, everything is painful.

At 9000 feet, everything is painful.

I’m not exactly sure how I survive mile 6-9. It is not my finest hour. At the mile 9 rest stop, the two women there offer some more encouragement. Along with gels and endurolytes. I am open to ingesting anything that will help me at this stage.

From this point, the road flattens out a bit. I pick up my pace and feel some blood circulating in my legs again. Husband counts down the last few miles. We meet one of the organizers on the route who says, “just another mile to go.” Yay!

A final push towards the end point. I can see the cars line up to pay the toll at the booth at Tioga Pass. When I stumble towards the race organizers (who are by now wrapping up the party), they’re possibly even more relieved than I am! I think it took me 20-30 minutes beyond the time I’d estimated, but I am just happy to have crossed that finish line.

I definitely paid the price for choosing two tough races this year. I don’t think I was adequately prepared for either. The only silver lining is that I survived both.

(Next: After this effort, my next event is a 26 km run at the Bangalore Ultra on November 13. I first ran the Ultra in the 2nd year in 2008. This is the 10th year of the event and a good one to wrap up my year with! After that, I rest till 2017 🙂

shutterstock_206935804
Lake at Tioga Pass photo from Shutterstock

Mammoth Lakes Adventure: The Bike Ride

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, they say. And I’m hoping it’s true.

After the swim, having been sufficiently nourished and rested, we land up at the bike venue at 8 am in the morning. It’s pretty cool, but the weather forecast promises a warm day and I discard my wind cheater at the start itself. I have arm warmers which I hope will do the job.

There are around 400 riders at the start point. An impressive turnout for an event in this part of the country. Mammoth Lakes is a little town in Mono country, surrounded by mountains.

Mammoth Lakes sign photo from Shutterstock

Mammoth Lakes sign photo from Shutterstock


One at the start point, with some of my team members.

One at the start point, with some of my team members.

The 100 mile riders started off earlier – at 7 am.

Bike rides are always unpredictable. You could be feeling fit and fine at the beginning and then like you’ve gone through hell and back a couple of hours later. Or you could start off feeling crappy and then blossom, like a flower, your legs opening up as the miles add up.

Thanks to one tough practice ride a weekend prior, I was feeling fine at the start of the ride. My main focus was going to try and maintain a steady pace and not run out of energy. I also had to leave a bit of juice in my legs for the next day’s walk (the 12.4 miles up to Tioga pass).

A practice ride that took me up West Alpine Road in the Bay area.

A practice ride that took me up West Alpine Road in the Bay area.

The warm-up began with a steady climb of a few miles leading us out of town. And then we had some thrilling downhills, enjoying the cool wind in our faces and racing down at 40 mph on some slopes. For a few minutes you feel what extremely fast bikers go at normally!

The cool weather helped the riders in the morning. Everyone was zooming along and then we reached the highway, where we turned right. Another few miles and we had a diversion towards Crowley Lake. A rather scenic area, and all the while on our left we could see the lake. A few miles of rolling terrain and we reached mile 20, and our first rest stop. At that point, I was feeling fine. A quick break and I set off again. The road loops around the joins the highway and a few miles on, there’s another diversion. This road to Benton Crossing eventually leads up to Watterson’s Summit, would be our tougher loop.

I had to stop for a few pictures, it was just so gorgeous out there – wide open plains, with yellow shrubs, cows grazing lazily and mountain ranges all around. It reminded me a bit of Ladakh. And of some of the stark scenes of Death Valley.

I was able to maintain a good clip. Not fast, not too slow. After around 10 miles on this road, the slow climb started. The gradient did go up to around 7-8% at certain stretches, but overall, the climb was not too bad. Being a slow climber, I focused on just keeping on pedalling, and took around 2-3 breaks for gulps of water and a few bites of my energy bar.

On Benton Crossing road, going towards Watterson's Summit.

On Benton Crossing road, going towards Watterson’s Summit.


An official race photo taken on the Benton Crossing road. I think this was an uphill!

An official race photo taken on the Benton Crossing road. I think this was an uphill!


One of the official race photos, captured on a climb.

One of the official race photos, capturing the beauty of the background.

Meanwhile, riders were zooming down on their return journey. I plodded on.

Towards the end, is the steepest bit, right before the next rest station. I guess they kept the best till the last! I did a bit of a snake dance (the roads were closed for us at that stretch so I knew there weren’t any vehicles likely to come from behind) and with a final push, was relieved to see Waterson’s summit.

I could feel a bit of tiredness in my legs by then, but the good part was that a major climb was done. I tried a bit of everything they had on offer. Salted chips, oranges, bananas. Hydrated. Stretched. Took some rest. And then around 15-20 minutes later, was back on the bike.

Someone volunteered to take a picture at the turn-around point. Thank you!

Someone volunteered to take a picture at the turn-around point. Thank you!

The heat was on by the time I turned around. I knew this leg would be tough. I tried to enjoy the scenery, but with no cover at all, it was getting quite warm. The return had a few rolling climbs. Not too steep, but enough to suck some bit of energy out of you.

I did my best to enjoy this stretch. I also stopped 2-3 times, both to enjoy my surroundings and give myself short breaks. Though I’ve cycled at high altitudes (it’s been many years), this was a long effort at nearly 7000 feet and I didn’t want to really suffer too much.

Mile 60 finally was within sight. By then, I was a bit tired. But I decided not to take another break. Just had a sip of my water and started off again. Only 10 more miles I was thinking. But I think these 10 miles, physically was equal to whatever I’d already pedalled!

Back on the highway, I tried to keep up a good pace, but could feel myself slowing down. I got passed by dozens of speedy monsters – most of them finishing their 100 milers! I tried to keep myself motivated.

Finally, reached a point on the highway, where we turned into a side road back to Mammoth Lakes. The countdown began with a sign that said 5 miles to the finish. Also the longest 5 miles of my life.

I drummed up whatever energy I had left and started pedalling – slowly and steadily. Lots of encouraging words from passing cyclists. Which is the nice part of cycling here – there are always riders checking on you.

The last part was just counting strokes because the incline didn’t let up. A cyclist passed me by and commented what a “terrible way” it was to end a ride. I couldn’t agree more. I needed one downhill to revive my strength. But it was not to be.

I was hardly moving and I laboured over every pedal stroke. It was great relief to see the finish line. The camera person sitting there yelling out made sure I brought out my smile at that moment. And some of my team mates were there cheering me as I crossed, which made me feel a whole lot better.

At the finish line.

At the finish line.

An event that is going to be pretty memorable for me. The scenic beauty of the course, combined with the fact that you’re cycling at altitudes between 6-7k feet makes this a challenging ride. A little more preparation probably would have gone a long way.

But what’s a bit of suffering, right? And then, there’s the promise that I’m getting all the more stronger!

Official sign up page for the event: Mammoth Grand Fondo

(Cover photo and training ride practice photo courtesy: Sandeep V).

Next: A 12.4 mile hike up to Tioga Pass and the last event of this series.

Mammoth Lakes Adventure: The Swim

To swim, bike and run on the same day is always a challenge. And though I enjoy all three sports, I’m still testing out the waters with shorter distances right now. Last year, I wrote about getting into triathlons and also doing my first triathlon – a sprint distance. This year, I did a slightly longer distance – called Olympic distance at the Auburn Triathlon.

Longer distances though are still daunting at this stage. But when one of our coaches suggested we check out the Graniteman Challenge event that involves all the sports, but over three days, I began to think it might be more feasible.

Impulsive decisions come quite naturally to me, so I decided to add another one to my list and sign up. The big event, which earns you the title of “Graniteman”, involves half Ironman distances (or nearly) – 2.4 mile swim, 100 mile ride and a 12.4 mile run/walk. However, they also had shorter distances in two categories – 1.2 mile swim, 71 mile ride, while the 3rd category (run/walk) remained the same.

So, along with another dozen team members of my tri-club, I signed on for the event. It would be my second tri this year – but spread over a few days. What better way to spend a weekend, right?

My preparations sadly didn’t quite go as planned. But then, they rarely do. In reality, I do make plans, and then manage to get completely off course. Despite thinking I’d do some preparatory bike rides and super long runs and swims, I basically landed up doing much lesser in terms of quality and quantity. Besides, I also had a chunk of travel that I had to fit in between, which I’ve written about (my adventures in North Carolina, involving very little cardio activity).

So as we drove up, a day before the event, I was a bit unsure and anxious about how things would go. Would I be able to stay in the water for the distance? Being a recent swimmer and only getting more comfortable in open water very recently, any long distance is still mind over matter for me.

June Lake - a scenic location for the swim

June Lake – a scenic location for the swim

The venue for the swim – June Lake – was perfect. With the backdrop of the Yosemite mountains, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting. I dipped my feet in and felt quite cold. It was around 7:30 am in the morning. Thankfully, by the time the swim started, it was 9 am and the water had warmed up slightly.

Clear waters of June Lake - for some portion of the swim, we could see the bottom of the lake!

Clear waters of June Lake – for some portion of the swim, we could see the bottom of the lake!

The swim started off as usual. Everyone raced off. I am usually the last one since swimming with people behind me makes me nervous. The first half a mile I spent talking to myself. My energy would come and go in waves. Suddenly, I would feel my spirits flagging, and then I had to talk to myself. I find my time in the water really interesting. It’s a struggle every minute I’m out there. I have to constantly motivate myself, think of something distracting or tell myself I can survive.

There’s really no other way out there I’ve realized. I also count my strokes. I go till around 20 and then start again. Getting to the first buoy was a relief. I called the paddle boarder close by and then took a few minutes rest, looked around, enjoyed the beautiful lake and thought to myself, “Aren’t I lucky to be here?” After that, I was off again, for the return leg.

Though I felt a bit more comfortable by now on the swim, I could feel my energy get pretty low. I had to stop at least 3-4 times to take stock of where I was in relation to the far-end buoy. It seemed to be moving – further away. Meanwhile, the fast swimmers who were doing the 2nd round, were already whooshing past me. I could see their arms taking powerful strokes, propelling them forward. At the speed of light or so it seemed! At times like this, I feel like a turtle. But then, there’s no time to feel sorry for myself. And I mutter a few words encouraging words to myself.

I think I’m getting closer to the last buoy. Or my mind could be playing tricks. Later, when I look at my Garmin data, I could see I veered to the right, away from the course. At some point, I realize this and correct myself and am then back on track. After the 3rd buoy, it’s a short swim to the 4th one (the course is rectangular in shape) and then it’s finally over.

With some of my team members, before the swim.

With some of my team members, before the swim.

I’m a bit dizzy at the end of it as I stumble over the finish line. I felt like it’s taken me forever. But I always remind myself that I only started swimming seriously last year. My coach often keeps saying, “Look how far you’ve come”. And this is what I try and keep in mind. Besides, I’m just about 2 minutes slower per 100 metres than the fast(er) swimmers. I can catch up. Maybe in a couple of years?

Meanwhile, it’s all about tri-ing!

How I felt after the swim! Nothing like a few minutes of shavasana in the water.

How I felt after the swim! Nothing like a few minutes of shavasana in the water.

NEXT: A 114 km (70+ mile) bike ride through the mountains and a 12.4 mile climbing up to Tioga Pass, with around a 3k feet elevation,

The Penland Diaries: Washing dishes and making them

From washing dishes to making them has been the tagline of these last few days. And I’m borrowing and modifying the phrase from my very talented sister Ranjita (who used to be a chef and is now a potter) who says she went from: “Making dishes to making dishes”.

Exhausting. Hectic. Overwhelming. Intense. Fantastic.

A few words to sum up my experience at Penland so far. Time flies when you’re having fun and it really did. I have no idea how 10 days went by–it’s like one of those sprint races with Usain Bolt. It’s over before it started.

The 18 member group worked at breakneck speed to fire “Rosie”, Penland’s three-chambered wood kiln. After 24 hours of stoking and firing, making sure all the three chambers were heated up, we stopped a bit past midnight on Wednesday.

Scenes from the wood firing–Rosie gets lit up

Scenes from the wood firing–Rosie gets lit up


It was a first time for me working together with a team to fire a wood kiln and it was memorable. Now, I can see the reason why people fire these things. It’s tough and challenging–I still don’t understand most of it since we had experts who have been doing this for years who were in control–but just helping around and being there observing was interesting. And hot–it does get sweaty out there.

Now we rest and wait for Rosie to cool down.

In the meanwhile, I’m thinking back to the last few days and all I can say is that I need a few days of good sleep to recover.

The backdrop of the hills has been the perfect place to work. I didn’t land up walking around as much as I intended, largely because of our schedule.

The greenery, chirping birds, with intermittent rains provided the perfect scene for our creative pursuits

The greenery, chirping birds, with intermittent rains provided the perfect scene for our creative pursuits

Studying and working has been quite a learning experience for me. I don’t remember doing this kind of thing except during my student years (which was a very long time ago), when I worked washing dishes and standing on tables. Here, I got to do dishes. I got rejected for the reading room position. Hah–not the first time being rejected so I took it well.

The art of juggling is challenging and took me around 3-4 days to find some rhythm. In between washing shifts, I would run back to the studio for a demo. And then another demo post-lunch, a bit of time to practice and I’d have to be off again! Everything had to be squeezed in between 2-3 working shifts a day. When I had my first day off on Friday, I actually had the first productive day.

The work-study program is a great initiative from Penland, especially when you want to attend one of these intensive sessions, but can’t afford it. But for those who want to give it a shot, come prepared! It’s no piece of cake. I found myself constantly trying to focus in between work and it got a bit easier towards the 2nd week, but by then, we had to have most of our work ready.

I had to stay up on most nights till 1-2 am, trying to make up what I couldn’t do during the day.

An important lesson I’ve learnt is to be able to change focus quickly. I can’t say I’ve mastered it yet. There were days when I’ve been too exhausted and can’t really seem to get a move on. Would I advise this mode of study? If your only focus is on the course, you might want to make your decision with some thought. Stretch your budget a bit, or borrow (no stealing, please!). But if you’re okay with not having long stretches of time at hand, it definitely makes more sense in terms of the costs. I would love to come back here and just study at some point of time, if I’m able to.

Meanwhile, the first week was also overwhelming in terms of the amount of learning. With two instructors (Mark Shapiro and Sam Taylor) who have nearly 60 years of experience between them, we were treated to a double dose. Not that I’m complaining, but it was just fascinating to watch these two artists collaborate and work together.

The different perspectives of Sam Taylor and Mark Shapiro gave us lots of food for thought. Not to mention a lot of humor and good fun!

The different perspectives of Sam Taylor and Mark Shapiro gave us lots of food for thought. Not to mention a lot of laughs!


It also helps that they’ve been friends for a long time. The dynamics of their relationship reflects in their interactions with each other. Both of them complement each other really well and I must say that I’ve also realized that you can be two people with two totally different approaches and still create a wonderful sense of synergy. No one is necessarily right, or better. They’re just different approaches and a healthy respect for each other is what counts.

Sam’s style is much more relaxed, and spontaneous (controlled spontaneity?!), which is something I am drawn to and syncs well with my personality. Mark veers towards perfection. His forms are ones which kind of strike you as being “perfect”. You can see the amount of control he has over the structure. Whereas Sam’s forms possess a certain “relaxed” nature and a joie de vivre about them.

It was freeing in a sense to realize that it’s not just about perfection. It’s about putting a bit of yourself into everything you do and create. If you do something for 20 years, it’s quite certain that you’ll get really good at it. But giving it a bit of yourself is what makes every piece unique. And abstract though it sounds, it makes sense too.

Mark also said something very interesting (when we were all talking about how little we knew) when we started off and I’m paraphrasing a little: “You’re at a junction where there is so much to learn–it’s an enviable position to be in.” It’s a great way to look at where you are and the journey you’re on. In the beginning, everything is new and exciting. And maybe this is a stage we need to appreciate and savor more. Rather than lamenting about how little time we have and how much we don’t know (which I am quite prone to do). I guess this could apply to any new skill.

We had Michael  Kline share some of his brush techniques.

We had Michael Kline share some of his brush techniques.


Louis Cort, Curator of Ceramics at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian, talks to us about model, copy, utsushi, homage, fake and forgery from a Japanese perspective.

Louis Cort, Curator of Ceramics at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian, talks to us about model, copy, utsushi, homage, fake and forgery from a Japanese perspective.


A plethora of mugs from the first salt firing. Lots of hits and some misses!

A plethora of mugs from the first salt firing. Lots of hits and some misses!


Managed to sneak out for a while on one day and visit a couple of artists nearby. This one was Rebecca Plummer of Barking Spider.

Managed to sneak out for a while on one day and visit a couple of artists nearby. This one was Deborah Plummer of Barking Spider.

Work on display by the resident clay artist at Penland, Tom Jaszczak

Work on display by the resident clay artist at Penland, Tom Jaszczak

With part of the group at dinner.

With part of the group at dinner.


We’re winding down now towards the end of our session. The last few days have some “outside” studio time that I’m looking forward to including field trips and a show and tell session.

And of course, this weekend is all about Rosie!

(PS: Please excuse typos as I’ve written this at breakneck speed–corrections will have to wait till later!).

Pines

The Penland Diaries: Arriving and settling in

The Penland School of Crafts has been on my “wish” list for a few years now. In 2013, when I was visiting friends in Virginia, I did a 2 month ceramics course down at Manassas. Around that time, I happened to chance upon the school and the workshops it offers and instantly put it down as something I’d like to try and do someday.

Workshops are on a wide variety of mediums—glass, metal, wood, drawing, painting, clay – check out the current workshops and also future ones here.

Workshop Workshop Workshop
A peek at some of the workshops

During the last year I’ve been able to explore both jewelry making and ceramics to a greater extent with access to more resources than I had earlier. Some of the artistes I’ve been able to learn from are Edith Schneider (jewelry), Elaine Pinkernell, Linda Mau and Jamie Meador—all three being fantastic handbuilders. And then towards the beginning of the year, I was browsing and came across a link asking those interested to apply for the summer sessions that would be taking place during the June/July/August period. It was bit of a last minute (and quick) decision, but I put my application together, wrote my statement, got a couple of references and I was all set! I didn’t have anything to lose.

So I sent in a “work-study” application to try and make sure the finances worked out for me. In the first week of April, I got a letter saying I’d been accepted into the workshop to be conducted by Mark Shapiro and Sam Taylor.

You can choose your top five workshops in order of preference, but you have no idea which one you’ll get into. Though there were several I wished I could attend, I was thrilled I got into the one that’s going to be conducted by these 2 extremely experienced artists.

Fast forward, July 22nd. I flew into Atlanta, had a delicious breakfast with family there (a vermicelli upma after ages, yummy!) and then embarked on the long drive to Asheville. I made sure I took a couple of breaks enroute and drank coffee to avoid drowsiness from the red eye that I took overnight from SFO.

I was surprised by the amount of traffic on the roads—somehow I’d imagined empty country/mountain roads. But most of the drive was on a busy freeway and only when I was around 50 miles from Asheville, did I get some nice scenic views of the mountains.

In Asheville, I met up with two other students and we shared a cab that delivered us to Penland—an hour’s drive from the city.

A view of the playing field and the building on the left where I'll be spending my time, from Pines.

A view of the playing field and the building on the left where I’ll be spending my time, from Pines.


Nestled in the base of the Blue Ridge mountain range of South Carolina, the location is idyllic and quite perfect. Driving in through a curvy tree-lined road, you’re not disappointed when you’re finally in front of a sign that says “Penland School of Crafts” on one side and the mountains on the other.

It’s going to require some determination to focus on matters at hand, instead of whiling away time gazing at the mountains!

Inside the lush green Penland campus - perfect environment for creative pursuits

Inside the lush green Penland campus – perfect environment for creative pursuits


The first day was just settling into the school, finding our way around and since I’m a work-study student, I started off my stay by working! And along with the rest of the folks, we also got our allocations of what we’re required to be doing over the next few weeks.

I’m looking forward to my two weeks here. For the first time, I’m in a dorm, feeling a bit like a student again. That’s going to be an experience in itself. I’m planning to try and run here, since I won’t be able to either swim or bike. Remains to be seen as to how much of it I can manage, between washing dishes and spending time learning.

I think time will fly, as it tends to do when you’re having fun and learning something new everyday. The environment seems great for creative pursuits and once the session starts, I’ll probably be traveling at around 70 mph.

Snapshot of the first couple of days

Snapshot of the first couple of days

My endeavor is going to be to document my experiences over the next few weeks. I hope this will help anyone who is considering doing similar workshops (in Penland or even other schools), going away for a while, or wants to pursue something off-the-beaten-path. I also have another motive—to get over my current writer’s block. A combination of laziness and not being able to express myself lately has meant that I’m not writing as much as I’d like to. Writing is therapeutic for me. Good conversations are few and far in between-unless I meet people who are on the same wavelength—in which case I love talking (though it’s quite rare, I must admit). But when I’m writing I tend to be more generous and (sometimes) go overboard with words.

Maybe I’ll find my groove again.