Phoenix in February, flight delays and family

There have been very few times in my life when I’ve actually benefited from a delayed flight. Last week, when Lulu and I got stuck in Arizona, was one of them.

Seeking reprieve from the unrelenting rain and cold of San Francisco’s wettest winter in recent memory, we booked a quick trip to Scottsdale, where temperatures in February typically stay in the mid-70’s, and there’s enough sunshine to spend your entire visit sitting by the pool. As luck would have it, San Francisco’s dreary weather followed us on our long weekend retreat. So, we had none of that.

We made the most of the rain by visiting a butterfly museum and bumming around local shops in Old Town with our nearby family. K even sucked it up on the first day and threw on some rain gear to play a round of golf. At night, after putting Lulu to bed, K and I cozied up on the couch of our hotel sipping on too-sweet margaritas and indulging on room service snacks while catching up with this year’s Oscar nominations. The fireplace in our room made it cozy and sweet.

On the last day we were there, the rain finally let up and the temperatures reached the highs we’d been expecting the entire trip. However the rain and winds in San Francisco reached levels even worse than when we left, delaying several flights into the city and rerouting a few that couldn’t land and were running out of fuel. Instead of braving the two, then three, then five-hour delays the airline kept pushing on us, I decided it was best to stay back with my with already overtired toddler, and take the next best flight back home. Without hesitation, my mother-in-law’s younger brother and his family, who live just outside of Phoenix, took us in. Here’s where we got lucky.

At first, I was a little annoyed that I was missing meetings and couldn’t get back to the things I needed to do in San Francisco. But the moment I stepped into their house and was offered a warm, spicy cup of chai, and smelled something amazing cooking away on the stove, I was thankful to have been held back.

We spent that night and next day catching up, hanging out and cooking. We talked about Indian superfoods, gardening, herbal cold remedies and the challenges of raising a family in modern days. Lulu spent her day following me around in my aunt’s garden and feeding the ducks at a nearby pond with her elder cousin, Arman, who was so delighted when she finally decided to hold his hand. This little impromptu trip became a great moment to slow down, reconnect and spend time with the people who matter most in our lives. And of course, I also got a little cooking lesson out of it.

I don’t know if this is the case for every Indian family, but it seems everyone on my husband’s side is a talented cook. Our Arizona aunty and uncle are no exception. While he was telling me his secret for a savory morning oatmeal, she was listing some of her favorite recipes learned from her mother and correcting me on my method for making chai. We also spent a little time out in her garden finding "superfoods" that have become all the rage in recent years in the U.S., but have been eaten in India for centuries.

After discussing multiple options of what to cook on the last night we were there, we landed on a stuffed eggplant recipe that my aunt said was one of her mother’s favorite dishes. She adapted it slightly to make it her own, but the method and most of the ingredients have stayed the same through several generations.

This spicy, nutty and herby stuffed eggplant is actually very simple to make. Like most Indian dishes, there’s a daunting amount of ingredients that go into it, but the preparation is quick and simple after you’ve gathered everything you need, and there’s little room for error. We whipped it in no time, with little mess, to boot. We ate it at the dinner table sipping on Moscow mules (never mind that it was a Tuesday, we were celebrating!) and enjoyed this free moment we had together. It was perfect. And hopefully the memories will make me less frustrated during future travel hiccups.

Here’s the recipe for Anamika Aunty’s masala-stuffed eggplant.