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Monday, June 30, 2008

The Grand Paneer Makhni Experiment

I had promised to check out Lekhni's Easy Paneer Makhni recipe, having been on the lookout for a shortcut from the multiple steps needed to make paneer. Here's my step-by-step experience.


1. Soak 1 tbsp cashew pieces in warm water for 15-20 minutes.

Time to rummage through the pantry. I found the cashews hidden behind the raisin box, and plopped them into a bowl of warm water.

2. Grind 1 tomato, some onion and an inch of ginger into a puree. Or you can use ginger-garlic paste and tomato puree.

Open fridge for tomato, and realise I have none except that everlasting basket of uneaten cherry tomatoes purchased at the farmer's market 10 days ago. Grab about 1/2 dozen of them and get ready to puree them as per instructions.
My ancient Osterizer purees them fairly efficiently, before starting to leak at the bottom. I hurriedly transfer it to another bowl and note that the quantity is insufficient for a family of 6 (5 adult appetites + 1 finicky 2nd grader). Back to the fridge for more tomatoes, ginger and one more large onion. Now the quantity looks right. ( Lekhni, you should have specified the recipe serves two!)

3. Melt butter in a frying pan and add the cottage cheese. Fry a little until it clumps together and turns just a little brown.

Ah, the fun part. I heat up two precious tablespoons of shuddh ghee (fresh from the dairies of the Hare Krishnas we visited just last weekend), and plop down the whole container of cottage cheese from the supermarket into it. Now, for it to clump. I stir, it turns mildly watery, as some of the cheese curds start to , horror of horrors, melt into the pan. No sign of clumping, just the whole cottage cheese starting to get more and more liquidy. What to do now? I try draining it into a colander with a vessel underneath. Maybe it will clump as it drains.

4. Pour the contents of the pan into a bowl. Now fry the onion-tomato puree (or the ginger garlic paste and tomato puree) in the same pan until the oil separates out. If you are really pressed for time, use two pans - one for the paneer and another for the puree.

This was easy enough. Though it did take a while longer than I expected to get rid of the raw onion smell. A mommy tip (from my mother): Fry the onion/ginger/garlic combo first in oil so that they cook together faster, then add the tomato puree.

5. Add all the spices you like to the puree - garam masala, dhania powder, asafoetida, turmeric powder. For chilli powder, I add the Kashmiri chilli powder, not too spicy and nice orange color. Also add a pinch of kasuri methi.

No problems with this step, went like a charm.

6. Simmer this stuff for a while and then throw in the cashew paste, the whey-butter mix from the paneer.

Full disclosure: being lazy and not wanting to have the extra step of making cashew paste separately, I just ground them in with the tomato/onion/ginger. So, I just added the whey butter mix from the paneer, which looked suspiciously like large curd cottage cheese which would refuse to clump, at this point.

7. While the masala mix simmers, cool the paneer (hopefully clumped by now) and squeeze it a few times and press it between 2 cutting boards, or just flatten it with your palm. The paneer should be a nice solid mass now. You should be easily able to cut into into cubes.

No, the paneer wasn't clumped. I pressed it duly between the cutting board and it still kept falling apart into the largish pieces. Wrong brand of cottage cheese, I decided. That's what you get when you fall for the hype of 'at least 4% milk fat' on the label, not paying attention to the prime ingredient of 'nonfat milk, nonfat whey, nonfat milk powder, carrageenan, trisodium phosphate, etc. etc.' This store brand of cottage cheese is so Not making it on to my shopping list anytime in the future.


8. Add the paneer to the masala just before serving. If you add it too early, there is the risk that it might dissolve.

The gravy was coming along nicely, for all the trouble the paneer was giving me. I decided that it could at least form the basis for a gravy with green peas and dumped a package of them in straight from the freezer. My mom tried shaping the cottage cheese into balls, but they stubbornly refused to hold. Taking out another pan, I decided to try a last-ditch attempt to fry these pitiful ball-lets into some semblance of paneer kofta. More tablespoons of the precious ghee warmed up, I added the balls. No go, they started exuding a peculiar goo,as they fell apart.
"Hopeless case, Amma. Give me the rest. I might as well fry the whole thing and see what happens".
Magic happened. They started clumping together and forming a single mass. Yippeee! Eureka! So this is what Lekhni was driving at. A few minutes later, I had my nice solid mass of clumped paneer, which I set to cool and cut into cubes for a final addition to the peas masala.

Thanks for the recipe, Lekhni, including the secret to a passably thick gravy, which I have never really mastered till I tried yours. And if I might suggest a small correction to your recipe, please add the prep step of draining the cottage cheese completely before attempting to fry it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hunter's Paradise

On a trip to West Virginia some years ago, a lone big-box store sat atop a carved out hillside, beckoning for miles around to the motorists speeding down I-70. 'Cabelas :World's Foremost Outfitter' read the room sized bill boards that we could see.
'They sell camping, fishing and hunting gear. Wanna take a look? We could stop by there for a little bit before getting back home', my inquisitive husband and son urged.
I was in the throes of an incipient migraine, which only intensified as we reached the place. I refused to set foot in a 'sanctuary of guns and hunting', preferring to sit on the rustic split log bench at the air-conditioned entrance (polyurethaned to high heaven- my sense of smell goes haywire when in migraine mode!) while the rest of the party went inside to take a gander (Bad pun intended.)

This time, the circumstances were different. As we drove up the hill, the lone big-box had expanded into a plateau covered with Targets, Penneys, restaurant franchises and all the trappings of big suburbia. The Cabelas was merely another among a sea of comparable lots.

I was curious to see this high temple of those who bitterly cling to their guns.

First sight on entry: a plastic water cooler filled with plush wildlife puppets, that M promptly went crazy over. We persuaded her to put back the squirrel puppet that she threatened us with and walked on into the guns and rifle section. Aisles and aisles of bullet clips, and gun supplies on one side, hunters' camouflage clothing on the other. One especially ingenious type had leaf shaped pieces sown all over the jacket and pant- making the wearer look like a giant pile of leaves. Hmmm....this gives me ideas for M's next Halloween costume, it would be easy to mimic the look with all the leaves that litter our yard around that time of the year.

It was camouflage gear everywhere, including camo-onesies and camo-pacifiers for your budding infant hunter and camo-overalls for the toddler demographic. There were rag dolls dressed in camo-pinafores and camo-overalls, even camo-outfitted baby dolls. Evidently in Hunter's Paradise, the angels go around in camo-togas rather than pearly whites.

Above us on the rafters were trophy heads of over a dozen variety of deer, antelope, even kudu and wildebeest. I'm not sure how many were real and how many were reproductions, given that they were placed to high for closer examination.

Deflecting an attempt by me to slip into the Bargain Cave to check out the el-cheapo items that probably weren't much cheaper than the original, my husband hustled us on to the piece-de-resistance of the place: a massive pseudo-rocky outcrop towering 2 storeys high, covered with stuffed deer, mountain goats, moose, even a wolf or two, all looking almost as good in death as they must have been regal alive. The larger displays even had plaques next to them "Taken by John Doe, 1971" and such. It was the epitome of the taxidermist's art, even more riveting than some displays that I had seen in the Natural History museum, more poignant because of its location in a place that sold the weapons of their destruction.

Walking around another side of the display yielded a huge surprise. Bears, polar bears! These were 'taken by Paul Yeager, 1964'. Apparently, it is still legal to hunt them, as I was surprised to learn. They are merely a 'threatened species' as opposed to being declared an 'endangered species'. So gruesome sights like this are not going away anytime soon.

Behind the polar bears, there was a massive brown bear posed roaring, full height, while a black mountain bear came down the slope and a pair of small grizzlies snarled over a dead moose. We were beginning to tire of the wildlife display, dazed into compliance with the hunting ambiance as we saw posed buffalo, kudu, antelope, even a couple of lions and lionesses snarling at hyenas (the display arranger surely had Disney's 'Lion King' on the brain), as we walked into the fishing section, rods and tackles, boat accessories galore.

Too overwhelmed to pay much attention there, I grabbed a copy of the free outfitter magazine, rife with hunting and fishing articles-'The fish that got away', 'Unconventional fly patterns for educated fish'(!!??), interspersed with loving ads for rifles, lipstick like arrangements of Winchester ammunition, articles on 'mentoring young hunters' to start with squirrels...It' s a whole new hunter's world out there, that I didn't know existed.

M chose the moment to seize a coonskin cap and try it on, dancing around in glee. 'Amma, can I have one, please, pretty please?'
'Are you sure you want a fur cap? It was a dead animal once, you know'.
M would not be dissuaded and insisted that we get it for her. I felt the cap in question: it appeared to be made largely of faux fur, evident from the knit backing inside, but the tail was suspiciously soft for faux fur. 'We'll pick it up, it's only 6 dollars, after all.'

Then it was up the stairs to the restaurant where we had two servings of excellent crispy French fries, followed by a brief walk through the toy, gift, home decor(including fake plush animal trophies for the kids' room!), furniture and electronics departments, right next to an arcade like rifle range and country store.

Downstairs again, a final walk past a large aquarium (No, not Fish Again!) which I couldn't get past fast enough, to the cash registers and out past an Amish couple seated at the entrance (Do the Amish hunt? I thought they were pacifist, but perhaps that doesn't extend to animals).

M has been running around with S, playing with toy wooden guns, rubber bands, wearing her new coontail cap (hopefully to shreds) pretending to be Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone etc. I have to think of a new place to take them to for this hunting game to come to an end, I suppose!

Golden Palace

We went off on more day trips last weekend.

The first stop of the day was Prabhupada's Palace of Gold , crowded as we had never seen it before on previous trips. Their congregation is definitely growing in size, as is their elderly cow and peacock population. The chanting was as raucous as any that I have heard, hugely enthusiastic, with people of all shapes, sizes and colors swaying to the beat, some with arms 'raised in surrender'. I remember being horribly embarrassed on an earlier trip there by some gentleman who insisted that we join in with the chanting, hands up in the air- it requires a suspension of disbelief that does not come easy to me. Lissome teens in half-saris glided in and out of the crowd with their mysterious errands, or maybe out of sheer boredom with the routine. A particularly loud blast from the dholak was a cue to me to take M off to see the peacocks, and the rest of my family soon slipped out on their individual excuses.

We walked up to the peacock house and watched one of the males walk behind a female in circles, undeterred by the gawkers. Another male stalked off alone across the bridge, screaming in challenge after crossing it, and receiving a response from the woods behind. The white peacocks posed inside their shelter, climbing up on the roof.

A couple of swans glided down the pond in picture perfection, one of them giving me, I swear, a beady-eyed but incisive glance before tapping a bill against a trashcan on the pond bank. Was that supposed to be a hint of some kind? Either way, we (bird-brained??) humans didn't 'get it', and the swans glided away in royal disdain.

In the Palace, we traipsed around barefoot or be-socked as the tour guide showed us the chandelier-and-marble-and-goldleaf interior, carefully emphatic about 'completely constructed by devotees as a labor-of-love for the swami, who came from an unbroken 5000-year old line of gurus'. I couldn't help asking my smart-aleck "Who's that in blue next to Chaitanya in the oil painting?"feeling very pleased with my memories of the Amar Chitra Katha cover of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, answered by a calm 'Nit-ya-nand' by the unflappable guide.

The guide was pleased at the end of the tour when I proffered a donation of $10 'towards upkeep' and handed me a color brochure of the Palace of Gold. M got to pick out a pretty multicolored handmade beeswax candle as a souvenir as well. The photos in the brochure were gorgeous, evidently done by a professional devotee, but there were puzzling cut out pages and whited-out names: more evidence of the internal politics which racked the ISKCON in the recent years, I suppose.

The rose garden was filled with fading rose bushes , some still possessing a trace of scent, others engineered for appearance rather than perfume, still had an echo of their earlier glory a couple of weeks before. We had evidently come a little late for prime bloom, but were at least able to catch of glimpse of the famed roses.

Then it was back to the temple, in hopes that the bhajan-kirtan session had gotten over and free lunch served. But we had come down too early. Being in a hurry to leave for our next destination, we settled for an unappetizing looking but quite delicious khichri and lime pickle. M and S turned up their noses at the fare initially, they deigned to gobble a few mouthfuls to stave off their hunger till we could make it to a nearby Subway eatery.

We escaped the main rush of devotees just as they started pouring out of the hall, made a quick beeline for the van and drove off to our next destination, which deserves a post all to itself.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thinking up Tags

The tags that bloggers send to each other has me intrigued. Where do these things originate? Is it even possible to trace the source of a tag, or is it as foolhardy as trying to find out who is Abdel Kadir Guanou from Guyana who wishes to deposit a measly $5 million in my personal bank account if I would email him the details. 'Rishi moolamum, nadhi moolamum ketkakkoodathu', goes the old Tamil saying ('Don't seek to ask for the history of a sage or trace the source of a river'). A similar principle probably operates for tags.

On the other hand, why not dream up a few tags and unleash them on the blogging world? It might be fun!

Maybe I should pass these around to a committee for evaluation of viral contagiousness before I try to spread them. Lekhni, Ruchira, Kochuthresiamma, Jen, Amit: you are all enlisted. Please comment if you like.

Tag Idea #1:

Items on your walls:
Look up from your computer and stare at all the walls in the room surrounding you.
List each item on the wall and its origin (for example : Faded landscape print from ABC mart, Family photo taken in Portland, Andy Warhol soup can poster, Starbucks neon sign, whatever...)
If you are in the great outdoors blogging, the tag will settle for a brief description of the flora and fauna (scientific names would be much appreciated, naturally).

Pass this on to 3 bloggers.


Tag Idea #2

List:
1. A place that you would love to visit and why.
2. A place that you have already visited that you liked and why.
3. A place that you have already visited that you disliked and why.

Pass this on to 3 bloggers.

Tag Idea #3

Bloggers of the world, get your MS Paint, Photoshop or Gimp opened up and handy.
Pick a photo of yourself and alter it digitally to represent you as your favorite superhero/celebrity. Be creative, secretive or just plain silly, if you choose, and put it up on your blog for the oohs and aahs to roll in.

Pass this on to 3 bloggers.

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Notice the limitation to 3, instead of 5 bloggers- I figured that it might be easier on those of us who have been struggling to come up with 5 taggees.

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I knew I was just a google away from someone who attempted to track blog-tags and here he is. He should have called it a blog wave rather than a tree from the shape, though!

Monday, June 16, 2008

T-rexes and a Throw of Dice

'Git yer tickets in advance' hollered the flyer from the museum in no uncertain terms. This was in advance of the opening of the newly renovated hall of Dinosaurs that had been closed to the public for three years. And so we did, bundling the whole family into the minivan after an early lunch in a raptorian frenzy to make it there at the appointed hour.

The diplodocus and apatosaurus (see photo) were now located in a large opened up four storey high hall, with windows for book browsers in the adjoining library to look through to the display. What a fantastic idea! It made me want to trot off to the library, just in order to peek at the diplodocus from there.

The T-rexes were back, restored to a more anatomically correct horizontally balanced position, snarling over the remnants of an edmontosaurus. The docent, happy enough to use his extensive training, explained to us that the one on the left was the Holotype for all T-rexes. It was the standard of comparison for all t-rexes that were dug up after it. Another interesting tidbit associated with it was that it was meant to be on loan from another museum in order to save it from possible bombing in WWII, but that having come to the Carnegie, it never went back. The Carnegie museum paid to acquire it and here it stayed ever since.

Then it was off through the creatures of the later Cretaceous and the Ice Age, followed by a peek into the Earth Theater, where to our surprise, we were shown a film with computer animated graphics of the Night of the Titanic. No Rose and Jack here, just the bare, unemotional facts, supplemented with some climate change pitch.

We wandered afterwards into the 'Life on Mars' exhibit of modern art and felt like aliens trying to make sense of earthling concepts almost immediately.

There was a line of people against the far end of the wall, waiting to enter what seemed like a large duct-taped entrance. My family joined the line immediately, while I demurred, not quite at ease with the museum guard's explanation that it was like a path into a cave. I spoke sotto voce to the docent hovering around "The line of people waiting almost look like part of the exhibit themselves, if it were some kind of performance art!" and she nodded in assent, a big grin on her face.

At the entrance was an arrangement of stacked Italian newspaper bundles interspersed with some in Arabic, covered with the seemingly random squiggles of lighted neon. From where I stood, I couldn't figure out what it said, until the last couple of words magically resolved into 'le hasard', meaning 'chance' in French. That did it. I marched up to the docent, this time with a question: "What does the neon tube say?"
"Did you notice the Fibonacci numbers in the other works by the same artist (Mario Mertz) - numbers climbing up the wall to end in what looked like a stuffed lizard? "
I nodded without comprehension in the least.
"This exhibit in the middle says "A throw of the dice can never abolish chance".
And off she went to talk to another docent, leaving me to puzzle over the meaning of the statement.

It was left to me to find out later that these mysterious lines were the work of French poet Stephane Mallarme, after whose inspiration Mertz came up with the art piece. The position of the words in the poem was curiously highlighted by the poet in a modernist ramble to make up the saying (see link). Mallarme stated in a preface himself to the poem that:
I would prefer that this Note was not read, or, skimmed, was forgotten; it tells the knowledgeable reader little that is beyond his or her penetration: but may confuse the uninitiated, prior to their looking at the first words of the Poem, since the ensuing words, laid out as they are, lead on to the last, with no novelty except the spacing of the text. The ‘blanks’ indeed take on importance, at first glance; the versification demands them, as a surrounding silence, to the extent that a fragment, lyrical or of a few beats, occupies, in its midst, a third of the space of paper.

Confusion to the uninitiated, it is, indeed. Count me among those!

Friday, June 13, 2008

An Overdose of Grief

Far be it for me to minimize the shock and suffering of the Russert family but aren't the cable and broadcast TV stations going too far with their hours long eulogizing of Tim Russert?

Apparently no other news of interest is occurring anywhere in the US or the world. RIP Tim Russert, a brief tribute to his life's work in order, and move on to covering other happenings such as the flooding in Iowa, or the impact of the Habeas Corpus decision by the US Supreme court, or the Irish rejection of the EU treaty, or the fuel tankers strike spreading across the world from Spain to UK to South Korea.

Instead we get teary eyed non-stop tributes from Keith Olbermann, Pat Buchanan, Wolf Blitzer, Barbara Walters, Peggy Noonan, Andrea Mitchell that have been going on for a full 4 hours. We get it- it was a shocking and unexpected demise. But does it warrant the sort of all-exclusive coverage of this kind?

It takes me back to the constant focus on Indira Gandhi as she lay in state in 1984 after her untimely death by assassination. All the TV showed was the endless line of people filing by, interspersed with fixed slides backed with mournful sitar twangs, followed by endless scenes of the grieving family at the funeral pyre. The only exception was that some head honcho at Doordarshan, the state-run TV channel, decided that broadcasting the 1945 B&W version of 'Meera', with M.S. Subbulakshmi in the singing and acting lead, was appropriate telecasting in such a mournful time - a breath of fresh air for me and my mom, since we loved the songs from the movie, ancient as they were).

So now, it's all Russert all the time, to the point of wishing that we had also departed with him in order to avoid this deathly dull programming. There have been clippings of Russert at balls, at conferences, at meetings, at diners, on his Meet the Press interviewing the celebrities and politicos du jour, with the Pope, everything but Russert tying his shoelaces at his son's baseball practice.

Mercifully, this ought to end by tonight. Tomorrow we will be back to the usual program and doses of Brangelina, Baby Mama, how-to-improve-gas-mileage, how-to-go-green-by-buying-new-appliances, salmonella tomatoes, floods in the Midwest, the capture for the zillionth time of Al Qaeda's no. 2 Man in Iraq/Afghanistan...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Vanessa

It was a tiny black caterpillar in a little plastic cup half-filled with a pale yellow goo. M brought it home from school along with a closely printed sheet listing all the stages and care instructions.
Every day the excitement grew, as we tracked the size of the growing caterpillar. "It's getting huge!", M announced excitedly each morning."We have to get ready to put it in a box."
"Mmm-hmm", I mumbled, having skimmed over the instructions to build it a cardboard box home without much attention.
"Amma, it's forming a chrysalid now!" (S decided to be annoying and buzzed around M humming "A cocoon, a cocoon", while M kept shrieking "It's not a cocoon, it's a chrysalid...Anna, stop annoying me!" I had to pry them apart, as usual. Sigh, the story of my life.)
One morning, before I had the chance to carefully transfer the hanging chrysalid to another location, the chrysalid lay on the pile of goo and excrement. Oops.
Was there a way to get it to hang from the lid again? The instructions said explicitly that the chrysalid needed to hang for the wings to develop properly. Not that I could think of anything that would work. A piece of cellotape did not do the job.
M was very worried. "My chrysalid will die if we don't set it up", she was convinced. I promised her to transfer it to a larger plastic bottle lid and see if it would stick to that with a dab of school glue. I gingerly transferred the chrysalid to the bottle lid and waited a few hours for the glue to dry, with the bottle attached upside down.
When I checked to see the chrysalid the next morning, surprise. The small dead thing had turned into a painted lady butterfly, with orange, black and tan wings. One of the wings looked a bit rumpled, so M insisted on taking it out into the sunny deck in hopes that it would harden and straighten out.
The butterfly clung compulsively to the twig we used to transfer it from the bottle lid, and later to M's finger, as she positioned it near a flower, in hopes that it would be able to get to the nectar. I made up a 5% sugar solution, dipped a paper towel in it and placed it in a bottle lid to place the butterfly on it for some sustenance.
And we went inside again.
An hour later, I sneaked a peek to see what had happened. The butterfly had unrolled its proboscis and appeared to be happily imbibing the sugar solution.
The next hour, it had moved from the lid to the dirt on the side of the pot.
Another hour later, there were just the wings left. A bird must have decided to make a meal of it. M came up eagerly to take a look, and was shocked to see just the wings left.
She was extremely upset at the loss of the butterfly.
"It would have been hard for it to survive with the damaged wing," I pointed out. She went silent, pursed her lips in her misery pout and wanted to be cuddled. It took her about 1/2 an hour to get out of that mood.Should I have covered up the death of the butterfly by removing the wings and allowing her to believe that the Vanessa cardui had flown off into the sunset?

It's too late for that. I will never know now.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tagged Again...And I'm going to try and pass this on.

I was tagged again. By Lekhni this time.

Since I so enjoyed doing the last tag by Jen at Of Cabbages and Kings, I thought that I might as well cave in and enjoy this one, despite my earlier protests. So here goes:

The Tag Rules:

Pick up the nearest book.
Open to page 123.
Find the fifth sentence.
Post the next three sentences.
Tag five people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

___________________________

Nearest Book:
Panty Hose, Hot Peppers, Tea Bags and More for the Garden
(A Rodale Organic Gardening Book)
(from the clearance bin at Half Price Books)

"If you lose the cap to your lawn mower's gasoline can, use a small potato or potato half to keep the can closed. It will temporarily prevent the gas and fumes from spilling out until you find another cap. Don't use it for more than a day or two, as it will start to decompose"

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Now, isn't that a useful tip that we could all use? Who knew that a piece of potato could double as a gasoline can cap? Not me.

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Next, tagging five people:

Jen (Of Cabbages and Kings)
Amit
Kochuthresiamma(Pareltank)
Usha(Agelessbonding)
Malathi( Writer's Block)
Maami/Maydam

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Tale of Tails

D-Day was upon us.
We had to get M's costume as Sugriva, the monkey king in the Ramayana play ready the next morning, a tall order after carousing the previous evening away at a party. M had stayed up bleary-eyed to 'paint' her mask on the computer, so it would be ready for printing on cardstock the next morning.(No old-fashioned color-with-crayon for her- it had to be a selection of custom colors on MS Paint.) S had already done his share of computer work with adjusting the size of the mask to the perfect dimensions to match M's tiny visage.

Being a monkey, the must-have accessory was, naturally, a tail. I had vague ideas of sewing a fabric tube to be stuffed with newpaper and somehow attached to her pants, so I hurriedly fished around in my scrap bag and came up with leftover green felt (from her Halloween pumpkin costume last year) that had the right dimensions. Wrong color though, or perhaps I could coordinate the rest of her outfit to match the green tail. The tube didn't look convincingly tail-like, so I flipped it inside out about a dozen times (easier said than done), while adjusting the shape to a properly simian taper.

My husband took over at this point, experimenting with a wire hanger for the tail and polyfill for padding. To push the stuffing in without punching through it, he started off with a bamboo rod, switched to a yard stick and finally brought in a beheaded mop handle The way he kept vanishing down the stairway and coming up with ever larger implements, was more than a bit Chaplinesque, leaving all of us doubled over in laughter.

The next conundrum (or should I say 'engineering challenge') was to devise a suitable attachment point for the tail to the costume. Gravity would have dragged this now-heavy accoutrement down into the dust, so he had to come up with a rigid and detachable top panel to hold up the tail. A couple of stiff cardboard rectangles fit the bill and could be pinned to the costume.

Our friend's son was Hanuman and his tail solution was to wrap a wire hanger with a brown scarf, adding a decorative gold tassel to the end, an idea that had made me envious that I hadn't thought of it. He had opted for a gold and cardboard crown, with red face paint and pursed up lips, air filled cheeks to complete the monkey look and made for a very cute Hanuman.

Ravana was a marvel of printout wizardry. D, who was enacting the role had a photograph of herself with a crown, huge fake mustache and frown printed out 9 times and stuck on a bamboo frame which sat on her shoulders.

Much fun was had by all the participants in this Ramayana play, even though M's tail kept getting in the way and almost tripping up the eagerly battling actors and actresses. They survived the great war to eat yummy pizza at the conclusion of a successful semester.
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Update:

(I would have loved to add pix of the Hanuman and Ravana, but can't because of privacy rules, etc. etc.)