Monday, June 30, 2008

Tried it, loved it!

Dear foodies,

I have made it soo many times to keep count anymore. Its a simple dish that never fails to satisfy you with its flavor. I am talking about Nupur's Pav bhaji recipe. And this line can be attached to most of the dishes on her blog. Its a treasure chest of wonderful recipes, whether its homestyle Marathi food that your are looking for or approachable world cuisine, her blog is a definite pit-stop. Its evident through her posts that a lot of thought is put into the decisions she takes regarding her food habits and lifestyle and these will inspire you to adopt the change.

Her writing style is truly enticing with every single post of hers making me want to recreate the dish for myself! It was through her blog that I brought home chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, quinoa, flax seeds, experimented with mediterranean cuisine, bought an appey pan and got inspired to do loads of experiments :) Thank you Nupur! Looking at your projects every week, knitting might soon get added to the list :) This post is off to Zlamushka who is hosting the 'Tried and Tasted' event that is featuring Nupur's blog, 'One hot stove' this month. Thank you Zlamushka!

I made the pav-bhaji for dinner last week and also tried my hand at making the pav's at home. I vaguely followed Jai & Bee's method.

I say vaguely because I lazily did bad math and put the dough together (and I can never follow a recipe!!). It proofed really well (me thinks, what say you?), and would have come out soft and fluffy had I timed it right. They should have been out of the oven a few minutes earlier since they toughened up a bit on the outside and looking back, maybe a little more moisture in the dough would have helped too. I used a muffin pan instead of a wide baking pan. Better luck next time :) But I made something else from their blog successfully the day before I made these (and the one that gave me confidence to try the pav), thats coming up soon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Berry tasty pancakes!

Dear Foodies,

Join me for breakfast
Here is a quick weekend/weekday breakfast recipe for you. I found the Moosewood restuarants cookbook on a visit to the library and got it home sincerely after having read about it from Bee & Jai and Suganya. I really loved reading the book cos its filled with loads of information and advice pertaining to ingredients, cooking methods and meal planning. Though there are very few photographs the book does a brilliant job in tempting you to try its recipes. Being a newbie at reading cookbooks its the photographs that I look for the most in them. But this one is surely much more than a coffee table read. Do pick it up if you get a chance...

I made these pancakes the night after I brought the book home, it was a Saturday and I was all set to have a leisurely breakfast/brunch :D I hate the frozen pancakes and the ones served at IHop and the like, since they are too eggy for my taste. This recipe is for a vegan pancake, and is filed as Vegan oatmeal-walnut pancakes in the book I think.

So here goes the recipe, I went back to the library y'day and looked it up as I forgot the proportions :)) I substituted the walnuts with berries as I forgot they were lying in my freezer! I really need to run a inventory check on my kitchen! I did not want to use oil as called for in the recipe and sub'd it with butter. It some how felt better, don't ask me why :))

  • 3/4 cup - All purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup - Whole wheat flour
    I reversed these amounts, using more whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp - Baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp - Salt
  • 1/4 tsp - powdered Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp - powdered Nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup - quick cooking Oats or 1/4 cup - rolled oats flour
  • I used the latter by running the rolled oats I had for a minute in the spice grinder
  • 1/4 cup - chopped Walnuts (toasted in the oven)
  • I used dried cranberries & goji berries soaked in warm water for 5mins and chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1 Tbsp - Oil
  • I used melted butter
  • 1-2 Tbsp - Maple syrup/honey or a sweetener of choice
  • Soy milk - enough to make the pancake batter (cannot recollect the exact amt)
Method: Prepare the batter when you are all set to eat since it should not be left to rest for long
  • This is as easy as it gets. Simply sift/mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl along with the nuts and berries (+ soaking water). Add the oil, sweetener and soymilk and bring all the ingredients together to form the pancake batter (idli batter consistency maybe). The book clearly asked that we DON't overmix the batter, a few folds of the spoon and turns of the bowl will do.
  • Heat a griddle/non-stick pan on medium heat and scoop 1/4 cup of the batter onto it, don't spread the batter with the spoon, if needed swirl your pan around to spread it out a little. In about 1min you will see tiny bubbles forming on the pancake, slide a spatula under it and flip it to cook the other side. The second side took less than a minute to cook.
Serve immediately or arrange them in a single layer in a warm oven or covered with a kitchen towel for a short while.

Oat pancakes 2

I had these with some fresh peaches and strawberries. Instead of the usual maple syrup, I thinned out some mango jam by heating it in the microwave for 15 secs and used that as a sauce. This was a really good breakfast, I loved the berries in it and I was also left guilt free :)

From the comments to this post I realized I had a recipe that fits two events! Thank you Mansi and Srivalli :)

The first event is Mansi's own Healthy cooking event that also has a cookbook waiting for its winner. You can find the rules and guidelines for this event here. This recipe seems to fit the bill well due to the use of whole wheat flour and oats flour instead of all purpose flour alone. Paired with fresh fruit and with the absence of refined/processed sugars, its healthier too. Both, the walnuts given in the recipe and the berries I used, are rich in antioxidants. At a seminar I attended in my office, I learnt that walnuts are a recommended vegetarian/vegan alternative for fish oil capsules, (a known supplement for omega-3 fatty acids), flax seeds being another one. You can find more information on other dietary sources for these essential fatty acids here. The qty of walnuts though that you would have to consume on a daily basis is a lot more for the same amount of fatty acids got from fish oil capsules. Adding a spoon of whole or ground flax seeds would also be very nice in this recipe. Ground flax seeds do not contribute much flavor wise, so you can safely add them to salads and cereals. From the past month or two I have been adding a spoon of it to my morning cereal for my daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids. I find them to be the best egg substitute so far while baking (used it in sweet/savory cakes, cookies and cupcakes), because when heated with water and beaten, they have a beaten-egg consistency that lends a support structure to the baked product.

The other event is Nandita's WBB event which is now playing at Raaga's blog this month. This is one of the best thought out events because running out of breakfast ideas is O' so common for me, and trying to shove something into my mouth in the wee hours of the morning needs a lot of motivation and determination! Raaga made an excellent choice of theme this month, 'Express' breakfasts, which is the first criteria on my list. You can see that though I said it was a leisurely Saturday morning I still did not want to spend time in the kitchen, the leisure part is exclusively for the eating :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Food for thought...

Dear Foodies,

Though I have been meaning to post recipes these last two weeks, they have been filled with a lot more stuff that has kept me away from my computer when not at work. I attended the graduation ceremony at my University this weekend and it was wonderful to have my parents and brother and not to mention, all my dearest friends along with me. The weekend was spent taking my parents around the city & University, through the corridors and food courts and apartments and classrooms from where I spoke to them the last 3 years. It felt so good to be able to show them the scenes and places that have been part of my life, it was as if the dots were finally connected and the picture was now complete...

I have a lot more that I want to share now, but I need to get back to work. I am going to leave you with this graduation speech given by J K Rowling to the Harvard graduates this year. I have always loved her Harry Potter books, but this speech is something truly beautiful. Do read it through...

Source: Harvard Magazine (they also have a video)

Copyright of JK Rowling, June 2008

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.

The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much.


See you guys soon, have a great day!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Spinach dal/Palakura pappu

Dear foodies,

This is recipe has a double boost of toor dal, so beware! This was a quick quick (ya, that quick!) dish that I made for chapati's. So why was it that quick? (have I used up my quota for using the q-word in this para?) I had some frozen cooked toor dal in the freezer, I always make extra and store 1/2 cup measures of it in separate bags in the freezer. That really makes a dal/sambar easy the next time round, do try it is you don't already. And after the insect scares I got from my organic spinach/mint buys, I had a pack of frozen spinach waiting for me in the freezer too. So that meant I only had to thaw and temper the ingredients to have my dal ready. So now you know why it was quick na? :D The double booster of toor dal came from a handful of frozen tuvar lilva tossed into the boiling dal.

  • 1 cup - Toor dal, cooked
  • 1 cup - Spinach, frozen (or fresh, chopped spinach 1 1/2 -2 cups)
  • handful of frozen tuvar lilva/lima beans/peas
  • 1/2 - medium sized onion, cubed
  • 2 small green chillies, slit lengthwise
  • 1/2 -1 tsp sambar powder adjusted to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp - oil
  • 1 dried red chilli, broken
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds and cumin
  • 3-4 curry leaves, torn to pieces
  • In a saucepan on medium heat, add 1/2 cup of water, frozen dal, spinach and let them heat through and thaw. Midway I also added the cubed onions. ( I was too lazy to heat another pan to saute the onions in. Since I let the dal boil and simmer later on, the onions were cooked well by the end of it, so save yourself the time and the effort)
  • Once the ingredients are thawed completely add the green chillies, sambar powder, frozen tuvar lilva and salt. Let the dal to come to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, add more water if its too thick.
  • For the tadka, heat the oil in a small pan, add the mustard and cumin seeds, as they crackle add the garlic. Allow it to brown a little and then add the curry leaves. After they crisp up, add the red chillies and turn off the heat. Add this to the dal and cover for a few minutes.

The browned garlic bits are very tasty and so are the tuvar lilva. They don't soften up totally like peas or lima beans and retain a slight bite which I really liked about them. The dal goes great with chapati's or rice. I had it with some dosa a few days later and found that it was a pretty decent combo. Here is another really good dal recipe, one of my favs.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Onion chutney

Dear Foodies,

Onion chutney
Since we are on the topic of chutney's, or pachadi in Telugu, here is another one, with onions..

The one thing I miss in my food here is the absence on chutney's. At home, my mom would have atleast 2 a week or more, it was so much part of the menu either with rice or tiffin items like chapati/dosa/idli/upma. And she would use many different veggies too. When I got here, we bought the basic black & decker blender at walmart which was no good for making chutneys. We either ended up having something that was hardly chopped or got a diluted puree because of too much water. So we totally gave up on making chutneys :( But now I have a spice grinder and teeny tiny food processor that help me get the job done.

How come all the chutney love suddenly you ask? My mom made a beerakaya pachadi/ridge gourd chutney a few weeks back that brought all the love back :)) mom is here now! but she is at my brother's place presently and will be here soon...I can't wait to grab all her secrets :D Another reason why it was onion chutney is, if I hadn't used up the onions this way, I would have had a onion garden at home :D three had already started out like the one in the picture.

browned onions

  • 5 small onions, cubed or red onions/ 15 (or so) pearl onions
  • 1 tsp channa dal
  • 1/2 tsp urad dal
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds (optional)
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • tamarind, the size of a quarter (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1 tsp oil
  • salt to taste

  • Heat a pan with oil on medium heat and start by roasting the channa dal, give it a minute before adding the urad dal. Once they start turning slightly orange, add the coriander seeds and tamarind. Add the red chillies, give it a few seconds and spoon all the ingredients to a plate. Have your finger on the exhaust fan switch, just in case you burn the chillies :))
  • To the same pan add your onions and cook them on medium heat until they turn a little translucent and brown on the edges. Cool and grind it along with the roasted spices and cilantro adding just enough water to get a good chutney consistency. Add salt to taste. There were a few tiny bits of onion left, and it was good that way.
I had it with rice that day and then with some chapati's the next day. It was also good as a sandwich spread. So have fun with it....and let me know how you make your chutnies ?

You can totally skip the coriander seeds & tamarind, my mother does not use them. You can substitute the white onions with red onions/pearl onions. She told me that the saute'ed pearl onions dipped in a little sugar are a very yummy snack :) I need to try that soon, if you have tried it let me know :) You can check her tomato chutney in a previous post.

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