Dec 30, 2009

The year errr… nine months in review

In an ideal world my last post of the year would have also been my 100th post. But my world is anything but ideal so even though I was reaching hard for a century, I fell short by four posts.

As I write this post, there has been a second helping of snow in Texas. Technically, this is the third time it has snowed but the first time it was just for a few hours. The second time we had snow flurries the whole day and when it stopped the snow stayed on the next day. We had enough to make a snowman and have a snowball fight. Of course, we didn’t do it cause it was cozy and warm inside.

But I digress. Coming back to my eight months in review that starts in the month of April. I remember it was the beginning of spring and I felt it was a good day to start a blog. Of course, like all things I do in my life, I did not give it much thought but jumped right in.

I was on a high after having mastered the art of making sabudana khichdi from a friend just days ago. I was making it every weekend and felt like sharing the secret to a non-sticky sabudana khichdi with the world. The picture was taken as an afterthought on the dining table, with my son’s toys scattered around.
A few other random recipes followed, some with pictures, some without. I was yet unaware of all the other amazing food blogs out there.  I just went exploring through the ‘Next Blog’ button. That is how I chanced on Dips’ Centaur Cooks. Through her, I found Vaishali’s wonderful, passionately vegan blog, Holy Cow, Recipes from a Vegan Kitchen.
Following few comments led to Supriya’s tasteful Red Chillis and the Holy Grail of Indie blogs, Jai and Bee’s Jugalbandi. Jugalbandi's monthly photo event was one highlight of my monthly posts as I tried to take better pictures every month. I am most proud of this one:

Of course, RC’s Food World blog aggregator introduced me to a whole new world of blogging. One blog led to another and soon I was chasing blogs like one tries to count the stars. In the end, I had to curb my enthusiasm and detox myself of the wonderful but addictive world of blogging.

By then I had also found the world of food events and there came a time when everything I posted was with the intent of entering in an event. I become obsessed with it to the point of exhaustion. You just have to look at the months of June and July. I was in full swing, with every post geared towards an event.

Thankfully, I got out of that phase quickly. Now, I do enter a few events but I don’t stress myself out.
August was the result of my putting on a few pounds and logging my eating habits for the whole world to see.
By the end of that month, I was spent and two pounds lighter. I was also learning to relax with my posts and not try to force myself to write.
September was the month to brew some old memories and long forgotten recipes, not to mention two cathartic rants.

October saw fewer posts but by then I was no longer worried about posting something every couple of days and was taking my time with each post.
I had discovered Sra’s witty blog When my soup came alive and Manisha’s Indian Food Rocks the previous month. It was Diwali time by then and a total of my seven posts had either Diwali recipes or an entry for Sra’s unique The Write Taste event. Rock on Sra!
I would have completed the 100 post mark in mid December if I had been more active in November (only 4 posts!). But I was busy with going back to school (College for non USA reader), my final papers and presentation.

I even missed my monthly book club review, This Book Makes Me Cook, that I had been religiously doing every month since July. It is a wonderful group of bloggers, headed by Simran of Bombay Foodie, who choose and review a book at the end of each month. We also try to create a recipe based on the book. If you would like to join our book club, drop a line to Simran or any of the other members and we will welcome you with open arms.

December started with only 10 posts to go and a steely resolve to hit the century.  Of course, the gods of fate conspired with a fun filled family holiday spent visiting children’s science and history museum and planning for my son’s fourth birthday.
So here I am, at the end of December, with four more posts to go but no more days left in the month.
It was still worth it though, making friends over the blog and meeting them on FB. Finding out about networked blogs (Thank you Vaishali) and trying to take better pictures of the food.

I will be remiss if I don’t mention a very witty blogger and now a good friend, Ann of Split Pear Personality. I met her through the book club (correct me if I am wrong Ann) a few months ago. If any one can make a recipe read funny it is Ann. Check out her left over Shepherd's Pie or the Counterfeit Appams.
Last but not the least, a special mention goes to Sangeeta of Banaras ka khanna, who despite personal adversity cooks delicious, regional foods from her kitchen in Delhi and puts it on her blog for the world to benefit from. You are a hero Sangeeta. Keep on blogging and smiling.
This brings us to the end of my post which is being shipped off hurriedly to Srivalli’s Best of the Year, just before the deadline ends.
Hopefully, the next two weeks will see me hit the century post.
Here's wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous 2010.

Dec 28, 2009

Ladies Coupe and a couple of idlis

So this then is Akhila. Forty five years old. San rose-colored spectacles. Sans husband, children, home and family. Dreaming of escape and space. Hungary for life and experience. Aching to connect.
In a paragraph, this is the heroin of Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupe. She is a spinster who since the age of 19 has taken care of her three sibling and widowed mother. At 45 she finally wants to be free of her responsibilities and find herself. But her family and her fears weigh her down. Not sure if an educated, financially independent woman can live by herself (really Ms. Nair?), she decides to consult five other women travelling with her in the now extinct Ladies Coupe of the Kanyakumari Express.
Akhila finds out that these women, from a sixteen year old girl to a 60 year old married woman, are not all that different from her despite their varied social and economic background.
They all find themselves bound by duty, tradition and family to put the needs of others before them. Nair reduces these strong women to sniveling, docile, weak women who either wallow in self pity or eat their way through bars of chocolate to curb their anger and hatred.

Thankfully, their stories end on a positive note when they realize that all their sacrifice comes to a naught unless they take charge of their lives and find happiness.
Whether it was Prabha who rediscovers her spontaneity with self taught swimming lessons or Sheela who is perceptive at a young age of the hidden intentions and thoughts of adults.
The plucky Margaret who finally realizes that drowning her husband’s obnoxious nature in sinfully rich food was the only way for her to find happiness. Whoever said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, eat crow. Today’s women know how to turn the tables on you!
It takes forty years for Janaki to realize that though she will be able to survive without her husband, it just wouldn’t be same.
I was left wondering if it was Mari with whom Akhila bonds with at the end. Their life paths are so different yet so similar. Both have to shoulder the burden of their families at a young age and both are shunned by their families in the end.
And yet, while Akhila lives her life like a martyr, I couldn’t help but admire Mari who rebels against the conventions of a society that expects her to behave a certain way. Her rebellion comes at a price though and only when she accepts her past does her future starts to look good.
So it is with Akhila, who has to seduce a younger man to absolve her from her sense of duty and insecurity.
Nair weaves a deft tale of the six women, ties up all the loose ends and leaves us questioning our intents, desires and relationships. However, there was not a lot of sympathy I could muster for Akhila’s martyr like behavior or her bold yet sneaky move to travel to Kanyakumari. But then again, we wouldn’t have a Ladies Coupe without Akhila’s journey of self discovery, would we?

After the book review, which regrettably is longer than Nair’s prologue, I leave you with pictures of Idlis I made in the morning. I do make them from scratch at home but with idli rava instead of the urad dal recipe in the book. The ones above were made from store bought batter and so no recipe, just pictures. Enjoy! And Ann, you got my permission to take points off for no recipes.

Other members of our book club who not only posted the reviews but were inspired to cook from it, with the exception of Sheba of Forks, Boots and a Pallette who followed her review with some pictures of hideous cakes (her words, not mine), were:
Ann of Split Pear Personality who made Counterfeit Appams.
Simran of Bombay Foodie made Lacy Appams.
Sweatha of Curry Leaf made Cutlets.
Bhagyasrie of Taste Buds made aubergine fritters.

Dec 23, 2009

Rustic three lentils vegetable soup

I am a creature of habit when it comes to ordering food at tried and tested restaurants. So when I stumbled into Corner Bakery the other day I surprised myself by ordering their three lentils vegetable soup instead of my regular roasted red tomato soup.
In retrospect, I am inclined to believe my decision was a result of half a day of fasting for my annual physical and having finished the last of my big pot of gingered tomato carrot soup the previous day.

I was surprised to find that the three lentil soup was a happy combination of lentils, carrots, spinach and corn. It warmed up a famished girl on a cool, breezy day while catching up with her gal pal, Erin.
I am usually happy to leave the making of a restaurant soup to a restaurant but there was something about this soup that tickled my taste buds and made me want another bowl the very next day. Since I had no plans to drive 10 miles to the bakery and pay $3 for a bowl of soup, I decided to make my own.

I decided to start with split and whole red lentils (masoor) since they cook quickly. I added some solitary green lentils sitting in my pantry to complete the trio. Some onion, kale, carrots, corn, mushrooms and tomatoes later, I had my big pot of three lentils soup with vegetables.
A friend’s visiting Dutch in-laws tasted the soup and said it was a “meal soup” because it was so hearty and filling. This is a free for all soup, so feel free to add any veggies or greens of your choice. I have added spinach instead of kale on occasions as well as cooked garbanzo beans and it still tastes great.

I have also made it using just two lentils (split and whole masoor) and it still tastes great. Here’s my version of Corner Bakery’s Three Lentil Soup.
1/3 cup split red lentils (masoor)
1/3 cup whole red lentils (masoor)
1/3 cup whole green lentils (optional)
1 big onion, chopped roughly
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 big tomato, chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and diced small
½ cup of mushrooms, chopped (any kind)
1/2 bunch of spinach or 2-3 big leaves of kale, chopped fine
1/4 cup of corn kernels
2-4 cups of vegetable/ chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine and wash all the lentils and keep aside.
In a big pot, heat some olive oil and sauté the chopped onions, carrots and garlic till the onions turn translucent.
Add the mushrooms and some salt. Sauté the mushrooms till they get soft, a few minutes, before adding the tomatoes. Cover and let them get mushy. Add the lentils, spinach, corn and broth.
Adjust the salt and pepper and bring to a rapid boil.
Lower the heat and simmer till the carrots are tender and the lentils, spinach and corn are cooked through, about 30 minutes. I like my soup thick so I keep simmering it at medium heat till the split lentils are first mushy and then completely disintegrate.

Note: Add water in the absence of broth.
This hearty, filling soup goes to MLLA 18, hosted by Srivalli and the brainchild of Susan.

Dec 13, 2009

The Decade from Hell!

In response to Time's last week's cover story, The Decade From Hell by Andy Serwer, a reader, John Grull from Lincoln, Nebraska, had this to say in this week's issue: " How can TIME devote six pages to the "Decade from Hell" without acknowledging that for eight years we had one of the worst Presidents in the American History? The divisiveness that Bush and Cheney fostered was a key part of this abysnal decade."

Dec 10, 2009

Gingered tomato carrot soup

Due to a shopping list error my fridge received an additional bag of vine ripe tomatoes. To take advantage of the bounty of tomatoes I had no choice but to go the soup way. Also, I thought it was a nice way to honor Maurice Sendak’s (upper left corner) ode to Dec in his Chicken Soup with Rice poem – “with soup bowls draped all over me”.
A chicken soup would have been a more fitting tribute but I am sure he will forgive me opting for a tomato soup instead.

Caution: This soup does not taste like your regular restaurant soups, where the flavor and taste of tomatoes is masked by heavy cream. It is tangy with a hint of sweetness from carrots and a subtle zing of ginger and green chilies.
One hot cup of this soup is being sent off to Harini of Tounge Ticklers who is hosting Meeta's Monthly Mingle this month.

8-10 vine ripe tomatoes
2-4 large carrots
2 green chilies (vary according to heat preference)
1 big chunk of ginger
1 tbsp cream cheese (substitute with cream)
3-4 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes, carrots, green chilies and ginger. Chop the carrots, chilies and ginger in big chunks.
Put everything in a pressure cooker with some water and cook for one whistle. Turn off the heat and let cool.
Alternatively, bring to boil everything in a big pot till the carrots are fork tender and the skins of tomatoes start to peel.

Remove the skins off the tomatoes. Blend the tomatoes, carrots, chilies and ginger in a blender till smooth.
Transfer to a big pot and add the water left over from cooking the tomatoes etc. Whip the cream cheese and add to the soup with sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Boil till desired thickness is achieved.
Transfer to soup bowls and serve hot with some crusty bread or sandwiches.

Notice the white flecks of cream cheese? Can be avoided by whipping it before adding to the soup.

Note: I added a tbsp of cream cheese, which sounds decadent but is guilt free at 45 cal divided between 6-8 bowls of soup.
4 tsp of sugar seems like a lot but it helps to cut the sharp acidity of the tomatoes.

Dec 8, 2009

On the fringe and back

November was a tortoise/ rabbit month for me. I had my final papers due in college, a group presentation, a PP talk at my writer’s meet besides taking care of a friend’s kid for a few days and carting him and my son to school. Of course, other regular chores like cooking, cleaning and entertaining go on as usual. At the end of the day, what little energy I had left I chose to spend on catching up on missed episodes of Fringe instead of blogging. After all, I reminded myself, a wise man once said about blogging “blog only if it is fun”.

It was hard not to blog though. In the eight months that I have started blogging, it has become an extension of me. In the few weeks I have been absent from my blog, I was constantly taking pictures to post and mulling over my text to write. But at the end of the day, sitting in front of my laptop, my hands would pause, the mind would turn blank. I would hit the shut down button and go back to watching Fringe.

If you are into sci-fi/ paranormal genre, you can understand how addicting it is to watch Fringe. It airs every Thursday on Fox but clashes with my other favorite genre, comedy. At the moment, there is nothing more hilarious on TV than NBC’s Thurs nights with The Office and 30 Rock. Thank the technology for Hulu, where I can watch my other favorites the next day, especially if I missed the first season but can catch up with the click of a button.

Did I just digress from blogging to TV talk? Well, that is what happens when you take a break and come back after a few weeks. Hopefully, I am back for good, at least for a while. My college doesn’t start till middle of Jan and even though my next three weekends are busy, my weekdays are relatively free. So, brace yourselves for a barrage of posts (fingers crossed).

Before I leave, here’s a bunch of photos I clicked on my brief hiatus. More details and recipes coming soon.

Methi Theplas with potato cauliflower sabzi and carrot, tomato, onion koshimbeer (salsa).

Found this simple but yummy recipe for Eggplant Talasani at Manisha's Indian Food Rocks.

Eggless Banana Walnut Bread made with semolina (rava). Recipe on Supriya's Red Chillis.

Jammy Biscuits baked from Curry Leaf's Experiments, Emotions, Experiences with Food .

"I'll eat the jam first, cookie later."
 All those concerned parents out, don't worry. He didn't get to eat the whole plate of cookies. I took away the plate after he polished off two. So don't send me any concerned, anonymous comments like this one.

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