Jul 20, 2011

Black and White Wednesday with Elephant Garlic

Another Wednesday, another b&w photograph. Thanks to Susan's weekly event, I am at least keeping this blog current.
These giant elephant garlic were a regular offering at our local CSA farm till the crops gave in to relentless over 100 degrees heat and some unexpected rain showers. Despite their size, the elephant garic is milder in taste to the regular garlic and actually are a varient to the species that belongs to the leek family. It was still fun to use these giant pods for cooking and as a substitute for garlic they made for interesting flavor.

Size matters

Elephant garlic (for Susan)

Jul 13, 2011

Black and White Wednesday with Turkish coffee

A few months ago, Manisha snagged a bargain at her neighborhood garage sale and bragged about it on facebook. The Turkish cups, also called ibrik or cezve, she had managed to lay her hands on were so gorgeous that enough though I have never had Turkish coffee in my life, I just had to have them. Two more of her friends wanted them too, so she graciously agreed to go back to her neighbor and see if she could buy some for us too. A month later, I am the proud owner of three of those fabulous cups and what better way to show them off then for Susan’s new event, Black and White Wednesday.

ibrik 1 (goes to Susan's event)

ibrik 2

If you are intrigued and want to know how to make Turkish coffee with these, check out this link that Susan pointed me to on fb or this youtube video that I found. One thing is sure. My ibriks are not going anywhere near a gas flame so Turkish coffee will have to wait. 

Jul 10, 2011

Put on your chalks and chopsticks!

Ok, I was going to title it ‘put on your writing caps’ but putting on chalks and chopsticks sounds so much more interesting. Aqua’s brilliant conception deserves no less. Now if I was only more respecting of deadlines the last two times when Sra and Sandeepa hosted the event. Nevertheless, once I managed to post my overdue fiction, I was overwhelmed at the kind, encouraging and appreciative response to it from some of you. I couldn’t ask for better friends and visitors of DSM.

After the still pending part 2 of 'It takes two to marry...' I had vowed to finish all future stories in one single post. I am proud to say I have managed to stick to that resolve. However, two of the above mentioned supportive friends, namely Sandeepa and Harini, wanted a part 2 to ‘To stalk a brinji’. I insisted that I was done with the brinji and Sandeepa duly conceded and I quote her here, “...I know there won't be a second part because this is how the author wants it to end but since I know the author personally I can always demand my kinda endings, can't I ;-) Not that the author has to listen or anything!!!”

Well, the author listened not because of her nagging but because Harini’s idea of writing the story from ‘Uncle’s’ point of view appealed to her. There still will be no part 2 to the brinji but the author is working on Harini's above mentioned idea. This also brings the said author, me, to announce the third edition of the revived  'Of Chalks and Chopsticks' event which is being hosted this month here at DSM. If you are new to this blog or not aware of ‘OC&C’, it is all about combining your writing chops with your eating chops. To put it simply, OC&C is about writing an interesting piece of food fiction. It may or may not have a recipe but it has to reference food. For examples check out my food fiction page or a previous roundup of the event on Sra’s blog.

The revived event also has a photo cue for you to get inspired and fire up your imagination or get you stuck on the photo and leave you totally uninspired to come up with anything (whichever way you choose to look at it).  But if the above photo sparks the writer in you, here are some basic rules, penned by Sra, with one additional rule by me, to follow before sending in your entry.

1. Spin us a yarn - an original one, based on the above photo cue. It could either be based on a real incident or could be something completely imaginary. Explore any genre: humor, romance, mystery, paranormal etc.

2. The story you write has to have some food - it doesn't have to be a recipe.

3. There is no word limit on the story you write, but it has to be written in one single post.

4. Posts written for this event CAN be shared with other events.

5. Please link to this post and Aqua's original post mentioned above.

6. It is recomended but not required that you add the above photo to your post. If you do, mention this link in the caption since I own the copyright to the photo that I took.

7. Post your story and the recipe between now and August 10 and mail it to me at: jayawagle@gmail.com

Include the following details in your mail:

1. Name and URL of your blog

2. Title and URL of your post

So, grab that chalk, or pen or laptop or desktop and start writing.

At the expense of shameless self promotion, if you haven't already clicked 'like' on the DSM page on facebook, please do so and stroke my ego.  The badge is right there on the top left hand corner or here is the link to DSM on fb.

Jul 6, 2011

To stalk a brinji

Naina woke up to the insistent ringing of the morning alarm. She considered hitting the snooze button but decided to get up anyways. It was going to be a busy day and she needed a head start. She walked bleary eyed into the kitchen and turned on the tap. She drank a glass of water and then poured two cups of water in a pan, added some sugar, tea leaves and milk. By the time she had finished her morning ablutions, the tea was boiling. A little bit of grated ginger, a final boil and she turned off the heat.

Picture Cue: Bong Mom Cookbook

It was still dark outside as Naina strained the two cups of tea and walked towards the picture window.  She loved this time of the day, sitting by the window, reading a book and sipping her cup of tea. It was calm and peaceful, no jarring sounds of the television and no hustle bustle of daily chores. There was hardly anyone on the sidewalk except an occasional runner jogging past or an early riser walking the dogs.

Of late, she had been noticing an elderly desi ‘uncle’ strolling past the house around the same time. She knew from her parent’s visit last year how these routine walks sometimes became the only respite for the elderly parents. They went stir crazy in the house but couldn’t go anywhere for the lack of public transport. The weather was usually too extreme to take a stroll in the middle of the day. Early mornings or cool evenings was the only time one would see them strolling around the community. The men almost always wore pants pulled above their waists, full sleeved shirt, a cap and shiny new sneakers. If their wives came along, they too would sport matching sneakers under their saris or salwar suits. This man could have been a clone to the other seniors.

As the sun came up over the horizon, Naina put the book down with a sigh. They had invited a few close friends for dinner and she had a lot of cooking ahead of her. She carried the empty cup back to the sink and started preparing for dinner. Her husband, Ajay, and daughter, Nita, were still sleeping and she decided to do all the non-noisy chores first. Out came the whole wheat flour for the chapattis which she quickly and deftly kneaded into a big ball of dough. She rinsed and soaked a combination of toor and masoor dal with plenty of water.

Naina had decided to make brinji for the evening, an exotic south Indian pulao cooked in coconut milk. She decided to turn on the computer and check the recipe once more, “just to make sure I have everything,” she said to herself. The truth was Naina had studiously avoided turning on the computer since morning. She knew once she got on it, a couple of hours would easily go by before she got back to cooking.

“I’ll just check the bookmarked recipe and turn it off,” she reassured her doubting self and logged on. To her credit, she did go straight to the recipe. It called for loads of veggies, a spice paste of cilantro, mint, ginger, garlic and coconut. She decided to jot the recipe down so she wouldn’t have to come back to the computer. “I’ll leave a comment later,” she silently promised herself and the author of the blog.
For the spice paste

Naina stepped out in the backyard to get some mint leaves, marveled a few minutes at the beautiful morning sky that was soon going to turn hot and scorching. She picked a handful of mint leaves and came back in. She pulled out the browning, slimy-at-the-bottom bunch of cilantro from the fridge and dumped the whole thing in a colander. She ran water over it in the sink and started separating the good parts. There was barely half a cup of green leaves left after she was done with the bunch. “He’ll have to run to the grocery store to get some,” she thought with a wince. Just two days ago Ajay had asked her if she had everything she needed for the dinner party.

“Of course I do,” she had said with a confidence that defied the truth. He just looked at her with a resigned look that said, “I know I will have to run to the store at the last minute but I hope this time you are right and I won’t have to.” Naina hadn’t been lying. She just hadn’t bet on the cilantro turning bad so fast. Or rather, she had ignored to check on the cilantro because picking and cleaning cilantro was her least favorite things to do, as was picking and cleaning green beans, podding peas, cutting arbi and bhindi (okra). Coming to the US had changed all that. She got frozen green beans and sweet peas all ready to use. She had tried the frozen arbi and bhindi, all cut up and frozen. Those had been major slim-fest disasters.

It was eight o’clock by the time Naina had all the ingredients for the spice paste. She considered holding off on starting the magic bullet to grind the paste and then decided to go ahead. “Maybe today they can wake up to the whirring of the blender,” she smiled at the thought and plugged it in. The sharp aromas of ginger, garlic jostled with the fragrant mint and the nutty coconut as Naina opened the jar. Even then she knew that the brinji would be the highlight of the dinner.

She spent the rest of the day chopping, sautéing, stirring and frying. Two hours to dinner and she still had to clean the kitchen counter tops, load the dishwasher and clean the bathroom. The brinji was to be served hot, but she had prepared everything else. She sped up on the chores and remembered at the last minute to soak the rice in water before hitting the shower. She looked back appreciatively at the island counter. Steaming palak paneer, aromatic mattar paneer, pipping hot dal and warm rotis has been carefully transferred to white serving platters and covered with cellophane. Ajay was working on the salad and reading the instructions on the frozen pizza box he was planning to cook for the kids. The house looked clean, the toddler’s toys were under control. “Now, only if the guests would come on time,” even as she said it, she knew it was not something one expected of one’s desi friends.

All dewy from the shower, Naina went into the closet to pick out a t-shirt and at the last minute decided to wear something ethnic. She looked over her collection of sarees and salwar suits and chose a mauve salwar kameez she hadn’t had a chance to wear in a long time. A pair of small earring, a touch of mascara and she was ready.

“Naina, are you done?” Ajay asked from the door.

“Yes, I am coming. What’s the matter?” she asked with a hint of irritation in her voice. He was always harping on her about her long showers.

“There is a desi uncle in our living room,” he whispered.

“What? Do we know him,” she asked perplexed. They weren’t expecting any uncles or aunties for that matter.

“Come out, I’ll tell you later,” he said as he turned around.

Naina walked into the living room to find the desi uncle she had been observing taking a walk in the morning sitting on the couch, reading a Time magazine.

“Namaste uncle,” she said politely. She was too puzzled to say anything else.

“Namaste beti. I see you reading in the window every morning when I go for my morning walks. Today, I thought I will stop by,” he said.

Now that she could see him up close, Naina noticed he had beady eyes under his thick glasses and wispy, grey hair. He seemed to be in his late 70s.

“No problem uncle,” she said politely. “Good of you to stop by but today is not a good time. We are expecting guests over for dinner anytime…”

Before she could finish he clapped excitedly. “Desi friends? Good, I haven’t met a lot of desi people since I came here. It will be good to meet them. I’ll stick around. Don’t worry, do what you need to do. I will read this magazine till they come,” he said as he proceeded to settle himself comfortably on the couch.

Naina looked at Ajay who shrugged and motioned her to come to the kitchen.

“Why is he staying around? Who is he? Do you know him?” she blasted him with a flurry of questions.

“Calm down,” he said. “I don’t know him but it looks like he is lonely. He was telling me before that he stays all by himself the whole day while his son and daughter-in-law go to work.”

“So he decides to drop by our house and then stay for dinner!” she exclaimed.

“Well, we can’t do much about it now. At least it will make for an interesting evening,” he said with a chuckle.

“Leave you to find humor in a party crasher,” she found herself smiling as well.

Then there was the brinji to be made still. She set the big pan on the gas burner and took out the whole spices and the chopped onions. In went the spices in the sizzling oil, followed by the onions. She lowered the heat and let the onions caramelize. The green spice paste went in the browned onions. As the paste sizzled, Naina smelled the mint, coconut and the whole spices coming together in harmony. For a while she even forgot about the septuagenarian sitting in her living room reading Time magazine.

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