Jan 25, 2013

Chal re bhoplya tunuk, tunuk (Go pumpkin go)

In part 2 of Go Pumpkin Go Chatura had safely crossed the forest and her daughter was about to reveal to her the plan she had come up with while picking vegetables in the garden.

“Well, I saw this pumpkin growing in the corner of the yard and I thought, what if we let it grow as big as it can get. We will have to nourish it and take care of it for a few months. If we can let it grow big enough to be able to hide you inside it…” Samajh quickly finished. She looked at her husband and mother, expecting them to laugh at her idea.
To her surprise, her mother nodded her head and smiled at Samajh. “I think it just might work. We will have to figure out the finer details in the days ahead but I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to pull it off.”

As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Chatura and Samajh planned and plotted of ways to get through the jungle safely. Meanwhile, Chatura enthralled her grandkids with stories of her adventures, some true, some embellished and some imaginary. The kids couldn’t get enough of their nanima.

The mother daughter took care of the house and kept a watch over the pumpkin. They tended to it every day, nourishing it with water and fertilizing it with compost.  In a few months, their hard work harvested the biggest pumpkin the town had ever seen. It was almost three feet tall and about two feet in diameter. Chatura was a small woman and it was easy for her to fit inside the giant pumpkin. The problem was to transport the pumpkin through the forest.
Since nobody in the town was foolish or brave enough to do it Karma came up with a plan clever enough to match his wife’s. I should mention that Karma was a carpenter by profession but in his spare time he liked to invent little contraptions for the amusement of his children. The neighborhood kids were always hanging around the workshop in the hopes of catching him in his spare time. That was when he would whittle a piece of wood in the shape of a monkey, add some springs and wheels to it and viola, the little monkey would start cartwheeling on the ground.

A few days before the pumpkin was to be harvested, Karma set on building a little round cart that would fit snuggly beneath the giant gourd. He added four wheels underneath and added a few levers for Chatura to steer. The next day, the neighbors helped Samajh and Chatura hollow out the pumpkin and carve two eyes and a nose for the old woman to see and breathe. They cut a hole at the bottom, big enough for Chatura to get in.
Chatura hugged her grandkids and her daughter, said farewell to her son-in-law and sat down on the cart he had built for her. The neighbors handed her all sorts of eatables for the journey ahead. Then they lowered the pumpkin over her, taking care to align the slits over her eyes and nose. Samajh arranged some leaves and pumpkin vines around the cart to camouflage it. Then they all gently pushed the cart to the edge of the forest, whispered their goodbyes, said a silent prayer and watched as Chatura bravely steered her pumpkin cart on the rough forest path. Now it was up to Chatura to survive the one and a half day journey.

Inside the stuffy pumpkin Chatura steered the cart all the while keeping an eye out for Sher Khan. Around mid-day she thought she heard a roar but it seemed to fade away in the distance. Around two in the afternoon she decided to take a break and eat some lunch. Steering the cart was hard on her old bones and she was hungry. She deftly steered the pumpkin behind some bushes and started eating her lunch.

Suddenly, she heard rustling on the other side of the bushes.  She stopped eating and tried to stay as calm as possible. The rustling stopped and Chatura heard voices talking in earnest.

“We need to get rid of that lion,” said a raspy voice.
“But Sardar we have tried so many times. Sher Khan is cunning. He stays away from our part of the jungle,” a squeaky voice said timidly.

“Well, we will have to do something. No one comes through the jungle anymore for fear of him. We haven’t looted a single traveler in months. The last one who came through was the old woman and she didn’t have a dime on her,” Sardar said angrily.
Chatura could not believe her luck. These were the bandits who had waylaid her a few months ago. They were a rag tag bunch of village misfits and bullies who made their living robbing defenseless travelers. But they could be useful to her in escaping the predator. She decided to get their attention.

“Excuse me,” she said aloud from inside her pumpkin.

Jan 15, 2013

All things TJ

I resolved to try to write every day this year and talked about it in this post hoping if it is for the world to read I may actually stay with it. The next day after I blogged about my resolve, I promptly broke it. It had been a long day with a Sunday morning Bikram class followed by a trip to the children’s museum. The evening ended with our first visit to Trader Joe’s, the supposed mecca of foodies. I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped to be. Maybe it was all the hype and my own expectations or maybe I was just tired after trailing the kid and his friend in the museum all day (the kid’s best friends was spending the day with us, giving his parents some time to themselves). The kids behaved well enough for a grocery store that did not have any toys for them to gawk at but it still got quite tiring by the time we were done exploring aisle 2. Think the two of them wanting to use the bathroom at the same time or wanting to play tag in the parking lot.

TJ’s did try to entice me by all the chocolate covered almonds, fruits and toffees but I am proud to say I successfully refrained from buying any of the temptations. I did buy two bags of candied ginger but I consider that more medicinal and less sweet-tooth-recreational. The husband on the other hand was like a kid in a candy store. While I supervised the kiddos, he explored the alternate food world of tofu sausages, tempeh, edamame and soy protein. We came home loaded with bags of goodies including one of my new favorites, lentil-potato curls, which taste suspiciously like ganthiya, those deep fried, fat twizzler like sticks, made with besan (chickpea flour).
Chocolate orange sticks = crack!
It was dinner time by the time we were home and while I fed the kid his favorite, dosa and dal, he made good on some of TJ’s purchases. He made a delicious gyro with pita bread, TJ’s tzatziki sauce, some zucchini cakes (from Costco) and the tofu sausage. It was delicious and I was too hungry to take a photo. By the time I cleaned up, I was ready to hit the bed and not worry about breaking my resolution to write. I had succeeded in not eating any sweets, even though a delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookie was handed in my palms by a TJ associate. I took a bite and handed the rest to my kid who claimed they were better than the ones we had at home. Take that Chips Ahoy!

The important thing with resolutions though is to not give up on them. So here I am, a few days later, writing my third blog post of the month and catching up on my resolution. Today, I have a simple aloo mattar rassa for you. Aloo is Hindi for potatoes, mattar (not a typo for ‘matter’) is Hindi and Marathi for green peas and rassa is gravy, usually thin and made by roasting a paste of ginger, garlic, onions and tomatoes. In our house, usually beans or legumes and sometimes vegetables are cooked in this simple gravy with little variations of the spices used.

He never finds the taste of peas to his liking (as in comparable to the “ones we get in India”). This time, we decided to try TJ’s frozen peas. He isn’t home yet and hasn’t tasted the rassa, so the jury is still out on the taste of the peas. I will let you know if these passed the muster. For me, peas are good any which way; in pohe, in sabzi, in usal or simply sautéed with some cumin and ghee. I love my peas.

I used my itty-bitty 3 liter Prestige pressure cooker to roast the ginger-garlic-onion-tomato paste, added the chopped potatoes and the frozen peas and cooked it for one whistle. Alternatively, you could roast the masala in a heavy bottom pan, add the potatoes and peas, enough water and boil till the potatoes are cooked through and peas are tender. It will taste a little different from the cooker version but it will still be delicious.

Aloo mattar, amaranth, pumpkin sabzi and a whole wheat tortilla

Coarsely grind:
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger
4-5 sprigs of cilantro (optional)

Heat 1Tbs of oil in a 3ltr pressure cooker and add the following in the order listed:
1/2 tsp of fenugreek seeds (methidana)
1 tsp of turmeric

Add the coarsely ground onion-tomato paste. Sauté for a few minutes and add:
1 tsp of red chili powder
1 tsp of garam masala powder
1/2 tsp of cumin-coriander powder

Roast the masala with all the spices till the oil separates and the raw smell of onions and ginger-garlic turns into a fragrant aroma.

While the paste is cooking, chop 1 large potato into even pieces. Soak in a bowl of water for five minutes to get some of the starch out. Drain and keep aside.
At this point, check the frying onion-tomato paste. If you find the oil separating from the frying masala, add 1/2 cup of water and some salt.

Now, add the chopped potatoes and 1 cup of frozen peas. If you are lucky enough to get fresh ones, add those but don’t tell me about it. Add enough water or stock to cover the potatoes and peas and put the pressure cooker lid on. Set on medium heat and turn the gas off after one whistle.
Wait for the cooker to cool down before opening the lid. Serve with rotis or rice.
This is my entry for the theme 'Garnet' for the 52-week project

Oh, and by the way, I cooked the aloo mattar rassa in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face. If you are wondering what I am talking about, check out this post.   
A TJs Update: We went back to TJs last weekend, this time without the kid(s). It was a much better experience shopping at leisure, exploring all the wonderful goodies on display. I asked for suggestions on what to get at TJs on fb and was rewarded with some gems I would have missed otherwise. Manisha suggested the dried chili mango which is really good and my next favorite after the candied ginger.
Candied ginger and chili mango

She and some other friends also suggested the triple ginger cookies which the kid took a liking to. He has been eating 5-6 of them at a time but since they are really thin, I let him eat them in lieu of his two cookies allowance of Pepperidge Farm double chocolate cookies. I think it is a fair trade. I couldn’t find the rasmalai a cousin highly recommended. But the lentil potato curls were bought again and so was a ton of soy based food (not that we are turning vegan or anything. I tasted some roasted pork at Central Market yesterday and it was delicious). I was tempted to buy the chocolate biscotti but refrained from grabbing it. Overall, we realized that though small, TJs still had a lot of options to choose from and the ingredients and the quality of goods was overall superior to most of the name brand goods. We go back again in two weeks.

Jan 9, 2013

I cooked in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face!

In defense of the Indian pressure cooker
All my life I have watched my mother use her 5ltr pressure cooker to cook dal and rice. Sometimes, she cooks some eggs or potatoes on the cover of the top separator pan, successfully cooking all three at once. She uses her pressure pan to make pulaos and her 3 ltr Prestige to make delicious rassas and boil chickpeas and black-eyed peas. She used the 5ltr, without the whistle, to steam idlis and dhoklas.

My first lesson in cooking prep was washing and soaking toor dal and rice for the daily meals. The dal needed to be soaked in water after three rinses. The rice needed to be drained of water after a couple of rinses. I still remember that rule while cooking my dal and rice, though I don’t use a 5ltr cooker.

1.5ltr Hawkins
I do have three 3ltr cookers, two Prestige (one aluminum and one stainless steel), one Hawkins, a small 1.5ltr Hawkins and a Prestige pressure pan. I use one or the other at least five to six times a week. I have used them for the last 12 years and I have had occasional problems with the gasket getting loose or the pressure valve not working properly. However, I have never had any blow up in my face. I don’t know anyone, in almost 40 years of my life, who has had a pressure cooker blow up in their face. I haven’t heard of anyone whom I know or of anyone who knew anyone I know who had a pressure cooker blow up in their face.

So, I was very surprised when a cookbook author claimed on her fb page that Indian pressure cookers were unsafe and tended to blow up in people’s faces. Not sure where she got her facts from or if she knew someone who had a pressure cooker blow up in their face. But she seemed pretty certain that it was a regular occurrence and it was best to use a “modern” (read Western) pressure cooker which went through stringent regulations, like the one she used.

Now, I fully support her choice to use a “modern” pressure cooker. But I do not endorse her view stated as fact that Indian pressure cookers are unsafe and blow up in people’s faces. That is a bit of hyperbole in my opinion. India pressure cookers go through just as rigorous testing and probably more because they are such an essential part of every Indian household. Not to mention they did use to blow up in people’s faces. But that was decades ago when people were new to cookers and sometimes did not use them the correct way or got a cheap brand. I still remember that Amin Sayani TV ad, “Jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh Prestige se kaise kare inkar” (one who loves his wife will never say no to a Prestige). You know, in case the cheaper brand blew up in her face.

So, here is your assignment for the month of January. Cook something using an Indian pressure cooker. Blog about it and preferably write about your experiences with cooking with an Indian pc for the first time or the umpteenth time. You can write a funny anecdote or a story related to the Indian pressure cooker. You can even write about your preference for the brand of pressure cooker you use.

Now, for the most important part, end your blog post with the line, “I cooked the ... (above) with my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face”. Your deadline is Feb 28 or till I post the roundup. Send me a picture of the pressure cooker you used, along with your name, name of the blog and a link to your post on jayawagle (at) gmail.com. Remember to include a link to this post. Now go, get your Indian pressure cooker out of the cabinet and blow those whistles.

Jan 5, 2013

My resolution: less social, more blogger, better organized

I can’t believe it has already been three six days since we said good bye to 2012. Usually I don’t make resolutions at the start of the year but this time round I thought I’d give it a try. So, my goal in the New Year is to reign in my sweet tooth as best as I can, write as regularly, if not every day, as I can, get the blog on track, organize my home and limit my time on the smartphone. Hopefully, blogging about all these resolutions will take care of fulfilling them as well.

The reason I decided to start organizing my house was the recent move of our dear friends to India for two years. During their last two weeks before departure, we would pop over to their house and help them pack their belongings into a humongous shipping container. During those two weeks I realized how organized my friend had been in her house and how much stuff my house was filled with compared to hers. I shuddered at the thought of how much stuff we would have to pack up, sell or give away if we ever had to move houses. 
Since then, I have been trying to organize a little corner of the house every week. I started with the kid’s baby stuff. A lot of it I gave away to my neighbor across the street who volunteers at the battered women’s shelter. The crib and sterilizer went to a friend’s pregnant friend. The strollers and baby car seat were sold at a garage sale another neighbor was having one weekend.

The next target was the kitchen. Thankfully, there wasn’t much I needed to organize or get rid of except for an 8-place setting stoneware dinner set I had bought at a garage sale long time ago. I had it for almost four years. It sat in my cabinets, taking up precious space and collecting dust. Out it went on the dining room table to be photographed and put on one of my online community garage sales.
Yes, our community has an online fb page where you can post about stuff you want to sell or get rid of or are looking for. It is awesome and better than a physical garage sale because you don’t have to spend days corralling your unwanted items, marking prices and sitting in your driveway, haggling with strangers over a few dollar worth of stuff. The online garage sale is so much simpler. You post whatever you want to sell as you come across it and people contact you if they want it. There is minimum haggling and if I don’t sell the item in a week, I donate it.

The chaotic medicine cabinet/ candles and pooja stuff

Anyways, after the dinner set was got over with, the medicine cabinet, which is also in the kitchen, was dealt with. There wasn’t anything to sell this time but a lot of throwing away of expired medicine and taking an inventory of our first aid kit. This is what it looked like once it got all organized.
Bottom shelf: kid's medicine bin, OTC medicine from India, ointments
Middle shelf: Candles and pooja stuff, vitamins and bandaids and pain killers in the bin
Top shelf: Kid's nebulizer and accessories (needed once a year, if that)
Next up was my pantry and this took the most time. I have a decent size walk in pantry which I frequent numerous times in the day, not to mention the kid and the spouse checking in for snacks and things to munch on. I thought I had it organized well and apart from the occasional cleaning it was in pretty good shape. That was before I beheld Richa’s pantry in all its organizational glory. Now I am not the sort to give in to pantry envy but this one time I did. You s
ee, all my lentils, beans and legumes were stored in the plastic containers I had scored at the dollar store. The problem was they took up too much space on the shelves, they were plastic and worst of all they were plastic. Thinking of all that BPA leeching into my food gave me the shivers. Check out some before pictures:

I did some research, checked out pintrest, my new addiction (more on that later), and decided to invest in some awesome canning jars by Ball. Not only did they look good and come in various sizes but the canning lids were perfect to keep in the freshness and keep out the crawlies that sometimes seemed to invade my plastic containers. Here are the before and after photos of my pantry in all its organized glory.   


It took me better part of two days to clean, sort and transfer everything to the glass canisters including two trips to Ace Hardware. Yep, that is where I got the jars and get this; apparently they are the only store that carries the 64oz jars. I got about a dozen of those to store the 4lb packs of lentils and beans. The smaller, 2lb packets of flours, lentils and bulk spices went into the 32oz jars. Everything else including snacks, dry fruits and not so often used spices went into the pint and a half jars.

Oh, and if you are wondering how much this pantry makeover set me back, it was well under $100. Canning jars are surprisingly economical. If you would like some details, I will be happy to share with you. It has been a week since the makeover and so far the chaos seems contained. Will keep you updated if things get out of hand or if I make any more changes.


The sweet tooth update: Apart from munching on some candied ginger and three teaspoons of sugar in two cups of tea every day, I have managed to stay away from sugar and sugary treats. No chocolate, cookies or any other kind of sweet has been eaten. Yay! Another 51 weeks to go.

Writing regularly update: Well, I have been writing and rewriting this post everyday for the last five days, so I think this one should count for the week. Turns out it is very difficult to pen your thoughts if you take two month long breaks in between. So, here is to writing regularly even if I end up posting once a week.

Limit my smartphone usage update: I would like to say it has reduced to about two hours a day but I can’t be sure. The only way to limit is to keep it out of reach so I have been trying to leave it in the bedroom to charge or leave it in my closet, or other rooms in the house I don’t use all the time. The thing with smartphones is if it is in front of you, you automatically pick it up and check facebook and pintrest and online garage sales. If it is out of sight, tucked away in the laundry room, then you can’t pick it up and log on and before you know it you have been on it for an hour! So far, out of sight has helped cut down smartphone addiction to certain degree.  

Have you made any resolutions this year and how do you intend to keep them? I have joined the 52-weeks of 2013 project on fb to keep me on track. If you would like to join, just click on join group and a moderator will accept you pronto. While you are at it, check out Sra’s hilarious post on her resolutions which includes one, the exact opposite of mine, to spend more time on social media.

Wish me luck blogging in 2013.

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