Monday, July 29, 2019

A Donut Cake and a Book Update

Our little boy turned three years old. This is the first year that he really understood what birthdays are all about and he was duly excited about it. His primary wish was to have "fire on my cake", as in, candles to blow out. And he got to do that not once but twice.

On his actual birthday, I made a small raspberry cheesecake in the (wait for it) Instant Pot, using the recipe that came with the appliance booklet. It was delightfully easy to make, with no need for a water bath. The crust is crushed Oreo cookies and the cheesecake has some raspberry jam in it. The recipe called for a ganache topping- I thought that was over the top and skipped it in favor of some sprinkles. (Pro tip: Wait for the top to dry out before adding the sprinkles.)

After an overnight chilling, the cheesecake was rich and creamy but not too sweet. The recipe specified 8 servings but we got a good 12 servings out of it.

On the weekend we invited some of the birthday boy's little toddler friends and their families to a picnic brunch at the local splash park. Water play is the ideal entertainment for a July birthday. The "cake" this time was a trio of caterpillars (inspiration here and here).

My sister saw this picture and asked me if I made the donuts at home. Girl, no, Krispy Kreme made the donuts. Some things (especially ones involving vats of boiling oil) are best left to the experts. Also, donut cake is short for "You donut have to bake a cake".

Here's how you make one of these in 5 minutes flat. Take one dozen donuts- 6 plain glazed and 6 assorted (but not ones with fillings). Cut each in half. Push a skinny pretzel stick on either side of a halved donut- those are the legs. Arrange the donut halves as in the pic, alternating plain donuts and assorted ones for some interest. Add a couple of antennae on each head.

Mix a tablespoon of powdered sugar with a few drops of water to make a glue. Use a dab of this to stick candy googly eyes (found this in the baking aisle of the supermarket) to the first donut half. Done and done.

The picnic brunch menu was-

Idlis with peanut-onion chutney (the grown ups loved this)
Quinoa black bean salad
Bagels, mini croissants and cream cheese
Hummus and baby carrots
Corn puffs (this crunchy snack was the kids' favorite)
Lemonade (recipe in the last birthday post)


One of my favorite recent reads is The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories about Defying the Impossible by Catherine Burns (Editor). The Moth is a non-profit that sends people before live audiences to tell their own stories, based on a theme. Earlier, around Valentine's Day, we had an event here in my town similar to The Moth; a handful of people came on stage to tell their stories based on the theme "Swipe Left", ie, stories of romances that went wrong somehow. I went with a friend and we loved it- the story tellers were charming and the stories were diverse, hilarious and touching.

This book takes some of the moth stories and puts them down in text format. Reading them was like reaching into a box of bon-bons. The stories made me laugh, cry, panic, sigh, think- each was a slice of a person's life and reminded me that all of us have interesting stories to tell.

On my bedside right now is this short story collection by Stephen King. So far my favorite one is “The Road Virus Heads North”, a gruesome story about a yard sale find. “Autopsy Room Four” is about a person mistaken for dead and builds up tension nicely, and “The Man in the Black Suit” is about a terrifying chance childhood encounter.

Two other interesting books of the last couple of months-

How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute by K.J. Dell'Antonia. My brief notes are here.

The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body's Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You by Sylvia Tara. My notes on this book are here.

The Read Harder challenge is a big part of my reading life and it usually rewards me with excellent reads that I may not have picked up otherwise. Here is a mid-year update on the 24 reading tasks- I have finished a third, have planned another third and have yet to plan the final third. I'm excited to get them all done by the time 2020 rolls around.

Tasks that I have finished (8/24)

Task #1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters: Daddy-Long-Legs. I enjoyed this gentle, heart-warming book very much. Other books that I can recommend for this task are these two.

Task #2. An alternate history novel: The Man in the High Castle. This book has a very intriguing concept (an alternate history where the US lost WWII and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan) but the plot lines were frustrating. I would recommend 11/22/63 by Stephen King for this task.

Task #3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. This book was raw and thought-provoking and worth reading. Roxane Gay has a way with words. It won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction.

Task #4. A humor book: Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York; this was pure fun. I am a Roz Chast fangirl. This task is an easy and rewarding one- anything by PG Wodehouse would fit in there, or something like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which I remember decades later as being a very funny book.

Task #14. A cozy mystery: I read The Nature of the Beast for this task. This was a satisfying read, cozy but quite intense. This is another easy task with so many good mysteries out there. This series has a special place in my heart and would be my top recommedndation.

Task #19. A book of nonviolent true crime: I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup and found it engrossing. The nonviolent true crime in this book is corporate fraud.

Task #21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I highly recommend this graphic memoir of the author's relationship with her distant father. A reminder of how we cannot escape our childhood experiences.

Task #22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009: Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. A beautiful book. The diversity award is the Schneider Family book award in 2016, The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

Tasks that I have books in mind for (8/24) (but still taking suggestions)

Task #8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania: The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir 

Task #11. A book of manga: The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo. Read 2019. Quick and fun and a good way to do this task without reading proper manga ;)

Task #12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Task #15. A book of mythology or folklore: Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Task #17. A business book: Influence: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Task #18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author: George

Task #23. A self-published book: The Martian by Andy Weir. Read Aug 2019. From Wikipedia: "Weir decided to put the book online in serial format one chapter at a time for free at his website." Then he self-published it as a 99 cent Kindle download. After it became a success, he sold the print rights to a publisher. This is a smart, science-y, engrossing survival saga. Realistic sci-fi and a highly recommended read with the caveat that you should enjoy reading about technical details.

Task #24. A collection of poetry published since 2014: American Journal: Fifty Poems for our Time

Tasks waiting to be planned (8/24)

Task #5. A book by a journalist or about journalism: Leigh Sales - Any Ordinary Day

Task #6. A book by an AOC set in or about space

Task #7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America: The Wild Book
by Juan Villoro

Task #9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads

Task #10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman: Convenience store woman

Task #13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse

Task #16. An historical romance by an AOC

Task #20. A book written in prison

Tell me what you're cooking and reading this week!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Rice Recipes, Dog Pics and 7 Exercise Tips

Not that I intend to turn this into an Instant Pot blog or anything, but the fact is that I have been enjoying my new kitchen toy a lot. And by enjoying, I mean putting simple and tasty meals on the table day after day for my family- there's no bigger win.

My friend L from grad school e-mailed me a few links to her favorite IP recipes. She particularly raved about this one. It is a simple combo of brown rice and brown rice, and doesn't that sound like not-altogether-exciting hippie vegetarian food? I am SO glad I tried that recipe though, with some tweaks. It turned out to be the best thing I made all week.

(Edit on 7/24: I had larger quantities of black beans and rice in the recipe before; then I remembered that I used a 3/4 rice measure. The recipe is now corrected.)

Brown rice and Black beans

1.5 cups dry (raw) black beans, rinsed
3/4 cup dry (raw) brown rice, rinsed
7 cups water
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes

Season to taste with-
Dried oregano
Cumin powder

Mix everything in an Instant Pot.
Cook on high pressure for 28 minutes.
Natural pressure release.

You will end up with a stewed black bean and rice mix. We turned it into a bowl dinner by dressing it with lots of toppings-

Green onions
Pickled jalapenos (my current favorite are hot and sweet jalapenos from TJs)
Sour cream (for the kids)
Yogurt mixed with canned chipotles in adobo (for the adults)
Crushed corn chips

Other toppings could include tomatoes, salsa, roasted vegetables. This is a lovely, easy dinner that is going straight into our meal rotation.

* * 
Mushrooms and rice are a magical combination to me. This is a simple pilaf that I made in the IP a couple of times, once with mock chicken strips (pic on the left, before cooking) and once with a topping of sliced boiled eggs and fried onions (pic on the right).

Mushroom Pilaf

Saute mode in Instant Pot:
Saute onions until browned and ginger-garlic paste in a tbsp. of oil.
Season to taste with cumin-coriander, salt, chana masala or garam masala.
Add chopped mushrooms and saute for a couple of minutes.
Hit cancel.
Add 1 cup water.
Add 1 cup rinsed Jasmine rice.
Add a bag of mock chickn strips, thawed (optional).
Cook under high pressure for 4 minutes. Natural pressure for 10 minutes, then release.

* *

Thank you to the anonymous reader who recommended the blog twosleevers for IP recipes. I found two cookbooks written by the author of that blog, Urvashi Pitre, and found some great new recipes to try. One of my favorites from her Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook is a version of baingan bharta, made by simply layering chopped ingredients and spices and giving it a quick cook, then mashing it. Pure genius!

* * *

Here are some recent pictures of our sweet boy Duncan. Dunkie is a people magnet- when we are out and about, people come by to pet him and ask us about him-

"He looks like a special breed" Actually, he's a mutt from the shelter but very special to us.
"What kind is he?" Our best guess is that he's a Plott hound- great Dane mix or a Plott hound- mastiff mix. 
(Plott hounds are dogs bred in the Southern US to be wild boar hunting dogs. Yikes! The worst thing Duncan has hunted is a stuffed animal bunny).
"How old is he?" Six and a half years old.
"How much does he weigh?" Hovers between 100-110 lbs.
"It must be so hard to walk him." He is very docile. Even my kids can walk him.
And my personal favorite: "Duncan, like Dunkin Donuts?"

Hanging out at home

Playing in the dog park is Duncan's favorite thing to do.
In the pic on the right, this tiny puppy kept jumping at his face and he
swung his muzzle around trying to dodge her.

My new niece! My sister adopted this sweet
English setter mix last month.

* * *
I had a big birthday this Spring- my entry into midlife. About eighteen months ago, I promised myself the gift of establishing an exercise habit by the time this birthday rolled around. With all credit to the support from my husband, gym coaches and friends, I got my much-desired gift and feel stronger and fitter today than I did twenty years ago.

Regular exercise has changed my life for the better. I've been a sedentary person for so long; it makes me giddy that this change is even possible. The word that comes to my mind is a Marathi one- "sutsutit" which translates as comfortable, perhaps, or carefree. I definitely have more energy for everyday life. While I can't claim to have seen any dramatic physical changes, I am clearly building some muscle and losing some fat, changing my body composition for the better.

Exercise is the closest thing we have right now to a magic pill in improving daily life. (It is not a magic pill for weight loss, though. That needs a diet fix.) Human bodies were made to move, but modern life does not involve much activity for the typical city dweller so we have to make an effort to create space in our lives for exercise.

If you too want to make room for exercise in your life, here are some tips that helped me-

1. It is never too late to start exercising, but I sure wish I started sooner. Don't be tempted to wait for some future point, like when your kids are grown up, to start exercising. You can tap into the benefits starting right here and now.

2. You don't have to love exercise but you certainly should not hate it and treat it as punishment. "Do you like to run?" I overheard someone asking my friend when she was talking about her running group. "What I like to do is to sit on a couch and read a book", she responded, "...but I am happy to run". We have one body and it makes sense to do our part in taking care of it.

3. Consider socializing in an active way. Recently a closer friend of mine moved into our neighborhood and once or twice a week, we take hour-long chatty walks post-dinner after the kids are in bed. It is a great way to catch up while enjoying some fresh air. Similarly, we often meet up with other families for a short hike, or to explore a new playground rather than always socializing over a meal.

4. Know yourself. I can't bring myself to exercise at home. It just never happens. But I adore group classes and the friends I make in those classes. I need instructors who tell me what to do. You have to think about whether you prefer exercising indoors or outdoors, solo or in a group, what sort of activity you like, and so on, and then go with your preferences.

5. Know your neighborhood and your town. Talk to local friends, neighbors and coworkers about where they exercise. Do web searches. Check local event listings. Often we don't even know what is out there. I didn't know there were affordable classes a mile from my house and I had been living here for years. Be willing to browse websites, walk in, pick up some pamphlets, ask for a tour of the place, ask for a trial class. Some gyms offer free childcare. Some workplaces offer free gym memberships. There are a mind-boggling variety of activities out there just waiting to be tried.

6. Stick to something for a few months before giving up on it. It takes time to see results and for the activity to grow on you. My strategy is to do some things long-term and switch up some other things seasonally. I started my women's weightlifting class last August so I have been doing it for almost a year- and I plan to continue. Strength training has been very empowering in simple life skills like easily lugging 50 lbs bags of dog food and opening jars. Ballet is a constant weekly class. In spring and summer, I like to swim. In winter, I like to run, or so I thought. I trained for a 5K this Jan, and did a 5K event in Feb which was miserable for many reasons- the weather was cold and rainy, the course was very hilly and I felt unprepared for that. I managed to finish the race, but with an abysmal time. This winter, I might try another activity like indoor biking or rowing.

7. There's no magic. Being fit is just a lifelong journey like any other with its ups and downs. The struggle, learning new things, reaching small goals all make you feel alive. I 11/10 would recommend it and am happy to chat with anyone who is looking for some support along the way.

How is July going for you?

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Kobichi Wadi and other Instant Pot Adventures

June is here, school's out for summer, the fireflies are lighting up our evenings, and the blog beckons. The big kitchen news since I last saw you is that my sweet sister gave me an Instant Pot  for my birthday, and so I have much belatedly joined the ranks of IP enthusiasts.

6 quart duo plus Instant Pot
The nice thing about being a late adopter of a cult favorite kitchen appliance is that someone has already done the homework for me. Generous souls have posted scores of resources and dozens of standardized recipes for me to try. Even right after unboxing the IP, I skipped the manual and used this handy article to test the appliance and start using it right away.

In the few weeks that I've owned the IP, I've made several different things in it. I tend to look up recipes for the (a) amount of water to be added and (b) pressure cooking time/steaming time and (c) instructions on natural pressure release or quick release or "wait x number of minutes and then do a quick release". Once I have this information or some sort of consensus from a few posted recipes, then I can adapt my own recipes to the Instant Pot.

My very first IP recipe was a one pot spaghetti, made by dumping in raw noodles, marinara sauce and some whole brown lentils into the IP. The lentils are not traditional, of course, but an easy way to add protein, fiber and heartiness to the dish. Not bad at all- it was a very kid friendly meal, served with a topping of Parmesan.

Another easy meal that turned out well was a tofu Vietnamese curry made by sauteeing veggies, curry powder, tofu and coconut milk, followed by a quick pressure cook.

For a special occasion, I made rice kheer in porridge mode using this recipe.

Punjabi dum aloo
When I found fancy fingerling potatoes on sale in the grocery store, I knew dum aloo was going to be on the menu. I made the sauce on the stove top but used the IP to saute and pressure cook the potatoes, and they turned out absolutely perfect, well cooked but with more of a roasted taste rather than a boiled one.

Veg Pulao
Hard boiled eggs are easy and fool-proof in the IP- I made them yesterday using this recipe.

I've made vegetable pulao a couple of times, by sauteeing onions and whole spices, then adding mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, potatoes, zucchini) and salt, turmeric, garam masala, then 1 cup rinsed Jasmine rice and 1 1/4 cup water. Pressure cook for 4 minutes, wait 5 minutes and then release pressure.

Last night I topped this pulao with boiled eggs and fried onions to make a quick egg pulao. Two tips for this recipe are to use large chunks of vegetables so they don't get mushy, and to remove the insert from the base after the pressure is released and place it on a different surface, so the pulao doesn't just keep cooking.

I've also used the IP as a steamer to make idlis- my idli stand fits in it perfectly. So do the two stainless steel containers that came with my first (and since retired) pressure cooker. I'm glad I held on to the containers because they fit into the IP. I used them to steam a big batch of kobichi wadi (savory cabbage cakes) this weekend.

Kobichi wadi is a savory cabbage cake and a favorite Maharashtrian dish. The steamed cake is sliced and then pan fried (or deep fried) and served as a tea-time snack with green chutney and ketchup, or as a side dish with dal and rice and other everyday meals. Using cilantro instead of cabbage gives you kothimbir wadi, a recipe that I've posted 14 years ago!

This was a recipe made on the fly, but I'm noting down general proportions and steaming times here.

Kobichi Wadi

1/2 medium head of green cabbage, finely chopped
~2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
2 tbsp. rice flour
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
2 tsp. poppy seeds
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
Salt to taste
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. oil

  • Mix all the ingredients together. Add enough water to make a thick batter. 
  • Grease two containers and divide the batter between them. 
  • Stack the containers, cover, and steam in IP for about 35 minutes or until an inserted knife comes clean.
  • Let the containers cool completely and refrigerate for a few hours. 
  • Use a thin knife to loosen around the edges, and remove the wadi. 
  • Using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut the savory cake into slices. 
  • Pan fry the slices until golden brown and serve them right away.

The steamed and sliced kobichi wadi can be stored in the freezer to be thawed and fried later.

Send your favorite IP recipes my way, pretty please! What do you love using it for?

* * * 
Have you ever wondered how much jam you could make out of  exactly12 strawberries? My daughter went on a strawberry-picking field trip with her class and came home proudly clutching a little box of strawberries. After snacking on a few, she wanted to make jam with the rest, and she did:

  • Slice 12 strawberries, mix with 2-3 tbsp. sugar in a small saucepan and set aside for 20 minutes. 
  • Cook the saucepan on medium heat until the berries fall apart and start to thicken.
  • Add 1-2 tsp. lemon juice and cook for a couple more minutes. 
  • Cool and store. 

Makes a third of a tiny 4 oz. mason jar, enough to top a few slices of hot buttered toast.

* * *
We continue to volunteer at the animal shelter every weekend- here are some recent photos of the pups and kitties. 

Miss Kitty is a big and beautiful Persian cat-
it is a treat to brush her.

It is kitten season over at the shelter-
last week there were 10 kittens there, all about 8 weeks old.

These three kits were siblings- frightened at first, then 5 minutes later,
they were bouncing around playfully.

Puppy season too- this is a litter of five (count 'em!)
2 week old puppies. 
Sweet kitty named Matilda

We were surprised to see a trio of bunnies
one week!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Salads, Bowls and Books

Many of our everyday meals these days are less about cooking one big dish and more about assembly. There's definitely cooking involved- of beans and grains and eggs, and roasting of vegetables and baking of tofu, and chopping, lots and lots of chopping and grating of raw veggies, and blending of quick sauces and dressings. But all that prep work pays off when you can then mix and match ingredients to make custom bowls for several meals. It is also a rather nice way to feed a family with young kids; they get to pick and choose the components they want to eat. This post has a few examples of what I have been making.

To flavor these bowls, I have a good selection of condiments on hand. The latest addition to the condiment shelf is called laoganma spicy chili crisp that I discovered via this article on Serious Eats. The article describes it quite accurately as spicy, salty, crunchy, tingly, and good on everything, and provides a DIY version. I found a bottle quite easily in my local Asian store- the same bottle with the somber looking lady on the label (she created and marketed this sauce)- and oh my, it has been a grand discovery for adding "that Chinese restaurant flavor" to my homemade meals.

This is a bowl with cooked rice and roasted vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, peppers, broccoli), topped with the aforementioned spicy chili crisp sauce, crushed peanuts, soyaki sauce from Trader Joe's (a blend of teriyaki and soy), a fried egg and a scattering of minced scallions.

Next up, a salad mix (spring greens mix, shredded carrot, strips of red pepper) topped with (same combo as above) spicy chili crisp sauce, soyaki sauce and crushed peanuts, and sriracha baked tofu slices

As an aside, the plates in this post are a very special gift. My friend C in St. Louis is an architect turned ceramic artist, gearing up to launch her own pottery studio. When we saw each other last month, she presented me with a set of 4 dinner plates and 4 salad plates that she made herself. They are so beautiful. And they go in the dishwasher! 

Another new flavorful addition of the condiment variety- to my fridge this time- is Trader Joe's zhoug sauce. It is a dhania (cilantro) chutney, basically, but the Yemeni version of it. It is surprisingly spicy with a hint of cardamom, cardamom being something I've never thought to add to my homemade chutneys but I love it. I mix it up with some homemade yogurt to make an instant sauce.

Here is the zhoug yogurt sauce atop arugula, pickled carrots and chickpeas. As an example of the kind of recycling I do for these meals- we had some cauliflower potato dosa filling left over from Sunday brunch. That got patted onto bread and grilled to make "samosa toasts" to be served with the salad.

The chickpea arugula salad again, in lunchbox form.
The pickled carrots are a quick recipe that you will find buried somewhere in this post. They are a wonderful addition to salads.

One final salad on top of a salad- bed of mixed greens topped with roasted veggies and fake chickn strips, a cucumber avocado salad (yogurt, tiny bit of mayo, lemon juice, diced avocado and cucumbers, salt and pepper), with a handful of tortilla chips on the side.

* * * BOOK REPORT***

I've been exploring some of the tasks on the 2019 Read Harder challenge. Just like last year, it is brought some new and interesting reads into my radar. For Task 21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator, I read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. In this graphic memoir, the author/illustrator traces her complicated and uneasy relationship with her father. Bechdel's father was difficult and fascinating- he did a stint in the military, was a high school English teacher, ran a funeral home and was remodeling a mansion. All this, and he barely lived into his 40s.

I admit it, graphic memoirs are like Pringles and you can't just read one. For Task 4. A humor book, I read another graphic memoir- Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast, a warm and hilarious love letter to the city where Chast grew up. I was lucky enough to live in NYC for over five years and this book made me laugh and made me nostalgic. “Manhattan is a narrow island surrounded by various miscellaneous items.” 

Task 19. A book of nonviolent true crime ended up being a riveting read, a true page-turner. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is a case study of corporate fraud and tells the story of Theranos, the biomedical start-up launched by an ambitious young college drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes. I first read about Theranos in this New Yorker profile, and I remember being very intrigued at the idea of the technology to do dozens of blood tests on a single drop of blood from a finger prick. But it was never explained how they were able to do this. Diagnosing diseases in humans is very different from making consumer electronics- there's a great deal of validation required, and comparison to existing tests and such. Where was the data? Theranos sounded unbelievable and too good to be true. Turns out, it was, and Carreyou describes just how fraudulent this whole business turned out to be. The whole story is really mind-boggling and very much worth a read, especially if you are interested in biomedical stuff.

Task 1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters was Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Written in 1912, it tells the story of a plucky orphan girl who is given a chance to go to college by a mysterious benefactor, on the condition that she write him regular letters about her educational progress. It is a gentle and enjoyable read.

For Task 22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009, I read Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson. What a story this is. I dare you not to cry while reading this simple picture book. A child named Emmanuel is born with only one leg in Ghana, grows up in a very tough situation and nevertheless, learns to ride a bicycle and rides across Ghana, raising awareness for disabled people everywhere. My kid refused to believe that this story was true. That's the whole point, I told her, that humans are capable of doing things that sound literally impossible. Our kids need more of these stories, showing how real people have turned differences and challenges into opportunities.

One of the tasks in the Read Harder challenge is a cozy mystery and I'm quite a fan of that genre. However, in my search for good cozy mystery series that are new to me, I've had no luck so far. The first one I tried was Pekoe Most Poison (A Tea Shop Mystery #18) by Laura Childs. Theodosia Browning runs a tea shop and solves crime. I was taken aback by how casually Theodosia accuses people of murder with no shred of evidence. Not a series I'm likely to get into. Next up was A Spoonful of Poison (Agatha Raisin #19) by M.C. Beaton. I didn't like the main character and quit the book. Ditto for A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder (Inspector Singh Investigates #1) by Shamini Flint.

Next came A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters. Brother Cadfael (a medieval crime solving monk) really is very likeable- wise and full of good humor. The book was slow and I wasn't in the mood for it, but I have a feeling I will come back to this series.

I did read another book in a series I am familiar with- A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12) by Louise Penny and it was a cozy and satisfying read.

Coming to the last book I read in the first quarter of 2019, it was The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat by Stephan Guyenet. This is a thoroughly researched and engagingly written book getting to the question of why, living in bodies that have evolved exquisite homeostasis, do modern humans often eat more than they should. My notes are here on Goodreads if you want a quick summary of this book.

* * * 
I can't resist sharing this bit of schoolwork that my first grader brought home last week. Her class has been working on persuasive writing, learning how to use words to make logical arguments. This assignment was something along the lines of having to name their favorite breakfast and convince the reader about why it is the best breakfast. So here's some food writing from a 7 year old...(the original has charming spellings as you can see in the pic).

"Your mouth waters as your mom cracks a egg over the pan. That's a sunny side up. Sunny side ups are the best type of egg ever. First, they taste good with bread. Second, the bread soaks up the yolk and drizzles out when you bite it like a sponge. So sunny side ups are the best egg. (Scrambled eggs are my second favorite)."

Are you convinced yet?

Tell me what you've been eating and cooking and reading! Also what is your favorite breakfast and why is it the best? :)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The House Granola Recipe, and Hanging with Kitties!

Open my kitchen pantry, and the first thing you will see is an over-sized jar of granola. Every couple of weeks it gets replenished and every morning, all year round, my husband eats a big bowl of granola for breakfast. This has been going on for years. So here it is, the house granola recipe that I have made a hundred times.

The house granola recipe has in fact evolved over time. In fact I've posted a standardized granola recipe a decade ago, and now I chuckle that that recipe used 3 cups of oats. These days, I go big and make a huge batch that fills 2 sheet pans to the brim- having said that, you could certainly scale this recipe down.

Granola is inherently a calorie dense food, but nutritious and satisfying with whole oats, seeds and nuts. This granola has a little oil and a little sweetener, just enough to make it toasty and golden and give it a touch of sweetness. Dried fruits add another sweet-tart pop. This recipe makes a "loose granola". If you prefer clumpy granola, there are other recipes that would work better- they often include egg whites and/or sweet syrups for clumping.

One Hot Stove House Granola 

1. Lightly oil (I use spray) two sheet pans (about 18x13 inches).

2. Preheat the oven to 300F. If your oven has a convection setting, use it. It will reduce cooking time.

3. In the biggest bowl you own, mix together:

14 cups old-fashioned oats. This is almost a whole big canister of oats. I use all but one cup of oats from the big canister. The one cup is saved as an ingredient for other recipes where I use oats, like smoothies and pancakes.

Seeds and Nuts (Adjust these amounts as you prefer)
2 tbsp. chia seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1- 1.5 cups chopped raw walnuts
1- 1.5 cups chopped raw almonds
1 cup raw cashew pieces

Packaged nut pieces are often cheaper than whole nuts, so they are a good option for granola, particularly since you won't need to chop them either. Use any of your favorite nuts and seeds here.

1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. kosher salt

Oil and sweetener
1/4 cup maple syrup or 1/4 cup chopped jaggery dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil (or other oil of choice)

4. After stirring all ingredients together, spread them in an even layer on the two prepared sheet pans.

5. Toasting the granola:

  • Bake for 15-20 minutes. 
  • Switch pans top rack to bottom rack, and turn left to right. Continue baking for 15-20 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven and let the pans sit in the oven for 10-15 more minutes. 
  • Let them cool completely on baking racks.
  • No need to stir the granola at any point until it is completely cooled.

6. At this point, add a handful of dried fruit such as raisins/ cranberries/ dried cherries to the granola. I sometimes put in a handful of cereal (e.g. cheerios or cornflakes) for added crunch. Toss everything together and store in an airtight container.

Enjoy with milk (dairy or non-dairy), or yogurt and fresh fruit.

* * *

The best thing that happened in 2019: In the very first week of this year, my 7 year old and I drove to the local animal shelter one cold Sunday morning for a volunteer orientation. We walked out an hour later as official shelter volunteers- allowed to go the shelter whenever we please and volunteer with the cats and dogs.

I have wanted to do this for a couple of years but hesitated. There was a new baby in our family, I wanted my daughter to grow up a little more before taking her to volunteer. But really, a big reason holding me back was that I was afraid that going to the animal shelter would be depressing. I am glad I got over myself and decided to give it a shot.

Our shelter in fact is a very cheerful and welcoming place. The staff is friendly and there are always volunteers and prospective families milling around. The animal housing is clean and there are plenty of treats and toys available.

Kiddo and I go for a couple of hours almost every weekend. We stop by the puppy and small dog room, and then spend most of our time with the cats. Our chosen job is cat socialization, so we choose a cat and take it from its cage and into an interaction room, where there is space to play and cuddle with the cat. We do this with as many cats as we can.

It is amazing to see the different personalities of the cats- there are shy ones and cuddly ones, some purr like engines, others are singularly focused on climbing everything they can. Some play fetch like dogs. They are hopelessly funny and cute. Watching my child tenderly play with the cats is the sweetest thing and I know that it enriches her life as much as a music or sports lesson would, and certainly way more than screen time or random toys would.
A few of the adorable shelter kitties 
Animal shelters are places where you get to see some of the horrible things that humans do- neglecting, abusing and abandoning pets who live at their mercy, but you also get to see the best side of humanity. I met an older couple who volunteer every single day with the cats. They took it upon themselves to buy really chic, comfortable cat beds for every cage. Shelter life is stressful for animals and creature comforts and human love go a long way in making their lives better.

Please consider visiting your local animal shelter and helping out when you can. I am amazed at how easy it was to fit this volunteer gig into my pretty-well-packed life. We go while baby brother is napping, and get groceries on the way back. Hanging out with shelter cats is our mother-daughter quality time and I hope we can keep doing this for a long time.

Duncan (former shelter dog, current king of the castle):
Not amused when we come home smelling of cats

* * *

April is just around the corner. As the weather is warming ever so slightly and the daffodils and tulips are popping up from the ground, I am ready to step out of my comfortable winter kitchen rut (and blogging rut, let's be honest) and try some new recipes.

My kitchen theme for April is big salads and bowls- recipes with raw and cooked vegetables and saucy dressings, and hearty enough to eat as a meal. Those are already my favorite things to eat- like this dumpling salad and this tofu/paneer tikka salad, and there are many more ideas out there.

I have salad and bowl recipes pinned and bookmarked and torn out of magazines and waiting patiently in cookbooks. Maybe I'll make some of them this month.

Join me if you like and try some new recipes for big salads and bowls in your own kitchen. If you do, send me an e-mail at onehotstove at gmail DOT com with a description and picture, and I'll feature it on this blog! 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Wrapping up 2018, and a recipe for Sugar Plums

The blog has been silent but the One Hot Stove kitchen has been working overtime in the last two months. Read on to see some of the things I've been cooking and baking.

Birthday cakes: I've made 3 birthday cakes over the last two months, two for my work family and one for my darling spouse.

For V's birthday, I made him one of his favorite cakes- the tres leches or three milks cake. I used this recipe which is written for the vitamix. It takes the hard work out of whipping eggs by having you make the cake batter in a couple of minutes in the blender. The three milks I used to soak the cake were condensed milk, evaporated milk and coconut milk. For the topping, I whipped a cup of heavy cream by hand, and topped the whole confection with fresh blueberries and canned mandarin oranges just before serving. V shared it with his colleagues at work and I swear it served about 20 people. It is a rich cake and the pudding texture makes it a decadent crowd-pleaser.

Several people in my work family have gluten allergies so when I volunteered to make a birthday cake for one of them, I chose this recipe for gluten free sticky lemon cake. It sounded light and tasty and just the right thing to serve at a celebratory coffee break. The only special ingredient needed was polenta (the raw kind, not the cooked polenta in tubes); I checked a few stores and couldn't find this. In the end, I used a 50-50 mix of fine cornmeal and corn grits. As the birthday girl was poised with the knife, with everyone gathered around poised with their forks, I started to think that this was going to be real embarrassing if this recipe didn't come out right. Luckily it did and the cake was soft and tasty. I do think the corn grits were a bit too gritty though (yes I know that's why they call them grits) so the next time I make this, I will seek out proper polenta.

Buoyed by the success of my first gluten free cake, I stepped up to make the cake for another colleague and this was a bigger deal- a 50th birthday party. In conversations with her, it turned out that she is not a fan of the flourless chocolate cakes. They are the go-to choice for gluten free desserts but can be too rich and cloying beyond a bite or two. So I decided on this recipe for a gluten free apple and walnut cake. I simplified the recipe by baking the cake directly in a glass pan, not cutting it as directed, and simply drizzling the syrup on the whole cake. I used some cardamom in the syrup and all in all, it tasted like a baklava in cake form.

So now I have two stellar gluten free cakes in my baking repertoire and both of these are worth making again and again.

Diwali was a quiet affair at our home. Our grown niece visited with diyas, jalebis and chaklis. I made a dinner featuring saag paneer, and saffron kheer for dessert. The kids enjoyed whirling sparklers once it got dark outside.

Thanksgiving: We hosted a small "friendsgiving" with 9 people at the table. The menu was pretty standard. The main dishes were a portobello wellington and a mock turkey roast from Trader Joe's. For sides, I made mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. Desserts were the chocolate pecan pie that I make year after year, and sweet potato brownies and assorted cheesecake slices brought by our friends.

Two Potluck Brunch Bakes

For the holiday brunch potluck at work, I made this hash brown breakfast bake. My only modification was to use 6 eggs instead of 5 and to use less cheese than directed. Using frozen hash brown patties and pantry ingredients, it was a breeze to assemble it the night before and bake it off before work. In fact, I'm making another one of these for a new year's eve brunch as we speak.

For yet another holiday breakfast get-together, I tried an apple oatmeal bake. I used a mixture of dairy and almond milk. This was also assembled the evening before and baked off the next morning. It was warm, hearty and not too sweet, with perfect winter flavors. We ate leftovers warmed up in the microwave for the next day or two.

Gifts from the kitchen: We don't have massive Christmas commitments and don't exchange gifts with family over the holidays (although we do get some small things for the kids) so I am free to focus on the teachers, mail carrier, garbage and recycling truck drivers, bus driver, co-workers and all of these wonderful people who make our life easier all year round. Some got gift cards, a couple got handmade scarves, some got store-bought goodies like giant popcorn tins and boxes of Walker's shortbread. I also made several batches of almond biscotti and buttercrunch candy to give as gifts.

My favorite homemade gift this year was also the simplest one. We had a great month at ballet class and my ballet teacher played lots of fun holiday music all December, including pieces from The Nutcracker- my favorite being the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I thought it might amuse my ballet teacher if I gave her a box of sugar plums. Sugar plums are a classic holiday candy, but when I checked online, there are all sorts of versions of what these really are.

I decided I would make my own version, by essentially making no-bake fruit and nut treats and rolling them in sugar. Incidentally the (standard, cheap) granulated sugar I bought from Target sparkled very prettily and made it look very festive. I don't think the photos show that so you'll have to take my word for it.

(My version of) Sugar Plums

1 cup dates
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup almonds
1/3 cup walnuts or pecans
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cardamom powder

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until you get a finely chopped mixture.
Form the mixture into balls.
Roll in granulated sugar and place in mini muffin cups.
Store in fridge.
This recipe makes about 15 sugar plums.

Instant Hot Chocolate: Here's a new recipe I tried that came through in taste but not so much in looks- see exhibit A to the left. They are cocoa blocks, designed to be mixed with hot milk to make instant hot chocolate. The recipe was easy enough but even after several hours in the fridge, I couldn't slice it into neat bars, ending up with knobbly truffles instead. Having said that, these are terrific to keep in the fridge to make hot chocolate on demand. That part of the recipe works as advertised!

A new favorite cookbook: I'm friends with the children's librarian at our public library. He is an ardent Indophile and we enjoy chatting about Indian traditions, languages and of course, Indian food. He told me that his all-time favorite Indian cookbook is Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen. The name rang a bell for me; Richa has been blogging for a long time. But I hadn't read her cookbook. Mr E immediately obtained the book for me and I can see why he loves this book so much. I immediately flagged over a dozen recipes to try.

The first recipe I tried was for oats poha. It is one I've seen popping up on Indian blogs for several years, but had never quite mustered up the enthusiasm to try a savory oats recipe before. It turned out pretty tasty. But I think I still prefer oats in oatmeal and poha in poha!

Here's one I tried on Christmas Day, in a nod to our "Chinese food on Christmas Day" tradition of sorts. It is the well-loved gobi manchurian, only baked and not fried. Cauliflower florets are dipped in a marinade and baked, and meanwhile, a tasty sauce is made on the stovetop. We loved this and will be making it often. I will have to tweak the recipe a little bit to make the baked cauliflower more crispy but the favors are spot on.

The curry recipes in this books are very tempting. For years, I have been trying to get myself to like tempeh. It is a cultured soy product, high in protein and worth including in a vegetarian diet. But the taste and texture can take some getting used to. Enter Richa, with a great tip for boiling the tempeh in seasoned water before adding it to the curry. It worked! I used the tempeh in the do pyaaza (onion) curry and for the first time ever, I loved tempeh. 

Finally, here are a few pictures from the holiday market at Lila's school. This is an after-school event- they set up a few tables in the hallways and let students and parents sell holiday treats, crafts, ornaments, bath and body stuff and things of that sort. It is a really fun and festive event and allows the kids to be little entrepreneurs for an afternoon. Lila (age 7) was really excited to participate. We made 4 items to sell: melted snowman cookies, gift tags (a recycled craft made with pictures cut out of the uber-cute King Arthur flour holiday catalog!), elves made from wine corks (not pictured) and red and green hair bows sewed from fabric scraps. 

The melted snowman cookies were NOT a marvel of baking but they did look quite cute. In a last minute scramble, I simply bought a tray of plain sugar cookies at the supermarket. We made icing by mixing powdered sugar with a few teaspoons of milk. A puddle of icing on the cookie, a large marshmallow as the head, two pretzel sticks as the arms, m&m candy as buttons, and colored icing used to draw faces on. The icing hardens in a couple of hours. And, you guessed it, the snowman cookies were the biggest hit. We made a grand profit of $18 from the whole enterprise. The clever kid who made buckets of slime probably made hundreds!

* * *

2018 was a good year for books- and in no small part due to the Read Harder 2018 challenge. I picked up so many unexpected books thanks to this challenge, and although I came late to the party (starting only in July), I finished the last of the 24 tasks last week. The list of books I read for all 24 tasks is here.

The Read Harder 2019 challenge has been posted and I already have books picked out for a few of the tasks. Would anyone like to join me in doing this reading challenge in 2019?

Here are a few recommendations from my past reading for some of the tasks. I'll be looking for new books to fit these tasks, of course.

1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff,
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

2. An alternate history novel
11/22/63 by Stephen King about the Kennedy assassination being thwarted and world events following that.

4. A humor book
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
PG Wodehouse has many classics!

5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
Books by Neil Degrasse Tyson would fit this task

13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
Books by Oliver Sacks would fit this task

14. A cozy mystery
The Miss Marple Series by Agatha Christie, of course. But my personal favorite is the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.

2019 holds a milestone birthday for me, and I hope it brings peace and joy for us all. Happy new year, friends! 

Friday, November 09, 2018

Omelet meal prep, Halloween eats and Books

It looks like meal prepping is having a moment. Beautifully laid out containers of prepped and portioned meals are all over the food blogs, Instagram and other forums. Of all the food trends out there (looking at you, cake pops, bacon everything and salted caramel), meal prepping- preparing several well-balanced meals in one go- is a pretty useful one. Given access to a fridge and freezer, making several portions of a meal at once can save time and money and make it easier to eat in a healthier way. All while making one feel very wholesome in a domestic goddessy way.

I am not typically into large scale meal prep, preferring to make a fresh meal every evening with extra servings for lunch the following day. Breakfast is another story. The dash to school and work starts at an ungodly hour in our household and it is useful to have breakfast prepped and ready to go. No two people in our little family like the same thing for breakfast. V eats granola every single day- I make it in big batches every couple of weeks and can share our house recipe if anyone is interested. The kids rotate through a few simple breakfasts- pancakes, oatmeal, idli with ghee, avocado toast, boiled egg, smoothies, cereal with fruit. All of these can be made ahead or made in a couple of minutes. As for me, I like eggs for breakfast.

I'm sharing a very simple omelet and veggies meal prep that I have been doing pretty consistently for a few months now. Omelets don't sound like a typical make-ahead dish but in fact they hold very well in the fridge. You make omelets while a tray of vegetables is being roasted and portion the combination into containers. It makes for a filling and nutritious breakfast/lunch that can be warmed up and made piping hot in a minute or so in the microwave oven. For the final touch, I choose from Sriracha sauce and Valentina hot sauce that I have tucked away at my desk for dousing purposes.

My sister gave me a spice mix called "R-Pure omelette masala" that I love and use in this recipe all the time. But basic salt and pepper work beautifully if you don't want to go hunting for a special spice mix.

For the masala omelets

6-8 large eggs (depending on whether you want 1.5 or 2 eggs per serving)
1/4 cup  minced onion
Handful of cilantro, minced
1 small tomato, minced (optional)
Minced hot pepper or red pepper flakes to taste
Salt and pepper (or omelet masala) to taste

Beat the eggs until frothy. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Make 4 omelets in a non-stick pan using a little oil.

For the roasted veggies

Raid the crisper tray in the fridge. Any combination of cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, potato, carrots, onion, peppers, mushrooms etc. will do.

Dice the vegetables and spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet, season liberally with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 425F.

I use the convection setting on my oven for 12 minutes. Then I turn the oven off and leave the tray in there for another 5-10 minute for perfect roasted vegetables.

Let the omelets and roasted veg cool down for a few minutes, then portion into four containers and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

* * *
Some simple Halloween treats from last week...

Clementine "pumpkins" (celery for the stem)
Corn and black bean salsa

Lila had a hankering for pumpkin pie around Halloween. I found this recipe for impossible pumpkin pie- it was impossibly easy. You just put a bunch of things (all stuff I already had on hand) in a bowl, stir (or get your kid to stir, better yet), pour into a pie dish and bake.

This pudding-like pie turned out perfectly delicious and not too sweet. The recipe is eggless. I'd definitely make it again.

My adorable weightlifting instructor went all Pinterest mom on us and made us post-workout Halloween treats: white chocolate covered strawberry "ghosts" and peanut butter chocolate oat "bats" with blue tortilla chip wings. So sweet!

* * *
On the subject of my last post, I picked up a library copy of Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss: Mastering 4 Core Eating Behaviors to Stay Slim Forever by a Canadian nutritionist, Georgie Fear. The four core eating behaviors endorsed in this book are to eat 3 meals without snacking, mastering your hunger, eating just enough, and eating mostly whole foods. No surprises there. Truly, there are very few surprises when it comes to losing extra weight. We all know what to do, more or less, but just because something is simple doesn't mean it is easy. This slim book (written in tiny font for some reason) has very practical tips to build solid habits, although each person will have to do their own work to figure out, for instance, what is "just enough food" for their own needs. The book suggests building each meal with 2-3 cups of vegetables, adding a certain amount of protein, some form of healthy fat, and carb-rich foods if there is room, depending on how your body can handle them. The book also has chapters on emotional eating, drinking enough water, not drinking liquid calories (soda, juice, sugary coffee drinks), getting enough sleep and so on. 

Continuing with the Read Harder 2018 challenge...

For Task #10 A romance novel by or about a person of color, I read a graphic novel, Bingo Love, written by Tee Franklin with art by Jenn St-Onge. Two teenage girls meet at their grandmothers' church bingo game in 1963. They are quickly inseparable and in love by the time they graduate high school. But the time isn't right for their romance; they are forced apart for the next several decades, marrying men and raising families before reuniting as grandmothers. The art in this slim graphic novel is incredible and the romance is sweet but the story-telling felt rushed and underdeveloped.

Task #15 is A one-sitting book, which makes me think of genres like kid lit and graphic novels. But for this task, I read a novella, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. If you read more than 30 minutes in a sitting, this is a one sitting book but I, ahem, read it over three nights. Such is the reading life of a tired parent. I enjoyed this book very much and highly recommend it. The Queen (yes, the one in England) stumbles upon a mobile library in a corner of the palace grounds and makes a new friend in a kitchen helper named Norman who is an avid reader and frequenter of the mobile library. In a matter of days the queen becomes a voracious reader, much to the chagrin of her advisers. Book lovers will love this cheeky and funny little novel which celebrates the pleasures of reading. “Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds.”

Task #18 was A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image. Now, I don't know a thing about comic book publishers but I am guessing this task was designed to encourage reading beyond the superhero comic genre. I chose Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Anya is struggling with high school, resentful of her immigrant Russian background and feeling quite blue one day when she falls into an old well and meets and befriends the ghost of a teenager from nearly a century ago. Again, I thought the artwork in this graphic novel was absolutely terrific and the story was just okay for me.

Task #23 was A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60. Here I turned to the tried and true beloved elderly spinster (what an archaic term that is) Miss Marple and read A Murder Is Announced (Miss Marple #5) by Agatha Christie. Because sometimes you just need to read an Agatha Christie and this is a terrific one that somehow I hadn't read before.

Happy Diwali to everyone who is celebrating it this week! We are deferring our celebration to the weekend when we will be sure to light a row of lamps and make a nice meal.

Do you prep your meals in advance? What are you reading these days?