Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mid Summer 2013

When I did a what's-going-on-in-my-life post a few weeks ago, I had the best time reading your comments on what everyone has been up to. So here we go again...we're in the last month of Summer 2013 and this is what I am...

Eating seasonal goodies, such as peaches. This year we've had very unusual summer weather in GA. It has been so wet that the peaches are waterlogged- huge but bland. We had a house-guest from Israel last week and I wanted to make her something very Georgia, very Southern. So I made this peach cobbler using peaches from a nearby orchard and it was a wonderful dessert with vanilla ice cream. Very simple and fun to make too.

Today, I used a bunch of peaches to make peach salsa. It is chilling in the fridge waiting to be taken to a party later today.

To make the peach salsa, just mix together:
- 3 ripe peaches, peeled and diced. The easiest way to peel ripe peaches is to drop them for a minute in boiling water and then remove them into a bowl of ice water. The peel slips right off.
- 1 yellow/red pepper, diced
- 2 avocados, peeled and diced
- A bit of minced onion and cilantro
- Salt, cumin, chili powder to taste
- Lemon juice if the peaches are not tangy

Serve with a bag of tortilla chips or eat it as a salad if you want to be all goody-goody.

The other seasonal, local thing I'm eating too much of:

Boiled peanuts. Now this is total deja vu for me. I grew up in a peanut-growing part of India, and we devoured boiled peanuts every time the harvest season rolled around. Now after a couple of decades, I'm living in peanut country again, and what joy it was yesterday to cook a pressure cooker's worth of raw peanuts in brine. They taste soft and sweet/salty and have a mealy texture. I'm told they are an acquired taste. V is very indifferent to them and a friend told me she hated the texture. Never mind, that just means there's more for me :)

Reading Stephen King's novel, 11/22/63. It is 800+ pages long so I might still be reading it by the time next summer rolls around, hah.

Other notable reads from the last month:

Image: Goodreads

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. This is one of the books from the Inspector Gamache series set in Quebec, Canada. It kept me interested from beginning to end, with a good plot and a fascinating setting in a secluded monastery that reverberates with Gregorian chants. This book is a good choice for cozy mystery lovers.

Image: Goodreads
These next three books are for middle grade readers but each one was a thoughtful and meaningful read for me. So I would say, read them with your kids and read them for yourself. Wonder by R. J. Palacio is a book about a 10 year old boy named August who was born with a rare and severe facial deformity. After years of being home-schooled, he steps into fifth grade and out into the world. We all deal with our insecurities when we go out in public and stepping into August's shoes for a while is an eye-opening experience. What a beautiful, uplifting story this is. A must-read for you and your kids.

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright was a real treat in the cozy, Enid Blyton style. The book is set in the 1940s in New York City and is about a family of 4 siblings who decide to pool their meager allowances and take turns going on Saturday adventures. The book is a small lesson in anti-helicopter parenting, in letting children figure out how to amuse themselves and come up with creative solutions to their small problems.

Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatly Snyder was also an entertaining read about the summer adventures of a boy who is stuck at home helping his mother run a boarding house in the 60s while his wealthier neighbors move to the suburbs. I loved these three books about kids who are given the freedom to be resourceful while still having a strong and stable childhood in all sorts of different circumstances.

If you enjoy books in this genre, check out NPR's must-read 100 books for ages 9-14. I'm 2 decades removed from that age group, but this list is a veritable goldmine of books that I want to read (such as The Giver and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret) and many more that I have read and loved (A Tree Grows in Brookyln, The Secret Garden, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and so on).

Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern. This is a couple who has spent decades traveling around the United States, looking for interesting and tasty food finds along America's highways and back roads and small towns off the beaten track. They started doing this as fresh college grads without much of a life plan and have been doing it ever since. I really enjoyed this book of essays about their meanderings. There's some really random stuff in here- about bad hotel rooms and interesting menus, about eating 12 meals a day to record as much as they could on their road trips. And there is some stuff that is very touching, such as when a very rural town's population came together to keep a cafe and a community alive.

Making more quilts, what else?

Watching episodes of Psych, the comedy mystery series when I'm in the mood for mindless entertainment. The best thing I watched last month was a documentary mini-series: Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking. This is absolutely must-see TV. And guess who shares the narration with Dr. Hawking? The dishy Benedict Cumberbatch. I also started watching Orange is the New Black- a tragi-comedy about life in a women's prison. It is engaging, a little disturbing, definitely raunchy. I don't know if I like it yet.

Planning Lila's second birthday party. It will be a simple affair at home with snacks and music and cake, of course. I asked Lila, "Do you want a butterfly cake or a fishie cake?" and she earnestly replied, "OK".

Celebrating the fact that my BFF Neighbor Girl passed the bar exam in her very first attempt. I've always teased her at being very good at lawyerly BS and now she can earn a living doing it. Call me if you need a defense attorney- I can get you the family and friends discount ;)

That's all, folks!
Please tell us in the comments: What are you eating, reading, watching, making, planning and celebrating these days?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chilling Out

Whew- the last week went by in a blur of house guests and a picnic and a dinner party and then our home Internet was sulking for a bit, but here I am. Four friends joined me for the fridge/freezer cleaning challenge and here's what they did.

Nikita at A Real Housewife took the challenge in a big way. Read her post for all the details and to get a useful recipe for a two-ingredient all-purpose cleaner. I love her idea of using trays to contain spills.

Nupur (another blogger, my namesake) did a fridge/freezer audit- go look at the well-stocked fridge and freezer in her post here.

Linda of Out of the Garden (now blogging from a different state- we've read each other's blogs for years and years, I think) organized condiments from several different cuisines in her fridge. Go on and read her very interesting post for a delicious coconut curry recipe.

Finally, Priti who does not have her own blog yet (but should think about starting one to show off her amazing birthday cake creations) wrote in to say...

I don't have pictures for you but I did manage to start my clean up and here's what I found and did.
  • The most unusual/exotic/interesting item in your fridge: nothing unusual but exotic and interesting, yes! A green bean and black chana bhaaji prepared undhiyu style and a rice payasam sent over by neighbour that tastes like puran from puranpoli, have to get the recipe! Having both for lunch today.
  • Three items you always have in your fridge: A box of best Saffron money can buy, fresh ginger (we use it up pretty quick) and a bunch of fresh cilantro (a must have for hubby!)
  • The oldest item in your fridge: Gulkand and a jar of mango pickle
  • Item(s) from the fridge that needed to be used and how you used it/them up in meals or recipes: The not-so-fresh green beans were made into an undhiyu style lipsmacking preparation (can share recipe if you want), a sleepy wedge of pumpkin woke up in a spicy sambar, a lonely capsicum was happy to find company in an omlette with onion and in pulao with other mixed veggies invited from the freezer, some leftover chicken salad was used up as a filling for sandwich that tasted nice!
Ditto for the freezer...
  • The most unusual/exotic/interesting item in your freezer: Frozen store bought uncut rolls of Patra/ Alu vadi, a special kind of rice flour sent from India for making steamed modaks and kanda-lasun masala (onion-garlic slightly moist spice blend) also sent from India.
  • Three items you always have in your freezer: frozen green peas, edamame, frozen grated coconut
  • The oldest item in your freezer: my mom's chakali bhajani that I plan to use up this Diwali (cousin sis asked me to store it there)
  • Item(s) from the freezer that needed to be used and how you used it/them up in meals or recipes: a packet of drumsticks (not from a chicken, from a tree!) was rescued and used up in sambar and I am still figuring out ways to use up frozen assorted veggies.
:-( Confession time. Some items that had to be trashed: A tiny bottle of artificial biryani essence handed over by a friend who was moving, I just could not stand the artificial fragrance and couldn't pass on something to others that I found so repulsive, it stayed in the fridge for a year before I let it go last week. A plastic bottle with leftover dried up ketchup that was crying out to be recycled. A small wedge of leftover stinky cheese that was bought for a new salad recipe which gave hubby horrible migraine, by the time he recovered and I dared to finish it myself a mold showed up (Oops! Sorry! no more stinky cheese purchase henceforth, promise! I'll do a sniff test before I buy.)

Thanks for playing along, ladies! And Priti, I wish you lived closer because I could have taken that stinky cheese off your hands. My husband is an ardent connoisseur of odoriferous cheeses.

OK, here are my answers to the survey.

Three things I have always have... my fridge: ginger garlic paste, lemons, yogurt. my freezer: frozen peas, vanilla ice cream, whole grain tortillas.

The oldest stuff: Nothing in my fridge or freezer is older than 10 months because that's when we moved to this house. But there is a puff pastry sheet sitting in the freezer that's been there since Christmas 2012, and Dijon mustard in the fridge that's been there probably since the week we moved.

The most unusual thing... the fridge is probably Biscoff spread. A peanut-butter-like spread made with cookies. Who knew? This was a gift from the aforementioned Priti and I made these cookies with some of it. Cookies to spread and back to cookies. Cookies thou art, to cookies returneth. There's a deep philosophical message in there somewhere. But mostly they were just good eats. the freezer is a gel-filled teething ring. My kid is past teething, but she likes to chew on the teether while Duncan chews on his toys.

It is so interesting to see what people have in their refrigerators. I notice so many people storing spices, nuts, flours and grains stored in the fridge/freezer to keep them from going rancid. However, I've found that spices and nuts really lose their flavor when I do this, so I store mine right at room temperature and (try to) use them up in a reasonable amount of time. I guess this one is really all about personal preference.

Here are my 6 favorite tips for minimizing food waste in the fridge.

1. A fridge-cleaning meal once a week (usually the evening before I go grocery shopping). I will confess that I actually love doing this- making a great supper out of bits and bobs. I think of it as a creative challenge. Recipes for tacos, pilafs, soups and scrambled eggs are endlessly flexible and can accommodate all sorts of ingredients that may be on hand.

Here are some of my recent fridge-cleaning meals.

Sprouting potatoes, mustard and bread and butter pickles
went into an egg and potato salad.
The remainder of a can of coconut milk and some red curry paste, plus assorted veggies
went into a noodle salad.

Cheese was getting moldy. Sliced off that end and discarded it and used the rest
in a pasta sauce.
To use up avocados, carrot and tofu, I got really ambitious and made a sushi platter!
2. A fridge/freezer eat-down once every 3 months or so. This is like the fridge-cleaning meal but on a larger scale and this is when I try to use not only the obviously perishable items but also the ingredients that are packaged/bottled but that still need to be used up. With this eat-down, it helps to make a list of available ingredients and look up recipes and plan meals using them.

3. Prep food right after food shopping: Weekends are usually busy, grocery shopping is one of a dozen chores, you shop in a crowded store, get back tired and harried and the last thing you want to do is to organize the groceries nicely. So they pile into the fridge willy-nilly and you're setting yourself up for failure on the food organization/waste front. It helps me enormously to go grocery shopping at a time when stores are empty, like at 8 AM on Sunday mornings, when the good people of GA are either in houses of worship or sleeping in late. Then I can finish my shopping quickly and get back and take 10 minutes to put away everything properly. Going a step further, I sometimes even do some extra prep work, like cooking greens or shredding cheese to help later in the week.

4. Storing herbs: People recommend the whole "stick your herbs in a glass jar with water the way you do with flowers" thing but it never worked for me. I loosen my cilantro bunch, toss away grungy bits, then wrap the rest in a paper towel and place it in an airtight box. This is practically the only thing I use paper towels for any more. And after use they (the paper towels, not the herbs) go into the compost.

5. Veggies bits box: Why, yes, that is a technical term. A box ear-marked for that piece of cabbage, half an onion etc. left over from recipes. That way they don't get lost in the crisper and you can get into the habit of peeking into the box when you start cooking.

6. Know yourself: It helps enormously to pay attention to what I tend to like, what I tend to over-buy, what tends to end up sadly in the trash. Then I can tweak my habits accordingly. For instance, it could be that I buy greens with noble intentions and they sit there and rot. Some solutions for this could be to plan a recipe for greens on the very day I go grocery shopping. Or to switch to buying frozen greens so they can sit in the freezer and not rot while I make up my mind to cook them.

Over time, I have learnt that in my household, we love leftovers and tend to eat them very quickly, over the next 2 or 3 days. Leftovers become small 3PM-hunger-pang-killers, breakfast wraps, fillings for unusual sandwiches. For me, it makes sense to, say, cook the whole cauliflower or the whole can of beans and leave the pot of subzi in the fridge. But I know others who don't enjoy leftovers. For them, it will make more sense to make only enough for 1 meal and save ingredients for a fresh meal. Like I said, it helps to know the individual habits and preferences of the household.

Yes, we live busy lives but what could be more important than honoring food and not wasting it?

Just for fun, if you want to play along, tell us:
1. Three things you always have in your fridge/freezer.
2. Your best tips for organizing the fridge/freezer.

Your moment of zen :)