Thursday, July 30, 2020

Birthday pancake & cake, and an improv chutney for idlis

Our son turned 4 this month- our little guy with the big and boisterous personality. He loves water play, books and watching "scary and creepy" shows, can't recognize alphabets yet but knows the names of about 40 different Pokemon, insists of wearing only muscle shirts in summer, competes ferociously with his big sister and declares "I need something sugary" a couple of times a day. So he got two sweet treats for his big day.

We kicked off the birthday with an early morning pancake breakfast- the pancake in this case was a skillet pancake adapted from this recipe, with 3/4 of all-purpose flour replaced with whole grain atta, sugar reduced to a scant 1/4 cup, and a handful of chocolate chips instead of berries. The grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins all joined in on Zoom to sing happy birthday. Just don't be like me and place candles into a hot skillet pancake; I had to pull them out hastily after this picture was taken because they started to melt! 





Later in the day, his sister and I made an official birthday cake. When asked about the flavor and type of cake, the birthday boy had one singular request- he wanted sprinkles, lots of them, inside and out. Done! 

We made a sweet little funfetti cake using this recipe. I just realized that the recipe has been updated since I used it. I made the old recipe, which is in the notes in the linked recipe. My only changes were to use 1/4 cup granulated sugar instead of 3/4 cup, and to reduce sprinkles to 1/2 cup. Our cake baked up in about 22 minutes, much quicker than what the recipe says.

For the frosting, instead of the buttercream in the recipe, we made a chocolate ganache- warming 2/3 cup of heavy cream, then adding in 2/3 cup of chopped dark chocolate off the heat and letting the mixture cool before whisking to a smooth, thick paste. Big sissy laid on the frosting and the sprinkles. The amount of frosting was more than enough for this cake- and psst, leftover ganache frosting is basically chocolate mousse and can be eaten straight up with a spoon. 

I'm one for easy birthday cakes at the best of times, but at this particular time, there was something very endearing about a little cake with colorful sprinkles hiding in every slice, with a shiny chocolatey frosting and more sprinkles on top. It really captured the simple joys of life and buoyed my spirit, while making a little boy very happy. I never thought a funfetti cake (fake food colors yadda yadda) would be my thing, but I have to admit that a slice of this soft and tasty cake was perfectly delightful with a cup of chai. 



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A favorite food of both of my kids is idlis. Those fluffy dumplings smeared with ghee, what's not to love? It took me years to nail down my idli protocol and I never, ever mess with the idli recipe now I have it working right. Idlis may be traditional but chutneys have plenty of room for improvisation. This time I had an over-ripe tomato to use up, and lots of onions in the pantry, so I made an onion tomato peanut chutney. To add to the improvisation, instead of regular red chillies, I used dried Mexican pasilla peppers, large wrinkly peppers that have a fruity and smoky taste and are not overly hot. 

Onion Tomato Peanut Chutney with Pasilla Peppers



  1. In a saucepan, heat 1-2 tsp. coconut oil.
  2. Add 2 diced onions and saute until lightly browned.
  3. Add 2-3 rinsed pasilla peppers, with stems discarded and each pepper cut into 3-4 pieces.
  4. Add a large diced tomato and salt to taste. 
  5. Stir fry the mixture until the tomato no longer smells raw.
  6. Let it cool a bit, then add 1/2 cup roasted peanuts and blend to a thick paste using some water as needed.
  7. Make a tempering with mustard seeds, curry leaves, asafetida, urad and chana dal and add it to the chutney. Mix together.
  8. Taste and adjust salt, adding lime juice if needed to bring out the flavor. 


* * * 
My reading these days is in fits and starts. I started a new job this month, one that is technical and challenging for me. At the end of the day I have very little mental bandwidth to take on demanding books and am usually grasping for an escape. The New Yorker issues arrive in the mail weekly but often I just can't bring myself to read yet another article about the pandemic or corrupt politicians or climate change. It all just weighs on the mind. (When I do pick up the magazine, I always find really interesting- if mostly depressing- articles to read, like this recent one about an online literature class reading the 1866 Russian novel Crime and Punishment and how its larger theme of societal decline resonates even today.)

One book did give a longed-for mental escape recently: The Satapur Moonstone- the second Parveen Mistry novel by Sujata Massey. I picked it up for the Read Harder Task #7: Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII. The year is 1922 and we are in British India. Parveen Mistry is Bombay's first lady lawyer, young and plucky. In this atmospheric novel, I joined Parveen in her long journey on a palanquin through dense woods to the rural heart of a princely state, to a circuit house and a palace. A most enjoyable read. 

My daughter worked her way through the whole Harry Potter series this summer. While I never was a big Harry Potter fan, I did read the books when they came out back in the day. I remember reading the last book when it came out and thinking that it was really dark; the scenes with Harry and friends hiding out in a tent, fighting in isolation, stayed with me. I re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with my daughter- not reading aloud, but reading in parallel with her. I enjoyed the book much more the second time around. Again, it was a good escape into another world and one in which terrible things are happening but everything works out in the end. 

For Read Harder's Task #13: Read a food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before, I read a book of food essays, You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another. It fit the theme because it had an essay about the cuisine of Anatolia, which is something I can confidently say I have never tried before. But there are a dozen really interesting essays in this book. There's one titled, "There is no such thing as a non ethnic restaurant" which about says it all. There's one about how everywhere you go, you can find meat (and other things) wrapped in flatbread, and another about how everywhere you go, you can find food steamed in leaves. A few essays profile immigrants starting restaurants- "Curry grows wherever it goes". The last essay was fascinating, about coffee bean production by small farmers in Rwanda. 

What are you cooking and eating and reading? I hope everyone is staying healthy and safe.

20 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday to your boy!! the cake is cute :-)
    Growing up, and even now I was/am a HUGE harry potter fan. I had also written a fan mail to JKR and posted it in the mail when I was a kid. hahaha. My almost 7 year old started reading the famous five series and is loving it so much! It makes me so happy that he is enjoying the same books I used to love when I was a kid. Adventures of Tintin series is another favorite with him.
    We have been cooking really simple and wholesome foods in our kitchen. I miss my cook-"bhaiyya" , but having him back is not possible till things improve. I also learnt to make fulkas after being tired of eating rice everyday! they still have a LONG way to go, but slowly getting there.
    I am almost done with reading "the Gene" by sidhartha mukherjee. It is epic. So so good! I had loved his Emperor of all maladies too.
    Stay safe you guys!

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    1. Thank you Neha- How fun that you wrote to JKR! Did she reply?? :) I too really enjoy sharing my well-loved books with my daughter, and she has enjoys the famous five books. Also discovering lots of great classic children's literature with her that I did not have access to growing up. Siddhartha Mukherjee writes so well. I hope you stay safe too!

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  2. Wishing a very happy birthday to Niam! loved the funfetti cake. My son turns 2 soon and i am going to try baking an eggless cake at home as we wont have a big party due to the corona restrictions. somehow my cakes never turn that well. hopefully this time is different. i will also try your chutney recipe soon. both my kids love idly or what i make more often - gujrati khatta dhokla

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    1. Hi Kejal- Thank you! Good luck with the eggless cake; birthdays sure are different in corona times. Not that I do anything fancy, but the kids like having their friends over for cake and snacks and playtime. But just-family celebrations are nice too. It has been simply ages since I have made or eaten dhokla!

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  3. Hi Nupur!! Somehow I had lost the link to your blog and am so happy to find it again!!! And, Happy Birthday to Niam....I cant believe that he is already 4. When we were traveling in Europe this past fall we ate at a tavern that had a buffet of Anatolian food. It seemed to be Greek based and was YUMMY!!! Glad you have started a new job....I knew that Dan was retiring and had wondered. Are you doing any quilting?? Sure miss seeing you!!!!

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    1. Hi Frances!! I've been following all your quilting and adventures on your blog :) Your new sewing space is wonderful! I can't believe you have eaten a whole buffet of Anatolian food- you guys sure are well-traveled :) As for quilting, well, I made a cheater quilt for my son, of a world map panel, but that hardly counts. Other than sewing masks and small projects, there's been no time (and energy/inclination, let's be honest) for the sewing machine. I miss seeing you too :( Ugh.

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  4. Happy birthday lil boy! Nupur since I come back after long to your blog. I notice it more how you and your family has grown. How lovely it feels the girl is now big sis baking cake for her lil bro. Keep well. Lots of love.

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    1. Anjali- Congrats on a half century and wishing you many many more!!! Yes, the kids are growing fast, time is flying by, I am trying to catch my breath. I hope you are keeping well, I know Mumbai is struggling as is the US. Sending you so much love!

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  5. Idlis for a little idli boy ������ ...Many happy returns to him !! Great job big sissy with the sprinkly cake.. yellow lake e550 and blue whatever hehe are important nutrients.

    Btw great link to the new yorker piece on crime and punishment...inspiring me to go reread it. I remember being so haunted by it when I read it in college.

    I too find the daily ne(uisance) cycle too depressing. So we've taken to mostly tuning it out and enjoying these twin baby deer that come feed on our backyard and other sundry gifts of nature.

    Anatolia rwminds me of anatole the french chef in the P.G.Wodehouse jeeves books " God's gift to the gastric juices " ��

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    1. Janani- Thank you! He is definitely an idli boy :D Hey there is a time and place for yellow lake e550 and I won't deny it. I haven't read Crime and Punishment and not sure this is at all the ideal time for me to take it on. Now PG Wodehouse would be very welcome in my life! The news cycle is really something. I feel like I am in this slow-moving trainwreck. 2020 is a doozy of a year. But hey we have twin deer here too! Twins and mom are always hanging about and they bring such joy.

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    2. I've nicknamed them cookies and cream...since one twin is kinda brown and the other more white. They're piebald deer apparently. We feed them carrots, apples, tomatoes �� also we have a baby bunny who lives in the neighbors shrubbery and comes out to feast on our celery. Named him thumper...yes the cast of Bambi is reading the riot act to our backyard garden lol

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  6. So good to read about niam's birthday, it feels like you posted his birth announcement yesterday! I need to read the sujata massey books, nupur. Your descriptions of both her books have been really good. I read a couple of really engrossing fiction books in July - 'the alchemy of secrets' and 'what Alice forgot'. I also liked 'the Burning' megha majumdar's much hyped novel- it was a decent read though it was slightly underwhelming given the hype and my high expectations. For August im looking forward to reading bongmom's 'delicious letters'.

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    1. I know! I feel like he was just born yesterday too. But hey it is great to have a 4 year old who is getting past the toddler years- those were honestly not my favorite. Twas a happy day when I gave away the diaper bag and the potty! I think you will enjoy the Massey books. Can be slow at times (need some deft editing) but enjoyable and atmospheric. Thanks for sharing your reads- I'll have to look for those! I read What Alice Forgot a few years ago and it was an easy and enjoyable book.

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  7. That birthday pancake made me smile - esp the melting candles because I would do that too. And the birthday cake seemed perfect. I am sure you gave your big 4 year old a wonderful birthday. I enjoyed reading the harry potter books to my daughter a few years back - it was nice to talk about them. Sadly my reading now is at a glacial pace but I am enjoying the Children's Book by A S Byatt. Likewise much less children's reading here. Life has been so crazy we just can't get ourselves settled into good routines. But I do get caught up in the daily news - just so much change lately with our tightening restrictions that it is hard to keep up.

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    1. Johanna- Yup, the melting candles made me laugh, it was just chaos, screens set up for zoom calls, sprinkles everywhere, candles melting, me yelping, all at 7 in the morning! Good times! I too cannot keep up with the ever changing news around us. Forced to take it one day at a time.

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  8. Anake Aashirvad to Niam and his Tai Lila

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  9. Hi Nupur,
    You are always so perfect in whatever you do!!
    Could you please share the 'not to be messed with' idli recipe with us?
    Thanks

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    1. Perfect?! NOOOOOOOO!!! Of course I will be delighted to post the idli recipe, watch for it next week. It does need an electric stone grinder though.

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    2. Thanks for your reply - I have been reading your blog since 2010 - I wish you could write more posts but I know what a busy lifestyle you must have! Looking forward to your idli recipe - Although I am from Kolkata - we make a lot of idli and dosas in our home because my daughter loves them. But I have a really hard time with my batter rising - most often I just use eno to get the job done.

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