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:

Base
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.

Flavor
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?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Saved by the (Bar) Bell- Musings on Food and Exercise

From time to time, I feel the urge to write long, rambling posts about my eating habits and exercise habits, chronicling my attempts to stay fit and get fitter on this journey called life. It isn't always easy to write about these rather personal issues but it clarifies my thinking on the matter and also seems to resonate with many readers, so here we go.

When I say "journey", it really is one, with many twists and turns as life circumstances seem to change on a regular basis. Almost four years ago, at the tail end of 2014, I wrote an honest and heartfelt post about my experience with gestational diabetes and how it spurred me to make some changes in the way I eat. It was a lighting bolt sort of experience and my biggest takeaway (apart from a bouncing baby girl) was an increased awareness of my personal risk and a determination to be proactive and prevent the old diabeetus to the extent possible. Sometime after that I was stumbling into an exercise habit after literally a lifetime of inertia. Then I had my second baby and most established habits of the years before were thrown to the wind for a good year or two; I felt like I was back at square one. Earlier this year, I wrote again about my struggles to put a regular exercise habit in place.

The story since February: Over Spring, I participated in a nutrition research study. The incentive for participants was that we got 3 DEXA scans done over the course of several months. DEXA scans are non-invasive scans that are the gold standard for determining a person's body composition in terms of muscle, bone and fat. When I got my scan results back, I was pretty stunned. It showed that I was at a normal BMI (albeit at the high end of normal) but with a level of body fat that is high enough to be categorized as "risky". A "skinny fat" sort of situation which has the makings of metabolic syndrome and many chronic diseases including diabetes. This was another wake-up call right there and it called for some lifestyle changes.

Things I have learned or thought about since then...

Exercise is for fitness, eating habits are for weight control. "Eat less, move more" is a slightly misleading mantra. Diet and exercise don't have equal influences on a person's weight. Exercise accounts for only a small fraction of our daily energy expenditure and increasing exercise alone is unlikely to result in weight loss. Over Spring of this year, I was exercising regularly and quite intensely but was startled to see my weight creep up by a few pounds during that time. The reason was pretty simple- I was simply eating more than I needed to, and it wasn't being offset by the exercise. If a person is looking to lose fat (weight) and can change only one thing about their life, then diet would be overwhelmingly the right choice. You cannot out-exercise a poor diet.

Keep exercising anyway. Regular exercise has incredible benefits and is one of the best things you can do for your quality of life. It may not have proven results for weight loss but it helps in countless other ways, like building muscle, and improving sleep and mental health.

My current schedule: This August when the school routine started again, I pulled up our family's calendar and penciled in my exercise schedule. In my experience it is the only way to "make time" for something, otherwise it remains wishful thinking. In Spring, I took a strength training class called BodyPump and although the high-repetition nature of that class was not right for me, it turned me on to the idea of continuing strength training in a different format. Now I'm doing a small group women's weightlifting class twice a week and absolutely loving it. It is a serious, challenging workout but there is lots of support and camaraderie to go around. This class is my best shot at building some much-needed muscle.

Other than that, I swim twice a week and do a short run on the weekend. If you include my beloved weekly ballet class, I'm exercising 6 days a week most weeks. To my amazement, I enjoy and look forward to all of these workout sessions, even though I lack stamina and all forms of exercise are very hard for me.

Small humans don't need a lot of food. I barely scrape 5 feet in height, with a small frame. When they say that "the average person needs 2000 kilo-calories a day", well, I'm way smaller than the average person. It is easy to forget this fact. The small person problem is that you don't have to binge on whole pizzas and pints of ice cream to gain excess weight. A few unneeded second helpings and some extra snacks here and there are all that are needed to make the pounds creep on.

The extra pounds have absolutely nowhere to go when you are petite. For the first time in my life, I experienced joint pain and a couple of episodes of lower back pain. That itself was enough to convince me that I need to (a) lose fat and gain muscle and (b) stay at a healthy weight.

Don'd do anything to lose weight that you wouldn't be happy to do for the rest of your life. "Eat everything in moderation" is a terrific concept but when you find yourself gaining unwanted pounds, that is a clear sign that the moderation ain't as moderate as it needs to be. But I stay far away from temporary fixes and special diets, because I'm only going to gain the weight back once I go back to "normal". I am only interested in building some good habits and letting go of some others that aren't serving me.

Eating habits are a mental thing. For people who are well-fed and carrying around copious amounts of stored fat, we have never known true hunger. We are surrounded by tempting food in all directions and it is easy to get used to feeling full, and use food as a self-soothing tactic when we're stressed or bored. I'm trying to catch myself when I do that. I did a sugar free month nearly a year and a half ago and it has had lasting effects in weaning me from automatically reaching for sweets whenever I see them in front of me.

Use your foodie tendencies for a good cause. You can use your foodie tendencies to your advantage, making foods that are very satisfying and tasty but also wholesome and satiating.

Overeating is a form of food waste, and if there is anything I abhor, it is food waste. Even as I enjoy cooking and eating, I am trying to remind myself that food is fuel and primarily for nourishment.

Tastes change. This is something I have learned in the last few years. Salads were never my first choice for something I'd want to eat. Now I make hearty salads in a dozen different ways and thrive on them. Tastes can change and change is good.

Learn from others. This summer, our family went on vacation to the Georgia golden isles with my BFF from St. Louis days, Neighbor Girl. She is, and always has been, a fitness enthusiast. I learned so much from watching her eat all week- the snacks she chooses, the quantities and types of foods she eats. Incidentally, I am a $$ saver by nature and she is a spender who struggles to keep a healthy bank account balance. So I have a little something to teach her too. We pick up tips just by being around each other.

There are plenty of resources out there. You need to be discerning and pick and choose what advice to take, but there is a lot of inspiration out there. Other than books, recently I have been lurking on some Reddit forums like LoseIt and xxfitness. As an example, here is a weight loss compendium from Reddit. All the resources provide fodder for experimenting on myself and trying to find my own way.

My personal habits have ripple effects. I'm the primary grocery shopper and cook for my little family. I also regularly make meals for friends and visiting family, and bring dishes to potlucks and such on a weekly basis. Whatever positive changes I make in my eating habits also benefit my family and that in itself is a huge source of motivation.

I am only a few months away from a big milestone birthday- the big Four-Oh. I'm working on a fabulous birthday gift for myself- a chance to start this decade off in the best shape of my life, at a weight that is healthy for me and with an exercise habit firmly in place. Who knows what curve balls life will throw (as life does) but I want to be able to honestly say that I am grateful for my body and never take my good health for granted.

Note that I am not a nutritionist (or physician/ fitness coach etc.) and nor do I play one on TV. This is an essay of my personal experience and not to be taken as personal advice to anyone. 

Tell me your thoughts- what works for you, what are you struggling with? Inspire me with your stories!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Dumpling Salad with Peanut Dressing

I have a very quick post today, sharing a meal idea that we've eaten on repeat throughout the summer. This one uses a few staples from the fridge and freezer to put together a light and satisfying dish in a semi-homemade sort of way.

Also, I ardently love Chinese take-out and this salad topped with warm dumplings and a tasty peanut sauce easily satisfies that longing for take-out on a random weeknight. It does have a few components to it, but nothing that's labor or time intensive.

Component 1: Salt and pepper tofu

Drain and blot away liquid from a block of extra firm tofu. Cut into bite size cubes.
Heat a couple teaspoons of oil in a nonstick skillet.
Place the cubed tofu in a single layer in the hot skillet. Let it cook patiently until golden. Resist the urge to keep stirring the tofu! Then, flip the tofu cubes and repeat.
Once the tofu is fairly golden, add 2-3 tbsp. nutritional yeast and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Keep turning the tofu cubes gently until they get a nice golden crust.

The salt and pepper tofu is so tasty by itself and versatile- it can be added to many different dishes. Set it aside while you make the sauce.

Component 2: Peanut sauce

I always riff on this recipe and don't think I have made peanut sauce the same way twice. Here is my "choose your own adventure" formula for peanut sauce.

The basic ingredients are
Peanuts (as peanuts, or as peanut butter or powdered roasted peanuts or whatever form you tend to stock)
Soy sauce for the salty taste, or tamari or teriyaki sauce or black bean paste
Sweetener (honey or maple syrup or sugar, say)
Something tangy (rice vinegar or lime juice or tamarind)

Other optional additions:
Creamy additions like coconut milk or tahini
Aromatics like onions, ginger, garlic, scallions, cilantro
Something for heat, like sriracha sauce or crushed red pepper or Thai curry paste.

Place ingredients in a blender, blend until creamy, then taste and adjust the balance of flavors. Peanut sauce can be stored in the fridge for a few days and used in salads, noodle dishes and as a dipping sauce.

Component 3: Dumplings. It is really fun to make these from scratch. More practical for a weekday, however, is to buy bags of dumplings and store them in the freezer. My favorite is Trader Joe's Thai vegetable gyoza. Cook as per package directions. 

Component 4: The salad base. This can be any mixture of greens and raw veggies. Our house standard is the 50-50 blend of lettuce and baby spinach that is commonly sold in supermarkets. Sometimes I'll add shredded carrots and sliced raw bell peppers to it.

Assemble the dumpling salad with the salad base on a plate, topping with cubes of tofu and warm dumplings, and finally a generous drizzle of peanut sauce.


What have you been cooking and eating on repeat lately?

Monday, October 01, 2018

Back After a Summer Break

Happy October, friends! My summer blogging lull led to an unplanned blogging break for a couple of months. September kept our family life humming as my parents were visiting over the month. I left you with a post about birthday traditions and birthday cake and theme of cake (and summer heat, incidentally) continued in September as we celebrated more birthdays.

For my mother's birthday, I went with a Southern US favorite, pineapple upside down cake, using this recipe, because it says the "best" right there in the title and also, it is made from scratch and not from a mix.

My modifications:

1. Use a 10 inch cast iron pan instead of a baking tin. A cast iron pan is traditionally used for this cake and results in a beautiful bake. The other advantage of using a cast iron pan is that you don't need to melt the butter separately in a bowl. Just put it in the cast iron pan and pop the pan into the oven for a few minutes while the oven is preheating.

2. I used 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) and 1/3 cup brown sugar instead of the generous amounts specified in the recipe. This was more than enough to make a beautiful syrupy glaze. If you don't keep brown sugar in the pantry (I don't), it is very easy to make by adding some molasses to regular white sugar. I also reduced the sugar in the cake batter to 1/2 cup.

The cake came together beautifully. I would highly recommend this recipe if you're looking for a small (8 servings or so) cake that tastes great, is not fussy to make and looks festive. We served the cake with some butter pecan ice cream on the side, because my mother loves ice cream. The birthday dinner also consisted of spinach lasagna (another of my mom's favorite meals) and garlic bread.

* A Birthday Tea Party *

Mid-September was a big day as our little girl turned 7 years old. It was a special one since her grandparents were here to celebrate with her. My parents always threw really fun parties for my sister and I, growing up, and they added some of their special magic into this party for sure.

Lila wanted a tea party for a few friends with a castle cake. I searched online for something doable and cute, and the inspiration for this castle cake came from this blog, written in French but with lots of detailed pictures which make the process very easy to follow. I thought this castle was cleverly designed and beautifully finished.

For the cake flavor, we went with a marbled cake for a nice mix of vanilla and chocolate flavors. If I had more time and energy I would have made a third pink color to marble into the cakes, just for princessy fun, but the basic two-color cakes worked fine.

I used this recipe and made two round cakes. We weren't sure how many parents would stay for the party so to have enough servings, I baked an additional marbled loaf cake using this recipe. I always reduce the sugar in cake recipes and it seems to work just fine. The cakes were baked the evening before the party and stored covered at room temperature.

The frosting was a whipped chocolate frosting- I used this recipe which makes a lovely frosting that is a delight to eat. It is a combination of butter, melted chocolate and a chocolate pudding all whipped up into a light and thick frosting. If you hate the greasy taste of conventional frosting then this is one to try.

A couple of hours before the party, my dad (an adept cake decorator) and I put together the castle. The two round cakes were layered with a thin filling of raspberry jam and the cake was iced with a generous layer of the whipped chocolate frosting.

Castle turrets: We made 4 small niches in the cake and stacked Oreo cookies to make the castle turrets. The roof of the turret is made of ice cream cones. We used some waffle cones but it wasn't exactly easy to trim and flatten their edges; I should have looked for flat bottomed sugar cones. The tops of the cones were lopped off just a little bit to allow candles to be stuck in.

Lila wanted to play a part in the cake decoration so she made a castle door with a fruit strip, and the facade with some cocoa batons and put some candies on the top. All in all, we ended up with a very homely but sweet castle that looked like this! I didn't get a really good picture but you get the idea.


Decades ago, for one of my childhood birthdays, my parents made paper butterflies and hid them in the yard for a scavenger hunt. We decided to do a reenactment. In the week before the birthday, my mom made a few dozen elaborate, hand-painted paper butterflies using paperboard from the recycling bin (cereal boxes and such). We hid them all over the yard and the party guests had a great time hunting for butterflies.


For the tea party, we set the table with an embroidered tablecloth, some paper doilies and pretty china plates that I found in a yard sale. Along with the cake, we served pink lemonade, a rainbow fruit tray (painstakingly made by my mom) and crustless cucumber sandwiches. 



I promise we eat things other than cake around here! 
Indian Chinese as made by my mother!
Veggie manchurian, noodles and sweet and
sour sauce.


A snacky dinner for watching the US Open Finals- I used my general formula here for putting an appetizer tray together:
(a) Nuts
(b) Fruit
(c) Crackers and cheese
(d) Chips and dip- in this case sweet potato tortilla chips with guacamole.

* * * 
As for the books I've been reading over summer...

Task #19 of the Read Harder 2018 challenge was A book of genre fiction in translation. I realize I don't seek out any translated books so I went with the mystery genre (my go-to genre for casual reading) and read The Snack Thief (the third in the series of Commissario Montalbano mysteries) by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli. This series is set in the fictional seaside town of Vigata in Sicily. Inspector Montalbano is a salty Sicilian, irascible by nature but with a good heart and keen perception. He is a food lover and what truly makes him emotional are beautiful meals, usually consisting of perfectly cooked pasta and seafood. In this book, Montalbano ties together three seemingly unrelated cases- the gunning of a fishing trawler's immigrant crewman in international waters, the stabbing of an elderly man in his apartment building's elevator and the case of a five year old boy who is stealing other kids' lunches. Sicily reminds me of Bombay in a way, with its quirky personalities and messy politics and corruption.

For Task #12: A celebrity memoir, I picked up Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. I've been a fan of Neil Patrick Harris right from his Doogie Howser, MD days to his role of Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother. This memoir was tremendously fun to read. It is written in a gimmicky "choose your own adventure" way, but what can I say? The gimmick works. It was fascinating to read about this phenomenally talented theater kid from a loving home who got a break working in TV at a young age, working on set in LA while still in high school in New Mexico. This is a charming and entertaining read, just as you would expect.

Found in a library book sale!
For Task #9, A book of colonial or postcolonial literature, I read The Financial Expert by R.K. Narayan. This tragi-comic tale is set, as with R. K. Narayan's celebrated stories, in the fictional town of Malgudi in Southern India, during the colonial era, in the 1930s and 40s. It traces the life of an ordinary man, Margayya ("he who shows the way"), a self-proclaimed financial expert (more like a loan shark) who goes from rags to riches to rags. This novel is a social commentary on money dealings in small towns in the British colonial era and possibly also in this era nearly a hundred years later. I would love to pass along my copy of this book (99% of the books I read are from the public library but I own this one), so email me if you're in the US and would like to read this book. Book has been claimed :)

Image: Goodreads
Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a newly published middle grade novel. I came across a  glowing and beautifully written book review for this book on Niranjana's blog and immediately went looking for a copy. Front Desk is a moving and heart-warming story (based on the author's own childhood) about a 10 year old girl, the daughter of recent Chinese immigrants, who runs the front desk of the motel that her parents are living in/ cleaning/ managing. My own kids are too young for this book but I know I will read it with them when they're older. If you are looking for a short and meaningful read, I highly recommend this book.

And finally, just for the sake of nostalgia and in need of some comfort reading, I read The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. And it was as entertaining as ever.

How was your summer? Catch me up on your life!