Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nut loaf and Other Festive Fare

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of ours called and said she was coming to visit. What's more, she was arriving on Christmas eve and staying for a few days. Most years, Christmas is not something we really celebrate in any special way. We've been known to do a "Jewish Christmas"- going to a movie theater and then to a Chinese restaurant!

But the minute my friend called, I knew this year would be different. She grew up celebrating Christmas and I wanted to make the holiday special for her in some way. A few stockings went up by the fireplace. I sewed a felt garland to make the mantle more festive. And I started to plan Christmas dinner.

The festive meals in my home are quite predictable and not even that different from what we normally eat. I'll make a biryani or a lasagna. Or something crowd-pleasing like pav bhaji or aloo tikki chana chaat. I looked for something different this time and decided on a nut loaf- a vegetarian version of the meatloaf. Then I would make a couple of side dishes, and something special for dessert.

Food experts will often remind you of a golden rule of cooking: Never try a recipe for the first time when you're cooking for a special occasion. Well, I break this rule on a very regular basis. Call it beginner's luck or whatever you will, but usually I get away with it.

And that's how I made nut loaf for the very first time this Christmas, using this recipe, originally from Martha Stewart. It worked beautifully. I've seen nut loaf mentioned on blogs many many times and had some notion that they are difficult to make. Not so. It is easy as sautéing and mixing and baking.

Here is the recipe in brief, in my words. Instead of buying separate jars of the spices that the recipe calls for, spices that I rarely use, I bought a jar of poultry seasoning instead. This is a mixture of all of the spices that the recipe calls for.

1.  Saute 1 onion, 3 cloves minced garlic and a 10 oz. box of baby bella mushrooms, minced, in olive oil.
2. Season generously with poultry seasoning blend.
3. Mix. Remove vegetables to a large bowl and add the following:
(a) Nuts: Roasted and minced walnuts and cashews (2 cups total)
(b) Cooked brown rice, 1.5 cups
(c) Cheddar cheese, shredded, 2 cups
(d) Eggs, 4, beaten
(e) Cottage cheese, 1 cup
4. Bake. Season with salt and pepper and mix together well. Transfer the mixture to a well-greased loaf pan (I lined mine with parchment paper) and bake at 375F for an hour. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before inverting on a serving platter. 

Somehow, miraculously, this seemingly hodge-podge mixture of rice and cheese (especially cottage cheese which I can't stand, usually) and eggs and nuts transforms into one cohesive and utterly delectable, savory loaf. You can't really make out the components of the nut loaf. It tastes like more than a sum of the parts. The only thing I would say is that the slices were a little delicate and prone to breaking; I possibly added more cottage cheese than I should have or maybe less of the cheddar.

To go with the rich and filling nut loaf, I made mashed potatoes- seasoned simply with butter, salt and pepper. And maple roasted brussels sprouts, which was another winner, even if I left them too long in the oven and reduced some of them to pure carbon.

Finally, I made some vegan gravy to complete the meal. Nutritional yeast has a uniquely savory, nutty, cheesy taste that makes this gravy a flavorful accompaniment for the nut loaf.
Nut loaf, maple-roasted Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes
and vegan gravy!
Setting a festive table with berries from the backyard

When I tried to think of a Christmassy dessert for this meal, I remembered this NPR article on trifle pudding. This pudding also makes me nostalgic because my Dad made it often when we were kids, with Rex jelly and Brown and Polson custard (I know some of you will remember these brands fondly).

I assembled my trifle with layers of:
(a) Pound cake
(b) Berries: Frozen berries that were thawed and macerated in sugar and brandy
(c) Strawberry jelly (I chose a brand that does not contain gelatin)
(d) Homemade vanilla custard

The trifle was enjoyable, but next time, I'll skip the pound cake and berries and just make jelly and custard. Those are the parts that I love the best anyway.
Trifle pudding
And so that was our holiday meal- well worth the effort, and it made for excellent leftovers. We had a wonderful time with our friend, going for walks around the neighborhood to look at holiday lights, watching movies (Chak de with Shah Rukh Khan; my only Hindi movie of 2012 as it turns out), chatting over endless cups of chai. The very best kind of holiday there is, and it went by too fast.

Last night, I woke up when Lila had a bout of coughing (she's recovering from a cold) and then I found myself wide awake for an hour or so, unable to drift back to sleep as I normally do. There's so much to think about- about the year that's gone by, and about the one that's starting on Tuesday, ready or not. 

2012 treated us well as we weaved through many life changes and moments of pure joy- new jobs, new city, new home, a visit from a very dear cousin/niece and aunt/uncle in summer, the births of 3 new babies in the clan, plenty of travel (including a trip to Colorado for my cousin's wedding when Manisha and her husband took us out to dinner- and she's just as lovely and fun a person as her blog would lead you to believe). 

And of course, I have to think back and shed a tear for all the people we lost this year- some near and dear members of our extended family, others like Miri who I knew virtually but who inspired me for real, and yet others that I know of only through headlines and whose loss unfortunately showed humanity's darkest and most brutal side. 

Now 2013 is arriving as a gift, like a brand-new blank notebook whose crisp pages are yet to be filled. I think the world needs more kindness and although I'm not the sort to make resolutions with any seriousness, I nevertheless resolve to be mindful this year, and more kind, to myself and to others. 

I've also been thinking of this blog, and how best to keep up the pace of writing in this space while balancing everything else that's important in my life. And mind you, the list of all-that's-going-on-in-my-life seems to get longer all the time. For instance, I'm going to take up quilting. Sewing machine, here I come. Getting back to the issue of how best to blog regularly, here's my tentative plan. I'm going to post food related posts every Monday. It will be a round up of the week's food highlights. When I have book-related posts, I'll post them on an occasional Thursday and if I have photo-heavy posts for crafts etc., I'll post those on occasional Saturdays. I think having some sort of schedule will keep me from succumbing to Blogger's Block and leaving the blog sad and silent for weeks on end. 

See you on January 7th with the first post of the new year. For 2013, I wish you health above all, and an abundance of food, laughter and joy. Thank you for being part of the One Hot Stove family and letting me be part of your world! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook

In this season of festive gatherings, there's a virtual dinner party going on today, with bloggers cooking different dishes from a new cookbook, Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook.

Meals on Wheels is a community-based program that delivers nutritious meals to seniors who are unable to make their own. For their cookbook (which aims to raise funds to support their cause), they have gathered up favorite family recipes from a variety of people, including several celebrities and public figures.

The result is a vibrant collection of beloved recipes that are as diverse as you can imagine- simple fixes with store bought ingredients (Mexican pinwheels made simply with tortillas, cream cheese and jarred salsa) and elaborate made from scratch ones (Martha Stewart's recipe for potato pierogi); homely fare (Fried rice with egg) and fancier dishes (Mario Batali's spinach and goat cheese gnocchi).

Like all good family cookbooks, this collection has (a) Funny family stories to back up the recipes, like the one where the noodle kugel recipe was attributed to the wrong aunt, and (b) Recipes with the word "surprise" in it. And of course there's a recipe or two with Jell-O in it.

I've been in baking mode lately, and also in hot-beverage-sipping mode, so I chose to make dunkable cookies- Papa's Mandelbrot, a recipe shared by the food writer Josh Friedland.

I loved the story behind these cookies. Any cookie recipe that comes from the baking repertoire of a beloved grandfather is all right with me. Mandelbrot are traditional Jewish cookies that are very similar to almond biscotti. This recipe was simple and fun to make, using ingredients that are always on hand in my kitchen. I've adapted the recipe to add a touch of salt and some of my favorite extract called Fiori di Sicilia which has notes of citrus and vanilla. I also changed baking times and temps for the second round. Here is the recipe in my own words.

Mandelbrot (Jewish almond cookies)
(Adapted from Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook)

1. Blanch 1 cup almonds: It was my first time blanching almonds and it was not a pain like I thought it would be. Start with 1 cup raw almonds. Place them in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 3 minutes. Pour off the hot water and add ice cold water. After 5 minutes, press each almond in your fingers and the skin should pop right off. Dry the skinned almonds on a clean dishtowel, then chop roughly and set aside. Or make it easy and simply use 1 cup raw slivered almonds. 

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients:
2.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia (optional; this is an extract with notes of citrus and vanilla)

4. Mix. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chopped blanched almonds. The dough will be thick and sticky. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 3 hours.

5. Bake once: Preheat oven to 350F. Using oiled hands, divide the dough into 2 portions and pat each one onto a long loaf shaped rectangle on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.

6. Bake again: Slice each loaf crosswise into 1 inch wide cookies. Lay them cut side down (I needed a second baking sheet this time) and bake at 300F (note reduced oven temperature) for 20 minutes. Flip over and bake with the other cut side down for another 15-20 minutes or until pale golden. These cookies should not be over-baked because they burn easily.

Cool completely and then dunk into a cup of coffee or chai! With just the right amount of sweetness and crunch, I adored these cookies. V thought they were a bit eggy- I didn't. If you're worried about that, increase the amount of vanilla extract. The dough can be embellished with dried fruit or chocolate chips or other spices, but take my word for it- sometimes simple and traditional is as good as it gets.

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of the Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own. 

I've baked more cookies in the last 2 weeks than I have in the first 49 weeks of 2012. There's definitely something in the air. We had a friend staying over for 2 weeks in our newly furnished guest bedroom. She was in town for work, though, and rarely had time to just hang out. The one evening that she did not have to work, she shyly asked me, "Can we bake after Lila goes to bed?" Of course I gave a little cheer and quickly pulled out butter to soften. We made fruit and nut cookies from King Arthur, using pecans instead of pistachios. They were ever so tasty, mildly sweet and bursting with flavor. I highly recommend this recipe for anyone looking for an easy and tasty cookie this holiday season. All the taste of fruit cakes inside a shortbread cookie. What's more, the dough can be made and refrigerated/frozen for freshly baked cut-and-serve cookies. 

Then last weekend, Neighbor Girl came down to see our new home and spend the weekend with us. She got off the plane, hugged me and said hello and the next thing out of her mouth: "Can we bake World Peace cookies?" We can and we did. With the weather taking a turn towards the wet and chilly side, we stayed home and did all sorts of cozy things, like baking those cookies, and knitting a hat, and watching movies while sipping on soup.

Tiny gifts for Lila's daycare teachers: crocheted face scrubbies
paired with my favorite soap
A third friend is arriving to spend Christmas with us, so excuse me while I log off to continue planning the holiday meals and to go shop for some stocking stuffers. Have a wonderful weekend, all. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

On The Bookshelf: The Reading Challenge Edition

The end of the year is upon us, which means the predictable (and yet, very enjoyable) avalanche of "Best of 2012" lists. I've been going through 2012 book lists such as the NYT 100 notable books of 2012 and the NPR's picks for best books of 2012, and I noticed that I've barely read any of the books on those lists. Maybe those lists are too cerebral for someone who has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, or maybe I'm so far behind that I'm reading the bestsellers from 4 years ago as I spot them in the library. In any case, I hope to read some of the books from these lists in the next year or two. But isn't it nice to know that there is a never-ending supply of books to be read? That's a reason to bounce out of bed every morning.

The end of the year is also the time to sit down and do some delicious planning for 2013. A lot of the book bloggers do these annual reading challenges. Sometimes, the challenge is to read a certain number of books in a year. Other times, the challenges have themes and genres. I've never done reading challenges before but they sound like fun, and I'm signing up to do 3 of them in 2013. Go big or go home, right?

1. Color Coded Challenge 2013 hosted at My Reader's Block.
The rules are to read nine books in 2013, with the following colors in the title.  

1. "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc.)

2. "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgundy, etc.)
Salaam Brick Lane by Tarquin Hall

3. "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.)

4. "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc.)
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

5. "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc.)

6. "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc.)
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

7. "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc.)
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell 
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

8. Any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magenta, etc.)
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

9. A word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

2.  What's In A Name 6 hosted at Beth Fish Reads.
 Between January 1 and December 31, 2013, read one book in each of the following categories:

1. A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

2. A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title

3. A book with a party or celebration in the title

4. A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title

5. A book with an emotion in the title

6. A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title

3. 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books - Reading Challenge 2013 hosted at Life As A Journey.
The challenge: to select and read seven books, each belonging to one of the following categories:
- one of the 7 countries with the most population
- one of the 7 highest countries in the world
- one of the 7 oldest countries of the world
- one of the 7 megacities of the world
- one of the 7 countries with the most immigrants
- one of the 7 richest (or poorest) countries
- one of the 7 most rainy (or dry) countries

If you have any suggestions at all for good reads that fit into these challenge categories, please do leave a comment! I hope to stumble upon some treasures as I try and find books for the categories. I'll keep updating this post with potential books.

Are you tempted to sign up for a reading challenge yourself? A lot of the challenges seem to be posted here on A Novel Challenge.

As for what I've been reading...

I finished Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier but I did not really enjoy the story. The brash and spoiled heroine who bossed around her servants, the "gentlemanly" pirate- the whole thing was too ludicrous for me.

On the other hand, Room by Emma Donoghue was a very satisfying read. The book was an easy read in the sense that the story, written in the voice of a 5 year old, moved quickly, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. It was a tough read in the sense that the author describes a harrowing situation for a mother and child.

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear was another terrific read from last week. This time the mystery is much more complex and involved and the story is rich in character and history. I will happily read the rest of this series.

What are you reading? 

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Birthday Cake

I love baking a cake for each of V's birthdays. Past birthdays have seen everything from a rich chocolate cake to a cheesecake to a Boston cream pie.

This time, it was a Tiramisu Cake, yellow cake drenched in a syrup of espresso and Marsala wine, then sandwiched and frosted with a luscious blend of mascarpone cheese and whipped cream. I used Dorie Greenspan's recipe as posted on Smitten Kitchen. It has all the flavors of traditional tiramisu but with fresh cake instead of the ladyfinger cookies.

I followed the recipe closely with some variations (intended and unintended!)-
1. I did not buy cake flour; instead I made my own cake flour using all purpose flour and cornstarch. One less ingredient in the pantry.
2. Instead of the liqueurs mentioned, I used Marsala wine. I'd lugged a half-full bottle of Marsala wine from my St. Louis pantry just for this.
3.  After reading the comments on that post about the cake needing more syrup, I doubled the amount of syrup. I did not quite end up using all of it, but the extra syrup was soaked up well by the cake.
4. I forgot to add the chocolate in between the layers- ah well. It would have made a good cake even better.
5. I used chocolate covered espresso beans to decorate the cake, instead of cocoa powder. It possibly looked a little childish but the espresso beans were a nice crunchy treat to eat alongside the cake.

The cake was wonderful- fun to make and even more fun to eat. With all that coffee and booze, this cake is a grown up dessert. I think I'll be making this again and again for special occasions.

I'm sending these pictures to Saturday Snapshot.

This weekend, we'll go shopping for V's birthday gift. In past years, I've given him such a spectrum of gifts from an experience gift (a skydive) to a handmade gift (knitted scarf and hat) to supporting his favorite cause (membership to the local public broadcasting station) to electronics (an iPhone). This year, it is furniture! I'm hoping to buy him one of those super comfortable recliners. This hard-working guy deserves to put his feet up in style. V ended up buying an original watercolor painting for his new office from an art fair instead!

Have a wonderful weekend, all! I'm hitting local craft holiday markets today looking for small gifts. We might also put up a little string of lights on the front porch. What are you doing this weekend?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Hot Cocoa and Tasty Gift Ideas

This week, there seems to be a palpable excitement building in the air. An afternoon walk around the neighborhood yesterday revealed windows adorned with wreaths and neighbors perched on ladders stringing up lights. There is a steady stream of invitations to holiday parties. Store shelves are piled high with holiday confections and shiny baubles. And I'm sitting and thinking of holiday gifts that I want to give and wishes that I want to send, via e-mail or snail mail.

Giving a gift is fun and challenging in equal parts. I think gift-giving reveals how much you really know about a person. And sometimes the one thing you know about a person is that they already have two of everything.

As my darling friend Shoots said, "Turns out my family has enough shoes, hand bags, make-up, watches, wallets, perfumes and liquor to last them a life time so I was thinking of home-made food items as presents."

Excellent idea! The thing about consumable gifts is, you don't have to find a place to store the gift, dust it for eternity or remember to pull it out and display it when the gift-giver visits you. With an edible gift, you simply eat the treat and enjoy the moment.

There are still plenty of things to consider when giving homemade food gifts. Such as- Does the recipient have any dietary restrictions? How far is the gift being shipped and how long will it take to get there? Do they enjoy cooking or baking, in which case they would enjoy getting specialty ingredients like extracts and spices? Do they prefer sweet or savory foods?

A box of homemade cookies/nuts that I gave as a holiday gift a couple of years ago
Here are my top picks for gifts that are being mailed or taken long-distance. I would say that these food items have a shelf-life of at least a week or two.

1. Candy, such as nut brittle, caramels, and toffee. Candy can seem intimidating but it is amazing how easy it is- armed with just an inexpensive candy thermometer, you can whip up unbelievable confections.

2. Low-moisture cookies such as shortbread cookies and biscotti.

3. Boozy cakes such as fruitcake.

4. Mixtures such as chivda and granola.

5. Roasted and spiced nuts, like these spicy-sweet pecans (which should be accompanied by a warning about their addictive potential).

6. Spices, like a homemade garam masala or taco spice or sachets of mulling spices. 

7. Beverage mixes, such as hot cocoa or mocha mix.

One of the tastiest edible gifts I've ever received: dinkache laadu
If you're not shipping stuff but instead giving it to folks locally, there are even more options, because you can give goodies that are best stored under refrigeration, such as truffles and fudge.

A popular edible gift idea is the gift-in-a-jar. These can range from pancake and cookie mixes to lentil soup mix and its cousin, a dal mix. Also, there are the DIY gift baskets which can be endlessly customized, such as a "DIY sundae box" packed with cones, a couple of homemade ice cream sauces and candy toppings. The recipient simply buys ice cream and makes their own sundaes.

Packaging food gifts can be very fun and creative if you have the time. With ribbons, decorative paper and baskets and bows, you can come up with something that looks like it came out of the Harry and David catalog. By the way, I regularly read catalogs cover to cover not because I want to shop but because I'm looking for cute packaging ideas. Not that it matters- people will devour homemade food gifts regardless of whether they're dolled up or not.

Food gifts don't necessarily have to be homemade. If the recipient lives in another place, you can send them a food specialty from your city. My sister made me deliriously happy last year when she got me a huge supply of specialties from two famous food stores in Bangalore and Chennai- spice powders and pastes and snacks. This summer, my aunt visited the US and I gave her a large grocery bag stuffed with my favorite snacks from Trader Joe's- triple ginger cookies and Thai spiced cashews and some other things. She loved them so much that she bought more of those to take back to India for her friends. 

If the food gift is a hit with the recipient, you can send the same thing over and over again! After all, it gets consumed. One of my favorite childhood food memories comes from one of my aunts who visited us once or twice a year. Every time, she would get a big packet of fried banana chips from a shop in her neighborhood. These banana chips were crisp, salty and heavily seasoned with tons of black pepper. It was a double treat- hugging a favorite aunt and then snacking on the banana chips she got without fail.

When I visit my parents, I always take a big bag of roasted pistachios and some dark chocolate for my father. These two treats never fail to please him. A friend of mine has the sweet tradition of baking fig cookies for her father as his birthday present. This is a neat way to get around the question of "what new gift idea can I come up with every time" while keeping the other person perfectly happy.

I think over the years I'll figure out a short list of edible gifts that I am good at making and that are consistently well-received. And then that will be my tradition, to make those things year after year. For now, I tend to experiment and try different recipes every year. I made a hot chocolate mix last year and it was delicious, but when I needed hostess gifts this weekend, I couldn't resist trying a new recipe.

It is the hot chocolate mix originally from Cook's Country but I used malted milk powder instead of regular milk powder. The white chocolate chips melt into the beverage, making it creamy and irresistible. Make a batch of this and be sure to fill up a jar and decorate it with a ribbon just for yourself.

These are the proportions I used:

2 cups malted milk powder
1.5 cups cocoa powder
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1.5 cups white chocolate chips
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix together in a bowl, then process through food processor in 2 batches to make a fine powder.

To make a cup of cocoa, take 1/3 cup cocoa mix into a mug. Add 1 cup hot milk (dairy or non-dairy) and mix well. It helps to add a small amount of hot milk and then whisk all the powder in before adding the rest of the milk. Enjoy a steaming hot mug of cocoa!

Are you giving any edible gifts this year? Are you looking forward to receiving any? What are your greatest  hits? Do you have any fond memories of giving or receiving edible gifts?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mushroom Barley Soup - NaBloPoMo Finale!

My dinner menu this evening was decided by a fictional detective from the 1930s. I was reading Birds Of A Feather by Jacqueline Winspear- the second book from the Maisie Dobbs series- when I came upon this description of the meal served to Maisie Dobbs at an abbey.

"Upon her return, her shoes clattering on the flagstone floors, a fresh tray awaited her, bearing a hearty bowl of barley-and-vegetable soup, a flask of cider with an upturned glass on top, and three slices of still-warm, crusty brown bread."

Barley-and-vegetable soup it is. I ended up making a mushroom barley soup that reminded me very much of a soup that I've eaten dozens of times in cafeterias and delis in NYC. Now why barley does not have a more prominent place in my pantry, I don't know. Time to rectify that. The only reason I even had half a box of barley in my kitchen today was because it was a pantry inheritance from Neighbor Girl. Anyway, the chewy, hearty barley made this soup a meal in itself.

Here's how I made the soup. I'm afraid I don't have a picture- I did not access to my camera this evening.

Mushroom Barley Soup

1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil.
2. Saute 1 small onion, minced and 3 cloves of garlic until lightly browned and fragrant.
3. Saute 3 cups sliced mushrooms and 1 chopped canned tomato.
4. Add vegetable stock and 3/4 cup barley (I used pearled barley). Simmer for 45 minutes.
5. Garnish with lots of minced parsley.

And that's how we come to the end of this month-long blogging marathon, folks.

NaBloPoMo was much harder than I expected. I did end up missing one day and posting late on another. To make the time to write a new blog post every single day, to come up with something to say on top of that- it was not easy. But I got a tiny glimpse of the discipline and dedication that is needed to write consistently. I also learned that I enjoy thinking and writing about all sorts of different things and not just food. Now that NaBloPoMo is over, I'll continue to blog regularly. Not daily, I assure you. But One Hot Stove will stay active and bring you whatever is cooking in my life- food, of course, but also books and crafts and whatever else life teaches me.

Thank you for reading along- I couldn't have done it without you!

Thursday, November 29, 2012


NaBloPoMo is almost over. The caption in the logo says Type Your Heart Out and on most days, I did.

And what I want to say to you today is just that: write your heart out.

Writing is not just for professional writers. It is not just for bloggers. Not just for students cranking out a term paper.

Writing is incredibly therapeutic. There is tremendous healing power in letting your emotions flow out through your fingers. Writing clarifies your thoughts and. forces you to weigh the pros and cons of what you are saying. Our minds can be a cacophony of thoughts and writing forces you to organize them. Many of us love to read and we acknowledge that reading brings us knowledge but the funny thing is that writing can be even more illuminating.

When I started this food blog, I intended it only as a place to jot down recipes. I never realized that the blog gave me an excuse and a reason to write and that the writing would become the food and the recipes. It is taking me years to gather up the courage to really write my heart out. Writing (especially under my real name, as I do) makes you feel vulnerable. I'm opening myself up to strangers and their criticism, their judgement. But the rewards of connecting make it worth it; there are always more friends than critics. Because when writing resonates with the reader, the result is just magic. We know this every day when we come upon books, articles and blog posts that touch a chord.

So, really, I urge you to experience the power of writing. Most of us learned to write when we were just 5 or 6 years old, it a fundamental skill but one that most of us don't use when we're older. You can be your own therapist, your own mentor, your own best friend through the simple act of expressing yourself. Writing can be an safe outlet for negative emotions (we all know how good it feels to vent once in a while). It can be helpful when you're trying to find meaning in your life or struggling with a difficult situation. There are thousands of blogs written by people who are going through tough situations- infertility, loss, cancer- that symbolize the therapeutic power of writing.

It does not matter whether you write on a piece of paper and burn it, or write a letter and send it to someone who cares. Whether you write publicly on a blog, or create an anonymous blog, or simply type into a word doc and hit "don't save" when you come to the end. Write in whatever language comes naturally to you. Write without being self-conscious about your grammar or spelling. It does not matter whether your writing is polished. Just don't be a passive reader of other people's writing. Pick up a pen or keyboard and do some writing yourself.

Some suggestions for incorporating writing into your daily life:

Morning Pages. How can something this simple be so powerful? But it is.

Write a long heart-felt e-mail to a friend. I have a few close friends who live far far away but through long long e-mails, we pour our hearts to each other and stay close. Or write a handwritten letter to someone. 

If you read an article or blog post, write a sentence or two and share your thoughts on it. 

Do all of this without expectation. Just for the simple joy of writing. It will change your life in big and small ways. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

...OK, not quite. Few-Words Wednesday, perhaps.

Mr. Dale is bouncing back from his bad spell last week. He is eating and drinking, walking around looking as moody and bored as ever and doing typical Dale-like things like begging for his dinner starting at noon (the actual dinnertime is 4 PM). We're so relieved. Now the fact stands that he has this tumor and we don't know what the weeks and months ahead will be like, but for now he's back to his usual self.

I'm linking this post to Wordless Wednesday. Go visit and look at lots of pretty pictures.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

St. Louis A to Z

For several years, I had a page (those tabs at the top of the blog) for St. Louis related things, where I kept a list of restaurants that we liked and so on. Now that I've moved away from St. Louis, I decided to replace the page and put all my St. Louis recommendations into this post instead. You know, in case someone is visiting St. Louis one day or moving there and finds some of this useful. Just for fun, and to make it harder for myself (!) I made it into an A- Z list. All this information is current as of late 2012 but things like restaurants are ever-changing so please keep that in mind if you ever use this list.

A Arch. The Gateway Arch is without a doubt the most iconic and well-known thing about St. Louis. The gleaming, sleek silver monument is certainly a pretty sight and fun to visit once (or you know, seven times, as I did with various visitors). The classic tourist thing to do is to climb into a tiny pod and go to the top of the arch. Downtown St. Louis right by the arch also has other places worth visiting, such as the Old Courthouse and the Citygarden sculpture park.

B Blogs. St. Louis is home to some wonderful blogs. I enjoyed getting to know some of the food bloggers, including the authors of A Veggie Venture, Kitchen Parade, The Cupcake Project, Bruno's Dream and Her Green Life. Riverfront Times, a local paper, also has an often hilarious and irreverent food blog called Gut Check. Ann Pollock regularly reviews local restaurants in St. Louis Eats and Drinks. My favorite STL book blog is Joy's Book Blog

C Cinema. I'm not much of a movie-goer but I have to mention three favorite movie theaters. Tivoli is a historic theater on the Delmar loop and often plays independent films and hosts film festivals. Moolah theater is another historic landmark; it has couches and loveseats! And a bowling alley in the basement. Hi-Pointe theater often plays off-beat films and tickets are only 5 bucks during the week.

D Dance and Theater.
COCA was one of my favorite places in St. Louis. It has dance classes for all ages and all skill levels. I took hip hop classes there. Yes, I looked completely ridiculous. Yes, I had a blast. COCA has a few dance productions every year, including one of The Little Dancer every holiday season. For years, I went to every performance by the Saint Louis Ballet. Culture vultures should check out what's playing at the Touhill, Powell Symphony Hall, the Fabulous Fox theater and the Edison theater. The Fabulous Fox has an interior that is so ridiculously ornate that you have to go and see it for yourself. The best dance event of the year is the Spring to Dance festival on Memorial Day weekend, with 3 days of dance performances for just 10$ each night. In summer, we have enjoyed musicals at MUNY in the outdoor theater in Forest Park.

E Ethnic restaurants. "Ethnic restaurants" is often a pejorative term, but believe me, these are the places I loved best.

By cuisine: Mexican- Tortillaria in the Central West End is my top choice, with vegetarian-friendly food, a wonderful chile arbol salsa in their salsa bar, addictive cheesy chiles rellenos and garlic-mayo corn-on-the-cob. But Cherokee Street has the most authentic Mexican restaurants and grocery stores in the city.

Middle-Eastern- Ranoush has Syrian food and I love it all- the foul medames, hummus and baba ghanouj, Arabic fries, knafeh and the pickled eggplants. Al-Tarboush is a Middle Eastern deli and a great place to pick up freshly fried falafel, tubs of hummus, tabbouleh and a packet of crisp pitas for a light meal at home. I love the falafel platters and mezze at Cafe Natasha's Kabob International; they also serve their version of falooda. The Vine also has terrific falafel, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Aya Sofia has Turkish-Mediterranean cuisine and has many vegetarian options.

Thai- The food at Thai Gai Yang CafeThai Cafe is inexpensive and good. I like the drunken noodles at Basil Spice Thai Cuisine and the desserts: warm coconut custard with sticky rice, and banana crepes.

Vietnamese- Lemongrass has tasty Vietnamese food and we particularly love the vegetarian rice in hot pot. But by far, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant was Mai Lee in Brentwood. We tried two unusual entrees, batter-fried eggplant in a sweet and spicy sauce and water spinach with bean curd paste and taro root, we enjoyed them both. They have a vegetarian curry dish that is outstanding. Bahn Mi So is famous for its Vietnamese sandwiches. The food can be quite spicy but is very tasty.

Chinese- Lulu's on Olive Blvd. has good dim sum- fun to eat with friends on the weekend. Go early so you get all the varieties. The dim sum menu is heavy on meat and seafood, but these are the vegetarian dishes we enjoyed: vegetables (hot braised greens, cold pickled cucumber, edamame, seaweed), scallion pancakes, sweet and spicy tofu with mushrooms, spicy cold tofu, crispy noodles, and the sweet sesame balls filled with red bean paste. Mandarin House has wonderful Chinese food and is spacious, so it is great for dining out as a large group. I loved their ma po tofu and eggplant in spicy sauce. Chinese Noodle Cafe was a reliable Chinese take-out place.

Ethiopian- I love the vegetarian combination platter at Meskerem; Ethiopian food is something I crave every now and then and this restaurants has consistently good food.

Spanish- We went to BARcelona for tapas and sangria on my birthday. We enjoyed the fried artichoke hearts, empanadas and several other dishes. There are many vegetarian tapas options.

F Food & Drink. A few other random notes on food and drink. There are two free monthly magazines that are full of restaurant reviews, food news and recipes: Sauce magazine and the newcomer Feast; both can be found in many restaurants and grocery stores. I enjoyed teaching and learning at the cooking classes hosted at Kitchen Conservatory. They make for a great experience for yourself or as a gift. St. Louis is home to the largest brewery in the world- the Budweiser brand. They offer free brewery tours that are really fun even if you hate their beer or if you hate beer altogether- they're full of interesting history and architecture. Also in town are microbreweries and their tours are pretty fun too- like Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood.

G Grocery stores. Global Foods is a very well-stocked store for international ingredients and produce. Every aisle carries products from a different country/ region of the world. I often get my Indian supplies here, and other pantry staples like noodles, dried Mexican chillies, and sauces of all kinds. It is a really fun place. Jay International is another international market which is more accessible for those in St. Louis city, although it is a pretty cramped and chaotic place if you ask me. St. Louis has both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, both in multiple locations. Schnuck's is the local supermarket chain and some of their locations are better than others. I liked the one in Clayton the best.

H Hiking and biking (parks and recreation). St. Louis is home to incredible parks, the most prominent being Forest Park and there are dozens more. The Botanical Garden is beautiful. I'll update this particular entry later and list all my favorites.

I Indian Food. Spice 'n Grill is a mom and pop operation on Olive Blvd. with a tiny menu but very tasty food- I especially liked their weekend puri chole special. The Everest Cafe is unusual with Nepali, Indian and Korean food. Some of the popular lunch buffets are House of India ,  Saffron and my favorite of the lot is Priyaa where we gorged on puffy puris, South Indian kurma and a thick luscious raita. Seema Enterprises is the Indian grocery store that I liked the most. 

J Just for Babies and Toddlers. Lila really enjoyed Ms. Maria's Friday morning music group on Demun Avenue (15$ per session but the first session is free so you can try it once). We found Craigslist (online) and Kangaroo Kids (brick and mortar) to be great resources for buying and selling baby gear and clothing. We really liked Baby Care diaper service and used them for a whole year.

K Knitting and crafts. I miss my knitting group at Knitorious. St. Louis has a vibrant knitting community- you can find local groups on Ravelry.

L Libraries. Support your local library- I loved both public libraries that I went to- the St. Louis Public Library and the University City Public Library.

M Museums. Forest Park is an incredible urban oasis. It is home to the Art Museum, History Museum and Zoo.

N Neighborhoods. We always wanted to live in vibrant urban neighborhoods close to work and did just that. These three neighborhoods are very walking friendly and dotted with cafes and restaurants: Grand Avenue, Central West End and the Delmar Loop.

O Outdoor markets. Soulard Market is a farmers' market that operates all year round. Pappardelle's Pasta are also sold at a stall in this market- they are wonderful for making a special meal at home. Don't miss the mini-donut stall in Soulard, a treat after all that shopping. There are many others, like the Tower Grove Farmer's Market and the one in Maplewood, and small markets in many neighborhoods. There are several CSAs available.

P Pizza. St. Louis is home to Pi which is extremely popular for its cornmeal crust pizzas. We love the "Berkeley" deep dish pizza here. A'mis has decent New York style pizza but what I love is their fried mushrooms. The Good Pie makes authentic Neapolitan pizza. Dewey's Pizza is always crowded and you can watch the pizzas being made. I do like their calzones and pizzas but the crust is too soft and bready. La Pizza is my favorite pick for East Coast style pizzas for take-out. By the way, I love the pizza from Whole Foods, and we usually pair it with a salad topped with the bottled refrigerated ranch dressing.

Q Questions and Answers (trivia). Trivia nights are a very St. Louis thing to do, so form a team and hit the trivia circuit.

R Restaurants. (Other than the specific cuisines I already mentioned). For a special meal, we love going to Stellina Pasta Cafe for their fresh hand made pastas. Call ahead to see what vegetarian options they have that day. Black Bear Bakery and MoKaBe's have brunch buffets on the weekend. For yummy vegetarian sandwiches and cupcakes, we love Sweet Art. Southwest Diner is a relatively new restaurant and we loved their cornmeal pancakes and enchilada and poached eggs plates.

S St. Louis iconic food. I have to mention Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. We make it a point to take out-of-town visitors there. It is an old-fashioned stand on the historic route 66, and fun to visit. V loves the frozen custard; I don't (it tastes terribly eggy to me, and much too sweet). They also sell thick milkshakes called "concretes". Crown Candy Kitchen is an iconic St. Louis dessert store, a great place to buy classic sundaes, malts and shakes. Another local favorite is Gus's Pretzels. Their manufacturing unit is glassed in, and as you wait in line to get your pretzels (rest assured, there will be a line; this is a popular place), you can watch every step of the pretzel-making process.

T Transit. I'm a big fan of public transport. Metrolink may be a small system compared to other cities but very useful. You can go to touristy places like Busch Stadium and the Arch using Metro. And best of all, you can take the Metro right into the airport terminal. Getting to the airport in 30 minutes from downtown on a peaceful train- how great is that?

U Upcycle exchange and other one of a kind stores. St. Louis is home to many interesting stores. Upcycle Exchange on Grand Avenue sells donated/recycled art and craft supplies for a pittance. Home Eco has many eco-friendly products. There are several natural food stores like Golden Grocers. Plowsharing Crafts sells fair trade goods- my favorite source for gifts. City Sprouts has really cute gifts for kids.

V Volunteering. There are hundreds of ways to get involved with the local community, including Community gardens, Stray rescue, Humane Society, Campus Kitchen. I'll update this entry later with links and more information. 

W Weather. St. Louis seems to go from boiling to freezing and back again. Fall and Spring sometimes seem to last only a week each. But St. Louis weather is influenced by weather systems from both coasts- so it is ever-changing on a daily basis. Check the forecast!

X X is the wild card of this alphabetical journey. So I'll tell you about the most random thing I miss about St. Louis- the Deer Creek DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Really! They're efficient and super-nice in this office.

Y Young ones. City Museum is a uniquely St. Louis museum and perfect for older kids. Other kid friendly places that we never got around to visiting are the Butterfly House and Magic House.

Z Zero $ as in free! St. Louis is very affordable- the zoo, art museum, history museum have no entrance fee. In Summer and Spring, there are many free concerts around town. My favorite every year was the free outdoor symphony concert on Art Hill. 

This list is highly subjective and missing all those very St. Louis things like barbecue and baseball- but all I can say is that there's more to this city than one would think. I'm very glad I got to discover it. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A few months ago, I made myself an account on Goodreads. I'm finding it an excellent way to keep tabs on the ever-growing list of books I want to read, as well as books I've read and liked. Plus, you can see what your friends are reading and whether they liked the books, and then pile those books on top of you to-read pile as well. I noticed that a couple of my friends had read and given high ratings to Room by Emma Donoghue so I picked up the book this morning at the library. I'm already halfway through it! It is a page-turner for sure.

I also brought home Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier. A couple of weeks ago, I really enjoyed Rebecca and several of you suggested this other book by the same author, so I'm looking forward to another good read.

I finished reading Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson; he has an interesting life story and the book is worth a read. There are many thought-provoking issues that come up in the book, and there are also luscious descriptions of the home cooking in his grandmother's kitchen. I don't know much about Swedish cooking at all (apart from meatballs and lingonberry sauce thanks to IKEA!) so that was fun to read.

I'm very appreciative of the reading suggestions that I get here in the comments. Several months ago, Anu recommended that I read this parenting book: Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. Since then, I've borrowed it twice and read it twice cover to cover. I don't agree with everything this author says, but that's not the point of reading books anyway. The important thing is that the book is very thought provoking and questions the very foundation of how we as parents think. I would recommend it to everyone who is raising a child.

I'm sending this post to the It's Monday! What Are You Reading? meme over at Book Journey.

So, what are you reading?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

After-School Snacks for All

Ruma asked for ideas for make-ahead snacks, saying, "We get back home at 6 but don't have dinner right away....that leads to major bad decisions ;) Anything that can be made in a batch, or quickly conjured up is appreciated."

Er, I might know a little something about those bad decisions. In a typical scenario, we're an hour or two away from dinner when hunger gets the better of me and then the rickety wall of willpower standing between me and a party-size bag of chips comes crumbling down. You don't have to go to school to need an after school snack.

So I've made it a habit to eat a hearty snack right around 4:30 PM. For me, this time is right because it is an hour before I start making dinner and two hours before we actually eat dinner. I'm not really eating 3 big meals a day, but more like 6 small meals, and this snack is one of those meals. These smaller frequent meals seem to keep my blood sugar on a more even keel, which makes for all sorts of better decisions and a sunnier disposition, believe me. 

My six rules for "after-school" snacking:
1. Eat before you get ravenously hungry. The hungrier you get, the poorer the decision about what to eat. So schedule the snack into your day.
2. Portion out the snack before you sit down to eat. This is for those of us who have problems with portion control. You know who you are.
3. Even if you're still hungry after eating your portioned out snack, don't go get seconds. Wait for 20 minutes after eating the snack- that's how long it can take for the brain to register satiety. Distract yourself with something else meanwhile.
4. Drink a couple of glasses of water. A lot of times what you think is hunger is really thirst.
5. On that same note, a hot drink can be wonderfully refreshing in the afternoon. I need a cup of caffeine in the form of chai at this hour or I'll be dragging all evening. If you're not one for caffeine, you might enjoy a warm cup of apple cider, or cocoa made from a homemade mix using skim milk or almond milk.
6. Plan ahead and have good snack foods handy. I've listed some of my favorite ideas below. 

Snacks that can be made ahead in a large batch, perhaps on the weekend:

1. Vegetable patties: I know I mention these puppies in every other post, but everyone really always loves them. You can mash all sorts of vegetables, form them into patties and fry them up (only a few drops of oil needed) into delectable snacks. I made a batch of the mix this long weekend and we enjoyed patties several times for snacks. This one had potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, onions and cilantro with plenty of zing from ginger and garlic. You can make the patties ahead of time too- they reheat beautifully in the skillet or microwave.

2. Chivda or trail mix: My personal snack craving is for crunchy, salty, spicy foods. This evening, I made this big batch of baked cereal chivda: In a large bowl, mix your favorite unsweetened cereal (I used cornflakes and chex) and all sorts of nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts). Heat some oil/butter and make a tempering with mustard seeds, fennel seeds, curry leaves, turmeric, chilli powder. Add the seasoning plus some lemon juice to the bowl and mix well. Pour into a baking sheet, spread out and bake at 250F for an hour. Add raisins/dried cherries/cranberries. Cool and store for snacking.

There are at least eleventy billion versions of chivda and chex mix on the internet or you can invent your own house mix. This can be made in a microwave, oven or stove top.

3. Dips and crudites. On the weekend, cut up a big container of veggie sticks- cucumber, carrot, celery, bell peppers, beets and place in the fridge. Some people like raw cauliflower and broccoli too- I don't particularly. Then, make a dip or two and stick it in the fridge. My three favorites dips are yogurt dip with herbs (drain yogurt to thicken it), sweet potato hummus, bean dip with Mexican flavors.

4. Boiled edamame or boiled peanuts. Make a big batch and store in the fridge.

5. Fruit salad: Fruits get eaten if they're nicely cut into bite size cubes and are ready to eat. Make a big fruit salad and enjoy a bowlful, sprinkled with chaat masala if you like.

6. Sprouts bhel: Make a big batch of moong or matki sprouts, steam them and mix with cubes of cucumber, tomato, boiled potato. This would be fine in the fridge for 3 days or so. I would add salt and chaat masala just before eating. Date chutney can also be stored in the fridge for weeks to be spooned over chaat.

7. I rarely crave sweet snacks, but for those who do, one idea would be to make a big batch of granola bars, or oatmeal cookies or peanut laddus.

For those who eat dinner late, here's an idea: Make a big batch of soup on the weekend, brimming with vegetables and beans. Eat a bowlful a couple of hours right when you get home, as a first course, then eat the rest of the meal at your usual dinner time.

Snacks that can be quickly conjured up:

Stock up your pantry/fridge with any or all of the following: nut butters, whole grain crackers, whole grain pita bread and tortillas, fruit (bananas, grapes, apples, pears, oranges), cheese, boiled eggs, jarred salsa, jarred pasta sauce, roasted nuts.

Then you can quickly mix and match to make snacks like apples with almond butter, grapes and cheese, mini pita pizzas. One of my favorite childhood snacks was peanuts with bits of jaggery. A sort of deconstructed laddu.

Got any brilliant snack ideas to share? Speak your heart out in the comments.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Another Half-Birthday Cake

My darling baby nephew celebrated his half birthday. My talented sister (who sews colorful bags and accessories under her own label Kala Koyree) was brainstorming simple 6 month birthday cake ideas. I love what she came up with.

She used 7 cupcake molds (5 silicone flower shaped ones and 1 paper cup, actually), to make this friendly little caterpillar who is nestling on a bed of cabbage leaves. Each cupcake is half vanilla and half chocolate. 6 segments to celebrate 6 months!

I'm sending this post to the Saturday Snapshot meme over at At Home With Books.

Friday, November 23, 2012

On Eating Out

We found a new vet and V took Dale in this afternoon. We were trying to convince ourselves that he's back to his usual self but of course we wanted medical advice. It is not good news. The poor mutt has multiple problems including an abdominal mass and a possible infection. The vet was compassionate and competent and prescribed medication. We're supposed to check in with her again on Monday. For now, Dale's quite comfortable, being fed extra biscuits and napping in his bed near a heating vent. Thanks to everyone who's sending him good wishes.

I went back and forth about whether to continue posting daily this last week of NaBloPoMo. But truly it gives me something to think about rather than watching the dog anxiously so I sat down to write this post. And writing is always therapeutic.

Archana asked, "How often do you eat out and what do you guys like to eat?
What's the fanciest meal you've had and would you be willing to shell out big dough for good food?"

V and I have very different personalities and interests. He loved sports, history and science fiction. You know what I love- reading, crafts and cooking. Our evenings are often spent doing things in parallel, enjoying each others company while doing different things: me knitting while he's watching a game and so on. But we share a love of good food and we both absolutely love eating out- it is our favorite shared interest. The thing about eating out is that it is only a special experience if you don't eat out every day.

We end up eating out once a week or so. In pre-Lila times, that was often a Friday night. We would cap off the work week and get the weekend off to a good start by going to a favorite restaurant or trying a new one. Or we'd meet friends for dinner someplace on Saturday night. Now with a little one in tow, we tend to eat out at brunch or lunch on the weekend.

While I wouldn't like to eat out all the time, we always have a couple of go-to places where we can eat out during the week. It is our back up plan for when we're too tired to cook or have to work late. Even if it takes only minutes to make khichdi or even cook a packet of Maggi, it is always nice to have the option of picking up a hot meal. Everyone has days when they feel like they just want to be taken care of. In NYC, our back ups were a taco place and a pizza place. In St. Louis, there was a Lebanese deli on the corner where we could get hot-from-the-fryer falafel and tubs of hummus and tabbouleh. Here, we have a lush food store nearby with a well-stocked hot and cold food bar.

As for where we tend to eat: We are both vegetarians and always choose places that have good vegetarian options. Some of our favorite cuisines are Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican and all the Middle Eastern cuisines. I'd say that other than steakhouses and French restaurants (both of which typically have slim picking for vegetarians), we try just about everything. We're always looking for good pizza wherever we go! We do go to Indian restaurants but it is difficult to find Indian restaurants that have something to offer than I don't already make decently well in my own kitchen. My great joy in eating out is to enjoy something that I can't easily make at home. I'm thinking of experiences like the dozens of appetizers of Chinese dim sum or the tangy injera and irresistible curries of Ethiopian cuisine. I always keep a running list of new places that I want to try.

Eating out is very important for me. I'm usually the cook in our family and it gives me a break from the daily cooking. We tend to go to small, locally owned restaurants and I like supporting these businesses. Trying new flavors in restaurants is always an inspiration and I often go home trying to think of ways to recreate a favorite dish. Trying different cuisines is an affordable way to travel the world without getting on a plane. Trying new restaurants is a small way to add adventure to everyday life- you never know what gem you're going to discover. It also takes us to different neighborhoods in the city.

We don't tend to go to fancy restaurants at all. Most fancy restaurants have a meat-heavy menu and I have no desire to spend hard-earned money on some afterthought of a dish like the one pasta that's put on the menu for those pesky vegetarians. I definitely vote with my dollars, and anyone who can come up with inventive meatless dishes (served without a side of condescension) will get my business. There are very fancy vegetarian restaurants in the bigger cities but somehow I've never managed to go to those either. I think basically I love comfort and hate luxury. When something smacks of luxury and excess and opulence, I don't enjoy it. I've only seen those exquisitely plated meals on TV and read about them in the memoirs of chefs. And you know what? When I read about the tension and drama and wastefulness in fancy restaurant kitchens, I'm quite happy not to eat in those restaurants. Food should be cooked in an atmosphere of love and gratitude, right? Or am I just a hopeless philistine?

Tell me, what do you enjoy about eating out? Have you eaten in a fancy restaurant and was it worth it for you?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Mr. Dalu had us good and scared for a couple of days. He refused to eat, refused to walk and sat around looking mournful. Then today all of a sudden he's back to his usual self, as if nothing ever happened. I'm feeling exhausted though.

Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Thursday seemed to come out of nowhere. We're going over to a friend's home for a Thanksgiving gathering. I just pulled out two dishes from the oven, one with chocolate pecan pie and the other with a biryani.

The weather is in the 70s here and sunny! I remember we had snow in St. Louis on Thanksgiving two years ago.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends who celebrate it. I'm very thankful for this cozy corner on the web where we can gather and swap stories and share a bite every now and then.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chinese Omelet

It has been a long and chaotic day here at the world headquarters of One Hot Stove. We're getting some repairs done and the home is upside down for a few days. And poor Dale is having a bad day with his back legs giving him more trouble than usual. I've been struggling to help him stand up. Clearly, we have to find a vet soon and take him in- and this is a holiday week so almost everyone is on vacation...

So all I have today is a quick recipe idea. This one comes from my mother who is one for putting creative riffs on everyday meals. The last time she was visiting us, she made this "Chinese omelet". Basically all the vegetables that go into Indian Chinese food- carrots, cabbage, peppers, green onions, mushrooms- are sliced, sauteed and seasoned with soy sauce and lots of freshly ground black pepper and then stuffed into an omelet. You can make the omelet atop a tortilla or not.

This makes for a tasty and hearty breakfast or lunch that will keep you full for hours. Vegetables don't get attention at breakfast, I feel.

Good night and I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading is a weekly meme hosted at the blog Book Journey. I've seen Joy (the author of one of my favorite St. Louis blogs) participating in this meme for many months and I decided to jump in myself. In this meme, bloggers are invited to share the books they're currently reading, books they recently finished and what's next on their reading list.

I wrote a post on books just 2 weeks ago and was thrilled to get so many more book recommendations from your all. So maybe I'll make this a regular feature for all those food-loving bibliophiles, or bookish foodies if you prefer, who visit this blog.

The book I'm currently reading:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Image from Goodreads

This is one of those popular psychology books that I seem to feel compelled to read. Human behavior is a fascinating and complex thing and yes, if someone could explain to me how to change some of my more disastrous habits, it would do me a world of good. I've only read a few chapters so far and here's my opinion thus far: the anecdotes Duhigg describes are fascinating and entertaining; however the book feels simplistic on the whole. But it was interesting to learn about the habit loop and about keystone habits. Maybe next week I'll write a more detailed post about what I learned from reading this book.

Three books I recently read all fell into the mystery/suspense genre.

1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier was a terrific read, just as so many of you promised me it would be. Du Maurier creates a suspenseful atmosphere in a masterful way. There were certainly times when I wanted to shake the protagonist and tell her to grow a backbone already. If you're looking for a toothsome read that will take you to another place and time for a few hours, I highly recommend this classic.

2. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear was another worthwhile read. Radhika has written an excellent review of this book and I have to say that my feeling about Maisie Dobbs echoed what she said. The mystery was so weak that it was practically non-existent but the book is a feel-good, meaningful read in the manner of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series. I want to read more of Maisie Dobbs. On another note, I'm really glad to have found Radhika's book blog.

3. Defending Jacob by William Landay was a book I picked up because I kept hearing about it on various book blogs and bestseller lists. Now, unlike Maisie Dobbs where all the characters are good-hearted and likeable, I didn't like a single character in this book. They had no emotional resonance with me. But I really wanted to know what happened next, and so I kept reading and appreciated that the story kept me interested. It is a courtroom drama, quite different from the cozy mysteries that I usually enjoy. I'll give it a one thumbs up.

The books I'll be reading next

Memoirs are another popular genre for me, and the two books I plan on reading next are both memoirs.

1. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
2. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

So, what are you reading?