Monday, June 24, 2013

The First Week of Summer 2013

What follows is inspired by this post on Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity. I came across it this morning and realized that I had a bunch of rather random tid-bits to share today that are just right for this format. 

It is the first official week of Summer 2013 and this is what I'm...

Eating lots of peaches and watermelon.

And cooking a whole lot, although most of it is tried and tested favorites, like this menu that I put together for friends last night. Our British friend tasted slippery basil seeds for the first time (in the falooda). I laughed as he gingerly spooned some into his mouth and to my delight, he loved them.

I did try two new recipes recently...

One was this lentil and chickpea salad that came highly recommended by Archana. I promptly tried it and was glad I did. Lentils and chickpeas are combined and dressed with lemon, tahini, freshly ground cumin and coriander, and fresh herbs. I skipped the feta (can't stand it) and added a light dusting of parmesan. Sweet Vidalia onions were wonderful in my version of this salad.

I had ricotta left over from making spinach lasagna (again!) last week, and wanted to make a hostess gift to take to a friend, so I rooted around for a cake recipe that used ricotta. This lemon ricotta cake, adapted from a Giada de Laurentiis recipe, was super quick to make and gave me wonderful results.

My adaptations:
1. Add 2 tsp. vanilla extract.
2. I used part-skim ricotta and it worked fine.
3. I highly suggest dividing the batter into 2 loaf pans. People who used one loaf pan complained that the inside does not cook through. Also, then you'll have one loaf to keep and the second to share.

The fresh cake out of the oven was completely light and irresistible. After a day in the fridge, it was much denser but still very tasty, especially after being nuked for ~10 seconds to warm it up.

Watching Season 2 of Downton Abbey, a year or two after everyone else did! A friend let me borrow her DVDs so I can finally get caught up on the saga.

This weekend, we unhooked our cable box and returned it to the cable TV company with a "So long, farewell". I got sick and tired of paying for cable and then having absolutely nothing watchable on TV. Reality TV is getting too trashy even for me. We'll continue to use Internet streaming; it is such a relief to actually choose what to watch and not have to endure commercials.

There are so many excellent documentaries out there that I'd like to watch. This weekend I watched one called Pressure Cooker on Netflix. It follows a culinary arts program in a high school in a disadvantaged area of Philadelphia. A tough-as-nails teacher leads her kids through a year of tough training in culinary arts and a competition to win scholarships for further training. Even with some flaws (many of which are mentioned in this NYT review), the documentary was inspiring and uplifting. There is so much potential in all of us if only we get the right environment to flourish in, and someone who sets high standards and expectations for us. More inspiration and less Kardashians, that's what I say. Who's with me?

Reading Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton. So far it is an engaging read. Have you read it, or read any of Rushdie's books? Here are some books I finished in the last few weeks.

Image: Goodreads
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. This was a Happiness book club recommendation. The stories are predictable but fun to read. It will remind you of the Blyton books. The book was published in 1947, so you have to look past some of the content, like the stereotypical parental roles- Dad grunting his answers from behind the newspaper, wife bursting into tears to get her way. The formula is straight forward: child has a behavior issue- won't go to bed, won't clean his room and so on. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle finds a clever way to cure him/her and all is well. Today we would call these "consequences". Take this book at its face value and enjoy the simple stories.

Image: Goodreads
The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks was a very worthwhile read, as I've found all of Dr. Sacks' books to be- he is a neurologist with a deep and genuine interest in his patients, and he brings their stories to life with his beautiful writing. As we go about our daily lives, we forget that behind every little act that we take for granted- the aroma of coffee brewing, the sight of the bright red cardinal darting in the bushes, reading a book to our child- is the miracle and mystery of our brains and sense organs. His case studies chronicle individuals who lose some facet of these neurological functions and most often, cope with this loss in inspiring, creative and unique ways. I always read Dr. Sacks' books and marvel at the inner strength that we humans can tap into, should the need arise.

Making (or rather, finished making) a scarf and a mug rug for my swap partner. I won't show you pictures, because I want it to be a surprise for her.

And I made this Father's Day T shirt for V by tracing his and Lila's handprints on paper, cutting out the shapes, tracing outlines on a plain T-shirt and embroidering with colorful chain stitch. A simple, graphic way to say that Lila loves Daddy.

Loving this social entrepreneurship idea: Last week, Abhi, who is a long-time reader of One Hot Stove, told me about her project called Go Solar, Go Sewing and I'm excited to tell you about it. Abhi is a social entrepreneur and she manages a sewing unit called Vandanamu Ethical Cottons in South India.

A newspaper clipping about
Abhi's project. Click to enlarge
and read.
In Abhi's words, "At Vandanamu, my team and I source orders for cotton bags in the UK (where we are based) and produce them at our sustainably run sewing unit. All sounds good, except that lately we have been experiencing crippling 12-14 hour power cuts which makes production very difficult and slow. After some research we have decided to invest in solar panels to ensure uninterrupted power supply. And to this end, we have started a crowdfunding campaign."

Why do I love this idea? Because this is an effort to create safe and fair employment for a marginalized community, to make women economically independent and give them the means to send their kids to school. And their solution to the problem of power cuts is to take matters into their own hands and try to harness sunshine (of which there is plenty in South India, wouldn't you say?)

If we want a cleaner, happier, fairer world for ourselves and our kids, we have to be part of making that happen. Please consider sharing a bit and contributing to this worthy cause. Last week, I was working slightly late one day, and for a moment, considered picking up burritos for dinner. Then I caught myself, went home and made a khichdi in about 5 minutes (from ingredients in my well-stocked fridge) and gave the burrito money to Go Solar, Go Sewing. The point is that those of us who have the means to spend as we like can literally take a minute and spend it mindfully. I wish you and your group lots of luck, Abhi!

Looking Forward to our first summer in Georgia. We've been warned that it gets brutally hot and that people tend to huddle indoors in the daytime. I'm a girl from the tropics and I can take the heat (or so I've been bragging, anyhow, I hope I don't have to eat my words). Normally, I'm a big planner but this season, we'll take life as it comes, going on picnics, swims and walks as time and weather permits. Tasting all the seasonal produce we can along the way.

Please, if you have a few minutes, tell us in the comments what YOU are eating, watching, reading, making, loving and looking forward to. I hope this week brings you good things.

Come back next week for a legume-rich buffet as we round up MLLA-60. You have until the end of June to rush me your entries and be part of it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Green Peas Curry (Vatana Rassa)

Behind the generic yet convenient word "curry" lurks an almost unimaginable diversity of dishes in the cuisines of India. Take just one region- Maharashtra, on the West coast of India- and just one vegetable- green peas. (I cook with green peas often because they are available to me year-round in their frozen avatar.)

We make many curried dishes with green peas (hirva vatana or mataar in Marathi). In my book, a dryish stir fry of green peas with an aromatic tempering would be an usal. A more stew-like preparation with a more liquid consistency would be an amti or a rassa. In Marathi, there's a very descriptive word for what I can only awkwardly, and rather unappetizingly, call in English a "liquid curry"- dabdabeet. And then green peas could pair with any number of vegetables in a fairly dry stir fry to become a bhaaji- mataar batata (green peas and potato) being a particular favorite of mine. By the way, these distinctions are quite personal- one man's usal is another man's rassa. And let's not even get started with other regions of India, where you might come across a vatana ambat in a Konkani household and a vatana shaak in a Gujarati one.

All this is a long-winded way of explaining that yesterday, I tried a long-pinned recipe involving green peas cooked in a Maharashtrian style. It is Anupama's recipe for mataar usal and a dish that I would describe as a rassa because of how much broth it has. Like I said, one person's usal is another person's rassa. I think we would all agree that call it what you will, this is a most delicious way to enjoy sweet green peas.

In this recipe, green peas are cooked in herbs, coconut milk and spices. The resulting curry just needs some soft buttered bread for dunking. I modified the recipe to add more onions, because I'm loving the sweet Vidalia onions available here, and to add mint, because I have an overflowing mint pot on the porch. Mint and peas are a classic combination, after all. I used frozen peas and they seem to cook in no time, so I did not boil them as the original recipe suggests.

My untidy mint pot- but hey, it's alive!
More than I can say about most plants I touch...

Vatana Rassa (Green Peas Curry)
(Recipe adapted from Anupama's Blog; makes 4-6 servings)

1. In a pan, heat 2 tsp. oil and temper with a tsp. mustard seeds and a pinch of asafetida.
2. Add 1 small minced onion and saute until lightly browned.
3. While the onion is sauteing, make a paste with 1 coarsely chopped onion, 1 hot pepper, 1 bunch cilantro and a large handful of mint.
4. Add 1 tsp. ginger garlic paste to the pan, along with the green paste, saute for a few minutes.
5. Add salt to taste, 2 tsp. cumin coriander powder and 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder.
6. Add 3 to 4 cups green peas and 1/2 cup water. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
7. Add 1 can coconut milk and 1 tsp. jaggery. Add more water if required. Let it come to a gentle simmer and then turn off the heat.
8. Add a dash of your favorite garam masala (optional), juice of 1/2 lemon, taste for salt.

I served this dish with buttered bread, a lemon wedge and thin slices of raw beet. Raw onion slices would have been an excellent accompaniment. The bread soaking up the thick flavorful sauce, playing off against the sweet peas- oh, the whole thing was too irresistible. I enjoyed the leftover curry with rice today for lunch and the verdict is that this dish goes with everything.

Peas being legumes, I'm sending this post to My Legume Love Affair 60, hosted right here this month on One Hot Stove. MLLA was started several years ago by Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, and is now in its new home at Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen.  I hope you'll participate by sending in your favorite legume recipe- check this post for details.

* * *

A couple of hours every week, I try to make time to work on my sewing. Hobbies are supposed to be relaxing but it sometimes takes a painful learning curve before the hobby rewards you with relaxation. At this point, I would have to say that sewing is not relaxing for me. Right now, it involves a fair amount of swearing, hair pulling and other behaviors that are quite the opposite of relaxing.

But I have to say that when I do finish a small sewing/quilting project- or even, say, when I can rewind a bobbin without having to laboriously read steps 1 through 5 in the manual- I feel that mildly euphoric jolt that takes me right back to the blasted sewing machine. Want to see what I've been working on?

Apparently, there is something called a self-binding baby blanket, where you start with a larger square of fabric and a smaller one, and magically, the large square forms a wide, attractive border framing the smaller square. After looking at videos (like this one) and many, many tutorials (like this one), I sewed one myself. Some tutorials call it the 10 minute baby blanket, and to beginning sewists, I would say, hah. If you take 10 times 10 minutes to make it, you're not the only one. But yes, it is a clever pattern and after my first valiant attempt (below) , I want to make more of these.

While I take breaks to work on relatively instant-gratification projects, I've been putting together this quilt top. It is part-pieced (the zig zags are little pieces of fabric seamed together, based on this purl bee pattern) and part-appliqued (the flower rows I designed free hand and stitched on by hand using blanket stitch). Now comes the tedious part- putting together this top with batting and backing fabric, quilting to hold the layers together, then binding the edges to finish the quilt.

Our local quilt guild has a group that works tirelessly to make quilts for others. Their colorful quilts go to cancer wards and neonatal ICUs. They make unique, handmade quilts for children who are in foster care. It is such a worthy cause. This group put together kits with cut pieces of fabric and a simple pattern and asked for help in piecing the quilt tops. This is one I pieced for them. It was great fun (no, really!) and I hope to make more.

That's it for this rainy, muggy Monday night. I hope you have a good week, friends.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Pinto Bean Mini Burgers

Another Sunday afternoon, and I found myself wondering what I'm going to post on the blog this week. You know how it goes- when life is busy, you cook familiar things instead of trying anything new. And hundreds of recipes later, all my dinner rotation classics are already here on the blog. 

Well, this month MLLA is being hosted here on One Hot Stove, so in honor of that, I tried to think of some leguminous recipe to try for Sunday supper. A few weeks ago, I asked fellow food bloggers to recommend recipes from their blog. Manasi recommended her mini quinoa and bean burgers. I had the ingredients on hand, so that's what I made last night.

1. Soak 1 cup pinto beans for several hours, rinse and pressure cook them. Drain and mash coarsely.

2. Soak, rinse and cook 1/3 cup quinoa. Let it cool somewhat, then add it to the mashed beans.

3. Season with:
Ginger garlic paste
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder
Cumin coriander powder
Lots of minced cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 slices of stale bread, torn

4. Mix well, then form mini burgers and cook them on an oiled cast iron skillet until golden brown on both sides.

Like all the other patties/veggie burgers I've ever tasted, this was good eats! Next time, I'll have to do a better job of rinsing the quinoa, because there was a hint of bitterness in the burgers.

I served the mini burgers on some sweet little sun dried tomato rolls (from a trip to the Farmers' Market yesterday) with some avocado salad on the side. This was a huge, beautiful avocado from Africa (I better not get into how I came to acquire an avocado from Africa though).

All this month, I'll got through my bookmarks and try some recipes with legumes. And find something new to make for my own MLLA entry.

* * *

So V and I find ourselves talking more and more about adopting a dog. It has been nearly 5 months since our beloved Dalu passed away, and honestly, it has been harder than we expected. My heart just feels so heavy when I think about him. And after so many years of being our "only child", reminders of Dale are everywhere- his picture is the wallpaper and screen saver for our computers and phones. Lila even remembers him on a daily basis, shouting "de de" when she sees his picture- and here I was thinking she's so little that it would be out of sight, out of mind for her.

The one and only Dalu dada will never be replaced. But there are too many dogs out there waiting in shelters for a forever family, and we have room in our hearts and home to bring one of them home. So we're getting our backyard safely fenced in for happy canine playtime, and we hope to find a sweet mutt to call our own. When we do, you'll be the first to know!