Monday, October 28, 2013

The List: October 2013

In my corner of the world, October saw a fall in temperatures and a rise in festivities. Halloween is in the air with pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere and creepy decorations on lawns up and down the street. V and I were laughing at ourselves because the neighbors have strung up fake cobwebs but we've been shirking yard work for so long that we have real cobwebs stretched across the front of our house- really!


Jasmine rice! All these years, I've resisted buying this fragrant Thai rice because with 4 or 5 types of rice already sitting in the pantry, I did not want to add one more. Well, this month I finally bought some and can I just say that I'm smitten with jasmine rice now. It cooks up soft and flavorful- wonderful in East Asian dishes, of course, but equally tasty in pulao. Do you cook with jasmine rice regularly?

Enchiladas! I love enchilada platters in Mexican restaurants- the typical ones with fiery looking red sauce and a heap of lettuce and tomato on the side. Well, this week I made red enchilada sauce from scratch using some assorted dried Mexican chiles that I've had in the pantry for ages...and while the sauce was tasty, it was also 5 times hotter than I wanted it to be. Oops. Well, V won't eat spicy food so I'm working my way solo through this huge tray on enchiladas, and quite enjoying it too. This sauce, once I've tweaked it, will be completely blog-worthy so please stay tuned for a authentic(ish) red enchilada sauce coming soon to your friendly neighborhood Indian food blog.


Impossible Coconut Pie, pinned from here. Impossible pies get the name because a little flour is mixed right into the batter, but separates into a thin crust while baking (same principle as for the mini quiches I posted last week). Well, this particular recipe couldn't be easier, in fact I just gave the ingredients a whirl in the blender making it even easier. But the results, while tasty, were not mind-blowing. I made this as a birthday treat for my quilting teacher who loves coconut. Next time, I'll try another recipe for coconut cake or something. By the way, the picture shows the souffle-like pie billowing as it came out of the oven, when cooled, it deflated a good deal.

Oh, and I continued the apple baking fest by making apple cake and apple muffins. The cake was good but a little too dense and eggy for my taste. The apple muffins were wonderful- I cut the sugar way down. And the recipe said it would make 12 muffins  but actually made 16.


Image: Goodreads
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The book tells the story of Ursula Todd, born in England on a snowy February night in 1910. Well, in the first chapter, tiny Ursula is stillborn, perishing with the umbilical cord wrapping around her neck. The very next chapter tells a different version of the story, one in which the doctor made it through the snowstorm and clipped the cord just in time, saving her life and letting her grow up. And so on and so on, the book asks the question: how would life change if a different choice had been made, if circumstances were different and life took a different turn? This novel is written in a very unusual style, bouncing back and forth in time and storyline, but it grew on me quickly and I will be thinking about it for a long time. I highly recommend this intelligent and well-crafted book. Not necessarily a light read (after all, anyone born in 1910 faced two world wars before they reached middle age, if they even reached middle age) but well worth your time and mental space.


An apple hat and matching scarf- a birthday gift for Lila's little friend who turned two.

Fall yarn wreath, pinned from here. It was fun to make and easy as can be (I

used push pins to fix the flowers- no glue needed) but I should have used a larger wreath form- it is way too small for the door. Oh well. I'm still sending it and the coconut pie as pins #4 and #5 to Trish's Pin It and Do It challenge.

Laughing at conversations with my two year old.

Lila (making stirring motions): Lila's cooking.
Me: Oh, what are you making?
Lila: Making bananas.

Me: Hey, baby Lila!
Lila (in same tone of voice): Hey, baby Mama!

Planning a small Diwali party. Now where did I put those diyas and tea-lights...

Supporting my friend Bala's art. I knew Bala briefly in St. Louis and we've been friends since. She's an incredibly generous soul, has rescued dogs and birds, and she's trying a recipe from every country on her blog. I still remember the veggie sushi she made for us almost three years ago.

Bala sent me my little one this sign as a gift
when she was born-
it hangs proudly in her room.
Those familiar Indian art forms of rangoli, kolam and mehendi- Bala interprets them on canvas. I am mesmerized by her mandalas and kolams. For years, she has donated paintings to raise money for various worthy causes and is now raising money to go pro. I am cheering her on and spreading the word! Please read her story and support her if you can.

Nicest thing that happened this month: A very sweet reader named Rashmi read in my book survey that I don't have an e-reader and promptly sent me one that she isn't using any more. It is very fun to try an e-reader for the first time, but more than that, I was so touched by this generous and spontaneous gesture.

October was a lucky month because I also won a quilting book and an online quilting class in blog giveaways. Inspired by all this generosity, I looked around for a couple of things to share in turn. Nothing as big as an e-reader but if you'd like to put your name in the hat for these little gifts, please fill out the forms (there are just two questions in the form- so I know your e-mail contact). I'm afraid I can only ship within the US, but please feel free to enter on behalf of family/friends in the US if you live elsewhere. I'll randomly draw winners on Sunday, November 3.


1. A Marathi book written by a group of pediatricians (my mother co-wrote and edited this book) called Balahaar Margadarshika (guide book for children's nutrition). It has dozens of kid-friendly recipes, informative articles and cute cartoons. You will need to be able to read Marathi in order to use this cookbook! Put your name in the hat by filling this form.The giveaway is closed- won by Uma.

2. One of my favorite books, the Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. I bought this copy in my library's annual book sale and it is in great condition. Put your name in the hat by filling this form.The giveaway is closed- won by Prathima.

3. A scarf: I knitted this soft and squishy blue drop-stitch scarf for no one in particular, and saved it in my "gift box". Maybe you'll enjoy it this winter? It is fairly short, but would look nice cinched with a brooch or tucked under a jacket collar. Put your name in the hat by filling this form. The giveaway is closed- won by Jui.

How did the month of October treat you? What are you eating, reading, making, planning, and laughing at? What was the nicest thing that happened to you all month? Share in the comments, please and thank you. Happy Halloween and Happy Diwali to everyone who's celebrating!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Crust-less Mini Quiches

No chit-chat today (shocking, I know)- just a quick recipe that I made this morning for an event at work. It turned out well and I wanted to jot it here before I forget the approximate proportions.

This is a big batch of crust-less mini quiches (but the recipe can easily be halved) that are perfect for breakfast, snacks or as appetizers. It is a take on these mini quiches that I made a while ago and had almost forgotten. Oh, and they are much less work than these other mini quiches I've posted before.

There is a lot of flexibility in this recipe, this is just the way I made these today...

Crust-less Mini Quiches
(Makes 24)

1. In a skillet, saute 1 medium minced onion in a little olive oil.

2. Add 6-8 cups of vegetables diced small (I used mushrooms, broccoli and zucchini) and your choice of seasoning (I used salt, oregano, paprika, cumin...) and saute on medium-high heat until the veggies are tender.

3. Let the vegetables cool down.

4. Preheat oven to 375F.

5. In a large bowl, beat 7 or 8 large eggs. Stir in the cooked veggies, more seasoning if you like, 4 tbsp. cream cheese (cut roughly in small cubes), 1/4 cup whole-milk yogurt, 1/3 cup of shredded Parmesan and 1/3 cup of shredded cheddar. Sprinkle mixture with 1 cup flour and 1 tbsp. baking powder and fold those in.

6. Spray 2 muffin tins well and ladle the mixture into the 24 wells.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffy and golden, and a knife inserted into the center comes clean.

8. Serve hot or at room temperature.

See you next week with The List for October!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Apple Pie for a Crowd

(...and an apple cake that you'll want to hide and eat all by yourself.)

Clearly, I'm going to town on the crisper full of apples that we bought in North Carolina. They are exquisitely crisp and sweet, perfect for snacking on (Lila likes apple slices slathered with peanut butter) but as a baking enthusiast, I had to try them in some recipes too.

There's nothing like the smell of baking apples to remind me that Fall is here. Well, that and the metric ton of dead leaves clogging up the yard that I'm trying my best to avoid raking.

The first recipe I tried was Dorie Greenspan's French Apple Cake from David Lebovitz's blog. What's a French apple cake versus an American apple cake? Well, instead of the traditional and much beloved pairing of apples with cinnamon in American desserts, this cake is flavored with rum. Not to confuse a French recipe with an American idiom, but this recipe simply hits a home run.

The cake is made of very basic ingredients, along with a dash of rum, as I said before. I used Bacardi Gold rum which sits in my pantry all year round only to be used in fruit cake. My only modification was to use 1/2 cup sugar instead of 3/4 cup. The apples are so plentiful that the batter is merely a coating for the apple pieces. This cake was a delightful treat, with soft chunks of apples in a cake so light and tender that it almost tasted like custard. I don't have much of a sweet tooth but I honestly kept coming back and stealing chunks of it all day.

The second recipe came about when I needed to take a dessert to a gathering. I was longing to make apple pie but a pie only serves about 8. Normally. In my house, it serves 2 or 3. Anyway, I discovered that there is such a thing as a slab pie, that is, all the layers of a pie baked in a larger format like a 9 x 13 pan or a half-sheet pan.

I found a recipe that called for pie crust to be patted into the pan- seriously makes things easier. Here's my tweaked version. This apple slab pie was an absolute treat, especially served warm (leftovers can be easily warmed in the microwave oven).

Apple Pie for a Crowd
(Adapted from this recipe)

1. To make the crust, combine the following, cutting the butter into the flour.
1.5 cups flour
1.5 sticks cold butter, cut in small pieces
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar

2. Add ice cold water a couple of tablespoons at a time and mix until the pie dough just comes together. Pat this dough into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Put the pan into the freezer while you make the rest of the layers.

3. Crumb topping: In a bowl, mix the following, again cutting the butter into the rest of the ingredients.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. cold butter
Pinch of salt

4. Apple filling: Peel, core and chop 6 apples. Toss them with 1/4 cup sugar, juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 tbsp. cinnamon.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

6. Assemble the slab pie: Pour apple mixture into the pan and level it off. Scatter crumb mixture evenly on top.

7. Bake for an hour or until the filling is bubbling.

These two recipes were both pinned to my Sweetest Things board and are Pins #2 and #3 for the Pin It and Do It challenge.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Sewing Machine and A Sneak Peek Into My Sewing Room

As I'm learning to tame the beast that is my sewing machine, I've discovered the vibrant community of sewing and quilting blogs written by people who generously share tips, tutorials, advice and inspiration. So, when I stumbled on this post asking for sewing machine reviews, I decided to jump in and contribute a review about my sewing machine.

What brand and model do you have? I have the Brother CE-5500PRW Project Runway™ Limited Edition Computerized Sewing Machine.

How long have you had it? I've owned this machine for 2.5 years. But the first year I owned it, I did not use it at all. I only looked at it anxiously from time to time before putting it back into the closet.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?
I bought it for $135.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)? I use it for piecing quilt tops, quilting and simple sewing projects like wallets and bags and pillowcase dresses.

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get? I sew two or three hours every week, on average. So the machine gets fairly light wear and tear.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does your machine have a name? My machine is called Big Brother. I definitely like my machine- Big Brother is my buddy and we're learning to work together!

What features does your machine have that work well for you? The machine is simple to use. Changing thread, loading bobbins, changing needles, changing feet was all easy to learn. The drop in bobbin is very convenient. The machine has 50 stitches or something ridiculous like that, but I only tend to use the straight stitch and the zig zag. My sister (who sews professionally) used the machine for a month when she was visiting me and she liked it very much.

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine? I found it very difficult to sew multiple layers on this machine. Buying a walking foot has made this a lot easier, so I highly recommend buying a walking foot if you buy this machine.

I've used my quilting teacher's Bernina once or twice, and using that very high-end machine gave me an experience of driving the Cadillac of sewing machines. So I understand that Big Brother is noisy and not as smooth as some machines are!

The throat of the machine is small which will make it a challenge to quilt anything bigger than a crib sized or possible twin sized quilt. It works for me because I have no intentions of making big quilts.

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?  I would certainly recommend this machine to beginners. Before you start sewing/quilting, you have no idea how much you'll use a machine and whether you'll end up liking these crafts, and it does not make sense to buy a high-end machine. I like to start small and work my way up.

Brother makes very inexpensive machines that have good features. I have read many reviews that the machines are not durable and not sturdy and this may well be true, but so far mine is working well.

Do you have a dream machine? If I'm still sewing and quilting avidly 3 years from now, I might splurge on a refurbished Bernina or Janome.

This is where where Big Brother lives:

I've been having great fun converting our spare bedroom into a sewing room/studio for myself. It is hard to describe the pleasure that comes from having a tidy, bright and cheerful space devoted to creative pursuits, and this is where I now do most of my sewing and blogging. Knitting is done strictly in front of the TV but the knitting supplies and other craft paraphernalia do live in this room!

This space was inspired by photos of countless sewing rooms that I've seen on blogs and on Pinterest. My sewing room came together via lots of purchases at IKEA and some generous hand-me-downs from my quilting teacher- she gave me the ironing board and the thread rack.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

By one window is the sewing/cutting table, where Big Brother sits. The table is big enough for a cutting mat. V was nice enough to mount the thread rack onto the side of the bookcase so that thread is just at arm's length when I sit down to sew.

There are stacked bins for my fabric. I've decided that I can only have as much fabric as can fit into these bins. When I mention this to quilter friends, they just laugh out loud.

I have plans for the blank wall at the back- I want to make it a design wall like this one. Designs walls are very helpful for laying out quilt blocks to "audition" them.

By the other window is a small desk- and this is where much of One Hot Stove is written.

I learned a new technique called paper piecing and made this dog as a sample. Somehow the droopy ears reminded me of Dale and so I put it in a frame and it sits on my desk.

My mother and sister gave me several adorable block-printed cotton fabrics from India. I put them in thrifted wooden embroidery hoops and now this cheerful grouping makes me smile every time I look at it. This has got to be the easiest wall decor project ever.

It turns out that ironing seams is one of the most important steps in sewing and quilting. When I come into the room to sew, the first thing I do it to switch on the iron.

I spent my entire lifetime trying to avoid ironing by buying wash and wear clothing or cheerfully wearing crumpled cotton clothing- it is the one chore I hate with all my heart. And now here in my sewing room is an ironing station. A place devoted to nothing but ironing! As Alanis Morissette would say, "Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?" "Iron"ic! Get it?? :D

This ironing station was inspired by this one that I pinned here and is Pin #1 for this month's Pin It and Do It challenge. Psst- if you're looking for motivation to try something you've pinned, it is not too late to sign up.

I found this button rug at IKEA and just couldn't resist buying it for the sewing room.The tapestry was a gift from my parents- they bought it on their travels through India. I think it is Pipli applique work from Orissa.

Duncan likes to drape himself decoratively on the rug.
My button jar. It makes me inordinately happy. 
 Have a wonderful Sunday and I'll see you be back on Tuesday or Wednesday with an apple dessert. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Berry Parfaits, and How Children Succeed

Here's a simple treat that was Part II of Lila's birthday celebrations, this time with her classmates and teachers in the daycare center. When I mentioned that I was bringing treats to Lila's class, it led to an interesting discussion with two of my quilting friends (both of whom happen to be much older than me).You see, they assumed that I would bring in cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles and I had to explain that we're in an era when cupcakes (and other sugary treats like cookies, candy and juice) are banned from her school, along with nuts (allergy concerns) and grapes, popcorn (choking hazards) among other things. And you can just forget about the frosting and the sprinkles.

My friends rolled their eyes a little- no cake for kids; that's just sad, they said. I could almost hear them sighing in relief that they raised their kids in simpler times before the food police came into power. Listen, I get what they're saying, and I also get what the school is trying to do. Being a parent or a teacher is a tough job because you're always trying to strike a balance and do the right thing (without there being any consensus on what the "right thing" is).

Desserts in moderation, to be enjoyed on special occasions- I'm completely on board with that, and my child gets to enjoy sweet treats. You bet I'll bake her a cake for her birthday. Rather than labeling foods as "good" and "bad", I hope to help her develop a positive relationship with food. Rather than banning sugar and thereby making it a "forbidden fruit" that she seeks out when she's away from my supervision, I try to encourage a taste for wholesome food so she ends up preferring it to the processed stuff.

I also understand that we live in an environment that is saturated with cheap, sugar-laden food, and in light of there being classroom celebrations almost every day, I completely appreciate that the school administrators try to point parents towards treats that are relatively nutritious and safe for all the kids to eat. They are trying to disengage the equation of sugar=fun.

So this is the treat that I came up with. It meets all the rules and is a sweet treat all the same. I made parfaits, which is a rather posh name for something so simple.

To start with, you need some vanilla yogurt and some nut-free granola. Both can be store bought but are simple enough to make at home. These are quantities for 12 parfaits.

Vanilla yogurt: Stir 2 tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract into 3 cups plain whole-milk yogurt.

Nut-free granola: Toss 1 cup oats with 1/4 cup raisins, 1 tbsp. maple syrup, 1 tbsp. olive oil and a pinch of cinnamon and salt. Spread on a greased baking sheet and bake at 300F for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Let it cool.

To assemble the parfaits, simply layer fruits, yogurt and granola as shown in the picture. Any ripe fruits will do, but I used strawberries and blueberries because they are Lila's favorites. I used mini round food containers (found in every supermarket). They have a 1/2 capacity which is just perfect for a toddler snack and are transparent which makes for nice-looking parfaits because you can see the layers. They can be sealed shut for transport and I found to my great delight that these cups fit perfectly into a muffin tin for safe, upright transport to school! And I was able to freeze the empty muffin tin before putting in the cups so they stayed cold on the ride over. Yes, I'm channeling Martha Stewart here.

The berry parfaits were enjoyed by the kids and the teachers and it was very sweet when Lila came home with a paper birthday crown and said over and over again, "Teacher singeth happy birthday Lila".

Image: Goodreads
On the same subject of parenting, I read an interesting book recently- How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. The book asks the question, what factors go into making a child grow into a successful adult? And it turns out that while cognitive skills- language, math, pure IQ and thinking ability do matter, what matters even more is character skills such as self-control, curiosity and the ability to deal with failure and to persevere.

To me, this book was interesting from two perspectives: One, as a parent, how do I cultivate these meaningful character traits in my child? Two, how do we as a society establish educational programs so that children from all backgrounds can succeed and grow into more productive citizens? The book has no magic answers but it contains interesting research, case studies and plenty of food of thought.

Many parents are obsessed with academic success, starting with that baby Einstein nonsense in infancy. (As an aside, I always roll my eyes when I see a car with a "My kid is an honors student" bumper sticker and I always snicker when I see the one that says, "My dog is smarter than your honors student".) I am fairly sure that my kid will learn to read, write and count sooner or later. I'd rather help her develop a strong sense of ethics and self-discipline and mental toughness.

Books like these are complex so I am noting down three take-home lessons for myself. By the way, if you can't get a hold of this book, here's a good summary.

1. Strong parental nurturing in early childhood is strongly correlated with character development. So hold your babies and bond closely with them. Be warm and responsive to your little ones. Babies who are securely attached learn to cope with stress and this benefit lasts for a lifetime.

2. In adolescence, in contrast, coddling a child and protecting them from failure is not the right approach. They should learn to take risks, face failure, analyze why they failed and learn from it. Interestingly, children of very affluent parents who grow up facing no adversity are more likely to be maladjusted teens.

3. Steep the child in a culture of good character. Treat these traits as being as important, or even more important, than getting good grades.

That's it, friends. Have a wonderful week and see you in a few. Oh and don't forget to share your favorite parenting wisdom in the comments. We can all learn from each other.