Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Whole Masoor Amti

Have you ever watched those "Where are they now?" TV specials where they track down the cast of some popular show from a bygone era and catch up on what the actors are doing decades later? I've been playing the "Where are they now?" game with about 40 of my high school friends. A couple of months ago, we had a virtual reunion on a group text messaging app. Before then, I had only been in touch with about 4 of them. So to suddenly hear dozens of old friends chattering away now on a daily basis, after a passage of over two decades, is wonderful and disorienting. With every photo, I gasp and marvel at pictures of smiling, confident women (yes, all women, I went to an all-girls' school), often posing with partners and kids, and remember them vividly all the way from the cute early grades to the gawky teenage years. Now some of us are mothers to teenagers- how is this even possible?! Where does the time go? And are you officially middle aged when you start saying things like where does the time go? 

From our graduating class in a small town, we now find ourselves living very diverse lives across the globe. In this unsettling world we live in, it is truly a blessing to know that old friends are only a text away and I am waiting to see them all in person as we cross paths during our travels. Groups chats are a funny thing- there are the constant streams of good morning messages (with requisite pictures of baskets of flowers and landscape scenes) and birthday and anniversary greetings (with requisite emojis of bouquets, cakes and confetti) plus random inspirational videos, quotations and forwarded jokes that I would rather do without. But we always welcome enticing pictures of food accompanied by recipes. One friend posted a video titled 15 most loved dishes in Kolhapur and it set off mad cravings in the group for some assal (true blue) Kolhapuri food. 7 of them are mutton dishes- that's nearly 50%! But what can I say? That percentage is an accurate reflection of the truth. Vegetarians like me are regarded with pity in Kolhapur.

Right after watching the video, one of my friends (now a Mumbai resident) changed her dinner menu and immediately made #14 on the list in the video- akkha masoor or whole lentil curry. She shared her recipe and several of us in the group made it in the days following- a tasty meme, so to speak.

My classmate's recipe is interesting, in that it is very heavy on onions, indeed, it has very little but onions and masoor. Her lovingly hand-written recipe (see the picture) calls for 7-8 onions which sounds like rather a lot, but these are the smaller, typical shallot-like onions found in India. A classmate in California piped up and said that the onions she buys are 2-3 inches wide, so should she be using that many? Which immediately led other classmates to rib her, "You never even brought a ruler to school, and now you're taking one to the market?" This is what you get with old friends.

Here is the recipe, adapted to my kitchen. There are many ways of making this dish, and this onion-heavy, tomato-less, no-coconut variation is new to me. We enjoyed it very much.

Whole Masoor Amti (Niki's recipe)

Soak 2 cups masoor (whole brown lentils) for a few hours.

Heat 3-4 tbsp. oil in a pressure cooker. Fry 2-3 finely chopped onions in the oil until browned and caramelized. Add the soaked masoor, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin and coriander powder, all to taste. Add 2-3 cups of water and pressure cook until masoor is tender.

Tempering: In a small pan, heat 2 tbsp. oil and 2 tbsp. ghee. Add 1 tbsp. cumin seeds, 2 finely chopped onions and 2 finely chopped green chilies (or to taste). Saute until the onions are browned, then add this mixture to the cooked masoor and simmer for 10 minutes.

Are you in touch with your school friends? 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Summer Eating and Summer Reading

Our most exciting edible find of summer 2017 was not discovered in the produce section or even the Farmers' Market. It was foraged from rather damp and dank spaces in our own wooded neighborhood.

It was a very rainy summer here in North East Georgia, and conditions were just right for thousands of golden chanterelle mushrooms to pop up in wooded clearings. Lila and V foraged chantarelles by the armful on their morning walks, filling the stroller basket with their bounty. Back home, V cleaned and cooked them very simply in butter and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper. We ate them straight out of the pan, on toast with brie, and tossed with pasta. Chanterelles taste earthy and woodsy and very gourmet- a thrilling treat straight from nature.

Other memorable summer treats-

Very Southern tomato sandwiches. This is a slab of focaccia spread with mayo, fresh tomato slices and a shower of salt and pepper.

Watermelon limeade- cubes of watermelon, lime juice and some crushed ice blended together for a few seconds in the Vitamix. It tastes exactly like fresh sugarcane juice if you can believe it.

Fresh figs shared by a coworker from her backyard fig tree, and briny boiled peanuts.

Our drink of the season: whole fruit margaritas made in the Vitamix. This might be my favorite cocktail of all time- cheers!

* * *

The Mother Daughter Love Fun Club

Over summer, I realized with some dismay that between never-ending household tasks and tending to baby, I couldn't carve out enough one-on-one time with Lila on a daily basis. She's getting to the age where she would enjoy a parent reading "big kid" chapter books to her so I suggested that we start a mother daughter book club and snuggle and read a few chapters every day. Lila loved the idea but wanted to call it the Mother Daughter Love Fun Club so we could do more than just read- we could include art, board games and other activities in our super exclusive, invitation-only club.

I've really enjoyed the chapter books we've read so far. Some were sweet and touching with plenty of opportunities to talk about the ups and downs of life, such as The Chalk Box Kid by Clyde Robert Bulla and My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz. Others are just plain hilarious, such as Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo and Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week by Caroline Adderson. Andrew Lost: In the Kitchen by J C Greenburg has enough grossness to satisfy a giggling 5 year old. All of these books are new to me; as a kid, I could only dream of libraries stuffed with books. What fun it is to discover these books with my little girl.

Another summer favorite in the South-
saucer sized Magnolia flowers with their heady scent

* * *

The bedtime reading habit

Without really planning to, I have slipped into the habit of reading for 20-30 minutes before bed every night. It is one of the simple joys in life to be propped up in bed reading by the warm glow of a bedside lamp, often with Dunkie the pup resting against me. It also provides a much needed screen-free buffer before bedtime. I read from my stack of library books, or a recent issue of The New Yorker or another less weighty magazine plucked from the informal magazine exchange at the public library.

I describe the blissful start to the night's rest; however, things rapidly go downhill around the midnight mark and most of our nights could not be described as blissful. The culprit is the baby boy who wakes up complaining several times at night- the number of night wakings and the timing of night wakings all vary from night to night, keeping us stumbling around on our bleary toes. So it is only fitting that on the top of my stack is Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents by Alexis Dubief (2017- I literally bought it the day it was published). I do like the book- it is comprehensive and full of practical advice, written with intelligence and humor, however, whether it magically solves our sleep issues, only time will tell.

When I wrote this post, someone suggested that I read the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (2009). I did and I enjoyed reading it. The author acknowledges that "Simplification is for those of us whose lives are characterized less by need than by want" and offers plenty of advice on simplifying various aspects of a child's life: decluttering their rooms and rotating toys so kids can engage in deep play, maintaining daily and weekly rhythms and routines to keep a child feeling secure, limiting scheduled activities and giving kids plenty of down time, and shielding children from the relentless anxieties and pressures of the adult world. 

My favorite fiction summer reading: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2017). Anthony Horowitz is the brilliant screenwriter for two of my favorite TV mysteries- Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders. Magpie Murders is a delicious read- two mysteries in one- and I highly recommend it for all fans of the cozy mystery genre. 

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2004) is a well-crafted psychological thriller and a rollercoaster of a read- very enjoyable indeed.

I also read a memoir, Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014), enjoyed her take on the Hollywood biz, loved reading about her childhood and how she got started in comedy, and the essay on motherhood was beautiful. Amy Poehler is so fearless and talented and at least once a day I mimic her SNL weekend update sketch and say, "Really???"

Every summer, NPR comes out with a "best 100 books" list focusing on a different genre every year. This year, it was 100 best comics and graphic novels. I am a fairly new but very enthusiastic reader of graphic novels and plan to read most of these in the coming months. So far, I've read Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire (2010)- a fascinating, disturbing post-apocalyptic tale. 

What have you been reading? 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Malai Gobi: A Restaurant Style Recipe

Over the last couple of months, we have had short and long visits from several family members and the kitchen has been bustling. Planning everyday meals for an ever changing cast of people of different ages and tastes is a bit of a challenge- a balancing act between making something new and different and "interesting" but making it with familiar and well-liked ingredients.

Cauliflower is a staple of my vegetable bin and I hunted around in my Pinterest folder for a new way to cook it. I found just what I was looking for- an easy to make but luxurious curry, and dinner that evening was a hit. The credit for this recipe goes straight to Vaishali of Holy Cow. Check out her blog for often Indian, always vegan, always fresh and accessible recipes.

I tweaked Vaishali's recipe for malai gobi a little bit. I don't have a picture but I do want to record my version of the recipe so here it is. This is one of those restaurant style recipes that you can pull off quite effortlessly. The rich, sweet, nutty sauce is finger-licking good.

Malai Gobi- a creamy cauliflower curry

1. Soak 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces for 30 minutes or so.

2. Saute 2 diced medium onions in oil.

3. Blend together to a thick smooth paste:
Sauteed onions from step 2
Soaked cashews from step 1 (with soaking water)
1 heaped tbsp. white poppy seeds (khus khus)
1-2 green chilies
1/2 cup milk (any unsweetened milk will do- dairy/ coconut/ almond)

4. Heat oil in a large saucepan and saute cauliflower florets from 1 medium head of cauliflower. Add salt to taste.

5. When florets are half cooked, add the onion-nut paste and 1 tbsp. kasuri methi. Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, stirring occasionally.

6. Turn off the heat and garnish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of garam masala*.

*The masala I often use for such curries is what my mother calls "Punjabi masala", a very simple yet flavorful blend of just 3 spices: cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.

What new and interesting recipes have you been cooking lately? :)