Saturday, March 21, 2020

One-Pot Rajma Chawal, Pizza and Quarantine Reading

We are sheltering in place, like broad swaths of the globe. I have started my new role as a second grade homeschool teacher. My daughter's public school has been superb- earlier this week, the principal and assistant principal stood outside the school for 3 hours as parents came by to pick up packets of worksheets and home lessons. Every morning, teachers post a cheerful message and mini assignments for the day. The class teacher called each family to check on the children. Everyone is trying to do what they can under the circumstances.

Our 8 year old does a few worksheets (language and math) every day and then has plenty of time left over to play with her brother, spend hours coloring, play board games with me, arrange and rearrange Pokemon cards, read and watch some TV. Honestly, for an 8 year old there is no dearth of ways to fill time. It is such a great age. There are so many things I haven't even suggested yet, like podcasts, craft kits, jigsaw puzzles and sudoku. I'm trying to do something new every day with her. Yesterday, we watched a Khan academy video together- an introduction to multiplication. It was great! I am so grateful for people like Sal Khan and so many other artists and educators that put out valuable content online for free.

Three year olds are a different story. Our toddler has the attention span of a fruit fly and it is harder to engage him in activities for any period of time. He hopefully asks me every morning if school is open yet. Clearly he misses his buddies and teachers and the full schedule of his wonderful Montessori school.

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I was looking for a baking project that we could do together and decided to make overnight pizza dough for a pizza lunch the following day. I have all-purpose flour in the pantry but no bread flour. There was some active dry yeast in the freezer but no instant yeast. So I looked around for a recipe that used the ingredients I had on hand and ended up using this recipe. It resulted in a wonderful workable dough in minutes. The kids used a bowl and a dough whisk- no mixer or food processor needed.

 I plopped the dough in a plastic box in the fridge. It has been a while since I made any kind of yeasted bread from scratch and apparently I've completely forgotten how much dough rises, even in the fridge. The next morning, I found this overflowing box in the fridge. (Insert facepalm here.) It was easy enough to cut out the dried-out bits and salvage most of the dough.

When lunch time was about an hour away, I oiled a heavy half-sheet pan with some olive oil and plopped the dough into it. In hindsight, I should have used 2/3 of the dough and saved the rest. Using all that dough on one pan resulted in a thicker pizza than I wanted. Yes, mistakes were made. I covered the dough and let it rise for 30 minutes. Then the kids patted it down to cover the bottom of the pan edge to edge.

They topped the dough with a few spoonfuls of pizza sauce (made on the fly by mixing jarred marinara sauce with some pesto) and handfuls of shredded mozzarella.

I baked the pan pizza in a 450F oven. Yet another mistake- I should have cranked up the oven to 500F. The top of the pizza browned before the bottom did. Another improvement would be to bake on the lowest rack of the oven instead of the top rack like I did.

After this absolute litany of mistakes, guess what, though? It was still the best pizza I've ever made at home. It was like a thick crust focaccia pizza, but the texture and taste were just so good. I'm going to try this again next week with fewer missteps, hopefully.

Pan pizza slices; notice how the top is perfect but the
crust (upturned slice) could have used more browning.
*  *  *

Apart from occasional experiments as with the pizza, I have been cooking simple, nourishing meals for the family. One recipe in our regular meal rotation is the brown rice and black bean instant pot recipe that I have posted before. On a whim, I made an Indian riff on the recipe by using kidney beans instead of black beans and subbing in Indian spices. It made a wonderful and easy one pot rajma chawal- served here with green beans subzi

Soak 1.5 cups dry (raw) kidney beans, then rinse thoroughly.

Mix the following in the instant pot-
  • Soaked kidney beans
  • 3/4 cup dry (raw) brown rice, rinsed
  • 7 cups water
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
Seasoning- all to taste
  • Kasuri methi
  • Cumin-coriander powder
  • Paprika/ cayenne
  • Kitchen king masala
  • Salt
Cook on high pressure for 22 minutes.
Natural pressure release.

* * * 

When the public library announced last weekend that they would be closed for at least 2 weeks, I ran over there in haste. This is my version of panic buying- panic checking out of an armload of books.

Much of my quarantine bookshelf consists of books that were picked up strictly for their soothing and distracting qualities. Wodehouse on crime by P. G. Wodehouse is on my living room table right now, a dozen short stories each based on some sort of misdemeanor or deception. 28 Barbary lane is a book I've wanted to read for a while and this seems like a good time for gossipy, soapy stories about the inhabitants of a block of San Francisco. I also added a McCall Smith for good measure and the latest Maisie Dobbs novel.

Some of the books are intended for particular tasks in the Read Harder 2020 challenge- Bomb is YA historic non-fiction about the race to build the bomb, Village School by Miss Read is for the task- book that takes place in a rural setting, The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is for the task about a middle grade book not set in the US or UK- it is set during the India-Pakistan partition.

For the Read Harder 2020's task on graphic memoirs, I read a trio of middle grade graphic memoirs by Raina Telgemeier and enjoyed all three. Guts is the candid story of Raina aged 9-10 dealing with mysterious GI issues and anxiety, and using therapy to help. Smile is the mind-boggling memoir of how one mishap (falling and breaking two front teeth) led to a couple of years of painful and complicated dental procedures. Sisters is the relatable story of sibling drama during a two week family road trip.

My daughter is reading Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. An interesting title and a dose of dark humor for the times! As you can probably tell from the picture, she's on book 9 now. She loves the fast-paced adventures in this series. A friend generously handed down the whole series to us a couple of years ago and it is great to have these in our little home library.

How is your week going? How are things in your neck of the woods?

Spring equinox 2020: Fresh air on the porch

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sipping Soup for Viral Times

This big blue planet seems like a small place now, as everyone around the globe is huddling from and struggling against the novel virus COVID-19. Around here last week was relatively normal (we were on Spring break and even took the kids to the High Museum in Atlanta), but now schools are closed for the next week and quite possibly longer. All around us is a ghost town as people seek to isolate and contain the virus, even as a few cases have been confirmed around us.

Amid all this uncertainly, one thing is for sure- we are among the lucky ones. V and I are able to work from home. We have each other's support to take turns caring for the kids and pulling out our laptops to catch up on work. We'll get our salaries no matter what the next few weeks look like. We are fortunate to have cash on hand to be able to stock our kitchen and pantry to a reasonable extent with essential goods- and no, I have done absolutely no panic buying and hoarding. The dry rice, beans and lentils in my pantry will see us through many months if it comes to that.

I'm crushed to think of so many who are not as lucky. All the parents who lack childcare and aren't allowed/able to work from home. The lost jobs. The shuttered small businesses. The rich will sail through this while the poor will get poorer. The health implications of a pandemic are bad enough and then the economic devastation will be unbelievable. I hope we can all come together and get through it in one piece.

While the local kids are home and parents are collectively gearing up to entertain youngsters who are too used to a busy week of school, extra-curricular classes, play-dates and outings, here's one more factor that's not working in our favor: the weather forecast for the next 10 days. There's rain followed by more rain.

I'm trying to be creative and come up with fresh ideas for the kids. Not being a particularly fun and playful person by nature (!), this is going to need some work and an attitude shift from my end. We can't treat this as an extended weekend. There needs to be some structure and routine and purpose to our days.

No matter what else we do, one priority is to find ways for myself and the kids to be physically active, rain or no rain. This morning I suggested that we learn how to do yoga surya namaskars or sun salutations. I have wanted to learn this for a while. We found a video online and followed along in our living room. My toddler would have none of it but my daughter loved it. It felt good! We'll try to do these every morning as a wake-up exercise.

In the afternoon, I looked out at the grimy-from-winter screened porch and asked the kids if they would like to clean the porch so they can eat lunch out there even on rainy days. They shocked me by enthusiastically working together to sweep the floor and wipe down everything and then calling us out for a "grand reopening". Amid the sibling squabbles and bored whining, I LIVE for moments like these! Clearly, I have to find more projects for them to do together.

* * * 

Here's a recipe that's often featured in my home when the forecast looks like this- a basic vegetable soup. I call it a sipping soup because I love making a thinner version and sipping it straight from a mug- it is very therapeutic for scratchy throats. I find usual broccoli cheese soup recipes to be too heavy with all that cheddar and heavy cream. This is my fairly minimalist recipe; it uses a little bit of cream cheese to add thickness and no other milk, cream or cheese.

Broccoli Sipping Soup

1. In an electric cooker insert (instant pot or such; although it could also be done in a regular pot on the stove), combine roughly chopped florets and stems from 2 heads of broccoli, and 1 roughly chopped medium carrot.

2. Add 4 cups water, 1 tbsp. nutritional yeast and seasoning. The seasoning can be salt, pepper and herbs of choice. Or your favorite seasoning blend. Or what I most often use is 1 tbsp. of better than bouillon seasoning- the roasted garlic flavor this time.

3. Pressure cook on HIGH for 3 minutes. Quick release pressure.

4. Add 2-3 tbsp. cream cheese (I buy the bar kind) to the cooked mixture. Then blend everything until smooth.

5. Add juice of 1/2 lemon; taste and adjust the seasoning.

Here's a note specially for these stocking-up times. While I buy fresh vegetables regularly and they are what I use most, I also keep a reliable stock of frozen vegetables on hand.

This (on the right) is a frozen veg blend that comes in very handy to make this sipping soup, a standard supermarket "California medley" of broc, cauli and carrots. A bag of these veggies cooked in the same way makes a hearty pot of soup.

Hope everyone stays safe and healthy out there. Tell me what's happening in your corner of the world. (I really do miss this blog when weeks go by and I don't/can't post. I keep trying to get into the groove of posting more regularly...)