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


  1. Yes one pot meals have been our go to here too..veggie chilli ( bits amd bobs of veggies and different beans ) , aviyal and so on. We're alao fascinated with a Korean youtuber maangchi from NYC who posts deliciously cute recipes of scallion pancakes, bibimbap which can be easily veganized etc so
    that's in our rotation as well. We also watch bong eats for gorgeously shot bengali recipes and chef ranveer brar ..chefs with lots of heart .

    My sis and brother in law have adopted an aggressive home schooling schedule. They live in a downstairs apartment from an afghani family with 5 ( quelle horreur lol) kids plus their two. So they divide and conquer with my brother in law teaching the older boys and my sis the younger kids. Glad lila is having fun ! Niam sounds adorable and so does your puppy aunning himself ...

    1. Janani- Much as I love watching foodie shows and videos, I've honestly stopped because they induce cravings and make me too hungry! It is wonderful that your sis and BIL have found a way to keep kids busy and help their neighbors. We have SO many kids in our neighborhood and what a great time they would have together but we all are avoiding play dates at this time so our family of 4 (plus doggie) are truly isolated in that sense.

    2. My sister lives in Ithaca..the only place in the US where that's possible I guess lol. My mommy friends here are struggling actually to keep their little tykes engaged.

      Also agreed with the cravings comment. My husband is the biggest culprit and am always threatening to throw out the TV when he searches for these shows sighhh

  2. Have you tried Sujata Massey’s books? Recommend the Widows of Malabar Hill!

    1. Yes, read it and loved it and want to read her second book :)

  3. Thanks for sharing vignettes from your life, nupur. I'm glad food blogs are one pleasure that are still accessible to us at this time. We have also been cooking simple but delicious meals to nourish ourselves and we are so thankful. Today, we had ginger rasam from saffrontrail, parupu thogayal from padhuskitchen and tindli bhaji. My freezer vaal is sprouting and your dalimbhay bhat is in my meal plan tomorrow.

    1. Blogging feels good at this time- a way to stay connected, so I'm happily making time for it! I too am thankful every time I can put a simple meal together for us. Your menu sounds comforting and tasty. Dalimbay are a true Maharashtrian favorite.

  4. I wish I had done the same as you with library books - I have only one or two on my to read pile but if I get the change to get back to work to pick up stuff (when I have a flu shot booked) I might find a few more there.

    You sound like you are doing lots of great stuff with the kids at home - what a challenge - does it mean you are not working at the moment? I worked from home last week which was ok but I think schools are closing Tuesday (tbc as state and national govt have given contradictory advice today!) and that would be a challenge for me.

    I thought it quite funny you made a pizza full of mistakes and loved it. Hope you manage to recreate it! It sounds delicious.

    1. Johanna- psychologically, the stack of books brings me great comfort even though realistically I am barely getting time to read. We are both working from home as well as watching the kids. I'm finding that work looks very different in this scenario. There are not big blocks of time. I work in the early AM when kids get TV time, in the afternoons when the toddler takes a nap (and big sis goes to her room for quiet reading), my husband takes kids and dog for long walks so I can work, etc. Lock myself in the bedroom for conference calls. E-mails are answered throughout the day. I am a member of a really wonderful work team and we are helping each other and getting stuff done somehow.

      I find (in my rather limited sample size of 2) that older kids are SO MUCH easier to manage. It is a challenge at any age to be juggling work from home and childcare, no question, but older kids can do so much more by themselves.

  5. In my normally busy schedule of working two jobs, one for a non profit, I haven´t had time to keep up on you. Now that I am sheltered in place, I can catch up. We have to look at the good things. I live alone and am used to now cooking for one. But during this pandemic, my son is back from his closed University and my fiance´ has moved in since his job as a private music instructor has been taken away by coronavirus. Now I´m cooking for three including two men! I am fully stocked with daals and before the crisis, had just purchased a 20'lb bag of chakki atta. my men will now be making my naan and

    1. You are so right that we have to look at the good things and count our blessings. I hope warm chapatis and dal will keep your bellies full and satisfied through these troubled weeks!

  6. We have been in lockdown here in Bangalore for more than 2 weeks now. With 3 (or more) weeks still to go. It has been quite overwhelming to be honest. Work has been hectic for both hubs and I (working from home), plus doing the cooking+housework. But I know everyone is in the same boat. Son's school closed early with him missing only the last 2 weeks. And he is in U-KG (6 years) so he didnt miss much of school work anyway. I stocked up on lots of tintin comics (his fave). We have sort of started getting adjusted to the new schedule. There is no time for any reading unfortunately for me. Whatever little free time I get I try to spend in the garden doing some gardening. In the cooking department since my cook has been off me and husband are taking turns to cook either dal-rice or curd-rice lol!! Plus the staple oatmeal for brekkie. Yesterday my kind neighbor shared some kannada/konkani style "ghaasi" curry with us for ugadi which was super yum! Stay safe Nupur.

  7. I was thinking of you on/off the last two weeks. I didn't see any posts after the Neopolitan one, and I thought that you might be busy figuring out work/home stuff during the lockdown. So glad to read from you. :) Meals have been fun here as well. Since my husband is home, cooking is a lot easier (I don't need to begin lunch prep first thing in the day.) He cooks when he is able to, and that's a good/delicious break for me. Our local Indian grocery is closed for walk-in customers, and we have to place orders over email. A lot of the regular dals, etc. aren't available because of panic buying. :( Well, I hope wisdom prevails.

  8. I have more and enough books at home but I have been feeling too restless to read. In fact, I think I should read SLOW simply to deal with restlessness.


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