Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013!

2012 was such a roller coaster ride. up and down, round and round..... When did it start? And now, it's ending.
So many things happened, as they always do, no doubt, in every body's life and we (my little family) are no exceptions.

I have lost my patience many more times than I care to remember. I feel ashamed.

I have cried, as though my heart was broken, indeed, it felt like that, I survived.

I laughed, loudly, I cherish those moments.

I made new friends, strengthened the bond of an acquaintance to a strong and reliable friendship.

I missed my parents, so much that I started imagining them with me in my home or riding the car with me... I was lonely.

I watched my son grow taller, I felt proud yet sad, he is no longer the infant I held in my arms, soft as butter, no longer the toddler, who ran round the apartment in his diaper squealing with joy and avoiding all attempts at putting him into a pair of tracks. 

I watched him climb into the school bus, his face aglow with happiness at getting to ride the great big yellow school bus! I missed putting him in the car seat and strapping him in and kissing him before I got into the drivers seat. I sighed! 

I watched Father and Son playing games and felt like a complete family, even if it was the weekend. I wished for better and I got my wish. 

After 41/2 long years, we are a full-time family, once more. M got a local job and what was a dream is now reality. Talking, watching movies, going out for a coffee, just because we want to, in the middle of the week was something we wished for, simple pleasures, which are so easily taken for granted! My son now understands that 'office' means  his father goes in the morning and returns in the evening as opposed to going on either Sunday or Monday and returning on Thursday night as we had led him to believe.

This year, after a long wait, I finally managed to enroll myself for Wilton Cake Decorating classes! I wanted to try my hand at something crafty ( since I am a bit handicapped in this department, cannot draw a straight line!) and see if  could, you know, learn. 

Here are some pictures of the cakes I decorated.

This was my first cake. I tried out all the techniques and tips I had used in the first 3 lessons (each course/ level has 4 classes, you make a cake and decorate it in the last class)

Some of the cupcakes I decorated in the first course. The icing is Butter cream Frosting, using the Wilton prescribed measurements.

Course 2 was even more fun! We were learning to make delicate little flowers using Royal Icing. I am not a crafty person and have never been able to do the simplest things, I honestly *never* imagined making flowers and decorating cakes! But here I was, learning! I was so happy! 

 We also learned the Basket Weave, which is not very difficult, but I  need practice and patience! 

And then , before I knew it, I had signed up for course 3! I was so eager to learn more!
4 weeks went by in  a flash and here I was, learning to make calla lillies, and mums, and roses and daisies! oh what a thrill! 
I wanted to do a little something more to this cake, but I ran out of time in the class. When I decided to finish it at home, my son was a little too eager to help and so I decided to leave things as they were, at least until I had taken pictures ( and then my friends came over and we cut the cake and ate it, so there you are! )

The Cake is Classic yellow cake (box mix), I made 2- 8 inch cakes and a filling of whipped cream and added pineapple chunks in the middle.
The frosting was Cheesecake flavor. I used store bought Fondant , tinted it with neon green (  just a few drops to get a light color) and the border in neon blue.
The daisies are made of Gum Paste.

I am now looking forward to the last course.

My cup runneth over! 

Wishing all my dear readers a Very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year! May all your dreams come true! 
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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kokum Kadhi- a taste of Khandesh.

I would  wait for my Mother to make kadhi and khichadi or just kadhi, I loved sipping hot kadhi, in fact, if my Mother would allow it, I would make a meal of only that, like soup, warm, filling and oh-so-very-tasty! 

Just when I thought there was no match for Kadhi, Lisa(my BFF) made a face and declared, "this is not kadhi", laying particular emphasis on the not. I was stunned into silence. I slowly put down my spoon, un-sipped and stared and stupidly said, " is too".  She shook her head and looked mulish, as did I. Neither would budge. We both loved 'our' kadhi.

Then one day, when Lisa's elder sister was away, and so we decided to  make the 'real kadhi' as she called it. I shrugged and  stood by her side. She got our several items, all of which looked like they belonged to some really, really long and tedious recipe, not kadhi! After much persuasion, she agreed to adding besan (chickpea flour) to the yogurt. Something in common, I said to myself! 
Then what happened, neither knows, but all sorts of things went into it, the color and odor (yes, yes, odor.. if you had seen what all went into that sauce pan, you'd say odor too) changed with the addition of every spice. Finally, with a shadow of a doubt in her voice, Lisa pulled out a packet of Sambar Masala and looked at it. She sniffed at it and  almost triumphantly said, "this is the last ingredient". "North meets South Kadhi, Lisa?"
She arched her eyebrow and said, "Delhi mein aisa hi banta hai, Pallu" (That the way we make it in Delhi). I shrugged again.
The final outcome, neither ate that day. The taste was appalling and killed any desire of even ordering , as we would have otherwise done.
Years later I tasted the real thing. To this day, Lisa and I share a laugh over the 'kadhi' we made in her sister's kitchen. By the way, Lisa makes awesome kadhi now!

Over the years I have tasted several versions of kadhi, from different regions of India. Then one day, over a year ago, I tasted yet another version, without yogurt this time, which totally tickled my taste buds and left me craving for more! 
My dear friend, Dipali, made this version and shared the recipe with me. It has taken a while to be featured on the blog only because I did not have a decent picture of it.

It was Kokum Kadhi. It was a Khandeshi preparation, she told me. I admit, I know nothing about this cuisine, despite the fact that it is in Maharashtra! So many things to learn!

Right around Diwali this year, I was lucky to have met 3 other bloggers, who live around the Dallas area. We met at Supriya's home, Richa, Jaya and I. It was a fun evening and of course good food! 

Supriya gave us a goody bag and among other things was a Ziploc containing Kokam/ Amsool and as you can guess, I had to make Kokum Kadhi with it.

The Kokum Supriya gave me are SO good! If you soak them in warm water the color released is the true,'amsooli' color! 

In an odd way, I was glad I had not blogged about this recipe earlier, maybe it was because I wanted to show you all the real color the kadhi should be! 

Thank you Dipali and Supriya! 

This kadhi pairs well with steaming hot white rice as well as with Moogachi khichadi.

Here's how you make it.

You need:

7-8 pieces of Kokum

1 tsp. Besan (chickpea flour)

1 Tbsp. Ghee

1 tsp each Mustard seed and Cumin seed

1 Green chili

dash of Asafetida

Few curry leaves

1 tsp ( or less, as per taste) Red chilies powder

Jaggery, a biggish lump ( you need to adjust the quantity to balance the sweet and sour taste)

Salt to taste

Cilantro, to garnish

Boil water and soak the Kokum in it, overnight.

The next day, using your fingers, squeeze the kokum and strain  the water and discard the solids.

Add the chickpea flour to the kokum water and stir well, ensure there are no lumps.

Heat ghee in a sauce pan. 

Add mustard seeds and after they pop, add the cumin seeds.

*Though Dipali has not mentioned it, I add a dash of asafetida (hing) 

Add the green chili and the red chili powder and *curry leaves.

Add the kokum-besan mixture and add 1 cup water and mix.

Once it comes to a boil, add salt and jaggery to taste.

Let it boil for a minute or so.

Garnish with chopped Cilantro.

Serve ladled over piping hot white rice.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Sweet Corn Soup

Since the weather has made up it's mind to keep low, it is time to bring out the soup recipes. Simple, hearty , filling and brimming with healthy ingredients. 
Do I need to explain any more?!

A steaming hot bowl so capable of spreading warmth and making me feel so good deserves a mention on the blog.

My love for soup, when young, was limited strictly to Tomato Soup. Other soups did not exist. Indeed, many restaurants, at that time boasted only of Cream of Tomato soup and some with Clear Veg. Soup. 
Then came the Indo-Chinese restaurants and they took everything up one level and oh my! the variety of soups they offered! And the flavors! What an explosion in every slurpy spoonful! 

I will admit though, I do not make those soups, I still favor Tomato soup ( and the Marathi Tomato Saar) above all, but always order some spicy Indo-Chinese Soup when we eat out.

Perhaps the simplest (but flavorful)soup is the Sweet Corn Soup. What I like is how very simple it is to put together, once you have the ingredients on hand. For those watching their food or limiting their intake need not fear of indulging in this one! Full of vegetables and no oil, ya heard me! NO oil make this a winner! and for those sniffly days when the eyes and nose waters and the throat itches and tempers flare, take a comforting bowl and make it a meal. This is one of the soups I learned at a cookery class I took, long ago.

It is for one of the reasons stated above that this soup was made in the kitchen today.
My friend Sujata was on a holiday in Los Angeles and her poor little daughter caught a bug. The poor child has been under the weather the whole time and is just about recovering, with a heavy dosage of antibiotics. And ever since they got back, a couple of days ago, Sujata is feeling a bit down too, no wonder. I am hoping this soup will make them feel a bit better. I know it isn't medicine, but just having a warm comforting bow of soup can help just a bit.

You Need: 

1 Can Sweet Corn Cream Style (14.75 oz)

approx. 1 cup Mix Vegetables, I used :

2 medium Carrots

approx. 1/2 cup shredded Cabbage

8-10 French beans

1/2 Green Bell Pepper

(*)Veg. Stock

Salt to taste

approx. 1.5 Tbsp. Rice Vinegar

1 tsp. Black pepper powder ( Optional)

Spring onion / Scallions, chopped to garnish

2 tsps. Cornstarch, mixed with a little water to make a smooth paste.

Chop the mix vegetables, finely and steam them. Set aside.
In a sauce pan, empty the contents of the can.
Add the veg stock to the corn. (*) I filled the sweet corn can with stock and added it in and also the same quantity water. 
You can use just stock, omit the water.
Boil the corn and stock mix for about 3-4 mins.
Add the vegetables and salt and Vinegar, mix.
Add the cornstarch paste  and stir well to combine and let it boil.
Add pepper powder, if using before switching off the heat.
now you have 2 options, add the scallions (white and green) and leave until you serve or just before you ladle out the soup, put some scallions in the bowl and ladle soup on top and serve.


-I used Rachel Ray brand Veg. Stock (no particular preference, just picked it up  in the store), hence the deep brown color.

-You can make your own vegetable stock

- The use of black pepper powder is optional, but it does add a kick to the soup. That is particularly welcome, to me, in the cold weather.

-If you do not have a can of Sweet Corn, cream style, use regular sweet corn , take 1 cup of corn and pulse it in the mixie/ food processor and use.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

'Twas the night before....A White Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas....the man and the child slept peacefully. I sat alone, in the living room, legs tucked  under a thin shawl and curled up in one corner of the sofa, reading. Page after page, I read, then, at one point,  I closed the book, thinking, wondering, imagining, I  shivered a bit, turned and switched on the portable heater to warm my feet. Not that it was so cold, but I felt chilled. It was because of the book I was reading. 

A few weeks ago, my Father and I were discussing books and he recommended, 'The man-eaters of Kumaon'  and I immediately checked my local library listing for the same.  It was unavailable and so I  went on to the inter-library loan section and put in my request.

As I sat reading line after line, page after page, I was in the book, I was walking alongside the author, observing, yet unseen by the characters in the book, like Harry Potter in the Pensieve. I watched with bated breath as the author came face to face with a man-eating tiger and raised his rifle, my blood froze and a scream died in my throat. 
The tiger was dead, the villagers and I were relieved and I came back to reality, it was rather late and I had not realized but there was a thunderstorm brewing outside! 

I crept into bed, the man and child did not stir, I sighed, turned over and closed my eyes as the thunder rumbled and lightning flashed all night. And then, all of  a sudden, I was awake and fully alert and sitting bolt upright in bed, next to me, M was sitting up too, still groggy with sleep. We both heard it, a scrambling, scratching.... panicky sort of sound, like, like..... claws on wood...

To my man-eating-tiger-inflamed mind, it was fuel to fire. A million thoughts and images  flashed in my mind as a brilliant flash of lightning lit the room for  two seconds. And among those million thoughts and images, one image stood out clearly, as though it was yesterday.
I put that thought on hold as M and I tried to determine the sound, concluding it was our noisy, upstairs neighbor ( and possibly a big size dog they own, who was scared senseless by Mother Nature) we lay down again, listening to the thudding of our own hearts.
I turned over and smiled and went back to my thought.

About a decade ago, two young girls sat out in the balcony of the apartment that overlooked  a hillside, dense with vegetation after the abundant Mumbai Monsoon. Somewhere a small waterfall tinkled and gurgled and crickets chirped. 
Lisa and I, after a long day at college, found it very relaxing. Just sitting out there in the balcony / patio, talking of anything except our day and studies. Mostly we wove stories with what we had read and what we saw around us.
That night, we were intrepid hunters, hunting in the dense forests. The balcony tiles became our 'machan' (n. In tiger-shooting, a high platform or some device to protect and conceal the hunter while he is watching for the tiger. The machan is usually built in a tree and is concealed by the branches. source:Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia) as we watched  and waited for the 'lame-one' to make an appearance.
Many a tale we wove with the lame tiger (Sherekhan, I must admit) as the 'shikar'. How we laughed! How naive we were! 
Intrepid! Pshaw! We would run for miles, screaming like banshees, if we saw a lizard on the wall! 

As I read  about the man-eaters, I saw in my minds eye, the image of a tiger I had seen in Jijamata Udyan (or Ranichi Baug or the Mumbai Zoo as it was known). As I stood near the enclosure, hands on the rail, desperate for a glance of the famous tiger, almost giving up when I saw him! First a paw and then silently, like a thought, the hulking shape of a tiger came in full view, his enormous face, glinting eyes, sleek coat, the orange and black stripes, muscles rippling slightly as he walked. For two seconds, our eyes met and then slowly, with indifference, he put his face down and lapped some water and then almost deliberately, turned his back on me and went back into the bamboo shade that was made for him and lay down. 
I realized, I was gripping the metal railing and unknowingly and the first look at that enormous and strong paw, my eyes had gone to the padlock wondering if it was indeed safe. For I saw, one swipe at that lock and the tiger would have been free, can chains and a Nav-Tal  like lock, even if it was the biggest one in the market, at that time, survive an 8 foot (possibly more) full-grown Tiger, if and when roused?
I left the zoo with that image burned forevermore into my memory and respect for the Tiger and pity, that such a magnificent beast was caged.

I slept with all these thoughts whirling in my mind, wondering what Christmas morning would bring, rain? cold winds? hail?... snow? 

Looks like a lot of people wished for a white Christmas...
As I looked out of the window in the morning, all was quiet, there was no indication that a thunderstorm had raged just hours ago. 

There was a sudden flurry of snowflakes and we watched it fall softly to the ground as we ate a late breakfast.

Donning our thick boots and jackets we ran out into the patio and danced about and when we were shivering, dashed back into the living room, into the cozy warmth. 

All fears of the night forgotten, happy that we were celebrating a White Christmas! 

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Sunday, December 02, 2012

Inchin's Bamboo Garden- A Review

It's been a bit over a year that I moved into the Dallas area. The biggest bonus for us was that our neighboring area had tons of Indian restaurants for us to explore. Some we had visited during our previous visit, over 3 years ago. Since then, many others have cropped up and demand attention! 
Apart from that, there is a local radio station that bombards you with advertisements and promotions, media is a powerful weapon! 
A few months ago, we went to Plano, a neighboring city and for dinner we went to Inchin's Bamboo Garden,  it was a quick dinner as S was tired and we had everything to-go that night. They had the noodle Festival going on at that time and I had ordered Coconut Braised noodles. I was not very impressed, there was too much coconut milk still remaining at the bottom of my dish, the next day, the noodles had soaked up all the liquid and tasted much better and I was not as disappointed at having paid so much.

On Friday however our city and the radio was buzzing with news, Bamboo Garden had opened another branch, this time in my city and whoop- dee- do! a two minute walk from where I live! 
My friends and I were long hoping that something 'Indian' would open  in the nearby complex with all that construction going on and that is just what has happened! We went  with our friends for dinner. 

The restaurant is spacious (though not as spacious as the Plano one) and is the typical Indo-Chinese theme and colors. Despite the space, the tables are placed quite close to one another and one has to glide in sideways to get to the seat, bumping into the neighbors table.

The menu is extensive and offers good choice for vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians.

My friends ordered 
Crispy Chili Baby Corn
Paneer in Manchurian Sauce
Szechwan Fried Rice

We ordered
Manchow Soup- Veg.
Szechwan fried Rice
Veg. Coins Manchurian
Thin Veg Noodles ( Kids Menu) for little S
Waldorf Chicken ( For M)

I have some pictures to share with you, these are from the food we  had to-go. 
I am shy of taking pictures when eating out and do not enjoy it with the low lighting.

The Soup ( cup or bowl- I ordered cup) was nice mild flavor, but nothing outstanding. Fried , flat noodles are served on the side.

One thing I noticed, after I had finished my soup, at the neighboring table was the way the wait staff placed their bowl of soup, his finger  touched the soup and I cringed at the sight. It made me very uneasy thinking what if that had happened with my cup too? I hope not, the thought makes me uneasy even as I type. A thumbs down there.

Veg Szechwan Rice
The Veg. Szechwan rice was well cooked and seasoned and we all ( my friends, M and I )  liked it. 
Though it is spicy, it does not burn a hole in the tongue nor is the spice so overwhelming that you do not taste anything else. The quantity is generous.

 Veg Coin Manchurian

The Veg. Coin Manchurian  was again, generous quantity and mild and well flavored  I would have liked a bit more gravy. The coins are a good size and deep fried to perfection ( I've tasted one, in a different restaurant, that was brown on the outside but raw and soggy and floury in the middle, eeew!) but they soak up gravy quickly.  Served with a bowl of steamed rice.

Veg Thin Noodles ( Kids Menu)

Mildly spiced and again generous quantity for a kids meal, these noodles, I am happy to say, had a decent amount of vegetables in them too. 

Many a times, I have had noodles with about a tablespoon of vegetables and a a few more thickly sliced onion tossed in. S enjoyed them and I was happy with that.

M was happy with his Chicken Waldorf and for most part of the meal was totally involved with just what was in his plate, a good sign.

My friends opinion was, the Crispy Chili Baby Corn was very good, thumbs up! 

The Paneer Manchurian was not up to the mark, the Paneer was tough and chewy. Their kids enjoyed it as both are huge fans of Paneer, but the Mother's were not too pleased.

The restaurant was not serving dessert that night ( since it was opening night).

Our (excluding friends) meal cost: $ 42

Overall, we enjoyed the quality and quantity of food, the service was quick and the staff polite , barring the soup incident mentioned above and the cramped feeling, however we will visit again.

Disclaimer: I was not paid to review the food at the restaurant. All views expressed are my own ( combined with feedback given by family and friends).
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