Good times are made of food and laughter

Nibbling a bar of chocolate, over a delightfully fat book, tucked into the window seat by the frangipani and bougainvillea. Heralding the various seasons of childhood – lightly salted and deliciously sour jamuns, biting into the year’s first mango or green apple, shelling water chestnut by the dozen. Standing by the ice-cream truck, making the all-important decision of which flavor to choose. The meal cooked by my grandma especially for me. Street food and ice lollies with friends, graduating to midnight feasts and food experiments gone wonderfully off-track. A hot cup of tea after being drenched in a sudden monsoon shower. The perfect afternoon, a languid picnic or a late lunch, with the setting sun lingering on to share the laughter. My best memories invariably involve some form of food, the clink of glasses, good conversation, broad smiles, and being perfectly content in the moment. As I am sure do yours. Do share,  in the comments, would love to listen to your favorite food memories.

This weekend was spent adding to list of good moments over home-made meals. The family got together over drinks and dinner, followed by a sleep-in breakfast and some lazy splashing in the first swim of the summers. While the brother-in-law put together the Bloody Marys, I made grilled zucchini nachos topped with roasted tomato salsa, refried beans and a cheesy yoghurt dip. The salsa and the dip have sort of become my signature potluck dishes and this weekend also marked a first in which a neighbor friend asked for my recipe. For the record, I wrote them out on pretty paper, and successfully resisted the strong temptation to stick on cut-outs of golden stars and hearts. It is not every day that I get asked for my recipes.

Grilled Zucchini Nachos with Salsa and Refried Beans

Grilled Zucchini Nachos with Salsa and Refried Beans

Roasted tomato salsa. Adapted from here.
Roast over an open flame, three large tomatoes, till charred. Peel and chop. Heat some oil in a pan and cook till soft, one chopped onion and some green chilies. Add the tomatoes along with some vinegar, salt, pepper, tomato puree, and chopped coriander. Cook for two minutes. Chill till serving.

Refried beans. Adapted from here.
Soak overnight 1 cup of red-kidney beans. Pressure cook, for five whistles, the beans along with one tomato (chopped), half an onion (chopped), some green chillies and salt. Drain and reserve the water. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the remaining half of onion (chopped). Add some chili powder, cumin seed powder, a dash of butter, and the cooked beans. I blended the hot mix into a puree, adding the reserved water, for a smooth consistency. You may choose to mash it by hand. Leave some beans whole to add to the texture.

Grilled zucchini nachos from here.
The simplest recipe ever. Slice into ¼ inch thick rounds, some zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for a couple of minutes each side, in a hot pan.

To assemble, layer the nachos and top with the salsa, refried beans, some yoghurt dip. Grate over some cheese, if feeling indulgent.

I wanted to experiment with grilled potato nachos as well. Something for next time, I guess. Will tell you how it goes.

Meanwhile, write in with your favorite food memories.

An Attempt at Cloths of Heaven

Two seemingly disparate events, in the last week, have conspired to result in this post. In one, I promised a friend that I shall be more open to poetry. A big fan of poetry, music and cricket, she and I have only chocolate in common, which is a lot to build a friendship on, if you ask me. Regardless, after a particularly rude and dense moment in which I refused to understand something finer she was trying to explain, I resolved to make more of an effort to understand poetry. Alas, this art is such that if you need an explanation, you will never get it. It also has it fair share of pretension masquerading as deep emotion and pain, which plain annoys me. But, as I said, am determined to keep my mind open and sincerely try to be less “prosaic.”

The other event was being visiting my sister for a day on a work trip. I bunked at her place – one that she shares with a flat-mate. Both are terribly young and keeping home for the first time. Blessed with the boundless energy of youth, which mysteriously appears only after noon or thereabout, they move happily from domestic mishaps, to midnight girl gossip sessions and alarm clocks which ‘fail’ to ring. What was impressive about the girls, is their resolution to do something new every day. Last seen, after a long day at work, they were learning the Chinese and Greek alphabets respectively. With chalk and little slates, no less. Inspiring, right?

My something new for today was reading Yeats – specifically this poem.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I chose this primarily because I ‘get’ it courtesy a long ago two-hour conversation about this during my university days. Quite a few of my friends have been determined to educate me, you see. The other reason is that Yeats reminds me of Ireland, always a welcome memory. And last, because it brought to my mind this photograph snapped on my evening walk – sprigs of pink against the blue permanence – my version of cloths of heaven.

Sprigs of Pink

Sprigs of Pink

On the food front, sharing today’s lunch with you – heavenly because of the taste and the ease – the potato omelette. Heat some butter in a pan, and add a sliced onion and a thinly sliced potato (peeled). Add some chili powder (or cayenne, if you will) and cover and cook till the potatoes are done. Meanwhile, whisk two eggs with 2 tbsp of milk and some salt and pepper. Spread some finely chopped coriander over the potatoes and pour in the egg. Cover and cook for a few minutes more. Voila! Erm, poetry on a plate. Or rather, a quick rhyme.

Potato Omelette

Potato Omelette

Shall keep you posted on my ‘news’. For the record, am drawing the line at appreciating cricket. Just.not.happening.

 

I Dream of Nutella

There are numerous subjects I could blog about today. Should I talk about the wanderlust induced by reading Dan Brown’s Inferno, which frustratingly (for a thriller), I can read only few pages of, before I get thoroughly bored. How, during impressionable teenage, I read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy and started building my bucket list. Or should I talk to you about more earthly matters such as my expertly curated list of the best nacho recipes, involving tater tots, grilled zucchini, roasted tomato salsa, pressure cooked refried beans, and a creamy cheesy yoghurt dip to bind it all together into a bite of heaven? Or I could tell you about the orange chocolate cake baked two weekends in a row and that practice does make perfect but does not care of zested but whole oranges which take over all the fridge space. Or we could talk about my shocking discovery of the number of calories in a pint of beer which takes me 10 minutes to drink but 20 minutes on the treadmill to burn, which in turn has led me to intensely dislike the people who invented calories and math.

All of it – my love for travel, nachos, orange-chocolate, beer – pales in comparison when stacked against my one true and forever soul-mate *drumroll* Nutella. God made those people who invented calories, and then as repentance created Nutella. You can feel the love in every ooh-and-aah creating spoonful. We can continue to be friends if you don’t like little puppies and kittens, even if you don’t care for watching cooking shows ad-nauseum. But if you don’t intensely love Nutella, am afraid, we’ll have to have a ‘conversation’ followed by an unfriend request. We don’t have anything in common, in fact we don’t even orbit the same sun. Go away.

Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake

Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake

If you are still here, you would know that the world celebrated World Nutella Day this week. In fact, since serendipity has such a crucial role to play in soul-mates meeting, it is no co-incidence that I rediscovered Nutella in a department store aisle exactly on Feb 5, four years ago – making it our anniversary day. The rest, as they say, is history. We have not looked back since.

As a reminder of the good times, dug into my archives, to share this Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake with you. A simple chocolate biscuit base, topped with whipped mascarpone and Nutella. Hits the spot like nothing else does. If you are feeling ambitious, you can always make your own chocolate wafers – a dozen times better the store-bought version.

Don’t have Mascarpone at hand? Don’t possess a regular oven? Fear not, for you have this four-ingredient Nutella Mug Cake, ready in exactly five minutes, from conceptualization to paradise.

Don’t have Nutella at home?! Remind me again, why are we friends?

I was forced to let the anniversary pass by this year, unmarked. To make up, I plan to spend some quality time with the Nutella jar this evening. What did you do to celebrate? If you missed it, please join me this evening. I’ll get the mugs ready.

Chasing clouds from the sky

I wanted to bake today. Truly. A dear friend is in town and I wanted to bake a treat for her. So I read a few recipes, watched a few cat videos, read completely unrelated articles, did some on-line window shopping and hankered after kitchen gadgets that I neither need, nor do I have any place to store. I don’t even know how to use this 2 in 1 Pop Up Vegetables & Fruits Peeler, but now my life is incomplete without one. Truly.

In other words, I have nothing to show for the past hour except the new-found knowledge that tomatoes need peeling, and there exists in this world, is a special device which can do such a task. How have I reached middle age without peeled tomatoes?! Truly blasphemous.

Or these Green Groovy Ice Pop Candy Lolly Molds, Set of 6?! An incomplete life! Summer is just around the corner, and I NEED to learn how to make ‘em watermelon ice lollies!

So there, no baking. If I had baked, for the record, it would have been this dulce de leche cheesecake. Perhaps tomorrow, if the internet does not ruin my evening by broadening my horizons.

Between my dreams of baking and of this mini-cat blackboard, I have left myself 15 minutes to put dinner together. So what’s it going to be? Super-fast creamy spinach toast, I say. Chop some onions and fry with some green chillies in butter. Add some chopped spinach with a pinch of soda bi-carb. Dissolve a tablespoon of cornflour in about a cup of milk and add with some salt. Turn the heat up to medium and stir till the mix thickens. Spread on some toasted whole-wheat bread and grate on some cheese. Bake for a few minutes. Or just serve with some toast on the side.

Creamy SpinachToast

Creamy SpinachToast

Ciao for now. I need to go look at cookware sets for a bit and hum a Kenny Loggins favorite

“So help me if you can, I’ve got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one

You’d be surprised, there’s so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky

Mid-week Wanderlust and Daydreams

Some mid-week serendipitous resonance earned me a few moments of day-dreaming, and you a bonus blog post.

I got off early from work, and instead of scurrying back home, I stopped at a neighborhood café (which you must check out if you live/visit Bangalore, for its quaint charm and cream of mushroom soup!). Ordered myself some soup and presently there was the aroma of sizzling garlic, which can warm even the coldest day. And this is how it came to pass, that I found myself, in an island of calm, in a busy city in the middle of the week, reading Bill Bryson’s “Neither Here Nor There” and day dreaming of the Northern Lights.

“I had an itch to roam.
I wanted to wander through Europe, to see movie posters for films that would never come to (my country), gaze wonderingly at billboards and shop notices full of exotic umlauts and cedillas and No Parking sign O’s, hear pop songs that could not by even the most charitable stretch of the imagination be a hit in any country but their own, encounter people whose lives would never again intersect with mine, be hopelessly unfamiliar with everything, from the workings of a phone box to the identity of a foodstuff. I wanted to be puzzled and charmed, to experience the endless, beguiling variety of a continent where you can board a train and an hour later be somewhere where the inhabitants speak a different language, eat different foods, work different hours, live lives that are at once so different and yet so oddly similar.
I wanted to be a tourist.”

On wanting to share the extract with you, I stumbled across the Homesick Wanderlust blog, proving yet again, that technology like the internet can unite, more than it can divide.

Apart from listening for resonance, eating better is a part of my ‘go slow’ new-year resolution. Hence, sharing with you the recipe for a whole-wheat carrot cake, baked a couple of weeks back, to make the most of the seasonal ‘spindly red carrots’ (duly inspired).

IMG_20150110_172525349Grease a nine inch baking pan, and get some buttermilk going by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to about 3/8 cup of whole milk. Grate 1 ½ cup of carrot. Whisk together a cup of whole wheat flour, about a teaspoon of baking soda, a pinch of salt, and some cinnamon powder and nutmeg (1 combined teaspoon). Using your stand/electric mixer, whip together 2 small eggs and ¾ cup of Demerara sugar. Add the buttermilk and ½ teaspoon of vanilla. Fold the dry and wet and add the carrots. Sprinkle on some optional almond. Bake for 30 minutes and check for done-ness.

Easy, right? We will not mention the spring-form tin which I failed to fit properly, resulting in carrot cake batter oozing across my kitchen counter. Not when we are thinking positive thoughts.

A good book to read, a café to eat at, a blog to visit, a cake to bake, and inspiration to day dream – now that you have several choices, what is it going to be? Am returning to Paris, where I left Bill attempting to navigate the traffic.

Resonance and Comfort Food

I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments – Douglas Coupland

Last weekend, I awoke, the first in the house to stir, after a late night spent catching up with SG’s brother and his wife, over drinks and food at their place. I spent an hour or so, in the winter sun, reading the newspaper and listening to the flowers dancing in the breeze. My six-year niece woke up next, in a whirlwind of instant energy and with the absolute determination to make the most of every moment that only children possess. We chatted, by her pet goldfish, as she explained their feeding and cleaning routine. Just a few moments of nothing spectacular, no grand thoughts or epiphanies. Just a few moments of sipping the early morning sunshine and being content in the resonance.

Bread Pulav

Bread Pulav

Such simplicity requires comfort food, which by definition is no-fuss and easy to throw together. That weekend morning, the BIL took care of breakfast and dished up grilled sandwiches while I sat with my feet up a little longer. Yesterday, for my second breakfast (there are indulgent days when you require two), I put this bread dish together in exactly ten minutes. The other definition of comfort food is that it should bring back childhood memories and this was practically a staple while growing up. I think my mom made it differently, this has kind of devolved in my kitchen, becoming simpler and super-easy to do. Chop some green chillies, onions and tomatoes. In some ghee/oil, heat some cumin seeds, chuck in the onion and chillies, and sauté for a bit. Add the tomatoes, some red chili powder and turmeric, salt, and chopped ginger if you have any handy. Roughly chop up some sliced bread (I had some which were floating at their best by eat) and mix in. Saute some more and garnish with coriander. You can add diced bell peppers or spring onion (greens and all) or even grate in some carrot. Comfort food is also very forgiving and difficult to screw up.

Here’s wishing you some comfort food, resonance and perfect moments. XO.

A Berrylicious Guest Blog

Being a colleague and unapologetic admirer of the blog and the person that is, The Pootler Chef, has its advantages. A periodic stream of her delightful witticisms (Bridget Jones in Gujarat a.k.a. Bridget Ben comes foremost to mind) and a very personal, unpretentious insight into her latest food escapades- be it Ahmedabad, Ireland or in her own kitchen in Bangalore. Over the course of the past few months I’d be audacious enough to also say that I’ve found in her a like-minded friend, with a common love of David Lebovitz and Neil Gaiman, although as she once pointed out, we belong to different generations and have vastly disparate tastes in music. I can live with that though – I tell myself that a complete package with those elements included would be the kind of anomaly, the absence of which makes the world go round; or at least makes our complex web of equations and inter-relationships thrive and prosper.

When she asked me if I’d write a guest column right here, in this space, I swear, for a while I felt like a Nobel laureate – or contextualizing it further, like Julia Child had said she liked my soup or something.

Anyway, the workings of my head aside – having thought about what I’d like to present here for a while, I decided to focus on a few safe bets – seasons and family. Propagated by the likes of my food idols like Alice Waters and Darina Allen, not to forget the new and very endearing kids on the block like Jamie (Oliver), seasonal cooking is as much a philosophy as it is a habit. Stone fruits in summer, spindly long red carrots in winter, flavourful hilsa fish during the monsoon – the list is endless, when viewed within the culinary radar I have been exposed to through my childhood in Calcutta and Jamshedpur and currently in Bombay. Cooking for family is a pleasure and an enabling laboratory of sorts, when your family like mine, lives to eat and never shies away from exploring new flavour combinations.

There are a number of ingredients that are in wonderful plenty whilst cooking in India, and others that one pines for, wishing that they were more readily available across geography and season. Strawberries are one such luxury, that you have access to in plenty during ‘season’ in Maharashtra (and some parts of the hills in the North, I’ve heard). I am not sure about the precise start and end date of strawberry season here – ‘here’ being primarily Mahabaleshwar and neighbouring areas – but I’m banking on whenever I start seeing cartfuls of little red piles appearing in the markets, beginning roughly around November.

Strawberries are flamboyant, with consistent allusions to bowlfuls of accompanying cream or dunkings in champagne and the likes. Their primary allure being the dense splotch of red colour, they can be equally pleasing when baked into a rustic strawberry pie or whizzed into a yoghurt smoothie. While the hipsters can pulverize them into avocado-flax seed-coconut water-almond milk-chia seed concoctions of ‘health’, I find that leaving them whole and unexposed to heat and too much flavour, harnesses their best (Note: I embrace the occasional smoothie binge, so excuse the hypocrisy here).

One of my favourite pairings with tart fleshy berries are a) gently whipped cream to soothe, and b) crumbly sweet meringue to shatter in your mouth and add some incredible textural contrast. Hence, I baked – The Pavlova.

Strawberry Pavlova

Strawberry Pavlova

Originally conceived in New Zealand, a pavlova or ‘pav’ is essentially a large meringue, that is crisp and brittle on the outside and chewy and marshmallow-like on the inside, owing to an acidic addition like vinegar (and typically some cornflour as well).

You start off with whisking egg whites to stiff peaks and then proceed to hold the bowl upside down over your head, displaying appropriate chef-like theatrics to your kitchen wall. Standard rules apply such as ensuring that the bowl and whisk / beater are completely dry and free of impurities, failing which chemistry will humble you with its might and your eggs will not fluff. I adhered to proportions indicated by the biblical BBC Good Food (a Gregg Wallace recipe – link below) using four egg whites. I did reduce the 250g of castor sugar to a more conservative 180g, and it worked. If no castor sugar is at hand, you can pulverize regular sugar in a grinder like I did, but do pulverize it, since it seems risky to use large granules for something as delicate as a pav. The sugar turns your egg whites glossy and luscious, following which you add a teaspoon each of vinegar, corn flour and vanilla extract (not essence). This step elevates a standard meringue to a pavlova.

Now the catch is that this recipe gave me a very runny pav batter, as a result of which it is difficult to bake a ‘deep’ pav. You could alternatively bake smaller individual pavs, since the batter spreads to form a large flat one. It is also highly likely that I botched up my whisking of the egg whites – so do notify me if your batter emerges thick and holds itself like it should.

You bake the pav at 150 degrees Celsius on a flat tray lined with foil. It is advisable to lightly oil the sheet beforehand, as the pav did stick and the foil had to be peeled off carefully.

This is where I deviate from the BBC GF recipe. For the topping I sliced about 10 large strawberries and macerated them in a little powdered sugar to cut the tartness. The cream is whipped to soft peaks (stiff whipped cream reminds me unpleasantly of pasty cream cakes in small town bakeries) with a tablespoon of sugar (optional). I also blitzed about 8-10 large strawberries in a blender with a little sugar and lemon juice. I then reduced the puree with some red wine to form a dark pouring coulis. You can knock yourself out and add a splash of Cointreau to the whipped cream, but having dowsed my family in liquor (marmalade-vodka sodas and espresso martinis to be precise) the past few weeks with the excuse of ‘holiday season’, I refrained.

And that’s about it. Ensure that the pav dries out well – switch off the oven and keep it inside for about an hour to cool or else the center might remain raw. Ladle on the chilled cream and fresh strawberries – and keep the sauce at the table for people to pour over as per taste.

Recipe (mostly followed): http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/711658/strawberry-pavlova

 

Walking, not Running

One should tread lightly in the new year. The copy book is open to its first page – blank, but with a sense of anticipation; the pages behind stretching out like days to come, promising possibilities and more. You walk gently because you don’t want to hear the tinkle of resolutions breaking. January, my least favorite month, is yet to gather its hope shattering gloom which compels you to slide back into the sloth and despondency of the previous year. Of course, the most valid reason for the soft shamble is the hangover from the new year’s party when you foolishly drank like you were young, at heart if not in body.

My promise for the year is to dramatically slow down. A few years ago, I was introduced to the Slow Movement and now more than ever, I want to fully commit to it.

“Right across the world, people are doing the unthinkable: they’re slowing down, and finding that, although conventional wisdom tells you that if you slow down, you’re road kill, the opposite turns out to be true: that by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better. They eat better; they make love better; they exercise better; they work better; they live better.”
Carl Honore

Serendipity ensured that the piece, “Walk, Don’t Run”, by the Ventures, played at the close of the year, crystallizing my desire to get in touch with the inner tortoise. (Aside, I have a turtle puppet called Harley Turtleson, in memory of my college nickname. The puppet is a gift from a sister in law, who has also designed and hand painted, onto an apron, the image of the Pootler chef as a little tortoise, with a little bundle of belongings, wending its way through life. Things have a way of coming together.)

Thumbprint Cookies

Thumbprint Cookies

The last bake of the year were these thumbprint cookies, done on Sunday midnight to mark the last week of the year and to welcome a few friends to town. The baking took forever, as I refrigerated the cookies, at various steps – rolling out the balls, making the indents, even after the filling. My tiny oven makes a few batches at a time, so that coupled with the cold dough and the waiting and watching, gave enough time for the tortoise to emerge, and pootle into the jam jar. A few months ago, we bought a bunch of jams to try from Pondicherry. The apple butter is good enough to drown in, and the turtle had a few very happy moments with a nearly empty jam jar. Please order your bottle now.

Chunky Chocolate Orange Cake

Chunky Chocolate Orange Cake

The first bake of the year, yesterday, was the chunky chocolate orange cake. I forgot to put the orange zest into the cake, all the chocolate sank to the bottom and I juiced enough oranges to last into today’s breakfast. In some good news, the cake rose beautifully, and tasted every bit fresh as the new year.

Here’s wishing all of us a slow and happy 2015.

Love from the pootling tortoise!

The Ahmedabad Chronicles or An Unlikely Christmas

Last week, the world celebrated Christmas and ate plum cake along with ginger bread and wine. Those who bake dished out chocolate crinkles and thumbprint cookies. People sat around Christmas trees and kids left out milk for Santa Claus.

Not me.

Of Vibrant Colours

Of Vibrant Colours

I was vacationing in Ahmedabad, where my baby sister has recently set up home. The trip was expressly made with the purpose of imparting basic cooking skills to her. Instead, it somehow became one long binge of eating out. I ended up chronicling the food scene in the city, which I insist on sharing with you, through some interesting quantitative data, facts and figures.

I have the best sister in the whole world

I have the best sister in the whole world

#Eateries in every square meter: 3
Every foot or so, you shall encounter a joint where you can get some buttermilk and a bite to eat. Folks in the state are mostly vegetarian, and Jain to boot, which means no garlic, no onions, certainly no meat or eggs. Curiously, every restaurant, no matter what size, scale or location has vegetarian food from all over India (read North Indian, and Dosas). Strangely enough, many will also have Chinese, Italian, Thai and Mexican. You would think with so many eateries, places will be mostly empty, and you will be quickly seated. On the contrary, not one single time that we ate out, did we not wait in queue. We had occasion to stroll through Khao Gali (literally Eat Street) which is miles and miles of street food complete with endless rows of plastic chairs, and hawkers selling everything from plastic toys, balloons to giant blow ups of angry birds and soap bubbles. On an average evening, or so my sister tells me, there isn’t an inch to move for the thronging crowds. We reached just when the sun was dipping over the horizon, and the river of people had barely started trickling in. You could see vendors all over doing their mis en place in preparation of the deluge. The mind boggles, takes a vacation, while the stomach takes over and happily goes to town.

Parathas & Butter at Jassi de Parathe

Parathas & Butter at Jassi de Parathe

# Pounds of butter consumed: 300 KG.
When in Ahmedabad, you have to eat at gastronomical heaven aka Jassi De Parathe. A genuine and buttery piece of the North in the very heart of Gujrat, this restaurant easily serves the best parathas I have had outside of homes of Punjabi grandmothers. A distinguishing trademark of Jassi is fresh white butter, garlic chutney and green chilli pickle; accoutrements which take the parathas from good to great. The jewel in the crown is, without a smidgen of doubt, the butter. Not having ever made fresh butter the old fashioned way, it is not like I am transported to childhood memories of sitting by the charpoi, winter sunshine warming the face, churning pats of the good stuff from milk of cows grazing yonder. Instead, I go straight to silky buttery heaven and repeatedly thank god for mercies bestowed.

From the Menu at Jassi de Parathe

From the Menu at Jassi de Parathe

# Pounds of cheese: 500 KG.
The only reason they are not picking bits of exploded fat me (300 KG butter and 500 KG cheese!) off the highway is that I put in my 10000 steps daily. You see, Christmas Eve was spent at Tomato’s gorging on their chilli con queso, which is nothing but oodles and oodles of melted cheese, kept bubbling at the table, along with tortilla chips, nachos, bread sticks, carrot and cucumber slices. Even if you are beyond sick and ready to forswear food for 3 days, you shall continue gorging on the cheese. Gluttony is one of the seven for good reason. Tip: when eating at Tomato’s, be wary of the large portions and do not over-order, else the doggie bag will be breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. You would think that after the cheese overdose, I would stay clear of all milk products for a month. Do not estimate the power of whey. Boxing Day saw us at Toritos, another charming restaurant, where the queues snake around the block. The 30 minutes of waiting was quite forgiven, with the arrival of the fusion nachos. I believe that fusion should never be attempted or ordered. Happily, these were outstandingly good, wafer thin potato slice, deep fried, and smothered in cheese, beans and salsa. A definite must try both at the restaurant and to re-create at home.

Fusion Nachos at Toritos

Fusion Nachos at Toritos

# unlikely Christmas celebrations: 1
The city is not big on Christmas, and apart from token decorations and a few festive stars, the festival goes largely unnoticed. Of course, it did mean abnormally crowded restaurants, though not a pre-soaked raisin was in sight. Christmas being sandwiched between our cheese binges, we traipsed on a street food exploration of the new city. Beginning with vada pav and dabeli drenched in butter, at Jay Bhavani, we wound our way to the vendor selling sev puri in-front of the nearby mall.

Sevpuri on the Street

Sevpuri by the Roadside

Then came the walk to Khao gali, an encounter with an unlikely Christmas tree, wolfing down pani puri and winding the day up with some wonderful sapota or chikoo kulfi. The next time I am in town, I am determined to try the roadside maggi and wood-fired pizza from this tiny van across the road from sis’s college campus. And the rice pulav, and the special dosas, oily Chinese (though sis did try delicately telling me that I am too old for so much grease) and the ubiquitous sandwiches. I wish there was a way to super-size the appetite.

An Unlikely Christmas

An Unlikely Christmas

Alcohol units consumed: 0
Let’s just say that Bridget Jones would have had very different diary entries, if she had happened to live in Gujrat, a dry state. Though she could have legally obtained a liquor permit as a foreign tourist residing there. Turns out even those visiting from other Indian states can also obtain alcohol legally by producing proof of domicile. I found this pretty late into the trip, thankfully, else the cheese and butter would have had beer for company, and you would HAVE TO pick bits of exploded me off the highway.

Tea at Rambhai's

Tea at Rambhai’s

# popcorn binges: 4
We caught two movies and with an average of two binges per movie, I was drowning in butter and caramel popcorn my third day into the stay. When your eyes are hypnotically trained on the big screen and the poor brain is frantically signaling you to stop eating, the dratted stomach forces you to keep going like the goblin driving the hobbits deep into the caves, with the help of whips and other deadly weapons. As you can guess, we watched Hobbit 3. While Azog the Defiler (killed by Dain in the battle of Battle of Azanulbizar, but given a new cinematic lease of life by Peter Jackson) struck terror on screen, the butter popcorn coated my alimentary canal and wound its wicked way into my arteries. Why don’t movie theaters serve carrot and celery sticks?!

And Gain 300 Kgs

And Gain 300 Kgs

My last meal in the city ended with a big bowl of cake smothered in warm chocolate sauce. At this point, my stomach grudgingly accepted defeat and hopefully, retired for the rest of the year. The brain, with considerably weaker and greasier synapses took charge again. I went back to the original (and healthier) Hobbit that I was reading. To end, I quote:

The Tookish part was getting very tired and, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger. “I wish now only to be in my own arm-chair”

And so I returned to Bangalore.

The best month of the year is here…

After the long post last week, you deserve a short one. Further, given that these are the months to drink, eat and make merry, don’t spend it staring at a screen. Make some thumbprint cookies, mix the Christmas cake, dress up for the party in the evening, warm some spiced ale, or simply laze in the winter sunshine. We have a bright red lounger nestled among the garden greens, perfect to watch the sun travel the sky. So come on over, depending on the time of the day, we can read a book out where the hibiscus grows, or bake something with cinnamon and apples, or open the bottle which is nicely chilling, (or we could do all three). It is the season to celebrate, exchange gifts and wishes, and embrace the world in one giant hug.

Semolina Cashew Cakes

Semolina Cashew Cakes

Looking for something simple to make, a little sweet, and preferably ‘healthy’, to tide you over to the onslaught of the cookies? Here is something super from the Ovenderful kitchen. I was looking for something to bake for the dad-in-law’s birthday, he is off eggs, and none of my usual recipes would work. Hence, out came the semolina and the wheat to make this grand dessert. Simran recommends that you put them into cupcake liners and make them to be muffins. I went the cake way and regretted it. The shape does not hold up while de-tinning and I had to scrape it out, pile the crumbs into a glass dish and pretend that I wanted it that-a-away. It was hitting-it-out-of-the-park delish, so no one cared.

Ingredients: 1 cup wheat flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 cup white sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon baking powder, 1 cup curd/yoghurt, ½ cup water, 1 tsp instant coffee mixed in 1 tbsp hot water, 2/3 cup oil (Simran recommends rice bran, I used olive oil), some crushed roasted cashews for the batter and halves to decorate.

To make: In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugars, baking powder and soda. Mix the liquids in another bowl. Add the crushed cashews. Pour into cupcake liners and bake in a preheated 150 degrees oven for thirty odd minutes.

The door is open, the welcome mat is out, something warm is simmering on the stove, and I am dreaming desserts. Come on, troop in!