Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Dos

2009 is ending. Officially. And so is this marathon. I will post one last recipe tomorrow however. Provided it turns out the way I think it should! To put it midly, I am taking what in polite company may be called, a risk.

Let me not prolong this year waxing eloquent a few thousand words more; I am now going to get straight to the point.

One word. Chocolate. Enough said

Orange truffles and what else does a meal need now?

This recipe and most of its execution are courtesy my wonderful friend Mridula who wields her tools with the precision of the scientist that she is. And a very good one on both counts. Be warned, what comes ahead is not for the faint-hearted. We will throw chocolate, butter, cream and caution to the wind. Recipes like these bring back fond memories of Pune's Vohuman Cafe. The perpetually curmudgeonly owner used to sit at the entrance, Zarathustra above, cash register below and to the left, a big, overflowing pot of yellow butter. The cheese omelettes oozed with well, cheese and butter; the sandwiches likewise. Long bike rides later, my friends and I would troop into the cafe in the wee hours, nearly always hung over and starving to boot. Butter always did the trick.

For Vohuman's fare, you will need:
(a) One Enfield
(b) A copy of "Riding bikes for dummies"
(c) Vodka
(d) One mountain
(e) One city from the 1990s
(f) A strong constitution

For 30 truffles you will need:
(a) 1/2 a cup bitter-sweet chocolate
(b) 1/2 a cup semi-sweet chocolate
According to Mridula, the better the chocolate, the better your results; Ghirardelli trumps Nestle and everything else more expensive than get the drift
(c) 2 tablespoons butter
(d) 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
(e) 1 tablespoon orange zest
(f) 2 tablespoons of your liqueur of choice; we used Grand Marnier
(g) Candied orange peel; you should find these at most specialty grocers -- if not, feel free to use any candied fruit or not. This really doesn't make much difference to the taste which comes from orange zest

* Heat chocolate in a double boiler

* Simultaneously, start warming the cream. When it's warm, add butter and mix thoroughly
* Stir the chocolate till it forms a smooth paste

* Add orange zest to the cream
* Mix all these together
* Cool for a few hours and refrigerate for about 5-6 hours
* Form truffles in shapes of your choice; incorporate pieces of the candied peel. Forming these tiny sinful delights can be a tricky process and might necessitate to and fros from the refrigerator.
* Keep the truffles refrigerated
* Swallow whole and no, you aren't dreaming. They really are that good.

Thinking about: A year gone by; but of course. And time or the experience of it. I am reading up on time for a dissertation chapter and there is some wonderful academic writing on temporality or how is it that people inhabit, live and understand time. So today, I give you something that I think says so much about time.

And the days are not full enough

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Ezra Pound

Listening to: The Decemberists

Have a wonderful new year everybody and I will see you all in 2010!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Tres

The marathon is officially done with tomorrow. But the cavalier cook will only be on day Numero Dos, because the new year is officially Numero Uno! Tomorrow, we will start the run up to 2010, but tonight, much like the rabbit or wait, much like Alice, we are LATE! More on the day later, but let's get to today's fare, shall we?

Paneer Chilli Stir Fry Wrap and a little cherry topped sweet nothing

My friend Mridula and I returned from an afternoon of shopping at Costco (more on that cultural experience some other inebriated time!). We needed something quick and preferably something Amuse-Bouche-like; and yes, I watch Top Chef too:). In twenty minutes, we were stuffing ourselves silly.

I mostly stuck to Nupur's wonderful step-by-step recipe, with one important difference; the paneer. Now paneer or cottage cheese is something you have to make your own. Some like it fried, others sauteed, others raw and untouched. My favourite paneer is again, another variation on a recipe I learnt from my dear friend Ruchira. I get to visit her once a year and she always dishes up the usual suspect stir fried with Maggi hot and sweet tomato chilli sauce and green bell peppers or capsicum, and yes, it's different.

So for this recipe you will need:
(a) 1 Green bell pepper, roughly chopped
(b) 1 Red bell pepper, roughly chopped
(c) 3 large black cardamoms
(d) 200 gms paneer chopped into 1/2 inch square bits
(e) Cashew tamari salad dressing
(f) Soy sauce
(g) Hot sauce/ Chilli sauce
(h) 2 tablespoons olive oil
(i) Rotis or tortillas (I use Margarita's Raw White, but any will work fine as long as they are light and airy)
(j) 2 carrots, grated
(k) Lemon juice
(l) Salt to taste

* Heat oil and add the cardamoms; fry for 2-3 minutes
* Add chopped bell peppers and saute for 10-12 minutes until they begin to grow soft
* Add paneer
* Add the cashew tamari dressing, soy sauce and hot sauce (liberally)
* Cook this on a medium to high flame for 6-8 minutes; you don't need to add salt

* Heat the tortilla and then assemble
* Add carrots and paneer to one half and then roll tightly into a wrap
* We had these with tamarind-date and coriander chutney

To wash it down, I stirred one part sour cherry syrup to eight parts sparkling water with a sprig of mint. Sweet cherry nothings that I learnt to make from friends in Turkey.

Today, I have no thought to share. I am thankfully blank :). On the last day of 2009, I imagine that this is fitting:). Quick tip of hat to all the bloggers who have been unflagging. I wonder how those of you who maintain regular food blogs do this! I mean, really. While I have enjoyed stepping back to photograph my food before eating it, paying attention to its presentation as much as to the process of cooking it and planning long and hard for things to whip out the day after; I am now officially huffing and puffing!!!

Really, you guys are quite spectacular. And yes, I know I am on the list, and no, I wasn't including myself and no, this is not a devious self-congratulatory ploy.

Off to my other errands now and I have many parties to plan for over the next few days. Hope you are all ending 2009 well; here's something to help you along:

Also listening to: Sarah Vaughn

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Cuatro

This morning, I could barely be coaxed to emerge from my warm blanket. And when I did, I was ravenous. Given that breakfast is the one meal I hardly ever miss, I set forth grabbing things from my refrigerator to put together what turned out to be filling, tasty and pretty. I give you:

The Breakfast of Titans or An omelette and a smoothie

I converted to eggs rather late in life. When I did, I set about perfecting the art of omelette-making. I like mine well-done and they generally end up rather browned on one side. They remind me of all the omelette sandwiches made by pushcart vendors in Bombay and Pune. These are also standard breakfasts when I have people over and we wake up langurous and holiday-like. I serve these to early morning drop-ins and brunch visitors alike. They make me feel, both physically and mentally wholesome. Today's creation I call the "Everything and your kitchen sink" omelette.

To make one omelette, you will need:
(a) 2 eggs; I use large brown ones
(b) 1/4 cup spinach leaves
(c) 1/4 cup shredded carrot
(d) Mint leaves
(e) Red chilli flakes/ Finely chopped green chillies
(f) 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
(g) 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan
(h) 2 tablespoons olive oil

Making an omelette in theory is rather easy. When I began to make these, I would rarely ever end up with an un-tattered creation. Increasingly though, I can make these left-handed (and no, in case you haven't guessed, I am not left handed)

*The trick is to add oil, swirl it around the pan to coat it thoroughly and then get it really hot
* Lower the flame, add chilli and garlic and make sure they don't burn
* Beat eggs thoroughly with salt and pepper and add to the pan. I beat these at least ten minutes before I begin the process. The longer you beat the eggs, the fluffier the omelette will be
* Swirl pan again and let the loose liquid float around and set
* Cover the pan and cook on medium flame for 10 minutes
* When the omelette begins to rise, add carrots, spinach, parmesan and mint leaves to one half

* Slowly prise the other half up and cover to form a half moon
* Let this cook for a few minutes before you tuck in

The crunchy carrots and fresh spinach were absolutely perfect. Mint added a little zing and I sliced up some cinnamon raisin bread to go with it. At the end of it all, I was one happy stomach.

And in case you are wondering if I could take any more after this, I topped it off with a fruit smoothie.

For this blend together:
(a) Frozen peaches
(b) Frozen cranberries
(c) Fresh blueberries
(d) 2 cups of yogurt
(e) 1 cup of pomegranate juice
(f) 2 spoons of honey

A rather humble meal but one that will serve you well for the rest of the day. Do go look at what everyone else is upto; Nupur, our host has a daily summary here.

Listening to: Edith Piaf

Thinking about:
I am running short of time today, but have something rather trivial to share. Last night, driving back from a friend's, I almost got a ticket for speeding but was let off with a warning (before you let loose a raised eyebrow, I was doing 28 in a 15 zone and it was midnight and the road was empty!). But my encounter reminded me of various other encounters with the bureaucracy and the state; here and in India.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Cinco

In honour of having completed a chapter, I temporarily hung up my boots and set out clothes shopping. A morning and some later, I'm poorer by a few dozen dollars and richer by 1 lipstick, 1 t-shirt, 2 lotions and the same pair of shoes that I set out to exchange (don't ask). In the meantime, the busy bloggers have been making hay; for an update go here.

This evening, I have dance lessons and will then head out to dinner at a friend's. We are going potlucky, so for today's recipe, I need (a) quantity, (b) quality and (c) colour. See if this fits the bill?

Rice Tricolor and Pachai/ Raw Morekozhambu

Rice tricolor is a misnomer; yes I lied. I am merely going to list ways of presenting a large quantity of cooked rice in differently spiced assemblages. All these require the same set of spices, so with minimal effort, one can gain maximum credit. And not all of it undeserved either. These rice dishes used to be a once-a-week indulgence for my family. I grew up associating these with large lunches and long siestas. Also gaggling cousins and snoring grandfathers. Ah well,why malign just the men; snoring grandmothers too.

For eight larger servings, you will need:

(a) Four cups of rice

Cook with a little less than twice the proportion of water and make sure the grains are all well-separated, Basmati works best. This should yield eight servings/ cups. Once the rice is cooked, leave it out to cool thoroughly.

Assemble these before you begin spicing:
(a) Chana dal or Bengal gram dal
(b) Skinned white urad dal
(c) Rye/ Mustard seeds and Jeera/ Cumin seeds
(d) Red chillies
(e) Green chillies
(f) Hing/ Asafoetida (optional)
(g) Turmeric
(h) Curry leaves
(i) Vegetable/ Canola/ Groundnut oil

Rice Coloured Once: Lemon Rice

Blink and miss has beaten me to the post on this one, but "Rice duotone" just seemed wrong. So here's more or less the same recipe. One can never have too much south Indianness anyway.

For this, you will also need
(a) Peanuts
(b) Juice from three medium-sized lemons

* Heat oil in a deep wok
* Add a pinch of hing, lots of mustard and cumin seeds, turmeric and 2 red chillies
* Let this fry for a few minutes
* Add chana dal, urad dal and curry leaves
* Fry for 3-4 minutes until the lentils begin to brown
* Add 3 cups of cooked rice and add salt to taste
* Mix thoroughly and let this cook on medium heat for 5 minutes
* At this point you should be able to see the various lentils and spices peeking out at you like so many chocolate chips in a generously chocolated cookie
* Lower the flame to minimum heat, add lemon juice and mix thoroughly
* Fry peanuts separately and add to the rice

Rice coloured twice: Coconut rice

For this, you will also need:

(a) Cashewnuts
(b) 2 cups of freshly grated coconut

* Yawn yawn, by now you should have caught on
* Heat oil, add rye, 1 red chilli and a pinch of hing
* Add chana dal and urad dal and wait till then brown
* Add two finely chopped chillies and curry leaves
* Finally add the grated coconut (Fresh works best; go ahead and use frozen ones if fresh coconuts are not easily available). Fry for a few minutes until the coconut begins to brown and lose its raw smell
* Add salt and 3 cups of rice
* Mix thoroughly and lower flame
* I like to add a pinch of sugar right at the end; two years of living in Gujarat have left an indelible mark on me and I love the combination of slightly salty, sweet flavours.
* Add fried cashewnuts before serving

And sold: To the rice in the Sandman's garb!
Yogurt rice/ Curd rice/ Thayir Saadam

Where would I be without my thayir saadam? This used to my thachi mumum or in other word, rice that make you sleep. And oh yes, this will knock you out.

For this, you will additionally need:
(a)Ginger, peeled and chopped fine
(b) Coriander leaves
(c) Cucumber, peeled and chopped fine if you feel so inclined
(d) 1 cup - Whole milk
(e) Ghee/ Butter/ Clarified butter (do not skip this!)
(f) 3 cups of yogurt

* In a large bowl, beat together yogurt and milk with salt
* In a shallow frying pan, heat ghee. Add rye, lots of ginger, 2 green chillies, chana dal and urad dal and let this fry for a few minutes
* Add curry leaves and fry for a minute
* Add this mixture to the yogurt
* Into this, add 2 cups of rice and mix thoroughly
* Set this to chill in the refrigerator for 15 minute before serving

Accompanying, the trio, we have:
Pachai Morekozhambu

This is a watery yogurt spiced with the usual suspects. For this, you will additionally need:

(a) Whole coriander seed
(b) Chopped okra, squash or pumpkin.

* Lightly fry coriander seeds, chana dal and 3 dry red chillies
* Let this cool down and then blend into a viscous mixture with a little water
* In a seperate pan, heat oil and add rye and urad dal. Add chopped okra, squash or pumpkin and fry for a few minutes
* Add all of these to 2 cups of beaten yogurt
* Add salt to taste
* I added fresh minced coriander too, but this is optional for those not seeking to OD on the coriander family

And as Quick Gun Murugan might emote, Ensoy!

I am off to siesta and then a night of tango. Therefore, today;
I listen to: Astro Piazzola.

Such divine music!

Thinking about: Telangana and the myth of the nation-state form

From Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities", an excerpt:

My point of departure is that nationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that word's multiple significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind, To understand them properly we need to consider carefully how they have come into historical being, in what ways their meanings have changed over time, and why, today, they command such profound emotional legitimacy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Cavalier Cook: Numero Seis

One chapter down, many more to go! My fellow cooks are rocking the marathon trail. Nupur, our diligent host has summaries here and here.

I, on the contrary have been lazy today and the only tastes I have in my mouth right now are that of endless cups of coffee, downed as I gaped at my computer screen. Now I see the world in letters. That’s right; one “c-a-r” that I must “d-r-i-v-e” as I go buy “c-u-r-d”; oh wait sorry, “y-o-g-u-r-t” for “t-o-n-i-g-h-t”. (Incidentally, the letters I actually see are “p-a-n-o-p-t-i-c-o-n”, “h-e-g-e-m-o-n-y” and “p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-v-e”, but after I tried and tried hard to string them together, I ended up wanting my “m-u-m-m-y”).

So my lovely ardent, arduous marathoners, in anticipation of the next week where I will dunk your collective gastronomies in heavier fare, I give you….

Coucous with cauliflower peas curry and onion raita

For the couscous, to serve two, you will need

(a) Couscous (Uh Duh): I use this one. And no, don’t buy all four packs. Resist capitalism. Buy 1 pack. Be capitalist, socialist, humanist and carnivore in equal measure. Okay yes, I have lost it.
(b) Assorted fresh herbs: I used rosemary and sage.

*This one’s as easy as Sarah Palin’s understanding of the word “recuse”. (Once you know it, you will do it again and again and lord almighty, again)
* Alright alright, here it is
* Boil two cups of water with a drop of olive oil and salt
* Take off flame or out of microwave and add couscous about 1/8th of an inch below the water level. For this step, I would suggest vernier calipers.
* Add a sprinkling of chopped herbs
* Cover and leave for six to seven minutes
* Uncover and fluff with a fork

I have discovered couscous to be much quicker fare than white rice, which I do not like to eat too often anyway. Brown rice is wonderful but takes as long. And forbidden rice is lovely but takes too long, and wait, isn’t it, sort of, you know, like, forbidden?

And no, that’s not it for today.

The cauliflower peas curry recipe was generously shared with me by the wonderfully adept and superbly talented Miya. To serve the progeny of the army mentioned in Day 2’s recipe, you will need:

(a) 1 medium-sized cauliflower head
(b) 2 cups of peas/ I used frozen ones, thawed and microwaved for 7 minutes
(c) Jeera or cumin seeds
(d) Red chilli powder/ Paprika
(e) 3 tablespoons garam masala
(f) Oil and salt to taste
(g) 3-4 tablespoons of yogurt
(h) Endless patience
(i) A non-stick frying pan

* Heat oil and add cumin seeds
*When they brown, add finely chopped cauliflower florets
*Saute for around ten minutes on low flame until the florets begin to turn brown
*Drain green peas and add to this mixture

* Add garam masala, chilli powder and salt to taste and mix thoroughly
* Cover partially with lid and let this stay on medium flame for ten to fifteen minutes until the cauliflower begins to be thoroughly cooked (Yah yah, bite into one and see; my mother wouldn’t approve but she isn’t here right now, so it’s all good)
* Add yogurt and mix
* Let this cook on low flame until the curry achieves your desired consistency; I like mine dry

And lastly, the easiest one of the lot; raita.

For this, to feed you for the rest of the week, you will need

(a) 3 cups of yogurt
(b) Mint leaves
(c) 1/4 of a red onion

*Chop onion finely. When I say finely, I mean within 1/8th of an inch of your epidermis. For this you will need a screw gauge and a sharp knife
* Chop mint; roughly this time. Just so you have a break
* Beat yogurt with salt and a few spoons of water to desired consistency; I like mine viscous. Your options are watery like the buttermilk they served in my undergrad dorm, or gravity defying thickness like the pile of books on my table.
* Mix all these in a bowl. You could also add a little chilli powder and/or freshly ground cumin powder.

Listening to: Balkan Beat Box

Reading: Bidoun magazine

An excerpt from Achal Prabhala's "Thirty One Flavors of Death" in Issue 15:

Zibahkhana is a supremely satisfying romp. The Burqaman-definitely the world’s first burqa-clad serial killer-is an instant icon. Omar admits that the idea derived from a childhood fear of the burqa, “a fantastically gothic and dramatic outfit that manages to strip all expression, emotion, and warmth from a human face.” He is both perplexed and delighted that it didn’t cause more controversy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Siete

Another day, and we are inching ladle by ladle to the finish line. I have vowed to finish a chapter by Sunday night so in steeling myself for an invariable all-nighter, I decided to stock my tummy with good old pulao and dal. So my fellow comfort food veggie afficianados, I give you...

Carrot Spinach Pulao/Pilaf and Dal Makhani

The pulao is a dish inspired by my friend Madhu's carrot methi pulao. I merely replaced the methi or fenugreek. My guess is that most greens will work fine, so feel free to use your creative vegetarianism.

For the pulao, to serve three, you will need:

(a) Two cups of basmati rice, washed and soaked for fifteen minutes
(b) Bay leaves
(c) Cinnamon sticks
(d) Half an onion chopped fine
(e) Jeera/Cumin
(f) Fennel seeds/ Saunf
(g) 2 green chillies, chopped fine
(h) Four or five carrots, peeled and grated
(i) I cup baby spinach leaves, 1 cup washed and chopped
(j) Olive oil
(k) Ginger garlic paste/ Fresh ginger and garlic finely minced

* Heat oil, add cumin, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and let them fry for a minute or so
* Add green chillies, ginger, garlic and onions
* Fry until the onions begin to turn transparent
* Add carrot, fennel seeds and spinach
* Let this cook on medium heat for 10 minutes
* Now add the rice and mix thoroughly for a minute
* Add a little less then four cups of water; add salt generously
* Cover with lid, leaving a small gap for the steam
* Let this cook for around 20 minutes or until you begin to see craters in the rice
* Turn off the flame at this point and let it set for the next 20 minutes

Dal Makhani or Buttery lentils

The other day, my friend N commented on how he had tried to make this, but had skipped butter and it had turned out, well, to put it mildly, different. Therein lies a lesson. Don't skip the butter. Else you will end up with a Starbucks chai tea; in other words, tea tea without the tea. This recipe I have adapted from Nupur's delicious one, merely modifying a few things to suit my couch loving, butter fortified behind. She has some pictures if you need help groping around the lentil farm. And if you do need such help, what you will do around a place like this I wonder

For the dal, to serve a minor army of a medium sized princely state, you will need:

(a)2 cups whole black urad dal, soaked overnight
(b)3 cups rajma soaked over an evening and a night
(c)Ginger garlic paste/ Fresh or store bought
(d)Three green chillies
(e)1 large red onion
(f)5 medium sized tomatoes, pureed
(g)Oil/ Butter (pick your poison, I will allow you to skip the butter here)
(h)Cumin/ Jeera
(i) (1) Garam masala OR (2) Red chilli powder, freshly ground coriander seeds, freshly ground cumin powder, cinnamon powder, freshly ground pepper
(j) Red chilli powder/ Paprika
(k) Salt to taste
(l)1 stick/ 5 tablespoons of salted butter (Yes I know and no, you can't)

* Wash and pressure cook the life out of the lentils until they are soft and pliant as a soggy chocolate truffle. Sometimes I add other regular dals that one doesn't need to soak, just for fun. To ensure the aeration possibilities;)
* Blend together chopped onion, chillies and ginger garlic into a moderately thick paste
* Heat oil, add jeera and wait? wait? wait?
* Okay, now that the jeera is popping, add the onion paste and fry for 2 or 3 minutes until it begins to smell cooked or rather un-raw. The raw and the cooked, from the boors to the civilized...and one still has to wash off the smell of cooking and brush teeth. God, civilization extracts a price!
* Add tomato puree and let it cook for a few more minutes
* Add red chilli powder, salt and garam masala. Instead of garam masala, you could add the other set of spices mentioned. The latter are a pain but if you experiment, you might come up with unique interesting variations depending on your spice of note.
* Let this cook for a few minutes until it begins to bubble
* Now dunk the lentils in
* Cover and forget. Well, not quite. Let this cook for twenty minutes
* Slice butter and add
* Cook for another ten minutes
* If you are not from Turkey, top it off with coriander. Else try parsley;).

M and I went for a walk around the lake after stuffing ourselves silly. And now we are hungry again.

Today I listen to: M.I.A

Thinking about: Sherlock Holmes
I saw the movie last night and much as I love Guy Ritchie's work and Sherlock Holmes, even more so, it was alright. It seems like a pastiche of various episodes from the books, coupled with some great editing and an inkling of insight about the drug-addled, culturally specific, notably eccentric character that Sherlock Holmes was. Super thin plot though.

Net net, I want my classics back. Now. Including the wonderful music that was part of the televised series. And I love Jeremy Brett.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Ocho

Fire the guns! We are off.

In the words of my friend Y, who is, in Madras lingo, quite a Peter, or perhaps even a Pierre ;), Joyeux Noel!

It's a chilly yet beautifully sunny day in Austin. The semester has ended which means that on most mornings, I work from home. An essential part of morning activities involves cooking lunch. Today, I was in the mood for pasta. My cousin A gets all credit for introducing me to the art of pasta and vegetables sans sauce. It's much lighter on the palate and easier on kitchen time. That he also taught me how to swear in two languages is a tale I will reserve for other marathons. Without further ado, I give you...

Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Feta

You will need:

(a) Spaghetti works best; you could use Orecchiette, Fettuccine or even Elbows
(b) 1/2 a teaspoon of butter
(c) Balsamic vinegar

(a) 1 Zucchini, Red and Green Bell peppers: 1 each, 1 large red onion, 2 carrots, 6 or 7 portobello mushrooms. (You could also add halved cherry tomatoes
(b) 2 tablespoons of Olive oil
(c) Salt and pepper
(d) Herbs (Fresh or dried): Basil, Sage, Rosemary
(e) 3 Garlic cloves, peeled

(a) I used Bulgarian sheep's milk feta

* Boil water and wait till it comes to a rolling boil. Add salt and pasta and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes until al dente. And no, that doesn't mean that you cook until the pasta is no longer hard enough to break your teeth. Bite into one; if it feels just a little bit uncooked, then you are done. And no, don't wait until it comes to the consistency of yogurt rice.

* Slice onions and bell peppers lengthwise. Round slices work for the mushrooms, carrots and zucchini.
* Sprinkle large amounts of pepper and a little salt
* Add olive oil and toss
* Add herbs
* Assemble this mixture in a baking dish or if you don't have one, a foil basket. Wrap each garlic clove in foil and add to the vegetables. Broil in the top shelf of your oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven when the vegetables are slightly browned; my cue is when my fire alarm goes off but I wouldn't recommend that as a reliable signal.

* Unwrap garlic cloves and either chop and add to the vegetables or store for future use
* Heat butter in a non-stick pan and toss pasta and vegetables for a few minutes
* Drain feta of brine and add generously to pasta and vegetables
* Add a dash of balsamic vinegar

Lunch al dente! I had mine with a glass of pomegranate-cranberry juice.

I assembled a lighter lunch for a friend who didn't feel like pasta. Coucous, vegetables, mushrooms sauteed in butter and chilli flakes, and feta.

Listening to: Los Fabuolosos Cadillacs

Reading: Samedi the Deafness
An excerpt:
You live your life, you try to live compassionately, and that's the end of it. You do a little more than you should have to in order to be a good person. but you don't go making big changes in the world, trying to fix things. It presumes too much to do so. There's only this: if everyone acts quietly, compassionately, things will go a little better than they would have otherwise. But people will still suffer.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Nueve

And now for something completely different! In a gesture completely uncharacteristic of my blogging habits thus far, I have foolhardily signed away my reputation and sensibility to Nupur's year-end cooking marathon. I have been following her blog for a few years now and have much to be grateful for; both to her considerably culinary talents and to those of the people she follows. Nupur and I knew each other many years ago, for a little blip of time at the end of our high-school years in Pune. Many years later, I chanced upon her blog and put two and twenty together and have been since then, a devoted trawler. Enough said!

Ground rules:
This series of posts is exactly what it claims to be; cavalier. My cooking is like my dissertation; sometimes fiery, at other times just not there. Sometimes I think I'm fabulous although all audience will claim to the contrary and at others, what I think mundane turns out to be marginally soul searing (perhaps I exagerrate). In the hope that some meaning will emerge, I am setting myself ground rules.

(a) Full meals only: Every day, I will post a series of things. Not one, not two, but enough to make my civilizing ancestors proud.
(b) I will recommend music one must hear while either cooking/ eating aforementioned cuisine. Look for it on your right under "Today I listen to".
(c) Each post will end with something to read, watch or merely gaze at. Yes I know, it's all quite shi shi foo foo. All hail the bourgeoisie!

So as a warm-up for today, I am going to post the easiest recipe ever.

Coffee and a Sandwich

A sandwich is the first thing I ever learnt how to make. School (as is the wont of most fascist educational systems) ran really early in the morning. By early, I mean 9 am and for those who know my nocturnality, you will know that 9 to me is pre-dawn and just about heralds the end of REM sleep. So most mornings, my mother would deal with my socks and attempt to peel my peepers open, while my father fed me a sandwich. This is the sandwich. This post is for my parents: my mother who told me many years ago that there was no need to learn how to cook so early in life, I'd have to do it often enough anyway and my father, who precision cuts vegetables and everything else to the nth of an inch.

You will need:
(a) Sliced bread: I use nine-grain. Purists will swear by the merits of good old white.
(b) Salted spreadable butter
(c) Firm red tomatoes
(d) Salt and pepper
(e) Basil (Optional)

* Toast bread. I like to keep the edges; if you do cut them, leave them out for the birds
* Cut thin tomato slices
* Lay them two to each bread slice
* Sprinkle large amounts of pepper and a little salt (especially since the butter is salted)
* Add a few leaves of fresh basil if you want
* Put the sandwich together, press with palms down and slice diagonally

I have converted to black coffee ever since grad school. Now I'm a bit of a coffee snob. I like mine black and highly recommend stovetop esperesso makers.

And don't snigger/ cock and snook and/or be smug. Things will get tougher tomorrow onwards!

Listening to: Lila Downs

Reading: Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World.
An excerpt:
To understand who Shakespeare was, it is important to follow the verbal traces he left behind back into the life he lives and into the world to which he was so open. And to understand how Shakespeare used his imagination to transform his life into his art, it is important to use our own imagination.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Art of the Object: A mini essay on fetishism, loss and longing

I lose lip balms. Beeswax and rose essence and mint and vanilla. Cocoa butter, sunscreen, raspberry and lime. Those tiny objects of bright colours and wide-eyed shine, those little tubes and tubs of winter cheer and summer solace; I lose them. One by one they nest in the corners of my purse, my backpack, my tote and my clutch. Some I buy because they are pretty, others because my lips are chapped. Slowly, they slip out into the world. All because I change bags I imagine.

My bags. They lie clustered around the house. The big red one from New Jersey. The mirrored maroon cloth bag from Cauvery in Bangalore. The tiny clutch from Bombay. The even tinier one from Poona. They are in my photographs and my people and my memories. X helped buy the big red one. S was around complaining while the tiny clutch was bought. V and I negotiated and held hush hush talks over the naivete of bargaining over the beautiful patchwork bag I bought in Bombay. If they could speak. The red bag has held food and scarves and pens and books and every now and then, the entire contents of my travelling wardrobe. It has most always stayed stuck to my hip and has probably given me an imperceptible limp by now. The tote silently attended conferences and drunken post-conference parties and disapproved of lecherous men and women who are intellectual by day and silly by night . The backpack was frisked and x-rayed and silently allowed to pass through many an airport and mall (yes they frisk bags at malls in India now).

There is always a book in my bag. Sometimes a moleskine, at others a humble loose-leaf pad. The red one (yes, red is wonderful) was a gift from A who now teaches in Thailand. Some loose-leaf pads I have pilfered from conferences and classrooms. My two dog-eared hardbacked notebooks were bought in India when I began fieldwork. They carry long forgotten passwords to accounts that have expired an even longer time ago. And endless phone numbers of never accessed contacts. Also lists, timelines and journal entries. Also changing handwriting samples. The polka dotted spiral bounded notebook is relatively new and far more self-conscious. It reads better than the rest.

Sometimes, my books have a pen tucked in. But only sometimes. Countless burnt orange ones I sneaked away at the health centre. The thick felt-tipped marker I lose all the time. The two pens that my parents' friends gifted me when I was home this summer (Something so incredibly touching when people who knew you as a squealing two year old give you adult gifts; things that recognize who you have become and treasure it). The fat brown artisanal one that K brought me back from Delhi. The many uncapped ones that lie waiting in my black wine glass to be picked up as I rush out in the morning coat tassels flying harum scarum.

My pens make lists, Of things I do in the world. Of errands I need to run. Of bills I need to pay. Of letters I need to write. Of objects I need to obtain.
(a) Shoes
(b) Scarf
(c) Earrings
(d) Bookstand
(e) Coffee table
(f) CDs
(g) Gifts

Sometimes I am given gifts. A watch, a stole, an armlet, a locket, a photograph, peacock feather earrings.

Objects. Attachments. Fetishes.
And yet...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Some day, many days from now, this day will have been forgotten. Its doubts, its faint pleas, its lily-livered will to survive, will have been defeated by other pleasures, other desires, other conquests. Such is the nature of memory. But I want to remember. I want to remember that on this day, I carefully reasoned and pleaded the case of this life against all other possible futures. Even in the face of things I could not have predicted and hands I could not have seen, I carefully measured and held together the vitality of this life. In all its possible futures. And I want to remember.

Monday, December 07, 2009


It's our age. We think we know that the miracle is a lie and we always look for a hidden or suppressed explanation. We would rather have greed and lust as motive than love. We are reassured by slyly mocking references to our squalor, our smells and our expulsions, than our trembling modesty, or to our quivering desire for affection. We are not even allowed souls any more, and our secret inner spaces are merely sites of unresolved turmoil, raw with throbbing wounds.

-- Desertion; Abdulrazak Gurnah