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A simple summer spaghetti recipe and a long story

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Some days Most days, I cook just to get done with a meal and don’t put too much thought when my only aim is to whiz in and out of the kitchen. I always wonder how my mom did it. These days, I have far greater respect for her than she could imagine. As a working woman in the 80’s with school going children, a bed ridden mother in law, a blind brother, rambling house, pets and assorted creatures living and a retinue of permanent and semi permanent house guests, I wonder how she managed. Not that I or my brother gave it much thought, but we always had a welcoming if sometimes messy home, hot freshly made food on the table at all meals and some non negotiable rules about things such as eating what is on the plate and rudeness quotient for behaviour.

Everything else was pretty much flexible. We didn’t have maddening schedules but we had to help around the house. I cannot remember not being a house / kitchen help since I was 5-6. We had strict rules about eating as a family at the table and no TV while eating. Duties were gender neutral and included bathing and dressing ourselves, laying and clearing the table, filling bottles with drinking water from the blasted water filters and feeding and bathing the pets.

I cannot remember her asking for ‘me time’ or ever laboring over what to cook. Favorites were made by rotation on the weekend, but that apart no fuss about food was entertained. She discharged her duties with utmost responsibility and made sure everyone was taken care of without feeling smothered.

What's an occasion that isn't marked with a selfie? Enroute the hospital for the surgery

What’s an occasion that isn’t marked with a selfie? Enroute the hospital for the surgery

Yesterday Amma had an eye surgery for cataract. This is in today’s time a simple 15 minute procedure. In her case, it is far more complicated because she has only one eye. A few years ago, after multiple operations to help her with her eyesight failed, Amma became fully blind in one eye with an irreversible damage to her optical nerve. The last couple of surgeries had to be abandoned because of complications and contributed to the rapid loss of her eye. The other eye has 30% vision and that made this operation even more critical.

She travels between my brother’s home and mine alone, manages her daily routine, even reads the newspapers with a magnifying glass, chops vegetables and cooks full meals. She is determined to make the best use of whatever vision she has and not be a bother to anyone around. She has a busy circle of friends and family that she keeps in touch with. Watches her favourite TV programs sometimes relying only on the dialogues to figure out what is happening and freely gives her opinion on everything from how clumsy I sometimes am to football teams in the current world cup :). We were fortunate to find a doctor who invested almost 2 years to understand her case and gain her trust. He reassured her that he would operate only when it was absolutely needed and only in her interest.

So last week when the doctor told her at the end of a routine check up that it was time, though she was anxious, she agreed. She spent the week preparing mentally for being sightless for atleast 6 hours post operation. She counted the steps from her bed to the washroom and dining table and back and practiced with her eyes closed. She made little packets of her medication and kept them ready so that I wouldn’t have to help her figure out which ones to take. She told the doctor that she was in his hands and that he was in God’s hands as she walked in for her procedure.

After a half day’s stay at the hospital, we came back home yesterday. The procedure went well and the doctor has said that he was happy with the outcome. He was able to successfully remove the cataract and some growth that would help her see a little clearer than before. Amma is recovering well. She has eaten all her meals by herself with a spoon, seated at the table. While I was busy in the kitchen, she found her clothes, freshened up, changed herself and combed her hair. I am scanning all phone calls from her close circle of trusted friends and family who are checking on her progress. She is tenacious and determined not to ask for help unless needed, yet she knows her limitations and wont jeopardize herself by taking unnecessary risks.

If I turn out to be even a fraction of what she is as a person, I will be very happy with myself.

The recipe I am sharing today is unlike what Amma would have rustled up. On the busiest day too, the table would be laden with rice, rotis, dal and atleast one vegetable or meat dish, all made from scratch. The kitchen appliances and other conveniences I so much take for granted were not available, no pastes, no frozen masalas, no fuss.

I turn to pasta when in doubt. When I need to feed just myself, when I couldn’t care less about what to cook. This is an ingredient that lends itself so well to any situation. It is a summer pasta and inspired by what I saw my current TV chef obsession David Rocco cook in an episode while travelling in India. My fellow salivator over David Rocco, R too made something similar and when I saw her post, I thought I should post this recipe of easy pasta (do I ever post anything that I don’t claim is easy to make?) too.

Summer Spaghetti

Summer Spaghetti

Summer Spaghetti Recipe (serves 2)

Spaghetti or any other dry pasta for 2 servings

1/2 piece of Green Zucchini (About 4-5 inches, sliced)

6-8 button Mushrooms, washed (yes they are dirty in India), wiped and quartered

1 large Roma or other firm ripe tomato, chopped into 8 pieces

2-3 tablespoons of Extra virgin olive oil (be generous)

a small sprig of fresh basil (1/2 teaspoon of dried)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pods of garlic, peeled and sliced finely

2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese (optional, I never have this on hand)

In a wide pan, bring about 2 litres of water to a rolling boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt to it.

Add the spaghetti and cook stirring till done the way you like it. I do not like it al dente, so I cook it 1 minute more than that. By all means cook the pasta the way YOU like eating it :D

Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the water. Set aside the cooked pasta.

In another pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and fry the garlic till just turning a shade darker. Add the zucchini slices and cook till they are turning golden around the edges, turn over gently and repeat. Remove the zucchini slices to a plate.

Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the remaining hot oil and toss till they are beginning to wilt about 2 minutes but retain a crunch. The idea is not to cook them till mushy so cooking time is flexible as per your taste. Add the cooked spaghetti, zucchini slices and toss well. Add salt and pepper to taste and the torn basil leaves. Toss well. Add a little of the reserved cooking liquid if it is very dry.

Turn off the heat. Drizzle on the lemon juice and toss well before serving it out into bowls and top with some parmesan cheese if you have it or drizzle the remaining olive oil. Serve.

This is a simple dish and can be served with a nice soup or salad on the side. For a non veg version, grilled chicken or prawns can be added to the mix. The simple flavours are so refreshing from the loaded with tomato / sauce / cheese pasta dishes that we usually reach out for.

Of the Blogging Marathon and other stuff

So, its almost the end of NaBloPoMo and I cannot believe that I stuck it out. For five years now I have watched blogging marathons happen in the blog world. I watched in awe, but knew I didn’t have the time or the discipline to do something like this…This year, I don’t even know what  I was thinking when I signed up.

thanks to the marathon, I have blogged more this one month than in a whole year! It has given me such joy to just sit at my computer and type away. I realised I have so many recipes in the archives and photographs in my hard drive. They languish there because I was either lazy or felt they were not good enough to be published.

That somewhere has changed with this exercise. I am no longer caught up with the appropriateness of a picture or a post (which explains why I am writing this!). In-fact I have stopped editing my pictures altogether. No cropping, no adjusting light and contrast. It is such a relief!

Blogging has given me a lot. It has made me more conscious about my food choices, about how I cook or what nutrition each meal provides. It has taken me away from mindlessly eating junk. It has made me read labels more attentively and make wiser choices.

Most importantly it has given me friends.

Funnily, for someone who has been blogging for more than 6 years now, I still feel like an outsider! I am awed by the blogs i discover each day as I trawl the internet. I am amazed by the talent that bloggers across the world posses.

I must confess tho, that there are times when I am torn. When I see the beautiful layouts and gorgeous pictures, the styling and detailing, the complicated recipes and the reach of blogs, and subscriber counts, I resolve to do better, put in more effort and try to make my blog/ recipes and pictures better.

A few days or weeks pass by and I post something here back in my laid back style…. then it hit me… This blog is me… it’s a reflection of me… I write here to document my experiments and I am not going to make a job out of it. I am most comfortable taking pictures thrust on my dining table which is near a door, at the most, I carry food out to the little table we have on the balcony. I have a decent collection of plates and bowls but I usually end up photographing in the bowls/ dishes and plates that we use everyday to eat.

Blogging for me is like me or my cooking, Easy and fuss free. I get very worked up with performance anxiety if something is thrust on me. I shy away and never venture out again. same with this blog. And I guess it will remain that way!

What are your thoughts on blogging? How much time do you spend on it a week? what are your concerns?

Hearts in the Right Place – An Appeal for Help & Heart (y) Centered Cupcakes

The hoopla for Valentine’s day is hard to miss. I’ve never believed in making monuments of days and dates. I would like to, like a lot of people, turn my nose up at a lot of what is now the genius of the guys up at marketing who manage to put the pressure on everyone to express your love with diamonds and roses and other such stuff…. but i couldnt this year. What with my writing for a newspaper and all… i had to do a valentine’s day special and i brought out the pink hearts with a vengeance!

On the sharing love bit… if you like me have been inactive (blogwise that is) you may/maynot have heard of the fund raiser drive by this very dear blogging friend called Siri for Vaidehi Ashram in Hyderabad. She is like a woman possessed and it is so inspiring to see how her passion to really make a difference has resulted in this ashram recieving donations from bloggers and readers accross the world. For me who feels emotional even about inanimate objects, i cannot even imagine being alone in this world and not having anyone or anything to call my own. Vaidehi Ashram in Hyderabad is a safe place for girls where they are provided  an environment to live and study and given some semblance of family and community.  The world as it is, is a harsh place, add to that the knowledge that you have been abandoned for whatever reasons, is reason enough to feel battered. But here is a place that will help you and care for you. And then there are people like Siri who dont just sit back and wonder why something cannot be done, but actually do it. Several bloggers are sponsoring beautiful prizes for the raffle and there is really a wide variety to choose from. plus its all for a good cause… You can get all the details about the Fundraiser here and please click here to buy a raffle ticket. 

What can you to to help?

Its as easy as buying a raffle ticket. Each Ticket for the raffle ticket is for $10 (INR 500). Buying multiple tickets will give you a better chance of winning the prize you want.

How can you Buy the Raffle Ticket/s

There is an easy to use link to make your payment. All you have to do is make a payment via Paypal or credit. 

You could also email Siri at info(dot)siri(at)gmail(dot)com to check about making donations in indian rupees.

When you have completed the donation process, please email Siri at  info(dot)siri(at)gmail(dot)com with confirmation of your payment and specifying the raffle prize you are interested in.

Escapades is making a small contribution to this fund drive. A Box of assorted handcrafted Chocolate Truffles made by me. there are 10 boxes to be won and shipping is within India. Code is RF3.  

If you are not a resident, you can nominate an indian resident to receive the chocolates. Chocolates have literally changed the way i think about work, and yes i do this for a living, but i know each piece is carefully handmade and will put a smile on the face of the person who will taste its pure indulgence. I really hope you will be moved enough to do your bit….you have until Feb 25th to participate in the raffle. Goodluck!

Handcrafted Chocolate Truffles (10 boxes to be won) the raffle code is RF3

Back to Valentine’s Drama… and if you forget all the hoopla, these beautiful cupcakes are so pretty, that i couldnt get myself to eat them without feeling bad! if pink and hearts dont rock your boat, please try it with any other colour or shape….

this is a basic cupcake recipe that i tweaked a bit.

Heart Centered Cupcakes

Butter – ½ cup (unsalted at room temperature, if using salted butter, skip the salt)

Sugar – 1 cup (powdered in a blender)

Eggs – 3 (at room temperature)

Baking powder – 11/2 teaspoon

Baking soda – ½ teaspoon

Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon

Salt – 1/4 teaspoon

Maida – 1½   cups

Milk – ¼ cup

Red food colour – 1 teaspoon

Method: 

In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar till pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well till completely mixed. Add the vanilla and beat some more.
Sift the Maida with the salt (if using) baking powder and baking soda. Mix in the Maida and the milk alternately, 1/3 quantity at a time. Mix this lightly and do not over mix.
Take ¼ of this batter and mix in the food colour. Spread this into a flat baking tin and bake at 180 C for 20 minutes or till a tester comes out clean. Cool this cake, when completely cool, using a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out hearts and set aside. You can use the scraps for a trifle pudding or cake pops.Line a cupcake mould with liners, using a round spoon, put about 11/2 tablespoon of batter in the liner, stick a baked heart into it and add 1 tablespoon of batter over it. Repeat till all the batter is used. Bake at 180 C till done (about 20 minutes).

Cool completely before serving the heart surprise cupcake! Cut to reveal the heart if needed.

As I write this, there has been an outpouring of grief amongst the blogging community over the untimely passing away of Raji, better known as Miri of Peppermill. I admit that i didnt know her personally. I came accross her blog (it was hard to miss) but i didnt intereact with her much. Never once thought she was ill. She leaves behind a 6 year old daughter and her husband. I wish them the strength to bear their grief. Through all the tributes, I have gathered that she was a vivacious lady who faced life with a beautiful smile and not once let on about her health issues. When I wallow in self pity, I hope to be strengthened by her and her life…. not knowing her, is purely my loss…. RIP.

Adieu….2008……Welcome….2009

happynewyear

As this year comes to a close….i bid adieu to a dear friend… a friend who tentively stepped in….who i took some time warming up to….. who spent every day with me….was a part of what each day brought…..the highs, the lows, the successes and the not so successful….and now, it seems like a dear old  friend……2008, thank you for everything that you taught me…. I bid you goodbye with fondness……and wait with excitement for what 2009 will bring us all……

its going to be a quiet time, with friends to share the last of this year and usher in the new year…..

I wish you the love of friends and family,  much laughter, peace, love & joy, the friendship of true friends and the courage to face all else that life brings with it……cheers to everything that 2008 was and all the hope that 2009 brings.

Half a Decade …. and Counting

A white train, veil and an entourage….. a dapper groom, awaiting his bride at the altar, a church full of people, singing …..and a priest waiting to say “I now pronounce you Man and Wife” ………..

Whatever else I dreamt of, this montage was never to be…… in its place instead, was a terrible excitement that we would finally spend the rest of our lives together…….hoping that the frayed nerves would hold up till everything was over….making all of the arrangements……staying at the venue till a few hours before the reception to get everything done…..i telling you my feet were paining in those ridiculously high heels (because k is a foot taller) and you asking me why I wore them in the first place…. You grumbling over how many more hours of handshaking was in store and me asking you to shut up and smile since pictures were being clicked…..

five years then seemed like such a long time…..now I can’t remember when it flew past…..knowing each other as long as we have, it seems like forever….. in a nice way!! In the end it isn’t about what we did, or how we spent time, or where we’ve been and what we’ve achieved…..

To know that I will always come home to you…..that I share my life with you…that marriage wasn’t the end of all that we wanted…it was just the beginning of what we have together….to know that we don’t have to be Siamese twins…..that we can be our own people…..with opinions and ideas fiercely our own…. That it’s ok to not agree on anything and yet know that that’s the way it is going to be…..that we are chalk and cheese….that we don’t have to share anything…..religion, language, culture, interests or even food….and yet, we share the life we have together…..to take a line out of Jerry Maguire, “you complete me”….

I am so glad I found you K…..if I had to do it all over again, I would……and not change a thing….Happy Anniversary!!

Recipe for Trifle Pudding

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Amma and her sister peddi were big clippers and collectors of recipes…..peddi worked as the Assistant Librarian of a huge library and often, magazines and periodicals trashed by the library would make it to the house….also at church there was a library run by the womens group….people would borrow books and magazines and also donate what they had already read…..plus there were the recipes in the daily newspapers…..womens weekly, womens world and some other foreign magazines I vividly remember…..i think somewhere on my loft, still is an ageing file with yellowing cutouts from years of this indulgence…..Not just recipes, they would collect knitting patterns, sewing projects and household tips…

Every once in a not so often while we’d have western style puddings, cakes, stewed fruit, jams and marmalades, casseroles, meatloaf, roast etc….….(they said it helped preserve the excitement and exclusivity of the preparation….but I think it was more to do with the time they had and the availability of ingredients….) we’d eagerly wait for a festive occasion, birthdays in particular cos we could request what we wanted….and hope that foreign returning relatives would be invited for a meal where the food laid out would be kicked up a few notches to suitably impress the relatives!! I always loved this extra dressed up meal….the stainless steel utensils would be swapped for my grandmother’s precious dinner set(the guests had to be really important to get this out of the cupboard!!)…or sundry glass bowls would make an appearance …. What we would be eating from was fully dependent on who would be eating with us!!

In all of this, trifle puddings were my absolute favourite…I think it was because it contained almost 4 of my favourite desserts….cake, custard, jelly and fruit!!Think amma also chose it based on the fact that most of it could be made the previous day, and two of them, the jelly and custard is made from a packet….. and simply assembled in a jiffy when needed…..infact the cake would be made a couple of days earlier ..…. I’d hang on…under the guise of “helping”….watching hawk like if any goldspot (fizzy orange drink like fanta….made in india, but the company was bought over by coco cola) was left in the bottle so I could get a few sips…. (no we grew up not surrounded by fizzy drinks…it was a really rare treat)…..extra custard, extra jelly and fruit would be devoured….all this for peeling a few oranges and apples!! I think I developed my sweet jaw from childhood, because I don’t have many memories of food….though all good….but I distinctly remember occasions by the desserts served….and I would wolf down my food (getting as subtle as possible glares from amma) and wait impatiently for dessert…… I think I can choke on the memories (not the custard silly) every time I make a trifle pudding!!

This one was made when we had some friends over for dinner….i could have avoided the cream looking like a lump on top had i not squirted it directly from the carton!! in the hurry to finish taking a picture, I didn’t get the best ones….orange flavoured jelly is my favourite….i siphoned off the leftovers and substituted them for dinner on two consecutive nights!!

Read the rest of this entry

yellow….for sunshine, hope and spirit

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when i heard of Bri’s fight with cancer…..i was taken back to my childhood…..my mother’s younger brother had cancer of the mouth….and it went undiagnosed till it was too late…..i remember my mother and her sister, selflessly caring for their brother….through his chemotherapy that came too late, through his deteriorating health and the helplessness that they felt to see him suffer like that….this was over twenty years ago…yet amma cannot forget…and i suspect forgive herself, for not having the means to afford timely treatment for her brother…..i now can see so clearly, all those silent tears that were shed….with the hope that he would will himself to get better…it wasnt to be…..the disease had battered him and it was too late…..

i am amazed to see the smile that shines through bri’s eyes…as she bravely battles cancer….i am amazed to see the spirit and goodwill of food bloggers, well wishers and family and friends who are willing her to focus on her healing…..

Bri of Figs with Bri is a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 and underwent treatment that included a mastectomy, chemotherapy…..however, unfortunately, two years of relatively good health later, the cancer is back, only this time it has metastasized to other parts of her body. At the age of 15, Bri lost her 41-year old mother to the disease. Now, she’s waging what will be a battle to win this war against breast cancer.

it is wonderful to see the love and support that she receives, and is heartening to see her acknowledge all of that through her pain……Click:Jugalbandi’s monthly photography event this month is in honour of Bri, there is also a raffle with wonderful prizes thoughtfully sponsored by friends and fellow bloggers and a fund raiser to help raise money that Bri will need to explore all kinds of treatment available to ad in her fight against breast cancer….i am very happy to report that the fund raiser is going well……but it can not be too much and is on till the 15th of july….see how you can make a difference …….bri needs all the support she can get to help her focus on healing and to find a treatment that works best for her….her insurance does not cover alternative methods of treatment that may strengthen her fight against cancer……..to know how you can contribute, click here….

yellow….for sunshine, hope and the wonderful human spirit….more importantly….for Brianna….we are cheering for you. get well soon.

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