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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 😀

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?

A picture for you

There’s no doubt that Sage is my favourite muse and I dont tire of clicking his pictures. Those who follow my Instagram feed will know! Here’s a picture of him taken in August when we traveled to Coorg. He stole this pile of weeds from the ladies who were weeding the garden.

Tortillas from scratch and a Magazine Feature

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I know I shouldn’t be abandoning the blog as much as I do… but that’s the pattern I seem to follow…

In august, WOW Hyderabad which is the number one local magazine of Hyderabad, did a cover feature on people from different walks of life rediscovering and enjoying the kitchen. They featured 12 people. There was an actor, a fashion designer, a hotelier etc… and your’s truly. I’ve been called a lot of things, but for the first time I was called Hyderabad’s most popular Blogger. Am not sure if I deserve those words of praise, but am humbled that this little blog got me featured in a magazine.

It was nerve wracking to pose for the picture… but I enjoyed the fun interview with a nice guy who has been reading my blog and so knew my dog by his name! Have just been plain lazy about posting this here. So now is as good a time as ever.

Its also been almost a year now that I write a bi monthly feature with recipes for a local English daily called The Hans India. I need to find the features and scan and post them in a different section of this blog I guess, now that there are so many.

On that note, I leave you with a simple recipe to make Tortillas

Tortilla Wraps

Tortilla Wraps

Tortilla Wraps (Makes 6 Tortillas)

All Purpose Flour (Maida)      11/4 Cup

Baking Powder                             ½ teaspoon

Salt                                                   to taste

Butter                                             1 tablespoon

Water (to knead the dough)

For the Filling

Lettuce                                            1 cup

Fresh Vegetable Sticks             1 cup (such as sliced avocado, red/ yellow peppers, tomato slices etc)

Cooked Shredded Chicken or cooked Paneer slices

Baked Beans                                  (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour well and mix the butter to make it look like breadcrumbs. Add enough water to make a dough like chapatti. Knead it for a few minutes and leave it to rest for 20 – 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into six equal parts and roll out into rounds of about 6-7 inches. Heat a tava and lightly cook the tortilla on two sides till small brown spots appear and it is cooked. This is similar to making rotis but do not press down with the spatula or put directly onto the flame. Make all the tortillas and keep aside.

When the tortillas have cooled. Place the lettuce leaf in the middle of the tortilla, add a few vegetable sticks, few pieces of shredded chicken or Paneer and a few teaspoons of beaked beans, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll up the tortilla tight and secure with a toothpick.

Repeat till all the tortillas are used up. Serve with a fresh salad, salsa and guacamole.

Baking ~ Whole Wheat Banana Coconut Almond Bread

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Banana Coconut Almond Bread

Banana Coconut Almond Bread

This was one of my favourite cakes / quick breads to bake and photograph. It was wholesome, not overly sweet and full of nutritious bananas, coconut and almonds. Its taken almost 8 months to be posted on the blog, but then I never claimed to be regular here. The fondest memory of taking these pictures was a 4 month old Sage sitting patiently in the background, waiting for me to finish taking pictures of the banana loaf and give him some to taste.

cake and dog

cake and dog

He was battling a severe gluten intolerance at that time, so I sadly couldn’t give him more than a sliver. That habit has not changed. Every time I bring out something to click pictures of, Sage will come sit around knowing that his patience and good behaviour will pay off. This made it to an article I wrote for a magazine on how healthy eating and baking need not be boring.

On a side note, I turned a year wiser (and older) yesterday. I need to write one of those “letter to my 20 year old self” one of these days. The blog too completed 5 years in june, but i rarely remember. It is not often that I have grateful satisfied thoughts on life. This year before I get all crabby, I want to record that I am just thankful for ~ the people, the love and the experiences that have made my life what it is. This blog has played no small role in this. Thank you dear readers.

banana coconut almond whole wheat bread

Whole Wheat Banana and Coconut Bread

(Makes 12 slices, Time Taken : 20 minutes to put together, 60 minutes to bake)

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs or 4-5 tablespoons yogurt

1 cup mashed banana (2 medium-large)

1/2 cup skim milk

1/4 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup shredded coconut ( I used fresh grated, desiccated or frozen should be equally good too)

1/4 cup sliced almonds (substitute with any nuts of your choice, or leave out if you have allergies)

Method:
Preheat oven 350F and lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until well combined, then whisk in the mashed banana, milk, oil and vanilla extract. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until just combined, making sure no streaks of flour remain. Stir in shredded coconut and almonds and pour batter out into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Turn loaf out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing

Heart Centred 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 couldn’t 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!

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.

Recreating Bhutan thru food – Shamu Datshi (Bhutanese Mushroom and Cheese Recipe)

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One of my favourite posts to write was the one I did post returning from a wonderful holiday inBhutan. The beautiful landscape, colours and gorgeous people, not to mention the lovely food we ate throughout the trip was enough to inspire me. Something that is severely missing on this blog, when yesterday I realised that I’d last posted in September.

In fact, funnily I have been cooking and baking quite a bit. What with the extra hours I have on hand because of early rising due to the pooch. Somehow, never got down to making it here and am about to remedy that!

With the weather finally getting a nip and winter deciding to descend on our neck of the woods, memories of the food we ate inBhutanbecame so strong that it urged me to try and recreate it.

We enjoyed the vegetable and cheese preparations almost daily. Ema Datshi – Chillies and Cheese, Kewa Datshi – Potato and Cheese and my favourite Shamu Datshi – Mushrooms and Cheese.

It’s a simple recipe, the most time consuming aspect of this is the chopping of the mushrooms! Because the dish cooks itself in less than 10 minutes!

I found a recipe online and used that as a base, I omitted the tomatoes, because the version we had didn’t have tomatoes in it. I also used Amul processed cheese as that is the only one I had on hand. Am sure a combination of cheddar and mozzarella would be ideal. The taste was almost the same as what I recall. Pretty good for a first attempt at recreation!

Shamu Datshi (Serves 3)

Button Mushrooms – 200 grams, washed thinly sliced

Unsalted butter – 1 tablespoon

Water – ¼ cup

Cheese – 2/3 cup, grated (I used 3 cubes of Amul Processed cheese)

Spring onions – 3-4 sliced thinly

The cheese I used was  quite salty so I did not add any more salt.

Method

In a pan, place the sliced mushrooms, water, butter, and salt (if using) over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 5 minutes till the mushrooms are cooked. Stir in the grated cheese, and green onion, cover, and cook 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Pour into a serving dish and serve with rice.

That’s it! It’s a fantastic dish to serve for cheese lovers. Makes a great and easy addition to a party table. Can be eaten with nice crusty bread as well, but goes best with hot Rosematta rice.

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