Saturday, December 24, 2011

The things I love about winter

It's a very cold day here. I went out to stand in a patch of sunshine but a chilly breeze chased me back in. I have another six weeks of winter left. I was inclined to be gloomy about it, but well, that doesn't help anyone, does it? So I decided to make a list of the things I love about winter, to read over whenever the cold makes me grumpy.
1. There's a deep pleasure in sipping a hot cup of tea.
2. The wind stings my cheeks to a rather becoming pink.
3. Scarves! I love my multicoloured scarves, but feel a little silly wearing them in the summer.
4. Getting myself to go for a run in winter is especially hard, but once I do, I get the roads all to myself. And the cold air causes a weirdly pleasant brainfreeze.
5. Now, admittedly I haven't been to any this year, but still, bonfires!
6. Socks. I could write an ode to my socks. Indeed, I'm only just battling the urge. But never was an item of clothing more appreciated.
7. Winter vegetables. Everything is young and green and crisp in the winter. And once you've screwed up the courage to plunge your hands into cold water and wash them, they're a real pleasure to cook with.

I'm going to continue adding to that list, each time I find myself thinking nasty things about the cold. Sigh. It'll probably be a mile long by New Year's. Still, I meant what I said about the vegetables. Rooting about in fridge recently, I found a couple of ears of sweet corn. Now, roasted corn on the cob is delicious, but I wanted something I could dish out and share. So I took the extra step of cutting the corn off its cob with a knife.
Then all I did was saute it with a little salt, sugar and pepper. A squeeze of lime juice and a few coriander leaves for colour and it was ready. I do love sweet corn. I eat it kernel by kernel, and love how they burst in my mouth. There are a hundred different ways in which you can make this, of course. Chili powder, butter, chaat masala, mint... But I like simple best.

I have no real recipe for you today. Just saute your corn with a little salt, sugar and pepper, till it changes colour slightly, going from yellow to orange. Err on the side of undercooking. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter porridge

The cold makes me very grumpy. For the past month, I've been surviving on large amounts of caffeine and a steady stream of cussing. This morning was no different. The dog woke me up at six and no amount of pleading or shouting would stop him from barking in my ear. I could've slept through that too, but once his barks hit a certain hysterical note I know I had better get moving. I dressed, attached the leash to his collar, and led him out, all the time cursing inventively. Indeed, the very colourfulness of my tirade gave me a grim sort of satisfaction. Panda danced beside me, quite oblivious while I blistered his ears.

Somewhere after the third block though, I finally ran out of nasty things to say and was forced to look about for inspiration. The street was very foggy; it was like looking through an out-of-focus lens. Strange then, how it made the tar road look blacker, the green of the ferns greener. Panda's whiskers quivered when he spotted a labrador ambling past, while the lab's owner wished me a cheery good morning. And at around that moment, I finally tired of being grumpy.

I came home full of good resolutions and I cemented them with porridge. Now, I've been on a bit of a health kick lately, and it has become my habit to eat some sort of porridge for breakfast. Usually quick-cook oats in milk with a swirl of honey hits the spot, but today, I wanted something more. I dug out Amma's stash of daliya (broken wheat) and soaked a couple of tablespoonfuls in hot water. In half an hour the grains were soft and chewy. I cooked them down with milk, threw in a few chopped almonds and raisins, and added a whole bunch of spice: cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, a  pinch of cardamom, and a grating of orange peel. I sweetened the whole mixture with jaggery and it was ready.

Now, I'm the first person to admit the stuff is distinctly homely looking. It's clumpy and the jaggery turns it an uninspiring beige. But oh, it smelled so good that the dog stopped worrying the sofa cushions to sit at the kitchen door and whine. And as I finally sat down to my bowlful, wreathed in fragrant steam, winter didn't seem too bad.

Broken wheat (daliya) porridge (1 serving)
Daliya: 1 1/2 tbsp
Water: 1/2 cup
Milk: 3/4 cup
Nutmeg: 1/4 tsp
Cinnamon: 1/4 tsp
Cardamom: 1/4 tsp
Jaggery: 1-2 tbsp
Almonds (blanched) : 5-6
Raisins: a small handful
An orange

Boil the water and pour it over the daliya. You can also cannily use the same water to blanch your almonds in. After a half-hour of soaking, transfer to a thick-bottomed pot and pour in the milk. Boil on medium-high heat, while stirring continuously till the mixture thickens. This will take about 8-10 minutes. Once it is sufficiently thick (remember, it will continue thickening even after it's been taken off the heat) turn off the stove and stir in the spices, jaggery, raisins and almonds. Grate a little orange peel over the porridge and serve, steaming.
Note: I used jaggery because that was what I had on hand. I'm trying to stay away from processed sugars these days and I was out of honey. But I imagine honey, or molasses, or even maple syrup will be very good too. 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Sweet. Always.

Every year, no matter where we lived, we celebrated Pongal in true Tamilian style. Amma would wake us up at the crack of dawn, we'd bathe sleepily, wear new clothes, and watch a pot of milk boil over. The boiling over of the milk is to signify abundance, but at the time, it just seemed rather wasteful. And for breakfast, there would be pongal

There are two sorts of pongal that Amma makes: the salty one or ven pongal, and the sweet chakkara pongal. Amma insisted that we eat both sorts, so I'd force down a minuscule portion of the salty stuff, and then eagerly reach for the sweet. For chakkara pongal, rice is cooked into a slurry with milk and ghee, while in another pot, jaggery is boiled with water to make a thick syrup. Everything is then stirred up together and the rice turns brown and sticky. Raisins are dropped in and they plump in the heat. Amma finishes it all off with a dusting of cardamom, ginger, and freshly grated coconut. I couldn't get enough of the stuff. 

For a long time, it seemed almost sacrilegious to make pongal on any day, other than Pongal. So I'd wait for it on the breakfast table, each fourteenth of January, wondering if it would be as good as I remembered. It always was. 
These days, we make it far more often. It makes for an indulgent weekend breakfast, and the leftovers are sublime, just eaten cold from the fridge. And really, we never bother with making the ven pongal anymore. Given a choice between salty and sweet, I pick sweet. Always. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Pink snow

It's taken me a while to get used to this Delhi monsoon.  It's a cycle we go through every few days. The days get hotter and hotter till the tar on the road melts and sticks to my sandals. Expeditions outdoors are invested with a sense of daring. Only the most intrepid brave the heat.

The evenings get very still. The disappearance of the sun brings no relief. The earth takes its time dispensing the heat it has absorbed all day. The air is heavy. It is at this time that troops of ants march relentlessly indoors, finding cracks in the wall to disappear into. Panda takes a break from lying panting on the floor, to paw at them investigatively.

We carry on like this for as long as six days at a time, and by the fourth day, take to predicting the rain, knowing it will come. Each time though, the rain takes longer, as if testing our faith. When it comes, it comes with almost no warning. The sky is no help. It continues looking grey and ominous while the sun beats down from it, and even after the rains it remains that way.

The rains bring some relief. The morning after them, Panda and I have great fun peeking at our reflections in puddles. While he shies away growling, I self-consciously check my hair. It is very pleasant on those mornings, just after the rain. But as the run goes higher and higher, it dries up all those little puddles determinedly. By evening, all that is left of them is a crust of mud along the sides of the road. And then it all begins again.

The one good thing about all this is that I'm getting a great deal of use out of my ice cream maker. Why have lemonade when you can churn it into a sorbet? Why drink coffee when you can eat gelato? Don't throw away that awfully grainy fudge, churn it into ice cream. We have contrived to spend these monsoons merrily indeed.

In that spirit, I hacked away at a watermelon, juiced its innards, strained and chilled it. I then churned it to pretty pink snow and ate it out in the garden, in defiance of the sun.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My pick-me-up

Whenever he gets on the subject of filter coffee, Appa gets quite lyrical. He waxes poetic on how the decoction collects in a pool under the filter, drop by precious drop. How the milk is warmed gently, so as not to startle it, and then the decoction is poured into it in a steady stream. He describes how the concentrate blooms in brown ripples in the white milk. Then how the coffee is poured back and forth between utensils to warm it to tongue-blistering temperatures without allowing it to boil over, and to develop a thick froth on its surface. And then finally how it’s poured, masterfully, into a steel tumbler and must be drunk hot. Immediately.

But that is his description, not mine. For twenty three years, I’ve been able to take or leave coffee, as it comes. Indeed, my indoctrination into this coffee-drinking culture has been so subtle that I’ve only just realised it. But three months in Chennai, spent with relatives whose day doesn’t begin without a brimming tumblerful of coffee prepared just as described, made me appreciate its value. Recent events: an overload of work and a pleasant but time-consuming distraction, have made me cut down on sleep and so become more and more dependent on caffeine.

It has taken me a while and much experimentation, to decide exactly how I like my coffee. I tried it in Appa’s way. It wasn’t for me. His coffee was so hot I lisped for a week afterwards. Perima makes a smashing, perfect-temperatured cup of coffee, but she lives in Coimbatore: impractical for a weekday morning coffee run. Amma, with the best of intentions, is determined to make me drink as much milk as possible, and so adds far too much of it to my coffee. As for the cook’s coffee, ah, the less said, the better. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands, inspired by this recipe on Food52.
It was a weekend morning, humid and drizzly. Panda stared pensively out of the window while I boiled my water. We waited together for the decoction to percolate. When I finally had a little brown pool, I stirred in some brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. A generous clattering of ice cubes and a pour of milk later, it was ready.

I took a sip and I knew. I finally loved coffee.  

Friday, July 08, 2011


I have a pretty deep aversion to milk. Apparently, this wasn’t always so. Amma tells me that when I was a baby I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. I’d stand up in my crib and point to the milk cooling atop the fridge, demanding a bottleful. However that may be, as far back as I can remember I’ve always looked upon milk with suspicion.

When we lived in Delhi last, we were in the thick of the White Revolution. Amma would send me to the local Mother Dairy outlet with a milk pail and coins jingling in my pocket. I’d stand in line to wait my turn, then insert a coin, and the milk would come gushing out from a hole in the wall.

I remember how Amma would place a tall glassful of steaming milk mixed with Bournvita before me, each morning and evening. I’d sit at the table and stare at it, watching with morbid fascination the yellow, glistening drops of fat that would float on its surface. The undissolved Bournvita would swim about in brown specks. As the milk cooled, a thin skin would form on and I would watch, unable to look away, and grow more and more disgusted.

Amma would catch me at it and scold. Finally, I’d hold my nose and chug it all down, only to breathe in immediately afterward and be hit by its full flavor. That sweet, almost animal scent would send me rushing to the sink to regurgitate everything I had just imbibed.

Ah, considering I’m here to tell you about a milkshake, I realise that wasn’t the best preamble. But bear with me, I'm getting to the good stuff. Of late, I’ve made my peace with milk. As long as its true nature is disguised I quite appreciate it. I grate cheese into my sandwiches, mix curd into my rice, and eat copious amounts of ice cream. I boil it and thicken it into custards and puddings, and blend it into milkshakes: my latest addiction.

These days after the dog and I come in from our morning run, he heads panting for his water bowl, and I head for the blender. I use milk that’s been frozen solid and so is quote odourless. It’s deeply satisfying to gouge away at that block of ice with a fork till I have enough chunks for a glassful. Then I add in whatever strikes my fancy. Some days it’s coffee and cinnamon, on others it’s mango chunks and saffron, and on the boring days, it’s simply cocoa. Of late though, it has been jackfruit jam, and it is ohsogood. Indeed, it’s so good that my words run in together whenever I try to describe it.

The jackfruit jam isn’t my own invention. It is something Perima makes for me. She does it in large batches: the flesh from ten jackfruits is piled into a giant mound and steamed in a pressure cooker till it is soft and slippery. Then, an equal quantity by weight of jaggery is added, and the mixture is stirred for hours, till it turns shiny and unctuous. This reduction can be added to coconut milk for a payasam I’ve had happy dreams about. It can be slathered on buttered toast for a very rich breakfast. It can be eaten in large spoonfuls, standing, with the refrigerator door open. And it can be blended with frozen milk and a grating of nutmeg, for the best milkshake I’ve ever tasted.

The nutmeg adds a whole new dimension to the shake, something that only when you taste it all together you realise was missing. It adds an exotic sort of warmth to the background, and pleasantly dispels any hint of milky or overly-jackfruity smells. Chugged down with a couple of shortbread cookies, this makes for a pretty spectacular way of getting your daily calcium. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Food and history in Old Delhi

Old Delhi has been one of my favourite places to explore. I love the old-world politeness of the people and the narrow gullies that make up the most fascinating maze. I've seen it on cold, wintry evenings, when Nan khatai vendors do a brisk trade, and if you listen hard, you can hear the crackles when sweet potato skins burn and blister over red coals, sending up an irresistible toasty smell. I've seen it on burning afternoons, when the roads are crowded with rickshaw pullers and busy shoppers, oblivious to the heat. That’s the time when the lassiwalas powder ice by heaving cloth sacks filled with it at the road, over and over again, and then scoop up the powder into earthen mugs filled with frothy buttermilk, scent it with rosewater, and top it with a generous smear of cream. Nothing quenches thirst better.

But I longed to see it in the morning, a time when there would be few tourists or outsiders, and the roads would be empty, save for the chaiwallas and the pigeons.

Since I write a food blog, and am acutely interested in all matters gustatory, it made sense to combine my wish to see Old Delhi in the morning, with one for breakfast. So it transpired that I met up with Haifa, Rahul and Richard at the Barakhamba Road metro station, at 8 am last Saturday morning, with a plan of renting bicycles and riding them to Chawri Bazaar. The idea was awfully clever: We’d cycle the five kilometers to Chandni Chowk, thereby working up an appetite and negating the calories we’d then consume. It didn't work out quite that way though. There were cycles aplenty, but not a single one with air in its tyres. The stand attendant was sleepy and seemed confused and subsequently baffled by my demand for a bicycle pump. We gave in and took the metro.

The Chawri Bazaar metro station is three levels below the ground and as you ride up on the escalator, the sounds of the morning slowly  become louder and clearer. We stepped out in the sunshine -below the familiar tangle of wires- to incongruously empty roads only populated by stray dogs and a few rickshawallas. I had a map and a list of places to go to, in sequence, much to the amusement of my friends. I led them straight to Shyam Sweets and without bothering with the menu, ordered us platefuls of bedmi aloo, halwa nangori, and earthen mugs, brimming with lassi. The aloo curry was thick and brown and spicy, while the bedmi accompanying it was crisp and fragrant. We broke off bits with our fingers and ate, with sighs of contentment. I tried not to estimate just how much ghee the halwa must have absorbed to turn just that shade of glistening gold, and instead scooped it up with shards of delicately crisp nangori. Cold lassi washed down a very fine breakfast indeed.

Noticeably slower, we walked up the Chanwri Bazaar road to the Jama Masjid. Richard, a history major, explained the mosque's history to us as we climbed up the steps to the massive entrance. We walked around the central courtyard -large enough that 20,000 people can pray there at one time- and then sat in one corner, to take it all in. The mosque was already filling with tourists and the devout, and the pigeons had a giant square, filled with grain, all to themselves. A pool in the center of the courtyard glistened greenly in the sunlight. A faint breeze was blowing, and flocks of pigeons swirled in the sky above us. We sat there contentedly for about half an hour.

As we emerged from the Masjid, right opposite the main entrance, I saw Mushtaq Panwalla, and had to stop. The owner was a smiling but not particularly garrulous gentleman in a pan-stained white kurta. I chatted away about how fond I was of pan, and how I hadn’t yet sampled a really good one in Delhi, at least not comparable to the ones in Hyderabad. He nodded sagely, smiled, and began preparing three meetha pans for me to take home. Once he began, I fell silent. There was too much going on. Bottle after bottle filled with strange looking ingredients was opened, quantities measured, and each placed precisely on giant betel leaves. I identified cardamom, sugar balls, coconut, rose water, chunna, gulkand, and saunf, but there must've been, oh, a hundred things more. Several onlookers joined us. I think we all released a collective breath we didn't know we'd been holding, when he finished. He rolled each pan up expertly, inserted them in paper cones, and put them in a bag for me to take home and share with Appa.

Still talking about the panwalla, we made our way to the Red Fort, paid our entrance fee, and walked inside. Now, this is a food blog, and I suspect my impressions on the fort are the substance of a full, rambling blog post by themselves, so I will content myself by saying that I could’ve spent all day there. In the blazing sunlight, filled with tourists with loud voices and cameras, stripped of its mirrors and precious stones and gold scrollwork, it was still incredibly lovely. The buildings had the sort of dignity that only comes with age and endurance. We walked through silently.

Once we emerged from the Red Fort’s spell though, it was back to gluttony. I was leading everyone unerringly (My nose was buried in my map, so I might’ve bumped into a few people along the way) towards Kake di Hatti, widely renowned to make the best paranthas in Delhi. We unfortunately paused at this small restaurant for cold water and Mountain Dew, and ended up sitting inside and ordering some of the fluffy bhaturas they were frying up in a giant kadai outside. The bhaturas were a disappointment, as were the unassertively spiced chole that accompanied them. It was a lesson to us not to venture into shops not previously recommended by those who know best.

The final stop we made was at Bade Miyan Kheer, a tiny shop without a board, with a cramped seating area and warm, smiling owners. Rahul and Haifa aren’t big sweet eaters and we were all still pretty stuffed, so we only ordered a single plateful. It came to us, tan and sticky, chilled to just the right temperature, in a small square bowl with four spoons. There was silence as we ate; the only sound was of our spoons scraping the bowl, again and again. The kheer was gloriously creamy and deceptively simple. It was rice, milk, and sugar, so masterfully treated that they had all fused together, to form a sum so much larger than the parts. The rice grains were visible but melted in your mouth. There was sweetness, but it was gentle and gave way to the subtler flavours of thick, fat milk and full, creamy rice. We ordered another plateful and polished it off in short order.

Then, deeply content, we boarded the metro and returned to the present.

All my research for this trip (And trust me, there were pages of it) was gleaned from this lovely blog written by Pamela Timms. She is inspiring, and each time I read her words, I want to race out, take the metro to whichever place she recommends, and eat till I’m surfeited.
I also got additional material from Rahul Verma’s columns in the Hindu. I want his job.

If you want the addresses to any of the places I visited, drop me an email or leave a comment to this post, and I’ll do my best to direct you there.

PS: In case you were wondering, the pan was delicious, and really as good as any I’ve eaten in Hyderabad.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jewel tones

Last week, Appa went to Bhilai, and brought back a giant basket, full of jamuns. They last for a hearbreakingly short season here; blink and they're gone. So a giant box full of these oblong, so-purple-they're-almost-black fruit was quite a jackpot. We washed them, and when they were still wet dipped them in salt, and ate them till our tongues turned blue. We gave away copious handfuls. Amma got on the phone with Perimma, and took down recipes for mor kuzhambu with jamuns in it. (A yogurt-based stew. Very good. I must learn to make it some time, and show you.) I spent a couple of blissful afternoons out on the lawn, with a book, a bowlful of jamuns, and a screw of salt. I'd offer from time to time to share my fruit with the dog, but he regarded them with suspicion.

After a few days of this, the basket was still half-full and I was beginning to miss the normal pink hue of my tongue. So, I decided to make a frozen yoghurt, with nothing but yoghurt, sugar, and jamuns. I may have been a little too enthusiastic with the jamuns. There was certainly far more jamun flesh than was seemly, but the moment the fruit touched the yoghurt, it created these deep purple rivulets in the pristine white, and I just kept shaking in more and more, to see how dark the colour could get. I churned the mix in my ice cream maker, and in half an hour it was ready.

I won't give you the recipe today, because, well, I didn't follow one. Besides, next time despite how gloriously purple it turns everything, I might add slightly less fruit and maybe even strain the mixture, so there are no distracting bits of jamun skin.
But I'll have to wait till next summer for that.

PS: I wonder if you've noticed, but I've done a little housekeeping around here. There's still lots to do, of course, but I'd love to hear what you think of the new look and name. Ooh, and the larger pictures. I've always wanted to post giant pictures.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Churn, according to instructions

One of my earliest memories of Delhi is walking through the food fair in Pragati Maidaan. They sold ice-cream makers those days, giant buckets with rickety mechanical cranks, that would be placed in even larger thermocol buckets filled with salt and ice. You poured in your ingredients: milk, sugar, and flavouring, and turned it on and presto! Twenty minutes later, you had ice cream. Appa and Amma would wander through the other stalls, shopping for mundane things like cheese graters and knives, while I remained at the ice cream stall, mesmerised. It seemed like the coolest application of science, ever.

That was almost fifteen years ago. I've tried to find those ice-cream makers again, and once, even tried to construct one of my own. In physics lab, I would look longingly at the tanks of liquid nitrogen and think of how I could use them to make ice cream in minutes. In the meanwhile, I experimented with all sorts of techniques of making ice cream without the machine... breaking it up every two hours, adding pectin or jam to prevent crystal formation, upping the fat content, and sometimes, sneaking in a glug of vodka. Still, when K went to the US this time and asked for my wish list, the first thing on that list was a Cusinart ice-cream maker. And bless him, he brought it back. 

My days since then have been spent in a very pleasant haze: dreaming up combinations I've always wanted to try, studying the science behind the cooling element, finding the correct voltage converter, and of course, making ice cream. So far, I've made a chocolate sorbet, a banana and chocolate ice cream and a mango and saffron frozen yogurt. I've been getting better with practice. The sorbet was fine, but a little grainy, the banana ice cream, ever so slightly- I'm afraid there's no other word for it- slimy. But the frozen yogurt, was sublime. 

Having lived in the south all these years, I expect to be in the thick of mango season by the beginning of May. Up here in Delhi, that's taking a little longer. Each time I cut into a promising looking mango, I find disappointingly hard flesh, and a very passive flavour. They lack the tang the best of mangoes have. In this case though, the yogurt supplied all the tang I longed for. At the last minute, I blended in three strands of saffron and that was enough. They formed tiny orange pools in my yogurt and supplied their own, intensely floral perfume. My mix was chilled and then churned under my fascinated gaze. I knew the science, but it was still magic.

Mango and saffron frozen yogurt
Mangoes: 2 (mid-size)
Thick yogurt: 2 cups
Powdered sugar: 1/2 cup (You may need more or less, depending upon the sweetness of your mangoes)
Saffron: a pinch
Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into a blender. Puree the mangoes till there are no visible lumps. Then, add the other ingredients and blend. Chill and churn according to the instructions on your ice cream maker. (Boy, I just love saying that!)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The carrot never stood a chance

Amma is here visiting, and lazing on Sunday evening with my head in her lap, I asked her to make me something. The fridge contained exactly one beetroot and one carrot and from that she suggested a halwa. I perked up immediately and proposed we start. We peeled and grated the carrot and beetroot, staining our fingers pink. The raw carrot stood up well, defiantly orange in glaring contrast with all the pink. They were cooked together, in milk and there the beet asserted itself, staining the sides of the wok and dyeing the carrot pink, deep pink.
A shower of sugar made it sticky and a spoonful of ghee took care of the vaguely healthy smell that all vegetables seem to possess. I ate it then, watching telly, scraping at my bowl till I realized it was all gone. 
 Beetroot and carrot halwa:-
Beetroot: 1
Carrot: 1
Milk: 1/2 cup
Sugar: 1/2 cup
Ghee: 1 tbsp
Grate the beet and carrot up as finely as you can. You want to remove any hint of healthiness or signs of being made of vegetables from your final dish, so you want to give them a whole new character and flavour profile. cook the grated vegetables down in milk till they're soft. Then stir in the sugar and ghee and stir till the whole mass is sticky and smells decidedly unhealthy. I like to go one step further and cook it down till the sugar caramelises and clings to the wok in dark spots. Then serve, hot.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's been a while

Hello! I've missed you!
I've just crossed the six week mark in Chennai and have taken to skulking past my blog guiltily. I can't believe I haven't updated for this long. I've certainly been cooking, but it's mostly not particularly pretty stuff that gets eaten as soon as it's cooked. I've made bagara baingan with white brinjals driven in from Madurai and paneer bhurji with the biggest green capsicum I could find. I also baked brownies in a pressure cooker and helplessly watched my batter turn into tough-crusted fudge and then I baked an apple pie under what felt like a feeble tanning lamp. It's the pie I'm here to tell you about.
It was for my young cousin, a baking enthusiast herself who has touching faith in my limited powers. When she asked me to bake her a pie, I couldn't refuse. The pie itself was rather pretty, if I do say so myself. It had a very buttery crust with a hand-crimped edge and pale slices of apple peeked coyly from the lattice work I'd done on top. I rescued my Aunt's ancient oven from a precariously high, dusty kitchen cupboard, assured myself it was working and gently placed my pie inside.
I then sat down with a good book, congratulating myself on a job well done, smugly anticipating the praise I would receive.

 About half an hour later, when I peeked through the glass top, my pie stared back at me lugubriously, looking just like it did when I put it in. No merry bubbling of the sugars, no browning crust, no swelling raisins, nothing. I touched the oven top and it was pleasantly warm, like a handshake on a cold day. It was not, however, the warmth needed for baking a pie. The oven was old, I figured it was simply taking its time and saw no reason to get all heated up about yet another pie. I went back to my book and didn't emerge for another hour. When I did, it was because if I screwed up my face and sniffed deeply, I could detect a faint smell of butter. My pie was baking at last! Or perhaps, baking is too strong a word... Basking seemed more appropriate, when I went to peek at it and the uncooked dough looked back.
I won't bore you any more with this. Suffice to say that when I caught myself crouched on the floor beside the oven at 2 am pleading, "Bake, please bake..." I knew it was time to stop.
The next morning, after about another five more hours of gentle heat, my pie browned slightly and it was enough. The crust, once a thing of beauty, was as tough as tree bark, but the apples inside were still crisp and juicy. My cousin was delighted.
The pie itself was too homely, but in a last ditch effort to save face, I whizzed it in a blender with milk and ice cream and ice and made it into a milkshake that we all very happily chugged down. Placed strategically before the large bouquet of flowers I received for my birthday, it looked almost pretty.

Apple pie milk shake
Apple pie: 1 slice (1/8th of a 9 inch pie) I'll tell you my recipe for the pie once I get it right in a less lazy oven.
Milk: 2 glasses
Vanilla ice cream: 2 generous scoops
Sugar: 1 tbsp
Ice: lots
Simply dump everything into a blender and whiz till it's almost homogeneous. Serve immediately. Don't wait to take photographs.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


I'm sorry I haven't updated for ever so long. I've been traveling and internet and inspiration were both a little hard to come by. Hopefully, we can get back to our normal schedule soon. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Ken came home last week. My big brother can be a nuisance, but the house sure is a lot livelier when he’s around. He teases the dog and sleeps half the day, argues with me and never ever hurries, unless it suits him to. Already, I can’t remember how we lived without him.
This time, he came home with an agenda: He had decided he needed to get fit, as quickly as possible. After a few hours of internet, he deemed himself expert on the subject of weight loss and treated me and  Amma to a long discourse on the subject. We were briefed in detail over what his diet was to be and how we should do out best to create a menu worthy of tempting his appetite. He took a vow to eat nothing but fruit the next day.
The next day dawned and he woke at midday, full of righteous energy. He broke his fast with an orange. I, with my own prompting from the devil, chose to bake cinnamon rolls and their scent floated over his head like a halo. He refused to be tempted. After another slightly briefer talk on how he was feeling so much better and lighter already, with his intestines uncrowded by unwanted carbohydrates, Ken let me alone.
I’ve baked David Lebovitz’s non-fat gingersnaps before. His recipes are incredible. All you need to do is follow them blindly, for perfect results. I made them again that morning, close on the heels of the cinnamon rolls. They weren’t so much for Ken as for me; I like nothing better than a spicy gingery cookie with a glass of orange juice for a middle-of-the-day snack. Because my oven is tiny, I baked them in batches of nine, and the whole process took nearly two hours. Finally, I had a pile of chewy, brown cookies that glimmered with sugar crystals when the light hit them, and I was thoroughly chuffed.
It was only around dinnertime that I realised the stack had rather diminished in size. Over dinner, K announced that he was quitting on his decision to go on an all-fruit diet. Amma had convinced him, he said, that for a growing boy of 24, such deprivation was unhealthy. He would henceforth simply limit his indulgence, he said, and the excess weight would come right off. He made a good dinner, enough to make up for the missed lunch and breakfast. Then he turned his mind to dessert. He had heard me refer to my cookies as non-fat and the phrase had stuck. After polishing off about half a dozen in quick succession, he finally leaned back in his chair, contentedly. He sighed and said, “Moderation is key.”
 The recipe can be found here. I simply substituted for the egg whites with another fourth of a cup of applesauce.