Monday, October 26, 2009

Samosas


I don't know anything about the publication business, but I do know this much - that before a novel gets published, the draft gets read and proof read several times after which the novel gets into print.

And so, here's a question to Monica Pradhan, the author of The Hindi Bindi Club and all the others who must've worked on that novel : how did this horror of an error slip into the novel?

Starting at one end of the sari, she tucked the corner into the waistband of my petticoat at my naval, instructed me to hold it there, circled behind me, and returned to my naval.

Naval? Really? How?!!
Now, I don't have too many years of experience in wearing a sari, but I always thought that I needed to tuck in the sari at the navel.

Sorry for the nit-picking, but then this one (which means there are a couple of others) really blew me away! Anyway, lets get on to the book, shall we?

The Hindi Bindi Club essentially deals with the trials, the tribulations and the triumps of three immigrant Indian women and their American born daughters. But more than that, it is a story of the delicate mother - daughter relationships, of friendships among women and in many ways, a return to ones roots.

Meenal, Saroj and Uma hail from very different backgrounds but bond together when they find themselves away from their desh in the U.S of A. Together the trio are nicknamed The Hindi Bindi Club by their daughters, Kiran, Preity and Rani. As children, the girls would meet whenever the trio met; however their bond is nowhere as close as the one their mothers have formed.

Kiran Desai, a doctor by profession, is returning home after 5 years of estrangement with her parents over her marriage and subsequent divorce to a wannabe rock star. With her biological clock ticking fast, Kiran now wonders whether the traditional arranged marriage that she had once scoffed upon could be the thing for her. Meenal, having had to go through a crisis herself in the past year, wants to reach out to her daughter in every way she can, but has to struggle to make Yash, her husband, accept the daughter Kiran is rather than daughter he wants her to be.

Saroj Chawla, who hails from Punjab is a cook par excellence and runs a very successful catering business. Having lived through the partition, she struggles to come to terms with the past and her resulting prejudices. Her daughter Preity Chawla Lindstorm lives an almost fairy tale life - a perfect daughter, a good job, happily married with two children , she couldn't ask for anything more from her life. Yet, the memories of a past love and thoughts on 'what might have been' give her sleepless nights.

Uma Basu McGuiness has defied convention in coming to the US to pursue further studies. But when she marries an American, her father disowns her, refusing to forgive her even on his death-bed. Consequently, and sometimes, much to the chagrin of her friends, she gives her daughter Rani a lot of freedom in making her own decisions. A rocket scientist turned artist, Rani deals with the fear of artistic expression turning repetitive and with her husband, Bryan's fallen morale owing to some work related matters.

Now, the three girls are back home for the holidays, each dealing with her own demons. As they re-connect, they begin to look at each other in a new light, in the process breaking down the walls that separated them in childhood.

Every character in the book tells her own story in her own voice in alternating chapters, while e-mails and letters give it a great continuity as the narrative moves effortlessly from one person to the other and between past and present. Also, the mother-daughter relationships and the women's friendships are dealt with very sensitively.

However, though the novel started off well, somewhere down the line, it disintegrated into finding a suitable groom for Kiran and her subsequent marriage and therefore, was a bit of a let down. Moreover, I got the feeling that the author tried to fit in too many stories into one novel and then had to hastily finish it off; the story lines of Saroj - Preity and Uma-Rani seemed quite abrupt and therefore, incomplete. Also, there were parts that read more like speeches - the one where Saroj's guest waxes eloquent about how to solve the Indo-Pak problem was downright amateurish.

Nevertheless, The Hindi Bindi Club was an engaging and heart-warming read.

There are some very interesting recipes at the end of every chapter and since I've never made samosas before, I tried out Saroj's Famous Samosas.




Ingredients (for the crust)

All purpose flour - 1 cup
Butter and shortening - 2.5 tbsps each, chilled
Ice cold water - 2 tbsps
Ajwain - 1/2 tsp
Salt

Method:

Rub the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients (flour, salt and ajwain) till it ressembles biscuit crumbs.
Add in the water, a little at a time, till the dough holds together.
Knead for a further 5 mins or till the dough looks smooth and shiny. Wrap in a cling wrap and chill for an hour.

Ingredients (for the stuffing):

Potatoes - 2 medium, boiled and cut into cubes
Green peas - 1/2 cup
Ginger - 2 tsps, grated
Cumin seeds and fennel seeds - 3/4 tsp each
Dry masalas - cumin powder, coriander powder, garam masala, red chilli powder, turmeric and aamchoor powder - as per your taste
Sugar - 1/2 tsp
Salt
Fresh coriander leaves - 2 tbsps, chopped

Method:

Heat oil and add in the cumin seeds and the fennel seeds. When the start to crackle, add the potatoes and the peas, followed by the ginger and all the dry masalas, as well as the salt and sugar. Mix till the veggies are evenly coated by the masalas.

Reduce the heat to a minimum, cover and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add in the coriander leaves and allow the mixture to cool completely.

Assembling and making the samosas:

Knead the chilled dough for about 5 minutes and then divide into 4 portions.

Roll each ball of dough into a 6 - inch circle and divide it into two, so that you have 2 half- moons. Repeat with all the remaining balls of the dough.





Spoon about 1.5 tbsps of the stuffing into the centre of each half moon, then fold the left and right corners to form a cone.


Fold the top end to form an inverted pyramid and seal all the edges carefully, using some water if necessary.

Deep fry till golden brown and serve hot with any chutney of your choice.

Here is what the other members of the book club made:
Simran and Aparna made Chocolate Sandesh Truffles while Ann made Bengali Grilled Salmon with Panch Phoran.


Join us again next month, we are reading Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Food: The Other Side (PART 2)

I had written this post on the 16th, but didnt have the heart to publish it, given that it was the festive season last week. There is a picture here that is disturbing, do exercise due caution if you are reading this with your kids.


Today is World Food Day. Observed in around 150 countries, its aim is to raise awareness about poverty and hunger.

Lets look at some statistics, shall we?

The population of the world today stands at over 6 billion. Of which, about 1 billion don't get a square meal every day. That translates to a whopping 1/6th of the world population!

Articles abound about poverty, hunger and malnutrition. But none can depict the horror of hunger quite like this picture.




Taken in 1994 during the Sudan famine, this Pulitzer prize winning picture by Kevin Carter shook the world. A vulture waiting for a child to die so that it can eat it.

There are numerous schemes and many agencies that have programmes to feed the hungry. Programmes that rely on donations, sponsorships and volunteers. And these obviously go a long way in alleviating the suffering of people.

But the bitter truth about hunger is that many people go hungry because of escalting food prices and an appalling amount of food that goes wasted - wasted by the farmers, by supermarkets, in the food distribution chain and yes, in our kitchens.

Not surprisingly, every small morsel of food that we waste in our kitchens has a huge collective impact.

"I follow these items with a moldy loaf of bread, expired eggs and five bags of shredded cheese that practically walked itself to the trash can. This carried on for another hour. Needless to say, when I was done, more food was in my garbage than in my fridge."

Ever happened to you? Much as I hate to admit it, something similar - though not on a similar scale - has happened to me. Those were the days when I was just getting enamoured by cooking and would buy a lot of things from the supermarket, hoping to cook it up soon. But it was never soon enough! And one day, when I had to clear out the fridge before going on a holiday, I woke up to the error of my ways. In this article, Chef Dayo Jones shares some very simple tips and tricks on avoiding food wastage in our kitchens.

But we all know this, don't we? I am sure you all have different ways in which you have successfully cut wastage in your kitchens.

My way? Have a smaller refrigerator. Now that really limits the amount of food that can be hoarded! Jokes apart, the one way that has really worked for me is to clear my fridge every week. Yes, every week. That has really worked wonders as I no longer have stuff that is lurking in some corner gathering mold. The other thing I do is shop for fruits and veggies and other perishables as and how I need them - even if that means making trips to the supermarket a couple of times a week. Sometimes, I even buy it from a smaller grocery store closer to my house that sells stuff at a slightly higher cost. In the end, it all evens out - buying too much at a cheaper price only to throw it off, or spending a bit more to buy what I need.

And no, I don't mean to imply that I run a super efficient kitchen where no wastages happen. But I am far more conscious today than I ever was on how not to waste food.

So what are the ways in which you have countered food wastage? Do share them with me, I am sure there is a lot more to learn on how to use food more effectively.

But the last word in avoiding food wastage? Well, that truly rests with the tight fist!



All this collection of articles making its way to Sra's The Write Taste.

I do realise that this is quite a long list of articles, take your time and read these when you can.
For these are truly eye opening.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Eat Cake

Now I am the kind of air traveller who cannot sleep a wink on a flight. Not a wink. But I also am that wierdo who can't watch movies on flights. No matter that some of the airlines have excellent in-flight entertainment.

Books - now that is an entirely different story. Nothing like a good book on a flight. So, when we went for our vacation last month, Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray seemed like the perfect book to keep me company on the 10 hr flight.

Bad Choice. Very bad choice. There you are, thousands of feet above sea level, with nothing but some (good) sandwiches and chips to eat, reading about a book that has some cake or the other on almost every page of the book. That is a very sad situation, is it not?

So, when you read this book, make sure that you have some cake squirelled away somewhere. You're going to want to eat some.

For Ruth, the protagonist of the novel, baking is the best way to relax and unwind. Living with a rebellious teeanged daughter and her sometimes cantankerous mother, it does seem that she needs a lot of cake to maintain her sanity. In this already chaotic household, things come to head a when her husband, Sam, is given the pink slip and her estranged father, left physically helpless after a fall, has to move in with them.

Under subtle encouragement from the father-in-law, Sam loses sight of the urgency to look for another job and instead tries to 'discover' himself. With the monetary situation starting to look grim, Ruth decides to turn her avocation into her means of livelihood.

I simply loved this book. Firstly, because I love baking and this book celebrates eating cake. "A slice of cake never made anyone fat."

And just like the icing makes cakes even sweeter, everything works out very nicely for Ruth making it a typical 'happily ever after' book - and I think that was precisely the reason I loved reading it. After all who wants anything but a easy-breezy read at the start of a vacation!

I just wished Ruth to be more like a normal woman - one who raves and rants - at least sometimes. She was just too accomodating all through the book!

The last few pages of the book are all cake recipes. Yes, I read them first and was wondering which one to make...till I read this:

"the cakes I made for my children, especially before they were old enough to ask me to tone it down a little, were tributes to the architectural abilities of frosting. Any mother who brought her child to our parties must have left our house shaking her head. Poor, bored woman, they must have thought. That was the height of my frosting phase. I made trains and pine trees, tracks that spelled out Happy Birthday, Wyatt. Ballerinas that pirouetted over Happy Birthday Camille. The bigger the sheet cake, the bigger the canvas. Mine were enormous."

That sounded terribly familiar. So, instead of baking anything, I will leave you with some cakes that I have baked:







The above 3 are the ones I made for my daughter's birthdays while the ones that follow were baked for some friends' daughters.



Do check out what the other members of the book club have made: Simran , Jaya, Ann and Curry Leaf.
Do join us next month, we are reading Hindi Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan in October.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Food: The Other Side (Part 1)

If you looked up a dictionary, the entry under food would read something like this:


any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.

But, of course, you don't not need to look up a dictionary for that - after all, we know that food is something that nurtures life. We approach food with that thought - sustaining life and enriching it. As we cook, our thoughts are nutrition, taste, aroma, variety and the like. The clanging of pots and pans, the medley of various ingredients, the steps of a recipe - all coming together to create well - balanced, tasty meals.

Consider, however, a situation where food doesn't nurture life. Consider a situation where it claims lives instead. Or becomes the reason for life to be snuffed out.

Everything was automatic now-down the steps to the cellar, the light switch, the deep freeze, the hand inside the cabinet taking hold of the first object it met. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at it again.

A leg of lamb.

All right then, they would have lamb for supper. She carried it upstairs, holding the thin bone-end of it with both her hands, and as she went through the living-room, she saw him standing over by the window with his back to her, and she stopped.

“For God’s sake,” he said, hearing her, but not turning round. “Don’t make supper for me. I’m going out.”

At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.She might just as well have hit him with a steel club.She stepped back a pace, waiting, and the funny thing was that he remained standing there for at least four or five seconds, gently swaying. Then he crashed to the carpet.

The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of he shock. She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised, and she stood for a while blinking at the body, still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight with both hands.


All right, she told herself. So I’ve killed him.

- Roald Dahl, Lamb to the Slaughter


'They were on the point, therefore, of drawing lots on the raft when the doctor's voice was heard:"Mesdames and Messieurs," said the doctor,"You have lost all your belongsings in the wreck of the ship, but I have saved my case of instruments and my forceps for arresting haemorrhage. This is my suggestion:There is no object in any one of us running the risk of being eaten as a whole. Let us, to begin with, draw lots of an arm or leg at will, and we will then see tomorrow what the day brings forth,and perhaps a sail may appear on the horizon." '
- Gaston Leroux, A Terrible Tale

As you would've guessed, the above are extracts from - and thank god for that - some brilliant short stories compiled in an unlikely collection of short stories titled Murder on Menu. Edited by Peter Haining, this anthology has stories mixing food and well, death - some decidedly gruesome, some nauseating, others devilishly amusing. In either case, this 'gourmet guide to death' shows food laid out on a completely different table.

A word of advice though....don't read it before or immediately after meals!

Sending this to Sra's event, The Write Taste.

It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!

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