Monday, March 04, 2013

A Tale of Many Quilts

It is funny how I got interested in quilting only last month and suddenly, I see quilts everywhere. So here's a picture-heavy post with notes on my quilt-sightings.

On Friday, I played hooky from work and spent the day at a fabulous quilt show where dozens of local quilters displayed their best work. The morning started with the baking of a large batch of muffins, a little something to take to the quilt show for sharing. The recipe is Sunshine Orange Muffins from Alanna, one that was patiently waiting in my bookmarks for months. The main attraction of this recipe for me was the fact that a whole orange was blended with the wet ingredients. And that the resulting muffin looks like a plain, spongy cake, the kind I always loved from bakeries in India.

To make enough muffins to go around, I doubled the batch, and perhaps I used more flour than was necessary, because the muffins turned out a little dry. Other than this, I adored how quick and easy the recipe was, and how wonderfully spongy (and not overly sweet) the muffin turned out to be. Instead of the whole orange, I used three clementines, but I did peel them, because I was not sure how the waxy peel would work. All in all, if you're looking for a treat to enjoy with tea or to pack into a picnic or lunchbox, this recipe is worth a try.

Sunshine muffins basking in the sunshine

The quilt show just about overwhelmed me- the textures, the colors and the ridiculous talent on display.  I came away with ideas and inspiration, and a goal to work towards.

*** *** ***
A couple of weeks ago, I heard a talk about a quilting project undertaken by a quilt group from a town an hour or two away. A quilter from this group was a children's librarian and she had collected over a hundred children's books that included quilts as part of the story. Her idea was to create a quilt based on every book. Unfortunately, this quilter passed away from a serious illness; her quilter friends took on the project in her memory. In the presentation that I attended, they held up books, told us a brief synopsis of the story, and then held up the quilt based on the book. Books and craft came together in such a beautiful way. See for yourself at their website.

This group lends the books and quilts to individuals, schools and libraries, so do contact them if you'd like to borrow a beautiful quilt and matching book for your little ones to enjoy, or pass on this information to your child's teacher. It is very nice that our kids have all sorts of screen-based devices for entertainment and learning, but to touch a beautiful quilt hand-made with colorful fabric is an experience that would be very enriching for any child.

*** *** ***

The AIDS memorial quilt is the largest community art project in the world. Starting in the 1980s, the decade when AIDS started sweeping the world in a storm of confusion and suffering, the AIDS memorial quilt consists of quilt squares representing the lives of those who have died of AIDS-related causes. It has grown and grown to the point where it is estimated to weigh 54 tons and of course it is no longer in one piece. However, chunks of the AIDS memorial quilt are displayed around the world for the public to explore.

And that's how I got to see some of this quilt locally. Pieces of the quilt were laid out in a huge hall. The atmosphere was hushed and solemn as we walked around looking at tributes to people who died too young. The quilt squares were as diverse as you can imagine: some stark portraits of grief, and others colorful displays of personality. Most captured the unique interests of the person they celebrated- favorite hobbies, sports, clothes, pets were all represented.

  I don't know if it is obvious in the picture, but this is an actual net
sewn onto the quilt.

This must have been someone's favorite recipe, or signature recipe perhaps.
Sounds like a tasty black eyed pea stew.

Squares cut from old jeans sewn together.
Several quilts had favorite garments sewn on them.

A tribute to Anthony Perkins, the actor well known for his role in
Psycho- hence that bloody shower curtain.

Click on the picture to read the words.
Someone had placed a box of tissues near the quilts.
They were needed.
*** *** ***

As for me, I've finished my first quilt. I'm feeling a bit sheepish putting pictures in the same post where I've posted all those gorgeous quilts up there, but one has to start somewhere, right? This quilt was a joy to make, and when I was finally finally holding up the finished quilt, I felt such a surge of joy that I knew right away that there are more quilts in my future. In fact, I just started on my second quilt for friends who are expecting a baby, using the zig zag baby quilt pattern from Purl Bee.

Pattern: Road Trip Quilt
A detail of some of the panels- but don't look too closely;
I'm just a beginner. Stitching in the ditch is harder than I thought.
The back of the quilt.

Have a wonderful week! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

As Time Goes By

Earlier this month, I remembered that it has already been a year since our blogger friend Raji (Miri) of Peppermill passed away. Manisha also mentioned it in her last post and added that she would cook and post something from Raji's blog. That's a fitting tribute for a food blogger and I wanted to join Manisha in remembering this beautiful person who gave us a glimpse into her kitchen and her life for several years. So I spent a few hours re-reading Raji's blog and thinking about her, and about what to make. In the end, I went with something familiar, a curry recipe from her blog that I've made before.

I crave meals of curry and rice as surely as the moon waxes and wanes. Rich curries, heavy with coconut, are part of my childhood Sundays and I recreate them often, in a simpler form, as a supper of egg curry with steamed rice. In fact, one of my earliest posts, nearly 8 years ago was a recipe for Sri Lankan curry powder and an egg curry using the spice. (Yes, I seem to have forgotten all about One Hot Stove's 8th birthday earlier this month.)

Raji's curry recipe is similar to my favorite recipe for egg rassa, but with a little Southern Indian touch of mustard seeds and curry leaves and the tang of tamarind. Here's how I adapted it.

Egg Curry, in Honor of Raji

1. In a pan, dry roast the following very gently, then cool and grind into a powder:
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tbsp. white poppy seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
4-5 peppercorns

2. In a saucepan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with 1 sprig fresh curry leaves and 1 tsp. mustard seeds.
3. Add 1 large finely chopped onion and fry until golden.
4. Add salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder, ginger garlic paste to taste, and the spice powder made earlier. Fry for a couple of minutes.
5. Add 1/2 cup tomato puree and fry for a few more minutes.
6. Stir in 1 can coconut milk, 1 tsp. tamarind paste and water if necessary to make a curry.
7. Simmer for a few minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors (tangy, salty) as necessary.
8. Add 6 halved hard boiled eggs and garnish with plenty of cilantro.

This curry base is easy enough to make but rewards you with incredible flavor, and would be wonderful with things other than eggs- like vegetables or soy nuggets or even koftas.

There's another recipe from Peppermill that has been on my to-do list for a while- this Punjabi pickle, and there is a link within that post to another pickle recipe by Anita that also looks really good. Now I only have to get my hands on some mustard oil and I'm ready for some pickling.

And while we're still in season for wintry meals like rice and kadhi, I highly recommend Raji's mixed vegetable kadhi. With lots of aromatic seeds in the tempering, and chunks of juicy vegetables cooked into the yogurt base, we enjoy this recipe very much. Well, Raji- or Miri, as I will always fondly think of you- you are missed. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

The January Dinner Diary

Almost every night for several weeks now, I've been scribbling a few words in a little notebook at the side of my counter. It is my dinner diary, an idea I read about in a cookbook and discussed in this post last month.

Today, I looked back on my entries to get a big picture view of my family dinner, and I thought I would share it with you. January was not an ordinary month for us. We lost a beloved pet, and due to new jobs, our household routine changed in many ways. Dinner prep was more hasty and less thoughtful than ever last month. These were big changes in January but truly, what month is ordinary? Almost every month, there's travel, visitors, special events and small illnesses that punctuate the days.

Here's what we ate for dinner all of last month. If you spot anything that you'd like a recipe for, feel free to ask in the comments, but you'll see that most of my dinners are no-recipe meals cobbled together with whatever is on hand. They turn out to be one of a kind and honestly, are often the very best food I dish out.

The pictures are just everyday recipes I've posted before, added to bring some color to this post.

Jan 1: (Tuesday, New Year's Day) Jeera rice, sweet potato vaal dal, kobichi wadi

Jan 2: Whole wheat rotini with cauliflower and soy chorizo

Jan 3: Okra sambar and ghee rice

Jan 4: Udon noodles with garlic, pepper, broccoli and Thai mock chicken nuggets

Jan 5: Mushroom lima bean pulao

Jan 6: TJ's masala burger and salad

Jan 7: Burritos with refried beans and salad

Jan 8: Maggi

Jan 9: Khichdi, aloo gobi

Jan 10: Fajitas

Jan 11: Spaghetti

Jan 12: Cauliflower zucchini soup, leftover Thai take-out from lunch

Jan 13 (Sunday): Soup and Grilled cheese party

Jan 14: Brown rice with veggies and tofu

Jan 15: Chana masala, cucumber raita

Jan 16: Broccoli frittata, Tuesday soup, croutons

Jan 17: Ate out

Jan 18: Eggplant lima beans subzi, yogurt rice

Jan 19: Frankie

Jan 20 (Sunday): Idli, dosa, sambar, chutney

Jan 21: Pasta with roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts

Jan 22: Black eyed peas with spinach and eggplant

Jan 23: Broccoli spaghetti

Jan 24: Sweet potato vaal dal with whole wheat buttered toast

Jan 25: Noodles with vegetables

Jan 26: Ragi dosa

Jan 27: Pulao with butternut squash and lima beans

Jan 28: Chickpeas with sweet potato

Jan 29: Egg curry and rice

Jan 30: Vaal khichdi, eggplant kaap

Jan 31: I somehow left out the entry for this one. Too much of a rush to get into February? 

January's menu also reflects the fact that it is winter, the time when I get into a bit of a vegetable rut. There's a lot of sweet potato and broccoli and lima beans here! One change I want to make is to include raw vegetables in some form in almost every meal. A few sticks of carrot or cucumber would be fine as would a more elaborate salad or koshimbir; just something raw to add texture and nutrition.

So, does any of this sound familiar or are your everyday dinners very different from mine?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reader Request: Breakfast Suggestions

It is Monday night- blogging night at the One Hot Stove headquarters- and I have a bit of a weekend hangover, blinking and wondering how it got to be Monday already. Because this was an exceptionally fun and memorable weekend. Back in high school, I had a close knit group of friends and three of us were particularly close. Happily, when I moved to GA, I moved within 90 minutes of one of them. This weekend the third friend narrowly escaped the mega snowstorm of Boston and flew down to sunny GA. All of a sudden, too many years later, we were together again. And the hours flew by while we drank too much wine and dissolved in giggles and nostalgically ate a whole chocolate cake that I baked specially for the occasion. This was in loving memory of the cakes I attempted to bake in high school while these two ate most of the batter before it made it into the oven. The hosting friend plied us with wonderful food and hospitality- misal pav for breakfast, ravioli and butternut squash soup for dinner- and I came back thoroughly sated and in need of a nap.

But I committed to blogging every Monday and here I am. Promises are promises, right?

When I posted a breakfast casserole recipe a few weeks ago, Vasudha asked for some breakfast suggestions. She said, "Breakfast is the meal that I struggle most with...Could you post some more suggestions for hot, non-sweet, (ideally baby-friendly) breakfasts? The only four that I actually manage to make before we all head out the door between 8 and 8.30 are bread and eggs, poha, upma, and vermicelli upma. We are now so. very. bored. Would love suggestions, especially now that the baby wants to eat whatever we do."

Vasudha, it sounds like you are cooking fresh breakfast every morning. If you're OK with reheating food, it is very convenient to make certain breakfast dishes ahead of time. I personally find that mornings are much easier if I have breakfast ready to just heat and eat. For instance, you could make idlis on the weekend and refrigerate/freeze them; they reheat beautifully in the microwave. Or have dosa batter and sambar ready, so that a fresh uttapam can be made in minutes.

If you eat eggs, there are a multitude of options beyond fried eggs/omelets/scrambles and bread. I love making this egg-potato dish or assorted egg-vegetable casseroles on the weekend and carving out a generous wedge for breakfast all week. Another savory option: Breakfast burritos with scrambled egg/tofu, beans and vegetables all rolled into a whole wheat tortilla. I've read that these freeze well too.

Oatmeal is one of those breakfast foods which can be put together in minutes. When I don't have breakfast options already lined up in the fridge, I'll turn to the pantry and make peanut butter oatmeal (old fashioned oats, almond milk, pinch of salt, peanut butter and a drizzle of maple syrup). This is a barely-sweet breakfast that appeals even to someone like me who decidedly does not enjoy sweet breakfast foods (unless we're talking about cookies and biscotti to be dunked into chai, in which case, come to mama). I've seen recipes for savory oatmeal but haven't been brave enough to try them for myself.

Even if you are sticking to the tried and true Indian breakfast favorites of upma and poha, you can make interesting variations on the theme by adding different vegetables/beans (eg. poha with corn or sprouted peas), trying different regional recipes (tamarind poha, for instance, is very different from the Maharashtrian onion-potato poha I'm used to) and different grains- quinoa upma, anyone?

One final suggestion: write down 8 distinct breakfast dishes that appeal to you and your family and make 2 every week (during that week, you'll make a big batch and eat each one 2 or 3 times). That way, you'll have different breakfasts in the rotation for a entire month and it won't get boring.

My baby daughter eats everything that we do, but she loves this breakfast oatmeal so I make it especially for her. The apples and oatmeal are a no-added-sugar breakfast that is very filling and the prunes get the system going if you know what I mean. So, if on some days you're making a breakfast that doesn't seem very baby friendly, this might be a good option.

Lila's Breakfast Oatmeal

Never said it was a pretty food
but I know folks like to see pics of recipes so here ya go
2 apples
2 pitted prunes
1/4 cup old fashioned oats

  1. Wash, peel and dice the apples. Chop the prunes into quarters.
  2. Place apples and prunes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover the apple pieces.
  3. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until the apples are tender (test with the tip of a knife or a fork). 
  4. Add oats, stir and cook for 2 more minutes. Mash with a potato masher (or puree with an immersion blender for a smoother puree).

Cool and store in an airtight non-plastic container in the fridge. This makes 3 to 6 servings depending on the age and appetite of the baby. Warm gently before serving.

If you have any suggestions for Vasudha, please share them in the comments! What strategies are you using to treat yourself to a filling breakfast on busy mornings?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Green Peas Pulao

Do you ever get the feeling that everything you make tastes the same? I occasionally feel that way for some of the dishes I make that are of the no-recipe variety- where I'm cooking on auto-pilot and toss in the spices and seasonings most familiar to me. Which is fine, but then the dal fry and the veg pulao kind of end up tasting similar.

Last week I decided to flip open a cookbook and look for a recipe for peas pulao. This particular dish was practically the first thing I learned to make; I think of it as the "little black dress" of Indian cooking because fits into more or less any Indian meal you serve to company. I just wanted to change up the flavor of my peas pulao a little bit.

The recipe I chose is Pattani Biryani (green pea biryani from Kongunadu) from the book Simply South by Chandra Padmanabhan. This cookbook was a gift from Nandita of Saffron Trail years ago and I've spent many happy moments flipping through it, but this was my first time actually cooking from it.

The Kongunadu referred to in the recipe is a geographical region- the Western portion of Tamil Nadu if I'm not mistaken. The little I know about this region's cuisine all comes from Indosungod's essay and recipes. We'll have to ask her if this is a typical Kongunadu way to make peas pulao.

This recipe uses fennel and mint, two flavorful ingredients that don't usually feature in my peas pulao. I'm not going to go looking for fresh mint in February so I used dried mint- this is one herb that works well in its dried form, I find. I modified the recipe somewhat, using a higher proportion of peas to rice, and adapted it to the rice cooker. We enjoyed the taste of this no frills dish.

Peas Pulao, Kongunadu Style
(Adapted from Simply South by Chandra Padmanabhan)

1. Soak 1 cup basmati rice in water for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp oil/ghee in a heavy skillet. 
3. Add 2 tejpatta and 1 tsp. fennel seeds to the hot oil.
4. Add 1 thinly sliced onion. Fry until the onions are golden. 
5. Add 1 tsp. ginger garlic paste, 1 hot pepper slit lengthwise (optional), 2 finely chopped tomatoes, and fry for a few more minutes.
6. Add 2 tsp. dried mint, 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder and salt to taste. 
7. Finally, add 1.5 cups green peas and fry for another minute. Turn off the heat.
8. To a rice cooker, add the drained rice, green pea mixture and 2 cups hot water. Flip the switch and let the rice cook.
9. Fluff the cooked rice and add 1 tsp magic masala (mixture of cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, ground), juice of 1/2 lemon and plenty of cilantro

I'm sending this post to MLLA 56. MLLA is a blog event that stands for "My Legume Love Affair" and it celebrates the use of legumes in cooking and baking, as you might have guessed. Susan, the Well-Seasoned Cook started this event and has been running it for years, and this month Lisa takes over- congratulations and good luck, Lisa. Check out the archives for thousands of fresh ideas for using legumes.

Monday, February 04, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It has been two weeks since my last post on books and as usual, the comments and book suggestions in that post added several interesting titles to my to-be-read list- so thank you for sharing your reading life with me! Meanwhile, I found a few interesting reads to tell you about.

Image: Goodreads
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was a gentle and enjoyable read. It is an autobiographical novel written in the voice of a child, for children. Little Anna lives in Berlin as part of an affluent family with a father is a well known writer, until one day when Hitler's rise to power is imminent and they have to flee the country, leaving behind their toys and other belongings. (The title comes from Anna imagining that Hitler stole the stuffed toy that she left behind and is now playing with him.) What follows is Anna's story of moving from country to country, trying to fit in and create a new life each time she is uprooted. Even though the book is set against the backdrop of the ghastly war (and even as I was thinking of all the millions of children who were far less fortunate), the story itself focuses on Anna's everyday life, with small joys and tiffs and incidents in school. Anna is a thoughtful girl, wise beyond her years, and her thoughts are touching and amusing- like when she reads a book about the hardships that famous people endured as children and wonders if a difficult childhood is a prerequisite for fame, and if so, is her childhood sufficiently difficult or not? The edition I read was charmingly illustrated by the author. I'm adding this book to my Color Reading Challenge where the Pink in the title fits into the "any other color" category. PS: Thanks to reader Blog-E-Zine for recommending this book.

For adults who enjoy reading but often can't make the time or mental space in their lives for books written for adults, high quality children's literature is a good option. The language is simpler, the books are often shorter, there is a merciful dearth of sex and explicit violence (at least, one hopes) but the stories can be just as deep and touching.

Image: Goodreads
Below Stairs is the classic memoir by Margaret Powell which inspired the runaway hit Downton Abbey. I'm planning to watch the series one of these days and so I picked up this book. Set in the 1920s, Powell narrates her story of starting work at 13 as a kitchen maid and working for several years in domestic service. The story is plainly told in a very conversational style, and I felt as though I was sitting and having tea with a chatty and rather crotchety older woman talking about the good old days. Powell is very observant and very candid as she describes the stark contrast between the gentry living upstairs and the servants toiling downstairs in the basement. Powell narrates how the wealthy ladies who employed them would get together for fancy tea parties and proceed to spend much of their time gossiping about their problems with the servants. When I read this, I thought: The servants were overworked and underpaid and had reason to be unhappy but the sad thing is that these affluent ladies with their idle and stifled lives seem to be pretty miserable too.

As a child of middle class India, this memoir certainly struck a chord in me because in India you don't have to be particularly wealthy to have cooks and maids and nannies and chauffeurs and gardeners working for you. So many of the situations described in the book were uncomfortably familiar. The bottom line- this book does not have slick writing or editing, but for giving a voice to people that you don't often hear from, and for being thought-provoking, it is definitely worth reading. Have you watched Downton Abbey and do you recommend it?

This book goes towards my What's in A Name 6 Reading Challenge where it fits the category of books with "up or down" or their equivalent in the title.

Image: Goodreads
What's life without a juicy mystery? Right now, I'm sinking my teeth into A Red Herring without Mustard by Alan Bradley. This is from the Flavia de Luce series, and I must say this series gets better and better. In the first book, the pint-sized not-a-little-bratty detective Flavia peeved me so much that I'd have given up this series then and there, but luckily Niranjana stepped in and eloquently made the case for marching on and reading Flavia's next adventure or two. Strangely, now I'm enjoying these books less for the actual mystery (which Bradley tends to over-complicate) and more for Flavia, the precocious child-woman and chemistry genius. She can do a pregnancy test on a woman's hanky but wonders what an "affair" means. She helps the local police solve murders while missing the mother that she barely remembers. I want to say, "Oh, Flavia" and give her a hug. This book also goes into the Color Reading Challenge.

All my reading challenge updates can be found on this page.

So, what are you reading these days? I'm linking this post to It's Monday! What Are You Reading on Book Journey.

Come back on Wednesday, if you will, for a simple recipe with rice and peas.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mexican Breakfast Casserole

There is a proverb attributed to Buddhism that goes something like this: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Recently, I was reminded about how true this is. You see, ever since I moved to North America, I've been wanting to learn how to quilt. The US has an incredible quilting tradition, so I wanted to learn at least the basics of this beautiful craft. Well, quilting was yet another entry on the long list of "Someday I want to {insert exciting activity here}" that I (and most of us, I think) seem to carry around in our heads.

Two years ago, I managed to buy a sewing machine. A year later, I even learned how to thread the darn thing. Yeah, it has been one of those learning curves.

And then I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely person named MP. We stayed at MP's home when we were house-hunting here in GA, and I basically wanted to move in with her. Every wall was covered in incredible quilts, all made by her. I mentioned my long time aspiration of learning to quilt. A few weeks ago, she called me and said, come over to my place tomorrow at 10 AM, we're going to quilt. And along with another friend, I found myself getting a beginner quilting lesson. MP is serious about teaching- she assigned us homework (sewing strips of fabric together with precise 1/4 inch seams). I am equally serious about learning- I stayed up and laboriously completed the homework, and held my breath the next morning as my teacher pulled out a ruler and measured my seams down to the fraction of the inch.

And that's how I find myself finally, finally working on first quilt using this easy pattern. Here's a quick look at my quilt top in progress:

So, anyway, the quilting teacher and us two quilting students have formed a nice little trio. We meet once a week or so, something for quilting sessions, and other times for knitting sessions since we're all knitters too. This Saturday, I hosted the knitting meet at my place and it was the most wonderful way to spend the day, sprawled out in the living room surrounded by yarn and patterns and knitting needles in the company of two creative and intelligent women. If our schedules allow us to keep this up, life is going to be very exciting indeed.

To fuel our crafting session, I made a big breakfast casserole with Mexican flavors. This recipe is something I made up, but it is inspired by many such recipes on the Internet. The nice thing is that the casserole is assembled and them set aside for several hours before baking, making it an ideal make-ahead recipe when you're feeding a crowd. If you have a large enough pan, the vegetables and beans could all be cooked together. This casserole easily makes 8 generous servings.

Big Breakfast Casserole With Mexican Flavors

 1. Tortillas: Cut 8 to 10 corn tortillas into six pieces each.

2. Cheese mixture: Mix together 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar, 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese and 3-4 minced scallions (green and white parts).
 3. Egg mixture: Whisk 8 eggs and add a splash of cream, salt and pepper to taste.
4. Vegetable mixture: Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil and saute 1 diced onion, 1 diced green pepper, 2 diced yellow squash and 1 cup corn (fresh, frozen or canned). Season with Mexican spice mix or chili powder.
5. Bean mixture: In a pan, briefly saute sliced vegan chorizo (optional) and 2 cups cooked black beans.
6. Assemble the casserole in a greased 9 x 13 casserole dish by layering the tortilla pieces, cheese mixture and veggies and beans. Once all the layers are made, pour the egg mixture evenly over the whole dish. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake (minimum 2 hours, at most 8 hours).

7. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 60 minutes or until the edges are bubbling and an inserted knife comes clean.

I served big squares of the casserole with a side of quick homemade chipotle salsa.

Blender Salsa

This salsa takes 5 minutes to make if you have a toddler dangling off your leg and 2 minutes if you don't. All the ingredients are pantry staples for me so this is a good salsa to throw together at the last minute.

Add the following to a blender jar:
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
2 tbsp. minced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
Large handful cilantro, roughly chopped (I used half a large bunch, stem and leaves)
1 canned chipotle chili, chopped and 1 tbsp. adobo sauce
Juice of half a lime/lemon
Salt to taste

Let the blender whirr and your salsa will come together in no time!

As I was typing this post, I noticed that Kalyn just posted a recipe with similar flavors- a vegetarian bean and chile casserole- doesn't that sound good?

PS: 20 swappers have signed up for the Spice and Something Nice swap so far. If you live in the US and would like to join us, see this post for details. You have until Sunday to sign up. Sign ups are now closed.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sign Up for the "Spice and Something Nice" Swap!

I was looking through my spice shelf yesterday and realized that most of my favorite spices are gifts. Like the amazing sambar powder that I won in a raffle last year from another blogger's kitchen, or the garam masala that my mother gave me that gives even the most ordinary dal fry a little something something. Getting small gifts (and sending them) in the mail is such a fun surprise and you often end up discovering new favorite things this way.

And so, on a whim, I've decided to organize a small swap where we'll send each other two small gifts: a "spice" and "something nice".

The Spice can be homemade or store-bought. It can be a powder or a paste or indeed a bottled sauce. It can come from any cuisine. It should just be something that you personally love using and want the other person to experience and enjoy. If you want to include a recipe, or a note with suggestions on how best to use the spice, that would be fine too.

Something Nice is just a small treat for the other person- a nice chocolate bar, a book or magazine, perhaps a luxurious soap or hand lotion or lip gloss, scarf or earrings, or your favorite snack or beverage. Just one small treat that you particularly love and want the other person to enjoy. Again, this can be homemade or store-bought.

An important note: This swap is only for those living in the US. Why the geographical restriction? Because shipping stuff from one country to another can be (a) expensive, (b) a hassle because of customs forms and paperwork and (c) can take a long time. I know this from doing lots of international swaps on another website. I'm very sorry if I am disappointing anyone, but keeping it within the US makes it easy and quick and affordable for the participants. If anyone outside the US is excited by the idea of such a swap, I invite them to organize a parallel swap in their own country; please feel free to copy any of these swap guidelines and let me know if I can help you in any way.

Another important note: You do not have to be a blogger to participate. You just need an e-mail address which you check on a regular basis, and you have to be willing to meet the deadlines for shipping.

So, if you want to play, here are the details:

1. Sign up by e-mailing me at onehotstove AT gmail DOT com with the following info: Your name, The US state you live in, and your e-mail address. The deadline for signing up is next Sunday, February 3, 2013. NOTE: Sign ups are now closed.

2. I will e-mail you the name and e-mail ID of your swap partner by Monday, February 4, 2013. Chat with them via e-mail and learn a bit about their likes and dislikes and them put together a small package with two things- a "spice" and "something nice".

3. Mail out your package by Sunday, February 17, 2013. Towards the end of the month, we'll start getting our gifts in the mail!

4. When your gift arrives, take a picture and e-mail it to me- I'll do a round up here so we can ooh and aah over what everyone got.

If you think your friends would like to participate, please spread the word about this swap. The more participants, the merrier! This swap calls for very little commitment and I hope it will be a fun little exercise to brighten up winter for us. Have a great weekend, everyone. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Aren't books amazing? I mean, they're nothing but squiggles on paper but somehow as your eyes gaze on the squiggles, they make a whole new world come alive inside your head. And with a good book, you come away a better person, with a tad more empathy and a little more wisdom than you did before you started . Well, here are some hits and misses from the last few months.

Sometime in 2012, I started seeing ads for a new mini-series on PBS (the public broadcasting channel), named Call The Midwife. Always interested in issues of women's health, I sought out the book that this TV series is based on. The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth was one of my best reads of 2012.

The author was a young woman from a comfortable middle-class home who, when the time came to make a career decision, did something very unlikely- she left her nice life and went to live in a convent and work as a midwife in the slums of London. This memoir is hilarious and devastating in equal parts. Her case studies are snapshots of what life is like on this planet- so wretched, so hopeful, so tender and so cruel all at once. If you've read and enjoyed James Herriot's stories of being a vet, you will appreciate how this memoir is written by someone who clearly loves her work and clearly respects the people that she serves. And at the end of the book, there is a completely enjoyable essay on  the Cockney dialect of English. Truly, read this book if you can find it. You'll probably stay up half the night to read it (I did) and sob uncontrollably once or twice (I did this too). By the way, I did see some of that PBS mini-series based on this book and thought the book is SO much better. Your mind will do the dramatization, there's no need for actors and television here.

Around the same time, I read another memoir called My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock. Hancock was a celebrity-gossip blogger who wanted more from life and took on a year of taking on her fears and trying new things, based on a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, "Do one thing every day that scares you". Now, I do appreciate the author's desire to face her fears and get out of her comfort zone. But the whole thing came off as being shallow and gimmicky- like learning to swing on a trapeze, or swimming with sharks or learning to do dangerous maneuvers in an aircraft. To me, this had a whiff of that awful awful TV show Fear Factor. What's the big deal with doing stunts? The person who doesn't settle for an easy life (like that midwife up there) is the one who is truly fearless, not the person who overcomes her stage fright by doing crude stand up comedy for one night. I'm probably being too harsh but reading these two books around the same time definitely made me roll my eyes while reading this one.

Along these very lines of conquering one's fears and taking on adventures is another very fascinating memoir, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed describes her life in her early 20s- a very troubled life with all reckless decisions around drugs and men. Out of nowhere, she gets the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on the US West Coast and actually goes on to do an 1100 mile solo hike. I got completely sucked into her story. This woman was so desperately ill-prepared- she could not life her backpack even off the ground, she ran out of money and water, her toenails fell off one by one while hiking- but she just literally puts one foot in front of the other. This is one story worth reading for the unique adventure that it is.

I was so fascinated by Wild that this week I read yet another memoir of an author who goes hiking on a long trail. A Walk in The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. Similar to Strayed's book, this one has a new and inexperienced hiker who takes on a very ambitious trail, but there the similarity ends. The book has its comic moments, and the author has many things to say about the park service and the history of wilderness preservation in the US. It was an interesting read but not something I would call particularly memorable for me. I'm adding this book to the What's in a Name reading challenge for "Lost or Found" because there's the word "rediscovering" in the subtitle.

Reading books about ill-prepared people who get up and go for months-long hikes is tempting me to go off and do long hikes too. Just kidding. I'll be right here on this couch if you need me.

All of these books were non-fiction but I've been reading a couple of novels too. I did start J. K. Rowling's (yes, that J. K. Rowling) much-awaited novel, A Casual Vacancy. Found it too casual and vacant and didn't finish it. I just did not find myself caring enough about the characters in this book. It was relentlessly petty and depressing and I just gave up. Not that I have anything against depressing books (as the next book will illustrate) but I have to care about the characters.

Image: Goodreads
Last week I read Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. This book first appeared on my radar when its movie adaptation won several awards a couple of years ago. What made me want to read it is that the book is set in rural Missouri and in the years that I lived in MO, I heard several descriptions of life in the Ozarks, and it was mostly negative- the poverty, the meth labs. This short and intense novel tells the story of a teenager who's having to grow up too fast and specifically, about an episode in this teenage girl's life where she has to find her father who has skipped bail (and risk losing her home if she doesn't find him). The author succeeded in transporting me to this bleak landscape for a few hours and to a life and culture completely foreign to me. I'm adding this book to the Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge where "Winter" was one of the key words for January.

So, tell me, what are you reading? I'm linking to It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Soup for Comfort

I can't thank you all enough. For the condolence messages for Dale from all over the world, for the e-mails and virtual hugs and words of comfort. They all helped immensely and we are so grateful for it. Last week went by in a blur of sadness and sickness as all three of us one by one came down with seasonal coughs and colds.

A couple of weeks ago, we had made plans with friends to get together for a casual dinner last night. A Sunday night supper of soup and grilled cheese where three little girls could play together as we parents enjoyed chatting about this and that. I'm glad I went ahead with our plans because the home filled with the aroma of simmering soup and the sound of laughing kids and it altogether lifted my spirits.

This is what our menu looked like:

1. Two soups- Tuesday soup, a perennial childhood favorite and a curried sweet potato black eyed peas soup, something I put together just based on what I had in the pantry. I've posted the recipe for Tuesday soup here in 2005, OMG that was over 7 years ago.

2. Salad- I set out baby spinach and sliced red pepper, some olives from the olive bar and a bowl of homemade marinated mushrooms. Then I made a simple dressing by whisking together apple cider vinegar and olive oil, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper.

3. Grilled cheese- I read this great tip (originally from Cook's Country) for making grilled cheese sandwiches for a crowd and last night, got a chance to try it out. It is a clever tip and worked very well.
   I started with good quality sliced bread, softened butter (set it out a few hours ahead of time) and shredded cheese, a mixture of cheddar and pepper jack. 30 minutes before we wanted to eat, I preheated the oven to 375F. Then I set out a rimmed baking sheet and started assembling sandwiches on it (each slice of bread was lightly buttered on both sides). Once the sandwiches were laid out (I could fit about a dozen on the sheet), I placed the second baking sheet on top to weigh down the sandwiches and put the whole thing in the oven. 20 minutes or so later we had sizzling grilled cheese sandwiches- a whole tray ready at once- with perfectly golden crusts and melty cheese inside. Success!

4. Dessert was some homemade vanilla custard, and we folded in fresh berries that our friends brought over. This combination was light and enjoyable and the big bowl of custard was absolutely scraped clean.

I forgot to take a picture but here's an abbreviated recipe for the Sweet Potato Black Eyed Peas Soup. It turned out to be the surprise hit of the dinner for kids and grown ups alike.

1. Saute a chopped onion and several minced cloves of garlic in olive oil.
2. Season with salt, red chili powder, turmeric and cumin powder.
3. Add cubes of peeled sweet potato and soaked black eyed peas.
4. Add vegetable stock, cover and simmer until sweet potatoes and peas are tender.
5. Use a masher to mash down some of the veg/beans to make the soup thicker if desired.
6. Add lemon juice and plenty of minced fresh cilantro (and a dash of garam masala; optional).

Have a good week, dear friends. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


I am so sorry to tell you that our beloved Dale passed away yesterday. He lived for about 14 years, which is a grand old age for a dog his size; we were fortunate to share 12+ of those years with him. Now we're left with a gaping Dale-sized hole in our hearts.

There's so much I want to say about Dale but I can't bring myself to type anything right now. But I do want to thank and hug each of you who sent Dale their love and best wishes through the years. This quirky and sweet dog brought laughter and joy to many people, some that he met and others that he never met and that's the best kind of legacy to leave behind.

Dale (1999-2013): You'll always live in our hearts

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Evolution of Family Dinner

2013 started out in the best way possible, with a big pile of books patiently waiting to be devoured. For the past few days, I've been reading Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach.

Image: Goodreads
Part cookbook and part memoir, this book chronicles the evolution of family dinner for one American family- from life as a young professional couple to the time of young parenthood and raising two kids under two, to the present time when parents and school-going kids gather at the dinner table.

In many cultures, cooking dinner every night would be the absolute norm; but in the US, eating out every night or relying on frozen meals is not unusual at all, which is what makes this book a good resource for families who are trying to get into the habit of cooking and eating family dinner. Interspersed through the book are essays, tips and this family's favorite recipes.

Interestingly, from an early time in her married life, the author kept a daily dinner diary (she's been doing this for over 14 years). Just a line scribbled in a notebook noting the dinner menu of the day. The book contains several pictures of pages from her  notes. I can see how this little habit can be quite useful in many ways. For very little effort, one could have a mini-diary of family life, with mentions of celebratory meals and birthday dinners, as well as records of weeks and months of hurried meals and frequent take-out meals when a big work project was underway, say, or when the family welcomed a new baby. On a more practical level, one could see at a glance what the most popular meals on the dinner rotation are- a useful tool for those moments when you feel like you're completely out of ideas about what to make for dinner tonight.

I was so inspired by this idea that starting last week, I started keeping a dinner diary of my own. It is a plain old lined notebook with a little pen tucked into it, and my cue to write a 10 second dinner note is when I'm turning down the kitchen light for the night.

There was some stuff in this book that did not resonate with me. The author's frequent and lengthy essays on mommy guilt, for instance. Guilt is so boring and unproductive- I avoid it at all costs. This family's eating habits are very meat and fish-centric so I did not find the recipes in this book very useful, although there is a recipe for salad pizza that looks just delicious. Finally, I would have to say that her blanket rule of not having family dinner with kids under 3 is ludicrous. It can work very well for some families- more often than not, our 15 month old eats with us at the table, eating the same dinner we're eating. I'm not saying that it always works, or that it will continue to work for us as schedules (and levels of pickiness) change, but there's no reason to strongly advise parents to not even try.

There are several things in this book that I really really identified with. The first is her acknowledgement family dinner is a family affair, in the sense that in a 2-parent household, there has to be equality and both parents have to do their share of household chores. The other idea that resonated with me is this basic love for family dinner. There is so much joy in coming together in the kitchen, chatting and playing and making dinner together. We go to work to earn our daily bread, or rozi roti as the expression in Hindi goes. The dinner hour is when we get the joy of actually translating that dough that we earn into real bread for our table. Microwaving a frozen dinner just does not have that same feel to it. The third valuable take-away lesson from this book is that there's no need to strive for perfection- just do the best you can.

As I read about the author's chronicles about family dinners over the years, I enjoyed thinking about my own experience with family dinner throughout my life. Dinners as a child were often eaten with my sister because my parents typically worked in the evenings- picture two picky eaters trying to eat together, staring unwillingly at their plates. While attending junior college in Mumbai, I lived with an aunt who hated to cook (and who hadn't a clue about balanced nutrition or parenting at the time- that all has completely changed since then), and dinners were usually food delivered from nearby restaurants or get this- Pepsi and chips. Isn't this what all teenagers dream about? And yet, I got sick of it and started to cook on my own. Later, there were dinners with my uncle and his family where the whole family ate dinner while watching Looney Tunes because the only way the toddler cousin would eat was while staring at Cartoon Network. Then followed dinners at hostel at graduate school, sitting with a gang of girlfriends frowning at the green mush of a subzi- but by then, I was well over my pickiness and ate the green mush very enthusiastically.

The first time I had access to a kitchen was in graduate school in NYC. My roommate happened to be American and vegetarian, and she and I took turns cooking dinner. In return for cooking and cleaning every other night, we got to enjoy a hearty home-cooked meal every single night- what a great deal. She often made falafel (from a box), tofu (dredged in egg and breadcrumbs and fried- SO good), homemade pizza, tortilla soup (that I still make very often). I often made chana masala, egg curry and pasta. We may have been overworked students on modest stipends but we ate like royalty.

And then there are the last few years, where V and I have been enjoying family dinners by ourselves, with friends and with our baby. Our dinner time seems to be moving to an earlier hour all the time- it started as 8 PM in NYC, then 7 PM in St. Louis and now we eat at 6 PM. (I live my life by the clock and when we really do eat on the hour, on the dot.) With my fondness for early dinner, it can be hard when we visit friends/relatives who think nothing of eating dinner at 9 PM or even later. I'm practically fainting with hunger by then.

The one glaring (and blaring) thing I need to change about our family dinner these days is to learn to switch off the TV. Our dinner time is 6 PM and that's just the time when I feel like having the local and national news on in the background. It is a horrid habit. I need to convince myself that the news is not worth watching anyway, and we should focus on enjoying dinner and conversation.

So that's my rambling essay about family dinner. This book is going to be listed under the Foodies Read challenge on my 2013 Reading Challenges page. Yes, I managed to join a couple more challenges before the new year began.

Today, I woke up with a plan- I had a new recipe to try that I was quite sure would make it into our dinner rotation. I was going to run to the store to pick up some vegetables, then cook and blog about the  recipe in this post. But you know the old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men going down the tubes? Something to that effect. (Sorry, Robert Burns.) Well, after several weeks of enjoying good health, our poor Dale is very sick today. So I'm staying home and trying to make him comfortable. Last time he got this way, he bounced back very well, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that he recovers again. I'll see you next week with an update, and maybe even a new recipe or two.

Your turn- tell me something about dinner in your family. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nut loaf and Other Festive Fare

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of ours called and said she was coming to visit. What's more, she was arriving on Christmas eve and staying for a few days. Most years, Christmas is not something we really celebrate in any special way. We've been known to do a "Jewish Christmas"- going to a movie theater and then to a Chinese restaurant!

But the minute my friend called, I knew this year would be different. She grew up celebrating Christmas and I wanted to make the holiday special for her in some way. A few stockings went up by the fireplace. I sewed a felt garland to make the mantle more festive. And I started to plan Christmas dinner.

The festive meals in my home are quite predictable and not even that different from what we normally eat. I'll make a biryani or a lasagna. Or something crowd-pleasing like pav bhaji or aloo tikki chana chaat. I looked for something different this time and decided on a nut loaf- a vegetarian version of the meatloaf. Then I would make a couple of side dishes, and something special for dessert.

Food experts will often remind you of a golden rule of cooking: Never try a recipe for the first time when you're cooking for a special occasion. Well, I break this rule on a very regular basis. Call it beginner's luck or whatever you will, but usually I get away with it.

And that's how I made nut loaf for the very first time this Christmas, using this recipe, originally from Martha Stewart. It worked beautifully. I've seen nut loaf mentioned on blogs many many times and had some notion that they are difficult to make. Not so. It is easy as sautéing and mixing and baking.

Here is the recipe in brief, in my words. Instead of buying separate jars of the spices that the recipe calls for, spices that I rarely use, I bought a jar of poultry seasoning instead. This is a mixture of all of the spices that the recipe calls for.

1.  Saute 1 onion, 3 cloves minced garlic and a 10 oz. box of baby bella mushrooms, minced, in olive oil.
2. Season generously with poultry seasoning blend.
3. Mix. Remove vegetables to a large bowl and add the following:
(a) Nuts: Roasted and minced walnuts and cashews (2 cups total)
(b) Cooked brown rice, 1.5 cups
(c) Cheddar cheese, shredded, 2 cups
(d) Eggs, 4, beaten
(e) Cottage cheese, 1 cup
4. Bake. Season with salt and pepper and mix together well. Transfer the mixture to a well-greased loaf pan (I lined mine with parchment paper) and bake at 375F for an hour. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before inverting on a serving platter. 

Somehow, miraculously, this seemingly hodge-podge mixture of rice and cheese (especially cottage cheese which I can't stand, usually) and eggs and nuts transforms into one cohesive and utterly delectable, savory loaf. You can't really make out the components of the nut loaf. It tastes like more than a sum of the parts. The only thing I would say is that the slices were a little delicate and prone to breaking; I possibly added more cottage cheese than I should have or maybe less of the cheddar.

To go with the rich and filling nut loaf, I made mashed potatoes- seasoned simply with butter, salt and pepper. And maple roasted brussels sprouts, which was another winner, even if I left them too long in the oven and reduced some of them to pure carbon.

Finally, I made some vegan gravy to complete the meal. Nutritional yeast has a uniquely savory, nutty, cheesy taste that makes this gravy a flavorful accompaniment for the nut loaf.
Nut loaf, maple-roasted Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes
and vegan gravy!
Setting a festive table with berries from the backyard

When I tried to think of a Christmassy dessert for this meal, I remembered this NPR article on trifle pudding. This pudding also makes me nostalgic because my Dad made it often when we were kids, with Rex jelly and Brown and Polson custard (I know some of you will remember these brands fondly).

I assembled my trifle with layers of:
(a) Pound cake
(b) Berries: Frozen berries that were thawed and macerated in sugar and brandy
(c) Strawberry jelly (I chose a brand that does not contain gelatin)
(d) Homemade vanilla custard

The trifle was enjoyable, but next time, I'll skip the pound cake and berries and just make jelly and custard. Those are the parts that I love the best anyway.
Trifle pudding
And so that was our holiday meal- well worth the effort, and it made for excellent leftovers. We had a wonderful time with our friend, going for walks around the neighborhood to look at holiday lights, watching movies (Chak de with Shah Rukh Khan; my only Hindi movie of 2012 as it turns out), chatting over endless cups of chai. The very best kind of holiday there is, and it went by too fast.

Last night, I woke up when Lila had a bout of coughing (she's recovering from a cold) and then I found myself wide awake for an hour or so, unable to drift back to sleep as I normally do. There's so much to think about- about the year that's gone by, and about the one that's starting on Tuesday, ready or not. 

2012 treated us well as we weaved through many life changes and moments of pure joy- new jobs, new city, new home, a visit from a very dear cousin/niece and aunt/uncle in summer, the births of 3 new babies in the clan, plenty of travel (including a trip to Colorado for my cousin's wedding when Manisha and her husband took us out to dinner- and she's just as lovely and fun a person as her blog would lead you to believe). 

And of course, I have to think back and shed a tear for all the people we lost this year- some near and dear members of our extended family, others like Miri who I knew virtually but who inspired me for real, and yet others that I know of only through headlines and whose loss unfortunately showed humanity's darkest and most brutal side. 

Now 2013 is arriving as a gift, like a brand-new blank notebook whose crisp pages are yet to be filled. I think the world needs more kindness and although I'm not the sort to make resolutions with any seriousness, I nevertheless resolve to be mindful this year, and more kind, to myself and to others. 

I've also been thinking of this blog, and how best to keep up the pace of writing in this space while balancing everything else that's important in my life. And mind you, the list of all-that's-going-on-in-my-life seems to get longer all the time. For instance, I'm going to take up quilting. Sewing machine, here I come. Getting back to the issue of how best to blog regularly, here's my tentative plan. I'm going to post food related posts every Monday. It will be a round up of the week's food highlights. When I have book-related posts, I'll post them on an occasional Thursday and if I have photo-heavy posts for crafts etc., I'll post those on occasional Saturdays. I think having some sort of schedule will keep me from succumbing to Blogger's Block and leaving the blog sad and silent for weeks on end. 

See you on January 7th with the first post of the new year. For 2013, I wish you health above all, and an abundance of food, laughter and joy. Thank you for being part of the One Hot Stove family and letting me be part of your world! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook

In this season of festive gatherings, there's a virtual dinner party going on today, with bloggers cooking different dishes from a new cookbook, Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook.

Meals on Wheels is a community-based program that delivers nutritious meals to seniors who are unable to make their own. For their cookbook (which aims to raise funds to support their cause), they have gathered up favorite family recipes from a variety of people, including several celebrities and public figures.

The result is a vibrant collection of beloved recipes that are as diverse as you can imagine- simple fixes with store bought ingredients (Mexican pinwheels made simply with tortillas, cream cheese and jarred salsa) and elaborate made from scratch ones (Martha Stewart's recipe for potato pierogi); homely fare (Fried rice with egg) and fancier dishes (Mario Batali's spinach and goat cheese gnocchi).

Like all good family cookbooks, this collection has (a) Funny family stories to back up the recipes, like the one where the noodle kugel recipe was attributed to the wrong aunt, and (b) Recipes with the word "surprise" in it. And of course there's a recipe or two with Jell-O in it.

I've been in baking mode lately, and also in hot-beverage-sipping mode, so I chose to make dunkable cookies- Papa's Mandelbrot, a recipe shared by the food writer Josh Friedland.

I loved the story behind these cookies. Any cookie recipe that comes from the baking repertoire of a beloved grandfather is all right with me. Mandelbrot are traditional Jewish cookies that are very similar to almond biscotti. This recipe was simple and fun to make, using ingredients that are always on hand in my kitchen. I've adapted the recipe to add a touch of salt and some of my favorite extract called Fiori di Sicilia which has notes of citrus and vanilla. I also changed baking times and temps for the second round. Here is the recipe in my own words.

Mandelbrot (Jewish almond cookies)
(Adapted from Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook)

1. Blanch 1 cup almonds: It was my first time blanching almonds and it was not a pain like I thought it would be. Start with 1 cup raw almonds. Place them in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 3 minutes. Pour off the hot water and add ice cold water. After 5 minutes, press each almond in your fingers and the skin should pop right off. Dry the skinned almonds on a clean dishtowel, then chop roughly and set aside. Or make it easy and simply use 1 cup raw slivered almonds. 

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients:
2.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia (optional; this is an extract with notes of citrus and vanilla)

4. Mix. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chopped blanched almonds. The dough will be thick and sticky. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 3 hours.

5. Bake once: Preheat oven to 350F. Using oiled hands, divide the dough into 2 portions and pat each one onto a long loaf shaped rectangle on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.

6. Bake again: Slice each loaf crosswise into 1 inch wide cookies. Lay them cut side down (I needed a second baking sheet this time) and bake at 300F (note reduced oven temperature) for 20 minutes. Flip over and bake with the other cut side down for another 15-20 minutes or until pale golden. These cookies should not be over-baked because they burn easily.

Cool completely and then dunk into a cup of coffee or chai! With just the right amount of sweetness and crunch, I adored these cookies. V thought they were a bit eggy- I didn't. If you're worried about that, increase the amount of vanilla extract. The dough can be embellished with dried fruit or chocolate chips or other spices, but take my word for it- sometimes simple and traditional is as good as it gets.

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of the Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own. 

I've baked more cookies in the last 2 weeks than I have in the first 49 weeks of 2012. There's definitely something in the air. We had a friend staying over for 2 weeks in our newly furnished guest bedroom. She was in town for work, though, and rarely had time to just hang out. The one evening that she did not have to work, she shyly asked me, "Can we bake after Lila goes to bed?" Of course I gave a little cheer and quickly pulled out butter to soften. We made fruit and nut cookies from King Arthur, using pecans instead of pistachios. They were ever so tasty, mildly sweet and bursting with flavor. I highly recommend this recipe for anyone looking for an easy and tasty cookie this holiday season. All the taste of fruit cakes inside a shortbread cookie. What's more, the dough can be made and refrigerated/frozen for freshly baked cut-and-serve cookies. 

Then last weekend, Neighbor Girl came down to see our new home and spend the weekend with us. She got off the plane, hugged me and said hello and the next thing out of her mouth: "Can we bake World Peace cookies?" We can and we did. With the weather taking a turn towards the wet and chilly side, we stayed home and did all sorts of cozy things, like baking those cookies, and knitting a hat, and watching movies while sipping on soup.

Tiny gifts for Lila's daycare teachers: crocheted face scrubbies
paired with my favorite soap
A third friend is arriving to spend Christmas with us, so excuse me while I log off to continue planning the holiday meals and to go shop for some stocking stuffers. Have a wonderful weekend, all. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

On The Bookshelf: The Reading Challenge Edition

The end of the year is upon us, which means the predictable (and yet, very enjoyable) avalanche of "Best of 2012" lists. I've been going through 2012 book lists such as the NYT 100 notable books of 2012 and the NPR's picks for best books of 2012, and I noticed that I've barely read any of the books on those lists. Maybe those lists are too cerebral for someone who has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, or maybe I'm so far behind that I'm reading the bestsellers from 4 years ago as I spot them in the library. In any case, I hope to read some of the books from these lists in the next year or two. But isn't it nice to know that there is a never-ending supply of books to be read? That's a reason to bounce out of bed every morning.

The end of the year is also the time to sit down and do some delicious planning for 2013. A lot of the book bloggers do these annual reading challenges. Sometimes, the challenge is to read a certain number of books in a year. Other times, the challenges have themes and genres. I've never done reading challenges before but they sound like fun, and I'm signing up to do 3 of them in 2013. Go big or go home, right?

1. Color Coded Challenge 2013 hosted at My Reader's Block.
The rules are to read nine books in 2013, with the following colors in the title.  

1. "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc.)

2. "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgundy, etc.)
Salaam Brick Lane by Tarquin Hall

3. "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.)

4. "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc.)
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

5. "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc.)

6. "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc.)
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

7. "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc.)
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell 
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

8. Any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magenta, etc.)
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

9. A word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

2.  What's In A Name 6 hosted at Beth Fish Reads.
 Between January 1 and December 31, 2013, read one book in each of the following categories:

1. A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

2. A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title

3. A book with a party or celebration in the title

4. A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title

5. A book with an emotion in the title

6. A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title

3. 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books - Reading Challenge 2013 hosted at Life As A Journey.
The challenge: to select and read seven books, each belonging to one of the following categories:
- one of the 7 countries with the most population
- one of the 7 highest countries in the world
- one of the 7 oldest countries of the world
- one of the 7 megacities of the world
- one of the 7 countries with the most immigrants
- one of the 7 richest (or poorest) countries
- one of the 7 most rainy (or dry) countries

If you have any suggestions at all for good reads that fit into these challenge categories, please do leave a comment! I hope to stumble upon some treasures as I try and find books for the categories. I'll keep updating this post with potential books.

Are you tempted to sign up for a reading challenge yourself? A lot of the challenges seem to be posted here on A Novel Challenge.

As for what I've been reading...

I finished Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier but I did not really enjoy the story. The brash and spoiled heroine who bossed around her servants, the "gentlemanly" pirate- the whole thing was too ludicrous for me.

On the other hand, Room by Emma Donoghue was a very satisfying read. The book was an easy read in the sense that the story, written in the voice of a 5 year old, moved quickly, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. It was a tough read in the sense that the author describes a harrowing situation for a mother and child.

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear was another terrific read from last week. This time the mystery is much more complex and involved and the story is rich in character and history. I will happily read the rest of this series.

What are you reading?