30 July 2007

Gemma's Gazpacho

Friday I tried another recipe from my coworker Gemma at our Barcelona office. Her sangria de cava recipe was so good, I knew that her gazpacho would be great! The recipe is actually her mom's recipe, which, as Gemma says, is always the best! Her original instructions called to blend the vegetables, then take the leftover chunks and blend again, but my blender (KitchenAid) was powerful enough to blend the veggies into a smooth liquid on the first try. Hooray for KitchenAid!

The gazpacho has a tangy and refreshing flavor from the vinegar, and the olive oil gives it a smoother and rounder flavor. I used locally-grown tomatoes, which are far superior to the cardboard facsimiles you find at the grocery stores. The recipe makes a lot, and it's great to have it in the fridge for hot evenings when it's too hot to cook!


1 to 1 1/4 pound of dry bread (I used a large grocery store "french loaf.")
4 lb tomatoes
1 green bell pepper, seeds removed
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
6 ounces olive oil
6 ounces red wine vinegar

Tear the bread up with your hands and place in a large bowl. Pour in enough water to just cover the bread so that the bread gets so soggy you can't pick it up without it falling apart.

Blend up all the vegetables in a blender until they are a smooth liquid (this took me about 3 or 4 batches). Pour into a large bowl or pot. Blend up the bread and water until it is perfectly smooth and add to the pot. Stir in the oil and vinegar. Season with salt to taste.

Place soup in the fridge until it is very cold; serve with small pieces of onion or pepper on top or with fried or toasted bread.

18 July 2007

Cooking and More: Time-Wasting Hobby, or Valuable Contribution?

Sometimes I find myself talking about food. Not just talking about food, but going off on these flights of fancy, these obsessions with what I’ve made and what I’m going to make. Sometimes my friend Sarah and I get going on these long instant messenger chats about what we’re cooking, what we want to cook, what tools we love, tips, ideas, etc. I never feel happier than when I’m planning for and cooking a meal. In the middle of one of these raptures, sometimes my husband will look at me with a little bemused but happy smile and say, “you really love cooking, don’t you?”

Guilty as charged. I do love cooking. I find myself thinking about cooking, and other domestic pleasures, most of the day (even as I’m supposed to be writing the next proposal that’s due at work). I rarely feel the same pride about anything I do as I feel when I have well-fed people at my table, or an attractive and welcoming home, or flourishing plants in my little verandah container garden. I know that my husband appreciates this in me too—especially when I actually have the free time to be successful at it, which isn’t always. I think my husband has the same desire that many Indian men do, to have a “homely” wife. In Indian English, “homely” doesn’t mean “ugly” or “unattractive” as it does in American English. Rather, it is used to describe someone who enjoys and is good at domestic tasks such as cooking, keeping an inviting and clean home, raising children, etc. And I suppose that when he gets that little smile on his face and asks me if I love cooking, he’s thinking of me as I fit the description of a homely wife.

So why do I sometimes feel guilty about being homely, about taking the most pleasure out of homely things? Why do I allow people to tell me that homely things are somehow Less than what I do at my day job? Why do I sometimes wonder what’s wrong with me, that I’m not some kind of driven career woman? That’s easy: that’s the message that is being pounded into my brain from so many other directions. We live in a time and place where a two-income household is necessary for the majority of families. Because of high taxes, high cost of living, and other factors, even families in which one spouse would like to stay home are forced into the two-income trap. However, most people don’t want to think that they are forced into anything. The language of “choice” comes into play. And so we are told that we should choose to be good worker bees, work the high-pressure 40+ hour workweeks, and let the rest of our lives come second to our careers. It becomes an exalted goal for everyone to push, push, push and rush, rush, rush to have a Career that not only pays well, but is yet another status symbol like a designer handbag or a Mercedes automobile.

And if we don’t “choose” the all-consuming career? One extra-large serving of guilt, coming right up. “You there, yes you, the one who thinks that home and family life is more important: what kind of person are you, some kind of slacker or loser? What, you don’t want to work as hard as the rest of us? Oh, you say the work you are doing at home is just as important? Don’t make me laugh! Everyone knows that if it isn’t pulling in the big bucks, then it doesn’t count!”

The insidious thing about this kind of judgment and guilt trip is that it is deeply sexist. That’s right, I said sexist. Because any time that “homely” considerations are devalued in favor of the all-important Career Track, it is traditionally female occupations—the female itself—that are being devalued in favor of the masculine. Traditionally female work is belittled and treated as simple and useless, nothing more than hobbies, rather than valuable contributions to the family. “Who cares if you don’t have time to do those things because you’re working too much? You can hire other people to do that menial, low-class work,” we’re told. Cooking, for example, has been demoted from life-giving skill to frivolous entertainment more often watched on the Food Network than truly appreciated at home (see the very good book, Fed Up! Women and Food in America, by Catherine Manton, for a history of the industrialization and devaluing of food preparation).

So here I am, going on guilt trips because I’d rather be at home creating a loving and supportive atmosphere for my husband and future family. Feeling sheepish that I spend more time thinking about supposedly frivolous things such as cooking or having a baby than I do about the next quarter’s board reports or the upcoming proposal due. Being made to feel like a slacker because I already know that if I try to juggle a full-time Career and children, neither one will get 100% of my abilities, and I think that my future children deserve better than that (see Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, by Pamela Stone). This is not to say that I don’t want outside work of some kind, but neither do I want to feel pressured into more than I’m willing or able to capably do. I think it's more important that my work be flexible to fit my life, rather than that I should squeeze my life into the spaces around my work.

I believe in “choice feminism.” That means that the choices I make (and also the choices my husband and I make together) about my occupation and our family life are mine, and I don’t believe that anyone else has the right to tell me that my choices are wrong. I’m aware that to some extent, my concerns are class-based. If my husband and I were in a lower stratum of society, I probably wouldn’t even have the luxury of this inner debate. But change has to come from somewhere, and I think that by making my choices, I’m at least changing my little corner of the world. That’s the best that I, or anyone else, can really do.

16 July 2007

Friday's Indian Feast

On Friday hubby and I had my hairdresser Kevin and his partner Jim over for dinner. They said they love Indian food, so we didn't hold back on the spice (as we usually do when we have ferungees over for dinner!). We had a really great time laughing and talking with them and really enjoyed the bottle of ice wine they brought for dessert. They both have a wicked sense of humor so we laughed the whole night! Poor guys, though...they were both wiping their noses the whole time so we were afraid that maybe we did make it too spicy...but they politely insisted it wasn't!

Anyway, the dinner was not for dieters...first we served cocktail samosas (from our local international grocery, Oasis) with homemade cilantro and tamarind chutneys. Dinner was basmati rice, dal makhani, baingan ka bharta (spicy eggplant) and methi gajjar (carrots with fenugreek).

The carrots were our own creation, or rather, our take on Archie Didi's methi gajjar. I fell in love with them when we were in India. The carrots there are so sweet and good, and they aren't orange--they're more of a reddish color. As soon as we got back to the US I had to learn to cook this recipe. If you like glazed carrots, then you'd love these: sweet and spicy at the same time.

Methi gajjar

6 or 7 large carrots, cleaned and peeled
1 tbs oil
1 tbs dried methi (fenugreek leaves)
cayenne powder to taste
salt to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 tsp haldi (turmeric)
1/2 tsp dhania (ground coriander)

Cut carrots in half lengthwise, then those halves in half. Slice thinly.

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the carrots. Saute for a few minutes. Add enough water to cover, and simmer until water cooks away and carrots start to become tender.

Add the spices, except for the methi. Stir for a minute or so, add the sugar, then add a little water. Add the methi. Cook until carrots are tender and liquid is mostly cooked away. Serve hot with rotis.

02 July 2007

Watergate Salad

As a good Southern girl, I grew up eating "ambrosia." Basically just cool-whip, marshmallows, crushed pineapple, sour cream, etc. all mixed together. It's kitschy, trashy good fun. We have it every Thanksgiving.

I tried a new (to me) version at the ladies' night at my place last weekend: Watergate Salad. It was apparently first served at the Watergate Hotel...I'm guessing sometime back in the 60s or 70s, but I'm not sure about that. Funny to imagine a time when a salad like this was considered fancy enough to be served at a hotel, huh? However, it tastes great, and is even better the next day. My husband loved it--he's a big fan of "pista," or pistachios.


1 small container small curd cottage cheese
1 box instant pistachio pudding
1 can crushed pineapple, drained a bit
1/2 bag (or more) miniature marshmallows
1 (8 oz.) container Cool Whip, thawed

Sprinkle the dry pudding mix over the cottage cheese in a large mixing bowl. Stir together, until the cottage cheese looks green. Stir the crushed pineapple into the pudding-cottage cheese mixture. Fold in the marshmallows, and last of all, gently fold in the Cool Whip.
Place in serving bowl and decorate with maraschino cherries, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Serves 8-10.

Recipe source: Elaine from a cooking list I'm on.


My husband and I had a wonderful dinner a couple weeks ago at a Spanish tapas restaurant in Charlotte, where we had white sangria with our dinner. I was inspired to have sangria at my next ladies' night.

My grad school girlfriends and I have stayed in touch, and those of us who still live in the same town get together every so often for a ladies' night. On this particular night, we took a dip in my apartment pool, then headed back to my place to make dinner.

S. made Caesar salad, B. made black bean dip with papads, and I made the Stacked Enchiladas with Salsa Verde and Cheese from the July 2007 Bon Appetit magazine. Everything was delish! But the highlight, in my opinion, was the sangria de cava that we made using a recipe courtesy of G., who works at my company's Barcelona office.

S. and I had been researching white sangria for a few days, and I was really happy to get the inside track from G. in Barcelona. Her favorite version is called Sangria de Cava, and it goes like this:

Macerate some cut-up fruit in 1/2 cup brandy and 1/2 cup Cointreau (G. suggests peach and orange; we used peach, plum, and cherry). Add some lemon or orange soda (Schweppes, etc) or club soda mixed with the juice of 1/2 lemon. Slowly pour in one bottle of Cava (or other dry sparkling wine). Taste and add sugar to your liking. Wow! So refreshing and summery! The fruit tastes great after you drink your glass of sangria too...who needs dessert?