09 December 2008

Bhai and Didis

My husband has a very close relationship with all three of his sisters. He was the youngest, the pampered only son (I like to say that he was the "little raja") and his sisters still compete to show him affection. As his wife, I've been warmly welcomed into the brother-sister relationship and the celebration of the brother-sister holiday Bhai Dooj (just after Diwali) is one demonstration of that.

Bhai Dooj is celebrated in North India by brothers and sisters. Brothers give their sisters a gift (usually cash) and sisters perform aarti to their brothers and give them a gift of food or sweets. This demonstrates the bond of love between the siblings both now and into the future.

This was the first Bhai Dooj they've spent together in years, and the first since we got married. This time I was included in the ceremony too. Each sister performed aarti, put tilak (red paste) and rice grains on our foreheads, and gave us a gift. It felt really special to experience the ceremony with my husband and all three didis. Afterward, my little niece performed the ceremony with her cousins (honorary brothers).

Here is my youngest SIL putting tilak on my head as part of the ceremony:

If you go out in public on that day, you'll see lots of men and boys walking around with tilak on their foreheads, a symbol of the devotion their sisters have for them!

Twice the Holidays!

We've been back from India for more than three weeks now but I haven't gotten a chance to write! Jet lag, plus getting back to work and getting caught up, plus having Mummy with us (yes! She came home with us!!) just didn't leave me much spare time.

I realized that we've been celebrating holidays basically non-stop since we went to India. First there was Diwali, then Bhai Dooj (more on that later), then Thanksgiving as soon as we got back, and then Advent started the following Sunday, and Christmas will be here before you know it! That's one of the really cool things about being in an intercultural marriage--we get to celebrate twice the holidays! It's been really fun to introduce Mummy to Advent and Christmas too...we got her her own chocolate Advent calendar (because yes, I haven't given up that childhood tradition myself yet) and we'll be getting a tree this week.

But--back to India. I had such a wonderful time on this trip: it was so much more relaxed than last time (with the wedding planning, etc) and we got to just spend time as a family, shop a lot, eat a lot, and see more of Delhi.

Celebrating Diwali in India was a wonderful experience. It's definitely a family kind of holiday, when each family stays at their own home to celebrate. We decorated Mummy's apartment with marigold and leaf garlands, rangolis, lights, and dozens of clay diyas filled with mustard oil. Here's my hubby with the garlands:

And here's me making a rangoli:

Here's Mummy and me lighting the diyas for Diwali pooja:

After the pooja, we went nearby to my husband's oldest didi's house for dinner and patake ("fireworks"). People are seriously crazy about fireworks at Diwali in India! Fireworks that would be illegal here, or only allowed to be lit by the town fire department where we live, get set off by families all over the neighborhoods. And ours was no exception. It was fun, but since I was wearing a silk lehenga I stayed well back and enjoyed watching my husband revert to childhood as he played with patake.

This firework is called "anar" which means pomegranate:

And here's my husband having the time of his life:

The city of Delhi fills up with smoke from all the fireworks being set off all over the place that night. It's not easy to go to sleep at Diwali time because of the noise, and for many nights afterward you'll hear people setting off their leftover patake! A few times we were riding a rickshaw at night and had to be really careful not to ride too close to where someone was setting them off in the street.

I'll try to write a little more in later posts about what else we did in India.

24 October 2008

Off to India!

Today after work we're driving up to DC on the first leg of our trip to INDIA!! We'll be there for three weeks, mostly in Delhi but with a couple side trips. I'm really looking forward to spending time with our family and celebrating Diwali. We have 1 1/2 suitcases just filled with gifts for everyone. One of my favorite gifts for the kids is Pez dispensers...every kid needs a Pez dispenser at least once in his life!

My MIL got her visa interview appointment for a day while we're there, so if she is granted the visa she'll be coming back with us. That means that I've been cleaning our apartment like a madwoman so that if she does come back with us, our home will be presentable. Our cats, Mellors and Criseyde, are staying with a friend while we're gone, so we won't have to worry about them either.

We've also been using up all the perishable food in the house, and I've been making things that won't be as easily available in India, like pasta. I happen to have a slight pumpkin/squash obsession, so last night I made a butternut squash pasta recipe that was in the NY Times food blog, Bitten. It was seriously delicious and easy too. If I get hold of some pasta in Delhi, I might make this for my in-laws...as far as I can tell, it's Jain friendly (no onions).

Pasta with Butternut Squash

1 pound peeled and seeded butternut squash (start with a whole squash weighing about 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound cut pasta, like ziti
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Cut squash into chunks, and place in food processor. Pulse machine on and off until squash looks grated. (Alternatively, grate or chop the squash by hand.) Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

2. Place a large skillet over medium heat, and add the butter or oil. A minute later, add the squash, salt, pepper and about 1/2 cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add water, about 1/4 cup at a time, as the mixture dries out, being careful not to make it soupy. When the squash begins to disintegrate, after about 10 or 15 minutes, begin cooking the pasta. While it cooks, season the squash with the nutmeg, sugar if necessary, and additional salt and pepper if needed.

3. When the pasta is tender, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain. Toss it in the skillet with the squash, adding the reserved cooking water if the mixture seems dry. Taste, and adjust the salt, pepper or nutmeg as you like; then, toss with the cheese and serve.

Well, that's it for now...I'll try to post from India, or at least when we get back on November 18. Happy Diwali, everyone!

18 September 2008

A Summer Recipe for Summer's End

There is one recipe that my husband and I love to make as soon as the weather starts to get warm, and that we make all the way up until the end of summer: dahi vade. We have taught this recipe in our Vegetarian Indian Cooking classes, served it to all our friends both Indian or American, and everyone just loves it. I promise that even though it seems complicated, it's really pretty easy. Dumplings made of lentils, fried then soaked in water and squeezed out, and served with yogurt, chutneys, and spices. It makes a good appetizer with dinner, or a light dinner by itself. It's cool and refreshing and delicious. In the waning days of summer, it's definitely something I want to have one more time before we move on to warmer/heartier fall dishes!

Dahi Vade

2 cups urad dal, soaked in water overnight
Salt to taste
Red chile powder to taste
1 tbs whole cumin seeds

Oil for frying

To serve:
Plain yogurt, thinned out with some water and stirred until smooth
Black salt to taste
Red chile powder, to taste
Roasted and crushed cumin seeds
Minced green chiles, to taste
Cilantro chutney
Tamarind chutney
Chopped cilantro

Take the soaked dal and grind it up as smooth as you can in a blender or food processor with a little bit of water and some salt, the cumin seeds, and red chile powder. It shouldn’t be too thick or too liquidy.

In a large skillet, drop the paste by tablespoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown. After they are cooked and cooled a couple minutes, place them into a big bowl of cold water. You can let them soak for hours to get really soft, or you can serve them soon after.

When you are ready to serve, remove the vadas from the water and gently squeeze them to remove extra water/oil. Place maybe 5-6 vadas on each plate. Pour some of the liquidy yogurt over them. Then sprinkle the following on top: a pinch of black salt, some red chile to taste, minced green chiles, cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney, burnt cumin seeds, salt, and chopped cilantro.

17 September 2008

Kshama Vani

If you're reading this blog you probably know that my husband and I are in an intercultural marriage, mixing cultures, becoming members of each other's families, and mixing religious faiths (mine Anglican Catholic, his family Jain). And (if you're reading this and I don't know you and you're feeling indignant or offended about our practice of either Anglican Catholicism or Jainism), while neither of us claim to be perfect practitioners of our faiths, we both find many things to admire in both religions.

That is why today (a day late) for the occasion of Kshama Vani, I ask forgiveness if I have ever offended you, either knowingly or unknowingly. I am sorry if I have done those things which I ought not to have done, or left undone those things which I ought to have done.

09 September 2008

Responding to Ignorance

I've been enjoying the summer so much that I haven't been posting much. I've got some recipes and things to post soon though, but first I wanted to post this.

I was reading Cagey's blog today and thinking about how ignorant people can be and how you can just be blindsided by the awful things people can say sometimes. How do you respond to something like that?

I had a similar experience in 2006 and was so angry that I wrote an op-ed for the Roanoke Times, which they published. It was satisfying to get my anger out in that way, although the chances are pretty slim that the jerk who screamed at my husband actually would have read it. I can no longer find the op-ed on the Roanoke Times' website, so here it is:

It's been two days, and I'm still wondering what that guy was thinking.

As the pickup truck sped past us in the Valley View Mall parking lot, a man leaned out and screamed at my husband, "Osama!"

To give you some background, I'm American and my husband is Indian. Not American Indian, but from New Delhi in the subcontinent of India. There are challenges and rewards that come with mixing cultures in our marriage, and I'm happy to say that we make it work. It's an adventure!

At that moment I was livid. I'm a pale-skinned Caucasian and I've never experienced prejudice due to my race or appearance. Before the truck sped out of sight, I yelled back and—well, it wasn't very ladylike. I was shaking with anger.

I expected my husband to be angry too, but he shrugged it off. For one thing, he's not Middle Eastern; he is Indian, and a doctoral student at Tech. He is not Muslim; he is Jain. To my way of thinking, it takes a real bonehead to connect him with a mass murderer like Osama bin Ladin, based apparently on nothing more than his dark Indian complexion.

I haven't stopped thinking about how hateful and hurtful it was for someone to scream at my husband like this. I was humiliated that, in the place where I grew up, some people are so hateful and ignorant. The more I thought about it, the more connections I seemed to see between this sorry incident and our nation's parlous political state.

As I write these words, it seems that we may be about to expand our Iraq adventure into Iran. Ignorant people draw hateful cartoons about Muslims, and the reaction is burning rage. The Trotskyite neo-cons in control of our foreign policy are thirsting for war with another Middle Eastern country. And if people like the guy at the mall are a clue to the state of public discourse in America, the prospects for prudent consideration of the consequences are dim.

In the aftermath of 9-11 and in the run-up to war with Iraq, we witnessed the same kind of ignorant hostility. The actions of a few terrorists—themselves provoked by our meddling in the Israel/Palestine conflict—caused people like our "friend" in the parking lot to display indiscriminating animosity toward certain groups of people: Saudi Arabians, Iraqis, Middle Easterners, Muslims—a hatred that now seems to include all people whose complexion or facial features resemble even remotely those of the terrorists.

Such malice has caused the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people: US soldiers, women, children, and non-combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whatever politicians' real motives are for a war with Iran, they can only regard the ignorance and anger of people like the guy in the pickup truck as a useful tool as they forge ahead in their utopian quest to remake the middle east.

I'd like to believe that in southwest Virginia in the year 2006, we are not so easily led by politicians who manipulate bigotry. I'd hope that we are not so consumed by a volatile and dangerous mix of ignorance and hatred that we would lash out at people simply because of their appearance.

So I wonder about the guy who screamed at us. Why?

Because, after all, people like him are as likely as anybody else to suffer losses from the war. It might be him—or his brother, or his buddy—who comes home next in a casket. So what could he have been thinking?

I'd like to believe that he would realize that the safety of his own family and community is endangered by our reckless adventures in the middle east, and that he would at least considering saying "no" to another disastrous and illegal war.

But after our encounter in the mall parking lot, I'm not so sure.

15 July 2008

Easiest. Dal. Ever.

Some days V and I get home from work and we're in a creative cooking mood. Other days we're thisclose to calling for pizza, but since we're trying to save money we have to think of tasty things we can make quickly. One of our favorites is nimbu dal (lemon dal). V used to get this from street vendors on his way to school sometimes, irritating his mother who had just tried to feed him a big and filling breakfast only moments before!

All you have to do is cook the dal and then garnish it to taste with a few savory toppings. We like to cook a big pot of it so that we can eat it for dinner and then have leftovers to pack for lunch for the next day. What follows is not an actual recipe, but more of a technique.

Nimbu dal

Put some moong dal into a pot with water, and cook it until the dal is very soft and as thick as you like it. Serve it in bowls with the following things on top to taste:

Minced green chiles
Red chile powder
Black salt (a small pinch usually)
Burnt cumin seeds (just roast cumin seeds in a pan until they are dark brown, then crush them up in a mortar and pestle)
Chopped cilantro and/or cilantro chutney
A little butter
A couple dashes of lemon juice

Then you can mix it all up and enjoy! I like it by itself, and my husband likes it with parathas or rotis. I don't have a picture, unfortunately, but it looks nice with all the garnishes on top before you mix them in.

03 July 2008

The Pasta of Summer 2008!

People, if you must know one thing about my food habits, it's that pasta is my comfort food. Sometimes nothing but pasta will do...preferably some kind of pasta that has lots of garlic with it. This can be a problem considering that I'm married to an Indian man who was raised Jain--that means that he didn't grow up eating pasta, and in his family's religion many people do not eat garlic, so he does not like the taste of very much garlic. So if we're trying to decide what to make for dinner and I suggest something that has pasta or a lot of garlic in it, I hear, "awwwww, noooooo...no pasta; no garlic." And since I refuse to cook separate meals, that means that I have to be vigilant about chances to eat pasta or lots of garlic when I'm alone.

Tonight was one of those nights. V got home from work and was so tired that he just wanted a small snack and to fall into bed. I was very solicitous about making sure he was comfortable and had what he needed, but in my mind I was thinking, "here's my chance! It's pasta night, baby!" I'm so bad, hee hee. And I knew just what recipe I had in mind.

This was in the June 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine. You can't get any simpler than this: pasta with garlic and olives. I made a few changes to the original recipe and ended up with the following recipe. The original recipe suggests that you serve it at room temperature (for cookouts and picnics and such) but I couldn't wait very long and ate it while it was still fairly warm. It was so excellent, I can definitely see myself making it for potlucks and parties this summer.

Pasta with Garlic and Olives
(Originally Acini di Pepe Pasta with Garlic and Olives, Gourmet June 2008)

1/2 lb small pasta (I used Barilla mini penne)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, minced (1 1/2 Tbsp)
1/4 tsp hot red-pepper flakes (I used a little more than this)
1/2 cup pitted olives, quartered (I used Trader Joes' Mingling Olives)

Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water (3 Tbsp salt for 6 qt water), stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain well in a sieve. Transfer to a bowl.

Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté garlic with red-pepper flakes until golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in olives. Toss with pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

20 June 2008

Bhindi Masala

Why don't more people here in the US like okra? It's such a tasty vegetable. It has so much personality; it's so sturdy and quirky. Growing up, I only ever tasted it fried (that's how we roll down South, you know), and then later I got into making this Martha Stewart version that was stewed with tomatoes. But now that I eat so much Indian food, the stewed version tastes "dead," as my husband would say. Not enough masala. V loves a version of okra that's covered in spices and besan and then fried, but I like to do bhindi masala because it's healthier.

We were going to be teaching an Indian cooking class tomorrow but it got canceled because there aren't enough people in town during the summer who sign up for classes. The class is going to be rescheduled for the fall, but we'll have to change the menu because I'm trying to teach seasonal recipes with ingredients that can be found locally. That means that we won't be teaching bhindi masala this year. However, I can post the recipe here!

Our local international grocery has locally-grown veggies, and the okra is gorgeous right now. We've made it twice recently. Make sure you buy okra that's firm and unblemished. You can find it at regular grocery stores at exorbitant prices (seriously--I saw it for 4.00 a pound the other day), so I recommend an international grocery. Also, don't use frozen. It gets slimy and it doesn't taste as good.

Bhindi Masala

1 pound fresh okra, washed, dried, stem end cut off, and cut in half lengthwise
2 tbs olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, very finely diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 small green chile, minced (optional)
3/4 - 1 tsp red chile powder, or to taste
1 tsp khatai (dried mango powder)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
kosher salt, to taste
14 ounces tomato puree, or equivalent amount of finely diced fresh tomato
1 tbs garam masala

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil and then add the onions. Cook until the onions are light golden-brown and translucent. Add the green chile and stir for a minute. Add the red chile, khatai, coriander, turmeric, and salt and stir for a minute so the spices can blend with the onion and get toasty.

Lower the heat to medium and pour in the tomato and stir to blend. Cook for a few minutes so that the gravy thickens. You can add a half cup or so of water, then stir and cook a little while longer until it thickens a little again--I think this helps the flavors become more intense.

Stir the okra into the gravy, then put a lid on the skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the okra is tender. Add the garam masala and stir to blend, then serve the bhindi hot with chapatis or rice.

12 June 2008

Here's to You, Here's to Me, Friends We Shall Always Be

When I started grad school in 2003, I met the other women who were in my program and they all seemed like interesting, fun, intelligent women with whom I had a lot in common. At first, I was a bit fatalistic about making friends with them though—I had only had two lasting female friendships up until that point, and our English master’s program was only two years long, after which point I figured we’d all be moving away from this little town. “What’s the point?” I asked myself. “It’s not like we’re going to be friends for more than two years anyway.” But I took that leap of faith and made friends with them, and five years later I’m so glad I did.

My grad school girlfriends and I formed a tight-knit group, hanging out at a local bar with the English grad students’ association, eating great food together at each others’ houses, and sitting and gossiping in our offices between meetings with our students or when we stayed late to write papers. Several of us got married during or immediately after grad school, and we held wedding showers (and one at-home wedding) for which I always made a rich chocolate ganache cake. We took day trips to Warm Springs to “take the waters” and stopped for picnics and antiquing along the way. After our graduate program was over, a few of us moved away, but a small core of us remained here. We started an email listserv to keep in touch and continued to hang out as often as we had time to do so.

Now one of us, S., is moving away because her husband is starting law school in another city about 3 hours away. Although we’re still close enough to visit, it feels like the end of an era.

Last week, S., B., and I went to see the Sex and the City movie. I think we couldn’t have picked a better activity for the waning days of S’s time here. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (despite the negative reviews) because of its depiction of a group of four close-knit friends. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte stuck with each other through good times and bad. They were fast friends even when the men in their lives were unreliable jerks, but they also were there to celebrate when one of them found love. That’s the true love story of the movie—not their relationships with their boyfriends or husbands—their lasting relationships with each other.

After (admittedly clichéd, but delicious) cosmopolitans at our old watering hole, I bid my friends goodnight with a hug and went to meet my husband nearby. I kept thinking about the movie and my “Grad Gal” friendships, and also about my very dear friend K. who now lives in California. A bit tipsy, I called K and left her a message telling her that I’d seen the movie that night and that I missed her. An hour later, she called me back to say that she’d also seen the movie that night, and that she missed me too! What serendipity.

I can't believe that so many women buy into the misogynist idea that it's not as good to have female friends, that it's somehow cooler to be "one of the guys" and a badge of honor to have more guy friends than women friends. My strong friendships with K, with the Grad Gals, and with my other women friends have been so important to me--they have sustained me. I'm sad that we're all beginning to go our separate ways, but I know that no matter what we'll stay in touch and stay friends for many years to come.

03 June 2008

Gajjar ka Halwa

After my last two baking disasters, I figured I should post something that I know I'm good at cooking: gajjar ka halwa. It's a wonderful carrot pudding that my husband and I both love. We make it fairly regularly, and it was also served at our wedding in India, just swimming in ghee. I don't remember all the food from our wedding, but the gajjar ka halwa stands out in my mind.

You can make this recipe anywhere along the spectrum from low-fat and low-sugar (using skim or low-fat milk and less butter and sugar) to high-fat and high-sugar (whole milk, more butter or ghee, lots of sugar). V. thinks it tastes the best if it has a lot of sugar in it, so consider the 1 cup in the recipe as a jumping-off point.

ka Halwa

2 pounds of carrots, peeled and shredded fine in the food processor
2/3 gallon whole milk (or enough to cover the carrots)
1 cup sugar (more if needed, to taste)
6 green cardamom pods
½ cup raisins
¼ cup assorted crushed nuts (cashews, pistachios, almonds)
generous pinch of saffron
3-4 tablespoons butter or ghee

In a large saucepan or large deep skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat, then add the shredded carrots and stir for a couple minutes. Pour in the milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the carrots become extremely tender and the milk has been mostly absorbed, at least an hour.

Remove the outside of the cardamom pods and crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle, then add to the halwa. Add the sugar, raisins, nuts, and saffron. You can taste it at this point and see if it needs more sugar or cardamom. Continue to simmer for about 15 minutes so the flavors can blend. Halwa tastes best if it is simmered on very low heat for 3-4 hours, time permitting, but you can serve it as soon as the milk is absorbed and it has a pudding-like consistency. Serve warm or cold—it tastes great either way!

02 June 2008

6 Things Meme

Heh, I like the word "meme." Ok, I got tagged by the blogger Blue for this "6 things" sort of game. I'm new to this so bear with me. The theme is "six unspectactular quirks" about yourself. These are the rules:

-Link the person who tagged you.
-Mention the rules in your blog.
-Tell us about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours.
-Tag 6 following bloggers by linking them.
-Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.

So...6 unspectacular quirks about myself:

1. I've dyed my hair for years, but now I'm miserably trying to let it get back to its natural color so that it can be healthier. It's very brassy right now.
2. I play the flute in a German oompah band.
3. I'm a huge public radio nerd and do some radio announcing on the side.
4. I like to lick the salt off of peanut shells, dirt be damned.
5. I like beer mixed with tomato juice.
6. I'd rather be really hot than really cold (or cool, actually). As a result, there's constant wrangling over the thermostat when my husband and I are in the car.

I'm tagging Appalbrandy, Raag, Mumbaiwala, Cagey, Gleemonex, and...hmm. I'd rather not tag someone that I don't really know, and I haven't been getting around the blog world that much yet. Can I break that rule? I hope the meme police don't get me, heh!

I'm formulating my next blog post to have a recipe that I've made a million times and I know can't be a failure like the last two. Stay tuned...

01 June 2008

Aaaargh!! And gaaaah!!!

This post was supposed to redeem my baking skills, but alas, it was not to be. I was going to write about how I made this retro cake (Watergate Cake) in my vintage Harvest Gold Bundt pan, and carried it to my grad school friend's party in my 1940s tin cake carrier, blah blah blah.

On the spectrum that has Erma Bombeck on one end and Martha Stewart on the other, I've always considered myself to be more on the Martha Stewart end of things. Well, I'm feeling decidedly Erma Bombeck after last night's fiasco.

One of my grad school friends, B, hosted a yard party at her house last night, and for days I've been talking about how I was going to bring a Watergate Cake (a pistachio cake along the lines of last summer's Watergate Salad). So yesterday afternoon I made the cake and icing and had it in my tin cake carrier. I was super excited to bring it to the party. So when my husband and I pulled up in the driveway, I got out with the cake carrier and almost immediately when I got out of the car--the cake carrier's handle came off and the whole thing went tumbling to the ground. Luckily it fell upside down, so the cake was still edible, although it looked like the mess in the picture with this post.

Well, a glass of wine or five later, no one cared that the cake looked like crap. It still tasted good, at least! There was lots of other excellent food at the party too. We had a really lovely evening lying on the lawn with blankets and pillows. I hope the rest of the summer is as nice as last night and Friday night (picnic at Mountain Lake, where the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed).

Just don't call me Erma.

(courtesy of Ann on the cooking email list I'm on)

1 pkg. cake mix, yellow or white
1 pkg. instant pistachio pudding
1 c. oil
3 whole eggs
1 c. Canada Dry Club soda
1 c. pistachios (chopped very fine)

Mix cake mix, pudding, eggs, oil, club soda and nuts together. Blend well and beat 4 minutes. Grease and flour Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes. Turn out on plate and when cool, frost with icing.


1 box instant pistachio pudding
1 1/4 c. cold milk
1 (8 oz.) container Cool Whip

Blend all together and beat until light and fluffy. Spread on cake. Store in refrigerator.

29 May 2008

I'm Not a Baker

So, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not cut out to be a baker.

Most of the time I think I'm a pretty damn good cook. Indian food, French, Mexican, Italian...whatever I make turns out scrum-diddly-umptious. Except.

Aaaargh! When I try to bake, I *always* screw something up. Maybe it's because it's more precise, so I have to follow directions more carefully or something?

I have to admit, I've never been super-great at reading carefully and following directions. That's why I was a terrible test-taker when I was a kid. I remember when I was really little, and standardized test time came around in school, I'd have a massive freakout because I just couldn't figure out what to do, and meanwhile the other kids were finishing up their tests and getting to put their heads down on their desks or go play outside. But all of that could have been avoided if I'd just read the damn directions more carefully.

This leads me up to last night's latest baking disaster. I decided to make these oatmeal cookies that I saw on another blog (I think it was Smitten Kitchen). I had all the ingredients laid out in a perfect mise-en-place. Toss this into the bowl of the Kitchen-Aid mixer, add a little of that, roll the dough into balls, and bake...only to find that the cookies melted completely flat instead of staying nice and puffed up, crispy on the outside and hollow on the inside.

My husband gamely tried them and insisted they were good (bless his heart!) but upon reinspection of the recipe, I realized that instead of using 1 1/2 sticks of butter as the recipe said, I had used 2 sticks. I made basically Butter Cookies, bleargh. I took them to work today and my coworkers seemed to enjoy them, especially our web guy Matt who ate probably like 5 of them. At least they're not here, taunting me with my failure. And it's not as if I can just make them again the right way--it's too expensive to waste ingredients like that and my Marwari husband Would Not Approve.

So, I think from now on I'll either try to be even more careful in reading and following directions, or I'll stick to what I do best, which is recipes that are less precise and can survive mistakes like this. However, I do plan to make one more baking attempt this weekend, this time a retro-style cake which I will write about on Saturday.

22 May 2008

Random springtime musings

Not a day goes by that I don't think about how lucky I am to be living here in the Blue Ridge mountains. I can look out the window next to my cube and see a gorgeous panorama of the mountains and green, green everywhere. This town is such a perfect mix of natural beauty, just the right amount of development, and plenty of educated and ethnically diverse people from the university. I don't want to leave!

Right now we're poised on the cusp of...I don't know what. V. graduates in December and is already starting his job hunt. There's not a whole lot for chemical engineers around here, but there's a little, and the cost of living here is so great. But although we have a chance of staying here, we could end up almost anywhere else...from New York to Ohio to California or Texas; who knows. It scares the crap out of me when I think about it, but hey, I'm just along for the ride right now and doing my best to support my hubby.

We're working on gathering everything together for my MIL's visa application to come visit from India. We've almost got everything together, and then we'll see what happens with her interview. I feel like screaming, "dammit, I'm a US citizen and I've been paying taxes for umpty-gazillion years by now, so give me my mother-in-law, you jerks!" But, uh, I guess that wouldn't work. I'm settling for having Rick Boucher's office fax a letter to the Delhi consulate though. I really want Mummy to get to visit, especially while we're still in this town. Our plan is to bring her here permanently at some point, and I think that she would like it here enough to stay with us for good. I hope, anyway. On beautiful days like today I think, how can Mummy help but to fall in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains?

15 May 2008

Penny-pincher, meet gourmet.

My husband is a proud penny-pincher. He always says, "I am Marwari. I'm not going to let go of my money!" I've learned a lot about saving money from him, but I still have a long way to go I think!

Recently he looked in the pantry and saw that I had squirreled away at least 4 cans of cannellini beans. He doesn't like to feel like we are wasting money on stuff that isn't being used, so I was determined last night to make dinner based around cannellini beans. I looked at several recipes online, including pasta recipes, soup, stews, etc. I saw one recipe for white bean and butternut squash soup that looked good, and I also saw this recipe for white bean bruschetta:


I asked him if he'd rather have bruschetta or soup for dinner, and he chose bruschetta (sometimes it's fun to eat more "appetizer" things for dinner instead of a more classic meal). I kept thinking about the butternut squash in the soup recipe, and remembered that I had a half butternut squash in the fridge that was going to go bad if I didn't use it, so I decided to use the original bruschetta recipe as a jumping-off point. So I basically made a meal that kept two things from going to waste--the beans my husband was concerned about, plus the squash! Bonus! A dinner to please the penny-pincher who's also a gourmet.

The bruschettas with a glass of white wine made a nice, not too heavy dinner. V. liked it a lot and so did I. I'll have to remember this in the fall as an appetizer to bring to a party or something.

White Bean and Butternut Squash Bruschetta

1 1/2 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 tsp minced sage leaves [the original recipe called for rosemary, which I didn't have]
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar [I used 1 tbs]
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
fresh-ground black pepper to taste

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, saute the butternut squash in a little oil for a couple minutes, then add a half cup of broth or water and cook until the liquid has simmered away.

Gently toss together beans, squash, garlic, sage, olive oil, vinegar and red pepper flakes in a medium-size bowl, taking care not to break up the beans. Let the mixture stand, covered, for several hours at room temperature or until you are ready to serve.

Meanwhile, slice bread into 1/3 inch thick slices. Brush with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

Taste the bean mixture and add salt, pepper, and more red pepper flakes to taste. Spoon the beans onto the slices and serve at room temperature.

14 May 2008


I've been feeling kind of lame recently because I have this blog and I almost never post on it. But today I feel like I should post a little something because of the terrorist bombings in Jaipur.

This picture is a view from the Hawa Mahal, or "air palace" in Jaipur. We visited there just before our wedding. It's a crowded place, full of tourists and shoppers and people going about their everyday lives, doing everyday things like drinking lassi, going to the Hanuman temple on Tuesdays (as they were yesterday), or going from place to place on rickshaws. My sister-in-law, Prachi didi, lives there with her family.

I'm sad and I'm also pissed off that these asshole terrorists did such a despicable and cowardly thing. Muslims and Hindus alike were killed or injured in the blasts. What the hell is the point? There is no point. It's completely senseless. I'm relieved that my family there is safe. I'm also praying for those affected by the blasts and wishing for peace.

05 March 2008

The First English Grad Gals Baby Shower!

It's a little hard to believe, but one of my grad school girlfriends is now the first one of us to have a baby! I feel like my grad school friends and I live in this alternate universe where we are all waiting a really long time to have babies (as opposed to, for example, the girl from my high school reunion who already has four kids). But happily, my friend M. is pregnant and due in April! I was so thrilled about it that I jumped at the chance to host her baby shower at my house.

We didn't have a particular theme, but we all gave favorite baby books to M. (of course, since we were all English literature majors!). We had a really nice time sitting and chatting while sipping champagne (or sparkling grape juice) and eating some delicious snacks, like B's chicken casserole, S's artichoke dip, and MF's spinach pie. I decided to make little tea sandwiches (proper British-style cucumber sandwiches and good Southern pimiento cheese) and cupcakes. I tried the Jamie Oliver recipe for Sticky Toffee Cupcakes with Chocolate Topping and they were a real hit--especially with my husband, who helped polish them off after it was safe for men to come back in the house, heh.

Sticky Toffee Cupcakes with Chocolate Topping
Jamie Oliver, from "Happy Days with the Naked Chef"

2 tbs sultanas or golden raisins
1 oz dried apricots
1 oz dates
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup self-rising flour
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs corn syrup
1 large egg
2 tbs melted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs hot water

for the chocolate topping:
3 tbs butter
3 tbs sugar
1 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate
5 tbs heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400. In a food processor, chop the sultanas,
apricots, dates, baking powder, and a little of the flour (just enough
to keep the fruit from sticking o the blades). Put this mixture into
a bowl with the brown sugar, the syrup, the egg and the melted butter
and stir together. Then add the very hot water and the remaining
flour and mix well with a whisk. Divide the mixture between 12 foil
cupcake cups (doubled up) and place on a baking tray. Bake in
preheated oven for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt all the chocolate topping ingredients in the saucepan
and bubble for a while until slightly darkened in color. Remove from
the heat and let the sauce cool until it thickens. Then put a blob on
top of each cupcake.

11 January 2008

Indian Wedding Anniversary

Monday January 7 was our Indian wedding anniversary. One year since we were in India and had our Jain wedding at Pawan chacha's farmhouse. It has been a great year, during which my hubby and I became even closer. I love him very much!

I have been musing about this anniversary for several days, and along with my happiness with V., one thing has been foremost in my mind, and that is Mummy. One year ago January 7, I not only became V's wife, but I became part of his family and his family became mine. This makes me feel very lucky, especially because of my mother-in-law.

Mummy is a very special lady. She's a beautiful, kind, dear woman. I couldn't imagine until I met her that she could love me so much and make me feel like I was her own daughter. I can't believe my good fortune at having such a wonderful and loving mother-in-law. It makes me want to take care of her and protect her and make her happy for the rest of her days. I am looking forward to her coming to stay with us here in the US!

The picture I'm including is from our wedding. It's not an especially flattering picture of me, but the moment at which it was taken was very special. The photographer was having all the family members come and have pictures taken with us, and in this picture Mausiji, her son, and Mummy were in the picture with us. Mummy sat down next to me and put her arm around me, and I felt such a wave of love and happiness that I began to cry. Everyone around us thought I was crying because I missed my family, but that was not the case. In that moment I felt like I had everything in the world I could ever need because of the love from my husband and his family.

Sappy, but there you go! Our Indian wedding anniversary.