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.