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Friday, 26 August 2011

Desynchronosis-ized Cholè

I have jet-lag. Grave jet-lag.

I’ve never had it this bad before, but then I’ve never travelled this far before. So I suppose there is some justice in the world.

Still, I am new to grave jet-lag. I look it up on the trusty Wikipedia and this is what it tells me:

"Jet lag, medically referred to as desynchronosis, is a physiological condition which results from alterations to the body's circadian rhythms; it is classified as one of the circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Jet lag results from rapid long-distance transmeridian (east–west or west–east) travel, as on a jet plane.”

Hmm. Yeah. Wonder who put that piece of genius together. On a separate note, I recently read that aerodrome is no longer a word. Man, my grandmother will be gutted.

Anyway, I digress.

So I am back home. And I am jet-lagged. Gravely so.

People tell me that I am “very brave,” running rampant all over the world with a baby. Really? Isn’t the world meant to be run rampant over, baby or no baby? It’s been no different than before, frankly. Just a LOT more fun. The only thing I can’t do anymore is dance naked on random bar tables. I miss that terribly you know. A baby changes everything.

But on a serious note (not that I was even remotely joking about dancing naked on random bar tables...) what takes courage - baby or no baby - is fighting this said “desynchronosis” which has seized and successfully taken control of our lives in its steel-like grip ever since we’ve been back.

We sleep all day and attempt to sleep all night. And so our days are dull and our nights? Ha – our nights would put the vampires to shame.  Circa 3am, I am in the kitchen stuffing my face, so ravenous that my stomach is about to eat itself; Sid is on the dining table, his nose deep in “paperwork,” sipping his coffee like it’s 10am on a Sunday morning; and poor old Ranbir is howling in bed, confounded that we’ve imprisoned him in his dark bedroom when it’s actually the exact time to roll round and round in the sand until his little body is virtually covered in the powdery, golden grains. Then he crawls like a little sand animal and sits down in-between my knees, waiting for the ocean to roll in gently and wash the sand clean off. Then of course, we repeat the exercise over and over again with the same heightened level of excitement and glee.

Do you blame the little guy for not wanting to sleep?

I’ve been telling him that the sun and the moon have got it all wrong; that they’re toying with him for kicks. Somehow he doesn’t seem to believe me.


Of course on the flip side, it’s nice to be home and attempt to sleep (attempt, being the operative word) on your own linen, albeit with its meager double-digit thread count. At least it’s your own. And London Cotton’s not so bad really. Anyway, it’s sweet to be home.  Hee!

And of course, the other classic post-holiday phenomenon is the intense craving for home food. The duller, the better.  Dull and tasty are not mutually exclusive by the way. Dull can be exceedingly tasty, it’s simply not exotic. But after weeks of exotic eating, dull is welcome. Verily so.

It also helps when one is gravely jet-lagged. Jet-lag (the grave kind) and exotic food don’t really happen, you see. But dull food is essential these days. It’s the stuff I stuff my face with when I’m stuffing it at 3am.

It’s Punjabi Cholè. My way. With secret ingredients and all. Here’s what you need:

- 1 cup dried chickpeas
- Fistful of channa dal (secret ingredient part one :)
- 1 onion roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tsp Chili powder
- 2 tbsp Cholè masala (I use Badshah or MTR, you’ll find it in any Indian Store)
- 3 tbsp tamarind chutney (secret ingredient part deux :)
- 1 cardamom, the big, black kind
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Salt, to taste

Here’s how you do it:

Soak the chickpeas in plenty of water overnight.  Drain the water and place the soaked chickpeas and the channa dal in the pressure cooker. Add enough water in the cooker to completely submerge all the lentils. Now add the chopped onion (raw), cardamom and cinnamon sticks to the mix. It’s the combination of the onion and the channa dal that makes the “gravy” in the finished product, resulting in a thick, creamy, hearty dish. Cause really, there’s nothing worse than watery cholè. Nothing except “desynchronosis,” that is.

Anyway, bring the pressure cooker to 2 whistles on medium heat, and then continue to cook for about 30 minutes more on very low heat.  Allow all the steam to escape before opening the pressure cooker. You should be able to smell the fantastic warm aroma of the cinnamon/cardamom now. Check to make sure the chickpeas are fully cooked to a soft, buttery consistency. If so, add minced ginger, chili powder, chole masala and salt directly into the cooker and mix well. Finish off with adding the tamarind chutney – it’s my secret ingredient and gives a fantastic tart kick to the dish that works wonderfully with the heat of the dry chili and chole masalas. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes on low heat until all the flavours are as muddled up as my brain at the current moment, taking care to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.

I’m way too sleep deprived to be bothered this time, but please go ahead and garnish with a handful of cilantro (dhania) leaves, washed and chopped. Dhania, as you know, is magic.

That’s it. Cholè ready. It’s good stuff. Mind-numbingly dull. But oh so good. A comforting, wholesome, hearty, one-pot meal. And by the way, to all my size-zero friends who sent me emails moaning about how they gained 5kgs after making my butter chicken (I don’t kid), please note that I have used zero, zip, nada, fat in this recipe. Not one blooming drop of oil. Ha.

Try it, please.

So, yeah its midnight now (according to the clock, not my brain) and I’m so wide awake my eyes don’t fit in my face anymore. Sigh.

I go back to Wikipedia is see if it offers any more nuggets of wisdom on the topic, in a language I actually understand. I am happy to report that it does. I come away with hope in my heart.

“The condition of jet lag may last several days, and a recovery rate of one day per time zone crossed is a fair guideline…”

We crossed 1-2-3-4-5-6 time zones. It’s been 3 days. 3 to go. Halfway home. Zzzz.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Of Koloa and Sassoon Docks: His World and Mine

This piece is currently "checked out" but here's a teaser

2011, Hawaii, USA

Ranbir and I are at the Koloa fish market in Kauai. Sid is at a convention here and R and I have tagged (happily) along. We are alone during the day while Sid is at work, and we've been busy exploring, walking around everywhere (or dangling from the baby carrier, in Ranbir’s case), taking in the raw beauty of this pristine island. 

Today is fish market day for us. We discover it by accident really. We’ve gotten up early, Ranbir and I, had our long walk on the beach and then made our way down the Koa-tree lined path to the main town for a cup of coffee. This is where we notice the signs for the ‘Wednesday Fish Market’ – they are handmade signs, oil painted letters on cardboard, glued on various surfaces. Old school! Painted on each sign is a bright green fist, its index finger pointed (presumably) in the direction of the fish market. A lot of people seem to be following the green index finger. So we follow it too.

Everything is so clean here. And so organised. Hundreds of varieties of just-caught fish, fresh from the Pacific, are lying whole, in neat rows over crushed ice. Cleaned and filleted variants lie on shaved ice behind glass counters, carefully labeled, their prices clearly marked. You ask for whatever you want, in any quantity you want. Gloved hands box it all up neatly into Styrofoam cartons, cover it with cling film, weigh and price it for you. It's all spotlessly clean. No muck, no mess, no smell.

1983, Bombay, India.

I am five years old...

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Over the Tuscan Moon

So before we left, I had to watch “Under the Tuscan Sun” of course.
Maybe I’m just not that into sappy feminist romances, but that’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back.

Which all left me decidedly dissatisfied.

What did leave me decidedly satisfied was Tuscany in real life.

Mist covered winding roads leading to charming hill towns, vast vistas of rolling hills alive with colour: pale green grapevines, dark green olive groves, deep red wildflowers, bright yellow fields of sunflowers...hues of burnished gold glowing over all of it, as the evening sun sets, painting the sky in vivid strokes of pink and purple. You don’t know where the fields end and where the sky begins. The horizon melts before you. And you lose perspective.

It is breathtaking. Soul-achingly so.

A landscape that presents just the perfect milieu for the superlative food that this region has to offer.

For at the heart of Tuscan cuisine lies only that which this land so bountifully offers: Cooking is done with olive oil, which is used liberally - as salad dressing, poured over bread, and used to enhance the flavour of soups and stews.  The farmland produces this oil, along with wine, wheat, and a variety of fruit. Chickens, meat and game are reared and raised locally. Regional vegetables include potatoes, artichokes, asparagus, spinach, beans, peas and wild mushrooms. Canneloni beans, broad beans and chickpeas are staples; Cheese – pecorino, ricotta, parmesan, gorgonzola are plentiful; the tomato is an essential element of the cooking, as is garlic and parsley.

Essentially, it is four fundamental ingredients that form the epicentre of Tuscan food : bread (plain, unsalted, crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside); extra-virgin olive oil; grilled meat; and wine. Vegetables serve as large and filling side dishes; pasta cooked in a variety of unique flavours – subtle, not heavy – serve as first courses.

It’s all so simple. And so unbelievably tasty.  

A foodie's paradise. This is love, true love.

We stayed in Monterrigioni, largely because this is where our friends were getting married, and used the town as a base from where we drove around the countryside, windows down, sun on our faces, baby in baby seat, exploring the surrounding areas – Greve, Radda, San Gimignano, Castellina, Volterra...mostly walled cities - medieval fortresses - sitting majestically on hills, their tall stone towers striking a remarkable contrast against the surrounding valleys.

We ate everywhere, stopping when we were hungry, seeking out the most local of local places, the smaller and rougher, the better, little farmhouses that grow their own wine where the owner seats you and his teenage daughter serves you, and her mama and grandmama - plump, affable looking types with dimpled chins and broad smiles - rule the kitchen. Non-English menus had us leaping with joy. You know the type.

I don’t know how they do it but we didn’t have a single meal that wasn’t memorable. Honestly, I tell you, these mamas and grandmamas, routinely and effortlessly conjuring up pure magic, are Italy’s best kept secret.

And so, I won’t be able to capture all that we ate in one post, but it’s all there in my head and I will share them with you slowly over time. I promise.

For now, it’s three dishes that were stand-out winners.  They might seem complicated but they’re really not. As in all the food we ate in Tuscany, simplicity rules the day. Freshness and quality of ingredients makes all the difference, so everything I use here is the very best that I could find. Enjoy!

I. Primi: Penne al Dente with Pear and Gorgonzola
Blue cheese and pear – a classic Italian combination!

Here’s what you need:
- 9 ounces penne pasta
- 2 Bartlett or d’Anjou pears, peeled, cored and cubed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup light whipping cream
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Here’s how you do it:
Boil some lightly salted water in a large pot. Cook the penne in the boiling water, stirring occasionally, until tender yet firm to the bite (al dente). This should take about 10 minutes. Drain the water.
Return the drained pasta to the pot. Stir together the butter, Parmesan and Gorgonzola cheeses into the pasta and cook on medium heat until the cheese is completely melted. Pour the cream into the pasta mixture and stir to mix well. Now, remove from heat and fold the pear into the pasta mixture. Add pepper to taste. Top with parsley and crushed toasted walnuts. Rich, nutty, creamy and finger-licking good!

II. Secondi: Bistecca Ala Fiorentina
This is Florentine Steak - perhaps the most famous dish in all of Tuscany!

Here’s what you need:
- 2 1/2 pound choice or prime porterhouse steak. Porterhouse is best because it has both filet and contre filet. If that's not available, then T-bone or strip steak will do just fine.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Here’s how you do it:
Press chopped rosemary liberally onto both sides of the steak, and allow to marinate at room temperature for an hour. Either use an outdoor grill, or simply fire up your broiler. Brush steak with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place steak on grill or broiler, and cook 5 to 10 minutes. You should start to notice the outside of the meat turn to a dark, golden brown. Turn over, and continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes until golden on the other side.

Bistecca Fiorentina is normally served rare or medium-rare. If you prefer your steak more well done, cook on both sides until they are golden brown, as above, then place onto a cooler part of the grill, and continue cooking for longer. A general rule of thumb for cooking steak – this is according to the owner/chef of a little osteria in Castellina - is as follows:  

* 1-inch steak: Rare, 10-12 mins; Medium Rare, 12-16 mins; Medium, 16-20 mins
* 2-inch steak: Rare, 18-20 mins; Medium Rare, 20-24 mins; Medium, 24-30 mins

III. Contorni: Sautéed Spinach with Olive Oil and Garlic
Fresh, nutritious, delicious and ready in minutes!

Here’s what you need:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 pound fresh spinach leaves, washed and drained
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Here’s how you do it:
Add olive oil and garlic to a hot skillet. Sauté the garlic until it begins to brown and get soft. Add the spinach to the pan and toss in the hot oil until each piece is coated and just wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Enjoy your meal with a rich red wine - a Chianti Classico Riserva, a Brunello, or a Barolo!

Of course this post is wholly incomplete without mentioning our hosts and dear friends, Ryan and the gorgeous Harriet, for inviting us to their beautiful wedding! (I hope you are enjoying your honeymoon you guys and the love rug is getting good use - I’m referring to our gift, of course)


But – truly, it was a exquisite wedding. Set in the beautifully manicured estate of a 13th century villa, sitting atop a hill facing the magical fortifications of Monterrigioni, Tuscany’s fabled rolling hills as a backdrop, the subtle shades of yellow and green glimmering in the evening was a sight I will never forget.  Short, sweet, simple ceremony, flowing Champagne, good food, good wine, great company, lots of laughs. A really good time, you guys – thank you!

Well, arrivederci for now, but do try out the recipes and let me know what you think.
For me, they were heaven. And beyond.
One taste, and I was over the (Tuscan) moon. Way over.