Search This Blog

Friday, 19 December 2014

Wayfarer

There's a small church on my right, as I drive by, painted gaily in bright shades of yellow and green.
It sits perched precariously on a cliff edge with straight, sheer drops into the Atlantic.

On a whim, I stop, braking far too suddenly. I shake my head at myself. My dangerous impetuousness. But it's done now. I'm here.
The doors are open and I walk in. I am slightly nervous, I don't know if I am trespassing. But then it's a church. And I remind myself that no one is ever a trespasser in the presence of faith.

I look around me, but there is no one in sight. I am alone. Like I want to be.
It's cool inside, dark, the brickwork shading the glare of the strong West Indian sun
Stained glass windows throw streaks of rainbow light  across the floor.
The effect is dreamy, otherworldly.

I kneel down
Fold my hands
Close my eyes
Whisper a prayer

For the health and happiness of those that are mine.
For my children. That they are kind to the world and that the world is kind to them.

Outside, far away below me I hear the faint sound of waves crashing on rock.
I wonder if that's the beach my husband is on with my two boys. I wonder, if I strain hard enough, I will hear the sound of their laughter, their loud excited squeals as the warm turquoise blue of the Caribbean washes over them, smothering them, and then recedes into dark, unknown depths.

But I dont. It's serene where I am. I hear nothing. And time seems to stop.
The setting, the silence, consumes me.

My sea is calm.

And then a bell tolls.
11 chimes, in rythmic, musical succession. It's 11 o'clock. I've been here too long.

And suddenly I am restless again.
I imagine my kids asking where I am, my husband wondering why a stop for milk is taking so long.

So I get in the car and drive down the winding path. Too fast for my own good.
My mind is everywhere
Falling down the rabbit hole fast and furious.
Searching for the answer to a question I don't have.

For I am a wayfarer.
A vagrant.

So I run to the kitchen.
Where I know is safe.
And dance to the nuance of unspoken words.

Here's what you need:
- 6 large skinless snapper fillets
- 125g unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons Cajun spice mix
(2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 21/2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 11/4 teaspoons dried oregano, 11/4 teaspoons dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)

Here's how you do it:
Brush each fish fillet liberally with the melted butter. Combine the Cajun spice mix, then sprinkle thickly over the fish. Use your fingers to rub the spice mix evenly over the fillets. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. When the pan is spitting hot,  cook the fillets in batches pan for  a few minutes on each side until you smell nothing but the aroma of the spices released by the heat, and each surface is well charred. Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice and serve hot.

I serve this with a simple side dish of chickpeas.
It needs:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 400g tin chickpeas, drained
- Handful of sun dried tomatoes
- 1 tsp each salt and whole cumin seeds
Simply fry the chickpeas in olive oil until soft and well-coated, throw in the sun dried tomatoes and season with the mixture of salt and cumin.
I serve this on four plates.
It's gone in a blink.
And I am satiated.
I breathe, relieved. It's rare for me, this feeling of being satiated.
But I am.
This is the stuff that feeds my soul.

Tomorrow when the sun rises, I will need to find something else to do. Somewhere else to go.

I am a wayfarer.

But for now...
My sea is calm.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Slow-Cooked Lamb

Hi peeps!

So...it's that time of year when I get down on my hands and knees and rummage around the back of my pan drawer in a frantic bid to retrieve my trusty Le Creuset. My dutch oven, you see, hibernates all summer and only makes an appearance when there's that unmistakeable chill in the air, icicles on window panes, misty street lamps lighting grey skies...

Yup, it's definitely winter o'clock folks - time for mistletoe, jingle bells, and of course - taking comfort in the season's bounty with some warm, hearty winter fare for everyone to gather around and share in true holiday spirit.

Hence, I get down on my hands and knees and successfully retrieve my trusty Le Creuset.
It's a beautiful pot - red enamelled cast iron sitting bejewelled against my black granite counter. I love it. The way it looks, it's sheer weight; and the incredible stuff it cooks.

We're making slow-cooked lamb today - deeply comforting, aromatic, and full of flavour.

Here's what you need:
- 1 kg diced lamb
- 4 large onions, sliced
- 1 head of garlic
-  Herbs (I used 2 sprigs each, thyme, rosemary and 3 bay leaves)
- 250ml balsamic vinegar
- 3tbs olive oil

Here's how you do it:
Add the olive oil to the slow cooker or dutch oven and add in the onions. Sit the lamb cubes on top of the onions, then add the balsamic vinegar. Top with herbs. Let cook on low heat for 3 hours.

By the way, in case you're interested - what the oven is doing in those 3 hours - while you do nothing but twiddle your thumbs and use every last reserve of will power to stop yourself from opening the lid and devouring the contents within - is actually slowly braising the lamb in it's own sauce to ensure that the meat's full, immense flavour is drawn out. Brilliant, isn't it?

Now I've had lots of hits and misses with lamb - undercooked, overcooked, burnt (yup that one left me crying for years)...but with the dutch oven, it's hard to go wrong. 6 ingredients, 1 pot. Our meltingly tender lamb dish virtually cooks itself.

And anyway, I'm used to trial and error. I had to kiss lots of frogs, you see, before my pumpkin turned into a golden carriage and I found my Prince. I think I may have just mixed up two very different fairy tales, but you get my point, so it's all good folks, it's all good.

Honestly, get out a glass of red, an old book and sit back on your couch in the warmth of your home. Because nothing is more comforting than a languidly cooked one-pot meal, that simmers away on the back burner, infusing all those different flavours and textures and aromas into one gorgeous dish.

Enjoy x

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Vive la France!

So...
Read enough expert opinion on food and they'll all have you believe that French food is as dead as the fish in your bouillabaisse.  Instead, they say, if you want to eat interesting food, go to New York, London, Tokyo, Copenhagen, San Sebastian...

Another trip back to our friendly, baguette-munching neighbours, and I've come to the conclusion that French food is really not.

Dead I mean.
At least for now. And at least in France. Despite all the articles claiming otherwise that keep popping up with such monotonous regularity.

In fact I think I blame New York and London (and other such cities that pride themsleves on being heaving metropolises of culinary sophistication and global gastronomic diversity) for the bad rap that French food has suffered of late. I challenge you to find a French restaurant in all of NYC or London that doesn't cost you your months pay check. For food that makes you wonder if they forget to transfer the rest of your serving from the cooking pot.

I have tried, believe me. Tried and failed. Truly. I have given my custom to several French establishments in London. Not because I'm a glutton for punishment, nor because I'm rich. Ha, trust me, that, I'm certainly not - but because I needed to convince myself, by myself, that this great city cannot, in fact, produce even one half-decent French restaurant. I did. Convince myself I mean. And become a glutton for punishment. Not to mention even less rich than I previously was. Which renders me virtually penniless.

Because after all that trial and error, you see, no matter where you go and how many red M-stars they showcase on their front door, the plate placed in front of you seems consistently to consist of some creative permutation or other of the below-mentioned:

A 2" x 2" cube of canard, sandwiched in between two layers of pastry, served on a crib (because bed would be too large) of pureed potatoes, with a single glazed carrot lying forlornly on one side and a perfectly shaped teardrop of mint-pea jus on the other. Sometimes you're fortuitous enough to deserve a sprig of rosemary scattered artistically across the plate. But only if the chef is feeling particularly generous.

It almost makes one too scared to eat, for fear that it will all be gone in one mouthful and you will be left staring for eternity at an empty plate. Until, that is, you conjure up the will to part with many notes with many zeros on them. That done, you no longer have to stare at your empty plate, because that's the point where you leave.

Then of course all the way home, you are trying (and yes, failing) to ignore the rumbling inside your tummy. And then, when you do get home, in a moment of weakness you  give in and call your trusty local Dominoes, who brings in a large pepperoni in 30 minutes or your money back and you pay him in coins because all your real money has been spent on the cube.

This by the way is after waiting about a month to get a booking because everybody else also apparently enjoys spending a great deal of money on a duck-cube.

I mean, what good are stars, chandeliers, or white gloved waiters when you need to go home after eating out and order pizza? In fact, every time I see the word "amuse" and "jus" on a menu I want to go in and slap the chef because it simply means he's not putting anything on my plate.

Then of course is the small matter of the service at these places. Everything you do is wrong. And everything you don't do is wrong. Basically, it's all wrong.
If you order tap water, you are wrong. If you don't order an aperitif you are wrong. If you ask for food suggestions, you are wrong. If you don't ask for wine suggestions, you're still wrong. Not ordering an appetiser is wrong, substituting fries (yes yes the french ones) for vegetables is wrong (or vice versa) and god forbid, if you dare to share your dessert, you are so wrong, you might as well just give up and go home. Or be prepared to endure that look from your waiter - albeit a white gloved one - yes the one that makes you feel like a school girl in pigtails being told off by the headmistress. Or a school boy. In whatever you boys did to your hair, how would I know. Anyway, you get my point. And that's just the thing you see - of the many crimes against gastronomy that I've encountered in my life - putting up with waiters who have perfected the art of treating paying patrons as an annoying inconvenience, is invariably the worst.

So. Yes. There's all this talk of the demise of French food.
Aha, you say.
You nod your head.
Precisement.

However.

I have just returned from sojourns to the land of fashion, love and food, and have to admit that all three - and most definitely the last - are not only very much alive; they are superlative.

Every Auberge kitchen we had the pleasure of dining in left us licking our chops.
Think:
Menus - creative
Portions - plentiful
Service - delightful
Price - affordable.
Win. Win. Win. Win.

Seriously.
And I'm not easy to please. Ask Siddy.

There's much too much to get into if I were to recount our every meal, but I will just one.
Which was one of the nicest meals in the history of ever.

This was a place we happened to walk into, basically because it was there. I mean we were walking by rather aimlessly and it was lunchtime and the place looked busy and bright and smelled great. Which is always a great give away by the way. In times of doubt, trust your nose. Anyway. The place is called L'Hydropathe if you're interested. (No, don't ask me what on earth it means.) (And why it rhymes with "psychopath".) (And yes, even though I'm heaping generous praise on the French for their good food doesn't mean I don't think they are a strange lot with strange names).

Anyway.

We order a plate of "guinea fowl stuffed with dried fruit"
And this is a thing of beauty.
Succulent meat heaving with bits of nutty, crunchy pistachios, and tiny diced pieces of fig. There's no creamy, heavy sauces here - just the natural juices that seep through from cooking the meat. Light, lush and packed with flavour. It is served simply with a handful of salad leaves that are so fresh I feel like they've just been picked from the chef's grandmothers garden.

The plat du jour (which I always, always recommend you get by the way - doesn't matter which restaurant, doesn't matter which part of France because it always emphasises the freshest of seasonal ingredients) is a "filet of perch served with legumes" (i.e vegetables).
The thick, meaty fish is flame grilled until hot and crisp on top, served alongside a cool lick of goat's cheese yogurt. Spankingly fresh. Under the fish sits basil-infused greens - broccoli, beans, courgette and the tiniest, most delicate leaves of Swiss chard that are so intense that I have a small head rush from the combined flavour of it all.
No words.

We didn't do too much dessert. Mostly for fear that if we started, we'd never stop.
And that's really not great for the waistline.
Which I constantly stress about.
I'm vain you see.
With a penchant for good food.
Which is such a tricky combination, sigh.

Anyhow, we did sample a knock-your-socks-off chocolate eclair; the outside surgery and warm, the inside, dark chocolate cream, both rich and delicate. And an apricot tart, all butter baked crusty heaven, the custard a dense sweet velvet. The apricots are astounding...orange circles of expertly caramelised flesh that veritably melt in your mouth. Utterly perfect.

All accompanied by a truly excellent glass of some Bordeaux red I'd never heard of before in my life.

No M-stars, no gilt-edged mirrors, no chandeliers, no white gloved waiters.
Just good food.

Maybe we got lucky.
Who knows.
What I do know is that the next time I'm invited to eat French food, I'm going to make sure it's in France.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

That time of mellow fruitfulness

"Autumn," I say with a sigh, leaning back against my bed, knees scrunched up.
"It's here. That time of mellow fruitfulness, ala Keats..."

"Keats said that?" Sid asks looking up from his computer and peering into mine, "Or did you just make it up?"

"I'm good," I say. "But not that good."
"And stop eavesdropping on my blog."

"Don't you mean, 'leavesdropping" he says cheekily.

I give him an exasperated look and take myself and my computer downstairs.
My kitchen is warm and comforting, blanketed in the silent slumber of dawn.
I snuggle up on the couch and take in the aroma of cinnamon and freshly brewed coffee.

There's a squirrel in my garden, scurrying rapidly into a dishevelled pile of fallen leaves, then running away, then scurrying back again.
My silver birch shimmers in the early October sun.

Yes. Autumn is here.

Red leaves and golden mornings
Cool, crisp air
Misty breaths
Wistfulness

There is a peacefulness to autumn, a newness
I fell in love in the Autumn many years ago.
Mad, crazy, can't-live-wthout-you love.
Even the memory of it fills me with a warm, copper glow.
And yet it is tinged - ever so slightly - with melancholy. 
Another year almost gone.
My thoughts drift, thinking of all the years passed
And all that lies beyond.

I am restless suddenly
Like that squirrel in my garden 

I get up
And do what I do best.

Here's what you need:

For the fruit:
450g mixed fruit - I used apples, pears, plums, redcurrants and blackberries
Handful cranberries
2 sticks cinnamon
2 tbsp butter
100g sugar
Peeled, toasted almonds

For the custard:
550ml milk
55ml cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
30g caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour

Here's how you do it:

For the fruit: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle sugar over the butter, then place the apple, plum and pear slices in single layer on top. Then sprinkle blackberries and redcurrants. Throw in the cinnamon sticks. Increase heat to medium-high and press down on the fruit until it is all golden on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn fruit over and cook until the other side is caramelised, another 5 minutes. Add cranberries and cook until juices are reduced by about half, about 2 minutes.

For the custard: Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a bowl until well blended.
Bring the milk and cream to simmering point slowly, over a low heat. Pour the hot milk and cream on to the egg and sugar mixture, whisking to keep the mixture soft and creamy.
Return to the pan, add vanilla extract, and gently stir over a low heat until the custard is thickened to your desired consistency.

Spoon the caramelised fruit into a deep glass bowl, pour the custard on top, sprinkle with almonds.
And dig in.

This is probably the most exciting thing I have done in a long time.
Bar gambling away my life savings in a wild, drunken night of shamshu and poker.
(Just kidding)

No really, there is a particular delight in eating hot fruit and custard.
Especially at 8 in the morning when no one in their right mind is eating pudding. 

I feel arms around me and a whisper in my ear.
My spoon gets stolen mid bite.
And I am in love, all over again.
In this time of mellow fruitfulness...


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Blueberry Brownies for Ranbir

Me: Ranbir, today is your last day of 3. Tomorrow you are going to be 4!"

Ranbir: I know that

Me: So how many kissies do I get for your birthday?

Ranbir: 4, because I'm going to be 4

Me: Clever boy!

Ranbir: Yes, and when I'm 12, I'll give you 12 kissies. And when I'm 100, I'll give you 100.

Me: Haha, I don't think I'm going to be here when you're a 100!

Ranbir: Where will you be? Will you be in office?

Me: No my darling, I don't think so!

Ranbir: Then where will you be?

Me: I'll be somewhere in the sky and I'll be smiling down at you.

Ranbir: Will I still be able to see you?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is the point when I choked up so hard, I almost crashed the car.
So much for making it till my son is a 100.

Anyway.
To the most beautiful thing I have ever made in my life, this is for you.

Here's what you need:

5 ounces milk or dark (whatever you like or both mixed up) chocolate, finely chopped 
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (separately)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon  vanilla extract
- 1 cup fresh blueberries


Here's how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and the chopped chocolate over low heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Sprinkle in the cocoa powder and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. 


Add in the vanilla essence, then stir in the sugar and the eggs and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Once the batter is even, sprinkle 3/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt over the surface of the batter. Gently fold the flour into the chocolate batter being careful not to over mix.

In a separate medium bowl, toss together the blueberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour. Add the blueberry mixture into the brownie batter, being careful to fold the fruit evenly into the batter.

Transfer the batter into a greased baking pan. Spread to even out the top and place in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the brownies are slightly puffed but still moist and gooey and yummy in the middle. 

Allow to cool completely, then cut into small squares.

You can sprinkle some blueberries on top of the brownies. Mainly for prettiness.
Which I normally care about.
Just not this time.
In fact, this time, I'm making every attempt to hide the blueberries
Because Ranbir HATES Blueberries And all else that's good on this earth.
Which includes the entire spectrum of fresh fruit and vegetables.
But he's going to eat this.

Just because he made me cry like the baby he once was, doesn't mean I will let him get away with it.
Oh no.
Never.
Not even when he's a 100.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

NRI Tamarind-Coconut Paneer

So the mother in law arrived last week armed with chapatis and a copy of Tarangini.
About time they learn a little about our culture she said good-naturedly.
With just the tiniest hint of a rebuke.
Rightly so, I have to admit. We totally deserve it. 
I say "we" because I'm hardly going to singularly shoulder the responsibility of being a failed NRI parent.
Oh no. I'm only one half of a failed NRI parent.
The better half, may I add
Prettier and more virtuous.
Cleverer.
And everything.

Anyway, so Sid and I have moaned about this topic all too often. We realise this is a problem. But it's not for lack of an effort, I promise you, it's not. It's just that all past attempts to impart pearls of wisdom and knowledge about the rights and rituals of the subcontinent are met largely with a blank face and a "pardon?"
(because he's been told by godknowswho that one must say "pardon" and not "what")

That's the 4-year old of course.
The 8-month old only giggles uncontrollably.
The 8-month old you see is in this binary phase, where he finds life either hysterically funny or hysterically tragic.
This, clearly, is hysterically funny territory.

Just to clarify, it's not that Ranbir is not interested. When it comes to India, Ranbir is highly interested in what he is interested in.
For example, when Sid or I are flicking through TV channels and a Hindi movie is on, especially one that involves random crowds of people bashing each other up in the middle of a street, we are required to stop and watch. That, he's thoroughly fascinated by.
Also, to be fair, he knows the major festivals and will don his colourful kurta-pajama and sit and pray and sing the songs and light the sparklers or sprinkle the colours (whatever the occasion necessitates) and have himself a wonderful time.
But getting the substantive stuff across is a losing battle. What's frustrating is that it's met not by a lack of interest, but by amusement.
He - like his brother - thinks it's funny.
Which drives me mad.

I mean people wax eloquent about their kids been tri and quadri lingual. We are barely making bi!
How does a kid who can string together - "Don't panic, mum, I have a brilliant idea to save the world" not get that "idhar aao" accompanied by exaggerated hand gestures, means "come here?"

"If you don't learn Hindi," I say to him, "how will you visit Dadi and Dadaji and Nanu and Didima in India?" These are  his favourite people, by the way, grandparents all, who spoil him rotten, ignoring with reckless abandon any and all rules I have audaciously set in place.

"oooooh In-dia!!"
Then. 
"I want to go to In-dia, Mama. Can we go to In-dia in an eearoplane?"
"Yes we can," I say, "but you need to learn Hindi first."
The second half of my sentence has been glazed over. Completely.
"I want to go in an eearoplane."
"Can I watch videos on the eearoplane?"
Sigh.

So, while the in laws are away in Germany on holiday, I devise a plan.
See, it's like this: I read to the boys every morning while they have their milk. It's a quiet half-hour we spend together, the three of us, and we cherish this time. 
Ranbir gets to pick the book-of-the-day. Yesterday he got "The Highway Rat" by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Today I tell him to get "Tarangini" by Swami Chinmayananda and Swamini Saradapriyananda.

My plan: I will read him a story from Tarangini every day the in laws are away so by the time they're back, he'll have known at least five or six of them.
Which fact, he will promptly inform them of, because that's what children do.
And then I'll get to gloat a little.
It's my "brilliant idea to save the world."
Ha.

Tarangini is a collection of eighteen short stories. We decide to start at the very beginning - which as Maria tells us - is a very good place to start.
The first story is titled Lord Ganesha.
I'm genuinely excited about this. I bring a statue of Lord Ganesh I have in my bedroom, and I tell Ranbir that the story we're about to read is all about him - the Elephant God.
Ranbir's excited too.
And the baby seems excited. Well, at least he's not gone all red in the face and bawling like he's got chilli powder in his Huggies. Which, in a binary world, means, he's excited.
So basically - we're all excited.
Three pages later when I come to the bit where "In a fit of rage, Shiva chopped off the boy's head..." my excitement wanes a little and I decide that perhaps this story is best told in a different medium.
I close the book.

Fail.

So, I change tack.
And reach for the iPad. Yep, that brilliant invention, that saviour of all saviours, that commodity as indispensable as disposable nappies - the iPad!

Because, if there is one way to keep things interesting, it is this.

So I go to YouTube and put in "Children's Story Lord Ganesha."
And I get 12,700 hits.
I click on the first one - it's got an image of a cute little kid staring back at me.
And then we wait, the three of us, with bated breath.
The beginning is brilliant, all lovely animation and all, little boy complete with chubby cheeks and dimpled chin, calling out "Mother" in the sweetest little voice; Parvati, embracing him, beaming all around.
We are all as delighted as Parvati.

Minutes later - and really without any warning at all - Shiva chops off the little boy's head. As in, the severed head flies off on a little jolly into the sky. I mean, I know, I know, it's Lord Ganesha's story, of course there's no avoiding the chopped head and all. But I expected a children's version to tone it down a bit you know? Like Disney? No?
At least the book built up nicely to Shiva's fit of rage. Here in the children's video, we go from Shiva coming home to Shiva chopping off heads in like 3 seconds. Very bad. 

Now, blood splatters here, there and everywhere.
The baby is gurgling happily at the screen. He still finds the world funny.
But the 4-year old has turned white.
As if he's not Caucasian enough.

When Shiva ends up holding the boys head, duly descended from the sky, in his hands with the headless body of the boy running around him in circles, I lurch forward for the power button.
For a few minutes no one says anything.
Then I get, "Mama, why did that man cut off that little boy's head?
Sigh.
This is why we watch peppa pig.

I put away the iPad.

Fail.

"Let's go to the kitchen" I announce, faking sparkle. "Let's make paneer!"
I lead the way, the baby in my arms.
Reluctantly the 4-year old follows.
I'll be damned if I can't teach the boy Indian culture, I think to myself. One way or another, I shall NOT be outdone. And the best way I know of, is through food. Food is love, people. Food is love.

Here's what you need:

2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g Indian Paneer cheese cut into small cubes
1 pinch asafoetida (hing)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
½ inch ginger, shredded thin
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 tbsp fresh grated or desiccated coconut 
2 tbsp tamarind sauce/paste
1 tbsp brown sugar


Here's how you do it:

Now, if you like, you can first fry the paneer lightly until its brown on all sides. This is definitely the purist way of doing things. But you don't have to. Just don't tell my mother in law :)

Now, heat a bit of oil in a pan and throw in the mustard and cumin seeds all at once. As soon they start to pop add the pinch of hing and the ginger-garlic and fry. Be careful - hing burns fast. 

Next, stir in the tomatoes and fry until cooked and soft. Finally, add in the tamarind, sugar and some salt to taste. You might need to add some water, but the desired constituency of the sauce in this dish is on the dry side, so keep it thick. Now, mix in the raw (or fried) paneer and cook till the paneer cubes are properly coated with the sauce. Add in the coconut and mix through.

This is a sublime dish guys - a wonderful example of true home-style Indian cooking - a bit of spice, a bit of sweet, a bit of sour, and a bit of heat. Notice how I haven't used any chills at all. Partly it's because I need my son to eat it, but also because you don't always need to douse Indian food with chilli powder to make it taste good. You get enough spice from the ginger in this dish, the brown sugar tempers it, the tamarind and tomatoes add tartness and the asafoetida harmonises the sweet-salty-sour elements wonderfully. After all, Indian cooking is all about getting that perfect balance of flavours, and this dish just hits home.

"Wah wah wah wah, kya baat hai" says a little voice.
I almost drop the frying pan on my toes.
"Whaaat?? Who taught you that?" I ask, in utter astonishment.
"Papa did."
I have to stop myself from laughing out loud.
Wouldn't have been that funny if I'd lost those toes.

I spoon out some of the Paneer on top of a bowl of steaming hot Basmati and watch, as it quickly disappears.
I hold my breath waiting to hear a "Can I just not have some pasta, mummy?"
But I don't.

Pass.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Heatwave Baguettes

When did England start getting this hot?
It's fairly impossible to do anything other than lie listlessly in the sun, drinking Lipton peach ice tea.
Which is what all of us having been doing of late.
Yeah, even the 8 month old.
He's been wearing sunglasses and 0+ bathing trunks and lying listlessly in the sun. Drinking not Lipton peach ice tea, I concede, but whatever - you get my drift.

Not that I'm complaining or anything.
I think the news events of the last week means I've given up my right to complain.
Who knew ideology could be so soul destroying?
So we're not complaining.
Nope. We are astonishingly content, baking away in this sweltering 33 degree oven. Life could be worse.

The ony problem of course is that we aren't doing very much else. Which enticing as it seems in theory, can't really go on endlessly. I mean, I wish one could spend forever idling away the days, lying listlessly in the sun, drinking Lipton peach ice tea.
But one can't.
Which is why I decided to get off my backside and post a bit.
Also because I figured I shouldn't be away too long, lest you think I'm having another baby.

I'm not.
Ever.
I've tied my tubes.
(Not really)

Anyway.
Moving on to far more interesting conversation.
Like the weather.
And lunch.

Which go hand in hand
Or hand in glove.
I think those two mean the same thing.
Or not.
I don't know. English is too complicated for me sometimes. Especially these-a-days.
Me no speak no English when England gets-a so hot.
It's a rebellion of sorts. 

The point is though, that when it's 33 degrees in this country, it's very, very difficult to make lunch. Because lunch - whatever it constitutes - usually necessitates going indoors, and indoors here is not really equipped to handle 33 degrees.  You see, us Brits have long been suspicious of Air conditioners – they seem an unnecessary indulgence somehow, unnatural in a climate more accustomed to umbrella stands and wellies. So we make do with opening windows. Which, sadly, is a rather ineffective strategy when there's no breeze for the open windows to let in. Come December, I will buy four Dyson fans for cheap. Right now, they're too expensive. You see, they know exactly when to make things expensive. It's right when you need them. Like the time to buy real fur coats (if you ever wanted real fur coats that is. I don't, but some people do, so anyway). So as I was saying, the time to buy real fur coats is NOW - in a heatwave. When you virtually want peel your skin off, you don't. You resist that temptation. Instead, you march off to the shops and try on fur coats. Because come winter, when the idea of a fur coat is actually mildly appealing - you can't touch 'em, they're so bloody expensive.
Same with the Dyson's. 
They're cheap when you don't need 'em.  But now, when I want nothing more than to lay naked on a bed of ice cubes, I can't afford 'em.
Ways of the world.

But I love them, the Dyson fans, utterly brilliant invention. Sometimes when no one's looking I stick my hand in and out, several times, just for fun. It entertains me. Not that Im suggesting you do the same. Seriously folks, for goodness sakes, please don't go trying this with normal fans. You'll lose some of those precious little fingers and really, I'd hate if that happened. I might even cry a little. I'm sensitive like that.

Oh and by the way, when I say I will buy four Dyson fans, I hope you know that four is a very deliberate number. And for those of you who are sitting there thinking, "aha, she means one for each member of her family, cho chweet etc.,"  I just need to make perfectly clear - you're wrong.
To hell with the others, I want four for me.
So I can sit in the middle, preferably on a soft duvet filled with goosedown, and position each of four Dyson's in the North, South, East and Westerly directions respectively, and bask in their bladeless glory.

Ahhh...
(Pinch me someone)
(Ouch)

Back to a harsher reality filled with duty, responsibility, accountability and all those dirty words, I made these baguettes for Saturday lunch today.
For several reasons:

1) I couldn't be bothered to make anything with even the remotest pretensions to grandeur.
2) I have children and children love them
3) I have a husband and husbands love them
4) I have me and me love them

And if you don't think that's reason enough - here's the kicker.

They're sooooo colourful and pretty.
Awww.
I love pretty.
Pretty makes me wobbly in the knees.
Hee.

So if you don't have much time to shop, prepare or cook, but you do have a cold fridge and fresh ingredients, this is for you!

Here's what you need:

Baguettes

Marinara or pizza sauce

1 clove peeled and garlic

dried basil

oregano

340g Mozzarella cheese, grated

340g Cheddar cheese, grated

Selected toppings: (Any or all)

For the dudes in my house - ham, pepperoni, parma ham, cooked bacon, salami

For the damsels (aka, me) - black and/or green olives, fresh sliced tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, sliced red onion, roasted peppers, jalapeno peppers or any other edible that your little heart desires.

Here's how you do it:

In a small bowl, mix together the pizza sauce and garlic. Add a couple of shakes of basil and mix well.

Slice each baguette in half lengthwise through the middle. Spread the tomato mixture thinly on to the inside surface of each slice. You can use pesto instead of marinara if you prefer - I live and die by this stuff.

Next, sprinkle both cheeses - as much or as little as you like - top with oregano and a variety of toppings as desired. Pop back into the oven and grill for 5-6 minutes  Or if you're living in a virtual oven, like I am at the moment, you might want to dispense with conventional means of cooking and try placing them under the sun. 

(That's a joke people, it won't work.)

So yup, you need to pop 'em in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the toppings are heated through.

Best enjoyed lying listlessly in the sun with a glass of Lipton peach ice tea. Enjoy!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Madras Coconut Shrimp


Do you know, this is about the tastiest stuff that's ever touched my lips.
And if you think that's quite the plaudit, it is.
But it's true.
So I praise the Lord for giving us coconut
And for giving us shrimp
And for imbuing such genius to the unknown, unnamed vendor on Madras's Marina Beach who first made it for me.

First things first, I call this Madras Coconut Shrimp because it will always be Madras to me.
It might be Chennai to everyone else, but it was never Chennai when I was there as a little girl - just Madras.  And so to me, it will only ever be Madras.

So, these prawns are from Madras. And more specifically from Marina Beach - that long, wide stretch of golden sand, extending from St. George's Fort to Santhome, where I used to go for long walks with my dad, just him and me. We'd drive up to the beach, park on the side of the road and walk along the coastline, all the way to the very end, past the Triumph of Labour statue, till the lighthouse stood tall and the land ended.

We would always go at dusk - even a few minutes earlier meant that the heat would be oppressive. So we'd time it perfectly, arriving just as the sun set, painting the sky in vivid shades of purple and pink, and just as we'd start to walk, the sky would turn dark and the first lights of the night would flicker on over the horizon. 

I don't think we spoke much on these walks, my dad and I. Or maybe we did and I just can't remember. What I do remember is that he'd always wear his shoes, but I'd always kick mine off and hold them in my hand. I loved the feel of the sand, soft and warmed by the days sun, against my bare feet. So we'd walk and sometimes I would need to run to keep pace with his long strides. Sometimes he would grab my hand and pull me closer when I'd venture too close to the sea. I loved when he did that.

Marina Beach isn't one of those secluded beaches that you stumble upon and decide to spend a couple of hours with a good read and the sound of waves gently kissing the sand.
No chance.
The waters here aren't calm. Here along the Coromandel Coast, the Bay of Bengal crashes angrily into the shoreline creating an undercurrent so powerful that makes it virtually impossible to swim in. And yet, there is something uplifting about it's spirit, something magnificent about it's ferocity. 

If I close my eyes, I still hear it, see it - the crash of those waves, the swell of the ocean, the foam-crusted surf.

The beach is not quiet. It's frenetic. Buzzing with an almost infectious energy.
Families picnicking; children wading into the sea, shrieking with excitement; women braving the waves, sarees pulled up to their knees, bright colours billowing in the wind; joggers and walkers in a bid to keep fit; lovers strolling coyly, hand in hand, away from prying eyes; a random womens' beach-aerobic class...

...Yes, in my memory, it is always crowded. But never in a bad way. Perhaps because we'd always walk along the edge of the water, people on one side, the vast expanse of dark ocean on the other. It balanced out.

And where there are crowds, there are crowd-pleasers. And so, there were vendors everywhere. Ice cream man, murukku man, candy floss man, balloon man, all crying out their wares, in that repetitive catchy musical way only street vendors do, their honeyed voices being carried with the wind along the whole stretch of beach.

I was never allowed to eat any of it.
You can't trust the water, don't know where their hands have been, you'll get terribly sick etc. etc.
The only thing I was ever allowed - once in a blue moon when my father was in an especially indulgent mood and only under the condition that I was never ever in a million years to let this slip to my mother - were these coconut prawns. And only because they were cooked in such hot oil, any germs that dared venture near, were probably annihilated on the spot.

And so, wild with excitement, I'd take the money from my dad - a few rupees in coins - and run to the makeshift cart on wheels, shaded by a sunshine-yellow umbrella, illuminated by bare bulbs hanging from strings in a line.  And I'd watch the vendor - that unknown, unnamed genius - reach into a pit of marinated prawns and throw them expertly into his sizzling pan. He'd twirl them around in the hot oil for just a couple of minutes, then slide them into a paper cone made from yesterdays newspaper. He'd salt them generously, then ask if I wanted ketchup on top but I wasn't allowed ketchup (fake ketchup, who knows what it really is, how long ago it's been made, dirty hands, dirty bottle etc. etc) 
So I'd always shake my head shyly, and hand him the coins in exchange for the cone.

I'd pop those shrimp - golden fried, hot and crunchy - into my mouth, one at a time, savouring each one completely before the next one went in.  And by the time we'd walk back to the car, they'd be gone, only the salt gathered in a soft white mound at the bottom of the cone, the black print already blurry from the oil - yesterdays news fading fast. 

And so, this is for those memorable moments of your life, because when I pop these into my mouth, it takes me back to the memorable moments of my life.
To the taste of sea salt.
And the sand between my toes.
And the cries of the balloon man carrying with the wind.


Here's what you need:

450g shrimp, peeled and deveined
45g cornflour
4 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
150g sweetened shredded coconut (dessicated)
2 egg whites

Here's how you do it:

Please note that the Marina Beach version is (very) deep fried.  I'm baking my coconut shrimp. Mostly in response to my lovely neighbour who called this morning asking me how I could love food so much and still be "so thin" - This is why: I cheat.

So here we go:

Preheat oven to 200C

Rinse shrimp thoroughly under running water and pat dry.

Mix the shredded coconut with cornflour, salt and Worcestershire sauce. Beat egg whites until light and frothy. Working with one shrimp at a time, dip the shrimp in egg whites and then coat with coconut mixture. I like to do this again, just to form a double coating. Now place shrimp in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the prawns are cooked through and the coconut coating is crispy-brown and aromatic.

If you want to deep fry instead, I'm never going to stop you! Just heat some vegetable oil in a deep skillet, and when you've coated the shrimp as above, work in batches and fry about 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crispy.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Strawberry Cake for the not-pregnant, pregnant.


Before you read one more word, here's a disclaimer:
This post is a complete cop-out
In fact it's the grand daddy of cop-outs
There's so much cheating going on here that the only reason I'm not totally embarrassed by it all is because I'm admitting it so openly.
So YOU my lovelies can choose not to proceed if you like. Or if you don't like. Whatever, it's not on my head anymore, phew.

So here's the thing. I wrote this post at this exact time exactly 2 years ago.
That was when I was 2 years post-partum and looked it.
Now, I am 7 months post-partum and look about 4 months pregnant.
Which blows.
No?

Anyway, in the good old days, we made my delicious strawberry crumble -which I urged you to eat with cream.  And still urge you to eat with cream, because damn, that stuff makes me go all soft in the knees.

But now, see, I can't do it.
I can't. 
I simply cannot get myself to eat a bowlful of cream. With or without strawberries. 
Because I'm not-pregnant, pregnant, and that's just not stylish.
And one simply must try to be stylish in the summer. 

But this is the thing about England in the summer and Wimbledon and so on.
Stylish or not, one cannot get by without strawberries and cream. 
Nor should one, for that matter.
Because strawberries are a total treat - sweet, juicy and fragrant - they really do encapsulate the very Best of British.
And golly, are the British absolutely mad about their strawberries and cream or what? 

So, yesterday for example, while we were at the revered Temple of Tennis and Andy Murray was quite excellently defeating Kevin Anderson, I noticed - in between exercising my neck muscles in that very particular way one only ever does when watching tennis - that everybody, and I really do mean everybody, was scoffing their way through large bowls of the said strawberries and cream, with so much passion, it was hard not to smile.

And give in.
Well, almost give in.

Like sooooo almost give in, you won't believe it.
I even joined the queue. And it was a very long queue it was. So there I was, in it. First at the back, and then at the front, and then suddenly - kind of before I was expecting it - it was my turn. And I thought of my not-pregnant, pregnant tummy and I copped-out. Big time. I sort of mumbled an apology to the nice girl at the counter and to Sid's ultimate horror, I  turned on my back and ran.

Yes, yes, yes, I'm a such a sad loser.
Sigh.

So I came back to my seat with my tail between my legs, and pretended not to listen to the old "can't take you anywhere in public" from hubby dear, which is something I've been hearing so much of lately and makes me wonder why... hmm.

Anyway, so there I was back at Centre Court, and you see, some things never do change. Because there was Mr. Murray still doing his funny serve-whoop and continuing to quite excellently defeat Mr. Anderson and there was still everybody eating bowls of strawberries and cream.

Yes, yes everybody but me.
I know I know I know
It was hard.
I just fell in my own eyes.

Did you see me on TV by the way? I was in a little yellow dress. My mum claims she saw me on TV a lot. But it's my mum, what would she say? She also claimed it was because the camera-man liked me. I told her it was most likely because I was the only person not eating strawberries and cream.

Anyway. 

So then of course I spent the better part of the Novak match (I love Novak, don't you) thinking how I could redeem myself. Like a little bit.
And while Novak was playing some quite brilliant tennis, I was singing a little Tsonga.
Because in my head I came up with this cake and then I came home and made it.
All in all, it can't be called anything other than a guilt-driven experiment in how not to feel guilty. Which is all very confusing but I know you're with me.
You're always with me.
That's why I love you so much. Muah.

So.
This is an absolute cop-out as I warned you
Because if you're expecting it to taste anything like strawberries and cream, well then it doesn't.
Which is good because then I wouldn't be needing to write this post at all really.
Because if I was telling you how to add cream to strawberries, then life must be very boring indeed. Which I'm happy to report, isn't quite so, yet. 

Right, so this isn't meant to sub for strawberries and cream.
Mainy because one needs cream for something to taste like cream.
But it's not bad. I promise it's not.
It's actually - for how little of the naughty stuff it needs - pretty darn good.
Which makes me feel like a rather clever loser.
Which is infinitely better than being just a loser.

And, and, and - it's pink!
See, if and only if you belong to a 3-boy household, do you realise the true essence of pink.
See - pink, in my household - is pretty much banned.
As in I get the tilting eyebrows and the rolling eyes and the "youcan'tbeserious" faces. And sometimes the outright "Pink is for girls"
To which I say, "but I am a girl"
And I get, without batting an eyelid - "No, you're not"
Which is just peachy.
Because not only am I not-pregnant, pregnant, but I'm not even female.
Sigh.

Seriously, I'm sooooo jealous of you ladies with little girls who have entire rooms in pink.
The most I can get away with is pink cake. Which as you can tell gets me all giddy.

Here's what you need:
24 oz of the very best ripest strawberries you can find for that rich, vibrant colour
1/2 cup milk,
4 eggs 
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup cake flour, sifted
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter
 
Here's how you do it:
Hull and roughly chop the strawberries, and let sit for an hour or so until nice and juicy. Add 1/4 cup water and then simmer in a small sauce pan for about 15 minutes, until the berries are very soft.

Now strain the juice out with a spatula or spoon - really scrape and press the strawberries through the strainer until all of the juice is in the bowl and you’re only left with the juiceless pulp. Throw away the pulp and transfer the juice back to the sauce pan. Reduce the liquid down to 1/2 cup and cool. 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a large pan. 

In a small bowl, combine the wet ingredients - puree, milk, egg, vanilla and mix until well blended.  
In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients - sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat the mixture at slow speed and add butter. Mix until combined and the mixture looks crumbly.

Now mix together wet and dry  ingredients and beat for 2-3 minutes until all creamy and lovely. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about half an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out nice and clean. Let rest, cool. And Enjoy. Guilt-free :)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Fig and Orange Jam

Yesterday was one of those days that made me glad to be alive.
Nothing extraordinary happened.
In fact nothing happened at all.

And yet, it was one of those moments that creep up on you suddenly, when you know, in a heartbeat, that you are where you are supposed to be.

And it seems to me, that finally, I'm here. Where I'm supposed to be.

I had recently heard about a new local farmshop - one of those off the beaten path, family-owned-family-run gems one hears about occasionally, from here and there, and usually does nothing about, save reminisce for some seconds about how nice it all sounds. And then life takes over. As usual.

But yesterday being one of those so-rare Sundays without a plan, we decide to actually try and find it.

So we get in the car, windows down, sun on my bare arms, wind in my hair, Hotel California playing on a loop and sure enough, a long, lazy drive through winding country roads later - we are there.

And I marvel to myself how wonderful and how most-unusual it is when the journey is as enjoyable as the destination hopes to be.

The entrance to Fernygrove Farms is marked by a little blackboard sitting on an obscure turning, off the "main" road. Had we not been on the lookout for it, we'd have, without doubt, missed it. The signage - handwritten chalk on board - promises a "coffee shop with a view!"

We bite.

We turn into a dirt road that seems to lead to nowhere, and finally arrive at a little parking lot. There are three cars parked, we're the fourth. I already love it. We park beside a white van, sliding doors open, gorgeous golden lab sitting inside, wagging it's tail, waiting patiently for its owner to return. And I feel like I'm in a book.

Fernygrove Farms is an unassuming a series of converted barnyards. One houses a butchery and farm shop, the other is the coffee shop, which we enter, lift up our heads...

...And let out a collective gasp.

"Wow" says my 3 yr old, eyes bright with wonder
"Coo" says my 7 month old, right in my ear
Sid slides his hand in mine, and I squeeze a little harder
I love moments like this.

Because in front of us is a sight that I have trouble believing still exists. It extends, for as far as the eye can see, this English countryside of the books and the movies - that patchwork quilt of green fields, those grasses waving in the summer breeze, that sunny, bucolic utopia where skylarks sing and wild roses bloom. And us. In the middle of it all.

There's so much green, my eyes hurt a little. This is therapeutic you see, what with staring at concrete for so many years. Too many years. 

Inside is airy and light. Standing fans help dissipate the still heat.
The radio plays Snow Patrol:
"If I lay here. If I just lay here. Would you lie with me and just forget the world.
Forget what we're told. Before we get too old. Show me a garden that's bursting with life."

There's a girl with a smile and another blackboard, chalked with the same hand as the one outside. The menu is limited - fresh farm produce - eggs, ham, cheese, tomatoes.
I have a ham sandwich on flatbread that's slathered with something that blows my mind. I ask what it is and the smiley girl says it's a fig and orange chutney - "all grown on the farm," she tells me proudly "there's some of each in the farm shop!"

So off I go to the farm shop, buy what I need and then I come home and experiment before the memory fades.

Here's what you need:

1-3/4 cups water
1 cup honey or 200g sugar (or more or less, your sweet tooth, you decide!)
4 oranges 
14 ounces dried figs, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup orange liqueur


Here's how you do it:

Wash the figs and trim the end stalks. Quarter them and place them in a large stock pot. Moving on the the oranges, grate the rind and save it - we'll be using the zest. Cut away the white pith and then segment the oranges. 

Heat the figs with 1/4 cup water just to get them started. Cook the figs on medium-low until they start to break down, stirring and smashing them with the back of a wooden spoon to help break them down further. They will start to thicken. Now add the honey, oranges, and zest, and liqueur and stir to combine. I use Grand Marnier...but listen, this is optional really,  Im adding it only because The Closet Gourmand once told me that dessert without alcohol is rubbish and since The Closet Gourmand is the best chef I know, I just shut up and listen. But you don't have to.

Anyway, keep stirring so that the mixture won’t burn on the bottom. Since you are working with honey and not sugar, the tendency to stick and/or burn might be a little higher than usual. Cook the jam to your desired consistency; the longer you cook the mixture, the thicker it will be.  
Figs and oranges that's all this is, but the flavour of their union make me shake my head in disbelief.
This is incredible stuff.

I treat myself.
I spread a little brie - salty and rich and creamy - on a cracker and slather my chutney on top.
And I realise I don't need to worry about my memory fading.
This sort of stuff stays on in a place where no one can take it from me.


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Chickpea and Lentil PatTEAs

Isn't it an absolute giggle how certain words take on an entirely new meaning once children happen.
Take TEA for example.
Not sure why that's in CAPS, but now that I've done it, it can stay that way.
Although it took me longer to type out the above totally useless sentence (not to mention this one) than it would have to erase and re-type tea in its grammatically correct avatar, but oh well. My fingers sorta do their own thing sometimes. Freaky, I know.

Anyway, we were discussing tea. Or TEA. Whichever you like, my dahlings.

So in the pre-kid era (I just love that phrase "pre-kid era" by the way. It's got an out-of-wordly charm to it.  You know, like the pre-historic era. Which it may well be, really, given how long ago it all seems.)
But anyway, in the pre-kid era, tea to me was tea. As in the drink.
A nice hot steaming cuppa Darjeeling brewing in a fat round teapot. Preferably a white one. Don't ask why. One doesn't ask silly questions.
So yes, tea meant tea. And tea time meant, sitting on the sofa, garden door open, shoes kicked off, legs tucked under, with a good book, teapot (yes the white one) having done it's job, sipping delicately on the freshly brewed Darjeeling.

And NOW?
(that's fully intentional CAPS usage, in case you're wondering)
NOW. Hmph. 
I shudder as I type. Which makes for tricky tpygni. 
(hee)

See, NOW,  when one says "TEA" in my world, it means something entirely different.
Which is kind of a dramatic understatement on my part.
Because compared to the above described scenario, we could well be on different planets.

Because, now, tea means a whole host (I don't count, it scares me) of grimy nearly-4-year old boys stomping into my house from the garden after playing whatever sport they happen to be playing on any given day.
Frankly, I never really know what they're playing. Looks all the same to my untrained eye, because really all they seem to be doing is climbing on top of each other. And a few chaps seem to get properly pounded while they're at it. Oh and there's always a ball involved. And sometimes some bats or racquets. But sometimes not. Truth be told, I'm amazed the lot of them manage to disentangle themselves in one piece. Seriously. I have actually stopped watching them because my heart stops a little too much, a little too often when I do, and really - that can't be good for you. 

The only civilised thing in the whole shebang is the fact that they take turns to get pounded. Seems (interestingly) in this rather strange game that everyone's clamouring to get pounded. As in, the goal is to get pounded like a mutton chop. I once asked my son the rules of the game and he gave me a rather pained "like, really, how can you not get this" look and then proceeded to say "I don't know"
So I left it at that.

Still, the important thing (and one that makes my heart swell with so much pride, it's practically a balloon inside my chest) is that these guys take turns. Gentlemens' code of conduct. Or something.

Anyway, so after the above-described activities which happen quite routinely in my garden conclude,  
they all traipse in, demanding tea.

But you know of course that they don't really want tea
As in my notion of tea.
This lot aren't even allowed tea.
Unsurprisingly I might add.  Add caffeine to their already overstimulated nearly-4-year systems and they might all just explode with excitement.
Which might be quite fun, except I dare not try it.

So, no.
The tea they want is food.
And enough to feed a small city
How these kids have this much tummy capacity in their entire 24 inch frames is beyond me
But as you know by now, much of what they do is beyond me
I just stand and watch in dumb amazement most of the time
Which I find is really very helpful

Right, so mostly because I got rather bored, rather quickly, of making cucumber sandwiches or cheese sandwiches or cheese and cucumber sandwiches, I started exploring a few marginally more exciting options.

And NOW I can boast that TEA is part of my repertoire
Ha.

For e.g. I refer to these chickpea and lentil patties
Or PatTEAs
yes yes thats where I was going all along, very clever of me I know, thank you

Here's what you need:

200g can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
200g can red lentils, rinsed, drained
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
50g raw cashew nuts
½ bunch coriander, chopped
2 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)
50g chickpea flour

Here's how you do it:

Combine 2 cups water, chickpeas and lentils with some salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the lentils are tender and falling apart, about 10-15 minutes. Drain in a colander, and let cool to room temperature

Meanwhile, toast cashews in a small dry skillet over  low heat, stirring, until golden and fragrant. Chop them as finely as possible.

Finally, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, and translucent. Keep aside. 
When all of the above has cooled, mix all the ingredients together and shape into patties - its time to cook!

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in the pan.  Fry the burgers for 2 minutes on each side, then cook in the oven for 10 minutes, or until warmed through.

These are SO, SO good for you, you know. Chickpeas and lentils are packed with good carb and protein - just the kind of health enhancing, life lengthening stuff one feels obliged to feed children. Fresh coriander adds both aroma and flavour, while the spices lend a subtle kick of flavour to it all. I've borrowed inspiration from Mark Hix, who adds cashews to his potato patties and its a frankly brilliant touch - it adds a smooth, creamy "meatiness" to the patties that is just delish and really just brings it all together for me.

As an accompaniment, I use toasted pittas and a raita/yogurt sauce that is cooling and refreshing, the perfect foil for our piping-hot-off-the-pan patties.

Here's what you need for it - just mix it all together!!

100g Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp tahini paste
2 tsp maple syrup
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
¼ tsp chilli powder

My troupe of dirty, muddy, sweaty, grimy - and eternally adorable - boys seem to love their patties - hope you do too! x