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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.
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!!"
"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?"

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."

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.


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?
This is why we watch peppa pig.

I put away the iPad.


"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.


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.
I've tied my tubes.
(Not really)

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.

(Pinch me someone)

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.
I love pretty.
Pretty makes me wobbly in the knees.

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:


Marinara or pizza sauce

1 clove peeled and garlic

dried basil


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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 :)