Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back To School

“Can I wear this right now, Mom?” My seven year old son asked me at the checkout counter, fully expecting me to say no. He had a brand new back pack in one hand and a big bag full of folders and pencils and supplies in the other. I started to say no, out of habit, but I stopped myself. His enthusiasm and genuine excitement rubbed off on me and we walked out of the store with him wearing a new jacket and an empty backpack on his back.

     In case you missed all the advertisements, it is Back to School season! With just a week left to go before school starts, we braved the pouring rain and similarly motivated families to go shopping for clothes and school supplies. The atmosphere in the store was akin to Christmas. Bright signs and flags marked the way to a large section of the store dedicated to Back to School items. Some frequently bought items were packaged together into convenient bundles for hassle free shopping. There were three or four rows of shelves for just binders and folders. Pencils, crayons, markers and sharpeners were spilling out of cleverly placed end caps. Overall there was a mood of gaiety and celebration all around. 
     This made me think about my back to school routine. I spent most of my childhood in a small south Indian town which had one hospital, four churches, two temples, a small vegetable market, one bakery and one stationary/book store. Summer vacation ended around the last week of May and we made that first trip to the school, before the school began, to get our school uniforms. That was the beginning of the week long ritual to get ready for the new school year.  A list of textbooks and notebooks was provided by the school but everything else was optional and left entirely to the financial ability of one’s parents. Pencils were mandatory till the third grade and after that; we could only use fountain pens. That meant bottles of nasty smelling Camel brand blue ink also made their way into the shopping bags. Backpacks were made of durable canvas and were available in basic colors such as black, blue, beige etc.  Pencil boxes were fashion accessories. In the higher grades, we had to buy the geometry box with a compass, divider, ruler, Set Square, protractor, eraser and a pencil sharpener. Mechanical pencils were a big deal, available in bright colors and usually “imported”.  Being that the highly anticipated southwest monsoon usually made its entrance around the same time as the school started, raincoats and umbrellas were a necessary purchase. A stop at the local Bata store for a pair of black lace shoes and white socks completed the shopping trip.
      The second part of the ritual was a family affair. We would lay out the books to be covered and labeled. Rolls of brown paper were taken out along with sheets of name labels. My parents would cut out the brown paper needed for covering each book and meticulously cover and tape that book. Warnings on keeping the books neat and organized ensued. When they thought I was old enough, I was trusted to cover my own books and a few of my younger brother’s. There were single lined notebooks for Social Studies and Science, four-lined books for English and two-lined books for the two local languages, Hindi and Malayalam.  While my parents worked hard to make them look academically dignified, I would open up textbooks and browse through lessons on the Human Body, Differentiation, Robert Frost and the vast maze of newsprint that was to be my companion for the next year. The final touch was the label. Very basic in form, this was a rectangular piece of paper with pre-printed lines for Name, Std., Section, School and Subject. With each passing year, new and exciting innovations occurred in the field of the labels. One year it was sticker labels while another was all about Mickey and Minnie and Donald Duck or bright floral prints or cute animal themes. My father would then write our names, proudly and neatly, on these labels, with more instructions and warnings to keep the covers and labels on the books at least till the first Terminal examination. Then all the books and pencil boxes were put away in the respective schoolbags, awaiting the start of yet another exciting year.

       The school lists have changed, the supplies options have upgraded significantly but the excitement and anticipation of going to a new class with some old and some new friends, is still the same. For my children, at this age when getting the right pencil grips, erasers and sharpeners is as critical as finding out who will sit with you in the class and on the school bus, which kid you will have to avoid and what the new teacher will be like, back to school shopping is an important event, as it was for me. I am looking forward to the new school year and I smile as we join this last minute frenzy of back-to-school celebration. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Travel by Stomach - Colombia

I love Latin American food. Having lived in California, I fell hard for the bright flavors that result from the combinations of onions and garlic and tomatoes and avocados and oregano, combined with lots and lots of varieties of chilies. The ingredients are familiar to an Indian palate yet their distinct application results in a flavor very different from the Indian cuisine that I grew up with. I visited Puerto Rico recently and that food solidified the favored status of Latino food for me. After I tried Peru, we stayed in the South American continent and moved on to Colombia. Picking just a few dishes for this project was difficult and I have decided to go back and try some more of the recipes that I have gathered for Colombia, later. I have used this beautiful blog a lot in my research and kudos to Erica for introducing her native Colombian culture in such an amazing way.
The ingredients are easy to find and the dishes taste as good as they look. Enjoy!!

Fried plantains - Platanitos.
Every South American country has its version of these delectable chips. These chips are twice fried and hence have a dense center yet crispy exterior. Cut the plantains on a bias so that when the chips are flattened after the first frying, they get long and thin, perfect for scooping the spicy aji or hogao sauce.
3 semi ripe plantains, peeled and cut on a bias into 1 inch ovals
Canola oil for frying
Bowl of cold water

Fill a wrought iron skillet 1 -2 inch deep with canola oil and heat. Peel and slice the plantains on a bias. Fry the slices, in small batches in a single layer, without crowding. Fry for 2-3 minutes till golden. Do not fry till brown!
Take the slices out and drain on a paper towel, dip in a bowl of cold water for a few seconds and drain again on paper towel. Place on a smoot surface, cover with a plastic wrap and press down with a mallet or the bottom of a heavy pan. Fry these flattened slices in hot oil till golden brown. Take them out, drain on paper towels and season with salt while warm. Serve with hogao or Colombian aji made with jalapeno peppers.

A traditional Colombian sauce, this can be used with any dish as a dipping sauce or a condiment. I stored some in the refrigerator and it was good even after 7 days. A variation of this can be made by adding chili powder or chili flakes to add a little heat.


1 cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)
2 cups fresh chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tbsp canola oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the tomatoes, scallions, garlic, ground cumin and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring until softened.
2. Reduce the heat to low, add the salt, pepper and cilantro, cook for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened. Check and adjust the seasoning

Colombian Aji with jalapeno

10 jalapeno peppers, seeded
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
 1 1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp salt                                         

Blend all the ingredients well until smooth. Serve cold.

The first time I ate Arepas was when a dear friend from Venezuela made them for me. At the time it seemed a lot of work and I remember her cooking them in the oven. This recipe is easy.  If you have any experience making tortillas or roti, this will be a natural progression. The areapas however, do not taste like either of them. The cornmeal makes an earthy bread that is rich and grounded at the same time. Lightly brush with butter as soon they are done and serve warm.


1 cup pre-cooked cornmeal or arepa flour
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup queso blanco, grated
2 tbsp butter
Salt to taste

Makes 6 arepas.

Combine the cornmeal, warm water, cheese, 1 tbsp butter and salt, mixing thoroughly. Let mixture stand for five minutes. Knead with your hands for about 3 minutes moistening your hands with water as you work.
Form small balls with the dough. Place each ball between 2 plastic bags and with a flat pot cover flatten to ¼ inch. Or flatten them on the palms of your hands after you oil them. Add the butter to a nonstick pan over medium heat. Place the arepas in the pan, and cook about 3 minutes on each side, until a crust forms or they are golden brown.

Bistec a la criolla - Steak in creole sauce


2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed and cut into 4-6 equal portions
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp.  ground mustard
1 tbsp.  ground cumin
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 cups hogao (creole sauce)

 Place the steaks between sheets of wax paper, then pound until each steak is about ¼ inch thick.
Place the pounded steaks in a zip lock plastic bag. Add the mustard, cumin, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper.
Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight making sure that the steaks are evenly covered. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Place the steaks into the skillet and cook for 3 minutes per side.

Add the hogao, cover and cook for 7 minutes more.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Travel by stomach - Peru

Peru was fun - cooking Peruvian food, that is. There were two ingredients that came up again and again in the recipes I looked at - aji amarillo and huacatay (black mint). They are available online but I did not have the time (or the patience) to wait for it. I checked a couple of international markets, Whole Foods and a bodega, with no luck. So, I used jarred hot, yellow chillies and jalapenos for the former and a mixture of fresh mint, cilantro and dried basil instead of the huacatay. 

Peruvian rice

This is a very easy recipe that results in  fragrant and flavorful rice, versatile enough to be used as a side dish or even as the star of the meal.

  • 1 garlic clove , mashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice (eg. Basmati)
Wash and drain rice.
Saute garlic in oil for a minute or two.
Add water, lemon juice and salt.
Bring to a boil.
Gradually add rice.
Cover and simmer 20 minutes.

Yuquitas Rellenas - Stuffed Yuca Balls 

If you forget for a while that you are eating deep fried starch, wrapped around a piece of cheese, you will realize these balls are heavenly. Crunchy on the outside, starchy and smooth on the inside. And then, you bite into the salty creamy piece of cheese.This recipe is worth the effort.

Yuca is a root vegetable, also known as cassava and manioc root. It can be peeled and boiled just like potatoes. It is readily available in most major grocery stores. These crispy little balls are made by shaping the mashed yuca around a piece of queso fresco, then rolling them in bread crumbs and frying them until golden brown. The result is a crispy shell around a soft starchy filling, with melted cheese in the very middle.

Cook Time: 15 minutes
1 pounds of yuca root
4 ounces queso fresco, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 egg
2 slices of bread
10 saltine crackers
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the yuca root and cut it into 3 inch long pieces. 
Add the yuca to the boiling water and cook for about 20-30 minutes, until the yuca is very tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. It should be fall apart when poked with the fork. 
Drain the yuca and  remove as many of the woody stems from the center of the root as possible. Pass the yuca through a potato ricer or grate with a box grater to remove any remaining fibrous strings. 
Season the mashed yuca with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. 
Place 2 tablespoons of mashed yuca in the palm of one hand. Make a small well in the middle, and place a piece of cheese in the well. Wrap the mashed yuca around the cheese, and roll between your hands to make a round ball. Repeat with the remaining mashed yuca. 
In a deep skillet or wok, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil. Fry the yuca balls in batches until lightly golden. Drain on paper towels. 
Crack 1 egg into a bowl and whisk lightly with a fork. Process the bread with the crackers. 
Roll each ball in the egg and then in the bread/cracker crumbs, until well coated with crumbs. 
Fry the yuca balls a second time, just until they are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with aji de huacatay.

Aji de huacatay- modified.

2 hot yellow chile peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup plain peanuts
1 cup of Huacatay  substitute (equal parts mint and cilantro and half  measure dried basil)
Canola oil  
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup queso fresco
2 or 3 crackers (saltines or oyster crackers)
splash vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
  Remove seeds and veins from the peppers.
Heat the skillet on medium high heat. Add the peppers, peanuts, and herbs to the skillet . Toast these ingredients slightly without adding any oil. Add the contents of the skillet to the blender and add evaporated milk, salt, pepper, and cheese.Blend the mixture. The mix will be thin. Add the crackers until you have achieved the desired consistency. Add splash of vinegar and salt according to your taste.

Chupe de camarones

This hearty chowder is flavored with aji amarillo peppers. I used a mixture of jarred yellow peppers and jalapenos
Cook time: 30 minutes
1 pound raw shrimp (unpeeled)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Juice of 1 lime
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced jarred yellow peppers
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 packet of Goya seasoning
3 cups seafood or chicken stock
3  medium yellow potatoes
1 cups frozen peas
1 cups frozen corn kernels
 6 oz. evaporated milk
1 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy soup pot over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté until pink, about 3-4 minutes. Remove shrimp to a bowl and let cool. 
Add chopped onion, garlic, and chile pepper pastes to the soup pot. Sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent and fragrant. Add tomatoes, cumin, Goya seasoning, and oregano and cook until tomatoes are soft. 
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Add potatoes to pot with the seafood broth, and simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 15-20 minutes. 
While potatoes are cooking, peel shrimp (reserving several shrimp unpeeled for garnish, if desired). Season shrimp with salt and pepper and toss with the lime juice. Set aside. 
Slice one ear of corn crosswise into 2 inch pieces, and remove kernels from remaining 2 ears. Add corn pieces and corn kernels to pot along with the peas. Simmer for 2-3 minutes more. 
Remove chowder from heat, and stir in evaporated milk and queso fresco cheese. Stir in shrimp with the lime juice and season chowder with salt and pepper to taste. 
Serve chupe in bowls, garnished with shrimp, crumbled queso fresco cheese, and chopped fresh oregano or cilantro.

Aji de gallina

is a delicious Peruvian classic - slightly spicy  and rich from the unusual cream sauce made with ground walnuts. This dish is traditionally served over rice, with boiled yellow potatoes and black olives. This dish uses the aji peppers for the color and slight heat and I wish I had the real peppers. but the combination of hot yellow peppers and jalapenos worked really well.

Cook time: 1 hour
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3-4 yellow peppers
2 jalapenos
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
4 slices white bread
3/4 cup evaporated milk

Cook the yellow potatoes in salted water until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool, peel, cut into quarters, and set aside. 
Place the bread in a small bowl and pour the evaporated milk over it to soak. Set aside. 
Place the chicken breasts in a pot with the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is just barely cooked through. 
Set chicken aside to cool. Strain broth and reserve 2 cups. 
Remove stems and seeds from the peppers. In a blender, process peppers with the vegetable oil until smooth. 
Sauté the garlic and onions with the puréed peppers and oil, until the onions are soft and golden. Remove from heat and let cool.
Shred the cooled chicken into bite-size pieces.
In a blender or food processor, process the evaporated milk and bread mixture with the nuts and parmesean cheese until smooth. Add the cooked onion mixture and process briefly. 
Return onion mixture to pan, and add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved chicken stock. Bring to a low simmer, and stir in the chicken. Heat until warmed through, adding more chicken stock if sauce is too thick. 
Serve warm over rice.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Let's do it one more time, nice and slow.

The excuse that I have come up with now is:  I am a writer. I operate at a level deeper than physical beauty and I need not worry about how I (should) look or how much weight I should lose. Before this, it was: I just had a baby and the baby needs me. I cannot leave her and go to the gym to exercise -it worked for almost three years. The most reliable one, my favorite has been: I work full time, I am too tired during the week and I have so many things to do on the weekend. There is no time for exercise.

I do not have a problem coming up with an excuse to not go to the gym. But that has not stopped me from contributing financially to the $25 billion fitness industry. Whenever I move to a new town, I dutifully visit the local gyms, right after the local library and park district and have, over the years, had the honor of being a fully paid member at most of the nation-wide chains. They promise I will lose all the weight I wish, be the person that I truly am and realize all my dreams if only I keep walking in though their door regularly (3-5 times a week). I believe their claims and my enthusiasm drives me for a few months (or weeks) but eventually, I let the membership elapse and go back into the shell of self-loathing, feeling appalled  about my lack of determination in doing  what I absolutely must so as not to have another depressing shopping trip.
                This time, I vowed it would be different. This time it was not just about losing weight. I was getting older and having seen family members suffer health problems, I decided I would take care of my body while there was still time. I discovered the chicest health club in town, three stories and a gazillion square feet of sleek, well-designed space with amenities to help you take care of your body (and mind). In addition to the workout equipment, they had a spa (the little voice in my head warning me that this is not the real reason I should enroll), two indoor heated pools and an outdoor water park (finally, I can learn how to swim), a health food cafe and best of all, the third floor was dedicated to a state-of-the-art child care center, complete with a jungle gym, computer stations and even a rock climbing wall. This was perfect as I did not have to worry about my child being away from me (separation anxiety was enjoying an extended stay in her little psyche) and it would give her a chance to socialize with children her own age. The facility was very impressive and the dormant enthusiasm woke up and shook away its lethargy. Once again, I signed on the dotted line as I  decided that this time that I will go all the way..
               I arrived for my "free fitness assessment” and after being stared at, pinched and measured all over my body, I was told by a girl in her late twenties who broke the scale probably at 100 lbs, dripping wet that I had the body age of a 46 year old, but the potential to be a 29 year old! My real age didn't seem to matter, but then, it was just a number. She walked me through all the options I had, treadmills and stair-masters to lose weight, lumbering machines that will isolate and tone any muscle in my body, the soothingly lit yoga and Pilate studios and the room where thirty stationary bikes were waiting for eager bottoms to spin away to sculpted good looks. That is when I noticed the people inhabiting this land, the sub-species of humans that has always amazed me, the Regulars - the women (and some men) who used this equipment for joy, with such ease that you would think they were strolling down the path in the prairie. It seemed to me that the people exercising were precisely the ones who did not need to be here. These were bodies with proportions that evolution wanted the human body to have. These were clothes off the display racks into which the bodies had been poured. When they exercised, they even sweat in the right places. Where were the other bodies, those dressed in black sweatpants and comfortable t-shirts, trying hard to complete the first 25 minutes on the elliptical, calling up the last reserves of energy and determination, spiking them with memories of the way they used to be and pushing themselves to finish the workout for the sake of that red dress hanging in the closet, or to stop those knees from creaking as they climbed the stairs? 
              As I started going to the gym frequently, I saw more of them, determined faces willing their bodies to complete one more round, finish one more set and relishing the pain in their muscles as reward for their decision to take care of themselves. Observing the Regulars made me realize that they were not an alien sub-species, but normal people who spent their free time hiking, biking, running and walking and when the weather turned dull and cold, took refuge in this stylish and pristine ecosystem to keep their bodies going. I have joined their ranks, hoping my determination and resolve last long enough to turn this passing fancy into a way of life, to enjoy a   lifetime of benefits of an active lifestyle. It is too early to declare myself a winner but I am on my way. And yes, my daughter has started playing with the neighbors and is having fun, socializing. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Travel by Stomach - Saudi Arabia

The cuisine of Saudi Arabia concentrates heavily on meat dishes. The meal is centered around the main meat dish with rice and salad as accompaniments. Al-Kabsa is a signature dish in this cuisine, similar to Biryani made in the Indian subcontinent. The meat ( chicken, lamb or beef) is cooked in a flavorful broth which is then used to cook the rice. The spices used here are similar to the garam masala, but this dish does not use any chillies. It is incredibly aromatic and the key is in not letting the aroma (steam) escape during the cooking process.The fragrance of saffron and cardamom infuses the rice. The sauce, Shattah,is not for the faint of heart! It is fiery yet tasteful and lends itself to variation.


¼ cup butter
3 lbs chicken, boneless skinless breast and thigh, cut into med sized pieces
1 large white onion, finely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
½ c tomato puree
2 med tomatoes, finely chopped
3 med carrots, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups hot water
1 chicken stock cube
2 ¼ cups basmati rice (Do not rinse or soak)
¼ cups raisins
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted

2 whole cloves
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch ground coriander
1 pinch ground cumin
½ tsp saffron
¼ tsp ground green cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp pepper
½ tsp ground dried limes or lemon zest

Melt butter in a large stock pot. Add chicken pieces, onion, garlic and sauté until onion is tender. Stir in tomato puree and simmer over a low heat for 4 minutes.
Add tomatoes, carrots, all the spices, salt and pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add the water and chicken stock cube.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer covered over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces and set aside. Add the rice, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Add the raisins and continue cooking another 10 minutes till rice is tender.
Place the rice on a large serving dish, topped with the chicken and garnish with the almonds. Serve with a fresh mixed salad with lime vinaigrette. Serve with hot sauce called Shattah.


8 cloves garlic
3 jalapeno peppers
2 green chillies
1 c chopped parsley
1 c chopped cilantro
½ tsp white vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin ground
Tomato paste
1 c water

Blend all ingredients . Add salt to taste.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Travel by Stomach - Greece

One of my favorite cuisines, Greek food is characterized by abundant use of lemon, garlic,butter,olives and cheese. Various vegetables like peppers, eggplant, onions, potatoes are used along with seafood and meat. The ingredients are readily available and the dishes are intensely flavorful, like sunshine on your palate.

Chicken with olives and red peppers – Kotopoulo me elies ke kokines piperies

2 lbs boneless chicken (breast and thigh )
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup olives, rough chopped
2 small yellow onions, diced
2 med roma tomatoes diced
2 cups dry red wine
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

In a dutch oven , heat the oil and add the chicken pieces. Cook for about 10 mins, turning the pieces to brown evenly on all sides. Add the onions, peppers and olives. Cook for about 5 mins, then add the wine. As soon as it comes to a boil, add the tomatoes and just enough water to bring it together. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 15-20 mins till the chicken is cooked and most of the water has been soaked up. Serve with steaming white rice, topped with butter and a side of tomato sauce and sauteed mushrooms and peas.

Shredded lettuce and carrot salad

1 head red leaf or romaine lettuce shredded
2 carrots, shredded        
Mint – 6-7 leaves, julienned

Vinaigrette : Lemon juice and extravirgin olive oil with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing at the last minute and toss before serving.

Fish soup with egg and lemon sauce – Psarossoupa avgolemono

1 lb white fish – fresh or frozen –eg: cod cut into big pieces
½ cup olive oil
1 med onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 rib celery, sliced
2 bay leafs
Salt and pepper to taste.

For the sauce:

2 eggs
Juice of 2 lemons

Clean and wash the fish, cut into bite size pieces. Place 6 cups of water in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Then add the vegetables, bay leaf, olive oil. Cook for 20 mins. Add the fish and simmer for another 15 mins. Then with a slotted spoon take the fish out along with the bayleaves. Strain the broth and return the cooked vegetables to the the broth. Add salt and pepper and warm it up. Add the fish pieces and heat through. Remove the pot from the fire.

Make sauce by beating the eggs and lemon juice.  Add the mixture slowly, 1 tablespoon at a  time to the broth while stirring constantly. The consistency of the broth will thicken as you add more and more of the egg sauce and it goes from clear to a milky white. Garnish with chopped parsley and mint and serve hot.

The instruction for this recipe seemed daunting, but it is easier than it sounds! When adding the sauce to the strained broth, do it very slowly, one tablespoonful at a time. The transformation of the clear liquid to the final milky white soup is phenomenal! The lemony citrus taste is subtle, more of a scent than taste and the overall taste is really creamy. 


This is an easy recipe to make warm and fresh pita bread at home. The baking time will vary depending on your oven and watch the pita dough as it is cooking in the oven. If it stays in the oven for too long, it will get brittle and you will end up with pita chips instead.

1 package of active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
 3 cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup luke warm water

Dissolve the yeast in ½ cup warm water. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes until water is frothy. (Your kitchen will soon start smelling heavenly - of fresh bread and beer!)
Combine flour and salt in large bowl.
Make a small depression in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast water in the depression.
Slowly add 1 cup of warm water and stir with wooden spoon till elastic.
Place dough on floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. When the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth and elastic, the dough is ready.
Coat large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough in bowl. Turn dough upside down so all the dough is coated.
Allow to sit in a warm place for about 3 hours or until doubled in size. Once doubled, roll out in a rope and pinch off 10-12 small pieces. Place balls on floured surface. Let sit covered for 10minutes. Prehat oven to 500 deg F. and make sure rack is at the very bottom of the oven. Be sure to also preheat the baking sheet. Roll out each ball of dough with a rolling pin into circles, about 5-6 inches across and ½ inch thick.
Bake each circle 2- 3minutes till the bread puffs up. Turn over and bake for 2 minutes. Remove each pita with a spatula from the baking sheet. Gently push puff down and store immediately in storage bag.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Travel By Stomach

        The first time I ate a burrito, I finished it for the love of my newly-wed husband, not its taste. It was my first meal in the United States and my husband was excited to share the new cuisines he had discovered.To me,  the dish was a mixture of really bland chicken and rice inside a roti made of flour. It was an abomination! No Indian worth her masala would ever eat a roti and rice in the same bite. They are the yin and yang of the Indian cuisine,to be savored separately, each with its set of specific accompaniments. It wasn't entirely my fault. Till then, I  had not tasted any food other than the vast offering of Indian cuisine and Chinese food, Indian-style!

    We have come a long way. Living in this cliched melting pot, we have been able to enjoy food from all over the world. Since then, two new companions, our children, have joined us. Together we have embarked on a project - to cook our way around the world, highlighting one country every week. The countries are selected randomly by our son, who also came up with the title of this project - Travel by Stomach. I have tried to select recipes that are representative of the country's cuisine and can be replicated by the home cook. This is the guidebook of our voyage and we would like to take you with us as we travel, by stomach.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. - a painful yet gratifying read.

"No matter what happens, I will keep running/moving on/walking along..." a familiar refrain heard a number of times that shows a resolve to not be overwhelmed by life's challenges. In case of the protagonist Tim in Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed, to keep walking is not a choice. He cannot stop walking and neither can he control when, where and for how long he walks. This strange affliction predictably creates havoc in his personal and professional life. this book is the story of this unnatural life and its challenges.
            It would be easy enough to stop here when reviewing this book and it would describe fairly well what the book is about. But it would not be fair. This book is exquisitely painful to read, in how it forces the reader to think and draw parallels to their life. It is an intense love story which tests the power of love over a lifetime of challenges and asks questions that people don't normally encounter in their daily lives - what do you do when you are not in control of your mind/body? What is it that defines you as a person? Is it your calling, your work, love and relationships in your life? What do you do when you are made to choose between these? Does the body have power over mind or is the other way around? Is there a difference?  The narration of Tim's life deals with such metaphysical and existential themes with the depth of a philosopher's mind, yet Ferris' style and language makes the characters and their problems very contemporary. There is a subtle distinction in the language and style of the text when dealing with the here and now versus when asking, and mostly not answering, questions about the tussle between mind and body. All the requisite components of dialog, description and action blend together in a manner that follows all the rules of Strunk and White. The text is rich in metaphors but is not allegorical because the mind's struggles are as physical and painful as the effects of the elements on Tim's body during his unpredictable and uncontrollable walks. The detailed physical descriptions of the characters and settings and down-to-earth yet insightful dialog bring you right into the lives of the characters and trap you there. No sooner do you get comfortable with the rhythm of the narrative, does the author bring in  hurdles to catch you off guard. The painfully lyrical language and the questions that Tim's life reflects back on oneself, keeps you on your mental toes, entirely without control.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Calling your inner nerd - Imogene's Last Stand Candace Fleming/Nancy Carpenter

She said :
Imogene Tripp is a history buff, who lives in  a very quiet little town in New Hampshire. When she finds out that the old house that serves as the Liddleville Historic Society is to be torn down to make room for a shoelace factory, she goes into panic mode.This delightful book chronicles her efforts to rally the townspeople to protect the historical mansion. With references to several historical events and historical figures, this well- illustrated book appeals to the inner nerd in everyone, boy or girl. Even though the book deals with seemingly adult themes like historical preservation, fighting the establishment and pure capitalism, the author has kept the mood of the story light and playful. The book will take only a few minutes to read but each page can spark conversations enough to last an entire afternoon. A must-read for 1st-2nd graders with an appetite for adventure and history.

He said :
If you like picture books and history, you will like this book. The illustrations are not realistic. I liked that there are a lot of phrases that people used in old times like "Balderdash!".