Elmo Birthday cake

My daughter just turned three and here is the Elmo birthday cake that I made for her. I scaled down everything but the cake this year. Recipes for the yellow cake base, chocolate cake elmo and chocolate buttercream were from Confetti cakes for kids by Elisa Strauss. A little sweet for me but perfect for everybody else and kids.


Amdavadi italian bakery bread

Made at home in a pullman bread pan using Peter reinharts Pullman bread recipe from the Bread baker apprentice book beautifully recreates the extraordinary sandwich bread we get in ahmedabad in a place called italian bakery. I have never figured out why it is italian in Gujarat - but the bread is the stuff that English novels get their cucumber sandwiches from. Its become a standard at my home, ive changed up the recipe to half whole wheat , half Bread flour and it stands up beautifully. I also add a couple of tablespoons of gluten when i use whole wheat flour. Freezes well for many weeks. This pullman loaf makes enough for family for two weeks, approximately twice the size of a normal loaf.


Paper- plate- Aholic: A rant

Cooking everyday, for every meal yields nasty, dirty, sink filled to the brim and overflowing sink. This photo is not for the squeamish. No amount of photoshopping can make this sight pretty.

My dishwasher is old and doesnt get out the oil stains and masala, H is always too tired to do the dishes, and I feel guilty asking him to do them because he has a job and im unemployed(Child rearing, bill paying and house renovation carpentry, cooking, laundry do not count).

I never buy bottled water, try to recycle, and yet every week i succumb to this.

Every week when I go to shop at BJs i see multitudes buying similar packs. I know they have replaced normal china or steel thalis in almost every house hold. And every time I reach out to buy them, a familiar war between sparing myself and the environment begins. Must i consign myself to doing dishes thrice a day , everyday, for 365 days a year as I have for the last four years?


Capsicum, Peanut & Besan Sabji

The dry arid regions of gujarat grow little except perhaps green chillies of various sizes. This ingenious sabzi combines pantry staples like peanuts and besan, with these green chillies or capsicum here to create a really delicious sabji. Use different colored capsicums for vibrant dish.

This recipe is from the book Easy indian cooking by Suneeta Vaswani. I highly recommend it for the various sabzis and other vegetarian dishes. More from the same book soon.

1/2 cup chickpea flour(besan)
4 lbs green capsicum or mix of colors
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tsp coriander pwd
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup coarsely crushed roasted peanuts

1. In a heavy skillet over low heat, toast chickpea flour, stirring constantly to prevent burning until lightly browned and aromatic, 3- 4 minutes . Set aside.
You can put this on the stove over low heat while you cut the vegetables.Parallel processing rocks!!

2. Cut bell peppers into 11/2 inch pieces, discarding stems , seeds and membranes
I also added half an onion for onion crazy H.

3. In a large sauce pan heat oil over medium high heat, Saute peppers until softened.

4. Reduce heat to medium. Add coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and sugar. Mix well. Saute for 2 minutes longer. Sprinkle besan on top of peppers . Do not mix.
The mixture of coriander and jeera is distinctly gujarati - called dhana jeeru powder.

5. Reduce heat to low. Cook, covered until peppers are very soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir to mix. Remove from heat and sprinkle with crushed peanuts if using. Whenever I buy raw peanuts from the Indian store, I roast them in the oven at 425 F for about 8 minutes or until you can smell the peanuts smell and store it. Comes in handy whenever you need roasted peanuts.Here the dish is already seasoned with sugar but I highly recommend the gujju style of finishing vegetables with a pinch of sugar, lemon juice and coriander leaves. Brightens the whole dish.

You can also visit suneeta vaswani at her website


Book Review: Sacred Waters

I am a thoroughly urban person, Nature generally scares the shit out of me. My plants wither and die despite my best attempts, Camping is a scary proposition(no internet? all that silence? crickets ? BUGS!!) and so on. But if you grow up in the dessert like environs of Gujarat like i did you might develop an equal reverence for water in all forms. Lakes, rivers, the monsoon. Nobody knows the smell of rain here - welcome water hitting dry dry mud. It took me a long time to understand why people and children donot go out and dance in the rain here in the USA! It might also explain why Niagara falls is so riveting to us Indians.

I was involved in water quality measuring and mapping in the USA in the past, so i picked up this book out of sheer curiosity about India's most majestic river - the Ganga.

This book is the account of Stephen Alter - atheist; and his journey of the Char Dham - a journey from Hardwar to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri on foot. Alter is a cousin of Tom Alter ( always the firang in Hindi movies) and author of Fantasies of a Bollywood love thief(nice review here).

The Char Dham Yatra is a fairly popular pilgrimage in India, my parents have done it. For them the attraction was in the religious and moksha angle of it. Why then does a professed atheist want to attempt this spiritual journey? For me these first pages where he explains his motivations for this journey are the most moving - I quote ," In many ways it would be so much easier to possess the kind of faith that the kavar(pilgrims) carry with them as they transport their gangajal.....Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have an absolute sense of purpose that propelled me forward, without hesitation, without fear, without concern for past or future. On the other hand doubt can often be as powerful a motive as belief

He goes on to explain his fascination with the Char dham yatra , "(although I am an atheist) there is something in me that responds to the spiritual elements in nature. I can easily understand how the force of a river or the shape of a rock might be interpreted as something larger than itself....I see myself as a pilgrim who does not follow the prescribed tenets of any particular faith, but seeks to find the subtle and mysterious connections between human experience, mythological narratives and natural history".

This,to me, is the whole book in a nutshell in the authors own words.

The rest of the book follows a journal format where he explains the majestic terrain as he covers it on foot, mythologies, snapshots of common peoples lives and livelihoods and most importantly Nature and natural history. In that sense this book is so tied to the terrain, cities and places he travels through - it seems more like a companion book to such a travel - should you attempt it yourself. So there is a curious emptiness when I read it, my eyes lift from the book and want to drink in the beautiful snowcapped mountains and instead land on the computer in front of me.

What does emerge though is a picture of terrain under tremendous upheavel, Uttarakhand where much of the pilgrimage happens is under tremendous population pressures. Tourism is a major source of revenue. This rapid urbanization and population pressure is threatening a magnificent landscape that would inspire spiritual search in the most blase of us. The char dham area is the only remaining portion of the Ganga watershed above Rishikesh that has water fit for human consumption. The rest of the Ganga , no matter how elevated spiritually is a mortal threat to humans and unfit for human consumption.

The writing in the journal parts gets pretty loose and rambling at times and insights seem scattered few and far in between. What recommends this book finally is the quality and depth of insight when we do get it.


My 300$ Kitchen renovation

or why I disappeared from my blog

Before Picture:

After Picture:

This is what happens when you watch one too many HGTV Home makeover shows!! I had really really horrible formica eurostyle cabinet doors which made my kitchen look absolutely awful. So, I bought unfinished cherry wood doors from Second Chance Inc Baltimore an architectural salvage place -They sell these really really cheap- and they were lying around the house for the last eight months before i finally got down to doing something with them. However the doors are all kept pretty hodgepodge and you will need exact dimensions of the doors you really need and an eye for consistent door design. I sanded the trim of the cabinets, then stained both the doors and the trim, added crown molding at the top of the cabinets to give it some height and finished off with new cabinet hardware - knobs and pulls. Ive had loads of fun so far doing this with the help of my husband.

Whats left? A new backsplash and countertop! I saw these fantastic antique tiles at Second chance inc and am going to design the back splash to match the buttercup yellow wall color and cherry cabinets with a cool focal point over the sink.

Great tip for all those looking for home makeovers on a budget is to find your local architectural salvage warehouse. Just google architectural salvage + your city. Its a green way to upgrade and wallet friendly as well.

Doing all the work yourself does require some effort, but im having fun teaching myself staining and carpentry work.


Brown Rice Idli & Dosa

Thanks to all who left suggestions for a healthier food lifestyle in my last post. I have been working on incorporating these guidelines in my lifestyle for the last two months. I have now switched to brown rice batter for idli and dosa batter - a staple always in my fridge.

I now use Carolina brown rice and urad dal for the batter (3:1) proportion. Brown rice is not a magic wand -
it has the same amount of calories as white rice - the fibre content is marginally higher and so is potassium.

This batter seems to ferment faster - or maybe it is finally summer here :) I plan to unleash my inner mad scientist on to tinkering with this further to make it even healthier.


Healthy food guidelines - help!

How can I eat healthy? And hopefully without harming the environment much? I have asked myself this over the last couple of weeks and I need help! Please take a look at the points i have thought of so far and help me with improving and adding to this list.

I am trying to make a lifestyle change towards a healthier more active life.

1. Whole grains
Roti and Rice are standard at my home and I have already switched to brown rice,
Roti Atta is naturally whole grain. White bread is a loophole i am working on(Ive tried Pepperidge farm whole grain , multi grain etc but is expensive for me and Iam dissatisfied with its taste)- it is useful for my toddler daughter. What can i do about the white idli & dosa batter? Is Rava (cream of wheat) healthy? White poha - is there a whole grain replacement?

I have banned All purpose flour from my day to day use- so I donot make Naan or parotta or Puris anymore. I have to look at whole wheat naans, tortillas and pav.

2. Soy products
The only soy product i use regularly is soy flour in my Rotis. I am working on including more tofu, tempeh and other soy products in my diet.

3. Vegetables
I love all vegetables (ok ok except karela :P) and as such include quite a variety in my diet mainly as cooked sabzis. I have to work on including more raw vegetables/ salads. Is raw better than cooked or pickled veggies? Is that on some sort of sliding scale?

4. Snacks
This for me is a big big problem. I need easy healthy snacks for husband and I as we both snack quite a bit. And i think i need a spreadsheet of sorts - sure i make baked french fries but is it healthier than normal french fries and by how much? We have also switched to salsa and chips instead of the deep fried samosas and mixture and ribbon - but it is hard to come up with variety .

6. Casual everyday baking with less fats , more whole grains

I make banana bread on a weekly basis, and i would love to make some healthy brownies or whole grain or tofu included small coffee cakes - But i know nothing of such healthy baking.

7. Fats
I use canola oil for day to day cooking, olive oil sometimes in sabzis and no shortening or dalda.

What am I missing? I keep thinking that having a food philosophy like Ayurveda might help but I donot know how.


Cookie Pop

Simple cookie recipe, new idea!!


DIY Oak Tortilla Press: YAY!

I am so so very excited, I have wanted my own Wood tortilla press for a long time, I finally made my own out of some Oak that I bought at my local Lowes! Best part - the whole thing with hardware cost me only 20$!

For those who want to attempt this on your own , you will need some familiarity with working wood and the following

1 12 " X 24 " Oak board = around 12$
1 Oak staircase baluster = around 6 $ (looks like this)
two 2" hinges
1 carriage bolt

Ask the fellow at your Lowes to cut the oak board into two pieces of 11" and 13" respectively. Similarly ask him to cut the baluster into two , at around 3/4rth of the length. Hardwoods like oak can be difficult to cut with your jigsaw, so find the man!

Fasten the hinges to the both the oak boards.

This was the easy part so far.

The thing that takes the most time is figuring out at what angle you want the handle / oak baluster to hit the top board. Thing is , the oak handle should put pressure on the center and the edge of the top oak board. Once you figure that out , the rest is easy if you have a drill bit the size of your carriage bolt. Drill bits are pretty cheap at walmart, around a dollar or so. Attach to your power drill.

Stain and varnish is not necessary but it makes the press look spectacular no?

Anybody need more help do leave a comment and i will be glad to help out


Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

For us foodies, this recession has become the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about. Families everywhere are tightening their belts and economizing. How can I buy organic now? Organic foods typically cost atleast double of conventionally produced foods.

The other mantra of foodies is buy local, be a locavore. Reduce the carbon footprint of your food. For a while i took this really seriously, I even maintained a map of some of the food sources of the vegetables that I commonly bought from my farmers market.

Turned out I was unwittingly buying vegetables and fruits from Peru, Mexico, Italy and some frozen foods even from India. Then came an article in NYT where the whole "carbon footprint of my food" angle became complicated. Just because something is local doesnt necessarily mean its carbon footprint is lesser. Economies of Scale do make sense. It takes less petrol to cart stuff from somewhere far away than near, simply because of volumes.

At the end of this,I was scratching my head. Whats a politically conscious foodie to do?

Reading this book,"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver(visit the books website here) could not have happened at a better moment for me. At a time when external and logical stresses make the path of organic and local food difficult, this book is a timely reminder of the reasons why we should choose to eat organic food in the first place.

This book is the account of one ordinary middle class American family's decision to live for one year on only the food that they grew themselves on their own farm. An incredibly brave or stupid decision you might think but the insights that emerge from this process are incredible. We in the US have become used to buying whatever vegetables whenever we want. Our consumption of fruits and vegetables is not tied to location or season, because even if tomatoes cannot be grown in your frozen North eastern American soil, they can be easily imported from Mexico or the Caribbean.

The book follows the family through the months as they sow seeds and plant using organic practices, plan for the coming months , enjoy the harvest and finally put away vegetables and seeds for the winter. The book is packed tight with useful information on all sorts of related topics in little posts that populate the pages.All through out she makes a very, very, very strong case for eating organic food.

One very simple example she provides are eggs. Most hens in America are fed ANIMAL WASTE. Yes you read that right. Bits and parts of cows, pigs and poultry that remain after butchering are fed to hens in order to eliminate waste. These hens are crowded in to industrial sized sheds and then fed antibiotics to eliminate the diseases that emerge from animal overcrowding. Imagine the horror of cross contamination of animal diseases - mad cow disease jumping from cows to hens. In my minds eye, the simple act of feeding my daughter eggs bought from my nearby walmart became almost poisoning.

This is not really over dramatization, cross contamination is a reality of Industrial food growing today. Just remember the peanut butter, tomato and spinach recalls that have happened in recent months.

The author rues the death of a home cooking culture in America, which she posits as the main reason more people are eating fast and junk food. Even the worst home cooking is healthier than any processed foods we may buy outside. I can only filter this book through my Indian ness. As a community i think we retain a strong home cooking culture, my mother's idea of a woman leaning more towards a superwoman type of person - some one who is a professional and who tends to home and hearth. And to some extent, Barbara Kingsolver seems to fit that extreme - atleast in the book. She even makes her own cheese and butchers her own turkeys in this account - of course with the complete help of her husband and children.

In India, i think we are not as divorced from the soil as when we are here. Our families still pay heed to the harvests of rice and wheat and oilseeds. Buying them after harvest and storing them away for the whole year. Vegetables available in the market come from nearby regions and always are in season. You cannot buy a ripe alphonso in India in December. But Indians living in America do as the Americans do, we buy mangoes in winter, eat at the local McDonalds or Burger King and pass on to our children our love for Pepsi and Coke over water.

This book provides a compelling logic for a food culture that is aware of its time and place and points out the dangers of the Industrial farming culture of America.

Thanks to commenter Ann for recommending this book - I really enjoyed it.


JFI Chickpea Round up

Hi all, a very big thank you to everybody for the wonderful response to JFI Chickpea. I was overwhelmed by the effort that all participants put in. A big shout out to Indira at Mahanandi for dreaming up this wonderful event.

First vital statistics, I received a total of 88 entries - 14 of these were Chickpea curry recipes. Thanks to all who took the time to send in several recipes.

The protein packed round up is in two parts, the first part is of all the versions of Chickpea curry or chole and the second is of all the other entries categorized by course and chickpea type used.


The following JFI Chickpea participants sent in various Chickpea curries,

1.Neivedyam :: Kadala Curry
2.The Budding Cook :: Peppery Chickpeas
3. Tasty Treats :: Black Chana Curry
4.Aroma :: Paneer Chole Makhani
5.My Experiments in Kitchen :: Sanagalu
6.Adlaks tiny kitchen :: Chenna Masala
7.Mom's Cooking :: White Chickpea Curry
8.Tongue Ticklers :: Chhole
9.Whats for lunch Honey? :: Spicy Chicken legumes
10.EasyNTasty :: Channa Paneer Masala
11. Seduce your tastebuds :: Chole
12.Experiments in Kailas Kitchen :: Kadala Curry
13.Monsoon Spice :: Lauki Choley
14.Poonams Kitchen :: Chana Sukke
15. Indira at Mahanandi :: Chole Cheddar

There is chole, theres is kadala curry with kootu, kabuli channa with paneer. So many chickpea curries, that your head spins. What is their common theme? Where do they vary?

My head was spinning just going through the JFI Chickpea curry entries. So I put in the 15 chickpea curry recipes from the participants above in to a Many Eyes Data Visualisation which highlights the most common ingredients with bigger font letters :

52bb4ca6-f313-11dd-9375-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

I thought it was a fun and interesting way to highlight the themes and variations in something as simple and complex and wonderful as a chickpea curry!! You could click on the image above to interact with the visualization as well.


Now before you throw stones at me for being the biggest nerd of the blog world , here are the wonderful entries highlighting the different forms in which chickpeas have entered and stayed in our plates. There is desi or black chickpeas, white chickpeas and green fresh chickpeas which I was surprised to find in many delicious curry recipes and of course there was besan the ground flour of chickpeas - various desserts and even a bread made of it!!


Get your own blist widget

I have put up a database of the entries with the course type, type of chickpea used, photographs and links to the post. A mouseover the photo should show an enlarged picture.

I also had a lot of fun making Chana chor garam, Green chana puli kootu and Besan Potato Sev for this event.

I have gone through my emails twice, however if I have left any entries out, I apologise- please email me and I will be glad to update the roundup. It was fun hosting this edition of JFI- Do checkout JFI Cauliflower hosted by Paajaka.


JFI Chickpea: Homemade Chana Chor Garam Experiment

Chana chor garam is one of those wonderful street side snacks that no one I know even attempts to make at home. This five rupee slightly salty and sour snack with minute onions and tomatoes was the highlight of the walk we used to take at the lake near our house.

For those unfamilar with it, Chana chor garam is made by flattening Desi Chickpeas or Kala chana into disks and then frying it. It is served in paper cones with condiments like onions, tomatoes, black salt, lime juice etc. Packed with protein and vegetables this snack is healthy and filling.

Now in the US, Haldiram markets Chana chor garam but these are generally the size of a penny and thick - about 1 mm. The ones the hawkers at the lake near my house sold were about an inch in diameter , really thin like a cornflake and they just melted in the mouth.

So for JFI Chickpeas, I tried a brief and alas not too successful experiment to recreate the thin and light version of chana chor garam. I soaked the desi chana(both black and green - with visions of a multicolored and very pretty chana chor garam) in water overnight and then squished it using a small katori or cup as seen in the picture above. I then deep fried these in a small pan of oil, and then put salt and cayenne pepper on the results, as in the picture below.

The result was pretty tasty but i cannot call it chana chor garam. More like desi chana deep fry! . I also tried squishing them after boiling them, i got them pretty thin then but had no way to separate them from the squishing instrument aka the katori :)

Anybody with a better idea or having inside info on how this thing is made, do let me know!


JFI Chickpea: Green Chana Tamarind Kootu

"South India received the chickpea late, perhaps around 500 to 300 BC and ...., southern names like kadalai are quite diferent from the Sanskrit chanaka or harimanthaka. The latter grains find mention in the Buddhist writings of 400 BC but the Khalva of the much earlier yajurveda (c 1000 BC) is also thought to refer to the same grain". from KT Achaya's Indian Food, a Historical Companion

Chickpea is still called Harimanthaka in Telugu(from here), astonishing how a name persists over a thousand years. Today's post is on fresh green chickpea - different from dried desi chanas that have a green skin. The wild form of chickpea ripens only in the winter, while the domesticated form can be harvested in summer as well(from here) which might explain why I ran into them at my local farmers market this weekend!

In Gujarat, these fresh chickpeas are plentiful in winter (and also double up as horse feed :)). My father likes them roasted in the oven in the skin, and then shelled for a wonderful smoky sweet and soft evening snack.

This particular recipe is a variation of a recipe from my mother, she uses the dried kabuli chickpeas. It is delicious with rice and any coconut vegetable combination - we had fresh green beans and coconut karamad ( sabzi) along with this.

11/2 cups fresh shelled green chickpeas
1/2 cup Tuvar dal
Curry leaves
5 brinjals cut in about 1 cm sections and quartered
1 tbsp tamarind paste( I use Tamicon which is really strong, if you use a fresh tamarind paste, please increase quantities to compensate)
salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
pinch asfoetida

Podi: (Spice Powder)
4 tbsp Chana dal( Bengalgram)
8 tbsp Dhania ( Coriander seeds)
5 dried red chillies
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp Jeera ( Cumin Seeds)
1/2 cup grated coconut

Dry roast all ingredients except the coconut, until you can smell the nutty aroma of the legumes and aroma of the jeera.
Grind into a find powder along with the coconut. If you need, you can add some water to grind finely.

Cook the Fresh green chickpea and tuvar dal in the Pressure cooker for two whistles or until soft. Take about two tbsp oil in a deep pan. Add mustard seeds and wait until it pops. Add asfoetida and curry leaves. Then add the brinjal and stir fry until softened. Add the cooked chickpea and tuvar dal combination and the Podi( spice powder) and tamarind , salt to taste and boil for another five to 10 minutes.

PS: Also check out My Legume Affair, seventh helping hosted by Srivalli, your JFI Chickpea entries would make wonderful entries to My Legume Affair.


JFI Chickpea: Logo & Bataka Sev Farsan

India is the largest grower in the world. Chickpeas are grown in the drier regions of India - namely UP , MP, Rajasthan, AP, Maharashtra (source: http://www.crnindia.com/commodity/chickpea.html)

Gujarat has a rich tradition of snacks - called Farsan- which to me seems wholly dominated by chickpea flour or besan. Examples in the photo montage above are( from left to right and top to bottom)Sev,Boondi,Gaanthia, Fafda, Khaman, Khandvi and an aloo bonda pretending to be a Dakor Gota! This variety of chickpea flour snacks arises perhaps from Gujarat's dry, arid climate which emphasized staples over fresh fruits and vegetables.

My mom is particularly partial to the phulwadi- also made from besan. A typical gujarati breakfast consists of perhaps one warm dish like Bataka Poha accompanied by strong sweet tea and many of these very farsan doing double duty. We used to have fafda and jalebi on dussehra morning 4 o clock just after finishing 6 hours of garba.

This post's recipe, Bataka Sev is Sev made from Potatoes and Besan.It is from a book called Aneri Vangio by Nayna Shah. Loosely translated Aneri vangio means Different Dishes. I just learnt recently that this is kind of like the Samaithu paar for newly married Gujarati girls.

Bataka Sev:

1 Potato boiled, and chilled in the fridge for abt 24 hrs(no baking potatoes or small new potatoes- they are too waxy)
abt 2 tbsp Besan
red chilli pwd
pinch of clove & cinnamon powder

Grate the potato finely. Add all the seasonings. Add just as much besan to make a round ball of dough. Use an Acchu or Press to extrude the sev and deep fry in hot oil until the bubbles die down.

This is a quick logo that I came up with for JFI Chickpea, Please feel free to use it in any size that you prefer.

The first montage was made from these sources.
Photo credits:
1. Khandvi
2. Fafda
3. Khaman
4. Gaanthia
5. Sev


Announcing JFI Chickpea

Here's wishing everybody a very happy new year! I just woke up to the new year to find that I almost missed my hosting duties for JFI.JFI is a monthly online food event focusing on natural and Indian ingredients started by Indira of Mahanandi. And Indira is back too - yay!

I am just in time to announce JFI Chickpeas. Now before you start throwing stones and rotten tomatoes at me, just consider - Chickpeas are much much more than the ubiquitous chana masala or chole that you have suffered through every Indian restaurant in the US. You have a whole rainbow of colors within the humble chickpea - the brown desi chana, the white kabuli, the green fresh chana, the yellow split form and of course the ground gluten free flour version, the basis for very yummy sweets.

Prepare a dish highlighting Chickpeas and write about it in your blog in the month of January 2009. No limit to the number of entries you can send. Non bloggers can email the recipe along with a picture of the dish.

Send an email to mspresqueATyahooDOTcom with JFI:Chickpea in the subject line. Please include the following information in your email:
--Your blog name
--Name of the entry
--URL of your post

Your post should have a link to this announcement.

I will also come up with a logo within the next couple of days.