James Beard’s Garlic Soup

The new year has brought with it a need for cleaning. And organizing. A lot of organizing, coupled with the putting away of childish things. Well, not quite all things re-eally. That PS2 is going nowhere until it gets replaced with a PS3 someday. (Where else can you learn about Greek Mythology and hack Medusa to bits at the same time?). The problem with having a multitude of interests is that they have a way of taking over precious space and multiplying. Books seem to settle down onto available surfaces and proceed to invite their friends and relatives over to join them, then begin masquerading as surfaces themselves. Magazines try to outmatch them by throwing raucous parties that have them flopping all over everything. Guitars and cameras start showing signs of aspiring to world domination, upon the imminent conquest of our home. Then there is our music collection. We find there was a downside to being able to carry 10,000 songs in your pocket. You end up having 10,000 songs in your pocket. Finding anything in there takes a while. A possible upside? If you want your cooking of soup to be accompanied by a (fairly unhealthy to some) dose of Nirvana, you can easily do so without looking for CDs under those towering stacks of books.

Soup seems to be the obvious choice to counteract the excesses of the holiday season. The weekend that saw some fog-ridden grey days appeared to corroborate this. On the Ipod, Cobain rambled on about the friends he found in his head. Meanwhile, I moved some websites around on my screen and toppled some book towers over before I chanced upon a quaint recipe for garlic soup, requiring very little effort on my part and just as few ingredients. Entirely too prim a soup for Nirvana, but sometimes the most unlikely things work in pairing.
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Sunset’s Meyer Lemon Chicken

There was this book I had when I was four. Just like all my books at the time, I had inherited it from my elder sister. It was this beautiful cloth-covered hardbound volume called ‘365 stories‘ with ostensibly a story for every day of the year. (Apparently the authors pretended the extra leap year day didn’t count or that it could be be swept under the rug like so many cookie crumbs). There is a marked difference between my sister and I. She is marvellous at maintaining her things. Me? Not so much. At the time, I thought this was only because I was four and she was fourteen. But as it turns out, the only thing I got better at taking care of, was books. Practically everything else I had, including my haircuts, look like they have survived the ravages of war. But my sister, she had used socks and stockings that looked brand-new seven years later. (Granted, she had little use for stockings in tropical Indian climes, but you get the picture). Her books, toys, clothes had this amazingly unused air about them, as if she tenderly placed them in crystal cases and refused to even breathe on them. Fact is, she did use them, and often. She played with all her toys and most certainly wore all her clothes. But she treated with a tremendous amount of respect for someone so young.

I, on the other hand, drew a moustache on her wooden dog, glued a tail to her teddy bear and coloured outside the lines on all her preciously maintained fairy tale books. I’m not proud of it, but in my defense, I was four! I didn’t know better. Giving me access to all my sister’s stuff was probably not the best move my mom could have made. (She thought the second one would be just like the first. We all live and learn.) Keeping the books away from me didn’t help. All those beautifully preserved words had woven their spell. At one time I had been read to, but allegedly I had started grabbing books and doing it for myself very early on. Once positioned on this path, I could not be dislodged, much like a limpet on a favourite rock. I loved books. I eventually learned that you don’t colour on all books, and have several of my childhood books saved in fair condition to this day. But every book I had before this had already lost its shot at such posterity. Which, as I think about it, might be why my younger sister never took to books and reading quite like us older ones. (Would you want to look at the words on the pages when the gingerbread house next to them, tastefully decked out in virulent green and electric blue vied for your attention? I didn’t think so.)
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Orange-Chocolate Pot au Creme

2009 is limping towards its ineluctable exit and very few people, I’m guessing, are going to be sorry to see it go. As years go in the psyche of the human collective, this one has been rather truculent and petty. To put it plainly, it mostly blew for most people. But you know what? While it wasn’t the best, there were parts of it I liked. Like the fact that this country swore in its first African-American president, the same year that I get to be a permanent resident of it. The part where I took six architectural exams in six months was pretty cool, especially when I passed all of them. The fact that all of my  result letters have a stamp on a top corner that says “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor” is spectacular. (I get my results from the Terminator y’all! Affirmative.)  Then there’s the part where Amey and I actually managed to stay on and benefit from a fitness regimen with results. That last bit while I did my favourite new thing this year, cooking all kinds of new stuff and starting this blog.

My little piece of the virtual world has been a fabulous place to be in. I’ve gotten to combine my love of writing with my love of cooking and experimentation. I’ve been able to enjoy new things and tackle some of the tougher ones and live to talk about it. It hasn’t been easy but the work has been its own reward. When I began, I thought that’s all it would be. But what’s been amazing is that I met some great new people and reconnected with some wonderful old friends. Combine this with the talented people I interact with on a daily basis in the real world, I’d say that I’m surrounded online and offline with some fabulous, fantastic people. Quite frankly, I can think of few things that are as exciting as doing something you love around people you like. I get to do this and share it with you. The readership to this blog has grown exponentially since I started in early 2009. For all the support and camaraderie, I am thankful to you, dear readers. At the close of the year, this calls for a celebration of some sort. With sweets for all. I wish there was a way I could send you real cake virtually. But they haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet. Also, I find myself without flour and sugar. Essential components to cake. Never fear though, in my home there are always options. I think you’ll find this one very welcome.

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Saveur’s Raspberry Sandwich cookies

(I grew up calling the delicate ones biscuits, and the ones with chocolate and other chips in them, cookies. I still try to stick with the English I love and grew up with, though it has hybridised into the English I hear every day in the country I now call home. So sometimes it is neither here nor there. England and America may be two continents divided by a common language, but India taught me that divisions exist only as long as you let them. With that, I invite you to continue on into my biscuit-cookie meanderings. For the purpose of this post, they mean *exactly* the same thing. The title? I’m sorry but cookie monster rolls off way better than the alternative, biscuit zombie)

Christmas, it seems, is right around the corner. Can’t quite claim it crept up quietly. The subtle-as-a-hippo-in-tights signs have been everywhere since Halloween. In the past weeks, you couldn’t turn a fraction of a degree without having your senses assaulted by holiday commercialism. (Wait, did I say commercialism? I mean holiday spirit. I seem to be (un)intentionally channelling Festivus.) But then I take a deep breath and open my eyes; all you see is glimmers of hope and quiet smiles. Everyone wishes that this year will sound clear, high notes when it ends compared to those began with.

In this season of renewed hope, I thought I’d try something I don’t necessarily do, making holiday season sweets. Do I hear you gasp in shock? Hold on, before you follow it with disappointed heads shaking, allow me to explain. Every year, Diwali shows up about a month or so before the December holiday season. This is one time when I sorely miss being back in India. I go overboard trying to recreate the spirit of the festival, with the lights, and the food. This leads to an unavoidable surfeit of sweets. Setting about making them again seems impossible. But this year I decided to go for it. More importantly, I decided to make holiday cookies. This is significant for another reason. Everyone has their nemesis. Sherlock Holmes (yay! Sherlock Holmes!) had Moriarty. I have cookie-making.

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Gourmet’s Hummus and Tzatziki

It is an inevitable truth that everything that has a beginning has an end. Some enjoy heights of success, only to falter and fade away, then fall into oblivion to disappear with nary a blip. Others are lamented in their eventual passing. Then there are those whose demise brings on waves of despair, shouts of protest, flowing tributes in homage. “How can it be true?” you hear people shout! “Where are we to turn?” they ponder in sadness. These are the lucky few. Their demise sends shockwaves among their supporters. They live amongst their fans forever.

This is what happened with the closure of Gourmet magazine. Witnessing the shock and despair of its legions of fans at Conde Nast’s decision to shut down this matriarch of the published food world, I have to admit I didn’t quite get it right away. I revere books; I’ve never been much of a magazine lover, the only ones I ever subscribed to were the Architectural Review, Readers’ Digest and Archie comics (yes, the 12 year old in me never quite grew up). The hue and cry baffled me. Surely this was just a magazine meeting an untimely demise at the hands of business people? Given the tough economy so many things have gone a similar way. Cookbooks are still around, so how bad could it be?

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