One fine fall Friday six years ago (which by the way, was nothing like today. It’s raining. I love it!) I sat at my desk eating my peanut butter sandwich, my go-to this-is-what-I-pack-when-I’m-in-a-hurry lunch. It had been a rushed, busy day and I was going into a busy weekend with company coming and no time to have planned my dinner, so I thought I’d look up some recipes. I have no memory of what it was I googled that day but I do remember that in the middle of the search page was a link that led me to the first food blog I’d ever seen. And with just one click I tumbled down into a wonderful rabbit-hole, filled with the most wonderful stories, writing and recipes. I’ve been in free fall ever since.
That first food blog lead me to others. There were just so many incredible people about there, chronicling their kitchen stories along with their lunch, more than happy to tell you about the difference between chimmichurri and pesto. They spoke about home cooking or what they ate in restaurants. After that first mad connect-the-dots dash through the links on each page I identified a few well-written blogs with outstanding voices that captured my imagination. One of those was The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss.
It’s been a strange year weather-wise in this city. Summers in San Francisco are cold as a rule – the fog cools everything off – but this year was freezing. And here we are now, well on our way to winter. Until today most days have been warm and sunny. 70° just before Thanksgiving? What is up with that?
Because of this phenomenon, I haven’t felt the need to switch my oven on. That is generally my favourite mode of warming up our home. The double punch of the warmth of the oven and the warm aromas of baking wafting up and through the apartment is more than enough to keep us toasty most weekends. But lacking continuous cold weather, this hasn’t happened much. A pity really, because this time of year is ideal for baking and these scones I’m going to tell you about are great day after Thanksgiving brunch or tea time eats.
I first made these scones last year when I was craving something buttery and flaky. Back home, we had these amazing chicken pattices that one could get pretty much anywhere. My favourite version was the one at a store called Candies in Bandra. The filling was chicken perfection, but the crust, oh what crust! This was not your usual khari biscuit type crust, the kind that shattered with your first bite. Oh no, this was different. Buttery and lightly flaky with a good dose of pepper, I loved how it was the perfect foil for the almost paté-like chicken inside.
Today’s Thursday which means it’s time for the next installment of Thursday Three. Since spice has been a big part of this week’s focus, what with my first foray into making my own masalas, I thought I’d share my favourite three sources for spices with you today.
Your local Indian store is a powerhouse of a spice source. The usage of spices in Indian cooking is wide and varied. We’re talking about a country that boasts hundreds of different sorts of blends. This is logically the first place you should look. Your local Indian grocery store is where you can get reasonable amounts of spices without paying an arm and a leg for them. Since we love our spices and use them liberally, you can also be sure that they will be fresh on the shelf. There is however, a caveat. They will be fresh only if there is a flourishing Indian community where you live. It matters. I remember the local stores around my grad school. There were a lot of Indians around. They were all students. Everyone’s moms sent spice care packages. The spices in the shop? Can you say dust packets covered in dust bunnies? Trust me, you do not want two-year old cumin powder in your dal. I learned this the hard, miserable way.
The San Francisco Bay area is home to one of the largest Indian communities in the United States and pretty much anything Indian can be found here. It has been available outside the city of San Francisco for a long time. When I moved here ten years ago, this was useful but wasn’t helpful on a daily basis. We lived then, as we do now, in the city but most others lived in Silicon valley. As a result, there were only a couple of dusty shops up here which looked like they’d materialized straight out of a 60s movie, complete with grumpy men behind the counter with scary large mustaches.
I have early memories of going to the market with my mom with bags of gahu, wheat for atta. There was a chakki (mill) there run by two men. My mom would pass the bag of wheat over to one guy who would pour it into a large metal funnel. A few strategic taps and a drum would be on a roll and within a few minutes we had freshly milled flour. The guy at the other end would scoop the flour into bags. Occasionally puffs of flours would rise up from the pouring process, bathing the entire interior of the shop in a milk cloudy haze. Fine as the best talcum powder, I can still remember how warm those bags would be, filled as they were with the still warm flour. The machine, the process; all of it fascinated me.
While waiting with mom for the flour, I noticed other people walking up with considerably smaller bags, even tins. The contents of those tins were tossed into a much tinier machine and were ground within seconds. Mom explained this was the masala mill, used by people to make their own masalas or ground spices. Sometimes a person would walk up with a bag and walk away with scarlet-hued dusted sack. These were folks getting their very own chilli powder ground. The gold flecked ones were generally garam masala.