Tagged: Original/ Family recipe

Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

My weekend was cold in more ways than one. Not only has the weather moved back into coolness but I was also working up a blizzard of all kinds of notes and books for my exam (the result of which, in case any of you are wondering, is known only to God and a few people at the grading agency, I certainly didn’t know which way that boat sailed). While Amey shivered in khaki shorts (heavy wishful thinking on his part; it wasn’t warm in the shade) and grappled with the problem of ‘backfill on site’, I wrestled with the concrete mix required to build a dam; warmed with a nice hot cocoa. Not the most fun way to spend what seemed to be a super gorgeous weekend in the sun. But we were inside, being cold; not in the sun. Story of our lives. Why has all my young life been spent taking exams? Isn’t it ridiculous irony that you can’t enjoy youth (and I’m stretching the blasted definition of that word to the extreme in application, after all you are as young as you feel) when you are young? I mean, shucks!!

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Mom-in law’s Sambhar

If television and eating out is any indication, there’s a trend I’ve noticed here in the US. Whole spices are not really appreciated in food. I have watched enough British cooks and chefs to realize that they have no problem bunging in whole spices. The Spanish and Italians don’t seem to mind it either. I’m not sure of the French, but then they are big on subtler flavours. Tune into any food related show on US networks  and you will see the cook/chef-of-the-hour urging you to use powder as opposed to the whole version. I’m guessing this is because moving the spice out of the food to the side of a plate may not be something one may want to do while eating. For Indians, it is so part of the food, we do it without thinking. And occasionally if you end up putting it in your mouth, well, unless it’s a cinnamon stick or a black cardamom pod, it’s highly unlikely to hurt you at all. In fact, chew it and deep flavours will be revealed to you in true glory.

Indian cooking is an excellent showcase of whole spices. In fact, they are much appreciated and their use can alter a dish significantly as opposed to the powdered spice. There’s a certain sprightliness and deep earthiness which they bring to a dish. The powdered spice brings the same thing only with a different degree of deep heat. It’s hard for me to imagine a biryani or pulao or meat curry without the inclusion of whole spices. It would be like the deep base missing from the symphony.

Starting with the black pods on top, clockwise: Star Anise, Green Cardamom, Whole Black Pepper, Cloves, Cinnamon, Turkish Bay Leaves and Black Cardamom in the center.

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Jaya’s Afghani Baingan

Boy, today was h-o-t! Yesterday was bad enough but this morning was unbelievable. April’s not even over yet and we’ve already had a record high of 92°F. To many of you it may seem that I’m overstating this, since you may live in much hotter places. Heck, I’ve lived in much hotter places. Bombay is far from a ski vacation and college in Texas had many sweltering days where being outside gave you a fairly good idea of what hell must feel like. The difference is, here in the Bay area, we’re spoiled weather-wise, especially in San Francisco. Think bright beautiful sunshine with your own personal air-conditioning around you. That’s what it is like, sunshine with heat optional. The fog ensures that we need jackets in the summer, because when there is no sun, it is cool. Even on hot days, the temperature difference between night and day can be as much as 30°, as it is supposed to tonight. And as I sit here writing this, smelling the ocean on this hot spring night, the breeze starting blow in through my window is telling me this will be true.

It’s a darn shame I can’t sleep on the roof of my apartment building. I would brave random nocturnal creature attacks to enjoy a few hours of cooling slumber. It is impossible trying to sleep when you are hot. You slowly roast where you lie, incapacitated and zapped to near death by the crazy heat. Living in these cooler climes has taught me that I prefer the cold. I love everything about summer except the heat. Crazy but true. Even as I continue to slowly type this at the rate of two words per minute, I’m getting slower as my brain continues to melt into oblivion. Oh my future and past kingdoms for an air-conditioned room! (Incidentally in case you are wondering, apartments here rarely have air-conditioning, courtesy the normally fabulous weather.)

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Chicken Tikka – our way

The trial of the licensing exams is upon me! It is why I sport dark circles under my eyes (courtesy trying to study into the night on workdays) that would be the envy of the most discerning raccoon. It also why I spend long periods at slogging away at books while I pretend to be oblivious to the sun shining outdoors. Without a doubt, this was easier to do in the winter months. The summer will be testing me on will power as well as subject material. As the exam dates draw nearer, I bury myself in books and cramming, accompanied by occasional rants at and about nothing and everything. Nights are reserved for incoherent babbling. My husband (who incidentally is very calm and collected through his licensing ordeal) bears all this with a good degree of forbearance. He takes over most daily requirements for living completely, thereby leaving me to my alternative lifestyle until the exam is done and I’m normal again. Among other things, he also takes over the cooking.

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Amey’s Chinatown Hakka Noodles

Plan a visit to San Francisco and chances are good that Chinatown will pop up on your itinerary. It’s a favourite with tourists. Yet unlike most tourist frequented areas, this also has a very strong local pulse. There are times in the day that this pulse becomes an aggressive beat, sort of like watching hundreds of people scramble to Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills. Stand in one place and you are liable to get bowled over by carts unloading or old grandma’s armed with shopping carts. For Chinatown, among other things, is also a veritable treasure trove of a market.

Living in the next neighbourhood as I do, I had never really spent much time in Chinatown since the very first time I lived in the city. I passed through it often yet never lingered much. The tourist attractions hold none for me and the markets, bakeries and restaurants confused me. I have a comfort zone with food which I tentatively push and expand a little at a time, and will certainly not do under any duress. And the stress of trying to figure out what was in a particularly enticing bun always reduced me to a bundle of nerves. And in that condition, I reach for the old and familiar not the new and untested. So Chinatown and I went on like those ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing.()
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