Just Read

Delicious! – Ruth Reichl

Genre: Foodie fiction, fiction

Ruth Reichl is well known for her non-fiction food writing, none of which I have read. Delicious! is the author’s first work of fiction, one which has a backdrop of food to it. The book’s storyline seemed utterly charming – with an old-fashioned mansion, lots of food, a girl who can sniff out secret ingredients in any dish she just tastes once, eccentric librarians, letters, the most gorgeous of libraries, and batty old ladies. All of this notwithstanding, I ended up super-duper disappointed by the book.

The elements that the storyline is made up of are quite charming per se, but the storyline itself seems highly contrived and unrealistic. I was left looking for the point of a few chapters in the book. The author builds up hype about characters and their deep, dark secrets which, when revealed, are oh-so-disappointing. The heroine sounded quite dumb, in spite of her considerable talents, and the side characters were quite sad too.

Considering that the book is over 300 pages long, it took me a long, long, long time to finish it. Only to feel so very let down in the end. And, it was an anniversary present, too. Bah!

 

Barnheart: The Incurable Longing For A Farm Of One’s Own – Jenna Woginrich

Genre: Farm memoir, non-fiction

Jenna Woginrich suffers from ‘Barnheart’, ‘the incurable longing for a farm of one’s own’. She doesn’t own a house of her own yet, but she craves to have a little farm of her own, where she can grow her own vegetables and meat, have some cattle, produce her own milk and eggs. She is a beginner homesteader, and she can’t wait to start farming at the small rented cottage life brings her to, by chance. Barnheart is Jenna’s memoir of how this goes along.

I have mixed feelings about this book. There is no actual depth in the narration of the memoir, considering that Jenna is very much an amateur homesteader. I have read really inspiring farm memoirs by experienced farmers, and this book is nowhere near that. In fact, Jenna comes across as a little too presumptuous to bring in poultry and other animals to her rented cottage without her landlord’s permission, and to try to make do with the very limited resources she has. Now, a farm needs what a farm needs, and you cannot do all of that in a rented place!

That said, I felt the good thing is that Jenna seems to learn from her mistakes – she seemed to be learning as she went along the process of farming. She is determined to farm, come what may, and she learns how to do it the way she can.

This book will not really offer you any detailed insights about homesteading or farming per se, but it will definitely inspire you to at least start a little balcony garden or do the little bit you can to consume organic food, eat locally, and grow your own vegetables. It is a light, quick read, without getting too deep.

This is one farm memoir you can skip, I think – there are far better ones out there. That said, if you are looking for a light read, this is a good one.

 

The Yorkshire Pudding Club – Milly Johnson

Genre: Fiction, chick-lit

This one was proper chick-lit, with a whole lot of unrealistic scenarios thrown in, but I still enjoyed it. I didn’t love it, really, but didn’t hate it either.

The Yorkshire Pudding Club is the story of three women – Janey, Elizabeth and Helen – who have been friends since school. They are in their late 30s now, each one in a different kind of relationship. One fine day, the three friends visit an ancient fertility symbol, and only half-heartedly believe the recent statistics that 70% of the women who have visited the symbol have gotten pregnant. Soon enough, though, all three friends find themselves pregnant. What they go through in pregnancy – physically and mentally – and how this transforms them is what makes up the bulk of this book.

The characters are very real, the writing flows, and I was engrossed by the book till the very end. In spite of some rather unrealistic situations, as I said earlier. The author has done a wonderful job of depicting the aches and pains and joys of pregnancy, and it reminded me of the days when I was pregnant with my daughter. I loved the sort of camaraderie that the three friends shared in the book too – it had me aching for those kinds of girlfriends, too. The heroines aren’t entirely dumb here, as you come to expect of a chick-lit. You sort of start liking them along the way, and rooting for them.

The book makes for a fun, light read that is perfect for dull days, if you don’t look for logic in every scene. That said, there are some beautiful, very real-life-like moments in there – the author has done a brilliant job with that.

All in all, I would say the book was a read that I enjoyed.

 

A Spring Affair – Milly Johnson

Genre: Fiction, chick-lit

Lou Winter seems to have it all – a happy married life, a fantabulous house, a part-time job that allows her to take care of her family, and a husband whose career is on the rise. When she reads an article about the importance of tidying up, in a magazine while waiting at the dentist’s, little does Lou know that it is going to change her life for ever. She begins with cleaning out the clutter from different parts of her house, and finds that she just cannot stop. She has to clear away the clutter on a much deeper level, too, before she can find peace. This and more is what makes up the story of Milly Johnson’s A Spring Affair.

I picked up the book because the premise sounded so very interesting, and because I have read and enjoyed The Yorkshire Pudding Club by the same author recently. Sadly, though, this book disappointed me utterly. The characters felt dumb, unrealistic, and not at all likeable. I am okay with a few chick-lit-like situations in a book, but this book is entirely unrealistic chick-lit. The situations, the storyline, everything disappointed.😦 And, all this, after I spent close to a month reading this 300+-page tome!

 

Garden Spells – Sarah Addison Allen

Genre: Magic realism, fiction

I was hesitant to pick up this book because I have been burned by this author in the past, badly. I read her The Sugar Queen a few years back, and absolutely hated it. It was nowhere near the sweet, magical realism book I was expecting it to be. That explains why I never picked up anything by the author for so long. Big mistake.

Last week, I discovered I had Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells on my Kindle (Yes, I download books and then forget all about them!), and began to read it on a whim. I remembered reading a couple of very good reviews about the book, too, so I went ahead and plunged in too. If I hated it too much, I could always abandon it mid-way, right? But then, I didn’t have to do that – not at all. The book drew me in from the first chapter itself, and went on drawing me in, deeper and deeper.

Garden Spells is the story of Claire Waverley and Sydney Waverley, sisters of the Waverley clan, who are somewhat of a mystery in the small Southern town of Bascom that they belong to. Claire has been living in her Grandma Waverley’s old mansion in Bascom, trying to recreate her magical recipes that cause certain effects on people (a pie that will make a gushing young man slightly less interested in a woman, for instance!). The Waverley garden (with the apple tree whose fruits show the eater what the biggest events in their life will be) is Claire’s domain. When Sydney comes to live with Claire in Bascom, with something to hide, and her little daughter Bay in tow, Claire feels threatened. Do the sisters succeed in bonding with each other or not? Will Claire get over her insecurities? Just what is Sydney trying to hide? All of that and more makes up the storyline of Garden Spells.

I found the book oh-so-breezy and beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, in spite of the slightly dramatic ending (and a couple of other parts that are very Bollywood,too). The author’s writing is effortless, but mesmerising. The magic realism is subtle, and intriguing. The characters are cleverly sketched (including an old woman, Evanelle, who gives people things before they know they are going to need them!). The storyline is well-crafted, and it had me hooked till the very end. The author has done a brilliant job of portraying moments in Sydney and Claire’s lives – she has an enchanting way of describing things, for sure.

This is one book that I would urge all lovers of magic realism to read.

 

The Girl Who Chased The Moon – Sarah Addison Allen

Genre: Fiction, magic realism

I really liked the author’s Garden Spells, which I read a while back, but absolutely hated her The Sugar Queen. So, I was skeptical while picking up another book by the author – The Girl Who Chased The Moon. The storyline sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a shot. Sadly, though, the book turned out to be super-duper disappointing.

The writing, this time, seemed forced and not at all gripping. The book felt like it was written in a hurry. The characters weren’t likeable at all. The storyline wasn’t gripping at all – there were twists and turns in the story, but they too seemed forced. In fact, I felt like I kept waiting for the story to start happening till the very end of the book!

The magic realism part of it lacked the subtlety and beauty that the author has displayed in Garden Spells. There is wallpaper that changes its designs as per a person’s mood and a man who can sniff out flour and sugar and cakes from just about anywhere, but everything seemed lacklustre. There is romance in the book, too, but not sweet – that too seemed forced.

Overall, this wasn’t a book that I liked – right from the start to the end.

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts about them?

What are you reading at the moment?

Thai-Style Pineapple & Moong Sprouts Salad

Our salad spree continues. We are loving having salads for breakfast, along with lunch or dinner, or as an evening-time snack. We have been amazed at what we’ve learnt and found during this salad spree. There’s so much more to learn, as we go, too.

The latest salad I dished up, a couple of days ago, was a Thai-style one made of moong sprouts and chunks of ripe pineapple. Yes, we are totally in love with all things Thai these days! This particular salad was a burst of flavour in the mouth – sweet and spicy and sour and salty, all in one. Crushed peanuts added a crunch to it. Lip-smacking delicious it was, I tell you!

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This salad is pretty simple to make too – once you have the ingredients prepped and ready, you can whip this up in a matter of minutes.

Here’s how I made the salad..

Ingredients (serves 3):

2 cups moong sprouts, blanched in boiling water till half cooked, drained and let to cool completely – do not overcook them

1 cup pineapple, with the thorns and hard cores removed, chopped into chunks

Salt, to taste

Red chilli powder, to taste

4 tablespoons honey, or to taste

1/4 cup peanuts, dry roasted on medium heat, let to cool down completely, skin removed and pulsed coarsely for a second in a mixer – do not make a very fine powder

Juice of 1-1/2 lemon, or to taste

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped very finely

A small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped finely

Method:

  1. Mix everything together well, in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Taste, and adjust seasonings as required.
  3. Let rest for 5-7 minutes for the flavours to meld well together.
  4. Serve immediately.

Note: You must serve the salad immediately, otherwise you risk the peanuts getting all soggy and losing their crunchiness. If you don’t plan to serve it immediately, you could keep all the ingredients prepped and ready, and mix up the salad minutes before you are ready to serve.

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Here are some other salads that we have been making, this summer:

Thai green mango and moong sprouts salad

Thai raw mango and onion salad

Thai green papaya salad

Maharashtrian beetroot-onion raita

Moong sprouts and pomegranate salad

Kappa kizhangu/ tapioca salad

Moments

Dear Bubboo,

I love the way you smile in the mornings, in that half-sleep state when you have woken up but not woken up yet, when you feel around and realise that I am right next to you. You then cuddle up to me, or hug my hands, and lie on the bed quietly for some more time, before waking up fully. In those moments, you and I are so peaceful. We are the world then – there’s no one else.

Similarly, any time of the day when you look up from your playthings and see that I am there beside you, watching you, you crook your head a wee bit, in that distinct style of yours, and smile with your eyes. You get so very happy to know that I have not gone off rushing to run this errand or send off that e-mail or do a household chore, but chose to stay right there with you. I love the way you blossom, come into your own, when you realise I am 100% with you, without doing absolutely anything else. The world stops during such moments. Again, we are enclosed in a snow globe, enchanted, where everything is beautiful.

Moments like these make the parenting journey worthwhile. They give me the strength to go through your tantrums and mood swings. It is these moments that make me determined enough to see the back of sick days and not-so-good days with you. They remind me of how little you need at this stage of your life – all you need to be happy and feel safe is for your people to be around you. The greatest gift I can give you at this point in your life (and mine!) is time. Yes, there is a life to be lived and a household to be run, too, but this won’t wait long. I propose to grab as many of these moments as I can, before they slip away from my hands like sand.

Thank you for making me slow down, stop, and observe these moments. Thank you for teaching me that you don’t always need big, fancy stuff to be happy. Thank you for reminding me that there’s nothing like having your loved ones around you, smiling and playing with you – that’s the best thing one can ask for in life.

Here’s to many more such warm, joyous moments in the course of our journey together.

With loads and loads of love,

Amma

 

 

 

Kappa Kizhangu/ Tapioca Salad

Tapioca aka kappa kizhangu is a recent addition in our vegetable shopping list. We never had this vegetable before, mainly because I was clueless how to use it. My brother-in-law and his wife are big fans of tapioca, though, and swear by its taste and health benefits. They make this beautiful sort-of salad with it, which they love having for breakfast. We happened to have the salad at their place once, and got hooked. That was how we started buying this vegetable, too. I make the same salad that my brother-in-law’s wife makes – I don’t know how to make much else with tapioca.

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We have come to love this salad, a very South Indian-style one made with green chillies and coconut. We prefer having this as a snack, though I think this can be served as a side dish with rice, too.

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Here is how I make the salad.

Ingredients (serves 2):

1 medium-sized tapioca root or kappa kizhangu

Salt, to taste

A handful of fresh grated coconut

2-3 green chillies, or to taste

1 tablespoon oil

A pinch of asafoetida

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

Method:

  1. Cut the tapioca root into large pieces, without removing the skin. Put them in a vessel, adding just enough water to cover them. Boil the pieces in a pressure cooker, for 4 whistles. When the pressure has released entirely, open the cooker. When the tapioca has cooled down enough to handle, peel it and cut into cubes. Keep aside.
  2. Grind the green chillies and grated coconut to a coarse paste in a mixer. Use a little water if required. Keep aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a deep-bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. Add the asafoetida.
  4. Now, add the tapioca pieces to the pan, along with salt to taste and the coconut-green chilly paste. Mix well.
  5. Let the tapioca cook for two or three minutes on a medium flame, stirring off and on.
  6. Serve warm or cold.

Do you like kappa kizhangu? How do you use it in your kitchen?

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Here are some other salads that we have been making, this summer:

Thai green mango and moong sprouts salad

Thai raw mango and onion salad

Thai green papaya salad

Maharashtrian beetroot-onion raita

Moong sprouts and pomegranate salad

Moong Sprouts And Pomegranate Salad

This summer, we are totally in love in salads. As I said earlier here, I am enjoying coming up with a variety of salads. It is helping us cook less (and, thus, escape the heat of the kitchen), and eat less too. And, what’s more, these salads are delicious and healthy, too.

I was one of those people who would think that salads are boring, that they are meant to be eaten only when you are dieting. The recent research I have been doing (to come up with a different type of salad every now and then!) has been proving me completely wrong, and am I happy about it! I have been amazed by the hundreds of delectable salads and salad dressings that one can easily make in an Indian kitchen. Many of them are zero-oil recipes, too. What more can one want?

The latest salad that I tried my hands out on was a no-cook Moong Sprouts And Pomegranate Salad, one that everyone in our family loved to bits. The moong sprouts add a lovely crunch to the salad, and the dressing and pomegranate give it a gorgeous flavour. It looks so very beautiful, too, this salad. It is packed with flavour and nutrition (with the moong sprouts!), and is fat-free, considering there is no oil that goes into it.

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Here is how I made the salad:

Ingredients (serves 2):

About 3/4 cup of moong sprouts, raw

1 cup of pomegranate arils

Salt, to taste

2 green chillies, very, very finely chopped, so that you do not get bits of them while you eat the salad

3 tablespoons honey, or to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

A small bunch of coriander leaves, very finely chopped

A 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped very, very finely

Method:

  1. Mix everything well, in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Let the salad stand for 10 minutes, for the flavours to mix well with each other.
  3. Serve immediately.

Note:

If you aren’t too fond of raw moong sprouts, you could blanch them a bit in boiling water, with a little salt. This will make them semi-cooked, and the sprouts will not have that raw taste to them, yet retain their crunch. Drain out the water, let the sprouts cool and then add them to the salad. Make sure you do not overcook the sprouts, though.

Do you like the sound of this salad? Do try it out at home, some time!

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Here are some other salads we have enjoyed this summer:

Thai green mango and moong sprouts salad

Thai raw mango and onion salad

Thai green papaya salad

Maharashtrian beetroot-onion raita

 

 

 

Her Majesty’s Opinions

“Ammu, come, we’ll brush your teeth!”

“I won’t!”

***.

“Ammu, why don’t you have your breakfast?”

“I won’t!”

***

“Get off the washing machine. Let’s get inside?”

“I won’t!”

***

“Give Momma a kiss?”

“I won’t!”

***

“Give that bottle to Appa! It’ll break!”

“I won’t!”

***

“Hold Amma’s hand! You can’t run on the road like that!”

“I won’t!”

***

“Let’s go to sleep?”

“I won’t!”

***

That is how most conversations with Bubboo go, these days.

Clearly, the pint-sized one in our family has learnt to voice her opinion, loudly and clearly. Somewhere along the way, she has learnt that she can say no to things, and that it is super fun to do so!

So, this is how one-and-a-half looks like! I wonder how the terrible twos (that loads of people have warned me about) would be like. We aren’t really loving the anticipation.

Fresh Jalapeno & Cheese Bread Rolls

A while back, we had ordered some fresh jalapeno peppers from First Agro, just out of curiosity. We had never seen fresh jalapenos before, only the pickled version that is commonly available in most departmental stores. So, these were a novelty to us, and we couldn’t resist getting a packet. I was totally clueless about what to do with them, though.

I took a bite of one of the peppers, and shrieked out loud enough for the OH to come running. The pepper was super-duper hot, much spicier than the normal Indian green chillies that we are used to. That put me in a dilemma – what could I make with these beauties that wouldn’t kill us with the spiciness? I began to read up online about jalapenos and some dishes that you can use them in. I learnt that the spiciness decreases once the peppers are cooked, and that the most popular dish that one can make with them is Jalapeno & Cheese Poppers. There were a whole lot of different recipes for the poppers on the Internet, so, as usual, I decided to make something using a mish-mash of different recipes.

I made bread rolls with the jalapenos added in, and loads of cheese. The result was gorgeous – finger-licking delicious and not at all spicy, just infused with the lovely smell of jalapenos and filled with gooey melted cheese. Who wouldn’t love such a dish? I made about 15 rolls, all of which got gulped down within minutes.

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Here is how I made the rolls:

Ingredients (yields about 15 small rolls):

8-10 fresh jalapeno peppers, finely chopped after de-seeding them and removing the white fragments from their interiors (the jalapenos I had were roughly the size of Indian chillies, and not the huge peppers that are available internationally. If you happen to have the huge ones, cut down on the number of peppers you use for the rolls)

4 slices of bread (I used brown bread, but you could use any kind of bread actually)

4 cubes of cheese, grated (I used Amul)

A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

Salt, to taste (Be careful with the salt, as the cheese and bread have salt in them already)

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

Chaat masala, to taste

Garam masala, to taste

2-3 tablespoons of maida

Bread crumbs, to coat the rolls

Oil, for deep frying

Method:

  1. Take the grated cheese, chopped jalapenos, coriander, salt, red chilli powder, garam masala, and chaat masala in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Take some water in a dish. Soak each slice of bread in the water for a couple of seconds, and squeeze out the water immediately. You just need to get the bread wet, and not make a soggy mess of them. Add the squeezed-out bread slices to the mixing pan. Mix everything well together.
  3. Add just enough maida to the mixing bowl to bind a dough.
  4. Shape about 15 small balls out of the dough.
  5. Heat oil in a deep-bottomed kadhai, till smoking point.
  6. Once the oil is nice and hot, reduce the flame. Roll about 3 of the dough balls in bread crumbs, ensuring that they are fully covered in the crumbs. Drop these balls into the hot oil, and deep fry them well, till they get dark brown on the outside. Ensure that the balls are fried evenly.
  7. Fry all the balls similarly, after coating them with bread crumbs.
  8. Serve hot with tomato ketchup and/ or mint chutney.

Do you like the sound of these bread rolls? I hope you’ll love them too!

 

 

The Girl Who Eats The Moon

“Dearie, look up there at the sky! See, there is the moon!”

“Moon! Moon! Moon!”

“Shall we eat the moon?”

The little girl opens her mouth wide, and her father proceeds to grab the moon from the sky and put it into her mouth.

“Gulp it down quickly!”

“Apakk!”

“Yesterday, after you ate the moon, it got so dark outside. There were people looking for the moon, you know? Two of them came to our house and asked if we had seen the moon. I told them I knew nothing about it.”

*Big smile*

“Now, go to bed. If you go out, you’ll glow. People will think you are the moon.”

*Bigger grin*

This happens almost every day at our place, with almost the same reactions from Bubboo and almost the same dialogues by her father. It is the cutest thing I ever saw. 

Andha nilava thaan naan kai la pudichen, en rasaathi kaga is just about perfect for this father-daughter duo, me thinks!

 

Thai Green Mango & Moong Sprouts Salad

It is so hot these days that cooking up elaborate meals is getting more and more difficult by the day. We have been resorting to making meals out of salads and, if required, topping it up with some curd rice or buttermilk. It has been an utterly refreshing experience, and I have been enjoying coming up with a variety of salads.:)

The latest salad in our kitchen was a Thai-style one with green mango and moong sprouts. This is a beautiful salad, with the moong sprouts lending it a nice crunch and the raw mango and lemony dressing adding loads of flavour to it. What’s more, it is healthy too.

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I used this recipe as the base, to make the salad, with a few minor modifications of my own.

Here is how I made the salad.

Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

1 medium-sized raw mango, peeled and cut into strips

1 cup moong sprouts

1/4 cup peanuts (Dry roast them till crunchy, then let cool, remove the skin and pulse just for a second in a mixer. You need to crush the peanuts coarsely, and not make a fine powder)

3 tablespoons of honey (or to taste)

2 tablespoons soya sauce

Salt, to taste (Be careful with the salt, as you are using soya sauce too)

Red chilli powder, to taste

Juice of 1/2 lemon

A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

Method:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
  2. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
  3. If you are not planning to serve the salad immediately, you could keep the dressing ready (mix soya sauce, salt to taste, red chilli powder to taste, lemon juice and honey well), and the other ingredients handy. Mix up the salad just before you need to serve it.

Do you like the sound of this salad? I hope you’ll try it out too!

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Last year, I enjoyed cooking up a variety of dishes using raw mangoes. I hope to do the same this year, too.:)

Click here to see all my posts about last year’s raw mango series.

This season’s experiments:

Thai Raw Mango and Onion Salad

Tamil New Year Raw Mango Pachadi With Neem Flowers

This salad is my third experiment with raw mangoes this season.