Carrot and walnut cake with shrikhand topping and carrot laddoos : Of the importance of dads!

Appa, I want to go home. I don’t like the pool,” sobs a little seven-year old, clutching on to her father’s hand for comfort. She is shivering, not from the cold (this is Madras – always hot!), but from fear…

Very keen to jump into the water every time we took her to a chota (small) pool or an amusement park, she’d been eagerly looking forward to swimming lessons. So, a few days before lessons were due to start, off we went to get her the paraphernalia – swimsuit, goggles, flippers, cap, a Barbie (of course!) kitbag to put everything in and then as the summer camp for learners started, the family sets off to the pool, baby in tow, baby watching very interestedly indeed as her akka gets ready, catching enough of the excitement to occasionally take her two fingers out of her mouth to squeal in excited happiness! Something really nice was happening to Akka, that was for sure!

So, off we go and meet the coach, a hefty chap whose looks belie his gentleness. He’s also a focused man – with one aim in life – teach the kids to swim – and swim well! And he’s tough on the kids, with constant exhortations to keep their heads down. One day, two days and the excitement begins to wane a bit. By the end of the week, it’s as much as I can do to not pull her out of the pool – is this really worth it?! Hubby is made of sterner stuff, however and stays focused on the reason we’ve started her off on swimming classes – to get her asthma under control. He coaxes, gentles, cheerleads and … we keep at it – morning after morning, week afer week, getting up at an hour I hadn’t dreamed existed, packing breakfast to be eaten on the way to school straight from the pool. It’s still a struggle but it becomes better… till one day… she swims the entire length of the fifty metre pool without breaking off once to clutch at the bar on the side  for ‘moral support’!

She comes streaking out of the pool at the other end, “Appa, appa, appa..i did it! I swam the length! I love swimming! I don’t want to get out of the water ever! Appa, appa… appa!!”

And for the next few years, the daily morning swim is our ritual, Arch emerging one of the most stylish swimmers in the pool…

And that is the reason why kids need dads!

And if any of you hates the senti stuff, please stop reading NOW because this is going to be senti!

Here’s wishing this beloved older daughter of mine a very happy birthday today – yes – the day I finish my 365 – is the day she was born! To Arch, who brought the joy of motherhood into my life, whose extraordinary gentleness, sweetness and sense of justice have been a beacon to all of us, because of whose innocence we are all better human beings today, because we miss our baby like crazy! To Arch, whom I swore to love and cherish all my life as she lay in the crook of my arm after she was born… I could not make the world a better place for you, my dear, but I tried to make you strong for the world…

Here’s a birthday cake – a fusion cake – carrot and walnut because that’s your favourite, garnished with carrot “laddoos” to honour your Thatha (grandfather) to whom you were always his “laddoo”… happy birthday, my child.

 

FUSION CAKE

 

CARROT AND WALNUT CAKE WITH SAFFRON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING AND CARROT RAVA LADDOO BALLS

 

FOR CAKE

 

Finely grated carrots – 1.5 cups, loosely packed
Roasted, coarsely crushed walnuts – 1/2 cup
Maida/plain flour – 180 gms – sieved with
1 tsp  baking powder + 1/2 tsp  baking soda
Sugar – 160 gms
Eggs – 3
Oil (I used sunflower) – 1/2 cup
Cream (I save the skin of milk in the freezer, adding to it every day and then whizz it up for cakes) – 3/4 cup
Vanilla essence – 1 tsp

 

Apple sauce – 3/4 cup (the easiest way to do this is to wash 1 apple and chop it up roughly along with the skin. Whizz in the mixer with one tbsp water  till smooth. Microwave on high for 3 minutes and cool. You get a lovely pink applesauce!)

 

Blend the sugar with all the liquid ingredients. Add maida one-third at a time and keep mixing.Add the carrots and mix well.

Fold in the walnuts and bake at 180 C for about 45 minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool completely – the cake will shrink – not to worry.

 

FOR CARROT AND SAFFRON RAVA LADDOOS

 

Finely grated carrots – 1.5 cups
Fine rava/sooji/semolina – 3/4 cup
Almonds – 2 tbsp
Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp
Cardamom – 2 – powdered
Saffron – a few strands – soaked in 1 tsp warm milk
Sugar – 1/2 cup – powdered
Ghee – 4 tsp

 

Heat 2 tsp of the ghee and roast the semolina till yellow-ish and fragrant. Set aside.

Dry roast the cashew nuts and almonds, cool and blend into a rough crumble.

Heat the other 2 tbsp of ghee and fry the grated carrots for about 5-6 minutes. Add the milk with the saffron. Cool slightly.

Mix everything for the laddoos with your fingers and shape into small balls – this makes about 30. Eat three and set twenty seven aside for daughter’s birthday cake!

 

FOR SAFFRON FROSTING: Shrikhand

 

Hung yogurt – 2 cups
Sugar – 1/2 to 3/4 cup
Saffron – a few strands dissolved in 1 tsp milk

 

Whip the yogurt and sugar together till very smooth. Add  the saffron milk and mix. Spread over the cake.

Place the laddoos on the top and the walnuts (I forgot to do this in the pic!). Chill till serving time.

 

Celebrate the best-est older daughter in the world!

Please excuse the sop – it’s my baby’s birthday AND I got it approved by my best-est younger baby! So there!

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Potato tava fry : Of a budding Picasso (unrecognised!)

“Go to Sarrakkayya’s house this evening after your come home from school. I’ve fixed up for her to give you art lessons,” instructs my mother as she leaves for work. Sarrakkayya is my mom’s cousin and lives about half a mile away from us.

My heart sinks – not that I don’t like the aunt in question – I do! She is gentle and kind and fun and a rather talented lady who can do all kinds of things-  sing and tailor and do smocking and knit and crochet and of course, paint!

We are also used to my mother’s “projects” – there is always something under “improvement” – whether it is the growing of a vegetable garden – we already have a thriving veggie garden but my mom always has ambitious things she wants to do to it – like the “involve the children in growing things by making them responsible for their own vegetable patches” project in which we participated enthusiastically – very enthusiastically! I dug up my carrots every single day to ensure that they were growing – till they quietly gave up their ghosts!

Or the “teach the kids enough cooking so they can manage on their own” project which started when I was at the ripe old age of seven! Rather a successful project I think – smirk, smirk! The key was that my mom taught us the few things that we liked – omelettes, parathas, rice, tea and a curry and then decided the mission was successfully accomplished! We of course, by then were fired by the zeal to learn more… maybe because she left us alone after that…

The “make them learn the value of money by earning it” project where we delegated the tasks we were given to a random kid off the street, paid him a part of what we earned – thereby learning the ancient and dishonourable profession of ‘commission agents’ before we were ten!

All these were great – fun projects that we loved  and took part in enthusiastically! But when her gaze turned to us and she decided we were growing up like a bunch of uncultured hooligans and decided to take us in hand, then we were really in trouble! Being the youngest and maybe being a girl had something to do with it, also maybe she thought I needed the most improvement – but I was the worm that got caught more often that the other two who managed to sneak out to play cricket or karate or gilli-danda or whatever was the flavour of the season.

I got caught with music lessons – the bane of my life and the cross that my music teachers had to bear! The latest in the series was “art” lessons from said aunt.

So, mom fixes up with Sarrakkayya and I trail my way across the colony to her house. Any self-respecting snail would have beaten me hands down! As usual, I am tongue-tied with shyness. My aunt is very kind. Have I brought any paper? Crayons? Colours? No? Never mind, you couldn’t have known they were necessary supplies for an art class. But she can lend me everything I need. And asks me what I’d like to draw. I don’t know, of course!

She places a brown beer bottle on the table and asks me to draw it. I do. I believe, my aunt, for all her artistic talent, could not recognise the Picasso in the making in front of her – who could draw a brown square and call it a bottle… I must have unconsciously imbibed the spirit of Cubism – maybe in another incarnation!

Bang went art classes and I had some respite as my mother rested from her improving endeavours!

Rest and recreation usually means easy-to-digest food, right? Starchy stuff? Like this very delicious potato tava fry – crunchy on the outside, flaky on the inside and totally loaded with flavour!

 

POTATO TAVA CHOPS

 

Boiled potato – 500 gm. Peel, slice into 2 mm thick slices and place in a flat tray, uncovered, in the frig for a few hours or overnight
Oil – 2 -3 tbsp

 

FOR CRUMB

 

Fine semolina/rava – 1 cup – roast for 5 minutes till you get a nutty aroma. Do not let it brown
Sambar powder – 1 tsp
Chili powder – 1/2 tsp
Dhaniya/coriander pwd – 1/2 tsp<
Jeera/cumin pwd – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – 1/8 tsp
Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves – 3 sprigs – microwave for 2 minutes till crisp
Copra/dry coconut – grated – 2 tbsp
Jaggery grated or sugar – 2 tsp
Tamarind powder – 1/2 tsp OR juice of 2 limes
Salt
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Ghee – 1 tsp

 

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add all the powders and the copra. Roast for a few minutes. Add the rava, jaggery, salt and curry leaves. Mix well with your fingers to a fine breadcrumb consistency.

Press the potato slices into the crumb and roast on a hot tava pouring a few drops of oil on either side till the crumb is crisp.

Or spread out the crumb-covered slices on a baking tray, spray a little cooking oil over and bake for 10 minutes at 200C . Turn over and bake for a further 5 minutes.

 

You could do the same thing with boiled arbi/taro/colocasia /chaamagadda/chepankizhangu slices.

Serve with ketchup!

Let the Picasso inside shine!

(Pic: Courtesy Narayan Kumar)

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Korivi kharam: Of protecting animal rights and student rights!

So… I was at this party yesterday and heard this story from the daughter of a friend.

Her mother, a dynamic one-woman army (also a wonderful hostess!), teaches at a couple of B-schools in the city. She, one day, brings in a guest lecturer – another lady who’s an entrepreneur. The lady talks about her business – a very specialised affair growing the mediums for cultures to be used in biochemical labs. (That’s right – read it again – it took me three iterations before I figured out what that was about!).

She talks about the challenges that are specific to her business and how important it is to figure these out – in any business.

Her troubles involve rats. Rats – that’s right! Getting at her cultures! Rats apparently love cultures! Rat traps should do the trick, you think? Or rat poison? That, sadly, is not the end of the story. There are people who love rats as much as the rats love those cultures! And these are not random, weird, keepers-of-rats-as-pets kind of people. They are organised and part of PETA  (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Now, I’m all for them – animals, ethical treatment and all that but had no clue that they supported rat rights too! Come to think of it, rats have always got a bad press so it’s high time someone supported them! Attaboy, PETA!

Anyway, that’s not really the point of our story… which is about who’s going to support the ethical treatment of b-schools!

So the lady finishes her talk and our dynamic pal – the first lady – asks her students if they’ve understood and do they have any questions and the usual blah, blah at the end of a guest lecture. Everyone nods, but doesn’t seem to have questions.

In an effort to prod them and get a discussion going, she asks one of them, “So X (in the interests of the the ethical treatment of students, I’m not going to reveal his name!), can you tell me what her business is about?”

Vigorous nodding(Indian head bobbling!). “Yes, ma’am”!

Pleased that the kids have been listening, she asks him to elaborate…

It’s about protecting the rights of rats, ma’am!”

Hmmm… I am very, very curious to see where this kid ends up – an animal rights place, I hope!

To celebrate our very bright B-school grads (don’t lynch me – I’m one too!), here’s a kickstarter to ahem… brightness?!

 

TELANGANA KORIVI KHARAM/RIPE RED CHILI PICKLE

(Recipe courtesy my aunt Malathi Mohan – who doesn’t know yet that I’ve pinched the recipe! Thank you, pinni!)

 

Ripe red chillies: 1 kg
Tamarind: 1/4 kg
Jaggery: 100 gm
Salt to taste: 2- 4 tbsp
Asafoetida: 10gm
Fenugreek seeds: 2 tsp
Gingelly oil: 200 ml
Cumin (optional): 3 tbsp

 

 

Wash the chillies and air dry, remove the stalks and cut into three or four large pieces.

Wash the tamarind and soak in a small quantity of water.

Heat 2 tbsp oil and roast asafoetida and fenugreek seeds and cumin, remove from the pan and add the chilli and toss them till lightly roasted.

Grind all the roasted ingredients with tamarind and jaggery. Add salt gradually, to taste.

Heat the remaining oil. Add a tsp of mustard seeds and when they crackle, add the ground chutney and cook for a few minutes, stirring all the time till it moves in one lump like a halwa.

Cool and store in bottles, preferably in the refrigerator, if preserving for a long time. Serve with hot rice and ghee.

 

Mind that the rats don’t get at it – that’s carrying animal rights a bit too far, I think!

(Pic: Courtesy Narayan Kumar)

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Mocha kottai khaara kozhambu: Of protein supplements, ants and the Spanish Inquisition!

Ovaltine!

The very name makes me turn green… no, not with envy but with the blecch feeling anyone who has ever had to drink this… this... thing… knows!

Who knew at that time – when I was busily pouring Ovaltine down any open orifice of any willing or mute recipient I could find, that there were millions of starving children in Africa? I would have happily sent them my entire childhood supply without a care!

About those willing mouths – it started with the idea that my one and only doll – a Raggedy-Ann-ish kind of thing, was looking a little peaked and could do with some help – in the form of a glass of sweet – very sweet – Ovaltine poured carefully down her throat. She didn’t protest, at least she didn’t scream and kick – she just sadly let the thing pour out of her mouth and all over her dress… not to mention my tropical home being home also to millions of ants which swarmed all over her and which I then had to dunk in boiling water! (In addition to starving the kids in Africa, I now added the murder of zillions of ants to the list of my iniquities – I tell you – the Inquisitors had nothing on little kids where torture was concerned)!

A much battered, washed, faded and raggedier doll later, the same thing was tried on the plants – which had wilted away in the Hyderabadi summer. I don’t know about the roses but the ants thrived!

We didn’t have a dog then so a stray cat was my next… guinea pig. The cat, while initially suspicious of this weird-smelling, brown, sweet, yucky stuff, lapped it up quite happily after a few tentative licks. Best of all, no ants! And so there we were – with a solution which lasted as long as my mom’s Ovaltine phase did. Oh yes, these fads were seasonal – the next time around, it could be Bournvita or Complan or something equally disgusting! And for one particular period in our lives, our mom thought she could add value to our diet by also making us eat something – a round, dog-sick-green coloured disc euphemistically called a biscuit – it’s brand name was Threptin and it was supposed to be a nutritional supplement! Life, for a brief while till I  found a solution – was rather unlivable! Then I figured out that the bottom of the milk glass was exactly the same shape and size as the Threptin biscuit and quietly drowned my daily biscuit quota in the few millilitres of milk left at the bottom after the random cat had been fed!

Well, we grew up and graduated to coffee – which I loved! And I thought my days of being forced to drink medieval torture drinks were over (hmmm… maybe kids are unthinkingly cruel in a reflection of the world which forces things like Ovaltine down thir hapless throats?! – cruelty begetting cruelty, you think?). Then I got married and went through a bad phase of morning sickness with my first pregnancy.

Hubby, a very concerned soul but definitely not a kindred soul in matters gastronomique (he actually loves Complan and Ovaltine!!), decides that I am not keeping down enough food to keep a kitten alive (I am not!) and after consulting with my brother over the phone (I don’t know what my brother had against me!!), decides to give me a protein supplement by name “Spert”. Even now, I shudder at the thought of the drink. Suffice to say, it lived up to it’s name – a veritable spurt of an upchuck happened – staining the wall of my bedroom a permanent green!

Also suffice to say I prefer my protein in the form of beans and stuff – like this very delicious, very simple dish from Tamilnadu…

 

MOCHAKOTTAI KHAARA KOZHAMBU

 

Dried Mochai(Field Beans) – 1 cup – soak overnight or for 4-6 hours. Pressure cook till tender – 4-5 whistles and simmer for 5 minutes
Tamarind paste – 1.5 tsp
Red chilli Powder – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 2 tsp
Salt – to taste
Jaggery – 1 tsp

 

MASALA TO FRY AND GRIND

 

Oil – 1 tsp
Shallots / sambar Onion – 1/4 cup
Tomato – 2 – chopped
Garlic – 5 -6 cloves
Coriander seeds – 1.5 tsp
Coconut – 1/4 cup
Saunf/Fennel seeds – 1 tsp
Methi/Fenugreek seeds – 1/4 tsp

 

TADKA TO TEMPER

 

Oil – 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
Hing – a generous pinch
Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
Small onion – 10 – chopped
Tomato – 1/2
Garlic – 2-3 cloves – chopped

 

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the tempering ingredients. Saute till the tomatoes smell cooked.

Add the tamarind paste, the red chili powder, salt, sugar and coriander powder and saute for a couple of minutes. Add a little water if the mixture is too dry.

Add the paste and saute further for 3-4 minutes, adding a little water as required to stop it from sticking to the bottom.

Add the cooked beans, enough water to make it up to a medium thick gravy and salt.

Simmer, covered for ten  minutes or pressure cook for one more whistle.

 

Serve with rice and a dry potato curry on the side.

And go easy on the Spert!

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Vangyachi bhaji: Of fishy vegetables and other aversions!

You know what you’re eating is a fish, don’t you?” teases the older brother. The victim is his six-year old sister – my mother-in-law.

“Eeee… “ and she runs screaming from the room. Brought up in a very orthodox vegetarian household, where even eggs are anathema, the idea of eating fish makes her distinctly… queasy!

It’s been some seven decades after that but she still runs screaming (mentally , of course!) at the idea of eating eggplant – which is what the original seventy-years-ago dish was! My father-in-law, on the other hand, was a lover of the eggplant in any form and there was always a tussle about the number of times eggplant appeared on the menu – he would have happily eaten it everyday and she would have comfortably dispensed with it more than once a month!

Since hers was the hand that cooked and he wouldn’t have known what to do with an eggplant other than stare at it longingly hoping it would give up its delicious secrets, he needed to get her in a really good mood before the dish could be broached! She did, I must say, overcome her aversion enough to cook it for him but would always make something else for herself!

This bargaining is true of almost every household where the husband and wife have different ideas of what constitutes haute cuisine… or maybe even what constitutes edible food! During the early days of my marriage, I was horrified at the number of things hubby thought were not fit for the table – from capsicums to cauliflowers to omelettes with paranthas (my top favourite breakfast!) to jaggery to his very favourite peeve – garlic! In the beginning I took these seriously, thinking he really had a problem with the veggies. Then one day, at a Chinese restaurant, our man polishes off two bowlfuls of sweet garlic sauce, insisting it had no garlic!

I go back home and all pretences to avoiding this and that are dropped – I learn to sneak in podfuls of garlic in arrabiata sauce without our pal being any the wiser!

Me? I’d been brought up by a dad who was strict about us not expressing any dislikes of food – we could have preferences but we were definitely not allowed dislikes – which in effect – translated to ‘just eat what’s put in front of you’! And if you fussed, a stern “Mingu” (Swallow that!) took care of any fuss – down it went – food, salty tears and all!

I tried bringing up my kids on the same principles (without the ‘mingu’ business though!) and while they are not fussy eaters, Arch now insists that she has developed food preferences and I’d better watch out – she will no longer eat cabbage! Haha, I can live with that, I tell her… but what she doesn’t know yet is that I wasn’t born yesterday and have many more years of sneaking things into things without their knowing anything about it!

This one though, doesn’t need any sneakiness – it is by itself one of the most delicious ways of eating eggplant – the Maharashtrian way, which I have adapted slightly.

 

VANGYACHI BHAJI/EGGPLANT CURRY

 

  • Small, tender brinjals – 250 gm. Cut into cubes or slices
  • Peanuts – 1 tbsp
  • Sesame seeds – 1 tsp
  • Dry coconut/copra – 1.5 tbsp
  • Red chilies – 4
  • Saunf/aniseed – 1/2 tsp (optional)
  • Jeera/cumin – 1/2 tsp
  • Green chili – 1- chopped
  • Onion – chopped – 2 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Tamarind powder or paste – 1/2 tsp
  • Jaggery – 1/2 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 pinch
  • Curry leaves – a few
  • Salt
  • Any vegetable oil – 1 tbsp

 

Roast the peanuts, sesame, red chilies and aniseed separately in a dry pan. Cool and powder roughly.

 

Heat the oil in a pan and add the jeera. When it splutters, add curry leaves, asafoetida, green chili and onions. Fry till golden and add the turmeric and brinjal (eggplant) pieces. Add salt and tamarind and mix well. Cover and cook for about 7-8 minutes on a low flame till tender. Add the peanut powder, jaggery and mix again.

 

Cook for a further five minutes. Garnish with chopped fresh coriander and serve with rotis or rice as a side.

 

Promise people will run screaming towards this dish!

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