Looking for Something?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin-Eater's S(o)uper Supper

It's one of those things that has become, quite without design, a seasonal ritual and a family tradition: pumpkin soup.

There's something so soothing about it, not too sweet, nor too spicy, simple comfort in a time of change. There's something cheerful about a cup of the sunny liquid in a smoggy grey day or as the light falls to an early dusk.

As the festival of lights and the sibling-bonding rites bring the high Hindu festive season to a warm close, aglow with flickering diyas and satisfaction, the natural seasons flicker through their own change of guards. It's time for migrating wagtails to bob along the window sill. It's time to contend with flu-bitten family members and with one's own scratchy throat (a little too well smoked from the frenetic fireworks of suburban celebrants). It's not quite time for the winter glut of tomatoes, cauliflowers, broccoli and cabbages; but it is the season of fourteen greens, of sprouted palms and apples and other exotic fruits (like raisins, once the purview of the kabuliwallah), and of the fat marrows, gourds, squashes and pumpkins of cooler months.

The sweet yellow pumpkin turned up in the five fried or frittered vegetables of the Durga Puja feasts. The ash gourd has been looking to meet up with a few coconut curls for a while. The small, round, speckled green pumpkins have been turning up whole in their youth, rather than sliced into the wedges that maturity enjoins. And the courgette or zucchini — name determined by a marketer's whims, being both equally foreign appellations in these parts — is at its green or yellow best now, though considered a springtime special in the temperate zones.

So it was for many reasons fitting that Hallowe'en lunch fleshed out the cliche of a carved-up pumpkin and a sliced-diced-spiced green courgette ... in a cauldron of soup.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jetsetting to Supper

A scramble for supper.

That's what happens when you're trying to claw your way back to control over a haywire week.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Alpen Essen. Ich liebe.*

October always promises to be entertaining.

So it made sense that September was about armies marching to conquer the mountains of clutter.

And this army marched on bread and cheese, a la Schweiz.

Yes, the festivities of Sharath involve rather more than the usual rounds of eating, and hence occasions more cooking. But first comes the godmother of all cleaning. Because, of course, any sensible cook makes all sauber first. So before digging out the deghs and dekchis, we got to clearing the decks for the hour of the Dark Goddess and the Light.

First, we had to make sure we would be fed while the stove and oven were taken apart for their annual ritual purification. (Just kidding! But between us, neither you nor the goddess would believe how grotty it gets underneath the burner tray and behind the oven fans after a year of feeding the heathens.) And how Annapurna came through! With troops all the way from over from the Alps — we hear Mt Kailash got a bit shook up this year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tomme and her Wild Garlic Adventure

This story begins with the usual cheesy line: Once upon a time...

...there lived a little Swiss miss. Young Tomme was a soft-spoken lass. Her gentle, easy-going nature was legendary in the land.

A barnyard girl, if her milky complexion was starting to get a little wrinkly from the rustic straw she was made to sleep on, Tomme was never heard to complain.

And if some scared old men led by an old goat called Pasteur decided to scald her to make her safer for children and mothers to hang out with, while her sisters swanned around in all their native glory (blame their promiscuous ways on that cow, their mother), Tomme remained a biddable dinner guest and was still very pleasant to all visitors.

So how does this naive, gentle 17th-century maiden go and get tangled up with that pungent Wild Garlic person?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ode to a Tomato

The title's just a tall claim. I'm no poet, though this berry* made me wish I was. But since I can't rhyme to save my rind, I will stick to bald facts rather than even attempt blank verse.

It was as red as a pomegranate. Or a sunset. Rosy enough to send Snow White's apple into a sulk.

It was substantial enough to make sandwiches for two. Over four lunchtimes.

It was fruity. It was juicy. It was fragrant. It was meaty.

Seductively flounced though it was, looking all ready for salsa class, this was definitely no tart tomato. (If you made chutney of this berry, it would be a jam, certainly.)

It sashayed over from Switzerland in September, and found the perfect partner in an Appenzeller. But it was assertive, and liked to lead. (Good thing the cheese was meltingly pliant and the bread too well-bred to intrude. And if the mustard liked to spice things up, at least it was a good gossip and that's always welcome.)

Now that I'm done tom-toming the virtues of that tomato, I'm off to savour the last slice.

*A tomato IS a berry, botanically speaking.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The scent of spring is...rose apples!

It's coming up roses, weather-wise. That lovely, too-brief time of year when you pack away the woollies but not the silks; retire the water heater but don't call yet on the ice-maker; sun the pillows and air the quilts — and rush to get them out of the freak rain that reminds you it's not officially spring yet.

What? You say there's no spring in the tropics? Well, tell that to the birds and the trees. The roses aren't done yet, but the bottlebrush has gone a bright, bristling red that threatens a thorough spring cleaning. The spiders are shivering about their webs in the garden. The bulbuls and doves have gotten beyond chatter and coo to quite raucous courtship. And the elusive rose-apple is popping up in small, drab piles that lead us by the nose to roadside vendors.

Oh yes, the signature scent of a tropical spring is... rosy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Should I buy some blue cocoa butter?

I admit I'm sorely tempted.

By this too. And this (c'mon, it's even on sale!). And also, astoundingly, this. And this shining instance of extravagance.

And why did no one tell me I could get Lorina delivered to my doorstep? Eh?! Here I've just sent the Boy on a wild-goose chase for Ikea Slom bottles, which are lovely and cheap and efficient — and fragile for flying home with... When I could drink pomegranates and lemons (both unreliable buys as fresh fruit around here), while I save the free, equally lovely and efficient bottle they came in?

They carry Ahana Organic's wild rice and basil oil too, would you believe?

It's only a promise to our two selves to tighten belts and be reasonable about the obsessive larder stocking that has restrained my mouse hand from clicking. At least, this morning I've won the battle with temptation. No more purchases of pantry fillers, or even staples, till we are running at least half empty in freezer and drawers alike. So we're saving with every meal we cook. (I give it a month, maybe two.)

But won't someone please stop by Delicious Now and tell me if they deliver as promised? Pretty please? With pearl sugar and caramel cream on top?

(Hmm. Wasn't it just this morning I was fantasizing about Swedish sweet rolls for my coffee...?)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hairy Goat Biryani

Unlike your average Calcuttan, I'm not really big on biryani. And emphatically not enough to make a Sunday (or even month's-first-Sunday) ritual of it.

Yes, I'll admit the seared-steamed-roasted potato unique to biryani from this city, anathema to all others, is quite a golden nugget of fluffy fun-in-a-spud. But that's just the thing — a rice-and-meat steamed dish admittedly demanding of technique is one thing; the pursuit of the perfect potato is quite another.

And it's technique that lets down most biryanis. Oh, you can have each grain separate and the meat falling off the bones from many a roadside degh — but it's no good if it's so greasy as to stick together into a lardy lump the moment it cools to a tongue-friendly temperature. There's no joy in the delicacy of good degh technique when the spices crust the meat and dot the rice with coarse speckles; furring the palate with an excess of mace and screwpine. And the rubbery boiled eggs, so prized of some, I can do without the sulphurous stink of, though I admit they add much-needed colour to a monochrome meat-and-rice-(and-potato-perhaps) dish.

The other kinds of colour in your average box of biryani, now plastic-lined paper (to the convenience of your coat and the detriment of your health), are more worrying than winsome: traditional cochineal from a ground-up insect; turmeric that overwhelms flavour and fragrance, or worse, dishonestly dangerous metanil yellow, a carcinogen often sold under the guise of 'safe' tartrazine, itself an azo dye substituting the expensive saffron...

Hair-raising enough to put you off your lunch, isn't it? So why am I even thinking of dishing up any?

The recipe made me do it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A lick and a promise

It's been a sweet beginning to 2011. It should have been a sweet restart to this blog as well. But what can I say? It was a sunny, smoggy day, and the strawberries turned out to be soporific.

No cooking was involved in breakfast. Just splitting of flaky croissants, slathering of Nutella, slicing of strawberries — and sandwiching to sit beside a tall, dark and hot espresso.

But not for long. The last chocolate-sticky flakes and fragrant, bleeding-red berry bits were gone in under 20 seconds, and the nap was irresistible — until it was time to turn out lunch (which is the tale on another post).

However, the milestone of that first meal of the year, the decade (and the revived blog) will be remembered — and, I hope, repeated — for long beyond strawberry season. It's my newfound favourite no-cook breakfast. Sure, nothing beats a fresh-laid egg freshly and simply poached — as friends wishing me a 'sunny side up' year well know; or a superior scramble alongside crisp rashers and smoky maple syrup; and I dare anyone to turn up their noses at the fragrance of blueberry-banana muffins just popping out of the oven. But there's a luxury about the lack of effort involved in these strawberry-chocolate croissants.

There's a lot else to love.