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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Salad Days, with the Other Orange

I clearly cannot get over the gorgeousness of the orange this year — and it's not even my favourite colour!

They do say it's the runaway top trend on the summer runways; but I'm better at wolfing it down than at wearing it. I'd use them to accessorize my snack bag, but I don't think I'll be seeing any fresh ones in summer around here!

Yes, I strive to eat mostly seasonal and local (smarter for my wallet too, because I can then buy more). But occasionally, I will buy just the one piece of exotic fruit that I can't get around here — at least not in good shape. So a couple of times a year, I actually buy an orange.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Golden Mandarin Cake (or, an Abundance of Oranges)

Darjeeling oranges, five to a red net 'sock', are one of my favourite things about winter.

The perfect packaging-free snack to bring along when I go sit in the weak afternoon sun. The nicest prep-free, pre-portioned, no-cook, peelable dessert. They are always so sweet! Round and juicy, fragrant with that velvety oil, small wonder the Chinese use them for auspicious New Year tokens. (Yes, Gong Xi Fa Cai!  Prosperous Year of the Water Dragon! to you too.) 

The Chinese? What are they doing here, invading Darjeeling?!

Well, geography may not be my strong point; but in fact, the Darjeeling 'oranges' are mandarinstangerines, according to some; clementines, to others — rather than true oranges.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sunny Spinach Salad

It wasn't the most comforting of years, 2011 — no, it wasn't. It was challenging in more ways than one.

Contraptions around the house went kaput. The house itself creaked and leaked. Folks flew away. Things fell apart. Immunity and fitness wavered. Work schedules went haywire. Travel plans went awry. Wallets lost weight. The weight-loss plan piled on the pounds! The moods swung and rung like a carillon of bells. The summer was rained out; the monsoons were stormy; autumn sulked out of sight; winter was first warm, then wet...

Of course, challenges do create opportunity too. Contraptions were repaired and replaced. The house got fresh brick, mortar, plaster, paint, wiring, tiling, lighting... Folks flew in — and dropped in! Things came together, whimsically, when least expected. A fitness plan was resumed. Work got done, by the seat of the pants; concentration (to ignore the chaos) increased. Travelling took place. New work was sought — and found. The pounds finally budged. Moodiness was made room for, even enjoyed. The wardrobe rotation got a bit of a rest. The wellies came in handy. The garden was pulled up. Next year's seedlings were well-tested by the weather gods and goddesses...

But the best thing about challenges is the way they throw up surprises, pushing you to try something you never thought you'd get up to. Until it becomes a good, brave habit. Until — supermarkets refusing to stock your favourite South African pear — you bite the Chinese bullet: bring home the crunchy, sandy-fleshed Asian pear you used to abhor and let it mellow to nearly rotten. Until you find yourself at the wet market one gloomy morning, the last of 2011, delighted by the tender young spinach leaves and sunflower-bright pumpkin flowers — and come home whooping, 'Salad!'

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pod-pourri: Crunchy creeping greens :-p

Good golly, these crrrunchy green balls of Basella alba were as good as Christmas crackers!

So good, we're cooking them again. And again. With extra crunch. Before they disappear into flowers.

The sprouting buds of pNui shaak, aka Malabar spinach, creeping spinach, climbing spinach, or slippery spinach are called 'metuli' in Bangla (that's Bengali, to English-only speakers). While the heart-shaped leaves of pNui are cooked with a mish-mash of other vegetables — often with peels in, their texture serving to offset the mucilaginous quality of the shoots and greens — all year round, often partnering local freshwater fish too, the 'cream' of this crop emerges in winter.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolution: Have a blooming good year!

Brightening up my table on a new day, the first of a fresh year — these gorgeous sunny-golden pumpkin blossoms. Bought for a song, and destined to make the year's first lunch sing. Don't you just love kitchen ingredients and utensils that do double duty?

In the background, as the coffee drips, I hope to turn over a new leaf — which entails celebrating more of the local harvest (2011's last lunch was a revelation) and posting fresher!