Food (53) Fitness (10) Nature (7)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Roasted Garlic Hummus

Hey everyone.. snack-time. I don't know why it took so long, but it was only recently that we got a taste of hummus at a party somewhere. And I'm glad for this discovery..

Fig. 1. Roasted Garlic Hummus

Hummus is one of the the most diverse chutneys or dips out there. It's tasty, it's filling, it goes with any bread, chips or salad-veggies like a dip. It doubles up as a great sandwich spread. And the best part is that it is reasonably healthy. Has a lot of protein from the chick-peas. And the olive oil makes it healthy and flavorful. So the last few weeks we have been buying a tub of hummus every time we do groceries. Hummus with pita is a far better alternative to chips for a snack.

I figured if we are going to consume it so frequently I should look into the recipe. It turns out that hummus needs only a few primary ingredients. Everything else is just variations on the base. Cooked chick-peas, olive oil, sesame seeds (or tahini), salt and lemon juice or vinegar. Grind them all up and you have hummus. The variations could be adding all sorts of spices to this.

The hummus I have made here today has turned out so delicious that I will definitely be making this very frequently at home adding variations every time. Honestly, if you have the ingredients and a mixer then hummus is so easy to make, a caveman could.. uhmm.. let's just say it's easy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Eggplant Bhareet

Hey everyone! Today I am posting about an Eggplant Bhareet I made last week. It is fundamentally Eggplant in Yogurt Sauce. It also goes by the names of Baingan ka Raita, Dahi Baingan, etc.

Fig. 1. Eggplant Bhareet

There are several variations of this dish. I have made the ultra lazy version here today. The other versions are also quite quick and simple.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Get Going!

Fitness post time.. This post is for all of us who want to start activity.. think about it, talk about it.. and really want to... but never actually start.

I have done this myself. A lot! ;) And I have seen others do it too. For me this procrastination usually results from the fact that I am uncertain, perhaps undecided.. about whether I really really should do it. And if I do it, how do I do it? Here I have noticed that I often tend to mix whether I want to do something with whether I can do it.

Do you want to start getting active? Decide. Don't think about whether you can. (That is the next question, not this one.) Do you want to? Sit down and think about it. And then decide once and for all. However, that's easier said than done. I would sit down and think about it sometimes.. but I would still be undecided. The fact that there was no pressure, no health reason, no really important reason to start was primarily why I just wouldn't do anything about it. And there is no one who will be able to change this. You will take the decision only at your own time. And that's ok. Recognize that time when it comes and remember this post then.

If you have decided, and your decision is, "Yes, I want to get active and be fit," then you have taken your first step toward fitness! The decision has been taken. And your decisions are firm decisions! You will stick by them! But watch yourself now... because now is when the question "Can I be active?" comes in. This will bring with it a host of issues that you will soon use as excuses to get out of your resolve. Don't let this happen! You have decided to start on the road to being fit! And so you will start! Come what may. You will find solutions to the problems. And you will get going!

Uncertainty: You have no idea how to go about this "get active" business. You don't know anyone who runs or goes to the gym. You have never seen the inside of a gym other than in movies. Yoga.. you have no idea how to do it. So your intention is real and firm, but the path is unclear.

You cannot accomplish any project when you are un-informed. Where do you start? What do you do? Run? Swim? Walk? Get informed! Read up about fitness activities. There are many many things you can do. Pick an activity that suits you. Read up about your own health and health goals. Once your health is clear, you will be able to discard certain activities. Maybe you are pregnant and running is not for you. Other things may influence your choice of activity. Perhaps you have no access to swimming pools. Could yoga be preferable? Look around you, search on the net. There are classes, forums and groups of people in every city involved in some form of activity. There are fitness DVDs, online videos on youtube and other sites that will instruct you on yoga, aerobics and other such forms of at-home exercise. You will not find solutions unless you look for them. Do away with your uncertainty, get informed.

Time: This is another important reason why most people cannot manage to get started. You want to start, but really have no time. Well, fitness does not have to be time consuming. If you want to do it, just spend 15 minutes every day. Do a short 10-15 minute workout. Look on the net.. there are lots of DVDs and programs that promote 10 minute workouts. 10 minutes each day is better than nothing.

Another way to do this is to make extra time in your day. This is harder, but definitely more satisfying in terms of a workout. Get up earlier than you normally do. Just half an hour early. Those 30 extra minutes you get, are enough for a quick 1 or 2 mile run or walk around the block. This is what I have to do. I now wake up at 5.30am instead of 6.30am. Gives me a whole extra hour to get my run. And I don't do this every day. I give myself extra sleep every alternate day. I really need that sleep. But I steal that extra one hour on alternate days to get my runs in. I find that most women prefer this. Once the kids and the household is up there is no time for yourself. After a workout at the very beginning of your day you are ready to tackle anything that today brings you!

Only you can figure out your schedule. If this is important to you, then you will make time for it. Either go for short workout sessions that fit somewhere in your busy day or go for an early morning regimen, whatever works for you.

Cost: "So much money on gym membership! Gym clothes and shoes! I don't think this is permanent anyway. Just a passing thought today. In two days my motivation will be gone. Not worth it." These were my thoughts. So, initially I used my old sneakers to walk. Even started running in them. The gym access was in a friend's apartment complex for free. So I lucked out there. But when I stopped getting access to the gym I just started running outdoors. (Fortunately by then the weather did permit me to run outdoors!) Over 20-25 days I realized that I was enjoying running. It was NOT a passing thing! It improved my day significantly! So then I did shell out some cash to buy good shoes which are essential to prevent common running injuries. In fact, I feel that I will now often run just so as to justify the expense of the shoes! :D

So, I would say that you have to start first. Then over time you will be able to figure out whether running or walking or yoga is suitable for you, whether you enjoy it. That is when you can choose to spend the bare minimum you need for that activity. So be creative, you will find a solution to money matters.

Fear: "What if something hurts! What if I injure myself! I am fine now. I don't want to start some stupid fitness mania and break my leg or sprain my back acting like I'm a PT Usha!" This may sound melodramatic, but is actually a very valid concern. You want to research all possible aches and pains that may be normal for a beginner in whatever activity you choose. Otherwise any casual soreness or muscle pain will be an easy excuse for you to quit. It is the biggest relief when other runners tell you, "Sore shins for a beginner are normal. You are either running too fast or running on very hard ground. Try running on grass. Ice sore shins, they will stop hurting as they get used to the running." Read up, meet other people who are involved in your activity. Try to learn more about the sport you pick up. That is the only way to ward off this fear.

And accept that some amount of achy soreness will be there at the beginning. And with knowledge and experience you will recognize the difference between soreness and injury. Start very very slow. Over a few weeks your body will get accustomed to the stresses of exercise and let you push yourself more. That is when you ramp up a little more. Push just a tiny bit every week. Pain and injury are not enjoyable. Caution is always good. But fear will not hold you back!

All the other stuff: "Oh other people in the gym are much fitter than me! People will look at me when I run. I run like a duck! I am not going alone.. I have no company. Swim suits look cheap. I look bad in gym clothes. I don't want to sweat. There is a guy at the gym who makes me uncomfortable. There are these girls who are always laughing when I am there (i.e. laughing at me). My friends will think I am acting too smart. My bai will tell people in the building that I do aerobics and all!"

I have given 95% of the above excuses myself. So I am quite confident some of you have also thought these things! It's ok.. admit to yourself.. no need to tell anyone. But at least some of the above things are a matter of our own self-consciousness. Swim-suits, people's opinions... don't think about these things. Maybe they are laughing at you, maybe they aren't. You will never know. But paying heed to such things will certainly ensure that you will lose your goal!! You cannot let that happen. And you won't let stupid problems get in the way. You will aim for your goal and head straight towards it. Everything in your way can go to.... !!!

Some of these things however will be true problems. Safety, for instance. Please be safe. If you are running outside, run in safe neighborhoods or parks or places where you will see other people going for walks, runs and rides. Even when going to a gym, go at times when there are a lot of people. Otherwise find another gym. You want to focus on your workout, not worry about who might bother you. So it really should be safe. If gyms and the outdoors are not safe for you, there are plenty of at-home routines you can do.

And yes, people may be slightly resentful. Some people may not like that you are fit and they are not. I simply don't tell too many people about my running. I find that works best for me. Even casual talk can be misinterpreted as boasting. Don't talk too much about it. Just do it. And even then if people don't like it, then it's ok. You can't take care of everything. Take care of yourself, your family and your life. That is enough. Let the neighbors be jealous, let your bai bitch about your aerobics. Let it be. You are getting strong!! So they can bring it on! You can take it!

Now I must admit that I am not as strong and resolute as all of the above might imply. :D And you don't need to be either. Pretend to be resolute. It's ok. Really! Pretend to yourself. You have an iron will! Say that to yourself! Cheer yourself! Push yourself! Just start! Get going! You can do it... and so can I! :)

Info links: I am posting a few links in this post. Just some general suggestions for someplace to start:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Brown Pittye Unde (Laddoos)

Hey everyone.. it's finally time for some sugar!!! :)

Fig.1 Brown Pittye Unde

This is a dish I made up by chance.. ok, I admit it, by mistake actually. I was making Finger Millet Cookies from Aayi's Recipes. And instead of using a real cup measure, ignorantly, I used those Corelle style Mugs! Obviously all my measurements for ragi flour and sugar were in Mugs and the butter was in terms of butter-sticks (which translates to real cup measures). So that attempt was botched in terms of cookies. My "dough" ended up dry and crumbly. And I wasn't able to make cookies out of it.

But I was able to press the dough into laddoos!! Thus were discovered these laddoos. And the best part is that they taste really great!! Even hard-core people in my family who say, "Ragi? Ugh!" have been known to love these laddoos. Mind you, I have never told them this is Ragi. That explains the arcane name "Brown Pittye Unde" i.e. Laddoos made with brown powder/flour. Sneaky, sneaky!! ;) After my cunning attempts to mask the Ragi-ness of these.. don't you go about calling them anything else! Otherwise sooner or later it may get around to my folks!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chawli Vegetable Pulav

Hey everyone.. today it was time for another one-pot meal. Was not really in the mood to make anything elaborate. So I made a quick Pulav with Chawli (also known as Lobia or Black-eyed Peas) and some mixed vegetables. 

Fig.1 Chawli Vegetable Pulav

I often prowl on blogs and pick up ideas from there. But either by choice or because I don't have certain ingredients I often end up making many substitutions and variations. By the time I am done zippety-zapping in the kitchen it becomes very difficult to trace the ancestry of my dish and credit the bloggers of the original recipe without risking offending them! But really, if the dish tastes good the credit does go to them. See, I would never think about certain combinations if they weren't mentioned on those blogs first!

Such was the case today when I set out to make pulav. I always check out Aayi's Recipes for pulav ideas. Shilpa and Varada Aunty have put up tons of rice dishes there. Just one click on the rice label gives me an assortment of pulavs, biryanis and khichdis with pictures! And the lazy bum that I am, I don't even have to bother to think. I can just look at their ideas and incorporate them in some manner or other into my own cooking.

Shilpa's Methi-Avarekalu Rice recipe is the inspiration for what I have cooked here. I wanted something fairly filling, so I chose this dish. Loosely speaking, my dish is similar to Shilpa's recipe, but many of the ingredients and spices have changed. The fundamental concept here is from her blog. Adding beans to pulav!! Whood'av thunk! ;)

Fortunately despite all my changes this pulav tastes simply amazing!! Amazing enough that this is the second time I have made it and it is now time to record it on the blog. It would be truly worth your while to check out Shilpa's recipe too, my recipe is a fairly toned down version of hers.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Apple Jam - Happy Mother's Day

Hey everyone.. This is a jam I made for my Mom's birthday actually. Still have some.. so here it comes today!

Fig. 1 Apple Jam Jam Jammy!

My Mom makes the world's most wonderful Jam! But.. she completely wings it! So far I have not been able to extract a precise recipe from her that gives me jam that tastes exactly like hers. I think she largely eyeballs the process till it gives her the texture and taste that is so hers!! Oh well! The disadvantages of learning cooking on the phone. If I could see her make it, perhaps it might turn out perfect. The bane of my life is that no one has yet invented a "Beam me up, Scotty" style mass-transporter. Where is all the research money going? Who is working on this transporter stuff? Oh, if wishes were horses..

Today, I am trying my hand at food-fiction. So please bear with me. What follows is the product of a mind deranged by Jam and Star Trek!

Space Jam 
Starry-eyed Sarita was about to leave small-town, Homeville, for glitzy Bollywood! Math and Science had never interested her. Sarita was all for the Arts! She had always been the lead in school plays, the best in her dance class and the funniest family-entertainer on dull Sunday afternoons. There was no doubt she had a glorious career in cinema and theater ahead.

Finally the time had come for her to explore the world and find her place in it! The shine and shimmer of Bollywood had pervaded all of Homeville just as it had the rest of the world. And its sheen had not escaped young Sarita! She dreamed of being paired with SRK and Hritik Roshan, no less! Siya was going to be her screen-name and "Siya... naam toh suna hoga!" was going to be the new in dialog for the Johars and Chopras of Bollywood. Sarita was on her way to stardom and nothing would stand in her way!

Except... Jam!! Sarita was terribly foodie. And her Mom's cooking was something she couldn't do without! And it wasn't just her dal and rice.. Mom's cookies, her cakes, her chicken, her fish, her smoothies, her shakes, her mutton, her quiche....and most of all.. Mom's jams!!! Uff! No Mam, Sarita could not ham a single word on silver screen without her Mom's jam! Brought up in the world of PBnJ, Sarita had to have her dose of jam every single day! But shiny Bollywood was oceans away! Air travel was going to be so expensive and time consuming... there would be no way to get Mom's jam every day! And then there was the question of her Mom's cookies, her cakes, her chicken, her fish, her smoothies, her shakes, her mutton, her quiche....

Sarita's was a heavy heart. To give up her dream of Bollywood!!! Or to leave behind the Mom who generates the most glorious food on this planet! Sarita knew what had to be done. Someone had to do it. Someone simply had to do it!! And since no one else was doing it.. she would just have to roll up her own sleeves and do it herself!

She had to invent a mass-transporter!

Anything is possible when you are a woman with an iron resolve (and writing nonsense masquerading as food-fiction). So my dear readers, this was how the acclaimed Nobel Laureate, Madam Curie Purie, aka Sarita Purie started on her path to inventing the first mass-transporter on Earth. Her Mom's Apple Jam was the first test object to be transported from her refrigerator to the dining table. Only when she had herself executed the scientifically established "taste-test" and confirmed that the molecular arrangement of the re-materialized jam was perfection itself, did she release the mass-transporter for mass transport.

Her invention has now revolutionized travel all over the world. And yes, Sarita's dream has also come true! She still lives in Homeville, but works in Bollywood! She now routinely stars as Siya in Bollywood movies with SRK and Hritik Roshan (both actors together in the same movie, Sarita playing a double-role!)

Of course, Sarita has to produce her movies herself. After all, who will invest in a geeky jam-eater!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Carrot and Peas Pulav - for the Newbie Cook

This Pulav is probably good for newbie cooks, people who don't want to chop, don't have time to cook and students who own only a microwave in the one-room-plus-bath they share with four other people. I am none of the above! Oh, ok.. I am the one doesn't want to chop!

Fig. 1. Carrot and Peas Pulav

When you are really really new to cooking, it's quite common to think you are just a horrible cook. And this is affirmed by the output of your exertions and confirmed by the verbiage of your consumers. But please, be very clear in your own mind that you are a Newbie cook! Not a Bad one! There is a major difference. A newbie gets better. That is certain! There is no way for you to go but up! A good cook is one who cooks! Period. Don't throw in the towel right away! Cooking is a life skill. All you have to do is feed yourself. Don't you give up so easy!

Now I am no expert cook. So I cannot give great instructions to total cooking newbies. But in this one post today I will try my best to elaborate a bit in each step so that I can refer my hard-core, never-cooked-before friends here in case of emergency. Let me also list a few good websites for newbies to check out:

1) StartCooking is a site which seems to have lots of pictorial and video based tutorials for really really really basic things like how to cook long grain white rice, cook pasta, cook a potato in a microwave, how to boil eggs, fry eggs etc, etc as well as nicer dishes.
2) Manjula's Kitchen is a video-based blog. Manjula has a lot of videos where she does everything right from chopping and peeling vegetables, showing you the entire cooking process all the way to serving suggestions. Her comments section has tons of answers to commonly asked questions. I have used this site.
3) Show me the Curry is another video-based blog which shows a lot of easy ways to make basic as well as fairly complicated dishes. I have used this site too.
4) Vah re Vah is another site with cooking videos. But I have never actually made anything from there yet. Friends say it's decent. The cook seemed funny. Feel free to check it out.

Search on youtube and google for videos. Especially when you are really really new, I think it helps to see what they mean by "fry till golden brown" etc. Lots of blogs have newbie sections! So check out specifically those labels on any general food blog. But it varies from person to person as to what they consider "easy". ;) Pari of Foodelicious has recently started a blog for newbies in cooking, called Kitchen Basics. I will update more links on this post as and how I come across good basic cooking websites.

On to my pulav.. I make this pulav, or some variant of it, fairly regularly. This recipe requires some "is this rice cooked?" judgment, fairly basic ingredients and about 15 minutes of time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Two Miles for Moms in May, update 5: Last update

Hi everyone.. an early Happy Mother's Day to everyone! I will not be able to meet my Mom for Mother's Day. I think the least I can do is send some good wishes her way. At least that is my excuse to start this simple walking commitment this month. :)

Through all of May I will walk 2 miles every week in honor of Mothers everywhere. Through the entire 2 mile walk, I will focus my thoughts on my Mom and mothers in my family, friends and acquaintances and send my good wishes to them all. Good will spreads! I am sure my prayers and good wishes will influence their lives in some positive manner. Simple good wishes are my tribute to all Mothers everywhere!

I decided to do this after seeing Indira of Mahanandi start a work-out vratham. She is doing a work-out, diet and meditation plan for the month of May. And she has offered that others could join her in her vratham. You can check out her plan if you are interested. I felt that her exact plan is a bit intense for me at the present time since I am traveling and have all sorts of dietary menu restrictions already. I also already have my running going. But I wanted to join her at some level. Will also be nice to see what the others in the group do. So I have decided to add this 2 mile walk to my existing weekly running schedule.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mustard Fish Curry with Tomatoes

Through my entire childhood we have been making Bengali type fish curries at my home. So I have always thought of them as our home food. My Mom had got the original recipe for this fish curry from our bengali friend, M Aunty. And M Aunty used to make the best, best, best Bengali food on this planet!! Yum!! We have had some of the most wonderful times with their family! :)

 Fig. 1. Mustard Fish Curry (with tomatoes)

Thinking back, the cuisine at my home has, perhaps, been unusually diverse. And if you make dishes from someone else's traditional cuisine often.. verrrry often, they become part of your own home-food and your kids grow up thinking this is "the usual yellow fish curry" with no sense of Bengali, Gujrati, etc. Is that ok? Well, there are many dishes in my Mom's recipe book which I consider "food from our home" and I don't mean to be rude by that. Due credit goes to the origins of these dishes. But I cannot honestly be sure that something we call Bengali or Punjabi or Gujrati is really all that authentic Bengali or Punjabi or Gujrati! Our family's preferences, variations and modifications have changed this fish curry over time. As far as our family is concerned, this and all variations of this recipe are what we call Mustard Fish Curry. Many thanks to M Aunty for sharing this with us!! I hope it still retains a fair essence of what she had originally intended!

When I make this curry, oh, the fragrance of the Panch Phoran seasoning whets my appetite even before I get to the fishy part of the curry!! :) Try it once if you are a non-vegetarian. If you don't have Kalonji, try it without it. But when you do add kalonji you will really notice a difference. I don't use mustard oil. But I imagine that must add tremendous flavor too.

Anyway, if you have all the spices then there is really no major work in this curry. Simplicity of gastronomical proportions! :)