Category Archives: food and cooking

Grass and turmeric and some same old (sweet) things.

Today I’m wondering what this grassy “weed” is, along a stretch of path by the creek that didn’t get mown down – yet? It’s very familiar, and I guessed it was rye, but I can’t match it up with anything in Weeds of the West at this stage. Maybe when the seed heads develop, if it is allowed to remain.

The Queen Anne’s Lace that made such a lush display last year was removed on my side of the creek, but there are a couple of plants starting to bloom on this far side:

Thursday I worked in the kitchen and cooked up a storm the whole day long. I hardly did anything else. Every other Thursday my CSA box (farm box) gets delivered, so I had that to deal with. I made some more of the Egg Bhurji, a sort of Indian scramble, and got the flavors closer to my goal. This time I grated fresh turmeric into it because I had it on hand. I had bought the turmeric rhizomes to plant, but there were more of them than I needed for that.

I boiled the quail eggs. They were so darling at every stage, I even had to take pictures of them simmering in the pot. One place I read said to cook them for two minutes, another four minutes, so I think I had them in the pan for about three minutes, and the yolks are soft, but that’s very pretty, too! And they are very tasty. 14 calories and 1.2g protein each.

Last Sunday when I saw them as the love offering on that bench, it was amazing how instantaneous was the progression in my mind to the thought, “I could raise quail!” Ha! I did laugh at myself. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, and it would be easier than chickens, but I want to get started on raising worms as my next homesteading project.

Now that the temperature has been in the 80’s the sweet peas are exploding; one day I took bouquets to two different neighbors, and the next day I filled two vases for my own house. Soon the stems will be too short to do much with, and I need to take them out anyway, to make room for the butternut squash that I will train up the trellis.

Some pretty blooms in the house are the Nodding Violet or Streptocarpella, a species of Streptocarpus, which a friend and I agreed sounds like a flower to feed a dinosaur with a sore throat. But they don’t make that many flowers that I want to offer them to the sick, so I think I will forget about the dinosaur and just remember Nodding Violet.

Mrs. Bread gave me my first plant, from which I accidentally broke a stem that I rooted into a second plant; I gave that second plant to friend Ann at church.  Then my violet was struck down by cold in the greenhouse one winter’s day, but by then Ann had started a second plant which she gave to me. And that is how we take care of each other and of our Nodding Violets, and how I am learning to just keep them safe in the house. They are nodding “Yes” to that:

And in the back garden, the red California poppies are blooming under the (fruitless) plum trees. Mr. Greenjeans said that the warm weather we had a few months ago confused the plums and made them bloom early; then the frost hit and destroyed the buds. 😦 So he doesn’t have any plums, either. This is the third year for my plums and I ate one last year.

Considering how little attention I have given my strawberries, and the fact that they are old plants, it is a big surprise to me that they are so happy and productive this spring. This morning I picked eight fruits to bring into the house, which might set a record, but that could be because in the past I have eaten them all in the garden.

I hope your June is starting out as happy as mine. ❤

How I saved my greens.

I’m ashamed to think of how much cilantro has gone bad in my fridge over the years. I love it, and so I buy a fresh bunch from time to time, which isn’t usually that pricey, but still, when it goes into the trash slimy and blackening, it’s a sad waste. 😦

Today I was busying myself cooking up vegetables that came in my CSA (community supported agriculture) box, and I came to the bunch of cilantro… Hmm… Maybe I had planned to combine that with tomatoes and peppers to make more Indian Egg Bhurji. But — No tomatoes were in the house, and I didn’t want to spend time de-stemming cilantro anyway. (I must need a special prayer to pray while I am doing that perfectly lovely job that seems so tedious. That’s what Kate told me to do about my boring floor exercises.)

An idea came to me when I saw the bag of arugula I’d bought yesterday — also something that I love, which I probably thought I’d put in a green salad, if I could get around to washing the lettuce… When I was a child, the task of preparing the large, leafy-green salad that without fail was part of our evening meal always fell to us children. I always wonder if I am harboring a childish rebelliousness deep in my psyche, that makes me resist salad-making, too.

The thought that occurred was, Could I make a sauce or pesto by combining arugula and cilantro? I’m not confident enough as a chef to go right at it, so I looked online and found that many people had done just that, with great variations. I customized mine to be fast-friendly (vegan) and not too lemony, and to use more arugula than cilantro, because I had a lot more of that leaf on hand. I kept the ingredients list short, and didn’t add garlic or pepper because the greens are both pretty flavorful already.

Here is what I came up with. All the amounts below are approximate. Many people like their pesto less thick, and will add more oil. Before washing the cilantro, I cut off the longest stems while they were still tied together in a bunch, but left the rest of the stems for the food processor to deal with. No de-stemming by hand!

SAVE the GREENS PESTO

3 cups packed cilantro
4 1/2 cups packed arugula
1/3 cup sunflower oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup toasted walnut pieces

Grind the walnuts in the food processor and then add the other ingredients to make a paste, adding more oil or salt or lemon to taste.

Until today I never paid much attention to all those “pestos” made from everything but the classic basil-olive oil-Parmesan combination, but recently I learned how to make Tarragon Salsa Verde from Jo, and found it very adaptable and always delicious. (I have planned to share my results with you but this recipe pushed ahead in line.)

I think its versatility gave me the hope that other green things could work together the same way. And they did indeed form something easy that saved us, greens and human, from possible shame, and added another tasty and healthy item to my menu options. Now I can spread my salad on crackers!

Food is fun!

Indian food is so diverse, and delicious to my taste, it’s hard not to eat too much of it. The ingredients, the processing and cooking and serving, all have new and strange aspects. This post is all about food, things I’ve learned about or eaten that didn’t fit into other posts on India.

1 – Veg and Non-Veg

These are the broad categories people refer to when they are telling what foods they eat, not with quite the same meaning as people in the U.S. who might define themselves as Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-free, Meat and Potatoes, I Eat Everything, etc. Here, Hindus are often “Veg,” meaning they do not eat meat or eggs, because they are Hindus and not for any health-related reasons. Muslims are Non-Veg because they have no religious ban on eating meat in general.

Our family does eat meat and eggs, so we are in the Non-Veg category, but it seems strange to say that, since we do like and eat a lot of vegetables! Hindus who do eat meat would rarely eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork. Chicken is in abundance, and water buffalo meat, and goat meat, known as mutton.

2 – An example of wonderful Veg food is the Gujarati Thali meal we enjoyed our first night in the mountains, a traditional spread of a variety of dishes taking its name from Gujarat, the Indian state just north of here. We were the only ones in the restaurant from the beginning of our meal until the end, because we arrived so early, 7:45.

You start out with a plate of empty stainless steel bowls, and then the waiters — we had four for the three of us — alternate bringing to the table pots of soups and stews and drinks which they ladle out, and plates of breads hot off the griddle, and as soon as you have eaten half of anything they are back to refill again and again. We found ourselves eating too fast, because they seemed to be urging us on.

Not only did they bring us refills, but they brought new items after a while, which of course we must try, until we were so plumped out we had to turn our eager hosts away, and finally eat the sweet pudding that I failed to take a picture of. I was trying to figure out what was in it — surely those little red threads bleeding orange and yellow into the creamy white must be saffron, but our waiters said not. I still don’t believe them; there was a bit of a language barrier.

3 – Milk

If you are Veg, you can still enjoy dishes like that pudding, which contained a milk product, maybe yogurt. India has become the biggest producer of milk in the world, though the average dairy milks only four cows and/or water buffaloes. “One of the main reasons India is the highest producer of milk is that it imports a lot of European cows and cross-breeds them with local varieties. But the most crucial reason is that India has had a successful decades-long programme to source milk from small farmers through cooperatives.”

Because Kate doesn’t trust the regulators of these little dairies, she buys milk in aseptic boxes, or cartons of pasteurized. But most Indian households take milk home from little shops that get it fresh daily in half-liter plastic bags, such as I saw when I went out shopping with Kareena. This smiling lady was just receiving the morning’s shipment. Kareena says they boil the milk in a pot when they get it home, and store it in the fridge in the same pot, which they don’t use for any other foods, I think mostly so that the flavors of chili and cumin won’t get into the milk.

4 – Ice cream  I love ice cream, and Indian ice cream is all good, in my experience. In addition to ice cream in interesting flavors they have  kulfi, which is just slightly different, always served in a cone shape. I have eaten chickoo ice cream and sitafal, or custard apple ice cream. Which carries me into the topic of:

3 – Fruit

The chikoo, called sapodilla some places in the world, has been described as malt-y, and Kate and I agreed that the ice cream is so. I ate some fresh custard apple fruit and it was indeed creamy and custardy. I wanted to finish the whole thing. But be prepared for lots of finger-lickin’. As it’s mostly seeds, I think the idea of making ice cream from the pulp was inspired. Custard apple is the Indian version of the cherimoya.

5 – Rose and Pistachio

These are two of my favorite exotic flavors. Back home, I have made an Indian tapioca pudding flavored with both. So when I had a choice of kulfi flavors, I chose pistachio. And the same weekend, after our sweaty stairclimbing hike we stopped in an eclectic restaurant called The German Bakery, where I saw on the menu a Turkish Rose shake. Without a doubt I would order that! And I drank two lemon ginger iced teas as well — I was a little dehydrated and they were small, after all.

6 – Spicy food

Yes, Indians do like to add the heat to many foods. At The German Bakery, Kate ordered a side of Garlic Chana, or chickpeas, for us to share. They were really hard to stop eating!

Not only do Indians like spicy flavors generally, but there are particularly Indian blends of spices that make things taste right to their palates. So they adjust western recipes to make them fit. For example, I was munching on some Sizzling Jalapeno Nacho Crisps that looked like many versions of tortilla chips you would find in the U.S. But they seemed a little odd… When I looked at the ingredient list I found that they had ginger in the spice mix. We would not think of that as a “nacho” flavor.

7 – Sweets

Gulab jamun are balls with a doughnut like consistency, swimming in syrup. They were offered as part of a buffet we ate recently, and we ladled a couple on to our dish of butterscotch ice cream — a pleasantly sticky experience. For once I had left my camera in my pocket, so I found a picture online of gulab jamun.

And for beauty of sweets, you can’t beat this collection that Kate bought at the same store where I was buying dried apricots. Lots of pistachio here, too:

8 – Salads

I did not expect to eat salad in India, because of the possibility of contamination of raw vegetables. At home, though, we do disinfect all of our produce as soon as it comes into the house, and when eating out or ordering in, it turns out that there are many restaurants with excellent reputations regarding the safety of their menu items. Word gets around among expats about the restaurants whose food has never been known to make anyone sick.

So I have eaten salads several times, and they were some of my favorites ever. The Indian chefs seem to be creative in ways that jive with my taste preferences. They don’t overuse the ingredients that I get tired of on the U.S. salad menus, like cranberries, red onion, and avocado.

One I ate was called “Bam Bam Thank You Lamb,” and was made of Romaine and iceberg lettuces, dried tomatoes, black rice, roasted cashews, feta cheese and braised lamb.

The salad below included arugula, chickpeas, puffed rice, amaranth, cherry tomatoes, sprouts, pomegranate, lotus seeds, and feta. Isn’t that wild?

9 – Vegetables, vegetables

I love visiting the neighborhood market and seeing every sort of vegetable imaginable. It’s kind of like this in California, but more expensive, and not as fun somehow. And it’s a joy to watch Kareena cook. She roasted eggplants completely on top of the stove, just turning them every half a minute for fifteen minutes or so.

Others have noted that Indian food is not beautiful or easily presentable as a visual work of art. There are lots of basically brown items. So I think the eye appeal often comes from the shapes and textures, and the aromas and tastes are definitely sensational! Kate and I were talking about this the other night as we lingered over dessert at a South Indian restaurant, a little bowl of creamy, golden brown pudding we shared, and mused over what the ingredients might be.

Eventually we learned from the waiter or figured out ourselves that they were chikoo fruit (photo below of the fresh fruit), millet, milk, ghee, about three golden raisins… a combination that added up to an externally drab affect. But oh, it was lovely, and we did not want it to end.

At home, I have been cooking so little since becoming a widow, compared to my life before that. I wonder if my stay in India will have any effect on my life in the kitchen once I am back again? If I do find that I have been inspired to create something interesting, I’ll let you know here, because food is fun!

snacks and addictions

If you see red stains on the sidewalk in an Indian city, it’s likely they are selling paan nearby. This snack is the only nasty one I am going to write about, so I’m getting it out of the way first. People use it after the manner of chewing tobacco, after they roll some betel or areca nut (Areca catechu) and perhaps tobacco and some other flavors and ingredients into a paan leaf, which is also called a betel leaf (Piper betle) although the plant it comes from is an entirely different species .

I found lots of information online about how healthy the paan leaf is; it is related to kava, so maybe that’s true. But I’m afraid that doesn’t make the whole concoction any less toxic. “Paan (under a variety of names) is … consumed in many other Asian countries and elsewhere in the world by some Asian emigrants, with or without tobacco. It is an addictive and euphoria-inducing formulation with adverse health effects.”

Kate pointed out these paan preparers to me and that made me curious enough to read more about the whole thing. In some places paan is outlawed because the chewers often spit on the sidewalk and it makes an unsightly red mess. It is possible to find recipes in which the betel nut part is optional, so you could eat a non-toxic version if you’re interested. Let me know and I will ask Kate where she found it. 🙂

So, that’s usually a bad sort of snack to be in the habit of eating, but Indians are great snackers all around, and you are in luck if you are looking for something spicy and crunchy. There must be a hundred snacks in this category that I haven’t tasted, but I’ll tell you about a small sample.

This flaky stuff below, poha chivda, is the first such food I encountered. The main ingredient is rice made into crisp flakes about the size of regular rolled oats, to which other very spicy ingredients are added. I can’t personally eat it tidily other than with a spoon out of a cup, but I think it must commonly be eaten out of hand, too. I found a recipe for it which I am linking to just so you can see a better photo of this snack that I love. The main ingredient would no doubt be hard to find in the U.S.:

Bitter gourd is battered and deep fried to make a food that is even more fiery than the above. Eating a whole 2″ diameter ring of this snack keeps me warm for quite a while:

Outside the famous Mary Mount church at Bandra Fort is a snack stand that caters both to tourists and to church people who might need one thing or another as they go in to worship and/or come out hungry:

We came upon a coconut stand, and Tom bought a fresh coconut that was served with a straw. Then he was given a scoop made from a slice of the fruit, with which to scrape out the creamy pulp that was left after we drank the coconut water.

Another favorite of Tom’s is sev puri, which is sold at the same snack stands as pani puri which I mentioned before. I have eaten it two or three times, when we stop on the street and two or three of us stand at the counter and share one of these savory bowls. I know, it looks a mess, but you get to watch it be assembled from several ingredients that combine to deliver a flavor punch with crunch on top. Highly recommended!

The moong dal snack below was offered in our hotel room last week and I have no idea what it is like because I’m saving it for something or other:

So far, the store pictured below was my favorite food shopping experience, for the large variety of dried fruit, snacks and sweets available there. Here Kate and friend Krishna are trying to get the attention of the busy clerks:

And it was at this store that I was introduced to the amazing dried apricots, no bigger than 1 1/2″, with pits intact. The flavor is sunshine bright, and they make a nice little nibble.

It would be easy to become addicted — but I’m counting them as health food!