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The simple things in life

31 Jan

With all this advertising going on about how ‘every little helps’ and how we should ‘live well for less’, sometime I really wonder if buying fresh produce like vegetables, fruits, fish and such like, is anywhere near what is promised by supermarkets. It is a pity that I live nowhere near a market, but if given a choice, I think that I’d prefer shopping there, any day.

Recently, I was having a discussion over lunch with some of my work mates about how imporant good quality food really is, and I realised that back at home, in India, I somehow feel much better off knowing that the carrot I am eating comes from the local bhaji wallah who I can scold and argue with if the quality is bad, rather than a sanitary plastic bag that tells me its is fresh and washed, so I can put it straight in the pot (heebie jeebies! always wash vegetables even if they tell you they’re clean)

The discussion moved on to how, in fact, some supremarkets arent doing as well as they would expect, and people are slowly starting to realise that being cheap is one thing and quality yet another.

Flashing back, I also remembered that my grandfather and a few other elder men in the family would have a weekly ritual of going to the market and spending hours choosing only the best for their wives, children and grandchildren. The joy of then cooking with that produce would be unparalleled. Not only would it bring the family together, but also ensure that they lived long and healthy. Better ingredients always made better food, and that is a fact.

It is when the simple things in life are great, like that zesty sweet orange I like sinking my teeth into or the perky pomphret that I put in my curry, that you can truely live well.

Pastel – pretty Ladurée

20 Jul

On my recent London stay, I hopped out of my lonely hostel at King’s Cross and meandered to near-by Covent Garden for an evening of hustle-bustle. I had heard a lot about the new Ladurée outlet that had opened there and was dying to get my hands on some authentic French macaroons.

As expected, the place was full and the poor ladies behind the counter were finding it hard to keep track of all the enthusiastic fans and to-be fans queuing up to get a box-full. It was then that I noticed the steps going upstairs, made a quick enquiry and the next thing I found myself sitting in this pastel-shaded parlour of sorts, sipping some Vanilla tea and delicately spooning off from a Passion Fruit tart with raspberries (ooh lala :P) Of course it no longer bothered me that I was by myself. In fact, it felt like my own tiny secret (think young girl disguises herself and enters an aristocratic villa only to be lavished and doted upon!)

The waiters were totally friendly, and I had to give them a pat on the back by buying a box of Les Macarons. There were all kinds of flavours, including Lemon and Thyme, Passion fruit and Chocolate, Granny Smith Apple etc and I got a Cherry Box of six that cost me a fortune as far as macaroons go, but were worth every penny.

Despite my opening the box 2 days later, they remained quite supple (usually they turn really hard and the cream goes all squishy) and were a delight to bite into at tea.

I also discovered the quaint lilttle Ladurée also makes beauty products (with fresh cream?! :P), baby products and picnic products among others. You can explore more on they’re website  (which is incredibly cute complete with pictures, illustrations and sounds), and I urge everyone to definitely drop down to the store to get some of them amazing macaroons!

Wimbledon 2011

1 Jul

Just last week, I had the chance to go to Wimbledon, one that would’ve been impossible if not for my aunt and cousin who came visiting. Initially, it wasn’t even part of my plans, but as fate would have it, I made it there on the second day of play. Now Wimbledon is one of those places which if you follow even a tiny bit of tennis, you would know is sort of like the Mecca of the sport and you have to consider yourself very lucky to get the chance to experience it. It truly is the experience of a life time.

Speaking of experience, we were part of this tour type of thing called, no surprises here, The Wimbledon Experience. We were picked up in a mini-van at Southfields Station (that was beautifully done up to look like a tennis court) and from there, we were taken to the Experience Club, where we were given loads of Wimbledon merchandise.

While we were at it, we could also make good use of the free drinks *wink wink* and snacks, which of course we devoured with much relish.

My cousin, as seen in this picture, is as obsessed with taking pictures of himself with food, as I am. Guess it runs in the family!

But as we got out of there and on to our way to Court 1, it started to rain, and  it wouldn’t stop. We were worried we might lose the entire day’s play. To cheer ourselves up, we of course had the Wimbledon classic – strawberries and cream. This has been my dad’s dream – to watch a match while eating strawberries and cream- and I felt like I was living his dream and missed him immensely : ) The strawberries were large and crunchy under the teeth and the cream, which was smooth and cold, was the perfect accompaniment with the fruit. I have to say though, that I wish the cream was a bit sweeter.

We then made a tiny visit to the Wimbledon Museum, which was an amazing experience in itself. There was so much about Tennis history that I did not know and it turned out to be an amazing eye-opener, and also a confirmation of my love of the sport. I especially loved the the presentation by a Vitrual McEnroe about the evolution of tennis from the time that he came in until now;  and the screening of the best Wimbledon moments according to the visitor’s choice.

After hanging around like refugees till about 2 in the afternoon, the authorities announced that they would begin the day’s play (yes!) and so we made our way to Court 1 and waited. The sun soon came out and was applauded and cheered by the crowd that was waiting so patiently. For the first few minutes it was hard to believe that I was actually there, watching a Wimbledon match live at Wimbledon!

We were lucky to see Andy Murray play  as well as Petra Kvitkova among the women, who won the Semi-finals today. To celebrate, we gluggled some tasty Pimm’s with summer fruits (just perfect to go with the scorching sun)!

We left at about 8 in the evening, tired but exhilarated by the experience. We ended with a filling and delicious meal at Wagamama in Euston, an appropriate ending, to an eventful day.

Musee de beux Bouffe (The Museum of Fine Food)

18 May

While we were in Manchester the other day, we asked a random stranger in our dorm if we had visited the Museums.

“Do you visit the museums in your own country?” he asked, “Like, do you ever go there? So why should I go to a museum here?”

Totally flawed logic, but it did but a thought in mind. Personally, I haven’t visited even a tiny fraction of museums back in Mumbai. The only one I do remember is the Prince of Wales Museum, and that too because it was one of the most boring and tiring hot summer days of my child-life. When we’re abroad though, its a different story isn’t it?

Which brings me to my visit of the Birmingham museum. Of course I got the expected reaction – “Birmingham Museum? For what?!” I guess it was a bit odd and a little random, but I have to say that there was a lot to see in there and I really did enjoy myself.

But first, here’s a snapshot(s) of my short stroll through the Bull Ring market.

Birmingham Museum


Museums are a great way to get artistic inspiration and to see how trends keep recycling themselves. I remember going past the Jewllery section and thinking, “hey! I have something like that!” or “Wait, I’m going to get this made for myself when I get back home.”

There were some beautiful paintings and sculptures from the 17th, 18th and early 19th century that gave me a lot of story ideas, or just left me gaping at the artistry, skill and finesse of the work.

But most of all, I was really struck by this particular painting about an 18th century kitchen. It was supposed to depict the Biblical belief that God made all the natural bounty on Earth available for man to consume (not a bad though, eh?) and so the painter included every time of food there was, from fish to vegetables to poultry to meat to grains to what have you.

It made me wish I was there to see the ladies cook that in person. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands off it once all the dishes had been prepared!

As you can imagine, the museum visit left me very hungry. Thankfully there was a nice little Greek restaurant called ‘Athens’ (no surprises there!) down the road from it.

Greek Cuisine

For starters I had this wonderful thing called Dolamades (plural for Dolma) which is basically a stuffing of vegetables, or in this case meat, rice and vegetables wrapped in a grape leaf and steamed. Because its steamed, the stuffing remains really soft and the leaf that has now acquired a silky texture cuts easily and has this slight sour taste that makes it a delectable bite. It was served with a sweetish tomato sauce that complemented the sourness of the leaf and the slight saltiness of the stuffing.

Along with this, we ordered a ‘meze’ of olives, salad leaves, cucumbers, tomatoes, haloumi cheese, hummus, tzatziki and some other very yummy sauces and dips that I don’t know the names of! Along with this, we were served flat bread, warmed with olive oil. Yum!

For the main course (here’s evidence of my bottomless stomach) we had succulent chicken kebab accompanied by potatoes, really sweet boiled carrots, lemon and rice,

AND Lamb Kleftiko, meaning ” in style of the klephts ” . Now there is a really interesting story behind the name of this dish and the way it is made. Apparently, these guys were anti-Ottoman insurgents (when Greece was under Ottoman rule), somewhat like rugged guerilla fighters, living in the mountains, and because they didn’t have any of their own lamb, they used to steal it and cook it in a pit for hours so the smoke wouldn’t be let out. These days its made slightly differently, but the result is the same. The herbs, spices and lime marinate to the very bone of the lamb and the meat is rendered fluffy, soft, and with juices intact (*talk about food porn*)

When I had gorged on all that, I sealed it with one of the most amazing desserts of all time – Baklava,which is of Turkish origin . Its made of very fine layers of pastry dough that get crispier as you get to the top. Inside these layers are crushed walnuts, and the whole thing is dipped in sugar syrup (kill me NOW!). At this particular restaurant, it was served with whipped cream on the side. Although I was told this is not traditional,there weren’t any complains from me!

This brings me to the final thought of the day. What if there were a museum of fine food? Imagine a place where they could actually tell you stories of how dishes originated and demonstrate for you!  I would totally live there.

Saxon summer and Feaster Sunday

8 May

The sun’s come out! I don’t know about you guys but I’ve been starving for some sunshine and as you can imagine, I am savouring every minute of it. In fact, the assurance that it’s here to stay for at least the next few months, even makes me love the rain we’ve been getting the last two days. It’s all so beautiful!

I’ve already had some amazing times in the sun, and here’s a few I’d like to share with you-

Picnic Shicnic

I especially like lying in the sun with my girl friends, curled up on a towel with a book in hand (study material, I promise!) and chomping on some share-friendly finger food -chips, grapes, chocolate, wafers etc etc

Keeping it light!

Easter-Feaster

Barbecues are a wonderful idea, especially if they’re done well. And because the sun goes down to so late, you have an excuse to make them go on endlessly!

On Easter Sunday, some friends made some wonderful Tandoori chicken and Lamb straight on the BBQ grill.

For Vegetarians, there was a skewered cottage cheese and vegetables option.

And if that didn’t satisfy your appetite, there were yummy poppadums, chicken curry and biriyani (just the thought of it makes my mouth water!)

Saxon Summer

If you are blessed with *good food luck* , you will often times discover the type of place that not only serves great food, but also gives you a great ambience. Fortunately for me, a couple of friends took us to a place just like that near Leamington called the Saxon Mill.

Apart from breathtaking views of castles and flowing rivers…

…they also make very yummy cocktails.

And if you’re looking for summery food, they can fix you something really light but really yummy!

Mediterranean Platter, or some such

Fish cakes with Mango, rocket and tomato salad

Hope you’re enjoying your summer too. I’d love to hear about some of your fun times!

 
Picnic and Easter pictures courtesy: Shuli Sud

Sit and drink Penny-royalty!

1 May

I want to pat myself on the back for my excellent timing. The year I come to the UK, I get to the see the Royal Wedding in the Queen’s own country(I pray I can carry off such bright colours at her age)! I know a lot of people will bash me about supporting royalists. But. And forgive the horrid pun, this is the most Royal spectacle of all. It had to be seen and done!  And so I unabashedly declare that I gushed over the dress, I laughed at the ring-screwing and I  clapped animatedly when the kissed on the balcony. AND, I also ate Royal Wedding  themed food!

There was excitement in the air for almost 2 weeks before the wedding. Of course there were flags and offers and things, but I was especially enamoured by these ‘crown and country’ cupcakes I saw at corner sweet shop called ‘Sweet As’ in Leamington. Aren’t they cute?

On the day, the Uni had organised a nice little screening and there was quite a crowd, cheering the couple as they took their vows. Here I must mention that the wedding would not have been half an entertaining without the commentator, who sprinkled his commentary with some valuable jems.

The Uni food outlets too came out blazing guns. There was Curiositea with its sparkly cupcakes and cream tea (love those tissues!)

And Bread Oven with their Royal Wedding specials – Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sandwiches (veg option) and Coronation Chicken (Chicken, Mayo, Mustard and Raisins)

With me were my peeps Shuli, Hilary and Gruff. To add to the hullabaloo, we got ourselves some celebratory bottles of wine and cookies!

Roisin, who couldn’t make it, baked us this delicious lemon cake complete with lemon icing and cream (Thanks Roisin!)

Hope you guys had a ball at the wedding too!

Detox Vegetable Soup and Crunchy Mixed Salad

8 Apr

As I eat this very healthy detox soup and salad, I have a vision of myself sitting high up on a snow mountain in mediation. Haha. No, really, this is healthy food to the hilt, its what we in India call yogic,  “sattvic” food.

As the name suggests, this food is not meant to be ‘rajasic’ or stimulating to the taste bud. And believe me, I was really worried about who was going to eat all this soup and salad when it was made.

But happily, I was proved wrong. The soup was found to be “tasty” (my flatmates swore by it) and the salad was literally gone in minutes.

So first things first, the Crunchy Mixed Salad.

I got this recipe from my friend and ex-school mate Krittika. I made a few minor changes in the recipe, like adding seasonal four-leafs to it, but it is more or less the same as described in her version:

What you need:

A handful of cherry tomatoes
A handful of sprouts
One Red Bell Pepper
One Yellow Bell Pepper
Black Olives
Salt
Pepper
Lime Juice
Feta Cheese (Optional)

What to do:

Wash the cherry tomatoes and sprouts and put them into a bowl.
Cut the red and yellow bell peppers into two equal halves and remove the seeds.
Take one half of the red and yellow bell peppers and slice them into thin slivers and add them to the bowl. Take the two remaining halves of the bell peppers and roast them on the gas until they are lightly charred.
Once they are cool, wipe the charred area with some soft tissue and cut into slivers. Add into the bowl.
Add olives, salt and pepper to your liking. Add lime juice and sprinkle feta cheese into the bowl- gently mix the salad with your hands and serve immediately.
Sounds yummy right? Looks absolutely dashing too. I’m sure it does great for when you have guests to impress 🙂

And now, the Detox Soup.

Another friend of mine and coincidentally, an ex-school mate from the same school, Meghna, suggested I try the Itsu 7 Vegetable Detox soup. But because I don’t live close by, I couldn’t get my hands on it. Instead, I googled it, got an idea of what the basic ingredients were and then I simply improvised!

So the 7 vegetables you need are: Beans, bean sprouts, spinach, carrots, red bell pepper, mushrooms and coconut (though this isn’t technically a vegetable, it is used such in the recipe. I used it in coconut milk form)

You will also need:
Lime juice
Ginger juice (or you can use ground powder if its more convenient)
Salt to taste
Water, ofcourse
Glass noodles (I didn’t include these in my recipe

What to do:

Chop vegetables and keep aside.
In a large pot, boil 1 part coconut milk and 2 parts water. Add lime and ginger juice to it.
Now put in all the cut vegetables and boil till they are cooked. Add salt. Done!

Simple and fast. The best thing I like about it is that I dont have to use any oil or butter for it!

Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Day 3: Cold Turkey

7 Apr

Its day 3, and already I’m feeling the pangs. From time to time, I have to remind myself to breathe, and think about what a positive detox my body is going through… (#%$*&^*%#)

Anyway, so this morning, I decided to try my first Immitation Meat product. These are basically “Smok Ham Styled slices” which are supposed to be great with salads and sandwiches and are rich in proteins and what not. But who cares, right? Do they taste like smoky Ham at all?

The answer is: Yes. They have got the taste right. Its smoky. Its Ham-y.

But, what they don’t get is the texture. And I guess this is the problem with most imitation meats. They lack the bite.

I slapped a slice of Smoky Ham styled salami with a slice of Edam cheese and some lettuce on my Whole Grain bread (that I’m very proud about purchasing) which I got to slice with my teeny little kitchen knife (albeit a bit difficult)  which I then sprinkled with some chilli flakes and Italian seasoning.

Great. Filling, wholesome, healthy. I was happy.

In other news, I also tried Sunpat Creamy Peanut Butter, and let me tell you, I have not been more disappointed. All salt and no sugar, makes this peanut butter  a dull spread.

I long for Skippy’s PB that I used to have as a kid(anyone remember Skippy’s?)


The 9 day All-Vegetarian Challenge

5 Apr

Yesterday was my New Year (Gudi Padwa) and also the beginning of the Chotti Navratri (which literally means 9 nights). As a self-made decision, I have decided to go All-Vegetarian for these nine days (4th April – 13th April).  And this includes eggs.

Back home in India, this would’ve been a cake walk because let’s admit it, most households don’t eat that much non-vegetarian food on a regular basis anyway. Plus, there’s a huge variety of wholesome meals, fast-food and snack food, that is cheap and readily available.

I have to confess that I will miss biting into that juicy piece of meat once in a while (after all there is a total of 27 meals I have to go through) but on the bright side, its a great excuse to discover some amazing vegetarian recipes and give them their rightful due (as a bonus, it’ll be great to know that I have some will power too)!

To up the stakes, I also decided to go off Chocolate and Alcohol.

Prep:

So as not to be altogether as sea, I’ve prepped myself with some stuff that I’m going to work with these nine days:

Bread          Peanut Butter          Honey

Spaghetti       Potatoes              Salad leaves

Feta Cheese    Lettuce               Brown rice

Roti                   Lentils                 Edam Cheese slices

Fruit                 Custard mix

And finally, some Imitation meat, that I’m dying to try and review!

 

In the next few days I’ll be sharing with you my trials and tribulations and hopefully some yummy planned (and accidental) vegetarian recipes.

Wish me luck!

It don’t taste like Home

30 Mar

The other day someone asked me what I missed most about home. The answer that immediately came to mind was: Food. It’s not that ghar-ka-khana isn’t available here, or that it can’t be made…its just that its different.

For example, I tried to make Baingan Bharta (Roasted Aubergine with spices) last week.

I went and bought the nicest looking egg-plant, put it in the grill and coated it with oil to make it all nice and juicy.

I got a beautiful crack on the skin like you would never see on an eggplant back home.

I used all the right spices and condiments. Heck, I even threw in some peas.

No surprises here.

It tasted nothing like Bharta 😦 The eggplant didn’t even have seeds! And the burnt taste…let me not get started on the burnt taste.