Monthly Archives: September 2009

A Letter from a Librarian

Today’s word from Wordsmith,org was comstockery, which means, I believe, “Overzealous censorship of material considered obscene”

but the really interesting part of this e-mail was the link to a wonderfully well-written letter from a librarian called James LaRue in the U.S. to a lady who objected to his library stocking a children’s book (Uncle Bobby’s Wedding) that features a gay marriage as part of the story line.

The gentleman has written a  polite, well-considered  reply to explain why he thinks the book and others like it which speak of controversial subjects can and should be included in public library stocks.

To read something so well-reasoned, written in a reasonable way, is just such an inspiring, uplifting, pleasurable experience.

And two very insightful ideas that I found in the comments section were these (both from a comment by the librarian in response to another comment) –

“…and the beauty of childhood is not what they don’t know, but their eagerness and ability to learn, to make meaning….”

and this one, which should be obvious, but so often isn’t –

“The intent isn’t to steal innocence from anybody. It’s to help all of us make sense of a world that doesn’t, sometimes.”



Filed under NOT ABOUT FOOD

Evolution, and The God Question

Once again today, I found myself  struggling to discuss with Indira a vast subject that I know only a very little about, but that she is naturally curious to understand.

It all started with a picture of  homo erectus on a page of her French grammar book.  The picture  is there to illustrate a sentence containing a particular verb but it sent us off in a whole different direction, with evolution rather than conjugation becoming the subject of discussion.

She asked why/how people have changed as they do from prehistoric times to then the in-between times to now and I explained that this was called evolution, a process of adaptation to the environment. We then ended up talking about how humans spread to other parts of the world from Africa, that they once had as much body hair as chimps and monkeys (“eeew!”); why giraffes are said to have long necks; the reason that melanin levels – and therefore skin darkness – varies among say Indians and whiter skinned Europeans; the fact that humans were once animals that walked on all fours and gradually began to stand – and thus the name homo erectus; etc. This last part though she seemed to know already, having seen pictures of that progression in some book.

After a while though I told her we ought to get back to the grammar homework, since evolution would take a lot longer to get our heads around !

It was quite a coincidence then, to come across this set of two essays on the evolution v/s divine creation debate

fascinating ….

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Another win for Jenny’s Famous Carrot Cake !

Indira invited her class mates – and Elizabeth, from CM1 (the year after CE2), and petite Emilie, a little girl in Noor’s class who Indira loves and who loves Indira too – to La Petite Ferme for her birthday party on Sunday the 13th.

They provide a cake and drinks there in their restaurant and we’d asked for the chocolate cake which turned out to be really excellent.

But I had taken some carrot cake in any case, because Alicia, one of Indira’s classmates, is allergic to chocolate.

And I am glad I took enough so that each of them had a couple of pieces (though how I wished I had taken more, or larger pieces), because they  all enjoyed it so much more than the chocolate cake !!

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Filed under Cakes and Muffins, LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

Talking about what happened on September 11, 2001

It’s been 8 years, but I still remember watching the images on television of the WTC falling. The first few seconds I don’t think I was able to quite comprehend what was happening, or believe, or get my head around those pictures.

Indira was only 5 days old that day and I remember feeling so  scared and despondent that for all its’ progress the world could still on occasion be a dangerous and uncertain place.

Then yesterday, when she asked me, after having picked up some talk on the subject in the school play ground, why September 11 was a sad day for American people, I found myself unprepared to answer her question though it has been 8 years. But I will talk to her, this weekend, to explain just what happened and why – for it is important that she knows and understands – and this essay

will help me arrange my thoughts.

Moina Noor, the person who has written it tells of her experience so simply and with such integrity and very much from the heart.  I found it very moving and was able to relate completely to how she must feel as a  mother dealing with the issue.

She says at the end  “….I explained that good and bad exists in every group, even your own…”  which, I think, is the essence of what we all need to understand.

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

Prawn Balchao

This  recipe,  like the sabudana vadas, is courtesy Chef Sanjeev Kapoor of “Khana Khazana” fame.

When we discussed the recipes in one of his books a couple of months ago, Rakhi reccomended that I make this one.

I made it with balsamic vinegar as I didn’t have any other kind at home, but Rakhi had assured me  that the dish would not suffer on this account.

And indeed, just as she had told me, this is truly yummy, and brought back memories of the great balchao Boudi and B.’s Goan neighbor in Khar used to make at home and share with us.

Indira loved the masala and had some with rice, though she did find it too hot to have more than just a little.

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Prawn Balchao

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Filed under Curries, Versatile Accompaniments

Sabudana Vadas

It was Indira’s birthday last Sunday and after a good lunch at the Petite Provencale and a very fun afternoon at  Aquasplash in Antibes, we came home to a dinner of sabudana vadas and the tomato-avocado-pesto sandwich that is Indira’s current favorite thing to eat.

These vadas may not be quite like the original – and I fried them a little too long this time I think, so that some were a little too crisp – but they do satisfy my craving for this food. I remember all the train rides from Mumbai to Pune when I traveled between those cities on work – I used to look forward so eagerly to the vendors bringing around hot, crispy sabudana vadas !

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For about sixteen small vadas

3/4 cup of sabudana (sago pearls)

2 medium sized potatoes

1/2 a cup of roasted, roughly crushed peanuts

1 (or 2) green chilli, chopped fine (optional)

1 tablespoon of fresh coriander leaves, chopped fine

1/2 a tablespoon of lemon juice

salt to taste

enough oil – at least 400 ml – to deep fry the vadas

1 teaspoon of fresh, grated ginger(optional as well; the reason I put this in most things I cook is because I trust my Ma’s notion that ginger improves the digestion of pretty much any food. And since these vadas combine two starches – sago and potatoes- they are a prime candidate for this ingredient I feel)

Soak the sabudana, in just enough water to cover it’s top, for 3-4 hours. At the end of this time, the sabudana will have typically soaked in all the water; else drain any excess water (though this is unlikely to occur if you use only enough water to cover the sago pearls)

In the meanwhile cook the potatoes  in the microwave oven (this way there will be no risk of their becoming sticky or retaining any water, which can cause the vadas to break) then after they have cooled peel their skins off and mash them in a bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients, combine everything well and divide the mixture in to four equal portions. From each of these, make 4-6 equal sized balls and flatten them by pressing gently between your palms.

Fry the vadas in medium-hot oil till golden brown (so a little less brown than the ones in the picture).

On a rainy day, this is heaven.

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Filed under Picnic Food, Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments

Pretty Pasta Salad !

This is a personal favorite, one that I would love to make more often except I know that the rest of them prefer their pasta with sauce – unless it is au nature, with just some olive oil, which is the way the girls love it.

But they eat this without fuss as well, though with a lot of Parmesan cheese grated on top.

When I made it a few days ago the salad looked so pretty, sitting there so full of color, that I just had to take a picture, much to Indira’s amusement.

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Pasta Salad

There is enough here for 6.

Tricolor pasta, preferably the whole wheat kind – 200 gms (dry weight)

one large orange bell pepper, sliced quite fine

3 tomatoes, diced in to chunks

1 can of sweet corn (drained weight 140 grams)

some salad leaves, any kind (green as well as the ones with some  purple as they add so much color)

salt and dried basil to taste

3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons of lime juice for the dressing

Cook the pasta till it is done. In the meanwhile, assemble all the other ingredients except the salad leaves, season with salt and basil, pour the olive oil and lime juice evenly all over and toss everything well. When the pasta is done, drain and then cool it a little, before mixing it well with the other ingredients. Now add the salad leaves, and toss the salad a couple of times and leave it to rest for a while so that all the flavors mingle.

I love to eat this dish with a little drizzle of chilli-flavored oil and some freshly grated Parmesan.

This salad is a good picnic meal as well, like the wheat berry salad.


Filed under Easy One Pot Cooking, Picnic Food, Quick Meal Ideas, Salads, Versatile Accompaniments

Wheat berry Salad

This salad is excellent picnic food and I make it to take with us sometimes when we go out for the day.  But I do make it quite often otherwise too. Shri likes to take it for lunch so this is what the girls and I had for lunch too, yesterday, with the steamed trout.

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Wheat berry Salad

Wheat berries – 125 gms

Chickpeas – 1 can (drained weight 200 grams)

Sweet corn – 1 can (drained weight 140 grams) or a little more if you like

Frozed or fresh green beans – I do this by approximation; enough for a salad for 6

Tomatoes – 2 large or 3 small, diced (in to chunks not too small)

salt to taste

Pesto – again, approximate as per taste ; use just enough to coat the salad ingredients well, say 4 tablespoons but not too much

(I always leave the pesto out near the cooking surface for a while because most bottled varieties tend to be quite thick to begin with but actually contain a lot of oil, so they become a little more fluid this way, which makes me feel I am able to use less than I would otherwise.  I may be wrong about this but that is what I hope is happening !!)

Snap the frozen beans in to 1 inch or 1 and half inch long pieces and place these in a steaming basket/container. Bring a large quantity of water in a sauce pan to boil, add the wheat berries and cook them till they are soft enough for you. As the wheat berries cook, steam the beans till they are soft (but not so much that they are easily squashed; they will cook well before the wheat berries are done) on top of the same saucepan.

In the meanwhile put all the other ingredients except the salt in a large bowl. When the beans are done, cool them and  add them to the bowl, sprinkle some salt on top and mix everything well.

Drain the wheat berries when they are done, allow them to cool (else I tend to think the heat will soften the tomatoes too much, making the salad kind of mushy) and toss with all the other ingredients.

This is light and delicious, a great salad any time of the year.  Noor and I love it with cherry tomatoes instead of the regular kind. Grated carrots work well too.

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Filed under Picnic Food, Quick Meal Ideas, Salads, Versatile Accompaniments

Steamed Trout

Fish is one of those things I strangely cannot remember having watched my mother cook when I lived at home, though we had fish curry quite often  as both she and my father loved this dish and a friend of my father’s would often bring us delicious fresh water fish from his village that was not far from where we lived in Bokaro. And although Boudi, who is an excellent cook, makes the most delicious fish curries including Bengali cuisine classics such as bhapa maach and doi maach, I somehow never paid attention, when she was in the kitchen making one of those dishes, either. So each time I go back now to Mumbai for a holiday I tell myself that I am going to learn from her to cook one of those dishes. I never seem to get around to it though.

So fish has remained something that I don’t really know much to do with, which is the reason I either toss canned tuna or salmon in to pasta sauce or salads, or grill fresh fish as I learned to do a few years ago.  It is only recently that I have finally started to make a basic fish curry once in a while, and the girls do enjoy it.

And then this last Saturday we ate at the home of Doris and Jean-Luc, the parents of Indira’s childhood friend Celine and Doris made some excellent steamed white fish that Indira really loved. Luckily Doris cooked the fish after we arrived, so I was able to watch the process for myself. It is such a simple way to cook fish,  and so healthy too,  it made me regret that I hadn’t tried it all these years , especially when the girls were babies when it would have been so light and nutritious a meal for them.  Anyway…

So today for lunch I steamed trout, which Indira said, in her droll way, was “deliceuse !”

Noor was very satisfied with her lunch too, but then we had the fish with a salade de ble (made with wheat berries) which she loves, so it might have been that which worked for her.

Here’s my variation on the way Doris cooked the fish :

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Steamed Trout

Trout fillets

1 tablespoons of fresh rosemary

salt to taste

lime juice – enough for a liberal sprinkling over the fish, say 2 tablespoons, or a few slices of lime

Sprinkle first the salt, then the lime juice over the fish fillets(or place the slices of lime on top of the fillets).   Fill some water in the bowl of the steamer and set it to heat. Now spread the rosemary on top, place the fillets in the steamer and cook the fish till it is done.

Eat this hot, squeeze some more lime  if you like after breaking up the pieces of fish a little.

This preserves all the natural taste and sweetness of trout and, once again, a process tout simple.

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Filed under Easy One Pot Cooking, Quick Meal Ideas, Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments

A Journey of Discovery

The questions come so fast, and from so many different angles, I find it tough to keep up with them. Not that I could anyway, by way of answers.

What an experience this is, to see Indira trying to figure the world out.

Every time I start to tell them a little bit about anything, it quickly becomes a conversation I find myself struggling to cope with !

When we were in Mercantour last week, I forget how it started but I began to tell them once again (as I had first done when we saw the shroud – or to be accurate, the replica of it, since the original is locked away  – in Turin earlier this year) the parts I know of the story of Christianity, that some people say Jesus was the son of God, that he was killed (and that the use of the cross was a common method of the time) by some who thought he was becoming too powerful because his followers were growing in number, etc.

That and other conversations see them, especially Indira, asking the most pertinent questions, but ones that I am so ill-equipped to answer.

So where does God live?Does he really know everything?  Has anyone seen him? Can anyone see him?

She has never questioned that different people pray to different Gods – I like it that she accepts this as a given – but she does seem to wonder if there is a God at all.

Who makes the trees and the animals? How were the stars and the sun and the earth created? Was it God?

I said some people think so yes- for even if if there was something that the earth and the sun are formed out of, as scientists say happened, then who created that which came before, some people ask? So maybe that was God’s work, but then there are others who are not so sure.

At which point Shri arrived with the car so I was relieved to end by saying that they would have to wait to be older, to read about these things since I only knew as much as I had told them, though Noor seemed keen to pursue the conversation about Jesus and how come he was so wise.

Then tonight, at dinner, as Indira watched Shri and me add some sea salt to the soup  (the girls , bless them, seem not to have noticed that I added too little while cooking the soup) –

so how come there’s salt mixed up in the water in the sea? where does it come from? how do they take the salt out of the water? There is so much else that is mixed up in sea water ( not all of it clean, is her concern) so how come the salt is finally white?

Later, since she wanted to read “La Nature”  at bedtime, once again there was this flurry of questions, because she wanted to read the part that talks about how the earth came in to being.  To make things difficult for me, the book mentions the Big Bang and how things were in a molten state for millions of years after that , before cooling down to form rocks that then fused together to form larger bodies such as planets.  I have asked Indira to not worry about that bit  for now, but to  keep reading about these things so  that eventually when she is older she will be able to understand some part of this very complex theory.

But then –

How hot is 6000 degrees C( the temperature, according to the book, at the centre of the earth), exactly? So we talked about how the temperature of boiling water is already high enough to burn a person and the centre of the earth is 60 times that. But I struggle to convey the magnitude of such numbers, or indeed wrap my own head around them….

Also –

If there are all these other planets in our and other galaxies, then how come no one lives on them?

And – this is the one that I simply loved , because it seems such a logical question to ask – if they can’t be lived on, then why are all these planets there?

Wonder how creationists/intelligent design types would answer that one !

So I told her yes there are scientists who believe there are bound to be other planets in space, with earth-like conditions that perhaps support some form of life.

She then moved on to  –

Who decided that continents will be called continents and that they are made up of countries?

Why’s a lamp called a lamp and not some other word?

So how come there are so many different languages? Why do some people speak French, some English and some Japanese?

I have explained a little about how there are several different fields of science that study each of her questions, including how mankind developed speech and language, the growth of different languages and the connections between them (language is a subject that seems to really exercise her mind these days). She nodded knowledgeably as I  listed again the different areas of study – biology, archaeology, linguistics, chemistry etc; she seems to know that there are people whose job involves digging up dinosaur bones from the ground.

I can’t say I remember wondering about the world like this when I was their age, so it is quite fascinating to witness  their journey of discovery.

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Garlic Bread

Inspired by Shefali, I have started to make garlic bread at home finally. Shri misses the frozen kind we used to buy in HongKong from Delifrance, which one could just toast/grill at home with delicious results.

Here is the way I have been making it recently, which he as well as the girls like quite a lot.

Now if I could only remember to pull it out of the oven in time, instead of letting it go from being just the right crispness to bordering-on-burnt each time …

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Garlic Bread

One fresh baguette, sliced in to 1inch (or a little more)  wide pieces

Butter (about 5-7 teaspoons for this much baguette, though more would be definitely nicer)

1 large pod of garlic, grated

salt (just a little, say 1/2 a tsp or even less, as the accent should be predominantly of the herbs)

3/4 tsp of dried oregano flakes (vary this as you like)

1/2 tsp each of dried basil and thyme flakes (vary this too as you like)

Mix the garlic and seasoning in to the butter and leave it for a little while so that all the flavors are well-absorbed.

Spread a little butter on each side of the baguette pieces, then grill these at 200 degrees C in the middle of the oven for a few minutes on each side till they are done.

Et voila ! That is so simple, I wonder why I never tried it before – so a big thanks to Shefali for the inspiration.

I must try not to make it too often though – this is a very indulgent experience, with all that butter  🙂

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Filed under Breads, Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments

Potato Salad with Lemon and Chive Vinaigrette

At one point during these summer holidays, I found myself utterly exasperated with cooking the same things again and again. I happened to mentioned this to Jenny and told her that I was in desperate need of recipes that would be quick to cook and suited to the weather in terms of the cooking effort (low) and style (light, non-greasy, not spicy).

At this she was good enough to loan me, among other recipe books, her copy of Delia Smith’s ” Summer Collection”.

That’s where I found the recipe for this salad. When I made it last week  Indira liked enough to say “You should definitely make this again !”

I have made some changes to the original; here is my version.

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Potato Salad

6oo grams of potatoes, cooked in the microwave till they are soft, then peeled and diced (not too small) soon after you take them out

3-4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped small

2 tablespoons of fresh chives, snipped fine with scissors

For the vinaigrette

1 or 2 tablespoons of fresh, chopped mint

3-4 tablespoons of lemon juice

grated zest of one small lemon

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon (or a little more if you like more of this flavor) of grain mustard

1 clove of garlic, grated

rock salt, to taste

freshly milled black pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette then pour it on to the potatoes while they are still quite warm (the original recipe therefore requires that baby potatoes be used. Cook these with the skin on and add the dressing as soon as the potatoes are done, after draining the cooking water) and mix well.  Add the spring onions and the chives next, and mix the salad again a couple of times.

This is simple and delicious, with lots of subtle flavor.


Filed under Easy One Pot Cooking, Picnic Food, Quick Meal Ideas, Salads, Versatile Accompaniments

Two Days in the Mountains

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It was a very brief two days, but a lovely experience all the same. To sleep for even a night with the river flowing outside the window…is bliss.

What the girls enjoyed most was the long (1.7 km!) exhilarating luge ride down the monorail on the mountain in La Colmiane. The cable car ride that took us up to the top was a hair-raising experience, for me, though. Every time it stopped along the way – which it did several times and these were the open sort of seats , not the covered/glass cabin style of cable cars I have been in before – I wondered why we were doing something so foolhardy with the children…

They also gamely came along for a two hour walk on the alpine trail ahead of La Madone de Fenestre on Sunday morning.

We didn’t actually make it to the lake that the trail goes to, this time, but I ‘d love to go back one day next summer to do that hike again.It’s just the most beautiful place.

The square dancing we saw in St. Martin Vesubie, while a live band of musicians played traditional music, was wonderful too; a very gay time was being had by all. The way all those locals and tourists came together spontaneously to dance seemed a a live example of French joie de vivre.

The “parcours acrobatique” ( a freaky activity that involves crossing among trees in the forest on all sorts of rope bridges) which Indira and I did in Colmiane was very good fun as well, though a little scary to begin with !

The other thing I loved in St. Martin Vesubie (one of only two villages in France to have this) was the gargouille – a very narrow canal (less than a foot across)  with a mountain stream running through it – that runs down the main street of the village. Indeed, our chambre d’hote was right next to it so each time we stepped out to walk up to the restaurants/cafes/shops, Noor had lots of fun skipping around it and playing with the water which was icy cold.

But the thing that will stay with me is the immense silence on the mountain, on the trail as well as where we sat outside the cafe on our return to the place where the trail starts despite the other hikers around us. To experience that, even for just a few hours, is the most amazing feeling.

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Carrot Raita

This is another great way to use carrots.

I have grown very bored of eating this vegetable  in pulav and salad.  So I was very pleased to find this recipe in Kumud Marathe’s “Maharastrian Recipes – A Family Treasury”  – my bible for this kind of cuisine.

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Carrot Raita

2 large carrots, peeled and grated fine (a hand grater serves better for this than a food processor  I think, as the latter would not grate the carrots fine enough to allow them to blend well with the other ingredients)

350-450 gms of yoghurt (vary this amount to taste)

1 teaspoon of cumin powder (or to taste)

salt to taste

1/2 to 1  teaspoon of sugar

1 or 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

Whisk the yoghurt gently with all the ingredients (add a little water and semi-skimmed milk if the yoghurt seems too thick) except the carrots, then fold these in last.

Leave the raita in the refrigerator for a while to chill, if you want, but do make it at least an hour ahead so that all the flavors blend.

The original recipe calls for 1-2 green chillies (chopped fine) to be added as well, but I skipped this.

This raita makes for such a  pretty bowl to serve on the side with any meal; I think it lifted one notch the level of the lunch I gave everyone last week (when Shri was home and on holiday as well) which consisted of just khichdi with peas and this raita 🙂


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