Wednesday, 28 September 2011

{midweek monochrome}

The three of us spent the day rolling around, nursing our colds, talking through our noses, sneezing at each other. It was a good day, and we didn't say sorry when we sneezed.


You can also find this on Susan's wonderful blog, The Well-Seasoned Cook, for Black And White Wednesday.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Overheard on a salt marsh

I haven't been cooking. I haven't cooked anything that would make you dance around with a fork anyway.

The week has ended, and I've had no urge to dunk a duck in sherry, or to alter the natural state of an aubergine.

I'm loving this sense of lethargy. Well, as lethargic as lethargy can be with a busy nearly-three year old.

And I've been reading poetry. 

Oh, hang on. I'm a cliché.

I sit in a big old armchair, with feet on a footstool. Feel lethargic, read poetry. Drink black coffee. Microwave food. 

This is nice.

What can I say, you'll just have to ride this out with me. 

You might have to read some of the poetry I'm reading. I might even tempt you to be utterly useless for a while.


            Overheard on a salt marsh 
                Harold Monro

            Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
            Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?
            Give them me.
            Give them me. Give them me.
            Then I will howl all night in the reeds. Lie in the mud and howl
                for them.
            Goblin, why do you love them so?
            They are better than stars or water,
            Better than voices of winds that sing,
            Better than any man's fair daughter,
            Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
            Hush, I stole them out of the moon.
            Give me your beads. I desire them.
            I will howl in a deep lagoon for your green glass beads, I love
               them so. Give them me. Give them me.



Wednesday, 21 September 2011

{midweek monochrome}

It boils, waits forgotten, grows cold. Then I put it to the boil again. We play this game everyday, kettle and I.

You can also find this on Susan's wonderful blog, The Well-Seasoned Cook, for Black & White Wednesday.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A bit blue

Have you seen the sky today? It's the bluest blue. Without a spot. Spotless blue. It's a good piece of sky to be walking under. Talking under.

There's something uncomplicated about this shade of blue. A shade darker, and it would turn sombre, more thoughtfut. A shade lighter, and it would be cold and impersonal. But the blue on top of my head today is 'happy blue'.

And there are so many things in the house that match the sky. It's not a conscious collection of things in 'happy blue'. They seem to have collected themselves somehow. And now, there are swatches of sky strewn in every room.

Today, I need all the happy blues I can get. Ma and Baba left for India yesterday. We dropped them off at the airport for their long flight back home. Back to their own space. Back to friends. Back to the comfort of familiar chores.

But my house is terribly empty. And for days I'll miss the routine we'd all fallen into. The chatter. The cups of tea. Long walks. And longer meals. The house has suddenly become quiet. A bit sad. It's a different kind of blue.

So, I did the only thing anyone can do to banish the sad kind of blue. I baked bread. There's nothing like the smell of a loaf turning golden in the oven. Surely it must be the happiest smell in the world? The smell of warm, freshly baked bread, brown and crusty on top, soft and fluffy inside. If one could bottle the smell of a just-baked bread, I'd buy it for a grey day.

Lemon thyme, green peppercorns & cheddar bread

This bread defines delicious. Really. It's perfect, even on its own. Its softness seals in the tangy  fragrance of lemon thyme, the heat of the green peppercorns, and the cheesy, melted saltiness of cheddar.


2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup lemon thyme leaves
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tsp green peppercorns, roughly crushed
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbs butter melted
1 tbs olive oil to fry the onion and garlic
1 tsp olive oil to grease the bread tin
1/2 cup cold milk
A sprig of lemon thyme to garnish

In a pan, heat olive oil and fry the onion and garlic till well browned. Let it cool.
In a big bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, fine sea salt and pepper. To this mix the lemon thyme, green peppercorns, fried onion and garlic and cheddar. With your hands, mix them well, and quite firmly, slightly bruising the leaves.
In a separate bowl mix the eggs, olive oil and melted butter. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add a bit of cold milk if the mixture feels too tight.
Grease your bread tin. Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven, at 160 degrees C, for 45 - 50 minutes. Insert a knife in the centre of the bread. If it comes our clean, the bread is baked.
Garnish with a sprig of lemon thyme. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

{midweek monochrome}

Reflections in the kitchen

You can also find this on 'Black & White Wednesday', a photo event on Susan's wonderful blog, The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Sweet talk

Chotto-Ma is a month away from her 3rd birthday, and boy, is she talking her way into it!

She could teach a BBC reporter, with a long-standing career, a thing or two about exhaustive reporting, with a keen eye for detail. And, how to keep everyone updated on current affairs. The entrance of an ant through the garden door, and it's journey thereof. The state of the weather, with emphasis on cloud cover and wind speed. That corner of the room which needs re-hoovering. A new smell wafting in from the kitchen. Nothing sneaks past her radar.

When she wakes up in the morning, and I mean, the second she wakes up, she's on alert. This is no groggy little girl, rubbing her eyes.  The day's begun, and she must get on with it immediately. Within minutes, she's in our room, reporting her night's dream, which is an inch shorter than Homer's Odyssey. We burrow deeper into our duvets.

(But today's dream was so lovely that it made me grin into my pillow, and the grin woke me up. She'd dreamt that we were having a picnic on top of a rainbow. That's a nice story even for 6 am.)

The rest of the day is a well-directed documentary, and Chotto-ma is its narrator.  The commentary could be about the biscuit she dips in her tea. Her pressing need to meet Oliver Jeffers. How her shadow can change from short and stout to long and lean. Or about her conversations with real people, and with stuffed animals.

Yesterday, however, that commentary came to a sudden stop. There sat Choto-ma, without a word. In utter silence. And all because of an Apple & Cheese Strudel. Just out of the oven, crisp and golden on the outside; soft, cheesy, creamy and appley inside. There we sat, Ma, Baba, Chotto-ma, D and I - our mouths full of beautiful, warm strudel.

When the plates were all empty, her sweet talk flowed again.

"Yummy yummy, Ma".

Cheese & Apple Strudel


250g cream cheese, at room temperature
55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar  
2 apples, peeled and diced
4 sheets filo pastry
100g butter, melted
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cinnamon powder
Icing sugar, to dust

Preheat oven to 180°C.
In a pan, heat on tablspoon of butter. When the butter starts bubbling, add the diced apples. Stir on medium heat till the apples are soft. Transfer apples to a bowl, and add the walnuts and cinnamon. Give it all a good mix.
In another bowl, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
Place filo sheets on a clean work surface. Cover with a clean tea towel, then a damp tea towel (this will prevent it drying out). Brush 1 sheet of filo with a little of the melted butter. Top with another filo sheet and brush with a little melted butter. Continue the layering process with the remaining filo sheets and melted butter. Spoon the apple-walnut mixture along a short edge, leaving an 2 inch border on three sides. Top the apples with the cream cheese. Fold long edges of fillo over filling, then starting at short edge, roll up to enclose the filling. Place on tray. Brush with any remaining melted butter.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until strudel is golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oven and set aside for 30 minutes to cool to room temperature.
Dust the strudel with icing sugar and cut into slices to serve.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

{midweek monochrome}

This is going to be my weekly attempt to say something with my camera. 
An attempt at saying less, but hopefully, telling more. It might be utter gibberish at times, mediocre moments at others, so please bear with me while I fiddle with this big black thing hanging from my neck.

I'd love to know what the photographs make you think of. 
The first word that pops into your head. The first thought. A book, a memory, a movie. Anything. 

Too far

I'm also sending this off to Susan, at The Well-Seasoned Cook, for her fabulous photo event called Black & White Wednesday.

Monday, 5 September 2011


The first time I saw Laxmi, I forgot my manners and stared a few seconds too long. If I had just one word to describe my first impression of her, it would be 'peculiar'. Odd choice of adjective for the woman who was our cook.

It was the summer of 2004, and D and I had just moved to Bangalore from Kolkata. We'd unpacked ourselves into a sunny little apartment in leafy Defence Colony, and dived into busy new jobs. Then, one Sunday morning, Laxmi knocked on our door.

She was a small, frail woman, who could've been of any age; anything between 25 and 45. I still haven't a clue, and according to her, neither did she. Her face was like a collage, arranged in a hurry. An assortment of borrowed features, all fighting to have their say, much like a Cubist painting. Large, intense eyes sat on bitter-chocolate skin, the dark brown pupils obstinately meeting each other in the centre.

Her eyes were shy, but very busy. They flitted across my face, then to the far corner of the room, out of the window, to the neighbour's, then somewhere far away, and back again. I had the feeling that she had talked her arms and legs into being still for the sake of our first meeting. And had ordered her mouth into monosyllables. The only thing she couldn't quieten were her eyes. And her laugh. It was a sudden burst of sound, high-pitched and ill-timed. It came without warning, or much reason, and for a few minutes, it rearranged her eyes, nose and mouth into a slightly different collage. Another odd jumble.

I think it was Laxmi's laugh that startled me into giving her the job. On that Sunday morning, this little woman, who looked too frail to lift a frying pan, became my cook.

I soon found out that she was anything but frail, and had a personality to match. She was like the food she cooked - fiery and eccentric. Sometimes that meant coming back home to noodles that had been tortured with cumin and coriander powder and dollops of ketchup.  But when she managed to curb her need to experiment, the table would be laden with beautiful, aromatic food - lentils with curry leaves, vegetables with freshly grated coconut, a Kerala biryani, or a spicy fish curry.

But I don't remember Laxmi for the food she cooked. Her quirks were even more endearing than her cooking. I remember her big, unrestrained smiles. Her constant state of motion. The inexplicable sulks. I remember the stories she told of her family, and her feuds. A sudden, awkward hug from her thin, gangly arms. The way she cared for us so fiercely.  I remember her startling laugh. And then, her short, stoic goodbye.

We were in Bangalore for just a year. Not long at all. But long enough for my idiocyncratic cook to have stayed with me.

Laxmi's Cumin & Coriander Cabbage

This was one of Laxmi's simplest dishes. Cabbage stir-fried with cumin and coriander leaves. It's delicious, and one of the few dishes that I haven't tried 'adapting'. It's the quickest thing to toss up, and can be served up as a warm salad, as a side with grilled chicken, or with Indian flat breads like chapati.


1 cabbage, sliced in thin slivers
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 green chilli, sliced lengthwise and deseeded (optional)

1 cup chopped coriander leaves

1 1/2 tbs oil

Heat oil in a pan. When hot, lower heat to medium and add the cumin seeds. As soon as they start browning, add the cabbage, half of the coriander leaves, chilli (if using) and salt. Stir fry for 5 minutes, cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the rest of the coriander leaves and stir till the cabbage is cooked but still has a bit of its crunch.