Monday 31 October 2011

Well done, Ma

Hah, hah and hah!

I tamed the beast. I snubbed the snob. I sewed. (I just sang that in my best operatic voice)

Last week, I told you that Singer and I weren't really getting along, remember? Well, we're doing better this week. One afternoon, I just took off one of our pillowcases, and cut it, and sewed it, and appliqu├ęd it, till it wasn't a pillowcase anymore. And when I finished, I whooped a shrill whoop, danced a little dance, and said 'yes' three times. And my daughter watched me with a grin on her face, and said 'Well done, Ma'.

Here's what I made - a reversible bag for Chotto-ma. Tell me what you think.

And here's another 'first' - we carved a pumpkin, Chotto-ma, D and I. Yes, this is the first pumpkin-face we have ever carved. For a while, Chotto-ma waited for the pumpkin to change into a fairytale carriage (because surely all pumpkins must do that), but this is what we had to settle for.

And the last 'first' - a pumpkin cake. I scooped out enough pumpkin from pumpkin-face to bake a cake that was rich and moist. And as healthy as a cake can be. It was full of texture, with the warm, roasted smell of pumpkin, paprika and pine-nuts. And a hint of sherry.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Pumpkin, paprika & pine-nut cake

2 cups grated pumpkin
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbs paprika powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup pine-nuts, roasted
2 eggs
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tbs softened butter
2/3 tbs sherry

Mix the grated pumpkin and paprika and keep aside.
Put the rest of your dry ingredients in a bowl and mix very well.
In another bowl mix all the wet ingredients well.
Now pour the wet mix into the dry mix, and with a wooden spoon, mix it all in till smooth.
Add the pumpkin and the pine-nuts, and give it a good stir
Grease your cake tin with some olive oil, and pour in your batter.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160 degree C, for 45-50 minutes.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

{midweek monochrome}

A group of pilgrims travel together from Southwark to Canterbury, in 14th century England. And to make the long journey less ardous, each pilgrim tells a tale.

I thought Canterbury would feel like a walk through my university literature. But the day did not have the dark grey dampness for Chaucer's story. It was too sunny, too happy. And there was a Starbucks leaning against the Cathedral.


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

Monday 24 October 2011

I could pun, but that's sew done

OK, that was completely unnecessary. And yes, I now own a sewing machine. I've owned it for two weeks now, but it's all very hush-hush. I mean, it's nice. It's white. It has S-I-N-G-E-R written on it, in red. A few frightful knobs, an unfriendly needle. An intimidating stance. Actually, I think it's a bit of a snob.

I stare at it. It stares back. And that's pretty much all we've done since it got here. 

I have designs whirring around my head. Scraps of fabric. A table that is just the right height. Tapes, threads, buttons, scissors. Three books on sewing, each heavier than the sewing machine. It's all there. But still, we sit and stare.

I really wasn't expecting myself to be such a wimp about this. In my head, I was fearless. I saw myself churning out covers for my cushions, and dresses for my daughter. I thought sewing would be genetic.

Ma is a bit of an elf with a sewing machine. I grew up wearing the prettiest, most fashionable clothes in the neighbourhood. Clothes that she would toss up, casually, without a pattern in sight. I would wear dresses with details that made other mothers weak in the knees.

But, Ma wouldn't let me anywhere near her beloved old machine. Or her little haberdashery cupboard. So now, I know nothing. (Ma, it's all your fault. ) For three years, I've been standing in toddler playgroups, singing 'wind the bobbin up',  thinking it was some old Victorian toy. Nah, says Singer Manual.

Anyway, after weeks of sub-zero silence, Singer and I managed to break the ice today. We wound the bobbin, threaded the needle and shook hands. I'll let you know how we get on. I just need to dig in. Get my hands dirty.

But between all the hemming and hawing, I did dig into something else. A pumpkin. Plump, and round, and orange. Like a warm, portly aunt. No knobs, no needles. So, I cut it open, dug out its the seeds, and got my hands dirty making dukkah.

Pumpkin Seed & Pistachio Dukkah

Dukkah is an Egyptian eat - a blend of seeds, nuts and spices which are coarsely ground to release a heady flavour. Served with bread and olive oil. As for the ingredients, I used  things that I had at home. Feel free to use other seeds, or nuts, and tweak the spices. Dukkah is highly adaptable.


1  cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup pistachios (you can use any nut you have at home)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sea salt

If you're using fresh pumpkin seeds, like I did, you need to boil the seeds in water, with a bit of salt, for 10 minutes. Or you could use pumpkin seeds off a shelf.
Put a flat pan on medium heat and dry-roast all the ingredients, except the sea salt. Stir constantly till the seeds, nut and spices give off a lovely roasted smell, and are lightly browned. Remove from heat and add salt.

Now, using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, grind everything. Dukkah is best ground coarse, but feel free to choose the texture you prefer. I did it in two batches - one very coarse, and one quite fine.
Serve with bread and extra virgin olive oil. Dip the bread into the oil and then into the dukkah. Enjoy.
You can store the dukkah in an airtight container.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

{midweek monochrome}

    When she sees another child scribbling on walls, she reminds me it's a 'not good problem'.
    I wonder what she would make of this.
    Brooklyn, NY


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

Monday 17 October 2011

Another cook, another time

Food can bring back the dead. I've been debating using that word. Dead.

Is 'passed away' better? Whenever I want to tell my daughter stories about people who are 'no longer with us', I'm always stuck at the point where she asks me, so where are they now, Ma? A 'star in the sky' is not really an option, is it? I did use that once, I must admit. But neither us were really convinced. So now, it's 'dead'. To her it just means people that we can talk about, think about, but can't see, nor have chocolate cake with. Now, the conversation goes like this:

Where is she, Ma?
Oh ok.

We're good with that. For now.

She also knows that Bubulma is one of those people that we can only talk about. Bubulma is what she calls D's mother. Someone she will never know, but whom she could have a sense of knowing, through the stories we tell her. Through the photographs we show her. And through food.

When I said 'food can bring back the dead', I wasn't referring to lunch with Psychic Sally. I was talking about food that brings back memories of people you loved and miss. When I cook something that my grandmother used to cook when I was little, or use a recipe that my mother-in-law had perfected, I bring them back a little. I get a sense of the flavours they loved, the spices they had in their kitchen, and the crops that grew around them. And so I carry them forward, and pass them on. And my daughter gets a sense of someone long gone. The stirring of an old spoon.

Bubulma's Pea Tikki

This was one of our favourites from Bubulma's kitchen repertoire. She would make it every winter with freshly shelled peas. I made it recently for Chotto-ma's birthday party, and it was one of the most popular things on the table.


6/7 potatoes, boiled and peeled
5 cups peas
2-inch ginger, sliced
1 green chilli
1 tsp aniseed
1 tsp cumin seed, roasted
A small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped 
4 tbs oil
Flour for dusting

Mash the boiled potatoes with salt and chopped coriander, and keep aside.
In a blender or mixer, put the peas, ginger, green chilli, aniseed and cumin seeds, and blitz till smooth.
In a flat pan, heat 1 tbs of oil, and add the pea paste. On fairly high heat, stir constantly till it becomes drier and tighter, almost like soft dough. Let it cool.
Once cooled, roll the paste between your palms to form several small, round green balls.
Cover each green ball with mashed potato, and flatten them into round discs or tikkis.
Dust the discs with a bit of plain flour, pat and keep aside.
Heat the rest of the oil in a flat, non-stick pan, and pan-fry the tikkis till they are golden brown on both sides.
Serve hot.

Serves 4/5

Wednesday 12 October 2011

{midweek monochrome}

            I'm at an odd intersection. I could go towards the dark chocolate with ginger. 
            Or the one with pink peppercorns. Or the one with cardamom.


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

Monday 10 October 2011

You, at three

            You turned 3
            while Ba and I were sleeping.

            You turned 3
            while we were driving,
            and hoovering,
            and buying milk and bread.

            We turned around
            And your jeans were shorter
            Your shoes were tighter
            Your imagination, wilder
            And sentences, longer.

            You are 3 now.
            You tiptoe into my room,
            cover me with your teddy's blanket
            while I sleep.

            You eat half of your favourite treat
            and wrap up the rest.
            It's for Ba, you say,
            when he comes home from work.

            You switch on your light
            at two in the night.
            You tell me you need to read.

            I remind myself
            you are 3
            you are 3.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

{midweek monochrome}

Venice, December 2010.
We were having breakfast in Cafe Florian in Piazza San Marco, when she suddenly stood up on her chair and started singing twinkle twinkle little star to a room full of people dressed in furs and pearls. When the song ended, the whole place broke into loud applause.


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

Monday 3 October 2011

Driving to friends

We went away for the weekend. We were sitting at home, recovering from our colds, when my friend Dalia called, and suddenly, we weren't sitting at home anymore. A plan was planned, our bags were packed, and we were off on a four-hour drive, stuffy noses pointing north.

I met Dalia about two years ago, at a toddler playgroup, and bonded over a common dislike for toddler-topics. We seem to be the only ones who didn't want to talk about nappies, so we found each other, and talked about other things. Soon, the husbands met, and they talked about other things.  And the kids - three of theirs and one of ours - ran around like kids do. We all clicked. (I've never liked the word 'clicked', but it works here)

Since those toddler-group days, we've all changed cities, more than once, and are now farther apart than we were before. But we're also closer than we were before. So, we drive.

This weekend went by too quickly. I'm sure yours did too. Weekends, especially the good ones, have a way to ending before you're ready for them to end. Yeah, you knew that. Anyway, we spent the weekend lazing and catching up over cups of coffee, exploring Liverpool, walking around Manchester.

Then, on Friday, Dalia's little girl turned two, so we stayed up till three in the morning baking this:

While Mo the surgeon and D the techie built this:

And in between all the brouhaha, we squeezed in an obscene amount of good food. A late-night barbecue, Spanish tapas in Liverpool's docks, noodles and stir-fries in Manchester's Chinatown, and the most wonderful, home cooked Lebanese brunch. Dalia is from Lithuania, Mo is from Lebanon and the food is from Delicious.

Mo's Foul & Hummus

Foul and Hummus is a traditional Lebanese breakfast - flavourful and nutritious. The fava beans are cooked in a beautiful thick gravy. This is served over a coarse and garlicky hummus. And on the side: tiny, pickled Lebanese cucumbers, fresh cucumbers, slices of vine tomatoes, sprigs of mint, pieces of lemon, olives and spring onions. These are best scooped up and wiped clean with flatbreads.

Mo's version of foul:

2 cans fava beans
2 tbs lemon juice
5/6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients, except the lemon juice, together.
Add enough water to immerse the mix, and bring it all to the boil.
Lower heat and simmer till the beans become soft, and a thick gravy is formed. With your spatula, press some of the beans against the pan and crush them to give the foul a coarser texture.
Add the lemon juice, and give it all a good stir.
(Many foul recipes also add a sprinkle of cumin powder and chopped parsley)

The hummus:

2 cans chickpeas
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 whole garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbs lemon juice
A dash of Tabasco

Boil the chickpeas in water, with salt, until soft. When cooked, mash the chickpeas to form a coarse mush.
Top with the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice an Tabasco. Give it a stir.

To serve:
Transfer the hummus to a plate, and top with the foul.  Serve with raw and pickled vegetables of your choice.