Tuesday 24 April 2012

The promised bread

So here it is, the bread I promised last week. It's a bit of an odd bread, this. In fact, it might not be much of
a bread at all. Maybe it should be called a loaf. It's a bit undecided, even in its disposition - not wholely sweet, nor stubbornly savoury.

But in that I-don't-really-know-who-I-am demeanour, the unsureness, lies its real charm. I am still talking about the bread.

This bread is a quirky one.

I like things quirky.

Quirks make me feel comfortable. Like a patchwork blanket where the squares don't perfectly meet. Quirky blankets, quirky bread, quirky people. They are who you put your feet up with. Even if your sock has a hole. Hell, sometimes it's all about the hole.

I can make my daughter happy just by cutting a hole in a piece of paper, and having her look through it. Suddenly, the world looks a little bit quirky, a little less regular. And it makes her giggle and giggle.

And, I am still talking about the bread. The loaf. The loafy bread. Oh, call it what you will, but I promise it will make you put your feet up like quirky things do. And it'll surprise your mouth with bits of sweet pear and salty cheese and crunchy seeds.

It's odd in such a good way. It's the bread that thought outside the bread box. Square loaf in a round hole.

Yeah, I know it's not really square.

Cheesy pear and pumpkin seed bread

This bread is gloriously good straight out of the oven, when the pieces of pears are folded up in gooey, melted cheese, and the pumpkin seeds are all toasty and crunchy. I chose cheddar because I wanted a no-frills, robust cheese cosying up to the sweet pear. But you can posh-up the bread by replacing the cheddar with gorgonzola, or any other blue-veined cheese. That works wonderfully too.

The other thing we discovered with this bread is that it tastes great a day later, when toasted in a flat pan till lightly browned on both sides. Buttered, or not.


2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 soft pears (3 if small), peeled and cubed
1 cup grated cheddar (or gorgonzola cut into small pieces)
2 tbs pumpkin seeds
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 tsp olive oil to grease the bread tin
1/2 cup cold milk
Some grated cheese to sprinkle on top

In a big bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt. To this, mix the pear, cheddar (or gorgongola) and half of the pumpkin seeds. With your hands, or a wooden spoon, mix them in well.
In a separate bowl mix the eggs, olive oil and melted butter. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Add a bit of cold milk if the mixture feels too tight.
Grease your bread tin. Spoon the mixture into the tin. Sprinkle the remaining pumpkin seeds on top. 
Bake in the oven, at 160 degrees C, for 45 minutes. Then take it out of the oven and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Put it back in for another 5-10 minutes. 
Insert a knife in the centre of the bread. If it comes our clean, the bread is baked.
Slice, and enjoy!


Thursday 19 April 2012

Walk, and you shall have bread

Having lived in England for some time now, I have come to hang different shades of grey on different pegs. Today is SoftSilverGrey. That's grey, dipped in a fondue of white, gooey light. And it would be as delicious if the trees were not bending over like pliant servants to a despotic wind.

You know I have a thing for pale light. I've beaten that drum before. But not when the wind cuts through my clothes. That's when I cover my toes, make myself a very big cup of coffee, give myself a piece of chocolate, and burrow in.

And I write a post about another day. A Saturday. When we went for a walk around Ely. A little old town, with a big old cathedral. A short train ride away from Cambridge.

Some time ago, I took photographs of Ely covered in snow. So, now that the season has turned (or, darn well should), I thought I'd show you some of what lay under all that white.

Right in the middle of the town stands the cathedral where Colin Firth stuttered through his King's Speech. And around the shadow of that cathedral lies a meadow with ponies and wildflowers.

The town has a little 'courtyard', where the bustling Saturday Market sets up its stripey stalls. Stalls with coloured pots and cured meat. Tea leaves* and table cloths.

From here, a road slides down to the River Ouse, where boats bob with flocks of greedy geese. Often, these boats are homes to artists. And come summer, they sometimes open up their little doors and turn their tiny floating room into an art gallery. You can walk in to paintings propped up on the bed, on chairs, and next to the window through which a duck peeps in.

Next to the boats is a pub with views of the water, and taps full of good beer. And a riverside restaurant that cooks lovely, seasonal British food.

After the cathedral, Ely's next claim to fame might just be a tearoom called The Peacock. With it's wall full of Wisteria, it's sublime almond tea and the softest, moistest apple & walnut cake. All soaked in old world English charm. It even has a toilet that's worth a queue.

Walk back up to the high street for its charity shops and coffee shops. Turn the corner to the King's School where kids walk in with their violin cases.

All around town are dogs on a walk. And heads of white hair.

But here's my best bit of Ely - the loveliest little bookstore, like the ones that used to be. Three floors of books, signed first-editions shelved in nooks and crannies, a charming children's alcove, the narrowest wooden stairs, coffee table books under old oak tables, large sashed windows, and cups of tea.

Yes, it was a long walk, wasn't it? A full day's walk. The kind of walk that should, could, end with a fruity-savoury bread, warm out of the oven. A bread that's sweet, and salty, and very melty-cheesy.

And I did mean to lay it all out for you. Really I did. Complete with a pot full of tea, gingham napkins and flowers on the table.

But this post has stretched so very long, I'll have to keep it for next time. Walk you did, and bread you shall have. I promise. And it'll be worth the wait. I promise.

I'll have the bread baked, and recipe written. And maybe, when you take yours out of the oven, the clouds will part, and a grey day will turn sunny.

Yeah, it's that kind of bread.

(* To the lovely girls at Samovar Tea House, if you're reading this: I tried emailing the photographs to info@samovarteahouse.co.uk, but they come bouncing right back. There might be something wonky there. Sorry!)

Thursday 12 April 2012

{midweek monochrome}

Messy room by Shel Silverstein

Whosever room this is should be ashamed! 
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater's been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or--
Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar! 

Wednesday 4 April 2012

You, at three

I can't quite remember the little details anymore, Chotto-ma. When I see a newborn baby, it's hard to imagine that you were ever that tiny. But you must have been.

Mamma had knitted two pairs of booties, one in lemon and another in peach, and parcelled them over from India. They came with matching cardigans and baby bonnets. And they arrived before you did. That first winter, you were either all peachy pink, or all lemony yellow. Little feet, flailing in little pastel booties.

Now, your shoe size is seven. And I need to remember the Chotto-ma you are today, in these shoes.

So, here's who you are, at three.

This is your current favourite book:

Your favourite movie is The Wizard of Oz. And the first movie you saw in a theatre, on a big screen, was The Lion King, last month.

You have an elephant's memory. You remember things in astonishing, photographic detail. Things that happened when you were a year-and-a-half. Places. People. What they were wearing at the time. Details of things you had in your room, in 'The Blue Door', the house we used to rent when you were in nappies.

Your most important ritual is a 'group hug' when Ba leaves for work in the morning. You also screech like a banshee and run like the wind when he rings the doorbell in the evening.

Today, while sitting on the kitchen worktop, watching me cook, you said "Look Ma, the smoke is going up, to say hello to the ceiling".

The line above is a translation. Because, you always speak in Bengali. Unless you're having a conversation with Peter Rabbit or Benjamin Bunny, since it's quite clear that they don't understand Bengali. 'Ora to English lok' .

When you grow up, you 'want to be a writer; and live in Paris'.

You hate water on your face in the bath. Nothing bothers you as much.

You like to draw. A lot.

You are thoughtful beyond your years. You will talk in whispers when Ba has a headache. Keep even the smallest piece of chocolate to share with us. And ask to call Kolkata to check on Mamma and Dada every day if you hear they're unwell.

You ask for a dream every night before you go to bed. 'Aajke aami ki dream kori?'.

You 'read' in bed long after Ba and I have left your room.

This is your room, now:

Yes, you have your own kitchen, but you much prefer mine.

You are convinced that Ba and I will become babies when you become a 'big girl'. You plan to buy us essentials like shoes and ballet dresses (yes, even Ba). And drive us around, after strapping us into our car seats in the back.

After Ma and Ba, the third most important member in this house is your teddy. Whose name is Teddy. Also sometimes called 'Teddzabilly'.

You smile a lot. Talk a lot. You give lots of hugs. And are being trained to give a mean shoulder massage.

And your favourite food is a pancake. You eat pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings. But given a chance, you would eat them every day.

Apple & Cheese Pancake

The filling first:

3 - 4 apples, peeled and grated. 
A sprinkle of brown sugar 
200 gm cheese, grated 
(I used a strong cheddar. It's bold, salty flavour combines well with the sweetness of the apples)

Mix them in a bowl, and keep aside.

Now the pancakes:

1 cup plain white flour
A pinch of salt 
2 eggs 
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 tbs melted butter

Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, and crack in the eggs.
With a wooden spoon, whisk the eggs and flour in regular circles till it starts making a thick batter. Then slowly start mixing in the milk, a bit at a time. Keep whisking as you add.
When all the milk has been mixed in, add the water. And the butter. And give it all a good stir. 
You should now have a batter with the consistency of thin pouring cream.

Now choose a ladle that holds just the right amount of batter for your pan.  About 1/4th cup is right for the average pan. 
Heat the pan, and oil it lightly. Pour in the batter, and turn the pan in circular motion to evenly coat the surface.
When the batter becomes opaque, spoon in the apple and cheese mix onto one half of the pancake.
Cook the pancake for a minutes, till lightly browned on one side. Then fold, and press lightly. Cook for another minutes. This will make the cheese melt into the apple.
Slide onto a plate, and serve. With or without cream

This recipe makes about 8 pancakes.