Tuesday 18 June 2013

Dog day

Some fathers like dogs, some don't. Chotto-Ma's dad is a dog-person, mine isn't. Chotto-Ma sits on D's lap, and together, they pour over a Dog Encyclopedia for hours. I'm fairly uninvolved in the process, though merely by being in the same room, I seem to have collected a fair amount of information on breeds and barks. Growing up though, my conversations with my father had rarely concerned canines. Baba was not fond of dogs (or anything else on four legs for that matter), Ma was non-committal, and my brother and I thought nothing of it.

Dog-people or not, D and my father have one thing in common. They're the best kind of dads, the solid kind. The kind with lots of love to give; along with a firm shoulder and tight hugs. Their fathering is completely different, but D is the kind of father that suits Chotto-Ma, and Baba is the kind of father that suits me. It's all about the having a father who fits.

So, while D was woken up on Father's Day with an odd assortment of dogs and pups (the ones below), I called Baba to give him kisses, and to hurry him on. He and Ma reach London today; their flight lands in a few hours. Of course, if any of these dogs had been real, he would've probably caught the next flight back.

Meet Spotty Dog and Shaggy Dog, hand-cut and drawn entirely by Chotto-Ma, for her Ba, in the secrecy of her room. Apparently, Shaggy Dog isn't snarling at Spotty Dog as I'd initially imagined. He's showing Spotty Dog how well he's brushed his teeth (!)

And this is Bookish Dog, which I contributed, inspired by one of Chotto-Ma's drawings.

She also made him a card with Hanuman, the powerful Monkey-God from the Ramayana. Hanuman is her fast friend, and one with whom she has long conversations.

So, even though summer shows no signs of throwing a party, we had a dog day afternoon. And, of course, we also fed the dad. Cuddles are all very well, but you do need a slow-cooked pork-belly  to keep you going. The (very) slow-cooked pork belly was on the hob for three hours, gently simmering in coconut milk, and when it was done, it broke off the bone, melted in the mouth, and was as good as a pork belly can get. There was a green mango salad too. I'll tell you all about it.

Slow-cooked Pork Belly in Coconut Milk

3 long slabs of pork belly (we picked up 3 pieces for the 3 of us. You can easily add one more, keeping the rest of the recipe the same.)
2 cans unsweetened coconut milk
Generous splash of fish sauce
3 star anise
2 long stems of lemongrass, each cut diagonally into 3 pieces
1 tsp green peppercorns
2/3 long dried red chillies
1 large white onion, sliced
1 inch ginger, bashed with a pestle
3 large cloves garlic, grated/minced
Bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
2 tsp tamarind paste
2 green chillies, chopped
1 cup water
1 tsp brown sugar 

This really is a one-step recipe: Put everything in a pan together, and simmer slowly, stirring (when you remember), for about 2-and-a-half to 3 hours. When it's cooked to it's softest, pick out the lemongrass and star anise and discard. That's all. Nothing more.

Green Mango Salad

I knew I wanted a green mango salad, and one that I found on The Kitchn suited the pork to perfection. You can find the recipe here (the only tweak I made was adding thinly sliced fresh coconut), so I'll just leave you with the pictures.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Walk along The Backs

When the sun comes out, we get greedy about the outside. We take long walks, drink beer amidst buttercups and cow dung, choose restaurants that have tables in the sun, watch Chotto-Ma scoot off to pet other people's dogs, and comment obsessively on how spotlessly, madly blue the sky is.

We go overboard. We do all the things that people do in sun-starved countries; except take our clothes off to sunbathe in the park, because we're Indians and born with all this lovely tanned, subcontinental skin. (I had this awful urge to write 'tanned when canned', but I didn't. Except now I just did. The sun's gone to my head, I rhyme.)

I thought I'd take you along the walk we walked recently; it's been a while since I took you on a Cambridge walk, hasn't it? The last time, it was a different season, a different light.

I also thought I'd cook you something weekendy: I made cheese fritters with a simple mix of ingredients I had at home, but had no plans of blogging about (so, iPhone photos again). But it was really good, so even though the photos are less-than-good, they had to be shared with you. The fritters have a ripe, peppery flavour - Camembert, rocket, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. It's wonderfully melty in the middle, crisp on the outside and a few minutes in the making.

And so that was what it was. A long walk through the morning, and the rest of the day on the sofa, the sun slanting in. An old movie, a cup of tea, a plate of fritters and a floor strewn with Lego.

First, the walk:

It's a series of iPhone photographs, just as they were shot; in bright sunlight. They're too obvious, too unsubtle for my liking, but I'm hoping you won't mind.

We live in one of the prettiest cities in England, and Cambridge, in summer, is something special. This walk goes past the River Cam, around The Backs, skimming the colleges, through old alleyways and out into the marketplace which sits at the centre. The Backs - here you can see the backs of all the colleges in one grand row, sloping off into the river - is my favourite strip of the city.

And this is where our walk ended: in front of King's College where cycles leant in patient queue; next to cafes where coffee and croissant beckoned.

You must be hungry.

So now, the fritter: 

Camembert & Rocket Fritters


125 gm Camembert or Brie, roughly cut into pieces
2 cups rocket, roughly chopped
3 pieces of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
A generous sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 tbs of flour
1 tsp fine semolina
1/2 cup milk

Mix in all the ingredients except the milk. Then pour the milk in, a bit at a time to make a thick batter.
Heat oil in a deep pan. Lower heat and drop in blobs of the batter. Fry till brown.
Transfer on to a a sheet of kitchen paper, and then onto your serving dish. Drizzle with a squeeze of lemon. Bite in.