"Happiness is no crumbs on the plate"
Every few months, since the summer of 2012, I think about stopping posting on Chocolate Tulip. It's not as if what I make is anything extraordinary; there are plenty of students who are cooking things that are much better than what I do. Sometimes someone writes to me and asks when I'll be posting next, and little things like that encourage me again. But this time I tried to think about why I started it in the first place, regardless of whether anyone reads it at all.
Chocolate Tulip began as I started rediscovering and re-allowing all the things I used to love to make and eat. Although on a different scale, this term I resolved once again to actively change my relationship with food, which has been problematic to say the least. When I say I love food I don't mean "I eat a cheeseburger and a tub of ice cream every day." I mean I love reading about it, writing about it, buying ingredients, chopping, cooking for hours or whipping up a snack, learning about the history and culture behind an ingredient or a dish, cooking alone or with people I love, going out to try someplace new, savouring something myself or making people happy with what I make, and sometimes I love the failures, too.
At the same time, paradoxically, it sometimes seems like I hate food. I can spend days fighting the urge to have a snack; ages walking the supermarket aisles again and again, comparing each nutritional fact between one packet and another, before moving on to comparing the next item; hours counting and recounting and recounting the calories in everything I ate and berating myself for my choices or my needs.
And somewhere over the past two months I realised that I couldn't do it anymore. It was probably a cumulative decision, but at some point in one of my mindfulness classes, when I felt the stress and pain of these thoughts hurting me more than I knew they reasonably should, I decided to take it into my own hands. Because by hating food or pushing it away, I was pushing away so much of what makes me who I am. I was taking away the thrill of picking up something new to try at the shops, the calm of a quiet meal alone or the laughter of dinner with my friends in the corridor, the little moment of something sweet with a cup of coffee, the ease of baking and cooking with my family at home, the joy of the street food I miss so much, the carefree moments at the end of the day when we collapse with biscuits and tea, the satisfaction of making something I want to make and feeling proud of myself no matter how much time I'm taking to write an essay or how everything else seems to be going.
One night after a long, long day of meetings and rushed meals, an empty fridge and failed plans, and the added bonus of Sainsbury's on a Saturday night, I plugged in my headphones and had the kitchen to myself for a few hours. I listened to Yotam Ottolenghi's Desert Island Discs, where he talked about the joy of accomplishing something when you finish whipping egg whites, compared to the endlessness he felt throughout his time in academia (sounds familiar?). He loves learning and experimenting and the instant gratification of sharing the activity and the food with someone else. In that moment, alone with Radio 4, fun ingredients, and dedicated creative time, the best way to describe how I felt was 'whole' – far from what I would have expected two hours earlier.
Given that, for better or for worse, so much of my life revolves around food, Chocolate Tulip is often a way to look back at the end of term on everything that's happened. The days I felt adventurous and went to get special ingredients, the days when I felt low and – much to the concern/shock of my friends – just boiled plain pasta, the days I restricted what I ate, the days I let go of that and enjoyed a floor ice cream party or freshly fried chips at night after dancing for hours, the days when meeting my friend for breakfast was a pick-me-up in my week and the days when porridge while talking to my family was just the comfort I needed.
My mum read me a quote from a book called The Sellout the other day, in which a character is asked where all his ideas come from, to which he replies:
It's not about where ideas come from, but where they go.
There are far too many ideas and projects and plans that get dreamt up and then disappear, left by the wayside, whether because one loses faith in oneself, or one loses steam, or the hard truth of real life gets in the way. I've had and will have my fair share of abandoned ideas, but right now this little pocket of internet space and the dream of my cafe bubbling away are two things I'm not willing to let go of just yet.
Roti from home, roasted red pepper hummus, baby spinach, 'sun soaked' tomatoes, sharp cheddar, and spice marinated quorn: a messy but lovely lunch.
Homemade kale chips, feat. an essay doodled on by my super cool history supervisor.
Maybe one of my favourites this term: butternut squash and turnips roasted in the oven with garlic, onion, olive oil, za'atar and fresh salt and pepper. Warmed and crisped up on the pan with some feta <3
My packed lunch began with the best of intentions: fruit, almonds, walnuts, a boiled egg and some beans and vegetable stew...
... but then I reached the Education Faculty and spotted a newbie amongst the pastries: a fridge cake with literally everything in it – blueberry muffin, banana, twix, chocolate cake, marshmallows, and probably more – all in one scrumptious slab.
My lovely pen-pal came to visit from Belgium, so we had to have fish and chips. Not for the faint of heart.
Of course, we continued the crash course in Englishness and had scones at Bill's the next morning before lectures – the best I've tasted, and 100% going on the cafe menu.
Indian egg curry, delicious with French red rice.
Frozen peas are a new favourite snack, either cold or warmed with ras-el-hanout, za'atar, or parmesan. I buy a bag and defrost them in the fridge – an accidental discovery, because we don't have a freezer...
Dinner date with moi. Ditalini, chickpea and pea soup, adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe for pasta e ceci. Featuring a rose I was given by some beauty people outside King's College – romantic amiright? – and my little cafe ideas notebook in the back.
Veggie meatballs, red rice, and kale
Baked oatmeal – part of my Ottolenghi evening wind-down. Not super happy with the layering the recipe called for; the bananas remained in a bit of a separated/gooey layer on the bottom, so I'll retry it with mashing them in to the oat mixture instead. But it saved me on some rushed essay mornings, and it's looks pretty.
In the library with my friend Chloe:
6:30 onwards: I'm hungry.
7:30 "Hey Chloe, I'm going to go get some chocolate, do you want anything?"
Chloe: "We're planning floor tea and biscuits at 10, we can hold out till then!"
Me: "Aaaaah! Okay, good plan!"
9:15 Chloe and I decide to go back to our rooms to work.
9:30 Chloe: "I need to go buy biscuits for tea and biscuits."
Me: "Hmmm I don't have any either!"
The trip turns into a semi-grocery run to top up stuff for the week. I tell Chloe about the veggie burger section.
9:45 Chloe: "Ooh these would make great burgers"
Me: "We can get nice buns from the bakery section! Wow I could really do with a burger right now..."
10:00 Chloe: "Sooo are you going to join me for a burger?"
10:20 Chloe and I are whipping up hot burgers with melty cheese as our post-studying, pre-biscuits snack :)
My standing desk contraption also gives me a whopping amount of floor space to sprawl and work. Win-win.
Oatmeal-banana pancakes with jam, leftover cream and honey. Yaas.
Perhaps one of the most serendipitous food photos I've taken.
Shakshukha, made with the same chickpea and black-eyed pea stew pictured above – hearty, warm, super flavourful, and delicious topped with feta and fresh parsley.
You know you've found an amazing friend when she joins you in this dreamy brunch <3
In the last week of term as you wind down supplies start to run low, and most people are somewhat fed up of all the quick/budget/healthy things they've been making. I switched up breakfast for toasted Irish soda bread with ricotta and strawberries/butter/butter and honey.
A salad made with my end-of-term leftover ingredients, and which turned out to be one of my favourites: strawberries, arugula, ricotta, walnuts, a ryvita, and a honey-olive oil-balsamic dressing.
Review: Thela, Cambridge
During term time I can make dal or get a curry, but something I cannot get my hands on is chaat – what is an easy thing to buy or put together at home requires too many ingredients for me to seek out here, and so far no restaurant has served it either. But for the past few weeks bright photos of chaat and other dishes have flitted across my newsfeed, with a tantalising 'coming to Cambridge soon...' caption.
After much hype, a friend from Bombay and I went to try out Thela, a new place in Cambridge that claims to serve authentic Indian street food. Of course, I had my favourite dahi batata puri (for reference, see this post!):
The place smelled faintly like a typical local Indian restaurant, for those who know what I mean, which was nice insofar as it was familiar. And water in tall Coca Cola glasses. Of course.
As we left I spotted the saunf on the counter and dashed back to get some, but it wasn't as good as my packet from Crawford Market, complete with plain fennel, tiny little mystery seeds, shiny silver bits, and rose petals, which I finished weeks ago:p
Overall: I remember two Bombay friends at Cambridge who were a couple of years above me saying that the lowest ranking Indian food at home is about what you'll get in Cambridge. Our Indian food last year at an Indian restaurant was not bad (though a bit heavy and oily), and the India Society has gotten delicious Indian food for a lot of their events, but I think with this chaat I see what my friends meant. The thing is, they got the difficult bits right (the puris, the chutneys), it was just the energy that was missing. You don't hold back when you're making chaat: fistfuls of coriander and toppings; all the sweet/spicy/crunchy/sour/salty combinations you can manage; lots of fresh spices (not necessarily spicy); you throw the tomatoes and freshness into the chaat, instead of leaving a sad and vague salad on the side that nobody wants because it's not chaat and it serves no purpose; and you do. not. serve it with a fork, you serve it with an appropriate shovel so that each bite has an adequate amount of all the little flavours and bits and bobs in one go.
But the place was busy, the waiter seemed relatively on it, and a person sat near us told the waiter he really enjoyed the food. The menu has a few thalis and some other interesting dishes so maybe I'll give them another try next time Week 5/6 homesickness gets to me.
At least someone is making chaat outside of India, and if I could handle the weather/place for longer it'd be my mission to make sure (good, real, Mohan/Gupta-street style) chaat overtakes Sainsbury's 'poppadoms' and naan and 'balti' as the UK's go-to Indian food 👩🏾🍳🇮🇳
Another term gone by, another term of college cooking, but this time I was rather bored of my egg/protein-and-vegetable theme and decided to try cooking a couple of big dishes each weekend for the week, so that I could take the time to make something more interesting and flavourful instead of rushing to cook lunch every day. And breakfast, as always, is a highlight of my day, this term featuring figs, apple compote, something called 'omega power seeds' that I optimistically bought in Week 5, and some pretty cool bread. I hosted my first dinner party, and succeeding at making home-style dal, which took care of a lot of homesickness. And instead of a productive Sunday in the library, I discovered the Cambridge Botanical Gardens and dozens of spectacular local apples with one of my best friends. All in all, a very happy autumn :)
Happy New Year x
A chickpea salad with baby spinach, veggie meatballs, yoghurt, roasted cumin powder, coriander powder, smoked paprika powder, chaat masala, and fresh coriander chutney – ridiculously filling.
My vow to eat more raw vegetables/salads last just about few days... on the last day I threw it all into the pan with some olive oil for a warm, crispy lunch instead ;)
My first market bread in Cambridge: a beautiful, soft French country loaf that I enjoyed with stews, with natural peanut butter, Dutch hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), and for breakfast.
I walk past the bakery stalls every single day but don't shop there enough – new task for next term.
My morning routine is an absolutely essential part of my day; I like to start very early, put Radio 4 on as soon as I'm up, get ready, make a nice breakfast, facetime home, and get onto work. I always start the day feeling super optimistic and this has usually all but disappeared by the time I go to bed, but at least then I can sleep through the stress/fatigue/disappointment and go to bed looking forward to breakfast again ;)
One of my all-time favourites was a thick slice of the French loaf made into French toast, with blueberry-cranberry jam, caramelised and fresh banana slices, and fresh blueberries ^_^
Fresh coriander chutney/salsa, great with Indian dishes, eggs, Mexican, and salads – anything that needs a dash of freshness and spice.
If only you knew what a disaster the kitchen looked like around this photo.
I miss so much food when I'm away, but it's really the simplest stuff I miss the most. I tried my hand at making a nice masoor dal with spinach, and some pulao with lots of different grains and fresh peas, and it turned out to be one of the easiest and most satisfying meals of the term – just the right warmth and comfort to get you through the day :)
Brunch at Espresso Library with my friend and some of her friends from Cambridge and Durham. Espresso Library is one of the most stereotypically hipster places I know, but clichéd doesn't mean unlovable ;) Love the vibe, love the food, sunlight galore, and they have a weekly casual bike-ride which I'm very tempted to try.
Alas, we had the best of intentions, but a big café on a Sunday afternoon with a bunch of friends is probably not the best idea for staying focused...
Not sure how much work actually got done, but the mocha cappuccino, hazelnut granola,and coconut-date were well worth it ^_^ I need to go back (weekday maybe?) to try their famed avocado and chickpea dishes.
Porridge with dark chocolate hagelslag, homemade apple compote, grilled figs, pumpkin seeds, linseed, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds (so-called omega-3 power seeds... I can feel my brain power growing with the first bite, you know.)
German rye bread topped with apple compote and grilled figs <3
Aaaaah isn't this cute? Autumn this year was genuinely stunning – the rain held off for much longer than last year, meaning the leaves remained crisp, the trees remained colourful, the sky blue and the sun bright for almost the entire term. The perfect excuse for ginger lattes.
I've lost track of how many dozens of people I've told about my 'someday' café (potential name right there?), but I think I've got myself so deep into it that I have no choice but to make it happen... someday.
I invited 9 friends over for my very first dinner party and this was probably one of my proudest moments of term. I think I might have scared my friend with how thrilled I was setting up; it gave me the first real sense of just how much I enjoy making people happy with a cosy little place and nice food <3
Paneer and peas bhurji, masoor dal, brown rice, raita, fresh coriander, papad, and (store-bought) samosas and onion bhajias.
Stews with various combinations of beans, spinach, kale, veggie meat, quinoa or rice became one of the easiest and most satisfying things to make and store for the week.
I had this one with some of the country bread grilled with cheese, olive, salt and pepper.
The second time I went to buy bread at the market, the previous stall I went to wasn't there that day, which actually turned out to be quite a good thing. At another stall, this bread caught my eye (I'm one of the "what's the weirdest/newest/most different thing here so that I can try it?" kinds of people). It turned out it's charcoal bread (real charcoal powder in there) and apparently it's generally for middle-aged or elderly people who drink too much and have digestive issues...
I almost went for a simple sourdough, but the owner gave me a piece and my 19-year-old, not-an-alcoholic, fine-digestion-thankyouverymuch self decided this was the bread to buy.
That's melted dark chocolate on toasted bread. It's yum.
Thai sweet chili rice with lots of Asian vegetables (pre-chopped, thank you Sainsbury's) and marinated tofu; definitely making this again.
Apple Day has got to be one of the best things I discovered about Cambridge this year. A really close friend and I decided that it trumped work, and spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon in the sunshine making apple badges with 4-year-olds, sipping warm apple juice, and trying dozens of apples feeling very cultured and professional. I never knew so many delicious varieties exist, and supermarket apples haven't looked or tasted the same since.
These two varieties were not too sweet, wholesome, nutty, and beautiful colours.
It would also be a crime to leave an apple event without apple pie, right?
This apple and raspberry crumble lasted about 12 hours.
I hadn't paid a visit to the good ol' crêpe van in far too long, so after 24+ hours of packing my room into boxes and into the attic, I ended the term with a hot crepe with banana, dark Belgian chocolate, strawberries and biscuit pieces <3 i.e. very happily.
Going to university means being separated from a lot of things you love, and for me one of those things is undoubtedly food and everything that accompanies it: a kitchen full of everything you could possibly need; ingredients like fresh coriander, Bombay's mangoes, pomegranate, aromatic spices, tiny bananas; the ability to spontaneously bake; and perhaps most of all, cooking and eating with my family. But going to university also means the chance to explore new ideas, experiment with new things, and learn to manage on a much smaller and very different scale. While I love going to hall to meet my friends and relax, I still prefer making my own breakfast, cooking a nourishing lunch, and sometimes making dinner. In between there are a myriad lovely little places dotted around Cambridge, from crepe vans to authentic dumplings, which means you can't truly get bored. Cooking (and food in general) lets me 'productively' procrastinate, get out of my room, and enjoy a bit of comfort amidst what often feels like uncontrollable chaos.
Indian designs from Chumbak, a Chicago mug mailed all the way from the Windy City, and a stroopwafel tin – my self on a shelf.
Featuring the trusty french press and coffee thermos in the back; I don't know what I'd do without them.
The majority of my lunches consist of some sort of stir-fried vegetables, egg, and/or vegetarian meat, most of which I haven't included in the post because they are chronically unphotogenic. But evidently I decided to channel my essay planning into a bit of (remotely) artsy plating on this day:p
Oh, the crepe van...
Conveniently placed right outside the college, this van is heaven on wheels. The staff is fabulous, and this cheese-spinach-black pepper crepe comes out hot, with a perfect border of crispy cheese and delightfully melty on the inside.
The sauce on the left is a rich tomato sauce, cooked and reduced for a long time with home-ground roast cumin powder, coriander powder, curry powder mint, fresh coriander, smoked paprika, and tikka paste. On the bottom is a fresh raita, and some good old Sainsbury's falafel on the side. I made a spiced pea soup to go along, which was delicious but didn't make the prettiness cut compared with this plate.
This ice cream sandwich is both to die for and utterly deadly. We sat and ate these on King's Parade where we should have been people-watching, instead of other people watching us make massive chocolatey fools of ourselves...
I also learned that my sweet tooth is rather worryingly bigger than I realised.
Dark German (or Dutch or Danish, whatever you prefer) rye bread is probably not very high on most students' shopping lists, but I unashamedly love it. It regularly features in my breakfast or lunch, usually with multiple toppings. Above: St. Dalfour natural jam, natural peanut butter, banana, cinnamon, blueberries, and various combinations of them.
The end of exams meant the start of free time to read and enjoy a cup of coffee and Dutch speculaas before an afternoon row. A.k.a. luxury.
Work, stress and being away brings out food cravings I normally shove away, hence my rekindled love for Dutch chocolate sprinkles on toast <3 They do breakfast right.
Who can say no to pancakes? My go-to batter is made of oats, egg, bananas and milk, which allows me to totally justify having them as a healthy breakfast or lunch. Hidden underneath is a blueberry pancake, which I actually liked more than the chocolate one. :O
Cambridge has countless cute little cafes, several of which are about a minute from college. My dad and I had a nice leisurely breakfast and coffee on a drizzly morning when he came to visit, and everything was perfect – given that it takes less than 10 seconds from our gate to Stickybeaks, I think I ought to be there more often.
Crispy, melty, cheesy omelette. Can't go wrong.
This was a pleasant and refreshing change from the usual egg-vegetable combination, with a base of black lentils, topped with fresh tomatoes and mint, and a lightly spiced raita. Definitely going to make this again, maybe with chickpeas, too.
Caramelised banana, melted chocolate, natural apricot jam, all in one pancake.
Melting a stroopwafel on top of steaming coffee ^_^ Little things.
Beanissimo is a tiny little tricycle coffee shop up on the way to Homerton. My mum and I first went there last October, and although I look out for him every time I pass on my way to the Education faculty, I still haven't been back. His cycle is adorable, as if it's out of a toy set, and his coffee and bars were perfect for an outdoor autumn break.
Pan-fried tortellini, courgette, vegetarian meatballs and kale. I always have a leafy vegetable (kale or baby spinach) to throw into stir-fries and sandwiches because they're so perfect.
As if I could visit a crepe stall and not try something sweet. I chose the dark chocolate and banana, with added crushed biscuits... once again, to die for. I got chocolate all over my face, but I'd do it again any day.
Popcorn is such a fabulous and underrated snack. It's one of the first things my mum and I made after moving in to my room last year (Friday is popcorn day ^_^) but it quickly became a staple late-night study snack: it's filling, light, full of fibre, and easy to make it taste amazing. My 'signature' popcorn has smoked paprika powder, chaat masala, coriander powder, cumin powder, curry powder, and salt (Sainsbury's used to have smoked sea salt, which was the best). I have yet to figure out how to make chocolatey/sweet popcorn without it being too messy, but the few attempts I made were still a delight to eat through the night.
Apart from how much I love breakfast foods, I'm also a firm believer in it being the most important meal of the day. With early mornings, long days, lots of cycling, and often a rowing outing or an erg, I think I'd destroy something out of 'hanger' if I didn't have a solid breakfast. My mum sent me this article on power breakfasts from TIME magazine; I prepped all the ingredients for the dark chocolate oats with espresso yoghurt, kept boxes of them in the fridge, and they lasted me through a rotten week of the Lent Bumps rowing races and a handful of late-night essay crises.
Having the market right outside college is an absolute blessing – falafel wraps, quick thai noodles, dumplings, fresh bread, stunning pastries and pasties, Portuguese food, burgers, coffee, you name it. One of my favourites is Tom's Cakes, which only has a stall on Sundays but has the most delightful spread of cakes, cookies, tarts and breads. After spending all day debating whether to go try it out, I stepped out of the library to grab some tea and an apple from my room and instead decided there and then to head over to the stall – 15 minutes before it closed – and finally succumb to the idea of cake that I had been trying to resist. It turned into a nice little walk with my friend, topped off with a deliciously moist and rich apple crumb cake, and a much happier me in the library that evening.
Occasionally I make whole wheat pasta, with some vegetables, fresh basil, pesto and/or wholegrain mustard, cheese, and sometimes an egg.
When my mum told me to go treat myself for her birthday, I knew exactly where I was headed. The Belgian waffle stall at the market has a long list of exciting toppings and flavours, but a friend and I decided to go the whole hog and have 4 toppings on one: fudge, chocolate sauce, strawberries and crumbled speculaas. They're warm, gooey (perhaps fewer toppings would make them more crisp, so I've got to try that too) and for a moment sitting at that little stall you forget that you're really at university.
I had planned to try studying at the Waterstone's Cafe 2nd View (also conveniently just next to Christ's) all year, but only actually ended up doing so after all my exams were over. I spent a rainy afternoon there with a cappuccino, some music, and my little handmade Cambridge travel 'moleskine' that my mum sent me.
True, this isn't the most photogenic, but it's from a New York Times recipe for courgette eggs that I had wanted to make for ages, and it was one of the few recipes that worked perfectly for my limited college ingredients. It's a tad messy, but I used my food chopper/blender instead of grating the courgette and served it with some spinach and tomatoes on the side.
I finally bought a blender – a hand blender along with a vegetable chopper – and it's been brilliant. I use it for pancake batter, soups, and big filling banana smoothies ^_^
For the first term these sandwiches were pretty much a regular feature for my lunch: fresh multigrain bread, wholegrain mustard, pesto genovese, cheddar cheese (or old Dutch cheese when my dad brought my favourites from Holland), baby spinach/kale, an egg fried with smoked paprika, freshly ground black pepper, oregano and sea salt, and then the whole thing grilled to make it crispy and melty.
Benet's on King's Parade is cute, surprisingly large, and perfect for a cosy tea when it's rotten and windy outside. My fabulous friend from Bombay is studying in France and when she came to visit we had a lovely afternoon with hot chocolate (delicious, but not as amazing as the one from the chestnut/hot chocolate/brownie stall on Christ's Lane) and cake – the almond cake was our favourite.
Pre-exam: protein from the vegetarian steak, sautéed spinach, fibre from the rye bread, and a generous dose of yum peanut butter, chocolate, cheese and jam.
Although they spoil a bit too quickly, these multigrain pitas are even better than the regular bread. They have a wholesome nuttiness to them, the insides turn warm and pillowy when cooked, and they work great for grilled sandwiches or filled with spiced grilled peas and raita.
On the last day of Lent term, when I really ought to have been packing, a big group of us went out for a massive dinner at Zizzi's, and my friend and I worked our way through two amazing pizzas between the two of us. This one is a classic zucca: a creamy pesto base with mozzarella, roasted butternut squash, caramelised balsamic onions & spinach; topped with crumbled goat's cheese, pine nuts & rosemary after baking.
One of the best things about my friend who visited is her flexibility and love of trying new things. We took a walk out to Mill Road (also very under-known and underrated) and somewhere near Anglia Ruskin turned off onto a side road to find this tiny authentic Chinese restaurant. The dumpling plates were large, fresh, cheap, and it was really nice to get away from the usual beat of the main city.
Aromi is almost always busy, but it's 100% worth the wait. Their Sicilian sandwiches are always grilled fresh, and this one with cheese and mushrooms is one of my favourites, either to eat in the cafe or to take out and sit by the river. They have lovely little desserts, and they're known for their coffee and gelato, both of which I have yet to try.
My friend is a total foodie, but she vouched for the Chinese restaurant's hot pork dumplings.
The second pizza my friend and I devoured was the rustica primavera: goat's cheese, aubergine, artichoke, peppers, olives, mozzarella, balsamic tomatoes, super green pesto & rocket on wholemeal, white and spelt base.
A simple curry of tomatoes, spices, vegetarian meat, cauliflower and broccoli – not pretty, but super flavourful.
After a long day of walking and organising everything for moving in, there's nothing quite like a warm English pub and a hearty burger with your mum. I want to go back to try out their riverside balcony with blankets and a nice drink.
When my homemade peanut butter finished I bought this big jar and it became one of my favourite things ever. Between rowing snacks, breakfasts, smoothies, topped on banana, oat crackers, ryvita or apple, I polished off the whole jar myself:p
Rice and dal will never be the same as at home, but it's a start. Paired with a bit of a Modern Family dinner break, it's good enough for me.
Jamie's Pizzeria can't not feature: I first went there with my mum when we came for my interview, and it's been a favourite ever since. The ambience is perfect, the service is great, and everything I've tried has been a delight – they even managed to convert me to loving tiramisu and garlic bread.
Tucked away off a market side street and largely known for being a favourite stop for drunk food when people stumble out of the clubs, Gardenia's is so much more than that. Their portions are hearty, authentic Greek food, and just what you need when you want a pick-me-up. This veggie special burger was absolutely loaded with feta, but felt amazing given the blistering cold that night. It's one of the few easy places that stays open past 7 and my friend from France and I enjoyed a big meal of dolmas and kebabs the night she arrived. They're also super friendly and welcoming, and after a stressful work day a bunch of us had a nice long dinner there to unwind.
Grilled courgette and kale, quinoa, and a light chickpea curry.
After all our exams were done, my Education and French friends and I treated ourselves to 4 big slices of cake at Benet's, and freedom couldn't have felt better.
Work can stressful, the weather can be awful, and missing home can get you down when it's the last thing you need. But the comfort of cooking, going out to eat with friends – whether it's a stroll to the market, a long dinner out, or a food party in college – and even just grocery shopping together lets you relax for a while and enjoy the little things in life, and I can't wait for more.
New Year, New dessert obsession...
There is the old favourite banana bread, the comforting corn muffins, the foolproof chocolate chip cookies, and then there is this tart. Or cake. Or cheesecake. Or whatever. It's heavenly.
Every now and then we try a new decadent, different dessert, and this is without doubt one of my new favourites. (Of course, trust Tim from Lottie and Doof to find and post the loveliest, most unique recipe.) The crust and biscuit topping are delicious enough to just make a batch of them to eat alone, which I'm highly tempted to do. The tart itself is light but rich, creamy but textured, enough to satisfy you but so good that you crave more anyway.
And of course, it's beautifully photogenic.
Do not wait for New Year's Eve again – get your favourite people round (people with whom you don't mind sharing, because your instinct will tell you to hog this), get into the kitchen, and make this as soon as possible.
"Now bring us some figgy compote and a cup of good cheer"
Home, home, home, home, home, I couldn't be happier to be home. University is exciting and interesting and the people are absolutely wonderful, but loving one thing and missing another aren't mutually exclusive. I've been loving the simplest of things: sitting in my living room and talking with my family, simply being with my boyfriend and catching up on everything we love, baking elaborate desserts and just chopping ingredients for my mum, sports with my dad, my sister's stories, walking our to my favourite neighbourhoods, eating brilliant food, and the absolutely perfect December weather (26º, breeze and sunshine, anyone?).
The house has been rolling along on a cheerful stream of cookies, cakes, muffins, fruit, and favourite dishes. Last weekend my family made corn muffins, gingerbread cookies and fig compote, and the food gods conspired to make them all go beautifully together. I have had corn muffins with dollops of different jams and my mum's compote (not too sweet, gorgeously coloured and silky smooth), and I've loved spreading it on gingerbread cookies all week. The smell of the gingerbread spice was divine, and there's something wonderfully childlike about the excitement you feel picking shapes, rolling and re-rolling the dough, cutting the cookies, having some warm with your coffee and others smeared with icing.
These are the kinds of things I miss so much when I'm away, and why I was counting down every day until the holidays. My friend and I were sitting one night complaining about all the work we had to do, when he stopped and said,"a few months ago we would have given absolutely anything to be here, and here we are." It's so true – I have difficult essays to write, but I am lucky to have an education; I miss my parents' cooking and Bombay food, but I never have to go hungry; I complain about the miserable weather but I have clean clothes and a warm room to go back to every night.
It feels as though I have not seen as much devastation and destruction as I have over the past year, from migration to floods, landslides to crashes, terrorist attacks to earthquakes, and this Christmas/Sinterklaas/New Year/One-Month-from-Diwali I feel more aware and grateful than ever for where I am right now.
We need to have a chat...
There's big stuff happening. Bigger than the chocolate tulip hot chocolate.
This October I'll be starting university at Cambridge, and I think I am still less than half aware of it. In the middle of all the planning and forms and shopping and organising, the significance of it all hits me from time to time. It goes without saying that I'm going to miss my family immensely, and I don't really know how to get my head around all of those emotions. But after five whirlwind years here in Mumbai, the one thing that's truly surprising me is the realisation of how much I am going to miss this city. There are many ways in which I still can't truly call myself a 'Mumbaikar', and I think that part of the process of feeling comfortable here was accepting that I would never fully fit in.
But there's one way in which I've been a Bombay girl from day one: I love chaat. Love it.
For five years, wherever I've been, I have almost always had the dahi batata puri (crunchy boules filled with chickpeas or potatoes and topped with yoghurt, sweet chutney, spices, lentils, coriander and crunchy fried twigs of batter).
That's actually rather unusual for me, because I am normally the one who wants to choose the newest, strangest looking thing on the menu. I've had it more places than I can count, and I have my personal preferences. One place puts lentils, another has delicious yoghurt, another's chutney it just tangy enough... the list goes on.
One afternoon this summer, my mum and I decided to give in to temptation and try the chaat from a stall in Kala Ghoda (hands down, coolest neighbourhood in Bombay) and he revolutionised dahi batata puri for me: warm cooked chickpeas (I usually like it cold, but this was interesting), fresh tomato, crunchy, spicy split peas, loads of coriander, heaps of handmade sev that twisted and crunched as you ate it, and – perhaps best of all – raw mango on top that added a freshness and sourness that I had never had in chaat before.
But recently, I started trying bhel puri: a chaat made with puffed rice and everything else tossed in.
I'm officially converted.
Dry bhel is light and easy for a quick snack, but the real fun of chaat lies in all the chutneys and fresh fruits and vegetables, and bhel puri's inherent lightness makes it significantly easier to eat than others.
On another summer morning whim, my mum and I stopped at the chaat stall outside Sundance (another Bombay favourite) and it now ranks up with the Kala Ghoda stall. Our idea has, essentially, been for me to stock up on enough chaat to last me the next two months until I'm home. ;) It's a fun way to explore the city, and you can't help but feel extremely happy afterwards.
So after all the taste-testing around the city, from Chowpatty to Nariman Point (and no, I'm not even including samosa chaat and aloo chaat and all the country's other varieties... in this respect, my city is the best.), I've got my list of what makes the perfect chaat (complete with my own hand-painted illustration):
Sweet tamarind chutney: Not too spicy
Mint chutney: I always ask places to leave it out, but a non-chili-laden chutney would be delicious
Onion: I'm thinking of adding caramelised onions to chaat one day too
Tomato: You need the freshness and juiciness
Raw mango: Tangy, crunchy, light and just lovely
Pomegranate: The burst of the seeds and their bright flavour add so many layers to the taste and texture
Mint leaves: This would pair wonderfully with the mango and pomegranate
Fresh coriander: Have to. Just have to.
Crunchy, spicy split peas: They counter the softness of the other components and are packed with masala
Nylon sev: It's fun, crunchy and uncomplicated. It's like the chocolate sprinkles of chaat.
Lemon juice: Subtle, but the sourness is definitely needed
Green lentils: Perfect especially in dahi batata puri
Roasted peanuts: Amidst all the light, crunchy, fresh flavours, the peanuts keep the whole dish grounded and add a wonderful wholesome feel
Roasted cumin powder: One of the best spices in Indian cooking, you can't go wrong
Chaat masala: It's an all-time favourite go-to spice, perfectly mixed and super easy
Coriander powder: It's more delicate than cumin powder and its muted smoky sweetness permeates the whole dish
So my mum and I gave it a go. We were hesitant, because we had essentially concluded that street food stalls make the best chaat, so it's somewhat futile trying to do it yourself. But honestly, this was probably one of my happiest moments in the kitchen, because we loved our bhel puri even more than the stall outside Sundance. Just enough chutney, full of peanuts and pomegranate, not too spicy, sour mango... heaven ^_^
The thing about chaat is its simultaneous simplicity and complexity.
It's quick and honest. It doesn't need to pretend to be some gourmet dish from the 5-star hotel across the street. It's usually served in recycled paper (you might spot your bank statement or exam one day...), and your on-the-go 'spoon' is a flat, fried puri that is undeniably satisfying to munch up at the end. It can be as plain or as complicated as you want, allowing each person to throw in or leave out whichever ingredients suit them, mixing and matching and experimenting. It can be as unhealthy or as balanced as you want, as big or as small.
And perhaps, this is in a way why it so perfectly represents Mumbai for me.
Mumbai is a massive, buzzing, bright and chaotic city. There's no one right way, but Mumbaikars will make sure there is always a way. There's the heaviness of the pollution and the freshness of the sea breeze; the heat of the sun and the burst of tropical fruit; the commuters who live with blinkers on, and the small shop owner who will sit and have a chat with you; the roadside banana vendor and the hip new cafe. Whether you're a multi-millionaire tycoon or a simple taxi driver, you have your favourite street food stall, your favourite childhood memories, the ingredients you love, the flavours you crave. You walk along the same bustling streets, and somewhere, nestled in all the 12 million people, you have your place. Just like Mumbai's seemingly impossible parking, someone will nudge this way, someone else will guide you another way, and you kind of slot in. And if you're lucky, you'll land up right next to a street food stall, with a pile of chaat waiting.
So, here I am, looking at the menu and trying new things. Bhel puri, illustration, cooking... university.
I don't know what's coming, but if anything, Mumbai prepares you pretty well for the unpredictable.
What I do know is that some things will always stay the same. I will find my own little place wherever I go, with a pack of chaat masala tucked in my suitcase. And when I come home, my extraordinary family, my favourite chaat, the Bombay buzz and our picturesque dining table will be waiting for more adventures.
I am in the middle of one incredibly long summer, in which I planned to do and learn and see and accomplish and try a bajillion new and cool and interesting things. But after the whirlwind of the IB and all the supposed productivity, I have done next to none of it.
Yes, I feel guilty. But I have to remind myself that it's okay. So much of our lives go in trying to be as productive as possible: trying to get to as many meetings, reply to as many emails, run as many errands, get the next best grade or the next best promotion.
The IB may be over, but university is just starting, and I'll have no shortage of teary nights, crying about how I didn't complete everything on my impossible to-do list.
Far too many people look back one day and wish they had slowed down for just a bit, and so I'm reassuring myself with the knowledge that this summer I'm doing exactly that.
And in the midst of it all, I actually am trying new things... and making biscotti is one of them :)
My mum and I had been intrigued by the idea for a while, and this recipe seemed to be rather unique. Our biscotti (literally meaning 'twice-baked') turned out a bit crumbly due to the cornmeal and the nuts. But I honestly wasn't complaining, because that meant more warm, nutty, crunchy crumbs for us to nibble on while we worked... 'That's just the way the cookie crumbles.' ;) (Cheesy, I know, but I just had to.)
Despite our problems with the texture and cutting the slices, they had a beautiful colour and flavour, and the smell of roasted almonds, orange zest and rosemary wafting through the kitchen was heavenly.
They tasted (and looked) beautiful next to a hot cup of my dad's homemade cappuccino on a lazy, rainy Sunday morning. We read, talked, listened to the rain, and ended up spontaneously driving all the way to Bandra to try out a pizzeria.
It was a simultaneously a 'do-nothing' and a 'try-something-new' day.
That sounds like a pretty good summer to me.
(... ≠ Fart, BTW)
Along with cooking, art is one of my biggest passions. In fact, it's probably part of why I like cooking so much – it's a form of art and of making things. IB art is about as stressful and exhausting as a subject can get, but I loved it to bits. Now that I'm free, I get to do art exactly how I want it, experimenting with sizes, media, colours and themes, and I can do it whenever I like, for however long I like. Working with ballpoint pen is one of my favourites (it's a massively underrated medium), and I love making whole pieces only shaded in pen (I'll post some soon). I've recently started simplifying the shading and adding watercolour to my pieces to brighten them up a bit, and what better thing to make than food? It's colourful, it's diverse, and it makes people seriously happy ;)
I'll be doing lots more of these, including any special requests from readers, so be sure to let me know what you think :)
The very first thing I was inspired to make was a giant, soft blueberry muffin. The kinds you get in fun coffee shops, loaded with streusel (I always save the muffin top for last :p), and full of sweet blueberries. Irresistible.
My mum says she might have been French in another life, because she could probably live on croissants (proper, warm, flaky croissants) and coffee for breakfast. The cup is based on a super cute set we have – you'll see it in a blog post soon ;)
The other day, amidst all the weekend work chaos, my dad decided that we absolutely have to bake apple pie. He said that no matter how much work you have, it's important to make time for seemingly pointless stuff, i.e. 'apple pie therapy.' Take it literally or metaphorically. Or both.
My sister adores her heaped bowl of chips, which she happily devours while sitting on the sofa, watching TV or playing on the iPad. She gets lost in her world, her hands get lost in that mound of chips, and she's silent except for the munching and crunching.
And chocolate, too...
I don't have very much to say about these tarts except for the fact that they are scrumptious.
And fun and cute and yum and everything really nice.
My mum had the genius idea of making a tulip shape out of the mango slices, and pairing two tarts to make 'Chocolate Tulip'! New logo B)
I made them for a potluck lunch I had with two of my loveliest friends, and everything about it was perfect. My mum taught me the tips and tricks of dealing with pastry dough in Mumbai's heat; I discovered a pastry cream recipe that I'm probably going to use forever; I had a blast with my mum decorating and photographing the little tarts (yes, I took a lot of photos... but it'd be a crime not to :p); we had a long lunch of my friends' beautifully fresh roasted vegetable couscous and addictive tzatziki dip; and last but not least, everyone loved the tarts.
I made the chocolate ones for one friend and my sister, and the mango ones for my other friend, my family and myself. With this year's heat wave I have found myself converted to fruit desserts. Until recently I would likely have reached for the most chocolatey thing possible, but after our Torta di Nada, natural watermelon ice cream, and these tarts, I have a newfound appreciation of the lightness, freshness and flavours of non-chocolate desserts and I can't wait to experiment more with them.
Upon sinking her teeth into a mango tart, my friend instructed me not to talk to her because she was busy in food heaven. They proceeded to trade tarts, gush over each other's and lick every crumb. Moments like these made me very, very happy.