This post was going to be entitled simply 'lately', but it kept reminding me of the song by David Gray. The chorus goes:
"Honey, lately I've been way down,
A load on my mind."
So the title is only partially apt. "A load on my mind"... yeah, you can say that again.
But I haven't been way down, not at all. The past few months have been chaotic, but I've been undoubtedly happy. Even though I haven't had much time to cook I wanted to write a bit of an update on the little foodie things that have been going on. I expected this post to be rather mundane, but in the process of choosing all the photos so many memories and moments have come back, and I actually think this post, despite a major lack of cooking, will be one of my favourites.
My mum and I had a quiet weekend lunch at Suzette - an adorable crêperie nearby. I had plenty of work, but we had to wait until a particular time and that made us slow down. Each savoured bite was interspersed by deep, engaging conversation and the place was quiet except for cute background music. We actually sat for a bit, just chatting, before we decided to go for it and order the blueberry panna cotta that had been tempting us. It was creamy, perfectly sweet, and it has set my panna cotta - and lunchtime - standards high.
I've read a lot about shashukha (a North African dish of eggs poached in a rich, flavourful tomato sauce) and it's high on the list of things I want to make. I didn't have enough time to make the real thing, but one day before an unusually early start at school I tried whipping up a simpler version. It certainly doesn't look as appetising as a traditional shashukha, but it was aromatic (my mum and sister were rather intrigued), warm and it was definitely what I needed that morning.
I'm still a coffee person (I never, ever thought I would be... late-night art sessions drove me to start drinking it, and now I'm one of those 'morning cuppa' people) but I do like certain teas. The Indian masala tea is divine, I'm very intrigued by floral teas, and from what I've tried of green tea it's alright... I've sort of made myself like it because it's good for you. But there are lots of fruity options out there waiting to be experimented with. My dad brought back some Sri Lankan tea and I particularly liked some of the honey-coloured, light ones and the gentle green teas. What topped it for me were the little labels, the rough string and the triangular cloth pouches <3
I can't rave enough about the fruit we get here... one weekend we just had so many, and I was feeling nostalgic about our trip to Cambodia and my daily fruit platter breakfasts. It wasn't the same, but nonetheless refreshing... and loads of fun to eat.
My mum packs a healthy, filling lunch for me every day (I dare my teachers to try and get me to absorb even one word if I haven't had a proper lunch), and she adds such lovely little touches. She'll put strawberries with kiwi because to me they're like chocolate and vanilla, or she'll put in a tub of mishti doi (a creamy bengali sweet yoghurt that's irresistible... Danone has ingeniously started packaging it like regular fruit yoghurts. The only downside is that I eat it way more often than I normally would... but I can't pass it up). One of my favourites is her speculaas parfait creation: a crumbled speculaas cookie, topped with plain yoghurt and a dollop of peach jam. It all infuses and it's the absolute best pick-me-up.
I asked Tarini what she wanted me to cook her for her birthday, and I was prepared to make anything. I had done croissants for my mum, a cake for my dad and frantic poffertjes for myself. But Tarini is a simple eater and, if you know what she likes, easy to please. She asked me for hash browns to go with easy scrambled eggs, canned baked beans and a carton of juice. Frying the hash browns was a tad messy... I gave 'hash' a new meaning... but she seemed satisfied :) Her simple pleasures rub off on us, because we all spent the morning bonding over building a giant Lego set together and sipping my dad's cappuccinos.
So many amazing restaurants keep popping up around Bombay. A lot of it is shifting to areas like Bandra, and people say my area will essentially become the quaint, historic 'old town'. I'm not complaining. I truly love my part of town, and we still get a huge number of new places each year - with the added advantage of more space and relatively more tranquility. The Sassy Spoon is minutes from my house and is unbelievably charming. The decor is gorgeous and quirky, the food is creative and fresh, and the last time we went they had a Christmas bazaar going on in their gardens with all the latest from Bombay's flourishing fashion design world. The photo above shows nothing of the ambience or the fun drinks, but the colours happened to catch my eye :P
Aside from 'real' cooking, I keep up my usual experimentation. I throw random ingredients into my oatmeal, cereal or yoghurt, try different toppings on my toast, mix up a new drink, or make something with bits and bobs, like the dessert above with bits of cake, yoghurt and jam.
One day my sister and my dad were busy, but my mum and I attended a bread making workshop. We figured it would help, considering our bad luck so far. We didn't actually get to make much - the dough was prepared, and they baked it. We essentially watched a presentation, kneaded the dough around a bit, and snacked on crackers, hummus and cappuccinos. I can't say we left as enlightened bread makers, but we did enjoy mingling and unwinding. The bread (cherry-apricot, raisin-hazelnut, and olive) was delicious and I ate it in every possible way:
... a box of stale (probably re-gifted) Belgian chocolates melted perfectly for us to dip the bread in...
... dollops of real jam...
... with strawberries, peanut butter and nutella...
... and I made the last two chunks into french toast :)
Near Christmas I made a banoffee pie - the recipe was really easy, and everything went perfectly. I was holding the fridge open, rearranging to make space, and holding the pie in my other hand, and I heard a splat as a part of the top layer spilled because I wasn't paying attention to it tilting and tilting. It worked out, though - we ate it while watching The Santa Clause, and it tasted incredible. The photos were taken in the evening, so they didn't do the pie justice, but condensed milk pouring onto a buttery walnut-biscuit base is pretty yum too.
These are kind of cheating, because they're from a box of pumpkin spice doughnut mix sent over via my dad by my aunt in Boston. It was like a little package of their pretty autumn. It wasn't your usual box mix because it was whole wheat and all natural, so I didn't mind ;) I turned them into muffins in the absence of a doughnut pan, and I was thrilled... the dripping maple glaze on top was, quite literally, the icing on the cake. I rolled my eyes at my dad adding more icing to his muffin, but yeah. He was right. These need a generous heap of icing, and I didn't regret it.
Being at my grandparents' house at any time of year means lots of homemade food and sweets and cookies and whatnot. This was further compounded by us being there at Christmas and New Year's, and the fact that my grandmother is an avid Dutch baker. I tried my first mince pies (above), had fresh oliebollen and appelflappen (Dutch New Year's traditions), gevulde speculaas, cookies, namkeen and cake... just to name a few. Bad for your waistline, great for your happiness.
Contrasting all that butter and sugar is my grandmother's herb and vegetable garden from which we collected fresh cherry tomatoes, parsley, basil and oregano. Among several other things growing were pumpkins, which I'm excited to see. I love this photo for so many reasons. Tarini's hand - on the left - is almost as big as mine, reminding me how she's not so literally my little sister anymore. The colours are vibrant, I can just smell the herbs and remember plucking them. It's always so interesting to go and see a plant - it connects you to your food in a different way and brings out your often stifled curiosity. And the little nose and ear peeking out on the right - the golden eyes are unfortunately hidden - belong to their dog Leela. I love her feistiness and energy, and she perfectly juxtaposes Naveen with his sweet, wimpy nature and melting chocolate eyes.
I had my first taste of chana jor: a street food special of roasted raw chickpeas (with the skin on) mixed with fresh onion, tomato, coriander, spices, a few sweet crunchy things, all culminating in one of the most delightful snacks I've tasted. The man preparing it could give the masterchef contestants a run for their money in onion chopping, and the whole process of putting it together is so fascinating. Little things in my tastes are changing... spicy street food, turmeric in my popcorn, and the newly realised ability to eat green kurkure without burning my tongue. I'm evolving with Bombay :)
I was lured back to get chana jor again, and I discovered 'ragi khakhara' at the supermarket both on the same day. Ragi is rye, and khakhara is traditionally a gujarati snack made of crispy paratha and comes in every possible flavour (even chinese schezwan, dosa and pizza). My family likes it, but I've never been hooked. But ragi khakhara? Oh yes. I love it. For all its fried food, Bombay is rather health-conscious, and increasingly so. Bombay is evolving along with me, too :)
From a recent trip to Copenhagen my dad brought rokkebrood (I only know the Dutch name), a dark, dense, slightly bitter bread laden with whole grains and seeds. No one in my family likes it, so more for me ;) I've had it every day for breakfast along with the pungent cheeses he brought, the artisan pineapple-mango jam (brilliant combination) I brought from our school trip to Pondicherry, nutella, butter, peanut butter, honey... you name it. It didn't even last a week. But I'm not disappointed, it's just given me something interesting to try and cook.
There was a massive food festival this weekend at the Nehru Centre, with each floor filled with stalls of food galore. We relished in all the different tidbits, and we especially enjoyed the organic farmer's market and stalls. It really showcased Bombay, from new French bakeries to masala burgers, perfect papad and Belgian fries, spectacular ice cream and organic flax seeds...
Today I'm feeling especially blessed. Well, call it what you will, as someone constantly debating faith I'm never sure quite what name to give it. Regardless of what it's called, it's an extraordinary feeling. Very, very few people are surrounded by such beautiful individuals, hear such warming words, are given such exciting opportunities and are made to feel, each and every day, that they love life.
East meets West in the South East...
We just spent 10 days in Cambodia...
'Cambodia?!', you ask, 'What on earth is there to do in Cambodia?'.
But in actual fact, we all fell in love with Cambodia: the culture, the people, the food and the history... so much so that Cambodia has even been featuring in my sister's and my dreams lately.
If I went into a whole story of everything I loved about it, this blog post would be three times as long as it already is, so I'm just going to stick with the food aspect ;)
Cambodia is the land of the two-wheelers: scooters, motorcycles and bikes make up the majority of the transport for the population, and túk-túks (scooters with a carriage at the back) ferry locals and tourists alike. In fact, during our whole holiday we only sat in a car twice- once from the airport, and once to. Scooters also often have little food carts attached to them, selling baguettes with your choice of filling, French crêpes (part of the lingering French influence) with banana and nutella, drinks, local fried snacks, noodles (not your regular maggi.... this stuff has real vegetables and fun sauces), and even little cakes.
My first meal in Cambodia had to be amok- Cambodia's specialty. It's a fish dish that's either baked or steamed. This version was at Le Tigre En Papier, a local fusion restaurant popular with backpackers. Actually, pretty much all of Siem Reap is popular with backpackers... it's a melting pot of loads of young groups and couples walking around in hippy-fun clothes and enjoying the vibrant markets. The amok was slightly cocnoutty and the fish was made in a shredded form. I didn't like some of the fish, but overall it was something new and interesting.
After hours of exploring the ancient Angkor temples, we bought some much-needed pineapple from a local vendor.The pineapple was ingeniously carved and quartered so one could enjoy it neatly and on the go.
One of the loveliest parts of the trip was our visit to a floating village, complete with an adorable floatng church, tiny floating police station, a floating basketball court, school, houses... everything. Our guide was a really sweet young guy who told us all about the culture, history, and functioning of the village- despite being a melange of various ethnicities, the community is very tight-knit, albeit with its own social problems.
Amidst the bustling markets in Siem Reap are alleys filled with alluring boutiques, cafés, restaurants and craft shops that could have been plucked right out of an old European town. We enjoyed many a nice meal and lots of browsing and shopping in The Alley (actually named that) during our visit and as a temple-detox.
The Singing Tree Café in The Alley works for the benefit of locals (as many organisations do- restaurants, shops, handicraft makers and various other services all really focus on making the flourishing tourism an industry that thrives and helps the Cambodians as much as possible.) serves cappuccino in pretty mugs, and we were all satisfied with out meal while going through our photos, taking in the activity of The Alley and talking.
I'm known to be indecisive when choosing something from a menu, and I was stuck between two things when 'mango sticky rice caught my eye (admittedly in the dessert section) and I settled on it instantaneously. I tend to gravitate to sweet things and dishes that are new and exciting. My family found it questionable, but it was definitely a success. I spent so much time tasting each bite carefully that the taste still lingers. The rice was subtly mangoey and nutty, the local mango is soft and just sweet enough, and the coconut cream provided a lovely, rich anchor.
Isn't this fork gorgeous?
The opposite of my choice, my sister went for an egg, tomato and cheese sandwich, but it was just right and made with great local bread.
They call themselves 'An American Café in the heart of Siem Reap', and they truly are. Common Grounds was filled with almost all Americans, many of them social workers and volunteers. The ambience was calm and relaxed, with a nice mix of coffee and divine baked goods, and hot local dishes too. Common Grounds devotes itself to helping Cambodians, through the people they hire, the ingredients they use, the jewellery they sell and the way their profits are used. Note the bottom of the chalkboard: 'Every dollar we earn makes a difference in the life of a Cambodian'.
I spent my morning sipping coffee and doodling <3
A true, Italian restaurant, Il Forno makes spectacular pizzas in its woodfire oven, along with a vast selection of fine risottos, pastas, salads, antipasti and wine. The ambience was warm, breezy and cheerful, tucked away in a small lane. The owner is a young Italian girl who bustled through the completely full restaurant, and we were undoubtedly pleased by our dinner.
The Sun is a huge, bright, sunny and well-decorated restaurant, which also has comfy outdoor seating where we enjoyed some drinks with the fairy lights on our first night. It's apparently famous for its fluffy blueberry pancakes, and I'm a sucker for pancakes at any time of day. They were warm, crispy and absolutely scrumptious.
My mum had a pasta puttanesca with real, rustic, chunky tomato sauce and fresh grilled vegetables.
They even made a good falafel burger... The Sun was definitely one of my favourites.
The Sugar Palm: an airy, spacious restaurant atop an old wooden bungalow that makes divine Asian food Their crockery was really cute too <3.
Look at this teapot! And I love the carved dandelion on the mug. I had hot lemon tea, although the local iced lemon tea is by far the best we've ever had.
The Sugar Palm is where chef Gordon Ramsay learned how to make amok :O So my mum and I were sure we'd try it. It was way different from the one at Le Tigre En Paper... it was much better. This amok is baked to a soufflé-like consistency, it's frothy on top and the sauce is rich, spicy and complex. The fish, too was a really nice variety and I polished off the bowl (which is a hollowed out coconut shell!). We also enjoyed perfectly crisp spring rolls, and gado gado- one of our favourites.
This was my breakfast every day in Siem Reap: fresh fruits and their homemade yoghurt. Clockwise from the top: pineapple, mango, watermelon, banana (their local bananas are so good), dragonfruit (a new fruit for me! The texture is like kiwi, but it's less sweet), papaya and apple.
I grew really fond of the yoghurt that came every day in little pots. It was sweet and super creamy, and really refreshing with a plate of fruits... it kept me full for ages
Phnom Penh, the capital, also has a vast variety of cultures and restaurants. After one busy day at the Central Market (mind-boggling), we came across a small Malaysian restaurant. My parents lived in Kuala Lumpur for man years and I was born there, so as a family we have an affinity for Malaysia. My parents enjoyed the chance to revive their Bahasa skills, jokes and memories, and they had this light and filling silken tofu dish with tofu that melts in your mouth.
Remembering our trip to Malaysia in December 2011, I ordered a Mamak Mee Goreng. It looked brown and messy, but the flavours were so yum, the vegetables were crunchy and the soft egg on top was the perfect touch. I found it hard to not finish every last bite, and even my parents, who have tried countless mee gorengs, thought it was fantastic.
Another responsible organisation is Friends- they have a store with handmade recycled products made from materials such as old scarves, tyres, magazines, cutlery and paperclips, just to name a few.
They also have a stunning restaurant which employs youth and trains them to get back into society after experiences with drugs, abuse or crime. They have had great success, with many of their trainees working in top restaurants and hotels. I absolutely loved my passionfruit-watermelon ice shake- which is literally all it is... no weird sugar syrups and ice cream... just fresh, sweet fruit and ice <3 Winning combination.
My curried pumpkin soup tasted a bit like amok, so I think they used similar spices. It was a hot day, and the rich creaminess was replenishing and left me feeling ready to keep walking.
A little ahead of the Friends restaurant, we spotted this young guy at the from of a small local place, busy stringing his arms up and down, deftly manoeuvring ribbons. This stuff comes pretty close to magic... we tried in vain to follow his fingers and figure out how he did it, but it's impossible... second by second the noodles divide or get thinner and it never gets tangled or stuck. The lump of thick ropes soon becomes fine strings, which are briefly boiled, leaving a bowlful of fresh, perfect noodles... we were awestruck.
Fruits! Juicy rambutan, sweet and crisp apples, and soft mangosteen all bought at a market, using a mixture of dollars and riel (Cambodia uses both... it's very confusing)
A Belgian man- smiley and portly- runs a restaurant called The Wine in Phnom Penh. To celebrate Belgium's new king, he hosted a Belgian night for 'Belgians and friends of Belgium'- given that my best friend is Belgian, we figured we qualified ;) There were two hippy Belgian oldies playing cute music on the piano, flute and saxophone, and a tiny boy even walked up to dance along. Being vegetarian, our options were limited to asparagus in butter with egg, but they were lovely: soft, falling apart and perfect with the little French rolls. My parents loved their Belgian beer, and it made us think back to last summer in France, when we met Maurice and Monique, Belgians who shared Belgian chocolate and beer with us in the evenings.
The markets are at times suffocating, but they're full of everything under the sun. We bought plenty of knick-knacks, and delighted in taking in the myriad of aromas, voices, people and activity.
Very well known and a tourist favourite, The Blue Pumpkin has a few outlets in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. This particular branch is three stories high, overlooks the riverfront and has sofas with young girls sprawled on their phones while sipping tea and coffee, businesspeople tapping away, families settling down to rest, and a really serene atmosphere.
The Blue Pumpkin's red berry shake. One day in Siem Reap we cycled down to Angkor Wat, which has a branch of TBP. My dad ordered this shake, and liked i so much he ordered it again in Phnom Penh.
Hidden away is a quiet restaurant called The Ebony Tree. We were the only customers, there was one waiter/assistant chef and one grandma chef, but we savoured being away from the noise of the city and it gave us the chance to finish writing our postcards.
We were joined by a fifth member at out table: a black tomcat who lay pretty much motionless, except for an occasional sleepy-eyed stretch or reshuffle.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club is a massive, colonial-era building with the perfect river view. We enjoyed drinks there one evening, and it won us- especially my dad- over. It has an energetic vibe, reminiscent of the old club culture but adapted to modern society, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming to relax. We returned the next morning for coffee and my dad bought an FCC cap, which he is loving wearing.
All over Cambodia you'll see these pretty lotuses with the outside petals delicately folded. They open up beautifully, and I have never seen so many lotuses being sold on the street as I saw in Cambodia.
By the poolside of the lush, serene Kabiki hotel guests are served a big breakfast. The head waiter was oh-s0-smiley and after a couple of days he remembered our preferences, and what to leave out or bring extra for each of us.
Passionfruit juice... cold, pulpy and so sweet... <3
The chestnut bread (with chunks of chestnut inside... chestnuts actually grown in abundance there) and the baguette, served with homemade pineapple jam that was heavenly. I always mixed it into my muesli and yoghurt, and I even tried in on a slice of pineapple (it's not weird.)
Cambodian coffee is really strong, but I just fell in love with their ceramic crockery.
Their yoghurt wasn't as yum as the one in Siem Reap, but mixed with the muesli and jam it made a light and healthy breakfast that I looked forward to.
'Looking natural' with the self-timer on :P
If you're thinking about going to Cambodia, don't hesitate. There's so much to do, so much to see, so much to try. This is going down as one of our favourite holidays of all time, and we didn't regret a minute of it.