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.
a.k.a. Torta di Nada, and Graduation Cake :)
Graduating form school is bittersweet. Over the past few months I couldn't wait for school to end, counting down until there were no more labs, internal assessments, exams, essays or art pieces to do, no more endless to-do lists and sleepless nights. During the last week or two of school I felt sad, nostalgic, paying extra attention to all my old classrooms, noting the things I love about my friends and teachers, marvelling at how it could have all gone by so quickly. But even when classes ended, we still had a few weeks of study leave and final exams, by which point I had gone back to being fed up. I even had a countdown on my laptop which I checked almost obsessively, waiting until the moment my last exam ended. That moment is something I can't quite describe... I ran out of the exam hall and squealed and hugged my friend; my friends and I were beaming as we talked to the teachers we ran into, reminiscing and chatting; I called my mum and shouted "guess who's free?", not fully able to grasp it myself. I had a day that was so spontaneous and leisurely it was surreal: a long lunch with my friends, playing games and listening to music with my boyfriend, and a lovely evening with my mum spent talking, finishing a puzzle, eating pizza, watching a movie, and flipping through pointless magazines.
So I think perhaps this exact moment of graduation is more of a closure. The sadness and the elation are over, and this evening was just a lovely way for all the students, teachers and parents to meet one more time.
My family and I went to a new café in Kala Ghoda called The Nutcracker for breakfast that morning (and got caught up in a film shooting at the same time... that's Bombay for you). It's a cute little place that could be lifted out of Paris, and although the service wasn't brilliant, the food was delicious. After a practically customary stop at Rhythm House, we came home to this 'graduation cake' that my mum and I had made. Really, it was my mum who made it and I was a happy sous-chef. It's from Jamie Oliver's book Jamie's Italy, and he calls it Torta di Nada after the woman who makes it at a bed and breakfast. It's light, zesty, fresh, and rather addictive. I kept cutting slivers of it all day for a week, and occasionally treated myself to a nice big slab.
Whether you're graduating or not, I think you need to celebrate summer with this cake ;)
Some places are so overwhelming, such an assault on the senses, that you can't get your head around them – I'd say India is probably one of those places.
But perhaps what made it so difficult to get my head around Japan is it's complete calmness, lack of imposition, of sensory bombardment. From Starbucks on every corner in Kyoto and Tokyo, to minuscule vegetarian restaurants up spiral stairwells; from the Shinkansen that zooms past like a sinister snake, to the giant watercolour mountains looming over the rice fields.. there's so much to say about our trip, but that would go on for pages and pages, so I've had to reluctantly do what I'm worst at: editing.
We spent the first day in Narita, a small town outside of Tokyo, that was simply overflowing with charm. Tiny bakeries, rows of traditional shops selling everything from crackers to meat to household supplies. The little streets wind around each other, schoolchildren bustle about, and there's not a sound from the cars or the pedestrians.
Although this sign outside a cafe amusingly says 'bleakfast', our breakfast on the first day was far from bleak. We were staying at an old guesthouse that was about as traditional as you could get. The elderly couple who ran it were extremely warm and had Samurai ancestry. The house was filled with ancient artefacts, beautiful sliding doors, and priceless tatami mats. Countless celebrities and dignitaries have visited their guesthouse, but they remained incredibly as down to earth and prepared a traditional Japanese breakfast for us. The flavours and textures take a lot of getting used to, and I can't say I managed to have all the pickled peas, the fish cakes or the sashimi. But the presentation and nutritional balance put people's grab-and-go breakfasts to shame, and the tofu miso soup was heavenly.
The town of Hakone was by a hot spring and was in itself a sleepy little place. We had some enormous, soul-warming bowls of vegetable and noodle soup, and delicious dumplings (after much sign language and attempts at communication) at a small Japanese diner/restaurant on a drizzly day. With a living room filled with instruments, games and books in different languages left by various travellers, and the steaming hot spring baths, Hakone was rather relaxing. Ironically, we went on an exhausting trek up Mount Kintoki the day we were leaving. We didn't anticipate its length or difficulty, and we trudged up while seasoned trekkers (even little kids and bonding dogs) zipped past us in their trekking gear. But when we reached the top, with Mount Fuji peeking out from the clouds in the distance and the hills rolling out around us, we knew it was worth it. We were perhaps the only non-Japanese people up there, and the owners of the small shack struggled a bit to figure out what we were ordering. The woman came running out with a book, asking us to write where we were from, and the man made us a hot pot of green tea, which was just perfectly refreshing and soothing. Other trekkers were so curious to find out how we liked Japan and apparently we were really lucky to see Mount Fuji that day too. Even atop a mountain, you can be surrounded by warmth.
K's House in the seaside town of Ito – again by a hot spring – is an absolute treasure. The convivial atmosphere, the sprawling living rooms, the sunshine streaming in, the view of the river, not to mention the ancient classic architecture and woodwork by some of Japan's master carvers. Everyone there made you feel like part of the family, from helping in the kitchen, to sitting at 5 am with tea and cereal and watching Holland play in the Fifa World Cup. We had the most relaxing, beautiful mornings with all kinds of breakfast foods from the local supermarkets and fresh breads and cakes from a lovely bakery we found.
Interestingly, in Japan I had some of the best Italian food I have ever had. The pizzas had light, fluffy dough, the cheese was rich and real (not gooey and processed), and the pastas were always laden with fresh vegetables – not just the usual ones, but crunchy beans, sautéed aubergine, cabbage, yellow zucchini – and the sauce was just pure fresh tomatoes.
The Japanese are, of course, known for the importance they give to tea, and this tea set at a mother-daughter-run restaurant simply had to be photographed.
Kyoto blew us away with its old streets and buildings mingled with its glitzy main roads, and we all feel we simply have to go back, because there's just too much to explore. Tucked away in one of the backstreets is a typical Japanese restaurant called Kura Kura. Our guesthouse manager said it's a true local restaurant, not usually frequented by tourists, but one of his all-time favourites. We spent one of the loveliest evenings there, laughing and talking to the chef about his life, Japan, travelling, and the local culture. From couples to business meetings, people sat around on the tatami mats (rather surprised when we walked in) in the dimly lit room. The chef prepared a special menu for us, thrilled to be taking on my sister, the tough customer, and it was divine. A richly complex yet light salad dressing had my sister eating bowlfuls of lettuce; the tempura was hot and addictive; the noodles were handmade, slippery and wholesome; the tofu soup was delicate and nourishing; it was a delight to watch dishes like the rolled omelette being made as we talked, ate and my parents sipped hot sake.
An evening of being completely pulled into a city, of having a local chef and restaurant open up to you and show their pride in showcasing their culture simply can't be beaten. The warmth and happiness we felt on our last night seemed to sum up everything we had felt in Japan. It's such a distant place, both literally and figuratively, and the language and cultural barriers – so much is completely new, unknown, surprising – can make you feel a little lost at times. But somehow the ebb and flow of the cities, the sleepy strolling in the small towns, the peacefully grand temples, the buzzing restaurants, even the traffic guards on the street, all made us feel wrapped up and absorbed into the country for those fleeting two weeks. I haven't even come close to doing it justice – you'll just have to go there yourself ;)
Out of h-IB-ernation...
Hellooooooo life, how nice to see you again!
I am officially done with school and the IB, and I have had 4 days of blissful freedom. I've been telling myself for ages that summer is going to be for doing absolutely nothing, but so far I've found myself perpetually occupied with something... I suppose I can't really be idle for too long, because there's just always something I want to do or read or make. I don't mind being busy, as long as it's the fun kind of busy.
I checked my last blog post and it was from last summer *hiding*...
BUT I'm making up for it, because I have a big backlog of beautiful posts coming, including cooking, travel, and lots of little foodie bits-and-bobs from the past year.
To start with I'm posting something I wrote in February but for which I never got the chance to edit the photos: a delicious multigrain bread, along with a bit of an update on what the past few months have really been like:
Chocolate Tulip is back!
Well, I was never really gone, to be honest. I've been dreaming about cooking, missing my blog, and doing whatever bits of cooking I have managed here and there. As my friends who wait weeks for email replies will testify, this school year has rendered me particularly disconnected from the things I love doing.
I'm sure I speak for all final year students (and certainly all IB students) when I say that these months just drain you like nothing else.
But last Friday the hardest of my mock exams were over, and after the jam-packed weeks of university applications, submissions, school events and supposedly squeezing in mock exam revision, I took a break. It truly felt like summer holidays: I helped make lunch, I made my new music playlist, I bought gorgeous orange nail polish and painted my nails, I worked on this giant puzzle with my mum, I talked to my friends and my boyfriend, and I baked this enormous loaf of bread.
Those of you who have read Chocolate Tulip before might know that my experiments with yeasted bread have not been entirely successful... While our homemade pizza dough can fluff up like a pillow, we've had trouble with other dough mixtures rising, or being too wet.
This recipe particularly caught my eye, because it used no yeast. It came quite simply on the packet of Bob's Red Mill 10-grain flour, and turned out to be lovely.
It's slightly heavy, erring on the cake side in terms of texture, because of the eggs and yoghurt. With a light lemon glaze it could actually make a really nice healthy cake. That said, that makes the bread extremely satisfying – I can easily have a slice of this for breakfast, which I am never able to do with normal bread. Combined with richness of the flours and the touch of sugar and olive oil, the bread tastes amazing just on its own, plain or toasted.
My mum and I enjoyed a quiet afternoon with warm slices of fresh bread and our usual Friday popcorn <3
Despite the chaos, in between everything there are little moments that perk you up: sleepovers, family dinners, movies (if you did not see The Imitation Game, go see it now), fun breakfasts, concerts (Ed Sheeran. Tonight. :O), running, yoga or just a few minutes you take to relax with some alone time or with the people you love.
And as a major plus, I am rather suddenly feeling very productive (*gasp*), so there should hopefully be a lot more posts coming :)
In any case, I have 4 months (yup) of blissful cooking-laden summer holidays coming up... holding on.
After all, it's called Chocolate Tulip...
Chocolate can be both a unifying and a divisive factor. Whole debates can erupt about 'dark vs milk', 'the best kind of M&Ms', 'cocoa:sugar ratios', or 'is white chocolate really chocolate?'
However, most of the time, placing a plate of brownies or a bag of chocolate or a giant bar in the middle of a group of people will result in good spirits, lip-smacking, finger-licking, and lots of smiles.
My economics teacher always promised us chocolate when we found out the answer to a challenge question, and joked that we owed him chocolate when we did well in an assessment. The truth is, we owe him a whole lot more than chocolate – to go with economics terms, technically, teachers could be considered as not being economic goods, because it's actually very difficult to put a price on them.
But this chocolate-nutella cake in a jar was symbolic, and I had a lot of fun making it, right down to the cute labels and nerdy economics puns.
I think I ate this cake in 3 forms: First, I planted myself on the kitchen counter and licked all the extra batter out of the bowl.
Then halfway through baking we smelled something burning, and all the batter had bubbled out of the cupcake cups, all over the tray. (After much reflection, we realised that in the chaos of the evening, my sister and I had forgotten the flour.....) So after scooping whatever batter was reclaimable into a new tray and adding some random scoops of flour, I ate up the delicious sizzling-brownie-esque stuff that was all over the tray.
And then I finally turned the broken cake into 'cake in a jar', layered with huge dollops of nutella and lots of chocolate sprinkles. Yeah. And of course I ate up the extra bits of cake.
Another delight of chocolate is chocolate in the morning. The Dutch know how to do this right, with rich chocolate sprinkles or flakes on toast being immensely popular. Chocolate features in my oatmeal, on my toast, in my cereal, anywhere. One morning towards the end of school, I had a pretty exhausting day ahead and lots of work, so I decided to make myself chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. Because. Breakfast is special and pancakes are fun and chocolate just makes it better.
The chocolate was gooey and warm, and the pancakes were crisp and soft, and it just turned my day around.
Of course, I've thought of the people who don't like chocolate at all. (Don't worry. I don't hate you.)
So whatever it is that makes you socialise, laugh, and be happy, go ahead and make it.
Eat it in 3 forms. Eat it for breakfast.
I bought ragi (finger millet) flour the other day, with no purpose, just because I've tried ragi khakhara and cookies and loved them. It's gluten-free, and I think it tastes a whole lot better than wheat. It's got a somewhat chocolatey and nutty taste to it, I'm not sure why. But it makes stuff richer, more filling, and better for you.
I love Conscious Food... their products are everywhere, and unlike many pure/organic brands nowadays, they're not expensive. The ingredients list is one word, they write about all the natural benefits of the food, and it's always delicious. The ragi flour is stone-ground, and I got a little surprise in the flour today: 2 ragi seeds in the sieve :) That might sound like an odd surprise, but I love it. It just shows the purity, the simplicity. It's like finding the whole cherries and blackberries in St. Dalfour jam... it's real.
This has got to be one of the healthiest cakes ever. There's not a single ingredient that isn't good for you, there's nothing refined, and it happens to be vegan and gluten-free, for those to whom it matters. And, take my family's word for it, it's delicious. It's slightly fudgey, and yet incredibly light with the orange juice and zest. I could eat the whole cake... and the best part is, it's so healthy it wouldn't really matter :P
I baked, I baked, I baked :)
It's finally summer holidays, emphasis on the finally. Although it seems the perennial paradox of life is that one can't imagine where a year has disappeared, and certain things feel as though they happened yesterday, while at the same time, when one considers the year gone by it seems so incredibly long and saturated with events that now feel eerily distant.
There's work to do this summer... a lot of it. But at least for this weekend, it has felt really good to just wander. And by wander I mean both literally and figuratively: I've wandered out of the house with my family for a snack, made an impromptu stop at an adorable bookstore that I've been missing for who knows how long, strolled around the quiet Sunday morning streets of Gateway, and had a lazy breakfast at Mondegar. At home, I've let my mind drift from thing to thing, nor worrying that something is taking longer than it should or about the other things I 'should' be doing. Reading, football, cooking, talking, little things that matter a whole lot more than we give them credit for.
Our principal describes the two years of the IB as a marathon: you just have to steadily keep ploughing through, and there's a lot of validity to his analogy. But I also think high school, especially here and now, is a frantic race. There's always something more you could/should/would be doing, some score that people want to beat, some internship they want to get or extracurricular hours they want to fill or exam they want to top. And I find myself stuck between my ambition and motivation, and my desire to stay true to myself, to not slave away for two years in order to pander to the, frankly often irrational, demands of the increasingly competitive universities.
So while that dilemma goes on, I've pushed the pause button. Because walking under the greying skies this morning I knew that when I went home there was nothing I wanted to do more than to get into the kitchen, open the windows to the monsoon wind, put on some music and bake. It won't help me memorise, all over again, the endless information in Biology for our next exams. It won't bowl the admissions officers over in their seats, and it won't help plough through the 42 km to-do list.
But it makes me and my family happy. And perhaps, at this point in time, that's the biggest help of all.
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.