26 January 2015

Shading

There's an exercise I've both facilitated and participated in, called 4 corners. You split the room into 4 boxes. In each box, you write (with tape, on the floor, so it's nice and big) SA (strongly agree), A agree), SD (strongly disagree), D (disagree). Then, you read a series of questions to the group. While the question is being read, people move to the box that corresponds to how they feel about those issues.

Years ago, back in 1998, some of those questions would get extreme polarisation. One of those was "People should be allowed to be openly gay in the military." Back in 1998, there were some folk who thought (adamantly!) that it meant that people should be allowed to paint the rifles pink, and sashay around in makeup, until one of the ROTC kids spoke up and said, "Are you NUTS? If you think that's what it means to be gay, you need to check your stereotypes." Last year, when I attended a camp where the exercise was repeated (with the same age group of high school students), literally everyone was in the "strongly agree" box, because our concepts of what it means to be gay have evolved since 1998.

Some questions, however, still got severe polarisation.

"Should the children of people who immigrated to the USA illegally be allowed to go to public schools, regardless of where the children were born?" That one got people scattered all across the room. Some were wanting to straddle a line. The rules of the exercise is that it's not an option. There was a lot of really conflicting opinions, even from people who were in the strongly agree or strongly disagree boxes. People didn't always agree with each other.

Meanwhile, there was a large swathe of people who looked really torn, and didn't want to choose one side or the other, because their opinions weren't so cut and dry as the four choices we'd provided. They were more nuanced than that. There was shading to the black and white picture they'd drawn in their minds.

What does this exercise teach us?

For one thing, the voting process SUCKS. I understand that there isn't much better on a national scale, but frankly, what we're being fed is akin to the four boxes, only we frequently get just two. Both sides tell you, repeatedly, that if you don't make a choice for one of the two choices (neither of which you're completely comfortable with), you're literally worse than Chairman Mao, and you want communist fascist nazi overlords from Cuba to take over your country and enslave you, and how dare you question the validity of being presented two shitty choices that you feel uncomfortable making a stand on? This is the rhetoric coming from both sides.

That's what our voting system is, and it's not even got the strongly agree or strongly disagree. It's got yes or no. Look at ballot measures. They're frequently worded in such a manner as to obfuscate the actual message behind it. When proposition 8 was going down, half the people voting for the thing (in either direction) didn't know what their vote meant.

For another, it teaches us that just because someone voted in a particular way doesn't mean that the person is a monster who wants to kill your rights to _________. People's views are nuanced, and shaded. Unfortunately, the national dialogue about how to run things, how to care for people, and how to move forward with our spending, doesn't give people room to straddle the lines between the four (or two) boxes. You have to make a choice. You aren't given the chance to say "This is what is sort of in the neighbourhood of what I'm thinking, but I am not sure I understand all the ramifications of it," or "I can't say as I'd lean strongly in one direction or the other, because I see merits to both sides." The discourse is "You're with me or you're against me."

Bear in mind that the four corners exercise is done in a group of people where there are established guidelines about it being a safe space to voice your opinion, no matter how controversial it is. The fact that you have it is enough for you to express it, as long as you do so in a respectful manner. Ignorance is not a dirty word, but rather an opportunity to educate. If someone will not see your point of view, no matter what, you agree to disagree, and validate the person's willingness to listen. You remind each other that you care for each other as people, and that you respect the other's need to form and keep their own ideals.

With all those safeguards in place, people STILL had trouble making a stand for an issue. Now imagine how much harder it is, when all your friends seem to be leaning strongly in one direction, your family has its own direction, your spouse is saying something else, and there is no guarantee that your right to exist as a human will be validated or respected. In fact, you're getting the exact opposite. Both sides are calling the others a heartless monster, for whatever reason. The way someone leans on an issue often has consequences of his or her friends' opinions of the friendship.

Tell someone who's angry about the drug war that marijuana should remain illegal, and see how long you remain friends. Tell your gay son that you don't want to campaign against that hateful legislation, because your entire church group will turn its back on you, and see how long your son wants to be in your presence. We don't have those safeguards. We don't leave room for subtlety. We don't care about shades.

I think that I needed to commit this to writing, because I need to remind myself that my "opposition" is not made up of heartless monsters. It's made up of humans, who have moments of doubt, or where their views are nuanced. Whether or not they vote the same way I do, I have to remember that they're involved in the same shitty system that I am, and that they need to make the same shitty choices that I do.

20 January 2015

Visiting another podcast

The day before recording my own podcast, I was a guest on the Which Side podcast, with Jordan and Jeremy. They're a couple of activists working towards human and animal rights (whoo!) who host a show where they have a chat to people they want to hang out with. Instead of the bog standard stifling interview format, it's more of a free-flowing conversation. Of course, whenever I'm in the room (virtually or otherwise) the talk turns to food rather quickly.

Here's where you can find the link to the show, or just search for Which Side on the Podcast directory of your choice, and they'll be there.

http://whichsidepodcast.com/dino-sarma-weierman/

Tell them Dino sent you.

18 January 2015

Cooking cheap greens

It's FINALLY hit above the freezing temperature here in New York, so I'm not as bummed out about cooking as I've been; the really cold weather makes it difficult to get up the motivation to do very much at all. To celebrate, I've put up a new podcast episode! Feel free to give it a listen.

05 January 2015

Give the help that someone asked for, or shut up already

I just had the experience of watching a friend of mine post a request from her more computer savvy friends to see if she was getting a decent deal on a computer. She posted a link to the computer. She mentioned that she wanted to do a bit of gaming, and didn't want to switch to a Mac, but would prefer to stick with a PC. However, the computer would be primarily for work. Simple enough, right?

Here's some appropriate responses:

1) Looks good for what you need it for. Get it.
2) Looks good for what you need it for, but I've found a better deal, and here it is.
3) This specific thing that you mentioned is going to run into trouble because of this other thing I've noticed about the specs on the machine you linked. (This isn't the case, because for her needs, the computer she linked was fine. In fact, it was more than fine.)
4) That particular computer/brand/store/warranty has given me trouble in the past.

Guess what responses never got posted? ANY of those. The first comment was a rant about how owning a Mac sucks. Then it went into how if you're going to be playing games, your machine can overheat, so go ahead and buy a fan to cool the thing. Then there was this thing about getting a Solid State Drive and switching out the drive that comes with the computer, because it'll enhance the performance of all the things you need it to do. It can take the boot time from 1 minute down to 25 seconds! WHOO!

Here's the thing. If you can't be of the help that the person asked for, shut up. She didn't want the dissertations on things that don't matter to her. She wanted to know if she was making a huge mistake by purchasing a computer, for her needs, all of which are pretty basic. Unless she's about to head in for disaster, OR you've found a better price, a simple "For what you need, that looks good" is more than enough.

This is why nobody wants to talk to the technically inclined.

10 December 2014

Peanut Butter Cookies

DRY INGREDIENTS (measure first, and whisk together)
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt (optional; usually, peanut butter has salt, so you can skip this if you want)

WET (microwave for 1 minute)
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter (lightly spray your measuring cup with cooking spray OR grease it with oil to make the peanut butter come out easier)
1 TB vanilla extract (if it's the really potent fancy stuff, you can use 1 tsp; I just like a lot of vanilla)
3 TB water OR coconut milk OR juice
1 tsp shortening (optional)

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Mix together the dry ingredients until combined. Whisk together so that you know all the baking soda is evenly distributed.

Combine the wet ingredients in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave for a minute. Beat the ingredients around for a bit until they're all combined. Add the dry to the wet, about 1/3 cup at a time. Mix thoroughly.

Drop by 1 1/2 TB spoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 11 minutes on the middle lower part of the oven (not all the way at the bottom, but towards the bottom).

THE COOKIES WILL FALL APART EASILY IF YOU TAKE THEM OFF THE TRAY NOW. Don't take them off the tray until they're cooled.

Yield: 21 cookies. You will need 3 baking trays, because they'll only fit about 7 comfortably on the tray. Let cool on the tray itself for at least 10 minutes. Eat

Based on the recipe written by Blissful Basil, found here: http://blissfulbasil.com/2013/10/06/soft-and-tender-peanut-butter-cookies-vegan-and-gluten-free/

Variations:
Substitute out 2/3 cup of the flour for rolled oats, or ground rolled oats.
Add in 1/3 cup of coconut flour, and remove 1/3 cup of AP flour.
Add in 1 tsp almond extract.
Add in 1/2 cup of crushed roasted unsalted peanuts.


23 November 2014

Thanksgiving

Hi all! Today we're going into the foods you can make at Thanksgiving, whether you take it with you, make it for your own home, or suggest it to others.

Mashed Potatoes
5 lbs potatoes, boiled until tender
2 cups coconut milk (full fat)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes until tender. Mash them up slightly, until it's where you want it. Add the coconut milk, a little at a time, until it's as much as you like. Taste for seasoning. Season as desired.

Butternut Squash
Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise. Place it on a parchment, foil, wax paper, or silicon baking mat lined baking sheet. Set the oven to 350F. Bake for 45 minutes - 2 hours (depending on how long it takes you to remember that you have butternut squash in there. You don't need to preheat the oven.

Brussels Sprouts
1 lb Brussels sprouts
3 TB vegetable oil
3 tsp seasonings of your choice: sage, rosemary, cumin, coriander, fennel seed, garam masala, caraway seed (crushed), thyme (mix the seasonings in whatever combination you want)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Remove the stem ends of the sprouts. Toss in oil, and sprinkle on the seasonings. Toss to combine. Bake on a parchment lined sheet for 45 minutes.

10 November 2014

Storing kale

Today in the podcast, I talk about how to store kale.

15 October 2014

Breading without eggs

Today, we tackle the question of how to get a breading onto a thing without using eggs. Hopefully this helps some of you out.

12 October 2014

Waffle



Gorgeous mornings call for waffles.

Waffles
Serves 3 - 4, depending on how big your waffle iron is. DO NOT MAKE THIS WITHOUT THE RESTING TIME.

SIFT TOGETHER
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 TB sugar

WHISK
1 cup almond milk + 1 TB white vinegar
2 TB chia seeds, or ground flax seed
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil

SAVE FOR LATER
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Sift together the all purpose flour, rice flour, salt, and sugar. Add more sugar if you like a sweeter waffle.

In a bowl, combine almond milk, vinegar, and chia seeds. Whisk well, until the liquid gets frothy. You can use an electric beater, but it'll probably make a mess if you're not careful. Add the oil, and whisk it through.

While whisking constantly, add the dry ingredients to the wet. VERY IMPORTANT: LET SIT FOR 30 MINUTES AT LEAST. The rice flour needs time to hydrate. The chia seeds need time to swell up and stuff. If you're using flax seeds, they need time to hang out too. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.

Yes, you can combine all the things, and let it set overnight if you want. If you don't have almond milk, apple juice will do the job. Just cut back on the sugar.

When the batter has finished resting, measure out and sift the baking powder and baking soda over a piece of paper. Sprinkle it evenly onto the surface of the batter. Fold through with a spatula. Spray your waffle iron with oil, or brush it on, or do whatever you do to get the fat onto the waffle iron. Ladle on the batter into your waffle iron.

Mine took like 4 minutes or so. 

08 October 2014

Snacks

Very short one today, because about 1/2 way into the recording, my head started pounding in screaming pain. Apologies. Going to go lie down. I didn't want to deny you the dubious joy of listening to me ramble.

07 October 2014

Soy-free mushroom stir-fry

I'm out of soy sauce. I'm also out of noodles. I have pasta, but not those quick-cooking noodles like you find at the Chinese market. I have ginger, but it's seen better days. I have it soaking in a bowl of water in my fridge. I was in the mood for a stir-fry, but didn't feel like going to the market. I have to be downtown anyway on Thursday, and I'd sooner do it all at once then.

I know that there are those of you who can't (or won't?) eat soy. This is one of those times when I won't be asking you to buy a weird ingredient to substitute the taste of soy sauce, because the mushrooms have a ton of taste on their own. This recipe is important to follow pretty closely. If you increase the amounts, it doesn't work so well.

5 - 7 large white button mushrooms, cut into large chunks (this is important)
3 cloves of garlic, minced (not the kind in the vinegar; if you don't have fresh, use a few shakes of garlic powder)
2 tsp grated ginger (if you don't have fresh, skip it)
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 TB peanut oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 of a small onion, sliced into slivers
1/2 a small carrot, sliced into rounds
1/3 cup water, reserved
2 cups rice
Salt, to taste (IMPORTANT to add salt)

Heat a wide shallow skillet (or wok, preferably) over highest heat. When it gets hot, add the oil, and the mushrooms in rapid succession. Furiously toss the mushrooms around, so that they get evenly coated in oil. Let the mushrooms sizzle and squeak like mad. They will begin to get a very dark brown crust on them. If they don't, your heat is too low, or your pan is too crowded. This only works when the mushrooms have plenty of room to jump around the pan. This initial step will give the flavour for the rest of the dish, so don't skimp on this step.

Add the garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, onion, carrot, and sesame oil (in that order), and toss to cook through. When the pan gets too dry, splash in about 1 - 3 TB of water, to loosen things up a bit. This will not only prevent your food from sticking like mad, but also distribute the mushroomy flavour throughout. Add the rice, and toss through.

Salt to taste, and toss through. Adjust seasoning as needed.

If you have them (I don't) garnish with chopped scallions.

What I love about this version is that you don't have to work hard to get that good taste through the food. I know it's extremely simple in the flavour department, but it tasted pretty awesome. The version I made didn't even have the ginger or the carrots OR the sesame oil. It was just the onion and mushroom with rice (and a bit of cayenne). So tasty.

01 October 2014

Podcast Episode 4: Sick food

Today, I'm not feeling well at all, so I ramble on about food to make when you're feeling sickly.




Cabbage Soup
1 1/2 lbs cabbage, chopped
1 TB canola oil
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp sesame seed
1 large onion, diced
1 green chilie pepper, chopped (with or without seeds)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 litres water, boiling
3 TB grated ginger

In a deep pot, add the oil, and heat it over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and sesame seeds. When they pop, add the chilie pepper and onion. Stir well until the onions are softened. Add turmeric powder, and stir through. Add the cabbage, and stir-fry for around 10 seconds or so. Add the water, and bring to a boil. Add the ginger. Continue to boil until the cabbage is the desired tenderness.

Variations
- To thicken, blend in a blender: 1 cup of cooked rice, and 1 cup of the broth from the soup (if cabbage comes along for the ride with the broth, it's OK). Add 2 - 3 cups of cooked rice to the pot, and bring to the boil.
- 3 - 5 cloves of chopped garlic, added in with the onions would not go amiss!
- If you have the energy to do so, some frozen peas are a lovely addition (add in the last minute of cooking)

25 July 2014

I am eating well, Amma. I promise you.

My cousin came over tonight along with an old family friend. I made dinner for us.

27 June 2014

What to buy your cook friend for a gift.

No this is not angling for someone to buy me some of these items. However, I frequently get complaints from friends who like to cook. They go something like this:

"Hey Dino, my birthday's coming up!"
"That's great, (friend)! I hope you have a good time when your family and friends come over."
Fast forward to a few weeks later.
"Hey Dino. The birthday was a lot of fun, but now I have a whole bunch of garbage I have to get rid of somehow."
"Huh? Didn't you ask people not to bring gifts?"
"Yes, but my (well-meaning relative/friend) knows I love to cook, so they got me _________."

Here are some examples of the _________ that said friend of mine (or I) would find utterly useless:
- Electronic gadgets of all shapes and stripes that take up counter space, unless you know that the person specifically wanted that specific thing that you bought. This means that those electric ______ cookers are likely to be garbage. If it's an electric "sandwich cooker", an electric "pancake cooker", electric "cupcake maker" (no I'm serious; this is actually a thing), electric "doughnut maker", or other such thing which is basically two surfaces that get hot, it's likely going to end up in the closet, gathering dust. There are rare (very rare) exceptions to this rule, which I will go over.

- Knife sets. These are not only a waste of perfectly good steel on something that will promptly go dull in five minutes flat, but also a waste of money. A good cook will use maybe two knives at the most. One will be the chef's knife, which gets used all the time. One will be a serrated knife, which gets pulled out to cut bread. Aside from that, the paring knives, the vegetable knives, and all the other random knives that come in a set rarely get used. In my years of cooking, I've reached for a paring knife all of once, and that was to cut open a box. Avoid them like the plague.

- Cookware sets, UNLESS you know that the person specifically wants it. Anyone who likes cooking will have specific needs for their cookware. For me, I like relatively heavy bottomed pots, because most of my cooking involves things that can stick to the bottom. I don't make a lot of pasta or noodles, where the thinner stock pots with much larger sizes are good, because they boil the water much faster than my heavy pots. I've got my pressure cooker for heavy duty jobs, and I tend to use small pots for the rest of it. The total amount of pots and pans I use on a regular basis is 4: 1 cast iron skillet, 1 pressure cooker, 1 wok, 1 saucepan. Aside from that, I like having access to (but don't require) a stock pot as well. Even then, I can use my pressure cooker as a stock pot. If you get me cookware, I likely won't have space for it, and won't be able to use it.

- While I'm here, let me just discourage any kind of gadget that's meant to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. Those little mini choppers? They're useless, because anything that needs to be chopped in that quantity can be handled with a knife. An electric can opener is a bacterial disaster waiting to happen. Those pressing chopper things are equally garbage. The blades bend, and the thing becomes useless after the first time.

So what DO you get your cooking friend (aside from that Cusinart food processor, Kitchenaid stand mixer, or Vita-Mix blender)? Hopefully the following list will help guide you in shopping for a friend who enjoys cooking. This is NOT a comprehensive list. Let me know if you see something you would like that would fit this theme.

Silicon Baking Mats Anyone who cooks, even people who don't bake, loves the silicon baking mats, because they are durable, useful, and very easy to clean. You line your baking sheet with it, and your vegetables, cookies, or whatever else you want will lift right off of it without adding extra fat to the mats! They last for years, but do get discoloured and ugly, so people who know about them love them, and those who don't grow to love them.

Wooden Spoon but only this kind. Avoid the flimsy ones. They break, and get thrown away. You want this heavy duty kind, because wooden spoons are a pleasure to use when cooking. Unlike metal, which gets hot, wood can rest in the pot, and be OK.

Silicon Heat-Resistant Spatulas I reach for these almost every day, if not every day. They're inexpensive, and the shape of the head is such that it will reach all the way to the bottom of your dish that you're trying to scrape out. I've managed to get the last bits of peanut butter out of the jar with this spatula. My spice mixes never sit in the pan when I use this. It gets out every bit of oil, spice, and everything else. It's heat-resistant, so I can use it with my nonstick cookware to stir, or to flip pancakes and the like. I will always be happy to get these, because I love them so.

Amco Swing-Away Can Opener The absolute best can opener I have ever used. It opens cans, and can be put in the dishwasher with no trouble. Really, this is all you need. Even if someone has a can opener like this one, it will be loved to have a backup.

The Last Peeler You'll Buy Not really. They do go blunt after about four years or so, but for the price, they're well worth it. Something about using a brand new OXO peeler is just a pleasure. It makes you want to go out and peel things just because you can. It glides right through the skin, and you're left with perfectly peeled fruit or vegetables. Every other peeler I've used has been shoddily made, and dulls rather quickly. This is the only one I like.

Scissors Always handy to have around, even outside of the kitchen, and this particular brand is very sharp and long-lasting.

Side Towels These are useful, and can be endlessly customisable. You can get as nice or as inexpensive as you want, and they're something that really helps out around the kitchen.

Tongs But this particular set. So many are hard on the hands, and a pain to use. These are a dream.

Microplane This is one of those tools that every cook likes to have at least one of, because they're so useful for so many things. Nothing grates nutmeg quite so nicely. Ginger goes through very finely, and with no fibrous strings. Garlic comes out in delicate threads that disappear within a dressing. Chocolate comes out as these fine thin shavings that float atop your desserts. When you zest a citrus fruit, run the microplane over the fruit, and not the other way around. It'll go much more quickly. They also go dull after about a year or so of use, so having a fresh sharp one is always handy.

Winco Whisks Best I've ever used, and ever so handy to have around in all different sizes.

Slightly more expensive gifts 
Anti Fatigue Mats Nobody whom I've known who owns a set of these goes a day without using them. They make your back feel so much nicer when standing on them versus on the bare floor.

Waffle Iron/Griddle This is the one exception to the "don't buy a thing with two hot surfaces that meet to make a random thing" rule. Why? Because it's really small, can double as a panini press, a griddle upon which to make pancakes, and the plates reverse to make waffles. EVEN THEN, I would still strongly suggest you ask the person if they'd like something like it, because chances are that they already have a favourite pan that they'd use for those same purposes.

Peugeot Pepper Mill Literally the best pepper mill I've ever used. The grind size is very easy to set, and the filling mechanism is a magnet that locks onto the top of it. Nothing has done such a good job as this one, and I've tried them all.

21 February 2014

Found some photos

I found a bunch of family photos from way back when, and was about to take some to school with me to scan and upload, so I can share with you all. That's not going to happen.

The photos all suck.

Horrible lighting, no lighting, no subject, off centre, random parts cut off, and in general, random. They're supposed to give memories of the event itself, but I can't remember any of it.

On the one hand, I feel like I'm spoilt by the incredibly good cameras we carry on our phones. You can align everything quickly, and get a shot in no time. On the other hand, I feel like spending all that time taking photos was an utter waste. It really didn't help retain any of those memories. The stories, however, did.

Maybe it's time to stop obsessing over documenting every moment of every day, and just enjoy the days as they come?

02 February 2014

30 January 2014

Study break snack



I was a bit hungry after studying since 6:30 this morning. Made a snack with a bit of tofu, green beans, curry leaves, and standard spices of mustard seed, cumin seed, and turmeric. Really good. Back to work for me!

29 January 2014

Cooking on weekends

I cook on weekends when I have extra time, because it means that during the week, I can just reheat things, and get back to studying. Here we have basmati rice, aloo gobi, and daal.

26 January 2014

Sooji for Upma in the Oven

Unroasted

Closeup of the grain

After 10 minutes, closeup. Notice the slightly darker colour of the individual grains.

Notice how the whole looks the same as the original. You have to look closely to see the subtle colour change. 

Stir to redistribute the darker browned bits around the edges with the paler bits on the insides. 

Notice the clumping? This is normal. It will go away with more roasting. 

Stir, stir, stir. Then, put back in oven for 5 more minutes. 

Tada! Roasted. 

Upma. Supposedly a simple, quick dish. Lies. It's not a simple dish if you have to stand there roasting sooji for the rest of your natural life. It is the task that I dislike the most when making Indian food: roasting endlessly. 

For sooji, put the stuff onto a cookie sheet in as thin a layer as possible. For a 4 lb bag, you should need about four home sized cookie trays (or two trays twice). Shake the pans gently to get the sooji in an even layer. 

Bake at 200ºC (around 390ºF) for 10 minutes. Stir well to redistribute the browner edge bits with the paler inside bits. Bake an additional 5 minutes.

Done.

25 January 2014

Lunch

I wanted to treat myself to a nice meal, but can't really afford to eat at a restaurant. I aced my quiz from last week, and got a 100% score on it (I missed a point, but managed to make it up with the bonus question). In front, there is basmati rice with chana masala. In the back left is dry roasted potatoes with cumin, sesame, and mustard seed. The back right is cucumber raita. It's so thick because I strained both my soy yoghurt, and the cucumbers of excess liquid.

15 January 2014

More pongal rambling

Thai Pongal, which is the Tamil harvest festival, is (and I suspect always has been) my favourite holiday. Over the years, I've tasted many types of pongal. I'll say it right now: sweet pongal sucks. I hate it. There's something about having a giant bite of rice, and getting a shock to the system with this overwhelming sugar bomb that just turned me off of the stuff. Mind you, I don't care for sweets as a general rule, but chakkarai pongal (literally, sugar pongal) is horrible stuff. Absolute boatloads of sugar (usually jaggery, aka unrefined brown sugar), cardamom, cashews, raisins, and just a bit more sugar for good measure. Ugh.

That said, savoury pongal is a symphony of lovely things. You get the cumin seeds, the beans, the rice, the curry leaves, plenty of ground black pepper, and (in my house anyway) LOADS of freshly grated ginger. Amma's pongal will always be the best one, no matter how many times I've made it myself. It's not that the recipe is wildly different. Nor is it that the technique is all that different. I didn't learn how to make pongal on the Internet. I learned it by watching my mother. It's just something about your amma's pongal that you'll always love.

Even though I love hers, my own pongal is pretty amazing too. I'm a fair bit less shy with the fat, and I add a generous dose of sesame seeds, and roasted cashews. I love a bowl of piping hot pongal with a good helping of cold coconut chatni. I've had pongal made with moong daal, tuvar daal, split peas (yellow, of course), and even once with black eyed peas. They've all been delicious.

Much like the American thanksgiving, you get together with family and friends, eat plenty of food, and give thanks to the sun, the Earth, and each other for all the good things in life. It's a happy time, where you celebrate all that life has to offer. Frankly, I can think of few things as joyous as a bowl of pongal.

It's also a time to get rid of the old and bring in the new. This doesn't just apply to worn out clothes or other physical things. It also means that you take the time to really reflect on ideas and thoughts that are holding you back, and renew good things in life. You apologise for your transgressions against others, and forgive them for their transgressions against you. It's the time of year when you celebrate your joy in just being alive, and the simple pleasures.

I sent out an email yesterday to reconcile with a very important person. Fortunately, that person felt the same way. We decided to try again, and put the past behind us. I'm not a superstitious (or, to be honest, a religious) person. However, I think that putting myself in the mindset of the Pongal celebration helped to facilitate my new beginnings.

In case you missed the celebration yesterday, don't despair! Today is the second day of Pongal. You've got two more days after today. Go! Make pongal! Throw away your old, destructive thoughts, and bring in fresh ones that help you realise how wonderful it is to be on this planet. Share food with your loved ones. Share good stories, good times, and good wishes with everyone you meet. Celebrate!


14 January 2014

Pongal

There are few things that remind me of the best parts of childhood like Pongal. It's that time of year again when South Indians the world over will make a batch and eat it.

This time, I didn't have any fresh ginger on hand, so I skipped it. I can buy some later when I hit up the market. I do have, however, boatloads of freshly ground black pepper, and curry leaves from the garden. In they both went!

I had some leftover avocado (I know that it's rare for that to happen, but it did), so I made a quick salad of chopped onion, tomato, avocado, and cucumber. I tossed it with lemon juice and ate it on the side. I've been having this insane craving for raw vegetables, so I'm happily complying with what my body is asking for.

Happy Pongal!

04 December 2013

Customer Disservice

Before I'll work with any company, I want to know that when I'm with them, I'll be taken care of. Even if my initial investment of money will be fairly small, I want to feel like they've got the infrastructure to support me when things go wrong. So far, Net10 has been struck off that list.

I tried to contact them with a question regarding some wording on their contract. Who reads the contract? This guy here. Why? Because I want to know what it is I'm getting myself into.

I am currently with Sprint, and am looking to go with a monthly plan carrier. I've been satisfied with Sprint's customer service, because they have handled all my issues in a timely fashion. I would like to keep my phone number, because it's the one that almost 100 people have, and I really don't have the time to reach out to every single one to have them update their contact list.
I read on your terms of service that if the calling zip code doesn't match the area code for the phone, you would be considered roaming. I'm currently living in New York, NY but will be moving around very frequently for the upcoming year. I'll be in Florida for about four months, in Virginia for a couple of weeks, Phoenix AZ for a couple of months, and possibly California for a couple of weeks in the middle.
Because I'll not have a stable address (but will certainly have income and money with which to pay for my service), I'm not sure what will happen to me if I go through the time, expense, and headache of buying the SIM card kit, porting my phone number, and taking chances on an unknown service provider's customer service and phone coverage (I rarely talk on the phone, and usually text or use Internet) to be slapped with roaming charges would be upsetting, to say the least.
Essentially, I'm nervous, and want to be reassured that everything will be OK. My friend does live in my current address, and will let me continue to receive the post here for as long as I need, if that's any consideration?
Thanks
Dino

I used their web email form to let them have time to find someone who's competent, or can handle my situation, and get back to me. However, after trying to send the web form (as a non-existing customer, so it shouldn't require anything more than my name, my email, and my issue), and having the form error out every time, I clicked on the "live chat" option. Which had a 3 minute wait. Sigh.

I read this part of the porting contract, which said this:


If the ZIP Code associated to the phone number is not the ZIP Code for your local calling area your NET10 phone will be roaming in your local calling area.

That worried me. I don't like it when there are these sneaky clauses in contracts where they can jack up my rates for innocuous things like moving around a lot. If you're getting paid, shut up and take my money, and give me service.

So the agent starts copying and pasting giant chunks of the contract, that I've already read, stating that service is not guaranteed in all areas, bla bla bla. I explained that I'm not worried about coverage, because the map shows great coverage in all the places I'll be heading. More contract copy paste about how I can be denied service for any reason, and that roaming is not supported on Net10.

So I said, "Let me try again. Clearly I can't get frustrated with you if I'm not being clear enough."

I went slowly. "I'm living in New York. My phone number has a NYC area code. I can keep the billing address I'm in, because my friend(s) are happy to let me get my post at their place. That way, the billing zip code will match the phone's area code that I'm going to be porting from another company. What will extended travel do to my phone service? Will I be charged roaming?"

"Sam" replied, "We don't support roaming."

And then more copy paste about how service is not guaranteed in any area.

At that point, I knew that the people running this company are incompetent fools, because they let morons be the first line of defence to customers coming to their website for a live chat session. If this is how they are when I'm NOT giving them my money yet, and they want for me to do so, I shudder to think what'll happen if I am dumb enough to go through with getting their service. No thanks. The search continues.

13 November 2013

To whichever deity I've pissed off

I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. SERIOUSLY. EVER SO SORRY. Just tell me what I did, and I promise to make you a tribute, or sacrifice, or whatever else you want.

25 July 2013

Everything looks so enticing.

A friend of mine was on the phone with a mutual acquaintance. He was talking about the times he comes over to my place to have a meal. "Every time I've gone there, everything is so pretty, and different. It looks so enticing." I think that's the nicest thing someone's said to me.

I don't really spend too much thought or effort on presentation, such as garnishing a plate, or making the dish that I serve the food in look attractive. I tend to finish cooking the dish, and serve it in whatever is most convenient for me. Sometimes, it'll be served in the dish it's cooked in. Other times, it'll be the tupperware that I want to put the food away in. I don't actually have specific serving dishes, because I don't have the space for all that stuff in my home.

That said, I do like to make the food itself look uniform. I tend to chop my vegetables on the smaller side, so that if there are multiple vegetables in a particular dish, each spoonful will have a bit of everything on it. I also tend to make smaller quantities, but larger varieties. I find that having more choices of things to eat makes it more fun for the person eating. You can try a little nibble of this or that, and more or less find what works for your tastes. Some dishes will be spicier than others, some will be lighter, some will be raw. All of them work fine with each other, or separately.

What I'm getting at is that you too can make your food interesting by trying some of those techniques out. Cut food uniformly, into about 1 1/2 - 2 cm cubes. Try to have a large variety, but don't try to make such a huge quantity that you're spending hours preparing one dish. Make things work together. That way, regardless of what someone prefers, they'll still have an excellent meal.

20 July 2013

Dosa

Made from idli rice, cornmeal, and urad daal. Chatni is green because of the mass of curry leaves. 

30 June 2013

4th of July, Salads, Mayo, Dressings

Videos from my cooking demo in Madison, WI.






Soy Milk Mayo
1/3 cup Soy Milk
3/4 tsp cider or distilled vinegar
2/3 cup canola oil
Salt, to taste
Seasonings, to taste

In the blending container, add the soy milk and vinegar, and mix with an immersion blender. Add the canola oil, and make a plunging motion with it to get all the ingredients emulsified.

Fat Free Chickpea Dressing
1 16-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ½ TB sweet white miso (chickpea miso is fine too)
4 TB nutritional yeast
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder (I prefer granulated onion powder, but use whatever you like)
2 tsp cheap yellow mustard
¼ cup lemon juice OR 2 TB cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
3 cups water, reserved

In the jar of a blender, combine the chickpeas, miso, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon juice, mustard, and salt. Add about 1 ½ cups of the reserved water, and blend on high. Continue adding water as needed, until the chickpeas are all ground to a puree.

If you'd like to email me (either in a text email, or to send a voice recording that you want me to play on the next episode), send an email to altveg at me dot com.

04 May 2013

Oils

Today, we discuss oils. Cooking oils, finishing oils, and oily oils. Give it a listen here if you'd like, or subscribe in iTunes to get the episode on your iDevices.

26 April 2013

Flash Gaajar Halva


The traditional version of this recipe involves large quantities of dairy, huge tubs of sugar, and ages of time spent in boiling, reducing, and stirring, along with plenty of anxiety about not burning the whole mess. This version takes about ten minutes or so. My friends Anjali and Rehmah were at my house, eating lunch. Someone mentioned sweets of some sort, and Rehmah instantly got a craving for some kind of sweet. I didn't have much else in the house, so I knocked this version out very quickly, both to calm Rehmah's cravings, and to make sure that Anjali got to taste some too (as she was about to head out for a hot date that night).

The name was not my idea. It was Rehmah's.

For the record, you had a Pakistani lady (Rehmah) and a Punjabi lady (Anjali) who loved how the dish turned out. That's how I knew it was a keeper.

1 pound carrots, grated
1 TB neutral flavoured oil (peanut, canola, corn)
2 cardamom pods, crushed
3 TB granulated sugar
1 1/2 TB cornstarch
2 cups coconut milk

In a pot, combine the carrots, oil, and cardamom. Sautee the carrots over high heat, until they are softened. While the carrots cook, whisk together the cornstarch and the coconut milk.

Once the carrots are softened, add the sugar, and stir it through. The sugar will melt rather quickly, and get caramelised. The carrots will turn a slightly darker colour too. This is what you want to happen, so don't worry when it happens.

Once the sugar is caramelised and lightly browned, add the coconut milk and cornstarch mixture. Bring the liquid to a full rushing boil, and continue to boil for one minute with constant stirring. Turn off the heat, and allow to cool down to room temperature before serving.

08 April 2013

I can see the sun!

It's been an atrocious winter thus far, and I'm so glad to see the sun out again. It gave me such a boost this morning. And then, to be able to open up the windows wide, and let the fresh air in was even nicer. I didn't have to wear that heavy winter coat I've been running around in for the past six months.

Until I moved up to the North, I never understood why people got into such a funk around the end of the year. I loved it. It meant cooler weather, lots of vacation time at school, and plenty of friends around (when you live in Florida, people come to your state for vacation, not the other way around). Then my first winter hit, which I thought was bad. It was all over by late February, and I thought I'd never see sunlight again. The winter didn't even start in earnest until late November, and it ended in February. I thought I understood what winter really meant.

And then we got hit with that snowpocalypse in 2009 AND 2010. Yipes! And then this year hit, with the hurricane, snowstorms, and relentless cold. And I do mean relentless. I would spend weeks without seeing the sun, because it'd be all overcast and gloomy out. The weather would plummet to below freezing temperatures, the wind would blow, and it just seemed to go on and on. March rolled around, and I thought I'd have a moment of respite. No such luck. It kept being cold and gloomy.

On Friday, I headed out to Virginia to see Amma, my brother, his wife, the nephews and niece (Amma brought my sister's son along with her on this trip, so he was there too), and their friends who also popped in for a visit. It was sunny and beautiful the entire weekend, even though none of us could be fussed to leave the house. Instead, we rested, cooked, and talked. It was nice. I came back to New York, after sitting in traffic for two hours (seriously, Baltimore, where did you all need to be that everyone was on the road!?) really late at night, so it was already a bit nippy out. But this morning, I woke up, and the sun was streaming in through all the windows. It was glorious.