28 December 2008

Venn pongal

It finally got nice enough outside so that I could open the windows without freezing, and I'm enjoying it, although it's damp and rainy. That's OK! Best cure for a rainy day is a giant pot of Venn Pongal (it's in the book) with lots of black pepper. This time, instead of going the normal route, where I just use the split peas and rice, I decided to experiment with adding some vegetables in along with the cooking rice and peas.

I did just carrots this time, but since it came out so well, I imagine that I could branch out to pretty much anything else (turnips, corn, potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin, squashes, courgettes, or whatever else I have lying about that I want to use up). The texture is still smooth and creamy, but the addition of vegetables makes it more complete feeling. Now that I see that it works, it also looks like a really easy way to get us both eating more vegetables! Success never smelled so good.

24 December 2008

Cold and Rain

It's freezing outside, and seriously time to break out the spices and make a little pot of piping hot rasam. On the one hand, the snow is melting away, but on the other hand, your grip on the sidewalk is all the more precarious as the pockmarked snow turns to smooth ice. Suffice to say that the cold has not only blasted my creativity (mentally) but also motivation to get off my behind and make a proper rasam. It's why this blog post sucks so phenomenally. My brain is simply unwilling to cooperate. Thankfully, I managed to crank out a podcast episode last night, so you've got that to chew on for a while. 

18 December 2008

Advent Conspiracy

I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but this video did make my ears perk up.

15 December 2008

Sunday was good!

My husband's friend Rehmah is having him over for dinner, and wanted suggestions on what to feed the boy.

His favourite is aubergine, done in any way, shape, or form. The easiest form I'd done is with some oil, garlic, onions, garam masala, and lots of ground red chili. You start with a screaming hot pan, and sautee your garlic and onion in it. Then, add the diced up aubergine, and sautee that over very high heat. It will sear the outside, and prevent the vegetables from sucking up all the oil in the skillet if you use very high heat.

When the aubergine is cooked almost completely through, I sprinkle in the garam masala. Just before serving, I add lots of ground red chili powder, and a touch of salt to taste, and serve. It's lovely with basmati rice, roti, naan, or bread. Also, any time you serve something spicy and smoky like this, it's always good to have a side of cooling vegetables, be they diced cucumber, chopped onions, or chopped tomato, with a bit of cilantro and lemon or lime juice. If you're not a fan of cilantro, by all means, use parsley.

As for appetisers, if you want to go the impressive route, bajji always does well. You make a batter with ajwain, rice flour, curry powder, and enough water to make it about the thickness of a crepe or pancake batter (you want the vegetables to be coated in batter, but not coated too thickly). Add a lot of red chili flakes to the batter itself to amp up the lovely flavours. Then, while your oil heats and your batter rests, slice up some potatoes, peppers, onions, or whatever other things you like to have as bajji, and keep them prepared for dipping and frying. I like to drain my bajji on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet.

Fry over high heat, and do the bajji in small~ish batches. You don't want to crowd the pan, as they will tend to stick together if you're not careful. I prevent this by counting to five before adding a freshly dipped vegetable to the oil. This makes it so that the previous bajji has time to float off on its own, and not crowd the new arrivals.

If you're looking for easy, however, you'll never go wrong with guacamole. Avocado seems to be coming in sale rather often, so try this on for size.

First, start with the best hass avocado you can find. Figure that each person will eat the equivalent of one. I'm not joking or making light here. When you set out guacamole, it will get finished. You don't want to leave anyone wanting for more. If you make a little extra, it stores just fine in the fridge, so make the extra and avoid the nasty glares from everyone. DO NOT, for the love of all that's holy, buy it from the store. For one thing, the cost of the avocado is much less than ready made guac. For another, they tend to add weird ingredients, up to and including dairy products, to store bought things, and it's best to avoid those if you can.

Per avocado, use 1/4 of a small onion (red onions are excellent, but white or yellow will be just fine as well). With a potato masher (I found this to be easiest) or fork or spoon or your hands, mash up the avocado. Add the onion and a bit of sea salt. If you don't have sea salt, then use half the amount of table salt that you think you'll need. Table salt has off-putting flavours that come from the iodide and the anti clumping agents added to it, and you don't want those interfering with your gorgeous avocado.

Use the smallest amount of lemon juice possible to give it a slightly sour taste. Any more, and it'll be ruined. Start with a 1/2 teaspoon, and taste it. If it seems a little bit sour, you're there. It doesn't need any more. That's it! You don't need to add anything else at all, because the garnishes will be very flavourful in comparison.

Serve the guac in a large bowl, alongside either red or green salsa, black beans, and a bit of yellow rice. Also, have plenty of chopped up other vegetables to pile up on for those who enjoy it. My brother enjoys pickled jalapeño peppers, and most of my family loves lots of cilantro to go with it all. The point is that now all you have to do is set out those little nacho chips with the little indented shape (they're called scoops or whatever), and you've got a lovely little interactive appetiser ready to roll, with minimum effort. If you buy tinned black beans, and a good quality salsa at the store, you've only got to throw together the guacamole!

12 December 2008


It looks like there's roughly 10 people confirmed from Steve's church, then a friend of mine from upstate (Yonkers), then another friend and his friend from North Carolina. And then me and Steve. Vodka in the fridge, tomato juice in the fridge. I've got like two kilos of kale, soaking in water (to clean it). I'll probably end up boiling up some potatoes (just to be on the safe side, in case I run low on other stuff). Dosa batter is soaked and just right, I've got some backup coconut in the freezer (because I can't find decent fresh coconut in the store). I'll probably end up improvising everything at the last minute.

11 December 2008

I just joined this website called Paperback Swap. What a good idea! My friend got me into it, and both Steve and I are rather excited by the possibilities. They basically took the idea of bartering, and brought it into the twentieth century.

When you post a book (it has to be in good condition), you take into account a couple of things. If it's a heavy book, like a text book, you'll be paying a little more in shipping, but the need is much higher, and it will most likely get sent off quickly. Same with a popular book: if it's something that a lot of people want to read, chances are that someone will order it quickly. It all ends up working out in the end, and coming up even.

Every time you send out a book, and it arrives in good condition, you get a credit to order someone else's book. The beauty of it is that people want to shuffle their collections around, so they're on the lookout to give away their books. It also helps you, because you're talking about Not having to go out and buy vast storage spaces for your own books. :) I'd definitely suggest checking it out:

PaperBackSwap.com - Our online book club offers free books when you swap, trade, or exchange your used books with other book club members for free.

09 December 2008

Mung Beans

For whatever reason (I blame the crippling cold), my mung beans refuse to sprout. Freaking not cute. I soaked them then drained them then let them sit in the sun for a bit, like I normally do, but no dice. That being said they did taste quite good even if they were only a tiny bit sprouted.

I went ahead and did them really simply, which involved cooking them in a slow cooker for about eight hours on low heat. Then, when they were tender, I did the standard spice popping thing (mustard and cumin only), sautéed some onions in there. Once the onions were good and brown, I pitched in the boiled mung beans, along with the cooking water. When everything came up to a full boil, I added enough salt for my liking, a good hefty dose of cayenne pepper, and some black pepper to taste.

Of course, the flavour is quite lovely, and the soup is rather warming. I didn't have to bother with the heater today because everything was toasty from the inside out!

08 December 2008

Lemon Rice

Steve has a potluck to attend tonight, and I'm figuring that it'll be best to make my life easier and make a batch of lemon rice. I'm doing a mix of 50% long grain white rice, and 50% white basmati rice. I'll be pitching in some cashews and rounding it out with a bit of lemon zest. This should be good.

07 December 2008

What to make with mixed company.

We've finally got to the point where we can have people over, and often times, it'll be mixed company. What do I mean? Well, there's some that enjoy "Indian food", those that have never had it before, and those whose tastes I'm not too sure about, because I haven't met them yet. On the 14th, Steve is having some of the people from his Church come over for lunch. Again, you're talking about mixed company, because I'm not sure what everyone likes. There are definitely going to be people who enjoy spice, and those whose tongues haven't acclimated to the fire yet.

Here are a couple of easy favourites that I try to have on hand:

Mashed sweet potatoes. Basically, you peel the sweet potatoes (about 3 lbs), and white potatoes (1 lb), and dice them up into one inch cubes. You boil them in a pot until they're tender. It should take about 25 - 40 minutes, depending on your stove and how uniformly you've cut everything. When you are boiling the potatoes, you don't want to go with a full, rolling boil the whole time. Instead, stick with a full rolling boil for about five minutes, then drop down the heat to low, and let it simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender.

Once that's done, pitch in a tin of coconut milk, some apple juice, and some cinnamon and a scrape of nutmeg. A touch of salt will help heighten the flavours all the more, and everything will be done to a turn. The texture of the sweet potatoes is a little bit grainy, so the white potatoes will help balance that out. Mash everything up with either a wooden spoon or potato masher, and serve hot. I've never had problems watching that stuff get eaten!

Hummus. This one's a no-brainer. Throw some cooked chickpeas in a food processor, a few cloves of garlic, a tablespoon or so of tahini (per eight ounces of cooked chickpeas), the juice of one lemon, a bit of cumin powder, and olive oil. Pulse until the chickpeas are kind of chopped up into small pieces. Then, knock down the chickpeas from the sides of the food processor bowl, and add a few tablespoons of water. Grind it down until it becomes smooth. If you want it to be smoother, add more water, a few tablespoons at a time, until it grinds to your liking. Along with the hummus, I usually serve toasted bread or cut up vegetables. Carrot sticks, cucumber slices, celery sticks, courgette slices, or whatever else you have on hand that you like to eat raw with a dip work excellently.

Guacamole. Again, an easy one to throw together at the last minute. I use Hass avocado, and figure on one per 3 people. I combine the avocado with lemon juice (just a teaspoon or two, tops), some minced onion, and salt. I quickly stir it around in a small bowl with a fork, so as to get it smooth, but still have little avocado chunks. You don't want the guac to be silky smooth. Some texture is quite nice. For a cute serving idea, I like to serve the guacamole inside the shells of the avocado that I vacated when I removed the avocado flesh.

Fried plantains. If you're up for it, do twice fried, but if you're not in the mood, just slice them thinly and deep fry till crispy. Peel your plantains, and slice them into 1" thick round slices. Deep fry them in medium high heat until they're tender. Let them drain on a wire rack, until cooled. Then, grab a tin of whatever you have lying around. I used a tin of beans, because it was there. Use the tin to smash the fried plantains into flat little discs. Press down gently, so that you don't break up the plantain slices. Then, get the frying oil screaming hot, and fry the plantains a second time, until they're crisp. If you decide to use thinly sliced plantains instead, you don't have to worry about the smash and refry step. They're quite lovely with some hot sauce or the guacamole.

Lentil/bean soup. Start with a deep stock pot. Heat up some oil in there, and add some cumin and coriander seeds. They should pop and crakle a lot. When the popping subsides, add some onions, garlic, and ginger (minced). Add a bit of turmeric or chili powder (not grond chiles; rather, the chili powder that comes with all the other spices in there already). Stir everything around in the pot until the spices and oil are mixed through. When the onions are soft, add in a package of lentils. I like red lentils, because they cook up in about 20 - 30 minutes. Add about double the water as you have lentils, and throw in a bay leaf. Cover the lid of the pot, and allow it to reach a rapid boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and allow it to cook until it's all tender.

Flat bread. I like to have either naan, pita bread, or roti on hand, so that the other stuff is easy enough to eat. It's also a nice change from the typical baguette style breads. Because I'm going to the effort to cook the rest of the meal, I just usually buy these in the store. It's a lot less labour intensive, and it doesn't cost very much money at all.

Vegetable soup. There's hundreds of recipes out there, including the ones in my book. I always make the vegetable soup more like a stew, so that it's filling and satisfying.

Roasted veg of whatever I have. Again, no-brainer here. It takes just the preparation time, and then the time to pitch the lot into the oven with a bit of oil and some dried herbs.

Pesto. 1 bunch basil, handful of walnuts, 3 - 5 cloves of garlic, juice of one lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and olive oil to thin it out. Combine it all in the food processor, and let 'er rip till everything is smooth and creamy. Toss with hot pasta, to remove a bit of that raw garlic taste. The walnuts give a much better flavour than cheese ever did, and they stand up well to the pasta. I like to use linguine or fettucine noodles for pesto.

At this point, people are usually way too full to eat much more, so we kick back and enjoy the view of the East River, and the Manhattan skyline. :)

19 October 2008

Not really that much, eh?

In my latest episode of the Alternative Vegan podcast, I describe how to make a roasted vegetable soup. I'll repost the rough ratio of ingredients here:

The final roasting took 2 bouts of 45 minutes. After the first 45 minutes, I was able to remove the garlic and onions and most of the carrots. After the second bout, everything was tender, and I allowed it to brown under the broiler for a bit. I deglazed the bottom with a bit of red wine, and kept that aside as a sauce for if Steve wants the veg just by themselves with a deep ruby red sauce.

In the end, I have the following:

Simmered veg:
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 TB fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 large head of cabbage, chopped
1 bunch rappini (broccoli rabe), chopped roughly
1 coconut, grated
1 cup coconut milk

Roasted veg:
2 heads garlic (added to the soup at the end)
3 medium onions (added to soup at the end after roughly chopping)
1 lb carrots (mashed, and added to soup)
5 medium beets
3 large turnips
2 large sweet potatoes

You can definitely scale back if you need to, or scale up. If you’re roasting everything on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish, this will take you much less time than it did in my large roasting dish. The soup is VERY garlicky, which I like a lot, but it’s a creamy sort of garlic punch.

I finished the soup with a bit of Hungarian hot paprika, and fresh chopped herbs (I used cilantro, feel free to use your favourites).
Suffice it to say that the entire HOUSE was smelling fantastic, and the warmth from the soup just filled you right up. Steve really loves eating his vegetables (especially when tastefully presented). After we managed to power through half the pot of soup before very long, I decided to tweak the final leftovers before putting them away. Steve neatly finished off all the turnips, most of the beets, and half the sweet potatoes. This is on top of the rice and soup he also ate. (When I say that I married a healthy eater, I want you to know that I'm not joking!) 

The leftover carrots, sweet potato, and rice (there was about 1.5 cups left) all got pitched into the food processor for a quick whiz. It only took a few pulses to make a sort of shredded thing that I added back into the soup. All of a sudden, what started off as a hearty stew became a thick, hearty and rich stew! Definitely a trick I'll be trying again in the future.

A few other tricks to thicken up your soup:

- mashed potatoes, stirred in and cooked
- hummus, stirred in at the table
- well mashed rice
- other starchy, cooked, mashed vegetables
- addition of a roux (check cookbook for recipe)
- boil it longer (so that more water evaporates) 

There's many many more, and I'll probably cover them in a later podcast episode. Go make soup! 

14 October 2008

Smelling awesome

This is going to be a quick and dirty sort of recipe.

I started with 2 cups of dry black eyed peas. I soaked them in lots of cold water over night. The next morning, I set them to simmer for about two hours. I think there were about 4 cups of beans (after they expanded over night) and about 10 cups of water, give or take. Basically, you start with the beans in a pot, and add cold water. Then, set it on the stove. Once the water comes to a full, rolling boil, you want to close the lid of the pot, and turn down the heat to as low as it'll go. Let it simmer away like that till it's tender. On my stove that took a little over an hour and small change, but it might be different on yours.

Once the beans are about 3/4 of the way cooked (in the simmery pot), I started chopping onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes. For my pot of beans, I used something to the tune of 2 lbs of tomatoes (I like my beans VERY tomatoey), 1 very large onion, and 1/3 cup of grated ginger (freshly grated, of course). I also used about one head of garlic, minced up.

I started a new pot on the stove, over screaming high heat. I added vegetable oil (just enough to coat the bottom) and popped mustard seeds and coriander seeds in the hot fat. I added some cumin seeds and fennel seeds, and popped those as well. When the spices were crackling and popping (and making a mess), I added the onions, and sauteed them over very high heat. Once the onions were a dark brown, I added some turmeric (about 1/2 a teaspoon, I think), and cooked it with the onions for about 30 seconds or so.

Then, when the turmeric was done cooking, I added in the chopped tomatoes. If you have tinned crushed tomatoes, this will work just fine. I cooked the tomatoes on high for about five minutes, then dropped down the heat to low to let them simmer. While the tomates simmered, I grated up the ginger, and minced the garlic. I pitched it into the pot when I was done.

By this point, the beans were tender all the way through. I added them (along with the water; if you want yours to be thicker and richer, drain the beans first, then add them to the pot) to my tomato pot, and let the whole mess simmer for about 20 minutes. At the last five minutes, I added a good sprinkle of salt, black pepper, chili powder, and garam masala (garam masala doesn't need to be cooked too much), and lots of cilantro.

If you don't have mustard seeds, omit them. If you don't like cilantro, use basil and oregnao (either one, or both combined), with some parsley to amp up the flavour. If you prefer more fiery beans, feel free to use lots of fresh chopped jalapeños or thai bird peppers at the last few minutes of cooking. If you have some left over baked potatoes or yams, or whatever, feel free to pitch it in as well, to make it more hearty. Try it with a good crusty bread, or some brown rice for a complete meal. It's quite delicious.

09 October 2008

Other people ...

Suffice it to say that I rant about other people all the time. In fact, there are few days that pass when I'm not annoyed at people. I feel that I'd better clarify before my friends start thinking me a misanthrope.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Underneath it all, people annoy me because they disappoint me, more than anything else. I really do love people, and enjoy interacting with them. I like to see the good in everyone. I genuinely have to believe (for my own well being) that people only try their best to do what they feel is the most good on this earth. To think otherwise would be accepting that those few (whose intentions are malicious) that ruin it for everyone else are the ones that are really the majority. I can't do that.

We really are in this journey together.

Come to think of it, something is nowhere near as much fun when I do it on my own as when I share it. What use is all the cooking, dancing, singing, or any skill, when I'm the only one to enjoy it? Why would I bother sharing my skills with others, if the only purpose in life was to look out for myself, and put everyone else's needs behind mine?

I'm not saying that I want to lose myself. Nor am I saying that I feel like lazy people should be rewarded. What I am saying is that I don't buy the whole "everyone should look out for himself" mentality. It just does not hold water for me. We evolved to where we are, because we realised that everyone has something to contribute, and that we're only as good as the weakest amongst us. This did not mean "go out and kill the weakest amongst you." It meant "do your best that everyone is taken care of, and that we all work together towards that common goal of everyone being happy.

I know it's optimistic, but I don't care. That's what I base my life on: that it's GOOD to share, and that I am only important in that I am important to others. So when I rant about stupid people, or rude people, or people that made me annoyed, it's because they really disappointed me, which is far worse than just hurting my feelings.

07 October 2008


It's that horrible time of year again, when the weather gets nasty outside, and you sincerely question your decision to leave your bed. The best way to combat the not so great outdoors is to make soup. It's cheap, filling, and easy to do. I'm doing a multi part series on soup on the podcast, so if you haven't listened yet, I urge you to go out and so so.

I was googling around for a decent recipe for Rasam, and frankly, the ones on the internets all suck. Rasam shouldn't have onions or garlic, or much of anything else. In fact, your most basic rasam recipe even omits the split yellow peas, so that you're left with (essentially) black pepper with a few spices thrown into a tomato stock. This version is a modified version of what I have in the cookbook. Basically, it's meant to be a soup that you have whether you're feeling well or feeling ill.

Rasam powder
5-6 dry red chilies
1/2 Tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
Roast all the spices in a small pan, and grind in a coffee

1 cup dry yellow split peas or toor daal
1 Tablespoon oil
1 Tablespoon black mustard seeds
tiny dash asafetida
1 lb tomatoes, chopped
salt to taste
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons tamarind paste
1 gallon water
1 cup cilantro, minced for garnish

Boil the split peas or daal in a separate pot for 20 minutes. Heat oil in a pot, add mustard seeds,
and allow to pop. Add a dash of asafetida. Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle on salt. Cook for about five minutes. Add the black pepper, the rasam powder, and the tamarind paste. Add the water and cooked, drained split peas. Bring to a full boil, and keep it boiling for 15 minutes. When cooked, sprinkle on cilantro for garnish. Serve over mushy rice.

12 September 2008

Beautiful, gorgeous vegans.

I did a podcast where I mentioned all the lovely email that I've been getting from my wonderful listeners. One of them was Tracey. She was the one who told us that story about being in  restaurant with her friends, and things devolving rather quickly when she found an insect in her salad:

Here is a funny story for you that happened to me at lunch today…
I was invited to lunch with a group of co-workers. I called ahead to find out what they had that was vegan before I arrived so I was prepared to order rather than sit there and question the waiter with my rant of "does it have milk, egg, cheese.. yada yada." So we all get our lunches and as I am eating they are asking about what I am putting in my iced tea. I explain what Stevia is and they start asking questions about veganism (yippeee, right?). 
Then, I feel a weird crunch [this is where you are going to go, "eww"] I pull out what looks like hard dried up meat and put it on the plate. Then I inspect my mushroom enchilada and low and behold … I see a long insect leg. As I unwrap it further, I find a dead horsefly in the food. They are looking at my plate and grossing out, then they start making comments about me needing the extra protein. (insert curse word and growl) 
Anyway, the plate is quickly and gracefully removed by the waiter. I carefully inspect my salad and cautiously bite each leaf of iceberg with wide eyes looking for inch worms or locusts. At this point, the manager comes over and offers me a gift certificate for $30 to come back. My thought is, "Why would I want to come back to a non-vegan restaurant and be served bugs again? That’s just nasty."  And here’s the gripper, as I ate my salad, I couldn’t help but notice that the omnis were just gulping down their food not chewing and oblivious to the potential “extra protein” they could be consuming. I sat there and ate my salad slowly chewing each bite. I just don’t understand how our society has such little regard for what they ingest and are quick to consume anything in front of them; not just food but all things.
I asked her permission to show you all her and her boyfriend (she sent me a photo), and she agreed. Here it is:

08 September 2008

How to keep your man

I have lived, quite happily, with very little money. As long as I've had my Steve there, it's been really nice. But once in a while, he drops me a little reminder as to why I can't keep him out of my head, and what a treasure he is in my life. 
So anyway, a bit of gossip, because I know we all love it. Puppy found God, and started going to church every Sunday. By the time his services are over, everyone is ravenous, so he and a group of his friends from said church like to go out and have brunch. I hate freaking brunch, because they should just call the stupid thing "Breakfast with booze" already. The food sucks, it's fattening as all get go, and there's tofu weeping out of every pore. No. HATE brunch. Also, the people who "go have brunch" are usually the same types who drink bottled water even though they live in MANHATTAN, WHICH HAS THE BEST TAP WATER IN THE COUNTRY FOR GOD'S SAKE. And they get all twitchty if they have to get into a crowded subway with a homeless person. 
Mind, this isn't all of them, and I'm being a perfectly insufferable little thing, because I really hate brunch a lot.
OK. So back to the story, and away from my ranting. So he's been going, and as in EVERY church, temple, or otherwise group, the church people want to meet the spouse. Because then they can finally put a face to the name, and know what on earth the church going one is on about. I don't particularly want to go, because I'm not a churchy type. I like ... many ... other things. And, being who I am, I tended to think of them as the family loving, latte drinking, starbucks frequenting, IFC watching hipsters. And I don't know how I feel about that.
Actually, I do, but I don't want to have them crashing through my window like the CDA from Monsters, Inc and take away my giant black specs. (You'll see the picture at the bottom.) 
So he's been fairly good about inviting me on, and I've been fairly elusive, like some rare spice you only find once in a while. Like freaking Kashmiri saffron. Yeah. Bums.
In related news, I'd gone out with my fabulous friend Melissa. We went to the party at the Guggenheim (she had free passes), and wandered around to look at the beautiful exhibits. Definitely check out the Louise Bourgeois exhibit if you're there; it's really quite comprehensive. It's got both her drawing and sculptures. We're wandering up and down, and discussing the pieces, and just having a good time. An hour or two later, we both got hit with the sleep monster, and needed to get out of the party. So we begged off, and I accompanied her home.
What strikes then, but rampant hunger. I was STARVING. Fortunately, she'd had some home made double garlic hummus in her apartment, so she invited me up to have a go at that to take the edge off. We started chatting about her party, and how her friends are a very eclectic bunch. However, there were those who can't handle that, and would go sulking into a corner or whatever. Fortunately, that wasn't the case here. Everyone, although they were completely different people and would generally never hang out, was laughing and talking and just having a good time. Melissa said, "I don't need them to be best friends, but I do expect them to be social for a couple of hours at the very least." 
That's when it all clicked. Puppy doesn't need me to come with him every week to overpriced West Village haunts to eat, or drink, or anything else. He just wants me to be social for a couple of hours, regardless of what I think of them as a group or individuals (to put your curiosity to rest, I did like them all; they're lovely folk and not at ALL what I thought they'd be). I don't know /why/ it took so long to penetrate my thick skull, but sometimes you need someone else to mention something in passing for something completely unrelated to click. 
So I was about to go to the store on Sunday, when I thought, "well, I made it this far out of the house; why not just go?" I jumped on the train, and went to the place. I got there, said my hellos, and chatted for the hour or so. I find that I can usually find something in common with most people that I meet, and have a conversation for a couple of hours. We then went to Jackson Heights, bought some food, and headed home. I cooked, did some clean up, and stayed up way too late. 
But the best part is yet to come. I married Steve, because he is a kind man, who's considerate of others' feelings, and loves me dearly. I woke up to find the note. 

07 September 2008

Role Models

And no, I don't refer to the type that walk down the runway, although those are rather nice. This is going to be a sort of meandering entry, so if you bore easily, just keep scrolling down until you get back to my usual rambling!

I was listening to the latest episode of Eat This Hot Show, where they were discussing who our GLBT role models are. I know I don't discuss being gay very often, because it's such a part of me that I don't really think about it, if that makes sense. Rather, I tend to go about my life, with my dear husband, and live in my New York City bubble. I'm not reminded of it until I hear something specific that makes me think about it. 

For the record, most of the planet, from what I've experienced, is still decidedly homophobic, and is hostile towards anyone who doesn't toe the line to the heterosexual norm. And yet, we're pointed to the gays and lesbians being shown in the mass media as some sort of giant step forward in the day to day lives of GLBT people. Think about it though. Your typical hetero young person has people that feel like s/he does being represented as the norm, and the gays in her/his life as the other. Your young gay person, on the other hand, is presented with images that really have little to do with reality, and are more of a caricature of gay life than anything else. 

Who do we look up to?

I'm not sure, because I'm drawing blanks on your "regular every day gay couple" who is in the public eye. The kind where the husband and husband, wife and wife, or whatever other combination (I don't want to leave out my transgendered folk who may identify with different terms), living together, taking care of each other, and doing typical day to day things. I'm not really seeing too terribly many people who do have that regular life out there that I did see with some of the shows that I grew up watching, like Family Matters, or Step by Step. 

It's that sort of lack of visibility that I think might contribute to the sentiment that people think that my civil rights are a matter that should be left up to the decision of the bigots who don't want them for me. My mother and I were talking about this. "If I can get married to your father, in the middle of some one-horse town in India, and then come to America and have it recognised, why can't you and Steve have YOUR marriage recognised if you go to London or whatever and come back here? Those aren't exactly little middle of nowhere places where stuff is hard to verify! What's wrong with this country?"

What's wrong, indeed. 

If I were to think hard, however, I'd come up with Ellen Degeneres, as did the ladies on Eat This Hot Show. She's always been classy, and understated. She's not out there drugging it up with reckless abandon. She's stayed with her partner since forever. Another one was Gianni Versace. He and his partner were also together for so many years, and obviously cared for each other. But where's the rest? I'm just coming up with people who are in the media spotlight more than anything else. 

If I think more about it, I come up with the people who I've known personally, like my friend De, who was the first openly lesbian person I'd ever met. I attended a workshop she did, where she had a panel of youths (around my age) discussing how their coming out of the closet affected them. Since I was still deeply closeted, it was a turning point for me. Then there's Mike. He is a junior high school English teacher. He was also very matter-of-fact about being gay, and at that time, that was exactly what I needed to see. I've got Eddie, who took me to my first gay club, and showed me that two men or two women together is perfectly normal, and that I'm not the only one out there. Then you've got all my friends in my senior year of high school. All of them were not only accepting of me, but downright loving. 

Weird how a simple question could have started the ETHS discussion, and how it got me thinking about my own journey. So what do I think we need? As much as it's important for people in the public eye to out themselves, I think it's equally important for people in day to day life to come out as well. This is NOT to say that coming out is right for everyone; that's a decision that each person needs to be able to make for herself or himself, with no judgement from anyone else.

I just wish I'd had someone to look up to sooner than I did.

04 September 2008

Weekend was MAJOR fun

Of course, now that we're back from Jersey, and severely missing being around that many vegans at once, we're both yearning to be adopted by Pat and Elise. Besides. Her kiddo has a huge tub of Harry Potter toys. Sign me up! Apparently, there are plenty more vegans who are equally interested in being taken aboard the Pat/Elise train. So. Guess there's a wait list. Ah well.

We came home to an empty apartment, which was nice, but not as nice as one being filled with vegans.

Now that I'm back in the city, I'm getting excited about seeing some of the designers during Fashion Week. I'll be sure to bore my friends to tears while I discuss every stupid aspect of it. That's what you lot get for being my friend! Boredom!

I did another podcast episode within a day of posting the one before, because someone asked a question that had a response burning through my skull, so I had to do it immediately. Also, he seemed fairly in need of said information, so I figured that it would be a nice little present to get him going. It's the Travel show, for those of you who are curious. He responded enthusiastically, as I'd hoped he would:
Wow! That was everything I needed and more! Thanks so much, these meals sound good enough that I'm going to use them at home too. Tons of great info, and be careful writing back so quickly (5 MINUTES for my first email!), you'll have dorks like me writing you more often than you'd like! Good stuff.
Maybe some day, I'll start getting so many emails that I won't be able to respond within a few minutes, but I know that I'll never be too busy to chat with my friends and people who enjoy my work. There's not enough silly ego bumping around in my skull to be unapproachable! Feel free to email me any food questions to alternativevegan at gmail dot com, and I'll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can. I also see the comments in this blog, but I tend not to respond, because ... it seems weird to respond to a comment on my own blog! 

28 August 2008

Major weekend coming up!

The lovely lady who did the cover of my book, the talented Veganwitch, is hosting a kick-ass labour day party at her house in Jersey on Saturday. Steve and I will be making the journey tomorrow, to get there to be with other vegans. I can't wait! She always has a way of making everyone feel comfortable, and have fun.

I was thinking about making some kind of baked savoury pie for Steve, but the store across the street didn't have jack, and I didn't have time to get anything else, so I did a really quick cabbage thing. (Unslaw in the cookbook.) I made a couple of changes, based on what was around the house. For one thing, onions are getting stupid expensive, so I chucked that ingredient. Also, I used the last of the carrots earlier this week, so I just did cabbage and ginger (grated finely) instead. I could have bulked it up with some potato, but what are you going to do, right?

I did, however, use every single leaf and the stump part of the cabbage. I grated those pieces first, just to see what would happen. I was left with almost two or three cups of grated cabbage from stuff I'd normally throw out! If you think about it, that's what you'd lose in evaporation while you cook the cabbage. Never again will I throw away pieces of vegetables without seriously considering the costs. The other day, the same thing happened with some aubergine that I made in the microwave (nuke on high for 5 minutes at a time, until the thing collapses—depending on the size, you may need 3 or 4 tries; remove stem, remove skin, mash up with chopped garlic and a bit of sesame, and nuke 4 more minutes). I'd usually cut off the stem end, and then cook it. WRONG. This time, I threw the whole thing in a microwave safe dish, and nuked it. Then, when it all collapsed like I wanted it to, I just pulled off the stem. No wasted pieces.

I addressed the waste issue in the podcast, but it bears repeating: we throw away entirely too much from our produce, and it's important to take stock of it. Use every part, and you'll find that you'll be left with a fair bit more food.

22 August 2008

Sooji in the oven

If you've ever made the dish called Uppuma (it's in the book, before you ask), you'll know the pain of standing there and roasting the sooji on the stove. It's a pain to do, because it requires constant stirring for such a long time. I figured out how to cut out all that time wasted.

Do it in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350F, and pour your sooji into a baking sheet. Make sure that it's not too thick a layer of sooji, or all the grains won't get roasted evenly. When the oven gets to the right temperature, slide in the pans of sooji. Let it go for 7 - 9 minutes. Remove the pan, and stir everything around to rotate everything. Put it back in the oven for another 7 minutes. You're done.

There's no babysitting, or tiring out your arms with all that stirring. Isn't that wonderful!?

12 August 2008


A friend of mine emailed me to ask my opinion on a set of cookware. I figured that this would be the best place to address all my stuff about cookware.

Never, for any reason, purchase a piece that you haven't held in your hands. The reason being is that you can spot any number of usage issues right there when you lift the pot up. If it's a skillet, you will expect it to be good for pan frying, and flipping foods. You'll not only want the bottom AND SIDES to be heavy and fairly thick enough to hold the heat well, but you'll also want the thing to be light enough to pick up easily. You don't ever want a handle that you'll need to use a towel for, because it becomes a safety issue. This means that any pan with those thin metal handles? Don't get them. Also, avoid plastic ones. Go for one with a comfort grip, made of metal (so that it's dishwasher safe), but with enough heft in it to stay cool as you cook.

Also, make sure it's easy enough for you to handle with your strength. This doesn't apply to cast iron, of course.

The point is that when you go into a store, and ask questions of the staff, as well as handle the pans yourself, you'll not only know how they'll react to your hand, but also how they're put together. In other words? Don't buy them online. Also, don't ask me what I think of online cookware, as I can't give you an honest answer.

Bear in mind that you work from home. Avoid extremely expensive pots and pans, as the maintenance alone will kill you. Copper is out, as is any sort of pot or pan that you can't slam around in your dish washer. Copper must be regularly maintained, or else it starts to get hideous. Ever seen the statue of liberty? It's made of copper. If you don't want your pots lookin' like that some day, avoid it.

Go for a heavy bottom, but look for heavy sides too. The weight of the pan being even will ensure that the food gets heated evenly, and stays hot evenly. Those large, cheap stock pots that're thin like foil aren't worth the space they take up. Stick with the best you can find.

Avoid getting a set. They price a set based on "pieces," meaning that you're paying for stuff you don't actively need. Also, I have yet to find a single set whose stock pot, saucier, skillet, and fryer pan I trust equally. Some who make excellent skillets don't do such great stock pots. Look around, find individual pieces that you like, be they from a department store, cooking supply store, thrift store, garage sale, or tag sale. You'll be surprised at the different places that you'll find good quality cookware.

Hope this covers it, lisa!

05 August 2008

Cleaning >_<

Do you keep a tidy kitchen?

I find that some things, I can clean as I go along. If there's a large sink, it's easy to wash out a dish while you're cooking, so that it doesn't pile up too quickly. That being said, when I'm done cooking, I'm usually too tuckered out to do the cleaning. It's sad, because sometimes, the kitchen can start looking like a supply store exploded all over it. This is not so good.

Which is what happens when I get some spare time, and I have nothing scheduled. I'll go on a bit of a cleaning spree, and scrub everything down. Then for all of five days, the stoves will be gleaming white, the counters will be glowy and bright, and the fridge will be spotless. Until I cook my next major meal.

I'm starting to see why people are so enamoured of the oven. It makes a fraction of the mess, and you can get a whole helluva lot more done.

04 August 2008

Newly minted vegan?

My friend's brother was over for the past week. He recently went vegetarian, with the interest in going full on vegan. I had to show him some of the survival techniques. We went over food choices, keeping healthy, the whole nine.

First and foremost came the easy bean stuff. I set a pot of rice cooking first. Then, I started off on the beans.

You start off with some oil in a pot. While you get the oil hot, you very quickly rough chop an onion. When the oil is hot, you pitch in the holy trinity of spices: cumin, coriander, and sesame seeds. Once they finish popping, I slipped in the chopped onion. While the onion sautees, I chopped some tomatoes (about one medium, per tin of beans). Then, when the onions are soft, I add the tomatoes to the pot. This is still over very high heat, so that I can get dinner cranked out quickly.

Again, because this was meant to be a quick dinner, I continued to cook the tomatoes over very high heat, and stirred them around a lot, to allow them to break down quickly. Fortunately, this also meant that they got browned very quickly, and lots of little brown bits started sticking to the bottom of the pot. I splashed in a good slurp of vodka, and let it boil while I opened up two 16 oz tins of black beans. I drained out the liquid (as much as possible), and threw the beans into the pot. I washed out the tins with some water to get out the last bit of beans that were stuck to the bottom, and added that to the pot as well.

While the beans were boiling away for the last five minutes, I quickly washed and chopped some cilantro (parsley would work as well). I turned off the stove when my herbs were chopped, and slid them into the pot of beans. The whole process took about fifteen minutes, from start to finish (including clean up along the way).

About five minutes later, the rice was done cooking, and food was ready. Suffice it to say, he was surprised that it could be that easy, or that good! Y'know how it is when you show a someone a new game, and s/he realises that it's more fun than he expected? That's what happened here. He saw how easy it is to cook and eat vegan. Freaking score. This was, of course, above and beyond the masses of fresh fruit and vegetables I have lying around the house that was in easy reach at all times. Success is mine! (And his too of course!)

27 July 2008

.mac Rant

One of the philosophies of good software is to change very little. When you do change things, it needs to be for a darned good reason. This was one of the major problems that Microsoft faced when they switched over to Vista/Office 2007. You were talking about software and tasks that people had been used to using since 1995. That's a long time to have been using (essentially) the same interface.

Mind you, with .mac, you had a fair bit less history. From around the early 2000s, people could use the service to have fully integrated mail, backups, bookmarks, whatever. However, when you think of what's come out since then, some of these features become obsolete. For one thing, gmail is free, and provides me with this free blog space, as well as both imap and web mail that are in sync, without having to TELL it to sync. The mailbox is so large that you need not delete anything at all.

Want a website? There are hundreds of hosting options out there, with and without web interfaces available to make changes on the fly. Suffice it to say that using proprietary software (iWeb) to make changes to your site sort of limits you to what you want to do. Nope. Not worth it.

If you want to sync calendars and the like, Google has you covered, for free. Bookmarks? http://del.icio.us has a pretty useful service. Best part is that you can share your list if you want to. Web image galleries? Photobucket does a good job. Picasa does a really good job too. Both offer free hosting.

What am I stabbing at? I don't see the point of paying $90+ a year for services that aren't even all that useful. If you're getting a new mac, ignore the "Free trial" of .mac. You can do so much more without shelling out so much money.

22 July 2008

Stone Soup

I'm sure that you can tell, if you know the tale, that my favourite story is Stone Soup. If you don't know the tale, I'll tell the version I heard years ago from one of my high school teachers (she loved using fables to help dissect higher forms of literature).

A short time after the war, a solider headed back home on foot, as he had very little money left over after the years of fighting. The villages that he passed were as poor as he was, because the whole country's resources had been drained by the war. Few farmers had time to till their fields, as they were out on the front lines of battle. Because of this, people closely guarded what little food they had left.

The soldier came upon a small village, with only a few houses, huddled together, as if to give each other support. He asked around for some food, and maybe a place to sleep. Unfortunately, as the villagers were desperately poor too, he was met with "We have nothing to eat ourselves! How can we share with you?"

"I understand," he said. "Since you good people have nothing to share with me, I will then have to share with you. Can somebody please loan me a large iron pot, filled with water?"

"Whatever for," asked the innkeeper.

"I am going to make stone soup for the entire village, and I need a pot big enough to feed everyone."

The innkeeper looked doubtful, but he sent his wife to fetch a pot, while he went to draw water from the well. The soldier went out into the surrounding forest, and came back with a few hefty armfuls of wood. He built a large, cheerful fire, and set down the pot of water onto the fire.

"Now," he announced, "I will add the most important ingredient: the magic stone used to make stone soup." He slipped a large, smooth stone into the pot of water, and watched the water come up to the boil. While the water heated, he chatted with the crowd of villagers that was slowly beginning to build up around him. Never had they seen someone cook such a large meal in public like that!

"Stone soup is filling and tasty on its own, but I've noticed that it's always better with a bit of salt and pepper." One of the villagers brightened, and said, "I have some salt and pepper! I'll be right back." He ran to his house, and returned with a small jar of salt, and a bit of black pepper. The solider thanked the villager, and added some to the pot.

He told tales of his travels across the land, and how he'd had Stone Soup with cabbage, and carrots. Two others broke off from the group, and returned in a short while with some cabbage and carrots. The soldier thanked them as well. "What else goes well with Stone Soup," asked another man. "Potatoes are wonderful in Stone Soup! So are turnips." Shortly thereafter, a bunch of turnips and potatoes were tipped into the large, and more delicious smelling pot of soup.

As the time wore on, more and more villagers brought more and more things to help build the taste of stone soup: lentils, dried herbs, squash, and garlic and onion. The soup filled the village square with its delicious smells, and the laughter of the people filled the village with the resounding cheer that can only come when many friends come together.

The soldier explained all the different manifestations of Stone Soup, and how this one would be the best of all, because this village had such a variety of ingredients. Finally, the soup was done, and the soldier ladled out as much soup as anyone wanted to eat. The whole village was well fed, and in a much more happy mood, as they'd just spent all this time together, in the company of neighbours and friends, to make something that everyone can share.

The next morning, after the last vestiges of the soup were being scraped from the bottom of the pot, the soldier thanked everyone for the wonderful meal, and made to leave on his journey home again. The mayor and the rest of the villagers begged the man to sell his magic stone to them, so that they could continue to feed the village when he left. He refused, and said, "I won't sell it to you, but I'll give it to all of you, to share. Whenever the village is going through times of need, make Stone Soup, and share it with whoever wants it. On that condition, I'll give you my magic stone." Of course, the villagers heartily agreed, and the man passed on his "magic" stone with a twinkle in his eye.


I know there's other versions out there, and that in some of them, it's more than one soldier, in others, he refuses to sell the stone, and in still others, there's more reluctance on the part of the villagers. This is the version I remember (with my own embellishments added; what kind of story teller doesn't put his own mark on a story!?), and it's one that I hope you enjoy. A group that exemplifies the spirit of Stone Soup is called Food not Bombs. Check them out, when you get a chance, and start a local chapter if you don't have one already.

20 July 2008

Party Time, Cake

My friends J and J can really throw an awesome party. I was there last night, along with Steve, and a bunch of their other friends. It started with sangria and the Nintendo Wii (which seems like a fun, party like console, because it's got a lot of collaborative games). It ended up with Apples to Apples and beers. All in between were lots of little snackies and mucnchables. I made cake.

It went really fast.

2 cups Flour, White
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup Soy Milk
1 tablespoon Vinegar, Cider
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
¼ teaspoon Almond Extract
3 tablespoons Oil, Canola


Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients together. In another bowl, mix all wet. Mix together wet and dry. If the mixture seems a little too dry, feel free to add a bit of water until it's the consistency of cake batter. (I've sometimes had to add an extra 1/2 cup of juice.) Bake for 22-25 minutes until lightly golden.

You can add some fruit or nuts to it if you'd like to fancy it up. What makes it even better better is a bit of fruit jam in the centre. Basically, you bake up the cakes. Then, you slice them in half to make two rounds. Then, spread both rounds with the jam of your liking, and close the rounds like a sandwich. Slice, and eat! Wonderful with tea.

People were surprised that it was vegan, and easy, and good. I was glad they all enjoyed it.

J & J are good hosts, because they knew not to force anything to happen. When natural clumps of people formed, the two of them circulated amongst the clumps. One would be playing the video game, while the other was fetching more food or drink from the kitchen. And, at not point did J & J hang out together; that would defeat the point of entertaining, wouldn't it!?

Finally, when we did settle in for the Apples to Apples game (lots of fun; get it if you are having a party!), everyone had already been thoroughly entertained, and were ready to sit down for a bit, and have back and forth chatter. We ambled out of their house fairly late. It was definitely a party to remember!

16 July 2008

I made some chickpeas today, and noticed that I had no potatoes (chickpeas and potatoes are a classic Indian combo that works extremely well together). I did, however have plantains. I peeled them (because for this particular recipe, I was trying to get close to the texture of potatoes. I diced them up, and microwaved them for about five minutes. I added it into the chickpeas (with cumin seeds, sesame seeds, turmeric, onions, ginger, and garlic). It's freaking AWESOME! I prefer them to potatoes, because they stay together better, and don't make a mushy mash.

09 July 2008

Creamy Baked Kale

1 kg Kale
1 tin Cocoanut milk (I think my tin is like 414 mL or something)
2 tins water (so, that's like 800 ml?)
1 TB curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (or, to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Remove the leaves from the stalks of kale. Whiz up the stems in a food processor, or mince them up with a knife.

Combine a bit of cocoanut milk with the curry powder, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle the spices and cocoanut milk over the kale's leaves. With both hands, vigorously massage the leaves of kale. Be rough with the leaves, and really get those spices worked into the kale.

Dump the kale leaves, stems, cocoanut milk, water, and any leftover spices you have, into a large casserole dish, roasting dish, or whatever other baking dish you have that you can cover up. Essentially, you want the whole lot to steam slowly in the oven.

Let it sit there in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until it's done to your liking. Serve as is, or with rice, or bread, or whatever.

Dijon Hummus ...

The last time I made a batch of hummos, I decided to switch things up a bit. What I normally do is dump the garlic in the food processor, add a bit of oil, and let 'er rip. Then I add a bit of of the cooked chickpeas, and make a sort of quickie emulsion. Then I add any of the lemon juice, tahini, and any other sort of spice I'm trying to add. This is normal.

Things got weird when I was distracted by the phone ringing. I answered the phone, had my conversation, and hung up the phone. I walked back to the food processor. I squeezed in a good tablespoon or three of dijon mustard. For whatever reason, my distracted brain was thinking that I was making dressing. I don't know why.

I didn't notice my mistake until well after the thing was made. Oh. Dear. GODS. It was so good, and I think I'll be repeating this every time after this.

06 July 2008

The Big City, Suburbs, Rural, or some hut in the wods?

I find that I'm at my happiest when I'm in very large cities. I like the feeling of being able to get anything on my own, without having to rely on a car, or other people with a car (the latter is usually the case, as I don't have a driving permit). I also like having constant access to the one major mark of a civilised city: mass transit. Preferably clean, efficient, and reliable mass transit. I noticed the marked difference between available mass transit, and a sorry excuse for one, when visiting my sister in CT. I thought that I had it bad in Florida, where you'd have to wait like 40 minutes or so for the bus to arrive, and 1 hour for the trains.

Little did I notice that at every train station (because the trains in FL are similar to the NJ Transit rail road system, or the Metro North, where you're meant to traverse large distances, rather than go for quick jaunts), there was a free shuttle that connected you to the most commonly used regions of that particular city, as well as the mass transit for that local city. This meant that for the cost of a train ticket, you could go to where you needed to be, get your work done, and get back, with a minimum of walking. The buses were often late (and if you were running late, they'd be running early!), but they were /there/. I can't say the same for the sorry state of the CT mass transit. Frankly, it sucks.

Suffice it to say, I don't have much patience for the suburbs. Puppy, on the other hand, does enjoy it. He likes the trees, the quiet, and the general lack of much of anything to do. Mind, he doesn't like the idea of having to be committed to it permanently, but for him, it's like a vacation to "get away from it all." For me, getting away from the bustle of the city would be going to Washington DC, or Chicago, where things are a lot more relaxed. Somehow, this pace just doesn't do it for me. Any time you want to do ANYTHING, it takes the better part of an hour to make it happen. Contrast this with New York, where you make plans, and execute them in the space of minutes (Oh! I'm in the village too! Wanna meet for lunch? Cool.).

But then, aside from all of that, my uncle has a farm (out there in India). That's the worst of the worst. It's removed from everything, and you can see in all directions, and there's nothing to break the monotony, except more trees. That is the scariest for me. At least with those wildernessy places, people are well prepared, y'know?

If you've noticed, people who live in those little huts in the middle of nothing will have rather nice ... diversions. Everything is top of the line, because it needs to be, since getting a new one involves so much effort.

My friend said it best: "Dino belongs in dinoland". Back to Dinoland I go.

05 July 2008

Quiet Time

The family (and Steve) have gone out for a bit, and it's quiet. I like this.

03 July 2008

And back to CT

It's my sister's husband's birthday, and Steve's got a 3 day weekend coming up. He's been getting quite antsy to leave and go somewhere outside of Manhattan, where Nature and other related crap abound. So, we're doing the CT thing tonight. We'll be leaving NY at 5 PM, and be in CT at like 7:00. I had my mother listen to the podcast, and she had some wonderful suggestions to take it from good to great. I'm definitely looking forward to implementing some of those plans, and seeing where it goes.

See, that's what I love about my mother. She encourages, but always has her eye on how to always strive for the best that you can do. I love hearing "wow, that's so good," but equally much, I love hearing, "but to sort of break it up a little, so that it's all easier to digest, why not try asking a friend to ask you the questions, so that when they hear your responses, their brain can remember it?" Furthermore, she also suggested that I ask a woman to help me out, because the contrast between a male and female voice is far stronger than two males. I'm going to see if my sister's amenable to it when I go there this weekend, and will report back with details later. Let's even see if I can remember to get to it, right? Suffice it to say, it feels like whenever I do talk to my mother, it's never about just idle chatter. Whenever we speak, I come out of the situation, I gain something from it, be it perspective, advice, or any number of other equally important things that I need at the time.

30 June 2008

CT Again, Begin Again

Of course, since the Big Day of the Baby Arrival is nearing, I'm not taking chances, and am making it out to CT when I get a chance. So, I missed the giant GLBT Pride parade/events in NYC, but got to hang out with my family, which does trump drinking and dancing (and so much fun!) in the city, right? Suffice it to say that although I did miss out on the wild and crazy times, I feel like it was worth the trip.

Of course, now that they're on their way out of CT, we find the bus line that runs about 10 minutes from their front door. And costs about the same as the railway, and take about the same time (total time), to drop me off here, vs dropping me off in New Haven, which is a goodly hour or so away. Sheesh. I'll be dashing back to New York tomorrow morning. No wait. It's 4:30 AM. I'll be dashing back to NY in a couple of hours.

I don't know why, but for whatever reason, my mother and sister (and the rest, I think) can't figure out why I want to head back to Manhattan so soon after arriving.


I'm serious.

That's OK though. As long as they know that I do need to head back, and don't make too terribly much fuss about it, I'm sure we'll all be fine.

28 June 2008

They DO love me!

My friend Lisa made a craft of me:


Is that not AWESOME!?

Heading out to CT again ...

I don't know how much longer my sister (and thereby, my parents) are going to be staying in CT, because they all seem ready to roll right now. For that reason, I'll be making yet another trip out to CT (WATCH THE GAP!!111), and hanging out with family again. Fortunately, this time, Steve's going to be amused while I'm gone. My friend sent me his old PS2, and Steve's enjoying himself immensely. I think.

Either way, he's bound to have even more fun once Katamari Damacy comes in (I ordered it online), and Kingdom Hearts. I'm not a fan of violent stuff, be it movies, TV programming, or video games, so they're not coming into the house to begin with. Fortunately, Steve respects my sensibilities, and doesn't go out and buy those things either. I'm not too fussed what anyone does outside of my hearing/seeing, but I don't approve of supporting those games that are violent with my money. I have a filthy sailor mouth, but I don't like violent media, especially when there are so many things to do that don't involve prolonged exposure to that sort of thing, all of which are as entertaining, if not more so.

How did this turn into a Dino rant? I don't know.

Suffice it to say that I'm loading up my iPod with some fun podcasts (including my own; is it weird that I don't mind listening to myself talk?), like the Vegan Freak Radio podcast, The Angry Hippie, some Vegetarian Food for Thought, and (oddly enough) Brini Maxwell. Yes, it's a guilty pleasure: I enjoy drag queens who dress in 1970s clothes, and say, "Now why didn't you think of that" in an adorable way. Barring that, there's sounds of the rainforest, sounds of the ocean, and a couple of sounds of ... rain to put me to sleep if I need it.

For the record: the squirrels up here in the North are a lot fatter than the ones in Florida. Also, the ones up here have the cutest white tummies, just like on the cartoons. And they do frolic. Quite nice. Just thought I'd share.

27 June 2008


What are those things that stand out about yourself? If someone were asked to describe you, what would come to the forefront? To those of you that know me: what are those things that stick out in your mind about me? If someone asked you who I am, what would you say?

Appa (father, in Tamil) taught me just as much as Amma (mother, in Tamil) did, but in different ways. My earliest memories of the kitchen come from Amma. We'd be chatting about random things, while she would interject with "See how I'm doing this? If you don't do it this way, it doesn't come out properly!" I would take careful note of how she did whatever it is, and file it away into my capacious memory bank.

However, most of what I learned from both my parents came from watching, rather than talking. For example, I picked up (from Amma) the trick of quickly taking the pot off of the heat while popping spices, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of burned spices. She never explicitly told me to do such a thing, but when you watch as carefully as I did, you pick up those things subconsciously, and follow them through in your own life. And so, I'd like to set the record straight about Appa. Although his relationship with food was in a capacity of "Food should be medicine," he still did pass on a few things that I find myself doing to this day.

For as far back as I can remember, Appa was always fastidious about having some form of raw vegetable with every meal. Whether those vegetables were carrots, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, or whatever else depended solely on what was available. Regardless of what it was, he ensured that he had some sort of salad-like thing accompanying each meal. I picked up on this habit, and make sure to have raw vegetables in close proximity to every meal. It's not always with the meal; sometimes I have to wait a little while because my stomach has no room left, but I do make sure to have it.

That leads me to the next point. Appa is, was, and always will be the ultimate grazer. Regardless of where he worked, he would forever have squirreled away some form of nuts, sandwiches, and raisins. He loves all nuts very dearly, but peanuts have a special place in his heart. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I recall that his bedroom always had bottles of peanuts, in various stages of emptiness. Mind you, his favourite nuts are cashews and pistachios, but those two can get expensive, and fast. If it's not nuts, it's potato crisps. Whatever it is, he's constantly munching on something or other.

Anybody who's watched me eat knows that I'm a big-time grazer. I don't like to eat large meals, but prefer to have a choice of a few different varieties, that I take in small quantities. This way, I split up my meals into eight to ten small meals throughout the day.

No discussion about Appa is complete without a nod to cocoanut. In every form, Appa loves cocoanut. Cooked, raw, in salads, in soups or stews, the water, the mature cocoanut, the tender cocoanut. All of them please Appa immensely. Come to think of it, he's actually not a fan of cocoanut that's been cooked too much. He feels that it changes the quality of it, and prefers to have it raw, or just barely cooked for the last couple of minutes in a dish that's done cooking on the stove.

Finally, there's the salt issue. Appa is vehemently opposed to cooked salt. That is, he (and my mother, once she met him) believes that to add salt towards the beginning of cooking means that you're letting the salt penetrate, and destroying the health benefits of the food. It's fine to add salt at the end of the cooking, at the table, or (preferably, in his eyes) not at all. To this day, I feel funny about adding salt while I'm cooking.

There are, for sure, many other things where Appa has influenced me, but these are the ones that really stick out in my mind. If you were to mention these things to any of his family, they'd give a knowing look, and respond with "Yup! That's him!" They are so quintessentially him that I had no trouble thinking them up, and writing about them.

I wonder if I have any such distinct features about me?

26 June 2008

I think you've got a problem ...

I've been watching that TV show, "You Are What You Eat," on BBC. On it, the nutritionist discusses how people get addicted to different foods, be they salty, fatty, or sugary. This is up to and including drink, caffeine, and other vices. However, I was thinking: What constitutes a "problem," and what's just an unhealthy like? At what point does one go from really enjoying a vice to where it becomes an Issue?

I started thinking it over. I'd say that I have a drinking problem when it got to where I was vomitting, blacking out, or unable to live life from the hangovers on a regular basis. I'd consider a caffeiene addiction to be out of control when I regularly felt jittery, my stomach protested over the amount of acid in there and I felt nauseous, or when I started peeing out dark coloured pee (a sign of dehydration). But with food, the lines are a little more blurred, aren't they? With an addiction, you can set it down, and go into recovery mode. With food, you face it every day, three times a day.

I'm sort of conflicted, you know? I've been able to reign in my smoking habit to where I can do without for a day or two, or do with a cigarette (versus the pack a day I used to need to suck down to survive). With the rest of it all, I'm getting it to where it's not interfering with day to day life. But with food, I am concerned.

I bought a box of cereal as a special treat, and Steve munched through it in like 3 days. I got a package of crisps for myself, and managed to get through that in 3 days as well. He's got a thing for sugar, and I've got it for salt. Between the two of us, we'd cheerfully down crap all day. Mind you, we also both have serious love for fat. I made a very large pot of vegetable soup. It was /good/ not great. Then I tipped in a tin of cocoanut milk (it's like a cup and change). Boom. It was as if bathing in that tin of evil made it so much more perfect than ever.

Fortunately, we also really love our fresh fruit and veg. I can power through a pound of peaches in no time flat. Leave me along long enough with strawberries, and you'll have none left. I can easily polish off a watermelon. My favourite of all time, however, is raspberry. Nothing compares to the tart, sweet, lovely goodness of those little aggregate fruits.

So maybe I just enjoy eating what I enjoy?

Also, I'm addicted to cute dogs:

16 June 2008

Potluck in Jersey

Jersey was a lot of fun. We cooked a tonne of food, the people who came were friendly and laid back, and the whole experience was gilded by the way that we all just clicked when it came to working together in the kitchen. I think I'll do a podcast episode about running a good potluck. Should be interesting to see what I come up with, eh?

Another friend, Kristin, made a comment about her spice drawer. There are those people who do things so beautifully and so well, that you must stand up and applaud them for it. Check hers out:


It's really a thing of beauty, isn't it? Now, can you imagine being in Kristin's kitchen, with all that beauty laid out before you, and putting together a meal? Just stop, and reflect for a moment: when you have things laid out in a beautiful manner, doesn't it make you want to use those things more? If your kitchen is tidy and organised, you'll be encouraged to cook in it more often. When you're cooking for yourself, you're seeing to it that the only person who controls what's going in is YOU! Can anyone else really season something exactly the way you like it? Never! Get out there, and use the inspiration to create things of beauty, both in the pantry, and in the rest of the kitchen.

13 June 2008

Sister's Baby Shower, part 3

In every trip, there are things that stand out in your mind. Of course, for me, the first thing that sticks out was the wiggly, squirmy little puppy that found a new friend and was trying to lick my eye. He was so cute, and friendly. A good doggy all around. If you've ever read The Celery Stalks at Midnight, you will recognise the physical embodiment of Howie. SUCH the cutest little guy.

Once the tyre went flat, I decided that now would be a damned good time for photo shoot time. My parents got out, and we posed in front of the pretty flowers. Believe it or not, this was in front of the flower bushes at a rest stop, just out of Stamford, CT! In front of a fast food restaurant! Very odd, eh?

09 June 2008

Sister's Baby Shower, pt 2

If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans.

Original plan was to head out of the house at 2:30~ish, and get to the Baby Shower place by 3:00. Ish. Then, we were supposed to help set up, and have everyone arrive around 5:00. Reality struck, however, and the lady of the hour ended up sleeping far too many hours. Nobody was properly roused until around 3:45. Eventually, around 4:00, everyone managed to wake up. Then (give or take), at 4:30, after much clattering around, and confusion (up to and including the confusion with how to make the back most seat of the van go upright), we managed to get a move on. Then came traffic. Then came a giddy moment, where all of us finally broke through the chaos of the road, and made the final, mad dash to Glastonbury (from Middletown), and got to the lady's house.

We arrived around 5:00. Not too many people were there, but the lady of the house was (understandably) flustered. Unfortunately, this transmitted itself to my mother, who also started to get frustrated. After a bit of bumping of heads, and confusion, I decided to take charge.

You see, my mother and I had started cooking early that morning, and had everything neatly into those aluminium trays that you get at the store where they cook large amounts of food, and serve it at events. This meant that when we arrived at the shower place, all we had to do was fling everything into the oven, and keep everything hot. There was everything from appetisers to entrees, and everything was oven ready. Once the lady of the house saw that I knew how to work her oven, she stepped aside, handed me the reigns, and just let me take over. Of course, my mother being who she is, had been bragging to all these people that I'm /that/ Dino, the vegan cook book author and Manhattan vegan chef bla bla bla. When they saw that I'm not a blundering idiot, it was a simple question of everyone finding the evidence for themselves, rather than my really having to prove myself over much.

When you are introduced as such-and-such to a group of people (by someone they trust), they'll start looking for evidence to back that up. This is why it's so dangerous for parents to label their children (the smart one, the pretty one, the difficult one, the one who is a fussy eater). Every time that parent's adult friends interact with that child, they'll have that echo bouncing around in their heads. As they see even the slightest evidence to support that label, they start using the same label as well. I kid you not, but within a few minutes of the other women arriving into the house, my name had run ahead of me on winged feet.

I was making quick work of a half of watermelon, and slicing the juicy, ripe fruit into thin slices (so that it's easy to pick up and eat), while deftly making an ever-growing pile of rinds to one side. Mind you, slicing watermelon is not a difficult task. Neither is setting already cooked food in a tray, and turning on the oven to warm it. Slicing cupcakes in half, and arranging those halves on a plate isn't exactly rocket science. In fact, nothing I was doing was really all that extraordinary, but it wasn't just "Dino" doing it, it was "Dino the cookbook author and professional cook" doing it. This meant that not only am I an Indian male (a group notorious for being unhelpful in the kitchen, which was a cause for major delight to these women, whose husbands mostly lurked in the background, socialising with each other) taking charge of his baby sister's event, and doing so competently, but that I was also a professional, who came all the way from New York City to see to it that everything went smoothly (and it was).

It ended up where the ladies would offer suggestions, but it would be exactly that: a suggestion. Rather than ending up being an event where everyone was flustered, I was able to orchestrate the food handling, while keeping up a steady stream of chatter with anyone within ear shot, so that I didn't seem to be asocial in what should be a celebratory event. AND THE THING IS? I've done exactly this sort of thing a hundred times before, back in Florida, or any other place I've visited, but it never had the same effect as did this one, where I'm the pro, taking charge. Before now, it's mostly been "our dear friend Dino, who's a damned good cook, who offered to help us put dinner together for our friends."

That being said, I don't think that I would have been able to deflect the situation had a few prerequisites not been met:

1. All the cooking was done by the time we left the house. No new cooking was required at all.

2. I had no clue who any of these people were, and the feeling was mutual. They didn't know that I'm just a laid back guy, who's used to being in the eye of a storm of chaos, and making all the different pieces function as a coherent whole. I didn't know that my mother and sister were so close to the lady of the house, that both of them would have gotten equally flustered at seeing her flustered. I just took charge when I saw that nobody else was.

3. My reputation preceded me. My mother has been talking about how proud she is of her vegan cook author son since forever. Frankly, she's sung my praises (in terms of cooking) ever since I started cooking alone in the kitchen. From a very early age, I am used to hearing her sincere pride at my love for being around food, and handling it so well. My mother is one of those people who doesn't give out praise unless it's deserved, and she has no illusions as to what her children are. When we screw up, she is the first to admit it. However, when we do well, she's equally quick to tell anyone who will listen about how proud she is of her talented child.

4. The people there are generally laid back people. If anyone there had been uptight, or nasty, I would have immediately withdrawn to my computer or cell phone, and promptly ignored everyone. I don't like unpleasant company, and will make a concerted effort to avoid such people when necessary.

Finally, around 9:00 or so, we all started to head out to our respective cars. My sister's friends had come up from New York with another one of her friends from New Jersey, so I asked that group of four to come back to her place, and hang out for a bit before going back home. They were all glad to do so, and we all trouped back to my sister's house as a little mini caravan. We get into the house, and instantly, everyone lets her or his hair down. We got comfortable on couches, they had some coffee, and we all started chattering away rapidly.

What was supposed to be a quick 10 - 20 minute visit ended up stretching out into a quick game of Taboo, and then a good deal of cross conversations, where Barbara explained Passover to my mother and brother-in-law. Actually, it was more like Barbara and I both explained Passover, because I think that Cliff has made me an honorary Jew. Mazel Tov, and all that. Half way through the discussion about Shabbat, and Yom Kippur, and Kibbutzes, and the serious schelp you have to make from Central Jersey out to Trenton, or Manhattan, we lost track of time, because that's what happens when you combine a group of people who enjoy talking (and talking with each other). Throw two mothers into the mix (and a mother-to-be), and there is no /way/ anyone is moving anywhere until there's been plenty of laughter and hearty well wishes going down on all sides.

My mother, my sister, and the lady of the house where we had the shower made sure to thank me profusely for taking charge (which I was happy to do; it's like Cliff says "It's easy to point the finger out there, but we need to point right back to ourselves and TAKE CHARGE!); and take charge I did! The New York group left around 12:30 (because goodbye takes such a long time to say properly, doesn't it?), and everything here wrapped up around 2:00. After a nice chat with Steve, I finished writing this up.

Suffice it to say that coming back to my family reminds me why I am so close with my mother, and reminds me why I'm thankful for being physically far away. The two of us can talk a blue streak, but repeated exposure will probably come back to bite us all in the butt. We can all easily handle measured doses, but much more than that, and there is bound to be unhappy friction. As usual, I can't sleep out here, because it's so quiet and comatose. I miss the sounds of the sirens at midnight, and the traffic. The quiet is just disconcerting. Can't wait to get back home.

08 June 2008

Sister's Baby Shower, pt 1

The following groups of people:

young children
husbands (wives?)
newly: in love, pregnant, or independent

will automatically feel that their chosen course of action is automatically correct, irrespective of evidence, argument, cajoling, bitching, screaming, or otherwise. They will also automatically take any objection(s) to their chosen course of action as a reason to make a point, and will more vehemently pursue said course of action. This means that the simplest manner of making someone do something stupid/painful/annoying/wrong is to tell him/her/it/or them that such a thing is forbidden, off limits, stupid, dumb, annoying, or going to cause discomfort for any and all parties concerned.

Again, bear in mind that logic cannot and will not enter the picture.

Case in point: once I got it into my head to move to New York City, there was nothing that anyone could say to deter me from that chosen course. This meant that in spite of guilt trips from my parents, unsupportive friends, lack of employment, crappy weather, lack of housing, and lack of money, I continued to doggedly pursue the idea of moving to New York City. This included running head first into my least favourite season (the cold ones), while barely having enough coming in from the last pay cheque to pay for the flight! This also meant that every time someone called me crazy, or tried to tell me to slow down, or save up, or stop and think for a moment, I would become that much more determined to follow through with my plans, and see it to its natural course.

Had I done things the "smart" way, I would have lined up my resources, one by one, and made the move comfortable with the support of my family (who would have done so, had they been given sufficient time to follow up on their contacts and resources), more money siting around to make it happen, or any number of other basic comforts that I didn't really bother to pursue, because it wasn't Priority Number One Which Is More Important Than Anything Else Right Now. What would that be? Duh.

Being right.

You see, when you /know/ that you're right, nothing short of thunderous, utter, abject, humiliating failure will even force you to consider that you could be wrong. Instead, you will wildly blame everything else except the primary cause: you screwed up, pally.

Enter the case of my family member as exhibit B.

Let's say, for the sake of argument (or, in this case, to avoid argument), that this family member wanted to sew party favours for her baby shower. Suppose also that the same party favours could have been bought at a craft store for a little bit more money, and at a comparable quality, to the stuff that she was making. Suppose also that in the course of doing this, she was going to use up a considerable amount of time, effort, and expensive stuff. Finally, when the day is done (and what a long day it's been), in spite of my mother repeatedly telling her that it's a stupid project to pursue, especially when it's a party that other people are throwing for her, and that she should really be relaxing, she managed to crank out a respectable amount of party favours.

However, she's used up a LOT of time, and effort, and money in making said favours happen.

FOR THE RECORD: My family member did not sew party favours. I'm using the example, so as to avoid incriminating the involved parties, and to generalise the example, rather than to cite specifics. As I sincerely value my head, in all its beauty, I choose to change the names of the people involved, not to protect their identity, but to protect my own!

Suffice it to say, my mother got thoroughly and completely pissed, and the family member got equally pissed. Both sides ended up going off to their respective corners. I'm not sure what's going to happen. Not really bothered. I've done my job by arriving, and not being a totally asocial bum. It's the most we can all ask of me, right?

07 June 2008

I'm not nuts!

See? It looks like I'm not the only one who loves my spice drawer! Vegan blogger Jeannie also uses a spice drawer for her spices. She labelled the top of them with those cute little white labels that you can print on.

Check it out!

Thanks so much, Jeannie! I feel vindicated.

It's funny how when you're sitting there with your iPod, people don't necessarily bother you (although some do), but if you whip out the laptop, and start typing at random, they leave you alone, as if you're in the middle of either divine inspiration, or in the middle of Really Hard Work. Let's be honest, though. I have no books open. I've got no reports sitting in front of me. No notebooks. Not a PDA. Not a cell phone. Nothing at all. However, they'll assume that I'm doing Important work, even if I have an amused look on my face.

I wonder if it works the same way for writing? I'll have to experiment some time.

The thing is, people find me easy to talk to, because I don't glare with hostility at anyone whose eye rests on my face for more than a fraction of a second. People seem to mistake my lack of hostility for an invitation to chatter on for however long it takes to complete the journey, or until I leave in annoyance or frustration. I'll be sure to report back on it.

For now, I'm in the train, and it's seriously quite crowded. In other words, I'm thinking that this shield in front of me is what's preventing long, boring conversations based around the beauty of trees, their sleepy little hamlets, or whatever other garbage these people are interested in. Again, I'll keep you posted as much as possible.

29 May 2008

How to tell that your mushrooms are fresh.

Look under its cap. If your mushroom's cap meets the stem, you're looking at a very fresh mushroom. That is, with a very fresh mushroom, the gills will be covered by skin flaps coming up from under the cap. If the cap doesn't meet the stem, but still folds underneath itself, it's still fairly fresh. If the cap spreads out and points outwards or upwards, you're looking at a really old mushroom.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Check out this neat website that I found for people who are visual (like me). It's called the Visual Dictionary. Here's a link to a picture of a mushroom:


I learned this trick while watching a Julia Child episode. She is forever giving you little hints and tricks as she goes along. PS This refers to white button mushrooms. Other varieties may or may not have different criteria.

26 May 2008

Quick recipes

Pudina Chatni (Mint Sauce)
3 parts Mint leaves
1/2 part water
1/2 lemon or lime juice

Per 1 part water and 3 parts mint:
2 shallots, diced (you may use 3 tablespoons chopped onion and 1 clove garlic instead)
1/2 tsp salt
1 green thai bird pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp garam masala

Place the mint leaves, shallots, salt, thai bird epper, and garam masala into the jar of a blender. Pour in all of the lemon juice. Pour in a couple of tablespoons of water. Gently pulse the blender until the mint leaves are roughly chopped up, and not while anymore. Pour in the rest of the water, and let the blender work on high until you get a fine, green paste. To make a milder sauce, remove the seeds from the thai bird pepper, or omit it. Mint chatni keeps for about a week or two in the fridge.

Dhania Chatni (cilantro sauce)
3 parts cilantro leaves
1/2 part water
1/2 part lemon or lime

Per 1 part water, and 3 parts cilantro:
1 TB grated ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 small onion, chopped
3 thai bird peppers
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin powder

Place all ingredients in the blender, and blend on high until you get a smooth paste.

These recipes are the applications of herbs that I mention in my latest Podcast episode. Please let me know what you think!

25 May 2008

Sauce interview, Pt 5

OK, last two questions (for now!) …

Any favorite or little-known-but-fantastic-and-easy tips for using spices and ready-made sauces you want to share?

Any words of encouragement for people who, for one reason or another – lack of experience, bad luck in the past, intimidated by TV chefs, whatever – still may lack the confidence to try out things in the kitchen?

Finally, not a question, but thanks so much for imparting all this information and enthusiasm for healthy, natural, delicious, peaceful foods. Much appreciated, and I hope we can do it again sometime.

Any favorite or little-known-but-fantastic-and-easy tips for using spices and ready-made sauces you want to share?
The microwave, of course!

Whenever I'm in a severe rush, I'm never embarrassed to use the microwave. Heck, sometimes I use it even when I'm not in a hurry. There's nothing wrong with setting a pot of rice to cook in the rice cooker, chopping up a bunch of root vegetables (yams, potatoes, what have you), tossing them with some oil, and your spice blend (Mrs. Dash, curry powder, garam masala, whatever), and letting it rip in the microwave for a while. As for sauces, I tend to save those for occasions when a large pot of soup or stew is coming up flat for some reason. Suppose you've just made a fairly large vegetable stew. At the end, you taste for seasoning, and you notice that it's all well cooked and such, but it's severely lacking in flavours. This is when you start experimenting (quickly) with your ready made sauces. Grab a few small bowls, and ladle a bit of stew into them. Line up your sauces, and try each bowl with a different one. Once you've found the combination you like, start pitching it into the pot! It will taste fine soon enough!

The reason I use sauces in this manner, is because they've already been processed in such a way that the flavours are already well developed. Spice blends, on the other hand, are in a sort of suspended animation, and are waiting to release their stuff. This is why I suggest the dry cooking in the microwave: the fast cooking speed is hot enough to pull out the flavour of the spices quickly. Don't be afraid of substituting a different sauce for a different purpose. For example, if all this time, you've only had sweet potatoes with cinnamon, sugar, and a dash of nutmeg, why not give them a shot of barbecue sauce, and see where the adventure takes you? If you've only used soy sauce (or tamari) in stir fry dishes, why not try soy sauce over steamed vegetables? Start thinking outside of the box. These ready made sauces are meant specifically to work with a wide range of foods. Chances are, you'll hit on something new that you like.

Any words of encouragement for people who, for one reason or another – lack of experience, bad luck in the past, intimidated by TV chefs, whatever – still may lack the confidence to try out things in the kitchen?
Don't look at the intimidating ones, but think of the most popular ones. Julia Child. Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook!). Graham Kerr. Rachel Ray. What did all these people have in common? For one thing, their shows are filmed live. You could see when they made mistakes, and have accidents. For another thing, they stressed that you try to have a knowledge of what you're doing, rather than have a strict adherence to specific amounts and rules.

I don't think I've ever seen Julia Child measure food in her show. She just knew what it looked like in the dish, because she knew that it's not going to make a huge difference if she got a little more or a little less in the pan. She can always adjust later, as needed. Look at Rachel Ray. She doesn't pull out measuring spoons; she tells you to "eyeball" it. The reason that these TV cooks are popular is because they're showing you how to prepare food in the way that most people do in their own homes. Even though they're all following recipes, they still don't bother being all that retentive about it, because that's how you learn. I remember being in the kitchen with my mother. The two of us would be keeping up a steady stream of chatter while working on the food. Sometimes, we'd make a fairly big mistake ("oops! I forgot to chop the onions, mom." "Well, leave it out then."), and in the end, it wasn't that huge a deal.

One such time was this Friday night that we were rushing to get dinner ready. We had more people than we thought we would, and were rushing, because they were set to arrive soon. Usually, in a proper daal, you have to chop up some onions, some garlic, some tomato, cilantro, curry leaves, and set up a series of five or six spices. Everything needs to be there to give an authentic feeling. That evening, we hadn't the time to bother with all that. Instead, in her panic, my mother toasted some cumin seeds in hot oil, and added the lot of the cooked beans when she heard them pop. She didn't even bother adding salt. Similarly on my side, I didn't have time to make my cabbage, which involves onions, carrots, cabbage, and two or three spices, along with curry leaves. Instead, I just did the grated cabbage, grated carrot, some chopped onions, lemon juice, and some curry leaves raw, and tossed it all together.

This is all because the two of us didn't do anything in advance. Before leaving the kitchen, we set the rice cooker to get going, and ran to greet the guests. It was as if the food was high gourmet. Everyone had third helpings, and was raving about the food! There were other times when the mistakes would give us either over salted (meaning, you have to double the quantity of food, and add a bit of lemon), over cooked (add water, call it a soup), undercooked (sprinkle on just enough water to dampen, microwave until cooked through), or bland (liberally add in any sort of Chile sauce you can handle; Cholula is the best, because it has heat and lots of spices), or burned (gently pour out just exactly what's not burned, and don't scrape the bottom; soak the pot in water and soap; reseason the salvaged part to your liking, using some sort of BBQ sauce or such, which goes well with a smoky taste, then call it cajun).

These things happen to everyone, because that's the nature of the beast. The important thing is to avoid panicking, and work with it. I can't remember how many times I'd mix up the sugar for the salt, and sprinkle some in, and get very odd looks from my mother at the dinner table. We'd salvage it by adding some sour (tamarind, lemon, lime, what have you), and a bit of extra heat (cayenne, black pepper, ground chilly), and the actual salt itself. There's a reason that in my own home now, I refuse to use anything else but Turbinado sugar, and Kosher salt! Can't confuse those two, right? Here's a couple of ways to avoid disaster:

1. Until you're highly adept in the kitchen, don't let the dial go on anything higher than medium to start. That is, when you heat up oil, or pop spices, or do anything else that involves a naked pan + whatever you're adding, start at medium heat. This way, you'll understand how the pot reacts to the amount of oil you have in there. I generally start at medium when I'm in an unfamiliar kitchen for the same reason: I don't know how their cookware and stoves do things until I've gotten the hang of it. Sometimes, if the pots are very thin, and the stove is very hot, I'll mentally re-calibrate the dial. Medium is the new high, and so on.

2. Once your stove is above low heat, don't leave the room. I'm seriously not joking on this one. The reason is that the boiling point of water is 100ºC. Since water resists change in temperature very well, you can more or less count on the food in the pot staying at this temperature for the most part. However, once water has left, there is no compelling reason for the pot to remain at 100º. Instead, you'll see the temperature climb extremely rapidly, to the burning point. Soon, your smoke detector is screaming, and your family is coughing.

Just stay put. If the phone rings, or doorbell rings, and your stove is on high, turn the heat off, and handle those other things. It's better to come back to it, and pick up where you left off, rather than leave things a smoking mess. If you are an experienced cook, and are simmering a large pot of food over the lowest heat setting (such as when cooking beans, or making a Chile), feel free to cover the lid of the pot, and set a timer for about 30 minutes or so.

I use the timer in my microwave (press timer, set the amount of time you need it to time, then press timer again). I can then sit down with a book, or surf the internet for a while. I won't watch TV, because the sound of the TV will drown out the sound of the timer. When my timer goes off, I'll check on the food, and keep cooking, or set the timer for a bit longer, and relax. The point is that you don't have to babysit the kitchen the entire time you're cooking, if it's a long, slow-cooking food, but when you're in a hurry, be there to pay attention to what's going on.

3. Use the built in timer for your oven. With the oven, we often forget that it's there, because it's enclosed, and doesn't really make itself known too much. Instead of risking that, just read the manual of your stove, and figure out how to set the timer. If you have lost your manual, type into Google "how to set oven timer for ________" with the brand name of your oven. Something is bound to show up!

4. Clearly label, in BIG letters, your spices. A simple piece of white paper, taped onto the jar, will do the trick. Why? Because sometimes, you can't find your glasses. Sometimes, you're in a rush, and don't look too closely at the white powdered spice (which is baking soda, not powder, or sugar, not salt), and you sprinkle some in, thinking that you'll be fine. The food comes out, and everyone looks confused.

5. Try to keep your spices and sauces in roughly the same place every time. Don't let people take it out of that spot, if you can help it. If you use ketchup in everything, it'll be a good idea to have it in the same spot in your fridge every time you need it, so that you don't have to go searching for it. Similarly, with your other spices, if you keep them in easy reach, you'll remember to use them, and you'll know where to find them. I don't let people take my salt or pepper out of the kitchen. Instead, I measure out enough for that meal, and keep it in a separate container on the table. This way, I won't have to go searching for my salt box the next time I need it. It'll be right there, where it's always sitting.

6. Before flipping on the stove, try to have most of everything waiting for you. That is, if the recipe calls for crushed garlic, a bag of green peas, some Mrs. Dash, and some oil, try to have those things all in one spot, relatively close by. In fact, open the bag of peas, crush the garlic, and have the jar of Mrs. Dash open before flipping on the stove. You'll thank yourself later when you're not fumbling around. These guidelines should give you an insurance policy against mess-ups in the future. It won't prevent them completely, but it'll certainly help avoid major disasters. Trust me when I say that even the most experienced chefs have disasters. We just make it work for us.

Finally, not a question, but thanks so much for imparting all this information and enthusiasm for healthy, natural, delicious, peaceful foods. Much appreciated, and I hope we can do it again sometime.
For sure! This was pretty much what I'm very much suited to, right? Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.