24 February 2010

I saw it on FB

Someone started a group asking whether it'd be nice if they paid you to have fun rather than work.

I don't get it.

I thought that work IS fun.

People often ask what I'd do with unlimited money. I'd travel, surely. I'd make a few investments. I'd probably even get a couple of frivolous things, send some cash to charity, and tie up loose ends here and there. Then?

I'd cook. Then I'd tell people what I'd cooked. Hum. Sound familiar? I'd go on the internet, and research new and interesting ways of making things. Check. I'd continue to tweak my computer and the computers that I come into contact with for maximum performance. I'd keep writing.


Guess I'm a pretty wealthy man then, eh? Why? Because (and don't tell my boss) I'm getting PAID to do what I'd be doing if I didn't have to get paid in the first place. Yes, there are challenges. But at the end of the day, what can you think of that's fun or worth doing, that has no challenge in it? Yes, there are mistakes. But I'm human. Mistakes are what help me learn. If you gave me a million billion dollars, I'd spend a bit first. Then I'd go back to doing what I've been doing all along.

11 February 2010

Lemon Rice Recipe

OK, so I checked the book, and couldn't find lemon rice in it to save my life! Noooooo! Sorry guys. Here's a guesstimation of the recipe. You may want to adjust it to your own needs. I'm giving it how I make it on a usual basis. There are many different ways to do it, so your mileage may vary.

Yes, it does freeze wonderfully. To thaw it out, take it from the freezer, give it a good sprinkling of water, and nuke it till it's thawed and hot through and through. This works best with long grain rice that is NOT hot. What my mother (and I) do is to cook the rice in the rice cooker, then spread it out onto a surface to cool off. It doesn't need to get cold, but it needs to be cooled down so that you can easily mix it with your hands.

Do not skip that step. If you mix the rice when the rice is piping hot, you'll end up with mashed rice, and that's not pleasant for anyone. The ideal consistency of the rice is a little on the soft side, but still separate. To do this in a rice cooker, add in slightly more water than the amount of rice you're using calls for. It's just a scootch more than usual (maybe a 1/4 cup of total extra water for four cups of rice). It'll get your rice to that slightly chewy consistency, but the rice won't be mushy.

Finally, the best way to mix it all together is with your hands. Any stirring or serving utensil will mush the rice too much. With your hands, you can gently break up large clumps of rice into individual grains. To do this correctly, pick up the large clump of rice, and place it between your two palms. Gently make a rubbing motion, as if you were trying to warm up your hands slowly. Rub back and forth over the surface of the rice clump, and watch the grains magically separate without getting mushy! No fork or spoon would do that.

The substitutions I'm making here are in concession to the fact that most people aren't using the same brand of sesame oil that I'd be able to get in Chennai (Idhayam, for those who are curious). Instead, I use the hulled sesame seeds to approximate the flavour. Hulled sesame seeds are the typical ones you'll find in the store. They have a shiny smooth surface. Unhulled sesame is fine, if that's what you have. They come in black or light brown, and have a coarse outside. If you're using unhulled sesame seeds (light brown) or unhulled black sesame seeds, add them in with the cumin.

Yes, you can use brown rice, but I feel like it's never as separate as white rice. This isn't an every day food. Splurge and have the white rice. Brown rice with mixed spiced rice dishes (coconut rice, tomato rice, lemon rice, tamarind rice, etc.) is pretty nasty, but I'm not going to stop you if you absolutely insist on having it with brown rice.

4 cups of long grain white rice, cooked and cooled on a plate or cookie sheet
2 tablespoons peanut, canola, or corn oil (NOT sesame oil)
1/2 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon hulled sesame seeds
2 stalks curry leaves (optional; do not ask what to substitute. If you don't have them, don't use them, full stop.)
1 handful of peanuts, cashews, or slivered almonds (optional)
1 piece of ginger, about the length of your thumb, grated (NOT peeled)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Juice of 1 lemon + zest
Salt, to taste (I usually end up sprinkling on a generous bit with the cooking rice, but the final dish often has so much flavour that I don't even miss it when I forget to add salt)

Traditional Method:
Cook the rice using your favourite method. I trust my rice cooker, and will default to that.

When the rice is down to room temperature, start making the spice blend.

In a deep pot, heat up the oil. It won't hurt anything if you add a bit of extra fat, because it'll just give the rice a nicer flavour. You want the oil to get very hot, to the point of smoking. Not smoking hard, but when a small wisp of smoke escapes the surface of the fat, you know you're golden.

Add the mustard seeds, and STOP. They will begin to heat up, and pop and crackle like mad. This is very good. If the mustard seeds do not pop, they will taste just awful. Wait for the mustard seeds to pop well before adding anything else, as they take the longest to cook. If you don't hear popping, the oil is not hot enough. Wait until you hear a wild, crazy popping crescendo, and then subside a bit. Then you know the fat is ready for the next step.

Add the cumin seeds, and wait for them to pop as did the mustard seeds.

Here is where the roads will diverge. If you have hulled sesame seeds, wait for the cumin seeds to subside in their popping before adding the sesame seeds, then add the sesame seeds, and allow them to pop. If you do not have hulled sesame seeds, and are using unhulled brown or black sesame seeds, add the sesame seeds at the same time as the cumin. If you have hulled split urad daal, this would be the time to add it. Most people don't have it, so I haven't included it in the list. However, if you do have the stuff, bonus!

While this mad popping is going down, feel free to stir the pot with a wooden spoon, or lift it up from the flame, and swirl it about gently.

This first step takes about a minute in total, once the fat gets hot. It happens extremely fast. If it's not happening quite so fast, your fat is not hot enough. Traditionally, you would add the asafoetida to the mix once the last spice has begun to subside, but in this case, I'm leaving it out, because most people can't even pronounce it, much less stock it in their spice cabinet. Just know that if you have the stuff, now's the time to whip it out.

Once the sesame seeds pop (they really don't need to pop completely, as the cumin and mustard seeds did), add your curry leaves if you have them. If you don't have them, just skip this step. In all honesty, the bulk of the flavour is coming from the lemon and the other spices anyway.

If you have nuts, add them after the curry leaves. Again, this is a purely optional (although deeply delicious) step. Don't fret if you don't have them around, as there have been times when the only thing separating my lemon rice from regular rice is the hint of sourness that I got in there somehow (more on that later).

Once the nuts are toasted (if you added them, otherwise, pretend you're doing this right after the sesame seeds), add the turmeric. Stir it through well, and make sure that the turmeric cooks for about 30 - 45 seconds over the heat. If it doesn't cook well, turmeric has a horrible taste. Finally, add the grated ginger, and turn off the heat. Ginger cooks extremely quickly, and does not require the flame to be on. Slam on the lid, and walk away from the stove. The ginger will cook in the residual heat.

While you wait for the ginger to "cook", zest and juice your lemon. Feel comfortable in knowing that your ginger and spices won't burn, because the stove is off. Life is good.

Open the lid of the spice pot, and pour in the lemon juice and lemon zest. The heat from the pot and spices will give it just enough to bring out the maximum lemon flavour. Stir the spices and juice together. Evenly sprinkle the spice/oil/juice mixture over the cooling rice. Take some rice up into the spice pot, and swirl it around to get out every last bit of that spice blend that you worked so quickly to make. Before tossing everything, give the rice a gentle sprinkling of salt.

Now, with your hands (wear gloves if you've got a recent manicure, as the turmeric will stain) toss the rice gently with the spice blend. You will know that the salt is evenly mixed through when all of the rice is evenly coloured yellow by the turmeric. Neat trick, right?

Variations There are many times when the situation is less than ideal. I may have forgotten to buy the lemons, or the lemon juice, and I've got all of a teaspoon of the stuff lying around. I can't find my ginger, because I used it in something else in a fit of inspiration. I used up the last of the nuts the night before while sitting on my duff, and watching Golden Girls. Either way, life can sometimes end up in ways you don't want for it to end up.

1) If I'm running extremely low on lemon juice, I sprinkle in a small dab of citric acid (which can be found in bulk in most Indian stores) to amp up the lemony taste. Citrc acid keeps forever, and is good for when I've not got the time to make lemons happen.

2) I was once at my friend Mikeypod's house. We wanted lemon rice, but he didn't have time to cook rice ahead of time. Instead of panicking, I used the pilaf method. After cooking the ginger (on high heat), I added in the rice, and gently tossed it through till it was transluscent. This took the better part of two or three minutes, but it was worth it, as it smelled of gently spiced nuts. Once the rice was tossed through, I added the amount of water that the rice needed, and let the water come to a full rolling boil. I slammed on the lid, and turned down the heat to as low as the stove would go, and let it cook through for about 25 minutes. It was done to perfection.

3) When I run out of ginger, I don't panic at all. That's when I slide in a few cloves of smashed garlic, or a bit of chopped onion. As I come from a Brahmin house, this is strictly Not Done, but seeing as how my family does eat garlic and onion, many of those recipes are done from tradition or not having garlic or onion lying around. These days, however, I find that it's easier to keep garlic or onion in stock than ginger, which tends to turn on me rather quickly.

03 February 2010

Off days

Not only was my phone out of batteries all day, I’d also managed to leave the charger at home. Mind you, I did have a secondary wall charger, but I took that one home during the move earlier this week, because I couldn’t find the regular one that I had at home. Then, to top it off, I’d also managed to leave my keys in the office. Hot.

Oh. And my wireless headphones went silent, because I hadn’t charged their batteries in days, but had been using them with my ipod on the way to and from work (40 minutes each way total time from door to door), as well as for about an hour or so before sleeping to get myself to sleep easier. Also, I almost left my hat on the train.

All was not lost, however. I noticed that I left my keys behind when I was still at the train station that takes me back downtown on express (at the 168th street A stop, which goes 168th st, 145th st, 125th st, 59th, 42nd, 34th, 14th, then West 4, which is where I need to exit to get to work. It’s really not that much of a bad trip, especially when I have a book with me to amuse myself.

I also managed to snag the downtown train just as it was pulling into the station, so there was barely any waiting to speak of. Best of all, I found my keys in the office, sitting right where I’d left them, put them back in my bag, and went back to the subway station to catch the train home. Still better is that I have an unlimited pass to ride the subway, so none of these rides cost me anything extra. And of course, best still is that when I do get home, it’ll be nice and warm, I have a fridge that’s reasonably stocked with food, and I’ve got some lovely new spices to put away, because Puppy went to replenish my stocks the other day.

All in all, not a failure of a day.

01 February 2010

Pictures of my new apartment.

For the record, the apartment we moved into is a prewar. The ceilings are extremely high, the detail on the walls and floors are fairly nice, and the walls are extremely thick. Some of my friends asked me for pictures of my new digs, so I obliged yesterday, when Puppy and I got cracking on setting the thing up. It was so much work, but it was well worth it, in my opinion.

The other thing about moving that I've noticed is that your entire life is pretty much on front street. All those little things that you thought you'd forgotten about in the recesses of your house come back to haunt you, and all the people helping you to pack have a pretty clear view of your dirty laundry (be it literal or metaphorical). It's a weird experience, because rarely does every intimate thing you own come up for scrutiny.

It was OK though, because the friends helping us to move have known us a long time, and don't really judge. They know how many spices I have hiding in the nooks and crannies of my pantry. They're well aware that I own many pairs of shoes. Seeing six large garbage bags full of clothing didn't manage to shock anyone at all.

Then there was all the stuff that you'd been meaning to fix, but never got around to. I decided to get rid of all such things, because if I haven't done so in two years, what makes me think that I'll do it now? Nothing at all. Out the broken clothes, electronics, etc. went. I also did a serious thinking about the dishes that we actually use in day-to-day life. The ceramic plates and such went away, to be replaced by the stainless steel dishes we use all the time. The glass tumblers were replaced by stainless steel as well.

I guess that ideally, I'd be OK with living in one apartment for many years, and not have to do this. However, having this forcible move thing going down means that I need to take stock, and seriously consider what needs to come with me, and what can be left behind. I'm happy to say that I managed to get the stuff I really did want, and leave behind the rest.