22 March 2012

Sometimes low-tech works.

I was making an excel spreadsheet to track sales at work. Each day has two shifts. This means that I need to create a series of dates, duplicated. For example, there would be two entries for 3/1/2012, two for 3/2/2012, and so on. I was trying to figure out how to make the software do that for me.

I tried googling the issue, I tried searching the help files, I tried everything.

Then, someone suggested I try this. "Create the dates for the range that you need. Then duplicate the dates. Then put the dates in the same column. Then sort by date. Tada!"

It took a fraction of a second for it to sink in that something so obvious should have occurred to me in the beginning, but never did. I'm so used to the software making it happen for me that I'd forgotten the low-tech methods of doing things sometimes work just as well.

17 March 2012

The sun will come out! Tomorrow!

And today, too. It was so beautiful today that I got in a good two or three hours of basking in the gorgeous sun. I made adai for my friend who's staying with me until Monday, and a very fast curry of yucca, green beans, and tomato. We all ate until we were filled, and then finished it off with a bit of green oolong tea, from Sullivan Street Tea & Spices. They sell loose tea by the ounce, which means that I can buy just a little bit at a time, and use it up, and then go back for more.

I got some lovely messages of encouragement and hope, which really did help my mood tremendously. Also, I cooked for my friends yesterday night, which made it even nicer. It's such a nice day that I don't even mind opening the window and letting a bit of fresh air in.

I could certainly get used to this!

One of the ladies who came over for lunch took a picture of her plate of food so you could all see it too: http://instagr.am/p/ISL5sOk6f9/

Pretty, isn't it? The white stuff is my own coconut & soy milk yoghurt that I make. Isn't it so nice and thick? We ate the adai with the curried veg, the yoghurt, and some lime pickle that I'd made earlier last year. It's gotten this lovely tartness, mellowed out by a mild bitterness. It came out better than I expected. Thanks for teaching me how to make pickles, Amma. It's come in handy big time.

Here's a picture of two very happy vegans after eating all that food:

16 March 2012

Do you get thrown off balance by weather?

I know I do.

I remember going to these 3-day anti-bigotry camps (both as a participant and as a counsellor). The youths would arrive mostly with feelings of fear and mild annoyance at the lack of basic amenities (the water smelled horrific, the food was just passable, and we weren't allowed TV, radio, headphones, mobile phones, or any other electronic device), and would leave not wanting to go home. More times than I can count, the last day would be raining. It's almost like the overall sadness was bringing out the worst in the weather.

The obverse tends to happen to me, without my even realising it. If it's damp and drizzly, I tend to feel low and mopey as well. Today is one such day, and I'm fighting the urge to give in to the malaise. It's tough though.

When it's bright and the sun is out, I'm generally in a good mood, and filled with energy. Even on those days when it's hot and the sun is out, I can find deep stores of pep inside me, and keep going. Cold weather makes me want to hibernate. And overcast, slightly drizzly days make me feel dragged down, big time.

If it's a proper storm, however, like we used to get back in Florida, I don't seem to have that same problem. I love to throw open the windows, smell the fresh breezes coming in, and listen to the claps of thunder and watch the flashes of lighting. The sheer vigour with which a proper rainstorm plies its craft is energising.

But today is drizzly, and I shall try my best to stay positive. Somehow.

14 March 2012

Let's Make Pesarattu

This is what it looks like when it's cooked:
This is what it looks like when you first put it on the skillet. Notice how there are peaks that are still uncooked, like there were in the adai. When almost all of the peaks are turned to the cooked colour, you're ready to flip.

So you've mastered the dosa. You've knocked out a few adai. Now it's time to go outside of Tamil Nadu, and head over to Andhra Pradesh, where you will find Pesarattu. The recipe I used was loosely based on the #Vachef one, as well as a couple of others I saw.

Andhra is a beautiful state with a long and colourful history, replete with opposites. It's the nest of orthodox Muslims. It's quite a common sight to see a man walking along with a couple of women in full black burqa. It's also the home to very devout Hindus, one of whom built a temple completely out of white marble. Meanwhile, you've got the Charminar less than 10 km away from the Birla Mandir.

The Andhra taste for hot spicy food is legendary. They adore hot chilies in everything, and will generously share their blisteringly hot food with all who visit. There's also a bit of a sweet tooth, with dishes like bobbatulu (a sort of sweet roti), and kajjikayalu (a sweet stuffed with coconut and cardamom; there is nothing about this that sounds bad).

I guess I've always had a soft spot for Hyderebad, because my aunts who live there have an extensive book collection, which they had no problems sharing with me while I was there. You see, I was never a huge fanatic for TV the way some folks are. I'll watch it if there's a cooking show on, or if there's a particularly nice documentary, but TV overall doesn't interest me. Books, on the other hand, are a different story.

Unfortunately, books in India are prohibitively expensive. People with large book collections are rare in the extreme. Comics, on the other hand, are prevalent and plentiful. I remember an aunt of mine in Chennai who had stacks upon stacks of Amar Chitra Katha comics, ranging from the Bhagavad Gita (it was a large multi issue hard bound version) to a bunch of other ones that I can't recall.

It was pleasurable, but nothing quite scratched that reading itch for me like reading actual books. In Hyderebad, I found my oasis. I had read and re-read the books I'd brought with me (something like half my suitcase was crammed with books), and I was going a little out of my mind. My aunt's book collection at that time in my life when I was so hungry for more was exactly what I needed to make that trip pleasant.

But I digress. Onwards to the food!

This recipe makes 4 1/2 10-inch crepes. You may increase or decrease as needed. I made this batch in this manner, because I ran out of rice. Again. Ugh. I made these plain, without onion, because I ran out of onions too. I really need to go shopping.

3/4 cup mung beans, with the skin and everything still on
1/4 cup brown rice
3 TB rice flour
3 green chilies
3 stalks curry leaf
3 inches ginger, chopped roughly
Salt, to taste
2 cups Water, for soaking

In a high-sided container, combine the brown rice and mung beans, and cover with 2 cups of water for soaking. Leave it that way overnight. The next morning, your beans and rice should have absorbed all but about 1 inch of water. This is fine, because you'll be adding some rice flour to thicken anyway.

Using a stick blender (or regular blender), grind the beans, chilies, curry leaf, and ginger together to make a thick batter. Stir through the salt and rice flour. If the batter becomes too thick, add a bit more water, and stir through. Because of the high content of beans, the crepes cohere quite nicely, so don't worry if your batter is thick or thin. It'll be fine.

Just as you do for adai or dosa, spread the batter onto a hot griddle, and sprinkle a few drops of oil on the perimeter of the crepe. Cook on both sides until browned and crispy. Delicious!

Steve took one bite (even though he'd already eaten oatmeal this morning) and moaned in delight. The best part of this for me is that it was all things I had around the house. If you don't have curry leaves or green chiles, just leave it out. The ginger is essential, as the masses of beans in the dish will leave you a bit gassy. The ginger tends to combat that rather well.

13 March 2012

You too can make it!

My friend from an online cooking forum named Kenn decided to try eating all vegan for the month of March as a challenge to himself. He bought a copy of my cook book, and has given some of the recipes a try. He graciously allowed me to show a picture of his efforts here, so that you all can look and enjoy the food photo.

The recipe, if you're curious, is the Eggplant Planks. He explained his process for making them on his blog. If you enjoy my style of cooking with lots of produce and fresh ingredients, and avoiding premade faux meats and the rest, give his blog a look, because he's doing exactly that kind of food. He also takes beautiful pictures of the food.

I wanted to highlight his take on my recipe for a reason: he did exactly what I encourage people to do! He took the recipes as a starting point, then tweaked to his liking until it became something that he could call his own. I never would have thought to add tomato sauce to gravy, but it sounds absolutely delicious! It is by experimenting with what you like in particular and then sharing the results that we all learn about food from each other.

I love getting feedback from my readers who tweak the recipe, because then I learn something new too! Thanks, Kenn. Thanks for the very kind words, and for the beautiful food.

11 March 2012


Adai is a newly discovered thing in my house. My mum used to make it for me when I was a kid, but I didn't appreciate it so much, because I preferred dosa, which really is more kid-friendly. However, as of late, I've been making Pa Jeon, or Besan ka Puda, or those little Paniyaram. All of which are delicious, and all of which challenge my conceptions of what a savoury crepe type dealie should be. I especially was moved to change my mind about adai after eating some of the Besan ka Puda, as it's essentially the same thing, but made from the raw ingredients, and with the chance to ferment a little.

Traditionally, you do not have to ferment an adai batter. That's the charm of it in the first place. You can set the beans and rice to soak, and slap that bad boy onto the griddle immediately. I prefer my crepes a little more fermented, because I like the flavour better, so I decided to ferment. You may choose not to. The choice is yours.

I personally prefer it with the mix that I've come up with. You can actually alter the mix to your own likes and dislikes. If you don't have toor daal, use moong daal. If you don't have either, use split peas, and it'll get you there. The essential part is that you make it with at least equal parts lentil to rice.

Unlike dosa, Adai is not so popular for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it's more expensive by a long shot. Traditional dosa calls for a 4 parts rice to 1 part urad daal mixture. This means that if you buy the cheapest rice, and the urad daal on sale, you can generally knock out a batch for a family of six with very little money. Adai, on the other hand, calls for much higher quantities of lentils. In my version, there are even more lentils than rice!

For another thing, because of the heft and "stuff" found inside of adai, it's not as popular with the kids, who like the diaphanous and crispy dosa, because they don't have much chewing of little bits to get through, and they can easily eat a couple and feel comfortable. An adai, on the other hand, is filling. It tends to be one of those things that you can have one, maybe two of at the most. Because it's so nutritionally dense, you tend to feel full faster, and stay full much longer than if you were to eat a dosa.

Finally, it's not as amenable to being folded over. It's a hefty little crepe. You can't fold it easily like you can a dosa. It doesn't take to fillings so much as it takes to the stuff already folded into the batter.

All that being said, if you don't mind the extra expense of making adai, you will be greatly rewarded. For one thing, it's much easier to handle the batter grinding. Unlike dosa, you need not grind the rice and beans down to a fine puree. You can get away with a bit of grit in the batter. You can also add all kinds of different things to the batter, and still turn out OK. You can sub out part of the rice for oats, or buckwheat, or even millet and still turn out something that's very tasty. You can sub out the daal for actual whole beans, like mung beans or chickpeas, and it'll still be delicious.

You can also fold in an endless variety of add-ons into the batter. Adai batter is extremely forgiving. You have some leftover chopped onions from the main dish you were making? In it goes! You have some extra grated carrots from the salad? Throw it in! You like to boost up the nutrition value by adding ground flax seed (as I did in this recipe; flax seed isn't traditional, but it's most delicious)? The batter will be better! The sky's the limit with regards to the flavouring options.

Add to this the fact that you can serve it with any kind of sauce (mint, cilantro, tamarind-date), chatni (coconut, mango, tomato), or stew (sambhar, rasam, kootu)/vegetable (curry, poriyal) that your brain can think of, and you're talking about a very useful little dish to have on hand.

Bear in mind that I did this to suit my tastes, and you may want to leave out the optional ingredients. Don't worry. I won't be offended! I personally like the addition of the urad daal, because it helps to keep the batter stronger and more coherent. I like the flax seed, because it means that I can thicken the batter after grinding with plenty of water. My blender isn't very powerful, so I need to add extra water to get it all ground down to my liking.

For the batter:

1 1/2 cups brown rice
1 1/2 cups toor daal
1/2 cup urad daal (OPTIONAL)
1 TB fenugreek seed (OPTIONAL)
4 cups water

Soak the ingredients for the batter for 3 hours. If you're adding fenugreek seed, and using brown rice, like I am, soak it for 6 hours, and you'll end up with better results. If you're using urad daal, like I am, please only soak the urad daal for about an hour.

Then, after the soaking process is done, add the mixture into the blender, in 1 cup increments, with about 1 cup of soaking liquid at a time. The reason to go in small batches is so that you don't strain your blender. We're not in a rush here, and this recipe makes a large batch of batter.

At the end of the blending, you'll end up with a batter like the one pictured above.

At this point, if you're using the fenugreek seed, take the batter and set it into a container on your countertop to ferment overnight. If you're not bothering with the fenugreek, don't bother to ferment. The fermentation step is strictly because I like the taste of it, and because I wanted adai for breakfast the next day, and not dinner that night.

When you're ready to fry off the adai on your skillet, you can add in your additions.


1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped ginger
1/4 cup chopped curry leaf
3 green chilies (OPTIONAL)
2 - 3 pinches of asafoetida (OPTIONAL, if not using onion)
1/4 cup flax seed (OPTIONAL)
Any other veg you'd like

Mix the additions into 4 cups of batter, and salt to taste. Grind the flax seeds in a coffee grinder until it's a powder. Stir it into your batter. You'll have a cup or two of leftover batter to use later. The batter will be very thick and should bubble a little bit if you fermented it overnight. If you need to, thin it out with a bit of water. You want it to resemble a thick and chunky pancake batter.

Because I didn't go shopping this week, I didn't have much in the way of additions. I wish I had some coconut to fold in. That would have been lovely. I just added the ginger, onion, and curry leaf.

Using a 1-cup ladle, pour the batter onto a hot skillet (heated over medium high heat), and spread the batter around in concentric circles until it's about 1/4 inch thick. Don't worry about getting it crepe thin. It's never going to be super thin, because of the add-ins. This is OK. I'm using a nonstick skillet, so that I don't have to add very much fat.

Using a squeeze bottle, or a small spoon, put a few drops onto the perimeter of your adai.

When to Flip?

Look at the picture of the adai after it's sat on the skillet for about 30 seconds (click the image if you want a larger version). Notice how most of the surface looks mostly translucent? Notice how some of the "peaks" look a much more opaque white colour? The opaque bits (that I've circled in the image) are still not cooked all the way through. You want the bottom of the adai to be browned, and the top to be almost completely cooked before turning. At this point, I've still got too many uncooked bits, so I'm not going to turn it over yet.

Finally, once the adai is mostly cooked on the side you can see, flip it over, and look at the other side:

Isn't that beautiful? Flip it over a couple of more times until it's browned to your liking, then serve.

06 March 2012

Please, come out.

I wanted to tell you (and Dino)...
A debate started up in my classroom today about gay rights. One of my students took a strong stand against it. I won't repeat what he said, because we've all heard it, and I was thoroughly disgusted. BUT, as I listened, and responded with the 'other side' in as calm a manner as I could manage, it dawned on me...
The most beautiful example of HUMANS I have is you two. So, I told him about two wonderful friends of mine who managed to make me cry for the first time after 13 years. At their wedding. In a church. (Gauntlet thrown, said I. ha.)

Know what he said when I was done? "Ms G, I think you just changed my mind. Because that's awesome."

I just wanted to share how you helped me open at least one very closed mind today.

to you and Dino!

Just got an email from Steve, who saw this on his Facebook wall. I don't have a Facebook, so he forwarded me the message.

I don't know if I've shared this with too many of my readers before, so if it's new, welcome. If it's not, then settle in, because it's something that is important that people know. When you're young and gay, you think you're the only one. Nobody else could possibly understand you, because you don't know any other gay people in your life. Because of the disgusting things that hatemongering people have done over the years to make us feel unwanted, and like there's something wrong with us, we remain silent, and hope that nobody else can tell.

And when injustice happens, we fear to speak out about it, because standing up for gay people would make the nasty people assume that you're gay. So you quietly watch it happening, and say nothing, in the hope that they don't find out about this horrible secret that you are hiding.

It feels so good to be out to the world, and not make any apologies for who I am. Maybe it's not your cup of tea, but I'm not asking you to join in, am I? Katie's letter reminded me one of the reasons that it's so important for me to be out: because if I'm closeted, then I'm invisible, and some other person out there will likely feel invisible too. Some other person who doesn't have my family, or my friends, or my wonderful and loving husband to support and care for and love me. Someone whose family asks him, either explicitly or not, to push that part of himself or herself down. Whose religious leaders ask the same. Whose school administrators wish for the same, so that they don't have to deal with the asshole parents who seem to think that wanting protection for all kinds is some kind of insidious agenda out to corrupt their rotten little spawn.

Maybe some other Indian kid out there, reading things on the Internet, sees that he's not the only one out there. Maybe some other immigrant kid, hoping against hope that he's not alone, can find a bit of solace in knowing that some day, he too can have such wonderful friends, who stand up and interrupt hatred when they see it.

If I weren't out, Katie wouldn't have had the opportunity to have been part of my life, because I'd be so scared of making even so innocuous a thing as a friend that I'd keep myself locked away.

Please, for your sake and the sake of others after you, be out. Be proud of who you are, and what you stand for.

It's late, and I'm mentally clumsy, but I felt like I had to get that little bit of encouragement out there for anyone who can read this.

05 March 2012

Joy is a joy to read!

I just finished (re)reading Joy Tienzo's book, Cook, Eat, Thrive: Vegan Recipes from Everyday to Exotic, and I must say that I'm suitably impressed. Her ever-present kindness and thoughtfulness come through very strongly in her writing. Reading her book is like having a long chat with her, and enjoying her company.

The title says it all: everyday to exotic. She doesn't dumb down the flavours to appeal to boring people. Instead, she dares you to try stuff that you hadn't considered before, in new and exciting ways. With Joy, cooking is an adventure. As soon as I got it (even though I was at work), I started flipping through the pages of the book, and exclaiming in excitement at the delicious food that my boss and I could create.

White beans in mashed potatoes! How brilliant! Samosa soup! Yes yes yes! I'm totally there! Edamame pesto! Why hand't I thought of that before? I keep flipping pages, and exclaiming in surprise and delight, over and over again.

I remember when I first saw Joy posting on the vegan forums that I used to frequent. I saw all the mouth-watering food she'd post, and I'd go and make it, to see that it really does work. Her recipe for Hatian Fried Plantains was a staple in my house when Steve and I were newly married, because it was so tasty and easy to knock up in no time at all. Her ranch dressing has saved countless cows, because I know a couple of folk whom she generously shared the recipe with who were pushed over the vegan edge once they saw they could really make it work. I made her almond crepes (yes, they finally did work, even though my first attempt failed because I misread the recipe), and they're absolutely lovely. Her Moroccan Preserved Lemons are absolutely divine.

Thanks, Joy. Thanks for creating a work of love, and compassion, and beauty. Thanks for continuing to be an inspiration for people to strive for (and achieve) the best that they can. Thanks for being a wonderful, kind, and loving person.