Monday, November 20, 2017

Catching Up, and a Quick Vietnamese Curry

There's been a lull on One Hot Stove for almost two months. Too much fun in real life; not enough time for blog-land. Some highlights from the last couple of months-

Kids: Our toddler is about 16 months old now and what an age this is- utterly adorable and exhausting. If you can imagine a cross between a monkey and a puppy, that's what our Niam is like. He loved playing with his big sister and chasing our hapless and very patient Duncan. There's never a dull moment with these three around.

Halloween: Lila decided months ago that she wanted to dress up as a bumblebee. We found bumblebee costumes for both her and her toddler brother. V dressed up as a beekeeper- wearing painter's overalls bought at the hardware store and a real beekeeper's hat (borrowed from a neighbor) on which I sewed plastic bee buttons. I made two giant flowers made from tissue paper and carried them as a prop. It was a really fun family costume.

Fall break: We took the kids to Chattanooga, Tennessee for Fall break- and what a scenic city it is. The Tennessee river runs right through the city and is criss crossed by several bridges, including a very cool pedestrian bridge. There are parks and play fountains and an old-fashioned carousel. There's a children's museum and a well-designed aquarium that does not have captive whales and performing dolphins. This is just a lovely city to visit with young kids.

Fabric baskets: My sewing machine has been entirely neglected since Mr. Baby came along. I dusted it off and took a Saturday morning workshop to learn how to make fabric baskets. You start with cotton clothesline, wrap fabric strips around it and then coil and sew the clothesline in a basket shape using the zigzag stitch on the sewing machine. It was very enjoyable to learn a new project that was surprisingly doable without the typical beginner frustration, and even meditative to make.



Working on working out: I think the last post I wrote finally motivated me to take some action. I renewed my gym membership and started going to ballet classes again, twice a week. It is making me so happy to be doing ballet again- I love the challenge, the grace and the technical rigor of ballet. I'm trying out all sorts of things- running a little, walking a lot, swimming a bit, looking into strength training classes- brainstorming ways to get a good fitness routine into place. I hope 2018 will be the year when I hit my stride. Also last month, my friend who is a physical therapist conducted a workshop- a series of 3 sessions on postnatal physical therapy to improve core stability. It was a great learning experience although the take home message was that core stability is not an easy fix.

* * *
Our dinner last night was a quick Vietnamese curry.  I love the mellow, yellow, creamy coconut based curries in Vietnamese restaurants. Most of the ones I've eaten have thick chunks of potato, carrot and tofu. I started making these at home after I tried a recipe from Veggie Belly.

The only specialty ingredient you need here is Ca Ri Ni An Do, the mild and bright yellow (turmeric-heavy) Vietnamese curry powder you see here which I found quite easily in my local Asian store. It is called Madras Curry Powder, because what could be more Vietnamese than a Madras curry? Food knows no boundaries.

My curry is not authentic or anything; I did not have lemongrass and I just used whatever veggies I had on hand. It turned out very tasty and satisfying for Sunday supper on a chilly Fall evening though.

Vietnamese Veggie Tofu Curry


1. Cut a block of extra firm tofu into bite sized cubes. Pan fry them with salt and pepper until golden. Set aside.

2. Heat some oil and saute some onion, then stir fry whatever vegetables you have on hand. I used half a head of cabbage, a red bell pepper and a box of sliced mushrooms.

3. When veggies are nearly tender, add 2 heaped tbsp. Ca Ri Ni An Do curry powder (or more to taste), a splash of soy sauce and saute for a couple of minutes.

4. Add a can of coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes.

5. Taste the curry and adjust flavors with more soy sauce if needed, and some sugar and lime juice.

6. Add the fried tofu and plenty of minced cilantro. The curry is done.

Your turn- tell me what you've been up to the last couple of months! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Raita Dip and "The Weight Loss Trap"

Happy Fall, y'all. And hopefully, goodbye to hurricane season. We in Northern Georgia were predicted to be in the path of Hurricane Irma last week as it moved inland. As it turns out, the storm deflected West and we were just outside the path. Even being outside the path, and even with Irma being downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it got near here, we got winds, torrential rains, massive trees were felled and power lines were down. Schools were closed for 3 days. Traffic lights weren't working. By some miracle, we didn't lose power, but most of my neighbors were without power for up to 4 days. I can't begin to imagine how hard life must be for people who were directly hit by the hurricanes.

The weather is slowly cooling down in these parts. Today's recipe is an uncomplicated dressing/dip inspired by Indian raitas or yogurt-based salads. You simply stir together a few basic ingredients, and then pair the dressing with any cooked or raw vegetables of your choice.

Raita Dip

1 cup yogurt (I used a combination of Greek yogurt and homemade dahi)
2-3 tbsp. crushed roasted peanuts
1 tsp. cumin-coriander powder
Salt to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Plenty of minced cilantro

Stir together and store in a covered container for 2-3 days. Use as a dip or a salad dressing.


While making golden adais, I impulsively grabbed some of this raita dip and a box of salad greens from the fridge. The combination turned out to be fantastic. Spread a tablespoon or two of the dip on the adai and add a handful of salad greens. Roll up and enjoy right away. Especially in summer, this was a cool, light and refreshing meal.
* * *

Back in February, I wrote about being back to square one in terms of eating and exercising habits. Summer rolled by and we had a very happy and busy time with friends and family visiting for four solid months. And this week, at the start of Fall, I find myself...drum roll, please...still at square one!

So much of my daily well-being and happiness is linked to one factor: my energy level. On days when I am full of energy, life is easy and good- I can run around with my kids, I take pleasure in getting chores done, and I can do everything I need and want to, for myself and others. On days when my energy flags, even the ordinary routine feels like climbing a mountain.

Thinking of how to keep up my energy level consistently has me thinking about the trifecta of diet, exercise and sleep. We're slowly getting better at this whole sleeping thing, and I'm doing what is in my hands- which is to get to bed early, ready and eager to grab what sleep I can. As for exercise, I'm walking as much as I can- with some combination of the toddler in a stroller, the dog on a leash, and the kindergartner tagging along, since all 3 of them love being outside. But I know that I need to sit with my calendar and pencil in some formal exercise time- swimming laps, and classes at the gym. I need that kind of structured exercise; it did me a world of good the last time I fit it into my life. As far as diet goes, I know what works for me and I just have to get back into the routine of doing it.


Time Magazine had an interesting article this summer titled The Weight Loss Trap. I read it because I'm interested in the topic in general, and also because I have about 15 lbs of pregnancy weight gain that's clinging on and weighing me down, quite literally. I'm jotting down some of my notes from this article:

-Exercise is critical to good health but studies show that it is not an especially reliable way to keep off body fat.

-Individual responses to diets vary enormously. The key to weight loss is to personalize it and to find your own way there. No two people lost weight in quite the same way.

-Among people who lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off, the one commonality was that they made changes to their everyday behaviors.

-A person quoted in the article said, "Ultimately, I fell in love with taking care of myself". This resonated with me- my own life improved dramatically once I stopped thinking of diet and exercise as this awful thing, and instead started experimenting for ways to make it enjoyable and effective.

-The same person said, "My advice is to focus on each day...weight loss is a journey, not a sprint". Again, solid advice and a plea against doing anything drastic and unsustainable.

-When you lose weight, your resting metabolism slows down- so there is a biological obstacle to losing weight, and it is easy to gain back the weight that is lost. This is a sobering fact.

-We don't fully understand weight loss and gain. Weight gain could be influenced by environmental factors and by our microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that live in and on our bodies.

-Most people don't need to lose massive amounts of weight, to become "skinny" or fit some perfect size, to be healthy. For most people, a 10% weight loss (eg. a 150 lbs person losing 15 lbs) is enough to produce noticeable improvements in health, such as blood sugar control and blood pressure.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Whole Masoor Amti

Have you ever watched those "Where are they now?" TV specials where they track down the cast of some popular show from a bygone era and catch up on what the actors are doing decades later? I've been playing the "Where are they now?" game with about 40 of my high school friends. A couple of months ago, we had a virtual reunion on a group text messaging app. Before then, I had only been in touch with about 4 of them. So to suddenly hear dozens of old friends chattering away now on a daily basis, after a passage of over two decades, is wonderful and disorienting. With every photo, I gasp and marvel at pictures of smiling, confident women (yes, all women, I went to an all-girls' school), often posing with partners and kids, and remember them vividly all the way from the cute early grades to the gawky teenage years. Now some of us are mothers to teenagers- how is this even possible?! Where does the time go? And are you officially middle aged when you start saying things like where does the time go? 

From our graduating class in a small town, we now find ourselves living very diverse lives across the globe. In this unsettling world we live in, it is truly a blessing to know that old friends are only a text away and I am waiting to see them all in person as we cross paths during our travels. Groups chats are a funny thing- there are the constant streams of good morning messages (with requisite pictures of baskets of flowers and landscape scenes) and birthday and anniversary greetings (with requisite emojis of bouquets, cakes and confetti) plus random inspirational videos, quotations and forwarded jokes that I would rather do without. But we always welcome enticing pictures of food accompanied by recipes. One friend posted a video titled 15 most loved dishes in Kolhapur and it set off mad cravings in the group for some assal (true blue) Kolhapuri food. 7 of them are mutton dishes- that's nearly 50%! But what can I say? That percentage is an accurate reflection of the truth. Vegetarians like me are regarded with pity in Kolhapur.

Right after watching the video, one of my friends (now a Mumbai resident) changed her dinner menu and immediately made #14 on the list in the video- akkha masoor or whole lentil curry. She shared her recipe and several of us in the group made it in the days following- a tasty meme, so to speak.

My classmate's recipe is interesting, in that it is very heavy on onions, indeed, it has very little but onions and masoor. Her lovingly hand-written recipe (see the picture) calls for 7-8 onions which sounds like rather a lot, but these are the smaller, typical shallot-like onions found in India. A classmate in California piped up and said that the onions she buys are 2-3 inches wide, so should she be using that many? Which immediately led other classmates to rib her, "You never even brought a ruler to school, and now you're taking one to the market?" This is what you get with old friends.



Here is the recipe, adapted to my kitchen. There are many ways of making this dish, and this onion-heavy, tomato-less, no-coconut variation is new to me. We enjoyed it very much.

Whole Masoor Amti (Niki's recipe)


Soak 2 cups masoor (whole brown lentils) for a few hours.

Heat 3-4 tbsp. oil in a pressure cooker. Fry 2-3 finely chopped onions in the oil until browned and caramelized. Add the soaked masoor, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin and coriander powder, all to taste. Add 2-3 cups of water and pressure cook until masoor is tender.

Tempering: In a small pan, heat 2 tbsp. oil and 2 tbsp. ghee. Add 1 tbsp. cumin seeds, 2 finely chopped onions and 2 finely chopped green chilies (or to taste). Saute until the onions are browned, then add this mixture to the cooked masoor and simmer for 10 minutes.

Are you in touch with your school friends? 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Summer Eating and Summer Reading

Our most exciting edible find of summer 2017 was not discovered in the produce section or even the Farmers' Market. It was foraged from rather damp and dank spaces in our own wooded neighborhood.

It was a very rainy summer here in North East Georgia, and conditions were just right for thousands of golden chanterelle mushrooms to pop up in wooded clearings. Lila and V foraged chantarelles by the armful on their morning walks, filling the stroller basket with their bounty. Back home, V cleaned and cooked them very simply in butter and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper. We ate them straight out of the pan, on toast with brie, and tossed with pasta. Chanterelles taste earthy and woodsy and very gourmet- a thrilling treat straight from nature.



Other memorable summer treats-

Very Southern tomato sandwiches. This is a slab of focaccia spread with mayo, fresh tomato slices and a shower of salt and pepper.



Watermelon limeade- cubes of watermelon, lime juice and some crushed ice blended together for a few seconds in the Vitamix. It tastes exactly like fresh sugarcane juice if you can believe it.

Fresh figs shared by a coworker from her backyard fig tree, and briny boiled peanuts.



Our drink of the season: whole fruit margaritas made in the Vitamix. This might be my favorite cocktail of all time- cheers!

* * *

The Mother Daughter Love Fun Club

Over summer, I realized with some dismay that between never-ending household tasks and tending to baby, I couldn't carve out enough one-on-one time with Lila on a daily basis. She's getting to the age where she would enjoy a parent reading "big kid" chapter books to her so I suggested that we start a mother daughter book club and snuggle and read a few chapters every day. Lila loved the idea but wanted to call it the Mother Daughter Love Fun Club so we could do more than just read- we could include art, board games and other activities in our super exclusive, invitation-only club.

I've really enjoyed the chapter books we've read so far. Some were sweet and touching with plenty of opportunities to talk about the ups and downs of life, such as The Chalk Box Kid by Clyde Robert Bulla and My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz. Others are just plain hilarious, such as Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo and Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week by Caroline Adderson. Andrew Lost: In the Kitchen by J C Greenburg has enough grossness to satisfy a giggling 5 year old. All of these books are new to me; as a kid, I could only dream of libraries stuffed with books. What fun it is to discover these books with my little girl.

Another summer favorite in the South-
saucer sized Magnolia flowers with their heady scent

* * *

The bedtime reading habit

Without really planning to, I have slipped into the habit of reading for 20-30 minutes before bed every night. It is one of the simple joys in life to be propped up in bed reading by the warm glow of a bedside lamp, often with Dunkie the pup resting against me. It also provides a much needed screen-free buffer before bedtime. I read from my stack of library books, or a recent issue of The New Yorker or another less weighty magazine plucked from the informal magazine exchange at the public library.

I describe the blissful start to the night's rest; however, things rapidly go downhill around the midnight mark and most of our nights could not be described as blissful. The culprit is the baby boy who wakes up complaining several times at night- the number of night wakings and the timing of night wakings all vary from night to night, keeping us stumbling around on our bleary toes. So it is only fitting that on the top of my stack is Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents by Alexis Dubief (2017- I literally bought it the day it was published). I do like the book- it is comprehensive and full of practical advice, written with intelligence and humor, however, whether it magically solves our sleep issues, only time will tell.

When I wrote this post, someone suggested that I read the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (2009). I did and I enjoyed reading it. The author acknowledges that "Simplification is for those of us whose lives are characterized less by need than by want" and offers plenty of advice on simplifying various aspects of a child's life: decluttering their rooms and rotating toys so kids can engage in deep play, maintaining daily and weekly rhythms and routines to keep a child feeling secure, limiting scheduled activities and giving kids plenty of down time, and shielding children from the relentless anxieties and pressures of the adult world. 

My favorite fiction summer reading: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2017). Anthony Horowitz is the brilliant screenwriter for two of my favorite TV mysteries- Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders. Magpie Murders is a delicious read- two mysteries in one- and I highly recommend it for all fans of the cozy mystery genre. 

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2004) is a well-crafted psychological thriller and a rollercoaster of a read- very enjoyable indeed.

I also read a memoir, Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014), enjoyed her take on the Hollywood biz, loved reading about her childhood and how she got started in comedy, and the essay on motherhood was beautiful. Amy Poehler is so fearless and talented and at least once a day I mimic her SNL weekend update sketch and say, "Really???"

Every summer, NPR comes out with a "best 100 books" list focusing on a different genre every year. This year, it was 100 best comics and graphic novels. I am a fairly new but very enthusiastic reader of graphic novels and plan to read most of these in the coming months. So far, I've read Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire (2010)- a fascinating, disturbing post-apocalyptic tale. 

What have you been reading? 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Malai Gobi: A Restaurant Style Recipe

Over the last couple of months, we have had short and long visits from several family members and the kitchen has been bustling. Planning everyday meals for an ever changing cast of people of different ages and tastes is a bit of a challenge- a balancing act between making something new and different and "interesting" but making it with familiar and well-liked ingredients.

Cauliflower is a staple of my vegetable bin and I hunted around in my Pinterest folder for a new way to cook it. I found just what I was looking for- an easy to make but luxurious curry, and dinner that evening was a hit. The credit for this recipe goes straight to Vaishali of Holy Cow. Check out her blog for often Indian, always vegan, always fresh and accessible recipes.

I tweaked Vaishali's recipe for malai gobi a little bit. I don't have a picture but I do want to record my version of the recipe so here it is. This is one of those restaurant style recipes that you can pull off quite effortlessly. The rich, sweet, nutty sauce is finger-licking good.

Malai Gobi- a creamy cauliflower curry

1. Soak 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces for 30 minutes or so.

2. Saute 2 diced medium onions in oil.

3. Blend together to a thick smooth paste:
Sauteed onions from step 2
Soaked cashews from step 1 (with soaking water)
1 heaped tbsp. white poppy seeds (khus khus)
1-2 green chilies
1/2 cup milk (any unsweetened milk will do- dairy/ coconut/ almond)

4. Heat oil in a large saucepan and saute cauliflower florets from 1 medium head of cauliflower. Add salt to taste.

5. When florets are half cooked, add the onion-nut paste and 1 tbsp. kasuri methi. Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, stirring occasionally.

6. Turn off the heat and garnish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of garam masala*.

*The masala I often use for such curries is what my mother calls "Punjabi masala", a very simple yet flavorful blend of just 3 spices: cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.

What new and interesting recipes have you been cooking lately? :) 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Zucchini Chutney for Idlis

Among gardening types (sadly, I am not a member of that club), it is well known that come summertime, zucchini is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it grows in such abundance with relatively little effort, and a curse because you have to come up with ways to use up the abundant zucchini. The zucchini bumper crop is apparently such a phenomenon that August 8 is designated as National Sneak Some Zucchini Into Your Neighbor’s Porch Day. Mark your calendars!


I kind of had zucchini snuck into my porch by my neighbor already in July- she was leaving on a long overseas vacation and texted me to say would I please use up her crisper vegetables so they won't be wasted. Of course I gratefully accepted, and next thing I know, her kid is hoisting a bucketload of zucchini onto my back porch- harvested from neighbor's mother's garden in Southern Georgia.


So zucchini found itself in everything from dal to tacos that week. Certain dishes lend themselves to endless adaptation and chutney is prime among them. That's how four specimens found themselves being given the Southern treatment of a different kind.

Zucchini Chutney- South Indian Style


Chop 4 large zucchini into large pieces. I peeled mine and removed the seeds because my zucchini were tough mature ones but you don't need to do this if the zucchini are tender.

Chop a small onion into large pieces.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Saute the onion and zucchini with salt until the veggies are tender. Let them cool slightly.

Grind the following to a smooth chutney in a powerful blender or food processor:
Cooked onion and zucchini
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
2-3 tbsp. sesame seeds
1-2 tbsp. tamarind concentrate
1 tsp. jaggery
1 tsp. red chili powder
Salt to taste.

Make a tempering (tadka/ phodni) by heating oil and spluttering:
Mustard seeds
Asafetida (hing)
Chana dal
Urad dal
Curry leaves.

Stir the hot tempering into the chutney. Serve with idlis or dosas.

We loved this impromptu chutney! Now if zucchini was a rare, exotic and expensive vegetable as it is in some places, I wouldn't blitz it into a chutney. But when it is abundant and needs to be used up, this is an excellent way to do it.

What vegetables and fruits are in season in your neck of the woods? The kids are loving watermelon and peaches. My parents are visiting and enjoying fresh cherries. 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Five-Layer Sev Puri Dip

Chaat-- that whole family of spicy, sweet, tangy Indian street food- is hard to describe but easy to love. I am going through a sev puri phase of some kind; almost every time we host a gathering or when friends or neighbors stop by, the snack that I am most likely to rustle up for them is a plate of sev puri. It never fails to delight. "What's in this?", folks ask incredulously- and that is precisely the magic of chaat. Chaat dishes have many components- a bit of this and a bit of that- that all add up to more than the sum of the parts.

My version of last-minute sev puri starts with a jar of thick sweet-tangy date and tamarind chutney that I make ahead of time and pull out from the fridge or freezer as needed. So let's take a step back and make the chutney.

I've posted date tamarind chutney before in this post but here's another version, slightly updated. Dates are a staple in my fridge- I usually buy the soft pitted mejdool or deglet varieties. I use them for this chutney, and to make smoothies and fruit-and-nut treats.

Date and Tamarind Chutney

Place 1 cup packed pitted soft dates in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover the dates. Add 1 tsp salt, 1/4 cup jaggery and 1/4 cup tamarind concentrate.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Cool a bit, then place mixture in blender and blend to a smooth paste.
Stir in 1 tsp. cumin-coriander powder and 1/2 tsp. red chilli powder (optional).

I store this mixture in jars in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for 2-3 months. With this chutney ready, a plate of sev puri is only a few minutes away. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I shall let you decide ;)

To store the date chutney, I often reuse sturdy screw-top Talenti gelato containers. If certain ice cream thieves come snooping into the freezer late at night and dip a spoon into a frozen pint that says "dark chocolate" on the front, they will find themselves tasting dates and tamarind instead. Mmm :)

Regular(ish) Sev Puri

Sev puri topping can be made a few hours ahead of time. My twist to the traditional toppings is to use another pantry staple- a can of chickpeas in addition to the usual potatoes and onions.

To make the topping, start by boiling 2 medium potatoes (Yukon gold potatoes are the preferred variety in my kitchen).

Mix together 2 peeled and mashed boiled potatoes, a drained can of chickpeas (or 1 cup or two of home-cooked chickpeas), also roughly mashed, 1 small minced onion, a large handful of minced cilantro, salt and red chili powder to taste. This topping mix can be stored in the fridge for a few hours.

When you're ready to serve sev puri...

1. Set out round tortilla chips in a platter. I use tortilla chips because I can access them easily but use regular sev puri puris if you can find them and prefer them.

2. Top each chip with a half tablespoon or so of the topping.

3. Add a dollop of the date and tamarind chutney.

4. Finish with a shower of sev (fried chickpea noodles), sold in Indian stores.

Five-Layer Sev Puri Dip

We hosted a large gathering recently, and it wasn't practical to make platter after platter of sev puris for 25 guests. I remembered Mints' Indian dabeli dip from several years ago and adapted it to make a sev puri dip- same taste as sev puri but a different format to feed a crowd.

I made the date tamarind chutney a few days ahead of time. The day before the party, I sprouted and cooked a couple of cups of moth beans (matki)- other sprouts such as moong would work as well. I also boiled a few potatoes. Then I made the layers as follows in a glass baking dish:


Layer 1: Boiled mashed salted potatoes
Layer 2: Date tamarind chutney
Layer 3: Cooked sprouts
Layer 4: Minced onion and cilantro
Layer 5: Sev (add at the last possible minute to keep it crunchy)

Serve with tortilla chips. This dip was a hit!

I usually don't make the "teekha chutney"- the spicy mint cilantro green chili chutney but it would be a nice addition to this dip, especially if your friends enjoy spicy food.

Do you have any go-to party snacks? Share your ideas in the comments!