Monday, November 16, 2015

Books, Movies and a Seasonal Dal

A belated Happy Diwali to you all! We had a very quiet Diwali- lighting rows of twinkling tea lights, enjoying a nice family dinner, and feasting on homemade faraal- two types of chivda, anarse, shankarpale, chakli, shev- generously sent by my parents.

I recently completed a pretty mundane home improvement project and was surprised at how much it improved my life: it was simply putting up light blocking curtains on our bedroom windows. When drawn, they make the room pitch dark; I sleep so much more soundly in this cave-like darkness. I put the curtains on rings making it easy to pull them open with a flick of the wrist to let natural light stream in during the day. I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that this has been life-changing. Because I sleep more restfully, I've been motivated to go to bed early (I mean super early, like 8:30 PM, I basically stuck to my usual bedtime even when the clocks turned back) in an attempt to make up for years of sleep deprivation.

Did I just gush over a pair of grey curtains? Yes! LOL!

This early bedtime means I'm not reading as much as I like to, and that's OK. Most days, I just flip through magazines and read an article or two. A couple of the magazines we subscribe to (New Yorker, Science) and the others- more delicious ones like Real Simple and Southern Living and Good Housekeeping- are borrowed from informal magazine exchange racks at my public library and the gym.

I did read two more books from the NPR book list and enjoyed them both: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson. And with that I'm totally done with romance novels for the next decade or so.

Right now, I am reading I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb as part of the read-along for Nonfiction November.

I did watch some good movies on Netflix. My favorite has to be Queen, a 2014 Hindi comedy-drama. A young woman from Delhi is shattered when her fiance calls off their wedding at the last minute, but decides to go on her European honeymoon on her own. This is such a sweet, funny and heart-warming movie. I'm not saying it is perfect- it could easily have been a good 45 shorter for one thing- but there's something about this movie that I really adored.

Another good one was Philomena, a more serious drama starring one of my favorite actors, Judi Dench. She was nominated for an Oscar for this one.

Today's Special is a sweet little foodie movie. I loved the cast of this movie more than the actual storyline. So many beloved actors here.

V and I did something that does not happen often for us- we went to an actual movie theater to see a new release, while our friends watched Lila. It was The Martian and we enjoyed it. Although the last movie we saw in the theater was Interstellar, which also featured Matt Damon stranded on a lonely planet. Deja vu?

As far as TV goes, I've been watching some episodes of Aziz Ansari's Master of None and also some old episodes of 30 Rock, one of my favorite sitcoms. Tina Fey is brilliant.

* * * 
Today's recipe came about serendipitously but the results were particularly enjoyable so I'm recording it here. I was making a simple masoor dal (pink/red lentils), and noticed that there was some mashed sweet potato in the fridge that needed to be eaten soon. On a whim, I added it to the dal and the result was creamy, comforting and perfect for the season. It is always nice to try small variations on everyday dals, and I hope you enjoy this one.

Sweet Potato Dal

1. Soak 1 cup masoor dal for a few hours, and rinse throughly.

2. In the body of a pressure cooker, heat 1 tbsp oil. Temper with 1 tsp. mustard seeds, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, a few curry leaves, a sprinkle of asafetida.

3. Add 1 small minced onion and fry for a couple of minutes. Season with salt to taste, 1 tsp. ginger paste, 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric and 1-2 tsp. of your favorite masala.

4. Add the soaked masoor dal and 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato. Or if you don't have leftover sweet potato, then add small diced raw sweet potato.

5. Add about 3 cups water (or more or less depending on the consistency you like) and pressure cook.

6. Stir the creamy dal, drizzle with lemon juice, chopped cilantro and ghee and serve warm.

What have you been cooking, reading, watching? 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Fall Baking is a Go, and Doggy Tales

The clocks turned back by an hour this past Sunday as we switched back to Eastern Standard Time. The time honored thing to do (no pun intended) is to use that extra hour to sleep in. Since that wasn't an option for me with my little early bird, I did the next best thing and used the extra hour to fire up the oven and get on with Fall baking.

Sunday was also the day when we turned a page on the calendar, and there really was no better way to start off the brand new month of November than to be elbow-deep in pumpkin puree and flour, in a warm kitchen scented with vanilla and cinnamon.

Baking had already started the day before, on Saturday. I did end up making that pumpkin cream cheese roll that I dreamed about for days after watching the Swiss roll episode of the Great British Baking Show and talked about last week. The recipe was from a reliable source, the King Arthur Flour blog. It needed a 10 x 15 inches baking pan which I did not have, but I found one in my supermarket for about 5 bucks.

The recipe was surprisingly easy to follow. I cut down the sugar in the cake to 3/4 cup. The filling of the cake is absolutely dreamy (and I'm usually not a fan of frosting). It came together quickly and easily; I did everything by hand with a bowl and a whisk. The cake cracked a little bit as I started to roll it but the cracks got hidden in the inside of the roll.

We took the pumpkin roll to our neighborhood Halloween potluck and costume party and it was well-received. Now, from the strictly critical view-point of, say, Paul and Mary, the cake was slightly sticky and the roll sank a little bit (it "sat" instead of being a perfect oval). But the taste was wonderful and I can see myself making this again and again. Hooray for finally making a Swiss roll!

Sunday baking started with an apple bundt cake and pumpkin chocolate chip bread; I had to bring in these treats to a work event on Monday morning.

The pumpkin chocolate chip bread was a quick way to use up the leftover canned pumpkin from making the roll.

The apple bundt cake came from this recipe on Epicurious. I love the bundt pan that my sister bought for me from the factory sale in Minneapolis, and super-sized bundt cakes are just the thing to feed a crowd. This recipe is definitely a keeper. My modifications were to cut the sugar down to 1 3/4 cups from 2.5 cups, I used milk instead of orange juice and did not peel the apples. I loved how the sugary apple pieces studded the cake throughout. Most apple cakes are crumbly and this one surprised me by being very easy to cut into neat slices with a serrated knife.

While the cakes were in the oven, I threw in a whole spaghetti squash to bake at the same time, and then made a gratin with the spaghetti squash and some collard greens. That took care of lunch.

The final bake of the day was my weekly big batch of granola, which is what V eats for breakfast day after week after year.

On the subject of baking, I should tell you about the impossible pumpkin pie  I made last weekend from Susan's recipe. We had guests who don't eggs, and I wanted to make something seasonal, so this vegan recipe for pumpkin pie was just the thing. Impossible pies are crustless, but with added flour, so that as they bake, the flour separates and magically forms a crust (of sorts) for the pie. I like them for how effortless they are to put together.

I used one whole can of pumpkin (not pie filling, just pure canned pumpkin) in this recipe, and some extra baking powder and baking soda in place of the commercial egg substitute. It came out well and tasted wonderful chilled and served with a side of whipped cream and toasted walnuts.

I did get my allotted extra hour of sleep that day, by exhausting myself completely and going to bed at 8 PM!

* * *
What's sweeter than apple cake and pumpkin bread put together? Definitely our almost-3 year old mutt, Duncan.

Duncan is a canine ambassador, a "gateway dog" who has helped many people get over their fear of dogs just by having the sweetest personality. Just last weekend, we had a visitor who screamed in fright when Duncan first came into the room. A couple of hours later, she was willingly petting him on the head as she said goodbye. Her husband could not believe his eyes.

This is funny because at almost 100 lbs, being big is his defining characteristic. And he has a resounding bark that can make you jump out of your skin. But the big dogs are the gentlest ones. One time, a tiny 5 pound kitten walked right up to Duncan and slapped a paw at his nose. Not very smart of the kitten, because Dunkie could have eaten her in one bite if he wanted to. But he just looked hurt/bewildered and backed off.

When Lila's little friends come over to play, I watch him closely, not because I'm afraid that he will hurt the kids (I have complete confidence that he won't), but I worry that the kids will be too rough with him. Duncan loves playing with the little ones; it is funny to see him towering over the doll house and trying to join in the game. But never try to play hide and seek with a dog- the dog will win every time.

A few weeks ago, lightning struck our neighbor's house down the road late on a stormy evening, and the house caught on fire- no one was hurt, luckily. It was a chaotic situation for the homeowner, a lady in her 80s, and we offered to take in her two dogs for the night and keep them safe while the family figured out what to do. And of course, Duncan being Duncan, welcomed the two strangers into his home, shared his food, toys and bed with them and did not complain when one of the dogs started bossing him around.

Which is not to say that Dunkie does not have his feisty side. He loves playing boisterously at the dog park and at doggie daycare, where we send him one or two days a week so he can play his little heart out. He's always well-behaved at daycare, except for one time when I went to pick him up and was told, "Duncan used his size to take away toys from other dogs". I didn't quite know how to respond to that- Umm, I'll have a chat with him about his behavior?

Lila asked me, "When Duncan was a puppy, was he a chihuahua?" Kids have impeccable logic!

What have you been baking and cooking? Tell me about the pets in your life.