Hello, December

It so happens this week; I come close to cooking, and get away. It’s a hate-love relationship. And the mixed feelings I get when I have to bear with the kids–sometimes I feel blessed, and sometimes I wonder when time will fly. I try to take it slow with every passing day. I’m trying my best to feel gratitude, but I fail too. May be I’m too thin. May be my craft will die. May be. I’m a bad example in front of the kids. So many maybes. Discontinued my yoga class. It’s a month with two events, and given the high price, I decided to give the class a miss. Where do we go now? With no writing assignments at hand, do I see any hope? How could I get that ego boost? Guess I’m here at the right time.

First up, I’m seeking music. Jasmine Sandlas is my favourite. And watching interviews, like I always do. Love those. I try to do a few stretches in the morning, but really can’t slow down. Talking about my wonderings in the kitchen. Have this urge to bake cakes. Need to get my hands on a good bottle of olive oil. And of course, cream cheese. Also, I really don’t know where to get dill leaves (exotic ones) from here in Mumbai. It was much easier to find those in Gurgaon. I’m trying to catch up with old cousins, thanks to the wedding season. Nail art, kids’ clothing something, learning to organise bags. All consuming my mind. I started writing a letter to an unknown person (thanks to Chitti Exchange). Now, I just need to post it. Finally, I feel like writing song lyrics behind the novels I try to read. Just in case if I put off from reading, I can sing a line or two and go off to sleep.

I made Dhokla second time in the month, and messed it up again. How? The last time I didn’t add ENO in it, so it didn’t get the fluffy texture, and this time, I added less salt. Bah! It was tasteless. After speaking to my cousin, Khushboo, I tried to fix it. Boiled half a cup of water and added salt in it. Drizzled it on the dhoklas. But it just didn’t get there. But thankfully, a neighbour gave a good tip. “Stop apologising. It was yum,” her text read.

Talking about goof-ups, I made some Dal and sabzis this week. Just didn’t find any satisfaction with the taste. I almost always hate to eat what I cook myself. Also, the husband has started eating this oatmeal, and it takes forever to cook! Still learning to cook it well.

Any wins in the kitchen? Nailed a Ragi soup (learnt it from Shalini of Early Foods). It’s just the best thing for your kid, when he or she is sick. And this quesadilla recipe that I tried (from the Terrace Kitchen) was so damn good. The husband loved it.

Christmas is round the corner. Have ordered a few books. Plan to spend some quality time with neighbours, relishing good food. And I’m dying to catch up with a few of my cousins. Hope to banish anxiety (for the time-being). It’s all about sending the right messages to the universe? May be, I need a good chat. Merry vibes come your way, dear readers. So long.

Motherhood Saga

I’m stuck. And so beautifully stuck. After my second child, life has taken a turn towards Godknowswhat. It’s just the kids, and me, the blocks, and the weird toy noises. And there’s a constant effort to put the jigsaw puzzle pieces of my marriage in place. I have tasted bitterness in a real sense. Seen days and nights when I saw no inspiration sitting in my balcony—albeit the green pots and a nice view from my high-rise apartment)—anxious as to what the future beckons. Almost lost faith in everything. Sanity. Not found. Self-love? Not found. The thought that may be, my husband doesn’t like me anymore (who would, really? I really needed HELP). With my echoing words, my endless pain I just didn’t know how to go ahead with the new changes in life. A house help who would be with me 24 hours a day. Managing him, and my rage. Such a task. And not minding my tongue in front of the in-laws. Life is always not the same. Who knew better than me. My only constant strength would be writing but sadly, that too went for a toss.

Seek love, find love

The last time music came to my help was when I was in college. Everything sucked at college. I dreamt so much, hoped to do so much—but nothing happened. It was only when I was in the pits, music rescued me. After 11 years of marriage, here I’m, finding my fingers on a harmonium and raga notes to learn. God does want me to help myself. These are downs and ups you can’t help but witness. Let it flow. Let it flow. Seek self-love. Not just by sitting with your phone. Do something about it. And then came a yoga instructor who is now helping me with my mental blockages. “Please forgive me. I’m sorry. Thank you. I love you.” Started telling this to myself. “Call me when you’re up at 3AM in the morning next time. That’s just when you need to meditate,” my beautiful yoga instructor tells me. Damn. There is God in small things. Two beautiful kids, a loving husband, and an amazingly supportive family, and I’m still trying to make sense of life. May be. May be. I can now see a flicker of light towards the end of tunnel that I’m going through.

When life gives you chillies, make a thecha! 

I like food that I haven’t really explored earlier. And it’s surprising. Some marathi flavours, and some English. Ah! Those crispy toasts, insane amounts of butter and cheese. And of course, chocolate sauce. Don’t ever underestimate that bowl of delicious chocolate mousse. Mends unbelievably. Always remember. When you have only chillies in your fridge. You can still create a delicious meal. All you need is thecha and a crispy (aka kakari) roti! That said, keep hogging on those crunchy salad bowls. You need it. Your body needs it. And keep working on that dressing, one vinegar bottle at a time.

Ciao

On the other side

2021 was a tremendous year for me. Different battles to fight. Both on the outside and the inside. And cooking went on the back burner. I imagine myself sitting with my girl, telling her how I survived the year. An unplanned pregnancy, my mother’s cancer treatment, raising a toddler with different views at home, coming face to face with my insecurities–there’s been so much on my mind. And, there is COVID-19. Can’t even begin with that one.

I came to live with my parents during my pregnancy, with my husband and my toddler. The toughest day that I can remember was the first day of getting covid. I was in my eight, and the acidity almost killed me. But then I survived. 

What I can’t get over with is the fact that my mum had to undergo so much. Mammogram, chemotherapy, hair loss, her own insecurities. I can feel what she’s going through, and it really makes me want to think, this could be it. Life is so uncertain. It can change in a second. But she survived it. And she even defeated covid in the middle of her chemotherapy. Damn. 

So, here I am, telling you how I struggled last year. And I’m not ready to look at the bright side. Anxiety only grows deeper. But here’s the magical part.

I was recently blessed with a daughter. Hell, I always dreamt that. And I have survived my ten years of marriage. How, I don’t know. Mom is getting her health back. It’s wonderful when I see her name on my phone, five times a day.

But, I don’t want to cook. Writing is easier than cooking. Those kitchen bottles bring no curiosity in me. I don’t want pasta. I just want to survive this journey of motherhood. And keep a bit of my mum’s recipes on my bedside table. And I shall be all right.

Here are a few snippets from the posts I shared on my page. I started writing these tiny posts when I was down with COVID.

That’s about it for 2021. I hope you combat 2022 with a fierce passion to bring a new ray of hope in your life. May God show mercy.

Chai Masala

This spice mixture is the holy grail for me, when it comes to my teas or Dhoodh Chai (a traditional drink that has a combination of tea and milk). How you like your tea is matter of habit, more than anything.

At my in-laws’ place, most of the people like the basic tea which has tea, milk, water and sugar. The milk-water ratio is 50:50 for them. But, at my mother’s side, the teas are loaded with this masala. A normal person will start getting hiccups if you take a few sips of my mother’s tea. And the milk-water ratio is 30:70–so it’s thin in consistency and darkish brown in colour. We don’t drink our tea in China cups but in small steel tumblers and steel plates (that resemble saucers).

Usually, mum gives me this masala so that I’m always stocked with it. When my mum visits me, she would expect me to have some fresh ginger for her teas; or, chances are there, she might carry a large piece in her bag. Ginger and chai masala is a must in her tea. And gradually, I have noticed that I can’t do without it too. Just the ratio can be different.

Recipe: My mother’s Chai Masala

Ingredients: 10-15 gm cardamom pods, 20-25 cloves, 50 gm black pepper, 1 piece of nutmeg (jaiphal), 1 piece of dry ginger or saunth or 3 gm ginger powder (the size of the nutmeg and the dry ginger should be almost the same).

Method: Chop the nutmeg into pieces and then put it in the grinding jar. Add all the whole spices in and churn till you can get a coarse powder out of it. Store it in a clean container. I like to add 2 to 3 pinches of this masala in two cups of tea.

Delhi-style Matar Chola (with Kulcha)

It was yesterday when I and my husband were going about in the car with our kid to buy something, and I ended up watching these food carts selling Chola Kulcha. At one particular cart, I saw a school girl waiting for her turn, and the food seller was busy mixing his matar chola with some fresh veggies; the aroma was something that I could notice while sitting in the car. Now, given the current situation, we try not to indulge in roadside or restaurant food. And I knew I had to make it at home, come what may. So, late in the evening, we went to buy some white matar and kulcha for our Sunday lunch.

We have lived in Gurgaon for almost five years, and in our residential area, there was this famous Chola Kulcha guy by the name Pramod. There were always some SUVs parked near his food cart. For the nearby office people, this food cart was like a blessing. And it was the same for us. Every weekend, we tried to buy a plate of Chola Kulcha with a glass of buttermilk at his place. And with every plate, we became even more certain he makes it the best.

This is what you require to garnish your bowl of Matar Chola: ginger, green chilly (preferably a pickle), tomato, onion and lemon wedges. Pramod people also give their customers a salad that comprises beetroot, cucumber, carrot and onion–but I just went with the garnish.

Recipe: Matar Chola
Adaption from: Meenu Tomar’s Kitchen (thank God for her)

Ingredients:
White matar – 350 gms
Onions – 4 (two for the gravy, two for garnish)
Tomatoes – 4 (two for the gravy, two for garnish)
Green chillies – 2-4 (mild ones)
Ginger – 2 tsp finely chopped, 2 tbsp – sliced, length-wise
Lemon – 2 (juice of a lemon, and lemon wedges)
Spices:
Garam masala – ¾ tsp
Chola masala – 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Rock salt – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Black pepper powder – ½ tsp
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Chat masala – 1 tsp
Raw mango powder – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp  
Other ingredients:
Tamarind chutney or tamarind water – ½ cup
Coriander leaves – ½ cup
For final garnish ingredients, refer to the image I shared above.

This is how the gravy looks, which has raw veggies and loads of spices in it.

Method:

  1. Soak the white matar overnight. Next morning, give it a boil in the pressure cooker. This will take a hell lot of time, so be patient. You can go for six whistles on low flame. When it comes to the quantity of water, I would say, make sure the matar is well-dipped in water. Then, you can add another cup, and it should be good.
  2. Once the matar is cooked, add in all the spices; ginger, green chillies, coriander leaves, tamarind water, etc. Keep a plate separate that includes all the stuff you need to garnish. Mix this well. Use a potato masher, mash a bit for a better consistency.
  3. Now, before serving, heat this mixture, and once hot, take a bowl of it in a plate. Add in the garnish materials as shown in the image: ginger, green chilly (you can use a homemade pickle as well), tomato and onion. Keep a lemon wedge in the plate as well.
  4. Serve this with roasted Kulchas.

Palak ka Saag

If you have your roots in the northern region of India, chances are high that you love your Saag. Now, usually, a Saag is made of mustard leaves, spinach and chinopodium album (that is sarson, palak and bathua in the local lingo). But as these are available in winters only, one can only dream of a saag during the hot summer days.

My mother-in-law loves her Saag. She is someone who would always be on time, and so, she’d spend her entire morning preparing for this, so that we can have this Saag at noon (and on time). So, this is her recipe; this is how she makes it. And I love it. Its rustic flavours are nourishing for your health. Have it with your whole-wheat/cornmeal/sorghum rotis/chapattis.

Ingredients:

One bunch of spinach, half glass water, 2 tbsp – gram flour (Besan), salt to taste, garlic cloves (three), ginger (1 tsp), 1 medium-sized onion, 2 small tomatoes, green chillies (two, if spicy), oil/butter for tempering, 1/4 tsp each of coriander and turmeric powder, two pinch – asafoetida, 1/2 tsp red chilly powder, a pinch of cumin seeds.

Method

1. Clean your spinach in water. Chop it roughly, including the stems. In a cooker, add in these leaves. Whisk one tbsp of gram flour in a small bowl and add it to this. Add in water and a bit of salt. Give it a whistle or two. And then, mash it with a potato masher. Some people prefer to grind it in a mixer. My MIL likes a coarse texture, so she avoids doing so.

2. Now, finely chop the garlic, green chillies, ginger, and onion. I used a vegetable chopper when I helped her prep. Keep it aside all together in a bowl. Then, finely chop the tomatoes and keep aside separately.

3. In a skillet, add in some oil. Then, add in the cumin, asafoetida, turmeric, and the onion, garlic, ginger and green chillies. Sauté till for two-three minutes, then, add in the tomatoes. Now, add in a bit more salt and the rest of the spices. Sauté for another five minutes.

4. Now, add in a tsp of gram flour and mix it really well. Whisk the gram flour paste beforehand if you want to, so that there are no lumps.

5. Lastly, add in the mashed spinach. Now, you don’t want too much liquid in your Saag, nor do you want it to be too dry. So keep mashing and stirring it, till you achieve the consistency. And voila!

Wild Melon Chutney

My mother-in-law makes this chutney and I loved it with parathas. It’s raw, and simple to execute. Shows how simple Haryanvi women like their food. Peel some wild melons, taste each (cut a slight portion) and make sure no melon is bitter. For this chutney, you can take 5-8 small wild melons. That’s the only hard work that you have to do.

Wild melon chutney has a fresh taste. It’s a bit citrusy but it’s still cooling like cucumbers. The onion in this recipe will give your chutney body, and you won’t stop eating it with parathas.

Ingredients:

Small wild melons (kachari) – 5-8; salt to taste; a medium-sized onion; green chilly – 1-2.

Method

In a grinding jar, add in all the ingredients. Make sure the melons are roughly chopped. Churn the mixture so that it has a coarse texture as shown in the image. Melon seeds are hard, so they won’t grind so easily, but you still have to be careful.

Jaisalmer’s Masala Pooris/चरकि/नमकीन पूड़ी

This is the best travel food in the world. And, something that is perfect for your busy mornings. Soft in texture, and full of flavour—masala pooris for me is pure love.

Ingredients and method:

One cup – whole wheat flour, 2-3 tbsps of gram flour (besan), two tsp – oil, salt to taste, 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of red chilli powder, 1/4 tsp each of turmeric powder, carom seeds (ajwain), cumin seeds and coriander powder. Mix the oil and the flour well, then add in the spices and knead the dough. We don’t need a tight dough, but preferably not loose too.

The best combination: mango pickle, fresh homemade curd and masala pooris.

Fry them in oil and have it with spices curd and mango pickle. You can make a batch and save it for later as well; the spices in it make it last more than a day. That means, it won’t go stale so soon.

Whole Wheat Brownie Cake

As you all know, I and my husband left our Mumbai home in March this year, and we plan to go whenever his office reopens. Which, clearly, doesn’t look like soon. Whenever I used to crave a food dessert in Mumbai, I hardly had to bake anything at home. There were too many options out there. But I can’t say the same for Rohtak, which is why, I make things myself.

I’m at my MIL’s kitchen these days, and there was something I couldn’t crack till now. Baking. As there’s no oven in the kitchen, most of my baking dreams don’t exist (as if my baking skills are at par). But recently, when my dear friend, Vaidehi Venkatraman, shared a brownie recipe with me, I saw a ray of hope. Her suggestions are almost always the best. And, so, I couldn’t skip this cake recipe without trying. Little did I imagine, it turned out to be one of the best cakes I have made.

Baking cannot change your life, but it can surely heal your woes and lessen your heartache. My story idea rejections were lending me too much of anxiety, you see. Coming back to this cake. Try out these simple yet drool-worthy brownies that I made without oven, and I guarantee you’ll be on cloud nine.

Recipe inspiration: My Terrace Kitchen

Ingredients:

Whole-wheat flour – 1 and a 1/2 cup, sugar (I used regular one) – 3/4 cup, Dutch processed cocoa powder (I recommend mild flavour by Indian Natives) – 1/2 cup, almonds and walnuts – 1/4 cup, Olive oil – 4 tbsps, Makhan (homemade butter) – 1/2 cup (this should be melted before use), Baking powder – 1/2 tsp, Baking soda – 1/4 tsp, Vanilla essence (didn’t have extract) – two drops, Milk – 3/4 to 1 cup

How to set your skillet/kadai for baking

Put a packet of salt (empty the entire packet) in the skillet and place a steel stand on it. Take the biggest skillet available in your kitchen and cover it with a lid. You need to preheat it for 5-8 minutes on medium flame.

Method

1. Roast the nuts and keep aside (or add salt and a tsp of water to it, let it rest for 15 minutes and roast well as suggest by the Terrace Kitchen in her YouTube video).

2. In a huge bowl, add in the dry ingredients. Mix it well with a whisker. Then, add in the oil and other liquid ingredients. Add milk for consistency, as per your liking. We are not looking at a runny batter or a really thick one. It should be somewhere between the two. Then add the nuts and keep some for garnish.

3. Now, place a butter paper (if you don’t have it, spread some ghee on a normal white piece of paper – as once suggested by Kabita’s Kitchen) or aluminium foil on your cake pan. Don’t ever forget this. Without this, there are high chances your brownie cake will stick on the vessel. Make sure it is filled with the batter upto 3/4 of its size only. Don’t fill the pan with too much cake batter, as you’ll be baking in the kadai and you’d want to avoid spillage.

4. Take some salt and put it in the kadai. Preheat it for 10 minutes, then, dump the cake pan on a steel stand and cover it well with a lid.

5. After ten minutes, put the flame from medium to low. I checked after 30 minutes and it was not done (pushed a knife in the middle of the cake). After another 10-15 minutes, the cake cooked perfectly and didn’t stick as well; thanks to the foil.

6. Pull the cake out with the help of the foil after 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Mukhwas/Seed mixture

For a person like me, who’s into mostly traditional food, having seeds can be a task. You may add seeds to your smoothie bowls and salads, or just have it in a trail mix pack. Wish I liked smoothie bowls. For me, Mukhwas is a quick fix when it comes to having seeds in my diet. But it’s rare that I make this mixture myself. Thanks to the unending lockdown, I found myself making some this week.

You can keep a small jar of this Mukhwas on your dining table, handbag (well, we’re no more commuting), or the bedside table. If you have it at home, I would call it a luxury.

A tsp of this roasted seed mixture is perfect after meals, as it helps in cleansing your palate and improves digestion as well.

We all know flax seeds has omega-3 in it, and it’s something that’s good for your heart. White sesame seeds have calcium in it, and fennel seeds are good for your gut and overall health. Let’s see how I made this Mukhwas, shall we?

Roasted seeds

Ingredients:

Flax seeds, white sesame seeds, fennel seeds, salt and lemons.

Method

1. In a plate, empty your raw flax seeds and sprinkle juice of half a lemon on it. Add a bit of salt as well. Mix well and keep aside.

2. In a similar way, take a separate plate for each seed content, and repeat the process for fennel and sesame seeds as well.

3. After a few hours, you will need to roast these seeds on a skillet/kadai. You will need to roast each seed variety separately. Flax seeds took the maximum time for me (25 minutes). Fennel took 15 and sesame seeds took around 20 minute of roasting. Keep tasting the seeds in between. You will need a good crunch for sure. Mind your tongue as you don’t want to burn it.

4. Once the roasting is done, keep adding the seeds in a plate. Let it cool for 10 minutes and empty it quickly in a air-tight container. I roasted my fennel seeds first. Added them in a jar. After that, I roasted my flax seeds and sesame seeds; let it cool down and mixed it all together in the same skillet as the last step.