Monday, March 31, 2014

Animal Duty

So we went to the farm once more. This time we could not avoid animal duty. Planting is a rewarding activity, but contrary to expectations we also loved cleaning up after those little guys and gals and feeding them! Look at the bunch of them all ready and hungry to be fed! It was such a motley assortment yet so beautiful that they had me at the first cluck.

There were goats, pigs, geese and chickens of course. Remember Em? Well she certainly has the attitude. The other geese we met were just your ordinary farm geese while Emily had this very human like possessiveness.

While the boys were off strutting their stuff, the girls were found commiserating together. Probably pondering why the guys are adorned in such glorious colors while they were dressed in leftovers. Even the common rooster seems to have more color to him than us they say!

Totally unconcerned with all the goings on in the farm are the bunnies. They eat, sleep, hop some, eat more, sleep more and hop more. Well, you get the idea.

It was definitely fun being among the animals as opposed to just going there to observe. Hope to do more of this. Thanks are due to the last owner who so graciously donated her farmhouses and land to the city so we can still experience this life in the midst of all the urban growth and technology that pervades nowadays.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Not Sushi, Indo-California Shrimp Rolls!

I never knew H to be a Sushi fan and so was a little perplexed when he plunged wholeheartedly into making California rolls few weeks back. Granted, he was a little rushed with a new job which took up almost all his time and maybe was looking to de-stress. Whatever it was, we had two weeks of fast and furious sushi making. He has since joined a new company which has more of a normal pace and we may never see sushi anymore. He was apparently inspired by a sushi restaurant he frequented for lunch when working at the first place. I am not complaining since as a responsible spouse I feel it my sacred duty to gobble up any such rolls made by H. The fact that they are little pieces of heaven rolled in rice does not sway me one way or another:-)

Let us go into the nitty gritty of sushi making albeit with an Indian touch. There is one equipment you need for sushi making and it is the mat. This is what helps you to roll the rice and it can be found in Japanese grocery stores. H covered it with plastic wrap to stop it from sticking and to help when cleaning up.

In The Mix

japanese short grain rice - 1 cup ( this is the most important item that will make or break your sushi)
water - 1 1/4 cup water
nori (sea weed) - 1 pkg
fish stock powder (dashi) - 1/2 tsp or to taste)
rice wine vinegar - 1/4 cup - add more or less to taste
 - the above items can be found in japanese stores

fresh shrimp fry - any kerala recipe will do
dried roasted shrimp -  as needed from 1 pkg (you will get this from indian stores)
salt, sugar as needed

How To Do

Prepare fresh shrimp curry following any recipe. Coconut pieces in the shrimp adds to the overall flavor so it is preferred.

Soak the rice in water for 20 minutes.

Boil the vinegar and then add sugar, salt, dashi and mix well. Check and add more of each to your taste.  Over all flavoring should be subtle. Boil once and remove from heat. Stir and set aside to cool.

Prepare the sticky rice by carefully following the directions below:

Wash and drain the rice. Add the water to the rice and cook covered on high heat. When the first steam comes out turn to low and cook for about 20 minutes. Check to see if rice is sticking to the bottom. Rice is done once all the water is gone. Remove from heat right away. Start stirring the rice gently with spoon in one hand while fanning with the other hand to remove any remaining water and to cool down the rice. Add the vinegar mixture and gently stir all together. Result should be sticky but separated evenly flavored rice. Most of the hard work is done. Now for some fun.

Take one seaweed and cut into two. Place a half sheet on the mat and spread the rice evenly onto it.

Now turn this over carefully so the rice side is touching the mat.

Spoon out the shrimp fry in a row on the long side of the sheet close to one edge. Sprinkle some dried shrimp along for crunch factor.

Now start rolling the mat gently so the whole layer of stuff gets rolled. This is why we needed the mat. It helps to roll the rice side without much ado!

Once the inner roll has reached full circle, give an even squeeze along the top for good measure. Remove the mat by rolling the stuff out onto a plate.

Wet a non serrated knife to avoid rice sticking and cut out into small sushi like rolls. You can pop each one into your mouth as they are being cut or wait and try your patience. You will not realize how many you can eat in one sitting until much later!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pictures From The Farm

This gorgeous guy greeted us at the farm where we went volunteering this weekend. My daughter took this picture for me after painstakingly following him around wherever he went. Many of his buddies could be seen wandering around the farm along with the roosters and hens. The following picture gives us the root for the moniker 'peacock blue'. It is the same guy by the way.

 We reached there by 8AM and started planting seeds for the spring. There were these little plastic cells that we filled with potting soil, dampened with water, made little holes and placed one little seed in each and covered it all up. At the end we made tag posts for each of the seeds we planted and staked them inside the cells so we know what is coming up. There were different kinds of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. We will be going back next weekend too since my son needs a few more hours to fulfill his requirements. This time though I think it will be a little more involved as we will be cleaning up after the farm animals and feeding them. I can't says I am looking forward to the cleaning part of it. I was surprised to know that my son didn't have an issue. Must be all that litter clean up they are doing for our much loved kitty cat. A good side effect!

See these two guys living in the farm. One is exotic and so is kept in a cage and the other is not so exotic and therefore free to move around. I think both of them look great. Don't you?

 Here is the goose who seems to be the queen of the farm. She loves the farm person who was helping to set us up. Apparently if she sees anyone talking to him she will come and peck at them and generally want them to move away from him. Very possessive, this one! It was hilarious to watch. I didn't know geese can be like that.

 After an hour and a half of hard work (not!) the kids played on the play structure while we walked around the farm. Then we thought we deserve some breakfast and treated ourselves to a cafe nearby. Had to take a snap of the cool pattern that was on the latte.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Back To The Basics

So while our landscaping was going on we had made two vegetable beds in the space where we had planted before. I was too impatient to wait till spring and so what you see up there are the easy-to-grow in cold weather plants. There are lettuce, onions, herbs etc. We also have flower bulbs in one section but only some have come up so far. My daughter and I did the planting and she was eager to sprinkle on some carrot seeds too. Guess who peeked out to greet the sun this week! I hope they will grow enough so I can replant them properly. We are learning as we do.

My son's 8th grade teacher has give them a requirement to rack up volunteer hours every quarter. He had a spot at the Library but now that the lady has gone on a maternity break that has stopped. So we heard about this farm from his school as a good place for volunteering and visited it. This duck like bird was hiding in the compost bin. Cute Eh? My son discovered her. Me thinks the lady is incubating.

So it is that the four of us are going farming next Saturday guys! I balked when they suggested cleaning the animals and I hope we will get some fun chores first like feeding the animals and gardening. Even though I grew up in a farm and shamelessly enjoyed all the benefits, my contribution to farming was limited. I did enjoy going with my Mom and visiting the cows when they got back in the evening after a full day of grazing. She had pet names for them like 'sumalatha', 'pushparani' 'kochammini' etc. Since one of her pet names for me was 'ammini' I assume she loved them ladies much too. She and my oldest brother has the greenest thumbs but I am going to beat them. Hey, a girl can always hope.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Do You Like Coffee?

My daughter has learned to make the best coffee from Hcousin! She loves giving people things and she has found that a cup of coffee made just the right way is an easy way to extract some happiness. I was always in search of ways to make awesome coffee and had tried a few things. But I settle for the easiest most of the time. My girl on the other hand is patient and derives much satisfaction from making it the right way every time.

She is going to explain here in her own words how she does it.

In The Mix

any brand of instant coffee powder - a little less than 1 1/2 tsp (we used nescafe classic)
sugar - 1 1/2 tsp
water - 1 tbsp
milk - 1 cup

How To Do

Hi there, would you like to know how to make extra frothy coffee? Well if you do, then this is the place to look. It is important to get your supplies ready before you begin. Everything mentioned in the "in the mix section," a small bowl, a small pitcher, 1 cup, and a spoon.

First, get your bowl and fill it with the coffee powder and sugar. Then take your cup, fill it up with as much milk as you would like, put it in the microwave, put the number of how long you want it to be heated up for, and press start. I do it for 89 seconds.

Next, add the water to your coffee powder mix and stir with your spoon. Stir continuously until your microwave starts to beep or do whatever it does when it is done.

Pour your mix and the milk into your pitcher and start  pouring the coffee from the cup to the pitcher and back.

Keep doing this until you get it frothy enough for you. Now it's time for you to finally sit back, relax, and enjoy your frothy coffee!

            1. read a book
            2. sit outside
            3. make a froth mustache

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays!

There is no evidence of food since I couldn't get pictures before they finished. You'll just have to take my word for it. I do however have a picture of our house all lighted up for Christmas. You will of course note the natural light provided from up above to accentuate the whole effect.

So Thanksgiving went by. We had turkey at a friend's place and we made turkey at home the next day because both my kids just love it. This year I made fruitcake for home and family. All finished and shipped. Kids don't like this very much though. Neighbors delivered delicious cakes and so we've been having a sweet fest this holiday season. My HAunt has e-mailed me her cheesecake recipe which is to die for. I will post a pic and recipe once I make it. We've had some setbacks in terms of health in the immediate family. No, not the four of us but it is a source of sadness. By God's grace things seem to be contained now. Hope and pray this progress will continue.

It is almost time to put away the nativity set and dismantle the christmas tree but basic laziness and busy work schedule is interfering with best laid plans. Kids are off for their usual two weeks. I am happy to be mostly staying home with them even if I have to do some work from home to alleviate pressure buildup at work. Hope you are all having a good time during the holidays. I will leave you with the gingerbread house that my girl and her friend made on a playdate.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Meenum Mangayum (Fish Curry with Mango) - From Vanitha

Scene 1:  Lan opens the door to a knock on the door and who is there but the friendly neighbor who goes on fishing trips! They had a good trip and generously wanted to share some of that bounty with the neighbor who seems to brighten up every time at the mention of fresh fish:-). Lan is grateful to see the wild caught trout but puts it away in the freezer till she can get to it.

Scene 2: It is the weekend. Lan puts the fish out thinking to cook something with it or at least marinate once thawed. She then drops off kid #1 at the local library for volunteering and takes kid#2 for her regular dentist appointment. Kid #1 will be taken to the dentist next week due to the conflict with the volunteering time. Once done at the dentist's, lan and kid#2 make a beeline to the eye doctor to get lan's contact lens supply that was waiting there for a week. Now she realizes that there is a half hour window of free time before getting some burgers at their favorite fast food joint (In 'N' Out) and heading home after picking up kid#1 from the library.

Scene 3: With the unexpected bounty of extra time, lan decides to visit the Kerala grocery store since it is close by and it's been a while. Picks up some junk as well as some good stuff and spots  a 'Vanitha' magazine at the register. Picks it up, gets the burgers, picks up up kid#1 and gets home. Although she forgot to deposit that check, lan decides enough has been done for the day and curls up to read the 'Vanitha' after the household's been calmed with the burger lunch. Happens to read an article about a fish tasting journey across Kerala and sees a recipe the author tasted at a house on the way. It sounds yummy enough that lan drools a little without thinking but gives up the thought as it means making another trek to gather the key ingredient.

Scene 4: Lan walks into the kitchen towards the evening and while clearing up the pile of dishes for the dish washer, chances upon the bag of fish languishing in the smaller sink. Idea! Since lan had also read many magazines at  the dentist's office that day with and without recipes, she couldn't right away remember where she had spotted that inspiring fish recipe. Then she remembers that it was in Malayalam and zeroes in on the 'Vanitha' now all but forgotten. Grabs the recipe and gets to work on the marinade. It was simple enough yet so good looking on the fish that H was impressed even before cooking! The fish is set to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Scene 5: It is the morning of the next day. Lan wakes up with a start and realizes she had forgotten all about the key ingredient not being there! Calls H who had gone for his regular yoga class and he was only too happy to bring the raw green mangoes for this promising curry. As soon as the mangoes are in, lan goes to work. Recipe had mostly clear instructions and so all progressed well and the household was introduced to a new curry in no time. Kids decided to stick to their 'red fish curry' but lan and H couldn't get enough of this heavenly dish.

If you have read this far, it means you would like to see the recipe now. I'll add it here with what I did based on the instructions thanks to Vanitha and the person of that house who made this. A little background here before I start. Both H and I had never liked mango in curries growing up. In my house especially, not many people favored mango in fish and it was rarely made. When it did I made sure not to go anywhere near. So I am surprised at my own tastebuds that love this heavenly dish now! When we had gone for the wedding in the East, one of the family friends had brought a similar dish over and I had enjoyed it much. Maybe that memory combined with all the things falling into place so well is what got it to such a good end. Recipe was for half a kilo of fish. The fish I had was about 1 kilo and so I doubled all the suggested numbers as follows.

In The Mix

Fish - about 1 kilo cut into to medium size pieces (~weight of 4 trouts with head removed & cleaned)

for the marinade
shallots - 4 medium sized, peeled and diced large
green serrano chili - 4 sliced to smaller size
ginger - 1.5" piece diced to smaller pieces
turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
chili powder - 5 tsp
coriander powder - 4 tsp
salt to taste
olive oil - 1 tbsp or less
curry leaves - from 2 sprigs

raw mangoes - 4 (peeled and diced- slightly ripe is ok)
coconut milk - 2 cans of 165ml. each

curry leaves - 2 sprigs
shallots - 2 sliced lengthwise
coconut oil - 2 tsp

How To Do

Score the fish pieces if there is enough space on the piece. I kept the skin on since the trout was not scaly and the skin was thin enough. Looked good too.

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade up to and not including the olive oil and grind well in a blender. Add this to the fish pieces. Add the olive oil and curry leaves and mix well together. Recipe asked for coconut oil but since coconut oil freezes now I did not want to add it warm. So I added olive oil instead. Set to marinate for as long as you can. At least half an hour outside or longer in the fridge is good. The reference recipe did not say for how long. I did it overnight. Green chilies I guess can be added or taken out based on your heat tolerance. This was not specified and adding 4 did it for us.

The recipe called for coconut milk from 1.5 coconut halves and asked for 'second milk' from the coconut. I didn't know how to convert this to the canned coconut milk I had. So I went with what I thought best. Made my 'second milk' by adding 3 cans of 165 ml of water to one can of the coconut milk. So pour the coconut milk into a cup first and then use that can to add the water. Can add a bit more as needed.

Add the diced mango and the prepared 'second milk' to a pan.  Boil once, add the fish and cook covered in low to medium heat for 9-10 minutes or till done. Add salt as needed and move the fish around by rotating the pan instead of using a spoon. Now the gravy would have reduced somewhat. Add the remaining one can of coconut milk to this without adding any water. Rotate the pan to mix well, boil once and remove from heat.

Heat the coconut oil and sauté  onions and curry leaves for seasoning.  Add this to the fish curry and mix gently using a spoon as well as by rotating the pan. Now is the time for tasting. Since I had forgotten to cook rice on time we had to wait impatiently till it was ready. Felt like a long wait but it was all good when that first ball of rice mixed with fish curry melted in the mouth with exploding flavors!