Saturday, January 24, 2009


*Bread in this post refers to the western version. Not naan, parathas and the like.*

When I was in the hostel during my undergrad days, Friday mornings used to bring on a flurry of frowns to several faces around me. Friday breakfast provided by the "mess" was bread and kurma and quite a few students strongly objected to bread (hey, that's for prisoners!) being served for breakfast. Me, on the other hand, used to wait eagerly for Friday - I simply *loved* the toasted bread and vegetable kurma combination and it was easily my most favorite breakfast. Even at home, sandwiches for breakfast never evoked the kind of strong negative reaction like upma (gaaah) did. Bread omlette, toast, bread-upma, croutons, shahi tukre - I was up for everything bread.

My fascination for all things bread continued when I landed at grad school. I distinctly remember a period when I had two sandwiches - one each of jam and peanut butter - for lunch for almost *every* single week-day over a duration of three months. One fine day, I was midway through enjoying a peanut butter sandwich when my brain signaled, "Thus far and no more." I had to toss the rest of my sandwich and thus ended my love affair with peanut butter. But I still loved bread.

Anyways, bread has seen me through many a hungry evening when I do not have the time or the patience or the hunger-withstanding capacity to cook an elaborate meal before my stomach decides to digest itself into oblivion. When I casually mention my bread-based dinners to other folks, I always get a pitying "poor you" glance. Little do people know that toasted sour dough bread, olive oil and fresh ground pepper is pretty close to culinary heaven for me.

Anyways, I have tried all sorts of bread from the baked goods section - stone ground, dutch crunch (yummmm), sour dough, focaccia, pugliese and so on. The only bread I met which I didn't like was the multi grain, multi-whatever variety. But in a pinch, even that works.

Now it is obvious that I have an irresistible attraction to bread. Given that I am a fairly decent cook too, it has struck me only recently that I have never tried making bread. This thought has kept striking me on and off for almost a year now and finally in a serendipitous event, I found a link to recipe for focaccia in this blog which had followed the instructions from here.

Ah-ha. The instructions seemed quite straightforward and not too time consuming. Perfect! So last evening, while coming home from work, I stopped at Safeway to buy all the ingredients.

You would think that a person who has baked no kind of bread whatsoever before would be a little bit diffident about buying too much of ingredients which might go unused in case of a breaderly disaster. Not me.

I bought a big five pound bag of all purpose flour (really, is there anything else one can make with it, especially if you are fairly heath conscious?), not one, not two, but *six* packets of yeast, a big tin of sea salt (well, the small tin seemed too small) and jar of dried rosemary. After some prep last night, this morning the actual baking took place.

Contrary to what the original recipe said about pouring the raised dough into a baking tray, my dough was a healthy, firm specimen which had to be bodily lifted and dumped onto the tray for baking.

No smells of baking bread filled the house but after twenty minutes, I had nice looking golden crusted bread sitting in the pan. Whatever you might say, warm bread from the oven, even when it is not as light or spongy or bready as you would like it to be, still tastes heavenly. Of course, you also need to understand that I probably would eat hay too as long as it is topped with rosemary (rosemary has such a wonderful flavor, I tell you).

Now I can finally say that I *can* make my own bread. I probably will try making this bread again with minor variations but if anyone needs all purpose flour, I have got some for you!

p.s. While we are talking food, here is an awesome recipe for Chinese fried rice - I followed the recipe as is (minus soy sauce) and wound up with near-perfect fried rice. In the spirit of "what happiness I got, let the world get too" have been promoting the recipe ever since!

p.s.1. Sea salt does have a different (in a nice way) salty flavor.

p.s.2. Nopes, this blog hasn't changed into a food blog. Regular programming will resume next post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A ten minute post.

I saw this rather interesting "writing prompt" on Altoid's blog.

Before you read the prompt, make sure you will have 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to write and please do time yourself. Once you've written it, please leave a link here so we can come over and read it.

Write about a sleepover, a slumber party or the time you stayed somewhere overnight.

Now, for a rambler like me, it is quite a challenge to get in all that I want to say within ten minutes. But I shall try.

Time start: 2.05pm

My parents never used to allow me to stay over at any friend's place. Visiting was fine, but we were supposed to be back home to sleep. The very first time they allowed me to stay over at anyone's place was when they allowed me to go to all the way to Bangalore (from Chennai) to visit Shilpa along with my friend C. I guess they knew just how close Shilpa and I were and somehow did not think to much about me staying at her place.

I was totally thrilled - yaay, I was finally going to do a "grown-up" thing of actually visitng an out-of-station friend all by myself (never mind I was in high school then). C and I went by train. Shilpa had come over to pick us up at the station. After the usual whoops of joy, we traveled to her house and were safely ensconced there. I don't remember much about the trip - I remember visiting her school (junior college as it is called in Bangalore), meeting her ultra-thin (omg, these bangalore girls!) friends, going to the ISKON temple and listening to an entire presentation in Kannada there(I don't understand Kannada) and in general having a lot of fun.

The nights were the most fun though. Long after Shilpa's parents were off to bed, we would sit in the hall watching late night movies. Or we would all retire to her room and chat and giggle through the night. In between we would silently sneak downstairs and make chai. Shilpa and I being avid tea drinkers, Shilpa actually harvested lemon grass from her yard in the middle of the night to make "lemon grass" chai. It was totally yummy. Of course, we also raided the kitchen for food.

Mornings were very lazy. Other than the weekends, in spite of the antics of the night, poor Shilpa had to go to college (Bangalore and Chennai had different academic years and Shilpa still had to go to junior college) while C and I would lazily/sleepily wave her goodbye.

We did go shopping in MG road and managed to buy stuff even on our meagre student budgets. I remember this black tshirt Shilpa and I brought with cute pictures of Tom Cruise all over it. I had it for a really long time.

This was supposed to be a slumber party post - oh well, it is a first solo no-parents trip post now. And my ten minutes are almost up. And it is. Adieu!

Time end: a few seconds past 2.15p.m

p.s. I have not gone over the post to correct errors. So if it reads even more gramatically incorrect than usual, I plead lack of time!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Notes from a vacation

- Did you know Anna Nagar tower in Chennai provides a wonderful 360 degree aerial view of Chennai? All for the royal sum of five rupees per person! Chennai looks super-green from above, I must say.
- Shops in Chennai sell winter clothes. I do not know for winter in which place. As far as I know, Chennai has no winter (or spring or fall for that matter).

- The side berths in current three-tier AC cars in south India are apparently meant to give us Indians a feel of how it used to be when the British used to rule (and be extremely mean to) us. I cannot think of any other reason why any genius would come up with the idea to insert a middle berth between the already teensy space between the upper and lower berths on the side.

- Attending weddings in India is so much fun!

- The mutton in the famous Hyderabad Paradise biriyani is the softest and yummiest I have ever eaten. However, I still think Ponnusamy biriyani wins the overall best biriyani taste award by a whisker (true blue Tam that I am). But nah, this realization did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying three generous sized helpings of Paradise biriyani in one sitting (I had to roll around for the next hour due to inability to walk).

- Hyderabad sells beautiful cultured pearl jewelry. In general, all ethnic stuff (clothes, accessories, footwear, furnishing, deco-items etc. etc.) in India rocks - shopping for them is a divine experience.

- Food in India is also awesome - my tight jeans and gentle pot-belly stand testimony to that. How come Indian restaurants here never manage to quite get the same taste?

- Mumbai's Colaba-Nariman Point-Cuffe Parade-Marine drive area looks breathtakingly beautiful. Its clean, cobbled streets and wide, tree-lined roads made it difficult for me to believe that I was in a bustling metropolis in *India*. My heart ached even more when I thought about the terrible terrorist attacks.

-Mumbai's traffic is a whole lot more well-mannered and regulated than Chennai's traffic. Like my sister said, given its humongous population, no one would get anywhere in Mumbai if they did not follow at least basic traffic rules like sticking to lanes, always using indicators etc. In fact, after spending time in Mumbai I am now even more convinced that someday India will grow to provide all the conveniences of the West.

- Of the very few books I read in India, Srividya Natrajan's 'No onions nor garlic' was a great pick and a hoot from start to finish. Go read it, especially if you are Tamilian (some of the references are very language/culture specific) - unless you are one of those easily-offended types.

- Some Trichy restaurants have interesting-sounding dishes like Pomegranite (that must be one hard fruit!) and vegetable stud nan (has it been working out :-D?) on its menu!

- I had forgotten how stunning some of the sculptures in Mahabalipuram are. I am definitely spending at least a day there next time round.

- Jude Law looks a lot like Aamir Khan when seen from a 3/4ths face angle.

- International flights from Chennai usually have much better tasting food than flights to Chennai. Yup, even when there is transit in between in Hong Kong. Weird.

- I still love watching the early episodes of friends. I thought I had seen *too* much of the sitcom. But I laughed as hard as ever while watching six back to back episodes of friends from Season 3 on the flight.

- 1 month India time = 10 seconds US time. That is the only sane reasoning I can come up with for explaining how my vacation went off in a jiffy.